44 Recce feature heavily in this issue of The Reconnaissance Journal with the first of a two part history of the Regiment covering eight pages. The history covers the period from its formation in January 1941 (not January 1944 as shown in the transcript below, which accurate reflects the original source), to the end of its first spell in Italy with the U.S. Fifth Army.
Reconnaissance Journal Vol. 3 No. 3 pp120–127
EARLY DAYS OF THE 44th
The official history of the Reconnaissance Corps was unable, in the scope of one book, to deal in full detail with all the achievements and travels of the regiments. This new series is designed to fill in the gaps.
44 RECCE REGIMENT was one of the first Recce Regiments to be formed. It was founded on January 8th, 1944. It was made up from three A/Tk Coys of 44 Div, and those in turn had been formed from Bns in each of the three Bdes of 44 Div, 131 Bde, 132 Bde and 133 Bde. 131 Bde was a Queens and Buffs Bde, 132 a Royal West Kent and Queens Bde, and 133 Bde was a Royal Sussex Bde. Thus, when this Regiment was formed, A Sqn was made up from Queens and Buffs personnel, B Sqn from Royal West Kent and Queens personnel and C Sqn from Royal Sussex personnel. RHQ and HQ Sqn contained a combination of these Bns. In the first place the unit can hardly be said to have been formed as a Regiment, but rather as an HQ and three separate Sqns, as RHQ and HQ Sqn were at Eastbourne, A Sqn at Upper Dicker B Sqn at Ham Street and C Sqn at Robertsbridge. The only thing that could be said was that the whole Regiment was in Sussex.
Two months after being formed, the various Sqns at last came together as a Regiment when the whole Regiment was concentrated at Eastbourne. Vehicles in those days consistedof "Tinbellies" (a Bradford truck with a so-called "Armoured" body which looked like a large water-tank and acted like a water-tank when it rained), a few Carriers, and a certain number of "soft" vehicles.
Towards the end of March, 1941, the Regiment moved to Otterden, in Kent. This was a somewhat muddy camp, remote from most forms of civilisation, and the Regiment was mainly housed in Nissen huts which, when the Regiment first moved in, were still in the process of.being constructed. At Otterden, the Regiment received it lirst consignment of "Beaverettes," at that time considered the last word in armoured cars. They were very fast and that was about the best that could be said of them. Training at Otterden was very intense, and was especially concentrated on the use of wireless. During April the Regiment was inspected by General Montgomery, who was then commanding 12 Corps. It was during October, :1941, that the first large scale exercise was held in England. This was the exercise "Bumper", in which the Regiment played a prominent part, carrying out its recce role in front of 44 Division.
At the end of October, 1941, the Regiment moved to Tonbridge. After the intensive training carried out during the summer months, the emphasis was now laid on equipment and vehicle overhaul, and the training was mostly on an individual and troop basis. A few Divisional exercises were held during the winter, but these did not usually last for more than a. day or two. Gen. Norrocks, then commanding 44 Division, inpected the Regiment in December,1941.
March, 1942, saw the Regiment move to Limpsfield Chart, in Surrey. 44 Division was now concentrated in the Redhill area, which was known to be a "mobilisation for overseas" area. The inference that 44 Division was for overseas gained further credence when all manner of equipment started pouring in — new vehicles, including the Humber Light Armoured Recce Car, new wireless sets, including the number 9 set, which until that time had been regarded as entirely reserved for the R.C.S., and replacements free of charge for all those items which had been lost but never before been declared was granted and the Division was one of the first to benefit under the recent ACI granting 14 days embarkation leave instead of, as previously, only 7 days. General Montgomery and General Hughes (commanding 44 Division) addressed all officers and W.O.’s in the cinema at Redhill, and by now, of course, it was absolutely certain that 44 Division was definitely going overseas. It sailed from Scotland on 30th May, 1942.
44 Recce Regiment. (less its vehicles which went on a M.T. ship) was placed aboard S.S. Samta Elena. This was an American boat, belonging in peace time to the "Grace Line". Also on this boat was 44 Div HQ. Accommodation was limited with the result that about twice as many troops were crowded on to the boat as it was originally designed to carry. Also for this reason, meals were limited to two a day and, although possibly the amount of food consumed at breakfast and supper amounted to the equivalent of the normal three meals a day, it was a very trying period for the stomach from mid-morning until late afternoon. Being an Americanboat, also meant that it was a "dry" boat, and it was not without a certain amount of justification that it was known as the "Altmark" in preference to its real title.
