Proud history of the Desert Rats

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This is a Reblogged from 

Posted by Tom Whitehead

They may be a little over 70 years old but the Desert Rats retain one of the proudest and most famous reputations in the British Army.

The Desert Rats in Basra, Iraq

The Desert Rats fire team attempt to put out one of the many oil fires started by Iraqis as they enter the city of Basra in 2003 Photo: PA

Tom Whitehead

They were formed in the sands of Africa during the Second World War and their tanks and armored vehicles have fought in virtually every large conflict involving the Forces since.

The nickname stems from the emblem worn by the soldiers – a North African rodent called a jerboa – which is said to have been adopted in 1940 after a visit to Cairo zoo by the wife of the then commanding officer.

At the time, they were the 7th Armored Division, created as part of the “Mobile Force” in North Africa in 1938, along with a number of other regiments. The Desert features The Division played an important role in all the key battles against Rommel’s Afrika Korps during the war and helped Montgomery’s Eighth Army drive the Germans and Italians out of Africa and protect the Suez Canal.

It was crucial in the main armoured “breakout” that smashed through Axis lines at El Alamein in October 1942, a turning point in the war.

Winston Churchill would later write: “Before Alamein we never had a victory.

After Alamein we never had a defeat.” The Desert Rats pursued the German and Italian forces into Libya and took back the strategic port of Tobruk in the process.

They would see action in India, Burma and Syria before joining the D–Day landings and pushing through all the way to Berlin.

The Division was disbanded in 1947 but reformed two years later to serve with the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR) before being disbanded for good in 1958. In its entire history it had spent just six months in Britain.

However, the 7th Armoured Brigade, which had originally been the Light Armoured Brigade of the 1938 Mobile Division, and also used the jerboa as its emblem, adopted the nickname and the tradition of the Desert Rats lived on.

The Brigade also served with the BAOR as part of the British 1st Armoured Division and would later help liberate Kuwait in the first Gulf War with Iraq in 1990.

The armoured brigade was also deployed as a peacekeeping force in Bosnia in 1994 and returned in 1997.

In 2003, it was back in Iraq to play a key role in the second Gulf War and was part of the British force that stormed the southern city of Basra and wrested control from Saddam Hussein’s forces.



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