15th (Scottish) Infantry Division

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15th (Scottish) Division
15th (Scottish) Infantry Division
British 15th (Scottish) Division Insignia.png
15th (Scottish) Division insignia, World War I.
Active 1914–1919
1939–1946
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Infantry
Size Division
Engagements World War I
* Battle of Loos
* Battle of the Somme
* Battle of Pozières
* Battle of Flers–Courcelette
* Battle of Arras
* Third Battle of Ypres
World War II
* Operation Overlord
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Frederick McCracken
Oliver Leese
Philip Christison
Gordon Holmes Alexander MacMillan
Colin Muir Barber

The 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army that served with distinction in both World War I and World War II. In the Great War the 15th (Scottish) Division was formed from men volunteering for Kitchener's New Armies and served on the Western Front for three years. The division was later disbanded, after the war, in 1919. In World War II it was reformed as the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division on 2 September 1939, the day before war was declared, as part of the Territorial Army and served in the United Kingdom and later North-West Europe from June 1944 to May 1945.

First World War[edit]

The division was a New Army unit formed in September 1914 as part of the K2 Army Group. The division moved to France in July 1915 and spent the duration of the First World War in action on the Western Front. The division fought in the Battle of Loos, the Battle of the Somme (1916) which included the battles of Pozières and Flers–Courcelette, the Battle of Arras 1917 and the Third Battle of Ypres.[1]

General Officer Commanding

Order of battle[edit]

The division comprised the following units during the course of the war:[2]

44th Brigade[edit]

In May 1916 the 8th and 10th battalions of the Gordon Highlanders merged to form the 8th/10th Battalion.

45th Brigade[edit]

The 7th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers was an original member of the brigade. It merged with the 6th Battalion in May 1916 to form the 6th/7th Battalion.

46th Brigade[edit]

In May 1916 the 7th and 8th battalions of the King's Own Scottish Borderers merged to form the 7th/8th Battalion.

Second World War[edit]

Men of the 8th Battalion, Royal Scots move forward past a Humber Scout Car of 31st Tank Brigade during Operation Epsom, 28 June 1944.

In late March 1939 the Territorial Army (TA), the British Army's part time reserve, was ordered to be doubled in size as a result of another European conflict with Germany being deemed by many in Britain and France as inevitable. The 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division subsequently came into being as an exact mirror duplicate of the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division. The division, under the command of Major General Roland Le Fannu, was again composed of the 44th, 45th and 46th Infantry Brigades, together with supporting artillery, engineer and signals units.

As a result of the German Army's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, the 15th (Scottish) Division was mobilised between late August and early September 1939. The Second World War began two days later and the division was mobilised for full-time war service. The division was serving in Scottish Command, alongside its parent 52nd (Lowland) Division. The division remained in the United Kingdom for most of the war and saw numerous wasrw nges in its composition, with the first being in November 1941 when, due to shortages of equipment, the division wasrw, alongside several others, reduced to a Lower Establishment.[3] However, it was raised back to Higher Establishment in March 1943 and was reorganised as a 'Mixed Division', consisting of a single armoured brigade (the 6th Guards replacing the 45th Infantry) and two infantry brigades (the 44th and 46th). This experiment was abandoned in September 1943 and the division reverted to that of an ordinary infantry division, with the 6th Guards Tank Brigade being replaced by the 227th (Highland) Infantry Brigade, consisting of three Highland battalions.[4]

Order of battle[edit]

The 15th Infantry Division was constituted as follows during the war:[5]

44th (Lowland) Infantry Brigade[6]

45th Infantry Brigade (left 5 January 1943)[7]

  • 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers (detached 12 December 1939, rejoined 3 July 1940, left again 27 December 1942)
  • 9th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) (left 27 December 1942)
  • 10th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
  • 45th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 1 September, disbanded 14 December 1940)
  • 10th Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) (from 27 December 1942)
  • 11th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (from 28 December 1942)

46th (Highland) Infantry Brigade[8]

  • 10th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry (left 1 November 1941)
  • 11th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry (left 19 November 1941)
  • 2nd Battalion, Glasgow Highlanders
  • 46th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 1 September 1940, disbanded 1 January 1941)
  • 7th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders (from 15 November 1941)
  • 7th Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders (from 18 November 1941, left 23 March 1942, became 5th Battalion, Parachute Regiment)
  • 4th Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders (from 24 March, left 16 November 1942)
  • 10th Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) (from 19 November, left 27 December 1942)
  • 9th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) (from 28 December 1942)

6th Guards Tank Brigade (from 15 January, left 9 September 1943)[9]

227th (Highland) Infantry Brigade(from 11 September 1943)[10]

  • 10th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry
  • 2nd Battalion, Gordon Highlanders
  • 2nd Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

