Fact file: Light Horse Regiment


Formerly the Imperial Light Horse1, the regiment was raised on the authority of the War Office (London) on September 21, 1899 from Uitlander refugees in Natal. Major G Tylden2 records the original strength was six squadrons and the members were “probably the pick of the British population of Johannesburg”.

He adds about 45% of the unit was South African, 45% was British and the rest were from the dominions and the United States. The marksmanship of the Natal men was noted in an early regimental history and ascribed to that province’s cadet system. The wikipedia3 notes that the unit was raised in Johannesburg4 for service in the Second Anglo-Boer War as the Reformers Regiment on September 21, 1899 by Colonel Aubrey Woolls-Sampson, Major Walter Davies, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and Captain Charles Mullins, although it was soon renamed the Imperial Light Horse Regiment with the permission of Queen Victoria. Their Boer opponents called them the “Uitlander Regiment.”

First muster of the Regiment took place in Pietermaritzburg. The wikipedia adds that the first commander of the regiment (consisting of 444 officers and men, chosen from 5000 volunteers) was Colonel JJ Scott-Chisholme, who led the unit to its first engagement – at Elandslaagte on October 21. “During this battle two Victoria Crosses were awarded (to Captain Charles Herbert Mullins and Lieutenant Robert Johnston) and Colonel Scott-Chisholme was killed.” Tylden notes that at Elandslaagte the unit was some 600 strong.

The unit next served with distinction in Ladysmith during the siege, especially at Wagon Hill, where Trooper Herman Albrecht won the regiment another Victoria Cross. The sole squadron not trapped in the town formed part of the Composite Regiment of the Relief Force and fought at Colenso, Spioenkop and in the Relief of Ladysmith.

The ILH was then redeployed to the northeast Cape to assist in the relief of Mafikeng from the south. After much hard service in the Transvaal, the ILH was expanded to two battalions, the second under Major Duncan McKenzie. By war’s end it had 1200 officers and men under arms and had won four Victoria Crosses, the last being awarded to Surgeon Captain Thomas Joseph Crean for his actions at Tygerkloof near Bethlehem in 1901.

In December 1902 the regiment was reorganised at Johannesburg as two wings in the volunteer Transvaal Army, but in 1904 the left wing was separated and redesignated the Western Rifles.5 A squadron from the ILH served with the Transvaal Mounted Rifles in 1906 during the suppression of the Zulu (Bambatha) Rebellion in Natal and Zululand. The next action the regiment took part in was the First Rand Revolt in 1913 when it, together with other military units, was mobilised to assist the South African Police during a general strike.

From 1913 to 1932 the unit was known as the 5th Mounted Rifles and in 1914 five squadrons were deployed for the campaign in German South West Africa. The ILH served throughout the 1922 Rand Revolt, notably in the fighting at Ellis Park. In 1934, the unit was issued armoured cars.6

Two infantry battalions were raised for the 1939-1945 war, the first serving with 3 SA Brigade and the second battalion serving with 2 Royal Natal Carbineers in the 6th Recce Regiment, SA Tank Corps7. The wikipedia notes that 2ILH initially formed 13th Armoured Car Company, SA Tank Corps and this was, in turn, amalgamated with Royal Natal Carbineers in order to create the 6th Armoured Car Regiment8. Later, a further amalgamation with the 4th Armoured Car Regiment formed the 4th/6th ACR under command LTC Robert Reeves-Moore MC who was later awarded the Bar to his MC for the armoured breakthrough in the final stages of the El Alamein Battle.9

1ILH sailed from Durban to Egypt on April 10, 1941, as advance guard of 2SA Infantry Division.10 “…it was in June that their first task of digging the defences at El Alamein began.11 Although unspectacular then, it was there less than a year later that the 3rd Brigade as part of the 1st Division was to earn the undying distinction of being the first to stop Rommel’s all but successful thrust to drive the allied forces out of Egypt. In December of 1941 the Division was given orders to clear the coast between Bardia and Tobruk. Outstanding achievements included a daring sweep along the coast road and the destruction of the German tank workshops when 22 enemy tanks were destroyed. On December 31, 1941 the final thrust on Bardia together with RLI commenced, and although the casualties were heavy, this together with the Gazala Defence, played a major part in stopping Rommel’s advance towards the Nile Delta. Then, on October 23, 1942 the ILH formed the left flank of the spearhead when the 8th Army attacked El Alamein under General Montgomery.”

