2nd Armoured Division (United Kingdom)

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2nd Armoured Division
Formation patch of the 2nd Armoured Division.
Active 1939–1941
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Armoured Division
Size Second World War
10,750 men
340 tanks[1][a]
Engagements North African Campaign
Willoughby Norrie

The 2nd Armoured Division was an armoured division of the British Army, active during the Second World War. The division was created on 15 December 1939 and disbanded on 10 May 1941, after part of the division was captured at Mechili in Libya from 5–8 April 1941, by German and Italian forces during the Western Desert Campaign and part was lost in the Battle of Greece (6–30 April).



Tank strengths before departure in October 1940
Type Units No.
Mk VI 52 each in KDG 3rd Hussars
4th Hussars 4 with 1st RHA
A 9 CS 2nd Royal Tank Regiment 6
A 10 CS 6 each in 3rd and 5th RTR 12
A 10 2 squadrons in 2nd RTR
1 squadron each
3rd and 5th RTR
A 13 1 squadron in 2nd RTR
2 squadrons each
3rd and 5th RTR
Total 344

The division had a short and unlucky history; formed in December 1939, it was not until the following month that it received any troops to command, when the 1st Light Armoured Brigade and the 22nd Heavy Armoured Brigade were assigned. The 2nd Support Group was formed in February but had no troops until March.[3] The 1st Armoured Division had priority for equipment and the 2nd Armoured Division had to take the left-overs; the 1st Armoured Brigade, with about 150 Light Tank Mk VI, was the most combat-ready part of the division for most of 1940. The 22nd Armoured Brigade had to make do with lorries and a few light tanks.[4] As the threat of invasion receded after the Battle of Britain, the division was reorganised and reinforced for service in the Middle East. It exchanged the 22nd Armoured Brigade for the experienced 3rd Armoured Brigade of the 1st Armoured Division and then the brigades exchanged regiments so that each had a mixture of cruisers and light tanks.[5] Brigade headquarters and the division headquarters had three light tanks Mk VI and seven cruiser tanks (mainly A 10s).[4]


In October 1940, the division sailed for the Middle East, arriving in the new year.[6] Two months later, the Hussars converted to a three-battery anti-tank regiment, with one LAA battery re-equipping with 2-pounder anti-tank guns and 'A' Battery, transferring to the 25th LAA Regiment.[7] Following the conversion, the regiment was unofficially considered to be a Royal Horse Artillery unit.[8] In early 1941, the division was sent to the Western Desert to reinforce troops under General Archibald Wavell, who was on the verge of defeating the Italian 10th Army at the Battle of Beda Fomm, the culmination of Operation Compass.[9]


Unaware that Germany had sent reinforcements to support the Italians in Cyrenaica, Wavell was ordered by the War Cabinet to send half his troops and the best equipment to Greece, including the 1st Armoured Brigade Group (Brigadier H. V. S. Charrington). In April 1941, the 102nd Anti-Tank Regiment, RA (Northumberland Hussars) and other elements from the 2nd Support Group joined the brigade for Operation Lustre, the move to Greece. The regiment had a strength of 578 men, 168 vehicles and 48 × 2-pounders.[10] The 102nd Anti-Tank Regiment, RA was deployed to hold the Metamorphos Pass in conjunction with the Greek Horse Artillery. On 22 April, they were subjected to dive bombing and tank attacks. Together with New Zealand infantry, the 'Hussars' acted as a rearguard. After a 12-hour battle and a 160-mile (260 km) march through the night, they reached Athens on 25 April. The next day, they headed to the nearby Rafina Beach, destroyed their guns and equipment and most of the unit was taken aboard HMS Havock on 27 April. The troops were landed at Suda on the island of Crete.[11] Some elements were evacuated to Alexandria.[12]


Main article: Operation Sonnenblume

Wavell, Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Middle East and GHQ in Egypt, expected that the Germans could not be ready until May 1941, by when the 2nd Armoured Division tanks would have been overhauled and two more divisions and support troops, particularly artillery would be ready, along with the 9th Australian Division. The 2nd Armoured Division had a reconnaissance regiment and the 3rd Armoured Brigade, which had an understrength light tank regiment and one equipped with captured Fiat M13/40 tanks. The cruiser regiment arrived in late March, after many break downs en route, which brought the division up to an understrength armoured brigade.[13] Most of the British tanks were worn out and the Italian tanks were slow and unreliable. The Support Group (equivalent to an infantry brigade at full establishment) had only a motor battalion, a 25-pounder field regiment, an anti-tank battery and a machine-gun company; the division was short of transport and its workshops were understaffed and lacked spare parts.[14]

