Engagements - 1945
During 1945 the 7th Armoured Division was involved in the following battles and campaigns. These include the,Operation Blackcock, Operation Plunder (Crossing the Rhine), Teutoburger Wald to the Weser, the Final push to Hamburg and Berlin
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Having wintered in Holland, it was time to start clearing the Germany Army from the west bank or the River Roer. This operation started on 13th January 1945. It was to be a purely infantry operation as it involved a cross canal assault, but the armour would be ready to move forward and support them.
For this Operation, the Division had under its command 8th Armoured Brigade, the 155th Infantry Brigade and later on 1 Commando Brigade. The plan was for 12th Corps to clear the German 176th and 183rd Infantry Divisions, well dug in with anti-tank guns, from a triangle formed by the rivers Roer, Wurm and Maas. The Division was on the left bank with 131st Brigade attacking northwards to secure Echt, Schilberg and Susteren. The plan was then for 22nd Armoured Brigade to break through north towards Montfort and St. Odilienburg. After the normal problems with traffic congestion the 1/5th Queens advanced, supported by flail tanks and artillery. There then ensued several days of had fighting across canal after canal, through village after village and at St. Joost, they came upon three Companies for German Paratroops, who inflicted heavy casualties on the 8th Hussars and Rifle Brigade. Crocodile flame-thrower tanks were used to help clear them out, but the village had to be taken house by house, with the enemy only withdrawing when the flames got too much for them.
On the morning of 16th January, with the ground covered in thick snow 9th DLI moved out, into a fog caused mainly by the smoke screen freezing in the air, to take Dieteren. Soon the village fell, but the Germans sent a machine gun team back to fire on the engineers building the bridge and they then had to be cleared by the DLI.
On 17th January, 1/5th Queens attacked Susteren from the west in thick mud and in pitch dark but once they were in the town, it was impossible to get their6-pdr anti-tank guns across. So the German counter-attack was driven of by Bren Guns and fire from 3rd RHA. 'B' Company was cut off for a time, but eventually 'B' Squadron, 1st RTR managed to get across the Beek and come to there assistance. At Susteren, 1st RTR lost seven tanks for Panzerfaust teams and anti-tank guns, but despite the savage battle, 11th Hussars managed to put a patrol into Oud Roosteren, which was later captured by 6th King's Own Scottish Borders, from 52nd (Lowland) Division.
Also on the 17th, the Devonshire's with 'C' Squadron, 1st RTR moved out to take Ophoven, assisted by Pioneers and the Norfolk Yeomanry, with theirSelf Propelled Anti-tank guns. They did meet resistance from well dug in anti-tank guns and Panzerfaust teams, but by dawn on the 18th, the Devonshire's and 1st RTR occupied Echt and Hingen, with 1st RTR later taking Schilberg.
Gradually, the Germans withdrew to the Roer, covering their retreat with machine gun nests and mines, but by the end of January 'Operation Blackcock' was deemed a success. The Division then held the ground it had taken, with the main activity being 1st Commando Brigade carrying out a number of raids across the Maas. At this time the rest of the Allied Armies were preparing to cross the Rhine and thus 7th Armoured Division was pulled out of the line, on 21st February, and sent for training for the crossing.Click here to view the Divisional Order Of Battle at this time.
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For this operation, the Division was to cross at Xanten and Wesel, behind the assault forces, onceBailey Bridges has been slung across the river. The Division was then to move eastwards towards its final objective, the City of Hamburg, just 190 miles away.
The initial assault took place on the night of 23rd/24th March, with the guns of 3rd and 5th RHA supporting the attack at Wesel. Three days later on the morning of 27th March 1945, 11th Hussars led the Division across the Rhine. The advance force was made up of 11th Hussars, a battlegroup of the Inniskilling's, 9th DLI, inKangaroo armoured carriers, 'A' company 1st Rifle Brigade, 'K' battery 5th RHA, 4th Squadron RE and flail tanks from the Lothian and Border Yeomanry. There was now a change of strategy for the Division, as since leaving the Desert it had been led by the infantry, but now 11th Hussars were to lead followed by the infantry and engineers.
