The Middle East


None of the Queen’s battalions were involved in the invasion of Sicily, although ‘C’ Company of the 2/6th Queen’s was detached to provide guards for General Montgomery’s Tactical and Main Headquarters. Consequently some months were available for training for the big landing on the Italian mainland which was to follow the clearing of Sicily. Both the 7th Armoured and the 56th Divisions were reserved for this operation, which was eventually to be code-named Operation Avalanche.

Initially the time was spent on fitness training, ceremonial and recreation. Inevitably there was a spate of senior officers visiting the units, culminating in a visit by The King, when he drove along roads lined by his cheering troops. The Glorious First of June was well celebrated by all the battalions, the 2/7th even managing to procure some Royal Navy guests. In July training for the invasion of Italy began in earnest.

At the time the morale of both Queen’s brigades was extremely high. 131 Brigade had been confirmed as an integral part of the 7th Armoured Division, the most renowned formation in the British Army. Armoured brigades might join or leave the Division according to the vagaries of the condition of their equipment, but the Queen’s Brigade was the permanent infantry component of The Desert Rats, and had built up an unbroken record of success from El Alamein to Tunis. 169 Brigade, on the other hand, had surprised even themselves in advancing more than 3,000 miles, to be then launched into action at less than twelve hours notice; to have held a series of tactically inferior positions against an enemy who visually dominated the battlefield; and finally had witnessed the absolute surrender of the enemy forces through their lines. Although 169 Brigade had played only a minor part in Eighth Army’s campaign in North Africa, they rightly felt that their experiences at Enfidaville entitled them to be considered as battle hardened units, with a complete mastery of battle-drills and tactical procedures under fire.

On the 30th August 1943 it was disclosed to Commanding Officers that the landings for Operation Avalanche were to take place at Salerno, some 40 miles south of Naples, and that D Day was to be the 9th September. 169 Brigade was detailed as one of the three British assault brigades in X Corps’ sector, while 131 Brigade was in Corps Reserve as part of 7th Armoured Division.

The assault troops were accordingly embarked in several convoys during the 4th-5th September. By D-1 the convoys were sailing in idyllic weather up the coast of Italy over a flat calm sea under clear blue skies, when a message was received from the Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, that Italy had surrendered. The news spread like wildfire through the ships and speculation was rife that maybe the landings would be unopposed. However, this state of euphoria was rudely shattered by a series of German air attacks on the convoys, and subsequent messages from senior officers reminded all ranks that the Germans were the Allies’ principal enemy. In the event, it took 10 days of hard fighting, after the assault brigades had got ashore, for the German counter-attacks to be beaten off and for the link-up on X Corps’ right flank with the American VI Corps landings to the south.

On D+8 the 1/5th Queen’s and the 1/6th Queen’s landed in the bridgehead and were placed under command of 56th Division, and the 1/7th landed three days later. Indeed the 19th September, D+10, was an historic day for the Queen’s, for not only did 131 Brigade revert to command of 7th Armoured Division, but the 1/5th and 1/6th Queen’s relieved their sister battalions, the 2/5th and 2/6th Queen’s, respectively. It is believed that this battle relief by two brigades of the same regiment is unique in the history of the British Army.

It is also probably unique that six battalions and an independent company of the same regiment should have taken part in the same operation, for the 1/7th Queen’s landed in Salerno on the 20th September as part of 22nd Armoured Brigade Group, and the 71st Independent Company, The Queen’s Royal Regiment, formed in May 1943 in the Suez Canal Zone primarily from Queen’s reinforcement drafts, and commanded by Capt George Cranham of The East Surrey Regiment, was assigned to 35 Beach Brick in support of the 46th Division during the landings, and subsequently fought as infantry with both the 7th Oxford & Bucks and 8th Royal Fusiliers as part of 167 Brigade.

Captain George Cranham, The East Surrey Regiment

Captain George Cranham, The East Surrey Regiment, OC 71st Independent Company (Queen's).

131 Brigade served in 7th Armoured Division until the end of the Second World War, which, after crossing the River Volturno north of Naples, involved a return to England, and then taking part in the campaigns in North West Europe from Normandy to Hamburg. In December 1944 the 1/6th and 1/7th Queen’s left the Brigade and transferred to the 50th Division, which was then sent back to England and formed into a training division. This was caused by the impossibility of providing enough reinforcements from the Regiment to maintain eight battalions which were all fighting simultaneously. Their place in 131 Brigade was taken by the 2nd Devons and the 9th Durham Light Infantry. The Brigade was part of the first occupying forces for the British sector of Berlin.

