Desert Rats

7th Armoured Division UK 


In November 1943, the division left Italy for the United Kingdom; with the last units arriving on 7 January 1944.

The division was re-equipped with the new Cromwell cruiser tanks and in April and May received 36 Sherman Vc Fireflies; enough to organise each troop so that they had a complement of three 75 mm gun Cromwell tanks and a 17 pounder gun Firefly.

7th Armoured was the only British division to use the Cromwell as their main battle tank.

The division was one of the three British follow-up divisions of the two British assault Corps earmarked for the Normandy Landings.

The 22nd Armoured Brigade embarked on 4 June and most of the division landed on Gold Beach by the end of 7 June.

The division initially took part in Operation Perch and Operation Goodwood, two operations that formed part of the Battle for Caen. During Perch, the division was to spearhead one arm of a pincer attack to capture the city. Due to a change in plan, elements of the division engaged tanks of the Panzer-Lehr-Division and the Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101 in the Battle of Villers-Bocage.

Following the capture of Caen, the division took part in Operation Spring, which was intended to keep the German forces pinned to the British front away from the Americans who were launching Operation Cobra and then Operation Bluecoat, an attack to support the American break-out and intercept German reinforcements moving to stop it. The division then took part in the Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine. The division's performance in Normandy and the rest of France has been called into question and it has been claimed they did not match those of its earlier campaigns.

In early August 1944, Major General George Erskine, the division's commander, Hinde, the armoured brigade commanding officer, and up to 100 other officers of the division were removed from their positions and reassigned. Historians largely agree that this was a consequence of the "failure" at Villers-Bocage and had been planned since that battle.

Historian Daniel Taylor is of the opinion that the battle's result provided an excuse and that the sackings took place to "demonstrate that the army command was doing something to counteract the poor public opinion of the conduct of the campaign".

Historian Mungo Melvin has commented approvingly of the 7th Armoured Division's institution of a flexible combined arms structure, which other British armoured divisions did not adopt until after Operation Goodwood.

Cromwell tank with Challenger tank behind of 8th Hussars, 7th Armoured Division, outside Hamburg Dammtor station, 5 May 1945

Following the advance across France, the division took part in the Allied advance through Belgium and the Netherlands; liberating Ghent on 6 September. The division then took part in the advance to and securing of the River Maas. In January 1945 the division took part in Operation Blackcock to clear the Roer Triangle, followed by Operation Plunder; the division crossed the Rhine near Xanten and Wesel and advanced on the city of Hamburg its destination, as part of the Western Allied invasion of Germany. The replacement of the division's commanding officer, following Normandy, did not change the performance of the division and in November 1944, Erskine's replacement Major General Gerald Lloyd-Verney was relieved after he "was unable to cure the division's bad habits well enough to satisfy Montgomery and Dempsey."

There is almost no doubt that the division was suffering from collective and cumulative battle fatigue. As Verney put it, with some prescience: "There is no doubt that familiarity with war does not make one more courageous. One becomes cunning and from cunning to cowardice is but a short step."

Arrived European Theatre of Operations 6 June1944


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