IRISH GREAT WAR SOCIETY

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                    The Connaught Rangers

 

The Connaught Rangers of the Great War was formed in 1881 by the amalgamation of the 88th Regiment of Foot (known as the Connaught Rangers or the ‘Devil‘s Own‘) and the 94th Regiment of Foot (formerly the ‘Scotch’ Brigade).   The 88th becoming the 1st Battalion and the 94th, the 2nd Battalion.

The  88th Regiment of the Foot

The first 88th Regiment of the Foot, known as the Highland Volunteers, was raised in 1760 from a Cadre taken from the 87th Foot and known as Campbell's Regiment.   It served in Germany and fought in the Battles of Warburg and Villinghausen before being disbanded in 1763.   The second 88th Foot, known as Keating's Regiment, was in existence from 1779 to 1783.   The third 88th Regiment of Foot, named the Connaught Rangers, was raised in 1793 by John Thomas de Burgh, the 13th Earl of Clanricarde because of the threat that Napoleonic France posed to England.    It was part of an expeditionary force sent to Egypt in 1801 to oppose Napoleon’s expansionism which tried to undermine Britain’s access to India under the guise of protecting French interests.  The 88th was awarded its first Battle Honour for the part it played in the Egypt Campaign. 

In 1806 it set sail for South America to contest the sovereignty of the River Plate colonies with Argentinean patriotic forces and attacked Buenos Aires in 1807.   The expedition was a total failure and the 88th Regiment of Foot surrendered after suffering a large amount of casualties.  The Regiment was later repatriated under a signed agreement that saw the British abandon their attempt to gain sovereignty over the Plate colonies.

TheScotch Brigade’s history dates back to around 1568 when it was created as an elite  foreign battalion for service with the Dutch and consisted of up to ten companies.   The Scotch Brigade remained in Dutch employment for more than 220 years and that included during the 4th Anglo-Dutch War in 1780, even though both sides had obvious concerns about the Brigade’s allegiances.   George III’s attempt to have the Brigade returned to England before the conflict started was turned down by the Netherland’s State General.    The demise of the Scotch Brigade began in 1782 when the Dutch State General demanded that the Scotsmen took an oath renouncing all allegiance to their native land and the Brigade lost its proud title and became the international Brigade.   That said, there was still a Scots presence in the Dutch army.  Concurrently, in 1779, the 94th Regiment was formed in Colchester (England) and despatched to Jamaica with other reinforcements when the island was in danger of invasion in 1780 and after three years service in the West Indies was returned to England and disbanded.

The  94th Regiment of the Foot

In 1793, a new 94th Regiment of the Army List was raised by Colonel the Hon Hely Hutchinson (afterwards Earl of Donoughmore) and joined the Duke of York's army when it was retreating from the French  and Dutch ‘Patriots’ late in 1794 during the latter stages of the Netherland Campaigns.   It was subsequently returned to England and then disbanded in 1796.

The final remnants of ‘The Scotch Brigade’, just a battalion in strength, returned to England in 1796 still as an unnumbered corps.   In 1797 the regiment went to South Africa and after serving at Cape Town, the Scotch Brigade then went on to India in 1799.

Between 1799 and 1803, the ‘Scotch’ Brigade was stationed in Madras, India and took part in operations at Tranquebar and in the jungle campaigns in Dindigul of the Polygar War.  In September 1803, the Battalion received notification of its regimental number when it was in the field during the Mahratta War and preparing for the Battle of Assaye.  It then became the 94th regiment of the line in the Army list.   The 94th (Scotch Brigade) Regiment of Foot received three battle honours for the 2nd Maharatta War and 105 medals were awarded to the men.   *By the end of the war the Regiment had suffered significant losses and returned home to Scotland to recruit where after it was garrisoned in Jersey, Channel Islands.

The Peninsular War 

Both the 88th Regiment of Foot (The Connaught Rangers) and the 94th Regiment of Foot (The Scotch Brigade) fought side by side during the Peninsular War at Ciudad Rodrio, Badajos, Salamanca, Vittoria, the Nivelle, at Orthes and Toulouse.   The 88th were the first to arrive in 1809 when they landed in Portugal to join other regiments under the command of General William Beresford.    The 94th followed in 1810 and joined General Sir Thomas Picton’s Division.

