The origins of the 2nd Battalion The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry can be traced back to 1755 with the formation of the 54th Regiment of Foot. It is important to distinguish this Regiment from one of the same number which was raised in 1741 but was renamed the 43rd seven years later. The number was not fated to endure with this new formation either, as it was renamed the 52nd Regiment of Foot in 1756. Their first Battle Honour was secured in 1775 during the American War of Independence, when they, alongside the 43rd, their future sister Regiment, won the costly Battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill. In 1783, the Regiment began a thirteen-year spell in India, where it was involved in numerous successful campaigns against both restless native elements and the colonial interests of France and the Netherlands.
In 1803, the 43rd and 52nd Regiments, together with the famous 95th Rifles, became a part of the Light Brigade. This new formation, designed to travel light and march fast, was raised by the enormously capable Sir John Moore, and in 1807 it was led by the no less prestigious figure of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the later Duke of Wellington, in a highly profitable engagement against Denmark, resulting in the capture of Copenhagen and the entire Danish fleet. The Peninsular War began in 1809 and ended with Napoleon's abdication in 1814, during which time the 52nd Regiment of Foot won numerous Battle Honours against the French in Portugal and Spain. Following his return from exile in 1815, Napoleon gathered a large army to face the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, a battle which became the jewel in the crown of the Regiment's history. Having first played their part in the famous annihilation of the French cavalry, the Regiment was instrumental in the defeat of the elite Imperial Guard which, once robbed of its momentum by British fire, was charged in the flank by the 52nd and thrown back in disarray, prompting the collapse of Napoleon's army.
In 1857, the Regiment helped put down the Indian Mutiny and won two Victoria Crosses whilst leading the attack on the Kashmir Gate. In 1881, the 43rd and 52nd Regiments of Foot were respectively renamed the 1st and 2nd Battalions The Oxfordshire Light Infantry, though their former names continued to be used unofficially, indeed during the Second World War, Major-General Gale consistently made reference to the 2nd Battalion as the 52nd. The Regimental name was altered to the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in 1908.
As part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914, the 2nd Battalion played an active role on the Western Front throughout the Great War. During the First Battle of Ypres towards the end of 1914, the Battalion won a victory reminiscent of Waterloo, counterattacking and routing the elite Prussian Guards at Nonne Bosschen. During the remainder of the War, the Battalion participated in many of the bloody campaigns which typically resulted in extreme casualties for little strategic gain. Amongst these were Festubert, the Battle of Loos, the Somme offensive at Delville Wood and Guillemont, Beaumont-Hamel, and the Battles of Arras and Cambrai. In 1918, despite being almost surrounded at one stage, the Battalion fought a splendid rearguard action against the enormous German counter-offensive that had finally succeeded in breaking through the front line.
The Second World War
The 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry had, until their return to the United Kingdom in 1940, spent eighteen years in India and on the North-West Frontier. The Battalion became a part of the 31st Independent Infantry Brigade and was billeted in Wales in a coastal defence role. Over the coming months the Brigade was moved to various locations in the East Anglia, London, and Kent areas, before returning to Wales in February 1941 for a more long-term posting in the Black Mountains. It was here, until the end of the year, that the Brigade trained extensively in mountain warfare, travelling light and fast with pack-transport; hundreds of horses and mules. Such specialist activities had considerable repercussions for the future of the Brigade.
At this stage in the war, the British Airborne Forces consisted of just the 1st Parachute Brigade, however in September 1941, the War Office decided that a Brigade of glider infantry should be raised to compliment them. The 31st Infantry Brigade was selected for this task and accordingly, on the 10th October of that year, it was renamed the 1st Airlanding Brigade. In addition to the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, this experimental formation consisted of a further three battalions; the 1st Border, 1st Royal Ulster Rifles, and 2nd South Staffordshires. Gliders were seen as a necessary method of supporting airborne operations, as they were able to carry additional infantry to reinforce the parachute brigades, and also heavy equipment, such as Jeeps and anti-tank guns. It was this factor, and the subsequent formation of the 1st Airborne Division, that made it possible for the role of the British Airborne Forces to advance beyond the small-scale and infrequent commando raids that had been previously envisaged.
Nevertheless, twenty months of training passed before the Brigade was earmarked for an action. The 1st Parachute Brigade had been detached since late 1942 and had been involved in heavy fighting in North Africa, and with hostilities in that continent at an end, the 1st Airlanding Brigade was called to join them in May 1943 to prepare for an invasion of Sicily. The 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles, however, did not accompany the Brigade, but were instead detached to form the experienced nucleus of the 6th Airlanding Brigade. As a part of the newly raised 6th Airborne Division, their task was now to prepare themselves for the invasion of France.
