53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division

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53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division 53rd Welsh Division Insigna.jpg
Active 1908–1968
Country United Kingdom
Branch Infantry
Type Infantry Division
Size Approximately 18,000 men
Engagements

First World War:

Second World War:

Disbanded 1968
Commanders
Officer Commanding Major-General R.K. Ross (Second World War)

The 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division was a 1st Line Territorial Army infantry division of the British Army that fought in both World Wars. During World War I the division fought at Gallipoli and in the Middle East. Remaining active during the interwar years as a peace-time formation, the division again saw action in World War II, fighting in the North West Europe Campaign from 1944-1945. It was temporarily disbanded at the end of the war, but reactivated in 1947. In 1968 the division was finally deactivated, but its 160th Infantry Brigade remains in service today.

History[edit]

First World War[edit]

The division landed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 9 August.

On 26 March 1917, the 53rd Division bore the brunt of the First Battle of Gaza where the three brigades, along with the 161st (Essex) Brigade of the 54th (East Anglian) Division, had to advance across exposed ground, withstanding shrapnel, machine gun and rifle fire, to capture the Turkish fortifications. Despite gaining the advantage towards the end of the day, the British commander called off the attack so that the division's casualties, close to 3,500, were suffered in vain.

Other division actions included the Battle of Romani in August 1916, the Battle of El Buggar Ridge in October 1917 and the Action of Tell 'Asur in March 1918, where it fought off several counter-attacks by the Ottoman forces.

53rd (Welsh) Division, 1914–1918[edit]

53rd (Welsh) division commemoration plaque - Ramleh military cemetery.

The division comprised three infantry brigades. Some original battalions were detached early in the First World War to reinforce other divisions.

158th (North Wales) Brigade

Joined 1918:

159th (Cheshire) Brigade

  • 1/4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment
  • 1/5th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (until February 1915)
  • 1/7th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment
  • 2/5th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (until April 1915)
  • 2/6th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (until April 1915)
  • 1/4th Battalion, Welsh Regiment
  • 1/5th Battalion, Welsh Regiment
  • 3rd/152nd Indian Infantry (from 1918)
  • 1st153rd Indian Infantry (from 1918)
  • 2nd/153 Indian Infantry (from 1918)

160th (Welsh Border) Brigade

[1]

Second World War[edit]

53rd Division Bren Gun Carrier bringing in German prisoners during Operation Market Garden, September 1944

Remaining active throughout the interwar years, the division served as part of the Home Defence Forces of the United Kingdom between 1939–1940, fittingly based to defend Wales and the borders. In October 1939 the 53rd Division transferred to Northern Ireland, where it remained until November 1941. After the BEF serving in France and Belgium was evacuated from Dunkirk, the threat grew of a possible German invasion of Northern Ireland and so the 61st (South Midland) Infantry Division arrived to help defend it with the 53rd charged with responsibility for the Southern half (of Ulster) and the 61st Division the Northern. Later, in March 1941, the garrison was reinforced with the 5th Infantry Division. The division took part in many numerous exercises, training by battalion, brigade, division or corps level and the 53rd became a very well trained fighting machine. The 53rd Division returned to the Welsh borders again and then was sent to defend Kent in South-Eastern Command, under Montgomery, between 1942–1943, joining XII Corps. It was later earmarked to form part of the British Second Army.

In October 1943 the division was reorganised, its 159th Infantry Brigade detaching to form part of 11th Armoured Division, with the 71st Infantry Brigade taking its place. The division spent the remaining period in the build-up to the invasion of France in intensive training. [2]

The 53rd Division landed in Normandy on 28 June 1944 and was placed under command of XII Corps, now defending the Odon Valley position. The division was involved in heavy fighting in this area days leading up to Operation Goodwood. In August it began to push out of the Odon region and crossed the river Orne, helping to close the Falaise Pocket. It was during this fighting that Captain Tasker Watkins of the 1/5th Welch Regiment was awarded the Victoria Cross. Due to the casualties suffered by the division in Normandy and the acute lack of infantry replacements, some of its battalions were replaced and sent to other brigades of the division.[3]

Advancing into the Netherlands, 53rd Division liberated the city of 's-Hertogenbosch in four days of heavy fighting from 24 October. In December 1944, attached now to XXX Corps, it was one of the British divisions that took part in the Battle of the Bulge, helping to cut off the northern tip of the German salient. It was later sent north to take part in Operation Veritable where it was involved in some of the fiercest fighting of the campaign against determined German paratroops where the 53rd Division suffered heavy casualties and ended the war in Germany. Throughout its 10 months of almost continous combat, the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division had suffered nearly 10,000 casualties: 113 officers and 1,396 other ranks killed, 387 officers and 7,221 other ranks wounded and 33 officers and 1,255 other ranks missing.

53rd Welsh Division Memorial 's-Hertogenbosch

Order of battle[edit]

Infantry of 53rd (Welsh) Division in a Kangaroo personnel carrier on the outskirts of Ochtrup, 3 April 1945.

71st Infantry Brigade (from October 1943)

158th Infantry Brigade

  • 4th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (until 26 August 1944)
  • 6th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (until 26 August 1944)
  • 7th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (until 27 April 1945)
  • 1/5th Battalion, Welch Regiment (from 26 August 1944)
  • 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment (from 26 August 1944)
  • 2nd Battalion, South Wales Borderers (from 27 April 1945)

159th Infantry Brigade (until October 1943)

160th Infantry Brigade

  • 2nd Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment
  • 4th Battalion, Welch Regiment
  • 1/5th Battalion, Welch Regiment (until 26 August 1944)
  • 6th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (from 26 August 1944)

Divisional Troops

  • 5th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (Machine Gun Battalion, from July 1940 to September 1942)
  • 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment (Machine Gun Battalion, from September 1942)
  • 53rd Regiment, Reconnaissance Corps
  • 81st (Welsh) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 83rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 133rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (from July 1940 to November 1940)
  • 71st Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (from November 1940)
  • 116th (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (from November 1940 to December 1944)
  • 25th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (from December 1944)
  • 244th Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 282nd Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 555th Field Company, Royal Engineers

Post-war[edit]

The division ended the war in 1945 in Hamburg, it sustained 9,849 battle casualties killed, missing and wounded since landing in Normandy in June 1944. It served later as a peacekeeping force in the Rhineland, then disbanded to reform the 2nd Infantry Division in Germany in early 1947. It was reactivated later that year, serving as part of the peacetime Territorial Army. The 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division was finally disbanded in 1968.

There remain a few remnants of the division in the Territorial Army. 160th Brigade is the regional brigade responsible for the administration of TA units in Wales, while 53 (Welsh) Signal Squadron are the descendant formation of 53rd (Welsh) Divisional Signal Regiment, and continues to serve in a very similar capacity, providing communications support to 160th Brigade.

Battle honours[edit]

First World War[edit]

Second World War[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Baker, Chris. "53rd (Welsh) Division". The Long Long Trail. Retrieved 19 January 2012. 
  2. ^ Barclay, pp.8–58
  3. ^ Barclay, pp.58–70

References[edit]

  • Barclay, C. N. (1956). The History of the 53rd (Welsh) Division in the Second World War. London: Wm. Clowes & Sons. OCLC 36762829. 

External links[edit]