The Queen’s Royal Lancers

With the end of the Cold War the armed forces were reorganised to make maximum value of the peace dividend. In line with this on the 25th June 1993, the 16th/5th The Queen’s Royal Lancers and the 17th/21st Lancers were amalgamated to form The Queen’s Royal Lancers. The certainties that had sustained a generation of BAOR warriors were now gone. However, the legacy of this training was shown in the spectacular success of the first Iraq War, and has gone on to sustain the new Regiment over this era of ‘peace’.

The first task was how best the regiments should merge. The two committees recognised that petty jealousies and pointless arguments might create a painful birth and a legacy of bitterness. Leading by example the Old Comrades ensured that the Associations, like the Regiment, would merge and that QRL was supported by a united front. The Regiment retained the famous Motto cap badge of the 17th/21st Lancers – a Death’s head skull and crossed thighbones with the scroll ‘Or Glory’ below – with the addition of a scarlet backing from the 16th/5th Lancers. The Regiment was extremely proud that Her Majesty the Queen remained as its Colonel-in-Chief, a position she had held since 1947 with the 16th/5th. HRH Princess Alexandra, Colonel-in-Chief of the 17th/21st Lancers, became Deputy Colonel-in-Chief of the new Regiment. Following the Amalgamation Parade the real work began to create a new regiment and establish trust between Lancers. The Regiment was helped by a move to a neutral base in Osnabruck and by converting onto Challenger 1 tanks together. The tempo of the first two years was extraordinary and this more than anything made QRL. There was simply no time for rose-tinted memories of the old days. The then RSM, WO1 Alan Needle, remembers the time well:

We were charged with only taking forward what was either ‘best or unique’ from the previous regiments.  If whatever we sought did not meet these criteria we started again with a blank page. The long-term responsibility in these early, formative years was to try and ensure that the foundation stones were cut straight, true and placed with the greatest of care for our future. Despite the tempo the officers, men and indeed Old Comrades rose, in general, quite magnificently to this task with real verve, energy and commitment. [Lieutenant Colonel Alan Needle]

His and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Mackenzie-Johnston’s drive made sure that what could have been a difficult time became one of triumph, as QRL was quickly viewed as the amalgamation that others were judged against. It is operations that give a regiment its history and its cohesion. QRL had already been warned-off to deploy to Cyprus as part of the on-going UN Mission to monitor the Green Line between the Northern Turkish and Southern Greek Cypriots. This task, whilst relatively peaceful, required gentle diplomatic skills as both sides sought to claim infringements that would quickly escalate to the UN Council in New York. Sometimes, too, the multinational diplomacy needed some work:

Captain Johnny Firth remembered being asked to organise a ‘film night’ in conjunction with hosting the Austrian UN contingent at the Ledra Palace Officers’ Mess. Apart from his below-standard operation of the projection equipment and managing to mix the reels up (twice), the defining memory will be his choice of film – let’s just say that Lieutenant Colonel Alick Finlayson had an interesting discussion post the event with his Austrian counterpart about the artistic attributes of ‘Schindler’s List’! [Captain Johnny Firth]

On a more serious note, the ‘peace’ so hoped for with the end of the Cold War was beginning to unravel. Nationalist and religious tensions were beginning to stir. In Saudi Arabia, Osama Bin Laden, angered by the ‘invasion of infidels’ in the holy land of Mecca during Gulf War 1, began his campaign of reprisals, and in Yugoslavia the country was falling into a genocidal civil war. These factors were to keep the Regiment busy over the forthcoming decades.

The British Army had been involved in the Balkans since the beginning of the Bosnian Civil War. Yugoslavia was a federation of states consisting of Catholic Slovenes and Croats, Muslim Bosniaks and Orthodox Serbs. Following the death of the dictator Marshal Tito, the dominant Serbian state attempted to take on the mantle of the old regime, leading to a rebellion by Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. Whilst the Serb, Slovenian and Croatian wars were bloody there was an ethnic majority in the breakaway states. In Bosnia there was no single dominant ethnic group, and soon Serbian Bosnians backed by Serbia rose up to drive out the Bosniaks and Croats.

Into the ensuing struggle the British Army deployed to support the UN mission to relieve the suffering of the civilian population and to attempt to interpose between the warring factions. Critically, UN forces were not authorised to use offensive force except in self-defence. The Regiment’s role began in April 1995 with C Squadron deploying in Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) to the isolated Maglai ‘Finger’ as part of the BRITCAVBAT Battlegroup. What ‘self-defence’ meant was brought home in the first twenty-four hours of the mission when a Serbian T55 tank opened fire on the squadron in Maglai School. This round penetrated the wall and shrapnel wounded three soldiers queuing for their evening meal. 1st Troop, under command of Lieutenant Peter Troup, deployed rapidly into position and returned fire – the first shots fired in anger by QRL. The tank was driven off by 1st Troop and then believed destroyed by a Canadian anti-tank missile. 

