The Dorsetshire Regiment
The Dorsetshire Regiment was founded in 1881, a line infantry Regiment of the British Army and was named as this from 1881 -1958.
In 1958 after their service in the second Boer War along with World War 1 and World War 11, The Dorset Regiment was amalgamated with the Devonshire Regiment and in 2997; it was amalgamated with the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment. The Light Infantry and the Royal Green Jackets to form a new large regiment, the Rifles.
In August 1914, on the outbreak of the First World War, the Dorsetshire Regiment had two Regular battalions, one Special Reserve battalion and one battalion of Territorials (part-time volunteers). During the war they expanded to form nine battalions and a single company, which served within the 2nd Hampshire Regiment in North Russia in 1919.
Six battalions of the Dorset Regiment fought in France and Belgium, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine and North Russia. They lost more than 2,600 men killed and about three times that number were wounded. Some were Regular soldiers, some Territorials. Most were volunteers and conscripts. Many came from Dorset but many did not.
Between them they won fifty-eight new battle honours and 1070 gallantry awards and mentions in Despatches. All wore the Dorset Regiment badge and helped to earn Dorset’s county regiment a magnificent reputation.
The Dorsetshire Regiment during WW1
The 1st Battalion
A month into the advance, 12th October the Battalion was holding part of the front line near Pont Fixe, a bridge over the La Bassee Canal and came under heavy German counter-attack. Their heroic fighting at Pont Fixe cost the 1st Dorsets some 150 killed, 122 wounded and over 150 missing.
After spending the winter months of 1914-15 near Wulverghem in the Ypres salient, April 1915 found them south at Hill 60. Here, on 1st May, a German attack with chlorine gas caused heavy casualties, including 150 men killed but again the unflinching courage of the Battalion ensured that the line was not breached.
On 30th July 1915 the Dorsets moved south to the Somme, which – despite trench raids and shelling – remained a relatively quiet sector until the launch of the British offensive eleven months later. On 1st July 1916 (the start of the Somme offensive) they attacked near Authuille Wood (now Haie Wood) with 69 men having died on that day and total casualties of some 501 men killed, wounded or missing over the first three days of the battle. After several days of heavy losses, the Battalion were withdrawn north until October. In November they fought again near Beaumont Hamel in the closing stages of the offensive.
In 1917, after a long period near Nieuport, the Dorsets were thrown into the final attack at Passchendaele near Ypres. After a brief rest, they returned to the Ypres sector in Houthulst Forest but, on 27th March 1918 they were rushed to Arras to help halt an overwhelming German attack which proved be the final major German offensive of the war. During the night of 20th /21st May the Dorsets were involved in a raid at Hamelincourt, described as being one of the finest raids of the war, which cost them 77 men and 7 officers killed or wounded.
After the German offensive was halted, the final Allied advances began. In the Battle of Amiens in early August 1918, the Battalion attacked at Damery, losing 321 killed, wounded or missing. In the coming months the Battalion saw action at various places between Amiens and St Quentin. In early October the Battle of the Beaurevoir Line cost them another 315 casualties. The Dorsets’ final action was the Battle of the Sambre on 4th November 1918, when they helped force a crossing of the canal at Ors, close to Neuve Chapelle, which they had passed in their retreat from Mons in August 1914.
The 2nd Battalion
In August 1914 the 2nd Dorsets were in India. Initially prepared for service in East Africa, their planned destination changed first to Europe then, at short notice, to the Gulf. Turkey’s entering the war threatened supplies of oil from the Shatt-al-Arab at the mouth of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). The extension of a German-financed railway to Baghdad provided another threat to be countered.
Although the Battalion’s landings in the Shatt-al-Arab on 6th November 1914 met little opposition, the Turks, backed by Arab levies, were quick to respond. The Dorsets faced stiff fighting expelling the Turks from Saihan on 15th November and Saihil two days later. In eleven days these actions and the diseases prevalent in the marshy conditions of the region cost the Battalion 25% of its fighting strength. They reached Basra on the 23rd.