It had originally been planned that the 6th Airlanding Brigade would land with the first wave of Airborne troops to secure the Ranville and Bénouville Bridges across the River Orne and Caen Canal, 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. The Bridges, however, still had to be captured by a coup-de-main raid, and to this end the Battalion placed Major Howard's "D" Company and two platoons of "B" Company under the command of the 5th Parachute Brigade. The raid was a great success, the attackers taking the garrisons of both bridges completely by surprise, and within ten minutes both were safely in their hands. Major Howard's force remained in command of the Bridges throughout D-Day, however the brunt of the fighting was borne by the 7th Parachute Battalion, who arrived several hours after the Bridges had been taken to secure a defensive screen on the western bank of the Caen Canal.
The remainder of the Battalion landed on LZ-W, to the west of the River Orne, at 21:00 on the 6th June. Anti-aircraft fire was encountered as their gliders came in to land, one Horsa received a direct hit and disintegrated over the landing zone, resulting in the deaths of three of the six passengers and the serious injury of the remainder. Nevertheless, the Battalion formed up in good order and soon crossed Bénouville Bridge on their way to Ranville, Major Howard's men following in their wake at around midnight.
Because it was unclear as to what the situation would be in Normandy when the Second Lift arrived, the Battalion did not receive definite orders of their objectives until an hour after landing. Their task was to help enlarge the southern sector of the bridgehead by capturing the villages of Herouvillette and Escoville. The first was taken without a struggle, however increasingly tough resistance was met near Escoville and the Battalion, when it arrived at 15:00, was heavily shelled and so prevented from bringing its anti-tank guns forward. This had serious consequences for the security of the position, and when the enemy launched a combined infantry and armour attack upon Escoville, the Battalion was badly exposed to their fire and struggled to hold their ground. Having suffered some eighty casualties in the desperate fighting, Lieutenant-Colonel Roberts ordered the Battalion to withdraw to Herouvillette. Shortly after, Roberts, who had been injured during the landing, was evacuated from the battlefield as he was no longer in a fit condition to exercise command, and so Major Darrell-Brown was appointed the Battalion Commander.
The Battalion remained dug-in around Herouvillette for the following week, during which time it was repeatedly shelled. On the 9th June, the Germans made their first and only serious attempt to evict them, but the attack was decisively repulsed by the Battalion's well-sited machine-guns and anti-tank guns, as well as withering fire from "C" and "D" Companies. On the 13th June, with the 51st (Highland) Division arriving to assume responsibility for the southern flank, the 6th Airlanding Brigade was moved into the Bréville area, and the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry were ordered to take over the Chateau St Côme.
Until mid-August, the 6th Airborne 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. With the Battalion in reserve, the 6th Airlanding Brigade attempted to force a crossing over the River Dives near Cabourg, however resistance here proved too strong, and after several days of fruitless endeavour the Brigade was ordered to cross via the southern route and advance along the roads that lay in between the Division's main thrust and that of the 1st Belgian Brigade along the coastal road.
The first serious resistance was encountered when the Brigade attempted to find a way across the River Touques. At dawn on the 23rd August, "D" Company crossed and established a bridgehead at the cost of a few casualties. The matter of transferring the remainder of the Battalion, and above all its heavy equipment, was complicated by the absence of boats or bridging material, however one boat was located and the Pioneer Platoon, helped by French civilians, converted it into a raft that could support vehicles. Thus the Brigade began to cross the River.
On the 25th August, the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry was ordered to attack the strong garrison in Manneville La Raoult. After much difficulty in dealing with both the enemy and the lie of the land, "C" Company secured a foothold inside the village, but a communications failure led Battalion Headquarters to believe that they were in difficulty, and so "A" and "D" Companies were ordered to attack. "D" Company fought its way into the village and after heavy fighting succeeded in driving the enemy out. As this was taking place, German artillery shelled the village and caused numerous casualties amongst both the British and Germans.
On that same evening, the 6th Airborne Division received orders to halt its advance on the west bank of the River Risle, the Battalion coming to rest at Foulbec. In the early days of September, the Division was withdrawn to England.
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. Arriving at Calais four days later, on the first ship to enter the port since its liberation, the Battalion moved into Belgium with the rest of the Division, and during the first days of January one of its Companies was called to assist the 8th Parachute Battalion, who had met considerable resistance near the village of Bure. For the most part, however, the Battalion's actions here were confined to patrols and minor skirmishes. A month of similar activity followed in various parts of Belgium, and later Holland, before the Division was withdrawn to England in mid-February to prepare for the final assault on Germany.
