50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division

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For the equivalent formation in World War I, see 50th (Northumbrian) Division.
50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division
50th (Northumbrian) Infantry (Reserve) Division
50 inf div -vector.svg
Insignia of the 50th Division
Active 1939–1945
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
Type Infantry
Role Motorised infantry
Size Division, approximately 18,000 men
Part of XXX Corps
Engagements Fall of France
Ypres-Comines Canal
Mersa Matruh
Battle of Gazala
First Battle of El Alamein
Second Battle of El Alamein
Mareth Line
Operation Husky
D Day
Invasion of Normandy
Operation Perch
Battle for Caen
Operation Bluecoat
Operation Pugilist
Operation Market Garden
Maj. Gen. G. Le Q Martel
Maj. Gen. W. H. Ramsden
Maj. Gen. J. S. Nichols
Maj. Gen. S. C. Kirkman
Maj. Gen. D. A. Graham
Maj. Gen. L. O. Lyne

The 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army that saw distinguished service in World War II. Pre-war, the division was part of the Territorial Army and the two Ts in the divisional insignia represent the two boundaries to its recruitment area, the rivers Tweed and Trent, the old boundaries of Northumbria.[1] The division served in almost all of the major engagements of the European War from 1940 until late 1944 and also served with distinction in North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean from mid-1941 to 1943. The 50th Division was one of two British divisions (the other being the 3rd) to land in Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944, where it landed on Gold Beach. Four men of the division were awarded the Victoria Cross during the war, more than any other division of the British Army during the Second World War.

France and the BEF[edit]


In September 1939, shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, 50th (Northumbrian) Motorised Division was part of Southern Command. In October 1939, the division was sent to the Cotswolds and in January 1940 it was moved to France to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), stationed on the Franco-Belgian border.[2] Initially organised as a motorised infantry division, it was reorganized in May 1940 as an infantry division, after receiving the 25th Infantry Brigade and joined the 3rd and 4th Regular divisions II Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Alan Brooke. The division fought in the withdrawal to Dunkirk and also took part in the British counter-attack at Arras.


The Arras counter-attack, 21 May 1940

During the Battle of France a crisis for the Allies developed to the south, where the German Army's spearheads had pierced the PeronneCambrai gap and were threatening Boulogne and Calais, cutting the BEF's lines of communication and separating it from the main French armies. A plan by General Weygand to close this gap included Frankforce, consisting of the 5th and 50th divisions and the 1st Army Tank Brigade. The 5th Infantry Division was to hold the line of the river Scarpe to the East of Arras, while the other two formations attacked to the south of that city. During the afternoon of 21 May, the attack by the 50th Division and the 1st Tank Brigade was seen progressing south from Arras. This was to be the only big attack mounted by the BEF during the campaign. The attack was supposed to be conducted by two infantry divisions, comprising about 15,000 men. It was ultimately executed by the 6th and 8th battalions of the Durham Light Infantry of 151st Brigade supporting the 4th and 7th Royal Tank Regiments, totalling around 2,000 men, and reinforced by 74 tanks. The infantry battalions were split into two columns for the attack, which took place on 21 May. The right column initially made rapid progress, taking a number of German prisoners but they soon ran into German infantry and Waffen-SS, backed by air support and had many casualties.

The left column also enjoyed early success before running into opposition from the infantry units of Erwin Rommel's 7th Panzer Division. French cover enabled British troops to withdraw to their former positions that night. Next day the Germans regrouped and continued their advance; Frankforce had taken around 400 German prisoners and inflicted a similar number of casualties, as well as destroying a number of tanks. The attack had been so effective that 7th Panzer Division believed it had been attacked by five infantry divisions. The attack also made the German commanders nervous, and it may have been one of the factors for the surprise German halt on 24 May, that gave the BEF the slimmest of opportunities to begin evacuation from Dunkirk. Most of the 50th Division was fortunate enough to be evacuated from Dunkirk, but had to leave all its equipment behind. On returning home the 150th Infantry Brigade and 151st Infantry Brigade was joined by the 69th Infantry Brigade from the disbanded 23rd (Northumbrian) Division, the 50th Division duplicate, and become part of XII Corps, Home Forces. It remained in Britain on home defence against a German invasion until 22 April 1941, when it was sent to North Africa.

