11th Armoured Division (United Kingdom)

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11th Armoured Division
11th Armoured Division (United Kingdom) Insignia.svg
Insignia of the division
Active Second World War, 1952–56
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
Type Armoured
Size 14,964 men[1]
343 tanks[nb 1][nb 2]
Nickname The Black Bull
Engagements Operation Overlord
Operation Market Garden
Battle of the Bulge
Operation Varsity
Battle honours 25 June–2 July 1944 The Odon[3]
18–23 July 1944 Bourguébus Ridge[3]
30 July–9 August 1944 Mont Pinçon[3]
17–27 September 1944 The Nederrijn[3]
8 February–10 March 1945 The Rhineland[3]
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Percy Hobart
Charles Keightley
George Roberts

The 11th Armoured Division, known as The Black Bull, was an armoured formation of the British Army which was raised in 1941 during the Second World War. The Division was formed in response to the unanticipated success of German panzer divisions. It was responsible for several major victories in Normandy after D-Day, and it participated in the rapid advance across France, Belgium, and the Netherlands and the Rhine crossing. It was disbanded in January 1946 and reformed towards the end of 1950. In 1956, it was converted into the 4th Infantry Division.

History[edit]

In Poland and western Europe in 1939 and 1940, the German armoured formations demonstrated what some observers felt were dramatically improved new tactics, leaving the Allied forces with a perceived need to address these developments. The continued evolution of the Royal Armoured Corps was the British answer.

The Division was organized in March 1941, in Yorkshire under Major-General Percy Hobart. A veteran of the Royal Tank Corps, he had already strongly influenced the shape of the 7th Armoured Division, but his original and innovative ideas had led to his retirement from the army.[4] Reinstated after the disasters of 1940, he further realised his vision with the 11th Armoured. Under his leadership the Division adopted the “Charging Bull” as its emblem. From 1942 to 1944 it conducted intensive training while gradually receiving new, more modern equipment.[5]

In July 1944, after the Allied invasion of Normandy, the British 11th Armoured Division participated in Operations Epsom and Goodwood. It also participated in the drive to Amiens, the fastest and deepest penetration into enemy territory ever made at that time. On 4 September, the Division captured the city of Antwerp.

Soon thereafter, the Division pushed forward into the German-occupied Netherlands. In March 1945, it crossed the river Rhine and captured the German city of Lübeck on 2 May 1945. It occupied the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on 15 April 1945. When men of the Division entered the camp, more than 60,000 emaciated prisoners were found in desperate need of medical attention. More than 13,000 corpses in various stages of decomposition lay scattered around the area. Units of the Division and its higher formations were detached to oversee the clean up of the camp. From the end of the war in Europe (8 May 1945), the Division controlled the province of Schleswig Holstein until it was disbanded in January 1946.

The 11th Armoured Division was reformed in the autumn of 1950, but was converted into the 4th Infantry Division in 1956.

Normandy[edit]

The Division landed on Juno Beach on 13 June 1944 (D+7). It was deployed in all major operations of the British Second Army, including Operations Epsom, Goodwood, and Bluecoat, and the battles around the Falaise Gap.

Operation Epsom[edit]

An ammunition carrier of the 11th Armoured Division explodes after being hit by a mortar round during Operation Epsom on 26 June 1944

The 11th Armoured Division, as part of the British VIII Corps, was committed to action on 26 June as part of Operation Epsom. It entered the Scottish 'corridor', opened beforehand by the 15th (Scottish) Division. Despite mistakes in navigation, which slowed down the 159th Infantry Brigade in Mouen, the 11th managed to seize the bridges at Grainville and Colleville. It then progressed southward to Hill 112 (a dominant feature in the Normandy landscape near the village of Baron) and succeeded in capturing and holding this high ground against increasingly intense German counter-attacks. However, a renewed attack by fresh SS-Panzerdivisions transformed what was intended as a breakthrough into a battle for position. On 30 June, General Miles Dempsey, commanding the Second Army, fearing a general counter-offensive, ordered the 11th Armoured to withdraw from Hill 112. Operation Epsom was considered a failure[citation needed], but it did force the German army to abandon its offensive plans.

Operation Goodwood[edit]

The 11th Armoured was then moved to the east of Caen to spearhead Operation Goodwood. Planning and execution errors, coupled with strong German defences, led to a tactical British defeat. Goodwood was cancelled on 20 July, with the 11th Armoured being withdrawn from the front line to rest and refit. In only two days of fighting, it had lost 200 tanks[citation needed],

Challenger tanks of 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division, passing through Flers on 17 August 1944

representing more than half of its complement[citation needed]. The subsequent reorganization saw the 23rd Hussars absorb the remainder of the 24th Lancers (the 8th Armoured Brigade).

