Unit History: Grenadier Guards

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Grenadier Guards
The Grenadier Guards were first formed in 1656 by the exiled Charles II in Bruges, as the ‘Royal Regiment of Guards’, under the Colonel Lord Wentworth.  The Regiment was initially recruited from the loyal men who had followed their King into exile and were rewarded in 1660 when the King was restored to the throne.  In 1665 the Regiment was renamed the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards.
 
In 1667 a young John Churchill (later to become the 1st Duke of Marlborough) became an ensign of the Regiment.  He rose through the ranks and became its colonel from 1704 to 1711 and 1714 to 1722.
 
The 1st went on to serve during the Wars of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), and fought at the battles of Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708) and Malplaquet (1709).  The Regiment fought during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, but it was during the Peninsular War in 1815 at the battle of Waterloo they gained their present title and undying fame by defeating the Grenadiers of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard and granted the title of Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards.
 
The Regiment went on to serve in the Crimean War (1853–1856), fighting at the Alma river, Inkerman, and Sevastopol, the Anglo-Egyptian War in 1882, fighting at Battle of Tel el-Kebir and then the Mahdist War in Sudan, at the Battle of Omdurman, and the Second Boer War, at the Battle of Modder River and the Battle of Belmont.
In 1994 as part of the British Army’s ‘Options for Change’ reforms, the Grenadier Guards were reduced to a single battalion while the 2nd Battalion put into 'suspended animation', to keep the colours and traditions safe and renamed "The Nijmegen Company".

Grenadier Guards during WW1

Since 1815 the balance of power in Europe had been maintained by a series of treaties. In 1888 Wilhelm II was crowned ‘German Emperor and King of Prussia’ and moved from a policy of maintaining the status quo to a more aggressive position. He did not renew a treaty with Russia, aligned Germany with the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire and started to build a Navy rivalling that of Britain. These actions greatly concerned Germany’s neighbours, who quickly forged new treaties and alliances in the event of war. On 28th June 1914 Franz Ferdinand the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated by the Bosnian-Serb nationalist group Young Bosnia who wanted pan-Serbian independence. Franz Joseph's the Austro-Hungarian Emperor (with the backing of Germany) responded aggressively, presenting Serbia with an intentionally unacceptable ultimatum, to provoke Serbia into war. Serbia agreed to 8 of the 10 terms and on the 28th July 1914 the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, producing a cascade effect across Europe. Russia bound by treaty to Serbia declared war with Austro-Hungary, Germany declared war with Russia and France declared war with Germany. Germany’s army crossed into neutral Belgium in order to reach Paris, forcing Britain to declare war with Germany (due to the Treaty of London (1839) whereby Britain agreed to defend Belgium in the event of invasion). By the 4th August 1914 Britain and much of Europe were pulled into a war which would last 1,566 days, cost 8,528,831 lives and 28,938,073 casualties or missing on both sides.

The Regiment raised five battalions and was awarded 34 Battle Honours and 7 Victoria Crosses, losing 4,680 men and suffering 12,000 casualties during the course of the war. In 1919 the King commanded the rank of Guardsman replace that of Private in recognition of the Regiments efforts during the war.

1st Battalion
04.08.1914 Stationed at Warley, London District and then joined the 20th Brigade of the 7th Division and moved to Lyndhurst.
07.10.1914 Mobilised for war and landed at Zeebrugge and the Division engaged in various actions on the Western Front including; The First Battle of Ypres after which only 4 officers and 200 men remained of the Battalion.
04.08.1915 Transferred to the 3rd Guards Brigade of the Guards Division and once again engaged in various action on the Western Front including;
During 1916
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, The Battle of Morval.
During 1917
The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, The Battle of Pilkem, The Battle of the Menin Road, The Battle of Poelkapelle, The First Battle of Passchendaele, The Battle of Cambrai 1917.
During 1918
The Battle of St Quentin, The Battle of Bapaume, The First Battle of Arras 1918, The Battle of Albert, The Second Battle of Bapaume, The Battle of Havrincourt, The Battle of the Canal du Nord, The Battle of Cambrai 1918, The pursuit to the Selle, The Battle of the Selle, The Battle of the Sambre.
11.11.1918 Ended the war in France, Maubeuge.

