131st Infantry Brigade (United Kingdom)
|131st (Surrey) Brigade|
Western Desert Campaign
Battle of Normandy
|Brigadier L.G. Whistler|
World War I
After the creation of the Territorial Force in 1908, four battalions from Surrey regiments were organised into a brigade within the Home Counties Division. On the outbreak of World War I, the men of the division accepted liability for overseas service to go to India to relieve Regular troops for the fighting fronts. However, the brigade staffs and Regular adjutants of the battalions remained behind. The division embarked at Southampton and sailed on 30 October 1914, disembarking at Bombay on 1–3 December.
Commander: Brigadier-General J. Marriott (remained in UK)
- 4th Battalion, Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment) from Croydon
- 5th Battalion, Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment) from Guildford
- 5th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment from Wimbledon
- 6th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment from Kingston upon Thames
Service in India
On arrival, the division's units were distributed to various peacetime stations across India, Aden and Burma to continue their training for war. For a time the two East Surrey battalions were attached to the Allahabad Brigade in 8th (Lucknow) Division, where they were joined by the 4th Queens. In May 1915, the division was numbered 44th (Home Counties) Division and the brigade formally became 131st (1/1st Surrey) Brigade (though without a commander or staff). The TF battalions had all taken the prefix '1' (1/4th Queen's etc) to distinguish them from their second-line battalions forming in the UK.
During 1915 there was a regular drain on the battalions as they lost their best Non-Commissioned Officers for officer training, sent detachments to various places in India, and provided drafts to replace casualties among units fighting in Mesopotamia. 1/5th Queens was transferred to Mesopotamia at the end of the year, landing at Basra on 10 December and transferring to 15th Indian Division.
By early 1916 it had become obvious that the Territorial Divisions in India were never going to be able to reform and return to Europe to reinforce the Western Front as had been originally intended. They continued training in India for the rest of the war, providing drafts and detachments as required. 1/6th East Surreys served in garrison at Aden from February 1917 to January 1918, and 1/5th East Surreys was transferred to Mesopotamia at the end of 1917, landing at Basra on 27 December and joining 18th Indian Division.
The only battalion of 131st Brigade that had not deployed outside India at any time during the war, 1/4th Queen's, finally saw active service in 1919 during the Third Anglo-Afghan War. During 1919 the remaining units were gradually reduced, and 131st Brigade was reformed in the Territorial Army in 1920.
World War II
On mobilisation in September 1939, 131st Brigade HQ became HQ Eastern Sub-Area in the UK and the units of the brigade were temporarily under the command of other formations until the brigade reassembled in 44th (Home Counties) Division on 7 October 1939. Initially, it comprised the three First Line Territorial infantry battalions of the Queen's Regiment.
Order of Battle
During WWII the brigade was constituted as follows:
- 1/5th Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey)
- 1/6th Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) (left 3 December 1944)
- 1/7th Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) (left 4 May 1940, returned 2 July 1941; left 3 December 1944)
- 131st Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (1 December 1939–7 January 1941)
- 2nd Battalion, Royal East Kent Regiment (4 May 1940–2 July 1941)
- C Company, 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (machine guns) (1 August 1943–6 January 1944)
- 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment (joined 1 December 1944)
- 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (joined 2 December 1944)
131st Brigade landed in France with 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division on 3 April 1940 to join the British Expeditionary Force to France. Here the brigade was bolstered by the Regular 2nd Battalion, Buffs. After fighting in the St Omer–La Bassée area, the brigade was evacuated from Dunkirk on 31 May 1940. Back in the UK, 131st Brigade was re-equipped and positioned in South East England to defend what the divisional commander, Maj-Gen Brian Horrocks regarded as 'the No 1 German invasion area, stretching from the Isle of Thanet to Dover and on to Folkestone'.
The brigade, along with the rest of the 44th Infantry Division, was sent to North Africa in 1942 where it fought at the Battle of Alam Halfa and the Battle of El Alamein. When the 44th Infantry Division was broken up after Alamein (and disbanded on 31 January 1943) 131st Brigade was converted in October 1942 into a Lorried Infantry Brigade and served with the 7th Armoured Division and the British XXX Corps in the Tunisian Campaign.
131st Brigade served in the Italian Campaign and in North West Europe in 7th Armoured Division. In December, due to heavy losses, the 1/6th and 1/7th Queens were swapped for the 2nd Devons and 9th Durham Light Infantry, which were part of the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division that was being sent back to the UK to serve as a training Division. The reorganised 131st Brigade then fought through the battles after the Rhine crossing in March 1945.
131st Brigade participated in the following actions during WWII:
- Battle of France
- Western Desert Campaign
- Tunisian Campaign
- Italian Campaign
- Battle of Normandy
- Operation Plunder
The following officers commanded 131st Brigade during WWII:
- Brig. J.S. Hughes
- Brig. J.E. Utterson-Kelso (from 17 November 1939)
- Brig. I.T.P. Hughes (from 5 May 1940)
- Brig. E.H.C. Frith (from 23 March 1943)
- Brig. W.D. Stamer (from 8 October 1942)
- Brig. L.G. Whistler (from 29 November 1942)
- Brig. M.S. Ekins (from 28 January 1944)
- Brig.E.C. Pepper (from 2 July 1944)
- Brig. W.R. Cox (from 8 October 1944)
- Brig. J.M.K. Spurling (from 2 December 1944)
- Becke, pp. 49–54.
- Robson, Appendices 1 & 2.
- Joslen, pp. 316–7.
- Horrocks, p. 97.
- Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3a: New Army Divisions (9–26), London: HM Stationery Office, 1938/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-847347-41-X.
- Lt-Gen Sir Brian Horrocks, A Full Life, London: Collins, 1960.
- Lt-Col H.F. Joslen, Orders of Battle, United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945, London: HM Stationery Office, 1960/Uckfield: Naval & Military, 2003, ISBN 1843424746.
- Brian Robson, Crisis on the Frontier: The Third Afghan War and the Campaign in Waziristan 1919–20, Stapelhurst: Spellmount, 2004, ISBN 978-1-86227-211-8.
- 131 Infantry Brigade at Orders of Battle.com