Although the convoy halted at Freetown for several days (very hot days) shore leave was not granted until the Santa Elena docked at Capetown. Most people had a grand time here for two days. It was wonderful after the black-out of England, to see the lights of Capetown at night. It was amazing to see the unrationed goods in the shop windows, and prodigious numbers of pairs of silk stockings were purchased and despatched to England, together with cosmetics, scents and sweets. It was with genuine regret that the Regiment left Capetown and its hospitable inhabitants.
The first thing of note after leaving Capetown was a very heavy sea which caused the boat to roll considerably, and this in its turn caused great havoc n the dining rooms, where large quantities of crockery were smashed. The sea gradually became calmer, and the Regiment had its first view of North Africa on 23rd July, when the convoy entered the Red Sea at Aden. S.S. Santa Elena docked at Suez on 25th July.
Between the time of the Regiment leaving Capetown and arriving at Suez the 8th Army had been driven hack from Benghazi, it hd lost Tobruk and was now desperately striving to hold a line at Alamein. It was therefore a very uncertain future into which the Regiment was now entering.
44 Div concentrated at Khatatba, a camp about 90 miles North of Cairo on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road. The Regiment spent a fortnight at Khatatba getting acclimatised and training in driving over desert sands. The points most noteworthy at this time were (a) the unsuitability of the Humber L.R.C. as a vehicle for driving over the desert, (b) the complete impossibility of using M/C’s (of which the Regiment had seventy) in the desert, and (c) the fact that there was quite a definite arid distinct technique for driving vehicles over soft sand, which, once mastered, enab!ed vehicles to be driven over areas which on the face of things would be otherwise considered quite "impossible". Whilst at Khatatba day leave was granted to Cairo and first acquaintarce was made with the most determined type of Arab, the "shoeshine boy". At Khatatba first acquaintance in large numbers was also made with the even more determined type of insect, the fly.
On August 14th, 44 Div moved up to under command of 8th Army, and took up a reserve position behind the N.Z. Div at the South end of the line. 44 Recce Regiment was now placed under command of 7th Armd Div mainly with a view to obtaining experience under the guidance 0f the Motor Bns and Armoured Car Regiments of that Division. The Regiment was spread over the various Bns and Regiments of the 4th Light Armd Bde, Assault Troops and Carriers going to Motor Bn, and Armd Cars being attached to 11th Hussars, K.D.G.’s and 12th Lancers. On August
30th Romrnell launched his unfortunate (for him) "reconnaissance in force", and several of the Regimental Sub Units were involved in the fighting that ensued.
The Regirnent was re-concentrated on September 4th and was put back under command 44 Div. The Regiment remained under command of 44 Div only for about a week, and was then put under command 22 Armoured Bde by whom it was assigned the task of holding the front line positions of the Nuts and May minefields, just East of Hemeimat. After a fortnight the Regiment was withdrawn into reserve, the Armd Cars were sent to guard B Ech areas, and 44 Div Recce Carrier Regt was formed. The task of this Regiment was to force a gap through the January and February minefields that the enemy were holding North-East of Hemeimat. To ensure that this task might be carried out successfully, numerous exercises were carried out, and Gen. Montgomery (then commanding 8th Army) and Gen. Horrucks (then commanding 13 Corps) paid several visits to the Regiment.
On the night 23 October, 1942, the attack was launched and the "cracking" of the minelields was begun. Preceded by a "Scorpian" and R.E.’s and followed by the whole of 7 Armd Div, B and C Sqns forced four gaps through the January minefields. At daybreak on 24 October they attempted to push on to the February mineflelds. Opposition, however, proved unexpectedly heavy, the minefields were larger than anticipated, and casualties had been mounting up (B Sqn had less than half a dozen carriers left). The attack was therefore called off, and the front was left to 44 Div to hold. On the night 2 October B Sqn again attacked and succeeded in making two gaps through the February mincfield. So many A/Tk weapons were left, however, on the far side of the minefield, that the Armour, after one attempt at passing through the gaps, were forced to withdraw. The Regiment was then brought back into a reserve position.
Although the Regiment had not entirely succeeded in obtaining its objectives, it had entirely succeeded in its chief object of creating a diversion from the main attack taking place at Alamein itself, and there is no doubt that the dauntless persistence and determination displayed on the January and February minefields contributed in a high degree to the larger victory at Aamein.
