The 23rd Hussars
Today, the sabre squadrons of The King’s Royal Hussars perpetuate the memory of the four predecessor regiments by way of regimental badges and titles. C Squadron is linked with the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) and, as the senior squadron in The King’s Royal Hussars, holds the position of right of the line on ceremonial occasions. This honour can be traced back to 1801 when C Squadron of the 11th Light Dragoons fought with distinction under General Abercrombie against the French in Egypt. A Squadron and B Squadron represent the 20th Hussars and the 14th King’s Hussars respectively and D Squadron preserves the link with the 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’s Own).
Headquarters Squadron (HQ Squadron) has adopted the badge of the 23rd Hussars, a short-lived but hard-fighting tank regiment with a strong connection to today’s regiment.
In 1940, shortly after the return of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, thoughts were already turning to securing victory in Europe. Part of the forward planning involved forming a large armoured force which included the creation of several new cavalry regiments. Six new regiments were created: the 22nd Dragoons, 23rd Hussars, 24th Lancers, 25th Dragoons, 26th Hussars and 27th Lancers. It fell to the Tenth Hussars and the 15th/19th King’s Royal Hussars, each to provide eight officers and 50 men from whom the 23rd Hussars came into being.
An earlier light cavalry regiment had existed with the 23rd numeration: the 23rd Light Dragoons had served from 1794, but was disbanded in 1817 after the regiment had fought under Wellington in the campaign in Portugal and Spain and at the battle of Waterloo. The regiment was awarded the battle honours of Talavera, Peninsula, Egypt and Waterloo but these were not granted to the 23rd Hussars in 1940.
On 1st December 1940, after more than 120 years, the Twenty-Third were recreated. On the 4th, Lieutenant Colonel C B Harvey, of the 10th Royal Hussars (PWO), arrived to take command. With him came Major M F Morley and Captain C G Seymour, both Tenth Hussars, as second in command and adjutant respectively. The Quartermaster and two of the three Squadron Leaders were also Tenth Hussars.
On 18th December, 281 new recruits arrived at the regiment’s home, Teddesley Hall, Penkridge, near Stafford. It fell to Colonel Harvey and his men to turn this crowd of civilians into a war-winning armoured regiment. At the time, the regiment possessed one tank which, the regimental history states, they only had because of “… the failure of all the efforts of our predecessors at Teddesley to move it and it remained at the top of the drive to the end, threatening, gaunt and useless.”
The first operational tanks arrived in March 1941, and by August the regiment had 28 Valentines on the strength. Throughout the summer, training carried on in North Yorkshire, where it was discovered that the bogs of the North Yorkshire Moors were no place for tanks – on one occasion the whole of A Squadron was bogged down simultaneously!
In September 1941, news was received that Colonel Harvey was to leave. Although it was a disappointment for the new regiment to lose their Commanding Officer, there was some comfort to be had from the knowledge that Colonel Harvey’s next appointment was to take up command of the Tenth Hussars, prior to their departure for North Africa. However, Colonel Harvey does not leave the story of the 23rd Hussars for long.
For three more years the 23rd Hussars trained hard. By June 1944 they were equipped with Sherman tanks and were part of the 29th Armoured Brigade in the 11th Armoured Division. The divisional commander was Major General G P B ‘Pip’ Roberts DSO MC. At the age of 38 he was one of the youngest generals in the army having risen from the rank of Major in 1940. The command of 29th Armoured Brigade had changed in late summer 1943 – the new commander was none other than Brigadier C B Harvey DSO. Following a brilliant campaign in North Africa, where he won a Distinguished Service Order and a Bar – second award – in a year, Harvey had been selected for higher command in the forthcoming invasion of Europe. During the campaign he went on to win a third DSO, commanding his brigade throughout the campaign, before leaving the army in 1946 to work for the Jockey Club.
The 23rd Hussars arrived in Normandy a week after D Day. From Normandy to the Baltic, until the German surrender, they were seldom far from the fighting.
In late 1944 the division was re-equipped with the British-built Comet tank. The period of rest involved in this process was interrupted when the 11th Armoured Division was rushed to help the Americans repel the German advance known as ‘The Battle of the Bulge’.
In April 1945, two squadrons of the regiment had the horrific experience of being the first British troops to enter the concentration camp at Belsen. The regimental history is succinct: “Everyone now knows the true facts about Belsen. It is sufficient to say they have not been exaggerated.”
When the German surrender took place on 8th May 1945, the 23rd Hussars were on the Baltic coast, waiting for orders to advance to Denmark, still held by German forces. Again, the regimental history can be quoted in recording the night peace broke out: “Revelry continued far into the night and only ceased when the legs of the last man collapsed beneath him. It had been a party which can only be described as one that did justice to the occasion.”
150 officers and men had made the supreme sacrifice in 11 months of fighting; in all, over 450 men had become casualties. By way of comparison, the Tenth Hussars, who had fought in France in 1940, in North Africa from 1941 to 1943 and then in Italy, had suffered a total of 159 fatalities.
After the war, the 23rd Hussars were awarded the following battle honours: The Odon, Bourguébus Ridge, Le Perier Ridge, Amiens 1944, Antwerp, Venraij, Venlo Pocket, Ourthe, and North-West Europe 1944-45.
However demobilisation was swift. Tanks had been removed by the end of August 1945 and by early 1946 the regiment had been disbanded. Again, the regimental history can be quoted: “The name of the Regiment will be crossed off the records, but the spirit will not die so easily.”
HQ Squadron of The King’s Royal Hussars ensures that spirit lives on.