59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division

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59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division
59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division
59 inf div -vector.svg
The shoulder insignia of the division: a slag heap and pit winding gear tower, denoting the association of the division with the Staffordshire area.
Active15 September 1939 – 19 October 1944[1]
BranchFlag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
TypeMotorised infantry
SizeWar establishment strength:
10,136-18,347 men[a]
EngagementsOperation Charnwood
Ralph Eastwood
Sir James Steele
Lewis Lyne

The 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army that saw active during the Second World War. The division, after training throughout the United Kingdom for four years from 1940 to 1944, served as part of the 21st Army Group during the early stages of the Battle of Normandy a few weeks after the D-Day landings, which took place on 6 June 1944. Broken up in mid-August, it was one of two divisions of the army group that was disbanded due to a very severe shortage of manpower in the British Army.


In the 1930s, tensions increased between Germany and the United Kingdom and its allies.[3] During late 1937 and throughout 1938, German demands for the annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland led to an international crisis. In an attempt to avoid war, Britain's Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in September and brokered the Munich Agreement. The agreement averted immediate war and allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland.[4] Chamberlain had intended the agreement to lead to further peaceful resolution of issues, but relations between both countries soon deteriorated.[5] On 15 March 1939, Germany breached the terms of the agreement by invading and occupying the remaining provinces of Bohemia and Moravia.[6]

In response, on 29 March, the British Secretary of State for War Leslie Hore-Belisha announced plans to increase the Territorial Army (TA) from 130,000 men to 340,000 and in so doing double the number of TA divisions.[7][b] The plan of action was for the existing units to recruit over their allowed establishments (aided by an increase in pay for Territorials, the removal of restrictions on promotion that had been a major hindrance to recruiting during the preceding years, the construction of better quality barracks and an increase in suppertime rations) and then form second-line divisions from small cadres that could be built upon.[7][12] As a result, the 59th Division was to be created as a second-line unit, a duplicate of the first-line 55th (West Lancashire) Motor Division.[13] In April, limited conscription was introduced. This resulted in 34,500 militiamen, all aged 20, being conscripted into the regular army, initially to be trained for six months before being deployed to the forming second-line units.[13][14] Despite the intention for the army to grow, the programme was complicated by a lack of central guidance on the expansion and duplication process and issues regarding the lack of facilities, equipment and instructors.[7][15]

Formation and home defence[edit]

It was envisioned that the duplicating process and recruiting the required numbers of men would take no more than six months. Some TA divisions had made little progress by the time the Second World War began; others were able to complete this work within a matter of weeks.[15][16] By the outbreak of the war, the 55th (West Lancashire) Motor Division had formed the 164th Brigade. On 4 September, the division established the second-line duplicate of the 166th Brigade, the 177th Brigade.[17] On 15 September, the 59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division became active and took control of the 166th (which was re-designated the 176th Brigade) and 177th Brigades, in addition to supporting divisional troops.[18] The division was assigned to Western Command, with Major-General John Blakiston-Houston becoming the division's first General Officer Commanding (GOC).[19][20] Blakiston-Houston, who had retired in 1938, was the former Commandant of the School of Equitation and the Inspector of Cavalry.[21] To denote the association of the division with the Staffordshire area, were most of the division's battalions were raised, the insignia referred to the Staffordshire coalfields: a black triangle denoting a slag heap, with a pit winding gear tower in red.[22]

The division was formed as a motor division, one of five such divisions in the British Army.[c] British military doctrine development during the inter-war period resulted in the three kinds of divisions by the end of the 1930s: the infantry division, the mobile division (later called the armoured division), and the motor division. Historian David French wrote "The main role of the infantry ... was to break into the enemy's defensive position." This would then be exploited by the Mobile division, followed by the motor divisions that would "carry out the rapid consolidation of the ground captured by the Mobile divisions" therefore "transform[ing] the 'break-in' into a 'break-through."[24] David French wrote that the motor division "matched that of the German army's motorized and light divisions. But there the similarities ended." German motorized divisions contained three brigades and were as fully equipped as a regular infantry division, while the smaller light divisions contained a tank battalion. Whereas the motor division, while being fully motorized and capable of transporting all their infantry, contained no tanks and was "otherwise much weaker than normal infantry divisions" or their German counterparts.[25]

