The rare Second World War North Africa 1st Army and Italian campaign and North Irish Horse Territorial long service group awarded to Trooper C.W. Baker, North Irish Horse, Royal Armoured Corps, Territorial Army, who appears to have served throughout with his regiment, and as such would have landed at Algiers in February 1943 and then seen service as part of the 1st Army. His regiment, equipped with Churchill tanks, made a name for itself during the Tunisian campaign, specifically in the attack on Djebel Rhar, also known as Longstop Hill, on 23rd April 1943 when in support of the 5th Buffs, and displaying feats of tank hill climbing that took the German infantry by surprise, they being ‘untanklike’ tactics, that did not appear in any German military text book. On 16 June, the Belfast Telegraph carried a report of the action: ‘It was very slow and therefore a most impressive assault with steel. At times the tanks almost 'stood on their heads', twisting to avoid mounds of rock and to get at right angles to the huge cracks and shell holes, but always getting nearer and nearer. Like beetles trying to climb an inverted ice-cream cone, they slipped a little, hung suspended and then went onwards towards the top. The behaviour of these tanks upset the Germans. Such tactics were untanklike, and no answer was contained in their military textbooks. Too late now to shift the anti-tank guns from their positions, too late to make alternative arrangements to deal with the new menace. There was only one answer – retreat, and that's what the Germans did – leaving the British tanks and infantry in possession of the first slope up the heights of Longstop. So ended 23 April.’ One German prisoner was heard to remark that the tanks were "Iron Mules”. Baker went on to see service in Italy, where his regiment, equipped with Shermans, fought on the Hitler Line during Operation Chesterfield on 23rd May 1944, in what became the Regimental Day - the bloodiest day in the history of the North Irish Horse, and resulted in praise from the Canadian’s and their giving of the Maple Leaf insignia to be worn on the regimental uniform. The regiment later forced the Gothic Line, and once again re-equipped with Churchill tanks, crossed the River Po and ended up in Austria.
Group of 6: 1939-1945 Star; Africa Star with 8th Army Clasp; Italy Star; Defence Medal; War Medal; Efficiency Medal, GVI 1st type bust, Territorial suspension; (2058704 TPR. C.W. BAKER. N.I.H.), mounted swing style as worn.
Condition: Good Very Fine.
Awarded to Trooper (No.2058704) C.W. Baker, North Irish Horse, Territorial Army, who would appear to have been serving with the North Irish Horse on the outbreak of the Second World War.
On 31st August 1939, the War Office ordered the reconstitution of the regiment as a wheeled armoured car unit under the command of Sir Basil Brooke with Lord Erne as his second in command, although Brooke was shortly to leave the position as his political commitments took precedence. Ultimately to be replaced, after several temporary officers, by Lt Col David Dawnay, grandson of the 8th Viscount Downe. Recruiting commenced and instructors were brought in from other RAC and Yeomanry units to raise the Horse from its "One Man Regiment" status from scratch. On 11th September, a Special Army Order transferred the regiment from the Cavalry of the Line to the Royal Armoured Corps. By November, 50 recruits had been trained and a further 30–40 were due to start training immediately. In the same month, the regiment also moved its base to Enniskillen Castle. By January 1940, the regiment had received its vintage Rolls-Royce armoured cars fitted with Vickers machine guns and No 11 radio sets and was able to form three sabre squadrons plus HQ Squadron. The officer cadre was again heavily filled by members of the nobility.
Training was interrupted on 24 May 1940 when an Irish Republican Army bomb exploded close to the officers' mess, which was in the Main Street in Enniskillen, but before any further incidents occurred the regiment was moved to Portrush. Training exercises continued along the north coast, which caused a certain amount of boredom amongst the officers and men who by now had expected to be fighting. On 19 April 1941, the regiment moved to Abercorn Barracks at Ballykinlar and re-equipped as an armoured regiment with Mk I Valentine tanks.
On 18 October 1941, the Horse left Northern Ireland and took up new accommodation at Westbury, Wiltshire with the squadrons billeted in the surrounding villages. The role was changed again at this point and the regiment handed in its Valentines to receive Churchill I – Mk IV's; it was assigned to the 34th Armoured Rank Brigade under the command of J.N Tetley, son of the English brewing magnate. At this point, the tanks were given markings that corresponded to the formation, regiment and squadrons to which they belonged and, in a practice that was to become customary with all Irish units of the RAC, each tank was named after an Irish town or place beginning with the letter of the squadron designation.
The regiment continued to be moved around the Home Counties and also spent time in Wales, exercising and becoming familiar with its Churchill tanks. On 6 September 1942, it was transferred from the 34th Tank Brigade to the 25th Army Tank Brigade, which was attached to the 43rd Wessex Infantry Division.
