3rd (United Kingdom) Division

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3rd Division
3rd Infantry Division
3rd Armoured Division
3rd (UK) Division
3rd Mechanised Division
British 3rd Infantry Division2.svg
Insignia of the 3rd Division from 1940[1]
ActiveSince 18 June 1809
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
TypeArmoured Infantry
Size1939–1945 war establishment strength 18,347 men.[2][3]
Part ofField Army
Garrison/HQBulford Camp, Wiltshire
Nickname(s)1810–1814: Fighting 3rd
1916-1918: 3rd (Iron) Division, Iron Division, or Iron Sides[a]
1943-1945: 3rd British Infantry Division or 3rd British Division (to distinguish it from the 3rd Canadian Division)
EngagementsNapoleonic Wars
Battle of Bussaco
Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro
Battle of El Bodón
Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo
Siege of Badajoz
Battle of Salamanca
Siege of Burgos
Battle of Vitoria
Battle of the Pyrenees
Battle of Nivelle
Battle of the Nive
Battle of Orthez
Battle of Toulouse
Battle of Quatre Bras
Battle of Waterloo
Crimean War
Battle of Alma
Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855)
Second Boer War
First World War
Battle of Mons
Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Ancre
Battle of Delville Wood
Battle of Arras 1917
Second World War
Battle of Belgium
Battle of France
Normandy landings
Battle of Normandy
Operation Market Garden
Overloon and Venray
Rhine crossing
Iraq War
James Martin
Thomas Picton
Charles Alten
Hubert Hamilton
Bernard Montgomery
William Ramsden
3rd Division WW1
World War 1 Division sign.[6]

The 3rd (United Kingdom) Division is a regular army division of the British Army. It was created in 1809 by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, as part of the Anglo-Portuguese Army, for service in the Peninsular War, and was known as the Fighting 3rd under Sir Thomas Picton during the Napoleonic Wars. The division fought at the Battle of Waterloo, as well as during the Crimean War and the Second Boer War. As a result of bitter fighting in 1916, during the First World War, the division became referred to as the 3rd (Iron) Division, or the Iron Division or Ironsides. During the Second World War, the division (now known as the 3rd Infantry Division) fought in the Battle of France including a rearguard action during the Dunkirk Evacuation, and played a prominent role in the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944. The division was to have been part of a proposed Commonwealth Corps, formed for a planned invasion of Japan in 1945–46, and later served in the British Mandate of Palestine. During the Second World War, the insignia became the "pattern of three" — a black triangle trisected by an inverted red triangle, created by Bernard Montgomery to instil pride in his troops.

Napoleonic Wars[edit]

The division was part of the Allied British and Portuguese forces that took part in the Peninsular War. It fought at the Battle of Bussaco in September 1810,[7] the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro in May 1811[8] and the Battle of El Bodón in September 1811,[9] before further combat at the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo in January 1812,[10] the Siege of Badajoz in March 1812[11] and the Battle of Salamanca in July 1812.[12] It also fought at the Siege of Burgos in September 1812[13] and the Battle of Vitoria in June 1813.[14] It then pursued the French army into France and saw action at the Battle of the Pyrenees in July 1813,[15] the Battle of Nivelle in November 1813[16] and the Battle of the Nive in December 1813.[17] After that it fought at the Battle of Orthez in February 1814[18] and the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814.[19]

According to Picton, the fighting by the 3rd was so intense at the Battle of Vitoria, that the division lost 1,800 men (over one third of all Allied losses at the battle) having taken a key bridge and village, where they were subjected to fire by 40 to 50 cannons, and a counter-attack on the right flank (which was open because the rest of the army had not kept pace).[14] The 3rd held their ground and pushed on with other divisions to capture the village of Arinez.[14]

Map of the Battle of Waterloo the 3rd Division holding the centre under Alten

The 3rd Division was also present at the Battle of Quatre Bras and the Battle of Waterloo in the Waterloo campaign under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Alten K.C.B. (Count Carl von Alten).[20]

Crimean War[edit]

The 3rd Division took part in the Crimean War and fought in the Battle of Alma and the Siege of Sevastopol. It was under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Richard England.[21]

Second Boer War[edit]

During the Second Boer War (1899–1902) the division began under the command of General Gatacre.[22] In 1902 the army was restructured, and a 3rd Infantry division was established permanently at Bordon as part of the 1st Army Corps, comprising the 5th and 6th Infantry Brigades.[23][24]

First World War[edit]

Men of the 1st Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers watching the 7th (Service) Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry marching up to the outpost line, 3rd Division, 11 April 1918.

