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Royal Welsh Army (Welsh History Post Glyndwr)

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Amongst the oldest Armies in Europe (only England, France, Spain and Portugal are older in terms of countries still in existence) the Byddin Frenhiniol Gymreig (Royal Welsh Army) has seen substantial changes over the years.  It has been influenced by many outside agencies. For most of its history it has paralleled the British Army, both in regimental and organisational matters. In the 20th Century the notable influences have been the Germans in the thirties and the United States from the 1950’s onwards. From the largely volunteer organisation of the Great War era to the conscripted army of the 1950s (National Service), it has settled again onto a volunteer based system. There are approx 25,000 soldiers in the Army, 11,000 regulars and 14,000 in the reserve Militias.

The Army remains much like its cousins across the Bristol Channel in ethos and operation. However, prolonged exposure to US troops that were based in the country until the late 80’s has had an effect. Welsh soldiers wear US style uniform, salute in the American style and much of the equipment used is of US or Canadian manufacture.  


The current Commander of the Army is Field Marshal Alun ap Grufydd Cleddyf-Gof.  A former Infantry officer, he brings a tenacity and massive experience to the post having fought in the 60s alongside the US Army and on operations in the first Gulf War. And whilst remaining a staunch supporter of the Government he does not hesitate to protect the rights and quality of life for his charges.


Welsh Troops are amongst the most respected in the world. They combine the natural Celtic aggression with a professionalism only equaled by that of the Irish Defence Force and the British Army. This makes them an automatic choice for any commander fortunate enough to find them in his command.

History of the Byddin Frenhiniol Gymreig (BFG)

The Army started as most European armies did, as feudal levies raised by the Lords to serve in war and then to return to their previous occupations. The Welsh were a little different as for the 100 years or so following the Edwardian conquest Welsh soldiers had plied their trade both in England with the English armies of the period and on the continent. Hence, when Owain Glyndwr raised the Golden Dragon Banner he already had a small core of what was for the 15th Century, a professional army. He was also able to call upon feudal levies, something which had never before been available to Welsh Princes

The Royal Welsh Army 1400-1650

Welsh Pikemen

Welsh Pikemen in the 15th Century

The Army raised in 1400 was for all that a rag-tag army. Men loyal to the lords that raised the unit, some units such as the Plant Owain were little more than bandits. The numbers raised by Owain and the lords loyal to him were small in number at first. With the Battle of Pumlumon seeing a Welsh army of just 400 men. From 1402 things began to move upwards in scale. The French and Bretons begun to send men and equipment to Wales. The Breton's out of a cultural loyalty, the French from a political need to counteract the English. In 1405 a French army of 2800 knights landed in Wales and with this increase in men at arms Owain was able to wage war more effectively and gained more territory. In 1405 the most important battle in Welsh history was also fought. The Battle of Worcester, between Henry IV and Owain Glyndwr cemented Welsh independence, with the archers and pikemen of the Welsh Army standing up to the English forces and finally defeating them. This defeat opened up the whole of the Welsh March and gave Owain the platform from which to cement his independence, wedded to his French alliance which would see in 1408 the English recognition of Wales as an independent Principality.

With Independence the Welsh armies were disbanded, the men returning to their fields, livestock and previous lives. Wales, though, was now allied to the English and the new king, Henry V of England demanded Welsh troops form part of his army to invade France. The heir to the Welsh throne, Prince Maredudd led the Welsh troops and served under Henry at the Battle of Agincourt. Welsh troops remained with the English army until the completion of Henry's war with Charles of France, although Maredudd returned to Wales in 1419 to become Prince of Wales at the death of his father, Owain. 


Welsh Longbow Archers

Welsh Archers in the 15th Century

With the death of both Henry and Owain, the Welsh armies again returned to the fields and towns of Wales, but the new Prince was more warlike than his father and again drew upon the feudal levies of Wales to fight the Pembrokeshire Wars. The year 1425 saw Maredudd send the summons to the lords of Wales to form units to fight against the English in Pembrokeshire. The war would see Wales regain control of the area with Maredudd marching triumphantly into St Davids Cathedral in the April of 1427. The following year would also see Maredudd's coronation as King of the Welsh.


With the successful completion of the Pembrokeshire war the army again, dissolved as the men returned to their usual forms of living. Maredudd, however, did retain a small number as part of his retinue, much in the manner of Welsh Princes of old. Retaining enough men to man all the Royal Fortress' of Wales and providing his Household with a Personal Guard. This core nuclei would become the central formation of all Welsh Armies until the 1600's.


The English Wars of the Roses is the next occasion that Welsh Levies are raised, though not all Cantref's are asked to raise men. Primarily it is the men of Gwent and Morgannwg along with the Cavalry of the Marches that see action as Wales supports the House of Lancaster in its attempts to retain the English Crown, though with the heir to the throne supporting the House of York there are tensions within Wales. Welsh forces see action in the Battles of Bloreheath, Northampton and Wakefield under the Lancastrian banner. However, in 1462 with the Prince Owain gaining stronger political control Welsh forces lay siege to Lancastrian held Chester which Owain took on the 8th August that year. Under Owain, Welsh forces fought at Hexham (under the King) and at Tewkesbury (under the Duke of March)


The practice established by Maredudd of maintaining enough Men at Arms to man all the Royal Fortress' proved a sensible one in 1490 with the 1st Rebellion of March. The heir to the throne, Prince Hywel, using the Royal Guard and his father's personal retinue of troops moved southwards from the Royal Fortress of Shrewsbury, whilst the southern Lords raised feudal levies and marched northwards through Henffordd. The limited actions of this period were the last actions of the 15th century Welsh army, though in 1492, with the Treaty of Ravenscraig, the Royal Arsenal was formed in Conwy utilising Scottish cannon and artillery pieces.


