- XXX Corps (United Kingdom)
Infobox Military Unit
caption= XXX Corps cross the road bridge at
Nijmegenduring Operation Market Garden.
dates= 1941 – 1945
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
William Havelock Ramsden
Lieut.Gen. Sir Oliver Leese
Lieut.Gen. Sir Brian Horrocks
North African Campaign
Battle of Normandy Operation Market Garden
XXX Corps (30 Corps), was a
Corpswithin the British Armyduring World War II. Its insignia was a rampant boar.
It played a major role in the
Western Desert Campaign, where it was initially formed for the British Armoured Units in North Africa in preparation for Operation Crusader, the last British attempt to relieve the siege of Tobruk. It took severe casualties, mainly because of obsolete British tank tactics, (especially charging anti-tank guns) but finally forced Rommel's Afrika Korpsto withdraw to El Agheila in Central Libya.
In 1942, however, Rommel had counter-attacked and driven the British back to Gazala , a few kilometers west of
Tobruk. The plan of 8th Army Commander Neil Ritchiewas to have XIII Corps hold the line, while XXX Corps would stop any attempt to outflank the position south of Bir Hachiem, held by the 1st Free French Brigade. They managed to slow Rommel's armour down, and forced Rommel's tanks into The Cauldron, the gap left in the British Lines by the destruction of the 150th Infantry Brigade. British Counterattacks attempted to crush it, but failed. Eventually, the Free French at Bir Hachiem were forced to withdraw, and Rommel was able to break out of the Cauldron. XXX Corps then was forced to retreat to Mersa Matruh, held by the newly formed British X Corps. However, the Germans quickly broke through, surrounded X Corps (which, fortunately for the British, managed to successfully break out), and pushed XXX Corps back to El Alamein.
The depleted XXX Corps pulled back to El Alamein, the last defensible position short of the River Nile. It was the only place in the desert in which the normal rule of desert operations - "There is always an open flank" did not apply. XXX Corps was assigned to hold the northern part of the line though at this point, it was reinforced by units from XIII Corps, including the
1st South African Divisionand 9th Australian Division due to suffering considerable casualties and loss of equipment. Rommel's Afrika Korps, exhausted and depleted, still could not break through the shattered XXX Corps. Its other major formation was the 23rd Armoured Brigade Group.
Upset over the defeats in North Africa, British Prime Minister Sir
Winston Churchilldecided to sack General Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in the Middle East, and at that point, the Commander of the 8th Army. He was replaced as C-in-C Middle East Commandby Harold Alexander, and as GOC Eighth Army by Lieutenant-General William Gott, commander of XIII Corps. However, Gott died in a plane crash, and his place was taken by Bernard Montgomery.
A month after the 1st Battle of El Alamein, Rommel again decided to attempt a breakthrough at El Alamein. This time at the southern end of the line towards
Alam Halfaridge. This attack put a lot of pressure on XIII Corps, but XXX Corps was involved because of several German diversionary raids.
After the victory at Alam Halfa, Montgomery prepared to go on the offensive. He brought more troops including the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division and experienced Indian 4th Infantry Division to reinforce XXX Corps and also assigned the
2nd New Zealand Divisionfrom XIII Corps with its 9th Armoured Brigade. [p.27, Moreman, Anderson] XXX Corps was then involved in extensive retraining, as it was to make a major push and create a corridor for the Tanks of X Corps to break through.
On the night of 24 October, Montgomery was ready with his attack. After a huge artillery bombardment unseen since the First World War, XXX Corps left its trenches, and began to attack. XXX Corps took very heavy casualties, but the experienced Australians, New Zealanders, Highlanders and South Africans continued to push the attack and soon several gaps were created in the minefields. Finally, XXX Corps attacks ground to a halt because of German resistance. Early in the morning of 2 November, Montgomery launched Operation Supercharge, a major attack by X Corps and XXX Corps (which was reinforced by the
50th (Northumbrian) Divisionfrom XIII Corps. By 4 November, X Corps had broken through, and the Battle of el Alamein was won.
