Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons

Dragoons Forced Open the Road to Rome

AT the outbreak of war the Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons, commanded by Lieut.-Col. R. Warde-Aldam, of Frickley Hall, Doncaster, formed part of the 5th Cavalry Brigade in the 1st Cavalry Division, with the Yorkshire Hussars and the Sherwood Rangers. After mobilizing in the various squadron areas—"A" Squadron, Sheffield, under Major C. E. K. Stephenson, "B" Squadron and R.H.Q. Doncaster, including machine gun troops from Sheffield, under Major R. Davies Cooke, and "C" Squadron, Huddersfield, under Major Howard Taylor—the Regiment moved to the Malton area, where horses were received.

In October the Brigade moved to Lincolnshire, the Regiment being in billets near Louth. Here, it was brought up to war strength, reinforcements including Cavalry Reservists and officers from the Inns of Court Regiment.

Two months later, 1st Cavalry Division started its move to Palestine, 5th Cavalry Brigade being the second brigade to leave, sailing in early January, 1940, to France, by way of Dieppe and Cherbourg, and then from Marseilles to Haifa.

But until the entry of Italy into the war all was quiet, the Jews and Arabs having temporarily buried the hatchet.

In June, Italy declared war. Palestine was within range of Italian aircraft from the Dodecanese and the Regiment was moved to the plain of Esdraelon to protect the pipe-line. Soon afterwards Haifa was bombed.

Until June, 1941, the Regiment remained in comparative peace at Roshpinna on the Syrian frontier, but then it became necessary to occupy the country to prevent its use by the Axis.

The Regiment crossed the frontier in late June and occupied Kuneitra, protecting the left flank of the lines of communication to Damascus, and in July moved to Ezraa as part of a force with the task of containing the French Garrison of the Jebel Druse.

Here, it fought its first action—a patrol skirmish with French Druse cavalry, On July 12th, the French asked for an armistice and the campaign was over.

Dragoons arriving at SoueidaDragoons arriving at SoueidaDragoons arriving at Soueida

Took Over from French

On July 28th, the Regiment marched into Soueida, capital of the Jebel Druse, and took over from the French Garrison.

From July until December, the Regiment garrisoned the Jebel Druse. R.H.Q. and two squadrons were at Soueida, and another squadron 20 miles away at Salkhad in the fortress of 0g, the king of Basan.

In December, the Regiment moved to Azib in Palestine, where training was carried out until, suddenly, in February, 1942, came the news that the horses were to go, and the Regiment was to move to Egypt.

The last mounted parade was held at the end of February, and in early March they moved to Cowley Camp, Mena, near the Pyramids, going on to an armoured establishment, as part of the secret "A Force."

This Force carried out all the camouflage and deception plans which our weakness at that time made so necessary. Intensive training of drivers. signallers, and other specialists was carried out and in early May a part of the Regiment went up to the desert with a "brigade" of dummy tanks.

The Force operated in the desert throughout the battles of May and June, 1942, and during the retreat to El Alamein.

July found the Regiment together again and forming part of "Delta Force," hurriedly collected in case the line at El Alamein should break. In August they moved out of the Delta to Sidi Bish, near Alexandria, with a squadron at Dikheila aerodrome. protecting the Fleet Air Arm base there.

September brought another change. Owing to the losses in armour, it became impossible to fulfil the promise made by the C.-in-C. that the Regiment should become an armoured regiment, and it was placed under the command of 2nd Armoured Brigade in the 1st Armoured Division, as Motor Battalion to the Brigade,

This change of plan gave the Regiment seven weeks in which to train for an entirely different role before going into action at El Alamein.

During this training, Lieut.-Col. H. F. B Stephenson, who had been in command since January, 1940, met with an accident which made it necessary for him to relinquish his command to Lieut.-Col. P. G. Chapman, 60th Rifles.
The Battle of El Alamein started on October 23rd, the Regiment going into action with the 2nd Armoured Brigade. Each Motor Squadron was under the command of an armoured regiment—"A" Squadron with the Queen's Bays. "B" Squadron with the 9th Lancers, and "C" Squadron with the 10th Hussars. A newly formed squadron—"D"—was an anti-tank squadron and operated under Brigade control.

The initial attack was partly successful, but daylight the last minefield was still unbreached and I the Regiment suffered considerable casualties in the fighting of the next four days.

Troopers Leech and Linley, of Sheffield. and Trooper Gallop, of Maltby, won the Military Medal during this battle.

