1st Infantry Division
1st Division insignia used in World War I
(the international signal pennant for '1')
'The Salvation Army'
Battle of Talavera
Battle of Salamanca
Siege of Tarragona
Battle of Vitoria
Siege of San Sebastián
Battle of the Pyrenees
Battle of the Bidassoa (1813)
Battle of Toulouse (1814)
Battle of Quatre Bras
Battle of Waterloo
Battle of Alma
Battle of Balaclava
Battle of Inkerman
Second Boer War
Battle of Belmont
Battle of Graspan
Battle of Modder River
Battle of Magersfontein
Battle of Boshof
First World War
Battle of Mons
First Battle of the Marne
First Battle of the Aisne
First Battle of Ypres
Battle of Aubers Ridge
Battle of Loos
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Pozières
Battle of Passchendaele
Battle of Épehy
Second World War
Battle of France
Battle of Anzio
Battle of Monte Cassino
|The Duke of Cambridge|
|1st Infantry Division sign|
used in World War 2.
The 1st Infantry Division was a regular army infantry division of the British Army with a very long history. The division was present at the Peninsular War, the Crimean War, the First World War, and during the Second World War and was finally disbanded in 1960.
The British 1st Division was originally formed in 1809 by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington for service in the Peninsula War, drawing initially from two British brigades and one Hanoverian brigade of the King's German Legion. During the Peninsula War, it was involved in most of the engagements between the Allies and France including the Battle of Talavera in 1809, the Battle of Salamanca in 1812, the Siege of Tarragona in 1813, the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, the Siege of San Sebastián in 1813, the Battle of the Pyrenees in 1813, the Battle of the Bidassoa in 1813 and the Battle of Toulouse in 1814.
The order of battle in summer 1813 was:
Napoleon Bonaparte's returned during the Congress of Vienna. On 13 March, seven days before Napoleon reached Paris, the powers at the Congress of Vienna declared him an outlaw; four days later the United Kingdom, Russia, Austria and Prussia, members of the Seventh Coalition, bound themselves to put 150,000 men each into the field to end his rule. This set the stage for the last conflict in the Napoleonic Wars and for the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, the restoration of the French monarchy for the second time and the permanent exile of Napoleon to the island of Saint Helena, where he died in May 1821.
1st Division was involved in the Waterloo Campaign seeing its first action at the Battle of Quatre Bras then at the Battle of Waterloo, where it held Wellington's right flank. On the extreme right was the chateau, garden, and orchard of Hougoumont, which was defended by the division's 2nd Brigade under General John Byng.
The initial attack by Maréchal de Camp Bauduin's 1st Brigade of the 5th Division emptied the wood and park, but was driven back by heavy British artillery fire and cost Bauduin his life. The British guns were distracted into an artillery duel with French guns and this allowed a second attack by General de Brigade Baron Soye's 2nd Brigade of the 6th Division. They managed a small breach on the south side but could not exploit it. An attack by elements of the 1st Brigade of the 6th Division on the north side was more successful. This attack lead to one of the most famous skirmishes in the Battle of Waterloo - Sous-Lieutenant Legros, wielding an axe, managed to break through the north gate. A desperate fight ensued between the invading French soldiers and the defending Guards. In a near-miraculous attack, Macdonell, a small party of officers and Corporal James Graham fought through the melee to shut the gate, trapping Legros and about 30 other soldiers of the 1st Legere inside. All of the French who entered, apart from a young drummer boy, were killed in a desperate hand-to-hand fight. The French attack in the immediate vicinity of the farm was repulsed by the arrival of the 2nd Coldstream Guards and 2/3rd Foot Guards.
Commanding General: Major-General George Cooke
The Crimean War (1853-1856) was fought between Imperial Russia on one side and an alliance of France, the United Kingdom, the Kingdom of Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire on the other. Most of the conflict took place on the Crimean Peninsula, with additional actions occurring in western Turkey, and the Baltic Sea region. The Crimean War is sometimes considered to be the first "modern" conflict and "introduced technical changes which affected the future course of warfare".
The Division, which now consisted of the Guards Brigade and the Highland Brigade, was involved in the Battle of Alma (20 September 1854), which is considered to be the first battle of the Crimean war. They were next in action during the Battle of Balaclava. The battle started with a successful Russian attack on Ottoman positions. This led to the Russians breaking through into the valley of Balaklava (anglicised as "Balaclava"), where British forces were encamped. The Russian advance was intended to disrupt the British base and attack British positions near Sevastopol from the rear. An initial Russian advance south of the southern line of hills was repulsed by the British. A large attacking force of Russian cavalry advanced over the ridgeline, and split into two portions. One of these columns drove south towards the town of Balaklava itself, threatening the main supply of the entire British army. That drive was repulsed by the muskets of the 93rd (Highland) Regiment, which had been formed into a lone line of two rows by its commander, Sir Colin Campbell. This action became known in history as "The Thin Red Line", this battle was also well known for the Charge of the Light Brigade. The division was also involved in the Battle of Inkerman (5 November 1854).
