The 7th Battalion, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry 56th London Division. 167 Infantry Brigade World War II
Summary 50th Holding Battalion formed in Fleet near Aldershot June 1940 Moved to Crookham, Hants - then to Devon and became the 7th Battalion 1941 - Moved to Devon - Kent - Colchester 1942 - from Colchester drafted in November to Middle East. 1943 - Iraq, Kirkuk then through Jordan, Egypt to Tunisia. Fought a battle at Enfidaville as part of the 8th Army (Desert Rats) Invasion of Italy. Landed at Salerno, - Baronissi, Volturno. Tranzi, Monte Camino 1944 - Garigliano, Anzio, Naples. March '44 to Egypt via Taranto July '44 back to Italy, Rome, Gothic Line, Gemmano , Singoli, Ceriano September - Suspended Animation. Cadre disbanded 18 Jan'45
Commanding Officers Lt. Col.K. Horan Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry June 40 - June'41 Lt. Col RC. Cruddas Duke of Cornwall's LI June '41 Major E.S. D. Pentreath, MC ) Lt. Col. AS. Shaw-Ball ) Kings Shropshire L.I. Lt. Col. DJB Houchin M.C. ) 19th Oct. '43- Feb/Mar '44 Lt.Col JR. Cleghorn )
Battle Honours Of 30 awards to the Regiment, the 7th Battalion were granted 13. North Africa 1943 - Enfidaville. Italy 1943-45, Salerno*, Salerno hills, - St Lucia- Teano - Monte Camino- Garigliano crossing- Anzio* - Damiano - Gemmano Ridge * - Coriano * on colours
The Formation of the Battalion 1940 Lt. Col. K. Horan was appointed to command the 50th Holding Battalion forming in the Aldershot District at Fleet. A draft left Cowley on 12th June to join the small advance party and a day or so later another left Lowestoft. The commanding officer wrote:- "Many times in those early days did I and the senior officers impress upon all ranks that they must live up to, and not on a regiment tradition. Many times in the years to follow did they prove that these words had been lines understood."
Home Defence & Training In August they moved to Haig Lines, a tented camp at Crookham before moving to Westward Ho! to take over from the 10th East Surreys. On 12th October they, and the 50th Royal Berkshires paraded before the King. Afterwards all officers were presented to His Majesty, “who said a few words wishing us well in our new task on the beaches”. At Westward Ho! the Battalion (now the 7th) undertook hard training. 48 hour exercises, route marches etc. working closely with the senior naval officer and the Home Guard, who were a very livery force in this district.
1941 On 13th January they were visited by the new Army Commander, General Alexander, who inspected all the troops and found the state of the Battalion "most refreshing". On the 13th February, with a great send off from the townspeople of Bideford, the Battalion moved in 3 trains to Lyminge in Kent, joining 167th Brigade of the 56th City of London Division They were also joined by the 8th and 9th Royal Fusiliers in place of the 15th Royal Fusiliers. They were all responsible for coastal and airfield defence and later for dealing with possible airborne landings and counter attacking on Romney Marsh. On the 2nd May the Divisional Commander, General Thorne, left to take over Scottish Command, and was succeeded by Lt. General B.L. Montgomery, who very quickly made his influence felt. He decreed that he was not taking aboard any commanding officer over the age of 45. Lt. Col. Horan, who was among those superannuated, wrote "Montgomery was extremely complimentary about the state of training and discipline in the Battalion, which, coming from him, together with General Paget's remarks, did much to soften the blow.''
1942 On 19th June Lt. Col. RC. Cruddas, Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry took over. Finally, after 9 months in Kent the Battalion moved in November to Colchester and were quartered in barracks, which was new and not entirely welcome experience for many. Hard training continued to the extent the Brigadier wrote that he had never seen a Battalion with such a high standard of training.
Embarkation and Voyage to India and Iraq 21st August they left Suffolk to embark and sail from the River Clyde on RMS Almanzora via Cape Town ( where they were royally entertained) and Mombasa to Bombay. Then on the SS Santher to Basra on the Persian gulf in the first week of November. This was followed by a train journey via Baghdad to Kirkuk.
