Role of 163rd Regt RAC

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by Skoyen89, May 19, 2020.

  1. Skoyen89

    Skoyen89 Senior Member

    I have recently been researching 4982872 Trooper Ernest Smedley of 163 Regt, RAC (13 Bn Sherwood Foresters, the Notts and Derby Regt) to help some descendants find out what happened to him. The CWGC site says Trooper Smedley died 10 July 1944 and was buried at Ongshim (Ref: RK 957625). His family say he died of Typhus (which may be Scrub or Tick Typhus). Ongshim village is nine miles south-east of Ukhrul.

    However 163 Regt RAC were not directly involved in the fighting for Imphal and Ukhrul. They were converted to an armoured formation from an infantry unit, 13th Bn Sherwood Foresters, the Notts and Derby Regt, but served in India as a training unit for armoured unit soldiers.

    It is not unusual to find that where the individual was a new reinforcement the Casualty List shows them under the old unit and this is subsequently amended to the unit they joined and were killed with. However in this case both the Casualty Report and the CWGC show Smedley as serving with 163 Regt RAC at the time of his death. Furthermore the Casualty Report with Smedley on it also shows Tpr T Priestley of 163 Regt RAC ‘Died’ on the same day. However he was buried initially at Haining at ref 818080. He was subsequently ‘concentrated’ to Imphal War cemetery and is buried in Grave 3 H 9.

    So how did they end up dying near Ukhrul? 23 British Infantry Brigade, a Long Range Penetration or ‘Chindit’ formation, was tasked with cutting the line of communication of the Japanese Divisions attacking Kohima. Eventually four Brigades were advancing on Ukhrul – 23 Brigade from the north, 33 Brigade from Kohima and 89 and 80 Brigade from the Imphal area.

    56 Column of 1 Essex Regt reached Ongshim on 8 July and the next day established some roadblocks and ambushes near Maoku. They were joined there by 44 Column, the other column from the Essex Regt, on 12 July and they remained in the Ongshim area until 18 July when they were pulled out to Imphal at the end of their mission.

    I am reasonably confident that Tpr Smedley was serving with the 1 Essex Regiment when he died from scrub typhus and was buried at Ongshim. There is a concentration report that shows him as 1 Essex (not the one on his CWGC page but on another of those killed at the time). I think the 163 Regt RAC provided reinforcements for the units of 23 British (LRP)Brigade as there are four soldiers from 163 Regt who died of sickness (rather than killed in action) and were buried in the area of Ukhrul in mid-July and also Pte AG Lacey who had a close regimental number to Trooper Smedley and was shown as I Essex. 1 Essex's war diary which whilst not mentioning Tpr Smedley directly, talks about deaths due to scrub or tick typhus whilst at Ongshim.

    However I'm left with the question - how did a 'tankie' end up as a reinforcement with a Chindit column? The transition for an infantryman would have been hard but for a soldier trained to be tank crew......
  2. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    On Chindit 2 there were several columns made up from Royal Artillery, Recce and RAC personnel all acting as infantry. I remember reading that the 13th Bn Sherwood Foresters were used extensively in reinforcing 45 Recce and it seems other units. Some of the 26 Hussars and 3rd Carabiniers also found their way into Chindit units.

    1st Essex war diary pages for the time of Smedley's death:

    P4270653 copy.JPG P4270654 copy.JPG
    Rothy likes this.

    JITTER PARTY Well-Known Member

    I think the answer is that they were no longer 'tankies'. 13 Foresters conversion to 163 RAC was only temporary. They became 13 Foresters again in 12/43, and, I believe, were in 67 Bde which was a training formation. A ready source of trained infantry reinforcements, I would think.
    Rothy likes this.
  4. Skoyen89

    Skoyen89 Senior Member

    bamboo43 - thanks for the input and war diary pages. I have the 1Essex, 4 Border and 23 British (LRP) Brigade War Diaries but not that for the DWR. Do you have that? I'd be interested in what is in there for the same dates as they were nearby Ongshim.