North Africa[edit]

Battle of Gazala[edit]

Main article: Battle of Gazala
The Battle of Gazala in May 1942, in the vicinity of Tobruk

In April 1941 the 50th Division was dispatched to the Middle East first via Cyprus, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and then into Libya as part of XIII Corps in the British Eighth Army, one of the best-known formations of the British Army during the Second World War. In 1942, Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps broke through the Allied defensive line at Gazala and the Eighth Army ordered them to abandon their positions. The "Gazala Line" was a series of occupied "boxes" each of brigade strength set out across the desert with minefields and wire watched by regular patrols between the boxes. The Free French were to the south at the Bir Hakeim box. The line was not equally staffed with a greater number of troops covering the coast leaving the south less protected.

By late May Rommel was ready. Facing him on the Gazala defences were 1st South African Division, nearest the coast, 50th (Northumbrian) Division (on their left) and 1st Free French Brigade furthest left at Bir Hakeim. The British 1st and 7th Armoured divisions waited behind the main line as a mobile counter-attacking force while 2nd South African Division formed a garrison at Tobruk and 5th Indian Infantry Division (which had arrived in April to relieve 4th Indian Infantry Division) were held in reserve.

On 27 May, although first spotted by the 4th South African Armoured Car Regiment at first light, the speed of the German advance was so swift that at about 8:30 am they overran the 7th Armoured Division HQ. This scattered the 7th Motor Brigade, capturing Frank Messervy, then commanding. He escaped later the next day. The 7th Motor Brigade withdrew to the Retma Box, 15 miles (24 km) east of Bir Hakeim, while 4th Armoured Brigade fought all day to stem the attackers.

The 4th Armoured Brigade's 'B' Echelon was then overrun and the 1st KRRC (Kings Royal Rifle Corps), had to withdraw to the Retma Box and then on to El Duda. On the same day the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, which was under the control of 7th Armoured Division, was also overwhelmed and did not reform for some days. By the afternoon of the 27th, the German attack had shattered the 7th Armoured Division and they were in position to assault the 201st Guards Motor Brigade in the Knightsbridge Box. Once again the British armour had been committed piecemeal, although in this case there was little other choice.

The Germans now attacked the Box at Retma which was garrisoned by 9th KRRC, 2nd Rifle Brigade, C Bty 4th RHA, and a Rhodesian anti-tank unit. Accompanied by heavy artillery fire the panzers swarmed in, swiftly overrunning the 9th KRRC, with the rest of the garrison then moving back to east of Bir El Gubi. The Germans now pushed their panzers on to the north, moving behind the Gazala Boxes, but British resistance now stiffened. Thus unable to maintain their supply route round the south flank, the Germans cleared two paths through the minefield either side of the 150th Infantry Brigade Box and very heavy fighting took place in this area which was to become known as The Cauldron.

150th Brigade, with field and anti-tank artillery, held the Sidi Muftah box between the Trigh el Abd and Trigh Capuzzo, along which the enemy cut supply lines through the British minefields. The brigade kept the supply lines under artillery fire and, although it was unable to stop the flow of traffic, it made the route so ineffective that the enemy armoured divisions to the east of the minefields were reduced to a parlous state for petrol, ammunition and food. Their water ration was down to half a cup a man. Against this isolated brigade, the enemy committed parts of 15 Panzer, Trieste Motorised and 90 Light Divisions, supported finally by heavy bombing attacks.

Panzerarmee Afrika said in its daily battle report: "The encircled enemy, supported by numerous infantry tanks, again resisted most stubbornly, Each separate element within the fortress-like strengthened defences had to be fought for. The enemy suffered extraordinary heavy, bloody losses. Eventually the operation, which also caused considerable losses to our troops, ended in complete success"

On 28 May 4th Armoured Brigade attacked a battle group of the German 90th Light Infantry Division. The 7th Armoured Brigade harried enemy positions near Bir El Gubi. The German 15th Panzer Division came to halt near the Knightsbridge Box, being seriously low on fuel and ammunition.

