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The Royal Tank Regiment: 100 years of regal history

The Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) is the world’s oldest tank Regiment and 2023 sees it reach a significant milestone in its illustrious history, and one that coincides with the crowning of His Majesty King Charles III.

The Coronation of the monarch this year comes one hundred years since “The Tank Corps” became “The Royal Tank Corps” which took place on the 18th of October 1923, when His Majesty The King’s great-grandfather, King George V became the Corps Colonel-in-Chief.

Our Regiment was forged in the mud and chaos of World War 1, when the introduction of the tank was critical to breaking the stalemate of trench warfare, thereby bringing peace to Western Europe. A hundred years later and there is sadly another war in Europe, but once again the tank will quite possibly be the decisive factor in breaking the stalemate and hopefully the war. Lt Colonel Simon Worth
Commanding Officer
Royal Tank Regiment

That same year saw “Fear Naught” (Fear Nothing) adopted as the RTR motto, and the black beret and unit badge used for the first time by its personnel.

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Worth, Commanding Officer Royal Tank Regiment:

“Our Regiment was forged in the mud and chaos of World War 1, when the introduction of the tank was critical to breaking the stalemate of trench warfare, thereby bringing peace to Western Europe. A hundred years later and there is sadly another war in Europe, but once again the tank will quite possibly be the decisive factor in breaking the stalemate and hopefully the war.”

The Royal Tank Regiment can trace its history back to 1914 at a time when the name 'tank' came from British attempts to ensure the secrecy of their new weapons placing it under the guise of water tanks.

Little Willie was the first working tank in the world. It proved that a vehicle encompassing armoured protection, an internal combustion engine, and tracks was a possibility for the battlefield. 

This invention later resulted in the creation of the Mk I tank in late 1915 and by April 1916, the Army had ordered 150 of these new and untested machines. To crew them it created the Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps, which was initially organised into six companies lettered A to F. During the Great War, tanks were first used at the Battle of Flers–Courcelette in September of that year on the Somme.

In late 1916 a reorganisation and expansion took place. The Heavy Section was renamed the Heavy Branch and it grew significantly as it formed battalions, later grouped into brigades. At the same time training and technical tank centres were created in Bovington and in France. The Heavy Branch became the Tank Corps on 28 July 1917

The Battle of Cambrai in 1917, which is commemorated by the RTR annually, saw the first large scale successful use of tanks in conflict. It was in this fight that the true potential of combined-arms manoeuvre was realised. Tanks, infantry, artillery, engineers, and aircraft all working together to engage with the enemy. By the summer of 1918 tanks were a common element of British fighting methods, with around 2,600 manufactured.

However, the capability did not immediately have the desired effect as David Willey Curator of the Tank Museum Bovington explains:

“On the battlefield, initially, the tank didn’t have the great impact that is sometimes claimed, but by the end of the First World War Britain had designed examples of pretty much all the types of armoured fighting vehicles we have in service today.

As early as 1919 the Tank Corps started to contract in size while at the same time the places in which it was deployed increased.

On 18 October 1923, the Tank Corps was officially given the title 'Royal' making it the Royal Tank Corps (RTC) by Colonel-in-Chief King George V.

David continues:

“The conferring of Royal status to the Tank Corps in 1923 confirmed the tank as a weapon that would stay in British Army service. The Royal Tank Regiment has always prided itself as not just having the lineage of being the first unit to fight in tanks – but of also being the innovators and the ‘professionals’ who really get to know their subject and the vehicles they serve in.”

In April 1939, the Royal Tank Corps were renamed the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) and became part of the newly created Royal Armoured Corps.

David believes that this was a turning point for the British Army:

“The tank came of age in the Second World War dominating land warfare with huge fleets of vehicles being built. Reservations about the utility of the tank in the future followed the war – Tanks bring mobility, firepower and shock action to the land battle in a way no other system can – and the war in the Ukraine has again proved its utility.”

After service in the Korean War, the RTR was reduced through various amalgamations. It continued to see action including missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Elements of 1RTR were deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 and both regiments were involved in the invasion of Iraq, with the 2RTR battlegroup involved in taking Basra. Both regiments continued deployments with the final tour to Afghanistan taking place in 2013.

On 2 August 2014, 1RTR and 2RTR amalgamated at Bulford, Wiltshire and for the first time in its history the Royal Tank Regiment became a "Single Battalion" Regiment.

The Royal Tank Regiment is hugely honoured to be a part of the training and granting in kind Challenger 2 tanks to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, this year in particular. It was 1923 when King George V granted the Tank Corps the honour of becoming 'The Royal Tank Corps' Lieutenant Colonel Simon Worth
Commanding Officer
Royal Tank Regiment

The Regiment is equipped with Challenger 2 Main Battle tanks and based at Tidworth coming under 12th Armoured Brigade Combat Team. The RTR also has a CBRN reconnaissance squadron operating the Fuchs  vehicle which forms part of 28 Engineer Regiment. 

Recently the RTR have been playing an integral part in support of training Ukrainian Armed Forces following the Russian invasion of the country of 2022

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Worth:

"The Royal Tank Regiment is hugely honoured to be a part of the training and granting in kind Challenger 2 tanks to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, this year in particular. It was 1923 when King George V granted the Tank Corps the honour of becoming 'The Royal Tank Corps'. It seems quite fitting that a hundred years later we will be celebrating this anniversary at the same time as a new King comes to the throne and our Regiment will march at his coronation. It was also 1923 when we adopted the motto Fear Naught, the black beret and the unit badge. We therefore intend to also gift these traditions to our friends in the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

Today, the regiment comprises six squadrons: Ajax, Badger, Cyclops and Dreadnaught who are Challenger 2 armoured squadrons. Egypt – Headquarters, Command and Reconnaissance squadron. And Falcon – Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) reconnaissance squadron (under 28 Engineer Regiment.)

For more information: Royal Tank Regiment History  Tank Museum Bovington