The next 100 years (1500-1600 AD) would see some wars (the 1st Anglo-Welsh war of 1535-39), the first recorded use of the rank of General by a Welsh Army (1547, John Grey, Duke of March). The century would also see the 2nd Anglo-Welsh War (1547-49). The century would also see the gradual decline of the use of feudal levies as well as technology advanced.


The 2nd Anglo-Welsh war saw the first use in Wales of the arquebus, whilst in the 1560 Powysian rebellion the Welsh army for the first time in its history saw more salaried Men-at-Arms than feudal levies (though the Army would still depend on such troops until the 1598-1600 Protestant Rebellion which saw the last battles fought in Wales using such troops.


Welsh troops, had a long reputation in Europe and the late 1500's saw in increase in the number of mercenaries being employed abroad of Welsh descent. This was something that would flavour the Protestant Rebellion as such soldiers served on both sides and that conflict saw the first use in Wales of the Pikemen-Musket-Arquebus units as well as being the first time that no units comprising of archers formed part of a Welsh Army.


The fifty years from 1600 to 1650 saw a gradual semi-professionalism enter the realms of Welsh soldiering. Whilst not a professional or standing army, the Kings Household Guard and the Royal Fortress Guards became a more established military model, with the Royal Arsenal in Conwy supplying and maintaining the growing use of muskets and arquebus' whilst Bristol established itself as a centre for the practice of artillery (something which would be maintained by the army into present times) 

First Foundation of the BFG - 1650 to 1718

Welsh troops were to see action during the 30 years war, fighting as part of the French Armies, the King of Wales at this time. Dafydd IV was more interested in raising the Welsh Navy than Army modernisation and as such, the pace of reform in the Welsh Army remained slow and in the hands of people such as the Princes of Morgannwg, Powys, and the Dukes of March and Gwent. Reforms were slow and patchy, though an increasing pool of officers and skilled soldiers began to accumulate. The heir to the throne, Prince Hywel served in Europe as a junior officer in 1640 (aged 15) to gain practical experience of the world of war. When his father died, he was serving with the Holy Roman Empire in Germany and as such did not hear of his accession to the throne until 1641. His return to Wales coincided with the outbreak in England of the English Civil War and as such, the Army began to receive the attention it had been denied for some years.

At first Wales sides with the English Royalist Faction and Hywel raises the traditional feudal levy based Army and marches it to the Welsh side of the river Severn. Late in 1642, Parliament negotiates with Hywel to remove the presence of the Welsh Army from the border. By now, the Army was at less than half strength, with many of the levy soldiers having melted away during the preceding few months. Duke Tomos II of March was charged by the King with looking into alternatives to the old style army.

In 1645, the New Model Army first took the field in England, and its repercussions were felt rapidly in Wales where the success of the Parliamentarians and the aggression of Cromwell was noted with fear. By 1650, Tomos had presented the King with his ideas and findings. The result was the 11th June 1650 , Kings Charter, establishing for the first time in Wales a standing, professional Army, based largely on the English model. The Charter was ratified by the Welsh Parliament later that year and the first Welsh Army was formed.

The Welsh Army

The new Welsh Army was commanded by Tomos (until his death in 1651) and then by Prince Iago I of Morgannwg and consisted of 5 Regiments of Cavalry (600 men per regiment), 6 Regiments of Foot (1200 men per regiment) and 1 Regiment of Dragoons (1000 men). The Royal Artillery, which at this time was split between the Arsenal in Conwy and Castell Caer Odor (Bristol Castle) supplied the Army with both its firearms and the artillery support.

As such the Welsh Army could field 3000 cavalry, 7200 soldiers and 1000 mounted Dragoons. Whilst this represented only half of what England could field at the same time, it was a considerable advancement for Wales as for the first time full time professional soldiers were in the employ of the king and Parliament, earning four ceiniogau (four pence) a day for an Infantryman and one swllt (one shilling) for a Cavalryman. The Army Headquarters was moved to Ludlow with a permanent staff being employed.

The New Welsh Army was separate, though, from the Kings Household Guard and the Royal Fortress Guards, though they also benefited from the new pay scales and the new professionalism brought to the Army. The Army units were also, following the new English custom, barracked as well.

1651 to 1688

This period was the high water point of the early Welsh Army. Under the command of Prince Iago of Morgannwg the army was drilled and organised with the Officers College in Ludlow educating a new generation of Welsh officers. This period also saw the army engaged in the fewest number of engagements, with the Navy engaged in the Dutch Wars, the main role of the Army at this time was to provide the Marines for service on the ships. In 1672, Iago retired from the Army and King Hywel retired Wales from all major European engagements and as a result both the Army and Navy suffered from the beginnings of neglect, though the Army, funded as it was by Parliament continued to muster and drill and therefore retained a strong operational base. This situation continued into the reign of Hywel IV (reigned 1683-1706).

1688-1718

In 1688, Hywel signed a treaty with James II of England, pledging Welsh support to James attempts to retain his English Crown and two years later Welsh troops fought for the deposed English king in Ireland. 1690 also saw the start of the reduction in the rates of pay for the Welsh soldiers. Where before it had been four ceiniogau and one swllt, in 1690 pay was reduced by Parliament to pisyn tair (three pieces) for an infantryman and chwecheiniog (sixpence) for a cavalryman. Such reductions in pay saw a decrease in the numbers of men joining the army and the army was reduced from five Cavalry regiments to three and six Infantry regiments to four, with the number of men available for the Dragoon regiment diminished as well. In 1704, Welsh troops took part in the Battle of Blenheim under Marlborough and this was to be the last engagement prior to the 3rd Anglo-Welsh war in 1718

In 1709, during the reign of the last crowned Welsh king (before the Restoration) Dafydd V the army was in such a neglected state that the king had to employ mercenaries to put down the Gower Uprising. The failure of the Army to provide men or material for the suppression of the Gower Uprising led to the almost complete mothballing of the Army establishment, with only the Household and Fortress Guards retained. This state of affairs continued until 1716, when the Prince of Powys and the Duke of March (Llewellyn Powys-Fadog and Edmund Grey) were appointed to control the Army (Powys as Commander and the March as his active deputy). 

