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53rd (Welsh) Division

53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division

Active 1908–1968
Country United Kingdom
Branch Infantry
Type Infantry Division
Size Approximately 18,000 men
Engagements First World War:
* Battle of Gallipoli
* First Battle of Gaza
Second World War:
* Battle of Normandy
* Battle of Falaise
* Battle of the Bulge
* Operation Veritable
Disbanded 1968
Commanders
Officer Commanding Major-General R.K. Ross (Second World War)

The British 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division was a Territorial Army division that fought in both World Wars. During the First World War the division fought at Gallipoli and in the Middle East. Remaining active during the interwar years as a peace-time formation, the division again saw action in the Second World War, fighting in North-West Europe. It was temporarily disbanded at the end of the war, but reactivated in 1947. In 1968 the division was finally deactivated, but its 160th Infantry Brigade remains in service today.

History

First World War

The division landed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 9 August.

On 26 March 1917, the 53rd Division bore the brunt of the First Battle of Gaza where the three brigades, along with the 161st Brigade of the 54th 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.

53rd (Welsh) Division, 1914–1918

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

158th (North Wales) Brigade

Joined 1918:

  • 3rd/153rd Indian Infantry
  • 3rd/154th Indian Infantry
  • 4th/11th Gurkha Rifles

159th (Cheshire) Brigade

  • 1/4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment
  • 1/5th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (until February 1915)
  • 1/7th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment
  • 2/5th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (until April 1915)
  • 2/6th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (until April 1915)
  • 1/4th Battalion, Welsh Regiment
  • 1/5th Battalion, Welsh Regiment
  • 3rd/152nd Indian Infantry (from 1918)
  • 1st153rd Indian Infantry (from 1918)
  • 2nd/153 Indian Infantry (from 1918)

160th (Welsh Border) Brigade

[1]

Second World War

Remaining active throughout the interwar years, the division served as part of the Home Defence Forces of the United Kingdom between 1939–1940, fittingly based to defend Wales and the borders. In April 1940 the Division transferred to Northern Ireland, where it remained until November 1941. It returned to the mainland again to defend Kent and the South Coast between 1941–1943, when it was earmarked to form part of the British Second Army. In October 1943 the division was reorganised, its 159th Infantry Brigade detaching to form part of 11th Armoured Division, with the 71st Infantry Brigade taking its place. The division spent the remaining period in the build-up to the Invasion of Normandy in intensive training.[2]

53rd Welsh Division landed in Normandy on 28 June 1944 and was placed under command of XII Corps, now defending the Odon Valley position. The division was involved in heavy fighting in this area 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 Captain Tasker Watkins of 158th Brigade won his Victoria Cross. Due to the casualties suffered by the division in Normandy and the acute lack of infantry reinforcements, some of its battalions were replaced.[3]

Advancing into the Netherlands, 53rd Division liberated the city of 's-Hertogenbosch in four days of heavy fighting from 24 October. In December 1944, attached now to XXX Corps, it was one of the British divisions that took part in the 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.


Order of battle 1944–45

71st Infantry Brigade

158th Infantry Brigade

  • 4th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (until 26 August 1944)
  • 6th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (until 26 August 1944)
  • 7th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers
  • 1/5th Battalion, Welch Regiment (from 26 August 1944)
  • 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment (from 26 August 1944)

160th Infantry Brigade

  • 2nd Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment
  • 4th Battalion, Welch Regiment (until 26 August 1944)
  • 1/5th Battalion, Welch Regiment
  • 6th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (from 26 August 1944)

Divisional Troops

  • 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment (Machine-Gun Regiment)
  • 53rd Regiment, Reconnaissance Corps
  • 81st Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 83rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 133rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 71st Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 244th Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 282nd Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 555th Field Company, Royal Engineers

Post-war

The division ended the war in Hamburg, it sustained 9,849 battle casualties killed, missing and wounded since landing in Normandy. 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) Division was finally disbanded in 1968.

There remain a few remnants of the division in the Territorial Army. 160 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 160 Brigade.

Battle honours

First World War

Second World War

See also

Notes

References

  • Barclay, C.N., The History of the 53rd (Welsh) Division in the Second World War, Wm. Clowes & Sons, 1956. No ISBN.

External links

  • History of the 53rd (Welsh) division on memorial-montormel.org
  • The British Army in the Great War: The 53rd (Welsh) Division
  • History of 555 Field Company Royal Engineers in WW2


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