The History of the

4th and 7th Royal Tank Regiments

 

1943 - 1947

Gosport on 14 June 1944

The 4th and the 7th had been destroyed fighting side by side in Tobruk but the Army Board took the decision that neither would be lost in the Order of Battle. It was a singular recognition of what they had together achieved during their remarkable history. The 7th was the first to be reborn on 1 April 1943, just nine months after Tobruk. They took on the identity of 10 RTR, a regiment recruited largely from Scotland and Northern England.

Equipped with Churchills the new Seventh are seen here in Gosport on 14 June 1944 as they prepared to embark for France. They landed on the Normandy beaches on 18 June, losing six tanks when one of the LCTs was mined.

Now, under command 31 Tk Bde they were to take part in Operation "Epsom", the crossing of the River Odon near Caen commencing at dawn on 26 June 1944.

Operation Epsom b_150_0_0_00_images_Tanks_4and7rtr_tanks_00015.jpg Tank in battle

Ordered to take Cheux

Ordered to take Cheux, they crossed the Start Line at 0730 and, despite deep minefields in which they lost nine tanks, they had secured the town by 1100. A Sqn passed through but lost eight of their eighteen tanks. Later the Regiment pushed forward to Granville. The attempt to cross the Odon was threatened by flank pressure from 9th SS Pz Div.

By 29 June 1944 the main thrust of 8 Corps was severely threatened by a counter-attack involving 9 and 10 SS Pz Div - some 250 tanks. 7 RTR was facing increasing opposition and having a miserable time among the Normandy Bocage. The German opposition was cranked up by the addition of 12 SS Pz Div and 1 SS (Adolf Hitler) Pz Div. 7 RTR losses were mounting steadily, including OC A Sqn Major Coombs injured in the head. At 1700 hrs General Richard O'Connor arrived on his motor bike (!) and immediately assessing that 7 RTR was facing the main enemy counter attack he brought down "every gun in Normandy" - over 700 pieces of carefully husbanded artillery.

Major Dick Joscelyne MC with Lt Franz Wallerstein MC was among those of A Sqn 7 RTR who saw the thousands of rounds impact. He later wrote "the ridge in front of us dissolved into dust – Adolf Hitler Pz Div and all". The German advance was checked. The official record states that The Seventh under Colonel George Gaisford played a "fine part" in the action. The Regiment's stand was reminiscent of Colonel Foot's stand against Rommel at Knightsbridge. It seemed that the new Seventh would acquit themselves as well as the old.

On 8 July General O'Connor made a fresh attempt to reach the Orne - Operation Jupiter. The Seventh was always in the van of the attack and was heavily engaged. The regiment had four officers killed and lost eight tanks but claimed nine panzers. The CO was blinded in one eye but refused to leave the field until dusk. Major Robert Fleming, the 2i/c was killed. Lt Col Rea Leakey MC and Bar was appointed to command the Regiment on 20 July. They remained in action continuously, playing a major part in Operation Express at Roquancourt.

Colonel Rea Leakey

Colonel (later Major General) Rea Leakey was a very experienced, brave and tough officer who according to Field Marshal Carver, writing the foreword to Rea Leakey's autobiography, "was very lucky to have survived both his many daring exploits on the battlefield and his frequent acts of insubordination towards higher authority." One such entirely justifiable act of defiance which occurred on his first full day in command is recounted in Annex D.

Operation Totalise

The Seventh took part in Operation Bluecoat at Aunay Sur Odon on 31 July 1944; Operation Totalise at Falaise on 5 August and finally Operation Astoria at Le Havre on 10 September.

RTR Corps Commander, General Crocker

There they were operating under an RTR Corps Commander, General Crocker. His masterly planning and indirect-approach attack from the North East secured an astonishingly rapid defeat of the strong German garrison.

Memorial Service Cover Memorial Service List  

On 25 September the Seventh held a memorial service in the Le Havre area for those who had been killed in action in fighting since D Day.