During the First World War the 3rd Division was a permanently established Regular Army division that was amongst the first to be sent to France at the outbreak of the war as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The 3rd Division served on the Western Front in France and Belgium for four years, from 1914 to 1918. During this time, it was nicknamed "The Iron Division". Its first commander during the war, Major-General Hubert Hamilton, was killed by shellfire near Béthune in October 1914. The division served in many major battles of the war, including the Battle of Mons and the subsequent Great Retreat, and later the First Battle of Ypres.[25]

Inter-War Period[edit]

After the end of the First World War, the division was stationed in southern England where it formed part of Southern Command. In 1937, one of its brigades, the 9th Infantry Brigade, was commanded by Brigadier Bernard Montgomery. He assumed command of the 3rd Division shortly before Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939.[26]

Second World War[edit]

Men of the 2nd Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment on exercise wearing snow suits, 4 February 1940.

The 3rd Infantry Division, under the command of Major General Bernard Montgomery, was sent overseas to France in late September 1939, just under a month after the outbreak of the Second World War.[27] There the division became part of Lieutenant General Alan Brooke's II Corps of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).[27] However, unlike in the First World War, where the division was almost immediately engaged in desperate fighting, there was no action. Montgomery instantly began training the men of his division in a tough training regime. As with most of the rest of the BEF, training was severely hampered by a shortage of modern equipment.[28]

Troops from the 2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, 3rd Division, training on the Vickers machine gun at Gondecourt, 21 March 1940.

In May 1940, after several months of relative inactivity, the German Army launched its attack in the west which resulted in the BEF being split up from the French Army, evacuated from Dunkirk. Due to Montgomery's strict training regime, the 3rd Division suffered comparatively few casualties and earned a reputation as one of the best British divisions in France. During the evacuation Montgomery was promoted to temporary command of II Corps and Brigadier Kenneth Anderson took temporary control of the division before, in July, Major General James Gammell assumed command.[27]

Gunners of the 20th Anti-Tank Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, haul a 2-pdr anti-tank gun up a steep slope during training at Verwood in Dorset, 22 March 1941.

For over a year after Dunkirk the composition of 3rd Division remained largely unchanged (except that the motorcycle battalion was converted into 3rd (RNF) Reconnaissance Regiment, Reconnaissance Corps). Then, in September 1941, the 7th Guards Brigade was transferred to help create the Guards Armoured Division, and, in November, the 37th Infantry Brigade Group joined the 3rd Division and was renumbered 7th Brigade with the following composition:[29][30] The brigade anti-tank companies were disbanded during 1941 and 92nd (Loyals) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, formerly the 7th Battalion, Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire), joined the division in March 1942. In June 1942, 3rd Infantry Division was reorganised as a 'Mixed' Division, with 33rd Tank Brigade replacing 7th Infantry Brigade. By early 1943, the experiment with 'mixed' divisions was abandoned, and division reverted to being an infantry formation, 33rd Tank Brigade being replaced by 185th Infantry Brigade.[29][31]


Men of 2nd Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles pause during the move inland from Sword Beach, 6 June 1944.

The 3rd British Infantry Division was the first British formation to land at Sword Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944, as part of the invasion of Normandy, part of the larger Operation Overlord. For the assault landing, 3rd British Division was organised as a Division Group, with other formations temporarily under its command. These included 27th Armoured Brigade (Sherman DD amphibious tanks) and 22nd Dragoons (Sherman Crab flail tanks), 1st Special Service Brigade and No. 41 (Royal Marine) Commando, 5th Royal Marine Independent Armoured Support Battery (Centaur IV close support tanks), 77 and 79 Assault Squadrons of 5th Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers (Churchill AVREs).[32]

The division's own artillery were all self-propelled (field regiments: M7 Priest;[33][34][35][36] anti-tank regiment: M10 tank destroyer[37][38]) and the SP field guns and RM Centaurs were able to fire from their landing craft during the run-in to the beach. In addition, 3rd British Division had 101 Beach Sub-Area HQ and Nos 5 and 6 Beach groups under command for the assault phase: these included additional engineers, transport, pioneers, medical services and vehicle recovery sections.[39][40]

The 3rd Division's brigades were organised as brigade groups for the assault, with 8 Brigade Group making the first landing, followed by 185 Brigade Group and 9 Brigade Group in succession during the morning and early afternoon.[39]

After D-Day[edit]

Men of the 2nd Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment clearing houses in Venray, the Netherlands, 17 October 1944.

