20th Brigade (United Kingdom)

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20th Brigade
Country United Kingdom
BranchFlag of the British Army.svg British Army
TypeInfantry Brigade
Part of1st Division (Second Boer War)
7th Division (First World War)
Independent (Second World War)
EngagementsSecond Boer War
First World war:
Western Front
Italian Front
Second World War
Maj-Gen Arthur Paget
Brig-Gen H.G. Ruggles-Brise
Brig-Gen The Hon J.F. Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis

20th Brigade (20 Bde) was an infantry formation of the British Army first organised in the Second Boer War. In the First World War it fought on the Western Front and on the Italian Front as part of 7th Division. The brigade was re-raised under during the Second World War.

Boer War[edit]

British Army brigades had traditionally been ad hoc formations known by the name of their commander or numbered as an integral part of a division. However, units deployed to the Second Boer War in 1899 were organised into sequentially numbered brigades that were frequently reassigned between divisions.[1][2] 20th Brigade was formed in South Africa in 1900 under the command of Major-General Arthur Paget as part of Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen's 1st Division. It comprised two regular infantry battalions that were already serving in the theatre and had seen much action, together with two Militia battalions newly arrived from Britain:

Order of Battle 1900[edit]

The composition of 20 Bde in May–June 1900 was as follows:[3][4]

When the Militia were embodied in November 1899 and invited to volunteer for overseas service, it had been intended to employ them in garrisons and on lines on communications in order to release Regular troops for frontline service.[8] However, 20th Brigade with its mix of Regulars and Militia was immediately thrown into action during Lord Roberts' advance through the Transvaal. Methuen's 1st Division was assigned to guard Roberts' left flank in the Orange Free State. 20th Brigade assisted General Hunter's 10th Division at Christiana then 1st Division captured Hoopstad by a surprise night attack. Methuen's men earned the nickname of 'the Mobile Marvels' for their hard marching. At the end of May Methuen marched to relieve Lindley, and left 20 Bde there to guard the town while he continued on to relieve Heilbron in June.[9]

By now the Boers in Orange Free State had broken up into small parties, and British forces spent many months pursuing them, especially the guerrillas led by Christiaan de Wet (in the 'Great de Wet Hunt'). For the rest of the war, formal divisional and brigade organisations dissolved into ad hoc columns formed and reformed for specific tasks.[10][11]

First World War[edit]

Soon after the outbreak of the First World War, a new 20th Brigade was organised, composed of the last three Regular infantry battalions left in Britain after the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) went to France.[12] Although not officially designated a Guards brigade, it did contain two Guards battalions (1st Grenadier Guards from Warley Barracks and 2nd Scots Guards from the Tower of London), together with 2nd Border Regiment stationed at Pembroke Dock.[13][14][15][16][17] Both Guards battalions were largely composed of Reservists recalled to the Colours.[18] A Guards officer, Brigadier-General H.G. Ruggles-Brise, was appointed to command the brigade.[12][19]

20th Brigade assembled at Lyndhurst, Hampshire, forming part of 7th Division, which was otherwise composed of Regular battalions brought back from various overseas stations. 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders returned from Cairo to complete 20th Bde just before the division sailed from Southampton.[12][13][20]

Order of Battle 1914[edit]

The composition of 20 Bde on embarkation was as follows:[12]

  • 1st Bn Grenadier Guards
  • 2nd Bn Scots Guards
  • 2nd Bn Border Regiment
  • 2nd Bn Gordon Highlanders

1st Battle of Ypres[edit]

7th Division landed at Zeebrugge on 7 October 1914, intended to assist the Belgian Army in the defence of Antwerp. In the event all it could do was help to cover the Belgian retreat and then take up defensive positions at Ypres where they were joined by the rest of the BEF after the Race to the Sea. Thereafter 20th Brigade was engaged in heavy fighting at Langemarck and Gheluvelt during the First Battle of Ypres.[14][21][22] Like several other senior officers who got out among their units to exercise personal command during this confused fighting, Ruggles-Brise was wounded, being carried back 'half dead of a dreadful wound on a stretcher' on 2 November. All the battalion commanders also having become casualties, the Brigade Major (Major A.B.E. Cator) took command as senior officer in the brigade.[12][23]