After minor engagements, mostly against Arab insurgents, the 2nd Dorsets advanced to Shaiba (ancient Sheba). In February 1915 they were forced to wade knee-deep through the annual flooding of the two rivers. At Shaiba they endured very difficult conditions, including sand storms. Mounting frequent offensive patrols, they fought major actions on 3rd March and 14th April in which the depleted Battalion showed great resilience, earning Shaiba as a new Battle Honour.
Recognising that Kut-al-Amara was key to preventing the Turks encircling British forces on the Tigris, General Townshend’s division (including the 2nd Dorsets) took the town on 28th September 1915. Despite the depleted state of his units, Townshend pushed on towards Baghdad, taking Ctesiphon on 21st November before being forced to withdraw to Kut. He decided to stand and fight here until reinforcements could be sent up-river but, against mounting Turkish resistance, it proved impossible to raise the siege. Kut fell on 28th April 1916. The treatment of captured NCOs and soldiers was substantially worse than that suffered by Japanese prisoners in 1942-45. Only 70 of 350 captured Dorsets survived to the Armistice.
Meanwhile detachments from the 2nd Battalion who had not been at Kut provided a cadre for a composite battalion formed with the similarly depleted 2nd Norfolks. Known, inevitably, as ‘the Norsets’, they went into the line in February 1916 and joined the unsuccessful attempt to relieve their besieged comrades at Kut.
In July the arrival of reinforcements permitted the establishment of the 2nd (Provisional) Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment. Having spent the winter of 1916/17 down-river guarding lines of communication, they took part in the final recapture of Kut in December 1916 and the subsequent clearing of the Shatt-al-Hai, but missed the fall of Baghdad in March 1917. On 25th March the 2nd Dorsets distinguished themselves at Jebel Hamrin, suffering 220 casualties out of 500 in action.
At Suez in April 1918, they joined General Allenby’s Palestine campaign, fighting at Brown Hill on 19th September and in the subsequent advance on Nablus, north of Jerusalem. Within a month the Turks had been expelled from Damascus and Aleppo and made peace on 30th October 1918.
The 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion
The Special Reserve was formed from the Militia in 1907 and, in the Dorset Regiment, became the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion.
The 3rd Dorsets mobilised on 5th August 1914 at the Depot in Dorchester under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Castleman-Smith. On the same day 300 regular reservists left for Belfast to join the 1st Battalion before they left for France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. The number of volunteers swelled from only 400 to over a 1000 and equipping, feeding and clothing them all posed a logistical challenge. On 9th August the Battalion marched to billets in Wyke Regis, where conditions initially were sparse. The 3rd’s first wartime role was guarding the railways, waterworks and other sites of strategic importance. Quickly, however, its prime purpose became equipping and training men who would be drafted to the Regiment’s battalion’s in the various theatres of war.
By September 1914 all of the regular reservists had been despatched to the Front as reinforcements and the ‘Special Reservists’ followed immediately afterwards. Before the end of the year men were being sent out whose total service was three months of training. (This contrasted with the men of the 5th and 6th Service Battalions, who received at least 6 months’ training. Over time the training developed on specialist lines and extra companies were formed to include men who had returned from the Front and for those considered medically unfit for active service.
By the end of 1915, over 100 officers and 6,000 men had already passed through Wyke Regis as reinforcements for the Dorsets and other regiments. The service number of many soldiers of the Dorsetshire Regiment who fought during the war were prefixed by a 3/…... which denoted that at some time they had been attached to the 3rd Battalion.
During the five years the 3rd Dorset spent at Wyke Regis other drafts of men passed through the camp under training including Dragoon Guards and a detachment of the ‘Non Combatant Corps’, who were conscientious objectors.
In 1919, the 3rd Battalion were moved to Portsmouth, leaving a small detachment at Wyke Regis, before leaving for Londonderry and taking over all ranks of the 4th Battalion. Later that year the 1st Battalion arrived in Ireland and replaced the 3rd, which was demobilized forever.
