3rd Hussars

a brief history of 3rd the king’s own hussars

Of the four Regiments who make up our famous antecedents, The 3rd Hussars had the lion’s share of battles and campaigns. As their number denotes, they were the senior of the four Regiments and our seniority amongst the Cavalry and specifically the Light Cavalry has always been accorded because of them. Into the almost overwhelming plethora of privileges and traditions that The Queen’s Royal Hussars have inherited, the Regimental colour of Garter Blue, the White Horse of Hanover, the red collar and the Fern Leaf have all been handed down from the 3rd Hussars.

Created at the very beginning of the first Standing Army in 1685, as three independent troops of Dragoons led by three Captains of the Royal Dragoons, they had been forced to oppose Monmouth’s Rebellion. Afterwards they were given another troop by the Royal Dragoons; two newly raised troops banded together and were given their first title as “The Queen Consort’s Regiment of Dragoons”.

Within four years the title of the Regiment had been modified, due in part to the Glorious revolution of 1688 in which half of the Regiment, including Leveson’s Troop had changed over to William of Orange’s side. For his shrewd decision, Leveson was made Colonel of The Queen Consort’s Regiment of Dragoons by the new King. With all Regiments popularly known by their Colonel’s name, it was therefore Leveson’s Dragoons who went to Ireland to see their first action in 1689 the following year.

The war in Ireland was a sour and ill-provisioned conflict with disease and starvation taking almost half the Army as casualties. Leveson’s Dragoons however had made themselves ‘celebrated in the Army’ because of their ‘spirited conduct’. This augured well for the future.

The Regiment returned to England in 1692 for two years’ home service before being sent to the Netherlands to campaign against the French, retitled as The Queens Dragoons, the name they were to hold until 1714. As part of the garrison of Dixmude the Regiment was surrendered to the besieging French by a Danish General which enraged the Dragoons who broke all of their weaponry, rather than hand it over. After the treaty of Ryswick the Regiment returned home for five years, then in 1702 took part in two minor scuffles at Cadiz and at Vigo, where at the latter they helped to destroy over 40 Spanish ships before returning home.

Five more years in England during Marlborough’s great campaign against the French could not have pleased The Queen’s Dragoons until they were sent to Spain and fought against the French themselves at the battle of Almanza, with the forerunners of the 4th and 8th Hussars, in 1707. Despite the Dragoons repeated charges, Almanza was a heavy defeat with over half the Regiment being killed. Little had been gained by the time the Regiment returned home the following year, and little was to happen for the next four years while the Regiment were in Scotland.

In 1714 the first Hanoverian, George I, became King and as he had no queen Consort the Regiment’s title changed once more to The King’s Own Regiment of Dragoons. A year later they fought at Sheriffmuir alongside the forebears of the 7th Hussars, thus joining battle with all their future partners within 30 years of their formation. From 1715 until 1742, the King’s Own regiment of Dragoons soldiered at home, engaging in nothing more exciting than anti-smuggling duty. The uneasy peace in Europe was broken when the Emperor of Austria died and “The War of Austrian Succession” broke out with Britain and Austria once again fighting France. This time there was one major battle and one clear result. King George II led his Army into battle on 27 June 1743, near the village of Dettingen where the King’s Own endured three hellish hours exposed to French artillery then charged three times through nine squadrons of the French Household Cavalry and routed them. Private Thomas Brown rescued one of the Regimental standards in glorious fashion.

For his bravery Thomas Brown, along with George Daraugh of the 4th, was made a Knight Banneret on the battlefield by George II, the last time a British monarch led his soldiers into battle. At Dettingen all the officers save two were wounded among 148 killed or wounded.

With a shortage of troops in England the second Jacobite Rebellion in 1745 called some Regiments home, including The King’s Own, who were sent North to fight at Culloden in 1746. This preceded a long period of inactivity for the Regiment until 1808, excepting their participation in a limited raid on France in 1758 and in the Gordon Riots in London during 1780.

To appease political pressure yet another ill-fated expedition was sent to the Low Countries in 1809 to destroy French shipping on the Scheldt. Known as the Walcheren expedition the plan failed and disease took many casualties.

