A brief history of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment

1939 – 1945.

 

 

 

 

The Battalion was formed in 1938 out of the 6th Battalion (Territorial) Gloucestershire Regiment. Initial training was at Ashton Court Manor at Bristol, moving to various locations including Lavington Beeched on Salisbury Plain and Sussex. The Regiment was equipped with the Matilda Mk II Infantry Tank.

 

The Battalion sailed from Greenock on 23rd April 1941 aboard the SS Sobiesky, the convoy being escorted by the Battle Cruiser HMS Repulse. Anchored off Freetown, Sierra Leone on Mat 5th for 3 days and given short periods of shore leave i.e. route marches! Shore leave was given at Durban, South Africa (4 days). Then up the Red Sea and arriving at Suez on the 13th June.

Went by train to Sidi Bishr transit camp east of Alexandria. This is when they started to wear their maroon and gold epaulette patches.

 

Now formed part of the 4th Armoured Brigade of the 7th Armoured Division.

On July 1st moved to Abu Madi and became part of the 1st Army Tank Brigade on July 27th.

 

The Battalion advanced on Bir Ramadan area in September. At about this time Lieut. ‘Teddy’ Foster became the first man in the battalion to be shot at by the enemy!

 

In action as part of Operation ‘Crusader’ starting 15th Nov with the advance into Libya, crossing the frontier on 21st Nov. ‘B’ Squadron moved north to attack the fortresses of Sidi and Nuovo Omar. The rest of the Battalion continuing west under the command of the 4th New Zealand Brigade. 23rd Nov attacked and captured Gambut Aerodrome with no casualties. Continued to advance west the next day.

 

‘C’ Squadron in action 25th Nov clearing Machine Gun nests. Lieut. White, Corporals Black and Harris killed, Major Leeds was badly wounded.

 

The battalion rallied between Zaafran and Belhamed and was in action again on the 26th. ‘A’ Squadron having 4 tanks destroyed.  Night attack on Ed Duda supported by infantry. Joining up with the 1st and 4th Tank Battalions.

 

28th Nov attacked across Belhamed with the New Zealand infantry.  Much fighting around this area the position becoming desperate. On Dec 1st Major ‘Stump’ Gibson was  awarded the DSO. The Battalion now has only 12 tanks, all in a bad condition. Sergeant Harry Hampson awarded the Military Medal.

 

Withdrawn with the remnants of the New Zealand Division and on Dec 10th rejoined the Commanding Officer (Lt Col Yeo) at Bir Ramadan. Moved to wadi El Kabsh on Dec 12th to regroup, ‘B’ Squadron rejoining the battalion on 28th Dec.

 

‘B’ Squadron had been away to capture the fortresses of Omar Nuovo and Sidi Omar in support of the 4th Battalion  16th Punjab Regiment, 42nd Royal Tank Regiment and 1st Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment. This they did with great loss, among the casualties being the CO Major Guy Hiddingh and the second in command Capt. Maurice Ricketts. They withdrew to the rear with only one operational tank!

 

Battalion casualties 4 officers, 16 other ranks, missing presumed POW, 1 officer, 3 other ranks, seriously wounded 11 other ranks.

 

On 25th Nov under the command of Major Rawling of the 42nd tank regiment the remnants (5 Matilda’s) of the 44th defended the Sherferzen Gap against heavy enemy forces. As they withdrew Major Rawling was killed. The 4 remaining tanks fought a desperate rear guard action for 20 miles.

 

On the 27th Nov new tanks were received and Capt. L H Lee took temporary command of the Batt. Major F Green taking over on 10th Dec.

 

The Battalion moving to Sidi Azeiz on 22nd Dec 41.

 

Attacked enemy stronghold of Bardia on 31st Dec in support of 2nd South African Division (1st South African Police and 1st Kaffir Rifles). There was much desperate fighting during the night of 1st Jan. Capt. Benjamin and  Sgt Grainger killed, Lieut. Moseley wounded. Sgts. Huth, Bateman and Trooper M Bourne awarded the MM.

Bardia surrendered mid day 1st Jan 1942 with 9000 prisoners. 44th casualties 5 killed and 11 wounded. Lt Col Yeo awarded the DSO. The Batt now returned to Sidi Azeiz  

 

On 7th Jan Lt Col Yeo departed for HQ and Major Reynolds was promoted in command of the battalion.

 

The battalion moved to El Aden on the 23rd/24th Jan then later to Sollum for 10 days rest.

 

In February the Battalion moved to Sidi Suleman and re equipped with Infantry tank Mk III (Valentines) and moved to Sqhifet es Sidra under command of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division.

