23rd Armoured Brigade (United Kingdom)

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23rd Army Tank Brigade
later 23rd Armoured Brigade
Sherman tanks of 23rd Armoured Brigade come ashore with infantry at Anzio, Italy, 22 January 1944. NA11037.jpg
Sherman tanks of 23rd Armoured Brigade come ashore with infantry at Anzio, Italy, 22 January 1944.
Active 1939–45
Country  United Kingdom
Branch British Army
Type Armoured
Size Brigade
Engagements Western Desert Campaign
Tunisia Campaign
Italian Campaign

The 23rd Armoured Brigade was originally formed as the 23rd Army Tank Brigade, a second-line Territorial Army unit of the British Army during Second World War. It was later reorganized and redesignated as the 23rd Armoured Brigade when it was assigned to the 8th Armoured Division, although it never operated under that division's command.

History[edit]

The brigade was formed as the 23rd Army Tank Brigade on the outbreak of World War II as a second-line Territorial Army unit and had only a few light armoured vehicles during its existence as an Army Tank Brigade.[1] It was reorganized and redesignated as the 23rd Armoured Brigade on 1 November 1940 when it was assigned to the newly formed 8th Armoured Division. As part of this reorganization it was reinforced with the 1st Battalion, London Rifle Brigade, although this motor battalion was renamed the 7th Battalion, Rifle Brigade on 19 January 1941.[2] It finally began to receive significant numbers of tanks as a consequence of its assignment to the 8th Armoured Division, deliveries of the close-support version of the Matilda II and Valentine tanks beginning about that same time. By November 1941 the brigade had approximately 18 Matildas and 120 Valentines on hand.[3]

The division remained in the United Kingdom until May 1942 when it was sent to the Middle East to join the Eighth Army, becoming active there in early July. In mid-July the brigade was detached from 8th Armoured Division and with the addition of the 5th Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery became known as the 23rd Armoured Brigade Group. After only 14 days of acclimatisation and without any infantry support training the Brigade was chosen to reinforce XXX Corps's attack during the Second Battle of Ruweisat Ridge. The regiments failed to locate the lanes cleared by the leading units through the Axis minefields and were virtually annihilated by German anti-tank fire while trying to find the lanes. The brigade mustered 122 Valentines and 18 Matildas for this attack, but at day's end had lost a total of 116 of those tanks.[4] More importantly 44% of its tank crews had been killed or wounded in the days fighting.[3]

The brigade was rebuilt by cannibalizing men and tanks from the newly arrived 24th Armoured Brigade and it was retrained in the infantry support role, although it wasn't redesignated as an Army Tank Brigade as would have been appropriate. On 11 August 1942 the 7th Battalion, Rifle Brigade was transferred away from the brigade. During the Battle of Alam el Halfa in September the brigade was initially in XXX Corps' reserve, but was transferred to the command of XIII Corps' 10th Armoured Division. Before the Second Battle of El Alamein the brigade was reinforced by the addition of 8th Royal Tank Regiment up to strength of approximately 186 Valentines and the 5th RHA was exchanged for the 107th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery equipped with sixteen Bishop self-propelled guns. During that battle most of the brigade's regiments were tasked to support the infantry divisions of XXX Corps. 8th RTR was attached to 1st South African Division, 40th RTR was attached to 9th Australian Division and 50th RTR was attached to 51st (Highland) Infantry Division. The brigade suffered heavily during the battle and it remained in Egypt to refit and reorganize. 8th RTR was transferred to Palestine in early November after having turned over all its surviving tanks while 46th RTR was removed from the brigade, as was 107th Field Regiment.[5]

In December elements of the brigade began to move forward, but it saw no combat until it entered Tunisia on 17 February 1943. For the Tunisian Campaign the brigade served as an independent armoured formation under XXX Corps within the Eighth Army and fought in most of the battles of the campaign. On 3 May 50th RTR was withdrawn to convert to Sherman tanks. After the end of the campaign the 46th RTR was reassigned to the brigade, although it was still in the process of converting to Shermans as well and 40th RTR began to convert as well.[6]

