XXX Corps (United Kingdom)

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This article is about the United Kingdom Army unit. For other units of the same name, see XXX Corps.
XXX Corps 1944-1945 shoulder flash.jpg
The insignia of XXX Corps during the 1944–1945 Campaign; a rampant boar.
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Type Corps
Engagements North African Campaign
Italian Campaign
Battle of Normandy
Operation Market Garden
Operation Veritable
Commanders
Notable
commanders
William Havelock Ramsden
Sir Oliver Leese
Gerard Bucknall
Sir Brian Horrocks

XXX Corps (30 Corps) was a British Army Corps during the Second World War.

North Africa Campaign[edit]

XXX Corps played a major role in the Western Desert Campaign, where it was initially formed for the British armoured units in North Africa in preparation for Operation Crusader, the last British attempt to relieve the siege of Tobruk. It took severe casualties, mainly because of obsolete British tank tactics, (especially charging anti-tank guns) but finally forced Rommel's Afrika Korps to withdraw to El Agheila in Central Libya.

In 1942, Rommel had counter-attacked and driven the British back to Gazala, a few miles west of Tobruk. The plan of Eighth Army Commander Neil Ritchie was to have XIII Corps hold the line, while XXX Corps would stop any attempt to outflank the position south of Bir Hachiem, held by the 1st Free French Brigade. They managed to slow Rommel's armour down and forced Rommel's tanks into The Cauldron, the gap left in the British Lines by the destruction of the 150th Infantry Brigade. British counterattacks attempted to crush it but failed. Eventually, the Free French at Bir Hachiem were forced to withdraw and Rommel was able to break out of the Cauldron. XXX Corps was forced to retreat to Mersa Matruh, held by the newly formed British X Corps. The Germans quickly broke through, surrounded X Corps (which fortunately for the British, managed to break out) and pushed XXX Corps back to El Alamein.

El Alamein[edit]

The depleted XXX Corps pulled back to El Alamein, the last defensible position short of the River Nile. It was the only place in the desert in which the normal rule of desert operations – "There is always an open flank" did not apply. XXX Corps was assigned to hold the northern part of the line, though at this point it was reinforced by units from XIII Corps including the 1st South African Division and 9th Australian Division due to suffering considerable casualties and loss of equipment. Rommel's Afrika Korps, exhausted and depleted, could not break through the shattered XXX Corps. Its other major formation was the 23rd Armoured Brigade Group.

Upset over the defeats in North Africa, British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill decided to sack General Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in the Middle East and Commander of the Eighth Army. He was replaced as C-in-C Middle East Command by Harold Alexander and as General Officer Commanding Eighth Army by Lieutenant-General William Gott, commander of XIII Corps. Gott died in a plane crash and his place was taken by Bernard Montgomery.

A month after the First Battle of El Alamein, Rommel again decided to attempt a breakthrough, this time at the southern end of the line towards the Alam Halfa ridge. This attack put a lot of pressure on XIII Corps but XXX Corps was involved because of several German diversionary raids.

After the victory at Alam Halfa, Montgomery prepared to go on the offensive. He brought more troops including the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division and experienced Indian 4th Infantry Division to reinforce XXX Corps and also assigned the 2nd New Zealand Division from XIII Corps along with its 9th Armoured Brigade.[1] XXX Corps was then involved in extensive retraining, as it was to make a major push and create a corridor for the tanks of X Corps to break through.

On the night of 24 October, Montgomery was ready with his attack. After a huge artillery bombardment unseen since the First World War, XXX Corps attacked. The Corps had very heavy casualties but the experienced Australians, New Zealanders, Highlanders and South Africans continued to push the attack and soon several gaps were created in minefields. Finally, XXX Corps attacks were stopped by German resistance. Early in the morning of 2 November, Montgomery launched Operation Supercharge, a big attack by X Corps and XXX Corps (which was reinforced by the 50th (Northumbrian) Division from XIII Corps. By 4 November X Corps had broken through and the second Battle of el Alamein was won.

After El Alamein, XXX Corps pushed forward steadily and made sure they didn't run out of supplies. They finally stopped at the Mareth Line in Tunisia in late February. To Montgomery's dismay, the excellent 9th Australian Division was withdrawn and sent to the Pacific on the insistence of the Australian Government and the 1st South African was left in Egypt.

Tunisia[edit]

On 19 March, XXX Corps launched an attack on the Mareth Line as part of Operation Pugilist, with the British 50th Infantry and 51st Infantry Division in the lead. They managed to create a gap but it was quickly contained by Rommel's 15th Panzer Division. During Operation Supercharge II a force commanded by Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks composed of the New Zealand Corps and 1st Armoured Division from X Corps exploited a flanking position established by the New Zealanders during Pugilist and broke the German flank defences on the night of the 26th/27th, forcing the outflanked German forces to withdraw northwards to Wadi Akrit.