The 88th’s first action was in a flanking attack during Sir Arthur Wellesley's advance at Oporto in May.   In July, the 88th received a severe beating at Casa de Salinas on the first day of the Battle of Talavera when they were ambushed by the French.  However, Wellesley’s army overcame its initial losses and beat the French.   That victory was Wellesley’s first major success and signalled a change in his army’s fortune. 

In 1810, they played a major part in stopping the French advance at Bussaco’s Ridge, which ultimately lead to the French defeat.   The following year the 88th led the final attack at the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro and cleared the town.

On the 9th January 1812 Wellington started his advance against the fortified town of Ciudad Rodrigo by taking the surrounding French positions.   On the 14th he laid siege to the town and after a sustained heavy bombardment two breaches were made in the walls by the 18th.  Men from the 88th volunteered to be the ‘Forlorn Hope’ and successfully stormed the breaches in the castle walls the following day. Then during the Battle of Badajoz (16 March - 6 April) they achieved an unlikely success when they scaled the walls of Badajoz as Wellington’s other ‘Forlorn Hope’ troops were suffering terrible casualties at the breaches.  

On the 22nd July, the Irishmen were the lead regiment in the attack’s centre during the Battle of Salamanca where the French suffered a crushing defeat.

For their services in Egypt and the Peninsula, the ‘Devil’s Own’ won 12 Battle honours including; Talavera; Busaco; Fuentes d’Onor; Ciudad Rodrigo; Badajoz; Salamanca; Vittoria; Nivelle; Orthes and Toulouse.   408 medals were awarded for gallantry to the men of the Regiment.

After serving in Jersey, the 94th was despatched to Lisbon and from there to Cadiz where it was distinguished in the bloody defence of Fort Matagorda in 1810.  It left Cadiz for Portugal to join Wellington's army in the lines of Torres Vedras.   The 94th won fresh laurels at Ciudad Rodrio, Badajos, Salamanca, Vittoria, the battles on the Nivelle, at Orthes and Toulouse.   

After the Battle of Toulouse, the 88th was sent to Canada while the 94th moved to Ireland where over the next 50 years it effectively became an Irish Regiment.  The 94th was disbanded on 24th December 1818 only to be reformed again five years later in 1823.

The Crimean War, India and Africa

The 88th and small detachments of 94th fought in the Crimean War of 1854–56 against the Tsarist armies of Russia; the 94th’s detachments being sent with the 18th Royal Irish Regiment and took part in the siege of Sevastopol.   The 88th saw action in the victories at Alma and Inkerman, and at the siege of Sevastopol.    Almost immediately after the Crimean War the 88th was sent to India and the Indian Mutiny of 1857–59, remaining on the Indian continent until 1870 when it returned to England.  The 88th returned to India and Bengal once again in 1879.   At around the same time, the 94th left its Armagh home in 1877 for deployment to South Africa where it took part in the Zulu War and then the first Boer War of 1880.

In 1881, the Secretary of State for War, Hugh Childers, continued with the earlier (Edward) Cardwell Reforms of 1870 - 1881 and implemented the final reformation of the British army by amalgamating regiments of foot into infantry regiments consisting of  two battalions.   That year the 88th Regiment of Foot (the Connaught Rangers) was amalgamated with the 94th Regiment of Foot (the Scotch Brigade) to become the 1st and 2nd Battalions (respectively) of The Connaught Rangers.   A total of five infantry regiments were given Irish territorial titles, which will all be discussed within this section of Irish Regimental Histories.   Militarily, the whole of Ireland was administered as a separate command with its Command Headquarters being located at Parkgate (Phoenix Park) in Dublin, although was under the overall control of the War Office in London.

The 94th’s colours were initially retired to Edinburgh Castle but have since been relocated to St. Giles's Cathedral, Edinburg.

At the time of the amalgamation both the 88th and the 94th were still overseas.  

In 1882, the 2nd Battalion (94th) left the African Continent for its depot in the province of Connaught and Galway where the Regiment mainly recruited from.   In 1884, it sent a small detachment as Camel Mounted Infantry to Khartoum in the Sudan to assist with the Gordon Relief Expedition.  The Battalion, as a whole, remained in Ireland until 1887 when it moved to England.