Divisional Troops

  • 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (from 1 October 1943, joined as Support Battalion, became Machine Gun Battalion 18 March 1944)
  • 15th Battalion, Reconnaissance Corps (formed 2 January 1941, became 15th Independent Company 4 December 1941, 15th Independent Squadron 6 June 1942, 15th Regiment 15 February 1943, finally 15th Reconnaissance Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps 1 January 1944)
  • 129th (Lowland) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (left 9 May 1942)
  • 130th (Lowland) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (left 4 January 1942)
  • 131st (Lowland, City of Glasgow) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 181st Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 7 November 1942)[11]
  • 190th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 29 March 1943)
  • 64th (Queen's Own Royal Glasgow Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (left 30 March 1942)
  • 97th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 15 August 1942, left 5 December 1944)
  • 102nd (Northumberland Hussars) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 5 December 1944)
  • 119th (Queen's Own) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 18 May 1943)
  • 278th Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 279th Field Company, Royal Engineers (left 9 February, rejoined 12 July 1940)
  • 280th Field Company, Royal Engineers (left 15 December 1942)
  • 20th Field Company, Royal Engineers (from 26 March 1943)
  • 281st Field Park Company, Royal Engineers (left 12 January 1943)
  • 624th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers (from 14 January 1943)
  • 26th Bridging Platoon, Royal Engineers (formed 1 October 1943)
  • 15th (Scottish) Divisional Signals Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals
  • 1st Commando Brigade (attached from 19 April 1945 to end of the war)

Operation Epsom[edit]

After spending many years training in the United Kingdom, the 15th (Scottish) Division, now under the command of Major General Gordon Holmes Alexander MacMillan, landed in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy, soon after the initial D-Day landings, in mid June 1944 and almost immediately took part in Operation Epsom. Epsom was an attack by most of Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey's British Second Army that was intended to outflank and seize the city of Caen, which was to be taken on D-Day and had, over the last few weeks, bore witness to much bitter fighting in what is known as the Battle for Caen. Epsom did not achieve its overall objective but forced the Wehrmacht to abandon their offensive plans and tied most of their armoured units to a defensive role.

Men of the 10th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry advance during Operation 'Epsom', 26 June 1944.

To be certain of anticipating any German attack, Epsom was launched on 26 June. Although held up on parts of the front by infantry of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, the 15th (Scottish) Division, serving under command of Lieutenant General Richard O'Connor's VIII Corps, and the 31st Tank Brigade gained four miles on their left flank. Further to their left the 43rd (Wessex) Division also gained ground.[12]

On 27 June, after repulsing small armoured counter-attacks, the 15th (Scottish) Division gained more ground and captured a bridge over the River Odon. The 11th Armoured Division passed through to capture Hill 112, a mile to the southeast. This deep penetration alarmed the German command and General Hausser was ordered to commit his units to contain and eliminate the Allied salient. German armoured counter-attacks from 27 June–1 July were repulsed and the foothold over the Odon was consolidated. German losses, particularly of armoured vehicles meant that the possibility of a German counter-offensive was eliminated and held the bulk of the remaining German armour in Normandy in the east around Caen, while American troops further west captured Cherbourg.[13]

During the operation, the 15th (Scottish) Division had suffered heavy losses (which, at this stage of the war, the British Army could ill afford to lose) of over 2,300 casualties, nearly a third of the total infantry strength of the entire division. "The example of one battalion is typical: on 26 June the 2nd Battalion, The Glasgow Highlanders lost 12 officers and sustained nearly 200 casualties, mainly around the hotly contested village of Cheux. Total strength of this battalion was approximately 35 officers and 786 other ranks; thus one day's losses amounted to 34% of their officers and nearly 25% of the entire rifle battalion."[14]

Hill 112, Operation Jupiter[edit]

The British forces included the men of the 15th (Scottish) Division, 11th Armoured Division, 43rd (Wessex) Division and 53rd (Welsh) Division. Principal among the units fighting on Hill 112, and the tanks of 7th and 9th Royal Tank Regiments, plus numerous other units. Approximately 63,000 men over a period of seven weeks fought on and around Hill 112.

The first battle for Hill 112 was fought by 43rd (Wessex) Division at the end of Operation Epsom, when the tanks of 11th Armoured Division broke out from a bridgehead established by the 2nd Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, of 227th Brigade, at Tourmauville. Hill 112 was only an intermediate objective on the way to the Orne River crossings but such was the German reaction that the 23rd Hussars were only able to capture and hold the hill with difficulty.

The main attack on Hill 112 was strategically designed to FIX the German panzers and tactically to gain 'elbow room' in what was still a tight beachhead. The German defenders survived naval bombardment, air attack and artillery fire but held their ground, crucially supported by Tiger tanks from the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. These mighty tanks armed with the 88 mm gun had both greater protection and firepower and outclassed the opposing British Churchill tank and Sherman tank.