After D-Day the 3rd Infantry Division fought through the Battle for Caen, in Operation Charnwood and Operation Goodwood. With the fighting in Normandy over after the Battle of the Falaise Gap, the division also participated in the Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine and fought in the Netherlands and Belgium and later the Allied invasion of Germany. For the campaign in Normandy, the division was commanded by Major-General Tom Rennie until he was wounded on 13 June 1944; Major-General 'Bolo' Whistler, a highly popular commander, took command on 23 June 1944.[41] During the campaign in Normandy, the division won its first Victoria Cross of the Second World War, awarded in August 1944 to Corporal Sidney Bates of 1st Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, part of the 185th Brigade. Private James Stokes of the 2nd Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry, also of the 185th Brigade, was the second recipient awarded the Victoria Cross in March 1945.[42]

During the often intense fighting from Sword Beach to Bremen, the 3rd Division suffered 2,586 killed with over 12,000 wounded.[43]

Cold War[edit]

Postwar, the division was reformed on 1 April 1951, in the Suez Canal Zone, under the command of Sir Hugh Stockwell. The division became part of Middle East Land Forces. It consisted of three recently reraised brigades, the 32nd Guards, the 19th Infantry, and the 39th Infantry. It served in the UK for many years and was part of Army Strategic Command in 1968. It had elements of 5th, 19th, and 24th Brigades attached to it.[44]

During the 1970s the division consisted of two "square" brigades, the 6th Armoured Brigade and 33rd Armoured Brigade.[45] It became 3rd Armoured Division in 1976 and served with I (BR) Corps being based at St Sebastian Barracks in Soest near the Möhne Dam from 1977.[46] After being briefly reorganised into two "task forces" ("Echo" and "Foxtrot") in the late 1970s, it consisted of the 4th Armoured Brigade, the 6th Airmobile Brigade and the 19th Infantry Brigade in the 1980s.[47]

Post–Cold War[edit]

In September 1992, the headquarters of 3rd Armoured Division was relocated from Germany to Bulford, Wiltshire in the UK, where it became 3rd Mechanised Division.[48] It provided the headquarters for Multi-National Division (South-West) in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995 / 1996 and again in 1998.[49] In early 2002, the division headquarters and its GOC, Major General John McColl, formed the initial basis of the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, Afghanistan.[50]

On 1 September 1999 the division was freed from its administrative and regional responsibilities and became a deployable or "fly-away" division.[51] As 3rd (UK) Mechanised Division it was the only division at continual operational readiness in the United Kingdom (the other at operational readiness being 1st (UK) Armoured Division in Germany). It was based at Picton Barracks, Bulford Camp, and reported to the Commander Land Forces at Andover.[52]

On 11 July 2003, the division deployed to Iraq to replace the British 1st Armoured Division, signalling the start of Operation Telic II. The 3rd Division also controlled numerous other coalition forces in southeast Iraq, including contingents from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway.[53]

Under Army 2020, the division was renamed as 3rd (United Kingdom) Division and continued to be based at Bulford Camp and to command the Reaction Force. In 2015, Brigadier General Mike Tarsa of the United States Army was assigned as deputy commanding general of the division. He was replaced in May 2016 by Brigadier General Doug Crissman.[54] Crissman was replaced by Brigadier General Matthew J. Van Wagenen in April 2018.[55] This was part of a growing practice for senior officers of the British Army and the United States Army to be assigned as deputy commanders (and effectively liaison officers) in each other's operational units.[56]


Under the Future Soldier programme, the division will be re-structured with the 1st Armoured Infantry Brigade becoming the Deep Reconnaissance Strike Brigade Combat Team, the 12th Armoured Infantry Brigade becoming 12th Armoured Brigade Combat Team, 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade becoming 20th Armoured Brigade Combat Team, 11th Signal Brigade reduced to just 7th Signals Group, and 1st Artillery Brigade disbanding.[57]