On 29 May the German advance had stopped. The Germans started to open lanes through the British minefield, but they were engaged by artillery from Knightsbridge and the Guards. The Axis forces awaited the British counter-attack in the open desert east of Knightsbridge, with the British minefields and the Guards Box still at their rear. The German plan was for the British tanks to waste themselves against a well dug-in anti-tank screen, but a sandstorm blew up and the British attack did not really develop, with the 4th Armoured Brigade not attacking until the evening to engage the 90th Light Infantry Division again, near Bir-el Harmat.

On 30 May Rommel had been forced to concentrate his forces in a defensive position near the 150th Infantry Brigade Box, as his original position was not tenable and various attacks took place all day. On 31 May the British thought they had Rommel cornered and he himself contemplated surrender [citation required], but the Italian Trieste Division managed to open a route through the minefield and get a supply column to him. As the British had not attacked in any real form, the Axis forces took the offensive again with a fierce assault on the 150th Infantry Brigade Box, supported by Stukas, along with attacks on the French in the Bir Hakeim Box.

On 1 June the 150th Infantry Brigade Box fell at noon, with the fighting now opening up between the Guards and the Bir Hacheim Boxes. The 7th Motor Brigade continued to operate in "Jock columns" in No man's-land, shooting up enemy positions and transport. Rommel now struck out of his defensive positions in the Cauldron, with the British putting in attack after attack. At this time Major-General Herbert Lumsden commanding 1st Armoured Division, attempted to a combine forces with what was left of 7th Armoured Division, but this was not possible and a valuable chance to mount a coordinated counter-attack by both armoured divisions was lost.

150th Brigade, including its attached engineers, 232nd (Northumbrian) Field Company, Royal Engineers, was captured on 1 June, and never reformed.[3][4]


On 14 June Auchinleck authorised Ritchie to withdraw from the Gazala line. Stuck in boxes to the north of Knightsbridge, cut of by the Axis who were swarming towards Tobruk. 50th Northumbrian and 1st South African were ordered to break out east while the 15th and 21st Panzer tried to cut them off. The defenders in the El Adem Box and two neighbouring boxes held firm and the 1st South African Division was able to withdraw along the coastal road practically intact.[5] The road could not accommodate two divisions so the remaining two brigades of the 50th Northumbrian had to find an alternative. They could not retreat directly east because of the presence of the Axis armour so, instead, they attacked south west breaking through the lines of the Italian X Corps' Brescia and Pavia Divisions and headed south into the desert before turning east and heading back to friendly territory.[6] Weary units of 7th Armoured Division managed to delay the German armour allowing most of the 50th Northumbrian to escape and the 1st South African Division, withdrawing along the coast road lost only its rearguard. By now most of the British Eighth Army was in retreat to the El Alamein line.

General Auchinleck took direct command of the Eighth Army from General Ritchie, reversing the earlier decision to stand a Mersa Matruh and ordered a withdrawal to the secure line between the Qattara Depression and El Alamein. By 27 June Mersa Matruh fell. By now the Western Desert was a full of mixed up units all heading east, and with both sides using each other's transport it was difficult for both air forces to know who to attack and mistakes were made by both sides. This retreat became known as the Gazala Gallop. On 1 July After attacking west through the Italian Lines and then swinging east behind Rommel's forces, all the remaining units of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division were on or behind the Alamein Line. 50th Division did not take part in the First Battle of El Alamein, being held in reserve because it was understrength.

Second Battle of El Alamein[edit]

In the Second Battle of El Alamein, 50th (Northumbrian) Division was initially deployed in the south, where it was to attack the Italian 185th Parachute Division Folgore supported by elements of the British 7th Armoured Division. Since it was understrength, owing to the loss of the 150th Infantry Brigade, the 1st Free French Brigade and 1st Greek Brigade were attached to it for the battle. It was then transferred north to take part in Operation Supercharge.

