76th Infantry Division (United Kingdom)

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76th Infantry Division
76th Infantry vector2.svg
The shoulder insignia of the division
Active 18 November 1941 – 1 September 1944[1]
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Infantry
Role Home defence, training, and deception.

The 76th Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army formed on 18 November 1941, during the Second World War, from the re-organisation of the Norfolk County Division. The 76th Division was initially assigned to defend the Norfolk coastline against a possible German invasion, before being transformed into a training division on 20 December 1942. New recruits to the army were assigned to the division to complete their training. Once fully trained, the recruits were allocated to formations fighting overseas. Notably, the formation was used as a source of reinforcements for the 21st Army Group, which was fighting in Normandy. After all available British army troops left the United Kingdom for France, the division was disbanded.

In addition to the actual formation, a phantom 76th Infantry Division was formed for deception purposes. This phantom division was part of the notional British Fourth Army, and was intended to be used for the imaginary Operation Trolleycar. This operation was intended to deceive the Germans into believing that an Allied landing would occur along the northern German coastline. While the deception effort was not completely successful, it managed to divert German attention to their northern flank for the remainder of the war.

Background[edit]

Men of the 8th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, during an anti-invasion exercise in Norfolk, 1941

In 1940, following the Fall of France, the United Kingdom was under threat of invasion from Nazi Germany.[2] During the summer, the Battle of Britain dampened this threat.[2] As the year progressed, the size of the British Army increased dramatically as 140 new infantry battalions were raised.[3] Late in the year, with the possibility of invasion again rearing its head for 1941, these new recruits were formed into independent infantry brigades that were then loaned to newly created County Divisions.[3][4]

The County Divisions, including the Norfolk County Division, were around 10,000 men strong and assigned to defend the coastlines of threatened sections of the country, undertaking defensive tasks including the manning of coastal artillery.[3][5][6] These divisions were largely static, lacking mobility and also divisional assets such as artillery, engineers, and reconnaissance forces.[7] Using the recruits in this manner allowed the regular infantry divisions to be freed up from such duties, undertake training, and form an all-important reserve that could be used to counterattack any possible German landing.[8] In late 1941, the arrival of autumn and winter weather meant that the threat of German invasion again subsided. The large number of infantry units formed during the preceding year and a half had resulted in an army that lacked the supporting elements necessary for manoeuvre warfare, and the respite offered by the weather, coupled with the production of new equipment for the military, allowed the War Office to implement plans "to create a better balanced army".[9][10] As part of this reform, the County Divisions were disbanded.[9][a]

History[edit]

Home defence and training[edit]

During the war, the divisions of the British Army were divided between "Higher Establishment" and "Lower Establishment" formations. The former were intended for deployment overseas and combat, whereas the latter were strictly for home defence in a static role.[10][12] On 18 November 1941, the Norfolk County Division was abolished and reformed as the 76th Infantry Division, a "Lower Establishment" division. That day, the division was assigned artillery, an anti-tank regiment, engineers, and signallers. Reconnaissance troops joined the division in January 1942.[1] The war-establishment, the on-paper strength, of an infantry division at this time was 17,298 men.[13] William Maingay Ozanne, who had commanded the Norfolk County Division since its inception, retained command of the division.[14] The 76th was assigned to II Corps, and maintained its previous mission of defending the Norfolk coastline.[1][15] The Imperial War Museum comments that the division insignia, a "red Norfolk wherry, under sail", underscored "the association of the Division with Norfolk".[16] After the division became a training formation, the insignia was only worn by the permanent division members.[17]

The division was involved in establishing the ability of the German intelligence services. A German-published order of battle of the British army based within the United Kingdom, dated 10 April 1942, was captured. This document included the division, and had a near 100 per cent accurate listing of its subordinate units, with one exception. Rather than including the 1st Leicestershire Regiment, the Germans believed the 18th Welch Regiment had already replaced it. When this document was examined, further instances such as this were found. This led the British to understand the capability of the Germans to intercept wireless communications across the United Kingdom. In 1943, this, in part, led to the formation of a plan to exploit the German ability and deceive their intelligence community about future Allied operations.[18]

A Bren Gun team train at Eastern Command's Battle School, 1942.

During the winter of 1942–43, the army overhauled how it would train new recruits. The 76th was one of three divisions that were changed from "Lower Establishment" units to "Reserve Divisions".[19] On 20 December, the division was renamed the 76th Infantry (Reserve) Division, becoming a training formation in the process.[1][19] These three divisions were supplemented by a fourth training formation, which was raised on 1 January 1943.[20] The 76th Infantry (Reserve) Division was assigned to Eastern Command, and moved to Norwich.[18][21] Soldiers who had completed their Corps training were sent to these training divisions.[22][b] The soldiers were given five weeks of additional training at the section, platoon and company level, before undertaking a final three-day exercise. Troops would then be ready to be sent overseas to join other formations.[22] Training was handled in this manner to relieve the "Higher Establishment" divisions from being milked for replacements for other units and to allow them to intensively train without the interruption of having to handle new recruits.[21] For example, the 9th Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment provided recruits to other battalions within the regiment as well as the Royal Norfolk Regiment.[23] During this period, command of the division changed several times. On 21 December 1943, Ozanne was replaced by Colin Callander who in turn was replaced by John Edward Utterson-Kelso on 13 March 1944.[1]