The enemy line was finally broken on November 2nd, and the Armoured Divisions started the pursuit. 1st Armoured Division led as far as Tmimi, 90 miles west of Tobruk, keeping the enemy on the run but failed, owing to the frightful weather which bogged the wheeled vehicles, from catching him at Mersa Matruh.

At Tmimi, 7th Armoured Division passed through and 1st Armoured Division was pulled out to rest. They stayed there over Christmas, being refitted and reinforced, many of those who had been slightly wounded rejoining.

The Regiment's casualties during the operations from October 23rd to November 15th were two officers and 32 men killed, five officers and 104 men wounded, and two officers and 27 men missing.

Among the local officer casualties up to this period were Major the Hon. Peter Wood, son of the Hon. Colonel, Lord Halifax, killed, and Lieuts. Sidney and Michael Smith, wounded and missing respectively.

Transferred to K.O.Y.L.I. (Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry)

In December the War Office decided that the Regiment should become a battalion of the K.O.Y.L.I., and be known as the 9th Battalion K.O.Y.L.I. (Yorkshire Dragoons).

At the end of January, the Division moved forward once more and the Regiment went straight into the line at Medenine. The frontal attack on the Mareth Line failed, and the Division was moved round to take part in the "Left Hook" with the New Zealand Division and the 8th Armoured Brigade, which broke the Mareth Line.

During the night battle "A" Squadron captured four 88 mm. guns and 120 prisoners, and "B" Squadron captured 70 prisoners. Captain Pettifer of "A" Squadron was awarded the M.C.

The next day the Brigade was temporarily cut off outside El Hamma, sustaining casualties. Two days later El Hamma fell and the army moved up to the Akarit Line.

In March, 1943, the attack on the Akarit Line was successful and the Armoured Division took up the pursuit once more, and by early April Sfax had fallen, and the 1st and 8th Armies had linked up.

1st Armoured Division moved round and came under the command of the 1st Army for the final battles of Tunisia. On April 23rd, 1st and 6th Armoured Divisions attacked in the Goubellat Plain. The first day all went well and considerable progress was made.

But on the second day both Divisions met fierce opposition from tanks, anti-tank guns, and mines scattered in the standing corn, and suffered considerable casualties in armour. The attack was called off and 6th Armoured Division moved north, with the 1st Armoured Division being given a holding role.

Early in May there was the main attack on Tunis in the north and the Division advanced once more. On May 8th Tunis fell, and the Axis forces retired into the Cape Bon peninsular—a position of great natural strength.

1st Armoured Division was ordered to attack along the Creteville Pass into the peninsular. This entailed crossing a wide plain, completely open to observation, and forcing a narrow defile through the mountains.

"A" Squadron seized a hill on the left of the defile and the Bays made some ground into the pass. Then the 9th Lancers passed through, and by nightfall were at the summit of the pass in a small plateau. The Motor Brigade had secured the high ground on the right.

The remnants of the German 10 Panzer Division fought a last hopeless battle in this plateau, but were by-passed by the 9th Lancers who pushed on through the hills to Grombalia, and were mopped up by the 10th Hussars.

The final surrender of the enemy in North Africa came on May 12th.

The Regiment's casualties from Tmimi onwards were three officers and 19 men killed, and four officers and 36 men wounded, and 15 men missing.

After the surrender in North Africa, the Regiment had nine months out of the line, during which time the long absence from England was felt acutely.

In June, 1943, the Division moved to Tripolitania, where it was stationed in mid-summer in one of the hottest parts of North Africa, Azizia, 20 miles south of Tripoli.

The temperature reached 127 degrees in the shade during a "Khamsin." A most unwelcome change of role now took place. It was laid down that only the 60th Rifles and Rifle Brigade should in future be motor battalions, and the popular association with the 2nd Armoured Brigade ceased.

Instead, the Regiment became a lorried infantry battalion with the 1st Battalion Buffs and 14th Battalion Foresters in the 18th Infantry Brigade, but still in the 1st Armoured Division.

Lieut.-Col. P. G. Chapman relinquished command, and was succeeded by Lieut.-Col. M. G. Kerr, Rifle Brigade, who had been second-in-command.

Inspected by the King

The King inspected the Division in June. In late July, the Regiment moved to Manouba, near Tunis, and at the end of September, on again to Algiers.

In February, the Anzio Beach-head was established, the 24th Guards Brigade in 1st British Infantry Division had borne the brunt of the counter attacks against it and had suffered severely.

