53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from British 53rd (Welsh) Division)
Jump to: navigation, search
Welsh Division
53rd (Welsh) Division
53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division
53 inf div -vector.svg
Insignia of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, Second World War
Active 1908–1919
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
Type Infantry
Size Division

First World War:

Second World War:

Disbanded 1968
Officer Commanding Major-General R.K. Ross (Second World War)

The 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army that fought in both World wars. The division saw service in World War I and fought at Gallipoli and in the Middle East. Remaining active in the Territorial Army during the interwar years as a peace-time formation, the division again saw action in World War II, fighting in North-western Europe from June 1944 until May 1945.

The 53rd Division was temporarily disbanded at the end of the war, but was reactivated in 1947 when the Territorial Army was reformed and reorganised. In 1968 the division was finally deactivated, but its 160th Brigade remains in service today. As the name suggests, the division recruited mainly in Wales but also in Herefordshire, Shropshire, Cheshire.


The division was raised in 1908 as part of the Territorial Force originally as the Welsh Division and had under command the North Wales Brigade, the Cheshire Brigade and the Welsh Border Brigade, together with support units of the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Royal Army Service Corps and Royal Army Medical Corps. In 1915, the division was later numbered the 53rd (Welsh) Division and the brigades became the 158th (North Wales) Brigade the 159th (Cheshire) Brigade and the 160th (Welsh Border) Brigade, respectively. In peacetime the South Wales Brigade was also attached.

First World War[edit]

53rd (Welsh) division commemoration plaque - Ramleh military cemetery.

The division sailed from Devonport, bound for Gallipoli via Imbros (now Gökçeada) on 19 July 1915 and landed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 9 August 1915. The division was evacuated from Gallipoli during December 1915 and moved to Egypt.[1] The evacuation was forced by a combination of combat, disease and harsh weather which saw the division reduced to just 162 officers and 2428 men, approximately 15% of full strength.[2]

On 26 March 1917, the 53rd (Welsh) Division bore the brunt of the First Battle of Gaza where the three brigades, along with the 161st (Essex) Brigade of the 54th (East Anglian) Division, had to advance across exposed ground, withstanding shrapnel, machine gun and rifle fire, to capture the Turkish fortifications. Despite gaining the advantage towards the end of the day, the British commander called off the attack so that the division's casualties, close to 3,500, were suffered in vain.

Other division actions included the Battle of Romani in August 1916, the Battle of El Buggar Ridge in October 1917 and the Action of Tell 'Asur in March 1918, where it fought off several counter-attacks by the Ottoman forces.

First World War order of battle[edit]

The division comprised three infantry brigades. Some original battalions were detached early in the First World War to reinforce other divisions.[3]

158th (North Wales) Brigade

159th (Cheshire) Brigade

  • 1/4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (left 31 May 1918)
  • 1/5th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (left November 1914)
  • 1/6th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (left February 1915)
  • 1/7th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (left 1 June 1918)
  • 2/6th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (from November 1914 to April 1915)
  • 2/5th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (from February 1915 to April 1915)
  • 1/4th Battalion, Welsh Regiment (from 17 April 1915)
  • 1/5th Battalion, Welsh Regiment (from 17 April 1915, between 8 October 1915 and 20 February 1916 merged with 1/4th Battalion, fully amalgamated 30 July 1918)
  • 159th Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps (formed 20 April 1916, moved to 53rd Battalion, Machine Gun Corps 25 April 1918)
  • 159th Trench Mortar Battery (formed 28 June 1917)
  • 3rd Battalion, 152nd Punjabis (from 4 June 1918)
  • 2nd Battalion, 153rd Punjabis (from 5 June 1918)
  • 1st Battalion, 153rd Punjabis (from 2 August 1918)

160th (Welsh Border) Brigade

Between the wars[edit]

