6th Airborne Armoured Recce Regiment RAC

6th Airborne Armoured Recce Regiment RAC

1942 to 1946

The 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment RAC was originally conceived as a Light Tank Squadron designed to support airborne operations attacking forward objectives by patrolling in front of the main position. In theory, it had been viewed as a squadron which would withdraw after initial heavy engagements. In practice however, the 6th Airborne Armoured Recce Regt played a significant role protecting airborne infantry and led the attack on German units in the airborne advances into German-held territory of North West Europe.

In 1941, three Tank Special Service Squadrons were formed from various cavalry and tank units. The third of these, C Special Service Squadron (Light) RAC, became the Airborne Light Tank Squadron RAC in July 1942 and soon moved to become part of 1st Airborne Division on Salisbury Plain. Command of the squadron passed to Major (later Lt Col) Godfrey Stewart in April 1943. He commanded the squadron, and later the regiment, for the remainder of the war.

When the 1st Airborne Division, accompanied by the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, went to North Africa, the Airborne Light Tank Squadron remained and was transferred to the newly formed 6th Airborne Division. The unit was expanded and redesignated as the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaisance Regiment in January 1944.

The expanded unit now consisted of a regimental headquarters, a light tank squadron, a reconnaisance squadron, a support squadron, a headquarters squadron and a REME light aid detachment with signals and medical elements. The regiment also had a 'Harbour Party' which comprised one officer and fifteen men who were trained parachutists. Their role was to jump with the leading pathfinder units, reconnoitre and secure the area to which the regiment would later deploy by glider.

When the invasion of North West Europe finally arrived, the Armoured Recce Regiment was intended to be at the forefront of the early landings. On D-Day 6 June 1944, the 'Harbour Party'  flew in with the advance 22nd Independent Pathfinders Parachute Coy to secure the regimental landing ground. Unfortunately this Harbour Party lost their officer and and the four other ranks in his stick, when their plan flew off course and was brought down by flak. During the main second lift, 20 light tanks, carriers and vehicles were flown after takeoff from RAF Tarrant Rushton onboard 30 Hamilcars, while others were flown by Horsa from RAF Brize Norton. Several tanks were lost after crash landings and others were disabled when parachute canopies and rigging were caught and wrapped round their tracks (which had to be burnt off).

After ten days the unit was withdrawn from the frontline. The tank units went straight back in their Tetrarchs however, to support the remaining hard-pressed ground troops. After a short time the tank crews were withdrawn once more. After ten days retraining they returned to action, this time in Cromwell tanks in continued supporting the breakout. The unit was finally taken out of the line at the end of August to return to the UK. By 6 September 1944, they had regrouped at Larkhill.

On its return to the UK the regiment switched its older Tetrarch tanks for the M22 Locust tanks for airborne deployments. 

In December 1944, the division was sent to Belgium to help support the counter-offensive during the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes. On Monday 30 December 1944, the Armoured Recce Regiment was deployed in Cromwell tanks on the Meuse. After a tough winter, the regiment was withdrawn from the line in February. On 16 February the regiment left for the UK - although a tail had been left behind, including the Cromwells in Holland. The tail soon found out they were part of the ground force support of the next operation.

On 24 March 1945, as part of Operation Varsity, 8 Locust tanks were flown in Hamilcars along with the troop of 4.2" mortars in Horsas. Although fewer flew in on Varsity than on D-Day, and the operation was deemed a great success (the battle had effectively been won by nightfall), casualties were very high. Of the eight tanks, only two survived in fully serviceable condition. Several tanks and vehicles had been destroyed on landing and personnel casualties were high.

The rest of the regiment had left on 17 March and joined up with the airborne sections on the 26 March 1945. As the division began the Advance to the Baltic, the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment proceeded well to the fore. On several occasions this resulted in severe casualties, especially during the Battle at Minden. On 30 April the division reached the Elbe and on 3 May elements of B Squadron met elements of the Russian Stalingrad Armoured Division. Just two days later the war was over, and on 16 May the division was ordered to return home. The Recce Rgt left all of its tanks and carriers in Germany.

Whilst the war in the Far East continued, the regiment underwent renewed training in preparation for deployment to South East Asia. Following the Japanese surrender however, they were reallocated to security duties in Palestine. The regiment landed in Haifa on 22 October 1945 and worked as part of the 6th Airborne Division faced with civil disobedience and violence amongst the Arab and Jewish communities.

On 1 February 1946 the 6th Airborne Armoured Recce Regt RAC was disbanded. Most of the personnel were transferred to the 3rd King's Own Hussars, which became an (Airborne) Recce Regiment.

Officers Commanding Airborne Light Tank Squadron RAC

1942 Major DVH Asquith
1942-43 Major KWC Pulteney
1943-44 Major G Stewart

 

Commanding Officer 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regt RAC

1944-46 Lt Col G Stewart
 
With kind assistance from Pip Tyler and Bob Hilton
 
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Group photos_4

  • Member of 6th Armoured Recce pose in the snow with local Belgian women, Ardennes, 1945

    Member of 6th Armoured Recce pose in the snow with local Belgian women, Ardennes, 1945

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  • Members of A Squadron, 6th Armoured Recce Regiment relax in the snow, Belgium, 1945

    Members of A Squadron, 6th Armoured Recce Regiment relax in the snow, Belgium, 1945

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  • Group photograph of officers decorated by Field Marshal Montgomery, Lüneburg Heath Germany, 1945.

    Group photograph of officers decorated by Field Marshal Montgomery, Lüneburg Heath Germany, 1945.

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Solo photos_1

Photos_12

Letters and Cards_1

Newspaper extracts_1

  • Hamilcar article from the Daily Mail 12 June 1944

    Hamilcar article from the Daily Mail 12 June 1944

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Medal Citations_1

  • Citation for the award of the MC to Lt Duncan Shearer, Normandy, 1944.

    Citation for the award of the MC to Lt Duncan Shearer, Normandy, 1944.

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Personal accounts_1

  • Copy of notes from Tpr Roland Booths, written in Belgium, 1945

    Copy of notes from Tpr Roland Booths, written in Belgium, 1945

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