In 1889, the 2nd Connaught’s were sent to Malta and the following year, the 1st Battalion finally left India after eleven years of service on that continent for a short deployment in Aden before returning home in 1891.   In 1892 the 2nd Battalion moved from Malta to Cyprus and then to Egypt in 1895.   After a year in Egypt, the 2nd Battalion accompanied by the 1st Battalion’s machine-gun section joined Lord Kitchener’s Anglo-Egyptian Expeditionary Force to re-conquer the Dongola (Dunqulah) Province in the Sudan (1896-1898).   The 2nd Battalion left the Sudan for India in 1897 as the 1st Battalion’s machine-gun section returned to Ireland.   In 1899 the 2nd Battalion was once again deployed to Malta.

Boer War

The 1st Battalion was deployed to South Africa as part of Major-General Fitzroy Hart’s 5th (Irish) Brigade.  The 1/Connaught took part in numerous engagements during the Boer War.

It was engaged in the Battle of Colenso on 15 December, part of the attempt to relieve the town of Ladysmith besieged by Boer forces. The 1/Connaught and the rest of the 5th (Hart's) Brigade, who were on the left flank, had been forced to perform over 20 minutes of drill before the advance.  The Brigade suffered heavily during their participation in the battle, the Boers inflicting heavy casualties.  The advance was met with a fire from three sides and forced a withdrawal, and ultimately the battle ended in defeat for the British forces.  That battle and two previous defeats at Magersfontein and Stormberg became known as 'Black Week'.

The Rangers fought at Spion Kop and the Tugela Heights during further attempts by General Sir Redvers Buller to relieve the besieged town of Ladysmith.  On 27th February the siege of Ladysmith, which had lasted 118 days, finally came to an end when Buller’s forces broke through the Boer’s lines surrounding Ladysmith.  The regiment was awarded the battle honour Relief of Ladysmith in addition to South Africa 1899–1902.

The 5th Brigade subsequently deployed to Kimberley and took part in further operations against the Boer guerrillas.   The 1/Connaught finally departed South Africa for Ireland after the Boer War ended in 1902, and were also awarded the theatre honour.

In 1908 the 1st Battalion were despatched to India as the 2nd Battalion returned home to Ireland. Both battalions were given new Colours by HM King George V in 1911.

 

FIRST WORLD WAR SERVICE

When the First World War began in August 1914 the 1st Battalion was in India and the 2nd Battalion in England.

1st Battalion

When war was declared in August 1914, the 1st Battalion was on the Indian continent at Ferozepore with the 7th (Ferozepore) Brigade/3rd (Lahore) Division.   It was despatched from Karachi with the Indian Corps on the 28th August but it was a month before they arrived at Marseilles due to the activities of German raiders in the Indian Ocean.

1914  (Race to the sea)

The Battle of Bassee

The First Battle of Messines

The Battle of Armentieres

The 1st Battalion absorbed the survivors of the 2nd Battalion on 5th December after the latter was decimated in the Battle of Le Cateau.

1915

The Battle of Neuve Chapelle

The Battles of Aubers Ridge

The Battle of Festubert

The Battle of Loos

The Battalion departed France on the 11th December for Mesopotamia, landing at Basra on 10 January 1916.

1916

The Relief and Battle of Kut

1917

The Battle of Kut

The pursuit to Feluga and Baghdad

Various actions against hostile Arab tribes

1918

2nd April: The 1st Battalion embarked at Nahr Umar and left for Suez, Egypt via Kuwait having served 2 years and 3 months in Mesopotamia.

The Palestine Campaign

Advance on Nazareth

Actions at ‘Fir Hill’ during the general advance north of Jafa.

Attack on El Funduk (The 1st Battalion captured an entire Turkish artillery column intact in what was its final action in the Great War).

On the day the Armistice was declared the 1st Battalion were garrisoned in Nazareth. Throughout December 1918 and the early months of 1919 the Connaught Rangers were demobilised and sent home to be later disbanded under the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922. The Connaught Rangers Colours are laid up at St. George’s Hall in Windsor Castle.  There is an earlier set of colours for the original Connaught Rangers (the 88th Regiment of Foot) that are kept in the Collegiate Church of St Nicholas, Galway City.

