43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division

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43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division
43 inf div.jpg
Active 1908 - August 1945
1947-1968
Branch Territorial Army
Type Infantry
Engagements Operation Overlord
Operation Market Garden
Battle of the Bulge
Operation Blackcock

The 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army. It was originally raised in 1908 as part of the Territorial Force, as the Wessex Division, and disbanded in 1920 with the rest of the Territorial Force. In 1915 it became the 43rd (Wessex) Division. It was reformed as the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division in 1920 as part of the Territorial Army. A 2nd Line duplicate, the 45th (2nd Wessex) Infantry Division, was raised on the doubling of the Territorials for both the First and Second world wars.

The division served with distinction in World War II on the Western Front from June 1944 until May 1945, suffering horrendous casualties but gaining an excellent reputation and was known to the Germans as the Yellow Devils. The division was disbanded and again reformed in the Territorial Army after World War II. Beckett 2008 claims that Territorial Army units that were in suspended animation were formally reactivated on 1 January 1947, though no personnel were assigned until commanding officers and permanent staff had been appointed in March and April 1947.[1] On 1 May 1961 the division was merged with a district to become 43rd (Wessex) Division/District.[2]

History[edit]

First World War[edit]

The division was created in 1908, originally as the Wessex Division, as part of the Territorial Force. It had under command the Hampshire Brigade, the South Western Brigade and the Devon and Cornwall Brigade. On 24 September 1914, it accepted overseas service in British India in order to relieve regular units that were required for active service in Europe. The Divisional and Brigade HQs, both artillery and infantry, did not embark for India. The "Division" sailed on 9 October 1914 and arrived in India in November, where it remained throughout the Great War, reverting to peacetime service conditions. However, it supplied battalions and drafts of replacements for the divisions fighting in the Middle East. In 1915 it became the 43rd (Wessex) Division and the brigades were redesignated the 128th (Hampshire) Brigade, 129th (South Western) Brigade and the 130th (Devon and Cornwall) Brigade respectively.

Second World War[edit]

In World War II the 43rd Division was reformed a 1st Line Territorial Army formation and was mobilised, as was the rest of the Territorial Army, shortly after the outbreak of war in September 1939. In May 1940 the division was preparing to go overseas to join the rest of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France but the Battle of France and the BEF's retreat to Dunkirk and subsequent evacuation changed all that. The division then spent many years in the United Kingdom on home defence, (particularly in Kent where they were nicknamed the Kent Home Guard), anticipating the potentiality of a German invasion of the British Isles. In 1942, after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the entrance of the United States into the war, the situation changed and the 43rd Division started training for offensive operations to return to mainland Europe. Throughout most of 1942 the division was part of XII Corps, serving alongside the 46th (West Riding) and 53rd (Welsh) Division.

In July 1942, the 128th (Hampshire) Brigade (consisting of three battalions of the Hampshire Regiment) was transferred to the 46th (West Riding) Infantry Division, remaining with that division for the rest of the war. The 34th Tank Brigade arrived in September 1942 as part of an experiment with 'Mixed divisions'. However, the experiment was abandoned in late 1943 and the 34th Tank Brigade was replaced, in October 1943, by the 214th Infantry Brigade, which was previously a Home Defence formation raised during the war. The 214th Brigade would remain with the 43rd Division for the rest of the war.

On 2 March 1942, the division also gained a new and controversial GOC (General Officer Commanding) in the form of Major-General Ivo Thomas. Thomas was a decorated officer who had served as a young battery commander in the Royal Artillery on the Western Front during The Great War where he was twice wounded and awarded the MC and the DSO for great courage. He would command the 43rd (Wessex) Division until September 1945.

In June 1944, the 43rd Division was sent to Normandy, after the Allies invaded France on 6 June, where it joined the British Second Army and was initially earmarked as a reserve for Operation Epsom during the Battle for Caen. In July, it launched an attack against the German 9th SS Panzer Division at Hill 112, though it was beaten back after both sides had suffered horrendous casualties. The 43rd (Wessex) Division performed well in Normandy, and was considered by many senior British officers to be one of the best divisions of the British Army in World War II. For the rest of the war Bernard Montgomery, commanding all British and Canadian troops in the campaign, preferred to use formations such as 43rd (Wessex) and 15th (Scottish) to spearhead his assaults. This was mainly because divisions such as the 7th Armoured and 51st (Highland), both of which had seen extensive service in North Africa and the Mediterranean, were judged as tired and war-weary with morale being almost dangerously fragile. With divisions that had spent years in the UK training such as the 43rd (Wessex), 11th Armoured, 15th (Scottish) and 59th (Staffords) the problem of morale wasn't such an issue.

It was the first British formation to cross the Seine river, with an assault crossing at the French town of Vernon opposed by the 49th German Infantry Division (see 'Assault Crossing, The River Seine 1944' by Ken Ford). This crossing enabled the armour of XXX Corps, under Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, to thrust across northern France into Belgium.