The 1/4th, the 2/4th and the 3/4th Battalions
At the outbreak of war the Territorial battalion of the Dorset Regiment, the 4th, were at their annual summer camp. Mobilised at once, the Battalion was soon divided to form the 1/4th and the 2/4th. Men who volunteered to serve overseas joined the 1/4th and sailed on 9th October for India, where they relieved a Regular Army battalion to fight in France or Mesopotamia. They thus reinforced the Regiment’s motto Primus in Indis (which dated from 1754) by becoming the first Territorials to arrive in the sub-continent.
After service and rigorous training in India the 1/4th landed at Basra in late February 1916 as part of 15th Indian Division. A strenuous twelve-day desert march took them to Nasiriyeh, which became their base. In late September 1917 they played a decisive part in the battle of Ramadi on the Euphrates, capturing with two Gurkha battalions the ridge that dominated the Turkish position. The 1/4th‘s part in this success was specifically mentioned in the official despatch. Six months later, on 23rd March 1918, the Dorsets played a leading part in capturing Khan Baghdadi, where 5,000 Turks were taken prisoner. At the end of the war a draft from the 1/4th was sent to Salonika while the rest of the Battalion returned to England for demobilisation.
In early January 1915 the 2/4th Dorsets followed the 1/4th to India, where they remained until they were sent to Egypt in August 1917. The rest of their war would be spent with the 75th Division in Egypt and Palestine. Their first action was in the Third Battle of Gaza, when in late October and early November they held the front line for a fortnight during which they repulsed three Turkish attacks. They fought at Nebi Samwil (the Tomb of Samuel) in late November before Allenby’s capture of Jerusalem on 9th December 1917. In 1918 they fought at Deir Ballut on 12th March, capturing and holding their objectives in the face of fierce counter-attacks. In April near Berukin the 2/4th took Three Bushes Hill and again held it despite savage attacks by the Turks. During this action the Battalion spent 96 hours in almost continuous marching an fighting, losing some 90 officers and men killed, wounded or captured. In August, before the decisive Battle of Megiddo, the 2/4th were disbanded and the troops dispersed to provide reinforcements to other units.
When the 2/4th Dorsets left for India the remaining Territorials were renamed the 3/4th (Home Service) Battalion. Throughout the war they trained recruits and sent drafts to the Regiment’s other battalions serving overseas. When the war ended the 3/4th were performing garrison duties in Londonderry.
The 5th (Service) Battalion
Responding to Kitchener’s call for volunteers for a New Army, recruits flooded into Dorchester, the vast majority being Dorset men. On 28th August the newly raised Service Battalion went to Belton Park, Grantham, to begin training as part of the 11th (Northern) Division. After six months training, they moved to Witley Camp near Hindhead and joined 34 Brigade, which was destined for Gallipoli.
On 11th July 1915 the 5th landed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli peninsular. In the next six months they lost relatively lightly in battle but heavily from the sickness that was the scourge of soldiers in this abortive campaign. In September sixty men were admitted to hospital with sickness. In three weeks from mid-October the figure was 150. Evacuated in January 1916, the Battalion redeployed to Egypt, where they remained for six months digging defences against an expected Turkish offensive which never came.
In July 1916 the 5th were sent to France, joining VI Corps in the Third Army. Although the Somme offensive had begun on 1st July, the Battalion first went into the line in the quieter sector south of Arras. In September, the Battalion moved south, to just below Thiepval at Mouquet Farm. Theirs was a bloody introduction to the Somme. The farm was partly held by the Germans, huge numbers of whom occupied a vast dugout below it. In this and in the attack that followed, two thirds of the 5th were killed or wounded. In the freezing winter of 1916/17 they lost heavily again in an attack near Beaucourt.
May and June 1917 saw the 5th Dorsets in action at Messines. On 16th August, now near Ypres, they launched a very successful attack near Langemarck from which they emerged with – by the standards of the time – the relatively light casualties of thirty killed and 120 wounded. In early October they lost more heavily attacking Poelcapelle in the horrific closing phase of the Third Battle of Ypres which is remembered as Passchendaele.
