Napoleonic Wars to the Boer War
Regiment was raised in response to the Napoleonic crisis. This war took
them through Europe, Egypt, South America, West Indies and Canada. The
most famous battle was at Barossa in 1811 when on March 5th the first French
Imperial Eagle was taken by Sergeant Masterman of the 87th Regiment.
battle was fought for control of Barossa hill. A Spanish - British army
was attempting to break out of the siege of Cadiz. The British
commander, Gen Graham, felt that control of Barossa hill was vital to
protect the right flank of the operation. However, the Spanish Gen
Zayas thought otherwise and only posted a weak flank guard at Barossa.
French Marshal Victor noticed that Barossa was weakly held and thus
attempted to outflank the Spanish-British army. Victor sent Laval with
his division to engage Graham's British force. In the meantime,
Ruffin's division - led personally by Victor - swept round the Barossa
hill and routed the weak Spanish force detailed to hold the feature.
Graham saw the danger and sent in his 1 light battalion (under Major
Brown) to attack Ruffin's division then occupying Barossa hill. The
other light battalion (under Col Barnard) engaged Laval's division
while Wheatley's brigade was sent hastily to reinforce him. In the
meantime, Dilke's brigade rushed to take Barossa hill - behind Brown's
heavily outnumbered force. Dilke's outnumbered brigade rushed up
Barossa hill and made a frontal assault on the French defenders which
fell back under the hail of fire and subsequent hand-to-hand combat.
The retiring French were not allowed to regroup - being pounded all the
while by British artillery. A similar fate befell Laval's division and
the French retreat was hastened by the charge of the 2 sqns of KGL
Hussars attached to Graham's force. In
1881 the 87th and the 89th Regiments of Foot combined to become the 1st
and 2nd Battalions of The Princess Victoria's Royal Irish Fusiliers,
with their depot at Armagh. Shortly afterwards their strength was
increased by three more battalions from what had been the Armagh. Cavan
and Monaghan Militia Regiments.
I n 1882 the
1st Battalion were Part of General Grahams Brigade which sailed to
Egypt. The Egyptian population were aggrieved over the British and
French ownership of the Suez Canal and when rioting in Alexandria
resulted in 130 European deaths, the British government despatched
warships and a large force under Sir Gamet Wolseley. The army was not
given any time to acclimatise and a 24 hour march was followed by the
battle at Tel-el-Kebir. From Egypt the 1st Battalion went
to India on garrison duties, though by 1898 they found themselves back
in Egypt fighting the Mahdists at the battle of Omdurman. Fresh from
this battle the 1st Battalion moved to South Africa to take part in the
Boer War. In 1882 the 2nd Battalion went to India on garrison duties.
In 1884 they were ordered to the Sudan to fight the Mahdi and his Arab
forces. The 2nd Battalion fought at the battles of El Teb and Tamai in
which the Arabs were defeated. The 2nd Battalion was then based in Cork
and Colchester until the outbreak of the Boer War.
collapsed between the British and Boers over the sovereignty of South
Africa, the British shipped in troops to strengthen the garrison. The
Boers, understandably saw this move as open aggression and on 11th
October 1899, the Boer Republics declared war. The 1st Battalion The
Royal Irish Fusiliers fought in the first battle at Talana Hill.
Although they won this battle, the campaign went badly wrong for the
Regiment and those who survived the battle were either prisoners of war
or besieged at Ladysmith. The third besieged town, Ladysmith, was a
railway junction surrounded by hills and north of the Tugela River. The
officer commanding the troops at this junction , General White, turned
it into a giant store of troops, horses and civilians and got stuck
there. Ladysmith had the strategic value of a sparrow and was difficult
to defend. Despite Buller's request that no troops be moved north of
the Tugela river they were and the original battle plans given to
Buller who was steaming towards South Africa by ship were fast becoming
irrelevant. Ladysmith was defended by 12 000 troops of the British
Empire and was forced to defend itself only once from a few hundred
Boers who attacked a hill known as Wagon Hill / Platrand / Caesars
Camp. Some very brave troops and officers fought in this battle on
January 6 1900 but the commanders of the British forces were really a
bit lacking in their preparation of their defences. The truth of the
matter is that the Ladysmith garrison commanders showed little
enthusiasm for taking on the Boers besieging them and were of no use in
supporting the relieving force. The administration of the siege was
poor and many died of disease due to the overzealous red tape and
Many of the
dead are buried at Intombi Camp. It would appear that the commanding
officer, General White, walked about in a bit of a funk and took so
little interest in what was happening that his nickname became
"Invisible White." To White's credit he did stick to the siege once he
had made the mistake of getting trapped in the little town.
For the duration of the war the captives had to endure terrible
conditions in the Boer prisoner camps in Pretoria. Most had lost their
belongings and equipment in the fighting, the Boers took the rest.
After the Boers were defeated at Tugela heights and Pieter's Hill, the
way was open to Ladysmith. The town was relieved by the 2nd Battalion
in 1900. Although the tide of the war had now turned for the Boer's,
they did not surrender until 1902.
