The 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army that fought in both World War I and World War II. Originally raised in 1908 as the Welsh Division, part of the Territorial Force (TF), the division saw service in World War I, being designated 53rd (Welsh) Division in mid-1915, and fought in the Gallipoli Campaign and in the Middle East. Remaining active in the Territorial Army (TA) during the interwar period as a peacetime 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 and Cheshire.
53rd (Welsh) Division
53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division
Formation patch of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, World War II.
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Robert Knox Ross
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. The South Wales Brigade was also attached.
The Welsh Division was mobilised upon Britain's entrance into the First World War in early August 1914.
In 1915, the Welsh Division was numbered as the 53rd (Welsh) Division and the brigades became, respectively, the 158th (North Wales) Brigade the 159th (Cheshire) Brigade and the 160th (Welsh Border) Brigade.
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. The evacuation was forced by a combination of combat, disease and harsh weather which saw the division reduced to just 162 officers and 2,428 men, approximately 15% of full strength.
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.
The division comprised three infantry brigades, together with supporting units. Some original battalions were detached early in the First World War to reinforce other divisions. Other infantry and Yeomanry brigades were also attached to the division, particularly at Gallipoli and in Egypt
Attached to 53rd (Welsh) Division 29 November–9 December 1915
Attached to 53rd (Welsh) Division January–April 1916
Attached to 53rd (Welsh) Division 15 March–21 June 1916
53rd Divisional Artillery remained in England when the division embarked for Gallipoli. It embarked for France in November 1915 and joined the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, until February 1916 when it re-embarked and joined the rest of the division in Egypt.
The division was disbanded after the 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. The division saw a great change in its units between the wars.
The Territorial Army and the 53rd (Welsh) Division, commanded by Major General Bevil Wilson serving under Western Command, was mobilised on 1 September 1939, the day the German Army invaded Poland, and two days later the Second World War officially began. The early days of the war for the 53rd 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 and much equipment, of the 53rd Division. In October, just over a month after the war began, most of the 53rd Division was sent to Northern Ireland, coming under command of British Troops Northern Ireland.
After the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) fighting in France and Belgium was evacuated from Dunkirk in mid-1940, 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. They were both grouped together under command of III Corps. 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. "It was a very different 53rd Division which returned to near its own countryside in November 1941, from the comparatively untrained one which had moved to Ireland in driblets between October 1939 and April 1940." The 53rd Division, now commanded by Major General Gerard Bucknall, returned to the Welsh Border counties again in November 1941, with the divisional HQ based in Whitchurch, Shropshire.
The division was again serving under Western Command. In April 1942 the division was sent to defend Kent in South-Eastern Command, under Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery, between 1942–1943, joining XII Corps ready to defeat a German invasion (Operation Sea Lion), serving with the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division and 46th Infantry Division. The 53rd Division was later earmarked to form part of the Second Army for the invasion of Europe.
In September 1942, the division received a new GOC (General Officer Commanding), Major General Robert Knox "Bobby" Ross, an officer of the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) who arrived to replace Major-General Gerard Bucknall. Like most senior British commanders of the Second World War, he was a veteran of the Great War, where he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross. Before promotion to command of the 53rd, he had commanded the 160th Infantry Brigade and before that, the 2nd Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment in Palestine. He commanded the 53rd (Welsh) Division until August 1945, training the division to a very high standard in England and Kent and leading it throughout the campaign in North-west Europe.
On 17 May 1942 the 53rd (Welsh) 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. 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 Lancashire Regiment, 1st Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and 1st Highland Light Infantry, 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.
After several years of training, the 53rd (Welsh) Division landed in Normandy on 28 June 1944, the second last British infantry division to land and was placed under command of XII Corps, defending the Odon Valley position. The division was involved in much fighting in this area, with the 158th Brigade detached to fight with the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division in the Second Battle of the Odon (Operation Greenline) before Operation Goodwood in mid-July. In August it began to push beyond the Odon and crossed the river Orne, helping to close the Falaise Pocket. It was during this fighting that Acting Captain Tasker Watkins, Officer Commanding (OC) B Company of the 1/5th 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 of the British Army during the Second World War to be awarded the VC.