Flame-thrower tank

After three weeks of R and R in the Dieppe area the Regiment, under command the Czech Independent Armoured Brigade, took over the operation to contain the 17,000 strong German "fortress" garrison in Dunkirk. Chronically short of tanks and ammunition, the Regiment took over from a much larger Black Watch Battle Group. Throughout November and December 1944 the Seventh, employed largely in the infantry role, were locked in combat with the tenacious German garrison. Amongst other recognitions of their success the CO was awarded the Czech Military Cross.

By January 1945 the Regiment was in action in Churchills again, many fitted with flame-thrower equipment.

Letter

On 1 March 1945 4 RTR was reformed from the very successful 144 Regt RAC commanded by Lt Col Alan Jolly DSO who remained in command.

Sir John Crocker inspected the transition parade

General Sir John Crocker inspected the transition parade accompanied by Lt Col Alan Jolly DSO.

Special Order

A Remarkable tribute considering that the Regiment was at war, and about to cross the Rhine.

Buffaloes

On 22 March the Buffaloes of 4 RTR were brought forward to spearhead the Rhine Crossing.

Lt Col Jolly briefed his 2IC, Major Wetherall

Lt Col Jolly briefed his 2IC, Major Wetherall, and squadron commanders for the Rhine Crossing.

Briefing the ranks

...and then briefed all ranks.

Last brew

Last brew

The CO's crew in the FUP raring to go

The CO's crew in the FUP raring to go – Tpr Marsh, L/Cpl Davies, the Colonel, Tpr Tyler, Lt Millership.

RTR colourso

The RTR colours were fitted to the CO's Buffalo which would be the first to cross.

assault crossing

The assault crossing began at 2100 hrs 24 March 1945 supported by 3,000 guns and 83 Group RAF.

Map

4 RTR were first across, carrying the Black Watch and Gordons, both TA Battalions of 51 Highland Div. Their main crossing points were astride Rees. It is a fact that the Gordons' biggest fear was not the Germans but that most of them couldn't swim!

History had been re-enacted. The Colours had crossed first ..again

Flag Letter Cartoon

Tpr Hartas

Incidentally the artist who drew the cartoon was Tpr Hartas, 4 RTR who is seen here at RHQ producing the latest issue of "Blue Flash".

Churchill made the crossing on 26 March

The ferrying continued day and night. Churchill made the crossing on 26 March; left to right Gen Dempsey, FM Allanbrooke and Col Jolly.

Mehr and Bochalt

7 RTR crossed the Rhine on 25 March and was immediately in action in the Mehr and Bochalt areas East of the Rhine.

Map

On 10 April 4 RTR Buffaloes , now under command Lt Col F Wetherell, crossed the Weser at Rethem and on 11 April they crossed the Ijssel. On 15 April 7 RTR Churchills took part in the capture of Brinkum.

Map

4 and 7 RTR together then took part in the Capture of Bremen. On 29 April 4 RTR crossed the Elbe at Bleckede and Soltrum in support of 86 US Airborne.

German commanders facing FM Montgomery's 21 Army

On 5 May 1945 German commanders facing FM Montgomery's 21 Army Gp signed an instrument of surrender near Soltau on the Luneberg Heath.

Letter - War over

HQ 31 Armd Bde informed 4 RTR later that night.

The war for 4 and 7 RTR was over.

 

The war had been costly for both Regiments

Apart from officers killed we had lost 275 Warrant Officers, Sergeants and Other Ranks.

Of these 4 RTR had 104 and 7 RTR 171.

The worst years were 1941 with 64 killed, all in the Middle East; 1942 with 53 killed; and 1944 with 52 killed in Western Europe, almost all from the Seventh. See Annex F - Role of Honour.