Commanding General: Duke of Cambridge
When an army corps of three divisions was mobilised and despatched to South Africa at the outbreak of the Boer War, Lt-Gen Lord Methuen was given command of 1st Division of two infantry brigades, 1st (Guards) under Maj-Gen Sir Henry Colville and 2nd under Maj-Gen Henry Hildyard, with 4th Brigade Division (three batteries) of the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) under Col C.J. Long. The British commander, Sir Redvers Buller, had intended to march with the whole army corps across the Orange River to Bloemfontein, capital of the Orange Free State, but by the time the troops reached Cape Town the Boers had seized the Orange River crossings and begun sieges of Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking. Buller was forced to split his forces, sending divisions to relieve Ladysmith and Kimberley. Methuen and 1st Division were assigned to the relief of Kimberley, but the situation at Ladysmith deteriorated, and Buller diverted Hildyard's 2nd Brigade and Long's artillery to that sector. The division that Methuen assembled at Orange River Station in November 1899 comprised Colville's Guards Brigade and a 'scratch' brigade numbered 9th under Maj-Gen S.R. Fetherstonehaugh, with the 9th Lancers and a brigade division of RFA under Col Hall. Methuen could also call on the 3rd (Highland) Brigade under Maj-Gen Andrew Wauchope (diverted from 2nd Division), in reserve at De Aar.
Cavalry Col Bloomfield Gough
Artillery Lt-Col F.H. Hall
South African Reserve
Methuen followed the railway in the direction of Kimberley, and encountered large Boer forces at Belmont, where 1st Division obtained 'a victory of sorts' on 23 November, though with heavy casualties. They followed up and attacked again at Graspan (25 November) and at Modder River (28 November), again forcing the Boers from their positions but without landing a decisive punch. After receiving reinforcements, Methuen attacked at Magersfontein (11 December 1899). Despite the heavy artillery preparation and night approach, the attack failed. Together with failed attacks on the other fronts at Stormberg and Colenso, the news of Magersfontein led to the political crisis of Black Week in Britain.
The order of battle was:
GOC: Lt-Gen Lord Methuen
1st (Guards) Brigade (as above)
3rd (Highland) Brigade (arrived 10 December) Maj-Gen Andrew Wauchope
9th Brigade (as above)
Cavalry Brigade Maj-Gen J.M. Babington
Total: 10,200 rifles, 800 sabres, 33 guns
Having failed to break through at Magersfontein, Methuen was obliged to stand on the Modder River, apart from sending 9th Brigade raiding into the Orange Free State. Behind the screen provided by 1st Division, the newly arrived commander-in-chief, Lord Roberts, assembled a large army to renew the offensive. After the disaster it had suffered at Magersfontein, where Wauchope was killed, the Highland Brigade and its new commander, Brig-Gen Hector MacDonald, refused to serve under Methuen, and Roberts transferred them to a new 9th Division under Colville. He also sacked Babington from command of the cavalry. And when Roberts advanced in February 1900, he stripped the Guards Brigade from 1st Division to join a new 11th Division under Pole-Carew and took much of the artillery and transport, This left Methuen and a reduced 1st Division to cover Roberts's lines of communication.
Following the Battle of Paardeberg (18-27 February), the reliefs of Kimberley and Ladysmith, and the fall of Bloemfontein, Roberts reorganised his force to pursue the defeated Boers. Methuen was tasked with clearing the country along the Vaal River on the Boers' flank and driving towards Mafeking, which was still besieged. On 5 April Methuen led out his Mounted Infantry under Brig-Gen Lord Chesham, with the Kimberley Mounted Corps and 4th Battery RFA, and caught a Boer Commando led by a French volunteer, the Comte de Villebois-Mareuil. At the small Battle of Boshof, the Imperial Yeomanry (in action for the first time) surrounded the Boers and then closed with the bayonet. De Villebois-Mareuil was killed and his men killed or captured.
9th Brigade Maj-Gen Charles Douglas
20th Brigade Maj-Gen Arthur Paget
Increasingly, Roberts' forces were operating as mobile columns rather than formed divisions. Methuen's 1st Division became known as the 'Mobile Marvels' and the 'Mudcrushers' because of their prodigious marches. They also acquired the nicknames 'The Salvation Army' and 'Beechams' (from Beecham's Pills, a popular cure-all) because they relieved so many outposts and besieged garrisons. With 9th Brigade and the Imperial Yeomanry, Methuen's Column took part in the operations of June 1900 to trap the elusive Boer leader Christiaan de Wet. Advancing along the Kroonstad railway, they encountered de Wet at Rhenoster River. After a heavy artillery bombardment, the Loyal North Lancashires broke through the Boer lines and many Boers surrendered. But de Wet got away with most of his mounted men and Methuen's troops were too exhausted to pursue. The frustrating pursuit of de Wet and other Boer leaders went on for months. After July 1900 1st Division existed only on paper, and Methuen's Column consisted of an ad hoc brigade of raw recruits - 'colonel's work', Methuen described it.