 

Began new advance 1100hrs 27th May and attacked enemy column later that day. ‘B’ Sqd suffered sever losses in tanks and Lieut. Hamilton, Sgt Fiernvall and Trooper Hirons killed. 'C‘ Sqd then attacked causing heavy damage to enemy column . Lieut. P Tate killed and Capt. Foster and crew wounded.

During the day 18 tanks were lost, 7 from ‘B’ Sqd, 7 from ‘B’ Sqd and 4 from ‘A’ Sqd.

 

In action again the next day being attacked by the enemy in large numbers. Forcing the battalion to withdraw fighting tank verses tank to Bir Tamar. Continuously under fire at this time.

 

Shot down enemy recognisance aircraft containing General Cruewell Commander of the Afrika Korp.

 

On 30th May assisted in halting a massed enemy attack. The Brigade was now surrounded and in a desperate situation.

 

1st June 1942 (The day Peter was captured) The battalion had only 5 tanks remaining and the crews were exhausted. These tanks advanced under Major Green and came under heavy anti tank fire, the two leading tanks were hit and then Major Greens tank was hit. The Major being wounded and Sgt Brooks killed. Another of the tanks was hit but the last one under Major Williamson managed to get back to HQ. The Brigade escaping the surrounding enemy as best they could. Major Freddy Green and Capt. Allan Brown awarded the MC.

 

The remnants of the battalion under the command of Major F E Whitaker joined with ‘A’ Sqd 8th Tank Regiment and with carrier borne infantry mounted an offensive sweep to the west to threaten the enemy lines of communications on 12th June.

 

The British were now in full retreat including the 44th until reaching Sidi Bishr near Alexandria on 25th June.

 

Major Eric Rash assumed command on 28th June but was evacuated sick on 3rd July when Brigadier G W Richards took over.

 

On 7th July the battalion moved forward again and on 9th July contacted the 26th Australian Brigade and reconnoitred the Alamien box. The Australians attacked the next day with ‘B’ Sqd in support. The battalion Medical Officer Capt. Segerman was killed near Alamien  station helping the wounded. The battalion was involved in much fighting together with the Auzzies around Alamien until relieved by the 50th Tank regiment and returned to Sidi Bushr     

 

On 1st August moved to a camp at Khatatba moving on to Rafah on 17th Oct. from this time to June 1943 the battalion was training and re-equipping with Sherman tanks in preparation for the invasion of Sicily.

 

On 23rd June ‘A’ Sqd set sail from Alexandria the rest of the regiment set sail aboard the  Troop Ship Orontes. The regiment now formed part of the 4th Armoured Brigade under command of XIII Corp.

 

At 1030 hrs 10th July 1943 the regiment landed on the beach at Avola near Noto, Sicily.

First contact with the enemy was made by ‘A’ Sqd on 12th July beyond Palazzoto who destroyed several guns and took 60 prisoners.

‘C’ Sqd lost 9 tanks when the ship they were in was sunk.

 

On 13th July the regiment began to advance north via Syracuse and on 15th July moved toward the Primosole Bridge across the River Simeto. This bridge was of great importance and needed to be captured intact. The 44th attacked in support of the Durham Light Infantry, the opposing force being the Hermann Goering Partachute Division who fought with great tenacity and courage. The bridge was finally taken on 16th July.

 

 More fighting on the 18th July as the Brigade slowly advanced toward Catania.

 

On 5th Aug ‘A’ Sqd moved forward into Catania with the infantry and ‘B’ Sqd moved north of the city on 7th Aug in case the enemy counter attacked.

 

On 17th Aug the Sicilian Campaign came to an end when the allies entered Messina. The Regiment removed to Fiumefreddo  for reorganisation and training.

Capt. Hales awarded the MC, Sgt Hampson the DCM and Corporals F Lea and K Harrop the MM.

On 7th  Sept the Brigade moved to an area south of Paterno.

 

On the 23rd /24th Sept the Regiment embarked and arrived in Italy. Moving up the west coast of the toe of Italy arriving at Taranto on the 29th Sept and on 1st Oct started to advance North West up the coast arriving at Lucera on the 8th Oct.

 

The regiment was inspected by General Montgomery on the 9th Oct. On 24th Oct the Brigade once again moved north to Serracapriola.

 

The Regiment was back in action on 3rd Nov, advancing toward San Salvo and Capello under heavy shell fire. On the 6th Nov crossed the River Sinello toward Scerni advancing to the Sangro River, with much heavy fighting for 3 days.

