Lovat Scouts

Lovat Scouts

Cap badge of the Lovat Scouts
Active 1900–present
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
Type Yeomanry
Size 1900s: Two battalions
World War I: Six regiments
World War II: Two battalions
Motto(s) Je suis prest (I am ready)
Battle honours South Africa 1900-02
Gallipoli 1915
Egypt 1915-16
Macedonia 1916-18
France and Flanders 1916-18
Major Simon Joseph Fraser, 16th Lord Lovat
Captain Simon Fraser, 17th Lord Lovat

The Lovat Scouts (from 1903 to 1908 Lovat's Scouts Imperial Yeomanry)[1] were a British Army unit first formed during the Second Boer War as a Scottish Highland yeomanry regiment of the British Army. They were the first known military unit to wear a ghillie suit and in 1916 formally became the British Army's first sniper unit, then known as "sharpshooters".



This Scottish Highland regiment was formed in January 1900 for service in the Second Boer War by Simon Joseph Fraser, 14th Lord Lovat, father of the World War II commando, Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, and uncle of David Stirling, the creator of the Special Air Service. The unit was commanded by an American, Major Frederick Russell Burnham, the British Army Chief of Scouts under Lord Roberts, who fittingly described Lovat Scouts as "half wolf and half jackrabbit". Major Burnham was selected for the Victoria Cross but declined rather than give up his American citizenship. Burnham would later go on to become one of the founders of the Boy Scouts"[2] Well practiced in the arts of marksmanship, field craft, and military tactics, they were also phenomenal woodsmen always ready to tempt fate, but also practitioners of discretion: "He who shoots and runs away, lives to shoot another day."[2] Lovats scouts have the distinction of being the first military unit to wear a Ghillie suit.[3]

Lovat scouts were attached to the Black Watch, but were disbanded in July 1901 while two companies (the 113th and 114th) were formed for the Imperial Yeomanry. When the Second Boer War ended in 1902, the two companies of the Imperial Yeomanry were disbanded. The unit was reformed the following year, consisting of two regiments, titled the 1st and 2nd Lovat Scouts. From these scouts a sharpshooter unit was formed and formally become the British Army's first sniper unit.[2]

World War I

Highland Mounted Brigade

Organisation on 4 August 1914

In accordance with the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 (7 Edw. 7, c.9) which brought the Territorial Force into being, the TF was intended to be a home defence force for service during wartime and members could not be compelled to serve outside the country. However, on the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914, many members volunteered for Imperial Service. Therefore, TF units were split in August and September 1914 into 1st Line (liable for overseas service) and 2nd Line (home service for those unable or unwilling to serve overseas) units. Later, a 3rd Line was formed to act as a reserve, providing trained replacements for the 1st and 2nd Line regiments.[4]

1/1st and 1/2nd Lovat Scouts

The two Lovat Scouts Regiments saw extensive involvement in the First World War, firstly part of the Highland Mounted Brigade. The Lovat Scouts saw service on the Western Front, at Gallipoli, and in Egypt and Macedonia.

In Macedonia in December 1916 the 1/1st and 1/2nd regiments were merged, dismounted and along with a company from the 1/3rd regiment The Scottish Horse formed 10th (Lovat Scouts) Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. It retained the uniform of the Lovat Scouts until disbanded in 1919.

2/1st and 2/2nd Lovat Scouts

The 2nd Line regiments were formed in 1914 and in January 1915 joined the 2/1st Highland Mounted Brigade.[5] On 31 March 1916, the remaining Mounted Brigades were ordered to be numbered in a single sequence;[6] the brigade became the 1st Mounted Brigade and joined 1st Mounted Division in Norfolk.[5]

In July 1916, the 1st Mounted Division was reorganised as the 1st Cyclist Division and the regiments were converted to cyclist units in the 1st Cyclist Brigade of the division at Somerleyton near Lowestoft. In November 1916 the 1st Cyclist Division was broken up and the regiments were merged to form 1st (Lovat's Scouts) Yeomanry Cyclist Regiment, still in the 1st Cyclist Brigade. In March 1917 they resumed their identities as 2/1st Lovat's Scouts and 2/2nd Lovat's Scouts at Gorleston. By July 1917 the regiments had moved to Beccles where they remained until the end of the war, still in 1st Cyclist Brigade.[5]

The regiments provided drafts for the 1st Line regiments and 10th Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. They also provided men for the Lovat Scouts (Sharpshooters). The Sharpshooters were formed from gamekeepers or gillies of the highland estates and were used in an observation and sniping role on the Western Front until the end of the War.

