56th (London) Infantry Division
|1st London Division|
56th (1st London) Division
1st London Infantry Division
56th (London) Infantry Division
56th (London) Armoured Division
The Shoulder patch of the 56th (1st London) Division, First World War.
|Garrison/HQ||New Broad Street (1914)|
Finsbury Barracks (1939)
|Nickname(s)||"The Black Cats"|
|Engagements||First World War|
Second World War
|Sir Charles Amyatt Hull|
Sir Claude Liardet
Sir Montagu Stopford
Sir Gerald Templer
Sir Harold Pyman
The formation badge for the 56th Division during the Second World War featured Dick Whittington's black cat on a red background.
The 56th (London) Infantry Division was a Territorial Army infantry division of the British Army, which served under several different titles and designations. The division served in the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War. Demobilised after the war, the division was reformed in 1920 and saw active service again in the Second World War in Tunisia and Italy. The division was again disbanded in 1946 and reformed first as an armoured formation and then as an infantry division before final disbandment in 1961.
The 1st London Division was one of 14 new infantry divisions created in 1908 when the former Volunteer Force was converted into the Territorial Force (TF) as the part-time reserve force of the British Army. It was a wholly new formation, although its three infantry brigade headquarters (HQs) had previously existed in the Volunteers, as had most of its constituent units. The division comprised the first 12 battalions of the all-TF London Regiment, the first four London brigades of the Royal Field Artillery and the former Tower Hamlets Engineers; most of the supporting arms were newly-raised. Essentially, all these units were based in inner London, while the 2nd London Division consisted of TF units recruited from suburban London. 1st London Division's HQ was in New Broad Street in the City of London.
First World War
On the outbreak of war in August 1914 the division's units had just left for their annual training camps, the 1st and 3rd London Brigades around Wool, Dorset, and the 2nd at Eastbourne, Sussex. They immediately returned to their drill halls to mobilise, and then proceeded to their initial war stations guarding railways in Southern England. The TF was now invited to volunteer for Overseas Service, and most units did so; those men who had signed up for Home Service only, together with the floods of volunteers enlisting, were formed into reserve or 2nd Line units and formations with a '2/' prefix, while the parent unit took a '1/' prefix. 1/1st London Division immediately began supplying reinforcements to the Regular Army overseas. On 1 September the whole of 1/1st London Brigade, with its associated signal and medical units, set off to relieve the regular garrison of Malta; individual battalions joined the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. By early January 1915 the 1st Line division had ceased to exist and its remaining units had been attached to its 2nd Line duplicate, the 2/1st London Division.
On 7 January 1916 the Army Council authorised the re-formation in France of the division as 56th (1/1st London) Division.[a] As many as possible of the original units or other London units were assembled and by 21 February the bulk of the division had concentrated around Hallencourt between Abbeville and Arras under the command of Maj-Gen C.P. Amyatt Hull. Although the division was effectively a new formation, its constituent units were now experienced in trench warfare. After shaking down it took its place in the line in the Hébuterne sector.
56th Division's first operation as a complete formation was the Attack on the Gommecourt Salient on 1 July 1916, the First day on the Somme. Extensive (and obvious) preparations were made for this attack, which was a diversion from the main Somme Offensive. The leading battalions gained a lodgement in the German front line with comparatively light losses, but they came under heavy counter-attack and were cut off from reinforcements and ammunition resupply by an intense barrage laid down in No man's land by the German artillery. At nightfall the survivors made their way back to British lines, the division having lost over 4300 casualties, mainly among the seven attacking battalions.
