46th Infantry Division (United Kingdom)

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For the equivalent formation in World War I, see 46th (North Midland) Division.
46th Infantry Division
46 inf div -vector.svg
Formation sign of the 46th Infantry Division.
Active 1939–1946
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Infantry
Size Division
Nickname(s) "The Oak Tree Division"
Engagements Battle of France
Tunisia Campaign
Italian Campaign
Greek Civil War
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Charles Hudson VC
Douglas Wimberley
Miles Dempsey

The 46th Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army raised in 1939 that saw distinguished service during World War II, fighting in the Battle of France and the Battle of Dunkirk where it was evacuated and later in North Africa, Italy and Greece.

History[edit]

Throughout the spring and summer of 1939, the Territorial Army (TA) was ordered to be doubled in size, as the threat of a European war with Nazi Germany was an increasing likelihood. As a result, the 46th Infantry Division came into existence in April 1939 as the 2nd Line duplicate of the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, although the headquarters of 46th Division only assumed command on 2 October 1939, slightly less than a month after World War II began, under the command of Major-General Algernon Lee Ransome. Like its parent 49th Division, the 46th drew men primarily from the North Midlands and the West Riding areas of England and initially consisted of the 137th, 138th and 139th Infantry Brigades, together with supporting units.[1]

Universal Carriers of the 2/5th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment in Scotland, 5 December 1940.

In late April 1940 the 46th Infantry Division, now commanded by Major-General Henry Osborne Curtis, was sent to France to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The division arrived on 24 April, came under command of HQ Lines of Communication, BEF, alongside the 12th (Eastern) and 23rd (Northumbrian) Divisions. It was poorly trained, however, and was assigned as a labour and training unit and lacked most of its artillery and signals units but ended up suffering very heavy casualties fighting the German Army in the Battle of France and, with the rest of the BEF, was forced to retreat to Dunkirk and was evacuated to Britain. However, the 2/6th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment, of the 137th Infantry Brigade were not evacuated with the rest of the division as they had been cut off when the Germans cut through Northern France and were instead attached to 'A' Infantry Brigade, previously the 25th Infantry Brigade, of the Beauman Division and later under command of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division. The battalion later managed to avoid the surrender of the 51st (Highland) and around 500 men were successfully evacuated to the United Kingdom.[2]

Upon returning to the United Kingdom, the 46th Division was sent to Scotland where it joined Scottish Command[3] and, due to the heavy casualties it suffered, was reformed with large numbers of conscripts. In early 1941 it came under command of II Corps. In late 1941 the division was sent to Kent, where it came under command of XII Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery, in Southern Command, serving alongside the 43rd (Wessex) and 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Divisions, on anti-invasion duties. In mid-1942, it was decided to reorganise the division as a 'mixed' division and thus, on 20 July 1942, the 137th Infantry Brigade left the division to begin its conversion to armour as the 137th Armoured Brigade. The following month, however, there was a change of plan; the division was to remain as an infantry division and the 128th (Hampshire) Infantry Brigade, from the 43rd (Wessex) Division, was reassigned to the 46th. The division remained with XII Corps until 15 August 1942, where it came under control of the War Office and, on 24 August, came under command of British First Army.[4]

The division, under Major-General Harold Freeman-Attwood since November 1941, left the United Kingdom on 6 January 1943 to fight in the final stages of the North African Campaign. The 46th landed on 17 January and fought in the Tunisia Campaign–with 128th (Hampshire) Brigade in particular bearing the brunt of Operation Ochsenkopf. The campaign finally came to an end in May 1943, with the surrender of nearly 250,000 German and Italian soldiers becoming prisoners of war (POWs).

40mm Bofors gun of 579 Battery, 115th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, 46th Division, 7 January 1944.

From there on the division, under the command of Major-General John Hawkesworth, fought throughout the Italian Campaign in late 1943 with both the U.S. Fifth Army and the British Eighth Army, fighting in tough battles such as that at the initial Salerno landings in September 1943, followed by fighting at the Volturno Line, the Winter Line, the Bernhardt Line, First Battle of Monte Cassino and later the Gothic Line.

In late December/early 1945, the division, now commanded by Major-General Stephen Weir, a New Zealand Army officer, was sent to re-occupy Greece, where they came under command of Lieutenant-General Ronald Scobie's III Corps. During the fighting in Italy the 46th Division suffered over 9,200 casualties, including 1,447 officers and men killed in action, with a further 6,476 wounded and 1,957 missing.[5]

The formation sign worn by members of the 46th Division bore a Sherwood Forest oak tree.[6]

Order of battle[edit]

The 46th Infantry Division was constituted as follows during the war:[7]

137th Infantry Brigade (left 20 July 1942)[8]

138th Infantry Brigade[9]

139th Infantry Brigade[10]

137th Armoured Brigade (from 20 July 1942, left 14 August 1942)[11]

128th Infantry Brigade (from 15 August 1942) [12]

  • 1/4th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment
  • 5th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment
  • 2/4th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment (left 9 May 1943)
  • 2nd Battalion Hampshire Regiment (from 10 May 1943)

Divisional Troops

Commanders[edit]

Victoria Cross recipients[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Anonymous, The Story of 46 Division 1939–1945
  • 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.