Under March, the Army was restructured with Regiments taking the place of the previous Milwraid (Colonel) Regiments (the first of these being the Regiment of the March), pay was also increased, with an Infantryman now earning ten ceiniogau and a Cavalryman earning two swllt, with officers now earning a Coron (Crown or five swllt). Such a move pulled men to the colours, but at a bad time for Wales. In 1718, Dafydd declared war on England with the army only two years into its re-organisation. Men were half trained, supplies low, and the chain of command fractured. The King takes command of the Army from Powys and March and manages to lead the army to almost total destruction. The army is shattered and broken upon two battles in 1718. June sees the first battle of the war, the Battle of Amwythig (Shrewsbury). At this battle Dafydd loses over half his "veteran" troops and also loses Northern March, Powys and Gwynedd east of Conwy to the English. The second battle, fought on the 28th August outside Caerdydd (Cardiff) saw the death of Dafydd, the death or capture of the remaining "veteran" troops and results in English control of over half of Wales. Pockets of troops continue to resist the English advance, and the Household Guard provide a fighting retreat to the port of Milford Haven where the nobility and government are preparing to flee to France.     

The BFG in Exile 1718-1796

The Army in Exile was more a paper creation than anything else. Some units were created during this period. most notably the Welsh Border Regiment in 1720. However, so few regular soldiers escaped to France that the Army consisted of officers but no Infantrymen and as such the invasion forces of king Rhys of Wales tended to consist of hired mercenaries from the continent. In Wales itself men continued to be raised to fight the English, 1720 saw the Rebellion of Gwent which included many escaped soldiers from the Welsh Army, the '23 Morgannwg-Gwent rebellion again saw many former soldiers return to fight. The Rebellion of the North in 1732 saw another attempt as did the Cardinal's revolt in 1739 which saw the Archbishop of St Davids lead an uprising to time with an invasion by Rhys. In 1744, the whole of Wales rose up in revolt, for five years, the Welsh rebels manage to maintain control over some parts of the former Welsh Kingdom, notably, Caer Odor. This is a new period for Welsh warfare, as the majority of the combatants now are the sons of former Welsh soldiers. After five years of revolt, the English succeed in putting down the rebellion (though English control of the Welsh countryside is seriously weakened) and for the next 10 years the English force many people overseas to the English colonies in America.

In 1759, the new king of Wales, Rhisiart, lands a successful invasion of North Wales, landing at Harlech, though without a Welsh army. The invasion, financed by France and the sale of the remaining Welsh capital abroad, was spearheaded by mercenary troops and French troops on loan. Managing to hold Harlech in the winter of 1759, Rhisiart then directs local men into the army, training a new generation of Welsh soldiers. The English 41 year occupation and the disruption to Welsh life that this caused means that Rhisiart is able to create an army to his tastes, meaning that men were no longer raised to fight under their local Lord or even arranged in strictly geographical Milwraid Regiments, but in all-encompassing regiments with no main geographic base. The war of independence would go on for another 39 years, eating up the lives of both men and kings, with the third House of Morgannwg monarch, Arthur I being king for the Treaty of Shrewsbury (1796) which saw Wales re-established as an independent Kingdom. The army that emerges at the end is a battle hardened, small force of men, forged in the crucible of fighting quite literally for king and Country.

The Second Constitution of the Army 1796-1821

The Army that emerged from the 1796 peace treaty was very different to the one that entered the 1718 3rd Anglo-Welsh war. The Army was now almost 14,000 men strong in terms of infantry with a cavalry arm numbering some 8000 men and horses. The Gun-Runners of the 2nd War of Independence had kept the early Welsh army supplied and as the war progressed and the Government regained control of Welsh territory then Wales began the manufacture of war material again, with the main weapon of the Welsh Infantryman being the 42 inch short land pattern "Brown Bess" musket. This musket carried over into the Restoration Period where Welsh armies fought alongside the English in the Napoleonic Wars (though again following the English lead, the musket was amended to the 36 inch barrel version.

This period was notable both for Welsh actions in Europe, fighting in the coalitions against Napoleon, and also for forging the Welsh Empire. The Spanish-Welsh war of 1799 culminated with the land Battle of Trerawlson in Patagonia. The result was the first Welsh Colony of Y Wladfa (Patagonia). In 1803, Welsh Troops saw action in West Africa resulting in the claiming of the West African Welsh Colony. In 1810, under Maredudd of Gwynedd, Welsh troops form part of Wellington's army in Spain, and again in 1815 as part of the final war against Napoleon.
Welsh soldiers in action in the Napoleonic Wars

Soldiers of the Kings Own Rifles during the Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic Wars were also responsible for the 1815 Army Revolt, where returning soldiers started demanding better pay and conditions in Wales. The King was forced to use mercenaries to put down the Army Revolt, whose aftermath saw many ringleaders exiled to Y Wladfa. The 1820 2nd Rebellion of March was the last armed action of the old Welsh Army. Upon the successful suppression of the revolt the Army was disbanded and then in 1821 reformed with a new Kings Charter.

