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1st Infantry Division
British 1st Division Insignia.png
Active 1809 - 1960
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
Type Infantry
Engagements Peninsular War
Battle of Talavera
Battle of Salamanca
Siege of Tarragona
Battle of Vitoria
Siege of San Sebastian
Battle of the Pyrenees
Battle of the Bidassoa (1813)
Battle of Toulouse (1814)
Battle of Quatre Bras
Battle of Waterloo
Crimean War
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 (1916)
Battle of Pozières
Third Battle of Ypres
Battle of Epehy
Second World War
Battle of France
El Kourzia
Anzio Landings
Battle of Monte Cassino
Liri Valley
Lt-Gen HRH The Duke of Cambridge
Lt-Gen Lord Methuen
Maj-Gen Harold Alexander
Maj-Gen K.A.N.Anderson
Maj-Gen Charles Loewen

The 1st Infantry Division was a regular British Army division with a long history having been present at the Peninsular War, the Crimean War, the First World War, and during the Second World War.

Napoleonic Wars

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, Battle of Salamanca in 1812, Siege of Tarragona (1813), Battle of Vitoria, Siege of San Sebastian, Battle of the Pyrenees, Battle of the Bidassoa (1813), Battle of Toulouse (1814).

Peninsular formation

(April 1814)

Gate on the north side of Hougoumont assaulted by the French 1st Legere [1]

Waterloo campaign

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.[2] 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.

A map of the Battle of Waterloo, showing Hougoumont on the French Left

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 Divisions 2nd Brigade.

The initial attack was 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 attacked 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 deefending Guards. In a near-miraculus 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.[1] The French attack in the immediate vicinity of the farm were repulsed by the arrival of the 2nd Coldstream Guards and 2/3rd Foot Guards. Fighting continued around Hougoumont all afternoon with its surroundings heavily invested with French light infantry and co-ordinated cavalry attacks sent against the troops behind Hougoumont.

Formation at Waterloo

Commanding General: Major-General George Cooke

Crimean war

Painting of the Thin Red Line by Robert Gibb

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."[3]

The Division which now consisted of the Guards Brigade and the Highland Brigade,was involved in the Battle of Alma (September 20, 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.They were also involved in the Battle of Inkerman (November 5, 1854).

Formation during the Crimean War

Commanding General: Duke of Cambridge

Second Anglo-Boer War

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.[4][5][6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

Order of Battle at Belmont, Graspan and Modder River[9]

GOC: Lt-Gen Lord Methuen
AAG: Col R.B. Mainwaring
DAAGs: Lt-Col H.P. Norcott
Maj R.H.L. Warner

1st (Guards) Brigade Maj-Gen Sir Henry Colville

9th Brigade Maj-Gen S.R. Fetherstonehaugh (wounded at Belmont))[10]
Maj-Gen Reginald Pole-Carew[11]

Cavalry Col Bloomfield Gough

Artillery Lt-Col F.H. Hall

  • 18th Battery RFA
  • 75th Battery RFA
  • 62nd Battery RFA (arrived in time for Modder River)


Naval Brigade

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.[12] 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.

Order of Battle at Magersfontein[13]

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


  • G Battery Royal Horse Artillery
  • 18th Battery RFA
  • 62nd Battery RFA
  • 65th (Howitzer) Battery RFA
  • 75th Battery RFA
  • Australian Artillery

Divisional troops

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.[14]

Following the Battle of Paardeburg (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.[15]

Order of Battle May–June 1900[16][17]

1st Division (Methuen’s Column) GOC: Lt-Gen Lord Methuen

9th Brigade Maj-Gen Charles Douglas

20th Brigade Maj-Gen Arthur Paget

Mounted Troops

  • 3rd Bn Imperial Yeomanry (Lt-Col G.J. Younghusband)
    • 9th Yorkshire Company
    • 10th Nottinghamshire (Sherwood Rangers) Company
    • 11th Yorkshire Company
    • 12th South Nottinghamshire Company
  • 5th Bn Imperial Yeomanry (Lt-Col F.C. Meyrick)
    • 13th Shropshire Company
    • 14th Northumberland Company
    • 15th Northumberland Company
    • 16th Worcestershire Company
  • 10th Bn Imperial Yeomanry (Lt-Col Eric Smith)
    • 37th Buckinghamshire Company
    • 38th Buckinghamshire Company
    • 39th Berkshire Company
    • 40th Oxfordshire Company
  • 15th Bn Imperial Yeomanry (Lt-Col L. Sandwith)
    • 56th Buckinghamshire Company
    • 57th Buckinghamshire Company
    • 58th Brtkshire Company
    • 59th Oxfordshire Company
  • Warwick’s Scouts


