53rd Welsh

A World War II Living History Group

71st Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (Royal Welch Fusiliers)

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.

Wartime Service

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 Ireland, in April 1942 it rotated to Rochester and then followed the Divisions movements down to Suffolk where they continued to engage in intense training exercises

Before Normandy the Regiment comprised of:

CO: Lieutenant-Colonel Castelli

2IC: Captain (acting)Major DC Keating

278 Battery - Captain (acting) Major Bowen Jones (A, B, C Troops)

279 Battery - Captain (acting) Major Pitt Ridge (D, E, F Troops)

283 Battery - Captain (acting) Major IC Griffith (G, H, I Troops)

336 Battery - Captain (acting) Major S. Gibbs(J, K, L Troops)

Adjutant  Captain EJO Edwards

Each Battery had 3 Troops of guns; two of which were equipped with 4 17 pounders, and one troop with 6 pounders. This gave each Battery 8 17 pounder guns and 4 6 pounder guns.

Into Normandy

279 Battery was the first Battery to split off, being sent to 71 (International) Brigade's Marshalling Area on the 16th June. The Regiment moved from Maidstone and embarked on the 21st June, finally disembarking in Normandy from the 27-29th June. 278 Battery was attached to 158 (Royal Welch) Brigade, with 283 Battery being attached to 160 (South Wales) Brigade.

The first moves from the concentration area were organised to allow relief of units that had already been in combat from other Divisions. 336 Battery was sent to relieve elements of the 97th AT Regiment near Cheux. J Troop was ambushed by the Germans, who succeeded in killing two men and wounding two. The greater problem was the loss of two Quads and three 17 pounders - effectively removing J Troop from the action due to loss of three of their four guns. During this time, as the other Batteries deployed in support of their relevant Brigades, they all suffered heavy mortar fire as would become the norm in Normandy.

279 Battery - under Major Pitt Ridge, who were thrown west of Caen, at Segueville-en-Bessin. Here, Lieutenant Bradford was the first officer of 71 ATR who was killed in action. The Batteries were often deployed in close conjunction with the infantry, with the guns suitably close to the enemy. This led to higher numbers of casualties amongst the Regiment's personnel as they were hit by mortar bombs directed at the infantry in the guns vicinity

July continued to be unpleasant - with a daily stream of casualties, from mortar fire and shell shock. 336 Battery had a 3 ton truck, jeep and six pounder gun destroyed on the 5th July but re-enforcements were quick to arrive and bolster the Battery's strength. Regular moves continued as the advance slowly dug on, with Batteries following up the infantry's successes.

The 14th July bought news that 278 Battery would engage in their first major offensive action with 158 Brigade - as part of Operation Greenline. The initial moves would be an attack on the Farme de Mondrainville. A Troop would support 4 RWF, whilst B + C Troops would support 7 RWF. Additional preparation continued the next day with the use of aerial photographs and they planned the locations of where to site the guns. All this preparation proved to be fruitless, when the attack came on the 16th, the anti-tank units were unable to cross and get the supporting guns up near the front and this was just one of many problems that beset 7 RWF who led the attack. The same night, 283 Battery's HQ was dive bombed, and Major IC Griffith captured an enemy pilot who bailed from his aircraft.

The second phase of Operation Greenline's attack on Evrecy was decided on the 17th, with 278 Battery's A Troop supporting 4 RWF's attack. At 2115 this commenced, and A Troop was ambushed, with 1 killed, 2 wounded and 19 missing including Lieutenant RCC Graham . Despite the losses, it was a ferocious fight - several Gunners went wild with Bren guns, cutting down Germans with no regard for their own personal safety. Two high ranking SS Officers attempted to 'surrender' however as they came over to A Troop, they threw two grenades at the British and amazingly stood still as they witnessed their success, the exploding grenades missing all the Gunners present. However their hubris proved to be their downfall as a British grenade landed neatly between their feet. Unfortunately some equipment was lost during the withdrawal, and subsequent attempts to locate the equipment over the next two days proved futile.

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 Battery when the crossing started properly on the 9th August. The crossing of the Orne was completed by the Regiment by the 11th. With formal orders given to 278 Battery to prepare for an immediate shift to mobile warfare.

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 Battery under 160 (South Wales) Brigade, had 336 Battery and 128 Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Battery placed under its command - giving 160 Brigade a formidable anti-tank capability.

2 Tigers were killed by men of 2 Mons supported by H and I Troops from 283 Battery during the attack on Brieux. The Tigers were destroyed by humble No75 anti-tank grenades! However, 71 Brigade's movement with 279 Battery was restricted by the number of mines covering the approach. However these were cleared and the advance continued.

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 Seine by Regimental HQ, 278 and 336 Batteries on the 29th August was followed the next day by 279 Battery moving with 71 Brigade towards Bezuncourt and 283 Battery moving with 160 Brigade to Lyons.

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 Normandy, the 71st ATR attained battle honours wherever the 53rd Division went - locations described under the History of the 53rd Division section. Notably 336 Battery was often attached to the 59th Recce Regiment for mobile actions. During September 278 Battery was given leave in Antwerp before the Regiment readied itself for the actions during Operation Veritable. The Regiment fought to secure the corridor along the Escaut and Wilhelmina Canals and to assist in the re-enforcement of the airborne units. Lt-Col Castelli was captured at the airport near Eindhoven and was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Norman-Walter.

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)

Photos of 71 ATR (RWF)

Men of 71 Anti Tank Regiment [Harley]