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6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment in Normandy

History by R Mark Davies and Andy Parkes

In early July 1941 ‘C’ Special Service Squadron Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) was formed with 60 men, mostly volunteers from 5th Lancers and 10th Hussars, and six Tetrarchs at Ogbourne St George. In October 1941 the unit was transferred to Freetown in West Africa in case Spain entered the war.

In March 1942 they went to Madagascar and took part in the allied landings there. Only half the squadron went, consisting of four troops each of one Valentine and two Tetrarchs (under the command of ‘B’ Special Service Squadron). They suffered heavy casualties and lost nearly all the tanks. Their 2iC Captain Peter Llewellyn-Palmer was recommended for a Victoria Cross, but was later awarded, posthumously, the Military Cross.

Even before that operation was finished, the HQ of the squadron was already being formed in the UK as the Airborne Light Tank Squadron. The squadron was to utilise the new Hamilcar glider that had been specifically designed to carry the Tetrarch. When 1st Airborne Division left for North Africa they stayed behind in the United Kingdom.

In early 1944, the Squadron was expanded to a full regiment – 6th Airborne Armoured Recce Regiment RAC (6 AARR) under command of Lt Colonel Godfrey R Stuart – and was attached to General Richard Gale’s 6th Airborne Division. 

British Paras in a transport plane

The light tanks now designated ‘A’ Squadron of this new regiment, while ‘B’ Squadron was formed as a ‘light recce’ squadron of carriers and jeeps. There was also a support squadron of mortars, machine-guns and motorcyclists. It was with roughly this organization that the regiment was to go to war in Normandy.

The organisation was as follows:

  • Regimental Headquarters (Two Light Tanks).
  • Headquarter Squadron in which are included the parachute harbour party (one officer and nine OR’s), intercommunication troop (one sergeant, one provost corporal, seven motorcyclists and two M/C mechanics) plus a landing head party and an administration troop.
  • Light Tank Squadron (A) consisting of headquarters (three light tanks) and five troops (each with three light tanks).
  • Reconnaissance Squadron (B) consisting of a headquarters (one car 5cwt, one carrier universal with two LMGs and a 2” mortar and three motorcyclists), four troops (each of one car 5 cwt, one carrier universal with two LMGs and a 2” mortar) and five motorcyclists.
  • Support Squadron (C) consisting of a headquarters (two cars 5 cwt and five motorcyclists) one support troop (two carriers universal each with a 3” mortar) and one assault troop (one carrier universal with two LMGs and one 2” mortar) and twenty motorcyclists.
This above organisation was slightly altered for the actual operation with an addition of two machine gun troops (each with four Vickers carried in Jeeps and trailers).
Tetrarch light tank during training

This information comes from a line in the war diary that states:

“1800 - B Squadron and 4 Medium Machine-Guns, HQ Squadron together with Regimental Headquarters Tanks moved in support 8 Para Battalion in counter attack role at Le Bas de Ranville 105735. A Squadron and Assault Troop and 4 Medium Machine-Guns remained at Le Mesnil”.

During D-Day twenty Hamilcars flew in carrying eighteen to twenty Tetrarch light tanks of ‘A’ Squadron (including 3-5 tanks armed with 3-inch howitzers). A further three Hamilcars flew in with six Recce Carriers of ‘B’ Squadron, another flew in with two 3” Mortars Carriers and another arrived with the Slave Battery Carrier and a Jeep.
There are many myths and misconceptions regarding the losses and employment of the regiment on D-Day. The fact remains that the regiment provided invaluable support to the Airborne troops throughout the Normandy campaign and suffered very few casualties during the landings of Operation ‘Mallard’ on the afternoon of D-Day – the only serious losses being the total loss of the parachuted ‘Harbour Party’ during the initial night landings.
Cromwell IVs of the 6th AARR

Once the remainder of the regiment had arrived by sea, the regiment fought in the Airborne Bridgehead.

In late July two Light Tank Troops had been re-equipped with Cromwell IV cruiser tanks. On the 6 August, Eight Cromwells were put on the roster of A (tank) Squadron and placed in two troops of four tanks. By late August a third troop was so re-equipped for a total of twelve Cromwells. The regiment’s finest hour to date came during Operation ‘Paddle’ – the breakout to the Seine – in August 1944.

Captured Sd Kfz 10/5

It provided vital recce support to 6th Airborne Division (greatly expanded by the two Special Service Brigades and by the Dutch and Belgium Brigades) and 49th Division and even provided close armoured support to the infantry of those divisions. It is, however, entirely possible that by the time the Seine was reached there was hardly a Tetrarch left in working order.

During this period some other units came under the regiment’s command for short periods. The Regiment was allocated a troop of four Canadian Centaur tanks from No.1 battery (24 August):

  • The 1st Canadian Composite Centaur Battery had six Centaur IV CS tanks left over from the disbanded Royal Marines Armoured Support Regiments, as well as three Sherman Vs used as command/OP vehicles (though they retained their main 75mm guns). The Centaurs suffered frequent breakdowns during the breakout, though they operated effectively as the regiment’s dedicated artillery and also as assault guns when necessary.

Also on strength was 1st Belgian Armoured Car Squadron (20 August):

  • The 1st Belgium Armoured Car Squadron has an HQ of mixed Dingo, Daimler and Staghound I armoured cars, as well as at least one Staghound AA car. It had five sabre troops, each of two Dingos and three Daimler armoured cars. The Dutch brigade also had a Recce Squadron in the British Recce Regiment mode, but this did not come under the command of the 6 AARR.

On the 5 September 1944 the Regiment embarked for the UK, and thus ended a very exciting and weary time in Normandy.

After Normandy the Tetrarch was finally dropped and the regiment changed to two equal Recce Squadrons (‘A’ & ‘B’) and a Support Squadron (now designated ‘C’).

The Intelligence Briefing for a Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Squadron is now featured in Overlord.


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