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

First World War:

Second World War:

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

The 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army that fought in both World Wars. Raised as part of the Territorial Force. The division saw service in World War I and fought at Gallipoli and in the Middle East. Remaining active in the Territorial Army during the interwar years as a peace-time formation, the division again saw action in World War II, fighting in North-western Europe from June 1944 until May 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 Brigade remains in service today.


The division was raised in 1908 as part of the Territorial Force originally as the Welsh Division and had under command the North Wales Brigade, the Cheshire Brigade and the Welsh Border Brigade. In 1915, the division was later numbered the 53rd (Welsh) Division and the brigades became the 158th (North Wales) Brigade the 159th (Cheshire) Brigade and the 160th (Welsh Border) Brigade, respectively.

First World War[edit]

The division sailed from Devonport, bound for Gallipoli via Imbros (now Gökçeada) on 19 July, 1915 and landed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 9 August, 1915. The division was evacuated from Gallipoli during December 1915 and moved to Egypt.[1] The evacuation was forced by a combination of combat, disease and harsh weather which saw the division reduced to just 162 officers and 2428 men, approximately 15% of full strength.[2]

On 26 March 1917, the 53rd (Welsh) 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


Second World War[edit]

53rd Division Bren Gun Carrier bringing in German prisoners during Operation Market Garden, September 1944
Men of the 4th Welch Regiment clean their weapons outside s'Hertogenbosch, Holland, 25 October 1944

The division was disbanded after the Great War when the whole of the Territorial Force was disbanded. However, the Territorial Army was formed in 1920 on a similar basis as the Territorial Force and the 53rd Division was reformed.

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

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, just over a month after the Second World War began, the 53rd Division transferred to Northern Ireland, where it remained until November 1941. After the British Expeditionary Force fighting 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 Division 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 Lieutenant-General Montgomery, between 1942–1943, joining XII Corps. The 53rd Division was later earmarked to form part of the British Second Army for the upcoming invasion of Europe.

In May 1942 until October 1943 the division was reorganised, its 159th Infantry Brigade detaching to the 11th Armoured Division, with the 31st Tank Brigade taking its place as part of an experiment with 'New Model Divisions' of one tank brigade and two infantry brigades. However, the experiment was abandoned in late 1943 and the 31st Tank Brigade was replaced by the 71st Infantry Brigade (nicknamed the 'Foreign' or 'International' brigade), from the disbanded 42nd Armoured Division, in October. The division spent the remaining period in the build-up to the invasion of Normandy in intensive training.[4]

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.[5] By 31 August 1944 the 53rd Division had suffered heavy casualties; in just over two months of fighting 52 officers and 533 other ranks were killed in action with a further 145 officers wounded and 18 missing and 2,711 other ranks wounded and 360 missing in action, for a total of 3,819 casualties. However, the division had managed to capture over 3,800 prisoners of war.

The division took part in the Swan (swift advance) through Northern France into Belgium where heavy fighting took place to secure an important bridgehead by crossing the Junction Canal near Lommel. The division then fought hard to expand the salient south of Eindhoven in conjunction with the Operation Market Garden offensive.

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 continuous 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]

71st Infantry Brigade (from October 1943)

31st Tank Brigade (from May 1942 until 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


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]


  • Brigadier-General Augustus W. Hill: April 1908-January 1909
  • Major-General Francis Lloyd: January 1909-September 1913
  • Major-General the Hon. John E. Lindley: October 1913-August 1915
  • Major-General William R. Marshall: August-December 1915
  • Major-General Alister G. Dallas: January 1916-April 1917
  • Major-General Stanley F. Mott: April 1917-July 1919
  • Major-General Cyril J. Deverell: July 1919-1921
  • Major-General Sir Archibald A. Montgomery: March 1922-June 1923
  • Major-General Sir Thomas O. Marden: June 1923-June 1927
  • Major-General Thomas Astley Cubitt: June 1927-October 1928
  • Major-General Charles P. Deedes: October 1928-June 1930
  • Major-General Charles J.C. Grant: June 1930-December 1932
  • Major-General James K. Dick-Cunyngham: December 1932-June 1935
  • Major-General Gervase Thorpe: June 1935-June 1939
  • Major-General Bevil T. Wilson: June 1939-July 1941
  • Major-General Gerard C. Bucknall: July 1941-September 1942
  • Major-General Robert K. Ross: September 1942-August 1945
  • Major-General George W. Richards: 1945-1946
  • Major-General Philip M. Balfour: 1946-February 1947
  • Major-General Christopher G. Woolner: January-August 1947
  • Major-General George N. Wood: August 1947-March 1950
  • Major-General Ernest E. Down: March 1950-October 1952
  • Major-General Edric M. Bastyan: October 1952-March 1955
  • Major-General William R. Cox: March 1955-January 1958
  • Major-General Lewis O. Pugh: January 1958-February 1961

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Royal Welsh Fusiliers". The Long, Long Trail. Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  2. ^ "Royal Welsh Fusiliers". Forces War Records. Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  3. ^ Baker, Chris. "53rd (Welsh) Division". The Long Long Trail. Retrieved 19 January 2012. 
  4. ^ Barclay, pp.8–58
  5. ^ Barclay, pp.58–70


  • 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]