The 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was in 13th Brigade, 5th Division, from 30th November 1939 – 14th August 1944.
The 2nd Inniskillings were reformed in 1937, after being disbanded in 1922. In 1940, they were in Belgium and France as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The BEF was defeated by the German army and was evacuated from Dunkirk in May 1940.
From then till 1942, the Division was rebuilt in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and was in training to meet an expected German invasion of UK.
From 1942- 45, the Division earned the nickname “The Globe Trotters” as it was the most widely travelled of any division in the army in WW2.
2nd Inniskillings’ “Hegira”, 1942-43.
The Battalion’s travels were called a Hegira because five of the seven countries the battalion was stationed in were Moslem and the word is used to describe the journeys of the Prophet Muhammad.
The photographs are from the personal album of Captain Bill Vincent, Battalion anti-tank officer, Inniskillings Museum collection, and some details from the memoires of Lt Col Douglas Davidson MC, CO 1942, Captain David Cole MC, Battalion Signals officer, and the Inniskillings Museum archives.
Madagascar, May 1942.
The Division was posted to India, sailing in March. The Inniskillings were on HMT Franconia, which contained 4,500 men. Because of fear of submarine or air attacks the men slept in their clothes, with life belts and rations handy. While on the voyage two brigades were detached for Operation Ironclad, the invasion of French Madagascar.
The decision to occupy the island was taken for fear that, lightly defended by the French, it would fall easily to the Japanese who would use it as a submarine base to attack shipping in the Indian Ocean.
Because of this change of plan, equipment which was in the hold had to be redistributed. The heat was terrific and sweating soldiers, stripped to the waist, laboured in the holds.
The campaign began with the seizure of Diego Suarez on a deep water harbour and naval base on the northern tip of the island. The Inniskillings were the third wave of the invasion on 6th May. All were carried ashore in Landing Craft Assault (LCAs) the first amphibious landing since Gallipoli. By the time the Inniskillings arrived, the town had already fallen after a short but spirited resistance by the French and their Senegalese soldiers.
During their brief deployment (two weeks) in Madagascar, the Inniskillings guarded the beaches and prisoners. At first, rations and water were unpleasant. The water, which had come from Durban in South Africa, was described “as of pale blue colour rather like weak ink and when made into tea it turned an intense black”. Some long and difficult patrols were carried out into the mountains and jungles. The men called them “chicken hunting patrols”. They enjoyed purchasing fresh food from the locals – bananas, oranges, coconuts, chickens and eggs. Some were impressed by the masses of birds and butterflies.
The Battalion embarked for Mumbai (Bombay) in India, on 20th May.
India, May- August 1942.
30th May, the Battalion arrived in Mumbai (Bombay), and then moved to Ahmednagar, a major army base, 150 miles east of Mumbai.
In India malaria and sandfly fever, which had been contracted in Madagascar, became a serious problem. At one point the entire Battalion was on sick parade. The men endured 10 days of treatment which entailed regular doses of the drug mepacrine and a lot of rest.
Later, much training involved live firing; rifles, machine guns, mortars and anti-tank guns.
Iraq, August, 1942.
Zubair near Basra, a major oil terminal leading to the Persian Gulf.
Iran, (Persia) September 1942.
Kermanshah in western Iran, a station of the Anglo/Iranian Oil Company. In 1941, Britain and Russia invaded Iran to protect and ensure oil supplies. The Russians occupied the north and Britain the south. The 5th Division was stationed in Iran to protect Britain’s vital oil supplies and to be in readiness in case the Germans crossed the Caucasus and invaded Iran. Also, Iran was being developed as a major supply route to Russia, known as the ‘Persian Corridor’. Detachments of the Division were placed as guards on the trains which were driven by Russians.
Battalion training was in the use of live ammunition.
Theft of military equipment became a problem and extra guards had to be mounted.
Iran, (Persia) November 1942 – February 1943.
Qum, 70 miles south/west of Teheran, was an important railhead and point on the oil pipeline leading to Basra on the Persian Gulf.
The men lived in tents which they furnished with carpets bought in the bazaar. The increasing cold became a problem. Tents collapsed under the weight of snow. There was an outbreak of diphtheria leading to the death of Cpl McDaid.
At Christmas, the men were delighted at the arrival of a plentiful supply of turkeys and chickens.
At one point, leave to Teheran had to be suspended because of the misbehaviour of the leave party. Leave, for three or four days, would be granted to a couple of officers and 20/30 men. Teheran was then a cosmopolitan city, with sophisticated night clubs.
Some officers had brought their shotguns and enjoyed hunting pigeons and duck which varied the diet in the mess.
In January, the new CO, Lt Col Pat O’Brien Twohig arrived, replacing Lt Col Davidson who left the Battalion to join the staff of GHQ, Baghdad.
The Battalion left Iran in February 1943. It was transported in cattle wagons on the Trans-Iranian railway, crossed the Tigris by barge and on by rail to Baghdad. There followed a five day journey to Damascus along a flooded desert road, which often had been washed away and had to be repaired. The only feature of interest was the fort at Rutba in the Iraqi desert.
Syria and Lebanon, February to June 1943.
The first base was the former French camp at Qatana, not far from Damascus.
Training became more intense. 25 mile route marches were common. New equipment began to arrive – vehicles and anti-tank guns. There was a strenuous course in mountain warfare near Tripoli, alleviated by welcome sea bathing. Men learned the art of climbing over rocky hills and building sangars (temporary fortified position) of rocks and stones. They also practised getting supplies and equipment up to heights and getting casualties down. This involved mastering the skills to deal with that indispensable mode of transport – mules.
A lot of the training was now for combined operations, embarking and disembarking from lorries which substituted for LCAs, or “Dryshod” exercises when boat decks were taped off on the ground and troops went over and over essential drills of getting into and out of boats of all sizes. It became increasingly clear that some major operation in the Mediterranean was being planned. The new CO, Lt Col Pat O’Brien Twohig drove his men relentlessly. During this time, Lt Lane was tragically killed in a grenade accident. The last month was spent in the mountains of Jebel Mazar, north west of Damascus.
Egypt, June 1943, El Shatt.
Preparations for amphibious landings became more intense. Finishing touches were made to equipment, and again the men relaxed by bathing in the Suez Canal. On 26th June, the Division was inspected by General Montgomery, who welcomed the men to his 8th Army and congratulated them on their fitness and cheerfulness. He made comments which set off Irishmen making ribald remarks at the Scotsmen and the Welshmen similiarly at the Yorkshiremen.
On 1st July the Inniskillings embarked on a troopship to sail up the Canal to Port Said. There was intensive rehearsal of disembarkation. After three days in Port Said, the ship joined a great convoy of troopships and naval escorts. The invasion of Sicily was imminent.
The Battalion fought in eastern Sicily in July 1943, crossed into Italy and fought a gruelling campaign north, involving such engagements as the crossing of the river Garigliano in January 1944, and the Anzio beachhead March – May 1944. In July 1944, the 6th Battalion of the Inniskillings was disbanded and most were sent to the 2nd which then was moved to the Irish Brigade in 78th Division. The fighting in Italy continued until the German surrender in late April 1945. Following that the Battalion was given garrison duties in Austria.
The Battalion was disbanded in 1947.