They were withdrawn and the 18th Infantry Brigade was sent to replace them. The Regiment landed at Anzio in mid-February and came under the 1st British Division from then until August.

Heavy Losses on the Italian Front

The Regiment went into the line for the first time on March 6th, 1944, and from then onwards were in the line for six to nine days, in reserve for four days, and resting for four days until the final break out at the end of May.

An attack was made on the night of March 13th-14th by the Regiment and the 14th Foresters. Though they had considerable casualties on the start fine and all squadrons were weak in numbers, they reached their objective and dug in.

But partly owing to the difficult country and the impossibility of mopping up properly, and partly because the enemy was about to relieve the position and had double the number of troops on the ground, the attacking squadrons were cut off and, running out of ammunition, had to surrender.

"A," "B," and "C" Squadrons suffered most severely in this action which cost 170 casualties in killed, wounded and missing. It was a severe blow which, in the absence of reinforcements, led to everyone having to do more than his normal share in the ensuing two months.

At one time the total strength of the Regiment was as low as 475. From this period onwards "C" Squadron ceased to exist. Throughout the whole period there was a steady drain of casualties.

Conditions at first were appalling—bitterly cold, mud, and water everywhere. Even the echelon area was under shell-fire, and rest was almost impossible.

The conditions in the early days must have been nearer to those of 1914-18 in France than any experienced by the British Army in the last war.

Gradually, however. the weather improved, supply roads were built and communication trenches dug.

Then, early in the Regiment received 230 reinforcements, all first-class men straight from England. and keen as mustard. They were a tremendous help and the Regiment was at the top of its form when the final break-out was made at the end of May.

Lieut.-Col. S. J. Linden Kelly, D.S.O., took command of the Regiment on May 1st.

By June 1st the enemy had pulled back to his last line before Rome—the Ardea Line. On June 3rd, the Regiment, with "A" and "B" Squadrons leading, attacked the Ardea Line, held by a German paratroop battalion.

"A" Squadron were on the left with a vital bridge on the road to Rome as their chief objective. "B" Squadron attacked three successive ridges on the right of the road. The attack was a complete success, the bridge was taken intact and 100 prisoners taken with negligible casualties to the attacking squadrons.

The road to Rome was open and the armour passed through. The Divisional Commander personally congratulated the Regiment on this battle.

Dragoons crossing the Tiber.Dragoons crossing the Tiber.Dragoons crossing the Tiber.

On June 4th Rome fell, and the Regiment halted on the banks of the Tiber, five miles downstream from the city. The Division was pulled out for a much needed rest and went into billets in the area.

During the foregoing period, the Regiment was awarded three Military Crosses, including Major P. Mackenzie Smith, who commanded "A" Squadron, and four Military Medals.
Casualties numbered: one officer and 66 men killed; five officers and 88 men wounded; and five officers and 148 men missing or prisoners.

After a period of training, the Regiment moved up to Florence under command of Major A. J. S. Tarrant, Col. Kelly being ill in hospital.

They were in the line on the outskirts of Florence when orders were received for the Brigade to revert to the command of the 1st Armoured Division, which was concentrating near Porto Recanati on the Adriatic coast, before taking part in the battle for the Gothic Line. Col. Kelly rejoined the Regiment at this point.

At the end of August news came that all men who had completed four and a half years abroad were to return to England. This meant all the original Yorkshire Dragoons. They left on August 31st, but six officers stayed behind until they could be replaced.

Three days later, the Division moved up and by September 10th was in action in front of the Coriano Ridge, near Rimini. The fighting here was very fierce. Lieut.-Col. Kelly was awarded a bar to his D.S.O., Lieut. Brierley, "B" Squadron, was awarded the Military Cross, and  L/Cpl. O'Meara the Military Medal.

Last Officers Go Home

On September 16th, the six officers who had remained behind left the Regiment to return to England.

Shortly afterwards 18th Infantry Brigade was broken up, the personnel being used to reinforce other units. The majority of the officers and men went to the 2/4th Battalion K.O.Y.L.I.

The Regiment was placed in suspension until the end of hostilities, a step necessitated by the acute shortage of reinforcements.

Casualties during September were four officers and 11 other ranks killed, three officers and 67 other ranks wounded, and one officer and 30 other ranks missing.

Local officers still with the Regiment at the end included Major Peter Smith, commanding "A" Squadron, and Major J. B. Blake, Headquarter squadron.

The R.S.M., E. Roberts, also came from Sheffield, and was awarded the M.B.E. for having served in this capacity with great distinction from before Alamein to the end.