Having deployed and received orders to engage I commenced firing whilst I waited for the remainder of my troop to get into position. Being in the middle of a town, any deployment into firing positions was severely restricted and options few. I remembered the maxim of firing one or two shots and then ‘jockeying’ to prevent becoming an obvious target, but if I was to keep the enemy occupied and to give the others a chance I didn’t have that luxury. So I kept a constant steam of fire from my outgunned 30mm cannon until, after what seemed an age, I saw my other call signs engage, allowing me to reposition. [Lieutenant Peter Troup, 1st Troop C Squadron]

Although UN forces started on the back-foot, this changed with the deployment of NATO and the imposition of the Dayton Peace Accord. In support of this, QRL several times sent elements to this troubled area. Then in 1998 the QRL Battle Group was tasked with supporting the peace and preventing a return to violence, by monitoring the nationalist armies and restricting their movement by force if necessary. It was events next door in Serbia that led to the greatest challenge. In the autonomous Kosovo region of Serbia, the largely Albanian population rose up in response to the Serbian Army’s attack. The subsequent NATO air campaign against Serbia spread its effect over the border into the Serbian enclaves in Bosnia. There were riots in Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serb capital. The Bosnian Serb Army attempted to mobilise, and only the quick thinking and remarkable audacity of the QRL Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Marriott, prevented it. He marched up to the main gate of the Serbian army base and demanded entry. When they refused he radioed for back-up, and trundling round the corner came a Challenger tank. The gate opened, the point made, and the Serbian Army stood down. For his leadership and Regimental achievement, Lieutenant Colonel Marriott was awarded an OBE.

Upon returning from operations the Regiment converted onto Challenger 2 tanks. The joy of taking over these new, reliable and hugely capable vehicles quickly showed in the impressive results the Regiment achieved on ranges and on exercise:

I took my freshly converted squadron on exercise to Poland to play as OPFOR. Having been there before I rather dreaded the six weeks of playing possum to a series of opposing battlegroups. I discovered that this new tank seldom broke down and was so manoeuvrable and agile that we could move through the most difficult of terrain, hide and then strike with impunity on the ‘enemy’. I came to view my tank 0B with the nearest thing to love. [Major Charlie Ball, D Squadron Leader, 1998]

The main body of the Regiment was deployed in 2000/1 to Cyprus, an important tour which the Regiment handled with great professionalism and dignity. In April 2001 C Squadron deployed to Bosnia on Op Palatine working under the Royal Green Jackets Battlegroup. Meanwhile D Squadron remained behind and deployed with the remainder of 4th Armoured Brigade to the Oman for the British Army’s largest foreign exercise since the Cold War. Ex SAIF SAREEA was specifically designed to test new expeditionary skills. No one realised how soon these skills would be needed. Following the attack on the Twin Towers on the 11th September 2001, the desire grew for intervention in Afghanistan and then Iraq to establish states stable enough not to threaten the global order. Afghanistan began as a punitive NATO-supported operation in 2001 with the overthrow of the Taliban Government. This for a time became a sideshow as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq continued to flout UN Security Council Resolutions.

Between March and October 2002 the Regiment deployed to Kosovo on Op Agricola. In response to non-compliance by Saddam Hussein of UN Resolutions an Allied Task Force assembled and QRL soldiers prepared for another desert war. B and C Squadrons deployed as part of infantry battle groups and fought in the Battle for Basra. C Squadron had spent much of its time since the move into Basra providing overwatch to the West of the town.  However, we started to hear from the Black Watch BG of a probing raid into the outskirts of the city. This was the point when 7Armd Bde saw it was possible to exploit into the city and hasty orders were cascaded down.  I was called to the Squadron Leader’s tank and we were given a quick ‘bonnet top brief’ on the mission. We lined up with Sergeant Greenhill leading and made final checks (ready rounds, cigarettes and water). On getting to the outskirts of the city Sergeant Greenhill identified a minefield placed across our route. This couldn’t be by-passed and he began engaging with chain gun and HESH rounds. Both of these had success, detonating a number of devices. The CRARRV was then brought up and the commander Corporal Comber (later awarded a MC) cleared the route with his plough. Sergeant Greenhill pushed through followed by me, and we split left and right on a dual carriageway heading East. I split the arcs and checked we were well lined up and we began moving rapidly East to secure the bridges leading into the North of the city. As we crested the bridges we identified two BMPs, left and right of axis. We called our respective targets, engaged and destroyed them with first round hits. From this point on we checked the bridges were clear of explosives, and remained firm holding our objective, whilst the remainder of the Squadron helped lead the clearance of 1Royal Regiment of Fusilier’s area. After many weeks of waiting we had finally moved into Basra.  [Lieutenant Joe Bigg, 1st Troop Leader, C Squadron, 2003]

