Desert Rats during ww2

Desert rats during ww2

The British 7th Armoured Division is one of the most famous formations that ever served in the British Army. It was formed in the desert of North Africa just before the Second World War and fought in most of the major campaigns of the war, ending up in the heart of the Third Reich itself - Berlin. Much detail can be found throughout this website and within the reference material highlighted on the Other Sites and Books page. What follows here is a brief outline of the Divisions history, but much can be f............................

In January/February 1942, the Axis forces attacked again, but the 7th Armoured Division was refitting after the Crusader battles and did not return to the Western Desert until April that year. In May and June 1942, it was involved in the battles for the Gazala Line and the 'Cauldron', before having to withdraw to the El Alamein line with the rest of the British Army, where it was involved in the battle of First Alamein. Click here to see the Divisional Order Of Battle at this time. After the British forces withdrew behind the El Alamein line the Division went through major refitting and training and played a part in the defeat of the German Panzer forces during the Battle of Alam Halfa, in late August and early September 1942.

Having completed its retraining and been refitted the Division was ready for the British offensive of El Alamein in October 1942, where its main role was to participate in the armoured breakout, called 'Operation Supercharge'. Click here to see the Divisional Order Of Battle at this time. After breaking through the Axis lines, the 7th Armoured Division and other British formations pursued the retreating Germans and Italians, along the North African coast, back over the old battle grounds of 1940 and 1941, taking Tripoli on the way. By early 1943, the Division was ready to take part in the final push to expel the Axis forces from North Africa. Click here to see the Divisional Order Of Battle at this time. In April the final attacks started and on 7th May, the 11th Hussars entered Tunis to capture the city. By 12th May the war in North Africa was over and the Division enjoyed a well earned rest.
The 7th Armoured Division, did not take place in the invasion of Sicily, but did land in Italy a few days after the main invasion at Salerno. Once ashore it started to work its way up the west coast of Italy, taking part in the assault across the River Volturno, before being withdrawn from the line and returning to England in November 1943. Click here to see the Divisional Order Of Battle at this time.
Once back in England the Division set about re-equipping and training on its new equipment and preparing for the Invasion of Northern Europe, in Normandy, while based in Norfolk. The 7th Armoured Division started to land inNormandy late on D-Day, 6th June itself, and quickly started to form ready for battle. On 12th June, it fought elements of the 2nd Panzer and the Panzer Lehr Divisions at Villers-Bocage and thereafter in the action known as the Battle of the Brigade Box, before withdrawing to the British lines, having effectively caused both German formations to cease to be battle worthy. After this it took part in the various British and Canadian assaults to break out and take Caen, such as Operation Goodwood, Operation Spring and Operation Bluecoat, before finally breaking out and racing to the River Seine. Click here to see the Divisional Order Of Battle at this time.
Now out of the killing fields that were Normandy, the Division now pushed on through Northern France into Belgium. Here the Division liberated Ghent and then continued to clear German forces from the rest of Belgium and Holland, up to the River Maas. Here the remained for November and December 1944, into January 1945, continuing to keep the pressure on the German forces on the Maas. In January 1945, the Division took part in Operation Blackcock, to clear the Germans from the Rivers Roer, Wurm and Maas.
By late 1944 and into early 1945 Division adopted the final of its three Division signs as show here, which it was to use until the end of the war.

