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British Tank Markings in Normandy

7th Armoured Cromwells take on Tigers

British Tank Markings in Normandy

British, Canadian, Polish and Czech tank formations in Normandy June to August 1944 and their Markings.

The following article is an attempt to gather together the available information on the British, Canadian, and British supplied tank formations that served in Normandy. Included are the tactical markings, unit signs and arm of service flashes (the numbered coloured squares).

As we go through the divisions and brigades we’ll take a look at the component regiments and a little of their service in Normandy.

The Armoured Divisions

A total of three British, one Canadian and one Polish armoured divisions were used in Normandy in the British sector. These were the British 7th, 11th and Guards, the 4th Canadian and the 1st Polish Armoured Divisions.
Armoured Divisions
7th Armoured Division

The 7th “Desert Rats” Armoured Division, as featured in Villers-Bocage , first arrived in Normandy on towards the end of D-Day (6 June). It’s first combat was a day later with 22 Armoured Brigade supporting the 50th Division at Tilly-sur-Seulles. Combat continued in the area against the German Panzer Lehr Division the next day. Their next operation was Perch which would lead to the ill-fated clash with the Panzer Lehr and 101. Schwere SS-Panzerabteilung at Village-Bocage. During July they take part in Operations Goodwood and Bluecoat. Further below par performances led to the dismissal and replacement of their commander.

7th Armoured Cromwell
Operations in July and August saw an improvement in the division's performance. The armoured element of the division consisted of the 22 Armoured Brigade with:

1st Royal Tank Regiment
5th Royal Tank Regiment
4th Country of London Yeomanry
1st Battalion, The Rifle Brigade (Motor Battalion)

They were the only British division to be completely equipped with Cromwell tanks, though the 17 pdr tanks were Firefly VC tanks. Its Armoured Recce Regiment was the 8th Royal Irish Hussars.
11th Armoured Division, 3rd Royal Tank Regiment Sherman V 11th Armoured Division

The 11th Armoured Division was un-blooded before Normandy. It’s first battles were during Operation Epsom where it became bogged down against stiff German resistance. By Operation Goodwood the fresh division had learnt from its earlier mistakes and make a good account of themselves against 1. SS-Panzerdivision troops. During Operation Bluecoat it fought well, though the 1st Northants Yeomanry took such heavy loses it had to be disbanded at the end of the campaign.

The armoured component of the 11th Armoured Division consisted of the 29th Armoured Brigade:

23rd Hussars (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
3rd Royal Tank Regiment (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
8th Rifle Brigade (Motor Battalion)

Its Armoured Recce Regiment was the 2nd Northants Yeomanry (Cromwells).
Guards Armoured Division

The Guards Armoured Division was formed on 17 June 1941. The division remained in the United Kingdom training until 26 June 1944, when it landed in Normandy as part of VIII Corps. Its first major engagement was Operation Goodwood. The attack by three armoured divisions towards Bourguebus Ridge was an attempt to break out of the Normandy beachhead and get beyond the city of Caen. That was followed by Operation Bluecoat, the advance east of Caen as the Falaise pocket formed.

Guards Armoured Division logo
The armoured element of the Guards Armoured Division consisted of the 5 Guards Armoured Brigade:

2nd Armoured Battalion Grenadier Guards (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
1st Armoured Battalion Coldstream Guards (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
2nd Armoured Battalion Irish Guards (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
1st Motor Battalion Grenadier Guards

Its Armoured Recce Regiment was the 2nd Armoured Recce Battalion Welsh Guards (Cromwells).
Polish Cromwells 1st Polish Armoured Division
 
The Polish 1st Armoured Division (Polish 1 Dywizja Pancerna) formed in February 1942 at Duns in Scotland. It was commanded by General Stanislaw Maczek. During its early stages the division was stationed in Scotland and guarded approximately 200 kilometres of British coast.

By the end of July 1944 the division had been transferred to Normandy. The final elements arrived on 1 August and the unit was attached to the First Canadian Army. It entered combat on 8 August during Operation Totalize. Despite being bomb by their own allies the division performed excellently against the Germans, gaining victories at Mont Ormel, Hill 262 and the town of Chambois, during the battle against the Falaise Pocket.

Maczek's Polish armour played a crucial role in closing the pocket at the escape route. The fighting was desperate and the 2nd Polish Armoured, 24th Polish Lancers and 10th Dragoons supported by the 8th and 9th Infantry Battalions took the brunt of German attacks trying to break free from the pocket. Surrounded and running out of ammunition they withstood incessant attacks from multiple fleeing panzer divisions for 48 hours until relieved.

The armoured element of the 1st Polish Armoured Division consisted of the 10th Armoured Cavalry Barigade:

1st Polish Armoured Regiment (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
2nd Polish Armoured Regiment (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
24th Polish Lancer Regiment (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
10th Dragoon Regiment (Motor Battalion)

Later in the year replacements included 76mm armed Shermans, some of the few of that type of tank to be used by British formed units.

Its Armoured Recce Regiment was the 10th Polish Mounted Rifle Regiment (Cromwells).

Polish Cromwell

4th Canadian Armoured Division

The 4th Canadian Armoured Division was created with the conversion of 4th Canadian Infantry Division at the beginning of 1942 in Canada. The division was shipped to Britain in 1942 and arrived in August and October.

The next two years were spent training before crossing to Normandy in July 1944. It participated in the battle of the Falaise pocket, the advance from Normandy, and spent almost two months engaged at the Breskens pocket.