  • 4th Battery RFA
  • 20th Battery RFA
  • 37th Howitzer Battery RFA
  • 38th Battery RFA
  • Diamond Fields Artillery
  • 23rd Company (Western) Royal Garrison Artillery


  • 11th Company RE

Increasingly, Roberts’ forces were operating as mobile columns rather than formed divisions.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21]

Prior to First World War

With the return of the troops from South Africa at the end of the Boer War, 1st Division was reformed at Aldershot with two brigades (eight battalions), ‘fairly well organized for mobilization’.[22] 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.

Establishment May 1907[23]

1st Division GOC: Maj-Gen James Grierson

  • 1st Brigade (Aldershot)
  • 2nd Brigade (Blackdown)
  • 3rd Brigade (Bordon)
  • Three Field Artillery Brigades (each of three batteries)
  • One Field Artillery (Howitzer) Brigade
  • Two Field Companies, Royal Engineers
  • Two Divisional Telegraph Companies, Royal Engineers.

(Brigades consisted of four battalions Actual units within this structure varied as battalions, batteries and RE companies rotated between home and overseas stations.)

First World War

British Trench First World War

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. In October 1914 divisional commander Samuel Lomax was killed in action. 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 (1916), Battle of Pozières, Third Battle of Ypres, Battle of Epehy.

Formation During the First World War

The division comprised the following infantry brigades:

1st Brigade

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 formed in August 1915 and these two battalions departed, the brigade was renamed.

2nd Brigade

Also attached to the 2nd Brigade for periods during 1915:

3rd Brigade

Also attached to the 3rd Brigade were:

  • 1/6th (Glamorgan) Battalion, The Welsh Regiment (October 1915 to May 1916)
  • 1/4th (Denbighshire) Battalion, The Royal Welch Fusiliers (November 1914 to September 1915)
  • 1/9th Battalion, The King's (Liverpool) Regiment (November 1915 to January 1916)

Second World War

During the Second World War the division formed part of the British Expeditionary Force in France until evacuated from Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo in June 1940. In 1943 it fought in North Africa during the Tunisia Campaign as part of the British First Army and then was in Italy for 1944 including Operation Shingle, the Anzio landing, from January to May. Between June and November 1942 it was a Mixed Division containing the 34th Army Tank Brigade, (replaced in September by the 25th). At the end of the war it was transferred to Palestine for internal security duties.

Battle of France

Order of Battle, France 1940[24]
General Officer Commanding: Maj-Gen Hon. H.R.L.G. Alexander

Battle of the Kasserine Pass

The Battle of the Kasserine Pass took place during the Tunisia Campaign and was,a series of battles fought around Kasserine Pass, a two-mile (3 km) wide gap in the Grand Dorsal chain of the Atlas Mountains in west central Tunisia. The Axis forces involved were primarily from the German-Italian Panzer Army (the redesignated German Panzer Army Africa) led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and the Fifth Panzer Army led by General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim. The Allied forces involved came mostly from the U.S. Army's II Corps commanded by Major-General Lloyd Fredendall which was part of the British First Army commanded by Lieutenant-General Kenneth Anderson.

On 19 February Rommel launched an assault. The next day, he personally led the attack by the 10th Panzer Division, lent to him from von Arnim's Fifth Panzer Army to the north, hoping to take the supply dumps, while the German 21st Panzer Division, also detached from the Fifth Panzer Army, continued attacking northward through the Sbiba gap.

