Armoured Regiment

A "regiment" was the standard unit of armour, equivalent to a battalion in the infantry. It was composed of, in general, three squadrons of tanks.

A typical Canadian armoured regiment serving in the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division or 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division in combat in the Second World War would have been organized as such:

The Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment of the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division was also equipped as a standard Armoured Regiment before moving to Normandy in the summer of 1944.

Tactics

Infantrymen of the 1/5 Mahratta Light Infantry jumping from a Sherman tank of The Calgary Regiment during a tank-infantry training course, Florence, Italy, 28 Aug 1944. In the last half of the war it became very common for soldiers in all armies to ride as far as possible directly on top of the tanks, though usually not past the Start Line. PAC Photo.

Infantrymen of the 1/5 Mahratta Light Infantry jumping from a Sherman tank of The Calgary Regiment during a tank-infantry training course, Florence, Italy, 28 Aug 1944. In the last half of the war it became very common for soldiers in all armies to ride as far as possible directly on top of the tanks, though usually not past the Start Line. LAC Photo

The Canadian Army benefited from the experience of the British Army, who spent long years fighting in the Western Desert against German and Italian armoured forces.

Only rarely did an armoured regiment go into battle on its own, since, when it did, disaster often occurred. Usually it was supported by artillery and accompanied by infantry and engineers whose task was to deal with opposition beyond the easy reach of tank weapons. When the tank commanding officer received his orders for an operation he was given far more information than the mere objective which he had to reach. He was told about the known or estimated enemy opposition which was to be expected and provided with intelligence describing the activities of flanking units or those which were to follow him into action and exploit such successes as he won. He was also given a list of the units and sub-units allocated under his command or in support.1

Macksey lists a "typical" battle procedure for British armoured regiments in 1944 that would have been no different from that followed by Canadian armoured units. In his example, he cites an armoured Regiment with a Field Battery (8 guns) committed to support, and an Infantry Company with a section of engineers under command, ordered to attack "a German outpost position prior to advancing as rapidly as possible against an enemy who had shown signs of preparing a withdrawal."

Outline Plan

The Commanding Officer of an armoured regiment would study the map and if time permitted reconnoitre, along with the commander of the artillery battery and Officer Commanding the infantry company. The three would formulate a plan of attack, and brief their subordinates in a Orders Group. The Armoured Regiment CO would brief his Squadron Commanders, who in turn would hold their own "O Group" to brief their troop leaders, who in turn briefed the other tank commanders in their troops. Likewise, the infantry and artillery officers initiated chain reactions of briefings amongst their units and sub-units.

Time was the controlling factor. With plenty to spare every level could indulge in careful discussion and study of the ground so that each man eventually knew the part he had to play: the less to spare, the scarcer became the briefing of the lowlier members in the team and the more that had to be passed over telephone and radio with a consequent loss of accuracy during dissemination. Moreover the use of telephones and radio gave rise to the danger of the enemy intercepting and understanding even coded messages. Indeed an increase in the number of radio sets under intensive use was a sign that an attack was impending. Furthermore, prior to an attack the extensive armoured regimental radio net had to be checked, resulting in a proliferation of tuning calls which not only identified the sort of unit using the air but, through cross bearings by direction finders, fixed locations in detail. Sometimes netting was done by reference to a master oscillator (called a wave meter) and sometimes with aerials detuned, but to be sure that all was working properly, each set had to be made to respond to calls from the control station. Usually wireless silence was maintained to within an hour or so of the start time (called H Hour) in the hope that, by then, the enemy would be aware too late to take effective counter measures.2

Approach to Battle

The regiment's approach to combat was done in successive stages governed by routine. The first step was to muster in an Assembly Area, with final maintenance and refuelling done. A move to a Forming Up Point (FUP) followed. Here, the regiment was joined by the infantry, and communications between them was finalized.

In 1944 the infantry carried rather ineffective pack radios which failed more often than they succeeded in maintaining touch with tank radios. Sometimes they would talk to tank commanders through the telephone carried on the back of each tank, but as often as not the tank commander had either to climb down from his turret or the infantryman scramble up to talk to the commander. The whole business was haphazardly perilous because of the tank's tendency to attract enemy fire.3

In the minutes leading up to the crossing of the Start Line at H-Hour, final preparations for battle were made; hatches were closed (though tank commanders often remained exposed in the turrets to increase their field of view), weapons loaded, and final supporting fires from the artillery (either concentrations of high explosive or smoke) were made.

Notes

  1. Macksey, Kenneth. Tank Tactics (Almark Publishing Co. Ltd., London, UK, 1976) ISBN 855242507 p.25

  2. ibid pp.25-28

  3. Ibid pp.28-29

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