A lovely completely untouched uniform grouping to a Sergeant in the Territorial 5th and 7th Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment who I believe served in both North Africa and Normandy.
The Grouping comprises, an other ranks issue 1922 Pattern Service Dress Cap to the Hampshire Regiment, an issue 1922 Pattern Tunic issue marked to the 5th Battalion Hampshires, but presently badged to a Sergeant in the sister 7th Battalion of the regiment this within the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division of Normandy fame, and a 1907 Pattern Lee Enfield Bayonet, unit marked to the 5th/7th Hampshire Regiment.
The 5th/7th Hampshire Regiment was an inter war British Army Territorial unit created after WW1 from the amalgamation the Hampshire Regiment's 5th and 7th Battalions.
In the summer of 1939, the unit was fully mobilised and enlarged in preparation for the coming war, it was thus split in two back to its separate components of the sister 5th and 7th Battalions.
In January 1943 the 5th Battalion was sent to North Africa in the 46th infantry Division as part of the Allies’ "Operation Torch”. In pursuance of that at the beginning of February the 5th Battalion found itself deployed on outpost duty 12 miles ahead of the British lines with its Rifle Companies dug in on a hilltop overlooking the tiny hamlet of Sidi Nsir.
Unfortunately, however, this was just prior to Axis forces launching their own “Operation Ochsenkopf” offensive in that very sector. Operation Ochsenkopf was a corps-level assault by German Paratroopers, elements of the 10th Panzer Division and the 501st Heavy Tank Battalion; the opening onslaught of which fell directly upon the 5th Battalion’s positions. The battalion was attacked with overwhelming strength with approximately 13,000 Germans falling on the solitary 5th Battalion Hampshires who had just 155th Battery Royal Artillery in support. If their offensive was to achieve its objectives the Germans had to take the Hampshires' hilltop positions before they could attack the artillery which was importantly knocking out the panzer tanks of its attack.
By 5pm of the second day of the assault 'B' Company of the 5th Battalion had been reduced to 30 men and was overrun. Following further heavy casualties, at dusk the battalion considered its position untenable, and it withdrew to a feature known as "Hampshire Farm". Of the 5th Battalion's four Rifle Companies, only 'C' Company, less a single platoon, and 30 men of 'D' Company, remained. The German force was delayed for one critical day however which ultimately was to prove fatal to the success of their offensive.
Given its very specific Regimental markings it is quite possible that the 1907 Lee Enfield Bayonet within this grouping was used in the desperate fighting of the above action since the 5th Battalion Hampshires were equipped with exactly such early marked Bayonets then. The Bayonet's original owner was most probably one of the many wounded from Sidi Nsir evacuated to England for treatment as this would explain the grouping’s Tunic transfer from the 5th to the sister 7th Battalion Hampshires in the 43rd (Wessex) Division which was still stationed in England at that time.
The 7th Battalion was sent to Normandy with the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division in June 1944 and were initially held in reserve. In July 1944 the battalion attacked Maltot, supported by tanks of the 9th Royal Tank Regiment. The village was defended by crack Waffen-SS troops supported by Tiger tanks.
Both the 7th Battalion and 9th RTR suffered severe casualties, and although the 7th Battalion managed to fight its way into the village it was withdrawn. The 7th Battalion suffered 18 officer and 208 other rank casualties, including 4 officers and 12 other ranks killed, but was back in the line two days later.
The battalion attacked the village of Cahagnes later in the month. This was fought in typical “bocage" countryside, but after the initial attack by the brigade ran into difficulties, 7th Battalion deployed from reserves and captured Cahagnes, beating off several German counter-attacks. On 2 August, the battalion moved up to Jurques, and after a short stiff fight advanced to "Point 132", close to Mount Pincon. On 6 August, the battalion put in a deceptive attack on Mount Pincon, making a diversion whilst 129th Infantry Brigade made a flank attack. During heavy fighting, 'C' Company incurred many casualties, including all the officers and most NCOs. Following the successful flank attack by the 129th Brigade, the 7th Battalion mopped up and concentrated near Mauny by 10 August.
In August 1944, the battalion captured St Denis de Mere after a bombardment by nine artillery regiments. The battalion took 74 prisoners and then prepared for "The Breakout". The battalion then moved 50 miles north-east to Conches and, by 27 August, the 7th Battalion was across the River Seine. The battalion then participated in the capture of Tilly, and thereafter spent 11 days taking in replacements and resting. In September 1944, the battalion started to move to Brussels for temporary garrison duty, arriving the next day. This easy duty was welcome; since landing in Normandy in June, the 7th Hampshires had lost (including wounded) 35 officers and 450 other ranks.
It is from the above campaign in North West Europe that I believe the grouping’s Tunic comes given the presence of the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division signs upon its sleeves.
Having such divisional insignia applied is an anomaly for 1922 Pattern Tunics as by this stage in WW2 the British Army was pretty much universally wearing Battledress uniform. In my view this can only mean the Tunic's original owner was a member of the Hampshire’s Regimental Police as these continued wearing 1922 Pattern Tunics throughout WW2 to mark them out from the Regiment’s other troops who were in Battledress uniform.
This assumption is confirmed by the presence of the 1922 Pattern Service Dress Cap in the grouping which of course was another preserve of Regimental Police throughout the war.
Given its long tenure the 1922 Pattern Service Dress Cap is significantly service used; it is however nicely complete and undamaged apart from one small moth hole and a small area of stitching along the front edge of the brim.. It bears a Hampshire Regiment badge to the front which has visibly always been in situ. The issue markings to the inner crown have worn away from use however I have no doubt that it was issued at the same time as its matching tunic.
The 1922 Pattern Tunic is of exactly the same colour, patina and condition as the Service Dress Cap and is dated 1937 to the interior label. The interior also has feint issue markings for the original owner’s the 5th Battalion Hampshire’s deployment as well as his service number.
The field dressing pocket has been opened for Active Service and still contains a 1939 dated field dressing. There are issue Hampshire Regiment badges to the collar, which is standard on this pattern of tunic; as well as issue Hampshire Regiment titles with the letter “T” for Territorial to the shoulder, this again standard on these tunics.
The sleeves bear the classic “Wessex Griffin” badge of the British 43rd Division; since the sign is heraldic these are intentionally not worn in facing pairs as is usually the case with divisional insignia. The sleeves also bear the original owner's Sergeant stripes. These are of WW1 manufacture, discerned from the ginger colour of the chevron tape. Such using up of old stores is again absolutely standard for British Territorial Battalions in WW2.
Overall condition is very good but dusty and I can count about six moth holes in total to the body sleeves.
The 1907 Lee Enfield Bayonet is also of WW1 vintage, it is dated 1917 but given this is stamped near the Manufacturer’s mark one must look carefully to make it out. The Manufacturer in this case is “Chapman”, this being one of the rarer Manufacturers for these. The bayonet and scabbard are number matched.
Such WW1 1907 Bayonets were widely used in the North African campaign of WW2, and in keeping with that this particular example has clearly seen extensive service; it is however again nicely complete with no significant damage.
Most importantly the Bayonet’s hilt is beautifully marked to the 5th/7th Hampshires, this is rare thing as post WW1 most 1907 Bayonets were simply not marked. Given the very small size of the unit in the inter war period, and then the near wiping out of the 5th Battalion at Sidi Nsir this is perhaps the only surviving example of a 1907 Bayonet with these markings.
A rare ww2 grouping with a story to tell.
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