Indian Long Range Desert Squadron

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Last updated 09/28/14
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Group of officers of the 9th Bengal Cavalry, Suakin

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Indian Long Range Desert Squadron 1941-1947

 Jonathan Pittaway

 Major S.V. McCoy formed the ILRS in January 1942, at Damascus in Syria, under the umbrella of the Indian Armoured Corps. It was modelled on the Long Range Desert Group, and composed almost entirely of Indian volunteers from the 2nd Royal Lancers (Gardner’s Horse), PAVO Cavalry (11th Frontier Force) and 18th King Edward VII’s Own Cavalry. All three regiments were then serving together in the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade.

                McCoy’s task was one of considerable difficulty, as it was necessary to train Indians to be really good drivers and wireless operators, and also to navigate. Furthermore, he also had to teach them desert craft, and other subjects which LRDG personnel had taken eighteen months to learn from practical experience. It was designed for operating behind enemy lines in Syria, Iraq and Persia in case of a Nazi attack through the Balkans into the Middle East.  In the event, this threat never materialized.

Composition of the ILRS

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Establishment………..

350 volunteers from the IAC

 

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Headquarters…...........

C.O. Major S.V. McCoy, and Captain F.B. Boyd

 

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‘J’ Patrol……………..

Captain J.E. Cantlay

Jats (I/1 Patrol under LRDG)

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‘R’ Patrol…………….

Captain T.J.D. Birdwood

Rajputs (I/2 Patrol under LRDG)

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‘M’ Patrol……............

Captain A.B. Rand

Muslims (I/3 Patrol under LRDG)

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‘S’ Patrol…………….

Captain G.W. Nangle

Sikhs, (I/4 Patrol under LRDG)

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Ancilliary troops…….

RCS, RAOC, REME and other sections

 

Deployment - attached to Long Range Desert Group

 In May 1942, two ILRS patrols were attached to the LRDG in the desert for operational experience. In October 1942, the whole ILRS came under command LRDG, operating behind enemy lines from Siwa, Kufra and Hon on similar tasks to those allotted to the LRDG.  It was attached to General Leclerc during the march north through the Fezzan to Tripoli. Following the Battle of the Mareth Line in 1943, the Squadron was released from the LRDG by FM Montgomery and sent to India as it was unlikely to find further scope for its activities in the country the Eighth Army was then entering (North Tunisia).

 

 

Redeployment

After a period spent at Ferozepore in India, the ILRS was deployed to Zahidan, Baluchistan and Persia where it saw the war out patrolling the volatile Persian/Afghan/Russian border to discourage any Soviet infiltration into this oil-rich border region.

 

Disbandment

The ILRS was disbanded in 1947 when India was partitioned. The Jats, Rajputs and Sikhs of  ‘J’, ‘R’ and ‘S’ Patrols went to the 2nd Royal Lancers, 3rd Cavalry and 18th K.E.O. Cavalry, allotted to India. The Muslims of ‘M’ Patrol were absorbed into the PAVO Cavalry (Frontier Force), allotted to Pakistan.

 

Badges

The cap badge (above) consisted of crossed lances with pennons, with a tablet bearing the letters LR at the intersection.  It came in brass or silver plate, as designed by Major Sam McCoy, and was worn on a black beret.The cloth slip-on shoulder title (above) was embroidered with the letters ILRS in gold on a dark blue backing. Buttons, if any particular pattern was worn, are not known.

 

Honours, awards and roll of honour

 The ILRS received no battle honours and its roll of honour is unknown. Major McCoy was awarded the MBE (London Gazette, 18.10.43), and Captains Bird and Nangle were mentioned in despatches (London Gazette, 13.01.44).

 

British officers with the ILRS

 Major McCoy, Captains Boyd, Cantlay, Rand, Fitzgerald, Birdwood, Hudson, and Nangle

 

British other ranks with the ILRS

Navigators: Collins, Lever, Jessop and Owens

Wireless operators: Cox and Brain,

Signallers: George, Haslam, Sheffield, Smurthwaite, Gregory and Kearney

Others: Ripley

 

Sources

Ministry of Defence records at the National Archives

LRDG Association newsletter;

Ashok Nath, Izzat, Historical Records and Iconography of Indian Cavalry Regiments 1750-2007 (U.S.I. of India, New Delhi 2009)..

 

Appeal for Help

 The writer would be very grateful to receive scans of badges, photos, maps, orders, cuttings, any information relevant to the ILRS including the means of contacting original members of the squadron. Corrections to this article would also be appreciated. Please contact Jonathan Pittaway at agencies@iafrica.com (website <www.dandy.co.za>)

 

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