Guards Armoured Division

Guards Armoured Division's unit sysmbol Guards Armoured Division, 1944-45

By Steve Bernich

History & Formation

Widely considered the elite of the mighty British Empire dating as far back as the 1600s, the Guards were often asked to set aside their fluffy high hats and ceremonial duties to excel in combat and prove they could do more than march in formation and stand rigidly straight. 
For four hundred years, the Guards regiments acted as individual regiments and not under the present Guards “division” organization. At the outset of the Great War, Lord Kitchener requested of His Majesty King George V that a new elite formation be created from the Foot Guards and Household Cavalry. The battalions of the Grenadiers, Coldstream, Irish, Welsh and Scots Guards were put together into the Guards Division, which was supposed to represent the elite of the British Empire, in both equipment and training. During the Great War, they rose to distinction with a number of battle honours, in spite of not everybody believing in their superior status. Guards Armoured Division inpection

Second World War

Reactivated in 1939, several of the infantry regiments were sent overseas and saw action in both Africa and Dunkirk. The increasing need for mobility and the dominance of mechanized forces on the modern battlefield saw the rest donning the black berets of the British armoured squadrons. They were given tanks and formed the Guards Armoured Division. The original intention for raising the Guards Armoured Division was one of home defence should the Germans succeed in invading the British Isles. Equipped with outdated Covenanter Mark V tanks, the men of the Guards were quick to take on their new roles as an armoured unit. Training intensely for two years, it was not long before their job description changed from defence of the British Isles to the eventual invasion of France. 

Guards Armoured Division tanks in Normandy Landing in Normandy on 26 June 1944, the Guards were soon heading to the Caen region as part of VIII Corp, British Second Army, 21st Army Group. Caen, which was supposed to have fallen to the British on D-Day, still stood as a German stronghold. Caen was a key objective in the liberation of France as it was cantered on dry open plains bordered by Vimont to the east. Capturing Caen would be key to capturing Paris.
Operation Goodwood

The Guards, along with the 11th and 7th Armoured divisions endeavoured to take Caen through Operation Goodwood, which commenced 18 July 1944. The Guards were to penetrate German defences to the east of Caen, cut the Caen-Vimont road at Cagny and continue down to Vimont after an intense period of bombing. After Vimont, it was to join the assault on Bourgebus Ridge with the 11th and 7th Armoured to dig out the German defenders overlooking the city.

The aerial bombing was less effective than hoped on the first day. It missed many of the dug in defenders south of Caen and in Cagny and Emieville, east of Caen. These three defensive points were on the Guards’ route and the fast attack that was intended bogged down.
Operation Goodwood
The Guards division alone lost 60 tanks to hidden 8.8cm AA guns of the 21. Panzerdivision around Cagny as well as the few remaining Tigers of the 503. Schwere Panzerabteilung near Emieville. Also, the advance of the three armoured divisions was hindered by a counter-attack by Kampfgruppe Hitlerjugend. Luckily, infantry losses were low and the losses in tanks were replaceable from the constant supply arriving on the beaches.
Guards Armoured Division infantry cross a wooden bridge

By 19 July, the Guards were able to carry on towards the Bourgebus Ridge to assist elements of the 11th and 7th Armoured in digging out the German defenders. However, the Germans held out throughout the operation, though not without losses. The outcome of Goodwood was somewhat in question with the British and Canadian divisions gaining ground, but many of the German defences remaining intact and quite effective. Caen fell within a few days. The real victory of Goodwood was it convinced the Germans that the major breakthrough attempts would be in and around Caen and not by the Americans in Operation Cobra.

Operation Bluecoat

After Goodwood the Guards reorganized to create distinct “battlegroups” around each of the named regiments. Thus, the Grenadiers, Coldstreams, Irish and Welsh each had their own armour, infantry, artillery and reconnaissance elements that could be used to form a self-sufficient fighting force. In addition, each battlegroup could then provide support for each other, not only combining arms, but also doubling them in each case. 

