The Czechoslovak Independent Armoured Brigade Group
The Second World War witnessed a strong relationship between Czech and British armed forces. Many people will be aware of the role and place of Czech pilots in the RAF, but there was another group of men that also made a major contribution to the Allied effort: the Czechoslovak Independent Brigade Group (CIABG).
Some three fifths of the Brigade Group’s soldiers had fled to Poland after the German ‘absorption’ of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. A part of this group then found its way into the French Foreign Legion and, from there, to France where its members helped to form the 1st Czechoslovak Infantry Division. Roughly two fifths of the division’s soldiers had made their way to France via the Balkans and Middle East, since the way through Poland had been cut off by that country’s surrender. Due to the scarcity of soldiers, the 1st Infantry Division was created as a light division. It had two infantry regiments, a mixed reconnaissance unit, a field artillery regiment, an anti-tank troop, an anti-tank company, a headquarters squadron, two signal companies, a field engineers company and divisional rear. This amounted to a total of 10,000 men; 120 pieces of artillery, including mortars; 1,800 horses and 900 motor vehicles. After the defeat of France, the remnant of the Division was evacuated to Britain, where they formed the CIABG.
By October 1944, most of the men in the CIABG had gone through four years of foreign military service as Allied soldiers.
In mid-April 1943, the War Office decided to transfer the 200th Czechoslovak Light Anti-aircraft Regiment – East from the Middle East to Britain. This was combined with the Brigade Group to form the Czechoslovak Independent Armoured Brigade Group. This was a joint decision made by the mixed Czechoslovak and British committees and brought about, in the words of the Czechoslovak government, “…a higher unit which would, despite its lesser numbers, be able to participate in the operations in Britain and later to accomplish the expected tasks at home”.
Almost all Brigade Group members had two skills. There were over 2,000 drivers and several hundred parachutists. Each of the officers, on average, had improved his skills in three classes and training courses. Above all, every man was a Czechoslovak patriot with high morale, professional self-confidence and national pride. All had become used to life in an advanced democracy and their discipline became a permanent part of their nature.
For technical and platoon training, the Brigade Group received the war weary Crusader tank with 6-pounder gun, the anti-aircraft Crusader with two 20mm cannons, or a coupled Oerlikon machine-gun; Sherman M4A4 armoured observation posts; Covenanter bridge layers; Beaverette armoured cars with Bren light machine guns; Humber Scout Cars and Ford Bren Carriers in the personnel, machine gun, mortar and tow versions.
After completing platoon training, the Brigade Group was transferred to the south of Scotland. Here, two training grounds (a total area of more than 800 square kilometres) together with tank and artillery shooting-grounds were put at its disposal. The 6-pounder Crusader was gradually changed for the 75mm (or 95mm) Cromwell, and the 17pdr Sherman ‘Firefly’ replaced the anti-aircraft Crusader. International M5 and M5A1 thirteen-seat half-tracked transports and Autocar M3 and M3A1 thirteen-seat wheeled transports arrived for the Motor Battalion, mechanics, medical corps, artificer sergeants and supply officers. Cromwell Armoured Observation Posts were sent to the Brigade Group, along with Cromwell Armoured Recovery Vehicles and the Armoured Command Vehicles for the Headquarters Squadron.
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