Originally known as the 50th Devons, the 12th were formed in mid-1940 from the amalgamation of the 12th Holding Battalion and men from the Regimental Depot. The new unit’s first job was to provide extra training for new recruits from the Depot before passing them on to the battalions on active service. The 50th were based at Rawlinson Barracks, Newton Abbot.
In the autumn of 1940 they reverted to the name 12th Battalion and manned the defences on the coast near Dawlish, moving in December to Budleigh Salterton. In the late summer of 1942 they moved from Exeter to join 214 Brigade on the Isle of Wight, where they remained until they moved to Truro in May 1943. A few weeks later the 12th Devons were suddeny ordered to Bulford to become a glider-borne battalion and part of 6 Airlanding Brigade of 6th Airborne Division.
On D-Day the 12th Battalion landed in France – one company by glider, the rest by sea – and fought in the Orne bridgehead and throughout the campaign in Normandy. After three months back in England, the 12th were rushed back overland to help halt the German thrust in the Ardennes in December 1944. In early January they fought near the villages of Tellin and Bure. After a spell in the Netherlands in late January and February 1945, the 12th were again withdrawn to England to prepare for their part in the crossing of the Rhine.
In the airborne part of the assault across the Rhine in late March 1945 the task of the glider-borne 12th Devons was to capture the village of Hamminkeln. Having taken this objective, they then took part in the rapid advances that led them across the Rivers Weser and Elbe to the shores of the Baltic. 21st Army Group’s arrival there before the Russians prevented Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark from becoming part of the Soviet bloc. Advancing east, the 12th Devons finally met the Red Army in early May, just before the German surrender.
By 19th May 1945 the 12th Devons were back at Bulford, preparing for the invasion of Japan. The dropping of the atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki made what would have been their final operation unnecessary.