UK

Desert Rats To Lose Tanks In MoD Shake-Up Despite WWII El Alamein History

06/03/2013 11:21 GMT | Updated 06/03/2013 11:26 GMT

The "Desert Rats", whose tanks defeated Rommel in the sands of El Alamein, turning the tide of WWII, are to lose their armoured vehicles.

In a shake-up of the UK's shrinking Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed the 7th Armoured Brigade is to become part of an infantry brigade.

The change - described as "immensely sad" by one former commander - forms part of the speeded-up withdrawal of British troops from Germany announced yesterday.

desert rats tanks

The cuts are part of the overall plan to reduce the size of Britain's armed forces

An MoD spokesman said the famous rodent insignia would be kept when the brigade moves to Chilwell, Nottinghamshire, but the brigade will not keep its tank capacity.

"7 Brigade, including their 'Desert Rat' insignia, will remain in the Army's order of battle as an adaptable force brigade based in Chilwell," he said.

"As announced in the SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review), we are reducing our heavy armour by 40% and re-rolling units to face more modern threats.

"That is why the Desert Rats will in the future be an infantry brigade equipped with a range of protected mobility vehicles."

Major General Patrick Cordingley, a former commander of the Desert Rats, told The Daily Telegraph, which reported the change: "It is immensely sad.

"Like the British public, I am extremely sad that they are losing their armoured role.

"These are units whose history you would have thought might have spared them from this."

But, while he agreed that "there will be some regrets", the chairman of the Desert Rats Association, Rod Scott, said he did not believe the change was very significant.

"When people think of the Desert Rats, they do think of tanks but that was never even 50% of it," he said - adding that the Armed Forces had always been reconfigured over the years.

desert rats

A German Panzer III crewman lifts his hands in surrender to an advancing British soldier during the battle of El Alamein

Taking their name from the jerboa, a large desert rodent, on their regiment badge, the Desert Rats have played a prominent role in nearly every major conflict since their inception in Egypt in 1938.

Their most famous and important moment came when, led by Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery, they defeated the Axis army in the desert of North Africa.

The victory ended the Nazi threat to the oil fields of the Middle East and the Suez Canal.

Winston Churchill said of the victory: "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat."

The 7th Armoured Brigade was disbanded after the Second World War but reformed shortly afterwards - taking on the nickname and insignia when the 7th Armoured Division was disbanded in 1958.

For a short period leading up to 1981 it was re-named "Task Force Alpha".

It had a prominent role in the 2003 Iraq war.