- The Second World War was the first truly global war. Although the First
World War was fought by countries from all five continents, with the
of some smaller conflicts in Africa and Asia, the majority of the fighting
took place in Europe. The Second World War saw conflict on every continent
bar America. The Regiment’s contribution to this war was five service
battalions which fought in North West Europe, North Africa and Italy, although
individual Coldstreamers served in the Far East and other theatres of war.
- 1st and 2nd Battalions - France 1940
- On the outbreak of war on 3rd
September, 1939, both the 1st and 2nd Battalions
deployed to France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The period up
to May 1940 was known as the ‘Phoney War’ where the BEF spent most of their
time on patrolling, digging defences and waiting for the expected German
assault. The defence plan relied on the ‘impregnable’ Maginot Line to the
south along the French border with Germany. This line of concrete
fortifications ran for ? miles and ended at the Ardennes Forest to the west
which was thought to be impenetrable to armour. Therefore the French were
confident that they could repulse any German assault.
However, when on the 10th May the
Germans invaded the Low Counties, the BEF left their prepared defences and
moved forward into Belgium. As the allies moved forward, the Germans attacked
through the Ardennes with tanks and headed to the Channel Coast. They were so
successful that the BEF was threatened with being cut off and annihilated.
- After much fighting by both battalions the
order was given on the 22nd May to withdraw to Dunkirk. Most of the distance
(approximately 60 miles!) was covered on foot. On arrival at the beaches of
Dunkirk, tens of thousands of troops of the BEF waited their turn to be
evacuated from the beaches by hundreds of small boats and pleasure craft which
had sailed from Britain to ferry troops from the beaches to larger ships. The
1st Battalion were evacuated on 1st June, however, the 2nd
Battalion were tasked to form part of the defensive perimeter and after more
fighting were evacuated on the night of 1st June. Unlike many
other units, each and every Coldstreamer embarked with his rifle and full
complement of kit!
Between 26th May and 2nd
June, nearly 350,000 men were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk. Although
this was in no way a victory it saved the British Army. Despite the fact that
it had lost most of its tanks and artillery pieces, and much of its heavy
equipment, 350,000 trained men with battle experience was a truly great asset
on which to rebuild the army.
- United Kingdom 1940-41.
- The 1st and 2nd
Battalions re-equipped and reorganised on their return to the UK and were
deployed around the country in an anti-invasion role.
- A Coldstream Guards Training Battalion was
formed at Pirbright for continuation of recruit training once the recruits had
passed out of the Guards Depot at Caterham. A Holding Battalion was also
formed to hold trained personnel prior to them joining their battalions. It
was from this battalion that Public Duties and The King’s Guard was found.
- A 4th, 5th and 6th
Battalion was also raised. The 4th and 5th Battalions
went on to take part in the invasion of Europe in 1944, but after much
training for war the 6th Battalion became a Holding Battalion and
was absorbed into the Westminster Garrison Battalion in 1943.
The Westminster Garrison Battalion was formed
in 1943 by the amalgamation of the Holding Battalions of the Foot Guards
Regiments. It was based in Regents Park Barracks in London, and it became a
holding battalion for the Brigade of Guards. Trained men were held there
until posted to battalions and it was predominantly this battalion that
provided men for Public Duties in London.
- 3rd Battalion – North Africa
- The 3rd Battalion went to Egypt in
1937 and was still there at the outbreak of war in 1939. With the entry of
Italy into the war in June 1940, they found themselves with Italians to the
west in Libya, and to the south in Eritrea and Abyssinia.
- In July the Battalion, now motorised and part
of 7th Armoured Division (later to gain fame as The Desert Rats),
moved into the Western Desert and patrolled the Libyan frontier at Sollum and
Halfaya Pass. Their task was to observe and report on the enemy rather than
engage them, but when the Italians did advance in September, they came on such
a narrow path that the Battalion was able to oppose the entire enemy force for
five days in a rear-guard action until ordered to withdraw. In December the
British launched a brilliant counter-attack in which the Battalion played a
full part. It was later estimated that the number of Italian PoW captured was
nearly six times the number of British troops that took part.
- After a period of rest in Egypt the Battalion
returned to the Western Desert in April 1941, but this time the Italians had
been reinforced by Rommel’s Afrika Korps. The battle now became very fluid
with each side advancing long distances until they outran their supplies, only
to withdraw again when counter-attacked.