56th (1/1st London) Division served on the Western Front for the rest of the war, taking part in the following operations:
- Battle of Ginchy (9 September)
- Battle of Flers–Courcelette (15–22 September)
- Battle of Morval (25–27 September)
- Capture of Combles (26 September)
- Battle of the Transloy Ridges (1–9 October)
- German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line (14 March-5 April)
- Battle of Arras (9 April–4 May)
- Battle of Langemarck (16–17 August)
- Battle of Cambrai (21 November–2 December)
- Battle of Arras (28 March)
- Battle of Albert (23 August)
- Battle of the Scarpe (26–30 August)
- Battle of the Canal du Nord (27 September–1 October)
- Battle of Cambrai (8–9 October)
- Pursuit to the Selle (9–12 October)
- Battle of the Sambre (4 November)
- Passage of the Grand Honnelle (5–7 November)
By midnight on 10 November the division was relieved in the front line and drawn back into Corps support, but the divisional artillery remained in action until the Cease Fire sounded at 11.00 on 11 November when the Armistice with Germany came into force. During the 1010 days of its existence since re-formation, the division spent 100 days in active operations, 385 days in an active sector, 195 days in a quiet sector and 100 days at rest, although the divisional artillery was frequently left in the line after the withdrawal of the infantry of the division. Its total casualties were 1470 officers and 33,339 other ranks, killed, wounded and missing.
After the Armistice the division was engaged in road-mending etc. The first parties left for demobilisation in mid-December and the division gradually dwindled. Divisional HQ left for England on 18 May 1919 and the final cadre followed on 10 June. The division. began reforming in London District in April 1920.
In 1935 the increasing need for anti-aircraft (AA) defence, particularly for London, was addressed by converting the 47th (2nd London) Division into the 1st Anti-Aircraft Division. A number of London infantry battalions and were also converted to the AA role. The remainder were concentrated in 56th (1st London) Division, which henceforth was simply designated The London Division, with its HQ at Finsbury Barracks. It was converted into a two-brigade motorised division in 1938 as 1st (London) Motor Division, under Major-General Claude Liardet, the first TA officer appointed to command a division. After the Munich Crisis the TA once again expanded by creating duplicate units, and the 2nd (London) Motor Division began to come ito existence in March 1939.
Second World War
1st (London) Motor Division mobilised at the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. It was reorganised as an infantry division in June 1940 and renamed the 56th (London) Infantry Division on 18 November 1940. The divisional insignia during the Second World War was changed to an outline of a black cat in a red background. The cat stood for Dick Whittington's cat, a symbol of London.
The division remained in the United Kingdom during the Battle of France, moving to the Middle East in November 1942, where it served in Iraq and Palestine, until moving to Egypt in March 1943 and thence forward to Libya and the front, in April. This involved the division, commanded by Major-General Eric Miles, travelling some 2,300 miles (3,700 km) by road, a notable achievement and testament to the organization of the division and the ability of its mechanics and technicians. The division, minus the 168th Brigade, fought in the final stages of the Tunisian Campaign, where it suffered heavy casualties, including its GOC, Major-General Miles, who had been in command since October 1941. He was replaced by Major-General Douglas Graham.
The division sat out the Allied invasion of Sicily and moved to Italy in September 1943, where they fought in the landings at Salerno under the command of the British X Corps. During this time the 201st Guards Brigade joined the division, to replace the 168th Brigade which returned to the division in October, although the 201st remained attached until January 1944. The 56th Division then crossed the Volturno Line in October and took part in the fighting around the Bernhardt Line. In January 1944, the 56th Division, now commanded by Major-General Gerald Templer, saw service in the Battle of Monte Cassino, serving there until February 1944 and participated in the Anzio Campaign until relieved in March.
After being withdrawn to Egypt at the end of March, the division, under Major-General John Whitfield, returned to Italy in July 1944, where it took part in the Battles along the Gothic Line and remained there until after Victory in Europe Day. During the fighting of 1944 and 1945, some of the infantry battalions that suffered heavy casualties were disbanded, to make up for an acute manpower shortage. The division also took part in Operation Grapeshot, the Allied offensive which ended the war in Italy.
After crossing the Volturno in October 1943, the division entered the town of Calvi Vecchia. Their attempts to radio the Fifth Army to cancel a planned bombing on the town failed. As a last resort, the 56th released an American homing pigeon, named G.I. Joe, which carried a message that reached the allies just as the planes were being warmed up. The attack was called off and the town was saved from the planned air assault.
In 1946, the 56th Division was demobilised then re-constituted in 1947 as the 56th (London) Armoured Division. On 20 December 1955, the Secretary of State for War informed the House of Commons that the armoured divisions and the 'mixed' division were to be converted to infantry. The 56th Division was one of the eight divisions placed on a lower establishment for home defence only. The territorial units of the Royal Armoured Corps were reduced to nine armoured regiments and eleven reconnaissance regiments by amalgamating pairs of regiments and the conversion of four RAC units to infantry.