Even though the hill was not captured and was left as a no-man's-land between the two armies, important surrounding villages had been taken. Above all, however, the 9th Hohenstaufen SS Panzer Division, which had been in the process of moving out of the line to form an operational reserve, was brought back to contain the British. Therefore, on the strategic level Operation JUPITER was a significant success.

It was not until American troops eventually started to break out from the Normandy lodgement, as Operation Cobra developed momentum, in August 1944, that the Germans withdrew from Hill 112 and the 53rd (Welsh) Division occupied the feature, with barely a fight. Casualties during that period amounted to approximately 25,000 British troops and 500 British tanks.

Operations Bluecoat and Enterprise[edit]

Operation Bluecoat was an attack by most of the British Second Army from 30 July 1944 to 7 August 1944. The objectives of the attack were to secure the key road junction of Vire and the high ground of Mont Pinçon. Strategically, the attack was made to support the American exploitation of their breakout on the western flank of the Normandy beachhead, codenamed Operation Cobra. The British Second Army was switched westward towards Villers-Bocage, adjacent to the U.S. First Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges. Originally, Lieutenant General Dempsey, the Second Army commander, planned to attack on 2 August, but the speed of events on the American front forced him to advance the date.

Men of the 7th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders advance up to the front line, 4 August 1944.

Initially, only two weak German infantry divisions held the intended attack frontage, south and east of Caumont, although they had laid extensive minefields and constructed substantial defences. They also occupied ideal terrain for defence, the bocage.

After the Battle of the Falaise Gap, which saw most of the German Army in Normandy virtually destroyed (although the division took no part in it), the 15th (Scottish) Division, commanded by Major General Colin Barber, previously the 46th Brigade commander, after Major General MacMillan was wounded in early August, fought virtually continuously from then on through Caumont, the Seine Crossing, the Gheel Bridgehead, Best, Tilburg, Meijel, Blerwick, Broekhuizen, the Maas and across the Rhine, entering Germany, in Operation Plunder in late March 1945, then taking part in the Western Allied invasion of Germany.

Universal Carriers and infantry of the 2nd Battalion, Gordon Highlanders move up to cross the Elbe, 29 April 1945.

The particular distinction for the 15th Scottish was to be selected to lead the last set piece river crossing of the war, the assault across the River Elbe (Operation Enterprise) on 29 April 1945 spearheaded by the 1st Commando Brigade (commanded by Brigadier Derek Mills-Roberts), after which they fought on to the Baltic occupying both Lübeck and Kiel. The 15th (Scottish) was the only division of the British Army during the Second World War to be involved in three of the six major European river assault crossings; the Seine, the Rhine and the Elbe.

On 10 April 1946 the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division was finally disbanded. Its battle casualties– killed, wounded and missing – in nearly eleven months of fighting were 11,772 with well over 1,500 men killed. According to military historian Carlo D'Este, the "15th (Scottish) Division was considered to be the most effective and best led infantry division in 21st Army Group."[15]

General Officer Commanding 1939-1946[edit]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Stewart and Buchan, pp301- 305.
  2. ^ Stewart and Buchan, pp 285–288
  3. ^ "15th (Scottish) Infantry Division" (PDF). British Military History. Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  4. ^ Joslen, p. 58.
  5. ^ Joslen, pp. 58–9.
  6. ^ Joslen, p. 289.
  7. ^ Joslen, p. 290.
  8. ^ Joslen, p. 291.
  9. ^ Joslen, p. 197.
  10. ^ Joslen, p. 390.
  11. ^ Neal.
  12. ^ McLeod, Toby. "Operation Epsom, Baron-sur-Odon and the Battle for Hill 112". WR2000: The Battle for Normandy 1944. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  13. ^ Ellis et al. 1962, p. 277–297.
  14. ^ D'Este, p. 244–245.
  15. ^ D'Este, p. 239.

References[edit]

  • Lieutenant-Colonel J. Stewart, DSO and John Buchan, "The Fifteenth (Scottish) Division 1914–1919", The Naval & Military Press Ltd, ISBN 1-84342-639-0.
  • Ellis, Major L.F.; with Allen R.N., Captain G.R.G. Allen; Warhurst, Lieutenant-Colonel A.E. & Robb, Air Chief-Marshal Sir James (2004) [1st. pub. HMSO, 1962]. Butler, J.R.M, ed. Victory in the West, Volume I: The Battle of Normandy. History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series. Uckfield, East Sussex: Naval & Military Press Ltd. ISBN 1-84574-058-0. OCLC 276814706. 
  • Lt-Col H.F. Joslen, Orders of Battle, United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945, London: HM Stationery Office, 1960/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2003, ISBN 1-84342-474-6.
  • Don Neal, Guns and Bugles: The Story of the 6th Bn KSLI – 181st Field Regiment RA 1940–1946, Studley: Brewin, 2001, ISBN 1-85858-192-3.
  • D'Este, C. (2004) [1983]. Decision in Normandy: The Real Story of Montgomery and the Allied Campaign. london: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-101761-9.

External links[edit]