History - 3rd Royal Tank Regiment
The 3rd Royal Tank Regiment is a direct descendant of one of the original companies (C Company) of the Heavy Branch, Machine Gun Corps. C Company, HBMGC was formed at Bisley in June 1916 and went to France the same year.
After a series of offensives in 1916 the Company was expanded to become C Battalion, later forming the 1st Tank Brigade with D Battalion. In July 1917 the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps became the Tank Corps. C Battalion served with distinction throughout WW1 taking part in the Battle of Cambrai (20th November 1917), the March Offensive (1918), the Second Battle of Amiens (August 1918) and the Battle of the Hindenburg Line (September 1918).
The Brigade was equipped with new light tanks in February 1918. On the 26th March 1918, 12 Whippets with Captain T R Price in command achieved a notable success at Villiers Bretonneux where they charged and overran two enemy battalions, which were forming up for an attack. In August 1918, Lieutenant CH Sewell won the Battalion's only Victoria Cross for an outstanding act of bravery at Fremingcourt.
In the reorganisation of the Tank Corps in 1919, the 3rd Battalion reformed under Lt Col HK Woods. In 1923 the 3rd Battalion, Royal Tank Corps moved to Lydd in Kent where it remained until the outbreak of WW2. In 1939 just prior to the outbreak of war as part of formation of the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) the 3rd Battalion became the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment.
The 3rd's history during the WW2 is remarkable. In May 1940, the Regiment and a brigade of Green Jackets were sent to Calais with orders to defend the town to the last man. The Regiment fought a heroic action against overwhelming odds and as a result was almost totally annihilated. Reformed, it sailed to North Africa later in the same year and served in the Western Desert until being sent to Greece in March 1941 where it met with disaster. 3RTR in the 1st Armoured Brigade Group landed at Piraeus on the 11th March, equipped with old A10 tanks previously belonging to 5RTR. Their initial mission was to assist in guarding the Florina Pass, but they were soon forced to withdraw after heavy enemy pressure. Hampered by disorganised Greek troops and refugees, the 3rd fought a difficult and costly withdrawal action against the Germans and by the time they reached Trikkala they had only 5 tanks left; the end of the action reduced them to none.
The Regiment reformed again and joined the 4th Armoured Brigade in the Western Desert taking part in both Battles at Sidi Rezegh. The Regiment then served in all major engagements of the desert war including Alamein, Gazala and Alam Halfa. Towards the end of 1943 the 3rd returned to England to join the 11th Armoured division, which was commanded by General ‘Pip’ Roberts, a former Commanding Officer of the 3rd in the desert.
In June 1944, the Regiment landed in Normandy on D Day+5 (five days after the main landings) moving towards Caen. It was in the narrow roads near Villers-Bocage, hemmed in by high hedges and banks, that 3RTR saw some of its fiercest fighting. Accustomed to swift open warfare in the desert, the tank crews were now being shot at very close range. Having survived the ferocity of the claustrophobic fighting of the Bocage, 3RTR now prepared for Operation Epsom, the first attempt to attack the German stronghold of Caen which threatened to hold back the Allied movement out into France and the countries beyond. Operation Epsom was a failure and despite suffering heavy casualties, Caen was not seized. The town was eventually taken from the Germans between the 7th and 9th July 1944 and the Allied tanks were at last free to cross the River Orne and start fighting eastwards.
Between the 18th and 21st July 1944, 3RTR took part in Operation Goodwood, the Allied forces attempted thrust out of Caen. Despite initial successes in clearing the German forces out of the surrounding villages, Goodwood finally ground to a halt after suffering large casualties.
The main breakthrough happened soon after when the German forces, increasingly stretched, headed south allowing the Allied forces to circle round them and trap them at Falaise.
3RTR then headed at high speed through France and towards the Belgian border. Encountering resistance virtually all the way, the Regiment fought its way into Belgium and continued as far as Antwerp, an important port heavily protected by the Germans. Antwerp's importance for supplying equipment to the Allies made it's capture a key priority and British forces, including 3RTR finally liberated Antwerp on the 4th September 1944.
At the end of 1944 3RTR were rushed to the Ardennes region of south-east Belgium following the German breakthrough of the Allied defences there - the Von Runstedt offensive. The heavy fighting that broke out here came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. 3RTR fought into Germany and had reached Flensburg near the German-Danish border when the Germans finally surrendered.
Maj (Rtd) Andy Fisher has managed to find some superb pictures of the Regiment during its move through the Fatherland. Please see them here.
The 3rd and 6th Royal Tank Regiments amalgamated on the 31st October 1959. The 3rd moved to Catterick Camp, Yorkshire in 1962 as the RAC Training Regiment. They then moved to Fallingbostel, Germany in 1965 and then in 1967 to Tidworth in Hampshire where the Regiment converted from Centurion tanks to the Armoured Reconnaissance role.
Please click picture to see a small collection of pictures from the Amalgamation between 3 and 6 RTR in 1959
Still in the Armoured Reconnaissance role they moved back to West Germany in Wolfenbuttel in 1969. From there it was back to Fallingbostel in 1971, this time to serve on Chieftain for the first time, as part of 1st Armoured Division. In 1976 the Regiment returned to Tidworth, again as part of UKLF, as the Armoured Regiment. A Squadron was detached to the School of Infantry at Warminster as Demonstration Squadron whilst B and C Squadrons enjoyed the sun in Cyprus as part of the United Nations peacekeeping forces.
In 1979 the Regiment returned to BAOR, this time stationed in Paderborn with Chieftain tanks as part of 4 Armoured Division. The Regiment enjoyed a period of stability in Paderborn before once more moving back to the United Kingdom in Nov 1986, returning on this occasion to Bovington in Dorset as the RAC Centre Regiment with responsibilities at Bovington and Lulworth. F Squadron formed the Western Sovereign Base (SBA) Squadron in Cyprus, equipped with Ferret and Saladin Armoured Cars.
After a short successful spell the Regiment moved on to Hemer as part of 6 Armd Bde, in March 1988, in the role of 1st (BR) Corps Reserve, equipped with Challenger and forming the 12th BAOR Armoured Regiment. July 1990 to January 1991 saw the 3rd operational as the Tyrone Roulement Battalion in Northern Ireland. During this time the first Gulf War developed and the 3RTR Band deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of 5 Armoured Field Ambulance.
The Regiment remained in Hemer until the 5th of August 1992 when the name of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, passed into history.
1916 - C Company Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps
1918 - C Battalion The Tank Corps
1919 - 3rd Battalion The Tank Corps
1923 - 3rd Battalion The Royal Tank Corps
1939 - 3rd Royal Tank Regiment
1959 - 3rd and 6th Royal Tank Regiments almalgamate
1992 - 3rd and 2nd Royal Tank Regiments almalgamate
Finally defeated by Options for Change 5th August 1992
For a complete list of locations 3RTR have served at please visit here.