M.C. London Gazette 25.2.1943. Recommendation states 'This Officer was in command of a Squadron of the Regiment which broke through the enemy mine-fields at El Alamein on the night of 1-2 November 1942. He was not clear of the mine-fields until daylight but pushed on to his objective with great determination through enemy positions regardless of considerable opposition and later directed his Squadron so successfully that they were responsible for the destruction of over 100 enemy transport vehicles, a tank and several large guns, in addition to the capture of a very large number of prisoners. Major Amory displayed conspicuous ability and devotion to duty throughout this hazardous operation covering four days behind the enemy's lines'.
Brigadier Roderick Heathcoat-Amory, M.C., was fourth son of Sir Ian Heathcoat-Amory, Bt., M.F.H., of Knightshayes (now a National Trust property), Devon, and the great-great grandson of John Heathcoat, the enlightened founder of the family firm of Heathcoat and Co., who following trouble with Luddites in 1816 relocated his business from Loughborough to the West Country where it flourished.
Roderick was educated at Eton and, failing to go up to Oxford, went out to New Zealand to seek his fortune, but instead fell in with a companionable Old Etonian conman who lived off his allowance for several months. On his return to England he tried for the Army via the Supplementary Reserve and at his second attempt was granted a Regular Commission and was welcomed into the 1st Royal Dragoons. He joined the Regiment in 1930 at Secunderabad, India, where he enjoyed inter-regimental polo, competed in the celebrated Kadir Cup (pig-sticking), and, on exercise, participated in 'what must have been the last mounted Brigade charge in the history of the British and Indian Armies':
'The Brigade was in two ranks stretching for about a mile and a half ... The poor Black Watch were the "enemy" and the recipients of our charge. I don't think the order to charge was ever given because by then horses with hard mouths could barely be restrained and Squadron and Regimental Commanders were riding hard in order to stay in front. By a miracle there were no casualties among the Black Watch lying in the open. My horse collided with a signalling mirror on a tripod which did the apparatus no good, but luckily I avoided its operator and didn't run him through with my sword'.
With the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, Heathcoat-Amory went with the Royals to Egypt, but soon returned to England when the threat of wider war faded. He served in Palestine during the Arab Revolt in 1938, and the next year was half way through the Long Weedon Equitation Course when hostilities broke, dashing high hopes for the hunting season. With the Royals still in Palestine he was sent to the Cavalry Training Regiment in Edinburgh as an Instructor to put Reservists through a riding course preparatory to their joining the Cavalry Division in the Middle East. Whilst so employed, he unsuccessfully tried to transfer to the R.A.F. having one day seen two German fighters pass overhead unopposed. The Air Ministry official who interviewed him replied that at 32 years he was already too old, but as he was the holder of a Pilot's Licence, he would see what could be done. In the week that followed Heathcoat-Amory received orders to rejoin the Royals, which, as he afterwards put it, was 'as well because I would probably have finished my training just before the Battle of Britain'.
In the spring of 1940, the Royals (then one of only two Cavalry Regiments of the Line still horsed) were finally mechanized, and elected for themselves a reconnaissance role being converted to an Armoured Car Regiment in the Western Desert. In May 1941 Heathcoat-Amory went with the Royals to Syria to take part in preventive action against Vichy forces. During a routine three day patrol in Syria, when sitting on the turret of his car, he nearly lost his life when his car overturned on a sand dune and he ended up in the space between the front of the vehicle and the turret with every rib broken on one side and three on the other. While convalescing in Cairo he held a part time job as Liaison Officer with the Polish Brigade and, through a third party, received an invitation to dine with General Wavell.
He rejoined the Royals in the North African Desert in February 1942, and in June and July was present with the Regiment in the Gazala Battles, where the 8th Army was out-fought by the enemy's superior tanks and guns, and where he himself spectacularly escaped capture by driving his car straight down the El Adem Escarpment, much to the amazement of British and Indian troops who, observing the rapid approach of three German tanks, were waiting with their hands up to be taken prisoner on the edge of the 150 foot drop. On reaching the El Alamein defensive line after four weeks close contact with the enemy, the Royals were withdrawn to Khatatba Camp to refit and exchange their Marmon Herrington cars for new Daimlers, at which time Heathcoat-Amory was given command of 'C' Squadron.