After El Alamein, XXX Corps pushed forward steadily and made sure they didn't run out of supplies. They finally stopped at the
Mareth Line, in Tunisia in late February. However, to Montgomery's dismay, the excellent 9th Australian Division was withdrawn and sent to the Pacific on the insistence of the Australian Government, and the 1st South African was left in Egypt
On 19 March, XXX Corps launched an attack on the Mareth Line as part of
Operation Pugilist, with the British 50th Infantry and 51st Infantry Division in the lead. They managed to create a gap, but it was quickly contained by Rommel's 15th Panzer Division. However, during "Operation Supercharge II" a force commanded by Lieutenant-General Brian Horrockscomposed of the New Zealand Corps and 1st Armoured Division from X Corps exploited a flanking position established by the New Zealanders during "Pugilist" and broke the German flank defenses on the night of the 26th/27th, forcing the outflanked German forces to withdraw northwards to Wadi Akrit.
In mid-April, XXX Corps attempted to attack the position head on, but made little progress against determined German and Italian resistance. However, by that time the
British First Armyhad broken through the German line on their left in central Tunisia and the Axis forces were forced to surrender.
On 10 July 1943, XXX Corps was sent to invade the Italian island of
Sicily. XXX Corps (under Lieutenant General Oliver Leese) was to compose the left flank of the British Eighth Army. For this, it was reinforced with the 1st Canadian Infantry Divisionand the 231st Infantry Brigade, made up of units from Malta. However, the 2nd New Zealand and the 4th Indian Division were not available for Sicily, because they had both incurred heavy losses.
XXX Corps landed near Pachino, in Sicily, and made early gains against the
Italian 206th Coastal Divisionand the Napoli Division. By 18 July, it was halfway to Messina. Progress slowed considerably after that, because Sicily's mountainous terrain favoured well-equipped defenders (like the German forces in Group Schmalz), and they managed to move very little. The Axis began withdrawing troops from Sicily, and the Germans put up a brave fighting withdrawal. By 17 July, the last German troops had pulled back across the straits of Messina, and the Allies were in control of Sicily. XXX Corps was then pulled out of the line, and sent to the UK to re-fit and re-train for Operation Overlord
In Normandy, XXX Corps again included the
50th (Northumbrian) Division, which landed on Gold Beach. It quickly overwhelmed the German defenders of the 716th Infantry Division, and had linked up with the British 1st Corps by the end of D-Day. It was then engaged in a gruelling process of attrition, making slow gains, but by 10 June, had linked up with US forces advancing from Omaha Beach. On 12 June, an opportunity arose. The Germans had a massive gap in their front lines near the Town of Camount. 7th Armoured Division was quickly sent to exploit the gap, and head towards Villers Bocage in an attempt to outflank the German Panzer Lehr Divisionand force them to withdraw. This attack was thwarted by Tiger Ace Michael Wittmann, leading the 101st SS Heavy Tank Battalion, which smashed the spearhead of the British 7th Armoured, 4th County of London Yeomanry, and forced the British back. The gap was quickly sealed. The Commander of XXX Corps, Lieutenant General Gerard Bucknallreceived a lot of criticism for this, because Montgomery believed that if other units of 7th Armoured had moved up quicker, it would have been successful and several German divisions could have been destroyed.
The Corps was then involved in the battle of attrition with only minor gains being made. Up to 24 July, the front line remained relatively unchanged. On that day, the Americans launched
Operation Cobra, a full scale attack on German positions in the Contentin. They made considerable progress, and the British Operation Bluecoatwas launched to exploit the momentum. VIII Corps, on the right flank of Bluecoat, made considerable progress, but XXX Corps was sluggish. Annoyed, Montgomery sacked Bucknall and replaced him with Brian Horrocks, a veteran of North Africa. After the sacking of Bucknall, the performance of XXX Corps improved considerably, and it managed to keep up with the other British Corps during the Battle for the Falaise Gap. After the German collapse, XXX Corps quickly advanced North-east and liberated both Antwerpand Brusselsin Belgium. There the advance was halted because there was a shortage of fuel. Elements of Guards Armoured and the 2nd Household Cavalry Regiment managed to secure a bridge across the Meuse-Escaut canal into Holland. This bridge was nicknamed Joe's Bridgein honour of Lieutenant Colonel Joe Vandeleur, Commander of the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guardswho captured the bridge.