On 30 June 1944, the 76th Infantry (Reserve) Division, along with the other training divisions (the 48th, 77th, and the 80th), had a combined total of 22,355 men. Of this number, only 1,100 were immediately available as replacements for the 21st Army Group.[24][c] The remaining 21,235 men were considered ineligible for service abroad due to a variety of reasons, ranging from medical, not being considered fully fit, or not yet fully trained. Over the following six months, up to 75 per cent of these men would be deployed to reinforce the 21st Army Group following the completion of their training and having met the required fitness levels.[25] Stephen Hart comments that, by September, the 21st Army Group "had bled Home Forces dry of draftable riflemen" due the losses suffered during the Normandy Campaign, leaving the army in Britain (with the exception of the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division) with just "young lads, old men, and the unfit".[26] On 1 September 1944, the division was disbanded.[1] Utterson-Kelso took command of the 47th Infantry (Reserve) Division, which took over the role of the 76th Division.[21][27]

Deception[edit]

The front line, in North West Europe, following Operation Market Garden

The disbanding of the division was part of a reorganisation of British forces within the United Kingdom. The Fortitude deception staff seized upon this opportunity to retain the division as a phantom unit. A cover story was established to explain the change in the division's status. It was claimed that with the war nearing an end, several Territorial Army divisions would revert to their peacetime recruiting role and release their equipment and resources to other units. For the 76th, this was the 47th Division. With the transfer of equipment, the 76th was notionally raised to the "Higher Establishment", and assigned to reinforce the 21st Army Group.[28]

As a deception unit, the division was assigned to notional Operation Trolleycar.[29] Trolleycar was initially envisioned as a notional amphibious assault upon the coast of the Netherlands, by the phantom British Fourth Army, to exploit the success of the authentic Operation Market Garden. When that operation failed, the notional invasion plan was temporarily scrapped.[30] Trolleycar was revived to convince the Germans that the Fourth Army would land near Emden, in support of an imaginary assault by the First Canadian Army, which would be launched west of Arnhem and through the Netherlands.[31] The deception effort was kept up until 1945, being wound down in January. Despite the British ceasing their attempts to deceive the Germans about this possible landing and the Germans not believing all that had been reported to them in regards to such an endeavour, the Germans remained anxious about the possibility of a landing along their northern coast for the remainder of the war.[32][33]

General officer commanding[edit]

Commanders included:

Appointed General officer commanding
18 November 1941 Major-General William Maingay Ozanne[1]
21 December 1943 Major-General Colin Callander[1]
13 March 1944 Major-General John Edward Utterson-Kelso[1]

Order of Battle[edit]

Notes[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ The large intake of men into the army had considerably increased the infantry arm. The reforms intended to address this, with many of the newly raised battalions being "converted to other arms, particularly artillery and armour".[11] In addition to this, historian F.W. Perry comments, there was considerable pressure "to increase the armoured component [of the army] and build up raiding and special forces". These pressures, coupled with the requirement to re-balance the military, resulted in seven of the nine County Divisions being disbanded and only two being reformed as infantry divisions.[10]
  2. ^ Having entered military service, a recruit was assigned to the General Service Corps. They would then undertake six weeks training at a Primary Training Centre and take aptitude and intelligence tests. The recruit would then be posted to a Corps Training Centre that specialized in the arm of the service they were joining. For those who would be joining the infantry, Corps training involved a further sixteen week course. For more specialized roles, such as signallers, it could be up to thirty weeks.[22]
  3. ^ The war establishment—the paper strength—of a "Higher Establishment" infantry division in 1944 was 18,347 men.[13]
Citations
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Joslen 2003, p. 99.
  2. ^ a b Fraser 1999, p. 83.
  3. ^ a b c Perry 1988, p. 53.
  4. ^ Forty 2013, County Divisions.
  5. ^ Churchill 2001, p. 1321.
  6. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 108 and 114.
  7. ^ Joslen 2003, p. 108.
  8. ^ Messenger 1994, p. 61.
  9. ^ a b Goldstein & McKercher 2003, p. 274.
  10. ^ a b c Perry 1988, p. 65.
  11. ^ Perry 1988, pp. 53–54.
  12. ^ French 2001, p. 188.
  13. ^ a b Joslen 2003, pp. 130–131.
  14. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 99 and 114.
  15. ^ Kemp 1963, p. 253.
  16. ^ "badge, formation, 76th Infantry Division". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  17. ^ Davis 1983, p. 107.
  18. ^ a b Hesketh 2000, pp. 5–7.
  19. ^ a b Perry 1988, p. 66.
  20. ^ Joslen 2003, p. 103.
  21. ^ a b c Forty 2013, Reserve Divisions.
  22. ^ a b c French 2001, p. 68.
  23. ^ "The 6th (Home Defence), 9th, 30th and 70th (Young Soldiers) Battalions The Dorsetshire Regiment in World War Two". The Keep Military Museum: Home of the Regiments of Devon and Dorset. Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  24. ^ Hart 2007, p. 52.
  25. ^ Hart 2007, pp. 48–51.
  26. ^ Hart 2007, pp. 49–50.
  27. ^ Joslen 2003, p. 41.
  28. ^ Hesketh 2000, p. 246.
  29. ^ Holt 2004, p. 923.
  30. ^ Hesketh 2000, p. 328.
  31. ^ Hesketh 2000, p. 329.
  32. ^ Hesketh 2000, p. 335.
  33. ^ Holt 2004, p. 643.
  34. ^ Joslen 2003, p. 376.
  35. ^ Joslen 2003, p. 383.
  36. ^ Joslen 2003, p. 385.
  37. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 99, 608.

References[edit]