The Rhine Crossing
On the 24th March 1945, as part of Operation Varsity, the task of the 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was to land on LZ-O, to the north of Hamminkeln, and secure a road and a railway bridge across the River Issel. The Battalion was the first unit of the 6th Airlanding Brigade to land, and so their vulnerable gliders became targets for all of the anti-aircraft weapons in the immediate area. As such casualties were enormously heavy, and in terms of dead and wounded, the Battalion lost half of its manpower during the ten minutes that it took all the gliders to land. Those who survived quickly disembarked and began to deal with the anti-aircraft batteries. With all of the Battalion's companies fighting independent actions all over the landing area, the scene was one of great confusion for several hours. Nevertheless by 11:00, all of the objectives had been taken. "B" and "C" Companies had successfully captured the road and the railway bridge respectively, and "A" Company were dug-in around the intersection of the two roads that ran across the zone. By the end of the day the Battalion had lost all but a third of its infantry strength, with one hundred and three dead and a further one hundred wounded.
For many units in the 6th Airborne Division, after the initial opposition had been overcome enemy resistance quickly evaporated. An exception, however, was "B" Company on the road bridge. Having been troubled with loose shelling during the day, a major attack was brought against them at midnight and the Company found itself in difficulty, not least because the supporting tanks were too well armoured for the Company's 6-pounder anti-tank guns to have much effect. This initial charge was repulsed, however, but a second attempt two hours later proved too much for the Company to resist, and so at 02:30 they were ordered to demolish the bridge. "C" Company also had a difficult time during the early hours, a group of German infantry attacked and overran one of their platoons, but an artillery bombardment and a counterattack by "A" Company forced the enemy to retire. Throughout the remainder of the 25th March, the Germans made several attempts to infiltrate the Battalion's positions, but attacks by "A" and "D" Companies successfully evicted them.
On the 26th March, the 6th Airlanding Brigade led the Division's advance out of the bridgehead. Three days later, the Battalion led the way to Coesfeld and in so doing came under fire from 20mm anti-aircraft guns, but these were quickly silenced by their mortars and machine-guns. Without meeting further resistance, the Battalion entered Coesfeld during the night. On the 2nd April, "D" Company came under heavy small arms and artillery fire whilst advancing on Lengerich and suffered several casualties. The Battalion's mortars were quickly in action, further artillery support was requested, and then the Company put in an attack on the enemy position which, although it accounted for only a minor number of Germans, was more important for the capture of a large quantity of anti-aircraft guns. The 1st Royal Ulster Rifles captured Lengerich later in the day, and the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry were ordered to help secure the area. "C" Company suffered casualties in a brisk action outside of the town, however they soon overwhelmed their opponents with the help of the Troop of Churchill tanks from the 4th Battalion The Grenadier Guards.
The Battalion's next task was to secure a crossing over the River Weser. "C" Company were in the lead with a Squadron of the Grenadier Guards in support, and they suffered little enemy interference until they arrived in Kutenhausen, where Germans mounted considerable resistance. The Company immediately attacked into the village and, after hard fighting, overcame the enemy and secured a position on the near side of the River. Shellfire harassed the Battalion throughout the remainder of the day and several casualties were suffered, however "B" Company, with comparatively little difficulty, were able to cross the River and capture Wietersheim. "A" and "D" Companies followed in their wake but met determined opposition in the village of Frille, which required slow and fierce fighting before it was declared clear of the enemy. During the following days, the Battalion carried out various tasks to secure a firm bridgehead to enable the advance to continue.
During the final days of the War, the 6th Airborne Division was ordered to move with all speed to Wismar, on the Baltic coast, to prevent the Russians from continuing their advance any further to the West. On the 7th May, the 2nd Battalion formed the Guard of Honour for a meeting between Field Marshals Montgomery and Rokossovsky.
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 was disbanded.
In 1948, the 2nd Battalion ceased to exist when it was amalgamated with the 1st Battalion as part of the restructuring of the Army. In the following year this Battalion was posted to Greece, then onto Cyprus for several months in 1951, before beginning a two-year spell in the Suez Canal Zone. In 1956, the Battalion returned to Cyprus and became engaged in anti-terrorist operations for the following three years. Towards the end of 1958, the Regiment was renamed the 1st Green Jackets (43rd and 52nd). This Battalion was disbanded in 1992, although the traditions of both of the old regiments live on with the 1st and 2nd Battalions The Royal Green Jackets.
Commanders of the 2nd Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry
Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Roberts
Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Darrell-Brown