After ten months holding the Loos salient further south, in late September and October 1918 the 5th Dorsets played a part in the final rapid advances that led to the Armistice. They achieved particular success in a fiercely opposed attack north-west of Cambrai, which cost relatively few lives although enemy shelling killed their Colonel, Padre and Medical Officer.
On 11th November 1918 the Battalion were out of the line when news of the Armistice reached them. After a short spell in Belgium they returned to Dorchester, where they were disbanded.
Volunteers for the 5th Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment at The Depot Barracks, Dorchester in August 1914. Many new recruits, most of them Dorset men, rushed to enlist into the Dorsetshire Regiment in response to Kitchener's call for volunteers. On 28th August the men of the newly raised 5th (Service) Battalion went to Belton Park, Lincolnshire, to begin training. Volunteers for the 5th Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment at The Depot Barracks, Dorchester in August 1914. Many new recruits, most of them Dorset men, rushed to enlist into the Dorsetshire Regiment in response to Kitchener's call for volunteers. On 28th August the men of the newly raised 5th (Service) Battalion went to Belton Park, Lincolnshire, to begin training.
The 6th Battalion
The Battalion formed part of the 17th Northern Division, whose battalions – mainly from northern regiments – undertook their training in and around the hills, heaths, and pine woods surrounding Bovington. Originally earmarked as Pioneers, the 6th Dorsets expressed a wish to be a fighting unit and the 7th York & Lancasters assumed the pioneer role.
Although initially the Division had been selected for Home Defence duties, this decision was reversed and they proceeded to France, landing at Boulogne on 14th July 1915, concentrating near St Omer. They moved into the Southern Ypres salient and, after their initial trench familiarization, went into the line in that area.
In the spring of 1916 they saw action at the Bluff, south east of Ypres on the Comines Canal, before moving south to the Somme. Here they fought in the Battle of Albert, in which the Division captured Fricourt, and in the battle at Delville Wood.
In 1917 they moved to Arras and saw action in The First and Second Battles of the Scarpe and The Capture of Roeux. In late summer they returned to Flanders and fought in The First and Second Battles of Passchendaele.
In 1918 they fought in the Battles of St Quentin, Bapaume, Amiens, Albert, Havrincourt, Epehy and Cambrai before taking part in the British pursuit of the German Army to the Selle. They then fought in the Battles of the Selle and the Sambre. The Armistice found the Division south east of Maubeuge and, after a short spell west of Le Cateau, on 6th December they moved back to near Amiens and went to billets around Hallencourt. Demobilisation began in January 1919.
Their long war cost the 6th Dorsets 1,000 lives – more than the entire strength of the Battalion. Nearly half of these losses were incurred in 1918 with exceptionally high losses in the final advances of the last three months of the conflict.
After the Armistice the 6th Battalion were eventually redeployed to Frucourt. Most of the men were demobbed over the coming months while the remnants of the Battalion eventually reaching Dorchester on 26th May 1919, where the 6th were disbanded.
The 7th Battalion
The 7th Dorsets came into being at Wyke Regis on 21st November 1914, but cannot be said to have properly formed as a battalion until 30th January 1915. On 10th February Lieutenant-Colonel W.H Biddulph of the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps was appointed Commanding Officer. At this time the 7th had a large complement of officers – at one stage more than 100 – but relatively few soldiers. Officers and NCOs were sent on courses to prepare them to train reserves to make up the numbers in the Dorset Regiment’s two newly created Service battalions: the 5th & 6th.
On 28th May the Battalion moved to the Hutments Camp at Bovington, and Lieutenant-Colonel F.P Smyly assumed command on 28th June. The Battalion had rapidly filled up with men. In July 460 joined from the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, and the 7th sent out recruiting parties to gather more volunteers. As a result the Battalion were able to carry out their primary task of training reserves, who started to leave in September 1915 destined mainly for the 5th Dorsets, who were in Gallipoli, and the 6th in France.