3/1st and 3/2nd Lovat Scouts

The 3rd Line regiments were raised in July 1915 at Beauly and affiliated to a Reserve Cavalry Regiment at Aldershot. They provided drafts to 1st and 2nd Line regiments. In June 1916 they moved to Perth. The regiments were disbanded in January 1917 with personnel transferring to the 2nd Line units or to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders at Invergordon.[5]

Between the wars

Post war, a commission was set up to consider the shape of the Territorial Force (Territorial Army from 1 October 1921). The experience of the First World War made it clear that cavalry was surfeit. The commission decided that only the 14 most senior regiments were to be retained as cavalry. Eight regiments were converted to Armoured Car Companies of the Royal Tank Corps (RTC), one was reduced to a battery in another regiment, one was absorbed into a local infantry battalion, one became a signals regiment and two were disbanded. The remaining 25 regiments were converted to brigades[lower-alpha 1] of the Royal Field Artillery between 1920 and 1922.[9]

The Lovat Scouts was reduced to a single regiment, but remained mounted as a "scouts" unit[10]  as did the Scottish Horse.[11]

World War II

From May 1940 to June 1942, the Lovat Scouts provided the garrison in the Faroe Islands, protecting against the feared German invasion. Whilst on the islands, the unit managed to bring down a Luftwaffe bomber with a Bren gun and subsequently captured the crew. From the Faroe Islands, the group were sent back to the UK and a number were removed from the unit due to a decrease in performance. The numbers were then swelled with new recruits, including hill walkers from Yorkshire and Lancashire, but also new recruits from the Regiment's more traditional recruiting areas.

After a period based in northern Scotland and in Wales, the Scouts were sent to Canada in December 1943 for specialist ski and mountain training. The training started with basic ski training, with the emphasis on cross country work with the type of load which would have to be carried in action e.g. sleeping bag rations for 2, 3 or more days, and rifle. This was followed by survival instruction- what to do and what not to do to exist and function in very cold conditions e.g. by digging snow holes in which to sleep, or erecting simple shelters from the virgin pine and spruce forests. After this stage there was instruction and practice in ascents on snow and ice, use of ice axe, crampons etc.[12]

Typically men would spend three or four weeks at a mountain base, in the vicinity of Mount Edith Cavell, or in the Tonquin Valley - all within the 4200 square miles of Jasper National Park. In that time, Squadrons would practice their survival work such in expeditions usually lasting about two or three days at a time, men sleeping in snow holes. For the remainder of the time they were billeted in canvas marquees, each accommodating about 25 men, with a large wood burning stove in the middle which was kept on night and day with logs sawn from the fallen or naturally dead trees in the area.[13]

At the end of the 3 or 4 weeks on Mount Edith Cavell or in the Tonquin Valley, they would come down for a few days rest and recreation in the chalets in Jasper Alberta. Alberta was then a "dry" province, so there was no alcohol. When a few days leave was given, most made the five hundred mile journey to Vancouver, where they were entertained by the many Scottish expatriates, or their descendants, who were able to get limitless supplies of liquor from over the US border.[14]

By late April spring was well on the way, and the regiment embarked by train for a journey to Halifax Nova Scotia. Their intended embarkation there was delayed when some fell ill with scarlet fever, but training continued with work on river crossing, whether or not the individual soldiers could swim, and route marches. Eventually all embarked on the converted liner Andes which had an uneventful crossing, being in mid Atlantic on June 6, the day of the Normandy landings. On landing at Liverpool the Regiment entrained for Aberdeen, where they spent about three weeks, including spells of home leave.[15]

As a consequence of their training in Jasper, Alberta, they were sent to Italy. The Scouts arrived in Italy in August 1944, to take their part in the relatively fluid situation between the fall of Monte Cassino and the successful breakout from the beachhead created in the Battle of Anzio and the relatively static winter positions of the well prepared Gothic Line. Arezzo had been captured after bitter fighting, but Florence was still in German hands.

Throughout the remainder of the Italian campaign, and the German surrender in early May 1945 the role of the Lovat Scouts, were always deployed in comparatively sparsely inhabited locations in the Apennines, as part of, successively the 10th Indian Infantry Division, II Corps (Poland), and latterly the recently arrived Jewish Brigade,. Their role was aggressive patrolling, reconnaissance, and generally harassing the enemy as far as possible. Dawn attacks against German held farmhouses and their surroundings were fairly frequent. A weapon found to be very useful in these operations was the PIAT mortar, a short range range infantry anti tank weapon which had been found wanting in that role but was a very useful prelude to an early morning attack. To such attacks the Germans sometimes put up a spirited resistance, at other times they were fairly easily persuaded to withdraw, very often to nearby positions on rear facing slopes.