Order of battle[edit]

Structure of 3rd (UK) Division under Army 2020 Refine

Recipients of the Victoria Cross[edit]

* indicates a posthumous award

Name Unit Campaign Date of action Place of action
Thomas Grady 0044th Regiment of Foot Crimean War 1854-10-1818 October 1854 Sevastopol, Crimea
William McWheeney 04444th Regiment of Foot Crimean War 1854-10-2020 October 1854 Sevastopol, Crimea
William Nickerson Royal Army Medical Corps Second Boer War 1900-04-2020 April 1900 Wakkerstroom, South Africa
Harry Beet Derbyshire Regiment Second Boer War 1900-04-2222 April 1900 Wakkerstroom, South Africa
Maurice Dease Royal Fusiliers First World War 1914-08-2323 August 1914* Mons, Belgium
Sidney Godley Royal Fusiliers First World War 1914-08-2323 August 1914 Mons, Belgium
Charles Jarvis Corps of Royal Engineers First World War 1914-08-2323 August 1914 Jemappes, Belgium
Theodore Wright Corps of Royal Engineers First World War 1914-08-2323 August 1914
14 September 1914*
Mons, Belgium
Charles Garforth 01515th The King's Hussars First World War 1914-08-2323 August 1914 Harmingnies, France
Cyril Martin Corps of Royal Engineers First World War 1915-03-1212 March 1915 Spanbroek Molen, Belgium
Edward Mellish Royal Army Chaplains' Department First World War 1916-03-2727–29 March 1916 St. Eloi, Belgium
Billy Congreve Prince Consort's Own (Rifle Brigade) First World War 1916-07-066–20 July 1916 Longueval, France
Sidney Bates Royal Norfolk Regiment Second World War 1944-08-066 August 1944*[C] Sourdeval, France
James Stokes King's Shropshire Light Infantry Second World War 1945-03-011 March 1945* Kervenheim, Germany
Johnson Beharry Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment Iraq War 2004-05-011 May 2004
11 June 2004
Al-Amarah, Iraq
James Ashworth Grenadier Guards War in Afghanistan 2012-06-1313 June 2012* Nahr-e Saraj District, Afghanistan

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Patrick Delaforce called his book on the division, "Monty's Ironsides", suggesting a continuation of the nickname.[4] Norman Scarfe, the divisional historian for the period 1943-1945, refutes the idea of the nickname applying to the division. Scarfe wrote that the suggestion of the continuation is a complement but one "that [was] earned by quite different groups of units in quite different circumstances, not by the 3rd Division in its Assault form. 'Ironsides' is surely another not entirely justifiable reference to East Anglia, where Cromwell did his recruiting; and Iron, a symbol of strength and resolution of the 3rd Division in the Four Years' War, can also suggest inflexibility and cruelty, rust and robots. Th distinction of bring British, on the other hand, is open to only one interpretation. It is themost suitable of all titles. There was only one 3rd British Division fighting in Europe, and from D-Day until the Germans were defeated the men of the division deserved the honour of their name."[5] The separation of traditions is also suggested by Lieutenant-Colonel T. F. Furnell, secretary of the Association of the 3rd (Iron) Division, who in a reunion speech to Second World War 3rd Division veterans stated "You of the 3rd British Division have more than lived up to the tradition of the Iron Division."[5]