Lack of transport made it impossible to supply a garrison west of El Agheila, which was the most favourable position for a defensive line and restricted the 2nd Armoured Division to movement between supply dumps, reducing its limited mobility further. In February, Lieutenant-General Philip Neame took over Cyrcom and predicted that many of the tanks would break down as soon as they moved. (Neame also discovered that he had to rely on the local telephone system staffed by Italian operators.)[15] Neame wanted a proper armoured division, two infantry divisions and adequate air support to hold the area but was told by Wavell that there was little to be sent and nothing before April. In early March, the 9th Australian Division began to relieve the 6th Australian Division at Mersa Brega for Operation Lustre, which demonstrated the difficulty of tactical moves with insufficient transport. On 20 March, the Australians were withdrawn north of Benghazi to Tocra, near Er Regima for ease of supply and the 2nd Armoured Division took over.[16]

There were no easily defended positions between El Agheila and Benghazi, the terrain being open and good tank country and Neame was ordered to conserve the tank units as far as possible, yet inflict losses on the Axis forces if they attacked, fight a delaying action as far as Benghazi if pressed and abandon the port if necessary. There was no prospect of reinforcement before May so the high ground of the escarpment nearby and the defiles to the north near Er Regima and Barce in the Jebel Akhdar (Jebel) were to be held for as long as possible. The 2nd Armoured Division would move inland south of the Jebel to Antelat and operate against the flank and rear of the Axis forces as they moved up the Via Balbia or cut across the desert towards Mechili and Tobruk. The tanks would have to use depots at Msus, Tecnis, Martuba, Mechili, Tmimi, El Magrun and Bengahzi as a substitute for lorry-borne supply. The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade (Brigadier E. W. D. Vaughan) arrived at Martuba in late March, with no tanks, artillery, anti-tank guns and only half its wireless sets, ready to move towards Derna, Barce or Mechili if the Axis attacked.[17]

24 March – 2 April[edit]

On 24 March, Rommel advanced with the new Deutsches Afrikakorps towards the positions of the 3rd Armoured Brigade, south-east of Mersa Brega, where the 2nd Support Group held an 8-mile (13 km) front. The Australians were 150 miles (240 km) to the north, minus a brigade left at Tobruk, deficient in much equipment and out of contact with the 2nd Armoured Division. British air reconnaissance had observed German troops west of El Agheila on 25 February but the mileage restrictions necessary to maintain the few troops and vehicles near the front and the danger from fast German Schwerer Panzerspähwagen (eight-wheeler armoured cars), inhibited British reconnaissance units, whose armoured cars were slower and had inferior armament.[18] On 1 April, Rommel sent two columns to capture Mersa Brega and the British withdrew, followed up by the Germans as the Ariete Division and the Brescia Division advanced from Tripoli. Air reconnaissance on 3 April, revealed that the British were still retiring and Rommel ordered a probe around the southern flank by an Italian detachment. Several German platoons were sent under Lieutenant-Colonel Gerhard von Schwerin towards Maaten el Grara, from where they were to observe the ground towards Msus, south-east of Benghazi and Ben Gania further south. Reconnaissance Unit 3 was ordered to reconnoitre towards Soluch and Ghemines; during the evening Rommel ordered them on to Benghazi.[19]

3–5 April[edit]

On 3 April, Gambier-Parry had received a report that a large enemy armoured force was advancing on Msus (now Zawiyat Masus in the Fati Municipality), site of the main divisional supply dump. The 3rd Armoured Brigade (Brigadier R. G. W. Rimington) moved there and found that the petrol had been destroyed to prevent capture. The tank brigade had already been reduced by losses and breakdowns to 12 cruiser tanks, 20 light tanks and 20 Italian tanks. Neame received conflicting reports and ordered elements of the 2nd Armoured Division to guard the desert flank and retire on Mechili. Neame then countermanded the orders and on 6 April, British air reconnaissance reported that there were Axis columns in the desert and the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade repulsed an attack at Mechili, which led to O'Connor at the Cyrcom headquarters (Neame had left to visit Gambier-Parry), to order a general withdrawal.[20] The headquarters of the 2nd Armoured Division and the 2nd Support Group were ordered back to Mechili, followed by the 3rd Armoured Brigade. Rimington decided that the armoured brigade lacked the fuel to reach Mechili and ordered a move to Maraura, where a small amount of petrol was found. Rimington planned to move to Derna via Giovanni Berta, to obtain more fuel and was captured with his deputy when he motored ahead. The brigade continued on and crowded the Australians, who were by-passing Derna, as they withdrew to Gazala.[21]