    Jitter Party - that would make sense and in fact Wikipedia (below) explains that, but both the CWGC and Casualty List have Smedley (and the others from 163 RAC) as both a 'Trooper' as rank and unit as 163 Regt RAC (13 Sherwood Foresters etc). I know there is sometimes a lag in the Casualty Lists catching up but that seems a long time as he died in July 1944.

    From Wikepedia:

    163 RAC was formed by the conversion to the armoured role of the 13th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, a hostilities-only battalion raised at Thoresby Park in 1940, on 30 July 1942, the day after it arrived in India. In common with other infantry battalions transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps, the personnel of 163 RAC would have continued to wear their Foresters cap badge on the black beret of the Royal Armoured Corps.

    163 RAC was stationed at Rawalpindi under command of 267th Indian Armoured Brigade. However, there was a change of policy, and on 1 December 1944 (also reported as 1 December 1943) the regiment was re-converted to infantry, reverting to its previous title of 13th Foresters and coming under command of 67 Indian Training Brigade.

    JITTER PARTY Well-Known Member

    Well the same thing happened with a lot of the RA that were transferred to infantry battalions in 44/45. CWGC often lists them still as ‘Gnr’ and their previous RA unit, even when those units had long been disbanded. I've been having a look at the casualty lists in WO 417, and it clear that this is the source of most of these errors. The CWGC have accepted these as gospel, but the lists were being compiled at the time, albeit with some later corrections, so it is understandable that they made a lot of errors and omissions. Less understandable is why no one carried out a thorough correction before they started carving memorials and gravestones.

    Despite what Wiki says the date of conversion must have been 12/43, not 12/44.
  6. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    13th Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment)

    No. 7 Infantry Training Group – 4 July 1940 to 10 October 1940
    The battalion was raised at Norwich on July 4th, 1940. It moved to Scotland a few days after it was formed.

    207th Independent Infantry Brigade (Home) – 10 October 1940 to 22 July 1941
    In November 1940, it moved to East Anglia at Southend, Epping and Colchester.

    The battalion remained in East Anglia from July to December 1941.

    136th Infantry Brigade – 12 December 1941 to 10 February 1942
    The battalion remained in East Anglia under the brigade.

    WO Control – 11 February 1942 to 29 July 1942
    The battalion then embarked for India on May 31st, 1942 and arrived at Bombay on July 29th, 1942.

    267th Indian Armoured Brigade – 1 August 1942 to 1 April 1943
    The regiment arrived in India on July 29th, 1942 as the 13th Sherwood Foresters and moved to Rawalpindi on arrival, where it converted to 163rd Armoured Regiment, RAC on July 30th.

    255th Indian Armoured Brigade – 1 April 1943 to September 1943
    The regiment served with the brigade in Secunderabad equipped with Grant/Lee medium tanks.

    GHQ Troops, India – September 1943 to 31 November 1943
    The battalion left the brigade in September 1943 on being replaced by regular Indian Cavalry and being reduced to cadre by the tranfer of troops to the Special Force.

    67th Indian Training Brigade – 1 December 1943 to 1 May 1945
    The battalion was reconverted to 13th Battalion from the 163rd Armoured Regiment, RAC on December 1st, 1943 and joined the 67th Indian Training Brigade.
  7. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    Here are the three pages for July 1944 from the 2 DWR war diary:

    P5280319 copy.JPG P5280320 copy.JPG P5280321 copy.JPG
  8. Skoyen89

    Skoyen89 Senior Member

    Thanks Bamboo43. Interesting to note the DWR had more deaths from sickness than from enemy action in the campaign. I had not realised they reached Ongshim before the Essex columns.
  9. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    No worries. It is good to see the columns from 23 Brigade being studied in this way. They are very much the Cinderella units when it comes to Chindit research.
  10. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    A little something from the war diary of the 60th Field Regiment RA, showing a small draft of reinforcements from the 13th Sherwood Foresters in early 1944:

    60 FR RA.JPG
    Skoyen89 likes this.

Share This Page