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1st Battalion Irish Guards

History

The 1st Battalion Irish Guards was a regular army unit based in the UK at the start of the war. It formed part of the expedition to Norway in April 1940 as part of 24th Guards Brigade and was evacuated back to the UK in May. It then remained in the UK until March 1943 when it departed for North Africa as part of 1st Infantry Division. The battalion saw heavy fighting from the end of March through to the Axis surrender in Tunisia May 1943.

After the conclusion of the Tunisian campaign 1st Infantry Division remained in Tunisia until early December 1943 when it was moved to Italy. Here 1st Infantry Division was identified as the British component for the Anzio operation and 1st Battalion Irish Guards landed in the second wave on the 22nd January 1944. After suffering appreciable casualties while participating in an unsuccessful attempt to advance out of the bridgehead at the end of January the battalion then suffered further heavy losses in the defensive fighting that followed throughout February. 

The severe casualties suffered by all three battalions of 24th Guards Brigade resulted in it being replaced in 1st Infantry Division by 18th Infantry Brigade. The battalion was withdrawn from the line on 25th February 1944 but remained at Anzio until 7th March when it was transported to Naples.

The battalion was severely understrength and there were virtually no Irish Guards reinforcements available in Italy or North Africa. Due to this the decision was made to return the battalion to the UK. It was replaced in 24 Guards Brigade by 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards that moved from 201 Guards Brigade with 1st Battalion Irish Guards going in the opposite direction.

The battalion left Italy on 11th April 1944 with 201 Guards Brigade, arriving back in Liverpool on 22nd April. The battalion served in a training role for the rest of the war, providing reinforcements for the two Irish Guards battalions in the Guards Armoured Division, fighting in north-west Europe.

Commanding Officers

The following were the unit's Commanding Officers during its service in Italy.

DatesNameComments
25 February 1943 - 09 April 1944Lieutenant-Colonel C.A. Montagu-Douglas-Scott DSOLeft the battlaion when it returned to the UK and took command of 28 Infantry Brigade.

Organisation

When the battalion arrived in Italy in December 1943 campaign it was organised as a standard British infantry battalion as per WE II/233/2. Its rifle companies were named No. 1, No.2, No.3 and No.4 ,

Due to heavy casualties at the end of January and early February at Anzio the battalion served as a two rifle company (No.2 and No.3) from mid-February and remained at this state until it left the Anzio Bridgehead on 7th March 1944. 

As part of the reorganisation of the Guards units in Italy, it was decided to return 201 Guards Brigade to the UK. Due to the lack of Irish Guards reinforcements in Italy it was decided to replace 1 Irish Guards with 3 Coldstream Guards in 24 Guards Brigade and return the Irish Guards to the UK with 201 Guards Brigade.

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War Diaries

The following are the files in the National Archives that cover the unit's service in Italy.

TNA File NameDescriptionDates
WO 166/150681 Irish Guards 1944 April - July
WO 169/101681 Irish Guards 1943 July - December
WO 170/13541 Irish Guards 1944 January - March

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Literature

The following published literature includes coverage of the units time in Italy.

Fitzgerald, D.J.L. History of the Irish Guards in the Second World War. Aldershot: Gale & Polden Ltd., 1949. 615 pp.