There were broken gliders from the airborne assault everywhere, along with signs of the recent fighting everywhere. On 28th March, the Rifle Brigade and 5th RTR began to clear woods and villages in the area, supported by the25-pdrs of the RHA. In Normandy the main hazard to the armour had been the 88mm gun and Tiger tank, in Holland it had been minefields, but now in the 'Fatherland' itself it was the cheap Panzerfaust that caused the most problems.
The 7th Armoured Division now advanced on three lines, with 1st RTR going east to Heidon, then north to Ramsdorf, while 5th RTR went towards Borken, north of the Raesfeld-Brunen road. In the centre the Inniskilling's and DLI were sent to tackle Borken from the south. Progress was slow with poor tracks through thick woods containing German Paratroops, armed with Panzerfausts. Brunen was defended by machine guns, Panzerfausts and anti-tank guns, with the bridge blocked by bomb rubble. 'A' Company, 9th DLI occupied the village and then laid an ambush, with their commanding officer (Major Stephen Terrell) acting as 'traffic policeman', by directing the Germans into his own ambush. This netted twenty prisoners, including a German paymaster with 80,000 Deutschmarks with him.
'A' Company, Rifle Brigade, captured the next village, Raesfeld and later on Gemen, 10 miles from the bridgehead, was cleared by 9th DLI on the night of 28th/29th March. By now 11th Hussars had probed the outskirts of Borken, losing two armoured cars in the process. By nightfall, 5th RTR were in the town centre, which was a shambles taking 90 prisoners.
On 29th March, the Inniskilling's engaged four carefully hidden anti-tank guns, at Weseke, but the DLI dismounted from their Kangaroos and backed by 'K' Battery, 5th RHA they destroyed or captured all the guns. At Sudlohn, the Queen's and 5th RTR fought against 33rd Panzer Grenadiers, taking 30 prisoners and destroying two 88mm guns. The town itself had been heavily bombed by the RAF and the advance was held up a number of hours while 4th Field Squadron RE filled in the craters and improved the roads so that they could take the weight of the tanks.
The town of Stadtlohn, 4 miles north of Sudlohn, proved a harder task, as having been devastated by RAF bombing it proved a good defensive position for two battalions of 857th Grenadier Regiment, which had just returned from Holland. The Inniskilling's shelled the houses occupied by the Germans at a range of 600 yards, while 'A' company, 9th DLI captured a flimsy wooden bridge. While the Inniskilling's became bogged down in the town, 'A' Company 1st Rifle Brigade tried to cross the bridge losing some men in the process, but they managed to prevent some trees being blown down across the roads. They then proceeded to clear some houses during the night.
By 30th March, 1/5th Queens were mopping up in Stadtlohn and 300 German dead were counted amongst the ruins. The wobbly bridge survived long enough for 1st RTR and the Queens to get across, while the engineers were able to put aBailey Bridge across the stream. On the left flank 8th Hussars took over the lead from 5th RTR, west of Borken and moved towards Oding, reaching it on the 31st. The Rifle Brigade and Devonshire's had to clear the woods on the way of Panzerfausts and anti-tank guns, with the men of 33rd Panzer Grenadier 'Ersatz' Battalion, putting up a good fight, despite being and 'odds and sods' unit from the Ersatz name.
On the right of the centre of the advance 1st RTR and 1st Rifle Brigade had taken Heidon, even though an ammunition dump blew up and set fire to the village. On their arrival in the village of Heek, in pitch darkness 1st RTR and the Queens took the bridges, capturing 182 prisoners. Another night advance took place on the night of 30th/31st, when 5th RTR and the Devonshire's took Vreden, north west of Stadtlohn, leading onto Ottenstein and Wessum. Ottenstein, fell at last light on the 31st with the Devonshire's taking 50 prisoners, but much stronger opposition was met at Wessum, which held up the advance.