The British launched a major offensive in
November 1941 which achieved an advance of over 200 miles, but by 21st
January the Germans counter-attacked and drove them back as far as Gazala
forty miles to the west of Tobruk. Rommel attacked again in May and this time
the 3rd Battalion were in the now famous Knightsbridge Box where
they fought on for seventeen days. However, on 13th June they were
ordered to withdraw into Tobruk.
- When the Germans had forced the British to
withdraw in the spring of 1941 the British garrison in Tobruk held out being a
thorn in Rommel’s side until the British relieved it during the November
offensive. The plan was to withdraw into Tobruk and remain there once again
until relieved. However, the defences had been allowed to deteriorate and the
garrison was forced to surrender when the Germans attacked again. It was at
this time that Major Sainthill, who was commanding the Battalion, sent a terse
signal to Headquarters stating; “Surrender is not an operation that the
Battalion has practised in peacetime and we do not intend to start now!”
He then proceeded to lead half of the Battalion and some 200 South Africans
out of Tobruk to safety.
- The Germans were finally held at El Alamein in
October and the 3rd Battalion withdrew to Syria for rest and
refitting. In the meantime the British finally pushed the Germans westwards
and out of Libya and towards the British First Army which was advancing from
the west to join up with the Eighth Army. The 3rd Battalion
rejoined the campaign in March 1943, where they were attacked by German tanks
at Medenine. A few days later they were part of the attack on the
fortifications on the Mareth Line and at the end of April the Battalion were
ordered to advance a join up with the First Army.
- 2nd Battalion – North Africa.
- After Dunkirk, the 2nd Battalion
remained in the UK until November 1942 when in landed in North Africa as part
of the First Army. The Eighth Army had been fighting in the Western Desert
for over two years and was finally beginning the make gains against the
Germans. Therefore the First Army was landed in Algeria with the aim of
attacking the Germans from the rear and link up with the Eighth Army.
- The Battalion’s first major engagement was the
Battle of Longstop Hill. This heavily defended feature was attacked on the
night of 22nd December, 1942, and after a hard-fought engagement it
was captured. The Coldstream were relieved by the Americans and marched back
some 13 miles to their billets. On arrival they heard that the Americans were
in trouble and had lost part of the hill, so they immediately marched the 13
miles back to Longstop and assaulted it again on the 24th.
Christmas Day was spent fighting on the hill but the Germans counter-attacked
in force and the Battalion was forced to withdraw. Losses were very heavy
with 10 officers and over 200 men killed or wounded.
- Their next major engagement was at the
Kasserine Pass in February and March 1943. Rommel launched two Panzer
Divisions towards the Kasserine Pass in order to stop the Allies reaching the
Mediterranean. The 1st Guards Brigade, of which the 2nd
Battalion was part, was sent to block the wide valley. The Germans now probed
the defences in various areas and the Brigade was moved to several different
locations to counter them. Eventually the Germans withdrew.
- Both the 2nd and 3rd
Battalions now took part in operations up to the close of the campaign on 12th
May when the Germans and Italians surrendered.
- 2nd & 3rd
Battalions – Italy.
- The Allies invaded the island of Sicily in
July 1943 although neither Coldstream Battalion took part. After several
months hard fighting, the Italians surrendered on 3rd Septemeber,
but the country was still occupied by the Germans who fought on.
- The 3rd Battalion were the first to
be engaged in Italy when they landed at Salerno on 9th September
where they were
immediately pitched into the battle to secure and enlarge the
beach head. The Germans finally pulled back on the 18th to avoid
being outflanked by the Allied army advancing from the south. The Battalion
pushed inland but the Germans vigorously defended every piece of ground and
progress was slow. On the 25th September,
CSM Peter Wright won the
Victoria Cross during the attack on Hill 270 on the Pagliarolli feature.
- The 2nd Battalion landed in January
1944. Both Battalions fought separately but endured similar conditions. The
weather was atrocious with heavy winter rain and snow turning much of the
ground into a quagmire. The ground was extremely mountainous and the Germans
fought tenaciously for every feature. Very slowly the Allies drove the
Germans northwards gradually liberating Italy from the south.
- By the autumn of 1944, reinforcements were
becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. In addition to casualties,
Operation Python was put into effect whereby any man who had served overseas
for more that six years was to be sent home. As the 3rd Battalion
had been in Egypt since 1937, a great number of it’s men were to be
repatriated so in early 1945 the two battalions were reorganised. The longest
serving men were posted from the 2nd to the 3rd, while
the men with the shortest overseas service in the 3rd were posted
to the 2nd. The 3rd Battalion returned home whilst the
‘new’ 2nd Battalion remained in Italy.
- The German surrender in May 1945 found the
Battalion in the very north of Italy.