Operation Supercharge[edit]

This phase of the battle began on 2 November at 1 am, with the objective of destroying enemy armour, forcing the enemy to fight in the open, reducing the Axis stock of petrol, attacking and occupying enemy supply routes, and causing the disintegration of the enemy army. The intensity and the destruction in Supercharge were greater than anything witnessed so far during this battle. The objective of this operation was Tell el Aqqaqir along the Rahman Track, which was the base of the Axis defence. This attack started with a seven-hour aerial bombardment focused on Tell el Aqqaqir and Sidi Abdel Rahman, followed by a four and a half hour barrage of 360 guns firing 15,000 shells. The initial thrust of Supercharge was to be carried out by 151st and 152nd Infantry brigades supported by the 9th Armoured Brigade. The infantry gained most of their objectives but, as with Operation Lightfoot, lanes could not be cleared through the minefields until night was almost over.


Mareth Line[edit]

The division fought in Tunisia, where Lieutenant-General Montgomery, commanding the Eighth Army, launched his major attack, Operation Pugilist, against the Mareth Line in the night of 19–20 March 1943. Elements of the division penetrated the line and established a bridgehead west of Zarat on 20–21 March but a determined counter-attack by 15th Panzer Division destroyed the pocket and established the line once again during 22 March. Montgomery then launched Operation Supercharge II, an outflanking maneuver via the Tebaga Gap. Montgomery reinforced the flanking attack, which on 26 March forced an Axis retreat that was completed by 31 March with the Eighth Army in pursuit.


Main article: Battle of Wadi Akarit

The Eighth Army and the U.S. II Corps continued their attacks over the next week, and eventually the Eighth Army broke the lines and the DAK was forced to abandon Gabes and retreat to join the other Axis forces far to the north. On the night of 5 April, Wadi Akarit was attacked and the "Tobruk" Battalion of the Italian San Marco Marines was destroyed, although casualties among the 6th Battalion, Green Howards of 69th Brigade had been severe; two senior officers, six senior NCOs and junior officers and one hundred and eighteen other ranks had been killed. [1]

"When we were about ten yards away we had reached the top of the slit trench and we killed any of the survivors", recalled British infantryman Bill Cheall of the 6th Green Howards, who had just seen his section leader shot down by a San Marco Marine. "It was no time for pussy footing, we were intoxicated with rage and had to kill them to pay for our fallen pal." [2]

General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim later said of the San Marco Marines in Tunisia in 1943, that they were "the best soldiers I ever commanded". *[3]

The Eighth Army's attack along the eastern coast of Tunisia lead eventually to the surrender of Axis forces in Africa. 250,000 men were taken prisoner, a number equal to that at Stalingrad.


Map of the Allied landings in Sicily on 10 July 1943

After Tunisia, the 50th Infantry Division was involved in the Sicily landings of 1943. The British Eighth Army was to operate in the eastern sector, and had as its objectives the port of Syracuse and the airfield at Pachino. Its XIII Corps, (which included the 50th Division), was to land south of Cap Murro Di Porco with the 5th Infantry Division on a two-brigade front,and the 50th Division on a one-brigade front. XIII Corps, was to move on to the port and airfield at Augusta, then to the airfields at Catania and Gerbini. When it landed at Avola, its objective was the hills above the landing beaches. The 168th (London) Infantry Brigade (containing the 1st Battalion, London Scottish, 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles and 10th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment) was detached from its parent unit, the 56th (London) Infantry Division, during this campaign. The 151st Infantry Brigade was ordered to advance towards Primosole Bridge. The order was for the 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, to lead the way to the Simeto River on which the Primosole Bridge stood. Primosole Bridge was a key bridge on the Sicilian coast near Mount Etna which the British required intact to continue their drive along the coast.