2nd Battalion
04.08.1914 Stationed at Chelsea as part of the 4th (Guards) Brigade of the 2nd Division.
15.08.1914 Mobilised for war and landed at Havre and the Division engaged in various actions on the Western Front including; The First Battle of Ypres after which only 4 officers and 140 men remained of the Battalion.
20.08.1915 Transferred to the 1st Guards Brigade of the Guards Division and engaged in various actions on the Western Front including;
During 1916
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, The Battle of Morval.
During 1917
The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, The Battle of Pilkem, The Battle of the Menin Road, The Battle of Poelkapelle, The First Battle of Passchendaele, The Battle of Cambrai 1917.
During 1918
The Battle of St Quentin, The Battle of Bapaume, The First Battle of Arras 1918, The Battle of Albert, The Second Battle of Bapaume, The Battle of Havrincourt, The Battle of the Canal du Nord, The Battle of Cambrai 1918, The pursuit to the Selle, The Battle of the Selle, The Battle of the Sambre.
11.11.1918 Ended the war in France, N.E. of Maubeuge.

3rd Battalion
04.08.1914 Stationed at Wellington Barracks, London District.
27.07.1915 Mobilised for war and landed at Havre.
19.08.1915 Transferred to the 2nd Guards Brigade of the Guards Division and engaged in various actions on the Western Front including;
During 1916
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, The Battle of Morval.
During 1917
The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, The Battle of Pilkem, The Battle of the Menin Road, The Battle of Poelkapelle, The First Battle of Passchendaele, The Battle of Cambrai 1917.
During 1918
The Battle of St Quentin, The Battle of Bapaume, The First Battle of Arras 1918, The Battle of Albert, The Second Battle of Bapaume, The Battle of Havrincourt, The Battle of the Canal du Nord, The Battle of Cambrai 1918, The pursuit to the Selle, The Battle of the Selle, The Battle of the Sambre.
11.11.1918 Ended the war in France, near Maubeuge.

4th Battalion
14.07.1915 Formed at Marlow.
19.08.1915 Mobilised for war and landed in France to join the 4th Guards Brigade of the 31st Division.
20.05.1918 Transferred to the G.H.Q. Reserve
11.11.1918 Ended the war in France, Criel Plage S.W. of Le Treport.

5th (Reserve) Battalion
Aug 1914 Formed at Kensington as the 4th (reserve) Battalion.
15.08.1914 Moved to Chelsea Barracks.
14.07.1915 Became the 5th (Reserve) Battalion.

1st Provisional Battalion
07.08.1918 Formed at Aldershot for duty at the Senior Officers School.

Grenadier Guards during WW2

WW2 Battalions of the Grenadier Guards

1st Battalion:
03 September 1939: The Battalion was based at Pirbright, Surrey, and part of the 7th Brigade.
September 1939: It became part of the BEF serving in France & Belgium. They were attached to 3rd Infantry Division.
June 1940: Evacuated from Dunkirk and returned to the UK.
September 1941: It then served as a Motor Battalion with the Guards Armoured Division.
06 June 1944: It took part in the Normandy landings. From here carried on fighting in North Western Europe.

2nd Battalion:
03 September 1939: The Battalion was based at Pirbright, Surrey, and part of the 7th Brigade
September 1939: It became part of the BEF serving in France & Belgium. They were attached to 3rd Infantry Division.
June 1940: Evacuated from Dunkirk and returned to the UK.
21 October 1941: It converted to tanks and served with the Guards Armoured Division.
15 January 1943: Became 2nd (Tank) Battalion.
06 June 1944: It took part in the Normandy landings in the same Division. From here carried on fighting in North Western Europe.
11 June 1945: The Battalion converted back to infantry.

3rd Battalion:
1937: The Battalion was stationed at Chelsea Barracks, London
September 1939: It became part of the BEF serving in France & Belgium. They were attached to the 1st Guards Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.
June 1940: Evacuated from Dunkirk and returned to the UK.
June 1942: The Battalion, still in the UK and same Brigade but by now transferred to the 78 Infantry Division.
November1942: Serving in Tunisia, North Africa.
February 1943: It had transferred to 6 Armoured Division, still part of same Brigade.
March 1944: Battalion serving in Italy.
May 1945: Entered Austria.
September 1945: Deployed to Palestine in attempt to keep the peace.