2nd Battalion

As soon as war was declared the 2nd Battalion left its depot in Aldershot for Boulogne to join the 5th Brigade/2nd Division at Mons.

1914

Battle and retreat at Mons

Battle of Coup de Soupir Farm

Battle of the Aisne

First Battle of Ypres


26 August: Suffered huge losses in the rearguard action at Le Grand Fayt during the Battle of Le Cateau.

26 November: Transferred to 7th (Ferozepore) Brigade in 3rd (Lahore) Division.

5 December: Absorbed into 1st Battalion at Le Toure, France and ceased to exist as a separate battalion.

3rd (Reserve) Battalion.

The 3rd Battalion was a depot reserve/training unit at the Regiment’s Renmore Barracks in Galway.  It was mobilised at the outbreak of war and immediately moved to Fort Camden at Crosshaven in Co. Cork.  The following month (September) the Battalion moved to the Barracks at Kinsale where it remained for more than three years before embarking to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in November 1917.  The Battalion then moved to Dover during May 1918 and absorbed the 4th Battalion when they both joined the Dover Garrison.

4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion.

Before the outbreak of war the 4th Battalion was another regimental depot reserve/training unit in Connaught, being located at the Boyle barracks in Roscommon.  It was moved on mobilisation to Queenstown (now Cobh), Co. Cork where it remained until March 1915 when it transferred to Bere Island.

In February 1916 the Battalion moved to Fermoy and then to Fort Camden, Co. Cork during May.   It embarked for Nigg in Scotland during November 1917 and early in 1918 moved to Fort George in Inverness. In May 1918 the 4th Battalion was transferred to the 3rd Battalion at the Dover Garrison.

5th (Service) Battalion.

1914 

At the outbreak of war, Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War was one of the few people in power that did not believe the war would be over by Christmas, and so, set in motion the creation of a new volunteer army to bolster Britain’s small expeditionary force.

The new army was designated K1 and was to consist of six divisions, one of which was the 10th (Irish) Division.  The 5th (Service) Battalion Connaught Rangers was raised for the 10th Division in Dublin during August 1914 and subsequently joined the 29th Brigade at the Kilworth Garrison in Cork, but subsequently moved back to Dublin in October before moving on to the Curragh in January 1915.

1915/1917

May 1915: the Battalion crossed the Irish Sea to England and Hackwood Park in Basingstoke.  On the 9th July, it embarked at Devonport and sailed to Gallipoli via Mudros Bay in the Greek island of Lemnos. 

5th/6th August: while other brigades of the 10th (Irish) Division landed at Suvla Bay, the 29th Brigade and the Rangers went ashore at Anzac Cove, where they later fought alongside the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers.  Before then however, in the February and March of 1915, an Anglo-French naval task force attempted to break through the Dardanelles Straits to open a sea route to supply their Russian allies fighting on the Eastern Front, but the sea action failed. It was then decided to launch an attack on Turkey’s back door, the Gallipoli Peninsula, which was thought to be lightly defended and advance to take the Turkish capital of Constantinople.   The invasion commenced on the 25th April 1915 and that too failed when French, British and Commonwealth troops were trapped along a thin stretch of coastline by entrenched Turkish troops.

In August 1915, a second offensive began in an attempt to break the stalemate and get the allied troops off the beaches and move inland.  Fresh, mainly newly recruited soldiers of the 10th (Irish) Division, including the 5/Connaught Rangers, landed on the Peninsula in the early hours of the 6th August.  The Rangers endured the heat and misery of the Gallipoli Peninsula for just seven weeks but fought desperately with tragic consequences in the actions at;

Hill ‘Q’ / Chunuk Bair

Sari Bair.

Hill 60.

21st & 28th August:  The Battalion suffered significantly high casualties in two attacks on Hill 60.

29th September:  The Battalion was withdrawn to the Greek Island of Lemnos due to the high casualties it had sustained and was no longer an effective force.   During their short campaign the 5th Connaught Rangers suffered over 70% casualties including 22% fatalities.

The Gallipoli campaign ended in total failure and the Peninsula was evacuated in late December 1915.

October 1915: a force including the 10th (Irish) Division was sent to Macedonia at the request of a neutral Greek government, which was tied to an anti-aggression treaty with Serbia after the Bulgarian army had invaded Serbia.   However, by the time an Anglo-French force landed the Serbs were already beaten, but it was decided to keep the force in Serbia for future operations.