The 7th Battalion remained in this role at Bovington Camp until August 1916, when the decision was made to disband it. On the 25th 460 men were returned to the 3rd Dorsets and another 215 were sent to the 35th Training Reserve Battalion. In this Battalion, the men of the various units were permitted to retain their regimental badges and, as Colonel Smyly continued in command, the move was not felt so greatly. On 1st April 1917 the 35th Training Reserve Battalion was incorporated into the 53rd Training Reserve Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment cutting ties to the Dorset Regiment.
1st Composite Battalion
The First North Russia Relief Force
A Dorset Company in North Russia 1919
In 1917 the Russian Revolution started. The country was in turmoil with the Bolsheviks (Communists) fighting the White Russians (Non-Communists).
In 1919 a composite company of the Dorsetshire Regiment volunteered to serve in North Russia to help relieve the troops who had been in Russia since the summer of 1918. These troops had been trying to stop the Bolsheviks from supplying the Germans with ammunition and military equipment. The Dorsets came in to help the local Russians and also to advance to Kotlas to join up with the Czech Division from Siberia who were fighting the Bolsheviks.
The Relief force from the 1st Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment sailed in May 1919 as part of the 238 Special Brigade. This was a composite battalion made up of men from the Somerset Light Infantry, the 2nd Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire Regiments on a promise of 2 months leave on return. The Dorsets were known as Y Company. They disembarked in Bargs on 2nd June and travelled up the river Dwina to Kurgomen and relieved 339 United States Infantry.
The Battalion was involved in action to help the White Russians fight the Bolsheviks at Topsa-Trotza, but Y (Dorset) Company did not get involved in the attack.
Y Company made long, dreary marches up to 26th June in various areas helping the White Russians. Y Company became the rear guard for the British withdrawal on 17th September from Yentasa and then evacuated, leaving North Russia to its own devices on 27th September. They reached Crowborough on 8th October and on two months leave.
The Dorsetshire Regiment during WW2
The 1st Battalion
The outbreak of war found the Dorsets garrisoning Malta, a sleepy colonial backwater in the Central Mediterranean. In June 1940 Mussolini’s declaration of war hurled Malta to the forefront of world events. The island’s position below Sicily and above Italian Libya and British Egypt made her strategically vital in both the campaign in North Africa and the war in the Mediterranean. The Italians (and later the Germans) tried to bomb and starve surrounded Malta into surrender. The siege lasted three years, during which the 1st Dorsets defended the coast, repaired bomb damage, mended roads and runways, manned anti-aircraft guns and prepared for an invasion that happily never came. Thirty-three were killed while all faced hardship, hunger, danger and deprivation.
On 10th July 1943 the 1st Dorsets led the Allies’ return to Europe when they landed on the south-east tip of Sicily. In the next six weeks, in a series of bitter battles against the retreating Germans, they liberated the south-eastern quarter of the island and lost 63 killed and twice that number wounded. On 8th September they were one of the first to return to the European mainland when they landed at Pizzo on the toe of Italy. Happily, after suffering relatively few casualties in the landing, they were withdrawn to the UK to prepare for the liberation of Europe.
On 6th June 1944 the 1st led the assault on the Normandy beaches, capturing all their objectives and suffering fewer casualties than had been expected. This was the Battalion’s third assault landing in eleven months. In the ensuing campaign in Normandy the Battalion lost heavily – especially among their company, platoon and section commanders. By 1st July across their four rifle companies only one officer remained in the job he had held on D-Day; the other nineteen had been killed, wounded or posted elsewhere. Among the killed was their Commanding Officer. The battle of attrition faced by the British and Canadian armies to enable the Americans to break out of their beach-head cost crippling casualties. The Dorsets received reinforcements from many regiments, including an entire company of Durham Light Infantry and several officers attached from the Canadian Army, who were quickly and happily absorbed into the Dorset family.
In September 1944 the 1st Dorsets supported the Guards Armoured Division in their initial advance to relieve the Allied airborne troops who had captured the bridges on the way to Arnhem. After the strategic failure of the operation they moved to the island – the low-lying polderland between Arnhem and Nijmegen – to defend the area from German recapture. Such were their casualties in two months’ fierce fighting here – and the casualties throughout their Division – that in December 1944 they were returned to the UK, where they became a training unit. Many officers and men, however, transferred to the 4th and 5th Battalions who were also serving in North West Europe.