On 20 July 1960, a further reduction of the T.A. was announced in the House of Commons. The Territorials were to be reduced from 266 fighting units to 195. The reductions were carried out in 1961, mainly by the amalgamation of units. On 1 May 1961, the T.A. divisional headquarters were merged with regular army districts and matched with Civil Defence Regions, to aid the mobilisation for war. The division ceased to exist as an independent entity and was linked to London District.
The 4th Battalion, Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment was formed in 1961, by the amalgamation of the 6th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment and the 23rd London Regiment, with a Battalion HQ and HQ Company at Kingston upon Thames. It formed part of 47th (London) Infantry Brigade (56th London Division/District). An echo of the 56th Division emerged again from 1987–1993, when the public duties battalions in the London District were grouped as the 56th Infantry Brigade.
During the First World War, 56th (1/1st London) Division wore as its formation sign the sword symbolising the martyrdom of Paul the Apostle from the coat of arms of the City of London. A new sign consisting of the red sword of St Paul on a khaki background was authorised in 1936 for the London Division in case of war, but it was never used.
From 1948 56th (London) Armoured Division wore a blue knight's helmet superimposed on the upright red sword, but in 1951 it resumed the black cat, now with the red sword superimposed.
Victoria Cross recipients
- Corporal James McPhie, 416th (Edinburgh) Field Company, Royal Engineers, First World War
- Private George Mitchell, 1st Battalion, London Scottish, Second World War
General officers commanding
|Appointed||General officer commanding (GOC)|
|March 1908-December 1909||Major-General Alfred E. Codrington|
|December 1909 – February 1912||Major-General Arthur H. Henniker-Major|
|February 1912 – January 1915||Major-General William Fry|
|February 1916 – July 1917||Major-General C. P. Amyatt Hull|
|July–August 1917||Major-General W. Douglas Smith|
|August 1917 – April 1918||Major-General Frederick A. Dudgeon|
|May 1918 – June 1919||Major-General C. P. Amyatt Hull|
|June 1919 – June 1923||Major-General Sir Cecil E. Pereira|
|June 1923 – June 1927||Major-General Sir Geoffrey P. T. Feilding|
|June 1927 – June 1931||Major-General Hubert Isacke|
|June 1931 – June 1934||Major-General Winston Dugan|
|June 1934 – June 1938||Major-General Percy R. C. Commings|
|June 1938 – January 1941||Major-General Claude F. Liardet|
|January–October 1941||Major-General Montagu G. N. Stopford|
|October 1941 – May 1943||Major-General Eric G. Miles|
|May–October 1943||Major-General Douglas A. H. Graham|
|October 1943 – July 1944||Major-General Gerald W. R. Templer|
|July 1944 – September 1946||Major-General John Y. Whitfield|
|September 1946 – September 1948||Major-General Gerald L. Verney|
|September 1948 – August 1949||Major-General Robert H. B. Arkwright|
|August 1949 – April 1951||Major-General Harold E. Pyman|
|April 1951 – March 1954||Major-General Richard W. Goodbody|
|March 1954 – April 1957||Major-General David Dawnay|
|April 1957 – March 1959||Major-General Robert N. H. C. Bray|
|March 1959 – 1960||Major-General Cecil M. F. Deakin|
Order of battle
|1st London Division (1908–1915)|
1st London Brigade (left 4 September 1914)
2nd London Brigade (broken up November 1914)
3rd London Brigade (broken up April 1915)
Divisional Royal Army Medical Corps
1st London Divisional Transport and Supply Column, Army Service Corps (left 21 December 1914)
|56th (1/1st London Division) (1916–1919)|
Divisional Mounted Troops
56th (1/1st London) Divisional Artillery
|1st (London) Motor Division (1939)|
1st London Divisional artillery
1st Battalion, Queen Victoria's Rifles (Motorcycle Battalion)
|56th (London) Infantry Division (1940–1946)|
3rd London Infantry Brigade (to 2nd London Division 6 October 1939)
56th (London) Divisional Artillery
|56th (London) Armoured Division (1947–1956)|
56th (London) Divisional artillery
Electrical and Mechanical Engineers:
- List of British divisions in World War I
- List of British divisions in World War II
- British Army Order of Battle (September 1939)
- Independent Company
- As a result, the 1st London Division received a higher number (56) than the 2nd London Division, which had already gone to France as a complete formation and received a lower number (47). This anomaly was maintained by their successor formations.
