The Second World War was very different from the First, the so called war to end all wars, which had only finished some 21 years earlier. From the Regiment’s point of view, WW1 had essentially been an infantry war with huge set piece attacks, extending over weeks or months and often leading to very high casualties. This was reflected in the 18 ‘service’ (fighting) battalions that the Regiment raised compared with only six in WW2 – two of which were replacements for the 1st and 2nd Battalions that were effectively totally respectively destroyed in France 1940 and in Hong Kong . The other major difference was that only on the Russian Front was there any real equivalent to the WW1 battlefields of France and Flanders, with its vast network of trenches continuously fought over for four years. Instead it was a truly ‘World War’ fought on every Continent less the Americas, with a much more ‘fluid’ war of movement, be it advancing or withdrawing, often involving large armoured formations and with considerable direct air support in addition to the artillery. Perhaps the most interesting comparison of the Regiment’s involvement in the two World Wars lies in the time spent ‘in the front line’ directly involved in operations. While in WW1, 2RS were deployed to France, from August 1914 through to November 1918, followed by a further 17 Battalions there and in other theatres with much of that time actually in the trenches facing the enemy, the longest continuous period of action by a Royal Scots Battalion in WW2 was the 10 months of the 8th Battalion in North-West Europe from June 1944 to April 1945. Indeed, in the four-and-a half years, from the outbreak of War in September 1939 to the 1st Battalion’s involvement in the Battle of Kohima in April 1944, the Battalions of the Regiment were only involved in direct operations against the enemy for a total of around 6 months. This is demonstrated in the table below and is probably very little different from many other Regiments who did not have battalions involved in the Mediterranean Theatre. The Theatres of Operations in which Battalions were involved were NW Europe 1RS 1939-40, 7/9 and 8 RS 1944-45, 2RS Hong Kong 1941, 1 RS (new) Indo-Burma1943-45 and 2RS (new) Italy 1944.
TIME LINES OF ROYAL SCOTS BATTALIONS SERVING ON OPERATIONS IN WW2
|Year||Dates of Activity||Location||Battalion(s) involved|
|1940||10 -30 May (20 days) |
12-17 June (5 days)
|Belgium and France |
|1941||8-25 December (17 days)||Hong Kong||2 RS|
|1943||Feb – May (4 months)||1st Arakan, Burma||1 RS (new)|
|1944||18 Apr – Sep (5 Months) |
Jun – Dec (6 months)
Jul – Dec (5 months)
Oct – Dec (3 Months)
|Kohima , India |
France, Belgium and Holland
Belgium and Holland
2 RS (new)
|1945||Jan- Apr (4 months)|
Jan- Apr (4 months)
Jan -Apr (4 months)
Holland and Germany
Holland and Germany
The Regiment was awarded thirty-nine Battle Honours in WW2 of which ten were selected to be carried on The Queen’s Colour. The Honours awarded are listed below, with the individual Battalions involved shown and those carried on The Queens Colour in capitals.
|Battle Honour||Battalion(s)||Battle Honour||Battalion(s)|
|DEFENCE OF ESCAUT||1st||RHINE||8th|
|Defence of Rauray||8th||NORTH-WEST EUROPE, 1940||1st|
|Best||8th||South-East Asia 1941||2nd|
|Meijel||8th||Relief of Kohima||1st|
In 2013, while weeding historical files, those of The Regimental Battle Honours Committee were found. The Committee had sat in 1955-56 and was composed of representatives from all the WW2 Battalions including, separately, the ‘old’ (France 1939-40 and Hong Kong) and (reformed) 1st and 2nd Battalions The files (now held in the historical archive) give the full story of why individual Honours were selected, from a list provided by The War Office Honours Committee, and, in particular, the ten Honours to be carried on The Queen’s Colour. There were two areas of contention,
1. St Omer-la-Basee covers the 4 Brigade stand around Bethune at the end of May 1940. We, jointly with The Royal Norfolk Regiment, put up a strong case to have Le Paradis recognised as a separate battle, and therefore Honour, but The War Office Committee would not agree.
2. A long drawn out, but eventually unsuccessful battle, fought mostly on our behalf by Augustus Muir, the then Regimental Historian and author of the Regimental History of WW2 ‘The First of Foot’, to have the Honour HONG KONG awarded for the ‘old’ 2nd Battalion’s action there. He succeeded in getting a number of major re-writes correcting errors of fact within the Official History after it had been approved but before publication, but The War Office Committee were not prepared to upgrade the Honour from the Theatre award of South-East Asia 1941. The story, filling several files, has been indexed within the archive and would be worth a book on its own except that General Delacombe, the then Colonel of the Regiment and the Chairman of the Regimental Honours Committee, instructed that the matter was to be considered closed and no further appeal was ever to be made.
Obviously, with far fewer battalions committed to action, and over much shorter periods, the number of casualties suffered by The Regiment was significantly lower than in WW1. Nevertheless 97 officers, including seven out of eleven Canadians attached to the 8th Battalion under the CANLOAN scheme, and 1151 soldiers were killed during the War, a total of 1241 Royal Scots (WW1 11,213), and many more were wounded, including all four of the remaining Canadian officers. The breakdown between Battalions, where known, is given below.
|1RS 1939-40||9||132||350 Officers and Soldiers (est)||491
|2RS Hong Kong 1941||12||95||17||213||337|
|(2RS Total 1941-45||18||332||17||213||580)|
|(1RS Total 1943-45||8||138||27||450||597|
|2RS (new) Italy 1944||2||40||15||168||225|
|7/9 RS 1944-45||1||59||258 Officers and Soldiers (est)||318|
|8 RS 1944-45||13||224||48||971||1256|
The ratio killed/wounded appears to be 1:2.6 compared with roughly 1:3.6 in WW1.
The following individual awards were made to members of the Regiment while serving operationally with Battalions of the Regiment
|George Cross 1 (Captain Douglas Ford 2RS)|
|Distinguished Service Orders 14|
|Military Crosses 42|
|Distinguished Conduct Medals 10|
|Military Medals 40|
Short histories of the individual Battalions’ service in WW2 follow in the Battalions in WW2 section. Further detail on Le Paradis (1RS France 1940), the sinking of the Lisbon Maru carrying 2RS POWs to Japan in 1942 (for the Regiment a similar disaster to the Quintinshill rail crash in 1915) and the Battle of Kohima (1RS (new) Burma 1942) can be found in the individual essays on each subject.