Second Foundation of the Army - Granting of Kings Charter 1821

The Arthurian Charter (1821) established the Byddin Frenhinol Gymreig as a permanent standing army with its headquarters initially in Ludow, though this changed in 1822 to the newly completed Caefilli Palace. Two officers colleges were established, one in its historic location of Ludlow and the other in Caerfilli, where it had been established during the 2nd War of Independence. The Army was now a paid organ of the State and as such Parliament (such as it was in this period) was required to authorise its existence yearly (the Army Act) and if Parliament was unable to be called then the Kings Council was directed to pass the Act.
Men of the Royal Welsh Artillery

Officers of the Royal Welsh Artillery

The Act also established the Regiments of the Army and their barracks and laid provision for the Royal Artillery and the Royal Military Hospitals, the Royal Household Guard (technically part of the Army proper)

The Act also called for a full time professional head of service and the first such head was the Prince of Powys, Iorwerth.  

Army Actions in the 19th Century (After 1821)

For the remainder of Arthur's reign, the main role of the Army was of internal Policeman. The general populace was becoming more and more politically agitated and between 1826 & 1827 riots in all the major cities of Wales was common place. In 1830, the Welsh Kingdom went to war in the Pacific, capturing the islands of Samoa. The next reign, Cystennin, saw the Army engaged in Imperial brush wars in Africa as the Welsh West African Colony expanded. However, the main action during his short reign was the abortive war against Argentina which saw the loss of the colony Y Wladfa to the nascent Argentine State.

The Welsh Civil War 1843-49 

The real major action during the reign of King Cystennin was the Welsh Civil War between the House of Morgannwg and the House of MacGregor-Glyndwr, a surviving branch of the earlier ruling Dynasty. The cadet branch took the title of Prince of Gwynedd after the death of King Rhys without any direct heir. Prince Rhys of Gwynedd was convinced of his right to hold the crown and built up an army (The Byddin Frenhiniol Eryri or Royal Snowdonia Army). In 1843 he attempted a Coup de Tat, which was foiled by the Duke of March remaining loyal to the Crown. In 1845 open war breaks out when, while at Cardigan, King Cystennin is killed by troops of the 1st Battalion, Kings Infantry Guard. Two regular army units go over to the rebel Prince (the 1st Kings Infantry and the The Kings Own Gwynedd Heavy Infantry) though the rebellion is not completely popular even within Gywnedd, with the eastern portion of the Principality quite lacklustre in its sign-up rates. The English attempt to interfere in the Rebellion, offering aid to both sides, but the war continues with Gwynedd enjoying the majority of the success' up to 1847. IN 1847 there are two Battles of Carmarthen. At the first Rhys holds the day, scattering the Royal Army, at the second, the Crown Prince, Rhisiart, smashes the BFE, and with that victory the tide turns against Rhys. 1848 sees running battles up and down the West Coast as Rhisiart moves northwards towards Harlech. By the autumn of 1848, Rhisiart is camped outside the walls of Harlech and at the Battle of Harlech Gates, in the January of 1849, Rhisiart captures both Harlech and more importantly, Rhys, ending the destructive war within the Kingdom.

Army Involvement Post 1849

Following the successful conclusion of the Civil War, the BFG returns to normal state duties and in 1854, Rhisiart himself, leads the Welsh contingent to the Crimea where Welsh units are part of the Allied Army. For the remainder of the 1850's the Army is quiet, mainly engaged in Imperial Police work in the colonies and acting as a break on social unrest within Wales itself. However, by the mid 1860's there is open rebellion in the West African Colony, and Rhisiart leads the troops personally, the last time a Welsh King would lead his troops in war. The late 1860's also sees the return of political agitation in the Welsh cities, resulting in the continued use of Welsh soldiers to put down the revolts.
1st Batt Hereford Rifles c.1899

Men from the 1st Batt Hereford Rifles

During the reign of Rhisiarts successor, Rhisiart IV, the Army continues much in the vein that it has existed since Arthur's reign. The reign of Rhisiart IV is peaceful enough in terms of wars. The Army is still engaged in Imperial Police actions, but that is not something unique to the Welsh Empire. However, the reign of Rhisiart IV sees the explosion in Wales of political riots. All agitating for sociopolitical change within Wales. The Army, now better equipped than at any other time in its history is still being used to put down these riots, but it is increasingly becoming a blunt tool. The 1880's see the introduction of a Secret Police with which the Army works to suppress political agitation, but as the century turns the Army is unable to guarantee the monarchs safety, with the assassination of the Queen on the turn of the century.

Army Actions in the Early 20th Century

At the birth of the 20th Century, the BFG is still engaged mainly in internal policing of the Welsh State. In 1902 the chaos in
Welsh Heavy Cavalry August 1914

Welsh Heavy Cavalry on parade August 1914

 Wales explodes in such a way that the King is forced to abandon his Palace of Cwm Hyfryd and retire to the more defensable Caerfilli Castell. The birth of the modern era also heralds the increasing industrialisation of the Army, with the new reign of Iorwerth (1904-1920) seeing more internal peace than any of his immediate predecessors. The Welsh Army, however, does not engage in the European War 1914-18, though it does see the industrial benefits from the armed action. One aspect of the European War 1914-18, however, was the large number of Welsh volunteer's who formed Continental Regiments and traveled to France to fight for the French and Anglo-Scottish armies.

Following the end of the European War 1914-18, Wales would become engaged officially in a European war, that of the Greco-Turkish war. Under Iago, Wales would side with Greece, seeking to aid her in her efforts to create Magna Grecia from the old Ottoman Empire. With Welsh aid, Greece held onto her gains on the Anatolian littoral as well as regaining the ancient capital, Constantinople


Under Iago, (king 1920-1950) the Army would see its rush to modernise, with tanks replacing horses, machine guns, modern artillery, and in the 1930's massive German involvement in the training of Army units.

The Great War 1939-1945

Background

When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the United Kingdom of England & Scotland declared war on the German State. Under the terms of the Treaty of Shrewsbury, which had re-recognised Welsh Independence in 1796, Wales was bound to act in favour of the British State. However, as with the Great War of 1914-18, Wales opted for a very technical reading of the treaty. In 1914, that reading was that the UK-ES was going to war on behalf of a third party (Belgium), with whom Wales did not have a defensive treaty with. 1939 was to see Wales use the same reasoning and indeed go further with Iago arguing that the Treaty of Berlin superseded the much older Shrewsbury treaty, and as such declaring war on the British state.