- Money Barnes, Appendix IV.
- Becke, Pt 2a, pp. 141–7.
- Edwards, pp. 29–30.
- Grey, p. xxxii.
- Litchfield, pp. 150–3.
- Wheeler-Holohan & Wyatt, p. 11.
- London Regiment at Regiments.org.
- London Regiment at Long, Long Trail.
- 56th (1st London) Division at Long, Long Trail.
- London Regiment at Regimental Warpath.
- 56th (1st London) Division at Regimental Warpath.
- Anon, London Rifle Brigade, p. 7.
- Godfrey, pp. 12–7.
- Grey, pp. 1–8.
- Grimwade, pp. 1–6.
- Keeson, pp 1–12.
- Digby-Planck, pp. 12–5.
- Wheeler-Holohan & Wyatt, pp. 18–24.
- Bailey & Hollier, pp. 60–6.
- Edmonds, 1916, Vol I, p. 24.
- Grimwade, pp. 132–8.
- Dudley Ward, pp. 3–18.
- Bailey & Hollier, pp. 72–9.
- Edmonds, 1916, Vol I, pp. 453–64, 471–3.
- Grimwade, pp. 139–69.
- Dudley Ward, pp. 18–48.
- Wheeler-Holohan & Wyatt, pp. 42–58.
- Dudley Ward, pp. 313–4.
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- Digby Planck, pp. 225–7.
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- Litchfield, p. 4.
- "The London Division" (PDF). British military history. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
- Edwards, p. 116.
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- Joslen, pp. 37–8.
- "badge, formation, 56th (London) Infantry Division & 1st (London) Infantry Division". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
- Blechman, pp. 35–6.
- Yourdemocracy.newstatesman.com Archived 2 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- Beckett 2008, p. 180.
- Beckett 2008, pp. 183, 185.
- Surrey History Centre
- Edwards, p. 99.
- Edwards, pp. 177, 195, 218.
- Edwards, pp. 195, 204, 218.
- Becke, pp. 141–7.
- Edwards, p. 195.
- Dudley Ward, Appendix.
- Monthly Army List, August 1914.
- Watson & Rinaldi, p. 11.
- Watson & Rinaldi, p. 36.
- Lord & Watson, pp. 168–70.
- Nalder, Appendix 4, pp. 606–7.
- Young, Annex Q.
- Edwards, pp. 117–8.
- Joslen, pp. 227–8.
- Joslen, pp. 230–1.
- Joslen, p. 233.
- Joslen, pp. 282–3.
- Joslen, pp. 265–6.
- Joslen, p. 269
- The National Archives (TNA), Kew, file WO 166/1527.
- Watson & Rinaldi, pp. 143, 162–3, 168, 170.
- Edwards, pp. 192–3.
- Watson, TA 1947.
- Litchfield, Appendix 5.
- 235–265 Rgts RA at British Army 1945 on.
- 289–322 Rgts RA at British Army 1945 on.
- 592–638 Rgts RA at British Army 1945 on.
- Edwards, pp. 192–217.
- Watson & Rinaldi, p. 291.
- 80–117 Rgts RE at British Army 1945 on.
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- Maj C.A. Cuthbert Keeson, The History and Records of Queen Victoria's Rifles 1792–1922, London: Constable, 1923//Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2002, ISBN 978-1-843422-17-4.
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- Maj C.H. Dudley Ward, The Fifty Sixth Division, 1st London Territorial Division, 1914–1918, London: John Murray, 1921/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2001, ISBN 978-1-843421-11-5.
- Graham E. Watson & Richard A. Rinaldi, The Corps of Royal Engineers: Organization and Units 1889–2018, Tiger Lily Books, 2018, ISBN 978-171790180-4.
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