On 1st April, 'C' Squadron, 11th Hussars had a rude surprise while enjoying their bacon and eggs at a Schloss near Heek. About 150 Germans attacked, meaning that they had to leave their entire cooking kit behind, but 1/5th Queens and 'C' Squadron retook the Schloss, recovering the lost mess kit for them. Meanwhile, 1/5th Queen's and 1st RTR pushed towards the town of Rheine, on the River Ems, and took about 80 prisoners at Metelen. By now the Division had advances 120 miles into the heart of Germany within a week, while on their right 11th Armoured Division was heading towards Osnabruck. In this race into the Reich, there was a third contender in the form of 6th Airborne Division, who after recovering from the costly landings east of the Rhine, had commandeered and transport they could find, including steamrollers. During the advance German resistance had been fierce and their battle tactics very professional, with even one or two Tigers making an appearance at times, but the Inniskilling's linked up with 11th Armoured on the eastern flank, with 9th DLI taking Rheine on 2nd April. Here they found all the bridges blown and the far bank of the Dortmund-Ems Canal held in strength.
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Teutoburger Wald To The Weser
Before the Division could reach its final objective, of Hamburg, it would have to cross the Dortmund-Ems Canal, running southeast from Rheine. Beyond the canal was a natural area of defence in the Teutoburger Wald, a wooded area on an escarpment 25 miles long and a mile wide. Defending this area were the Hitler Youth Hanover Cadet school and their highly skilled instructors. Their aim was to make a last ditch stand and give a bloody nose to two of Britain's finest armoured divisions, the 7th and 11th. It is worth noting that it was in the Teutoburger Wald that in 9 AD, Three Roman Legions, totaling nearly 20,000 men were ambushed and massacred by German tribesman, so the area had a formal reputation already.
The town of Ibbenburen at the north east end of the Teutoburger Wald and was one of the main objectives of 7th Armoured Division. Originally, there were only two companies defending this area, but by 2nd April the number had risen to seven. Most of the Germans were first class soldiers; with some of them being the instructors. They worked in small parties, scattered around the battlefield, thus making them difficult targets for artillery. Many of them were good shots and they specialised in snipping at tank commanders and platoon sergeants. In the battle that followed 3rd Monmouthshire Battalion suffered heavy losses and had to be withdrawn from the line as a result. To assist them in their defence the Cadets had all the latest weapons and ridge gave them a perfect observation platform, with the wood providing excellent concealment. Many of them fought to the death, rather than surrender.
On 3rd April the 22nd Armoured Brigade moved into reserve south of Rheine, while 52nd (Lowland) Division moved up. The 131st Brigade was now in the Riesenbeck area, eight miles east of Rheine and the prepared to move through the bridgehead at Birgte, held by 11th Armoured Division. They were then to advance on Ibbenburen, which lay in a valley on the far side of the Teutoburger Wald. The plan was for 2nd Devonshire's to attack and clear the wooded ridge from the left flank opposite the Birgte bridgehead, while 9th DLI and the Inniskilling's pushed through and along the main road to Ibbenburen.
Backed by a heavy barrage from the RHA and mortar fire, the Devonshire's moved through the 1st Herefords and helped rescue a company of the Monmouth's who had been cut off on a hill and recaptured a number of unmanned British anti-tank guns in front of the bridgehead. A joint effort with 11th Armoured Division followed and with 1½ hours 150 prisoners were captured. The Devonshire's advanced behind a creeping barrage, before having to winkle the Cadets out of their positions, who despite being heavily shelled still fought on.
