6th Armoured Division (United Kingdom)

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6th Armoured Division
6th Armoured Division flash.svg
Divisional shoulder flash of the 6th Armoured Division
Active 1940–1945
1951–1958
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
Type Armoured Division
Size Second World War
14,964 men[1]
343 tanks[nb 1][nb 2]
Part of First Army
Eighth Army
Engagements North African Campaign
Italian Campaign
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Maj. Gen. Sir John Crocker
Maj. Gen. Herbert Lumsden
Maj. Gen. Charles Keightley

The 6th Armoured Division was a Second World War, British Army formation, created on 12 September 1940. The unit was initially supplied with Matilda and Valentine Tanks, which were replaced by Crusader tanks and then finally with the M4 Sherman Tank.[3] It participated in the Operation Torch assault landings in Algeria and Morocco in November 1942, and saw its first action as part of V Corps of the First Army in Tunisia. After Tunisia it participated in the Italian Campaign as part of the Eighth Army, and ended the war in Austria, under the command of V Corps.

Operation Torch[edit]

Main article: Operation Torch

Operation Torch (initially called Operation Gymnast) was the joint Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa during the Second World War during the North African Campaign, started on 8 November 1942.

The run for Tunis[edit]

Main article: Tunisian Campaign

On 22 November the North African Agreement finally placed Vichy French North Africa on the allied side, allowing the Allied garrison troops to be sent forward to the front. By this time the Axis had been able to build up their forces resulting in them outnumbering their Allied counterparts in almost all ways.

The Allies had available only two brigade groups and some additional armour and artillery for an attack on Tunisia. Nevertheless they believed if they moved quickly, before the newly arrived Axis forces were fully organised, they would still be able to capture Tunisia at relatively little cost.

The plan called for the Allies to advance along the two roads and take Bizerte and Tunis. Once Bizerte was taken Torch would come to an end. Attacking in the north towards Bizerte would be British 36th Infantry Brigade, supported by Hart Force, a small armoured group from 6th Armoured Division, and to the south British 11th Infantry Brigade supported on their left by "Blade Force", an armoured regimental group commanded by Colonel Richard Hull which included the tanks of 17th/21st Lancers, a U.S. light tank battalion plus motorised infantry, paratroops, artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns and engineers.[4][5] Both the Infantry Brigades were from the British 78th Infantry Division whose commander, Major-General Vivyan Evelegh, was in overall command of the offensive. Evelegh was later to command 6th Armoured Division.

The operation narrowly failed with the modest attacking forces getting to within 10 miles (16 km) of Tunis before the Axis troops which had mainly been flown in were able to organise their defenses and repel the Allied advance. By the end of 1942 a stalemate had set in as both sides built up their forces.

Kasserine[edit]

On 30 January 1943, the German 21st Panzer Division (veterans of the Afrika Korps) and three Italian divisions met elements of the French forces near Faïd, the main pass from the eastern arm of the mountains into the coastal plains. They overran them, surrounded two U.S. brigades near them. Several counterattacks were organized, including a number by the U.S. 1st Armored Division, but all of these were beaten off with ease. After three days the Allied forces had been forced to pull back and were withdrawn into the interior to make a new forward defensive line at the small town of Sbeitla.

The Germans and Italians started forward once again the following week to take Sbeitla. They were held up for two days, but eventually the defence started to collapse on the night of 16 February 1943, and the town lay empty by midday on the 17th (see also the Battle of Sidi Bou Zid). This left the entirety of the interior plains in Axis hands, and the remaining Allied forces retreated further, back to the two passes on the western arm of the mountains into Algeria, at Sbiba and Kasserine.

Their offensive stopped even as the U.S. II Corps retreated in disarray. Eventually Rommel decided his next course of action was to simply take the U.S. supplies on the Algerian side of the western arm of the mountains. Although doing little for his own situation, it would seriously upset any possible US actions from that direction.

On 19 February 1943, Rommel launched what would become the Battle of the Kasserine Pass. After two days of advances through the U.S. defences, the Afrika Korps and the Italians had suffered few casualties, while the U.S. forces lost 16,000 men and two-thirds of their tanks. During the battle the Italian 131st Centauro Armoured Division captured more than 3000 American soldiers. On the night of 21 February 1943, British troops, the 6th Armoured and 46th Infantry Divisions, arrived to bolster the U.S. defence, having been pulled from the British lines facing the Germans at Sbiba. Counter-attacks by Italian troops were also ordered both on the British and Americans. Two battalions of experienced Bersaglieri soldiers are recorded by the 23 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery as having made a daylight counterattack through the Ousseltia Plain, which was repelled.[6] Nevertheless, the following day opened with yet another successful German counter-attack against the Americans until the arrival of four U.S. artillery battalions made offensive operations difficult.