On 2 August, the GOC, Major-General Ross, decided that due to the casualties suffered by the division in Normandy and an acute lack of infantry replacements, the battalions of 158th Brigade (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 71 Brigade and 6th RWF to 160 Brigade while the 7th RWF remained in 158 Brigade. "It was found that with three Battalions of one Regiment in the same Brigade – as in the case of the 158th Brigade with its three Battalions of Royal Welch Fusiliers – difficulties were experienced in providing reinforcements in the event of heavy casualties. This was particularly so with Officer reinforcements." (Curiously though, this did occur with the 131st (Queen's) Brigade of the 7th Armoured Division). By 31 August 1944 the 53rd (Welsh) Division had suffered many casualties; in just over two months of fighting 52 officers and 533 other ranks were killed, 145 officers were wounded, 18 missing, 2,711 other ranks wounded and 360 missing for a total of 3,819 casualties. The division had managed to capture over 3,800 prisoners of war (POWs).
The division took part in the Swan (swift advance) to Belgium where much fighting took place to secure an important bridgehead at the Junction Canal near Lommel. The 53rd Division then fought hard to expand the salient south of Eindhoven in conjunction with the Operation Market Garden, which ended in failure due to events at the Battle of Arnhem in late September, where the British 1st Airborne Division was virtually destroyed in severe fighting. 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 to XXX Corps, 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. For the next few weeks, the division absorbed large numbers of replacements and trained the newcomers. Still with XXX Corps, which was attached to the First Canadian Army, it was later sent north in front of the Siegfried Line to take part in Operation Veritable (the Battle of the Reichswald Forest) in February 1945 where the division, supported by Churchill tanks of the 34th Armoured Brigade, was involved in some of the fiercest fighting of the campaign thus far, against determined German paratroopers and fighting in terrain similar to that found at Passchendaele 27 years before but with the addition of the cold of "winter rain, mud and flooding", where the mud was knee-deep. The Commanding Officer (CO) of the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment described the fighting in the forest as a "terribly wearing business for the men. Psychologically and mentally. It was nearly all bayonet, Sten and grenade fighting. The Bosch reserves fought very well, stubborn and had to be dug out with the bayonet." Throughout Veritable the 53rd Division suffered almost 2,500 casualties (including psychiatric casualties), roughly a quarter of what they suffered throughout the entire campaign, while capturing over 3,000 prisoners.
The division, now under command of XII Corps, under Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie, took part in Operation Plunder. the crossing the Rhine]] and advancing into Germany, where they ended the war. 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. Of those declared missing, 3 officers and 553 other ranks rejoined their units, bringing the total casualties for the division to 9,849 killed, wounded or missing. As with most divisions, the majority of these casualties were sustained by the average "Tommy" in the infantry–nicknamed the PBI or "Poor Bloody Infantry"–who had sustained more than 80 percent of the total losses. According to Ross the division "captured some 35,000 prisoners of war and probably accounted for the same amount in dead and wounded."
The 53rd Infantry Division was constituted as follows during the Second World War:
The division ended the war in 1945 in Hamburg. 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 TA. The 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division was finally disbanded in 1968.
There remain a few remnants of the division in the TA. The 160th Brigade is the regional brigade responsible for the administration of all 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 the 160th Brigade.