1943 From then until 29th/30th March when they headed South to join the 8th Army, the Battalions time was taken up with training and sport. Journey to join the 8th Army in Tunisia The battalion left Kirkuk on 29th/30th March by road, the on what was to be a 3000 mile journey. The journey then took them across desert to Jordan, Palestine and the Suez Canal via Cairo to Tobruk, near Tripoli, finally entering Tunisia on the 27th April. They arrived complete, ready for battle bar one vehicle, a motor cycle combination, taking over part of the front 4 miles north of Enfidaville from 201st Guards Brigade. Referring to the march a year later the Egyptian Mail wrote "...the 56th Division carried out one of the longest marches in military history - a march which took them across 7 deserts from Iraq to Tunisia. Within a few hours of reaching their destination the Division went into battle".
Battle of Enfidaville Now proud to be part of the Eighth Army, their first action "Operation Light Infantry" at Enfidaville, which took place on 8th and 9th May. This is described in detail in the War Chronicles Vol 11.(p119) "The battalion went into battle and held the high ground a mile and three-quarter in advance of the British Line. It augured well for future campaigns"- gaining congratulations from the Corps Commander. This was the last advance on the coastal plain by the Eighth Army. Casualties were 12 killed and 65 wounded - remarkabry light considering the lack of cover and the isolated position.
After a cleaning up operation in Tunisia, and a cessation of hostilities on 13th May, the Battalion moved back into Libya just inside Tripoli where X Corps prepared for the invasion of Italy practising amphibious operations. The training was intensive and towards the middle of August all transport was waterproofed, and at the end of the month the Battalion embarked on Landing Craft Infantry (LCI's) and Landing Craft Tanks (LCT's). The journey across the Mediterranean starting from Zuara on 6th September, 1943. While on the 3 day crossing, it was given out that Italy had capitulated. But we were warned not to be too complacent as it proved over the next few months... the enemy was no pushover" * * H. Penny
The Battalions's Winter Campaign which now began can be divided into 5 phases.
1. The Assault Landing At Salerno Shipping moored off Salerno Bay was constantly bombed. The landing of the 5th Army, commanded by General Mark Clark, U.S. Army, was composed equally of U.S. and British troops with X Corps - 56th London Division and 46th Division in assault and 7th Armoured in reserve. The landing took place on 8th September at night with the Battalion the reserve battalion of 167th London Infantry Brigade on the right. This second great action of the Battalion, described in detail in the Chronicles, was over by 17 September. The 46th and 56th Divisional Commanders and the Corps Commander Lt. General R McCreery all visited Regimental Headquarters to congratulate them on the second saving of the beach head. On 18th December the Battalion took over from 2nd Hampshire in a position above Salerno. They began suffering severely from sickness as a result of the first week of fighting in the marshes around the beach head where the mosquitos were considerably larger than any they had previously experienced. Casualties included the Commanding Officer and Major Pentreath M.C., the Second in Command, took over.
2. Break Out From The Beach Head And Pursuit Of The Germans To The Volturno The advance took place with tanks and armoured vehicles, the Battalion initially leading the advance supported by a squadron of tanks. However 169 Brigade suffered heavy casualties and it became obvious that they required more practice and an improved technique for dealing with enemy rearguard on a mechanized advance. On the 2nd October, Lt. Col. Cruddas and the Adjutant having rejoined the Battalion from hospital, it then moved to the south bank of the River Volturno.
3. The Crossing Of The Volturno And Advance To The German Winter Defence Line. Between the 7th and 19th October operations were underway for the crossing of the Volturno which was the Battalion's first experience of an assault river crossing it also provided excellent experience of patrolling. Sadly, during this period Lt. Col. Cruddas who had commanded since June 1941 was finally overcome by sickness and had to hand over command, on 19th October Lt. Col. AS. Shaw Ball of the 1st Kings Shropshire Light Infantry took over.
The Battle of Tranzi followed, described in the Chronicle as the "Tranzi Turmoil", and its results were so far reaching that the Germans withdrew the last 10 or 12 miles to their strong winter position before Cassino. The main action involved a night attack on the 29th/30th October. With the rest of the Brigade, a long cross country march now began to keep in contact with the enemy ending with the attack on Monte Camino between 10th November and 2nd December. Because of casualties the Battalion was reformed into two companies around 29th November, being expanded to three companies when reinforcements arrived on 13th December.