Operation Market Garden
After the success in France and Belgium, General Montgomery now turned his attention to establishing a bridge crossing over the
Rhine. The bridge at Arnhem looked ideal - capturing it would liberate Holland, trap the German 25th Armyand 1st Airborne Army there, and allowing the Allies a way to outflank the Siegfried Line. To do this, he decided to deploy the 1st Allied Airborne Army, with the US 101st Airborne Divisiondropped at Eindhoven, to secure the Son, and Wilhelmina Canal bridges, the US 82nd dropped at Nijmegen, to secure the Grave and Nijmegen bridge, while the British 1st Airborne was dropped at Arnhem, to secure the bridge over the Neder Rijn. XXX corps which consisted of about 50,000 men was supposed to advance and reach Arnhem to relieve the paratroops within 48 hours. Operation Market Gardenkicked off at 14:00 on Sunday 17 September 1944 and it was the largest airborne operation in history. It was, however beset by problems. There were not enough transport planes to drop all the divisions in one day - the British 1st Airborne Division landed with only two of its four brigades on 17 September, and the gliders of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions didn't arrive until 20 September. Furthermore, as XXX Corps advanced north, it soon became obvious that the single highway was extremely vulnerable to enemy counter-attack and was prone to traffic jams.
The lead elements of XXX Corps,
Guards Armoured Division, were ambushed by unexpectedly strong German defences causing delays to the advance. As a result, they were nowhere near their objectives by the end of the first day. On the second day of Market Garden, the Guards Armoured continued northwards to Eindhoven, where they met elements of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regimentof the 101st Airborne Division. They soon discovered that the 101st had failed to secure the bridge over the Son intact, and there were quite a lot of delays before bridge engineers arrived to build a Bailey bridge.
After that, Guards Armoured advanced without facing much resistance, and had reached the Nijmegen Bridge by the fourth day of the advance, where they found that the US 82nd Airborne Division had failed to capture the bridge. XXX Corps brought up boats, allowing elements of the 82nd to be ferried across the river, where they captured the Nijmegen bridge. The Guards Armoured advanced and quickly established positions on the northern bank.
Further south, in the 101st Airborne Sector, many units from XXX Corps had to be detached to fight off repeated German attempts to cut the corridor. The 231st Infantry Brigade (from 50th Northumbrians) and the 4th Armoured Brigade spent most of the time during Operation Market Garden rushing up and down the 101st Airborne Sector. This created major traffic jams on the road, and delayed reinforcements to the spearheads in the north - particularly the 43rd Wessex Division and the other two brigades of the 50th, which further slowed down the advance.
By the fifth day, Guards Armoured was exhausted. It had fought continuously for 5 days, much of it against fierce German resistance, and they were unable to continue the advance any longer. 43rd Wessex was brought up to continue the advance, and they managed to defeat the elements of the 10th SS Panzer Division facing them, and advanced to the Neder Rhine. There, a battalion of the 43rd crossed the River in an attempt to relieve 1st Airborne, but were forced to withdraw. In the end, only 2,000 out of 11,000 men of the 1st Airborne Division managed to escape across the Neder Rhine, and the final bridge over the Rhine was not secured.
In the following weeks, XXX Corps spent most of its time guarding the tiny strip of corridor that it had managed to create during the advance. Eventually, this corridor would be expanded, and would provide the
1st Canadian Armywith a secure base to jump off from when they attacked Arnhem.
Battle of the Bulge, units of XXX Corps moved to secure the bridges over the Meuse. On 27 December the Corps pushed the 2nd Panzer Divisionout of Celles. On 31 December they captured Rochefort at the western end of the salient.
The Rhineland Campaign
Battle of Gazala
Citations and notes
* Moreman, Timothy Robert, Anderson, Duncan, "Desert Rats: British 8th Army in North Africa 1941-43", Osprey Publishing, 2007
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