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2nd Division
British 2nd Infantry Division.svg
Insignia of the 2nd Division
Active 1809 – 2012
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army (Regular and Territorial)
Type Infantry/Combined arms
Role Training and Administration
Military Aid to the Civil Community
Military Aid to the Civil Power
Size One Garrison
Four Brigades
Part of Land Forces
Garrison/HQ Craigiehall, near Edinburgh
Engagements Peninsula War
Crimean War
First World War
Second World War

The 2nd Division was a regular division of the British army, with a long history. Its existence as a permanently embodied formation dated from 1809, when it was established by Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later to become the Duke of Wellington), as part of the Anglo-Portuguese Army, for service in the Peninsular War. (Prior to this, it was common for formations with the same number to be temporarily established for a single campaign and disbanded immediately afterwards; divisions remained a permanent part of the British Army's structure only after the Napoleonic Wars).

The division was associated with the north of England. The divisional insignia, the Crossed Keys of Saint Peter, were originally part of the coat of arms of the Diocese of York, and were adopted before or during the First World War. It was disbanded on 1 April 2012.

Peninsular War

The first commander of the 2nd Division was Major General Rowland Hill. Under his command, the division took part in the Second Battle of Porto and the battles of Talavera and Bussaco.

In 1811, Major General the Hon. William Stewart became commander of the division. Stewart was apparently a magnificent Lieutenant Colonel, but a disastrous General. The division suffered heavy casualties at the Battle of Albuera. For the rest of 1812, the division was part of a detachment (essentially a corps) under Rowland Hill which covered the southern flank of Wellington's main army. It thus acquired the nickname of the "Observing Division", but was also known as the "Surprisers", after taking the French by surprise in engagements at Arroyo Molinos and Almaraz.[1]

In 1813 and 1814, the division remained part of Hill's detachment. It contained three British brigades and one Portuguese brigade. It took part in the Battle of Vitoria on the right flank of Wellington's army. It subsequently was briefly driven from a position at the Battle of Maya after Stewart retired the division prematurely to camp, but fought in the later engagements of the Battle of the Pyrenees and the battles in southern France.

Peninsular War Formation

(Battle of Albuera, 16 May 1811)

Commanding General: Major General William Stewart

(from January 1813)


The division fought at the Battle of Waterloo, part of Wellington's II Corps commanded again by Rowland Hill. It consisted at Waterloo of a brigade of British light infantry and riflemen, a brigade of the King's German Legion and a brigade of Hanoverian Landwehr. The division began the day in reserve behind Wellington's right flank, but took part in the defeat of Napoleon's attacks later in the day.

Waterloo formation

Commander: Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton

3rd British Brigade Major-General Frederick Adam

1st King's German Legion Brigade Lieutenant-Colonel George Charles Du Plat

  • 1st Line Battalion, KGL
  • 2nd Line Battalion, KGL
  • 3rd Line Battalion, KGL
  • 4th Line Battalion, KGL

3rd Hanoverian Brigade Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Halkett

  • Landwehr Battalion Bremervörde
  • Landwehr Battalion 2nd Duke of York's (Osnabrück)
  • Landwehr Battalion 3rd Duke of York's (Quakenbrück)
  • Landwehr Battalion Salzgitter

Artillery Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Gold

Crimean War

The division formed part of the British army under Lord Raglan which landed in the Crimea and attempted to capture the port of Sebastopol. It was commanded by Lieutenant General Sir George de Lacy Evans, and fought at the battles of the Alma and Inkerman, where it suffered heavy casualties.

Crimean War Formation

Commanding General: Lieutenant General Sir George de Lacy Evans

Anglo-Egyptian War

In 1882, the division formed part of the Expeditionary Force under Lieutenant General Sir Garnet Wolseley which was sent to Egypt after a rebellion (the Urabi Revolt) threatened British control of the Suez Canal. During the subsequent 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War, the division was commanded by Major General Edward Bruce Hamley. One of its brigades was used as a garrison of Alexandria, and did not take part in the main actions of the war, but the other brigade and the divisional headquarters took part in the decisive Battle of Tel-el-Kebir.

Anglo-Egyptian War formation

Commander: Lieutenant General Sir Edward Hamley

3rd (Highland) Infantry Brigade (Major General Sir Edward Alison)

4th Infantry Brigade (Major General Sir Evelyn Wood VC)

Divisional Troops

  • 19th Hussars (2 Sqns)
  • 3rd Battalion, The King's Royal Rifle Corps
  • I Battery, 2nd Field Brigade, Royal Artillery
  • N Battery, 2nd Field Brigade, Royal Artillery
  • 26 Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 11 Company, Army Commissariat and Transport Corps
  • 2 Bearer Company, Army Hospital Corps (Half)
  • 4 Field Hospital, Army Hospital Corps
  • 5 Field Hospital, Army Hospital Corps

Boer War

The division was part of an Army Corps called the Natal Field Force under General Sir Redvers Buller which was sent to South Africa when the Boer War broke out in 1899. The division's commander was Lieutenant General Sir Francis Clery. The division, or parts of it, suffered defeats at the Battle of Colenso and the Battle of Spion Kop[3] before gaining victory at the Battle of the Tugela Heights during the Relief of Ladysmith. It subsequently took part in operations which drove the Boers from Natal and the eastern Transvaal.

