6th Armoured Division (United Kingdom)

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6th Armoured Division
6th Armoured Division flash.svg
Formation Sign of the 6th Armoured Division.
Active1940–1945
1951–1958
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
TypeArmoured Division
SizeSecond World War
14,964 men[1]
343 tanks[nb 1][nb 2]
EngagementsTunisia Campaign
Italian Campaign
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Sir John Crocker
Herbert Lumsden
Charles Keightley
Sir Gerald Templer
Insignia
InsigniaMailed Fist

The 6th Armoured Division was an armoured division of the British Army, created in September 1940 during the Second World War and re-formed in May 1951 in the UK.

History[edit]

15-cwt trucks, carriers and motorcycles of a motor battalion in 6th Armoured Division, lined up for an inspection by the King near Brandon in Suffolk, 12 September 1941.

The division was formed in the United Kingdom under Northern Command on 12 September 1940, commanded by Major-General John Crocker, an officer of the Royal Tank Regiment who had recently fought in the Battle of France. The division initially had the 20th and 26th Armoured Brigades under command, as well as the 6th Support Group. In late April 1942, the 20th Armoured Brigade was transferred from the division and replaced by the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade and the 6th Support Group was disbanded in June. The 6th Armoured Division, now commanded by Major General Charles Keightley, taking over from Major General Charles Gairdner, soon began intensive training in preparation for service overseas.[3]

In October 1940, armoured regiments within the Division, such as the 2nd Lothian and Border Horse, were supplied with Matilda MkI.I tanks, then in May 1942 Crusader MkII tanks, in August 1942 Valentine Mk.V tanks and in October Crusader MKIIIs. In North Africa tankers were finally put on an almost equal footing to their Panzer counterparts when the M4A2 Sherman medium tank was added to their inventory by March 1943.[4] In November/December 1942 The division participated in the Operation Torch assault landings in Bone, closest to the Axis Forces in all the Torch landings that stretched from Morocco to the Tunisian border. In November 1942 they saw their first action as part of V Corps of the British First Army, First Allied Army in the Tunisia Campaign. In March 1943, around the same time when most of the units had been supplied with American M4A2 Shermans, the 6th Division came under IX Corps. After Tunisia, the Division participated in the Italian Campaign as part of the British Eighth Army and ended the war in Austria, again under the command of V Corps.[5]

Kasserine[edit]

Crusader III tank of the 17th/21st Lancers on a road near Bou Arada, Tunisia, 13 January 1943.

On 30 January 1943, the German 21st Panzer Division (veterans of the Afrika Korps under Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel) and three Italian divisions met elements of the French forces near Faïd, the main pass from the eastern arm of the mountains into the coastal plains. The French were overrun and two US units near them were surrounded.[6]

German prisoners of war (POWs) carry a wounded British soldier during the 6th Armoured Division's attack on the town of Pichon in Tunisia, 8 April 1943.

On 19 February 1943, Rommel launched what would become the Battle of Kasserine Pass. After two days of advances through the American defences, the Afrika Korps and the Italians had suffered few casualties, while the American forces lost 16,000 men and two-thirds of their tanks. During the battle the Italian 131st Centauro Armoured Division captured more than 3,000 American soldiers. On the night of 21 February 1943, the 6th Armoured and 46th Infantry Divisions, arrived to bolster the American defence, having been pulled from the British lines facing the Germans at Sbiba. Counter-attacks by Italian troops were also ordered on the British and Americans. Two battalions of experienced Bersaglieri soldiers are recorded by the 23rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery as having made a daylight counter-attack through the Ousseltia Plain, which was repelled.[7] Next day opened with another German counter-attack against the Americans, until the arrival of four US artillery battalions made offensive operations difficult.[8]

Faced with stiffening defences and the news that the Eighth Army had reached Medenine, only a few kilometres from the Mareth Line, Rommel decided to call off the attack and withdraw on the night of 22 February 1943 to support the Mareth defences, hoping that the Kasserine attack had caused enough damage to deter any offensive action from the west for the moment. The Axis forces from Kasserine reached the Mareth line on 25 February. It was after the battle of Kasserine Pass that the 6th Armoured Division was reorganised and equipped with the M4 Sherman tank. In March 1943 the division was assigned to the recently arrived IX Corps (Lieutenant-General John Crocker) the former first GOC of the division, who was later wounded in a training accident and replaced by Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks. The division was the spearhead of the final assault by the First Army in May 1943, breaking through to Tunis. The 6th Armoured Division went on to take the surrender of the famous 90th Light Division and participated in the round up and capitulation of all Axis forces in North Africa in May 1943.[9]