The Chancellor, Iorwerth Bychsten, was a long standing ally of the King, and the King was a long time admirer of both Hitler and Nazi Germany. The 1930's had seen a long build up of German advisors within the Welsh Kingdom  and had also seen the allowing of German bases on Welsh soil. Something that had long rankled with the Anglo-Scottish neighbours.
Waffen ss letonia

Troops of the Waffen SS parade in Pen y Bont early in 1935

With the outbreak of war, Iago orders the removal of both Houses of Parliament back to historic Machynlleth and the dismissal of Maeslywydd Thomas (Field Marshall Thomas - Head of the Armed Forces). The resultant chaos, and with Anglo-Scottish intriguing, the government of Chancellor Bychsten collapses and the German troops within Wales seize control of key sites, such as the air bases, both civilian and military. In Cardiff by December Iago is ruling via the Secretariat and has Hitler declared Welsh Chancellor on January 1st 1940. With this declaration, the Welsh Resistance is formed by Maeslywydd Thomas, who begins negotiations with the British, and the BFG begins preparations to remove the German troops from Wales. The months January to March see a form of phoney war exercised in Wales. The Germans are not in a position to take advantage of Hitler's being given the Chancellorship, but Thomas is not in a position to safely remove the German troops from Wales without risking a civil war. That moment comes in March when Iago declares that Wales is now part of the Third Reich. With this, the Anglo-Scottish 4th Army is mobilised and moved to the Welsh Borders. Within Wales, Thomas now begins mobilisation of his own forces, quietly blockading the major Welsh ports and moving troops loyal to himself to key positions within Wales. 

In June, with the invasion of France well underway, the Germans begin to move troops into Wales. With this the Anglo-Scottish Kingdom declares war on Wales, and continues its build up of forces on the east bank of the Severn. In July, Thomas makes his move. Iago is isolated in Cardiff and his government is heavily compromised by Thomas sympathisers. With the Germans concentrating on France and the Channel Islands, the BFG acts against the German troops in Wales. With action seen mainly by the special forces troops of Greys Regiment, the German troops are engaged in several bloody actions. The last one being the battle of Rhoose, where German forces put up a brave fight against the Welsh Army.
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-801-0664-37, Berlin, Unter den Linden, Schützenpanzer

Whermacht Half Track in Caerdydd March 1940

With the defeat of the German troops, men drawn from all units of the Army surround Cwm Hyfryd Palace and Iago is forced into house arrest. With the backing of Churchill in London, Thomas declares Martial Law in Wales and therefore himself as Head of Government. On the 1st August 1940, Wales formally declares war on Germany with Thomas taking the post of Chancellor. Iago is placed under armed guard and a proclamation is issued in his name stating that he acted under duress when declaring war on the Allies. 

Initial Actions

With the declaration of war, Thomas was now faced with the prospect of getting the BFG into action. The 1930's had been kind to the BFG, with new equipment, training and money directed at it by the nationalistic, paranoid monarch. However, the first action of the war, was a border war in Africa with the Vichy Controlled French colonies bordering Welsh West Africa. The colonial troops there fought bravely and with the reluctance of French troops to press the advantage the brief struggle for the Welsh colony passed but as the war progressed the Welsh troops based there were able to move north to aid in the fight for North Africa.

The remainder of 1940 were quiet in terms of Army action. Troop training intensified and the army saw its levels of readiness rise to new heights, but with little outlet for its preparedness.

North Africa

The Welsh 3rd Corp was tasked with being the Welsh contingent to the North African Campaign. The Fleet sailed in late 1940 landing in Africa in November 1940, joining up with the UK-ES and Australian forces in Egypt. The Corp, under the command of Cadfridog Is-Gapten (Lt General) Pritchard took part in Operation Compass (the first Allied attempt to conquer Cyreniacia) under the overall command of English General Archibald Wavell. Losses amongst the Welsh troops was not high, but the attrition rate due to desert conditions was a factor in later losses.
1943 north africa 01

Welsh Artillery 1943

Cadfridog Is-Gapten Pritchard would continue to command Welsh forces in North Africa until the end of war, with the Welsh 3rd Corp continuing to form part of the Allied North African Army. Although some units were despatched along with English units to aid the Greeks during the German invasion. By 1941 Rommel has forced the Allied army back deep into Egypt and Pritchard's forces have thinned considerably. Re-inforcements consist of men from the Welsh West Africa Colony who have travelled through UK-ES controlled Africa to join up with Pritchard in Egypt. On the 25th April 1941 the Welsh 3rd Corp suffers huge losses during the defence of Halfaya Pass as Rommel presses on in North Africa. Pritchard himself suffering the loss of one eye during the action. Pritchard would again lead his men from the front in the June Operation Battleaxe with the failure to lift the seige of Tobruk, then later in Novemeber 1941 Operation Crusader would see the Welsh 3rd cut down to almost a quarter of its initial size, with the highest losses occurring on the 22nd during Rommels counter offensive. However, the Welsh Army also had men with the Indian forces at Sidi Omar, and on the 25th Novmeber were part of a successful defence that saw the 5th Panzer Division destroyed.
Crusader Tank and German Tank

Welsh Crusader Tank and German Panzer

On the 24th December with the Allied capture of Benghazi, Welsh re-inforcements under Cadfridog Brigad Durman, former colonel of the 2nd (Princess Olivia's) Dragoon Guards and now the Commander of 20th Brigade, the North African Relief Column. Made up of re-inforcments armed with the latest six-lb Crusader Tank, Brigadier Durman acted as Lt General Pritchards deputy for the remainder of the North African Campaign.