The division spent the early months of the war training new recruits and conscripts; a task made difficult by the need for the division to provide guards for important locations, a severe shortage of equipment and trained officers and non-commissioned officers.[26] On 1 December 1939, Major-General Thomas Ralph Eastwood (who prior to being given command of the division, was the commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst) took command of the division and held this position until May 1940.[1][27][28] Following the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to France, the 1/6th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment (while officially remaining part of the 177th Brigade) was dispatched to France in a pioneer capacity (digging anti-tank ditches and constructing breastworks) and fought during parts of the Battle of France during the retreat to Dunkirk.[29][30][31] In May, Eastwood was selected by Lieutenant-General Alan Brooke for a staff role within the Second BEF.[32][d] Eastwood was replaced by Major-General Frederick Witts, who arrived from a General Staff position.[18][35]

Motorcylists of the 59th Battalion, Reconnaissance Corps at Ballykinlar, Northern Ireland, 6 December 1941.

The Territorial Army had been intended to be deployed piecemeal to reinforce the regular army, as equipment became available. The force would join the BEF in waves, as divisions completed their training, with the final divisions not being deployed for a year after the declaration of war.[36] The division did not leave the United Kingdom as the BEF was evacuated from France during May and June 1940.[37][38] As soon as the troops returned from France, the British Army began implementing lessons learned from the campaign. This involved the decision for the basic division to be based around three brigades and the abandonment of the motor division concept. As a result, four second-line territorial divisions were disbanded to reinforce depleted formations and aid in transforming the Army's five motor divisions (made up of two brigades) into infantry divisions (made up of three brigades).[23][39][40][41] As part of this process, the 66th Infantry Division was disbanded, on 23 June, and the 197th Infantry Brigade and an artillery regiment was transferred to the 59th Division, which became the 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division.[42][e]

During June, the division moved to defend the Humber estuary and was deployed in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, assigned to Northern Command, before joining the new X Corps on 24 June.[18][46][47] The division alternated between anti-invasion/beach defence against a German invasion and training for offensive operations. Priority for new equipment was given to a handful of formations in Southern England, that would launch the riposte to a German landing. The division was short of equipment and had to requisition civilian transport. On paper, an infantry division was to have seventy-two 25-pounder field guns. However, the division was only equipped with four First World War vintage 18-pounder field guns and seven 4.5-inch howitzers of similar vintage. Furthermore, the division had no anti-tank guns against a nominal establishment of 48.[48][49][50][51] As the year progressed, the British Army raised 140 infantry battalions. In October, these battalions were formed into independent infantry brigades for static beach defence. Several brigades were assigned to Northern Command, which allowed the 59th Division to be relieved of its defensive role and began brigade and division exercises.[52][48]

On 15 February, Witts was replaced by newly promoted Major-General James Steele (previously commander of the 132nd Brigade, who had commanded the formation during the Battle of France).[53][54] On 20 June, Alan Brooke (now Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces) inspected the division and left highly satisfied, believing the men possessed an "eagerness in the eyes".[55][56] Brooke recorded in his diary, "Spent day inspecting 59th Div, which has made great progress during the last year".[55] Intensive training began and new equipment started to arrived; in September the division joined IX Corps as mobile reserve, behind the Durham and North Riding County Division, the Corps' static beach defence formation.[57][58][56]

Men of the South Staffordshire Regiment of the 59th Division climb up onto a harbour wall during an amphibious exercise in Northern Ireland, 24 April 1942.

In November, the division was deployed to Northern Ireland where it came under the command of III Corps in Western Command.[18][59] On 8 April, Steele was promoted and left the division.[18][60] He was replaced by William Bradshaw (who had held a series of brigade appointments within the United Kingdom).[61] In June, the division was assigned to British Forces Northern Ireland.[18] For the majority of 1942, the division conducted extensive field exercises.[62] In June 1942, the division was visited by King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth.[63] Later in the month, the division took part in the first major joint Anglo-American exercise, a 10-day event codenamed Atlantic, in which the US V Corps (U.S. 1st Armored Division, the 59th (Staffordshire), and the British 72nd Infantry Brigade) engaged British Forces Northern Ireland (US 34th, and the British 61st divisions).[64][65]

