88: Royal Armoured Corps & Royal Tank Regiment, Armoured Battery, Lamps

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Royal Armoured Corps


The Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) was formed on 4 April 1939, just months before the outbreak of the Second World War, making it one of the younger corps in the British Army. However, it is also unique among the corps, since it was not formed by amalgamating existing corps into a single overarching unit.

Instead, it is the umbrella for a large number of existing regiments, each of which also retained its individual regimental identity. These regiments were mainly former cavalry regiments, but also included the battalions of the Royal Tank Regiment, which was known as the Royal Tank Corps before the RAC’s formation.

Since then the Royal Armoured Corps has acted as the overall corps for all mechanised cavalry units and now includes ten regular and four territorial regiments, operating both as main armour and reconnaissance. The Reconnaissance Corps also became a part of the Royal Armoured Corps from 1944 until the Reconnaissance Corps’s disbandment in 1946.


Royal Tank Regiment


The unit’s origins lie in the six tank companies of the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps. These had risen to eight by November 1916, when they were each expanded into battalions and given the letters A to H. These eight battalions were officially split off from the Machine Gun Corps on 28 July 1917 by Royal Warrant to form the Tank Corps – its battalions thus switched from letters to numbers.

The new unit’s first commander was Hugh Elles, who had already commanded Heavy Branch for a year. By the time of the Armistice, after only two years’ existence, four officers in or attached to the regiment had been awarded the Victoria Cross and in 1923 it was granted the prefix ‘Royal’.

Conqueror tanks of 5 Royal Tank Regiment on exercise in West Germany, c1960
NAM. 2003-03-618-2

By January 1918 the Corps had 15 battalions, rising to 26 by December the same year. However, far fewer tanks were needed for Britain’s post-war commitments, so from 1919 onwards the 26 battalions were reduced to a depot battalion and four active battalions. However, three more regular battalions had been re-formed by 1939, giving a total of eight, supplemented by a large number of territorial battalions. In April that year, the Royal Tank Corps was renamed the Royal Tank Regiment and placed under the umbrella of the new Royal Tank Corps, alongside all the British Army’s mechanised cavalry units.

The Royal Tank Regiment served on all fronts during the Second World War, but then underwent another set of amalgamations and disbandments, with the number of regular battalions falling to five in 1959, four in 1969 and finally two in 1994. The two remaining battalions are two of the regiment’s oldest, tracing their ancestry back to B Battalion formed in 1917 and the 1st Light Battalion established in 1934.

Key facts


  • ‘Fear Naught’

Titles to date:

  • Heavy Branch, Machine Gun Corps
  • Tank Corps
  • Royal Tank Corps
  • Royal Tank Regiment

Reconnaissance Corps

The Reconnaissance Corps, or simply Recce Corps, was a Second World War corps of the British Army whose units provided the mobile spearhead of infantry divisions. It was formed from infantry brigade reconnaissance groups on 14 January 1941.

All the brigade reconnaissance groups of each infantry corps were formed into reconnaissance battalions, each usually bearing the number of its relevant division. For example, the 43rd Battalion, Reconnaissance Corps (based on the 5th Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment) was the divisional reconnaissance battalion of the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division.[1]

Initially, coming from infantry units, reconnaissance units used the infantry designations of battalions, companies and platoons. However, from 6 June 1942, the Corps changed to the cavalry descriptions of regiments, squadrons and troops.[2]

It became part of the Royal Armoured Corps in 1944, still maintaining its own cap badge with two lightning strikes supporting an upright spear. With the end of the war, this number of reconnaissance units was not needed and the Corps was disbanded in August 1946. Reconnaissance duties reverted to regular armoured units of the Royal Armoured Corps.

Organisation and equipment

The Reconnaissance Corps was charged with gathering vital tactical information in battle for infantry divisions, probing ahead and screening the flanks of main advances. The training centre was established at Winchester in February 1941, until the home of the Corps moved to Catterick in Yorkshire. Although the Corps was raised from various regular army units, it did not follow that all men would be retained, as potential reconnoiterers were required to take an IQ test and other tests before being accepted. Many failed and were sent to normal infantry battalions, but those who succeeded enjoyed the kudos of belonging to an elite unit and were determined to prove their own worth. Before beginning training with his unit, each man undertook a five week course with technical units, which determined his role as a driver, wireless operator or mechanic. Most recce men became efficient in two of these roles e.g. driver and operator. During training with a reconnaissance unit, emphasis was placed on both aggressiveness and initiative, as these were the characteristics expected of the men selected for such units, and, as a result, a proud offensive spirit was created, similar to other newly founded units such as The Parachute Regiment. Reconnaissance regiments were organised into a headquarters squadron (including anti-tank, signals and mortar troops) and three reconnaissance (or “recce”) squadrons. Each recce squadron comprised three scout troops and an assault troop. Scout troops were equipped with light reconnaissance cars such as the Humber Light Reconnaissance Car and with Bren Gun Carriers. The assault troop comprised lorried infantry and were called up when enemy resistance needed to be overcome. Later in the war more efficient and well-armed armoured cars such as the Humber Armoured Car, Daimler Armoured Car, Staghound and Greyhound augmented the light reconnaissance cars in scout troops.[3]


The following units served in the Recce Corps:

Independent reconnaissance squadrons (this list is probably incomplete)


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