As Christmas leave was drawing to a close, those still away from the unit were recalled by telegram and ordered to get ready to deploy for overseas service, although oddly, they were then given six days "embarkation leave". On their return, the regiment's tanks were sheeted down so that all markings were hidden and all ranks had to divest themselves of identifying badges to prevent knowledge of their deployment becoming known. All were then entrained for Liverpool, where they embarked on the troopship Duchess of York.
On 2 February 1943, the North Irish Horse landed in Algiers and marched 17 miles on foot to their new camp. Its first job was to create a defensive force around Le Kef. The regiment was not up to strength at this time as many of its tanks and much of its equipment had been delayed by logistical difficulties. The regiment was ordered to leave Le Kef at speed to counter the Axis Offensive – Operation Ochsenkopf in late February 1943. It made best speed with all 27 available tanks towards Beha, some 90 miles away – one of the longest "on track" journeys ever made by Churchill tanks. In the ensuing 60-hour action, mostly against elements of the German 10th Panzer Division, the Horse took its first casualties of the war and lost a number of tanks to enemy artillery and direct tank-on-tank actions. It also received its first decoration, with Captain Griffith being awarded the Military Cross.
The regiment continued to support other elements of the invasion force in troop or squadron formations, taking heavy casualties and losing tanks but continuing to press forward all the time until, in early April moving to Oued Zarga where the entire regiment came together for the first time since landing at Algiers. In the further advance north while attached to the 38th Irish Brigade, which was under the command of Brigadier Nelson Russell, the Horse showed the agility of the often underestimated Churchills by climbing heights regarded as safe from tanks and surprising the Germans occupying them, a fact noted by Spike Milligan in his account of the Tunisian Campaign. The most notable of these feats of tank hill climbing was the attack on Djebel Rhar (also known as Longstop Hill) in support of the 5th Buffs. The German infantry did not expect tanks to be able to make the crest of the Djebel and as a result were thrown into panic when the Churchills of B Sqn appeared in their midst. On 16 June, the Belfast Telegraph carried a report of the action: ‘It was very slow and therefore a most impressive assault with steel. At times the tanks almost 'stood on their heads', twisting to avoid mounds of rock and to get at right angles to the huge cracks and shell holes, but always getting nearer and nearer. Like beetles trying to climb an inverted ice-cream cone, they slipped a little, hung suspended and then went onwards towards the top. The behaviour of these tanks upset the Germans. Such tactics were untanklike, and no answer was contained in their military textbooks. Too late now to shift the anti-tank guns from their positions, too late to make alternative arrangements to deal with the new menace. There was only one answer – retreat, and that's what the Germans did – leaving the British tanks and infantry in possession of the first slope up the heights of Longstop. So ended 23 April.’ One German prisoner was heard to remark that the tanks were "Iron Mules”.
On 6 May, the final attack was launched against Tunis and, after severe street fighting and the capture of six 88 mm guns by C Sqn (in support of the Indian Brigade), the town was finally occupied. This effectively ended the campaign in Tunisia.
The Horse were allowed to rest and receive replacement vehicles and men for several months after the Tunisian actions. It has been surmised that this is because General Montgomery did not believe the Churchill tank to be a practical vehicle for the Italian campaign. Nevertheless, the regiment embarked on 16 April for Naples, coming under air attack as it entered the harbour two days later. Versuvius could be seen just a few miles away with fire and smoke pouring from its brim, having erupted just several weeks earlier on 19 March.
At Afragola the regiment received 18 Sherman tanks and then loaded all tanks onto trains to be taken across country to Foggia and from there moved into a brigade harbour area near the village of Lucera. By now, Lord O’Neill had been given command of the regiment, with Colonel Dawnay moving on to brigade staff. After a week in harbour, the regiment was sent on tank transporters to Mignano near Monte Cassino, which had fallen some days earlier along with the rest of the Gustav Line. The fighting was not over, however, as the Adolf hitler Line, now renamed the Senger Line, lay just six miles north, and it would be the next objective. The Horse was briefed for Operation Chesterfield, which was an assault by the 1st Canadian Division supported by tanks of the North Irish Horse and the 51st Royal Tanks. H Hour was to be at 6 am on 23 May. The plan required the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigades, supported by the two tank regiments, to break through the Hitler Line on a 3,000-yard front. The assaulting troops came under a withering hail of fire on the well-prepared killing grounds of the heavily defended German positions. The Horse took heavy casualties and had to regroup by merging depleted squadrons together. One tank slipped off a track and fell 50 feet into a ravine, rolling over on its turret and then back onto its tracks. The crew were shaken but unhurt, and the incident gave them another chance to display the marvellous climbing skills of the Churchill as they crawled slowly up the almost sheer walls of the ravine to re-enter the battle. During this battle, Major Griffiths again displayed great heroism and was later awarded the only bar to the MC that an officer of the regiment received. The total cost to the Horse in the engagement was 36 men killed in action and 32 tanks lost. This represented 60% of the regimental strength. The date of 23 May was later chosen as a "Regimental Day" to commemorate the bloodiest day in the history of the North Irish Horse, which lost more men than on any other day in two world wars. The breakthrough happened, however, and the German defenders began evacuating the position on the night of 23 May. Meanwhile, the allied advance continued.