On 22 March 1943, the division returned to the United Kingdom. It was placed under the command of XII Corps, based in Kent. The intensity of divisional training increased for amphibious landings and combined operations. As the division had had little in the way of tank-infantry co-operation training or experience, the 34th Tank Brigade was attached in September.[66][67][68] In November, the division took part in exercise Canute II.[69] In December, General Bernard Montgomery arrived in the United Kingdom and took over the 21st Army Group.[70] Montgomery met with division commanders and replaced inexperienced commanders with ones who had served under him in North Africa and Italy. Bradshaw along with two brigade commanders were removed. Bradshaw was replaced by the highly-experienced Major-General Lewis Lyne, who had commanded infantry brigades in Africa and Italy.[1][71][72] Lyne concluded that the divisional training lacked realism, and arranged additional training exercises to prepare the division for combat.[73] In April 1944, the division received several Canadian officers as part of the CANLOAN scheme (A project that saw the Canadian Army loan 673 officers, mostly at the rank of Lieutenant, to the British Army. This was the result of the 7th and 8th Canadian Divisions being disbanded in addition to excess junior officers being trained, which created a surplus and not enough Canadian formations for them to be posted too.).[74][75][f] The men of the division continued training up to the point that they were ordered to Normandy.[76]

Overseas service[edit]

Operation Charnwood[edit]

Infantrymen of the 1/7th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment dug in on the outskirts of Caen, France, 9 July 1944.

On 6 June 1944, the Allies launched Operation Overlord; the invasion of German-occupied Western Europe, with landings at various points along the Normandy coastline in France.[77][78] The primary objective of the 21st Army Group was the capture of the Norman city of Caen.[79] The initial assault, carried out by the 3rd Infantry Division, was unable to capture the city resulting in the prolonged Battle of Caen.[80] Subsequent operations (Operation Perch and Operation Epsom) failed in their attempts to capture the city.[81] In late June, Montgomery ordered XII Corps (the final element of the British Second Army, and part of 21st Army Group) to transfer to Normandy due to the need for fresh infantry formations. The 59th Division, which was still part of XII Corps, started shipping to Normandy on 21 June and completed the move on 27 June. Elements of the division landed at Le Hamel, on what became known as Gold Beach. The 59th was the final British infantry division to arrive in Normandy.[18][67][82][83][84][76][g] The next "Colossal Crack" (The operational technique adopted by Montgomery in order to reduce casualties, increase morale, and compensate for infantry shortages; which saw a build up of infantry, supported by massed artillery and armour support, that would strike along a narrow front.) in the attempt to seize Caen, would be Operation Charnwood; a direct assault on the city.[85][86] The attack would be undertaken by I Corps, and on 4 July the 59th Division was assigned to the Corps to take part in the impending operation.[18][87]