First World War

The division was subsequently stationed on Salisbury Plain, and designated to be part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which would be despatched in the case of general European war. When war did break out, the BEF was sent to support the French and Belgian armies. The division's commander at this point was Major General Charles Monro. The division took part in the long retreat from Mons, and suffered heavy casualties in the First Battle of Ypres.

The division served on the Western Front for the duration of the war. Although most of the division's regulars became casualties or were transferred to other formations, the division never lost its standing and reputation as a Regular formation. It fought in all the major battles on the Western Front.

After the war the division was part of the occupation force stationed at Cologne.

First World War formation

4th (Guards) Brigade :

The brigade left the division on 20 August 1915 to join the Guards Division and was renamed the 1st Guards Brigade.

5th Brigade

The following battalions were part of the brigade during 1915.

6th Brigade

The following battalions were part of the brigade during 1915.

  • 1st Battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment (August 1914 to December 1915)
  • 1/5th Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment) (February 1915 to December 1915)
  • 1/7th Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment) (March 1915 to September 1915)
  • 1/1st Battalion, The Hertfordshire Regiment (August 1915 to June 1916)

The 17th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers joined the brigade from the 5th Brigade in February 1918.

19th Brigade (19 August 1915 to 25 November 1915) :

The brigade joined the division in August 1915 from the 27th Division and left in November for the 33rd Division, where it swapped with the 99th Brigade.

99th Brigade

  • 22nd (Service) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers
  • 23rd (Service) Battalion, (1st Sportsman's) the Royal Fusiliers
  • 1st Battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment (from 6th Bde. December 1915)
  • 1st Battalion, the King's Royal Rifle Corps (from 6th Bde. December 1915)

The brigade joined the division from the 33rd Division in November 1915. The following battalions left the brigade shortly afterwards:

  • 17th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers (to 5th Bde. December 1915)
  • 24th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers (to 5th Bde. December 1915)
  • 1/5th Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment) (from 6th Bde. December 1915)

Second World War

Battle of France

Following its return from Germany, the division continued to be a regular army formation stationed in Britain. In 1939, it once again became part of a British Expeditionary Force sent to fight alongside French armies. Its commander was Major General Henry Loyd. In 1940, the British Expeditionary Force, including the 2nd Division, was driven from France in the Dunkirk evacuation, with few casualties but losing almost all its equipment.

India and Burma

The 2nd Division was re-equipped in Britain. In December 1941, Japan entered the war. After British and Commonwealth forces in the Far East suffered disastrous defeats in early 1942, the division was sent to India, which was threatened by Japanese advances and internal disorder. For some time, the division was involved in internal security operations and training for amphibious operations.

In 1944, the Japanese launched an invasion of India. The 2nd Division was sent to recapture the vital position at Kohima. After driving the Japanese back at the Battle of Kohima, the division relieved a besieged Indian corps at Imphal. The epitaph carved on the memorial of the 2nd Division in the large cemetery for the Allied war dead at Kohima reads,

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

This has become world-famous as the Kohima Epitaph. The verse is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds and is thought to have been inspired by the epitaph written by Simonides to honour the Greek who fell at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.

The division continued to serve as part of British Fourteenth Army during its offensive into Burma. It was withdrawn to India at the end of March 1945, as it could not be maintained nor kept up to strength. It was rebuilt in India and was intended for further amphibious operations, but the war ended before it saw further action.

In September 1945 the divisional headquarters was in Malaya under Headquarters XXXIV Corps, with the three brigades en route to Japan, in Malaya, and in Burma earmarked for Malaya.

The division was withdrawn to India on 12 April 1945.[4] The division transferred to the command of HQ Allied Land Forces South East Asia on that date, moving back to the Southern Army on the 7th June 1945. The 5th Brigade left the division in October 1945 (following reorganisation) to become part of the Brinjap Division within the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. The 6th Brigade (again reorganised) sailed to Singapore in December 1945. The division was disbanded in India in October 1946.

