59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division

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59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division
59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division
59 inf div -vector.svg
Shoulder sleeve insignia of the 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division.
Active 1939–1944
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Motorised infantry
Size Division, approximately 18,000 men
Nickname(s) "The Pithead Division"
"The Fiftyninth"
Engagements World War Ii
Sir Ralph Eastwood
Sir James Steele
Lewis Lyne

The 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division, also nicknamed the "Pithead Division" due to its divisional insignia, was an infantry division of the British Army, part of the Territorial Army (TA), that saw active during World War II. The division 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. It was one of two divisions, with the other being the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division later in the year, of the 21st Army Group that was disbanded due to an acute shortage of British infantry replacements.



The 59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division was created on 21 August 1939 as a second-line Territorial Army (TA) duplicate of the first-line 55th (West Lancashire) Motor Division as, by this time, another European conflict against Germany was deemed to be inevitable. The 55th Division was split in two and sent the 166th Infantry Brigade and the 177th Infantry Brigades to help form the new 59th Division. Also transferred were the 61st and 116th (North Midland) Field Regiment, RA, together with the 509th and 510th Field Company, RE.[1] The 59th Division's first General Officer Commanding (GOC) was Major General John Blakistan-Houston. [2][3] On 4 September, the day after World War II began, the 166th Infantry Brigade was redesignated the 176th Infantry Brigade.[4][5] Like its parent formation, the 59th Division was originally raised as a motorised infantry division of only two motorised infantry brigades and supporting elements.[6][7] Unlike most second-line TA divisions, which formed an exact 'mirror' duplicate of their parent units, some, including the 59th, were instead separated on a geographical basis, with all the infantry units from Staffordshire being sent to the 59th, while the 55th retained the units from Liverpool and Lancashire.[8] However, this had the effect of creating two TA divisions with a mixture of first and second-line units, and, rather than having one trained up to TA standard and one not, both would be regarded as untrained.[9] As it turned out, the 55th Division apparently never recovered from having both first and second-line units serving side by side and, unlike the 59th Division, never served overseas during the war.[9]

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

In June 1940, the 197th Infantry Brigade from the disbanded 66th Infantry Division, along with the 110th (Manchester) Field Regiment and the 68th Anti-Tank Regiment, RA, was assigned to the 59th Division and it was reorganised as a standard infantry division. This was due to a perceived poor performance of the motorized divisions during the battle of France in May–June 1940, which led to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) being forced to retreat to Dunkirk where most of the BEF was evacuated.

Overseas service[edit]

Having spent many years training in Britain until mid-1944, the division's lead units landed in Normandy, France as part of the British Second Army on 26 June. Attached to I Corps for Operation Charnwood, the division was employed in the north-western outskirts of Caen, fighting heavily against elements of the 12th SS Panzer Division.[10] Subsequently, the division was attached to XII Corps in the Odon Valley.

General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, named the 59th, along with seven other divisions, as one of his most reliable divisions, bemoaning that units such as the 7th Armoured, 3rd Infantry and 51st (Highland) Divisions were not combat worthy after their initial performance, inland, after landing. The most reliable divisions of the 21st Army Group in Normandy were the 15th, 43rd, 49th, 50th, 53rd, 59th, 11th Armoured and 6th Airborne.[11]

Infantry and carriers of 59th Division advancing during fighting around Caen, 11 July 1944.

In August, the division was awarded its first and only Victoria Cross of the war, belonging to Captain David Jamieson of D Company, 7th Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment.


The division fought in Normandy until 21 August 1944 when, due to the severe casualties suffered by other British units in the Second Army and the severe shortage of infantrymen throughout the whole British Army, it was disbanded and its men were used as badly needed infantry replacements for the rest of the British divisions in France, all of which had suffered heavy casualties during the attritional fighting in Normandy. The 59th Division was chosen merely because it was the most junior of all the British divisions fighting in the Normandy Campaign, having been formed just two weeks before the declaration of war on 3 September 1939. The divisional headquarters was placed in suspended animation and, being a 2nd Line formation, it was not reformed in the Territorial Army after the war.

Infantrymen of the 59th Division dug in on the outskirts of Caen, France, 9 July 1944.

The 59th Division's last major action was in the town of Thury-Harcourt, where there is now a road named after the commander at the time: 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 Lancs) became a battlefield clearance brigade, tasked with tidying up parts of the Normandy battlefield and returning any ditched, dumped or lost but serviceable equipment.

The 59th Divisional Artillery continued as 59th Army Group Royal Artillery, commanding artillery units in the North West Europe campaign until December 1944, after which it was sent to the Far East to prepare for an amphibious assault on the coast of Malaya (Operation Zipper) that was forestalled by the Surrender of Japan.[12][13][14] Similarly, 59th Divisional Engineers continued as 59th GHQ Troops Royal Engineers under 21st Army Group.[15]

Order of battle[edit]

The 59th Infantry Division was constituted as follows during the war:[16]

176th Infantry Brigade[4]

177th Infantry Brigade[17]

  • 5th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment
  • 1/6th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment (detached January 1940, rejoined June 1940)
  • 2/6th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment
  • 177th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 13 July, disbanded 31 December 1940)

197th Infantry Brigade (from 22 June 1940)[18]

Divisional Troops

General Officer Commanding[edit]

The 59th Infantry Division was commanded by the following officers during the war:[20]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Knight p. 2
  2. ^ Joslen, p. 93
  3. ^ Knight, p. 1
  4. ^ a b Joslen, p. 354
  5. ^ Knight, p. 4
  6. ^ Joslen, p. 93-94.
  7. ^ Knight, pps. 1-3
  8. ^ "59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division" (PDF). British Military History. Retrieved 25 February 2017. 
  9. ^ a b Knight, p. 3
  10. ^ 59th (Staffordshire) Division in WWII: Operation Charnwood
  11. ^ Colossal Cracks - Montgomery's 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe 1944-45, Stephen Ashley Hart
  12. ^ 59 AGRA at RA 39-45 Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ 59 AGRA War Diary, August–December 1944, The National Archives (TNA), Kew file WO 171/912.
  14. ^ 59 AGRA War Diary, February–December 1945, TNA file WO 172/7515.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Rinaldi.
  16. ^ Joslen, pp. 93–4.
  17. ^ Joslen, p. 356.
  18. ^ Joslen, p. 391.
  19. ^ Lord, p. 151.
  20. ^ Joslen, p. 93


  • Knight, Peter (1954). The 59th Division: Its War Story. London: Frederick Muller (for 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division Reunion Organisation). OCLC 11398674. 
  • Lt-Col H.F. Joslen, Orders of Battle, United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945, London: HM Stationery Office, 1960/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2003, ISBN 1-843424-74-6.
  • Cliff Lord & Graham Watson, Royal Corps of Signals: Unit Histories of the Corps (1920–2001) and its Antecedents, Solihull: Helion, 2003, ISBN 1-874622-92-2.

External sources[edit]