Westminster Dragoons

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Westminster Dragoons
Cap-badge.gif
Pre-2006 capbadge of the Westminster Dragoons (other ranks)
Active August 1901–
Country United Kingdom
Branch Army Reserve
Type Army Reserve cavalry
Role Light cavalry
Size One squadron
Part of Royal Armoured Corps
Garrison/HQ Fulham, London
Motto Fear Naught
March The Westminster Dragoon
Mascot The Gallipolian Cormorant
Anniversaries Jerusalem, Normandy
Engagements South Africa 1902, Suvla, Scimitar Hill, Gallipoli 1915, Suez Canal, Egypt 1915–1917, Gaza, Palestine 1917–1918, Jerusalem, France and Flanders 1918, Courtrai, Normandy Landing 6 June 1944, Villers Bocage, Venraij, Meijel, Venlo Pocket, Roer, NW Europe 1944–45 and (as part of the Royal Yeomanry) Iraq 2003
Commanders
Current
commander
Maj A Alderson
Honorary Colonel Lieutenant General Andrew Peter Ridgway, CB, CBE, Andrew Ridgway
Insignia
Squadron Stable Belt

Regimental Tactical Recognition Flash
WD-flash.gif

RY-flash.gif

The Westminster Dragoons (WDs) are central London’s only Army Reserve cavalry unit. One of the Royal Yeomanry's five squadrons, their current role is light cavalry: to provide a rapidly-deployable force with fast mobility and substantial firepower in support of operations.

Formed in the aftermath of Second Boer War as part of the County of London Yeomanry, the WDs fought in the Battle of Gallipoli and led British forces onto the beaches during the Normandy Invasion in 1944. The squadron most recently saw action on Operation Telic, when was it was mobilised for the 2003 war in Iraq and again in 2006 for peace support operations there. Since 2007, soldiers and officers of the squadron have deployed as individual reinforcements on Operation Herrick in Afghanistan.

Current Role[edit]

As light cavalry, the regiment provides reconnaissance, reassurance, security and, if the situation demands it, decisive tactical effects by raiding and attacking the enemy. Soldiers of the Westminster Dragoons now train to patrol and fight in armoured landrovers (RWMIKs) which carry heavy machine guns, seeking out the enemy, reporting their positions and fixing them in place so that they can be destroyed.


History[edit]

Formation[edit]

The Westminster Dragoons were formed in 1901 as the 2nd County of London Yeomanry, to meet the need identified during the Second Boer War for a body of trained mounted infantry (see dragoon).

Westminster Dragoons officers' capbadge, pre-2006

The unit was from the start a smart regiment filled with wealthy gentlemen from the City and the West End. Their attitude and attire was such that, as they strutted across West London, members became known as the 'Piccadilly Peacocks'. The unit's first officers were posted to the WDs from the 1st Royal Dragoons, one of the forerunners of the Blues and Royals; one of the first troop leaders was the Maharajah Shri Raj Rajeshwar. They brought with them the Royals' then-current capbadge, which was later adopted by Colonels and Brigadiers, which is why, until a common Royal Yeomanry capbadge was adopted in 2006, young WD officers often found themselves amused at being saluted by officers of higher rank. The WD stable belt (worn in barracks) bears the Royal racing colours – the imperial hues of purple, gold and scarlet as a result of the personal friendship of its first commanding officer, Colonel Charles Burn, with King Edward VII.[1]

Even at this time the WDs were at the forefront of using new equipment, being the second unit in the British army to be equipped with mobile wireless. In 1910 Lord Howard de Walden presented two Marconi pack sets to the Westminster Dragoons, the first sets in the army being those of the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry.[2]

First World War[edit]

The First World War broke out while the WDs were on annual camp and they were immediately mobilised.

View of Suvla from Battleship Hill.

Their first taste of action was in the Battle of Gallipoli, where they fought dismounted, taking heavy casualties in the August 1915 amphibious landing at Suvla Bay (see Battle of Suvla Bay) and in the Battle of Scimitar Hill. They were transferred to Egypt and then to Palestine where they served in the campaign against the Turks. The WDs were involved in fierce fighting, both mounted and dismounted.

As they were the first formed body of troops to enter Jerusalem, they bear the liberation of that city as a battle honour. See General Allenby's account of the fall of Jerusalem and Battle of Jerusalem (1917).

Brigadier General Watson of the 60th (London) Division enters Jerusalem. Two Westminster Dragoons can be seen on the left.

In 1917 the WDs were re-roled as machine gunners and served on the western front until the Armistice. See a timeline of the WDs' actions in World War I.

1920s–1930s[edit]

After the first world war the WDs once again embraced new technology, making the decision to become an armoured car unit at a time when many yeomanry units were determined to remain mounted. In War Office letter 9/Yeomanry/964 dated 5 May 1920 concerning the conversion of all bar the fourteen most senior Yeomanry regiments from cavalry, the Westminster Dragoons are shown as having elected to convert immediately. The decision to accept immediate conversion was that of its then commanding officer, Lord Howard de Walden. On 11 March 1920 the regiment reformed with the title 4th Armoured Car Company (Westminster Dragoons).[3]

It was at this time, as well, that the Regiment formed its link with the Royal Tank Regiment. In 1922 the regiment, now styled 22 (London) Armoured Car Company (Westminster Dragoons) became affiliated to the Tank Corps which, in turn, was created the Royal Tank Corps on 18 October 1923. The black beret became the official headgear of the Royal Tank Corps in 1926 and was thereafter also adopted by the Westminster Dragoons, which became (and remain to this day) the only other unit in the British Army to wear the black beret. The two units worked closely together in the interwar years as new armoured tactics were developed, a relationship which continued into the 21st Century in the nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance role.

