Generalship

A Short History of the 6th Brigade 1808-1992

Introduction By Lt-Gen Jonathon Riley

Published (1993)


6th brigade

The Brigade level of Command in the British Army has its origins in the Tertios of the English Civil War. These were groupings of three regiments, copied from the Spanish Army. After the Restoration, Brigades were formed for service both in British and foreign service but until the beginning of the Peninsular War it remained an ad hoc grouping adopted only on active service and with no real command structure.

Moore, and Wellington were the first British Commanders to formalise the structure and it was in 1808 that the 6th Brigade first appeared as an Infantry Brigade. In the following year the Brigade was placed under the command of the 2nd Infantry Division, with whom it was to remain until 1970, the longest association between a Brigade and a Division in British military history.

The 6th Brigade fought throughout the Peninsular campaign. At Albuhera it took enormous casualties and had to be temporarily disbanded. Reformed, the Brigade took part in the final defeat of the French in Spain and crossed the Pyrenees for the last battles in southern France in 1814. In the following year, the Brigade was present at Waterloo after which it was disbanded.

The 6th Brigade was reraised in 1854 for the Crimean Campaign, where it fought at the heights of Alma, Inkerman and the long siege of Sevastopol before it was once again disbanded.

It was not until the South African War began in 1899 that the 6th Brigade was reformed. It fought at Colenso, then took part in the relief of Ladysmith and the Long Blockhouse War. In 1905 the Brigade returned to Aldershot where it remained until 1914.

On the outbreak of the Great War, the 6th Brigade was the first formation of-the Regular Army to complete its mobilisation. Throughout the war, the Brigade commanded the same four Infantry battalions: 1st King's, 2nd South Staffords, 1st Royal Berkshires and 1st KRRC. For the first time in its history, the Brigade order of battle included units other than Infantry battalions: 2nd Signal Company RE, 6th Brigade MG Company and 6th Field Ambulance RAMC. The Brigade remained on the Western front for the duration of the War. It took part in practically every major battle of the war from Mons to Ypres, Loos, The Somme, Arrai, Cambrai; the German attack in March 1918; and finally the breaking of the Hindenburg line and the advance into Germany.

After the end of the War, the Brigade did duty with the British Army of the Rhine until returning to Aldershot in May 1920.

At the beginning of the Second World War the Brigade, still part of the 2nd Division, moved to France. In 1940, after moving to Belgium, the 2nd Division found itself covering the retreat of the BEF to Dunkirk. In the hopeless defence of La Bassee canal, the 6th Brigade was destroyed in action for the second time in its history.

Later that year the Brigade was reformed in England. In April 1942 it went with the 2nd Division to India. The normal order of battle was now three Infantry Battalions, Signal Company, Artillery Field Brigade, Engineer Company, and Anti-Tank Battery. In November 1942, the Brigade became Independent for a special operation in the Arakan. It then returned to the 2nd Division with whom it moved into Burma for operation against the Japanese at Kohima, the turning point of the War in Burma. In April 1945 the Brigade became Independent again for operations on the Sittang Bend and Rangoon in Southern Burma.

The end of the War saw the 6th Brigade in Siam where it remained until January 1947 when, having been redesignated as X Brigade, it was disbanded. It was immediately re-raised from personnel of the disbanded 153 Infantry Brigade in Iserlohn, Germany, where it remained part of the 2nd Division as a lorried Infantry Brigade. In 1960 the Brigade moved to York Barracks, Munster. There, still an Infantry Brigade, its three battalions took on APCs for the first time, in this case the wheeled Humber 1-ton "Pig". Also for the first time the order of battle included an armoured regiment equipped with Centurion tanks.

In 1970, the Canadians moved South from their base in North Germany, and the British Army of the Rhine expanded to fill the gap. As part of this expansion the HQ of the 6th Brigade moved, after a short spell in England, to San Sebastian Barracks, Korbecke. In 1971 the title of the Brigade was changed to the 6th Armoured Brigade. The order of battle now included 6th Armoured Brigade HQ and Signal Squadron, two armoured regiments, two mechanised infantry battalions (since 1966 equipped with the AFV 432), 2nd Field Workshop REME, 6th Ordnance Field Park, 4th Field Ambulance RAMC, 660 Squadron AAC, and 115 Provost Company RMP.

At the same time the Link with the 2nd Division was broken and the Brigade moved to the 4th Armoured Division. In recognition of both changes the historic Brigade sign of the crossed key and bayonet was changed to the black Rhino. This was the senior unallocated armoured Brigade sign, having belonged to the 10th Armoured Brigade during the Second World War.

In 1978 the British Army restructured its Armoured Divisions. Four small divisions were formed, with no Brigade level of Command. HQ 3rd Infantry Division now moved from England to Korbecke; the 6th Brigade became Task Force Foxtrot under 3rd Armoured Division, with only its Signals Squadron, one armoured regiment and one mechanised infantry battalion under command. The Headquarters, displaced from Korbecke, moved to Salamanca Barracks, Soest.

The Brigade level of Command was restored in 1983 and the 6th Brigade was for five years a two-battalion airmobile infantry brigade. In 1988 this role was transferred to 24 Brigade and the 6th Brigade re-roled once again to armour, becoming fully operational in April 1990 as the first armoured infantry brigade of the Army.

During its time in Germany the Brigade has, in addition to its primary role of deterring communist aggression, sent units for operational tours to Malaya, Korea, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Belize and the Persian Gulf.

During the Gulf War elements of the Brigade were used to reinforce the British Contribution to the Allied Coalition. This included the deployment of both 1st Battalion Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) and 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers complete. In addition many individuals were sent to reinforce units deployed.

The current order of battle of the 6th Brigade is HQ and Signal Squadron, 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, 1st Battalion The Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, 27 Field Regiment Royal Artillery, 11 Armoured Workshop REME and 5 Field Squadron RE. Elements are also attached from 46 Air Defence Battery RA, 5 Armoured Field Ambulance, 35 Squadron RCT, 3 Ordnance Battalion and 662 Squadron AAC.

In September 1992 the 6th Brigade will be disbanded for the fourth time. By a quirk of fate, it passes into history at about the same time as its parent division of over more than a century and a half, the 2nd Division.

Lt-Gen Jonathon Riley

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