On 5 December, the badly-depleted brigade was reinforced by a Territorial Force unit, the 1/6th (Banff and Donside) Battalion Gordon Highlanders, which had been serving as GHQ troops since landing in France.[12][20][24] 20th Brigade's last major action in 1914 was a failed attack on the Well Farm position at La Boutillerie by 2nd Scots Guards and 2nd Border on 18 December. The dead from this action were buried during the Christmas truce.[12][25]


During the first half of 1915, the brigade was involved in the Battles of Neuve Chapelle (10–13 March), Aubers Ridge (9 May – in reserve), Festubert (15–19 May) and Givenchy (15–16 June).[12]

When the Guards Division was formed in August 1915, 20 Bde's two Guards battalions left to join it, being replaced by two 'New Army' battalions sent from England, the 8th and 9th Battalions Devonshire Regiment.[12][26] The new battalions were 'blooded' at the Battle of Loos.

Order of Battle September 1915[edit]

For the Battle of Loos, the composition of 20 Bde (with casualties in brackets) was as follows:[12][27][28]

  • 2nd Bn Border Regiment (234)
  • 2nd Bn Gordon Highlanders (457)
  • 1/6th (Banff and Donside) Bn Gordon Highlanders (297)
  • 8th (Service) Bn Devonshire Regiment (619)
  • 9th (Service) Bn Devonshire Regiment (256)
  • 55th Field Company Royal Engineers – attached for this battle
  • No 1 Mortar Battery – attached for this battle
  • XIV Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery – attached for this battle


In January 1916, 1/6th Gordons returned to GHQ troops in exchange for 1/6th Bn Cheshire Regiment, but this battalion left the brigade for 39th Division in February, after which 20 Bde reverted to the normal four-battalion formation. In line with a new organisation for infantry brigades, it formed a Machine-Gun Company and a Trench Mortar Battery in February 1916.[12]

During the Battle of the Somme, 20 Bde was involved in the following actions:[12]

  • Capture of Mametz 1 July
  • Battle of Bazentin Ridge (14–17 July)
  • Attack on High Wood (20 July)
  • Battle of Guillemont (3–7 September).


In the early part of 1917, 20 Bde was involved in the following actions:[12]

  • Operations on the Ancre (January–March)
  • German retreat to the Hindenburg Line (14 March–5 April)
  • Battle of Bullecourt (3–16 May)

During the Third Battle of Ypres 20 Bde was engaged at:[12]

  • Battle of Polygon Wood (1–3 October)
  • Battle of Broodseinde (4 October)
  • Battle of Polecappelle (9 October)
  • 2nd Battle of Passchendaele (26–29 October)

Italian Front[edit]

On 17 November, 7th Division entrained for the Italian Front as part of the reinforcements rushed to assist the Italian Army after the defeat of Caporetto. The division remained on the Piave front until 23 February 1918, when it was ordered to return to France. However, these orders were cancelled in March, and the division moved to the Asiago Plateau, taking part in the fighting there in June.[12]

As part of an Army-wide reorganisation, 20th Machine-Gun Company left 20 Bde in Spring 1918 to join the 7th Division Machine-Gun Battalion.[12] A more fundamental reorganisation took place in September 1918: in preparation to move back to France 20 Bde was reduced to three battalions in line with the current establishment for the Western Front. 9th Devons was transferred to another division in France, but the divisional move was once again countermanded. The reduced brigade then took part in the final actions of the war on the Italian Front, the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, including the Passage of the Piave (23 October–4 November), the capture of the Grave di Papadopoli (23–26 October) and the Crossing of the Tagliamento (3 November).[12] The brigade was demobilised in Italy soon after the Armistice with Austria.[12]

Brigade Commanders 1914–18[edit]

The following officers commanded 20 Bde during the war:[12][29]

  • Brigadier-General H.G. Ruggles-Brise, 15 September–2 November 1914 (wounded)
  • Major A.B.E. Cator, 2–14 November 1914 (acting)
  • Brigadier-General F.J. Heyworth, 14 November 1914 – 16 August 1915
  • Brigadier-General The Hon J.F. Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis, 16 August–24 October 1915 (died of wounds)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel J.D. Ingles, 24–26 October 1915 (acting)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel L.B. Boyd-Moss, 26 –29 October 1915 (acting)
  • Brigadier-General C.J. Deverell, 29 October 1915 – 7 August 1916
  • Brigadier-General H.C.R. Green, from 7 August 1916.