The DLI and Inniskilling's found the going much harder, as the advanced on Ibbenburen, losing a lot of men to snipers, before withdrawing for a while. The Devonshire's were relieved by 7/9th Royal Scots of 155th Brigade, 52nd Division. On the 4th the Inniskilling's were held up by bogs and farmhouse defences, but 'C' Squadron and the DLI attacked factories outside Ibbenburen. Fighting went on all day, with more tank commanders being shot by snipers. 1/5th Queen's and 8th Hussars put in a flank attack north east of the town, losing a number of men in the process. The fanatical resistance continued, with some of the enemy remaining in the blazing ruins until they were burnt to death. The DLI took 30 prisoners and killed many more, in what were described at one time as scenes from Wagnerian battles, as the flames lit up the night sky.
At the end of 4th April the 7th and 11th Armoured Divisions were ordered to disengage and bypass the opposition. It took another two days for the 52nd and 53rd Infantry Divisions to overcome the heroic Cadets, who had seen off the two armoured divisions.
After withdrawing from Ibbenburen, the Division was then had a clear run of 50 miles. The crossed the Osnabruck Canal at Halan, courtesy of 11th Armoured Division, with 5th RTR seizing a bridge intact over the Ems-Weser Canal, 18 miles north east of Osnabruck. The Devonshire's and 1st RTR guarded the bridges and the centre line of the advance. On 5th April 11th Hussars asked the infantry to take out four 88mm guns, guarding an airfield near Diepholz, only to be told that they were in fact dummies. Later on, at Lembruch, seven miles from Diepholz, 1st RTR, 'I' Company 1st Rifle Brigade, aided by 'G' Battery 5th RHA, knocked out four real 88mms. The same day the Luftwaffe strafed 5th RTR and bombed the RHQ of 11th Hussars, with one ME109 being shot down by ananti-aircraft armoured car of 11th Hussars.
On the 6th, 1/5th Queens linked up with 5th RTR at Diepholz and then moved of towards Sulingen and 8th Hussars. During the 5th and 6th April, the Devonshire's and 'A' Squadron, 1st RTR covered 40 miles to reach the River Weser at Hoya, only to find the bridge blown as usual. A small force of 'C' Company of the Devonshire's, with3" Mortars and 6-pdr Anti-tank guns managed to cross on a ferry 6 miles upstream, capturing 40 prisoners. Meanwhile, the Inniskilling's travelled 62 miles, from Ibbenburen, via Venne and Diepholz to Barver, to rejoin the Division.
On 7th April, the Inniskilling's and 9th DLI had a fierce battle in Bassum, taking a number of prisoners and 8th Hussars and the Queens took over the lead of the Division, capturing Emtinghausen. They tried to rush the bridge, which was defended but six self-propelled guns, but it was blown up. They then moved north on the Bremen Road to occupy Riede, which they found undefended.
The plan of advance was now reviewed as it was clear that each river crossing was heavily defended and it might be possible to prevent the German First Parachute Army from reaching Bremen, by advancing due west. The 22nd Armoured Brigade was to move from east of Verden, towards the south of Bremen, with 131st Brigade secured Bassum and Twistringen. The advance went well with 5th RTR taking Syke, only 14 miles from Bremen. Meanwhile 1/5th Queens encounter the 20th SS Training Division at Sudweyne and Kirchweyne, 5 miles south west of Bremen and a short and very bloody battle ensued, with a number of prisoners taken.
On 10th April, just outside Wildeshausen, the Rifle Brigade captured a large German hospital in the pine woods with 200 patients. During the night they were mortared and infantry and self-propelled guns appeared and when morning broke the patients and staff had vanished. The next day the Inniskilling's and DLI took Wildeshausen, along with a vast store of gin. Soon afterwards 11th Hussars reported seeing 17 German tanks in a wood that Typhoons had previously shot up. The Germans managed to creep into the British lines as the Norfolk Yeomanry had thought that they were with the Inniskilling's and before they could react the lead tank managed to shoot up several unmanned tanks, before being knocked out by aTank Destroyer. The German infantry also managed to infiltrate the British positions, but fire from the RHA helped return order. Two tank destroyers from the Norfolk Yeomanry were lost, along with two Cromwells and a Sherman from the Inniskilling's. One popular theory, at the time, for the attack was that the Germans had wanted their gin back.