A constant hazard to attacking troops in such warfare was the anti personnel Schu-mine 42, a charge of explosive in a little wooden box which, if trodden upon, would at least cost a man his leg, also often his sight, and not infrequently his life. With a trained eye these could often be spotted in daylight, but in dusk and dark conditions they were near impossible to detect and soldiers learned to accept the risk. The Scouts lost a considerable number to these mines. When not detonated by advancing troops, they were often set off by farmyard animals such as pigs.

With the onset of winter, which proved to be a severe one, the situation became less fluid, and the months of December and January saw positions change very little. Nevertheless, patrolling, both fighting and reconnaissance continued, the latter sometimes giving useful information to the battery of small mountain guns which were in support. All this activity took place in the triangle of territory bounded on the west by a line running northwestwards from Arezzo and eastwards from that town to south of Rimini.

About the end of January 1945 the regiment was withdrawn from the line along the river Senio and went south for a course in ski-mountainiring on the Gran Sasso d’Italia. They then went back on 15 February to relieve US troops in the Monte Grande sector, where aggressive patrolling was resumed. By the latter part of April it became apparent that German resistance was waning and the regiment had been moved again, this time to be part of the Jewish Brigade under Brigadier Ernest F. Benjamin.


At the end of the war in Europe, the regiment drove north, through the Brenner Pass, into Austria, where they spent a pleasant few weeks in general occupation, in the process winkling out one or two fairly senior members of the Nazi party. In early 1946 the regiment moved to Greece in support of the Greek Civil Power during the communist insurgency. It was stationed in Volos, Chalcis on the island Euboea and Athens, with outposts in Trikkala, Larissa and Levadia. Many original Lovats were "wartime only" and returned to the UK for demobilisation. The remaining establishment consisted mainly of officers and men from the disbanded 6th Bn Black Watch. The regiment "stood down" as an active service unit in Athens in February 1947.

Upon the reconstitution of the Territorial Army in 1947 the regiment was reduced to a squadron (C (Lovat Scouts) Squadron) of The Scottish Horse, part of the Royal Armoured Corps. It was converted to artillery in 1949, becoming the 677th Mountain Artillery, RA (Lovat Scouts). It remained in the Royal Artillery, under numerous different titles it, until, with further defence cuts in the 1960s, was disbanded with two squadrons, one becoming a battery of The Highland Regiment, RA and the other joining the 3rd (Territorial) Battalion, Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons). The Lovat Scouts were reorganised with No. 1 (Lovat Scouts) Company being formed as part of the 51st Highland Volunteers.

The company became two separate platoons in 1981 but was reduced to one platoon (Lovat Scouts Platoon) of D (Gordons and Lovat Scouts) Company, 51st Highland Volunteers. After the Options for Change defence white paper the name disappeared as they became a rifle platoon in D Company 3rd (Volunteer) Battalion (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons) The Highlanders. Following a further defence review the rifle platoon transferred to the Royal Regiment of Artillery and have re-roled as Gunners.

The name and capbadge is now carried by the Orkney Independent Cadet Battery of the Army Cadet Force.


The Lovat Scouts is a lively Scottish quickstep and strathspey, written in the bagpipe idiom by James Scott Skinner.[16]

Other information

There is a memorial to the Lovat Scouts in the town square of Beauly.

See also


  1. The basic organic unit of the Royal Artillery was, and is, the Battery.[7] When grouped together they formed brigades, in the same way that infantry battalions or cavalry regiments were grouped together in brigades. At the outbreak of the First World War, a field artillery brigade of headquarters (4 officers, 37 other ranks), three batteries (5 and 193 each), and a brigade ammunition column (4 and 154)[8] had a total strength just under 800 so was broadly comparable to an infantry battalion (just over 1,000) or a cavalry regiment (about 550). Like an infantry battalion, an artillery brigade was usually commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel. Artillery brigades were redesignated as regiments in 1938.


  1. The Lovat Scouts at regiments.org by T.F.Mills at the Wayback Machine (archived 15 July 2007)
  2. 1 2 3 John Plaster (2006). The Ultimate Sniper: An Advanced Training Manual For Military And Police Snipers. Paladin Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-87364-704-1.
  3. Martin Pegler (2004). Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-87364-704-1.
  4. Rinaldi 2008, p. 35
  5. 1 2 3 4 James 1978, p. 24
  6. James 1978, p. 36
  7. "The Royal Artillery". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom). Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  8. Baker, Chris. "What was an artillery brigade?". The Long, Long Trail. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  9. Mileham 1994, pp. 48–51
  10. Mileham 1994, p. 90
  11. Mileham 1994, p. 107
  12. Personal testimony of Trooper Frank Henderson
  13. Personal testimony of Trooper Frank Henderson
  14. Personal testimony of Trooper Frank Henderson
  15. Personal testimony of Trooper Frank Henderson
  16. "The Lovat Scouts, The Kirrie Kebbuck.". sheet music and description. Retrieved 2007-09-15.


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