In mid-April, XXX Corps attempted to attack the position head on but made little progress against determined German and Italian resistance. By that time the British First Army had broken through the German line on their left in central Tunisia and the Axis forces were forced to surrender.

Sicily[edit]

On 10 July 1943, XXX Corps was part of the invasion of the Italian island of Sicily. The Corps (under Lieutenant General Oliver Leese) was to compose the left flank of the British Eighth Army. It was reinforced with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade, and the 231st Infantry Brigade of units from Malta. The 2nd New Zealand and the 4th Indian Division were not available for Sicily because they had both incurred heavy losses.

XXX Corps landed near Pachino and made early gains against the Italian 206th Coastal Division and the Napoli Division. By 18 July, it was halfway to Messina. Progress slowed considerably after that because Sicily's mountainous terrain favoured well-equipped defenders (like the German forces in Group Schmalz) and they managed to move very little. The Axis began withdrawing troops from Sicily and the Germans put up a brave fighting withdrawal. By 17 August, the last German troops had crossed the straits of Messina and the Allies were in control of Sicily. XXX Corps was then pulled out of the line and sent to the UK to re-fit and re-train for Operation Overlord.

North West Europe[edit]

Order of Battle[2][edit]

General Officer Commanding Lt-Gen Gerard Bucknall (to 3 August 1944)
Lt-Gen Brian Horrocks (from 4 August 1944)

Normandy[edit]

In Normandy XXX Corps again included the 50th (Northumbrian) Division which landed on Gold Beach. It quickly overwhelmed the German defenders of the 716th Infantry Division and had linked up with the British I Corps by the end of D-Day. Following D-Day the Corps launched Operation Perch. It made slow gains facing stiff resistance but by 10 June had linked up with US forces advancing from Omaha Beach. On 12 June, an opportunity arose. The Germans had a gap in their front lines near the Town of Caumont-l'Éventé. The 7th Armoured Division was sent to exploit the gap and head towards Villers-Bocage in an attempt to outflank the German Panzer-Lehr-Division and force them to withdraw, resulting in the Battle of Villers-Bocage. This attack was thwarted by elements of the Panzer Lehr Division and the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. The Commander of XXX Corps, Lieutenant General Gerard Bucknall was heavily criticised for his decisions during the operation and battle.

The Corps was then involved in a battle of attrition with only minor gains being made. Up to 24 July, the front line remained relatively unchanged. The next day however, the Americans launched Operation Cobra, an attack on German positions on the western end of the Contentin Peninsula. They made considerable progress and the British Army launched Operation Bluecoat to support the attack and to exploit the momentum. VIII Corps, on the right flank made considerable progress but XXX Corps was sluggish. Annoyed, Montgomery sacked Bucknall and replaced him with Brian Horrocks, a veteran of North Africa. After the sacking of Bucknall, the performance of XXX Corps improved considerably and it managed to keep up with the other British Corps during the battle for the Falaise Gap. After the German collapse, XXX Corps quickly advanced north-east and liberated Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium. There the advance was halted because of a shortage of fuel. Elements of Guards Armoured and the 2nd Household Cavalry Regiment managed to secure a bridge across the Maas-Schelde canal into the Netherlands. This bridge was nicknamed Joe's Bridge in honour of Lieutenant Colonel Joe Vandeleur, Commander of the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards who captured the bridge.

Operation Market Garden[edit]

After the success in France and Belgium, General Montgomery commanding the 21st Army Group turned his attention to outflanking the Siegfried Line and invading the Ruhr. This required passing a number of choke points over water obstacles, the last of them a road bridge at Arnhem, allowing ground troops to trap the 15th Army, and split it from the 1st Parachute Army on the way around the northern flank of the Siegfried Line. To do this, he requested from General Eisenhower to deploy the 1st Allied Airborne Army, with the US 101st Airborne Division dropped at Eindhoven, to secure the Son and Wilhelmina Canal bridges, the US 82nd dropped at Nijmegen, to secure the Grave and Nijmegen bridges, while the British 1st Airborne dropped at Arnhem, to secure the bridgehead over the Neder Rijn. This would become the MARKET part of the operation. The XXX Corps which consisted of about 50,000 men would advance along the main axis of the British 2 Army's line of the offensive, and pass through Arnhem within 48 hours, and continue into Germany. This was to be the GARDEN part of the operation.

