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The Second World War,

1939-1945

 

With the declaration of war against Germany on 3 September 1939, the two permanent battalions of the Somerset Light Infantry were on garrison duty, with the 1st battalion in Poona in India and the 2nd battalion in Gibraltar. Within months the regiment was growing in size, by the end of the war ten Somerset Light Infantry battalions existed, six of which saw service overseas. Somerset men fought in the North European theatre of war, taking part in the Normandy landings and the push towards Germany, they fought throughout Italy and helped quash a civil war in Greece, and they came face to face with the Japanese in Burma. Some battalions also served at home helping protect King and Country from the threat of invasion.

The 2nd battalion on Guard Duty in Gibraltar, 1941

The first of the battalions to see active service was the 1st battalion. With the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 the Japanese began to spread their influence throughout South East Asia and by March 1942 British forces were evacuating Burma and manning the defences on the Indian borders. By the winter of 1943 the British forces in India were preparing for an attack on Japanese-held Burma and it is in this attack that the 1st battalion became involved. The operation carried out in the Arakan saw the 1st battalion fighting an illusive foe in dangerous jungle conditions, the battalion performed well in all engagements with the enemy and by March 1944 they were returning to India.

The European theatre of war had been fairly quiet for the soldiers of the Somerset Light Infantry, but with American entry into the war plans for the invasion of mainland Europe began. After the success of Operation Torch in 1942, which saw the defeat of Rommel's Afrika corps, the opportunity for an invasion of mainland Italy arose. Two Somerset Light Infantry battalions, the 2nd and 30th, would take part in the invasion and defeat of Italy. In March 1944 the 30th battalion arrived in Italy and became involved in the guarding of rail transport. The 2nd battalion arrived in Italy in February 1944 and immediately became embroiled in the American led attacks on Cassino, before taking part in an assault on Rome. In autumn 1944 the 2nd battalion was sent to Greece, where a civil war had broken out between the Greek government and the Greek Communists. They were to remain there until the end of the war.
 

The 4th battalion on a training exercise on Exmouth

The main theatre of war for the European campaign was, without a doubt, France and the D-Day landings, a theatre in which the Somerset Light Infantry also played a role. The 4th and 7th battalion formed part of the 43rd Wessex Division. They landed in Normandy just days after D-Day and fought across Europe, taking part in Operation Jupiter and an attack on Hill 112, before attacking Mount Pincon and taking part in Operation Market Garden, the breakout from Normandy. Early 1945 saw the crossing of the Rhine and the final thrust towards Berlin.

The other Somerset Light Infantry battalion that was involved in fighting in Northern Europe was the 7th battalion (Light Infantry) the Parachute Regiment. Formed from the 10th battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry in November 1942, the battalion, in the early hours of 6 June 1945 (D-Day), dropped over France and soon captured its objectives. The battalion later saw action in Operation Plunder, which was the attempt to cross the Rhine in March 1945, before taking up occupation duties at the end of the war.

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