59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division
|59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division|
59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division
The shoulder insignia of the division
|Active||15 September 1939 – 19 October 1944|
War establishment strength:|
Sir James Steele
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.
Second World War
In the 1930s, tensions built between Germany and the United Kingdom as well as its allies. In late 1937 and 1938, the international crisis over German demands for Sudetenland to be ceded by Czechoslovakia led to an international crisis led Neville Chamberlain (the British Prime Minister) to meet the German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, in September which led to the Munich Agreement. Chamberlain had intended the agreement to lead to further peaceful resolution of issues but relations between both countries soon deteriorated. On 15 March 1939, Germany breached the terms of the agreement by invading and occupying the remnants of the Czech state. 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, doubling the number of TA divisions.[b] Existing units were to recruit over their establishment (aided by an increase in pay for Territorials, the removal of restrictions on promotion that had deterred recruits, the construction of better quality barracks and an increase in supper-time rations) and then form Second Line divisions from small cadres that could be built on. The 59th (Staffordshire) Division was to be a Second Line unit, a duplicate of the First Line 55th (West Lancashire) Motor Division. In April, limited conscription was introduced, 34,500 militia, all aged 20, were conscripted into the regular army, initially to be trained for six months before being deployed to the forming second line units. Despite the intention for the army to grow in size, the programme was complicated by a lack of central guidance on the expansion and duplication process and problems regarding the lack of facilities, equipment and instructors.
Formation and home defence
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. The 59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division became active on 15 September, when it took control of its constituent units, formed and administered by the parent 55th (West Lancashire) Motor Division. The 59th Division was composed of the 176th and 177th Brigades and supporting divisional troops. The first General Officer Commanding (GOC) was Major-General John Blakistan-Houston, who was brought out of retirement. The division was assigned to Western Command. The division insignia, a blue rectangular background a black triangle denoting a slag heap with a pit winding gear tower in red and black cloth backing referred to the Staffordshire coalfield.
The division was formed as a motor division, one of five in the British Army.[c] The role of these divisions was to support the 1st Armoured Division, which would be used to breach the enemy front line and be followed by the motor divisions to consolidate captured ground, turning "the 'break-in' into a 'break-through'". 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. On 1 December 1939, Major-General Thomas Ralph Eastwood took command of the division and held this position until May 1940. 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 sent 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. In May, Eastwood was selected by Lieutenant-General Alan Brooke for a staff role within the 2nd BEF. Eastwood was replaced by Major-General Frederick Witts, who arrived from a General Staff position.
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. The division did not leave the United Kingdom as the BEF was evacuated from France during May and June 1940. As soon as the BEF returned from France, the army began implementing lessons learned from the campaign and re-organising formations. The motor division concept was abandoned and the divisions were reformed as regular infantry divisions (made up of three brigades). 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.
During the month, 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 (part of Northern Command) on 24 June. 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. Each infantry division was to have 72 25-pounder field guns, whereas the divisional artillery contained four First World War vintage 18-pounder field guns and seven 4.5-inch howitzers. There were no anti-tank guns against an establishment of 48. During the year, the army raised 140 infantry battalions and in October, the battalions were formed into independent infantry brigades for static beach defence. Several brigades were assigned to Northern Command, allowing the 59th Division to be relieved of its defensive role and the division began brigade and division exercises.
On 15 February, Witts was replaced by Major-General James Steele. On 20 June, Alan Brooke (Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces) inspected the division and left highly satisfied, believing the men possessed an "eagerness in the eyes". In his diary, Brooke wrote "Spent day inspecting 59th Div, which has made great progress during the last year". 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.
In November, the division was deployed to Northern Ireland where it came under the command of III Corps in Western Command. The division spent most of 1942 conducting extensive field exercises. On 8 April, Steele was promoted and left the division. He was replaced by William Bradshaw (who had held a series of brigade appointments within the United Kingdom). In June 1942, the division was visited by King George VI and the Queen Elizabeth. 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 (the US 34th and the British 61st divisions). The rest of the year was spent training under the command of British Forces Northern Ireland.