Vehicles of the Guards Armoured Division of XXX Corps passing through Grave having linked up with US 82nd Airborne Division.

Operation Market Garden commenced at 14:00H on Sunday 17 September 1944, with the artillery preparation by 350 guns at 14:35.[13] It was to be the most ambitious ground offensive operation by the British Army in the war so far. However it was also beset by problems. The ground was assessed to be too soft to accommodate the Sherman tanks of the leading Irish Guards Battle Group, forcing the entire Guards Division to stay on the single highway. As the XXX Corps advanced north-east, it became obvious that the single highway was prone to traffic jams and was extremely vulnerable to enemy counter-attacks.

The lead elements of XXX Corps, Guards Armoured Division were ambushed by German anti-tank defences, causing delays to the advance while the infantry dealt with the enemy. As a result, they were short of the 82nd Airborne Division's objectives, having not even reached the 101st Airborne Division's troops by the end of the first day. On the second day of GARDEN, the Guards Armoured continued northwards to Eindhoven, where they met elements of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. They soon discovered that the 101st had failed to secure the bridge over the Son intact, and there were more delays before engineers arrived to build a Bailey bridge.

On the morning of the 19th the Guards Armoured Division advanced without facing much resistance, and had reached the Nijmegen Bridge by the 20th, where they found that the US 82nd Airborne Division had failed to capture the road bridge at Nijmegen. The XXX Corps brought up boats, allowing two companies of the 82nd to assault across the river, eventually capturing the rigged-for-demolition Nijmegen bridge. The Guards Armoured advanced and quickly established positions on the northern bank.

Further south, in the 101st Airborne sector, many units from the XXX Corps had to be detached to fight off repeated attempts by the German 106th Panzerbrigade to cut the highway. The 231st Infantry Brigade (from 50th Infantry (Northumbrian) Division) and the 4th Armoured Brigade spent most of the time during Operation Market Garden reacting to these probes by Panthers and panzergrenadiers the 101st Airborne Sector. This created major traffic jams and delayed reinforcements reaching the Guards Division – particularly the 43rd Wessex Division, and the other two brigades of the 50th, which further slowed down the Corps advance.

By the 21st the Guards Armoured Division troops were exhausted, and Horrocks also took ill, with the Corps periodically being commanded by its Brigadier General Staff (BGS) Brig. Harold English 'Peter' Pyman, for which he would be made Chief of Staff of Second Army after the operation. They had fought continuously for five days, much of it against fierce German resistance, and were unable to continue the offensive any longer. The 43rd Infantry (Wessex) Division was brought up to continue the offensive, and they managed to defeat elements of the 10th SS Panzer Division that penetrated to Nijmegen area, and advanced to the Neder Rijn and the area called "the Island". There, a battalion (4th Dorsets) successfully crossed the Rhine as a diversion, so that 1st Airborne could withdraw more safely, but many men of the 4th Dorsets were themselves left behind on the north Bank of the Rhine when the Division withdrew.

Failure by the XXX Corps to arrive at the Arnhem bridge as planned caused most of the 1st Airborne Division to either die fighting, surrender, or withdraw to the Polish 1st Independent Brigade positions, and effectively ended the offensive of operation GARDEN.

In the following weeks, the XXX Corps spent most of its time guarding the corridor that it had managed to create during the advance. Eventually, this corridor would be expanded and would provide a secure base for further operations.

Ardennes[edit]

During the Battle of the Bulge, units of XXX Corps moved to secure the bridges over the Meuse. On 27 December the Corps pushed the 2nd Panzer Division out of Celles. On 31 December they captured Rochefort at the western end of the salient.

The Rhineland Campaign[edit]

Lieutenant-General Horrocks addresses XXX Corps staff at Rees on the banks of the Rhine, 26 May 1945.

XXX Corps was heavily involved in the fighting that preceded the Rhine crossings. Under command of the 1st Canadian Army, and with additional divisions, it was responsible for the successful, if difficult, advance through the Reichswald Forest that was the first phase of Operation Veritable in February 1945. The subsequent phases were redesignated as Operation Blockbuster. The terrain now allowed a two corps front, with XXX Corps taking the western side until meeting at Geldern with elements of the 9th US Army on 3 March.

General Officers Commanding[edit]

Commanders included:[14]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  • Forty, George, British Army Handbook 1939–1945', Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1998 (ISBN o 7509 1403 3).
  • Horrocks, Brian, Escape to action, St.Martin's Press, New York, 1960 (published in UK as A full life)
  • Moreman, Timothy Robert, Anderson, Duncan, Desert Rats: British 8th Army in North Africa 1941–43, Osprey Publishing, 2007.

External sources[edit]