The Irish Division took up positions at Lake Doiran, just inside the Greek border, and began to build defensive positions.  

The 5th Connaught Rangers took part in the Macedonian actions at;

Battle of Kosturino and the retreat from Serbia (December 1915)

Defence of Salonika (1915-1916)

Capture of Karajakois (September/October 1916)

Capture of Yenikoi (October 1916)

September 1917: The 10th (Irish) Division left Macedonia and moved to Egypt and the Palestine Campaign where it assembled at Rafa. 

October 1917:  Allenby launched an attack that successfully advanced north and east.

The 5th Connaught Rangers took part in the Palestine actions at;

Third Battle of Gaza (capture of the Hareira Redoubt)

Capture of Jerusalem

Advance to Ramallah

1918

30th April: The Rangers left the 10th (Irish) Division and XX Corps when they sailed from Port Said to Marseilles, arriving on the 1st June.

23rd July:  The Battalion briefly under the command of 14th (Light) Division.

25th August: Transferred to the 197th Brigade in 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division.

8th - 12th October: Pursuit of the German army from the Hindenburg Line at Cambrai to Selle during the final advance into Picardy.

2nd November: Fighting advance through Le Cateau to Sivry.

11th November: At Sivry when the Armistice commenced and was the only Connaught Battalion on the Western Front at that time.

The 6th (Service) Battalion

... was another Connaught battalion of Kitchener's Army. It was formed in September 1914 as part of ‘K2’ (Kitchener’s 2nd New Army) at Kilworth in Co. Cork and was attached to the 47th Brigade, 16th (Irish) Division.  

Before moving to Blackdown, England in September 1915 the Battalion was located at Fermoy.  On the 18th December the 6th Battalion disembarked at Le Havre 1915.

The 6th Battalion served in France & Flanders from 1916 until early 1918 where they were engaged in the following actions;

1916

The Battle of the Somme at Guillemont and Ginchy.

In just over a week’s fighting in the Battle of the Somme at Guillemont and Ginchy in September 1916 the 6th Battalion lost 23 officers and 407 other ranks.  

1917

The Battle of Messines (near the Petit Boise and Maedelstede Farm mines)

The Third battle of Ypres (Passchendaele)at Langemark

1918

On March 21st 1918 the 6th Connaught Rangers were caught in the middle of the great German offensive at St. Emilie and suffered such heavy casualties that the battalion could no longer be sustained and was subsequently disbanded. 

Following the huge opening German bombardment, the order to withdraw did not reach the Irishmen and they were left alone to face the onslaught of two whole German divisions.

Reduced to a cadre of around 220 men, the surviving troops were redeployed to 2nd Leinster Regiment on the 13th April 1918.   The Battalion had lost 22 officers and 618 other ranks.

---------

2,500 men of the Connaught Rangers were killed in action or died from their wounds during the Great War and their graves lie in France, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Egypt, Palestine, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, and United Kingdom.

On 28th June 1920 when the 1st Battalion was at Jalandhar in the Punjab, five men mutinied when they heard news of reprisals taken by the Black and Tans and the Auxiliary Division during the Irish War of Independence. They subsequently refused to take any further orders until the British forces left Ireland; they also replaced the Union Jack with the Irish Tri-colour.  The mutiny ended after just three days and the men were imprisoned at Dagshai.  A short while after a rumour reached a Rangers detachment at Solan that the five men had been executed, which led to seventy of their number joining the mutiny.   Two were shot dead and the rest taken prisoner when they attempted to storm an armoury.  Around 400 men in all mutinied of which, eighty-eight were court-marshalled with fourteen being given the death sentence; of the men sentenced to death, thirteen had their sentences commuted to life in prison and the sentence was carried out on one man.  A Connaught Rangers mutineer’s memorial has since been erected in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

In 1922, on the creation of the Irish Free State and under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the Connaught Rangers and other infantry regiments raised in Ireland prior to the ‘New State’ were disbanded. Their Colours were received by the King and laid up in Windsor Castle where they remain today.  An earlier set of colours can be found in the 14th century Collegiate Church of St Nicholas in Galway City centre along with several stone memorials to fallen members of the regiment.



 

 

 

 

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