As part of the overall plan, the Commandos of No. 3 Commando were to capture the Ponti di Malati, another bridge just north of Lentini, to enable the 50th Infantry Division and 4th Armoured Brigade to sweep north over both bridges and then on to Catania. 1st and 2nd Parachute battalions of the 1st Parachute Brigade took the southern approaches, but the 3rd Parachute Battalion lacked the numbers to secure the northern approach. Heavily outnumbered, the handful of British Paras were forced to abandon the bridge after 24 hours, which was longer than the entire 1st Para Brigade was even supposed to hold it, and were saved from destruction by the arrival of the 9th Durham Light Infantry. On 16 July at 01:30, after an artillery bombardment of an hour, the 6th, 8th and 9th battalions of the Durham Light Infantry of 151st Brigade launched another attack to secure Primosole Bridge. They captured the north end of the Bridge but tanks and infantry scheduled to cross immediately afterwards to establish a bridgehead failed to do so because of the failure of British wireless sets. Only when a War Office observer riding a bicycle crossed the bridge to 'observe' the battle and was able to report with news of the success of the DLI did the tanks get forward. However five Sherman tanks were knocked out. Meanwhile, the infantry clung tenaciously to the small bridgehead established and fierce hand-to-hand fighting continued throughout the day.

After the fighting in Sicily the division, along with the 7th Armoured Division, "The Desert Rats", and 51st (Highland) Infantry Division, was then recalled from the Eighth Army in Italy, on the wishes of General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, to prepare for the invasion of Normandy.

Salerno Mutiny[edit]

On 16 September 1943 men from the 50th Division and the 51st (Highland) Division, totalling 600 men, took part in the Salerno Mutiny when they were assigned to be replacements for other British divisions taking part in the Italian invasion. About 1,500 men had sailed from Tripoli, on the understanding that they were to rejoin their units in Sicily. Once aboard ship, they were told that they were being taken to Salerno, to join the 46th Infantry Division, fighting as part of the U.S. Fifth Army. Many of the soldiers felt they had been deliberately misled and refusing postings to unfamiliar units. They were addressed by the commander of X Corps, Lieutenant-General Richard McCreery, who admitted that a mistake had been made and promised that they would rejoin their old units once Salerno was secure. The men were also warned of the consequences of mutiny in wartime. Of the three hundred men left, 108 decided to follow orders, leaving a hard core of 192. They were all charged with mutiny under the Army Act, the largest number of men accused at any one time in all of British military history. The accused were shipped to Algeria, where the courts-martial opened towards the end of October. All were found guilty and three sergeants were sentenced to death. The sentences were subsequently suspended, though the men faced constant harassment for the rest of their military careers.

Operation Overlord[edit]


On 19 October 1943 the division was withdrawn to Britain for reforming and training before landing on Gold Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944, with the 231st Infantry Brigade (previously an independent unit formed from regular troops stationed on Malta) permanently attached, and the 56th Infantry Brigade temporarily attached (eventually, the 56th would be transferred to the 49th Infantry Division). The 50th Infantry Division was to establish a beachhead between Arromanches and Ver-sur-Mer and then head south towards Route Nationale 13 linking Caen with Bayeux. The first wave comprised the 231st and 69th Infantry brigades. Once the initial assault was over and the beachhead established, the follow-up brigades the 56th and 151st would push inland to the south-west towards RN 13 supported by the tanks of the 8th Armoured Brigade. The 50th Infantry Division was also ordered to meet up with Canadian troops of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division coming from Juno Beach.

Gold Beach[edit]

Universal Carrier of 50th Division wades ashore D-Day 6 June 1944.

Gold Beach was the codename given for the central invasion beach during the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944. It lay between Omaha Beach and Juno Beach, was 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) wide and divided into four sectors. From West to East they were Item, Jig, King and Love. The task of invading Gold Beach was given to the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division commanded by Major-General Douglas Alexander Graham, and the 8th Armoured Brigade of the British Second Army, under Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey. The beach was assaulted by the brigades of the 50th Infantry Division; on the west was the 231st Brigade, followed by the 56th Brigade, attached to this was a regiment of DD tanks from The Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers), the infantry assault battalions that attacked in the west were; the 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, and the 1st Battalion, Dorset Regiment.