The division was disbanded after the Great War, along with the rest of the Territorial Force which was reformed in the 1920s as the Territorial Army, and created on a similar basis to the Territorial Force and the 53rd Division was reformed and saw a great change in its units between the wars.[7]

Second World War[edit]

53rd Division Bren Gun Carrier bringing in German prisoners during Operation Market Garden, September 1944

The Territorial Army and the 53rd (Welsh) Division was mobilised on 1 September 1939, the day the German Army invaded Poland. The early days of the war for the division were spent in training the divisions' 2nd Line duplicate, the 38th (Welsh) Infantry Division, created earlier in the year, and containing many former members of the 53rd.[8] In October, just over a month after the war began, the 53rd Division transferred to Northern Ireland, where it would remain until November 1941. After the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) fighting in France and Belgium was evacuated from Dunkirk, the threat grew of a possible German invasion of Northern Ireland and so the 61st Infantry Division arrived to help defend it with the 53rd Division charged with responsibility for the Southern half (of Ulster) and the 61st Division the Northern. In March 1941, the garrison was reinforced with the 5th Infantry Division, a Regular Army formation that had fought in France in 1940. The 53rd Division took part in many numerous exercises, training by battalion, brigade, division or corps level and the 53rd Division became a very well trained fighting machine.

Infantry of 53rd (Welsh) Division in a Kangaroo personnel carrier on the outskirts of Ochtrup, 3 April 1945.

The division returned to the Welsh borders again, under Western Command, and then in April 1942 was sent to defend Kent in South-Eastern Command, under Lieutenant-General Montgomery, between 1942–1943, joining XII Corps in an anti-invasion role, serving alongside both the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division and 46th Infantry Division. The 53rd Division was later earmarked to form part of the British Second Army for the upcoming invasion of Europe.[9]

In September 1942, the division received a new GOC (General Officer Commanding) in the shape of Major-General Robert K. Ross DSO, MC, an officer of the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) and veteran of the Great War, who, before promotion to command of 53rd (Welsh), had commanded the 160th Infantry Brigade. He would command the 53rd (Welsh) Division for almost three years until August 1945, training the division to a high standard in England and Kent and leading them throughout the campaign in North-west Europe.[10]

In May 1942 until October 1943 the division was reorganised, its 159th Infantry Brigade detaching to help form the 11th Armoured Division ("The Black Bull"), with the 31st Tank Brigade taking its place as part of an experiment with 'New Model Divisions' (or 'Mixed Divisions') of one tank brigade and two infantry brigades. However, the experiment was abandoned in late 1943 (being judged as unsuitable for the terrain in North-western Europe) and the 31st Tank Brigade was replaced by the 71st Infantry Brigade (containing the 1st East Lancs, 1st Ox and Bucks and 1st HLI, nicknamed the 'Foreign' or 'International' brigade), from the disbanded 42nd Armoured Division, in October. The division spent the remaining period in the build-up to the invasion of Normandy in intensive training.[11]

Men of the 4th Battalion, Welch Regiment, part of 160th Infantry Brigade, clean their weapons outside s'Hertogenbosch, Holland, 25 October 1944

The 53rd (Welsh) Division landed in Normandy on 28 June 1944, the second last infantry division to land, and was placed under command of XII Corps, now defending the Odon Valley position. The division was involved in heavy fighting in this area, with the 158th Brigade detached to fight with the 15th (Scottish) in the Second Battle of the Odon in the days leading up to Operation Goodwood. In August it began to push out of the Odon region and crossed the river Orne, helping to close the Falaise pocket. It was during this fighting that Acting Captain, later major, Tasker Watkins, Officer Commanding B Company of the 1/5th (Glamorganshire) Battalion, Welch Regiment was awarded the Victoria Cross, the first and only to be awarded to the regiment and division during the war, as well as the only Welshman in the British Army during the Second World War to be awarded the VC.[12] Due to the casualties suffered by the division in Normandy and an acute lack of infantry replacements, the battalions of 158th Brigade (consisting of the 4th, 6th and 7th battalions of the Royal Welch Fusiliers) were replaced and sent to other brigades of the division, the 4th RWF transferring to 71st Brigade and 6th RWF to 160th Brigade.[13] This was due to the inability of the Army to supply adequate numbers of replacements for three battalions of a single regiment in a brigade, which was made worse by the fact that 158th Brigade had recently sustained heavy losses.[14] By 31 August 1944 the 53rd Division had suffered heavy casualties; in just over two months of fighting 52 officers and 533 other ranks were killed in action with a further 145 officers wounded and 18 missing and 2,711 other ranks wounded and 360 missing in action, for a total of 3,819 casualties. However, the division had managed to capture over 3,800 prisoners of war.