Their long war cost the 1st Dorsets 327 killed and 1,029 wounded. They had won 81 decorations, 12 new battle honours for the Regiment and a reputation as a fighting battalion that was second to none.
The 2nd Battalion
At Aldershot on the outbreak of war, the 2nd Dorsets were the first of the Regiment to go to war. Sent to France with the 2nd Division, they spent the phoney war training on the Belgian border and moved into Belgium when the Germans invaded the Low Countries on 10th May 1940.
With the French Army collapsing on their right flank, the British Expeditionary Force conducted a fighting retreat past Brussels and Tournai. At Festubert on 25th May they were ordered to stand and fight to enable other units to escape. Holding positions on the La Bassee Canal, they were conscious that this had been the site of a gallant defence by the 1st Dorsets in October 1914.
Over the next three days the 2nd emulated their predecessors’ courage, beating off attack after attack by a greatly superior German force and losing 40 killed, 110 wounded and 158 taken prisoner.
On the night of 27th/28th May their Commanding Officer, Colonel Stephenson, assembled his 245 survivors (plus 40 men from other units) and personally led them to safety on a long march across the German advance, across canals and occupied country.
Colonel Steve did not relax until he had shepherded his men to Dunkirk and seen them safely aboard a ship back to England.
After nearly two years guarding the Yorkshire coast against invasion, the 2nd Dorsets were sent to India, where they trained in jungle warfare. The Japanese invasion of Assam in March 1944 threatened Dimapur and Kohima, where a tiny garrison faced overwhelming Japanese forces. The 2nd Division were despatched from India to relieve the garrison at Kohima. Here the Dorsets fought a protracted and bitter battle against a ruthless and implacable enemy in the incongruous surroundings of the grounds of a bungalow in what had been a peacetime hill station.
The centre of the Japanese defence was around a tennis court where for eighteen days from 26th April, the Dorsets fought a deadly, bloody battle of attrition. In the steeply terraced gardens their positions were within 25 yards of the Japanese and surrounded by the cacophony of machine guns and the stench of rotting corpses. On 13th May a tank was finally manhandled up the steep slopes and, with its brave support, the Dorsets finally broke the Japanese hold and captured the position. Their role had been central to victory in Burma because the tennis court was the key to Kohima and the victories at Kohima and on the Imphal Plain were the turning point in the war in Burma.
Slim’s Fourteenth Army now pursued the retreating Japanese southwards past Imphal, Shwebo, Mandalay, across the Irrawaddy, to Meiktila and Mount Popa and on towards Rangoon. Despite their heavy casualties at Kohima, the 2nd Dorsets took part in this long advance, beyond the jungle and out onto the Burmese plains, until they were withdrawn back to India in April 1945. Their year in Burma included several fierce battles and cost them 151 men killed, three times that number wounded and a great deal of sickness and hardship. Their part in two campaigns won six new battle honours for the Regiment.
The 4th and 5th Battalions
In 1939 the expansion of Britain’s Territorial Army caused the Dorsets’ TA battalion, the 4th, to form a sister battalion, the 5th. Brigaded together in 43rd Wessex Division, the two battalions were inseparable throughout the war and their histories are therefore best described together.
After spending nearly five years of war in the UK, guarding the south coast against invasion and then training for the invasion of France, the 43rd Wessex Division landed in Normandy seventeen days after D-Day. Their first major battle was near Maltot on 10th July 1944 when the Division attacked the German positions on and around Hill 112, a feature which dominated the surrounding country and was seen as the key to holding Normandy. In a fierce and costly battle, the Germans defended their positions resolutely, exacting a high price. At some cost the 4th Dorsets captured Eterville while the 5th Dorsets and the 7th Hampshires attacked Maltot. In the confusion of battle the brigade commander thought Maltot had been captured and ordered the 4th to join the battle. As they closed on the village a hurricane of machine gun and anti-tank gun fire burst upon them. Maltot cost the 4th Dorsets 348 casualties and the 5th also lost heavily. On Hill 112 the sun set on bloody stalemate. The 43rd Wessex Division and their Wehrmacht and SS opponents had fought each other to a standstill. For the Dorsets and their fellow infantrymen Hill 112 would remain a yardstick of horror, against which all future battles would be measured.
