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20th Armoured Infantry Brigade (The Iron Fist)
20th Armoured.svg
20th Armoured Infantry Brigade Formation Sign
Active 2 September 1939 – 30 April 1943
15 September 1950–30 November 1977
1 January 1980–to date
Country United Kingdom Great Britain
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Type Mechanized Infantry
Role Armoured Infantry Brigade
Part of 3rd (United Kingdom) Division
Garrison/HQ Sennelager, Germany
Nickname(s) "The Iron Fist" [1]
Motto(s) Fide, sed cui vide
Brigadier Ian Mortimer [2]
"The Iron Fist" - A white mailed fist on a blue background

The British Army's 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade (The Iron Fist) is an armoured infantry formation currently based in Sennelager, northern Germany, as part of the 3rd (United Kingdom) Division.

History[edit | edit source]

World War II[edit | edit source]

The 20th Light Armoured Brigade was formed on 3 September 1939 as part of the Territorial Army. The Brigade initially served under the Southern Command and its original regiments were the 1st Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, and 1st and 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry. On 14 April 1940, it was re-titled the 20th Armoured Brigade; a title it has retained until recently.[3]

The Brigade played a vital role in the defence of the United Kingdom during the first year of the Second World War, including guarding aerodromes and other vulnerable points. In May 1940, due to the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force from France and the increased threat of invasion, a Brigade force known as the Yeomanry Armoured Detachment was formed to defend the coast of East Anglia, concentrating at Moulton Paddocks, Newmarket as a counter-attack force to repel any potential Nazi offensive.[3]

The Brigade subsequently moved to Surrey in June where it was assigned to the 1st Armoured Division at the end of the month, which was being reorganised after it had returned depleted from Dunkirk. With the Battle of Britain being fought overhead, brigade troops were tasked with conducting anti-invasion exercises and the reconnaissance of all roads leading to the coast, covering most of Kent, Surrey and Sussex. It finally began to receive modern tanks in September 1940 when the first Valentine tanks began to arrive.[4]

The Brigade was reorganised and acquired the 2nd Battalion The Rangers on 16 October 1940 when it came under the command of 6th Armoured Division, whose insignia was a white mailed fist with a black background. The mailed fist - a symbol of the hard punch that an armoured formation gives the enemy - was selected by General John Crocker DSO MC as the Division's recognition flash from a design created by Lieutenant Colonel Broadhurst, an Australian serving on his staff as Assistant Director of Ordnance Services (Engineering).

On 12 September 1941, King George VI inspected 20th Armoured Brigade at Lakenheath in Suffolk during a parade and march-past of all the fighting vehicles in the Division. It was the first time that an entire armoured division – at that time over 14,500 men and 4,500 vehicles – had been formed up complete in the same place. The logistical challenges of staging the parade and the scale of the air threat sealed the fate of the Brigade, contributing towards the decision in 1942 to halve the tank strength of an armoured division.[5]

The Brigade continued to serve in Home Forces under various commands until 15 January 1943. At this time the Brigade became a training formation and its regiments, on conversion to the armoured reconnaissance role, were posted elsewhere. Many former brigade troops subsequently saw active service in North West Europe including operations in Normandy and into Germany. On 30 April 1943, the 20th Armoured Brigade was disbanded.[3]

Cold War Era[edit | edit source]

On 15 September 1950 the 20th Armoured Brigade was reformed in the UK for a strategic reserve role. However the Brigade was moved to Münster, Germany in December 1951 to supplement the British contribution to NATO forces in Europe where it again came under the command of 6th Armoured Division, this time as part of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR).[3]

The 1957 Defence White Paper announced the end of National Service, resulting in a number of reductions and changes across the Armed Forces. Part of this restructuring saw the disbandment of the 6th Armoured Division in April 1958. The Brigade survived as the new 20th Armoured Brigade Group, initially under the command of the 4th Infantry Division, and moved to Hobart Barracks, Detmold. It assumed the insignia of the old Division – the "Iron Fist" symbol that it wears to this day.[3]

The pattern of life was determined by the BAOR training cycle and the demands of higher formation exercises as politicians and military commanders considered how best to face the threat of a Soviet invasion. Brigade troops frequently found themselves supporting multi-national NATO exercises, often working alongside the fledgling Bundeswehr (German Army). In October 1961, the Brigade participated in Exercise Spearpoint which was designed to demonstrate that the BAOR was able to conduct large-scale intensive operations under both conventional and nuclear conditions.[5]

In September 1959, The Royal Corps of Signals reorganised all of their independent squadrons into a single numbering system from 200 upwards. This meant that when the Brigade’s Signal Squadron adopted the title "200" in 1962 it automatically became the 'Senior Signal Squadron' in the British Army by precedence. Two years later it amalgamated with the Brigade's Headquarters Squadron and took over responsibility for the administration and defence of the HQ. This combined role is still in place today and together the two separate units are designated as "20th Armoured Brigade Headquarters and Signal Squadron (200)".[3]

