Unit History: 2nd Ox and Bucks
The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was an infantry regiment of the British Army.
The regiment was formed as a consequence of Childers reforms, a continuation of the Cardwell reforms, by the amalgamation of the 43rd (Monmouthshire) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry) and the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry), forming the 1st and 2nd Battalions, The Oxfordshire Light Infantry on 1 July 1881.
In 1908 the regiment’s title was altered to become the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, commonly shortened to the ’Ox and Bucks’.
Transport moving across the Caen Canal Bridge at Benouville, June 1944. The bridge was renamed Pegasus Bridge after the mythical winged horse on the formation sign of British airborne forces.
In 1941 the 2nd Battalion re-roled as an airborne, specifically an Air Landing, unit, joining the 1st Airborne Division and in 1943 the 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division. As part of Operation Tonga just before the landings on D-Day 6 June 1944, D Company, 2nd Ox & Bucks Commanded by Maj. John Howard as well as Royal Engineers and men of the Glider Pilot Regiment (totalling 181 men), were to land via 6 Horsa gliders to capture the vital Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal and the bridge over the Orne River (known as Horsa Bridge and east of Pegasus). This was intended to secure the eastern flank to prevent German armour from reaching the British 3rd Infantry Division that was landing on Sword Beach.
The Ox and Bucks landed very close to their objectives at 16 minutes past midnight—the first Allied unit to land in France—they poured out of their battered gliders, completely surprising the German defenders, and taking the bridges within 10 minutes, losing two men—Lieutenant Den Brotheridge and Lance-Corporal Greenhalgh—in the process. One Glider assigned to the capture of Horsa Bridge was landed at the bridge over the River Dives, some 7 miles from where they were meant to land.
They, in spite of this, captured the River Dives bridge, advanced through German lines towards the village of Ranville where they eventually rejoined the British forces. The Ox & Bucks were reinforced half an hour after the landings by 7 Para, with further units arriving shortly afterwards.
The Germans launched many attempts to re-capture the bridges, all being repulsed. Later in the day, at about 1:00pm, Lord Lovat and elements of his 1st Special Service Brigade arrived to relieve the exhausted defenders, followed by the British 3rd Infantry Division. The operation was immortalised in the film The Longest Day.
As the first day of the landings closed, more reinforcements arrived as part of Operation Mallard, they included the rest of the 2nd Ox & Bucks. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Darell-Brown DSO replaced Lieutenant Colonel Michael Roberts who had been injured during the landings and remained in command of the Battalion during the defence of the Ardennes and on the Rhine landing. On 7 June the Battalion captured the small village of Herouvillette and then headed for the village of Escoville where they met some extremely determined resistance.
Having experienced intense fighting with German troops supported by armour and unable to successfully dig in and hold the village, the Battalion withdrew, moving back to Herouvillette where they took part in its defence. The Battalion subsequently held the line on Bréville ridge until August, then taking part in the British breakout and advance to the Seine that began in August, known as Operation Paddle. After a successful offensive, the 2nd Ox & Bucks, along with the rest of 6th Airborne, was withdrawn to the UK in early September to recuperate and reorganise.
By then, of the original 181 men that had taken part in the Pegasus and Horsa operation, just 40 remained fit for active duty. The 2nd Ox and Bucks and the rest of the 6th Airborne were then rushed back to Belgium to take part in the defence of the Ardennes after the German invasion on 16 December.
By the time the Battalion arrived in the Ardennes the German offensive had lost its momentum. One of its companies was involved in heavy fighting whilst in support of 13 Parachute Battalion in the village of Bure. The 2nd Ox and Bucks remained in the Ardennes until 24 January. The Battalion then moved to the Netherlands, before returning to Britain in late February.
The 2nd Ox and Bucks were once again involved in a gliderborne air assault landing known as Operation Varsity the objective of which was to cross the Rhine. Operation Varsity which began on 24 March 1945 was the last major battle on the Western Front during the Second World War.
The Battalion, like many others during the assault, suffered heavily as the Germans met the landing gliders with ferocious fire in the air and on the ground, suffering hundreds of casualties. It saw very heavy fighting at Hamminkeln, where its objectives were the railway station and the bridge over the River Issel, having to undertake a bayonet charge to take the bridge.
The Germans launched a number of counter-attacks, all of which were repelled. The Battalion subsequently took a leading part in the 300 mile advance across Germany, mostly on foot, including taking part in the opposed crossing of the Weser and eventually linking up with the Russians near the Baltic port of Wismar on 3 May 1945.
The Battalion provided the Guard of Honour for the meeting between British commander Field Marshal Montgomery and his Russian counterpart, Rokossovsky, at Wismar on 7 May 1945.