During the evening of 7 July, around 2,500 long tons (2,500 t) of bombs were dropped on northern Caen, and divisional casualties were suffered from German shelling.[88][89][h] The 59th Division supported by the 27th Armoured Brigade, with the British 3rd Division on the left and the 3rd Canadian Division on the right, launched Charnwood the following morning.[87][93] The attack began at 04:20 hours, with the 176th and 177th Brigades leading the attack. On the western flank, the 2/6th South Staffordshire Regiment spearheaded the 177th's Brigades attack on Galmanche and the surrounding wood; on the eastern flank, the 177th Brigade, with the 6th North Staffordshire Regiment leading, moved to capture La Bijude.[94] The division was initially opposed by elements of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend's 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 25th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment, who put up a determined resistance inside the villages and from a trench system that was located between the two.[95][96] At 07:30, following the capture of the first objectives, the next stage of the offensive was ordered to begin with fresh troops moving up to take over the advance. The 176th Brigade's 7th Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment started to advance on Épron, while the 197th Brigade also began to advance; with the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers advancing on Mâlon and the 1/7th Royal Warwickshire Regiment pushing towards St-Contest. However, the area was not thoroughly cleared. Surviving Hitlerjugend reoccupied La Bijude, Galmanche, and the nearby trench system. Panzer IVs, which were based in Buron, moved to reinforce the frontline German infantry. The ensuing day-long battle, saw mixed results and the use of flamethrowers. Specifically, heavy casualties were suffered in the attempt to capture Épron. The village is on a reverse slope from the direction of the British advance, with the approach covered by thick hedges, steep banks, and cornfields. As the Norfolk battalion emerged from the cornfields, they were engaged by heavy German defensive fire. Pinned down, the men were subjected to artillery and mortar taking a heavy toll. The German reoccupation of La Bijude further impeded attempts to capture Épron, as both positions were able to engage the attacking British troops and delayed further attempts to take the village throughout the day. On the whole, the 59th Division consolidate their hold on La Bijude and captured St-Contest; Épron fell following a German withdrawal; and the 12th SS retained their hold on Galmanche and Mâlon.[97][98][99][100] On 9 July, the 59th Division was ordered to consolidate the area it had captured, sweep the area for German troops, and then advance to capture the next line of German positions in the villages and farms of Bitot, Couvrechef, and La Folie. At midday, the 33rd Armoured Brigade (attached to the 3rd Infantry Division) advanced across the division's line of advance and captured Couvrechef. The 3rd Infantry's advance threatened to cut-off the Germans still resistance the 59th's push south. The delay in capturing Bitot also impacted moves by the Canadians, who came under fire from the German positions within.[101][102] The 3rd British and 3rd Canadian divisions entered Caen during the 9th. The following morning, the 59th Division moved through the villages north of the city, mopping up any remaining German units, before entering the Caen; the operation over.[103][104] During the brief operation, the division suffered 1,200 casualties including 239 men killed.[105] Historian John Buckley wrote "For the inexperienced troops of the 59th Division for whom CHARNWOOD was their baptism of fire, the grim and appalling realities of combat were a chastening experience."[106]

Battle of Noyers[edit]

Map of the area over which the Second Battle of the Odon was fought (click to enlarge)

With the Charnwood over, the division was transferred to XII Corps and withdrawn into reserve.[18] The division was allowed to rest, refit, and absorb replacements that included many men who had been left out of battle (a practice intended to preserve a cadre of experienced troops and leaders, who would be able to absorb new troops and rebuild).[107] Detailed planning for the next "Colossal Crack", Operation Goodwood, soon began.[108] As part of this effort, Second Army intended to launch several diversionary attacks by XII and XXX Corps to divert German attention away from the location of the main Goodwood thrust.[109] On 13 July, the division was allocated to XXX Corps, and the next day moved into the area incorporating Loucelles, Cristot, and Fontenay-le-Pesnel in preparation for the upcoming fight. Following the move, the division was subjected to German harassing artillery fire and suffered losses.[18][110] XXX Corps attack, code-named Operation Pomegranate, would form part of the larger Second Battle of the Odon.[110] The main objectives of the division was the destruction of German forces within and the capture of Landelle, Noyers, Missy, and an orchard beyond the latter.[111] Noyers, the main objective, is astride the main road from Caen to Villers-Bocage.[112] Located north of the Odon river valley, British corps commander Lieutenant-General Richard O'Connor believed that Noyers (which could not be dominated from the high ground south of the river) was key to controlling the river valley, and subsequent operations to cross the river.[113] The area was held by the 276th and 277th Infantry divisions. For the 59th Division to accomplish its mission, it was assigned elements of the 33rd Armoured Brigade and the 79th Armoured Division (a formation that provided specialist armoured vehicles as needed).[114]

The first phase of the attack was assigned to three battalions, from the 197th and 177th Brigades, and intended to clear several villages and farms on the approach to Noyers. On 16 July, at 05:30, the attack started. The 5th East Lancashire Regiment, on the right, met stiff German resistance delaying their advance. By 08:00, they had reached their first objective and captured part of Vendes. However, German counterattacks (supported by tanks) overran some of the East Lancashire troops and pushed them back to their start line. Two South Staffordshire battalions, on the left flank, fared better. The 1/6th battalion rapidly captured Brettevillette and Queudeville, but suffered heavy losses in the process. Further losses were suffered as a result of anti-personnel mines, and most of the battalion's supporting tanks were lost on anti-tank mines. The 5th battalion captured the orchards near Grainville-sur-Odon, and then advanced to capture Les Nouillons. With most of the first phase objectives completed, flail tanks were brought up to breach German minefields.[111] Due to mixed results of the initial fighting, the second phase of the attack (to secure the line Landelle-Noyers-Missy) was delayed. At 17:30, the 2/6th South Staffordshire launched an attack directly against Noyers. After initial progress, against determined German resistance, they were forced back after entering the village. At 18:15, the 6th North Staffordshire launched an attack towards Haut des Forges, and captured the area. After dark, the 197th Brigade made a second attempt to capture their first phase objectives that had eluded them. However, heavy German mortar fire put a stop to this effort, which was made by 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers.[111]