On 22 June 1974, 20th Armoured Brigade and the German 21st Panzer Brigade, based in Augustdorf, held a partnership parade to emphasise the confidence and understanding that exists between the allied forces of the NATO countries.[3]

BAOR experimented with a major restructuring towards the end of the 1970s as it reorganised into 4 Divisions, each with 2 task force headquarters. These task forces could command any grouping of units from within their division and were designated sequentially Alpha through Hotel. As a result, on 1 December 1977, 20th Armoured Brigade was temporarily renamed "Task Force Hotel" under the command of the 4th Armoured Division. However, Task Force Hotel reverted to its Brigade designation on 1 January 1980 and its units were realigned under the Brigade Headquarters.[6]

Further unit rotations continued throughout this period with many famous regiments and battalions of the British Army converting to the armoured role to serve within the Brigade. Typical were The Life Guards, who served in Detmold during 1971-75 and again in 1980-84. As the Regiment moved to BAOR, it became a Tank Regiment for the first time in its history, only to re-role as an Infantry Battalion in order to deploy on three separate operational tours of Northern Ireland.[5]

Post-Cold War[edit | edit source]

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the anticipated peace dividend at the end of the Cold War, the British government announced a series of cuts in defence spending under the 1990 "Options for Change" programme. As a result of the restructuring, in December 1992, the Brigade merged with the 33rd Armoured Brigade and moved its headquarters to Barker Barracks, Paderborn, where it came under the command of the 1st (UK) Armoured Division. By 1994, the overall troop strength in Germany had been halved and BAOR was replaced by British Forces Germany (BFG).[3]

Headquarters 20th Armoured Brigade, with some elements of the Brigade deployed to the former SFR Yugoslavia in April 1995 to take command of Sector South West under the United Nations mandate. Based at Gornji Vakuf in central Bosnia and Herzegovina, the commander was responsible for a large multi-national UN force as well as having responsibility for all forces in FRY. The end of the tour coincided with a declaration of peace and a shift in emphasis to a larger NATO force.[5]

In October 1996, the Brigade returned to FRY as part of Multi-National Division (South-West). It was initially based at Šipovo, moving to Banja Luka in December 1996, whilst overseeing the transition from IFOR to SFOR and Operation RESOLUTE to Operation LODESTAR. The Brigade returned to Paderborn in April 1997.[5]

In August 1999, the Brigade again deployed to Banja Luka on Operation PALATINE. It returned to Paderborn in December 1999, and moved to their current location in Antwerp Barracks, Sennelager on 20 August 2001.[5]

20th Armoured Brigade was awarded the Freedom of the City of Paderborn by the town council on 28 May 2005. The right to exercise the freedom was presented "as a contribution for consolidation of the Anglo-German friendship, the joint solidarity in NATO and a further element for the building of the joint house Europe".[5]

Operation Telic (Iraq)[edit | edit source]

In October 2003, the Brigade first deployed to southern Iraq on Operation Telic 3, where it was based at Basra Palace.[5]

The Brigade returned to southern Iraq again in April 2006 during Operation TELIC 8, and was situated in Basra, Al Amarah and Al Muthanna Provinces. During the seven month summer tour, the troops contributed to the successful handover of security in two of the four Iraqi Provinces within the Multinational Division (South East) (MND(SE)).[7]

The Iron Fist returned to Basra for a third time in 2008 for Operation TELIC 13. It became the last British brigade to serve in Iraq at the end of the UK's 6-year combat mission in the country on 30 April 2009.[8]

Operation Herrick (Afghanistan)[edit | edit source]

20th Armoured Brigade took over command of Task Force Helmand in Afghanistan from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines on 9 October 2011, officially marking the start of Operation Herrick 15.[9]

Today[edit | edit source]

The Brigade today includes The Royal Dragoon Guards providing armoured reconnaissance, whilst The Queen's Royal Hussars (Queen's Own and Royal Irish), a type 56 tank regiment equipped with the 62 tonne Challenger 2 main battle tank, and two armoured infantry battalions - 1st Battalion Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment and 5th Battalion The Rifles - both equipped with the Warrior tracked armoured vehicle. 4th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (The Highlanders - 4 SCOTS) provide protective mobility capability operating the MASTIFF and Foxhound armoured vehicles.

Headquarters 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade is currently located in Sennelager, on the outskirts of the city of Paderborn, north Germany.[5] In the future, the headquarters will move back to the UK to the Bulford area . It will form as part of the Reaction Force.[10][11]

Structure[edit | edit source]

Alliances[edit | edit source]

Brigade Commanders[edit | edit source]

Recent commanders have included:[12]

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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