4th Battalion:
1940: The Battalion was raised and served with the 6th Guards Tank Brigade
06 June 1944: It took part in the Normandy landings. From here carried on fighting in North Western Europe.
1947: It disbanded.

5th Battalion:
1941: The Battalion was raised and served in North Africa and Italy where it fought significant battles in the Medjez-El-Bab and along the Mareth Line and in Italy at Salerno, Monte Camino, Salerno and along the Gothic Line .
1945: It disbanded.

6th Battalion:
1941: The Battalion was raised in Caterham, Surrey.
June 1942: It set sail from Liverpool to Syria where they became part of 201st Guards Brigade. They had to guard the border and protect the oil pipelines at Kirkuk.
March 1943: Moved to North Africa to join 8th Army under General Montgomery and trained as "Motorised Infantry" in desert warfare.
16 March 1943: A few days after arrival the Battalion was engaged in the first battle at the Mareth Line, known as "The Battle of the Horseshoe". The Battalion suffered a high loss in casualties.
09 September 1943: They landed at Salerno in Italy attached to the 5th Army, 201st Guards Brigade and part of the 'Black Cats' 56 Division under the American General, Mark Clark.
08 November 1943: Where in action on the Monte Camino for 4 days and suffered greatly.
12 November 1943: The Battalion had moved down from the mountain with only 260 men for duty. They were never committed to a major battle again.
The Battalion, after Monte Camino, continued action on the River Garigliano and at Minturno.
04 December 1944: The battalion was disbanded.

Related Historic Documents

Battles / Campaigns

Festubert (1915) WW1

Forming part of French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre's Artois Offensive in the spring of 1915 - his second large-scale infantry assault following the Champagne Offensive in December 1914 - the Battle of Festubert, in the Ypres Salient, was fought by the Allies (British, Canadian and Indian troops) against the Germans from 15-27 May 1915. The assault was planned along a three mile front, the attack would take the form of a pincer attack with two assault frontages: a northern one along the Rue du Bois near Port Arthur and Richebourg 'Avoue, and a southern one at Festubert and would initially be made mainly by Indian troops. This would be the first British army night attack of the war.

The Festubert attack was launched by the First British Army under Sir Douglas Haig in response to pressure applied to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) by Joffre, and was the BEF's second attack during the offensive, following an assault upon Neuve Chapelle four days earlier on 9 May.

Preceded by a four day artillery bombardment by over 400 guns firing 100,000 shells, the attack around the village of Festubert was launched at night on 15 May by two divisions of mostly Indian infantry, and made rapid initial progress, despite the failure of the preliminary bombardment to effectively destroy the German Sixth Army front line defences (under Crown Prince Rupprecht). Under attack, the Germans retreated to a line directly in front of the village.

A further assault upon these lines, by Canadian troops, was begun on 18 May, but was unsuccessful in the face of German artillery fire. In heavy rain some Allied troops began to prepare trenches to consolidate the small gains made thus far. During that same evening the German front line received a further injection of reserves.

Renewed attacks by the Allied forces between, 20-24 May resulted in the capture of Festubert village itself, a position held until the German advance of spring 1918. Despite having captured Festubert however, the Allied forces had advanced less than a kilometre; consequently the attack was ended on 27 May, with the British having suffered some 16,000 casualties during the action.
The regiment lost a senior officer in this engagement;
Lt-Col Wilfred Smith Officer Commanding 2nd Grenadier Guards died of wounds 19 May 1915. He is buried in Le Touret Military Cemetery.


The battle reinforced the view that the BEF had a serious deficiency of artillery, particularly heavy weapons, shells, (especially the high explosive type that was required to destroy trenches and strong points) and trench weaponry especially bombs. The Canadian units were reporting very serious problems with their standard-issue Ross rifle, and most infantry units reported that they did not have the full complement of machine-guns available due to losses in action.

On 15 May 1915 an article appeared in The Times, written by military correspondent Colonel Repington and based on information given to him by an exasperated Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French. The latter also sent copies of all correspondence between him and the Government on the question of the supply of ammunition to David Lloyd George, Arthur Balfour and Bonar Law, MP's. The scandal that broke as the public read that Tommies were losing their lives unnecessarily as a result of the shortages proved to be the downfall of the Liberal Government under Asquith. The formation of a Coalition Government and the appointment of Lloyd George as first Minister of Munitions was an important step towards ultimate victory.

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