The King's Shropshire Light Infantry 1939 - 1945
The 1st Battalion
As in 1914, the 1st Battalion of the KSLI was one of the first to see overseas service, landing with the British Expeditionary Force in September 1939 and serving on the flanks of the Maginot Line. Here, on December 9th, the KSLI suffered what was to be the first British casualty of World War Two with the death of Corpl. Thomas Priday near Metz.
Cpl. Thomas Priday of Redmarley, Gloucs.
In the early days of the German onslaught against the west in May 1940, the 1st KSLI advanced into Belgium via Brussels but was then caught up in the fighting retreat to Dunkirk. As one of the rearguard units, 1st KSLI saw a great deal of hard fighting and was one of the very last British battalions to leave the port of Dunkirk. Their formidable commanding officer, Lt. Col. Bryans, said that “the men acquitted themselves magnificently and fought like tigers throughout. Shropshire has every reason to be proud of its county regiment”.
D Company at Cysoing in October 1939.
On its return home, the Battalion spent the next three years on home defence duties, preparing for an invasion which never came, and in riguorous training before sailing under Lt. Col. J.G. James for North Africa in February 1943.
The Battalion joined the 1st Army in Tunisia, involved in the final advance against Tunis, and saw some severe fighting in the hills around the Djebel Bou Aouakaz early in May 1943. But by May 12th, the German forces of the Afrika Korps had finally been defeated, Tunis was in allied hands and the African campaign was effectively over.
1 KSLI landing on Pantellaria, 11 June 1943.
The Battalion’s next role was in the invasion of Germany’s ally, Italy. 1 KSLI was involved in the first stage of the invasion, the capture of the island of Pantellaria on 11th June 1943, before returning to North Africa for training.
Following the collapse of the Italian Fascist government under Mussolini and the German seizure of control in September, 1 KSLI landed in Southern Italy to join the 8th Army and early in 1944 took part in the 1st Division’s attack on Anzio - an attempt to outflank German positions. The landings were initially a complete success but the German counter-attack was rapid and formidable and in a short time, the allies were bottled-up in their beach-head positions.
The apparent success of 1 KSLI in the attempted break-out via Campoleone was negated by heavy German counter-attacks which once again drove the allies back to their beach positions by February 5th. For nearly four months, the beach-head fighting continued in conditions more closely resembling the trench -warfare of World War One than anything else. The weather was appalling, raids and patrols had to be carried out and casualties mounted. But eventually, on May 22, the allied break-out began and the KSLI took part in the triumphal advance on Rome, which was liberated on 4th June.
In the autumn of 1944, the 1st Battalion was pitched into action against the formidable Gothic Line, experiencing the difficulties of real mountain warfare. Fighting around Monte Ceco and Monte Grande finally breached the German defences in October 1944 but the severe winter weather with heavy snow and deep mud in the Appenine mountains effectively brought the advance to a halt.
The 1st KSLI renewed their campaigning in January 1945 but were not destined to see out the end of the Italian Campaign. On 18th February the battalion was ordered to the Middle East and when the war ended was stationed in Palestine, where there was growing antagonism between the Arab population and Jewish immigrants.
The 2nd Battalion
The 2 KSLI had a much more peaceful start to the war, remaining on duty in the West Indies, where it was to guard Dutch oil refineries in Curacao and Aruba. This very pleasant tour of duty, largely untroubled by the war raging elsewhere, lasted until February 1942 when the battalion began its long homeward journey via New Orleans and New York. Under Lt. Col. Maurice, the Battalion spent the next two years undergoing intensive training, much of it carried out in Scotland, to prepare it for its role in the coming invasion of Europe.
The 2nd Battalion landed on Queen beach near Hermanville-sur-Mer on “D-Day”, 6th June 1944 as part of 185 Brigade of the 79th Armoured Division. After a period of hard fighting, the battalion took part in the capture of Caen, by then completely ruined, and of Manneville.
The battalion fought its way across the Seine in September 1944 and then began what the regimental history describes as “something like a royal progress” through Belgium, everywhere welcomed by joyful crowds.
After heavy fighting on the fringes of the Reichswald Forest and at Venray and Overloon in Holland, the battalion was to spend a bitterly cold and comfortless winter facing the river Maas.
