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 a British Territorial Force division formed in 1908. It was reformed in 1920 as part of the Territorial Army. A second line duplicate, the 45th (Wessex) Infantry Division, was raised on the doubling of the Territorials for both world wars.

The division was reformed in the Territorial Army after the Second World War. Beckett 2008 says that TA 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, along with the rest of the Territorial Force. 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 (1st Wessex) Division.

Second World War[edit]

In the Second World War the 43rd Division was a 1st Line Territorial Army formation and was mobilised, as was the rest of the Territorial Army, including the division's 2nd Line duplicate 45th Division, shortly after the outbreak of war in September 1939. In May 1940 the division was preparing to go overseas to France to join the British Expeditionary Force but the Battle of France and retreat to and evacuation from Dunkirk 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.

In 1942, the 128th (Hampshire) Infantry Brigade (consisting of three battalions of the Royal Hampshires) was strangely transferred to the 46th (West Riding) Infantry Division, remaining with that division for the war, and was replaced 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.

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 51st (Highland) and 7th Armoured, both of which had seen extensive service in North Africa and the Mediterranean, were judged as tired and war-weary with morale being dangerously fragile. With divisions that had spent years in the UK training such as the 43rd (Wessex), 15th (Scottish) and 59th (Staffs) 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 German 49th 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 suffered well over 15,000 casualties, with over 3,000 dead.

Commanders[edit]

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[edit]

  • 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[edit]

130th (Devon & Cornwall) Brigade[edit]

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 (Hampshire) Infantry Brigade (to 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

214th Infantry Brigade (from 1942)

Divisional Troops

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]