The 24th/42st Foot, or the Royal Regiment of Wales was formed from the South Wales Borderers and the Welch Regiment in 1969, formed part of the Prince of Wales’ Division, lasting only 36 years. That brief period of existence saw some intense combat and historic events, as well as several goats.
The Beginnings of the RRW
The two regiments that were to be amalgamated into the Royal Regiment of Wales gathered at Cardiff castle in 1969 to be formed into their new fighting unit before Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and the Colonel-in-Chief of the new force. Within 2 months, they had been posted to Northern Ireland as the first British troops to be deployed to Belfast. There they dealt with hostility and violence from the local population and republican fighters from the South.
Shortly afterwards the RRW was posted to West Germany in 1969, staying there, with two short tours of Northern Ireland, until 1973. They then transferred back to Belfast, taking up the role of the resident unit for two years until 1975, when the regiment was sent to West Berlin for two years.
The time the regiment spent in Belfast coincided with The Troubles, a “low-level war” fought on nationalist grounds, with Unionists favouring continued union with the UK and the Republicans wanting a united Ireland. Both sides committed atrocities, with bombings of pubs, cars, houses and streets across the UK and Ireland. Shootings were common and by the end of the conflict in the 90’s, thousands of terrorists, fighters and civilians had been killed. The RRW was in Belfast during some of the most intense fighting there. Snipers, roadside bombs, assassinations, and murder were only some of the factors the RRW had to contend with. Parts of the populace were largely sympathetic to the British Army, others not so. The difference of a street could spell death for a soldier caught out on his own.
The nature of a guerrilla war is one of constant fear and alertness; many of the soldiers of the RRW who fought in Belfast bore the psychological scars for the rest of their lives.
In 1977, the regiment returned to England and posted to Aldershot, from where they undertook training and joined in NATO exercises in West Germany, in Belize and Hong Kong. Another tour of Northern Ireland was conducted from Aldershot.
In 1979, the civil and anti-imperial war in Rhodesia was coming to an end and the security situation was tenuous with upcoming elections potentially providing a spark for further conflict. The 25 men from the RRW who took part in Operation Agila conducted themselves well and helped ensure the first free elections in the country’s history.
After a 6 year stint in West Germany as a mechanised Infantry Battalion, the regiment returned to Northern Ireland in May 1981. The fighting was sporadic and terrifying, and one especially dangerous assignment was spearheading the funeral of Bobby Sands, who had died after undergoing a hunger-strike in protest of the British Government policy. It was an operation fraught with danger but they pulled it off successfully.
Tours of Northern Ireland continued for the next 6 years, after which they were moved to Wiltshire in England to carry out duties as the School of Infantry’s Demonstration Battalion. Shortly afterwards, they carried out anti-smuggling operations with the Hong Kong police and patrolled the Chinese-Hong Kong border.
Upon arriving back in the UK in 1992, they were installed at Clive Barracks and remained there until 1994, when they deployed to County Londonderry at the Shackleton Barracks. Taking up the role of the resident battalion, they oversaw the last few years of the troubles until moving to the reunified Germany as Armoured Infantry in part of the 1st Armoured Division. The Cold War had ended, more or less, but NATO still kept a fighting force in Eastern Europe to counter the threat of a resurgent Russian Federation; the RRW formed part of this Rapid Reaction Corps.
Fighting in Europe
When the Bosnian conflict exploded into Europe’s first full scale war since WWII, the RRW were deployed for Operation Palatine in 1999 to Bosnia and to Kosovo for Operation Agricola later that year and the year after, forming part of the peace keeping force.
Iraq and Dissolution
The US/UK war in Iraq saw the RRW take part in Operation Telic 3, where they saw considerable action, and again in 2006 with Operation Telic 6 in 2006. Not long after, on March 1st 2006 the RRW was amalgamated with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers to form the Royal Welsh, as part of a wider reorganisation of the British Military.
The Royal Regiment of Wales acquitted itself well in all fields of combat and peacekeeping, and distinguished itself in the short period it existed.