The Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) is the oldest tank unit in the world, being formed by the British Army in 1916 during the Great War. Today, it is the armoured regiment of the British Army’s 1st Armoured Infantry Brigade. Formerly known as the Tank Corps and the Royal Tank Corps, it is part of the Royal Armoured Corps.
First World War
The formation of the Royal Tank Regiment followed the invention of the tank. Tanks were first used at the Battle of Flers–Courcelette in September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme in the First World War. At that time the six tank companies were grouped as the Heavy Section of the Machine Gun Corps (MGC). In November 1916 the eight companies then in existence were each expanded to form battalions (still identified by the letters A to H) and designated the Heavy Branch MGC; another seven battalions, I to O, were formed by January 1918, when all the battalion were changed to numbered units. On 28 July 1917, the Heavy Branch was separated from the rest of the Corps by Royal Warrant and given official status as the Tank Corps. The formation of new battalions continued and, by December 1918, 26 had been created though only 25 battalions were equipped with tanks, as the 17th had converted to armoured cars in April 1918. The first commander of the Tank Corps was Hugh Elles. The Corps saw much action at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917.
After the war, the Tank Corps was trimmed down to a central depot and four battalions: the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th battalions. On 18 October 1923, it was officially given the title Royal making it the Royal Tank Corps (RTC) by Colonel-in-Chief King George V. It was at this time that the motto, “Fear Naught”, the black beret, and the unit badge were adopted. In 1933, the 6th Battalion, RTC was formed in Egypt by combining the personnel of the 3rd and 5th Regular Army Armoured Car Companies. In 1934, the 1st (Light) Battalion, RTC was formed in England with personnel drawn from the 2nd, 3rd & 5th Battalions. With the preparations for war in the late 1930s, two more Regular Army Battalions were formed: the 7th in 1937 and the 8th in 1938. In the latter half of 1938, six TA Infantry Battalions were converted to Tank Battalions; with a further six created in 1939 following the “duplication” of the TA.
During the early 1920s, the Tank Corps was augmented by 20 Armoured Car Companies: twelve Regular Army, created using MGC elements; and eight Territorial Army (TA) created by the reduction and conversion of Yeomanry Regiments. Eight of the Regular Army Companies were later converted into independent Light Tank Companies; all twelve Companies had been disbanded by the outbreak of the Second World War.
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