The history of the Devonshire Regiment can be traced back to 1667, although its true origins did not begin until 1685 with the formation of the Duke of Beaufort's Regiment of Foot, renamed the 11th Regiment of Foot in 1751. For the most part, despite several intermittent additions, the Regiment consisted of a single battalion until the permanent formation of a 2nd Battalion in 1858. During its long history the Regiment has acquired many Battle Honours, principally during the Peninsular War of 1809-14, several campaigns on the North-West Frontier of India, and during the Boer War of 1899-1902. The Regiment, then consisting of no fewer than twenty-five battalions, saw extensive service in many of the terrible battles of the Great War. It was during this conflict, in 1916, that the 12th (Labour) Battalion The Devonshire Regiment was created. This unit was disbanded two years later, however, and so besides a shared number it holds little common history with the Regiment's 12th Battalion of the Second World War. Raised in 1940, the 12th Battalion was initially a part of the Territorial Army and spent the early years of the War stationed in its home county, defending the coast around Dawlish, to the south of Exeter.


In May 1943, the 6th Airlanding Brigade was created with the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles and the 2nd Oxford & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry forming its experienced nucleus. The 12th Devonshires, having been selected to fill the post of the remaining battalion, arrived soon after. For all units of the 6th Airborne Division the following months were ones of hard and constant training so as to ensure that it would be fully prepared for the Invasion of France.




It had originally been intended that the 6th Airlanding Brigade would land with the first wave of Airborne troops to secure the Ranville and Bénouville Bridges, however the discovery of considerable anti-glider defences on their intended Landing Zone resulted in their arrival being delayed until the evening of D-Day. Even so, there were not sufficient numbers of aircraft available to enable the 6th Airborne Division to fly to Normandy in two lifts, which required several units to travel by sea and so delay their arrival on the battlefield until the 7th June. The 12th Devonshires were one such unit, with the exception of their "A" Company, for which enough aircraft had been found to transport them to LZ-W on the evening of the 6th June with the remainder of the 6th Airlanding Brigade.


The 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment also arrived on this lift, and it had been intended that they, with "A" Company and the 211th Airlanding Light Battery under command, would form an armoured group whose purpose was to roam the Divisional area and intervene wherever they felt it necessary. By the time that the Second Lift arrived, however, the Division was so lacking in infantry strength, due to the scattered drop of the 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigades, that this plan was abandoned and the Devons reverted to a standard defensive role. When the remainder of the Battalion arrived on the 7th June, they relieved the beleaguered 12th Parachute Battalion at Le Bas de Ranville.


During this first night, "B" Company suffered three dead and sixteen wounded when enemy aircraft released anti-personnel munitions over their position. Pressure was maintained on the Battalion during the 8th June with an artillery bombardment that began at 11:00 and lasted until the evening. On the following day, at 19:00, another heavy bombardment was directed against the whole of the Division's southern flank, followed up an hour later by a determined infantry attack on the 12th Devonshires. This engagement proved to be the Battalion's toughest test of the Invasion with the Germans managing to break into their positions, however the Devons swiftly counterattacked and threw back the attackers. Half an hour later, "A" Company were challenged by three companies of infantry supported by armoured vehicles. Despite a British artillery bombardment and the accurate fire of "A" Company's rifles and Vickers Medium Machine Guns, the Germans managed to close to within fifty yards of their positions before sheer volume of fire finally repulsed them with heavy losses. Having made no progress with such attacks, this proved to be the last serious attempt that the Germans made to interfere with the southern flank of the 6th Airborne Division.


Until mid-August, the Division was concerned only with a static defence and a vigorous programme of patrols and sniping to prevent their opponents to the east from becoming settled. This routine came to an end on the 17th August, when the Division began to follow up the German withdrawal in their area. The 6th Airlanding Brigade, with the Princess Irene and 1st Belgian Brigades under command, took the northern coastal route while the main force focused on securing a crossing over the River Dives further south. "B" Company initially led the way northwards and were soon brought to a halt by a German rearguard, however this resistance was overcome following an exchange of fire and the intervention of the 53rd Light Regiment's guns, the Battalion's mortars, and a troop of Belgian armoured cars. Thereafter the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles resumed the advance on Cabourg, and after several fruitless attempts to force a crossing over the River Dives, the 6th Airlanding Brigade was ordered to follow the main Divisional advance to the south, and then proceed along the roads in between this main thrust and the 1st Belgian Brigade's advance along the coastal road. For the most part, the 12th Devonshires acted as the Brigade reserve.


On the 25th August, the 6th Airborne Division received orders to halt its advance on the western bank of the River Risle, and in early September it men returned to England to prepare for future operations.


The Ardennes and Holland


The Division was unexpectedly called back to Europe on the 20th December 1944, to help contain the German offensive in the Ardennes forest region. The Battalion's actions here were largely confined to patrols and minor skirmishes. Several months of similar activity followed in various parts of Belgium, and later Holland, before the Division was withdrawn to England to prepare for the final assault on Germany.