Following the successful overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s ethnic and religious tensions began to reassert themselves and the country slid into civil war. British soldiers fought an increasingly difficult counter-insurgency campaign as the new Iraqi government sought to regain control. Again Lancers found themselves back in the Iraqi deserts supporting this campaign.

A and D Squadrons deployed in 2004 to Al Amarah and Um Qasr, the last QRL operational tour on tanks. As the squadrons returned, Army reorganisation saw QRL re-role as a reconnaissance regiment, equipped with the veteran Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) vehicles. When the Regiment deployed for the first time as a recce battlegroup it was in a combination of tracked Scimitars and armed Landrovers.

The end of 2005 found A Squadron one month into their short notice deployment as a Warrior (WR) Squadron on Op TELIC 7. In 2007 QRL was tasked with the deterrence and interception of Iranian weapons and militia, as well as preparing the province for handover to the Iraqi Army. This involved Lieutenant Colonel Richard Nixon-Eckersall taking the Regiment deep into the desert and marshes of the Iran/Iraq border, operating 300km from the nearest British base. It was the longest air-resupplied operation by the British Army since Borneo. It was a major achievement as the handover was successful and the mission accomplished in short order, although as ever it was not without cost.

The world’s and the Regiment’s attention turned again to Afghanistan, where the early years of hope were fading and the Taliban uprising had begun in earnest. In response the British Army was re-deployed into the troubled Helmand and Kandahar Provinces of the country. A Squadron having re-roled onto the All-Terrain Vehicle (Protected) VIKING led the way, supporting 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade, in 2008. The Squadron, under command of Major Nigel Best, operated throughout both provinces and in the most demanding circumstances. The Chief of the General Staff commented that VIKING crews were amongst the bravest soldiers deployed at that time.  Meanwhile B Squadron became the first Royal Armoured Corps squadron to carry out Public Duties in London and Windsor, including parading at the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

In 2010 the remainder of the Regiment followed as part of 4th Mechanised Brigade’s tour as the Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Group. This delivered timely intelligence to the Commander from air and land recce assets. Supporting this, D Squadron formed the backbone of the Brigade’s Reconnaissance Force, a light squadron trained to deploy on vehicles or by air and be capable of switching rapidly from surveillance to strike tasks. Over the six-month tour this force barely drew breath as the tempo of operations rose over the ‘fighting season’. For his leadership the Squadron Leader, Major Marcus Mudd, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The remaining squadrons supported other battlegroups and tasks. C Squadron provided security in the farming region south of the regional capital, and B Squadron mentored and trained Afghan forces. The former provided mentors to the Afghan Brigade Recce Force and the latter set up and ran the Helmand Police Training Centre.

The Afghanistan mission, so complex in the challenge it presented, resulted in B Squadron being handed an entirely unexpected mission only two months before deployment. The Afghan Police had been identified at the end of 2009 as the key to success in Helmand, but they had become the root of the problem. They had never been trained and were regularly accused of corruptly taxing the people for a protection that they failed to offer. B Squadron arrived in Helmand in March 2010 and took on the recently established but not yet running Helmand Police Training Centre, where we set about understanding what an Afghan policeman needed to be and how we could train him. The training centre was not popular with the insurgents, who identified it as providing a workable answer to the question of security for the people. The result was epic, and quickly so. By delivering eight weeks of demanding training, including live patrolling on the peripheries of Lashkar Gah, we created policemen who understood counter-insurgency. They understood their role and had the tactical knowledge to provide protection to the people, meaning bazaars around Helmand began to buzz once again under the protective eye of the Afghan National Police. B Squadron trained nearly two thousand Afghan policemen during this long hot tour and in so doing left a lasting legacy for the Afghan people. [Major Ben Horne, B Squadron Leader, 2010].