Faced with stiffening defences and the news that the Eighth Army's had reached Medenine, only a few kilometers from the Mareth Line, Rommel decided to call off the attack and withdraw on the night of 22 February 1943 to support the Mareth defences, hoping that the Kasserine attack had caused enough damage to deter any offensive action from the west in the immediate future. The Axis forces from Kasserine reached the Mareth line on 25 February.

It was after the battle of Kasserine that the Division was reorganized and equipped with the M4 Sherman Tank.

In March 1943 the division was assigned to the recently arrived British IX Corps. The Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, was the spearhead of First Army's final assault in May 1943, breaking through to Tunis. The division went on to take the surrender of the famous German 90th Light Infantry Division and participated in the round up and capitulation of all Axis forces in North Africa in May 1943.

Italy[edit]

Italy was to prove completely different from North Africa. No more mobile warfare in wide open spaces. The Division would spend much of its time supporting the Infantry as the Allies came across defensive line after defensive line.

Cassino[edit]

The Battle of Monte Cassino (also known as the Battle for Rome and the Battle for Cassino) was a costly series of four battles.

In the beginning of 1944, the western half of the Gustav Line was being anchored by Germans holding the Rapido, Liri and Garigliano valleys and certain surrounding peaks and ridges, but not the historic abbey of Monte Cassino, founded in AD 524 by St. Benedict, although they manned defensive positions set into the steep slopes below the abbey walls. On 15 February the monastery, high on a peak overlooking the town of Cassino, was destroyed by American B-17, B-25, and B-26 bombers. The bombing was based on the fear that the abbey was being used as a lookout post for the Axis defenders (this position evolved over time to admit that Axis military was not garrisoned there). Two days after the bombing, German paratroopers poured into the ruins to defend it. From 17 January to 18 May, the Gustav defenses were assaulted four times by Allied troops. These operations resulted in casualties of over 54,000 Allied and 20,000 German soldiers.

Operation Diadem[edit]

Main article: Operation Diadem

Operation Diadem was the final battle at Cassino, during which the Division was a part of the British XIII Corps. The plan was that U.S. II Corps on the left would attack up the coast along the line of Route 7 towards Rome. The French Corps to their right would attack from the bridgehead across the Garigliano originally created by X Corps in the first battle in January into the Aurunci Mountains which formed a barrier between the coastal plain and the Liri Valley. British XIII Corps in the centre right of the front would attack along the Liri valley whilst on the right 2nd Polish Corps, would attempt to isolate the monastery and push round behind it into the Liri valley to link with XIII Corps' thrust and pinch out the Cassino position. The division took part in the advance north through central Italy under command variously of XIII Corps and X Corps.

Gothic Line[edit]

Main article: Gothic Line

The next major engagements were along the Gothic Line defences. The Division was now part of XIII Corps which had been assigned to Fifth Army to form its right flank and fight in the high Apennine mountains during Operation Olive in August and September 1944.

The Gothic Line, also known as Linea Gotica, formed Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's last major line of defence in the final stages of World War II along the summits of the Apennines during the fighting retreat of Nazi Germany's forces in Italy.

6th Armoured captured the San Godenzo Pass on Route 67 to Forlì on 18 September during these battles.

Spring 1945 Offensive[edit]

In the fertile plains of Northern Italy the mountains gave way to ditches, canals and flood banks. As wet winter weather, which had turned the rivers into torrents and made the ground into quagmires, receded the Allied Fifth and Eighth Armies were able to launch their final offensive in Italy in March 1945. 6th Armoured Division had been reattached to Eighth Army as part of V Corps. On the right wing of the armies, V Corps attacked across the Senio river and then the Santerno river. Elements of 78th Infantry Division and 56th then drove on towards the town of Argenta where the dry land narrowed to a front of only 3 miles (4.8 km) bounded on the right by Lake Comacchio, a huge lagoon running to the Adriatic coast, and on the left by marshland. By 19 April the Argenta Gap had been forced, and 6th Armoured, were released through the left wing of the advancing 78th Division, to swing left to race north west along the line of the river Reno to Bondeno and link up with units of the Fifth Army advancing north from west of Bologna to complete the encirclement of the German divisions defending Bologna. On all fronts the German defense continued to be determined and effective, but Bondeno was captured on 23 April. 6th Armouredlinked with US IV Corp's 10th Mountain Division the next day at Finale. US IV Corps had broken through onto the plains on 19 April, bypassing Bologna on their right. Bologna was entered by the Poles advancing up the line of Route 9 on 21 April followed two hours later by US II Corps from the south.