4. The Crossing Of The Garagliano River A period of patrolling followed with the fording of the Garigliano a month later. It had been decided that Italy should remain a major theatre of operations during the winter months aiming at breaking the German line and entering Rome.
1944 On the 17th January the attack began, very heavy fighting ensued and the Battalion was again reduced to two companies, resting for a period after the 23rd. They then moved forward to attack Monte Rotundo, but the advance was later called off. They were relieved on 5th/6th February and on the 9th placed on 3 hours notice for the Anzio Bridgehead. With Cassino still held by the Germans, there was a deadlock on the Italian front, despite the crossing of the Garrigliano to the south.
5. The AnzioBeach-Head On 12th February the Battalion embarked at Pozzuoli, after a two day rest in a camp, and the following day reached Anzio. On the 16th the Brigade moved forward and they relieved the Foresters. On the 20th they advanced with tanks. Major Hayter writes in the Chronicle:" Of the Regiment that went in, three officers and seventy eight men came out. By the end of 1944 about half the missing were declared prisoners of war. Of this action the chaplain wrote to him, "Your men have gained a very great honour.... Your Regiment has made a contribution which should inspire for many years to come. They fought for three days and nights without giving any ground.... " They were later reduced to two companies, Lt.CoL D.J.K. Houchin MC had taken over command from Lt CoL Shaw Ball who was wounded. They were then finally relieved on 8th March, 14 officers and about 180 soldiers embarking for Pozzuoli.
Egypt Via Vocera and Matera - where they billeted in a 17th Century boys school, the Battalion embarked from Taranto on 29th March to Egypt and eventually Gaza. They were greatly encouraged by the Commander in Chief General Sir Bernard Paget. They trained hard, retaining the core of the old Battalion, many of the reinforcements being from disbanded and aircraft units. There were also some men from 10th Royal Berkshires of 168 Brigade, who had been disbanded. " by strictly adhering to the various Regimental customs and dress and by inculcating the proud spirit of the older members, the Regiment became a most wonderful team of friends and enthusiasts", after a Kings Birthday Parade, at which despite problems of marching too fast at the Light Infantry pace, aided by 16 buglers with silver bugle horns, they embarked from Port Said for Taranto on 11th Jury, arriving on the 17th July .
Back In Italy- The Gothic Line Battles From Taranto, 167 brigade moved forward through Tivoli, Assisi, and Polenza to join the 8th Army on the Gothic Line on 31st August. In a difficult operation overnight on 3rd September and the following day the Battalion captured Montefiore , which was a useful and encouraging introduction to battle. The next action was the attack on Gemmano and the 8th Army Commander congratulates the Regiment. " the Regiment which may be proud of its part in a great and hard fought victory"(Chronicles p231). They were then under command of the 7th Armoured Brigade for the attack on Sensoli ridge on 13th and 14th September. After this "companies were commanded by inexperienced officers, and had not the backing of experienced NCO's they were very reduced in numbers and everyone was needing a rest (Chronicles p239)." From 18th and 20th September the battle of Ceriano ridge took place, with the Battalion greatly depleted in strength and some dispute with the Brigade Commander Brigadier Prior-Palmer. On 20th they passed under command of 109th Brigade (Queens). A counter attack by the enemy followed, and the Battalion was too weak to hold it's position. By this stage there was an acute shortage of manpower generally and 1st Armoured Division and one Brigade of the 56th Division - 1st Bn. the Welch Regiment, 8th Bn The Royal Fusiliers and 7th Bn The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were placed in Suspended Animation on 22nd September . 1945 Reduced to a Cadre the Battalion moved out of the fighting area and settled down in billets on the Adriatic coast at Potensa Picena. Although it twice seemed they might be reformed, after great efforts by the Divisional Commander. Finally no reinforcement were available and they were finally disbanded on 18th January 1945.
It has been an epic story. Almost a year earlier speaking at the Depot, their by then late Commanding Officer, Colonel Ralph Cruddas, referred to "the magnificent fighting qualities of the Regiment; how their sound hard training had reduced their casualties far below those of contiguous regiments. He said he did not know men could fight as the Regiment had fought "(Chronicles vol III p349). "On the occasion that they were on the march forward to the Volturno, the Queens turned out to cheer the Regiment, which in so short a time had won a reputation second to none".
Compiled by Steve Berridge www.lightbobs.com 04/08/2020