On the east 69th Brigade, followed by 151st Brigade, again a regiment of DD tanks was attached, they were from the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, the infantry assault battalions that attacked in the East were; the 5th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, and the 6th Battalion, Green Howards. Their primary objective was to seize the town of Bayeux, the Caen–Bayeux road and the port of Arromanches with the secondary objectives being to make contact with the Canadians landing at Juno Beach to the east. The 716th Static Infantry Division commanded by Generalleutnant Wilhelm Richter, and elements of the 1st Battalion of the German 352nd Infantry Division commanded by Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss, defended the Channel coast for the Germans. H-Hour for the Gold beach landing was set for 0725 hours. At 0725 hours, the 50th (Northumbrian) Division landed on Gold beach, then moving to Bayeux.

The landing craft were deployed 7 miles (11 km) from the beach, compared to the American tanks, which were deployed 12 miles (19 km) off the beaches, this meant they had a shorter run in. It was decided that the DD-tanks would go all the way up to shore instead of floating ashore and thus, the men had cover. The successful launch of almost every DD-tank onto the beach in fighting condition. Company Sergeant-Major Stanley Hollis of the Green Howards was already a seasoned veteran when he landed on Gold Beach. His first action was the single handed capture of a pill box which had been bypassed by the first waves of troops. Later that day he led an assault to destroy German gun positions. For his action he was awarded the Victoria cross. He was the only soldier to earn the medal on D-Day. The Division suffered 400 casualties while securing their beachhead. By midnight on 6 June, 24,970 men had landed on Gold Beach, and had penetrated 6 miles (9.7 km) into occupied France. They fulfilled one of their secondary objectives by meeting up with the Canadians, who had landed at Juno Beach but failed in their primary objective of reaching the Caen–Bayeux road. However they had established a foothold into France.

Operation Perch[edit]

Main article: Operation Perch
Members of the Green Howards (of either the 6th or 7th battalions) talking to French civilians, 23 August 1944.

Operation Perch was the second attempt to capture Caen after the direct attack from Sword Beach on 6 June failed. 50th Division was ordered to strike south to capture Bayeux, then Tilly-sur-Seulles following which the 7th Armoured Division would capture Villers-Bocage and Evrecy.[7][8] The 50th Division attack bogged down in front of Tilly-sur-Seulles, which resulted in heavy fighting with the Panzer Lehr Division. With the division unable to break through the Panzer Lehr defences, they attacked on the flank of Tilly-sur-Seulles near the town of Lingèvres. These attacks were a success enabling the British infantry to eat away at the German defence line with one commander stating this was his best battalion action of the war.

Officers inspect a German Mk IV tank knocked out by the Durham Light Infantry, 11 June 1944.

On 11 June the 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry entered Tilly-sur-Seulles, while tanks of the 22nd Armoured Brigade were pulled back. The next day the British were pushed out of the town. After this failure General Montgomery attempted an envelopment manoeuvre through Livry toward Villers-Bocage on 13 June. On 15 June in the evening General Fritz Bayerlein mustered all tanks available to contain a counter-attack of the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division and 50th Division. On 16 June the 50th Division renewed the assault. After several hours of raging battle the 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment of the 56th Infantry Brigade entered Tilly-sur-Seulles, while the 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry and tanks of the 24th Lancers pierced west of the town and formed a hedgehog defence. The next day the British liberated the ruins of Tilly-sur-Seulles[9] after the town had been lost and recaptured 23 times before it was finally liberated.[10] [4] The fighting became known as the Battle of Tilly-sur-Seulles. The 50th Division was considered to have performed very well in Normandy, but had suffered almost 5,000 casualties. The division was one of the driving forces behind the British advance, and was exhausted by the end of the battle. After the German collapse, XXX Corps including 50th Division quickly advanced to the north-east and liberated both Antwerp and Brussels in Belgium. There the advance was halted because there was a shortage of fuel.