In 1811 the King’s Own joined Wellington’s Army in the Peninsula, taking part in the campaign of the following year including many unremarkable skirmishes until the major battle at Salamanca. Wellington’s perfect timing of his attack routed 40,000 Frenchmen in 40 minutes, with the cavalry being the chief instrument of destruction. The King’s Own had earned their second battle honour. After wintering in Portugal, the British again had Wellington’s tactical mind to thank for pushing the French Army out of Spain with only major decisive battle at Vittoria, at which both sides lost the same number of casualties but the French had been outflanked. The King’s Own chased the fugitive French Army, which had been beaten by the Infantry. In 1814 Napoleon had actually abdicated when Wellington fought and won the bloody encounter of Toulouse, the King’s Own’s final battle honour in addition to that of the whole campaign ‘Peninsula’. Throughout the war the 3rd had fought in the same brigade as the 4th, their future partners. In all 210 men had been killed, and it must have been with relief that they reached home in July 1814.

Between 1815 and 1837 the King’s Own were stationed in England and Ireland performing the duty more of a gendarmerie than an Army during years of considerable social unrest. In 1818 the Regiment’s name was changed once more to “3rd The King’s Own Light Dragoons”.

In 1837 they set sail for India, brought up to the strength of 420 men, of whom only 47 would return to England in 1853. For four years the 3rd had no enemy except the intense heat; then in the January of 1842 they set out to avenge the complete slaughter of the British garrison in Kabul, butchered on their attempted return to India. Having recaptured Kabul, it was decided by the Governor-General to abandon Afghanistan; thus the 3rd moved back to India. It was the turn of the Sikh Army to suffer in 1845 as they crossed in India with 60,000 men on 11 December. Within sixty-two days the Sikh Army had been utterly defeated in four major battles. The first of these was Moodkee, at which the 3rd, and the second Brigade of Cavalry were present.

The Regiment lost 61 killed and 35 wounded, but could only rest for three days before being put into battle again, charging the Sikh guns at Ferozeshah on 21 December, then repulsing a second Sikh Army from the very positions they had just taken on the 22nd, with the loss of another 55 killed and 100 wounded.

The final battle in which the 3rd fought in the First Sikh War was on 10 February 1846 at Sobraon, which because of the tremendous slaughter of the enemy and their ejection from India, became known as the “Waterloo of India”. The 3rd suffered only minor casualties.

Three years later the Sikhs mutinied again, and as before the 3rd were included in the force sent against them for the Second Sikh War. Battle was first joined by the rival armies at Chillianwallah, a defeat for the British. The 3rd did, however, see glory. Captain Unett’s Squadron cut a path half a mile deep in the enemy, losing half of his brave Squadron in the process. It was only a month before the final battle in the war, which routed the Sikhs at Goojerat, in which the 3rd pursued and cut down the enemy.

This was the final battle in India for the Regiment who returned to England showered with praise by the Indian hierarchy, in 1853. In 1854 they were order to recruit men and buy horses for the 4th Light Dragoons in the Crimea providing 253 and 300 respectively. In 1861 the title of the Regiment changed once more to “The 3rd King’s Own Hussars”, during the fourth year of a six year tour in Ireland. In 1868 they sailed again for India spending eleven peaceful years there before another nineteen in England and Ireland, equally without incident. The 3rd provided its share for the socially elite Camel Corps in 1884, three years before it was once again sent for service in India. Disease disabled the Regiment as normal in India before finally it was sent to see active service in South Africa in November 1901. The hard fighting had already finished and the 3rd found themselves engaged in ‘driving’, rounding up the Boers out on the veldt with only serious casualties being the horses who were worked very hard. within six months the war was over and the Regiment was sent back to India until 1907 where it spent four years policing the now peaceful South Africa, returning home to England in 1911.

Within the context of the 1914-1918 Great War the part played by any one unit among hundreds must be obscured by the grand strategy. The 3rd Hussars fought only in Northern France and Flanders, yet they gained twenty seven battle honours, double the amount they had won in the previous two centuries. None were on the scale of Moodkee or Dettingen, but in the squalor and deprivation which epitomised the trench warfare, all were thoroughly earned.

The Regiment arrived in Rouen on 17 August 1914, and by 21 August was in action opposing the German cavalry at Mons. For a fortnight the so-called Great Retreat saw the Regiment pushed back through Le Cateau over 200 miles until on 5 September the British and French armies turned, inflicting defeats on the Germans at the Marne and the Aisne.  The struggle for Flanders began in October at Ypres with the cavalry fighting as infantry holding the line at Messines under intense pressure. On one day the Regiment lost fifty per cent in casualties. The war now deployed into trench warfare with The 3rd Hussars employed around Ypres, St Julien and Bellewaarde lake until put into reserve in June 1915. For the summer the cavalry spent much time digging trenches, waiting for “the gap” then put into winter quarters, emerging in March 1916. Meanwhile they provided large squadrons for a Cavalry dismounted division fighting as infantry in the trenches. September 1916 and the battle of the Somme saw the Regiment still providing labour behind the front, as well as their dismounted commitment before wintering in Villeroy.