The offensive was renewed in the spring of 1945 and saw the 2nd battalion in action at Kervenheim. Here on March 1st, Sergt. Joseph Stokes, a Glaswegian in the KSLI - won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his conspicuous gallantry in launching three consecutive attacks on German strongpoints until brought down by his wounds
By the end of March 1945, 2 KSLI was facing the Rhine itself and, crossing the great river on 29th March, fought its way across the Dortmund-Ems canal towards Bremen. Here, in the dying stages of the war late in April 1945, the 2nd KSLI were to see their last serious fighting as the town suburbs and factories were cleared of the enemy
The battalion had seen nearly a year of solid action - but at a high cost; it lost 144 men killed, 66 missing and 552 wounded.
The 4th (Territorial) Battalion
The Territorial Battalion, the 4th KSLI, was immediately mobilised on the outbreak of war. It too began with intensive training in Northern Ireland and England as lorry borne infantry of 159 Brigade in the 11th Armoured Division. And it too was destined for campaigning in North West Europe when the attack on “fortress Europe” began.
The Battalion landed in Normandy on “D-Day plus 8”, the 14th June 1944, and was soon thrust into action on the Odon and in Operation Epsom - designed to isolate Caen. It faced severe opposition from elite German SS Divisions in the fighting which followed and then took part in the destruction of the Falaise Pocket.
Crossing the Seine at Vernon, the 4th were part of the rapid allied advance via Amiens into Belgium; they were the first allied troops to enter the vital port of Antwerp, where further heavy fighting was encountered before the city was completely liberated.
4 KSLI Guard of Honour for Winston Churchill in Antwerp.
From Antwerp the rapid advance continued. In the fighting near Overloon in Holland in October 1944, Sergt George Eardley, who had already won the Military Medal in Normandy in August, was to win the Victoria Cross for his single-handed attack on three German machine-guns positions which were holding up the whole advance.
Like the 2nd Battalion, the 4th spent the winter of 1944 on the Maas and endured its cold and comfortless conditions until the advance was resumed in February 1945. After clearing the Hochwald area, the 4th under their resourceful and popular C.O., Lt. Col. Max Robinson, crossed the Rhine on 28th March, captured Osnabruck and then began a rapid advance into Germany and to the River Elbe - a distance of 125 miles, in which the Battalion was at the forefront of every action.
As they continued their advance through Germany, the end of the war on 9th May found the battalion south of the Kiel canal opposite Lubeck and heading for the Danish frontier.
They were one of the battalions which, under Brigadier 'Jack' Churcher, occupied Flensburg, the seat of the remnant Nazi government under Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz. The arrest of Doenitz and his associates was effected by 4-KSLI and the Herefords at the very end of the battalion's war service.
Grand Admiral's baton of Karl Doenitz, presented by Hitler in 1943.
Now part of 4 KSLI collection.
The 6th, 7th and 8th Battalions
As in the 1914-18 War, new battalions of the KSLI were raised to meet the emergency. 5 KSLI, raised in 1939, trained at various places in Shropshire and remained on Home Defence duties for most of the war. In 1944, it became a Training Battalion for the KSLI and North Staffords and eventually provided over 100 officers and 4,000 men for combattant battalions.
6 KSLI was raised as a Home Defence Battalion in 1940 but had a more unusual career. It was converted to Artillery in March 1942 and served for the rest of the war as 181st Field Regiment, RA. As an Artillery Regiment, it landed in Normandy in 1944 as part of 44th Lowland Brigade of the 15th Scottish Division - a strange fate for an infantry battalion from Shropshire!
Tea break : 6 KSLI in 1940
The Regiment served with great distinction through the campaigns in Belgium and Holland and was the first Royal Artillery unit to cross the Rhine in March 1945. It was disbanded in January 1946.
Both 7 and 8 KSLI served only in the UK. The former was based near Deal in Kent until Feb. 1941, when it moved to the Hornsea area of Yorkshire. In Nov. 1942, the 7th was re-designated as 99 Anti-Tank Regiment, RA, but the unit was disbanded at Brigg in Lincolnshire in Dec. 1943 and never went overseas.
The 8th KSLI served on Home Defence duties in Shropshire and later became a training centre. It too was disbanded late in 1943.