The 158th Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade of the British Army that served in both World War I and World War II before being disbanded in 1968. Throughout its existence the brigade was assigned to the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division and was composed almost entirely of Territorial battalions from the Royal Welch Fusiliers.159th Infantry Brigade (United Kingdom)
The 159th Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade of the British Army. Part of the Territorial Army (TA), the brigade was assigned to the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division and served with the division in the early stages of World War II until May 1942 when it was transferred to be the motorised infantry element of the 11th Armoured Division. The brigade would serve with the 11th Armoured in North-west Europe from June 1944 to May 1945.160th Infantry Brigade and Headquarters Wales
The 160th Infantry Brigade and Headquarters Wales or Brigâd 160 (Cymru) is a regional brigade of the British Army that has been in existence since 1908, and saw service during both World War I and World War II, as part of the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division. It is a regional command responsible for all of Wales. The brigade organises an annual patrolling competition in the Brecon Beacons, known as Exercise Cambrian Patrol.53rd Division
53rd Division or 53rd Infantry Division may refer to:
53rd Infantry Division (France)
53rd Reserve Division (German Empire)
53rd Infantry Division Arezzo, an Italian division of World War II
53rd Division (Imperial Japanese Army)
53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division, a British division of World Wars I and II
53 Division (Sri Lanka)71st Infantry Brigade (United Kingdom)
The 71st Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade formation of the British Army that saw active service during both the First and Second world wars.Christopher Woolner
Major General Christopher Geoffrey Woolner & Two Bars (18 October 1893 – 10 January 1984) was a senior British Army officer who served in the First World War and Second World War.Cyril Deverell
Sir Cyril John Deverell, (9 November 1874 – 12 May 1947) was a British Army Field Marshal, who served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff from 1936 to 1937. He fought in the Fourth Anglo-Ashanti War and the First World War and later advised the Government on the importance of maintaining the capability to mount an Expeditionary Force for operations on mainland Europe.Dudley Ryder, 7th Earl of Harrowby
Dudley Danvers Granville Coutts Ryder, 7th Earl of Harrowby, TD (20 December 1922 – 9 October 2007) was a deputy chairman of Coutts bank and its parent company, NatWest. He was a descendent of Thomas Coutts, who joined the bank in 1761, and of Sir Dudley Ryder, Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in the 1750s. He was known by his courtesy title of Viscount Sandon from 1956 to 1987, when he succeeded to the title of Earl of Harrowby upon the death of his father, the 6th Earl.
When he was born, his father, also Dudley Ryder, was Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Sir Samuel Hoare. His mother, Lady Helena Blanche Coventry, was the daughter of George William Coventry, Viscount Deerhurst, first son of George Coventry, 9th Earl of Coventry.
He was educated at Eton. He joined the young soldiers' battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment in 1940, while at Eton. He was commissioned in 1942. He landed in Normandy 6 days after D-Day, and served in Northern Europe in the Second World War in the 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division. He moved to the 133 Field Regiment Royal Artillery in February 1945, part of the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division, but was severely injured near the Reichswald forest only a few days later. After recovering from his injuries, he was posted to the Far East in preparation for the invasion of Malaya, Operation Zipper. The operation was abandoned following the surrender of Japan. He remained in the Far East after the war, serving as a political officer with the 5th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in Java, under Laurens van der Post. He continued as an officer in the Territorial Army after he retired from the regular Army, rising to rank of lieutenant-colonel before retiring in 1964, having commanded the 254 (City of London) Field Regiment Royal Artillery.Although he did not follow many of his ancestors in standing for Parliament, he was a councillor in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea from 1950 to 1971. He was president of the Wolverhampton South West Conservative Association, resigning in protest after the sitting MP, Enoch Powell, made his "rivers of blood" speech in 1968.
He turned down a place at New College, Oxford to join the family bank after leaving the Army, and became a managing director in 1949. He continued in that role until 1989, and was also deputy chairman from 1970 to 1989. He was responsible for the modernisation of the bank during the 1970s and 1980s, introducing computerisation and co-ordinating a redevelopment of the bank's offices on the Strand to a design by Sir Frederick Gibberd. When Coutts' parent company, National Provincial Bank, merged with Westminster Bank in 1968, he joined the board of the combined NatWest Bank. He was deputy chairman of NatWest from 1971 to 1987.
He was also a director of the National Provident Institution until 1986, and of the Saudi International Bank, Bentley Engineering, Powell Duffryn, Dowty and Dinorwic Slate Quarries. He also held public appointments, including being chairman of the governors of the combined Bethlem Royal and Maudsley hospitals, a governor of the University of Keele, and treasurer of the Family Welfare Association. He was also a member of the member Trilateral Commission and of the Institut International d'Études Bancaires.
He took the courtesy title of Viscount Sandon following the death of his grandfather in 1956, and succeeded his father as 7th Earl of Harrowby in 1987. He also inherited the family seat, neo-Jacobean Sandon Hall near Stafford, designed by William Burn in 1850. Together with all but 90 hereditary peers, he lost his seat in the House of Lords after the passing of the House of Lords Act 1999 implemented reforms proposed by the Labour Government.He married Jeannette Rosalthé Johnston-Saint, younger daughter of Captain Peter Johnston-Saint, on 14 June 1949. They had a son and a daughter. His first wife died in 1997, and he remarried in 2003, to Janet Boote (née Stott), youngest daughter of Alan Edward Stott.
