20th Armoured Infantry Brigade (United Kingdom)

20th Light Armoured Brigade
20th Armoured Brigade
20th Armoured Infantry Brigade

20th Armoured Infantry Brigade Formation Sign.
Active 2 September 1939 30 April 1943
15 September 195030 November 1977
1 January 1980to date
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Mechanized infantry
Role Armoured infantry
Size Brigade
Part of 3rd (United Kingdom) Division
Garrison/HQ Antwerp Barracks, Westfalen Garrison
Nickname(s) "The Iron Fist" [1]
Motto(s) Fide, sed cui vide
Brigadier Mike Elviss
"The Iron Fist" - A white mailed fist on a blue background

The 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade (The Iron Fist) is an armoured infantry brigade formation of the British Army, currently based at Antwerp Barracks, part of Westfalen Garrison, northern Germany, as part of the 3rd (United Kingdom) Division.


World War II

The 20th Light Armoured Brigade was formed on 3 September 1939 as part of the Territorial Army. The Brigade initially served under the Southern Command and its original regiments were the 1st Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, and 1st and 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry. On 14 April 1940, it was re-titled the 20th Armoured Brigade; a title it has retained until recently.[2]

The Brigade played a vital role in the defence of the United Kingdom during the first year of the Second World War, including guarding aerodromes and other vulnerable points. In May 1940, due to the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from France and the increased threat of invasion, a Brigade force known as the Yeomanry Armoured Detachment was formed to defend the coast of East Anglia, concentrating at Moulton Paddocks, Newmarket as a counter-attack force to repel any potential Nazi offensive.[2]

The Brigade subsequently moved to Surrey in June, where it was assigned to the 1st Armoured Division at the end of the month, which was being reorganised after it had returned depleted from Dunkirk. With the Battle of Britain being fought overhead, brigade troops were tasked with conducting anti-invasion exercises and the reconnaissance of all roads leading to the coast, covering most of Kent, Surrey and Sussex. It finally began to receive modern tanks in September 1940 when the first Valentine tanks began to arrive.[3]

The Brigade was reorganised and acquired the 2nd Battalion, The Rangers on 16 October 1940 when it came under the command of the 6th Armoured Division, under Major-General John T. Crocker , whose insignia was a white mailed fist with a black background. The mailed fist a symbol of the hard punch that an armoured formation gives the enemy was selected by Crocker as the Division's recognition flash from a design created by Lieutenant Colonel Broadhurst, an Australian serving on his staff as Assistant Director of Ordnance Services (Engineering).

On 12 September 1941, King George VI inspected 20th Armoured Brigade at Lakenheath in Suffolk during a parade and march-past of all the fighting vehicles in the Division. It was the first time that an entire armoured division – at that time over 14,500 men and 4,500 vehicles – had been formed up complete in the same place. The logistical challenges of staging the parade and the scale of the air threat sealed the fate of the Brigade, contributing towards the decision in 1942 to halve the tank strength of an armoured division.[4]

The Brigade continued to serve in Home Forces under various commands until 15 January 1943. At this time the Brigade became a training formation and its regiments, on conversion to the armoured reconnaissance role, were posted elsewhere. Many former brigade troops subsequently saw active service in North West Europe including operations in Normandy and into Germany. On 30 April 1943, the 20th Armoured Brigade was disbanded.[2]

Cold War Era

On 15 September 1950, the 20th Armoured Brigade was reformed in the UK for a strategic reserve role. However, the Brigade was moved to Münster, Germany in December 1951 to supplement the British contribution to NATO forces in Europe, where it again came under the command of 6th Armoured Division, this time as part of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR).[2]

The 1957 Defence White Paper announced the end of National Service, resulting in a number of reductions and changes across the Armed Forces. Part of this restructuring saw the disbandment of the 6th Armoured Division in April 1958. The Brigade survived as the new 20th Armoured Brigade Group, initially under the command of the 4th Infantry Division, and moved to Hobart Barracks, Detmold. It assumed the insignia of the old Division – the "Iron Fist" symbol that it wears to this day.[2]

The pattern of life was determined by the BAOR training cycle and the demands of higher formation exercises as politicians and military commanders considered how best to face the threat of a Soviet invasion. Brigade troops frequently found themselves supporting multi-national NATO exercises, often working alongside the fledgling Bundeswehr (German Army). In October 1961, the Brigade participated in Exercise Spearpoint which was designed to demonstrate that the BAOR was able to conduct large-scale intensive operations under both conventional and nuclear conditions.[4]

In September 1959, The Royal Corps of Signals reorganised all of their independent squadrons into a single numbering system from 200 upwards. This meant that when the Brigade’s Signal Squadron adopted the title "200" in 1962 it automatically became the 'Senior Signal Squadron' in the British Army by precedence. Two years later it amalgamated with the Brigade's Headquarters Squadron and took over responsibility for the administration and defence of the HQ. This combined role is still in place today and together the two separate units are designated as "20th Armoured Brigade Headquarters and Signal Squadron (200)".[2]