The first half of 1942 saw the Welsh forces beaten back along with the other Allied forces by Rommel. Welsh forces were present in both battles of Gazala and Bir Hakiem in May 1942, with the men from 1st Royal Dehubarth Dragoon Guards and 4th (Prince Cystennin's) Lancers  taking heavy loses there. The 13th June 1942 (Black Sunday) saw more heavy losses in the face of German action, with 1st Sqn Ynys Mon Yeomanry and 4th Sqn Gwent Cavalry  (both Territorial units) taking very heavy losses. The 4th Sqn Gwent Cavalry losing almost three-fourths of its fighting force in one day. During the 1st Battle of El Alamein Welsh forces took part on the right flank.

In August the overal command of the Allied Forces in Egypt passed to Montgomery, and preparations began for Operation Lightfoot (which included the 2nd Battle of El Alamein). Lt General Pritchard and Brigadier Durman again led the Welsh forces this time arrayed on the Eighth Army's left flank during this campaign.
Men of the Welsh Army North Africa

Hereford Rifles in North Africa

In Novemeber, the American's landed in Morocco as part of Operation Torch and with them also landed the Welsh 1st Division under the command of Cadfridog Uchgapten (Major General) Diamond. As the Welsh 3rd Corps advanced westwards, the 1st Division advanced eastwards under the general command of Eisenhower. During the late December push on Tebourba, Cadfridog Uchgapten Diamond suffered severe lacations to the thigh from scrapnel, already demonstrating an urge to lead from the front position. By 1943 the North African Campaign was winding down, the 1st saw action during the Battle of Kesserine in February '43 and the 3rd saw action during Operation Pugilist and continuing during actions Supercharge II and the Battle of Tebaga Gap. After April '43 the two Allied Forces combined and the 1st came under the command of Lt General Pritchard, and Welsh forces took part in Operations Vulcan and Strike. On the 7th May, Welsh forces under Major General Diamond entered Bizerte along with the Americans. The aftermath of the Axis surrender on the 13th May saw Lt General Pritchard transfered to command of Welsh Forces in West Africa, whilst Brigadier Durman returned to Wales and from there to England as part of the planning team for Overlord. Major General Diamond, however, took command of the newly formed Welsh 2nd Corps which was transfered to the Italian Campaign.

Italian Campaign

Welsh troops landing at Reggio de Calabria

Landing at Reggio de Calabria

Welsh forces did not take part in the Allied invasion of Sicily, but did take part in the invasion of Italy, acting with the Anglo-Scotish troops of the 8th Army took part in Operation Baytown, landing at Reggio di Calabria. The landings were totally unopposed by the Italians, whose Government had asked for an armistice the day previous to the invasion. With the Germans seizing control of the Italian government, however, there would soon be fighting. The Italian Front would go on to be the bloodiest of all the Western Fronts, claiming more lives and more casualties than any other. The newly frocked Lt General Diamond would continue to serve as Welsh local Commander within the Allied Chain of Command until his death in Operation Avenger (1944).

Welsh forces proceeded up the "toe" of Italy along with the 8th Army, applying pressure on the German forces, helping to dilute their ability to throw back the American invasion (Operation Avalanche). On the 3rd October 1943, men from the 1st Batt, The Queens Own (Alexandra's) Fusiliers entered Naples, just two days after men from the English Kings Dragoons Guard had taken the city. From Naples onwards, the Italian campaign was soon to bog down and start to take a high toil of Allied lives.

By January 1944, Allied Forces had begun their advance on Rome via "Highway 6", a route that took them through the town of Cassino, a name that would live in history.

Welsh troops from The Cardinal's Guard Regiment, the Prince of Powys Light Infantry, 7th Gower Rifles Regiment and the Earl of Brycheiniog's Grenadiers took part in the first battle during January 1944. This first assault was deadly in terms of allied losses. With 2400 men dying on three days of action (500 of which were Welsh)

In February 1944, the second battle of Monte Cassino (Operation Avenger) took place. By now Lt Gen Diamond had arrived on the scene along with men from 1st (The King's) Royal Pembrokeshire Lancers and Lt Gen Diamonds own regiment, the Regiment of the March (2nd, 3rd and 7th Batt). On the 17th Feb the main assault took place, with the three battalions of Marchers along with the Cardinal's Guard regiment working with the English 4/6th Rajputana Rifles and the 1/2nd and 1/9th Gurkha Rifles assaulting the monastery hill. The attack proved fruitless in terms of victory and deadly in terms of casualties. The most important, from a Welsh perspective was Lt Gen Diamond who had been at the front at the commencement of the battle. In all, over 50 officers and 200 men were lost between the 17th and 18th with objectives still in German hands.
MOnte Cassino

The ruins of Monte Cassino

Cadfridog Brigad Hebgofal took command of the Welsh forces with the death of Cadfridog Is-Gapten Diamond (who received posthumous awards including the Pendragon Star as well as having Central Command Barracks named after him)

Under Cadfridog Brigad Hebgofal, Welsh troops continued to advance northwards and troops from the 4th Battalion Cardinal's Guard Regiment entered both Rome and then the Vatican following the American capture of the city on June 4th 1944. Brigadier Hebgofal, on behalf of the Lord Cardinal Archbishop of St Davids, met with both the Pope on the 10th June where the Pope blessed a regimental banner brought with the unit on its long journey from Wales, via North Africa and Italy.

The Welsh II Corps now fought with the Polish II Corp in the march north from Rome, and together advanced on the city of Ancona, which was taken on the 18th July. Troops were also tasked into Operation Olive where the Gothic Line was breached, from there the Italian campaign largely ground to a hard slog with the German defenders. Welsh losses in Italy were high. In total over 10,000 men lost their lives or were injured in battle.