“Soon afterwards the Regiment was reorganised back in South Africa and the First and Second Regiments together with Kimberley Regiment were amalgamated to form the ILH/Kim. Regiment under LTC R Reeves-Moore DSO, MC and in September 1943 again sailed for Egypt to join the 6th Armoured Division in the role of a motorised Battalion. Then in April 1944 the Division sailed for Italy and ILH/Kim.R was attached to the 12th SA Brigade which was operating on a front in the mountains above Cassino. After a series of fierce battles north of Rome the unit triumphantly entered Florence on August 4, 1944. After a brief rest the Division came under command of the American 5th Army and was given the task of attacking the Gothic Line on the southern slopes of the Apennines. In September heavy fighting culminated in the capture of Monte Bagno at the cost of almost a quarter of the regiment killed or wounded. The fighting continued until the capture of Monte Salvaro or point 826 where ILH/Kim.R drove the enemy off the rocky peak after sustaining heavy losses. After the winter in March 1945 the 6th SA Armoured Division broke through the last of the German defences around Bologna and the army headed for Venice with the objective of routing the enemy before static defences could be formed along the River Po. Fittingly the last serious engagement took place at Finale south of Venice, where the overwhelming strength of the allies forced the enemy to surrender thus ending the Italian Campaign and the Regiments tour of duty overseas.”

“After the war the regiment was resuscitated as an armoured regiment and equipped with Sherman tanks. The fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 1949 included a review of the Regiment by the Minister of Defence [Frans] Erasmus, and the unveiling of a Memorial Plaque by Field Marshal [Jan] Smuts at St Mary’s Cathedral honouring those of the Regiment who had laid down their lives during the Second World War. The Diamond Jubilee, ten years later was noteworthy for the conferment of the Freedom of the City of Johannesburg as well as Mafikeng and Ladysmith. The grand finale to these celebrations was the unveiling and dedication of the Regimental War Memorial, a Crusader Tank, mounted on a plinth outside the Association Hall. This Memorial has now been transferred to the Regimental Headquarters at Kelvin in Sandton.”

“In October 1959 … Erasmus issued a defence reorganisation policy statement in which the disbandment of the Regiment was to take place. Serious consternation prevailed and a delegation from the Regimental Council tried in vain to meet with the minister. Soon afterwards a Cabinet reshuffle took place and the new Minister of Defence, [Jim] Fouché, had the foresight in January 1960 to rescind the decision. However with the institution of the Republic and the break from the Commonwealth the Government decided to change the name to the Light Horse Regiment. An unpopular decision particularly with those who had served with distinction in the ILH but the new name was reluctantly accepted.”

“The Regiment continued to serve the SADF as an Armoured Car Regiment and in 1975 with the strength close to 2000 a decision was taken to split the Regiment into 1 Light Horse Regiment and 2 Light Horse Regiment. The units served 72 Motorised Infantry Brigade and 81 Armoured Brigade respectively and duty included the Border War in northern South West Africa/Angola which saw frequent tours by the regiment or squadrons making up battle groups. LHR was also deployed in a peacekeeping role in the townships of South Africa in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s in an effort to curb the violence which had erupted in the country.”

“After the elections in 1994 the newly formed SANDF embarked on a rationalisation campaign which affected a large number of Citizen Force units. Some were closed completely while others, mainly the so called traditional regiments were scaled down or amalgamated with other units. In March 1997 1 LHR and 2LHR were reformed into a single Regiment once again, and will continue to serve as a [Reserve] Force Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment for the foreseeable future.”

Current role: Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment12.

Current base: Kelvin, Johannesburg

Battle honours:

  • South Africa 1899-1902

  • Defence of Ladysmith

  • Relief of Ladysmith

  • Natal 1906

  • South West Africa 1914-1915

  • Gibeon

  • Western Desert 1941-43

  • Bardia

  • Gazala

  • Alamein Defence

  • Alamein Box

  • El Alamein

  • Italy 1944-45

  • Casino II

  • Celleno

  • Florence

  • The Greve

  • Gothic Line

  • Monte Porro del Bagno

  • Monte Vigese

  • Monte Salvaro

  • Po Valley

Motto: Previously Imperium et Libertas (Empire and Freedom), now Patria et Libertas13 (Country and Freedom)

1 Not to be confused with the SA Light Horse, raised from Uitlanders at the Cape by LTC (later Field Marshal) the Hon Julian Byng. Among his subordinates, in 1900, was Lieutenant Winston Spencer Churchill, later Prime Minister of Britain. The SALH was disbanded in 1907.

2Major G Tylden in The Armed Forces of South Africa, City of Johannesburg Africana Museum Frank Connock Publication No 2, Johannesburg, 1954

4 This contrasts with Tylden, above, but agrees with a regimental history published by The South African Military History Society (see note 42). It is unusual for Tylden to be wrong, but the LHR must be deemed to know its own history.

5 Wikipedia.

7 Tylden.

8 Tylden calls the unit a Recce Regt. This is considered authoritative.

9 Light Horse Regiment Centenary, The South African Military History Society, http://rapidttp.com/milhist/lhrcent.html, accessed June 4, 2006.

10 Tylden notes they served in Ethiopia first, where they served with the 3rd SA infantry Brigade, but the wikipedia and the Light Horse Regiment Centenary item makes no mention of this.

11 Light Horse Regiment Centenary, The South African Military History Society, http://rapidttp.com/milhist/lhrcent.html, accessed June 4, 2006.

12The LHR is the only regiment in the SA Army so designated.

13 Colin R Owen, The Military Badges and Insignia of Southern Africa, Chimperie Agencies, Somerset West, 1990. The motto would have been unacceptable to the Republicans of 1961.