On 2 November the victory at Alamein began to make itself felt along the whole of the line. 44 Recce Regt was withdrawn from its reserve position at Deir El Ragil and, at the head of 44 Div, began a chase of the retreating Germans and Italians. For a distance of 70 miles west of Hemeimat the enemy was kept on the run, hundreds of prisoners were taken, and large quantities of equipment fell into our hands. Several minro actions wert fought during this chase, and it was with great disappointment that the Regt learned that, owing to difficulties of supply, the Div was to be withdrawn. Owing to the fact that reinforcements of men and vehicles had to he found for the forces proceeding westwards, and that supply problems would not permit the addition of another Div to our forces, the C-in-C, Gen. Sir Harold Alexander, was forced reluctantly to the conclusion that 44 Div arid 8th Armd Div would have to be disbanded.
Non-Operational Period in Egypt and Palestine
After the disbandment of 44 Div the fate of 44 Recce Regt swung in the balance. The Regiment was sent to Quassasin, about forty miles north of cairo, and for a time it seemed that it might be disbanded, thus following the fate of 51st Recce Regt. However an assurance was eventually received from GHQ MEF that the Regt would be left intact, and immediately re-organisation began to take place. Some Marmon Harrington Armd Cars were taken into use to replace the Humber LRCs which had proved so useless inthe desert. In lieu of. any operation role, the Regt was set to guard GHQ Cairo, establishing Regimental HQ in the Citadel, Cairo. This was in January, 1943. The Regt also was guarding the British Embassy at Cairo during Mr Winston Churchill’s first visit to Egypt and a congratulatory letter was received from Mr Casey, the British Resident Minister, MEF, upon the way in which the guards were performed at this time.
In February the Regt was taken off guards and moved to Cowley Camp, just outside Cairo, close to Mena and the Pyramids. At the end of February the Regiment was moved to Gaza, for a fortnight, and came under command 56 (Lon) Div. 56 Div was without a Recce Regt as, on coming abroad, 56 Recce Rcgt had been left in England. In the middle of March, the order was received to concentrate at Quassasin for a hasty refit and, at the beginning of April, 56 (Lon) Div was ordered to join up with 8th Army. At this time, of course, 8th Army, having broken the Mareth Line, were pushing the Germans before them, and 1st Army were consolidating in Tunisia.
On 24th April, 44 Recce Rcgt arrived at Enfidaville which had been taken by 8th Army only a few days previously. At the end of a 1,500 miles journey, the Regiment drove straight into a holding position extending from the main coastal road to the sea. It says much for the state of training reached by this time that this was achieved without any difficulty whatsoever.
Little can be said about the period at Enfidaville. The Regiment’s chief role was to have light reconnaissance forces forward observing, with the main forcc about a mile in the rear. It was trying time as the Germans were using their artillery quite effectively, and it was mainly a question of merely sitting and "taking it"‚ without much chance of hitting back. Our patrols were quite successful, and we took about thirty prisoners. A Sqn, right on the sea, had one or two minor clashes with the enemy opposite them, and were so successful in repulsing these attacks that the enemy afterwards admitted that they thought it wa a Bde opposite them on this sector. The Regt achieved the distinction at Enfidaville of being the first to make contact with the 1st Army troops coming down from the north. On May 13th all hostilities terminated in Tunisia.
The Regiment’s next move was in June, 1943, when it moved back to Tripoli. Here a refit was begun, but it was abandoned when vehicles had to be handed over to other formations who obviously would be needing them for an amphibious operation of some kind. June, July and August were therefore mainly devoted to leave (such as it was in Tripoli) and to training with what vehicles still remained. Training was hampered, not only by lack of vehicles, but also because a petrol rationing system came into force and extensive wireless silence periods were imposed. General Montgomery visited the Unit. He also spoke to all officers of 56 Div and intimated that further operations were on hand. The King inspected all troops at Tripoli.
The invasion of Sicily came, and the day after the invasion, Gen. Horrocks, commanding 10 Corps, in which 56 Div now found Itself, addressed all officers and told them that they would shortly take part in an operation. Towards the middle of August, 1943, planning for this new operation began to take place in real earnest, and vehicles and equipment which had been handed over to other formations were now replaced. Training in waterproofing and de-waterproofing, in embarking and dis-embarking from LTS’s and in vehicle "wading" took place. Finally on 2nd September RHQ, B and C Sqns embarked, and after three days waiting in Tripoli harbour, sailed for Salerno. A Sqn and most of the administrative vehicles were to follow them on the "balance to W.E.".