On the 11th and 12th April 5th RTR supported 53rd Welch Division, who had crossed the River Weser, only to run into trouble at Rethem, 10 miles further on. Here they met the 2nd Marine Division, from Hamburg, who like most marines gave their best, holding out for 4 days. During this operation, 5th RTR destroyed eight 88mm and several 125mm Flack guns defending the railway line.
Since all the bridges over the rivers Weser and Aller, 3rd British Division took over Wildeshausen and Harpsstedt, with 52nd (Lowland) and 53rd (Welsh) Divisions holding the west flank. It was clear that the chances of cutting off Bremen were minimal, without a costly battle with the 15th Panzer Grenadier and 18th SS Ersatz Divisions. The 11th Hussars did probe the city only to find all the roads firmly mined and heavily defended. The Division now concentrated east of Nienburg, where it rested and re-organised, waiting for the final furlong, into Hamburg.
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Final Push To Hamburg
Having rested and reorganised the Division was soon on the move again. The Devonshire's were lent to support 4th Armoured Brigade while they expanded their bridgehead and by 15th April they have reached Kirchboitzen, just 7 mile short of the next divisional objective of Soltau. The 11th and 8th Hussars crossed the River Aller at Rethem and moved towards Walsrode, covering 22 miles. A real boost to morale came on the 16th, when 'B' Squadron, 11th Hussars and a recce troop of 8th Hussars, liberated the POW camp, Stalag XI B, in the woods south west of Fallingbostel. Here were two camps, one with 6,500 and one with another 6,000 prisoners. Roughly half were British and American POWs and amongst this throng they found men from 4th CLY and 'A' Company, 1st Rifle Brigade, captured atVillers-Bocage in 1944. The Rifle Brigade also found five riflemen captured at Calais, in 1940 and another from 9th Rifle Brigade captured at Derna in 1941. A detachment from the Norfolk Yeomanry were also there, along with some men from 8th and 11th Hussars captured at Sidi Rezegh in 1941. Meanwhile, in the town of Fallingbostel, the Queens found it defended by mortars and anti-tank guns and had to clear it house by house.
Having liberated many of their old comrades the Division pushed on towards Soltau. 1st RTR went north from Walsrode, while 11th Hussars scouted the outskirts of the town only to lose a scout car to a, by then, rare Panther tank, which 8th Hussars then destroyed. Soltau was found to heavily defended by infantry and 88mm guns, so it was surrounded with 8th Hussars and the Queens at Dorfmark (4 miles to the south west), 1st RTR 2 miles west and the Inniskilling's in the south. On 17th April, the Inniskilling's supported by the Royal Scots from 4th Armoured Brigade, made a frontal attack on Soltau. They were assisted by 7th RTR with Crocodile Flame Thrower Tanks from 31st Army Tank Brigade and Wasp Flame Thrower Carriers, along with the RHA and 7.2 inch guns from AGRA (Army Group Royal Artillery). The Flame throwers lead most of the attack, clearing the enemy from the woods and the town, which fell by nightfall.
The Divisions next target was Harburg, a southern suburb of Hamburg, south of the Elbe and then Hamburg itself. The plan was to capture as many bridges at Harburg as possible and then cut the autobahn, cutting of a large part of the German 1st Parachute Army, which was still fighting hard to escape over the Elbe. On the 18th, 1st RTR moved north and capture Welle, while 8th Hussars and 1/5th Queens were brought up to bypass the forest of Langeloh, which was full of Panzerfaust teams, to take Tostedt, 5 miles further on. The next day, the Queens and 8th Hussars, took Hollenstedt, with the aide of Typhoons. The town was covered by 88mm guns, but the Hussars had a field day as the destroyed eight of them on the way to Rade on the autobahn.
