18th Infantry Division (United Kingdom)

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18th Infantry Division
18 inf div -vector.svg
Mike Chappell comments that "the map-reading conventional sign for a windmill-an apt device for an East Anglian formation" was only worn on uniforms within the United Kingdom and was not displayed when the division transferred to Asia.[1]
Active 30 September 1939 – 15 February 1942[2]
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
Type Infantry
Role Infantry

War establishment strength: 17,298 men[a]

Far East: ~15,000 men[4]
Engagements Battle of Muar
Battle of Singapore
Bernard Paget

The 18th Infantry Division was an infantry division of the Territorial Army, part of the British Army, that saw service in the Second World War. It was formed as a 2nd Line duplicate of the 54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division using mostly units with connections to East Anglia. The division fought in the short but violent Battle of Singapore but later surrendered and was captured by the Imperial Japanese Army in February 1942.

Second World War[edit]


Throughout the 1930s, tensions built between Germany and the United Kingdom as well as its allies.[5] During late 1937 and throughout 1938, German demands for the annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland led to an international crisis. In an attempt to avoid war, Neville Chamberlain (the British Prime Minister) met with the German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, in September and brokered the Munich Agreement. The agreement averted immediate war and allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland.[6] Chamberlain had intended the agreement to lead to further peaceful resolution of issues, but relations between both countries soon deteriorated.[7] On 15 March 1939, Germany breached the terms of the agreement by invading and occupying the remnants of the Czech state.[8]

In response, on 29 March, the British Secretary of State for War Leslie Hore-Belisha announced plans to increase the Territorial Army (TA) from 130,000 men to 340,000 and in so doing double the number of territorial divisions.[9][b] The plan of action was for the existing units to recruit over their allowed establishments (aided by an increase in pay for territorials, the removal of restrictions on promotion that had been a major hindrance to recruiting during the preceding years, the construction of better quality barracks and an increase in supper-time rations) and then form Second Line divisions from small cadres that could be built upon.[9][14] As a result, the 18th Infantry Division was to be created as a Second Line unit, a duplicate of the First Line 54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division.[15] In April, limited conscription was introduced. At that time 34,500 militiamen, all aged 20, were conscripted into the regular army, initially to be trained for six months before being deployed to the forming second line units.[15][16] Despite the intention for the army to grow in size, the programme was complicated by a lack of central guidance on the expansion and duplication process and issues regarding the lack of facilities, equipment and instructors.[9][17]

Formation and home defence[edit]

Some regiments were able to recruit the required numbers to form new battalions, but the process had – in the words of historian James P. Levy – "not progressed beyond the paper stage when [the Second World War] began in September".[17][18] The 18th Infantry Division became active on 30 September 1939; its constituent units had already formed and had been administered by the parent 54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division. The 18th Division was composed of the 53rd, 54th, and 55th Infantry Brigades as well supporting divisional troops. The division's first General Officer Commanding (GOC) was Major-General Thomas Dalby.[19] The Imperial War Museum comments that the division insignia of "windmill sails" denotes "the association of the Division with East Anglia."[20]

On 30 November 1939, Major-General Bernard Paget assumed command.[2] The division was initially assigned to Eastern Command, and by early 1940 was based in Norfolk.[2][21] By summer, the division was under the command of II Corps and was spread throughout Norfolk and Suffolk.[2][22] On 20 April, Paget temporarily left the division and Brigadier Edward Backhouse took his place.[2] Padget was deployed to Norway, where he commanded Sickleforce (15th and 148th Infantry Brigades) during the Norwegian Campaign following their landing at Åndalsnes.[23] With the unsuccessful conclusion of that campaign, Paget briefly returned to the division on 14 May 1940.[2][24] However, on 27 May, Paget became the Chief of the General Staff, Home Forces and was replaced by Brigadier Geoffrey Franklyn on a temporary basis.[2][25]

A lone soldier of the 4th Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, mans a trench near a pillbox at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, 31 July 1940.

The war-time deployment of the TA envisioned it being deployed piecemeal, to reinforce the regular army already deployed to the European mainland, as equipment became available. The plan envisioned the deployment of the whole force in waves, as divisions completed their training, with the final divisions being deployed a year after the outbreak of war.[26] As a result, the division did not leave the United Kingdom as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was evacuated from France during May and June 1940.[27][28] The evacuation had resulted the abandonment of much of the army's heavy equipment, leaving the troops in the United Kingdom sparsely equipped. Priority for new equipment was given to a handful of formations that would launch the riposte to any German landings.[29] This equipment shortage heavily affected the division. Each infantry division was to be allotted 72 25-pounder field guns whereas the 18th Division had none. In liew, it had four First World War vintage 18-pounders and eight 4.5-inch howitzers. No anti-tank guns had been assigned to the division, when 48 should have been. Likewise, the division could only muster 47 Boys anti-tank rifle out of an establishment of 307.[30] During the summer, the division went through several changes of command. Major-General Thomas Ralph Eastwood took command on 1 June, before leaving to be the Chief of staff of the Second BEF under the command of Lieutenant-General Alan Brooke.[31] On 9 June, Major-General Lionel Finch took command before being replaced by Major-General Merton Beckwith-Smith (who had commanded the 1st Guards Brigade during the Battle of France), on 14 July 1940, who remained with the division for the remainder of its existence.[2][32]

Vickers machine gun teams from 9th Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers in action during a practice shoot, Trawsfynydd in Wales, 10 September 1941.

