Tag Archives: regiments

Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – The Army (part 2)

The proportions of Portsmouth men who served in particular arms of service in the Second World War tells us much about the structure and state of the British Army at the time:

Infantry – 252 (37.39%)
Artillery – 138 (20.47%)
Supporting Corps – 119 (17.66%)
Engineers – 64 (9.5%)
Armour – 35 (5.19%)
Imperial Forces – 30 (4.45%)
Special Forces – 25 (3.71%)
Miscellaneous – 12 (1.78%)

Churchill might have castigated Brooke for the amount of ‘cooks and bottle washers’ in the Army, but compared to their forefathers in the First World War the soldiers at the sharp end were a smaller, but better honed spear backed up by a stronger support network. Particularly with the advent of armoured warfare and other technological advances, support services acted as force multipliers.

Infantry

Despite the development of armoured warfare, coupled with a growth in supporting services and a desire to avoid large, pitched land battles, the majority of Portsmouth Soldiers killed between 1939 and 1947 were killed whilst serving with the PBI – the Poor Bloody Infantry:

114 – Hampshire Regiment
12 – Queens Regiment
6 – Wiltshire Regiment
5 – Royal Berkshire Regiment
5 – Royal West Kent Regiment
5 – Grenadier Guards
4 – Dorsetshire Regiment
4 – East Surrey Regiment
4 – Royal Fusiliers
4 – Somerset Light Infantry
4 – Royal Sussex Regiment
3 – The Cameronians
3 – Coldstream Guards
3 – Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
3 – East Yorkshire Regiment
3 – Kings Regiment
3 – Kings Shropshire Light Infantry
3 – Lancashire Fusiliers
3 – Rifle Brigade
3 – Royal Scots
3 – Middlesex Regiment
3 – York and Lacaster Regiment
2 – Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
2 – Cheshire Regiment
2 – Devonshire Regiment
2 – Essex Regiment
2 – Green Howards
2 – Kings Own Royal Regiment
2 – Kings Own Scottish Borderers
2 – Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
2 – Kings Royal Rifle Corps
2 – Lincolnshire Regiment
2 – Northamptonshire Regiment
2 – Ox and Bucks Light Infantry
2 – Royal Welsh Fusiliers
2 – Seaforth Highlanders
2 – Suffolk Regiment
2 – Royal Warwickshire Regiment
2 – Worcestershire Regiment
1 -Beds and Herts Regiment
1 – The Black Watch
1 – The Buffs
1 – Durham Light Infantry
1 – Duke of Wellington’s Regiment
1 – Royal East Kent Regiment
1 – East Lancashire Regiment
1 – Gloucestershire Regiment
1 – Gordon Highlanders
1 – Highland Light Infantry
1 – Loyal Regiment
1 – Royal Ulster Rifles
1 – Sherwood Foresters
1 – South Staffordshire Regiment
1 – Welsh Guards

Despite a slight weakening in local regimental affiliations, the vast majority – 45.24% – of Portsmouth infantrymen served in the Hampshire Regiment. Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment were engaged principally in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, and in North West Europe from D-Day onwards. Its noticeable also that the next largest contingents of Portsmouth infantrymen served in county regiments close to Hampshire – Surrey, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Dorset, for example. Even though men were no longer necessarily joining their county regiment, there was still clearly a policy of assigning men regionally. The wide range of other units that Portsmouth men served with can be accounted for by transfers between Regiments and as the war went on a policy of recruiting men into any Regiment that needed them, regardless of geography.

Artillery

138 men from Portsmouth died whilst serving with the Royal Artillery or the Royal Horse Artillery during the Second World War:

136 – Royal Artillery
2 – Royal Horse Artillery

The 136 men killed whilst in the Royal Artillery is the largest number of fatalities for any Army Regiment -evidence, if any is needed, of both how large the Royal Artillery was, and how involved it was in the fighting in every theatre of war. Gunners served in Field Artillery, Medium and Heavy Regiments, Coast Regiments, Anti-Aircraft Regiments, Searchlight Regiments and Anti-Tank Regiments. Men seem to have been pretty broadly dispersed around Artillery units, although a sizeable amount of men were killed serving with 57 Heavy AA Regiment and and 59 Anti-Tank Regiment.

Other Supporting Corps

As the British Army became more diverse, more technical and more mechanised, more supporting arms were needed to keep the ‘teeth’ arms fighting effectively.

64 – Royal Engineers
25 – Royal Army Ordnance Corps
25 – Royal Signals
23 – Royal Army Service Corps
15 – Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
12 – Royal Army Medical Corps
10 – Pioneer Corps
4 – Military Police
2 – Army Catering Corps
1 – Army Dental Corps
1 – Army PT Corps
1 – Royal Army Chaplain’s Department

The Royal Engineers performed a vital role in every theatre -bridging, mine clearance, bomb disposal, demolition, and all manner of tasks. The RAOC and RASC also performed vital roles in keeping the Army supplied. Royal Signals were also present in every theatre, and serving with every unit. In modern warfare communications were all-important. The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers were formed during the war, to reflect the important of mechanical maintenance of vehicles and equipment. Other units were responsible for looking after the wide range of soldiers physical, nutritional and spiritual welfare.