The advance continued to the Elbe on the 20th, with 8th Hussars and 'A' Company Rifle Brigade taking the town of Daerstorf, 8 miles west of Harburg. Here Wasp Flame Thrower Carriers were used against infantry and anti-tank guns, in the house to house fighting. By now the RHA Forward Observation Officers (FOOs) had reached the Elbe and were passing the time by shooting at ships in the river and any trains on the far bank. On the same day the Devonshire's took Vahrendorf, 2 miles south west of Harburg. For the next five days the patrolled the neighbouring villages of Sottorf and Sieversen, but at 02:30 hrs on 26th April, 12th SS Reinforcement Regiment, plus Hitler Jugend and assorted Hamburg sailors and Policeman, supported by 88mm guns in Harburg counter attacked at Vahrendorf. The battle when on all day, with two 75mm Self Propelled guns working their way into the village only to be knocked out when a squadron of tanks arrived. The enemy finally withdrew on the 27th, leaving sixty dead and seventy prisoners.
An attack on Harburg started from Jesteburg, with 5th RTR, 9th DLI and 'I' Company 1st Rifle Brigade, along the autobahn at Hittfeld, but with the bridge 3,000 yards east of Hittfeld being blown, it could go no further. At this time it was noted that the Germans were no giving up, as ships crews, stevedores, policemen and firemen from Hamburg, submarine crews, a few SS troops, Paratroops, normal Wehrmacht, school boys and Volksturm Home Guard all were now fighting. They were supported by a powerful army of 88mm guns now not needed to the air defence of the Hamburg. Additionally, many thousands of armed men were still at large in the forests. However, the DLI still took the village of Maschen on 21st April, but it did take four days for 53rd Division, helped by 1st RTR to clear up a Hungarian SS unit, a German tank destroyer battalion and numerous Panzerfaust teams out of woods nearby. Eventually over 2,000 prisoners were taken.
On 28th April, 3rd RHA shelled a Rubber Works in Hamburg and on the 29th a deputation from the city came out to discuss surrender. The negotiations went on for some time, but on 1st May General Woltz's staff car under a white flag approached the 'D' Company 9th DLI. Two staff officers were then taken to Battalion HQ. Admiral Doenitz had ordered General Keitel to order General Woltz to surrender the city of Hamburg to the Desert Rats. That night news of Hitler's death in Berlin was on the radio and on 2nd May General Woltz (the commander of Hamburg) arrived at Divisional HQ to discuss the arrangements for the surrender, which was taken by Brigadier Spurling on the afternoon of 3rd May 1945. That same afternoon, the 11th Hussars led 7th Armoured Division into the ruined city.
'C' Squadron 11th Hussars, with 8th Hussars and 3rd RHA were then sent to nearby Pinneburg, to secure it too. On the night of 4th May the news came of the surrender of German forces in Germany, Holland, Denmark and Norway and that hostilities were to cease at 08:00 the next morning. After the surrender of Hamburg some units from the Division moved onto to Kiel, which many were glad to do because of the stench of the dead in the rubble. There they found large numbers of German troops who hard escaped from the the Russians on the Eastern Front. When VE day was to be declared on 8th May 1945 the Division found itself at Kiel and in Hamburg on 8th May 1945. However, the Divisions long march was still not quite over. Click here to see some pictures from the end of the war.
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For the next two months the Division stayed in the Hamburg area sorting our prisoners, helping to clear up the mess in the city and dealing with the tens of thousands of displaced persons, how roaming the ruins of Germany. Then in July 1945 the Division was directed to move to Berlin, firstly to join the Occupation Forces there, and secondly to take part in the great Victory Parade through the city on 21st July. As they entered the city Major-General Lewis Owen Lyne, took the salute as the Division passed by.