Operation Bluecoat[edit]

The 11th Armoured was directed again to the west, to take part in Operation Bluecoat. Beginning on 30 July, it seized Martin-Saint-des-Besaces. The Division spotted an intact bridge on the Souleuvre river, which enabled it to drive the Germans back. In what became the famous "Charge of the Bull," the division liberated Le Bény-Bocage on 1 August and quickly progressed southward. Although severely weakened at that time, the German army remained ever-present and dangerous. From 5 August, The 11th Armoured worked with the Guards Armoured Division and 15th (Scottish) Division to push back a counter-attack of the 9th SS Panzer Division.

After being replaced by the 3rd Infantry Division, the 11th Armoured was attached to XXX Corps. It progressed eastward hard on the heels of the Germans, who were retreating after the failure of the Mortain counteroffensive. The sole memorial to the fallen of the division is at Pont de Vère, the location of a battle on 16 August against a German rearguard.[6] The 11th Armoured seized Flers on 17 August, then moved toward Putanges. From 19 August, it pushed the Germans back north of Argentan and captured the commander of the German 276th Infantry Division and more than 900 other prisoners.

Once the battle for the Falaise gap was over, the 11th Armoured liberated L'Aigle on 23 August and crossed the Seine on 28 August.

Belgium and The Netherlands[edit]

After a night move, and an unprecedented advance of 60 miles in one day, the Division liberated Amiens on 1 September. The same day, it captured General Eberbach, commander of the Wehrmacht's 7th Army. Advancing to Lens, then Tournai, the Division was then committed to the fight for Antwerp, which it liberated on 4 September. Two days later, it tried to establish a bridgehead over the Albert Canal, but the attempt, due to intense enemy fire, was not successful. After this failure, 11th Armoured had to cross much further to the east, at Beringen. It then advanced to Helchteren, Peer, Bree, and cleared the area between the Albert Canal and the Maas up to 12 September. The Division was then rested for a week.

M4 Shermans of the 23rd Hussars advance through Deurne, 26 September 1944. Note the "Charging Bull" on the first tank's front hull (third marking from the left), the division's emblem.

Market Garden[edit]

11th Armoured was not directly committed to Operation Market Garden. Instead, it was tasked with securing the right flank of the operation. Attached to VIII Corps, it began moving on 18 September. Advancing in two columns, it managed to reach the US 101st Airborne Division at Nuenen, while on the 22nd, its engineers established a bridge over the Willemsvaart canal. The Division could then make an encircling move around Helmond, forcing the Germans to withdraw on 25 September.

At the beginning of October, the Division was employed in clearing pockets of German resistance remaining west of the Maas. The operation developed promisingly with 159th Brigade, battling its way across the Deurne canal. Unfortunately, the attack was quickly stopped by obstinate German resistance. Further delay was imposed by the growing supply shortage and the launching of an enemy counter-attack in the south. There was also a skillful German defence which postponed clearing of the Maas for several weeks. During this period the Division came into contact with troops from the United States and the divisional sign was referred to as "the Swell Bison".

Preparations for a new crossing attempt were delayed until the second half of November. On the 22nd, 159th Brigade managed to cross and to seize the village of America. It progressed to Horst, before being relieved by units of the 15th (Scottish) Division. On 30 November, it attacked the fortress of Broekhuizen, which was defended by German parachutists. The enemy inflicted heavy losses, before capitulating on 5 December. The western bank of the Maas was also cleared.

From The Ardennes to the Rhine[edit]

At the beginning of December, units of the 11th Armoured Division were placed in reserve around Ypres. The infantry was to benefit from a longer rest, while tank crews would receive new Comet tanks, a vehicle armed with a powerful 77 mm gun which was capable of engaging German panzers at longer range.

The start of the Ardennes offensive, (the Battle of the Bulge) modified British ambitions. Being one of few formations in reserve, the 11th Armoured was urgently recalled to active service with its old tanks and directed to hold a defensive line along the Meuse, between Namur and Givet. On 24 December, its advanced positions spotted and destroyed several tanks of the 2nd Panzer Division, east of Dinant. From 26 December onwards, the Germans started to withdraw and 11th Armoured was replaced by the 6th Airborne Division, after having pushed the enemy back beyond Celles. Only 29th Brigade was retained in support of the Airborne units. It forced the Germans back to La Bure and Wavreille between 3 and 7 January. From the 9th on, it reached Grupont, before being finally directed the following day to Ypres for rest, refit and training activities.