For the battle of Arras in April 1917, the 3rd were once again ready for “the gap” but it did not materialise.

Another spell as a dismounted regiment followed until Cambrai in November when, ready to push through the right flank they were again let down, but fought on foot in the latter stages. In March 1918 the Germans put together their final assault in which the 3rd on 1 April were ordered to retake Rifle Wood, the vital ground the Commander-in-Chief had chosen. An exposed assault left once again 50 per cent casualties. In July the cavalry began to pursue the German withdrawal, acting as reconnaissance for the slower infantry. Bad intelligence squandered some of C Squadron on the road to Parvillers, before the Regiment became Corps Cavalry to the IV Corps for the rest of the war, almost always out in front keeping contact with the enemy until the armistice on 11 November. The 3rd ended the war where they had begun it in 1914, at Hautmont, having lost 107 killed and 385 wounded in the intervening four years.

In 1921 the title of the Regiment changed for the final time to “3rd The King’s Own Hussars”, a few months before it embarked for two years in Turkey as part of the allied army of occupation. from there it proceeded to Egypt until 1927 when it moved to India. Lucknow was a quiet tour and in 1932 the 3rd Hussars returned home to York.

On transferring to Tidworth in 1935 the Regiment had been selected, and had itself approved the decision, to undergo the first experiments in mechanization. The Regiment cheerfully practised with laughably unsuitable vehicles until the Second World War drew them once more against their foes of the last conflict, the Germans.

Initially during the “Phoney War” the 3rd were brigaded in the 1st Armoured Brigade alongside their old friends the 4th Hussars. After France had fallen the 3rd were sent to Cairo to join the 7th Armoured Brigade of 7th Armoured Division, the “Desert Rats”. General Wavell opened his offensive against the Italians in December 1940, and the 3rd saw their first action during the closing stages of Sidi Barrani at Buqbuq where they sustained 25 casualties. This success carried on to Beda Fomm when the Italians were driven out of Cyrenaica.

In April 1941 the Afrika Corps under Rommel attacked and pushed the Allies all the way back to the El Alamein Line in twelve months. Meanwhile the Regiment had been split up into squadrons moving to Crete and Cyprus before they fell. B Squadron were sent to Java where they were captured by the Japanese and put into the infamous prisoner-of-war camps. The remaining and reconstituted 3rd Hussars were re-equipped with Crusader, Sherman and Grant tanks ready for the battle ahead. In the first phase of El Alamein the Regiment helped break through Rommel’s defences but in the second phase it was given the crucial task of forcing a gap through the remaining defences to enable the armoured reserves to break through. The “Moodkee Wallahs” succeeded and Alamein was won, at the cost of 21 Officer casualties, 98 Other Rank casualties whilst of their 51 tanks, 47 were destroyed in the battle. So devastated was the Regiment that it was unable to join the pursuit. General Freyburg granted the 3rd the honour of wearing the Fern Leaf on their vehicles because of their participation with the New Zealand division during the battle.

In January 1943, the Regiment moved to Aleppo in Syria, in August to Haifa and thence to the Lebanon but it was not until April of 1944 that they were put back into action pushing the Germans out of Italy. In June and July the 3rd led the advance of the 78th Division up Italy reaching Citta del Piave and fighting then at Ripa, Montone, Cita de Castello and Pistrino in the Tiber valley. The Regiment had led 130 miles of successful pursuit when an order came that all personnel who had served oversea for four and a half years were to be sent back to England. This was disappointing as the Regiment had always suffered the brunt of the battles but rarely enjoyed the easier work of the pursuits. The 3rd King’s Own Hussars moved to Syria first and this is where they were for the capitulation of the Axis powers on 6 May 1945. When Japan surrendered in August B Squadron started to return to the Regiment. The inhuman Japanese prisoner of war camps had killed 54 of the Squadron.

In December 1945 the 3rd Hussars were selected to be the Reconnaissance Regiment for the only Airborne division being retained in the post war army and thus moved to Sarafond in Palestine to join their Division. Three years of internal peacekeeping duties followed until the 3rd were evacuated to Germany via Durham in 1948. For the next decade they moved to Germany providing the first Armoured Squadron in Berlin and enjoying the peaceful life until they came home to amalgamate in 1958 after 18 years of unbroken Foreign Service.

Major David Watts commanded the returning party, and described poignantly the “hollow merriment” of the journey and lowering of the Regimental flag for the last time. Two hundred and seventy three years of valour, sacrifice, tradition and identity was about to be lost.