With the return of the troops from South Africa at the end of the Boer War, 1st Division was reformed at Aldershot as part of the 1st Army Corps, with two brigades (the 1st Guards brigade and 2nd Infantry Brigade, comprising eight battalions), 'fairly well organized for mobilization'.
Under Lord Haldane's 1907 reforms, which laid down plans for the despatch of a British Expeditionary Force in case of war, 1st Division was one of the two permanent divisions in Aldershot Command that would constitute I Corps.
(Brigades consisted of four battalions Actual units within this structure varied as battalions, batteries and RE companies rotated between home and overseas stations.)
The division was a permanently established Regular Army division that was amongst the first to be sent to France at the outbreak of the First World War. It served on the Western Front for the duration of the war. On 31 October 1914 divisional commander General Samuel Lomax was seriously wounded by an artillery shell and died on 10 April 1915 never having recovered from his wounds. After the war the division was part of the occupation force stationed at Bonn.
The division's insignia was the signal flag for the 'Number 1'. During the war, the division was involved in the following battles: Battle of Mons, First Battle of the Marne, First Battle of the Aisne, First Battle of Ypres, Battle of Aubers Ridge, Battle of Loos, Battle of the Somme, Battle of Pozières, Third Battle of Ypres, Battle of Épehy.
Originally called the '1st (Guards) Brigade' because it contained the 1st battalions of the Coldstream Guards and the Scots Guards. When the Guards Division was created in August 1915 and these two battalions departed (both for 2nd Guards Brigade), the brigade was renamed as 1st Brigade.
At the start of Second World War, the 1st Infantry Division was stationed at Aldershot and commanded by Major General the Hon. Harold Alexander (who had assumed command in 1938). The division was sent to France in mid-September 1939, arriving there on 20 September, where it formed part of Lieutenant General Sir John Dill's I Corps of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The division, unlike in the First World War, was not immediately engaged in fighting, and was to remain in France for the next few months until evacuated from Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo in June 1940.
In late February 1943, the 1st Division, now commanded by Major General Walter Clutterbuck, left the United Kingdom, destined for North Africa to take part in the final stages of the Tunisian Campaign. The division, arriving there on 9 March, was initially under the direct command of the British First Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson, who had commanded the division in the retreat to Dunkirk until May 1941.
Soon, the division, which had been stationed in the Medjez-Bou Arada sector, became part of Lieutenant General Charles Allfrey's V Corps The division was engaged mainly in patrolling and began preparations for an offensive to end the war in North Africa. On the night of 20/21 April the division took part in the Battle of the Medjez Plain, where it was pitted against the Hermann Göring Division which, with the commander having anticipated an offensive, had launched his own offensive with the intention of spoiling the Allied attack. The offensive, however, was soon repulsed (although an entire company of the 1st Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment had been overrun) with the aid of the divisional artillery (which had been moved forward for the upcoming battle) and Churchill tanks of the 142nd (Suffolk) Regiment Royal Armoured Corps (142 RAC), part of the 25th Army Tank Brigade, and the 1st Division suffered only 106 casualties.
The next few days saw the 1st Division engaged in particularly hard fighting, with the 2nd Brigade, attacking a ridge known as Gueriat el Atach. The attack failed, at a cost of over 500 casualties, with the supporting 142 RAC losing 29 of 52 tanks, mainly from enemy Tiger tanks. Among those killed were Lieutenant Willward Alexander Sandys-Clarke of the 1st Battalion, Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire), who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroism in stalking and destroying an enemy machine gun. The ridge was taken the next day, 24 April, by the 2nd Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, of the 3rd Brigade.
Two days later, the 24th Guards Brigade moved to an attack an objective named Bou Aoukaz. No opposition was encountered, aside from mines, and they were ordered by Division HQ to assault Bou Aoukaz on the afternoon of 27 April. The Bou was taken, but with heavy casualties to the 1st Irish and 5th Grenadiers, mostly from enemy shells and mortar. It was discovered that the Germans had retreated, being apparently amazed at the tenacity of the Guards. The 1st Scots Guards had been ordered to assault the Bou from the left flank. However, a machine gun had held them up, which was taken out by Captain Charles Lyell and four guardsmen. They were then fired on by an 88mm gun, which was silenced by Captain Lyell, who was killed while bayoneting the 88 crew, with the survivors fleeing. Captain Lyell was posthumously awarded the VC. The Bou was taken but soon given up, due to a communications issue. The Scots Guards renewed the assault upon the Bou the following day, only to be repulsed. The day afterwards, the enemy, realising how vital the Bou was, being the key to Tunis, launched a huge counterattack, which fell upon the 24th Brigade. It was during this period that the division earned its third VC, belonging to Lance Corporal John Kenneally of the 1st Irish Guards.
