The Second World War
The inter war years saw the Regiment still equipped as horsed cavalry: as such they were mobilised at the outbreak of war in 1939 and sent to Palestine in early 1940. There, although earmarked for conversion to armour, they carried out internal security tasks as cavalry, and while doing so ‘A’ Squadron made a mounted charge against rioters and looters in the main street of Haifa, a last hurrah before the horses were finally withdrawn. Awaiting tanks, they were temporarily converted to coastal artillery and in this role saw action, dispersed, in Crete and in the successful first Siege of Tobruk.
After the relief of Tobruk, in late 1941, the Sherwood Rangers were, as planned, converted to an armoured regiment. They first fought in tanks in the important defensive battle of Alam El Halfa in August 1942, which stopped the renowned German General Rommel’s advance. Two months later the Regiment headed the armoured attacks in the battle of El Alamein: Rommel later stated that the Sherwood Rangers were the only unit to breach his defences in the first 24 hours of the 10-day battle. In the later stages of El Alamein they played a key part in Operation Supercharge, the final breakout which clinched this famous victory.
The Sherwood Rangers were rewarded for their fierce fighting by being one of the three regiments retained when 10th Armoured Division was halved in size to become 8th Independent Armoured Brigade. Their role was to punch the initial holes in the successive enemy stop lines, through which Montgomery’s reserve 7th Armoured Division repeatedly passed. In this role the Regiment played a leading part in the long, hard fought, six month advance past Tripoli and all the way to Tunis.
The Sherwood Rangers won such a reputation for spearheading attacks in North Africa that they were selected as one of the four armoured regiments tasked to lead the British assault landings on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. They landed on Gold Beach two minutes before H-Hour, despite eight of their swimming tanks sinking in rough seas. By that evening they had reached the outskirts of Bayeux, the first town of significance to fall to the Allies, and next day took part in its full liberation. The Regiment was in action for a costly and exhausting 50 of the 60 days it took to win the Normandy campaign.
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Through France, Belgium, Holland and eventually into Germany, they were used to provide the armoured punch which led infantry attacks. So respected was their performance that infantry formations learned to ask for the Sherwood Rangers by name: so when the campaign ended, they had supported every British infantry division in North-West Europe, and three US divisions too. In the process, they became the first British unit onto German soil, and were first to breach the Siegfried Line. They finished the war beyond Bremen.
General Horrocks, who had the Regiment under his command from August 1942 to May 1945, wrote ‘I can hardly imagine a British Army without the Sherwood Rangers, and there is no doubt no armoured regiment can show a finer record of hard fighting’: he later added ‘I still maintain that the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry took part in more fighting than any other armoured regiment during the period.’ The Regiment won 21 Battle Honours in North Africa and North West Europe.