Italy[edit]

Italy was to prove different from North Africa. There was no more mobile warfare in wide open spaces. The division would spend much of its time supporting the infantry as the Allies came across defensive line after defensive line.[10]

Priest 105 mm self-propelled gun of 12th Royal Horse Artillery (Honourable Artillery Company), 6th Armoured Division, 17 May 1944.

The 6th Armoured Division, now under Major General Gerald Templer (replaced by Major General Horatius Murray after Templer was injured in early August), was now part of XIII Corps, which had been assigned to the US Fifth Army (Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark) to form its right flank and fight in the high Apennine Mountains during Operation Olive in August and September 1944. The Gothic Line, also known as Linea Gotica, formed Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring's last major line of defence in the final stages of the Second World War during the fighting retreat of the German forces in Italy. The 6th Armoured Division captured the San Godenzo Pass on Route 67 to Forlì on 18 September.[11]

Spring 1945 Offensive[edit]

A Sherman and Stuart reconnaissance tank of the 2nd Lothian and Border Horse, part of the 6th Armoured Division, near Rufina, Italy, 12 September 1944.

By 19 April, the Argenta Gap had been forced and 6th Armoured was released through the left wing of the advancing 78th Infantry Division, to swing left to race north west along the line of the river Reno to Bondeno and link up with units of the Fifth Army advancing north from west of Bologna, to complete the encirclement of the German divisions defending Bologna. On all fronts the German defence continued to be determined and effective but Bondeno was captured on 23 April. The 6th Armoured Division linked with the 10th Mountain Division (US IV Corps) the next day at Finale. The IV Corps had broken through onto the plains on 19 April, bypassing Bologna on their right. Bologna was entered by the Poles advancing up the line of Route 9 on 21 April, followed two hours later by the US II Corps from the south.[12]

Post war[edit]

The division moved to the Trieste area, at the time within the boundary of the Kingdom of Italy. In July 1946, the division was redesignated as the 1st Armoured Division and the mailed fist was retained. During 1947, the now 1st Armoured Division was transferred to Palestine and was disbanded in September 1947.[13][14] A new 6th Armoured Division was formed in May 1951 in the UK and later assigned to the British Army of the Rhine in Germany. It consisted of the 20th Armoured Brigade and 61st Lorried Infantry Brigade. It was disbanded in June 1958.[15]

General Officer Commanding[edit]

Commanders included:[16]

Appointed General Officer Commanding
27 September 1940 Major-General John Crocker[17]
9 January 1941 Brigadier Evelyn Fanshawe (acting)[17]
22 February 1941 Major-General John Crocker[17]
15 October 1941 Major-General Herbert Lumsden[17]
29 October 1941 Major-General Charles Gairdner[17]
19 May 1942 Major-General Charles Keightley[17]
19 December 1943 Major-General Vyvyan Evelegh[17]
15 February 1944 Brigadier William Edward Gordon Hemming (acting)[17]
19 March 1944 Major-General Vyvyan Evelegh[17]
24 July 1944 Major-General Gerald Templer (wounded 5 August 1944)[17]
5 August 1944 Brigadier C.A.M.D. Scott (acting)[17]
13 August 1944 Brigadier Francis Mitchell (acting)[17]
21 August 1944 Major-General Horatius Murray[17]
27 July 1945 Brigadier Adrian Clements Gore[17]
January 1946 Major-General Charles Loewen[18]
October 1953 Major-General Francis Mitchell
1955 Major-General Roderick McLeod
1957 Major-General Denis O'Connor

Order of battle[edit]

6th Armoured Division was constituted as follows during the war:

20th Armoured Brigade (from 16 October 1940, left 23 April 1942)[19]

26th Armoured Brigade (from 9 November 1940)[20]

6th Support Group (from 1 November 1940, disbanded 1 June 1942)[21]

38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade (from 9 June 1942, left 16 February 1943)[22]