Market Garden[edit]


Operation Market Garden (17–25 September 1944) was an Allied military operation in the Netherlands and Germany. Garden consisted primarily of XXX Corps and was initially spearheaded by the Guards Armoured Division, with the 43rd Wessex and 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division in reserve. with the 231st Infantry Brigade detached to help support the advance of Guards Armoured Division.

17 September 1944 at 13.30hrs the 50th Division watched as one of the largest air armadas of the war pass overhead. The division's field artillery 74th, 90th and 124th Field Regiments and the Mortars of the 2nd Battalion, Cheshire Regiment took part in the opening barrage. During the day the Irish Guards captured Valkenswaard and later on the infantry of 231st Brigade were called up to clear woods on the left of the Guards' advance. The following day 231st Brigade took over Valkenswaard, as the Guards advanced north on to Nijmegen.

22 September, 69th Brigade was in trouble when two battalions of infantry and a regiment of tanks cut the main Corps centre-line near Uden, 8 miles (13 km) south of the bridge at Grave. The brigade was cut in half with East Yorkshires in the north while the Green Howards were in the south. The next day, the Germans attempted to strengthen their grip on the road by attacking Veghel, farther south, they were met with very warm reception. The American infantry, British tanks and artillery, working in an improvised but close co-operation, drove off the enemy with heavy losses it was a fine example of allied co-operation in the field. Rations were short because of the road congestion. 69th Brigade were forced to eat captured German rations.

Infantry of 50th (Northumbrian) Division moving up past a knocked-out German 88mm gun near 'Joe's Bridge' over the Meuse-Escaut Canal in Belgium, 16 September 1944

23 September, 151st and 231st Brigades were ordered to move north and east of Eindhoven to guard the right flank while 69th Brigade, with 124th Fd Regt RA continued onward towards Nijmegen. On arrival there they came under command of the Guards Armoured Division with the task of capturing Bremmel, a village north of the river. This the 5th Battalion, East Yorks achieved on 25 September but the Germans were not happy at losing this village and kept them under heavy artillery fire for days.

26 September the 6th Green Howards were ordered to occupy Halderen, but the infantry ran into severe opposition and failed to capture their objective. The 69th Brigade now attacked in the direction of Halderen continued throughout the 27 September. During the day the East Yorks gained some ground as they were supported by a quick barrage. The airborne troops farther north at Arnhem had by now been withdrawn. The attempt to reach them by land had clearly failed and attempts to supply them by air had been only partially successful. Thus the final objective of Operation "Market Garden" Arnhem and the crossing of the Rhine defences had not been achieved.

30 September The whole of 50th Division was now tasked with guarding the bridge and bridgehead north of Nijmegen called the Island. The first serious German counter-attack came when seventy tanks and the equivalent of an infantry division was unleashed on the division. 69th Brigade and 5th Guards Brigade were holding the line, while another attack was put in against 43rd Division across the Nederrijn. The intensity of the attack on the 69th Brigade and the intensity of their defence can be judged by the fact that 124th Field Regiment RA fired a total of 12,500 25-pound shells during the action and 'B' Company of 2nd Cheshires fired 95,000 rounds of medium machine-gun fire. For nearly two months static warfare was the norm on the Island. The forward troops rotated regularly. The great bridge at Nijmegen was under constant shellfire and journeys over it were made at full speed. The casualties in the battles on the island in early October had been severe: almost 900 including 12 officers and 111 other ranks killed in action, 30 officers and 611 other ranks wounded and another 114 missing.

Return to England[edit]

Early in November Field Marshal Montgomery made a speech to the division's officers in a cinema in Bourg Leopold. Most of 50th Division would return to England as a training division for reinforcements. Since D-Day 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division had suffered total casualties of 488 officers and 6,932 ORs but had also assimilated 358 officers and 8,019 ORs. Many of these reinforcements were soon posted to other formations. The division stayed in north-west Europe until December 1944, when it was again returned to Britain, this time for the remainder of the war and was converted into a training division. At the end of the war, it was sent to Norway and converted into British Ground Forces, Norway.