- 1st (Armoured) & 5th
Battalions – Guards Armoured Division in North West Europe.
- In 1941 it was decided that there was a
requirement for more armoured troops and it was decided to form the Guards
Armoured Division. The first two brigades were the 5th and 6th
Guards Armoured Brigades which contained the 1st and 4th
Battalions respectively. However, on a subsequent reorganisation the 6th
Guards Brigade was removed from the Division and became the 6th
(Guards) Independent Tank Brigade and fought separately from the Guards
Armoured. In its place came the 32nd Guards Brigade which included
the 5th Battalion.
- All of the Armoured Foot Guards battalions in
the Division adopted an armoured organisation and titles. The 1st
Battalion became the 1st (Armoured) Battalion, Companies became
Squadrons, and Platoons became Troops. Even warrant officers appointments
were not immune with Company Sergeant Majors becoming Squadron Sergeant
Majors. As an infantry battalion, the 5th retained the normal
organisation and appointments.
- Up to 1943, the Division had a succession of
out of date tanks and equipment, but by early 1943 they were equipped with
Sherman tanks and its variants, and it is with these that they fought through
France and the Low Countries to Germany.
- The Division did not take part in the actual
D-Day Landings on 6th June, 1944, but they disembarked at
Arromanches on 23rd June, (D+17). Here they became involved in the battles to
break out of the beach head in June, July and early August.
- After the defeat of the Germans in Normandy,
the Allies struck out in two directions; the Americans headed for Paris while
the British and Canadians headed for the Channel Ports. Their line of advance
also housed the V1 Flying Bomb launch sites which were at that time
devastating the south coast of Britain.
- It was also at the end of August that the
return to the Division of the 2nd (Armoured) Bn Welsh Guards
enabled the GOC to form regimental groups; one armoured and one infantry
battalion from each regiment fighting together. From this point until the end
of the war, the 1st (Armoured) and 5th Battalions mainly
fought together as the Coldstream Group.
The Division now took part in the dash to
Brussels from the River Seine in France, and on 3rd September they
were the lead troops of the liberating forces which, after an advance of 75
miles in one day, entered the City.
- The advance now slowed considerably with the
Germans showing stiff resistance. The Allied supply lines were now over 300
miles long and it was of vital importance that the port of Antwerp was seized,
and the Division played a prominent part in its capture.
- Their next major operation was Market Garden.
This was a daring plan to drop an Airborne Division to capture three bridges
over the River Rhine. Had it succeeded it would have shortened the war
considerably. The Division’s part was to lead the land forces that would join
up with the airborne forces. Unfortunately this necessitated an advance up a
single road which left the supply tail particularly vulnerable to attack.
operation began on the 17th September and started badly when the
Airborne Division landed on top of two German SS Armoured Divisions that,
unknown to the Allies, were resting in the Arnhem area. The armoured advance
met heavy resistance and had to fight virtually the whole way. The bridges at
Eindhoven and Nijmegen were seized by the Americans and these were reached by
the Guards and secured. The British Paras in Arnhem were now in serious
trouble. Very few of them had actually reached the bridge due to German
action, and those that did were now cut off. By the 21st
September, the Paras were pinned against the north bank of the Rhine, and
despite the best efforts of the armour, they were stopped 6 miles short of
Arnhem. The 43rd Wessex Division now pushed on to the river and the
remaining Paras were ferried back across to the south bank. The Guards
Armoured was now deployed to fend off counter-attacks and secure the
bridgehead at Nijmegen.
- The Division next took part in the advance
into Germany. Progress was slow as the Germans tenaciously fought for every
inch of ground. It was during this phase that Captain I.O.Liddell won the
Victoria Cross for seizing a bridge over the River Ems near Lingen which had
been prepared for demolition. VE Day on 8th May, 1945, found the
Coldstream Group of the Guards Armoured Division in Cuxhaven on the north
coast of Germany.
- The Division was soon disbanded at the close
of the war, and on 9th June,1945, the Division held a Farewell to
Armour parade at Rottenburg airfield which was attended by Field Marshal
Montgomery, commanding 21st Army Group.
- 4th (Tank) Battalion – North
The 4th Battalion was formed as an
infantry battalion in October 1940. It later became a motor battalion in the
Guards Armoured Division, but it was withdrawn with its brigade (6th
Guards Armoured) to become part of an independent tank brigade (6th
(Guards) Independent Tank Brigade).
- Like the 1st (Armoured) Battalion,
the 4th (Tank) Battalion took on the organisation of an armoured
unit, adopting all the usual armoured titles and appointments. The Brigade
was equipped with slow and heavy Churchill tanks.