On 8th September Italy surrendered unconditionally. On 9th September British and American forces landed at Salerno and were immediately opposed by unexpectedly large and determined enemy forces. 169 Bde on the left of 56 Div had a difficult landing, but after some fierce fighting on the beaches, succeeded in getting fairly well inland. 167 Bde on the right, has a fairly easy Iandìng, but were opposed by tanks after going a short distance inland. C Sqn, with 167 Dde, was the first sub-unit of 44 Recce Regiment to land. They landed on D Day about H hours pIus 13, RHQ and B Sqn landed on the 169 Dde front, and proceeded direct to a concentration area.
On 10th September the Regt was concentrated on the right flank of 56 Div with two tasks, namely to recce and observe the enemy on the right flank and also establish contact with 36th (U.S) Div. Both of these tasks were accomplished. A few days later the situation on the beachhead became critical, and B Sqn were ordered to hold a position in the line. The position was heavily attacked by the enemy, but the position was held, and the enemy withdrew having suffered heavy losses. On 16th September the enemy began to thin out, and 44 Recce Regt (with A Sqn which had now landed) less B Sqn, with supporting troops, was ordered up the road to Battipalgia-Avellino, with the object of attempting to hasten the enemy withdrawal. This force, however, encountered a "blown" bridge at Oleano, and whilst waiting for R.E. to construct another bridge, the force was relieved by a R.C.T. from 3 (U.S.) Div. Meanwhile, B Sqn under command 7 Armd Div had succeeded in pushing well ahead up a parallel axis of advance.
Salerno to Sparanise
After the enemy had begun to withdraw in earnest, all three Sqns were used in turn, under command of the various Bds, to follow him up. Several small-scale battles were fought and some good work was done. A Sqn on one occasion succeeded in surprising the enemy before he had time to blow a bridge, and not only was the bridge captured intact, but the German sappers who had been left behind to blow it were also captured.
After the crossing of the Volturno there was little work for 44 Recce Regiment, except occasionally a job of taking Over ground from infantry who were going into an attack, or eke doing T.C.P work along the Div axis. In November the Div attacked Monte Camino and for this purpose 44 Recce Regiment was formed into a Porter Bn for 167 Bde. Even as Porters, some members of the Regt succeeded in taking a few German prisoners. After porterage it was welcome charge to be able to spend Christmas, 1943, in the peace and quiet of San Danato and Falciano.
This respite, however, was short lived. On 8th January Jan Hicksforce was formed. Its task was to take over the coastal sector south of the R. Garigliano to act as a screen to cover 5 Div which was to concentrate to the rear of this sector. Hicksforce consisted of 44 Recce Regt, 2 Coys 6 Cheshire Regt, a Bty of 67 A/Tk Regt and the Div Def Pl. Hicksforce functioned very successfully until 15th January. During this period it took 5 prisoners, and carried out extensive patrolling.
10 Corps crossed the river Garagliano on the night of 17th January, with 5 Div left and 56 Div right. 44 Recce Regt crossed the river on foot on 18th January with the object of filling the gap between 5 Div and 56Div. Plans were, however, altered after crossing the river and C Sqn took over the left sector of the San Salvatito feature, with A Sqn continuing the line across the road and B Sqn in reserve. Some odd enemy LMG posts were left on the feature, and B Sqn were ordered to clear these posts. They made a sweep on the afternoon of 19th January, cleared up all the posts, killed three enemy, wounded several more ind took five prisoners. C Sqn, attacked on the night of the 19th, kilIwd at least twenty Germans including the Coy Comdr, and teh enemy withdrew. On the night of 20th January, a Tp of B Sqn supported by tanks seized and held Massa Vezza, without loss to themselves.
44 Recce Regt was relieved on 27th January and returned to Montanarro to reorganise on to a Jcep, Carrier and White Scout Car establishrnent. Plans were however again altered, and on 1st February the Regt once again returned on foot north of Garagliano, this time to Lorenzo. During this period a patrol of 4 men from A Sqn captured an entire German patrol consisting of 6 men. A German in civilian clothes and a Pole were also captured at this time. The Regt was relieved by 40 R. M. Commando on tli 12th February. During the period the Regt spent north of the Garagliano it was commended for its work by the Corps Commander, Div Comdr 56 (Lon), Div Commander 167 Bde and Commander 40 R.M. Commando.