Second World War[edit]

See main article 20th Independent Infantry Brigade (Guards)

In April 1940, the brigade number was reactivated for 20th Independent Infantry Brigade (Guards), which fought in the brief expedition to Boulogne in June that year. In 1941, it was converted to the armoured role as 5th Guards Armoured Brigade in Guards Armoured Division.[30]


  1. ^ Amery, Vol II, p. 114.
  2. ^ Dunlop, p 74.
  3. ^ Amery, Appendix, p 507.
  4. ^ Miller, p. 186 & fn 94.
  5. ^ Creswicke, pp. 92–3.
  6. ^ Creswicke pp 160.
  7. ^ Creswicke pp. 93–108.
  8. ^ Dunlop, p. 90.
  9. ^ Miller, pp. 186–93.
  10. ^ Amery, Vol IV, p. 412.
  11. ^ Miller, pp. 200–10.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Becke, pt 1, p. 82.
  13. ^ a b Atkinson, pp. 2–3.
  14. ^ a b http://www.1914-1918.net/7div.htm
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-05-25. Retrieved 2013-06-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-03-11. Retrieved 2013-06-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ http://www.1914-1918.net/border.htm
  18. ^ Atkinson, p. 4.
  19. ^ London Gazette 9 October 1914
  20. ^ a b http://www.1914-1918.net/gordon.htm
  21. ^ Edmonds 1914, Vol II.
  22. ^ Farrar-Hockley, Ypres.
  23. ^ Farrar-Hockley, Ypres, p. 180.
  24. ^ Edmonds, 1914, Vol II, Appendix 4, p. 488.
  25. ^ http://www.1914-1918.net/truce.htm
  26. ^ http://www.1914-1918.net/devons.htm
  27. ^ Cherry, pp. 92, 97.
  28. ^ Atkinson, pp. 205, 231.
  29. ^ Atkinson, Appendix III, p. 502.
  30. ^ Joslen, p. 262.


  • L.S. Amery (ed), The Times History of the War in South Africa 1899–1902, London: Sampson Low, Marston, Vol II 1902; Vol III, 1905; Vol IV, 1906.
  • C.T. Atkinson, The Seventh Division 1914–1918, London: John Murray, 1927/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2006.
  • Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 1: The Regular British Divisions, London: HM Stationery Office, 1934/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-84734-738-X.
  • Niall Cherry, Most Unfavourable Ground: The Battle of Loos 1915, Solihull: Helion, 2005.
  • Louis Creswicke, South Africa and the Transvaal War, Vol II: From the Commencement of the War to the Battle of Colenso, 15th Dec 1899, Edinburgh, 1900 [1]
  • Col John K. Dunlop, The Development of the British Army 1899–1914, London: Methuen, 1938.
  • Brig-Gen J.E. Edmonds, History of the Great War: Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1914, Vol II, London: Macmillan, 1925/Imperial War Museum & Battery Press, 1995, ISBN 1-870423-55-0.
  • Brig-Gen Sir James E. Edmonds and Capt G.C. Wynne, History of the Great War: Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1915, Vol I, London: Macmillan, 1927/Imperial War Museum & Battery Press, 1995, ISBN 1-870423-87-9.
  • Brig-Gen Sir James E. Edmonds, History of the Great War: Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1915, Vol II, London: Macmillan, 1928/Imperial War Museum & Battery Press.
  • Brig-Gen Sir James E. Edmonds, History of the Great War: Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1916, Vol I, London: Macmillan,1932/Woking: Shearer, 1986, ISBN 0-946998-02-7.
  • 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, 2003, ISBN 1-84342-474-6.
  • Rudyard Kipling, The Irish Guards in the Great War: The First Battalion, London, 1923/Staplehurst: Spellmount, 1997, ISBN 1-873376-72-3.
  • Stephen M. Miller, Lord Methuen and the British Army: Failure and Redemption in South Africa, London: Frank Cass, 1999.

External sources[edit]