23rd Armoured Brigade (United Kingdom)

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23rd Army Tank Brigade
23rd Armoured Brigade
Active 1939–1946
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Armoured
Size Brigade
Engagements World War II
* Western Desert Campaign
* Tunisian Campaign
* Italian Campaign
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Robert Arkwright

The 23rd Armoured Brigade, originally formed as the 23rd Army Tank Brigade, was an armoured brigade of the British Army that saw active service during the Second World War. The brigade was a 2nd Line Territorial Army (TA) formation. 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 the Second World War as a 2nd Line Territorial Army (TA) unit, under the command of Brigadier W. F. Murrogh. The brigade 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, under the command of Major General Richard McCreery. As part of this reorganization it was reinforced with the 1st Battalion, London Rifle Brigade, although this motorised infantry battalion was later renamed the 7th Battalion, Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own) 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]

A Matilda tank and a Valentine of the 40th (The King's) Royal Tank Regiment being 'bulled up' at Crowborough in Sussex for a 'Speed the Tanks' parade in London, 28 July 1941.

The division remained in the United Kingdom until May 1942 when it was sent to the Middle East to join the British Eighth Army, becoming active there in early July. In mid-July the brigade, now commanded by Brigadier L. E. Misa, was detached from the 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, part of the First Battle of El Alamein. 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 (The Prince Consort's Own) was transferred away from the brigade and joined the 7th Motor Brigade, then part of the 7th Armoured Division but later became part of the 1st Armoured Division. 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 the 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. The 8th RTR was attached to the 1st South African Division, 40th RTR was attached to the 9th Australian Division and the 50th RTR was attached to 51st (Highland) Division. The brigade suffered heavily during the battle and it remained in Egypt to refit and reorganize. The 8th RTR was transferred to Palestine in early November after having turned over all its surviving tanks while the 46th RTR was removed from the brigade, as was 107th Field Regiment.[5]

A Valentine tank of the 50th RTR carries infantrymen of the 5th Battalion, Black Watch during an exercise, 12 March 1943.

In December 1942 elements of the brigade, now with the 11th (Queen's Westminsters) Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) under command, began to move forward, but it saw no combat until it entered Tunisia on 17 February 1943. For the campaign in Tunisia 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 the 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 the 40th RTR began to convert as well.[6]

The 23rd Armoured Brigade took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, although only the 50th RTR and B Squadron of the 46th RTR participated in the initial landings. The remainder of the 46th RTR was still converting to Shermans and did not 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. However, the brigade's historian commented that "Sicily was the hardest, the bloodiest, and above all, the most disillusioning campaign in which the brigade had served during the war." The two regiments of the brigade had a short rest before the next operation.

A Sherman tank of 'A' Squadron, 50th Royal Tank Regiment, silhouetted by the setting sun, Sicily, 1 August 1943.

Only the 40th RTR participated in the initial landings at Salerno during Operation Avalanche, part of the Allied invasion of Italy which began the Italian Campaign. It was assigned to assist the British 46th Infantry Division. The brigade, now under the command of Brigadier Robert Arkwright, took command of various units from both the British X Corps and U.S. VI Corps during the heavy German counterattacks 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 British X Corps, containing the 7th Armoured Division and 46th and 56th Infantry Divisions, on the left wing of the U.S. Fifth Army, taking part in the fighting from the Volturno Line to the Gustav Line.[7]

A Sherman tank of the 46th Royal Tank Regiment towing a German 155mm gun, captured by the 2nd Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment, 23 January 1944. The gun was a vintage First World War French piece.

In early January 1944, the 46th RTR was detached from the brigade to come under command of the British 1st Infantry Division for the landings at Anzio, codenamed Operation Shingle, and rejoined the brigade in July. In March 1944 the brigade was transferred to British V Corps which had a holding role on the eastern side of the Gustav Line by the Adriatic Sea while the 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. The 40th and 50th RTR were retrained as infantry but the 46th RTR was reorganized with one squadron of armoured cars and one squadron of infantry, this being attached to the 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 23rd Armoured Brigade remained in Greece until the end of World War II in Europe, having been restored to their tanks by the end of January 1945.[8]

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

Order of battle[edit]

The 23rd Armoured Brigade was constituted as follows during the war: [10]

Commanders[edit]

The following officers commanded the 23rd Armoured Brigade during the war: [11]

  • Brigadier W. F. Murrough (until 16 December 1941)
  • Brigadier L. E. Misa (from 16 December 1941 until 31 July 1942)
  • Brigadier G. W. Richards (from 31 July 1942 until 23 July 1943)
  • Brigadier R.H.E. Arkwright (from 23 July 1943 until 4 December 1944)
  • Brigadier R. A. Hermon 4 December 1944 (acting, from 4 December 1944 until 8 January 1945)
  • Brigadier R.H.E. Arkwright (from 8 January until 1 April 1945)
  • Colonel R. A. Hermon 1 April 1945 (acting, from 1 to 22 April 1945)
  • Brigadier R.H.E. Arkwright (from 22 April 1945)

See also[edit]

Citations and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ryan, David A.; Hughes, David; 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, p. 170
  11. ^ Joslen, pp. 170, 201

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; 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.; 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". Archived from the original on 17 July 2007. Retrieved 25 September 2008.