Fighting continued for the next few days until mid-May, when the Axis forces in North Africa finally surrendered, prompting General Sir Harold Alexander, commanding the Allied 18th Army Group (and who had previously commanded the 1st Division), to cable to Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, "Sir, it is my duty to report that the Tunisian campaign is over. All enemy resistance has ceased. We are masters of the North African shores."
The division, commanded from October 1943 by Major General Ronald Penney, arrived on the Italian Front in December 1943, initially to serve under command of General Sir Bernard Montgomery's British Eighth Army but soon became part of the U.S. Fifth Army, under Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark.
Operation Shingle was an Allied amphibious landing against Axis forces in the area of Anzio and Nettuno, Italy. The operation was intended to outflank German forces at the Winter Line and enable an attack on the Italian capital of Rome. The resulting combat is commonly called the Battle of Anzio. The division came under the command of the U.S. VI Corps, under Major General John P. Lucas.
The landings began on 22 January 1944. Although resistance had been expected, as seen at the Salerno landings during September 1943, the initial landings were essentially unopposed, with the exception of desultory Luftwaffe strafing runs.
By midnight, 36,000 soldiers and 3,200 vehicles had landed on the beaches. A mere 13 Allied troops were killed, and 97 wounded; about 200 Germans had been taken as POWs. The British 1st Division penetrated 2 miles (3 km) inland, the U.S. Army Rangers captured Anzio's port, the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion captured Nettuno, and the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division penetrated 3 miles (5 km) inland.
There was, however, to be severe fighting throughout the next few weeks as the Germans launched several fierce counterattacks in an attempt to drive the Allied force back into the sea. Testimony to this was when, on 17 February, the GOC, Major General Ronald Penney was wounded by shellfire and command of the 1st Division was taken by Major General Gerald Templer of the recently arrived 56th (London) Infantry Division, who took command from 18 to 22 February, when Penney resumed command.
Because of the fighting seen by the division throughout February and March, the 24th Guards Brigade was withdrawn from the division, due to a lack of Guards replacements (even at this stage of the war the Guards were the only infantry regiments in the British Army to receive drafts of replacements from their own regiment), and replaced by the 18th Infantry Brigade from the 1st British Armoured Division, which was in North Africa at the time.
Operation Diadem was the final battle for Monte Cassino the plan was the U.S. II Corps on the left would attack up the coast along the line of Route 7 towards Rome. The French Expeditionary Corps (CEF) to their right would attack from the bridgehead across the Garigliano into the Aurunci Mountains. British XIII Corps in the centre right of the front would attack along the Liri valley whilst on the right 2nd Polish Corps would isolate the monastery and push round behind it into the Liri valley to link with XIII Corps. I Canadian Corps would be held in reserve ready to exploit the expected breakthrough. Once the German Tenth Army had been defeated, the U.S. VI Corps would break out of the Anzio beachhead to cut off the retreating Germans in the Alban Hills.
As the Canadians and Polish launched their attack on 23 May, Major General Lucian Truscott, who had replaced Lucas as commander of U.S. VI Corps, launched a two pronged attack using five (three American and two British) of the seven divisions in the bridgehead at Anzio. The German 14th Army facing this thrust was without any armoured divisions because Kesselring had sent his armour south to help the German 10th Army in the Cassino action. The 18th Infantry Brigade, which was temporarily attached to the division from February to August, returned to command of the 1st British Armoured Division and were replaced by the 66th Infantry Brigade became a part of the division for the rest of the war.
In the fighting for the Anzio beachhead, 8,868 officers and men of the British 1st Infantry Division were killed, wounded or missing in action. The division, commanded from July 1944 by Major General Charles Loewen, subsequently went on to fight on the Gothic Line until being withdrawn from Italy in January 1945.
After the war, the division only remained in Palestine for a short time. It was transferred to Egypt for a few months before going back to Palestine in April 1946. Two years later, as the British mandate over Palestine ended, the division returned to Egypt, also spending periods in Libya up until 1951. In October of that year, as British forces pulled out of Egypt outside of the Suez Canal Zone, the division garrisoned that small area. After British forces withdrew from Egypt, the division returned to the UK for a short while in 1955 and 1956.
Commanders since 1902 have been:
GOC 1st Division