US IV Corps had continued their northwards advance and reached the river Po at San Benedetto on 22 April. The river was crossed the next day, and they advanced north to Verona which they entered on 26 April. The British XIII Corps crossed the Po at Ficarolo on 22 April while further east V Corps were crossing the Po by 25 April heading towards the Venetian Line, a defensive line built behind the line of the river Adige. British V Corps, met by lessening resistance, traversed the Venetian Line and entered Padua in the early hours of 29 April to find that partisans had locked up the German garrison of 5,000.[7]

As April came to an end Army Group C, the Axis forces in Italy, retreating on all fronts and having lost most of its fighting powers, was left with little option but surrender. General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, who had taken command of Army Group C, signed the instrument of surrender on behalf of the German armies in Italy on 29 April formally bringing hostilities to an end on 2 May 1945.

Post war[edit]

The Division was reformed in May 1951 in the UK and later assigned to the British Army of the Rhine in Germany. It consisted of the 20th Armoured Brigade and 61st Lorried Infantry Brigade. It was disbanded in June 1958.

General Officer Commanding[edit]

Commanders included:[8]

Appointed General Officer Commanding
27 September 1940 Major-General John Crocker[9]
9 January 1941 Brigadier Evelyn Fanshawe (acting)[9]
22 February 1941 Major-General John Crocker[9]
15 October 1941 Major-General Herbert Lumsden[9]
29 October 1941 Major-General Charles Gairdner[9]
19 May 1942 Major-General Charles Keightley[9]
19 December 1943 Major-General Vyvyan Evelegh[9]
15 February 1944 Brigadier William Edward Gordon Hemming (acting)[9]
19 March 1944 Major-General Vyvyan Evelegh[9]
24 July 1944 Major-General Gerald Templer (wounded 5 August 1944)[9]
5 August 1944 Brigadier C.A.M.D. Scott (acting)[9]
13 August 1944 Brigadier Francis Mitchell (acting)[9]
21 August 1944 Major-General Horatius Murray[9]
27 July 1945 Brigadier Adrian Clements Gore[9]


Appointed General Officer Commanding
1951 Major-General George Prior-Palmer[10]
October 1953 Major-General Francis Mitchell
1955 Major-General Roderick McLeod
1957 Major-General Denis O'Connor

1940'S Sgt'Ned'Dunford

Structure[edit]

20th Armoured Brigade (1940–42)[edit]

26th Armoured Brigade (1940–45)[edit]

6th Support Group (1940–42)[edit]

38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade (1942–43)[edit]

1st Guards Brigade (1943–44)[edit]

61st Infantry Brigade (1944–45)[edit]

  • 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade
  • 7th Battalion, Rifle Brigade
  • 10th Battalion, Rifle Brigade

Divisional Troops[edit]

These Brigades were at times attached[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ 63 light tanks, 205 medium tanks, 24 close support tanks, 25 anti-aircraft tanks, and 8 artillery observation tanks.[2]
  2. ^ These two figures are the war establishment, the on-paper strength, of the division for 1944/1945; for information on how the division size changed over the war please see British Army during the Second World War and British Armoured formations of the Second World War.
Citations
  1. ^ Joslen, p. 129
  2. ^ Joslen, p. 9
  3. ^ "17th/21st Lancers". BritishEmpire.co.uk website. 
  4. ^ Ford (1999), p.15
  5. ^ Watson (2007), p.61
  6. ^ BBC Peoples War website
  7. ^ Blaxland, p277
  8. ^ Army Comnmands
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Joslen, p. 17
  10. ^ 'PRIOR-PALMER, Maj.-Gen. George Erroll', in Who Was Who 1971–1980 (London: A. & C. Black, 1989 reprint, ISBN 0-7136-3227-5)

References[edit]

  • Blaxland, Gregory (1979). Alexander's Generals (the Italian Campaign 1944–1945). London: William Kimber & Co. ISBN 0-7183-0386-5. 
  • Ford, Ken (1999). Battleaxe Division. Stroud (UK): Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-1893-4. 
  • Joslen, Lt-Col H.F. (2003) [1st. pub. HMSO:1960]. Orders of Battle: Second World War, 1939–1945. Uckfield: Naval and Military Press. ISBN 9781843424741. OCLC 65152579. 
  • Watson, Bruce Allen (2007) [1999]. Exit Rommel: The Tunisian Campaign, 1942–43. Stackpole Military History Series. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-3381-6. 

External links[edit]