- The Brigade landed in France at the end of
July and was almost immediately thrown into battle for the breakout of Caumont.
This battle was fought to assist the American breakout further west and has
often been quoted as one of the finest armoured engagements of the campaign.
They then fought alongside the Guards Armoured Division for much of the rest
of the Normandy campaign.
- During the advance into the Low Counties and
Germany the Brigade was attached to many different formations at various
times, but at all times they were in the thickest of the fighting. They
captured Munster on 2nd April, 1945, after a 50 mile advance in
which they carried paratroopers of the 17th US Airborne Division on
their tanks. They then moved onto Celle and then to Uelzen which was strongly
defended and took several days to overcome.
- VE Day on 8th May, found them in
Kiel, home of the German Navy.
- Special Forces.
- The new nature of warfare meant that tactics
were constantly being refined and developed. As a result many special forces
units were formed, and the Household Division played a leading role in the
organisation of most of them.
- The Army Commandos were formed in 1940,
and one of the first units was No8 (Guards) Commando. The unit consisted of
85% Guardsmen and several of them went on to play a pivotal role in the
formation of the Special Air Service. This Commando was sent to the Middle
East and carried out a series of small raids on the North African coast.
However, the Guards Commando was disbanded in late 1941 as due to a lack of
equipment and landing craft in the theatre no suitable role could be found for
Coldstreamers continued to serve in the
Commandos elsewhere either as individuals or in Troops composed of Guardsmen.
They took part in raids all over northern Europe.
- The Long Range Desert Group was formed
in 1940 with the aim of penetrating deep into the desert with small,
self-sufficient teams to attack the enemy’s lines of communication and carry
out reconnaissance. In December 1940, a Guards Patrol was formed from men of
the 3rd Coldstream and 2nd Scots Guards who had
considerable experience in the desert.
- The Special Air Service Regiment was
formed from members of No8 (Guards) Commando, in particular the ‘Tobruk Four’
- Jim Almonds, Pat Riley, Bob Lilley and James Blakeney – all Coldstreamers.
They were part of the original L Detachment which the current SAS trace their
roots to. Currently 22 SAS still has a Guards Squadron as a tribute to its
- The Special Boat Squadron was
originally part of the SAS, but it became independent in May 1943 when the
North African campaign ended. Commanded by Major The Earl Jellicoe, a
Coldstreamer, it carried out many raids in the Mediterranean, particularly in
the Dodecanese and around Crete.
- When the Airborne Forces were formed in
1940, the Guards once again provided many first class officers, warrant
officers and men. RSM Jim Cowley
the Sergeant Major of the Training Depot, and the GOC of the Airborne Division
was a Grenadier, General Boy Browning. Immediately after the war, the 1st
(Guards) Parachute Battalion was formed for service in Palestine. In 1948,
this was reduced in size and eventually became the Guards Independent
Parachute Company which was finally disbanded in 1975. Currently there is a
Guards Parachute Platoon serving with 3 Para.
- The Special Operations Executive (SOE)
was a clandestine organisation that parachuted agents behind enemy lines to
organise resistance and sabotage. Many Coldstreamers served with the
organisation at many levels, but the most prominent is Brigadier A.F.C.Nicholls who won the George Cross for his selfless sacrifice in Albania.
- MI9 was the Military Intelligence
department which ran an escape network in occupied Europe for downed aircrew
and escaped prisoners of war. The organisation was largely run by Lt Col J.M
Langley, MBE, MC. He had been wounded in France in 1940 whilst serving with
the 2nd Battalion. He had his arm amputated and was captured in a
Field Hospital. After several attempts, he eventually escaped. On his return
he was summoned to Whitehall where he was told that he was to run MI9.
- The Coldstream ended the war with a fine
record. It had fought as infantry and in tanks. Many had served with Special
Forces units and between 1939 and 1945, nearly 17,500 men had served in the
- Battalions had served with the BEF in France,
in North Africa, Italy and North West Europe. Over 550 gallantry awards had
been won, including two Victoria Crosses and one George Cross. In all 112
officers and 1320 other ranks were killed and over 800 Coldstreamers were
taken prisoner. The Regiment won a further fifty-five
- Related Pictures
- For more info on the Guards Armoured Division please see the
He later won the DCM with the 5th Bn, was the RSM of 1st
(Guards) Para Bn, was the RSM of the 1st Bn, Quartermaster of
the 2nd Bn, and is now a Military Knight of Windsor.
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