The Rhine Crossing


As part of Operation Varsity on the 24th March 1945, the 6th Airlanding Brigade was to land each of its battalions on separate drop zones around the village of Hamminkeln. The 12th Devonshires were ordered to land at LZ-R, to the south-west of the village, and then proceed to secure the two western roads leading out of Hamminkeln, thereby cutting off the possibilities of retreat or reinforcement of the garrison, before assaulting the village itself. To assist them in this endeavour, the 3rd Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, minus three of their 17-pounder guns, were placed at their disposal.


Anti-aircraft fire over the landing zones was particularly heavy, several of the Battalion's gliders were shot out of the air and a considerable toll was taken on the troops as they came in to land. To make matters worse, the preliminary bombardment by the ground forces had obscured the battlefield with dense smoke and glider pilots experienced difficulty in identifying their zones, as a consequence of which many gliders landed some distance from where they should have been. Those who reached LZ-R disembarked to find themselves under attack from small pockets of resistance in almost every direction. As a result of this, the scene was very confusing for several hours as small, isolated parties of troops attacked and overwhelmed these positions.


"C" Company were tasked with clearing the neighbouring LZ-P of enemy resistance before the Division's support units began to land on it, however they arrived to discover that elements of the 17th US Airborne Division had been mistakenly dropped there and had already accomplished this. "D" Company, in spite of heavy opposition, were able to secure the road junction to the west of Hamminkeln, and when radio contact was established with the remainder of the Battalion at 11:35, the order was given to advance into the village. "A" and "B" Companies put in a determined attack, and after half an hour of sharp actions against enemy infantry and armoured vehicles, Hamminkeln was declared secure. During the afternoon the scene became much more peaceful and, in spite of sporadic shelling of their positions, the Battalion encountered little opposition throughout the remainder of the day. In all, the landings on this first day had cost the Battalion one hundred and ten dead and thirty wounded.


At 09:00 on the 26th March, the 12th Devonshires, with a Squadron of Churchill tanks of the 3rd Battalion The Grenadier Guards and a troop of self-propelled anti-tank guns under command, led the 6th Airborne Division's push out of the Rhine bridgehead. Two miles into the advance, the Battalion was halted by two companies of enemy infantry supported by self-propelled guns, but following a softening up bombardment, the Devons attacked this position and took sixty prisoners at no loss to themselves. The Battalion's main objective for the day was the capture of an area of high ground overlooking Brunen, and it was here that they were met by a determined enemy. "B" Company were faced with the daunting prospect of an assault across open ground, but fortunately their advance got under way so quickly that they were able to surprise most of the defenders, and at the cost of several casualties had the position under their control by mid-afternoon.


On the 2nd April, the 6th Airlanding Brigade became heavily engaged in subduing opposition around Lengerich. The 12th Devonshires were charged with securing a vital area of high ground and cutting off access to the town in the north, but in so doing they became involved in numerous and difficult engagements with a German officer cadet battalion. "B" Company's advance was temporarily stalled by enemy positions to the north of Lengerich, and once this had been overcome "A" Company became bogged down in a protracted fight with a significant force. Two attempts were made to overwhelm the enemy, but both were driven off with several losses. To complicate matters, an isolated group of enemy infantry were attempting link up with this same force and made a considerable nuisance of themselves by attacking the Devons in the rear. The Battalion's transport was ambushed, and Lieutenant-Colonel Gleadell twice suffered likewise, but managed to slip away. By the end of the day the Devons had at last achieved their objectives and taken fifty-one prisoners at a cost of twelve men killed and four wounded. Amongst the dead was Major Dobbin, commander of Support Company, and RSM Allen.


On the 6th April, the Brigade was in the process of securing a bridgehead across the River Weser. "D" and "B" Companies were put across the river without much enemy interference, however their anti-tank guns and mortars were unable to follow due to the strong currents in the river. As a consequence of this, "D" Company found themselves in great difficulty later in the day when they were attacked by four Panther tanks. A PIAT was brought into action, but the tanks could not be persuaded to withdraw until artillery fire was at last be brought down upon them. It had been an extremely costly engagement, "D" Company having had fifty-one men taken prisoner. "C" Company were similarly taken on by tanks in Bierde, but by this time a way had been found to rush the anti-tank guns across the Weser and three of the five attacking tanks were comfortably knocked out. On the following day, events proceeded much more tidily when "A" and "B" Companies succeeded in making the bridgehead secure by capturing the villages of Masloh and Quetzen without meeting opposition, an artillery bombardment having encouraged the defenders to withdraw.




The 6th Airborne Division returned to England in late May 1945, but was ordered to Palestine later in the year to help police the deteriorating political situation. By early 1946, however, airlift and parachute technology had advanced to such a degree that gliders were no longer a required element of the Airborne Forces, and so the 6th Airlanding Brigade and the 12th Devonshires were disbanded.


Commanders of the 12th Devonshires



Lieutenant-Colonel R. F. B. Hill


Lieutenant-Colonel Dick Stevens


Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Gleadell


Lieutenant-Colonel A. Tilly