On 17 July, the 176th Brigade launched an attack towards Bordel, and seized the area the following day. The 197th Brigade made a further attempt to capture its first phase objectives, which it finally achieved and then advanced to capture Ferme de Guiberon. Meanwhile, repeated attempts were made to take Noyers. The 1/6th, 2/6th, and 5th South Staffordshire battalions made several attempts throughout the 17th, but their attacks were defeated by the 277th Division holding the village, who had been reinforced by the 9th-SS Panzer Division's reconnaissance battalion.[115][116] The following day, 177th Brigade launched two major attacks on Noyers that were also repulsed.[115] Preparations were made for the 197th Brigade to assault Noyers on the 19th, however, Operation Pomegranate was closed down following the launch of Goodwood.[117] Peter Knight, author of the 59th Divisional history, wrote "The aim of Pomegranate had been to attract enemy attention ... away from the Caen Sector. In this we had succeeded, and Noyers itself had little tactical significance for us."[117] Historian Simon Trew supports this position, indicating that the attacks made by XII and XXX Corps forced the Germans to keep the 2nd Panzer, 9th-SS Panzer, and 10th-SS Panzer divisions committed on the wrong sector of the battlefield and away from where Goodwood was launched.[118] Ian Daglish wrote "the results [of the fighting] were inconclusive", but they had the result of "keeping the defenders busy (and drawing in important parts of the elite 9. SS-Panzerdivision, 'Hohenstaufen)."[119] The fighting cost the division 1,250 men killed, wounded or missing. In exchange, 575 prisoners were taken.[117]

Following the battle, the division took over part of the front held by the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division. This resulted in all three brigades being committed to the frontline, in order to hold the entire sector of the front.[112][117] The following ten days involved manning the frontline, conducting patrols into German-held territory, engaging in small-scale skirmishing with their counterparts, and mutual mortar bombardments.[112][120]

Battle of the Orne[edit]

On 24 July, the division returned to XII Corps.[18] The following day, the United States's First Army launched a major offensive codenamed Operation Cobra on the western flank of the Normandy beachhead.[121] On 27 July, Montgomery ordered Second Army to launch a major assault west of Noyers (Operation Bluecoat), and maintain the pressure on the German forces along the rest of the front east of Noyers.[122] As part of the latter, XII Corps was to push towards the Orne River. The task assigned to the 59th Division was to clear the area around Villers-Bocage, and then exploit towards Thury-Harcourt on the Orne and attempt to establish a bridgehead.[120][123]