Having received reinforcements, both battalions joined in the push south beyond Caumont, fighting fierce battles at Cahagnes and Jurques on their way to Ondefontaine towards Mont Pincon which (like Hill 112) dominated a large area of Normandy. By 9th August the Dorsets were on Mont Pincon, which had fallen to 129 Brigade. Their fighting in the close Normandy bocage country was over and the campaign was won. Their next battles would be in late August and early September across the Seine.
In late September the 43rd Wessex Division was moved forwards to support Guards Armoured Division in its battles beyond the Waal at Nijmegen in the drive up to relieve the Airborne forces at Arnhem. By the time the Dorsets crossed Nijmegen bridge the 2nd Parachute Regiment holding Arnhem bridge had been overwhelmed and German troops and armour were pouring across to block any advance towards the Neder Rijn. Nonetheless the 4th and 5th Dorsets forced their way up to the south bank of the river west of Arnhem near Driel, where plans were made to reinforce the Airborne troops across the river around Oosterbeek. When the operation was abandoned the 4th were ordered to cross the swollen river, under heavy fire, to rescue their Airborne comrades. Of the 315 Dorsets who reached the north bank only 75 returned. The 4th Battalion’s sacrifice was recognised by the award of an Airborne Pennant and they were the only non-airborne unit to win the battle honour Arnhem. For the second time in ten weeks the 4th Dorsets had effectively been destroyed. Meanwhile, the 5th Dorsets took to the water and ferried the Airborne survivors back across the river.
After a short period around Groesbeek in the Reichswald Forest, both battalions moved to the south of Holland to the Roer triangle. Winter arrived and in the snow and mud around Geilenkirchen they fought bitter battles in the grimmest conditions. Here, despite the conditions and despite heavy casualties, the 5th Dorsets captured and held a wood west of Tripsrath, which in their honour was called Dorset Wood.
In February 1945 they returned north to force their way from Cleves through the Reichswald Forest and to close up to the Rhine. The 5th crossed the Rhine on 25th March and took the villages of Speldrop and Androp without much opposition. The 4th followed and captured Millingen. The British advance was rapid and the German defence was losing cohesion but pockets of German defenders, armed with Spandau machine guns and sometimes supported by 88mm artillery, often exacted a heavy toll before withdrawing. Liberating the Dutch towns of Hengelo and Borne the Dorsets and Hampshires established a lasting friendship with the inhabitants. Hengelo presented the Regiment with a Liberation Scroll while Borne renamed their town square Dorset Plein.
By 19th April they were fifteen miles from Bremen but, although it was clear the campaign was almost over, the losses continued to the end. Three or four days before the end a Kangaroo (armoured personnel carrier) went over a German mine and a whole infantry section of twelve men were killed. On 4th May came the news of the German surrender.
The 4th and 5th Dorsets’ eleven-month campaign was over. They had fought through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and across Germany to Bremerhaven. The campaign had cost the 4th Battalion 266 men killed in action and the 5th 218. Total casualties of both battalions probably totalled 2,000. The 4th had also lost many men captured across the river at Arnhem. Both battalions had contributed to the unequalled reputation of the 43rd Wessex Division in battle.
The 7th and 8th Battalions
In 1940 two new battalions –the 7th and 8th – were formed but within a year both converted to become light anti-aircraft regiments of the Royal Artillery.
The 7th became the 110th Light Anti Aircraft (LAA) Regiment who landed in Normandy as part of the 43rd Wessex Division and fought throughout the campaign in North West Europe in close proximity to the 4th and 5th Dorsets.
The 8th became the 105th Light Anti Aircraft (LAA) Regiment and fought with the First Army in North Africa before landing in Italy and serving throughout the campaign.
The Regiment was awarded battle honours from the two wars.