If any one military episode can be used to demonstrate the muddle and confusion of the British High Command during the first half of the Second World War, it is the unfortunate fate of the 1st Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry – 1st Battalion
Until late 1941, the 1st Battalion was stationed in Lahore, (then-India, now-Pakistan). The battalion went on to join the British occupation forces in Iraq, before leaving Taji on May 17th, 1942 and starting out on a cross desert route to Egypt. The 1st Battalion arrived south west of Tobruk on June 5th 1942.
Upon arrival, the men of the 1st Battalion were given minimal time to recover from the journey. They received no further training or even time to service/obtain more modern equipment. The 1st Battalion were swiftly tasked with moving towards the front where the Germans were attacking. The situation was confused and desperate; essentially troops were thrown into battle piecemeal. As a result, with an air of sad inevitability, there were a high number of casualties with a significant proportion of men also being taken as prisoners. Despite reinforcement and a small number continuing to fight during the retreat to El Alamein, the 1st Battalion was effectively eradicated in Tobruk. The Battalion was quite simply, a shadow of its former strength.
After being transferred to Cyprus to await its fate, eventually, a small cadre of 12 returned to the UK as representatives of the Battalion and along with the 6th Battalion (a home defence unit), reconstituted as the 1st Battalion. The new 1st was not to see action but acted as an administrative, training and guard unit for those required to take part in the liberation of Europe.