6–8 April[edit]

Cyrenaica location map: 1 Mersa Brega, 2 Agedabia, 3 Msus, 4 Tocra, 5 Mechili, 6 Bardia

Kirchheim sent the non-mechanised parts of the Pavia Division (General Pietro Zaglio) and the Brescia Division along the Via Balbia and the mechanised and motorised units through the Jebel Akhdar. On 6 April, the Ariete Division reached Mechili and at midday, Ponath re-assembled his group near Derna airfield and cut one of the British withdrawal routes. The 5th Royal Tank Regiment (5th RTR, Lieutenant-Colonel H. D. Drew), repulsed two determined attacks and then counter-attacked with the last four British tanks. The rest of the British disengaged before the tanks were knocked out and the road was left open for stragglers in Derna.[21] By nightfall on 7 April, the 9th Australian Division (less the 24th Australian Infantry Brigade) with the 2nd Support Group had blocked the Via Balbia at Acroma, about 15 miles (24 km) west of Tobruk, where the 18th and 24th Australian Infantry brigades were preparing the defences. A small force held El Adem, south of Tobruk to observe the approaches from the south and south-west and at Mechili, Gambier-Parry had the 2nd Armoured Division headquarters soft-skinned vehicles and a cruiser tank, most of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, M Battery 1st Royal Horse Artillery, part of the 3rd Australian Anti-tank Regiment and elements of other units.[22]

The Germans tried twice to bluff Gambier-Parry into surrender but he had received orders from Cyrcom to break out and retreat to El Adem and decided to attack at dawn, to gain a measure of surprise. On 8 April, A Squadron of the 18th Cavalry broke through and then turned to attack Italian artillery, as some Indian troops of the 11th Prince Albert Victor's Own Cavalry (Frontier Force) got away. Most of the garrison was pinned down but during a second attempt at 8:00 a.m., small parties of the 2nd Royal Lancers escaped. The garrison had fired most of its small-arms ammunition at the vision slits of the German tanks, which had hung back in fear of mines and when Italian infantry attacked, had little ammunition left. Gambier-Parry and 2,700–3,000 British, Indian and Australian troops surrendered to Zaglio the Pavia Division commander.[23] On 10 May 1941, the 2nd Armoured Division was officially disbanded and not reformed. The 2nd Armoured Division also had an RAMC Brigade but war time records identifying the unit number are currently unavailable.[24]


Following a re-organisation, the 2nd Infantry Division was reformed as the 2nd Armoured Division and served with I (BR) Corps in Germany in 1976. During 1976 and 1977, the division consisted of two "square" brigades, the 4th and 12th Armoured Brigades.[25] The Headquarters was based at the Tax House in Lübbecke with the Signals Regiment, which provided the communications, at Birdwood Barracks in Bunde, a few miles away.[26][27] After being briefly reorganised into two "task forces" ("Charlie" and "Delta") in the late 1970s, the division was given a new role as an infantry division becoming the 2nd Infantry Division with headquarters at Imphal Barracks in York in 1982.[25]


(On 8 April 1941 when it surrendered)

3rd Armoured Brigade[edit]

3rd Indian Motor Brigade[edit]

(6–8 April 1941)

2nd Support Group[edit]

General Officers Commanding[edit]

The 2nd Armoured Division had five General Officers Commanding during its Second World War existence, with the final officer being taken prisoner.

Appointed General Officer Commanding
15 December 1939 Major-General F. E. Hotblack[2][b]
17 April 1940 Brigadier C. W. M. Norrie (acting)[2]
10 May 1940 Major-General J. C. Tilly (Died on 5 January 1941)[2]
16 January 1941 Brigadier H. B. Latham (acting)[2]
12 February 1941 Major-General M. D. Gambier-Parry (captured, 8 April 1941)[2]

The Division had three General Officers Commanding in the late 1970s and early 1980s:

Appointed General Officer Commanding
1977 Major-General Frank Kitson[31]
February 1978 Major-General Alexander Boswell[31]
March 1980 Major-General Martin Farndale[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ These two figures are the war establishment, the paper strength of the division for 1940; for information on how the structure of armoured divisions changed over the war please see British Army during the Second World War and British Armoured formations of World War II.
  2. ^ Invalided out of the Army following accident in April 1940.[2]