Order of Battle[edit]

France, 1940[edit]

Officer Commanding: Major-General G. Le Q. Martel

25th Infantry Brigade

150th Infantry Brigade

151st Infantry Brigade

Divisional Troops

"Frank Force", Arras 1940[edit]

Left Column

  • 4th Royal Tank Regiment
  • 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
  • 368th Battery, 92nd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 206th Anti-Tank Battery, 52nd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • Platoon from 151st Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company
  • Company and Reconnaissance Platoon from 4th Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers

Right Column

  • 7th Royal Tank Regiment
  • 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
  • 365th Battery, 92nd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 260th Anti-Tank Battery, 65th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • Platoon from 151st Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company
  • Reconnaissance Platoon from 4th Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers

North Africa, 1942–1943[edit]

Officer Commanding: Major-General William Havelock Ramsden

69th Infantry Brigade

150th Infantry Brigade(destroyed at Battle of Gazala)

  • 4th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment
  • 4th Battalion, Green Howards
  • 5th Battalion, Green Howards

151st Infantry Brigade

  • 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
  • 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
  • 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry

Divisional Troops

Attached, North Africa[edit]

1st Free French Brigade

  • 2nd Battalion, French Foreign Legion
  • 3rd Battalion, French Foreign Legion
  • 22nd North African March Battalion
  • One Battalion from the Fusiliers Marins
  • One Marine Infantry Battalion
  • 17th Sappers Company
  • 1st Free French Artillery Regiment

1st Greek Infantry Brigade

  • 1st Greek Infantry Battalion
  • 2nd Greek Infantry Battalion
  • 3rd Greek Infantry Battalion
  • 1st Greek Artillery Battalion
  • 1st Greek Machine-Gun Company
  • 1st Greek Engineer Company

Sicily, 1943–1944[edit]

Officer Commanding: Major-General S. C. Kirkman

69th Infantry Brigade

151st Infantry Brigade

  • 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
  • 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
  • 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry

168th (London) Infantry Brigade

Divisional Troops

Attached to the Division

North West Europe Campaign, 1944–1945[edit]

Officer Commanding: Major-General Douglas Alexander Graham

69th Infantry Brigade

151st Infantry Brigade

231st Infantry Brigade

Divisional Troops

Attached, North-West Europe[edit]

56th Independent Infantry Brigade (from D-Day to August 1944)

8th Armoured Brigade (Normandy Campaign)

Recipients of the Victoria Cross[edit]

Time Line[edit]


  • September 1939 to January 1940 United Kingdom, an existing Territorial Army division, headquartered in Darlington. Organized as a two brigade motor division.
  • January to June 1940 France and Belgium.
  • June 1940 to April 1941 United Kingdom, reorganised into a three brigade infantry division.
  • June to July 1941 Egypt.
  • July 1941 to November 1941 Cyprus.
  • November 1941 to January 1942 Iraq.
  • January to February 1942 Syria.
  • February 1942 Egypt.
  • February to June 1942 Libya.
  • June to December 1942 Egypt.
  • December 1942 March 1943 Libya.
  • March to April 1943 Tunisia.
  • April to May 1943 Libya.
  • May to June 1943 Egypt.
  • July to October 1943 Sicily.
  • November 1943 to June 1944 United Kingdom.
  • June to December 1944 North-western Europe.
  • December 1944 to August 1945 United Kingdom as the 50th Infantry (Reserve) Division.
  • August 1945 (Division HQ only) Norway and retitled HQ British Land Forces Norway.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hammond, Aubrey. "1". The story of "Fifty Div". 1940s (Z.155 ed.). Cairo: Schindler's Press. p. 1. 
  2. ^ Banks 1946, p. 6.
  3. ^ Joslen, pp. 81–2, 334.
  4. ^ Richard A. Rinaldi, Royal Engineers, World War II at Orbat.com
  5. ^ Mackenzie, pp. 554–555
  6. ^ Clifford, pp. 269–272
  7. ^ Ellis, p. 247
  8. ^ Forty, p. 36
  9. ^ Ellis, p. 261
  10. ^ Forty, p. 182
  11. ^ Joslen p. 82


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]