On 23.10.1942, Montgomery launched the El Alamein offensive, and after a week of Infantry and tank battles he summoned the C.Os of the Royals and the 4th South African Armoured Car Regiment to a conference in his famous caravan where he outlined a plan to create havoc in the enemy's rear, by passing two Squadrons of each Regiment through enemy lines when the last of their defences had been reached. Lieutenant-Colonel Pepys, commanding the Royals, selected 'A' Squadron to lead and Heathcoat-Amory's 'C' Squadron to follow. On the night of the 30.10.1942 a concentrated attack by the Infantry and armour in the northern sector punched a hole through the last enemy minefield, and on the night of 1 November the raid got under way.
On that first night the Royals' Column of 30 vehicles passed in front of a Field Battery which was unwilling to believe the enemy were at hand and, confused by the unique grey berets of the Regiment, chose to let them pass unchallenged. Seemingly the Germans thought the Royals were Italians and vice versa.
Next morning in more open desert the two Squadrons parted, 'A' going north-west and 'C' south-west. The unfortunate loss of the 'C's petrol lorry in soft sand occurred early on after a small arms fire exchange, but within a short time, Heathcoat-Amory's Squadron had held up its first enemy vehicles, destroying them in the adopted manner of firing a revolver round through the petrol tank and throwing a lighted match into the petrol as it gushed out. A while later Heathcoat-Amory's people came across two large telephone cables which were cut using a pair of specially issued wire cutters. It soon became apparent, however, that the southern sector of the enemy line was held by stranded Italians, whose transport for the most part had been removed northwards by the Germans. They proved eager to surrender and, rounded up in thousands, willingly accepted the invitation to keep walking east. That night Heathcoat-Amory decided to move north in search of more worthy quarry and leaguered near 'A' Squadron from whom petrol was obtained.
On day two more vehicles were immobilized causing German fighters in reaction to the palls of black smoke to deliver several attacks. The cars' armour kept out the bullets but the tyres suffered so badly that there was a serious danger of the Squadron being 'grounded', until it was discovered that the wheels of British 3-ton trucks, captured at Tobruk and since pressed into service by the Axis forces, could be fitted on the cars. Thus 'in business' again 'C' Squadron continued 'on more highway robbery' - the modus operandi, described by Amory, being as follows: 'The Squadron operated by spreading out so that troops were usually within sight of me and always in wireless contact with me and each other. Our usual tactic when we saw an enemy column was for one Troop to attack the front and another the rear ...'
At the end of the fourth day behind enemy lines, when it appeared that the Alamein line was breaking, the two Squadrons took up positions facing east, 'like the guns at a pheasant shoot', to blast the retreating traffic. At length contact was established with the advancing British tanks and the two Squadrons rejoined the rest of the Regiment near the coast, having achieved a total destroyed tally of 181 Vehicles; three Tanks; one Armoured Troop Carrier; one Medium Gun; three Field Guns; 17 Anti-tank Guns; 20 Breda Guns and one Enemy Aircraft. It later transpired, however, that the most important damage inflicted by the raid was the cutting of the telephone cables, which deprived Rommel of intelligence from the South and any means of issuing orders to the Italians for the last two days of the Battle.
Recommended for an immediate D.S.O., with endorsements from his Brigade Commander and from the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East Land Forces, General Alexander, Heathcoat-Amory ultimately received the M.C. on the award being down-graded by General Mongomery. The 4th South African Armoured Car Regiment, incidentally, failed to get through the minefield at their first attempt and had to be guided in the next night.
Heathcoat-Amory subsequently participated in the van of the 8th Army's drive to Tunisia, and next saw active service at Tarranto, Italy, in September 1943. But as the Front was static the Royals were posted back to the U.K. to re-equip and train for the North West Europe Campaign. He landed with the Royals in Normandy in late July 1944, whence they became the Advanced Guard of XII Corps and then of XXX Corps, being engaged in the battles to reach Arnhem. After further harsh service in Holland, across the Rhine, and on the way to Bremen, he ended the War with the Royals disarming 120,000 German troops in Denmark. He was Mentioned in Despatches, awarded the American Silver Star and next appointed to command and disband the North Irish Horse and then the 15th Scottish Reconnaissance Regiment.
Having attended the Staff College, Heathcoat-Amory succeeded to the Command of the Royals in January 1949, seeing further active service in 1951 in the Canal Zone during the Suez Crisis. The Brigadier's final military appointment prior to retirement was as C.O. of the 11th Armoured Brigade, T.A., comprising the Yorkshire Dragoons, Yorkshire Hussars, East Riding Yeomanry and Hallamshire Regiment.
Reference: Reminiscences, R. Heathcoat-Amory, 1989.