 

On the 20th to 22nd Nov the regiment moved up to Paglieta in preparation for crossing the Sangro River. The regiment began crossing the river on the 27th and 28th Nov, and on the 30th the regiment together with the 38th Irish Brigade advanced on Fossacesia and had taken the town by mid afternoon.

 

On the 1st Dec the regiment advanced toward San Vito in support of the Irish Brigade. Heavy fighting around the village of Rualti on the 6th Dec and by the 8th Dec the strength of ‘C’ Sqd was down to 6 tanks.

Major Foster and Capt. Wilson awarded the MC and Sgts. Boyce and Tirbutt the MM.

 

On the 14th Dec A Sqd was in action again, defending the Orsogua – Ortona road. A Sqd HQ being shelled on the 17th Dec killing the Sqd Commander Major F E Whittaker and Trooper Hewlett and wounding Cpl Badger, L/Cpl Heyden and Trooper Heyden.

 

The Sqd withdrew on the 18th Dec to Martelli where the rest of the regiment had moved to on the 16th Dec.

 

The regiment moved down the line and arrived at Taranto on 12th Jan 1944 and on the 27th Jan embarked for home after being overseas for more than 3 years on the SS Ranchi. It arrived at Gourock on the 10th Feb and all given well earned leave.

 

The months of March, April and May 1944 were spent in preparation for the D Day Landings. On 4th June the regiment moved from Worthing to Portsmouth and sailed from Gosport on the 8th June landing in France on the 9th June, concentrating on the village of Anblie.

 

On the 25th June the regiment was joined by ‘F’ Battery, 4th Royal Horse Artillery and ‘B’ Company 2nd /60th Kings Royal Rifle Corp and were to remain a group until the end of the war.

 

On the 26th June the regiment moved up to Norrey-en-Bessin and then to Cheux all at close contact with the enemy. The regiment crossed the River Odon on the 28th engaging the enemy all day.

 

29th June was a day of fierce fighting and heavy loss which thwarted a massive German counter attack around Evrecy, west of Caen. The regiment lost 13 tanks and 3 damaged. 9 men killed, 27 wounded and 9 missing. Trooper Robertson awarded the MM.

 

The regiment now concentrated in the Cheux area from the 30th June until the 8th July when they moved back to Bronay.    They moved once again on the 10th to high ground north of the River Odon. Here they stayed under heavy shelling until the 18th July when the Regiment withdrew and on the 22nd moved to Carpiquet Aerodrome just west of Caen.

 

On the 3rd Aug they moved to Le Beny Bogage arriving on the 5th . and on the 6th Aug started to advance to the River Alliere. Then on to Vire in support of the infantry. The town being taken on the 7th.

 

The regiment then moved to the Falaise area coming under command of the 53rd Welsh Division and on the 18th started the attack on the Falaise pocket. ‘A’ Sqd lossing two tanks and Lt. Hughie Gallacher was killed. ‘B’ Sqd took the village of Ronay the next day. There was much fighting in the area and by the 22nd Aug the Battle of Falaise and the German 7th Army group had come to an end!

 

On the 23rd Aug the Regiment began to advance up the River Seine, crossing the river on the 29th and advancing through Gourney-en-bray and Grand Villiers. On the 31st after a short battle entered Poix taking 800 prisoners. The advance continuing the next day through Mollensvidon, Hangest-sur-Somme. ‘A’ Sqd having to fight for the village of Berneuil, capturing a Colonel, 15 officers and 317 men of the 859th Grenadier Regiment.

 

The advance was recommenced on the 5th Sept past the old W.W.I battlefields of the St.Pol – Lens area. Then across the Belgium border, soon running into German resistance at the village of Wortegen. Later concentrating to stop the enemy crossing the Escant Canal over the Kerkhoven bridge. The regiment making contact with the enemy in large numbers on withdrawing to the bridge. Sergeant Major Loff MM and bar being killed by a direct hit during the night and Lieut. Osbourne MM was killed the next day.

 

On the 8th Sept the regiment moved to the Termonde area and on the 9th moved forward to capture St Nicholas on the the other side of the River Scheldt.

 

On the 17th Sept came under the 101st US  Airbourne Div as part of Operation Garden which ended with the Arnhem operation and on the 19th began to move forward, ‘C’ Sqd making first contact with the enemy on the 20th. The rest of the regiment joining battle later in the morning.

 

The regiment advanced toward St Oeclenrode on the 21st and continued a fighting advance all day. The advance continuing on the 22nd under stiff opposition around Schinydel and Veghal.

 

The regiment joined up with the Guards Armoured Div on the 23rd and forced the enemy to retire. The advance continued with a lot of fighting until the 26th when the line was established south of the Veghal to Boxtel railway.