In 2012, nineteen years after the last amalgamation, the first QRL soldier took post as RSM. This defining point in the Regiment’s evolution indicates a generational change and shows that the Regiment is truly as one:

I joined The Queen’s Royal Lancers on Friday 6th May 1994. Despite having no idea where Osnabruck, Germany, was, I quickly got to know my troop – 1st Troop D Squadron. We had three Challenger Main Battle Tanks and twelve men, led by Lieutenant Ball and Sergeant Wiltshire. I rapidly began to enjoy the camaraderie in the squadron, the varying senses of humour and the requirement incumbent upon all Troopers to think for ourselves and not wait for a JNCO to bark tasks at us. As I progressed through the ranks, new vehicles, new roles and new theatres were taught, practised and experienced. To date I have deployed on several operational tours of Cyprus, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan with the regiment, all posing different challenges and each time met by the tenacity and professionalism that QRL has become known for. In Iraq in 2003 we played our part in a war that tested our values to extremes. Courage and integrity were tested every hour during our four month deployment and despite the political standpoint, we were soldiers with a mission, we acted legally and legitimately with determination but with a compassion for our enemy that only those who have looked an enemy in the face will understand. After 18 months as the Brigade Reconnaissance Force Squadron Sergeant Major I was appointed Regimental Sergeant Major on 6th February 2012, the focus being the preparation for our next operational tour of Afghanistan in autumn 2012. The pride and pressures of now being RSM sits comfortably on my shoulders. It is my job to drive our soldiers with our tour of Afghanistan in mind, but the quality of our soldiers is such that my work is enjoyable and rewarding. [WO1 (RSM) MJ Jones]

The Queen’s Royal Lancers was warned that as part of 4th Mechanized Brigade it would return to Afghanistan for Operation HERRICK 17 between September 2012 and May 2013. The Regiment was told that it must provide a Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF), a Formation Reconnaissance (FR) Squadron, a Police Mentoring & Advisory Group (PMAG), and a Highways Kandak Advisory Training Team (Hwy KATT). This was in addition to supplying the Brigade Troops Echelon (BTE), Rear Operations Group (ROG) and Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition & Reconnaissance Group Headquarters. Regimental Headquarters was responsible for the planning and execution of operations undertaken by the BRF, FR Squadron, Warthog Group (generated by the Royal Dragoon Guards) and the Brigade Operations Company (generated by 1 SCOTS). This early clarity aided the effectiveness of the squadrons after deployment.

The Regiment was received by the Light Dragoons who organised an excellent hand-over. Joint patrols to gain familiarity with the people and the ground were conducted. For the BRF this included aviation assaults that were to become a staple of their operations. The BRF also retained the ability to deploy in Jackal and Coyote vehicles and frequently used these to support aviation operations with a ground element containing electronic warfare specialists, fire support, portable unmanned aerial vehicles and additional high powered sighting equipment. The BRF was also partnered with an Afghan special police unit which joined in all operations.

BRF operations successfully took the fight to the insurgents in what they considered to be their safe-havens. Over the winter, more operational control was given to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and with this came a reduction in the BRF area of operations.  Operations then shifted to target a central resupply route through the Argandab River Valley, linking Lashkar Gah and Kandahar.  Sgt Weaver was the acting 2nd Troop 2IC and below recalls one such operation.

We landed at three separate helicopter landing sites just before first light on a very cold January morning. This was pretty normal as we wanted to be able to get into position before the locals started to wake for morning prayers.  This was the first operation that the troop had undertaken since our Troop Leader and his vehicle crew were injured in an IED blast on the last operation, also been in the Argandab River Valley. We all therefore knew that this was important for the Troop to move away from this event and into the remainder of the tour. The Squadron moved immediately to three Compounds of Interest identified by Brigade Intelligence who briefed that these were likely to be used for the movement and storage of weapons, explosives and possibly narcotics. We rummaged around the compounds and located a Taliban night letter – warning the locals against cooperation with ISAF and ANSF – and a heavy weapon sight which boded well for the future. The patrol moved through other compounds over the course of the morning until shortly before 1000hrs when we came under sustained and accurate small arms fire.  We eventually had to use artillery to deploy smoke to mask our movement. Crossing the open ground under fire we occupied a temporary patrol base and settled down for the night. Spirits were high, despite the lack of finds, and the Troop remained positive that there would be further success the following day.