At 10am on 21st July 1945 the guns of 'J (Sidi Rezegh) Battery, 3rd RHA, fired an 18 Gun salute in honour of the Right Honourable Winston Churchill who had arrived to hold the Victory Parade and to signal the start of the 'End of the War Parade'. The fact that the Desert Rats were given such a significant role in the parade was a fitting epitaph to a formation that had fought its way from the Desert to the heart of Nazi Germany. During the past few weeks the troops of the Division had been assembling in Berlin, that scarred and blackened ruin for so long the scene of Nazi pageantry. Flag-poles had been erected, stands built, vehicles painted and equipment polished for what was surely to be the greatest of many triumphs that the Division had enjoyed since they had first gone into action almost exactly five years before.
With Field Marshal Sir AlanBrooke and General Bernard Montgomery, the Prime Minister drove down the Charlottenburg Chausee which was lined by troops, and at the Grosse Sterne the inspection started. The 3rd RHA. were drawn up by the Monument, then each side of the Chausee stretching almost to the Brandenburg Gate were the 5th RHA., the 8th and 11th Hussars, the Royal Engineers and the massed carriers of the Infantry. After passing the mounted portion of the Parade the Prime Minister came to the Infantry of the Division and the men of the Royal Navy, the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, the composite Battalion from the Canadian Army, the Royal Air Force and the R.A.F. Regiment.
The Inspection over, the March Past began, the Division then paraded past Winston Churchill, down the Charlottenburg Chausee in Berlin led by 3rd RHA, 5th RHA, the Armoured Regiments, 8th Hussars and the incomparable 11th Hussars, who drew a special cheer from the ranks of the Division as they went past. Then came the Engineers, the Queens, the DLI and Devonshire's (with their vehicles so polished and painted that they might have come from the manufacturers rather than the fields of battle) and representatives of all the other elements of this great Division, which had fought for so long and so far, through victory and defeat, right to the capital of its enemy. Amongst this parade were two Regiments who had hardly missed an action in all the years of fighting, our whose guns had never failed to meet every demand of courage and skill no matter how exacting, and one whose armoured cars had ever been first in the advance and last in the retreat, two Regiments whose standards can seldom have been equalled and never surpassed. The tanks of the Desert Rats, they were the only ones to actually salute as they went past. The other nation's tank crews either turned their turrets or made no display. Click here to see some pictures of the Division during the Victory Parade in Berlin, 1945.
As the thunder and roar of the armoured vehicles faded and died away in the distance twenty minutes later, the battered walls echoed to the music of the Bands leading the marching contingents. Their bayonets glinting in the light, the long column came swinging down the broad processional way to the old familiar and traditional tunes that have played the British Army past on ceremonial parades the world over, but never, surely, on such an occasion as this. What thoughts must have passed through the minds of the veterans as they saluted their great War Leader!
All too soon the moments of triumph passed, a spectacle unique and one which, in the dark days not so long before, had seemed unattainable.
Later that day in the newly formed 'Winston' Club, Winston Churchill met the men of the Division and spoke the words many would treasure;
"Now I have only a word more to say about the Desert Rats. They were the first to begin. The 11th Hussars were in action in the desert in 1940 and ever since you have kept marching steadily forward on the long road to victory. Through so many countries and changing scenes you have fought your way. It is not without emotion that I can express to you what I feel about the Desert Rats.
Dear Desert Rats! May your glory ever shine! May your laurels never fade! May the memory of this glorious pilgrimage of war which you have made from Alamein, via the Baltic to Berlin never die!
It is a march unsurpassed through all the story of war so as my reading of history leads to believe. May the fathers long tell the children about this tale. May you all feel that in following your great ancestors you have accomplished something which has done good to the whole world; which has raised the honour of your country and which every man has the right to feel proud of".
To read the rest of the speech and to also see a picture of the event please click here.
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