Major Mike Woollcombe with his wife and mother

Of course, for every death there had been at least three wounded, some badly. Here we see Major Mike Woollcombe ,later CO 7 RTR, with his Mother (left) and his wife Ruth after receiving his DSO from the King at Buckingham Palace. He was so badly wounded in the legs that he had to walk with the aid of a walking stick (as opposed to the standard RTR ash plant). Moreover he was never again able even to sit normally (see image 6 of 58 in Chapter 7/1953)

Westerkappeln

One month later 4 RTR moved into villages between Munster and Osnabruck. – Westerkappeln was the A Sqn village. 7 RTR were stationed near Luneburg in 31 Armd Bde, 79 Armd Div, whose GOC was the much respected Major General Sir Percy Hobart KBE, CB, DSO, MC. (late RTR)

Montegalda Montegalda

Seven months later 4 RTR moved to Montegalda in Northern Italy where the accommodation was too good to last – then to Palmanova.

Palmanova

4 RTR remained in Palmanova for nine months. Here there were great opportunities for sport, including skiing, riding and football to which the Regiment addressed themselves with a vengeance.

6th Armd Div Football Cup 6th Armd Div Football Cup  

4 RTR won the 6th Armd Div Football Cup beating 6 RTR in the Final. Here the captain, Tpr Ashall receives the Cup from Brigadier Coombe.

Rugby football team

There is no actual record of any successes for the officers Rugby football team!

L to R: Lt Such, Maj Harden, Capts Brotchie, Fawcett, Robinson, Lts Eaton, Walker, Eyres, Slates, Williamson, Beale and Lilley.

Sitting Lts Lawson, Cotterell Capt Wilcock

Capt Nobby Noble Tpr Hughes  

Cross-country skiing was excellent and within easy reach. Here Capt Nobby Noble and Tpr Hughes (right) manage to look quite confident at Cortina

The Regimental canteen at Palmova

The Regimental canteen at Palmova.

Commanding Officer Lt Col F Wetherell

A talented local artist in Palmova painted this portrait of the Commanding Officer Lt Col F Wetherell and...

Battle art

...the same artist completed this commission for the Regiment.

FM Montgomery visits  4 RTR

FM Montgomery visits 4 RTR - newly equipped with Comet - in Palmova, Italy, in May 1946.

squadron

4 RTR provided a composite squadron under command Major F Hall MC with their new Comet Tanks for the 8 May 1946 13 Corps VE Anniversary Parade in Trieste. The parade was less a celebration than a show of force to deter the Yugoslav partisans from seizing Trieste.

Map

Meantime 7 RTR remained in Rhine Army as a tank regiment until deploying in late1946 via Barnard Castle to Rawalpindi in North West India under command Lt Col R B P Wood. They reached the Punjab in January 1947; the Regiment was centred on Sialkot; the families were quartered at the hill station at Dalhousie.

Tanks Tanks

Their unenviable task was to attempt to keep the Muslims,Hindus and Sikhs apart. The growing tension preceding Independence meant that they had little respite. Using both Stuart light tanks and Fox armoured cars they raced from one crisis spot to another, attempting to calm but on occasion having to open fire to minimise atrocities.

Map

All elements of the Regiment were in constant demand. At the height of the atrocities one Fox troop covered 350 miles in two days. RHQ was based in Sialkot; A Sqn was in Lahore, B Sqn (Maj Duggie Moir) was in Amritsar, C Sqn in Jullandur.

The Officers 7 RTR at Sialkot

The Officers 7 RTR at Sialkot, with General Sir Claude Auckinleck

On 22 July 1947, with heavy hearts the Squadrons handed in their tanks, armoured cars and equipment. On 23 July the families were escorted down from Dalhousie to Sialkot.

The Regiment entrained on 1 August for the four day journey to Kalyan, a port just North of Bombay. They had witnessed awful atrocities and left behind a terrible slaughter. But they had done all they could. Gen Sir Frank Messervy, C in C Pakistan, said of the them

"They were the best troops I had in this Command. They were keen, efficient and ready to take on any job. Their discipline was excellent."

In Chapter 6 we see both Regiments‘ hardly ever at home'.