On 29 July, as a preliminary to any major move and to improve the division's position, the 197th Brigade launched an attack on Juvigny. In a three day battle for the village, the brigade suffered 402 casualties. On 3 August, following German withdrawals along XII Corps front, the division was ordered to advance.[124] The 59th Division, supported by elements of the 34th Tank Brigade, was clear the area around Villers-Bocage and then exploit towards Thury-Harcourt on the Orne and seize a bridgehead. The 197th led the attack, encountering German forces north of Villers-Bocage. However, the Germans soon withdrew and the town as captured without any fighting.[123] On 4 August, the 176th Brigade took over the advance and engaged German forces near the Orne and lost several of their supporting tanks in the process. Churchill AVRE tanks were moved up to engage and destroy German strongpoints. The northern riverbank was secured by dark.[125] Patrols and reconnaissance missions were launched across the river, but a major effort was not conducted until the evening of August 6. Near Ouffieres, elements of the 176th Brigade waded across the river initially achieving surprise. Resistance to the crossing soon intensified, and the German 271st Infantry Division launched several counterattacks that failed to dislodge the division although did result in some British positions being overrun.[126] Grimbosq was captured, and further German counterattacks were launched throughout the day and the next, which also included the 12th SS Panzer Division. During these various engagements, several German tanks were knocked out by the Division's anti-tank guns, and several of the supporting Churchill tanks were also lost.[127] The 36-hour battle, the division fought once crossing the Orne, resulted in the Victoria Cross (VC) being awarded to Captain David Jamieson of the 7th Royal Norfolk Regiment. Despite having been severely wounded and evacuated from the battlefield, Jamieson returned to the frontline to direct and inspire his men, reporting targets and ordering artillery strikes.[128][129] His VC citation stated, "He personally was largely responsible for the holding of this important bridgehead over the River Orne and for the repulse of seven German counter-attacks with great loss to the enemy."[130]}} The Norfolks, who saw the brunt of the fighting, lost 226 men. German losses were reported to be heavy, and at least 200 prisoners were taken by the brigade. Major-General Lyne praised the brigade "...for the magnificent fight which they successfully waged in the Ore bridgehead." and the front "is literally strewn with bodies of men of the 12th S.S. Division, killed during their repeated counter-attacks, which you so ably repulsed."[131]

The Falaise Pocket and disbandment[edit]

By mid-1944, the British Army was facing a manpower crisis as it did not have enough men to replace the losses to front line infantry. While efforts were made to address this (such as transferring men from the Royal Artillery and Royal Air Force to be retrained as infantry), the War Office began disbanding formations to downsize the army in order to transfer men to other units to help keep those as close to full strength as possible.[132][133] The first impact of this policy choice soon impact the division following the fighting along the Orne. Due to heavy losses within the division, as well as 21st Army Group as a whole along with a lack of infantry replacements, a reorganization was undertaken. Both the 177th and 197th Brigades each disbanded an infantry battalion, and these were replaced by battalions from the 176th Brigade; the remaining battalion from latter was also broken up. The troops from the disbanded units were used to reinforce other units to bring them up to strength.[134] The 56th Independent Infantry Brigade, an independent formation under the command of 21st Army Group, was temporarily assigned to the division on 5 August to bring the division back up to 3 brigades.[135]

Following a short break, in which the division undertook patrols, the division advanced out of their bridgehead as part of XII Corps advance during the fighting around what would become known as the Falaise Pocket. On 16 August, the 197th Brigade reached Ouilly. Two days later, the 177th Brigade took Les Isles-Bardel following a brief engagement that ended as the Germans withdraw, as part of the general retreat, before they could inflict a serious delay upon the division. Further progress was, however, impeded by German resistance over the next two days; before a more rapid advance was able to be made. [136]

By August 1944, the manpower crisis had come to a head. In the United Kingdom, the vast majority of available replacements had already been dispatched to reinforce the 21st Army Group. By 7 August, a mere 2,654 men, who were fully trained and combat ready, remained in the United Kingdom awaiting deployment.[137] In an effort to maintain the frontline infantry strength across the 21st Army Group, Montgomery made the decision to cannibalize the 59th Division.[137] The division was chosen solely on the grounds of being the 21st Army Group's most junior formation, and not as a reflection of its efforts during the campaign. On 26, August, the men were dispersed among the other formations across 21st Army Group to bring them up to strength.[138][139][140] The 197th Brigade was not disbanded. Instead, it was transformed into a battlefield clearance unit, and assigned men from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and the Royal Pioneer Corps in lieu of the infantry it had lost in order to undertake its new role.[141] The division was not formally disbanded until 19 October 1944.[1] The division was not reformed following the end of the war.[142] The division was included on a list of the eight most reliable divisions that fought with 21st Army Group during the Normandy Campaign.[143]

The last big action of the division was at Thury-Harcourt, where there is now the Avenue du General Lyne.