Operation Bluecoat was intended to take advantage of the advance of the Americans to the west during the first week of August 1944. British and Canadian units would draw German infantry and panzer units away from the American breakout.

The Guards were mostly used in support of the 11th Armoured Division as part of VIII Corps, along with the 15th Scottish Division and the 6th (Independent) Guards Tank Brigade.

However, on 1 August, the Guards were called up to continue the rapid advance that the 11th Armoured had created against the two German infantry divisions (326. and 276.). The next two weeks would see intense bocage fighting as the Germans, reinforced with the 21. Panzer, 1., 9. and 10. SS-Panzerdivisions, fought for every mile of French ground. By 15 August, the German 7th Army began to withdraw only to be caught in the infamous Falaise Pocket. The Guards were able to withdraw for refit, rest and restructuring.
Guards Armoured Division 25 pdrs
Post Normandy

After their action in Normandy, the Guards went on to liberate Brussels. The British surprised the German garrison as the 5th Guards Armoured Brigade and the 32nd Guards Infantry Brigade advanced simultaneously into the capital, much to the delight of the locals. However, the ensuing celebration slowed the Guards’ advance and allowed many of the German units to retreat and regroup for the later defence along the Siegfried Line.

Liberation of Brussels In September of 1944, the Irish Guards would be honoured with spearheading the “Garden” portion of Operation Market Garden, the combined armoured advance and airborne drop intended to open bridges through Holland, across the Rhine River and into the Ruhr Valley, the heart of German industrial capacity. Initially successful, Market Garden would be bogged down by a very tight operation schedule, unlucky weather patterns and the fact that the Irish Guards were expected to advance along a “one tank front”. This enabled the German defenders to destroy the lead or second Sherman in the line, causing a traffic jam of targets for their anti-tank weaponry. A dramatic river assault by the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division across the Waal combined with the 2nd Grenadier Guards crossing the bridge at Nijmegen (still wired with explosives) was not enough for the operation to succeed. The British 1st Airborne Division eventually withdrew from the Arnhem area having suffered roughly 8,000 casualties. The Guards Armoured Division came within a mile of reaching their lines, but was unable to push through the withering German defence.

The pressure that was exerted on not only their own line of advance, but also from all sides of the offensive, requiring them to help the American airborne hold their gains to the south.  

The Guards Armoured Division saw additional action in early 1945 as they advanced into the German hinterland. Crossing the Rhine River, they found themselves assaulting the “Siegfriend Line” with the 51st Highland Division. They then pushed on toward Lindel and Bremen under constant harassing attacks by the German 1st Parachute Army among others.

Late April saw many more attacks by the Germans as the defenders either surrendered or became more desperate in their counter-attacks. Finally, on 5 May, the German surrender was announced and the Guards went on to disarmament duties in Germany, giving up their tanks for good.

2nd Battalion Welsh Guards Armoured Recce Regiment Cromwell

Order of Battle, 1944-1945

Divisional Commander – Major General Sir Allan Adair

2nd Battalion (armoured reconnaissance) Welsh Guards

5 Guards Armoured Brigade
    2nd Grenadier Guards
    1st Coldstream Guards
    2nd Irish Guards
    1st Grenadier Guards (motorized)

32 Guards Infantry Brigade
    5th Coldstream Guards
    3rd Irish Guards
    1st Welsh Guards
    No. 1 Independent Machine Gun Co., Royal Northumberland Fusiliers

Royal Artillery
    55th Field Regiment
    153rd Field Regiment
    21st Anti-Tank Regiment
    94th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment

Royal Engineers
    148th Field Park Squadron
    14th Field Squadron
    615th Field Squadron
    11th Bridging Troop

Fielding the Guards Armoured Division in
Flames of War

To field the Guards Armoured Division in Operations Market Garden see Market Garden.

To field the Guards Armoured Division in Normandy see Overlord.

Overlord Market Garden


Last Updated On Tuesday, December 3, 2013 by Wayne at Battlefront