Having successfully completed the clearance, the 7th Armoured Division now prepared to cross the Rhine into the heart of Germany, as part of Operation Plunder, which took place in March 1945, with the eventual goal of capturing Hamburg. In the weeks that followed it fought its way across Germany, via the Teutoberger Wald to the River Weser, were fierce battles took place with fanatical SS and Hitler Jugend forces. Click here to see the Divisional Order Of Battle at this time. By mid April 1945, the Division was poised to move on Hamburg, but it had to fight its way all the way to the suburbs of the city. On the way it did release several men that had served in the Division, from a POW camp at Fallingbostel. Elsewhere some elements of the Division became involved with the efforts to clear up the Concentration Camp at Belsen, which had been liberated by 11th Armoured Division, fighting on the 7th Armoured right flank. Finally, after fierce battles in the suburbs of Hamburg, the Division accepted the surrender of the city on 3rd May 1945, moving into it the same afternoon.
Over the next few weeks some units moved onto Kiel (which many were glad to do because of the stench of the dead in the rubble), but the final accolade for this famous fighting force was to come. In July 1945 it was ordered to Berlin, to join the British Garrison there and to also take place in the Victory Parade. This they did on 21st July 1945, parading past Winston Churchill himself. The parade was led by 3rd RHA, the Armoured Regiments, 5th RHA, 8th Hussars and the incomparable 11th Hussars, who drew a special cheer from the ranks of the Division as they went past. Then came the Engineers, the Queens, the DLI and Devonshire's and representatives of all the other elements of this great Division, which had fought for so long and so far, through victory and defeat, right to the capital of its enemy. Later on Winston Churchill addressed the men of the Division as the 'Winston' Club and his words can be found here.
By now the 7th Armoured Division had been fighting for five years. Many good men had died in the process and many more wounded, but it had fought through adversity and success, from the heat of the Western Desert, through the mud of Italy, the killing fields of Normandy, through Belgium and Holland. It then had to fight its way right across Germany in the final bloody battles of the war, to Hamburg. Its men had proved themselves worthy of the hardy desert animal on their shoulders and vehicles and had been rewarded by parading through the enemy's capital in triumph!
At its HQ in Berlin the Division erected a signpost showing its route to Berlin, which serves as a fitting statement of its achievements. This is shown below;

Later a Memorial Stone (below) was erected when the Division entered Berlin in July 1945, at the end of the autobahn. Later, when roadworks in this area made it necessary to move the monument, so it was removed and taken to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where it stands today.

After the war the Division continued to serve in Germany, but in January 1948 it was disbanded, being perpetuated by 7th Armoured Brigade. It was reformed in March 1949 and served with the British Army On the Rhine (BAOR) until it was finally disbanded in January 1957. In its entire history it had only been in the United Kingdom for about six months. Some of the regiments that served have been disbanded or merged over the years, but the Jerboa emblem is still worn proudly by the men of the 7th Armoured Brigade. It is good to know that one of the first Brigades that served with the Division, but left it, now continues its heritage. Likewise the other original Armoured Brigade (the 4th) is also still serving in the British Army, wearing their "Black Rat" badge, but now as the 4th Mechanized Brigade, since 2007.
In 2014 an end of an era was announced by the MoD that as part of the reorganisation of the British Army that the 7th Armoured Brigade, would cease to exist and become the 7th Infantry Brigade. The new Brigade will continue to wear the Jerboa and carry on the traditions of the Desert Rats. Effectively, after over 74 years of existence there will no longer be a 7th Armoured Brigade in the British Army.
Over the years the men that served with 7th Armoured Division have become fewer in number, but on 23rd October 1998, a permanent memorial to this famous formation (shown below) was dedicated at Mundford, in Thetford Forest, Norfolk, by Field Marshall Lord Carver, who served with 5th Royal Tank Regiment with the Division in 1944.

On 10th November 2002, the memorial was Dedicated by the Bishop of Lynn, the Rt. Rev. Anthony Foottit (assisted by Rev. David Hanwell), during the Remembrance Day service that year, to the memory of the Division and those who served in it, giving the 'Desert Rats' a permanent War Memorial here in the UK.

During the Open Day on the 27th June 2004 the present day successors to the Division, namely 4th and 7th Armoured Brigades, installed an additional plaque on the Memorial plinth, commemorating the Desert Rats from 1945 to date. The Dedication of the plaque was conducted by Rev. David Hanwell in the presence of Brigadier Adrian Bradshaw Commanding 7th Armoured Brigade and other senior officers from both the 4th and 7th Armoured Brigades.

Desert rats mug: The Mug Factory

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