In April 1941, the division was assigned to Western Command, and had moved to Liverpool replacing the 38th (Welsh) Infantry Division.[2][33] On 18 July, Alan Brooke (now Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces) inspected elements of the division based in Crewe.[34] In October 1941 the 18th Division was preparing to move overseas and left the United Kingdom on 28 October, originally intending to be sent to the Middle East but, after the Japanese entered the war, was diverted to the Far East instead and was sent to Singapore.

Far East[edit]

The 53rd Brigade arrived there on 13 January 1942, before the rest of the division, and was attached to the 11th Indian Infantry Division and Westforce on mainland Malaya where it was involved in the retreat back to Singapore, fighting the Battle of Muar, the last major battle of the Malayan Campaign, in company with Indian units.

The main part of the 18th Division landed at Singapore a few weeks before the fall of the island. After the week-long Battle of Singapore, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, commander of the Singapore garrison, surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army on 15 February 1942. The soldiers of the division went into Japanese Prisoner of war camps where they suffered many hardships for the next three years. On 11 November, Beckwith-Smith succumbed to diphtheria while in Japanese captivity.[35]

The 18th Division was not reformed later in the war or afterwards when the TA was reformed in 1947.

SS Empress of Asia beached and burning, 5 February 1942. The convoy comprised four vessels bringing the remainder of the 18th Division to Singapore and was the last convoy to reach the island before it fell.

General officer commanding[edit]

The division had the following commanders:[2]

Appointed General officer commanding Notes
30 September 1939 Major-General T. G. Dalby
30 November 1939 Major-General Bernard Paget
20 April 1940 Brigadier Edward Backhouse Acting
14 May 1940 Major-General Bernard Paget
27 May 1940 Brigadier G.E.W. Franklyn Acting
1 June 1940 Major-General Thomas Ralph Eastwood
9 June 1940 Major-General L.H.K. Finch
14 July 1940 Major-General Merton Beckwith-Smith Captured, on 15 February 1942

Order of battle[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ This is the war establishment, the on-paper strength, of an infantry division formed during or after 1941, but before 1944; for information on how division sizes changed over the war, see British Army during the Second World War.[3]
  2. ^ The Territorial Army (TA) was a reserve of the British regular army made up of part-time volunteers. By 1939, its intended role was to be the sole method of expanding the size of the British Armed Forces (compared to the creation of Kitchener's Army during the First World War). First Line territorial formations would create a second line division using a cadre of trained personal and, if needed, a third division would also be created. All TA recruits were required to take the general service obligation meaning that, if the British Government decided, territorial soldiers could be deployed overseas for combat. (This avoided the complications with the Territorial Force, whose members were not required to leave the United Kingdom unless they volunteered for overseas service.)[10][11][12][13]


  1. ^ Chappell 1987, p. 22.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Joslen 2003, p. 60.
  3. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 130–131.
  4. ^ Smith 2005, p. 266.
  5. ^ Bell 1986, pp. 3–4.
  6. ^ Bell 1986, pp. 258–275.
  7. ^ Bell 1986, pp. 277–278.
  8. ^ Bell 1986, p. 281.
  9. ^ a b c Gibbs 1976, p. 518.
  10. ^ Allport 2015, p. 323.
  11. ^ French 2001, p. 53.
  12. ^ Perry 1988, pp. 41–42.
  13. ^ Simkins 2007, pp. 43–46.
  14. ^ Messenger 1994, p. 47.
  15. ^ a b Messenger 1994, p. 49.
  16. ^ French 2001, p. 64.
  17. ^ a b Perry 1988, p. 48.
  18. ^ Levy 2006, p. 66.
  19. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 60–61.
  20. ^ "Badge, formation, 18th Infantry Division". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 16 March 2015. 
  21. ^ Collier 1957, p. 85.
  22. ^ Collier 1957, p. 219.
  23. ^ Fraser 1999, pp. 36–41.
  24. ^ Fraser 1999, pp. 44–45.
  25. ^ Ironside 1962, p. 406.
  26. ^ Gibbs 1976, pp. 455, 507, 514–515.
  27. ^ Joslen 2003, p. 66.
  28. ^ Fraser 1999, pp. 72–77.
  29. ^ Fraser 1999, pp. 83–85.
  30. ^ Collier 1957, p. 125.
  31. ^ Alanbrooke 2001, pp. 79, 738.
  32. ^ Bull 2016, p. 36.
  33. ^ Collier 1957, pp. 219, 229.
  34. ^ Alanbrooke 2001, pp. 93, 172.
  35. ^ Felton 2008, p. 134.
  36. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 60, 293.
  37. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 60, 294.
  38. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 60, 295.
  39. ^ Smith 2005, p. 434.


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