Still with XXX Corps, the 43rd (Wessex) Division later played a major role in Operation Market Garden as the support to the Guards Armoured Division. During Market Garden, a battalion, 4th Dorsets of the 130th Infantry Brigade, successfully crossed the Rhine as a diversion, so that the battered remnants of the airborne troops of 1st Airborne Division, virtually destroyed as a fighting formation during the Battle of Arnhem, could withdraw more safely; yet the cost was high as many men of the 4th Dorsets were themselves left behind on the north bank of the Rhine when the 43rd Division was forced to withdraw.

The division later played a comparatively small part in the mainly American Battle of the Bulge, the largest battle on the Western Front of World War II, where it was placed on the river Meuse as a reserve. The 43rd later played a large part in Operation Veritable attached to First Canadian Army still as part of XXX Corps. They then crossed the River Rhine as the Allies invaded Germany itself.

By the end of the war in Europe, the 43rd Division had reached the Cuxhaven peninsula of northern Germany. Throughout the North West Europe Campaign the 43rd (Wessex) Division, like so many other Allied divisions that fought from Normandy to Germany, had suffered very heavy casualties with the majority of them, 80% in some units, being suffered by the average 'Tommy' in the infantry battalions. From June 1944 to May 1945 the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division, or the Yellow Devils or British SS Division as known by the Germans, had suffered well over 12,500 casualties, with over 3,000 killed in action.

The division was reactivated after the Second World War again as part of the Territorial Army. On 1 April 1967 the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers absorbed 43rd Wessex Division RE (TA).[3] All TA divisions were disbanded by 1968.

Order of battle First World War[edit]

128th (Hampshire) Brigade

  • 1/4th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment left March 1915 (Mesopotamia)
  • 1/5th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment
  • 1/6th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment left September 1917 (Mesopotamia)
  • 1/7th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment left January 1918 (Aden) but remained under Divisional command

129th (South Western) Brigade

130th (Devon and Cornwall) Brigade

  • 1/4th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment left February 1916 (Mesopotamia)
  • 1/5th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment left April 1917 (Palestine)
  • 1/6th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment left January 1916 (Mesopotamia)
  • 1/4th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry left January 1916 (Aden) then went to Palestine in February 1917

Divisional Artillery[edit]

Royal Engineers[edit]

  • I Wessex Field Company did not go to India (joined 27th Division)
  • II Wessex Field Company did not go to India (joined 27th Division)
  • Wessex Divisional Signals Company did not go to India (joined 27th Division)

Royal Army Medical Corps[edit]

  • 1st Wessex Field Ambulance did not go to India (joined 8th Division)
  • 2nd Wessex Field Ambulance did not go to India (joined 8th Division)
  • 3rd Wessex Field Ambulance did not go to India (joined 8th Division)

Other Divisional Troops[edit]

  • Wessex Divisional Transport and Supply Column ASC did not go to India (formed 29th Division Train and 27th Divisional Reserve Park)

Order of Battle World War II[edit]

128th Infantry Brigade (until July 1942)

  • 1/4th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment
  • 2/4th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment
  • 5th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment

129th Infantry Brigade

130th Infantry Brigade

  • 7th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment
  • 4th Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment
  • 5th Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment

34th Tank Brigade (from September 1942 until September 1943)

214th Infantry Brigade (from October 1943)

Divisional Troops

Commanders[edit]

  • Brigadier-General William J. Kirkpatrick: April–December 1908
  • Major-General Charles J. Blomfield: January 1909-February 1911
  • Major-General Colin G. Donald: February 1911-November 1914
  • Major-General Sir C.P. Amyatt Hull: June 1919-September 1920
  • Major-General Sir Louis J. Bols: September 1920-September 1924
  • Major-General Sir Edward Northey: September 1924-October 1926
  • Major-General Sir George D. Jeffreys: October 1926-October 1930
  • Lieutenant-General Reginald J.T. Hildyard: October 1930-October 1934
  • Major-General Baptist B. Crozier: October 1934-December 1938
  • Major-General Arthur Floyer-Acland: December 1938-February 1940
  • Major-General Arthur E. Percival: February–April 1940
  • Major-General Robert Pollok: April 1940-February 1941
  • Major-General Charles Allfrey: February 1941-March 1942
  • Major-General Ivor Thomas: March 1942-September 1945
  • Major-General George W.E.J. Erskine: September-? 1945
  • Major-General John B. Churcher: -March 1946
  • Major-General George W. Symes: March 1946-December 1948

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Beckett 2008, 169.
  2. ^ Beckett 2008, 183, 185, and regiments.org (archive), South Western District 1905-1972, accessed September 2012.
  3. ^ http://www.win.tue.nl/~drenth/BritArmy/Lineage/RE/index.html#indep_re, accessed August 2012

References[edit]

  • Ian F.W. Beckett, 'Territorials: A Century of Service,' First Published April 2008 by DRA Printing of 14 Mary Seacole Road, The Millfields, Plymouth PL1 3JY on behalf of TA 100, ISBN 978-0-9557813-1-5, 175, 180.

External links[edit]