On 22 March 1943, the division returned to the United Kingdom and XII Corps 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. In November, the division took part in exercise Canute II. In December, General Bernard Montgomery arrived in the United Kingdom and took over the 21st Army Group. Montgomery met with division commanders and replaced inexperienced commanders with ones who had served under him in North Africa and Italy. Bradshaw and two brigade commanders were replaced, the highly-experienced Major-General Lewis Lyne who had commanded infantry brigades in Africa and Italy taking over the division. Lyne concluded that while the divisional training lacked realism and arranged additional training. From April, the division received Canloan officers, a scheme for 673 Canadian Army junior officers made surplus with the disbanding of several Canadian units.
The division began landing in Normandy, France, in the last week of June, the last British infantry division to arrive. In early July the division transferred to I Corps ready for Operation Charnwood an attack on Caen. After 2,500 tons of bombs had been dropped by over 400 aircraft of RAF Bomber Command on the northern outskirts of Caen on the night of 7 July, I Corps, with the British 3rd Division on the left, and the 3rd Canadian Division on the right, launched its attack the following morning. Supported by elements of the 27th Armoured Brigade, the 59th division attacked through La Bijude and Galmanche, against elements of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, who fought a determined defensive battle. The ruins from the bombing made the fighting all the more difficult but the three divisions managed to batter their way to Caen, with German resistance on the flanks less than that facing the 59th Division. The 59th Division suffered 1,200 casualties, 239 of them killed, most in the infantry battalions.
The division transferred to XII Corps and was withdrawn to rest and refit, absorbing replacements, which included many men who had been LoB (left out of battle) to preserve a cadre of experienced troops and leaders capable of absorbing new troops. On 13 July, the division was allotted to XXX Corps for Operation Pomegranate, part of the Second Battle of the Odon. The division, supported by the 33rd Armoured Brigade and elements of the 79th Armoured Division, was engaged south-west of Caen in the Odon river valley to capture the villages of Noyers and Missy. The division operated on the left of the corps with the 50th (Northumbrian) Division on the right, the 49th Division in the centre and the 53rd Division on the left flank. The division attacked in the early hours of 16 July into in the Normandy bocage; the 59th Division was involved in determined fighting and captured some of its objectives. The operation, a diversion for Operation Goodwood, cost the 59th Division 1,250 casualties but almost 600 prisoners of war (POWs) were taken.
The division returned to XII Corps on 23 July and spent the next few weeks holding a quiet front by patrolling, which often included tank support. By early August the US First Army had broken through in Operation Cobra, causing the Germans to shorten their line and the opportunity arose to force them back towards Falaise. XXX Corps launched an offensive to capture Mount Pincon during Operation Bluecoat and XII Corps was ordered to drive on to the Orne; the 59th Division, supported by elements of the 34th Tank Brigade, during two days of battle, managed to secure a bridgehead over the River Orne at Grimbosq, repulsing several German counter-attacks. During the fighting the 59th Division gain its only Victoria Cross (VC), which was awarded to Captain David Jamieson of the 7th Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, part of the 176th Brigade, upon whom the majority of the counter-attacks fell. From Grimbosq the division drove on towards Falaise, eventually holding the edge of the Falaise Pocket.
The division was withdrawn soon after to rest and refit but on 20 August, the division received the news that it was to be disbanded and the men posted to other British divisions to bring them up to strength. The British Army was suffering from a severe shortage of manpower, particularly in the infantry and despite strenuous efforts by the British government to alleviate the situation by transferring men from other branches of the army and from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF) but these would take time to train and would not be available until later in the year. Breaking up some units was inescapable and the division was chosen because it was the most junior of all the British infantry divisions fighting in the Normandy. After the three infantry brigades had been broken up, the division HQ was placed in suspended animation and was officially disbanded on 19 October. Being a second-line formation, it was not reformed in the TA after the war, although several individual units that formed part of the division were reconstituted. The last big action of the division was at Thury-Harcourt, where there is now the Avenue du General Lyne. In the time after this period, the 197th Brigade (containing 1/7th Royal Warwicks, 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers and 5th East Lancashires) became a battlefield clearance brigade, tidying up the Normandy battlefield and returning ditched, dumped or lost but serviceable equipment. Montgomery named the 59th as one of his most reliable divisions.