As a result of the breaking of the Hitler Line and in "appreciation of the support they received" the regiment was asked by the Canadians to wear the Maple Leaf insignia of the Canadian Military. In the battles of the Hitler Line was a Donegal born Lieutenant Pat Reid MC, who in later life would emigrate to Canada and would chair the committee selected by the Canadian Prime Minister that would choose the Maple Leaf design for the new national Flag of Canada.
On 4 May, the regiment, along with the rest of the 25th Tank Brigade, was transferred to the 4th Division in support of the 28th Brigad, but remained in reserve. After news of the D Day Landings was heard, the regiment was again transferred and came under command of the 17th Indian Infantry Brigade. This brief period of respite allowed a number of the men to visit Rome. Many visited the Basilica San Pietro and marvelled at the undamaged splendour of such an edifice.
The regiment was then tasked to put together a composite unit of Shermans to relieve the 142nd RAC Regt's composite group with the 8th Indian Infantry Division, and the advance began westwards to Perigia, which fell on 20 June. On 16 June, the Horse again relieved the 142nd, this time at Bastia Umbra. In the days and actions that followed, new upgunned Churchill tanks arrived, with their Besa machine guns.
Advancing again though mountainous countryside, another tank slid off the track and rolled six times down a 200-foot slope. The crew were not so lucky this time, as one was killed and the rest injured. The tank was a write-off. The race was on, however, to drive the Germans back, and the North Irish Horse was rushed in again to relieve the hard-pressed 142nd RAC Regt at Maria del Monte. On 3 September, it crossed the Conca river, followed by an attack on Coriana to secure the bridges crossing the Marano river. On 8 September, the regiment was withdrawn to a safer area in the knowledge that the Gothic Line had been broken.
On 29 November, the regiment was advancing north to Monte Cavallo supporting the Mahratta infantry. Lt Col Lord O’Neill arrived and took up a position of observation at a small stone barn. A heavy shell impacted nearby and he was killed.
By this time, the autumn rains had arrived, which slowed the Allied advance but did not stop it. On 2 October, the regiment was ordered to move to Poggio Berni to relieve the 6th Royal Tank Regiment. Action continued until 3 November, when the Horse were pulled out of the line and local leave granted after a memorial service for those killed in action.
On 7 November, Lt Col Llewellen-Parker took command, and the advance northwards quickly continued. The Churchills once again proved their worth in their ability to cross natural obstacles such as rivers, mountains and the thick glutinous mud, which formed on the arable farmland during the rains and after it had been churned up by thousands of men and machines. Eventually, the regiment was granted an extended period of maintenance and rest at Riccione. On 4 December, it was again transferred, this time to the 21st Tank Brigade under the command of Brigadier David Dawnay, the former regimental commander. On 12 January, it moved into Ravenna in support of the Italian Gruppo Cremona, which was now fighting on the side of the allies.
In late March, the regiment was involved in the action south of the Senio river and by 2 April was facing the enemy's defences along the flood-banks and engaging them at close range. The last of the German resistance crumbled as more tanks made it into position to engage them, and they surrendered, with the Horse taking 40 prisoners.
Following Operation Buckland and the crossing of the River Po, the regiment was ordered to stand down on 30 April 1945 for the last time in the Second World War. Two days later, all German forces in Italy surrendered.
The North Irish Horse lost 73 men killed in action during the Second World War, including a commanding officer, two squadron leaders and several troop leaders.
In the immediate aftermath of the German surrender, the regiment fell into a routine of guard duties and time off. Eventually, most of the tanks were handed in except for three per squadron, and a move was made into Austria, where the Horse took on the role of armoured reconnaissance regiment for the 78th Division. In January 1946, another move was effected into Germany, where the Horsemen carried out internal security duties in the Wuppertal area until 7 June, when these duties were handed over to the 14th/20th Hussars and the North Irish Horse was disbanded.