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Regimental History - 20th Century

Second World War 1939-1945

2nd Battalion, King's Own Royal Regiment, Lancaster

At the outbreak of the war the 2nd Battalion was based in Palestine. In June 1940 they were moved to Egypt and from August to December 1940 it was based in defensive positions around Mersa Matruh in the Western Desert. In 1941 the battalion was in Syria where it fought in two actions against the Vichy French forces. In September 1941 the battalion arrived, by sea, to Tobruk where they remained until just before Christmas. The battalion was involved in the operation on 21st November 1941 which is known as the 'Tobruk Sortie'. The battalion left Tobruk for Egypt and in March 1942 moved to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and later India, where jungle warfare training took place. From March until July 1944 the battalion operated as Number 41 and 46 Chindit Columns operating behind the lines in Burma. In May 1944 both Columns were involved in fierce action inside 'Blackpool Block' a defensive perimeter south-west of Myitkyina. In July the battalion was withdrawn from Burma to India having marched over 1100 miles during the campaign.

September 1939 2nd Battalion in Palestine

At the outbreak of the war the 2nd Battalion were based in Palestine attempting to keep the peace between Jew and Arab. On 16th September 1939 the battalion was re-organised onto a war establishment. On 10th March 1940 all members of the battalion were issued with the medal ribbon for the General Service Medal, with the Bar 'Palestine'.

10th June 1940 - July 1940 Move to Egypt

On 10th June 1940 the 2nd Battalion moved from Palestine to Helwan in Egypt. Indian troops took over their duties in Palestine. The first duty of the battalion in Egypt was to defend the aerodrome at Helwan.

August 1940 15th December 1940 Mersa Matruh

2nd King's Own move to Abbassia on 6th August 1940, and arrive at Mersa Matruh on the Mediterranean Coast of Egypt within a fortnight. Mersa Matruh is located between Sidi Barrani and El Alamein. At the end of August the battalion sustain their first casualties to Italian fighter aircraft. On 9th September 2nd King's Own begin mobile column duties in the desert. On 14th September the Italians crossed into Egypt and Sollum is evacuated. When Sidi Barrani is evacuated on the 17th September 1940 by the British forces (at the time of the Italian advance) the 2nd Battalion cover the withdrawal of troops. The Italians stop at Sidi Barrani. The battalion begin patrols along the coast. The British counter attack is launched on 9th December 1940 and the 2nd Battalion take part in the defence of Mersa Matruh. With an increasing number of Prisoners of War the battalion is responsible for providing guards. Over 3000 Prisoners are taken by 11th December when Sidi Barrani falls to the British. 2nd King's Own receive orders to fall back to Cairo on 15th December. By 23rd December there are over ten thousand prisoners. All of 2nd King's Own are based in Cairo by 31st December 1940.

15th December 1940 31st January 1941 Cairo

The 2nd Battalion are moved to Cairo to by the end of the year - being allowed to celebrate Christmas a few days late. They are responsible for general guard duties and the guarding of Italian prisoners of war in Egypt. More than ten thousand prisoners had been taken by the British.

3rd February 1941 - May 1941 Escorting Prisoners of War

On 3rd February 1941 the 2nd Battalion, still in Cairo, are relieved of all guard duties in order to provide escorts for Italian Prisoners of War. With the situation becoming uncertain in Iraq the battalion are put on standby to move to protect RAF airbases. As it happens 1st Battalion, King's Own Royal Regiment, based in Karachi, India, were to undertake this role instead.

12th June 1941 9th July 1941 Syria

On 11th June 1941 the 2nd Battalion moved from Citadel Barracks, Cairo, Egypt to Palestine to join 16 Brigade.  The following day they moved to Samakh, a village at the south of Lake Tiberias, Syria.  The battalion was then to take part in two major actions against the pro-German Vichy French with the main aim to prevent their collaboration with the Germans who were in both Syria and Lebanon. The successful operations prevented the Germans from occupying Syria and gaining access to Palestine and Egypt. On the 23rd June the battalion successfully took part in an action at Merjayun - a position which controlled the central approach to Damascus. The position was successfully taken as the enemy withdrew during the night.

Private H Livesey - of B Company, 2nd Battalion - provided an eyewitness account of the battle leading up to the fall of Merjayoun on 23rd June, 1941.

9th July 1941 30th September 1941 Syria - Jebel Mazar

The action in the mountains at Jebel-Mazar, north west of Damascus between 9th and 12th July which was one of the last actions before the cease-fire on 18th July. After the cease-fire the battalion remained in Syria until the end of September 1941.