53rd Welsh Division Memorial 's-Hertogenbosch

The division took part in the Swan (swift advance) through Northern France into Belgium where heavy fighting took place to secure an important bridgehead by crossing the Junction Canal near Lommel. The 53rd Division then fought hard to expand the salient south of Eindhoven in conjunction with the Market Garden offensive, which ended in disaster due to events at the Battle of Arnhem, where the British 1st Airborne Division was virtually destroyed.

Advancing into the Netherlands, 53rd (Welsh) Division liberated the city of 's-Hertogenbosch in four days of heavy fighting from 24 October. In December 1944, attached now to XXX Corps,[15] it was one of the British divisions that took part in the mainly American Battle of the Bulge, helping to cut off the northern tip of the German salient. It was later sent north to take part in Operation Veritable where it was involved in some of the fiercest fighting of the campaign against determined German paratroopers where the 53rd Division suffered 2,500 casualties, roughly a quarter of what they suffered throughout the entire campaign. The division ended the war in Germany. Throughout its 10 months of almost continuous combat, the 53rd (Welsh) Division had suffered nearly 10,000 casualties: 113 officers and 1,396 other ranks killed, 387 officers and 7,221 other ranks wounded and 33 officers and 1,255 other ranks missing. As with most divisions, the majority of these casualties were sustained by the average "Tommy" in the infantry - also known as the "Poor Bloody Infantry" - who had sustained more than 80% of the losses.

Second World War order of battle[edit]

The 53rd (Welsh) Division was constituted as follows during the Second World War: [16]

158th Infantry Brigade[17]

  • 4th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (left 3 August 1944)
  • 6th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (left 3 August 1944)
  • 7th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (left 27 April 1945, rejoined 14 June 1945)
  • 158th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 3 July 1940, disbanded 16 February 1941)
  • 1/5th Battalion, Welch Regiment (from 4 August 1944)
  • 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment (from 4 August 1944)
  • 2nd Battalion, South Wales Borderers (from 26 April 1945)

159th Infantry Brigade (left 17 May 1942)[18]

160th Infantry Brigade[19]

  • 4th Battalion, Welch Regiment
  • 1/5th Battalion, Welch Regiment (left 3 August 1944)
  • 2nd Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment
  • 160th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 1 July 1940, disbanded 15 February 1941)
  • 6th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (from 4 August 1944)

31st Tank Brigade (from 17 May 1942, left 10 September 1943)[20]

71st Infantry Brigade (from 18 October 1943)[21]

Divisional Troops

  • Shropshire Yeomanry (Divisional Cavalry Regiment, left February 1940)
  • 5th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (joined as Machine Gun Battalion, from 11 November 1941, left 1 October 1942)
  • 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment (joined as Support Battalion from 1 October 1943, became Machine Gun Battalion from 27 February 1944)
  • 53rd Battalion, Reconnaissance Corps (formed 1 January 1941, became 53rd Regiment, Recce Corps 6 June 1942, became 53rd Recce Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps 1 January 1944)
  • 81st (Welsh) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 83rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 133rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 71st (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 31 October 1940, left 11 April 1941, rejoined 20 June 1941)
  • 63rd (Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 12 April, left 20 June 1941)
  • 116th (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 3 April 1942, disbanded 2 December 1944)
  • 25th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 1 December 1944)
  • 244th (Welsh) Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 245th (Welsh) Field Company, Royal Engineers (left 8 October 1939)
  • 282nd Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 555th Field Company, Royal Engineers (from 30 December 1939)
  • 285th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers
  • 22nd Bridging Platoon, Royal Engineers (from 1 October 1943)
  • 53rd (Welsh) Divisional Signals Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals


The division ended the war in 1945 in Hamburg, it sustained 9,849 battle casualties killed, missing and wounded since landing in Normandy in June 1944. It served later as a peacekeeping force in the Rhineland, then disbanded to reform the 2nd Infantry Division in Germany in early 1947. It was reactivated later that year, serving as part of the peacetime Territorial Army. The 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division was finally disbanded in 1968.

There remain a few remnants of the division in the Territorial Army. The 160th (Wales) Brigade is the regional brigade responsible for the administration of TA units in Wales, while 53 (Welsh) Signal Squadron are the descendant formation of 53rd (Welsh) Divisional Signal Regiment, and continues to serve in a very similar capacity, providing communications support to 160th Brigade.

Battle honours[edit]

First World War
Second World War


  • Brigadier-General Augustus W. Hill: April 1908-January 1909
  • Major-General Francis Lloyd: January 1909-September 1913
  • Major-General the Hon. John E. Lindley: October 1913-August 1915
  • Major-General William R. Marshall: August–December 1915
  • Major-General Alister G. Dallas: January 1916-April 1917
  • Major-General Stanley F. Mott: April 1917-July 1919
  • Major-General Cyril J. Deverell: July 1919 – 1921
  • Major-General Sir Archibald A. Montgomery: March 1922-June 1923
  • Major-General Sir Thomas O. Marden: June 1923-June 1927
  • Major-General Thomas Astley Cubitt: June 1927-October 1928
  • Major-General Charles P. Deedes: October 1928-June 1930
  • Major-General Charles J.C. Grant: June 1930-December 1932
  • Major-General James K. Dick-Cunyngham: December 1932-June 1935
  • Major-General Gervase Thorpe: June 1935-June 1939
  • Major-General Bevil T. Wilson: June 1939-July 1941
  • Major-General Gerard C. Bucknall: July 1941-September 1942
  • Major-General Robert K. Ross: September 1942-August 1945
  • Major-General George W. Richards: 1945-1946
  • Major-General Philip M. Balfour: 1946-February 1947
  • Major-General Christopher G. Woolner: January–August 1947
  • Major-General George N. Wood: August 1947-March 1950
  • Major-General Ernest E. Down: March 1950-October 1952
  • Major-General Edric M. Bastyan: October 1952-March 1955
  • Major-General William R. Cox: March 1955-January 1958
  • Major-General Lewis O. Pugh: January 1958-February 1961

Victoria Cross recipients[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c 1/5th and 1/6th battalions of the Royal Welch Fusiliers were amalgamated on 3 August 1918 as the 5th/6th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers.[4]



  • Barclay, C. N. (1956). The History of the 53rd (Welsh) Division in the Second World War. London: Wm. Clowes & Sons. OCLC 36762829. 
  • Becke, Major A.F. (1936). Order of Battle of Divisions Part 2A. The Territorial Force Mounted Divisions and the 1st-Line Territorial Force Divisions (42–56). London: His Majesty's Stationery Office. ISBN 1-871167-12-4. 
  • James, Brigadier E.A. (1978). British Regiments 1914–18. London: Samson Books Limited. ISBN 0-906304-03-2. 
  • Westlake, Ray (1996). British Regiments at Gallipoli. Barnsley: Leo Cooper. ISBN 0-85052-511-X. 
  • Joslen, Lt-Col. H. F. (2003). Orders of Battle, United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945. Uckfield: Naval & Military. ISBN 1-84342-474-6.

External links[edit]