 

The regiment now withdrew for a rest and refit to the village of Volkel.

 

On 10th Oct the regiment moved northward on the Nymegen to Arnhem road , crossing the Rhine at Waal. Holding the line east of Arnhem and moving to Poppel on the 18th Oct.

 

The Regiment began moving forward again on the 25th Oct with the 2nd /60th Rifles reaching Tilbury on the 27th with little opposition.

 

On the 29th the regiment moved to the town of Weert to help defend against an expected German counter attack which came to nothing.

 

The regiment moved across the canal in support of the 53rd Welsh Div on the 15th Nov. Continuing to move forward and crossing the canal at Panningen on the 19th. On the 20th to the 22nd the regiment fought to enter Maasbree.

 

On the 25th Nov the regiment moved to Zomeren for 6 weeks rest!

 

On 1st Jan 1945 the regiment moved to the town of Maesyck on the banks of the Maas, the Germans occupying the opposite bank. Much shelling and patrolling taking place by both sides until the 19th Jan when the Germans were forced from their positions by No 3 Commando.

 

0n the 18th Feb the regiment moved to Tilburg and on the 23rd  was on the move again towards the Siegfried Line and Germany concentrating near Goch on the 26th.

 

There was much fighting in this area between the 26th Feb and the 3rd March. Capt. Bill Watkin and Lieut. John Hamilton killed. The regiment was withdrawn to Nymegen on the 7th March to commence 10 days training on ‘DD’ Amphibious Tanks ready for crossing the Rhine.

 

The regiment then concentrated south of Xanten and at 5:15am on the 24th March the crossing of the Rhine began. At 10:00am the regiment began moving north in the company of the 7th Cameronians toward Mehr. The next day moving North West to secure the crossing of the River Issel making contact with the enemy several times on the way. ‘B’ Sqd crossed the river on the 26th with only light opposition, joining up with the American Parachute Div on high ground near Ringenburg. The regiment was  relieved by the County of London Yeomanry.

 

On the evening of the 27th the regiment was back in action, advancing into the town of Dingden and toward Bockholt. Bockholt being taken by cover of darkness.

 

The main push through Germany now started with the Regiment taking part in ‘Operation Swan’ which started on the 30th March. Advancing through Winterswisk, Verden and Octrup.

 

On 3rd April the regiment rested the day at Langenhorst and then moved to a defensive position at Ohne. On the 6th crossed the Dortmond – Ems canal after first clearing the west bank of enemy opposition.

 

The regiment now began to come across very stiff opposition from small determined groups of Germans.

 

Advancing through Hopsten and reaching Halverde on the 8th. Then through Recke and across the Weser canal and on north.

 

On the 9th April encountered heavy defences south of Neuenkirchen manned by students of the German Officer Training Unit. The regiment suffered twelve killed but many hundreds of Germans were killed.

 

On the 10th advanced again across the Ems canal through Osnabruch and North East towards Breman, arriving 20 miles south of the city in the early hours of the 11th.

On the 11th the Regiment crossed the Weser at Rethen and soon made contact with the German 2nd Marine Div and with the 2nd /60th Rifles advanced slowly clearing the village of Gt Elsdorf on the 15th. The next day capturing Sud-Kampen taking 3 officers and 260 men prisoner.

 

The Regiment continued to advance and fight, taking Kirchwalselde and Rahnhorst. Westerwalsede being taken after very heavy fighting.

 

On the 19th April the regiment was concentrated around Scharnhorst to prepare for the capture of Bremen. The advance on the city started with considerable fighting, the regiment in support of the 52nd Lowland Div and by the 22nd April the regiment was in position for the final assault on the city and a massive air raid by the Royal Airforce taking place on the 23rd.

 

The attack went in on the 25th April.  The regiment in support of the infantry entered the city and apart from light shelling and a few snipers opposition was very light. On the 27th the city was completely liberated.

 

On the 28th the regiment was moved out of Bremen and arrived at Oldendorf on the 29th and on the 4th May crossed the Elbe to Bergdorf ready to assault Hamburg but at 08:00 hrs on May 5th all fighting on the front of the 21st Army Group ceased!

 

On 9th May 1945 the regiment moved to Uetersen to begin its occupational role.

 

 


 

For a complete history of the Regiment you will have to find a copy of  A History of the 44th  Royal Tank Regiment 1939-1945  written by Lieut.-Colonel A.G. Brown, K. C. E. Dodwell, F. E. Honniball and Major-General G. C. Hopkinson.

This may be difficult to find, but one of the specialist book sellers my be able to get a copy.

 



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Last modified 26th May 2002

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