1st Guards Brigade (from 24 March 1943, left 29 May 1944)[23]

61st Infantry Brigade (from 29 May 1944)[24]

  • 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own)
  • 7th Battalion, Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own)
  • 10th Battalion, Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own) (from 30 May 1944, disbanded 20 March 1945)
  • 1st Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps (from 8 March 1945, left 22 July 1945)
  • 1st Battalion, Welch Regiment (from 29 June 1945)
  • 2nd Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders (from 19 July 1945)
  • 1st Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment (from 19 July 1945)

Divisional Troops

Brigade Attachments[edit]

The following brigades were, at various points in time, attached to the 6th Armoured Division.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ 63 light tanks, 205 medium tanks, 24 close support tanks, 25 anti-aircraft tanks, and 8 artillery observation tanks.[2]
  2. ^ These two figures are the war establishment, the paper strength of the division for 1944–1945; for information on how the division size changed over the war please see British Army during the Second World War and British Armoured formations of World War II.

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Joslen, p. 129
  2. ^ Joslen, p. 9
  3. ^ Doherty, Richard (2013). British Armoured Divisions and their Commanders, 1939-1945. Pen & Sword. p. 102. ISBN 978-1848848382.
  4. ^ "17th/21st Lancers". BritishEmpire.co.uk website.
  5. ^ "6th Armoured Division" (PDF). British Military History. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  6. ^ Westrate 1944, pp. 109–117
  7. ^ BBC Peoples War website
  8. ^ Walker 2006, pp. 186–187
  9. ^ Ffrench Blake, R.L.V. (1993). The 17/21st Lancers: 1759-1993. Pen and Sword. p. 99. ISBN 978-1783832064.
  10. ^ "Breaking the Gustav Line". History.net. 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  11. ^ Friedrich, Karsten (2011). The Cruel Slaughter of Adolf Hitler. ISBN 978-1446795705.
  12. ^ Blaxland, p. 271
  13. ^ "Badge, formation, 6th Armoured Division & 1st Armoured Division". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 2 February 2022.
  14. ^ Lord & Watson 2003, p. 36.
  15. ^ Watson and Rinaldi, p. 24
  16. ^ Army Comnmands Archived 5 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Joslen, p. 17
  18. ^ "Obituaries: Sir Charles Loewen". The Times. No. 62545. 26 August 1986.
  19. ^ Joslen, p. 166.
  20. ^ Joslen, pp. 176–177.
  21. ^ Joslen, p. 217.
  22. ^ Joslen, p. 373.
  23. ^ Joslen, pp. 225–226.
  24. ^ Joslen, p. 297.

References[edit]

  • Blaxland, Gregory (1979). Alexander's Generals (the Italian Campaign 1944–1945). London: William Kimber. ISBN 978-0-7183-0386-0.
  • Ford, Ken (1999). Battleaxe Division. Stroud: Sutton. ISBN 978-0-7509-1893-0.
  • Joslen, H. F. (2003) [1990]. Orders of Battle: Second World War, 1939–1945. Uckfield, East Sussex: Naval and Military Press. ISBN 978-1-84342-474-1.
  • Lord, Cliff; Watson, Graham (2003). The Royal Corps of Signals: Unit Histories of the Corps (1920–2001) and its Antecedents. West Midlands: Helion. ISBN 978-1-874622-07-9.
  • Playfair, I. S. O.; Molony, C. J. C.; Flynn, F. C. & Gleave, T. P. (2004) [HMSO 1966]. Butler, J. R. M. (ed.). The Mediterranean and Middle East: The Destruction of the Axis Forces in Africa. History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series. Vol. IV. Uckfield, UK: Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-068-8.
  • Walker, Ian (2006). Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini's Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa. Ramsbury: Crowood Press. ISBN 978-1-86126-839-6.
  • Watson, Bruce Allen (2007) [1999]. Exit Rommel: The Tunisian Campaign, 1942–43. Stackpole Military History Series. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-3381-6.
  • Watson, Graham; Rinaldi, Richard A. (2005). The British Army in Germany: An Organizational History 1947-2004. General Data. ISBN 978-0972029698.
  • Westrate, Edwin V. (1944). Forward Observer. Philadelphia: Blakiston. OCLC 13163146.

External links[edit]