1st October 1941 31st December 1941 Tobruk

After sailing from Beirut the 2nd Battalion sailed into Tobruk in the 'no-moon' period by fast destroyer - replacing the Australian troops who had spent the summer in Tobruk. The soldiers of the 2nd Battalion found life in Tobruk to be hard. Tobruk was without women, liquor, cinema or other amusements, there were no fresh vegetables and the men were pestered by the heat, sand and flies. Subjected to continuous day and night bombing, the men spent their spare time playing football or cricket and swimming. Each battalion had a wireless set and from this a daily news-sheet was produced - from the BBC radio news - to be circulated down to the platoons. Tobruk was a maze of broken, tottering buildings surrounded by a dry, dusty plain leading up to the minefields, trenches and barbed wire of the perimeter. The whole area was under enemy fire, so that reliefs and carrying parties always took place at night. The whole fortress covered an area of eighteen to twenty miles in width and twelve miles in depth. The 2nd Battalion took over a sector of the eastern perimeter next to the sea and every night sent out four wire or trench patrols or at least two reconnaissance or one reconnaissance and one fighting patrol, both of which operated up to three or four thousand yards outside the perimeter. Throughout October the battalion closed gaps in the enemy's minefields, raided enemy working parties, demolished new field works, and booby-trapped potential enemy sniper locations. Meanwhile the enemy closed in on Tobruk and contact was made on 12th October shortly after which a patrol brought in ten Italian prisoners. At the end of October the King's Own was relieved from the line and Major Creedon was appointed Commanding Officer. The battalion remained in Tobruk until just before Christmas when they were finally relieved.

21st November 1941 Tobruk Sortie

A break-out from Tobruk was planned to coincide with an advance from Egypt by the Eighth Army. The attack was launched on 18th November after many days of planning, mine clearance and careful preparation. The fighting was indecisive at first and was in full swing on 20th November when the 2nd King's Own was ordered to attempt to break out. Each section of the battalion was armed wit a Bren machine gun and thirteen Bren magazines; each rifleman carried a hundred rounds in bandoleers and three grenades; in addition each platoon had two Thompson sub-machine guns and one anti-tank rifle. On 21st November as tanks moved forward and broke the silence of the night, A and D Companies were in the front line when a tremendous artillery barrage opened up but most shells fell behind the battalion. As British guns opened fire and the tanks moved forward followed by the carriers, so many tanks were disabled by mines that most were knocked out before the infantry were ordered to move. Despite this, D Company moved forward and took their position, 'Butch'. A Company advanced with C Company in support and found themselves held up by a strong pointed called 'Jill'. Whilst D Company was able to hold their position, A and C Companies were forced to withdraw from 'Jill' during the afternoon and, with the help of B Company, formed a new defensive position on 'The Crest'. As a result of this action the battalion took about 300 German prisoners and were able to hold 'Butch' until 24th November when they were relieved by 2nd Battalion Leicester Regiment. Back in the line from 27th November, the men of the battalion saw the New Zealanders move forward to expand the perimeter. On 3rd December a patrol of the King's Own discovered that enemy positions along the coast had been evacuated, and A Company was sent to occupy them. Under sustained British attacks Field Marshal Rommel had been forced to withdraw and Tobruk had survived. The enemy had lost 400 tanks, and 11 000 Germans and 26 000 Italians had been taken prisoner whilst British losses were about 18 000 men. On 21st December the 2nd Battalion King's Own withdrew, by road, from Tobruk and moved back to Egypt to enjoy a belated Christmas Day on 31st December.

21st December 1941 Battalion withdraw from Tobruk

31st December 1941 Battalion celebrated a belated Christmas in Cairo.

16th March 1942 Battalion arrive at Colombo, Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, for jungle warfare training as well as defence against possible Japanese attack or invasion.

8-10th March 1944 - 2nd Battalion move into Burma by air to take part in the Chindit Campaign as Number 41 and Number 46 Columns.

26th July 1944 - Battalion withdrawn to Mogaung by jeep and then on to Myitkynia by train to be flown back to India.

Find out more:

bullet2nd Battalion at Tobruk
bulletThe story of Douglas and Eva Blake
bullet2nd Battalion in Burma

 

The King's Own The Story of a Royal Regiment Volume 3 1914-1959 by Colonel Julia Cowper - the best history of the King's Own in the Second World War.  On a CD-rom, viewable through a computer with Internet Explorer or similar.  Price including UK postage 12.75

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