  1. ^ Cole p. 36
  2. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 130–131.
  3. ^ Tillman, Barrett (2004). D-Day Encyclopedia: Everything You Want to Know About the Normandy Invasion. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-1574887600.
  4. ^ Delaforce
  5. ^ a b Scarfe, p. xxix
  6. ^ Chappell p. 8
  7. ^ Cannon, p. 48
  8. ^ Cannon, p. 56
  9. ^ Cannon, p. 59
  10. ^ Cannon, p. 61
  11. ^ Cannon, p. 65
  12. ^ Cannon, p. 73
  13. ^ Cannon, p. 77
  14. ^ a b c Cannon, p. 81
  15. ^ Cannon, p. 90
  16. ^ Cannon, p. 92
  17. ^ Cannon, p. 93
  18. ^ Cannon, p. 95
  19. ^ Cannon, p. 99
  20. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Alten, Sir Charles" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 763.
  21. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"England, Richard (1793–1883)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  22. ^ "No. 27126". The London Gazette. 13 October 1899. p. 6180.
  23. ^ Rinaldi, p. 31
  24. ^ "Naval & Military intelligence - The 1st Army Corps". The Times (36892). London. 7 October 1902. p. 8.
  25. ^ "The Battles of Ypres, 1917 (Third Ypres)". The Long, Long Trail. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  26. ^ Heathcote 1999, p. 214
  27. ^ a b c Joslen, p. 43-44
  28. ^ "badge, formation, 3rd Infantry Division". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 4 August 2017.
  29. ^ a b Joslen, pp. 43–4.
  30. ^ Joslen, p. 286.
  31. ^ Joslen, pp. 30, 360.
  32. ^ "Private papers of FW Norris MM". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  33. ^ "RA 1939–45 76 Fld Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Archived from the original on 18 December 2014. Retrieved 19 January 2013.
  34. ^ Ellis, p. 542.
  35. ^ "RA 1939–45 7 Fld Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2013.
  36. ^ "RA 1939–45 33 Fld Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Archived from the original on 22 May 2014. Retrieved 19 January 2013.
  37. ^ Ellis, p. 546.
  38. ^ "RA 1939–45 20 A/Tk Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2013.
  39. ^ a b Ellis, pp. 173, 184–6.
  40. ^ Joslen, pp. 584–5.
  41. ^ Delaforce, p. .
  42. ^ "James Stokes". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  43. ^ Delaforce, p. 206.
  44. ^ Blaxland
  45. ^ Watson, Graham (2005). The British Army in Germany: An Organisational History 1947–2004. Tiger Lily. p. 95. ISBN 9780972029698.
  46. ^ "St Sebastian Barracks". BAOR Locations. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  47. ^ Black, Harvey (29 April 2014). "The Cold War Years. A Hot War in reality. Part 6".
  48. ^ Watson and Rinaldi (2005). The British Army in Germany: An Organizational History 1947-2004. Tiger Lily Publications LLC. p. 131. ISBN 9780972029698.
  49. ^ Conrad, John (2011). Scarce Heard Amid the Guns: An Inside Look at Canadian Peacekeeping. Natural Heritage Books. ISBN 978-1-55488-981-5.
  50. ^ "John McColl Profile on". BBC News. 19 December 2001. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  51. ^ Soldier Magazine, December 1998, p.13
  52. ^ Mackinlay, Gordon Angus (1 July 2007). "The British Army at a Moment in Time, Chapter 7" (PDF). Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  53. ^ Carney, Stephen A., Allied Participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015 ISBN 1516909194, 978-1516909193
  54. ^ "General Officer Assignments". United States Department of Defense. 25 March 2016. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  55. ^ "General Officer Assignments". United States Department of Defense. 4 April 2018. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  56. ^ Stairrett, Amanda Kim (25 November 2013). "2nd British general officer takes post with 'BRO'". Fort Riley, Kansas: 1st Infantry Division. Archived from the original on 27 December 2015. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  57. ^ "3 (UK) Division". www.army.mod.uk. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  58. ^ British Army Units
  59. ^ "1st Artillery Brigade". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  60. ^ "1st Military Police Brigade". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  61. ^ "Army restructures to confront evolving threats". Ministry of Defence. London. 31 July 2019. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  62. ^ Burgess, Sally (1 August 2019). "British Army to train cyber spies to combat hackers and digital propaganda". Sky News. London. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  63. ^ Nicholls, Dominic (1 August 2019). "British Army to engage in social media warfare as new cyber division unveiled". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  64. ^ @3rdUKDivision (16 October 2020). "Today we welcome 11th Signals & West Midlands Bde to @3rdUKDivision.@R_Signals soldiers enable our command & control systems & are now with us at the forefront of national operations. Welcome to the Iron Division!@BritishArmy@3UKDivComdSM @11SigWMBde" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  65. ^ "11th Signal Brigade". army.mod.uk. British Army. 16 October 2020. Retrieved 18 October 2020.


External links[edit]