23rd Armoured Brigade took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 although only 50th RTR and B Squadron, 46th RTR participated in the initial landings. The remainder of 46th RTR was still converting to Shermans and didn't land in Sicily until 23 July. The brigade didn't fight as such during the Sicilian Campaign, its units being detached to support other formations. Only the 40th RTR participated in the initial landings at Salerno during Operation Avalanche. It was assigned to assist the 46th Infantry Division. The brigade took command of various units from both the British and American Armies during the heavy German counter-attacks on 12–14 September to defend the boundary are between the two armies. It commanded American and British units up through the occupation of Naples on 1 October 1943. By October 1943 the brigade had consolidated once more and had joined X Corps, on the left wing of American Fifth Army, taking part in the fighting from the Volturno Line to the Gustav Line.[7]

In March 1944 the brigade was transferred to V Corps which had a holding role on the eastern side of the Gustav Line by the Adriatic Sea while Eighth and Fifth Armies combined to launch Operation Diadem in the Cassino sector and finally break the German defences there after three unsuccessful attempts since January. In late May 1944 the brigade was withdrawn from Italy and returned to Egypt. In August 1944 the brigade was renamed Force 140, later Arkforce and dismounted from its tanks. 40th and 50th RTR were retrained as infantry but 46th RTR was reorganized with one squadron of armoured cars and one squadron of infantry, this being attached to 50th RTR but kept one squadron of Shermans. It arrived at Piraeus on 12 October 1944 as part of the peacekeeping force keeping order in Greece when the Germans withdrew. The brigade remained in Greece until the end of the war, having been restored to their tanks in by the end of January 1945.[8]

The brigade was disestablished in May 1946, but was reformed when the Territorial Army itself was reformed in 1947. However it was disbanded in the late 1950s.[9]

Commanders[edit]

  • Brig. W. F. Murrough 3 September 1939
  • Brig. L. E. Misa 16 December 1941
  • Brig. G. W. Richards 31 July 1942
  • Brig. R.H.E. Arkwright 23 July 1943
  • Brig. R. A. Hermon 4 December 1944 (acting)
  • Brig. R.H.E. Arkwright 8 January 1945
  • Col. R. A. Hermon 1 April 1945 (acting)
  • Brig. R.H.E. Arkwright 22 April 1945[10]

Component Units 1945[edit]

See also[edit]

Citations and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ryan, David A.; Hughes, David and Broshot, James (2001). Orders of Battle 1939 to 1941. The British Armies in World War Two: An Organizational History. Supplement One. West Chester, OH: Nafziger. pp. 66, 94. ISBN 1-58545-052-9. 
  2. ^ Joslen, p. 201
  3. ^ a b Hughes, et al. (1999), p. 61
  4. ^ Hughes, et al, (2002), p. 37
  5. ^ Hughes, et al., (2002), p. 38
  6. ^ Hughes, et al., (2002), p. 39
  7. ^ Hughes, et al., (2002), pp. 39-40
  8. ^ Hughes, et al., (2002), pp. 40-41
  9. ^ Hughes, et al., (2002), p. 41
  10. ^ Joslen, pp. 170, 201
  11. ^ Joslen, p. 170

References[edit]

  • Holland, James (2005). Together we stand: turning the tide in the West: North Africa 1942 - 1943. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-717647-3. 
  • Hughes, David; Broshot, James and Philson, Alan (1999). British Armoured and Cavalry Divisions. The British Armies in World War Two: An Organizational History One. Nafziger. 
  • Hughes, David; Ryan, David A. and Rothwell, Steve (2002). British Tank and Armoured Brigades, 79th Armoured Division, Armoured Car Regiments, African, Malayan and other Colonial Forces. The British Armies in World War Two: An Organizational History Four. George F. Nafziger. ISBN 1-58545-085-5. 
  • Joslen, H. F. (1990). Orders of Battle, Second World War 1939-1945 (reprint ed.). London: London Stamp Exchange. ISBN 0-948130-03-2. 
  • Moreman, Timothy Robert (2007). Desert Rats: British 8th Army in North Africa 1941-43. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84603-144-3. 
  • "Orders of Battle.com". Retrieved 25 September 2008.