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Taming the Panzers: Monty’s tank battalions 3rd RTR at war

By Patrick Delaforce

During the desperate days of May 1940 that ended with the fall of France, the 3rd Battalion Royal Tank Regiment was sent to Calais in support of 30th Infantry Brigade, where it played a vital role in the week-long defence of Calais.

In helping to stem the inexorable advance of German panzers, the battalion was uniquely praised by Churchill for giving the BEF much-needed extra time for the crucial evacuation from Dunkirk’s beaches to be put into effect.

Reformed and refitted by the spring of 1941, 3 RTR returned to Europe to fight the panzers once again, this time in the ill-fated Greek campaign, where it became the only RTR unit to see combat. The battalion fought a costly withdrawal action against the Germans, losing its entire complement of tanks, but still managed to inflict casualties on the enemy during the retreat. Hitler was furious: the six-week Greek campaign had delayed Operation Barbarossa, allowing the Russian armies time to re-group before the panzers reached Moscow.

The surviving officers and men of 3 RTR embarked for Egypt at the end of April where they came under the command of General Montgomery. 3 RTR fought again in all the main North African desert battles, including the major turning point engagements at Alam Haifa and El Alamein.

Moving back to north-west Europe to join the invasion in June 1944, 3 RTR was in the thick of all the desperate battles in Normandy after its arrival on 17 June. The unit took part in the ‘Great Swan’ to capture Amiens and Antwerp, then provided right flank protection in Operation Market Garden. It helped to halt the panzers in the Ardennes and, as the only RTR unit in the British Army to be equipped with brand new Comet tanks, took part in the many river crossing battles on its way to the Baltic — and on to the end of the war in Europe.

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