71st Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (Royal Welch Fusiliers) - 71 ATR (RWF) - was 53rd Welsh Division's dedicated anti-tank Regiment. The Regiment was equipped with a mix of 6 pounder and 17 pounder anti-tank guns for use in North-West Europe. In August this shifted with the addition of self-propelled 17 pounders.
The Regiment never fought as one centralised unit, but each Battery was passed to control of one of the relevant Infantry Brigades (much as in the way the 25 pounder equipped Field Regiments worked), to fight within the Brigade Group. As a result these anti-tank guns were often placed right in the midst of the fighting with the infantry leading to a high casualty rate. Much like the 116 (RW) LAA, the 71st ATR (RWF) were very reluctant to give up their heritage retaining the RWF title at the end of all documents and as a source of great unit pride.
The 71st ATR (RWF) was part of the 5th Bn RWF. It started the war off as 70th ATR in Flintshire before two batteries (which represented the Hawarden and Buckley districts) were split to start off the 71st ATR. It was attached to 53rd Welsh Division in November 1940, joining the Division in
CO: Lieutenant-Colonel Castelli
2IC: Captain (acting)Major DC Keating
Adjutant Captain EJO Edwards
The first moves from the concentration area were organised to allow relief of units that had already been in combat from other Divisions. 336
July continued to be unpleasant - with a daily stream of casualties, from mortar fire and shell shock. 336
The 14th July bought news that 278
The second phase of Operation Greenline's attack on Evrecy was decided on the 17th, with 278
It was not until the 28th July that A Troop was restored to its full complement of men and guns, with Lieutenant GM Williams appointed the new troop commander. Casualties were increasingly from shelling over mortar fire and this slowly was eating away at morale, especially with the evident effects of shellshock.
Towards the Killing Fields of Falaise
Casualties began to shrink away, officers rotated in and out frequently as the situation demanded. Moves and redeployments followed, with little of note occurring. As the Brigades moved towards the Orne, so did the rest of the Regiment, as the Germans withdrew to the over side of the Orne, the Regiment deployed in agressive positions. The bridgehead was protected by 278
The Regiment was then tasked with a series of offensive actions, with 278 Battery, A Troop supporting the attack on Fresney by 1/5th Welch, whilst B + C Troops supported 1 East Lancs attack on Bois Halbout. These attacks were successful and signaled the start of a selection of much needed aggressive activity - away from the dreadful monotony of the fighting in the bocage, interspersed with dreadful mortar fire and shelling.
Orders on the 18th signaled what was to come with 'Area Falaise Killing Ground' issued to Regimental HQ from 53rd Welsh Division Royal Artillery HQ. This laid out the destruction that was to come. 283
2 Tigers were killed by men of 2
With the Germans in full flight, 71 Anti-Tank Regiment regrouped at Brieux after several more days chase conducting essential maintenance from the 23rd-27th August - after two weeks constant aggressive forward deployments with the infantry. This was to allow the Regiment to be ready to operate at maximum effectiveness so that the coming chase would not see their equipment simply wear out.
The crossing of the
In August the organisation of anti-tank batteries changed dramatically to: one troop of 4 towed 6 pounder guns, one troop of 4 towed 17 pounder guns, and one troop of 4 self-propelled 17 pounders. This gave the Regiment additional flexibility to support offensive actions.
After the break out from
A Loyd Carrier towing a 6 Pounder anti-tank gun of 71st ATR outside s'Hertogenbosch. (IWM)
Over its life the Regiment's armament altered substantially - starting on 2 pounders they moved to 6 mounders and then to the heavy, very effective 17 pounders which had to be towed. They were then reequiped by Achillies - 17 pounder anti-tank guns mounted on Valentine tanks chassis. Annoyingly they had not been fully mechanised before Normandy. After the break out into Germany, they liberated Lt-Col Castelli from a PoW camp near Brunswick. Shortly afterwards Castelli was informed he would recieve the DSO for his actions in Normandy. Norman-Walker left just after VE Day to command the 'Anti-Tank Wing' at the School of Artillery at Larkhill and command passed to Lieutenant-Colonel J Thompson.
The Regiment moved to moving the thousands of German PoWs, and became responsible for the town of Krefeld and opened new venues for troops in the area; Officers' Club, NCO's Club, 'Joe's Dive' - for the other ranks, boxing tournaments and horse gymkhanas.
The Regiment was disbanded in October 1945, Thompson was demobbed in September and succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel DC Keating - who had been 2IC since April 1943. The CO recieved unexpected and oustanding praise and tributes from the Regimental Commanders who recieved the men from the former 71st Anti-Tank Regiment, RA (RWF)