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the Westminster Dragoons became an Officer Cadet Training Unit, with over 90 per cent of pre-war WDs gaining their commissions and transferring into units throughout the British Army before the Regiment reverted to an armoured role in 1940. Among them was Captain Philip John Gardner VC MC, who had joined as a trooper before the war, commissioned and then transferred to the Royal Tank Regiment, going on to win the Victoria Cross for saving the life of a badly wounded officer of the King's Dragoon Guards whose armoured car was out of action and under heavy fire.

Second World War[edit]

Sherman Crab under test. The flail has been lowered to work in a dip in the ground.

The Germans planted over four million mines along the French coast to hinder the Allied landings in 1944. To break through these defences at the start of the Normandy Invasion, the British produced a number of novel armoured fighting vehicles under the ingenious direction of Major General Percy Hobart, including the Sherman Crab. The Crab bore a rotating drum with dozens of chains attached; these detonated mines in its path to produce a beaten passage through the thickest of minefields. The WDs were trained in this vital task, as part of 79th Armoured Division, led by Hobart. Along with 81 and 82 Squadrons of 6 Assault Regiment Royal Engineers, B and C Squadrons of the Westminster Dragoons were the first units to land on Gold Beach on D-Day in the British sector,[4] clearing paths off the beach and using their tank guns to destroy defences holding up the assault.[5] They went on to fight across northwest Europe and into Germany.

The Cold War[edit]

Fuchs CBRN Reconnaissance Vehicle

During the Cold War the WDs' role evolved. At first, the Regiment was equipped with tanks, later with armoured cars and tracked reconnaissance vehicles. As the threat facing the United Kingdom altered, the WDs underwent a number of changes, including being temporarily amalgamated with the Berkshire Yeomanry and being reduced from regiment to squadron size to become HQ Squadron of the Royal Yeomanry.

In 1995 the Royal Yeomanry became the first NBC (Nuclear Biological and Chemical Defence) unit in the British Army. In 1998 this role was taken over by a combined Army and RAF unit, the Joint NBC Regiment (Jt NBC Regt).

However, the WDs (now renamed W (Westminster Dragoons) Squadron) and their counterparts in A (Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry) Squadron of the Royal Yeomanry retained their NBC role and continued to train closely with the Joint NBC Regiment, including supporting them on exercise in Kuwait in 2001.

Operation Telic – Iraq 2003[edit]

WDs at SLB near Basra, May 2003

In January 2003, the WDs and A (Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry) Squadron were mobilised (along with augmentees from the Royal Yeomanry's three other squadrons and from the Royal Logistic Corps) for the impending war in Iraq, the first call-out of a formed unit of the Territorial Army (TA soldiers under TA command) for combat operations since the Suez Crisis in 1956. Together, these mobilised elements became a much-enlarged squadron of the Jt NBC Regiment. WDs found themselves serving with 16 Air Assault Brigade, 7 Armoured Brigade (the Desert Rats) and 3 Commando Brigade as NBC specialists, before switching roles to infantry “peace support” operations once Saddam Hussein’s regime had collapsed.

On Armistice Day 2005, the Royal Yeomanry received the first battle honour awarded to the Territorial Army since the Second World War as a consequence "of all that the Regiment and soldiers achieved in fighting in Iraq in 2003." (Major General S J L Roberts OBE)

Six WDs were mobilised for the eighth roulement of Operation Telic (OP TELIC 9) in November 2006.

Operation Herrick – Afghanistan[edit]

Two members of the WDs were mobilised in July 2007 for service on Op Herrick 7 with C Squadron of the Household Cavalry Regiment. They returned from a successful tour of duty in May 2008. A further three WDs deployed on Op Herrick 8, two with the Queen's Royal Lancers and one (as infantry) with A Company of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland. Three went with the Queen's Dragoon Guards on Op Herrick 9 and four with the Royal Tank Regiment on Op Herrick 18.

Future Army Structures 2006 and Future Reserves 2020[edit]

As a consequence of the FAS review, all five squadrons of the Royal Yeomanry adopted the formation CBRN reconnaissance role: providing CBRN detection capability to the British Army's formation reconnaissance regiments. In addition to their existing link with the Jt NBC Regiment (renamed the Joint CBRN Regiment in 2005), the WDs acquired formal affiliation with the Light Dragoons and the Household Cavalry. To reflect the expanded role and variety of potential taskings, the established size of each squadron of the Royal Yeomanry was increased to 90 soldiers and officers.

In 2010, the Westminster Dragoons re-roled from a "sabre" squadron to become a headquarters squadron. Under FR20 it will keep that role, with the Royal Yeomanry's changing from CBRN reconnaissance to light cavalry.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ CCP Wilson and N Huw-Williams, "A History of the Westminster Dragoons 1901-1967", p 21.
  2. ^ CCP Wilson and N Huw-Williams, "A History of the Westminster Dragoons 1901-1967", p 43.
  3. ^ CCP Wilson and N Huw-Williams, "A History of the Westminster Dragoons 1901-1967", pp 133-134.
  4. ^ CCP Wilson and N Huw-Williams, "A History of the Westminster Dragoons 1901-1967", p 184
  5. ^ Westminster Dragoons at d-daytanks.org.uk

External links[edit]