  1. ^ Joslen 2006, pp. 129.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Joslen 2006, p. 16.
  3. ^ Joslen 2006, pp. 16, 216.
  4. ^ a b Hughes 1999, p. 35.
  5. ^ Joslen 2006, p. 16, 151, 168–169.
  6. ^ Playfair 1954, p. 291.
  7. ^ The Northumberland Hussars at regiments.org by T. F. Mills at the Wayback Machine (archived 19 December 2007)
  8. ^ DR 2014.
  9. ^ Playfair 1954, pp. 355–362.
  10. ^ Operation Lustre aid to Greece - file ref WO 106/3132
  11. ^ Playfair 2004, p. 105.
  12. ^ "Brief History: 1939–1946". Northumberland Hussars Association QOY web site. 
  13. ^ Playfair 2004, pp. 2–3.
  14. ^ Playfair 2004, pp. 2–4.
  15. ^ French 2001, p. 226.
  16. ^ Playfair 2004, pp. 4–6.
  17. ^ Playfair 2004, pp. 6–8.
  18. ^ Playfair 2004, pp. 9–11.
  19. ^ Playfair 2004, pp. 25–26.
  20. ^ Playfair 2004, p. 28.
  21. ^ a b Playfair 2004, p. 29.
  22. ^ Playfair 2004, pp. 30–34.
  23. ^ Playfair 2004, p. 30.
  24. ^ The Lost Years, by R. T. Cochran
  25. ^ a b Watson 2005, p. 95.
  26. ^ "Tax House". BAOR Locations. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  27. ^ "Birdwood Barracks". BAOR Locations. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  28. ^ a b c Mackenzie 1951, p. 71.
  29. ^ 104 RHA (Essex Yeomanry) (TA)
  30. ^ 102 (Northumberland Hussars) Anti-Tank Regiment RA (TA)
  31. ^ a b c Army Commands


  • Cochran, Russell (1991). The Lost Years. no ISBN. unpublished autobiography. 
  • French, David (2001) [2000]. Raising Churchill's Army: The British Army and the War against Germany 1919–1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-924630-0. 
  • Hughes, David; et al. (1999). British Armoured and Cavalry Divisions. The British Armies in World War Two: An Organizational History. I. West Chester, OH: George F. Nafziger. ISBN 1-58545-050-2. 
  • Joslen, Lieutenant-Colonel H. F. (2006) [1960]. Orders Of Battle Second World War 1939–1945 (repr. Naval & Military Press ed.). London: HMSO. ISBN 978-1-84342-474-1. 
  • Latimer, Jon (2001). Tobruk 1941; Rommel's Opening Move. Osprey Military Campaign. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-092-7. 
  • Mackenzie, Compton (1951). Eastern Epic: September 1939 – March 1943 Defence. I. London: Chatto & Windus. OCLC 59637091. 
  • Playfair, Major-General I. S. O.; et al. (1954). Butler, J. R. M., ed. The Mediterranean and Middle East: The Early Successes Against Italy (to May 1941). History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series. I. HMSO. ISBN 1-84574-065-3. 
  • Playfair, Major-General I. S. O.; et al. (2004) [1st. pub. HMSO 1956]. Butler, J. R. M., ed. The Mediterranean and Middle East: The Germans Come to the Help of their Ally (1941). History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series. II. Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-066-1. 
  • Watson, Graham; Rinaldi, R. A. (2005). The British Army in Germany (BAOR and after): An Organisational History 1947–2004. Takoma Park, MD: Tiger Lily for Orbat.com. ISBN 978-0-9720296-9-8. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Jentz, Thomas L. (1998). Tank Combat in North Africa: The Opening Rounds, Operations Sonnenblume, Brevity, Skorpion and Battleaxe, February 1941 – June 1941. Atglen, PA: Schiffer. ISBN 0-7643-0226-4. 
  • Shales, J. (2015). A Detailed Fighting Account of the 2nd Armoured Division, 9th Australian Division, 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, 7th Support Group and 22nd Guards Brigade in Combat with the Afrikakorps and Units of the Ariete, Brescia, Bologna, Pavia and Trento Divisions: February – May 1941. Infantry, Artillery and Tank Combat in Libya and Egypt. I. Rainham, Kent: Armour. ISBN 0-9931732-0-9. 

External links[edit]