General officers commanding
The division had the following commanders:
|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
|59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division (September 1939-June 1940)|
|59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division (June 1940 onwards)|
- 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. For further information on how division sizes changed over the war, see British Army during the Second World War.
- 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 a third division if needed. All TA recruits were required to take the general service obligation for overseas service.
- The other four being the 1st London, 2nd London, 50th (Northumbrian) and 55th (West Lancashire) division.
- Joslen 2003, p. 93.
- Joslen 2003, pp. 130–133.
- Bell 1997, pp. 3–4.
- Bell 1997, pp. 258–275.
- Bell 1997, pp. 277–278.
- Bell 1997, p. 281.
- Gibbs 1976, p. 518.
- Allport 2015, p. 323.
- French 2001, p. 53.
- Perry 1988, pp. 41–42.
- Simkins 2007, pp. 43–46.
- Messenger 1994, p. 47.
- Joslen 2003, pp. 90, 93.
- Messenger 1994, p. 49.
- French 2001, p. 64.
- Perry 1988, p. 48.
- Levy 2006, p. 66.
- Joslen 2003, p. 94.
- Joslen 2003, pp. 93–94.
- Knight 1954, p. 1.
- "Badge, formation, 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division & 59th AGRA". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
- Joslen 2003, pp. 37, 41, 61, 90.
- French 2001, p. 41.
- Knight 1954, pp. 5–7.
- Joslen 2003, pp. 356, 462.
- Ellis 1954, p. 21.
- More 2013, pp. 182–183.
- Alanbrooke 2001, pp. 74.
- "No. 34861". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 May 1940. p. 3257.
- Gibbs 1976, pp. 455, 507, 514–515.
- Joslen 2003, p. 97.
- Fraser 1999, pp. 72–77.
- Knight 1954, pp. 15–16.
- French 2001, pp. 189–191.
- Perry 1988, p. 54.
- Joslen 2003, pp. 93, 97.
- Collier 1957, p. 85.
- Newbold 1988, pp. 202, 433.
- Knight 1954, pp. 15–18.
- Fraser 1999, pp. 83–85.
- Collier 1957, p. 125.
- Newbold 1988, pp. 151, 415.
- Perry 1988, p. 53.
- Alanbrooke 2001, p. 166.
- Knight 1954, p. 21.
- Joslen 2003, pp. 94, 110.
- Collier 1957, p. 229.
- Alanbrooke 2001, p. 259.
- Knight 1954, pp. 24–28.
- "No. 35533". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 April 1942. p. 1799.
- Joslen 2003, pp. 94, 235, 269.
- Knight 1954, p. 27.
- Blake 2000, p. 275.
- Knight 1954, pp. 31-32.
- Joslen 2003, pp. 94, 207.
- Knight 1954, pp. 31–52.
- Place 2000, p. 144.
- Place 2000, p. 23.
- Fraser 1999, pp. 277–278.
- French 2001, p. 251.
- French 2003, p. 287.
- Knight 1954, pp. 38–43.
- Knight 1954, p. 38.
- Stacey & Bond 1960, pp. 634-635.
- Knight, p. 46
- Knight, pp. 46–47
- Knight, pp. 48–52
- 59th (Staffordshire) Division in WWII: Operation Charnwood
- Knight, p. 53
- Knight, pp. 54–55
- Knight, pp. 55–58
- 59th (Staffordshire) Division in WWII: Operation Pomegranate
- Knight, p. 59
- 59th (Staffordshire) Division in WWII: Orne River
- Knight, pp. 63–65
- Knight, pps. 66-67
- Knight, p. 68
- Hart, p. 48
- Knight, p. 110
- Joslen 2003, p. 361.
- Hart, p. 190
- Joslen 2003, pp. 93, 355.
- Joslen 2003, pp. 93, 356.
- Joslen 2003, pp. 93, 361.
- Joslen 2003, p. 207.
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