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Regimental History - 20th Century

Second World War 1939-1945

56th Anti-Tank Regiment (King’s Own) Royal Artillery

After Annual Camp in 1938 the 4th Battalion King's Own Royal Regiment, Lancaster was converted into the 56th Anti-Tank Regiment (King's Own) Royal Artillery. In September 1939 the unit was mobilised as part of the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division (TA) - which joined the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France in April 1940. The 56th provided the defence on a section of the Dunkirk perimeter before being evacuated. Following its return to the UK the 56th lost men and batteries to form other units. 223 Battery became 1st Air-Landing Anti-Tank Battery in November 1941. They became the first Royal Artillery unit to fly into battle - on board gliders - serving with 1st Airborne Division in Sicily in 1942 and later at Arnhem in September 1944. The 56th itself went out to India in 1941 and fought in India and Burma from October 1943 until the end of the war.

3rd September 1939 - War declared.

4th September 1939 - 56th Anti-Tank Regiment guards important points at Barrow in Furness docks.

3rd April 1940 - Advance party of regiment move to France.

21st April 1940 - All of the regiment are now in France.

10th May 1940 - The German attack begins.  The Regiment is bombed by air but received no casualties.

27th May 1940 - In area of Cassel with the 42nd Division.  Regiment is ordered to withdraw to Dunkirk.

28th May 1940 - 223 Battery is in a heavy engagement with the Germans and accounted for the destruction of ten German tanks.

29th May 1940 - Regiment at Rousbrugge protecting Loc.

30th May 1940 - Some elements of the Regiment are withdrawn from Dunkirk whilst others defend.  The remainder of the unit was later evacuated.

June 1940 - Regiment based in the North East and Yorkshire in a defensive role.

 

56th Anti-Tank Regiment RA (The King’s Own ) TA and 66th Anti-Tank Regiment RA TA.
Notes by Lieutenant Colonel T R L Greenhalgh


Both Regiments were formed from the 4th Battalion, The King’s Own Royal Regiment, Lancaster. The 56th being raised in November 1938 and the 66th in the following April as a second line unit.

Both units were immensely proud of their infantry ancestry and tradition and did much to foster the association between the “4th Foot” and themselves. This was not usual in converted infantry regiments where all too often the old associations were forgotten. It may well be that the fine “esprit de corps” so noticeable in both regiments, owed much to the pride al ranks shared in the double tradition of their origin – The Royal Regiment of Artillery and The King’s Own Royal Regiment.

It is interesting to note that the title “The King’s Own” was used both in official and private correspondence. Some of the original officers wore King’s Own buttons on their uniforms and Lion cap badges. The flag of the 56th was the “Lion and Rose” hand embroidered in gold on a red and blue (Royal Artillery) ground. Emblems of the Lancashire Rose together with the motto “They win or die who wear the Rose of Lancaster”, were emblazoned on the guns and vehicles of both units.

Throughout the war the Loyal Toast was drunk in the traditional Lancashire manner. The President of the Mess Committee rising and proposing “Mr Vice, The King”. Mr Vice responding with “Gentlemen, the Duke of Lancaster” to which toast all present rose and drank their Sovereign’s health.

Close association was always maintained between the two units. When the 66th was raised the 56th provided officers and Non-commissioned officers for instructional purposes, and gave every assistance to the youngest member of The King’s Own family. In 1940 the 56th took over an Anti-Invasion role from the 66th in Suffolk and Norfolk. In September 1941 both regiments sent a Battery to the 83rd Anti/Tank Regiment RA and thus two of the four batteries in that unit were in effect “King’s Own”.

During the period June to August 1945 the 66th was gradually placed into a state of “suspended animation” and its personnel were posted to the 56th , which had just come out of the line in Burma and was reforming as a Self-Propelled unit in India, approximately 80% of the original 56th were sent back to England for repatriation and replaced by personnel from the 66th. Reinforcing the regiment in this way had a very good effect on esprit de corps as the unit was still largely composed of The King’s Own anti-tank gunners imbued with the regimental traditions and spirit.

The war records of both units stand high and between them they were engaged in practically every theatre of war. The 56th having a wonderful record as a fighting unit, firstly, in Flanders during the 1940 campaign after which they were evacuated at Dunkirk. Then, after a period at home on Beach Defence and Anti-Invasion roles, they participated in the Burma campaign with distinction. 223 Battery left the unit in August 1940 and eventually became the 1st Air Landing Anti-Tank Battery, 1st Airborne Division with whom they say action in Sicily, Italy and at Arnhem. 224 Battery left in September 1941 to join the 83rd Anti-Tank Regiment with whom they saw service in Persia, Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Palestine.

The 66th was not fortunate enough to go on active service as a regiment but three of its Batteries served overseas with other Anti-Tank Regiments. 262 Battery with the 83rd Anti-Tank Regiment in North Africa and Italy, and 306 Battery with the 72nd Anti-Tank Regiment with the 1st Army in North Africa. In addition a number of Non-commissioned officers and men were posted to the 97th Anti-Tank Regiment in France during the 1944 campaign, where they returned to the command of Lieutenant Colonel K L Beddington, OBE, RA, their recent commander in Ulster.

Mention must be made of the wonderful keenness, fighting spirit and general ‘esprit de corps’ which pervaded both units. It is worth recalling how visiting inspecting officers, and officers joining the regiment, were impressed by the general high standards and the pride which all ranks had in their unit. This was due to a combination of hard training, good discipline and efficient administration which added to a great tradition, which all were determined to uphold, resulted in the units being moulded into first class battle-worthy regiments of the highest order.

Finally must be recorded, the great debt owed to the Late Lord Derby for his strenuous efforts on behalf of both units. On several occasions he endeavoured to help them preserve their identity and retain their members. As a result of these ‘battles’, both regiments retained their identities and a higher proportion of their members than was the common lot.

Accession Number: KO2067/01

bullet66th Anti-Tank Regiment (King's Own) Royal Artillery
bulletCaptain Geoffrey Randall, an officer of the 56th Anti-Tank Regiment.

 

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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