He died suddenly at Sandon Hall, of a suspected heart attack. He was survived by his second wife, and the two children from his first marriage. His son, Dudley Ryder, succeeded him as 8th Earl.Ernest Down
Lieutenant-General Sir Ernest Edward Down KBE CB (1902–1980) was a senior officer of the British Army, who saw active service during World War II.Francis Matthews (British Army officer)
Major General Francis Raymond Gage Matthews CB DSO (26 January 1903 – 26 May 1976) was a British Army officer who served in World War II and later was Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong.Gerard Bucknall
Lieutenant-General Gerard Corfield Bucknall CB, MC, DL (14 September 1894 – 7 December 1980) was a senior British Army officer who served in both World War I and World War II, where he commanded the 5th Infantry Division and later XXX Corps during the Battle of Normandy in mid-1944.Herefordshire Light Infantry
The Herefordshire Light Infantry was an infantry regiment of the British Army in existence from 1861 to 1967. The regiment had no lineal connection with the 36th (Herefordshire) Regiment of Foot.Logan Scott-Bowden
Major General Logan Scott-Bowden, CBE, DSO, MC and Bar (21 February 1920 - 9 February 2014) was a British army officer. A Royal Engineers officer during World War II, he was the first commander of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Retiring as a Major General in 1974, he served as the Colonel-Commandant of the Royal Engineers from 1975 to 1980.Monmouthshire Regiment
The Monmouthshire Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army and the Territorial Army. Originating in units of rifle volunteers formed in Monmouthshire in 1859, the regiment served in the Second Anglo-Boer War and both World War I and World War II before losing its separate identity in 1967.Operation Jupiter (1944)
Operation Jupiter was an offensive by VIII Corps of the British Second Army on 10 July 1944 during the Battle of Normandy in the Second World War. The objective of the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division (Major-General Ivo Thomas), was to capture the villages of Baron-sur-Odon, Fontaine-Étoupefour, Chateau de Fontaine and to recapture Hill 112. An attached brigade of the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division would take Éterville, Maltot and the ground up to the River Orne and then the tanks of the 4th Armoured Brigade, supported by infantry, would advance through the captured ground and secure several villages to the west of the River Orne. It was hoped that the initial objectives could be captured by 9:00 a.m., after which the 4th Armoured Brigade would exploit the success.
The British advance went well at first but fighting for Hill 112 took all day and Maltot changed hands several times. On 11 July, counter-attacks by the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen, 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg and the schwere-SS Panzer Battalion 102 in the afternoon, forced the British off the top of Hill 112 to positions on the north-facing slope. The operation was a tactical failure for VIII Corps but a strategic success for the Allies, attrition having reduced the II SS Panzer Corps to a condition from which it never recovered. British operations of the Second Battle of the Odon conducted in the Odon valley continued in July and the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division occupied Hill 112 almost unopposed on 4 August, after the Germans withdrew during Operation Cobra and Operation Bluecoat further west. A stone memorial to the 43rd Division was built on the hill in the late 1940s.Robert Knox Ross
Major General Robert Knox Ross CB DSO MC (23 August 1893 – 3 November 1951) was a senior British Army officer who, during World War II, commanded the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division throughout the campaign in North-West Europe from June 1944 until May 1945.Thomas Marden
Major General Sir Thomas Owen Marden, KBE, CB, CMG (15 September 1866 – 11 September 1951) was a British Army officer, active during the Second Boer War and World War I, where he commanded a battalion of the Welsh Regiment, a brigade, and finally the 6th Division. Following the war, he commanded a British occupying force in Turkey during the Chanak Crisis in the early 1920s.William Reginald Cox
Major-General William Reginald Cox CB, DSO (13 June 1905 – 12 June 1988) was a senior British Army officer who commanded the 1st Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment in the Western European Campaign from June 1944 until Victory in Europe Day in May 1945. He later served as colonel of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry.
Divisions of the British Army