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History of the 12th Battalion (Airborne) The Devonshire Regiment

1939-1944

The 12th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment was originally the 50th Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment. This Battalion was formed at the outbreak of World War 2 by amalgamating members of the 12th Holding Battalion and soldiers from Higher Barracks, Exeter. Higher Barracks was the Devonshire Regiment Depot and responsible for the training of the Regiment's recruits. The Unit was sent to Rawlinson Barracks, Denbury Camp near Newton Abbot and given the job of training recruits from the depot prior to transfer to other Battalions.

In the autumn of 1940 the British Army had retreated from Dunkirk and there were fears of an imminent invasion. The Battalion was renamed the 12th Battalion and formed part of the 226th Infantry brigade, Dorset Division. They were given a coastal defence role, specifically the task of manning beach defences in the Dawlish, Budleigh Salterton and Seaton areas of Devon.

By late 1941 the Battalion was part of 203rd Infantry brigade, 77th Division. They were transferred to the Branscombe/Axminister area with their headquarters at Colyton. Over the next 9 months they moved around within Devon, with headquarters at By-Pass Camp, Exeter, Bishopsteignton and Widworthy Camp near Honiton.

In September 1942, as part of 214 Infantry brigade, the Battalion moved to the Isle of Wight continuing their coastal defence role for the sectors of Ventnor, Freshwater and Sandown.

The Battalion returned to the mainland in May 1943 and were sent to Truro where they stayed for nearly 3 months. In July 1943 the Battalion became part of the 6th Air Landing Brigade, British Airborne Division. This move was quite unexpected and they were relocated to Bulford Camp in Wiltshire to train on Horsa Gliders and officially became part of the 6th Airborne Division. They were joined by men from the 2nd Battalion The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment, and the 1st Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles.

D Day & 7th June - 'A' Company

On D Day 'A' Company, 12th Airborne Battalion The Devonshire Regiment, led by Major J Rogers, were flown into Normandy from Faringdon Airfield by glider. They took off at 1915 hours; one glider crashed into the sea about 8 miles off the coast of France. A Company were part of a special force - Parkerforce - under the command of Colonel R G O Parker, DSO. Parkerforce landed. Each Platoon had 1 glider for 28 men and 3001bs of ballast ammunition. Company Head Quarters had 4 gliders, each with 1 jeep, 2 trailers and 6 men. All the gliders were tail unloading. They landed at 2130 near Pegasus bridge late in the evening of 6th June 1944 hours, in an area littered with German poles and minefields. They were lucky not to have problems landing, although the gliders were widely dispersed and problems were encountered removing the tail to unload the equipment. The men had to resort to hacking the tails off with axes. It took the company one and a half hours to complete this task and by the time they started to move to the Force Assembly area at south of Breville, it was already occupied by the enemy so the Company came to a halt at Ranville. Parkerforce was then disbanded and the 12th Devons came under the command of 13 Para. The battalion were then involved in fighting around Herouville and Escoville before returning to Ranville and rejoining the rest of the Battalion.

D Day & 7th June - 'B', 'C' &s; 'D' Companies

The remainder of the Battalion travelled to Normandy by sea as there were not enough gliders for the whole Battalion for the assault. They landed on Queen beach near Lion Sur Mer and came ashore protected by supporting fire from ships including HMS Warspite. The battalion assembled at the Personnel Transit area to the west of Ouistreham and then moved to the Le Bas de Ranville area to relieve 12 Para. Here they were attacked during the night with a new type of anti-personnel bomb and lost 3 men.

Summer 1944

The Battalion remained in Normandy until early September. On June 12th they took part in the assault on Breville; on 22nd June, 'C' Company took Branville. Next the Battalion moved to Touques and on 24th August took the town of Honfleur. They then began to move along the Seine until 12th September 1944 when they returned to Bulford. During the course of their Normandy campaign they had lost 67 men. A memorial in the village of Breville commemorates those who lost their lives on 12th June 1944; the men are buried at Ranville Cemetery.

The Ardennes

At the end of 1944 the 11th Battalion were called to take part in further action in the Ardennes. The 12th Devons travelled over land to Houyet, being involved in fierce fighting in bitter cold around the villages of Tellin and Bure. Through January and February 1945 they held the front-line town of Blerick in Holland. They then went back to Bulford for training, having lost a further 14 men.

The Assault on the Rhine

On 24th March 1945, the 12th Devons were back as part of 12th Airborne, taking part in the assault across the Rhine. The village of Hamminkeln was their target and it was captured according to plan - although the Battalion lost a further 56 men that day. The 12th Devons led the subsequent break out and fought along the rivers Weser and Elbe up to the Baltic coast to Hohen Viecheln near Wismar. The Battalion returned to Bulford, via Luneburg on 19th May 1945. 84 members of the Battalion had lost their lives during the Rhine Crossing Campaign.

Once back at Bulford the Battalion received reinforcements and new equipment. They began training to take part in further action in the Far East against Japan. The plan was that they were going to land by glider in the jungles of Singapore in order to stop Japanese reinforcements getting through. A simultaneous allied sea borne invasion was planned to re-capture Singapore. The dropping of the Atom Bomb stopped this and ended the war. In November 1945 the Battalion was disbanded. Their place in the 6th Airborne Brigade was taken by the 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and the Brigade moved to Palestine.

Honours & Decorations

The following men received Honours and decorations whilst serving in the 12th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment. Rank is the rank held at the time of the Award.

Distinguished Service Order

Lieutenant Colonel P Gleadell
Major E J Warren

Military Cross

Major R Rogers
Captain T D D Bowman
Lieutenant G G Reaks

Military Medal

C/Sergeant F S Bond
Sergeant W e Crane
Corporal P Aplin
Private H Geard

Mentioned in Despatches

Major W F Barrow
Sergeant E B Curtis
Sergeant J Howe
Corporal F Megee

Foreign Decorations

Lieutenant Colonel P Gleadell DSO - Croix de Guerre with Palm (France)
Major W F Barrow - Croix de Guerre 1940, with Palm and Chevalier of the Order of Leopold 11 with Palm (Belgium)

Battalion Insignia

The Battalion wore the red airborne beret badged in white metal with the Devonshire Regiment badge. They wore shoulder titles in cloth with 'Devon' embroidered in white on a red background. They also wore a blue glider on a khaki oval background badge on the lower forearm, along with the 'Pegasus' emblem in blue on a red background. They had a further shoulder insignia stating 'Airborne'.