The Rhineland[edit]

On 17 February 1945 the 159th brigade was recalled to the front, to add its weight to the Allied forces committed in the Rhineland. The infantry of the 11th Armoured received orders to seize Gochfortzberg, south of Üdem, then to break the Schlieffen line and capture Sonsbeck, in order to support the II Canadian Corps which progressed towards Hochwald from the north. The brigade attack started on 26 February. Under challenging conditions, Gochfortzberg was seized on 28 February, Sonsbeck on 3 March.

Germany[edit]

The 11th Armoured was held in reserve until 28 March, when it crossed the Rhine at Wesel, heading for the river Weser. Despite sporadic pockets of resistance, it reached Gescher on the evening of 30 March. 3rd Royal Tank Regiment (3 RTR) arrived at the river Ems in Emsdetten; they then reached the Dortmund-Ems canal the following day.

Comet tanks of the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division, crossing the Weser at Petershagen, Germany, 7 April 1945

After crossing the canal on 1 April, the 11th Armoured approached Ibbenbüren and was heavily engaged on the heights of the Teutoburger Wald. The villages of Brochterbeck and Tecklenburg were captured, albeit at a high price. Further east, the wooded hills were defended by companies of NCOs, who savagely counter-attacked the 3rd Monmouthshire Regiment. The intervention of the 131st Infantry Brigade (7th Armoured Division) later on, made it possible to overcome their opposition, but the Monmouthshires, already weakened during previous campaigns, had to be replaced by 1st Cheshires.

Divisional units continued toward the Osnabrück canal. After crossing via a captured bridge, it moved towards the Weser, reached by leading elements near Stolzenau on 5 April. A week later, the 11th Armoured liberated the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. A local agreement with German commanders made it possible to declare the neighbourhood of the camp an open area, and the fighting moved northeast. The Division reached the river Elbe near Lüneburg on 18 April.

Last Attack[edit]

On 30 April, the 11th Armoured Division launched their last attack. It crossed the Elbe at Artlenburg, then against little opposition, occupied Lübeck on 2 May and Neustadt on 3 May (Cap Arcona). It finished the war by patrolling the surrounding countryside, collecting 80,000 prisoners which included 27 Generals.

After the German surrender, the Division was used as an occupation force in the Schleswig-Holstein area. On 23 May, units of the division were employed in the capture of members of the Dönitz government in Flensburg.

The 11th Armoured Division was disbanded at the end of January 1946. During the campaign in northwestern Europe, it lost 1,820 killed and more than 8,000 wounded. Its rotation in tanks was 300%.

General Officer Commanding[edit]

Commanders included:

Appointed General Officer Commanding
9 March 1941 Major-General Percy Hobart[7]
22 February 1942 Brigadier C.H.M. Peto (acting)[7]
21 April 1942 Major-General Charles Keightley[7]
17 May 1942 Major-General Percy Hobart[7]
15 October 1942 Major-General Brocas Burrows[7]
6 December 1943 Major-General George Roberts[7]
1950 Major-General Henry Foote[8]
1953 Major-General Harold Pyman[8]
1955 Major-General John Anderson[8]
March 1956 Major-General Reginald Hewetson[8]

Component Units[edit]

(On 6 June 1944)

British 29th Armoured Brigade
British 159th Infantry Brigade
Divisional troops

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ 63 light tanks, 205 medium tanks, 24 close support tanks, 25 anti-aircraft tanks, and eight artillery observation tanks.[2]
  2. ^ These two figures are the war establishment, the 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. ^ a b c d e Joslen, p. 28
  4. ^ Percy Hobart
  5. ^ Taurus Pursuant pp 5–8
  6. ^ http://www.flers-tourisme.fr/decouvrir/bataille-de-normandie/le-memorial-du-pont-de-vere-11-eme-division-blindee-britannique.html (French)
  7. ^ a b c d e f Joslen, p. 27
  8. ^ a b c d Army Commands

References[edit]

  • Delaforce, Patrick. The Black Bull: From Normandy to the Baltic with the 11th Armoured Division. 
  • "E.W.I.P", Edgar W I Palamountain. Taurus Pursuant: A History of 11th Armoured Division. 
  • 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. 
This article incorporates text from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and has been released under the GFDL.

External links[edit]