On 22 June 1974, 20th Armoured Brigade and the German 21st Panzer Brigade, based in Augustdorf, held a partnership parade to emphasise the confidence and understanding that exists between the allied forces of the NATO countries.[2]

BAOR experimented with a major restructuring towards the end of the 1970s as it reorganised into four Divisions, each with two task force headquarters. These task forces could command any grouping of units from within their division and were designated sequentially Alpha through Hotel. As a result, on 1 December 1977, 20th Armoured Brigade was temporarily renamed "Task Force Hotel" under the command of the 4th Armoured Division. However, Task Force Hotel reverted to its Brigade designation on 1 January 1980 and its units were realigned under the Brigade Headquarters.[5]

Further unit rotations continued throughout this period with many famous regiments and battalions of the British Army converting to the armoured role to serve within the Brigade. Typical were The Life Guards, who served in Detmold during 1971-75 and again in 1980-84. As the Regiment moved to BAOR, it became a Tank Regiment for the first time in its history, only to re-role as an Infantry Battalion in order to deploy on three separate operational tours of Northern Ireland.[4]

Post-Cold War

A 20th Armoured Brigade Challenger 2 main battle tank during an exercise in 2013

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the anticipated peace dividend at the end of the Cold War, the British government announced a series of cuts in defence spending under the 1990 "Options for Change" programme. As a result of the restructuring, in December 1992, the Brigade merged with the 33rd Armoured Brigade and moved its headquarters to Barker Barracks, Paderborn, where it came under the command of the 1st (UK) Armoured Division. By 1994, the overall troop strength in Germany had been halved and BAOR was replaced by British Forces Germany (BFG).[2]

Headquarters 20th Armoured Brigade, with some elements of the Brigade deployed to the former SFR Yugoslavia in April 1995 to take command of Sector South West under the United Nations mandate. Based at Gornji Vakuf in central Bosnia and Herzegovina, the commander was responsible for a large multi-national UN force as well as having responsibility for all forces in FRY. The end of the tour coincided with a declaration of peace and a shift in emphasis to a larger NATO force.[4]

In October 1996, the Brigade returned to FRY as part of Multi-National Division (South-West). It was initially based at Šipovo, moving to Banja Luka in December 1996, whilst overseeing the transition from IFOR to SFOR and Operation RESOLUTE to Operation LODESTAR. The Brigade returned to Paderborn in April 1997.[4]

In August 1999, the Brigade again deployed to Banja Luka on Operation PALATINE. It returned to Paderborn in December 1999, and moved to their current location in Antwerp Barracks, Sennelager on 20 August 2001.[4]

Operation Telic (Iraq)

In October 2003, the Brigade first deployed to southern Iraq on Operation Telic 3, where it was based at Basra Palace.[4]

20th Armoured Brigade was awarded the Freedom of the City of Paderborn by the town council on 28 May 2005. The right to exercise the freedom was presented "as a contribution for consolidation of the Anglo-German friendship, the joint solidarity in NATO and a further element for the building of the joint house Europe".[4]

The Brigade returned to southern Iraq again in April 2006 during Operation TELIC 8, and was situated in Basra, Al Amarah and Al Muthanna Provinces. During the seven month summer tour, the troops contributed to the successful handover of security in two of the four Iraqi Provinces within the Multinational Division (South East) (MND(SE)).[6]

The Iron Fist returned to Basra for a third time in 2008 for Operation TELIC 13. It became the last British brigade to serve in Iraq at the end of the UK's 6-year combat mission in the country on 30 April 2009.[7]

Operation Herrick (Afghanistan)

20th Armoured Brigade took over command of Task Force Helmand in Afghanistan from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines on 9 October 2011, officially marking the start of Operation Herrick 15.[8]


Under the Army's new 2020 structure, in January 2015 the Brigade was retitled to 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade incorporating three Armoured Infantry Battle Groups. In 2016 the Brigade began its high readiness Training in preparation for becoming NATO's lead for the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force Land (VJTF(L)) in 2017.[9]

Current formation

Headquarters 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade is currently located at Antwerp Barracks, part of Westfalen Garrison, on the outskirts of the City of Paderborn, north Germany.[4] It will form as part of the Reaction Force.[10][11]

Brigade Units in 2015 were:[11]


Brigade Commanders

Recent commanders have included:[12]

See also


  1. "20th Armoured Brigade". MOD UK. Retrieved 2009-05-01.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 20th Armoured Brigade’s 70th Anniversary BFG Net
  3. Hughes, et al., p. 36
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 History of 20th Armoured Brigade Ministry of Defence
  5. Watson, p. 76
  6. Iraq province power transferred - BBC Online article, 13 July 2006
  7. UK combat operations end in Iraq - BBC Online article, 30 April 2009
  8. 20th Armoured Brigade takes command of Task Force Helmand - Ministry of Defence Online news article, 10 October 2011
  9. "Iron Fist Prepare For Spearhead Role". Forces TV. 10 March 2016. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  10. Regular Army basing plan
  11. 1 2 Army 2020 Report
  12. Army Commands Archived July 5, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.


External links

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