We had an Afghan reconnaissance platoon with us and they soon took the lead for the searching and discussions with locals which invariably provided valuable intelligence. We were directed to search dry irrigation ditches which criss-crossed the valley. In one of the first searches we located a large, long-term cache of what emerged to be a unique find for Helmand of several thousand 23mm anti-aircraft rounds, waterproofed and dug into the side of the ditch. Soon after this a second cache was located. Already buoyed by the earlier ammunition find, spirits were lifted even more by the sheer scale of this find. A total of two heavy machine guns, one medium machine gun, a Bren gun, anti-personnel mines, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, detonators, detonation cord and ICOM scanner parts were all hidden in a large water tank which had been dug into the side of a ditch. This find clearly irritated the enemy who engaged us with small arms fire again and whilst this engagement was being undertaken the Afghan platoon literally fell into an ammunition cache containing RPG and recoilless rifle rounds! All the weapons and ammunition were blown on the ground before we extracted by helicopter. 

We were later told that this was one of the largest and most significant cache finds made in Helmand Province – it was certainly without any precedent that we were aware of. We all felt pretty elated after this patrol and I felt that the Troop had turned the corner following the previous operation. We missed the Troop Leader as beyond his obvious importance he was a friend to all of us. After this operation though we all felt that we could keep going and continue to have successes that would see the insurgency firmly on the back foot for the remainder of the tour. [Sergeant SD Weaver]

The BRF met with considerable success in undermining the insurgents’ foundations for their coming spring offensive. They destroyed over a tonne of conventional and homemade explosives, uncovered 95 lethal aid caches and prevented 113 improvised explosive device incidents. They managed to seize over 4.5 tonnes of drugs used for financing the insurgency, estimated to have a UK street value of over £30 million. Some 28 weapon systems, including three 12.7mm machine guns were also seized.

The FR Squadron began the tour operating under the ISTAR Group in the Dashte north of Nad-e-Ali. Soon after deployment the Squadron moved to support the RAF, providing the force protection for Camp BASTION. The camp was increasingly coming under attack from speculative indirect fire in the form of Chinese long-range rockets which, although inaccurate, posed a serious risk. This support provided vital mounted reconnaissance skills to operate outside the base, gathering new information and intelligence on the outlying villages and the locals, which despite almost ten years of continuous operations from Camp BASTION had remained untouched. 

The role of the FR Squadron proved that CVR(T) remains a capable platform suited to reconnaissance patrols and with a good level of blast protection. It also demonstrated the effectiveness of the reconnaissance trained soldier when put into his traditional role. The success of the reforms that the FR Squadron instigated in Camp BASTION can be seen in the fact that they are still in place today.

The PMAG was formed for the role of mentoring and advising the Afghan National Police (ANP). The Squadron was based for its tour in Nad-e-Ali DC and Patrol Base SHAWQAT where it assisted the local police force. The Squadron undertook joint mounted and dismounted patrols with Afghan Police which delivered security to the heart of the reconstruction efforts in Helmand, and to the outer reaches of Nad-e-Ali DC. Police manning improved under the guidance of C Squadron and eventually reached some 300 policemen. By the end of the tour the Police were capable of mounting large operations with the assistance of the Afghan National Army, previously unheard of in Helmand.

D Squadron performed a similar advisory role but to the ANA. It formed the Highways Kandak Advisory Team (KATT) and worked with the ANA Heavy Weapons Tolay responsible for Highway 1, the ring road which circles Afghanistan. In this role it worked under the 1 SCOTS Battle Group from Patrol Base HAYATULLAH, several kilometres outside Gereskh DC. The Squadron travelled along Highway 1 regularly, advising the Tolay commander responsible for the security of the route – the first section of battle space transitioned to indigenous security forces.

QRL spent slightly less than seven months in Afghanistan. Although this deployment was staggered, the whole Regiment had returned to the UK by June in time to mark its 20th anniversary. Post Tour Leave was followed by a Medals Parade and Homecoming Parades in Nottingham and Stoke. The HERRICK ORBAT was formally dissolved on 19 July 2013.

The Regiment has hardly drawn breath since its formation. It has served in many different roles and on as many different vehicles. Operations have been its purpose: Cyprus, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, and often more than once. 

The Operational Honours list for Operation HERRICK 17, announced in October 2013, contained no fewer than seventeen awards for the Regiment and attached ISTAR personnel. These included an OBE for the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nigel Best, a DSO for Major Adam Foden, OC BRF and an MC for Corporal Bainbridge Royal Dragoon Guards attached. There were also, five Mentions in Dispatches, two Queen’s Commendations for Valuable Service, and seven Joint Commander’s Commendations. This is the largest number of awards received by the Regiment since the end of World War II.

QRL can reflect having grown and made its own chapter in the proud history of its antecedent regiments. In July 2012 it was announced in Parliament that The Queen’s Royal Lancers and the 9th/12th Royal Lancers would amalgamate. The amalgamation took place in May 2015.