Armour

Although the Second World War saw great advances in the use of tanks and other armoured vehicles, a relatively small amount of men from Portsmouth – 35 – were killed whilst serving with Armoured units:

28 – Royal Armoured Corps (inc Cavalry)
7 – Recce Corps

Imperial countries

30 men from Portsmouth died whilst serving with units from the British Empire:

9 – Indian Regiments
8 – Hong Kong Dockyard Defence Corps
5 – Malayan Regiments
4 – African Regiments
2 – Canadian Regiments
1 – Australian Regiments
1 – New Zealand Regiments

There are several reasons that may account for Portsmouth men serving with Imperial Forces. They may have originated from abroad, but gained a Portsmouth connection along the way. They may also have emigrated from Portsmouth and then joined their resident country’s forces. Others, particularly officers and NCO’s, served on attachment. The Hong Kong Dockyard Defence Corps was comprised of men working in Hong Kong Dockyard, and the various Malayan volunteer forces were made up of men working in the country.

Special Forces

15 – Parachute Regiment
7 – Army Commandos
3 – Glider Pilot Regiment

Various special forces were formed during the war. Men could volunteer for the Parachute Regiment from their parent unit, and 15 Portsmouth Paras died in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, France, Holland and Germany. The Army Commando’s were another unit formed along similar lines, as was the Glider Pilot Regiment – a force of qualified pilots, ranked as Sergeants and Staff Sergeants. That more men died serving in special forces than any infantry regiment apart from the Hampshire Regiment suggests how important they had become.

Miscellaneous units

5 – Auxilliary Territorial Service
2 – General Service Corps
2 – Home Guard
1 – Army Technical School
1 – General List
1 – Allied Control Commission

The ATS was an auxilliary service formed to allow women to support the Army – all died whilst in Britain, presumably from illness or accidents. The General Service Corps was a reception unit formed in 1943 to provide recruits with initial training – the two members who died whilst serving in it evidently died before they were assigned to a Regiment. The Army Technical School provided training to boys too young for active service. The General List was a ‘unit’ to which surplus officers were assigned when unattached to any other Regiment or Corps. The man who died while serving with the Allied Control Commission was in Germany after the end of the war.

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Bloodline: The origins and development of the regular formations of the British Army by Iain Gordon

Trying to trace the lineage of British Army Regiments is like trying to untangle a particularly knotted plate of spaghetti. But equally, the most unique aspect of the British Army is the tribal aspect of its Regiments. At times, the Army has resembled a loose collection of Regiments. And also, for the researcher attempting to work on their family history, for instance, the frequent name changes can be horribly confusing. Thereore this book comes as a godsend.

Broadly speaking, the modern British Army can trace much of its lineage back to the late 17th Century. Most Regiment’s were formed by a patron, and hence were known as ‘Joe Bloggs Regiment of Foot’. By the 1750′s Infantry Regiments were numbered, but still retained a strong local identity. This situation remained until the far-reaching Cardwell reforms of 1881, when Infantry Regiments were grouped together in what were largely County units. This bred a strong tribal spirit, with recruiting areas and Regimental Depots. After 1945, however, when the Army needed to contract, there were more individual Regiments than the Army could sustain. Gradually over the course of 60 years Country Regiments were replaced by larger Regional Regiments.

For example, my local infantry Regiment, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, can trace its origins back to 1702, with the formation of Meredith’s Regiment of Foot in 1702. In 1751 this became the 37th Regiment of Foot, and then in 1782 the 37th (North Hampshire) Regiment of Foot. In Army-wide reforms in 1881 it merged with the 67th (South Hampshire) Regiment of Foot to form the Hampshire Regiment (37th and 67th Foot). In 1946 this became the Royal Hampshire Regiment. And finally, in 1992, the Hampshires merged with the Queens Regiment to form the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (Queens and Royal Hampshires). This large Regiment was formed out of units tha coud trace their history back to the 2nd, 3rd, 31st, 35th, 37th, 50th, 57th, 67th, 70th, 77th, 97th and 107th Regiments of Foot. And this is just one modern Regiment -multiply this for every current Regiment in the Army, then we have a very complicated picture.

Not only does this book chart the linear development of Regiments. Iain Gordon has included information about Regimental Museums, Regimenta Headquarters, Regimental Marches, Alliances with other military units, and the Colonel-in-Chief. Information such as this gives us an idea of the unique tribal colour of a regiment. Another very useful inclusion is a comprehensive list of every Regiment’s battle honours. And not only does this book cover the infantry – Guards, line infantry, Paras, Rifles and Gurkhas – but also the Royal Armoured Corps, Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and the range of other Corps in the British Army.

I know of no other resource that contains such a wealth of information about the History of the Regiments of the British Army. This will be a very useful addition to my shelf of military reference books.

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