Second World War formation

(On Deployment to India, April 1942)

4th Infantry Brigade
5th Infantry Brigade
6th Infantry Brigade

Post-Second World War

The division was amalgamated with the 36th Division and reformed at St. David's Barracks in Hilden in Germany in February 1947.[5] It also amalgamated with the disbanding 6th Armoured Division in 1958 and moved to Tunis Barracks at Lübbecke in September 1959.[5]

Until the late 1970s, it consisted of the 4th Armoured Brigade and 12th Mechanised Brigade, but from 1976 to 1983 it was reorganised as a small armoured division, incorporating two brigade-sized headquarters, Task Force Charlie (TFC) and Task Force Delta (TFD), which controlled five tank/mechanised infantry battle groups (one armoured and two infantry in TF Charlie, and one armoured and one infantry in TF Delta). The 2nd Armoured Division was the first British division in Germany to undergo this reorganisation, and the division's commander while this establishment was tested was Major General Frank Kitson.[6]

In a major reorganisation of British forces in 1982 and 1983, the division returned to the United Kingdom.[5] Its new headquarters was at Imphal Barracks in York,[5] and it consisted of three infantry brigades: the regular 24th Airmobile Brigade, and the 15th Brigade and 49th Brigade from the Territorial Army. Its role would have been to cross the Channel and protect I (BR) Corps rear area in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

Each of its two TA brigades had a Fox-equipped reconnaissance regiment. These two yeomanry regiments were regarded as 'mobile anti-armour' reserves for their respective brigades in the Corps rear area.[7]

Structure 1989:

2nd Infantry Division

Divisional Support Group

15th (North-East) Infantry Brigade

49th (Eastern) Infantry Brigade

24th Air-mobile Brigade

29th Engineer Brigade

Structure 2nd Division

Following the end of the Cold War, the division disbanded in 1992, but the title was resurrected for the amalgamation of several military districts - North East District and part of Eastern District, when the formation reformed on 1 April 1995.[8] The 1998 Strategic Defence Review led to a reorganisation of Land Command. The 2nd Division absorbed Scotland District and its headquarters moved to Craigiehall, near Edinburgh in April 2000.[9]

Following further reshuffing, 52nd Infantry Brigade was reformed as an operational, rather than regional, brigade consisting of several light infantry battalions, and left the formation to join 3 Division in 2007.

The Division reported to Army Headquarters at Andover.[10] It was tasked with maintaining the infrastructure and resources and the command and control responsibilities, for the training and administration of all Regular Army and Territorial Army units in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England and as such the deputy commander was always a Territorial Army officer at the rank Of Brigadier.

The new HQ Support Command in Aldershot began operation in January 2012 when HQ 4th Division in Aldershot disbanded.[11] HQ 2nd division in Edinburgh and HQ 5th division in Shrewsbury were disbanded in April 2012.[12]

Despite the closure of HQ 2nd Division in Edinburgh the Army will retain a General Officer Commanding (GOC) Scotland, in addition to a small number of staff, in order to maintain the level of senior representation in Scotland required to oversee the rebasing changes. In the longer term HQ 1 (UK) Armoured Division, currently based in Germany, is expected to re-locate to Scotland by 2020 and will take over the GOC Scotland role.[11]

Formation 2007-2012

The division HQ controlled Catterick Garrison and four Regional Brigades:

Structure of the 2nd (Infantry) Division:

Recent Commanders

Recent Commanders have been:[13]
GOC 2nd Division

Note: from 1977 to 1983 2nd Division operated as an Armoured Division: see 2nd Armoured Division

GOC 2nd Infantry Division

GOC 2nd Division

Deputy Commanders

  • 2006-2009 Brigadier Joe d'Inverno
  • 2009–2012 Brigadier Simon Bell

See also


  2. Moorsom, W S, (ed). "Historical Record of the Fifty-Second Regiment (Oxfordshire Light Infantry) from the year 1755 to the year 1858". 2nd edition. London: Richard Bentley, 1860 p267 (facsimile printed by The Naval & Military Press Ltd, East Sussex, England)
  3. Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War, p. 284
  4. 2nd Infantry Division British Military History
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 BAOR locations
  6. General Sir Frank Kitson at Debrett's People of Today 1994
  7. Sanders, T J, “Reconnaissance in the 2020’s: An open letter to the author of our article in the May 1989 issue, from Brigadier T J Sanders CBE” Tank: The Journal of the Royal Tank Regiment, p. 8, (February 1990, Vol.72, No.711)
  8. "TA Command Structure 1967 - 2000". Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  9. Shots fired at Scottish Army headquarters near Edinburgh Daily Record, 22 June 2011
  10. "New Army's HQ Land Forces base is opened in Andover". BBC News. 9 September 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 First tranche of Army unit moves confirmed Defence News, 10 November 2011
  12. House of Commons Library: Standard Note: SN06038
  13. Army Commands
  14. The Catholic Who's Who by Francis Cowley Burnand, p.10
  15. Service appointments
  16. New Head of the Army in Scotland
  17. "Scotland's Army Head installed as Edinburgh Castle Governor". Ministry of Defence. 30 March 2012. Retrieved 8 April 2012. 

Further reading

  • Jon Latimer, Burma: The Forgotten War, London: John Murray, 2004 ISBN 0-7195-6576-6
  • Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War, New York: Random House 1979.

External links

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