The Western Front

The 13th May 1943 saw Cadfridog Brigad Durman transfered from North Africa to London, England, where he was to be the senior Welsh officer involved in what would become the planning group for Operation Overlord and the invasion of Europe. The planning group would eventually decide on an invasion of Normandy, and Cadfridog Brigad Durman would push for the inclusion of Welsh troops in the invasion plan.

D Day

Welsh troops, part of the Welsh I Corp were tasked with landing on Juno Beach in support of the II Canadian Corps and Cadfridog Pritchard was brought back from West Africa and given command of Welsh I Corp (in addition to promotion to full General). Also with Welsh I Corp were two Princes of the Royal Blood. The Crown Prince (Edling), Owain and Prince Iolo I of Gwynedd. Iolo would die on the second day of the invasion, with Owain dying later in the campaign, on the 18th July.

Units involved with the landing included the Household Guard, the Gower Light Infantry, the Gwynedd Heavy Infantry (Prince Iolo's regiment), Queens Own Fusiliers, the Black Lions, all four light Cavalry regiments, as well as many of the Militia units. Loses on the day were about 100 dead, and another 220 injured from the Welsh forces. By noon of D Day, Welsh and Canadian forces had captured the town of Saint Aubin sur Mer and had advanced more than 1000 km into French territory. With Normandy secure the Allied Forces pushed on Paris.

Welsh forces were involved in Operation Goodwood, with all seven Welsh cavalry regiments represented in the battle with infantry support from the Militia Regiments (mainly the Morgannwg Fusiliers, the Deheubarth Regiment and the Penfro Grenadiers). It was during this battle that the Edling, Owain died.

Army Actions Post 1945

Colonial Revolt

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Troops of the Border Rifles in Freetown 1968


In September 1968 troops of the Colonial Defence Force in the Welsh West African Colony of Sierra Leone revolted and attempted a coup.  Led by Major Adema Apoloa they attacked and occupied the local radio station in the Capital Freetown.  Denouncing the colonial rule of their country from Cardiff and Caerphilly they called on their countrymen to rally to the cause for a free Sierra Leone.  Elements of the rebel forces took the airport and some of the port area.  Unfortunately support for the revolt was limited and despite a bourgoning underground movement for independance this short battle only raged for a matter of months.  Troops from the resident Infantry Battalion, at the time the 2nd Btn the Border Rifles, fought running battles throughout Freetown and the surrounding countryside.  Equipped with minimal infantry equipment, light armoured vehicles and Land Rovers they mounted Counter Insurgency and Anti Terrorist operations until Late November 1968.  These were successful in stopping armed revoltion and any major loss of life.  Major Apoloa was captured by loyal Colonial troops, convicted of treason and publically beheaded in the rugby ground in central Freetown.  Following this brief revolution the Welsh military presence was upped to include two patrol vessels, a squadron of helicopters and COIN aircraft and a further battalion of Cavalry.  Sierra Leone remains one of the more loyal Welsh protectorates having achieved Independance through peaceful methods in Spring 1974.

Welsh Involvement in Vietnam

During the 1960s American involvement in Welsh politics influenced many factors. For the Welsh army the main one was the deployment of Welsh Troops to Vietnam in 1967 to support operations there. In the main this would be in support of Australian units in the Phuoc Tuoy Province. The Deployment drew huge protest at home from many organisations. Originally it was intended to rotate the deployment across the Army but eventually it transpired that A Company, 1st Battalion the Welsh Border Regiment would be the basis for the Welsh involvement and troops would be drawn from across the Army and attached to the Battalion for the six months of their tour. The First tranch of troops arrived in country in July 1967 and immediately entered into operations against the NVAs 33rd Regiment at Dak To. In addition the Greys deployed and supported and fought alongside the SASR and MACV SOG. A smaller number of Welsh Air Force crews flew transport aircraft with the USAF notably in support of the US Marines at Da Nang. Welsh soldiers rotated through the Battalion every six months from 1967 to 1969 when the rotation increased to a year. The Final rotation ended in 1971 with Brigadier Siarl Cooper-Rhys handing over the Welsh AO to Brigadier General Karl Utenski of the US Army.

Vietnam War Australian SASR

Joint SASR/Greys patrol in Vietnam. At extreme left and right are Cpl Jason Rhys and Sgt Brynmor Gruffudd with Cpl Chris Mason and Lt Pete Golonka of the SASR

Current Constitution of the Royal Welsh Army

The Army is split into three distinct Army Groups, North, South and Central ( Grŵp Fyddin y GogleddGrŵp Fyddin y Dde and Grŵp Fyddin Canolog).The Joint Service Operational Headquarters is in Caerfilli (Based in the former Royal Palace of Caerphilly Castle) but each group has its own HQ unit. North is at Glyndwr Barracks, Caernarfon, and Central at Diamond Barracks, Llwydlo and South at Aberhonddu in Corless Lines. The Army is then split into its constituent branches etc. 

Baz.sized

Soldiers of the Ranger Company deploy from a Chinook of 56 Sqn RWAF


  • CorffluChludiant  - Transportation Corps - Orange piping
  • Corfflu Meddygol  - Medical - Green piping
  • Corfflu Heddlu Milwrol a Diogelwch - Corps of Military Police and Security - Purple piping
  • Corfflu Signalau - Corps of Signals/CIS - Yellow piping
  • Cyfarwyddiaeth Lluoedd Arbennig - Special Forces Directorate - No piping
  • Corfflu Troedfilwyr  - Infantry Corps (Includes one Battalion of Airborne Infantry) Scarlet piping
  • Corfflu Magnelwyr  - Artillery Corps - Red piping
  • Corfflu Arfogedig - Armoured Corps - Pink piping
  • Corfflu y Beirianwyr - Corps of Engineers - White piping
  • Corfflu Cyflenwad ac Ordnans - Supply and Ordnance Corps - Blue piping


Most units of the Army are involved in the defence of the home nation.  However, many Regiments of the Army deploy in support of Operations in Afghanistan.  This is consistent with Wales' membership of NATO.  There are soldiers deployed on UN operations and also on exchange tours with the British, German and US forces.  Border patrols are undertaken by the Army in conjunction with the Police and National Border Control Service. 