1/5th Queen’s remained with the Brigade until October 1945 when it was relieved in Berlin by the 1st Oxford & Bucks, and joined the 53rd (Welsh) Division in the Ruhr. By April 1946 the 1/5th Queen’s returned to England and went into suspended animation. The 1/6th Queen’s acted as a training battalion at Helmsley in Yorkshire after returning to England with the 50th Division. However, in November 1945 the Battalion was unexpectedly ordered to mobilize for service in the Middle East, and was sent via the transit camp at Qassassin in Egypt to the Lebanon to help in maintaining the peace during the hand-over of that province from French control to independence. They were the last British troops to leave the Lebanon, and were then attached to the 6th Airborne Division in South Palestine District during the Arab-Jewish hostilities prior to the establishment of the state of Israel. The Battalion returned to England and passed into suspended animation in February 1947. Both these battalions reformed in May 1947 as the 5th and 6th Queen’s (TA). and again became part of 131 Brigade together with the 6th East Surreys.

1/7th Queen’s also became a training battalion in Yorkshire with 50th Division, being stationed at Yeadon, near Leeds, but was ordered to disband at the end of 1945, and the training at Yeadon was taken over by a new unit called the 13th Infantry Training Centre, responsible for the basic training of National Service men. When the Territorial Army was reformed in 1947 the decision was made that the 7th Queen’s could be infantry no longer. The anti-aircraft defence of London had overriding priority, so the unit became the 622 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment RA, and the word “Queen’s” was added to the title to maintain the connection with the Regiment.

The 169th (Queen’s) Brigade remained as a Queen’s brigade until it was finally disbanded at Bari on the east coast of Italy in May 1946. It fought throughout the Italian campaign with 56th Division by way of Monte Camino, Anzio, the Gothic Line and the River Po to Venice, where news was received that the German armies in Italy had surrendered unconditionally on the 2nd May 1945. After the occupation of Venice the Brigade moved to the Morgan Line covering Trieste, which the Yugoslav forces had agreed to evacuate. In early August the 2/7th Queen’s moved into Trieste itself, and the three battalions of 169 Brigade then relieved each other in that city during the following six months. In February 1946 the Brigade moved to its final station, proceeding from Trieste to Pola, a small town but an important port at the southern point of the Istrian peninsula on the Adriatic coast.

On the 12th March the GOC 56th Division, Major General Whitfield, paid a farewell visit to the Brigade before it moved to Bari. The Brigade had even provided 56th Division with its GOC during the last ten months of the campaign, when John Whitfield, usually known as ‘JY’, late Commanding Officer of 2/5th Queen’s at Enfidaville, Salerno and Monte Camino, was appointed to command the Division in July 1944, having advanced from Lieutenant Colonel to Major-General in six months! It must also be mentioned that during the campaign the Brigade had been splendidly supported by 113 Field Regiment RA and ‘B’ Company of the 6th Cheshires (56th Division’s machine-gun battalion) from Salerno right through to Venice.

Brigadier Geoffrey Curtis has written in his most interesting book ‘Salerno Remembered’ the following passage which probably best summarizes the character of these two brigades:-

“Before they (131 Brigade) left Italy, ‘Bolo’ Whistler wrote in his diary, “... of course the Brigade looks on itself as the élite of the whole Army. Their morale is fantastic and their saluting in the middle of battle a sight to be seen. It is by individuals who do it with a smile on their faces.” Read forty-five years later it sounds dangerously near to arrogance, but one thing the Queen’s soldier was not was arrogant. Yet there was without doubt a special quality about those two Queen’s Brigades which 131 Brigade Commander seemed to capture in those few words. I venture to suggest that it was born of the unbeatable combination of good leadership and men who were at their best in a tight corner. Together it produced a subtle understanding of mutual trust that commanders would never knowingly put at risk the lives of their men nor, for their part, would the men ever let down their mates whatever their rank. It was a family business and once you were accepted into that family you had an inner feeling of confidence and belonging.”

In another context, another Queen’s officer, Major ‘Jock’ Haswell, has written in the Forward to his book of short stories ‘Indian File’:-

“. . . I have lost my Regiment. It was a Regiment of the Line. There was nothing splendidly spectacular about it, unless one cares to delve into its long history, but it was unquestionably the best.”

Of good regiments all old soldiers know that their Regiment was the best. It is the one quality which make the British Army the envy of all other armies in the world. It is called ‘Regimental Spirit’.


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