General officers commanding[edit]

The division had the following commanders:[1]

Appointed General officer commanding Notes
15 September 1939 Major-General J. Blakiston-Houston
1 December 1939 Major-General T. R. Eastwood
11 May 1940 Major-General F. V. B. Witts
15 February 1941 Major-General J. S. Steele
8 April 1942 Major-General W. P. A. Bradshaw
29 March 1944 Major-General L. O. Lyne

Order of battle[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ This is the war establishment, the on-paper strength. The war establishment of a motor division was 10,136 men; for an infantry division during 1939-1941, it was 13,863 men; following 1941, it was increased to 17,298 men; for the final two years of the war, the war establishment was 18,347 men.[2] For further information on how division sizes changed over the war, see British Army during the Second World War.
  2. ^ The Territorial Army (TA) was a reserve of the British regular army made up of part-time volunteers. By 1939, its intended role was to be the sole method of expanding the size of the British Armed Forces (compared to the creation of Kitchener's Army during the First World War). First line territorial formations would create a second-line division using a cadre of trained personnel and if needed, a third division would also be created. All TA recruits were required to take the general service obligation – meaning that, if the British Government decided, territorial soldiers could be deployed overseas for combat. (This avoided the complications with the First World War-era Territorial Force, whose members were not required to leave Britain unless they volunteered for overseas service.)[8][9][10][11]
  3. ^ The other four being the 1st London, 2nd London, 50th (Northumbrian) and 55th (West Lancashire) division.[23]
  4. ^ Following the evacuation at Dunkirk, 140,000 British soldiers remained in France. The majority were lines of communication troops including those who had been organised as the Beauman Division, in addition to the 1st Armoured and the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division. The British Government was determined to reinforce the French and made preparations to dispatch a new BEF as soon as forces became available. The first wave of reinforcements was to include the 1st Canadian Division and 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division. Brooke and the vanguard arrived in Cherbourg on 12 June. The French suggested the formation of a national redoubt in Brittany, using the new BEF and what French forces could be mustered. With such a plan proving to be impractical, the French Army disintegrating and large numbers of the remaining British forces having already been evacuated, Brooke fought for the cessation of further deployments and withdrew what forces he could back to the United Kingdom.[33][34]
  5. ^ The 12th (Eastern) Infantry Division was disbanded on 11 July 1940, with its brigades dispersed to the following motor divisions as part of their transition to infantry formations: 1st London and 2nd London divisions.[43] The 23rd (Northumbrian) Division was broken up on 30 June, with one brigade being transferred to the 50th (Northumberland) Motor Division as part of its transition to an infantry formation.[44] The other brigades of the 66th Division were transferred to the 1st London and 55th (West Lancashire) divisions to complete their transition to infantry formations.[45]
  6. ^ The 635 Canadian officers would soon see combat, being deployed with numerous formations, during the Battle of Normandy. Many of the officers were in command of platoons, and saw heavy fighting and casualties. By 27 July 1944, 465 of the officers had become casualties, with 127 being killed or dying of wounds; 41 received the Military Cross.[75]
  7. ^ By the time the division had landed, Second Army had suffered 24,698 casualties and the German military an estimated 35,000 casualties in the attrition warfare raging around Caen.[84]
  8. ^ The effect of the bombing is debated, with few bombs hitting military targets.[90][91] General Miles Dempsey, commander of the Second Army, argued that he was more concerned with the morale-boosting effect of the bombing on his troops, than any material losses it might inflict on the Germans.[92]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Joslen 2003, p. 93.
  2. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 130–133.
  3. ^ Bell 1997, pp. 3–4.
  4. ^ Bell 1997, pp. 258–275.
  5. ^ Bell 1997, pp. 277–278.
  6. ^ Bell 1997, p. 281.
  7. ^ a b c Gibbs 1976, p. 518.
  8. ^ Allport 2015, p. 323.
  9. ^ French 2001, p. 53.
  10. ^ Perry 1988, pp. 41–42.
  11. ^ Simkins 2007, pp. 43–46.
  12. ^ Messenger 1994, p. 47.
  13. ^ a b Messenger 1994, p. 49.
  14. ^ French 2001, p. 64.
  15. ^ a b Perry 1988, p. 48.
  16. ^ Levy 2006, p. 66.
  17. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 352, 356.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Joslen 2003, p. 94.
  19. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 93–94.
  20. ^ Knight 1954, p. 1.
  21. ^ "No. 34545". The London Gazette. 26 August 1938. p. 5475.
  22. ^ "Badge, formation, 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division & 59th AGRA". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
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External sources[edit]