First & Second World Wars
The Royal Irish
increased to 14 battalions, most of these fought on the Western Front,
others fought in Gallipoli, Palestine, the Balkans and Egypt. Battalions
from The Royal Irish Fusiliers fought with the 10th and 16th Irish Divisions
and the 36th Ulster Divisions. There were also Garrison Battalions in
Ireland, whose task it was to recruit and train the soldiers ready for
fighting on the front line.
1st Battalion fought at Le Chateau and shared in the battle of Maine and
advance to the Aisne. It was involved in the capture of Armentieres and in
the second battle of Ypres 1915, where it suffered two of the earliest gas
attacks in the war. The Battalion took part in the battle of the Somme 19I 6
and the battle of Amas 1917. Also in 1917 the Battalion became part of the
36th Ulster Division, fighting with distinction in the battle of Cambrai. As
a result of the German offensive in March 19I8, the Battalion suffered
heavily and was reformed into one company attached for a time to the 9th
Battalion. When it was restored to strength, it took part in the third
battle of Ypres 1918. Private Robert Morrow of the 1st Battalion was awarded
the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery near Messines 12th April 1915.
During the war 1,058 men died while serving with the 1st Battalion.
The 9th Battalion was
formed in 1914 and became part of the 36th Ulster Division. On the first day
of the battle of the Somme in 1916 this Battalion attacked Hamel and
suffered terrible casualties, with 240 men killed in one day. The Victoria
Cross was awarded posthumously to Lieutenant Geoffrey St George Shillington
Cather of the 9th Battalion for rescuing wounded men during the battle of
the Somme on 1st July 1916. The Battalion fought at the battle of Messines
1917, the third battle of Ypres 1917, St Quentin, Lys, Kemmel and Coutrai
1918. In 1917 the badly hit North Irish Horse joined their ranks.
The 11th Battalion went to France in
1917, but due to of severe losses was soon absorbed into the 5th Battalion.
During the War the Regiment won 44 Battle Honours, over twice as many as had
been won in all its previous service. The cost was high, the Regiment having
lost 3,181 dead and more than 15,000 wounded. By 1922 civil war and
partition in Ireland forced the disbandment of many Irish infantry
regiments, leaving only The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers and The Royal Irish
Rifles. The Royal Irish Fusiliers were to be disbanded, but were saved by
the generosity of the lnniskillings who reduced to a single battalion,
making room for them.
On 3rd October 1939,
the 1st Battalion went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force
and was employed building roads and fortifications. By 18th May 1940 the
Battalion was the last to move forward into Belgium. As the Battalion
advanced, they met the Brigade rearguard in retreat. The Battalion was
ordered to secure the withdrawal to Dunkirk. That the retreat succeeded is
due in no small part to the Fusiliers. The fighting was fierce, especially
along the La Bassee Canal. The 1st Battalion was reassembled by June 1940
and sent to join the First Army in North Africa, forming part of the 38th
Irish Brigade. The Battalion fought their way through Sicily and Italy.
At the outbreak of war the, 2nd
Battalion was in Malta. Its location close to Libya and Sicily made it
vulnerable to air attack, but little could be done against the might of the
Luftwaffe. With little food, ammunition or replacement aircraft getting
through, the island and its inhabitants faced tough decisions, but they held
out and by May 1943, when North Africa was secured, the crisis was over.
When the 2nd Battalion left Malta in
June 1943, recuperation and retraining followed, and by mid September they
headed into action again, this time to Leros, an island situated a few miles
off the Turkish coast. The order was that "no enemy shall set foot on the
island unless to be a prisoner of war", an almost impossible task. The
Battalion Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Maurice French was killed
and after five days fighting those soldiers who were left alive were taken
After the war the 1st
Battalion were sent on occupation duties in Austria. The 2nd Battalion went
to Egypt and then to Palestine
from 1947. This coincided with the Regiment being reduced to one battalion
again and the raising of a Territorial Battalion, the 5th, based in Armagh.
The 1st Battalion left Palestine in 1948 to go to the Suez Canal Zone. In
1949 they moved to Akaba and in 1950 to Gibraltar. This type of garrison
duty continued in Germany for the next five years as the Battalion was part
of the British Army of the Rhine. From here, detachments were sent to
support the Royal Ulster Rifles who were fighting in Korea. The rest of the
Battalion followed in 1954 on garrison duties after the war had ended. In
1956 the Mau Mau terror was at its height in Kenya, the 1St Battalion was
sent primarily to support the local police force. Also to protect the native
villages, thus depriving the terrorists of food, labour and information.
Their operations were a success and less than a year later, the Battalion
was able to leave a Kenya that was stable again. From Kenya it was back to
Germany again and then in 1958 to Libya as part of the newly formed North
Irish Brigade. In 1962 it was Germany again, as part of the British Army of
the Rhine, until 1966 when the Battalion was deployed in Swaziland.
Political tension in Rhodesia was affecting this small protectorate and the
Regiment was to maintain its security. Also, in 1966 a detachment was sent
to Aden. Early in 1967 the whole Battalion was at Catterick only to learn
that the regiments of the North Irish Brigade were to be reformed into one
regiment, The Royal Irish Rangers which occurred on the 1st July 1968.
Finally in 1968 The Royal Irish Fusiliers
amalgamated with The
Royal Ulster Rifles and The Royal
Inniskilling Fusiliers to form The
Royal Irish Rangers.