The Army currently fields two specialist units.  The first of these is the Border Rifles.  The Regiment is the Premier Infantry Unit and also the Airborne or Para unit.  They are currently deploying 2 companies to Afghanistan.  The second of these is the Special Services Regiment, “The Grey’s”.  A specialized unit providing Special Forces and Anti-Terrorist support.  This is drawn from all three services and trains alongside the US Marines and British SAS.  There is a small Marine Infantry unit that provides security detachments for all Navy vessels, Shore Bases and also a limited specialist Marine assault unit. The majority of Sea based assaults are undertaken by regular Army units under the supervision of these Marines.  These troops are distinguished by their Anchor cap badges and green berets.
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Soldier of the Greys on exercise with the British SAS

The main HQ for the army is in Llwydlo and contains HQ elements for all of the constituent corps.  Also it houses the training regiments for officers and enlisted ranks.  The Army Group (Canolog) HQ is also located in the area at Diamond Barracks.  There are large bases at Pontsenni, Caerdydd, Llanillid Fawr, Y Trallwng, Caergybi and Penfro.  As well as many smaller bases dotted around the country.

Weapons and Equipment

The current weapons and equipment of the Welsh military show the lasting effect that the United States involvement in the countries politics and everyday life since the 1950s. To this end the Welsh Military used the US woodland camouflage clothing and ALICE load bearing equipment up to 2003 when it was replaced by MARPAT fatigues in woodland and desert patterns and Paraclete, MOLLE equipment in Coyote Brown. The US Lightweight Combat Helmet is used by most frontline units with the old M1 steel helmet relegated to Militia units. The more specialized units have been known to use Multicam and British MTP whilst on operations.

As part of the Millenium Arms project the military replaced most of the older small arms in the inventory moving from 3 calibres to 2 in all major arms. Only the Special Forces retained any autonomy in weapon choice. The main Service pistol is the Sig Sauer P226 in 10mm built under licence by the Wrexham based National Armouries. It replaced the .45 M1911A1 in 1998. The 5.56mm M16A1 and the 7.62mm M60 were replaced by the C7/C8 family and the M249 LMG in 5.56mm. The M240 in 7.62mm and 12.7mm 'Fifty Cal' were retained in the fire support role however. Snipers use the M40A3 in match grade 7.62mm or for longer range work the Cheytac M200 in .480 inch. Militia units are slowly replacing their M16s with the more modern weapons but in the main retain their older systems. As this goes to press the Military Police and Civilian Law Enforcement agencies are trialling the Heckler und Koch MP7 as an alternative weapons system.

Special Forces units, as is normal, have more latitude in their choisce of firearms. The Welsh SF units use the C8A2 SFW version but it has not been unknown to see operators with M16, M4, AK47/74s and many other
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FN 5-7 5.7mm Pistol as used by Special Operations units.

weapons. The Anti-Terror units use the FN P90, FN 5-7 and M40A3 systems whilst the Civilian police use Steyr AUG rifles and Glock 17 pistols. With the 1994 SDR the Army decided to replace and downsize its Armoured forces. To this end the retirement of the M60A4 MBT, M113A3 ACAV and associated vehicles began. The phased replacement with Areite C1 MBTs followed a stiffly contested trial between the M1A1 Abrahams, Leopard 2 and the French Leclerc. The M1126 Stryker won the contest for the new APC and also did so well in trials that the Mobile Gun Platform, Armoured engineer and Anti-Air versions were also ordered. This gives the army commonality across the board with most of its AFVs. The only survivor of the older vehicles being the
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LFAG Hummer at Caernarvon Airport during Anti-Terror Exercise

M60 AVRB bridging tank.
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M1126 Stryker of the Welsh Army in Afghanistan May 2010

Light vehicles range include DAF medium trucks, Ford F350 pickup trucks, MAN heavy trucks and the ubiquitous Land Rover. The Army in Afghanistan also uses Dingo MRAPs and Jackal IWMIK vehicles in addition to their normal vehicles. The Air Force operate licence built HMMWVs left over from the US militaries time in Wales.

Ranks in the Byddin Frenhiniol Gymreig

NATO Code Officers Ranks English Equivalent
OF-10 Maeslywydd Field Marshal
OF-9 Prif-Gadfridog General
OF-8 Uwch-Gadfridog Lieutenant General
OF-7 Is-Cadfridog Major-General
OF-6 Cadfridog Brigad Brigadier
OF-5 Milwraid Colonel
OF-4 Is-Milwriad  Lieutenant Colonel
OF-3 Uwchgapten Major
OF-2 Capten Captain
OF-1 Is-Gapten Lieutenant
OF-1 Is-Gapten Ail  2nd Lieutenant 
Student Officer Swyddog Myfyriwr Officer Cadet
NATO Code NCO Ranks English Equivalent
OR-9 Uwchgapten-Rhingyll Catrodol Regimental Sergeant Major
OR-8 Uwchgapten-Rhingyll Sergeant Major
OR-7 Rhingyll Swyddogion Staff Sergeant
OR-6 Rhingyll Sergeant
OR-4 Is Rhingyll Corporal
OR-3 Uwch Rhyfelwr Lance Corporal
OR-1 Rhyfelwr Dosbarth Cyntaf Private (1st Class)
OR-1 Rhyfelwr Ail Ddosbarth Private (2nd Class)

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