The armoured element of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division consisted of the 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade:

Canadian Sherman V
21st Canadian Armoured Regiment (Governor General's Foot Guards) (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
22nd Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Canadian Grenadier Guards) (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
28th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The British Columbia Regiment) (Sherman V & Firefly VC)
The Lake Superior Regiment (Motor Battalion)

Its Armoured Recce Regiment was the 29th Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (The South Alberta Regiment). Unlike the other Armoured Divisions the 4th Canadians' Armoured Reconnaissance troops were armed with Sherman V tanks rather then Cromwells.
Firefly crew from the 4 Armoured Brigade (3 CLY)

Independent Armoured Brigades

4 Armoured Brigade

The first tanks for the Brigade landed in Normandy on 7 June 1944 and almost immediately took part in the action to take the Douvres Radar Station. They supported many actions by British Infantry Divisions and the 11th Armoured Division, including the crossing the River Odon (during Operation Epsom), fighting its way out of Normandy via the Odon Bridgehead, Hill 112, Operation Bluecoat, and finally helped in closing the Falaise Pocket.

The Brigade consisted of:

Royal Scots Greys (Sherman II & Firefly VC)
3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sherman II & Firefly VC)
44th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment (Sherman II & Firefly VC)
2nd Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps (Motor Battalion)

4 Armoured Brigade

8 Armoured Brigade

On D-Day, 6 June 1944, the brigade landed on Gold Beach near Arromanches and le Hamel, providing support for the 50th (Northumbrian) Division. The Brigade served with the 49th (West Riding) Division fighting with distinction in the battles around Rauray in late June.

The Brigade consisted of:

4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards (A Sq. Sherman III & Firefly VC, B & C Sq. Sherman II DD)

24th Lancers (replaced at the end of July by 13th/18th Hussars) (Sherman III & Firefly VC)

24th Lancers Firefly in Normandy
24th Lancers Sherman

Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers) (A Sq. Sherman III & Firefly VC, B & C Sq. Sherman II DD)
12th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps (Motor Battalion)
8 Armoured Brigade

27 Armoured Brigade

 13/18 Hussars Sherman

The brigade landed at Sword Beach as part of XXX Corps and fought in the Caen area until disbanded on 30 July 1944. They supported the British Commandos’ breakout from the Normandy Landings. Later supported the British Paratroopers at Breville.

The Brigade consisted of:

13th/18th Hussars (Transferred to 8 Armoured Brigade 30 July) (Initially Sherman II DD, later Sherman III & Firefly VC)
Staffordshire Yeomanry (Sherman III & Firefly VC)
East Riding Yeomanry (Sherman III & Firefly VC)

27 Armoured Brigade
33 Armoured Brigade

Their first battle in Normandy was around Caen between 4 and 18 July. On 8th August 1944 it was involved in Operation Totalize, a planned breakout from the Caen Salient. Heavy German counter-attacks prevented exploitation of the early successes and tank losses were heavy.

The Brigade consisted of:

1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry (Sherman I & Firefly VC)
144th Battalion Royal Armoured Corps (Sherman I & Firefly VC)
148th Battalion Royal Armoured Corps (Sherman I & Firefly VC)
33 Armoured Brigade
Canadian Sherman IIIs 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade

The brigade's three regiments landed in Normandy on D-Day. Their role was to support any infantry who were in need of armour support, therefore the Brigade rarely fought as one entity. One of the occasions when the Brigade did undertake an operation on its own was at Le Mesnil-Patry/Rots on 11 June 1944. The battle ended with only partial success and severe losses to the Canadians.

Canadian 27th Armoured Regiment Sherman III

The Brigade consisted of:

6th Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) (A & B Sq. Sherman V DD, C Sq. Sherman III & Firefly VC)
10th Armoured Regiment (The Fort Garry Horse) (A & B Sq. Sherman V DD, C Sq. Sherman III & Firefly VC)
27th Armoured Regiment (The Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment) (Sherman III & Firefly VC)

2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade
1st Czech Armoured Brigade
 
The Czechs arrived in Europe in late September '44 and relieved the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division in the siege positions around Dunkirk. This is where they stayed until April '45, being involved in numerous skirmishes and the odd assault. In April '45, they were sent to the US 3rd Army, which was advancing into Czechslovakia. US troops liberated Pilsen 6 May 1945. For more details see 1st Czech Armoured Brigade…

The Brigade consisted of:

1st (Czech) Armoured Regiment (Cromwells)
2nd (Czech) Armoured Regiment (Cromwells)

Cromwell
3rd (Czech) Armoured Regiment (added late 1944) (Churchills)
Motor Battalion
Armoured Reconnaissance Squadron (Stuart VI, Humber Scout cars & Cromwells)
Anti-tank Battery (towed 17pdr)
Engineer Troop
Anti-aircraft Troop (40mm Bofors)
Field Artillery Regiment (towed 25 pdrs)
1st Czech Armoured Brigade

General Notes

Tank naming conventions depended on the individual battalions, but a common practice was to name each tank beginning with the letter of the squadron. The Yellow disc with the number centred is the bridging weight of the vehicle. Cromwells were 27, Shermans 30, Sextons 27, Priests 24, M10s 29, Churchills 40, Crusader AA 18, Stuarts 15, Carrier 4 or 5, and M5 half-tracks 9.


Last Updated On Monday, October 04, 2010 by Blake at Battlefront