Historian reflects on ‘Hitler Battle Line’ and the Castlerobin tank

Historian Bracken Anderson, who is a member of the North Irish Horse Regimental Association, has been looking into the history of the North Irish Horse tradition and has come across an interesting link to Lisburn.

Friday, 4th June 2021, 11:55 am
The Castlerobin tank

Tanks used in one of the important battles of the Second World War were named after various townlands in Ireland, with one being named Castlerobin after an area of Lisburn.

“Every year, on a weekend close to May 23, the Norse Irish Horse celebrate a WWII Battle Honour, the ‘Battle of the Hitler Line’,” explained Bracken.

“That event took place near Monte Cassino. south of Rome in Italy. In May 1944, the ‘Horse’ tank regiment had not been long in Southern Italy.

The Castlerobin Tank

“They arrived in Naples having fought the German Afrika Korps in Tunisia, North Africa, for a year.

“The North Irish Horse (NIH) was a Churchill tank regiment, the prototypes of which were built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast. NIH tanks were given names of towns and townlands covering all of Ireland. One C Squadron was ‘Castlerobin IV’.

“As the Germans retreated up through Italy towards Austria, they fought tenaciously creating Stop Lines as they went.

“One such Stop Line was the Hitler Line, which the Germans had taken months to prepare.

The Castlerobin tank in action

“It was a one day battle which became the bloodiest and costliest for the Irish tank regiment.

“The day was very hot and dusty. NIH tanks were supporting the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. Shells and mortar fire mixed with the dust from nearly 60 tanks brought battlefield visibility down to 10 yards.

“Hitler Youth shot all in front of them, including stretcher bearers. One tank toppled 300 ft down a hidden ravine. By nightfall, when the Germans retreated, the NIH had 26 officers and men killed. 32 tanks had been knocked out. Canadian infantry casualties totalled 1000.

“Castlerobin was involved in the fight. Other C Sqn tanks named Clonmel, Clougher Cork, Coleraine, Cookstown, Comber, Cavan, Carrickfergus, Coalisland and Crossgar also took part.

“After the battle, the Canadians asked the 25th Tank Brigade, in which the NIH was senior regiment, to wear a small Maple Leaf to commemorate that horrific day. It is proudly worn by the NIH to this day. That Castlerobin tank is in Belfast today and stands as a tribute to NIH tank crewmen and Troopers who were killed during WWII.”