Within minutes, the U.S. lines were broken. Their light guns and tanks had no chance against the heavier German equipment, and they had little or no experience in armored warfare. The German Panzer IVs and Tiger tanks fended off all attacks with ease; the M3 Lee and M3 Stuart tanks they faced were inferior in firepower and their crews far less experienced. Under fierce tank attack, the American units on Highway 13 also gave way during the night, with men at all points retreating before the Italian 131st Centauro Armoured Division.[30] After breaking into the pass, the German forces divided into two groups, each advancing up one of the two roads leading out of the pass to the northwest.

The attack by the German 21st Panzer Division up to Sbiba was stopped on February 19 by elements of the British 1st Infantry Brigade (Guards), the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards.

Operation Shingle

Operation Shingle (22 January 1944), during the Italian Campaign, was an Allied amphibious landing against Axis forces in the area of Anzio and Nettuno, Italy. The operation was commanded by Major General John P. Lucas and was intended to outflank German forces of the Winter Line and enable an attack on Rome. The resulting combat is commonly called the Battle of Anzio.

Order of Battle Operation Shingle

Initial Landings

Force dispositions at Anzio and Cassino January / February 1944

The landings began on 22 January 1944.

Although resistance had been expected, as seen at Salerno during 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. Thirteen Allied troops were killed, and 97 wounded; about 200 Germans had been taken as POWs.[31] The 1st Division penetrated 2 miles (3 km) inland, the US Rangers captured Anzio's port, the 509th PIB captured Nettuno, and the US 3rd Division penetrated 3 miles (5 km) inland.

Operation Diadem

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 Corps 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. Canadian I Corps would be held in reserve ready to exploit the expected breakthrough. Once the German Tenth Army had been defeated, U.S. VI Corps including the 1st Infantry Division would break out of the Anzio beachhead to cut off the retreating Germans in the Alban Hills.

Anzio breakout

As the Canadians and Poles launched their attack on 23 May, General Lucian Truscott, who had replaced Lt. Gen. John P. Lucas as commander of U.S. VI Corps, launched a two pronged attack using five (three U.S. and two British) of the seven divisions in the bridgehead at Anzio. The German Fourteenth Army facing this thrust was without any armoured divisions because Kesselring had sent his armour south to help the German Tenth Army in the Cassino action.

Post war

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. Whilst in the UK it was reduced to one brigade in 1956.

In 1960 it was disbanded before being reformed as the 1st Division based in Verden an der Aller in Germany as part of British I Corps in the British Army of the Rhine.[32]


Commanders since 1902 have been:[33]
GOC 1st Division

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Great Gate of Hougoumont
  2. Hamilton-Williams, David p. 59
  3. Royle. Preface
  4. Amery Vol II, p 114.
  5. Miller pp 76-83.
  6. Hall pp 2, 51-2.
  7. Amery Vol II, p 283.
  8. Miller pp 79-83.
  9. Miller p 114.
  10. Miller p 93.
  11. Miller pp 98 & 104.
  12. Miller pp 87-98.
  13. Miller pp 124-5, 157-8.
  14. Miller pp 174-80.
  15. Miller pp 184-6.
  16. Amery Vol IV, Appendix I, pp 503-11.
  17. Miller p 197.
  19. Amery Vol IV p 412.
  20. Miller p 188-9.
  21. Miller pp 189-92.
  22. Dunlop p 218.
  23. Dunlop p 262.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Ellis Appendix I
  25. 1 Infantry Division
  26. 2 Field Regiment RA
  27. 19 Field Regiment RA
  28. 67 (South Midland) Field Regiment RA (TA)
  29. 21 Anti-Tank Regiment RA
  30. Murphy in America in WWII Magazine[dead link]
  31. CMH Publication 72-19, p9
  32. British Army Units[dead link]
  33. Army Commands


  • L.S. Amery (ed), The Times History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902, London: Sampson Low, Marston, Vol II 1902; Vol IV, 1906.
  • Sir George Douglas, The Life of Major-General Wauchope, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1905.
  • Col John K. Dunlop, The Development of the British Army 1899-1914, London: Methuen, 1938.
  • Darrell Hall, Halt! Action Front! With Colonel Long at Colenso, Weltevreden Park, RSA: Covos-Day Books, 1999 (ISBN 0-620-24112-8).
  • Stephen M. Miller, Lord Methuen and the British Army: Failure and Redemption in South Africa, London: Frank Cass, 1999 (0-7146-4904-X).

External links

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