Military Wiki
4th Indian Infantry Division
Active 1939 – present
Country India British India (1939–1947)
India India (1947–present)
Branch British Indian Army (1939–1947)
Indian Army (1947–present)
Type Infantry
Size Division
Part of I Corps (India)
Nickname(s) "Red Eagle Division"
Engagements Second World War
Sino-Indian War
Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

The Indian 4th Infantry Division, also known as the Red Eagle Division, is an infantry division of the Indian Army.

The division was formed in Egypt in 1939 and was the first Indian formation to go overseas during the Second World War.[1] As with all formations in the Indian Army prior to independence, it primarily had British officers and Indian other ranks. However, it did include Indian officers with ranks as high as Captain and Major. During World War II, it took part in campaigns in East Africa (Eritrea and Sudan), Syria, North Africa and Italy.

World War II history

North Africa

During World War II, the Division was in the vanguard during nine campaigns in the Mediterranean theatre. Major-General The Hon. P. Gerald Scarlett appears to have been the division's first commander, from October 1939 to January 1940. The British 14th Infantry Brigade was attached to the division from 1 June to 20 July 1940 and then the British 16th Infantry Brigade was attached from 9 September 1940 to 14 December 1940.[2] In the first of Archibald Wavell's operations in Egypt, as part of the Western Desert Force, it took part in Operation Compass in December 1940. The Division was involved in the decisive battles of that campaign in the camps around Sidi Barrani. Along with the 7th Royal Tank Regiment, the 11th Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division destroyed the Italian Maletti Group at the Nibiewa Camp.

East Africa

East Africa Campaign northern front: Allied advances in 1941

In December 1940 the division was rushed to the British Sudan to join with the Indian 5th Infantry Division), to prevent the numerically vastly superior Italian forces (ten divisions in total) from threatening Red Sea supply routes to Egypt as well as Egypt and the Suez Canal itself from the south. The East African campaign culminated (March 1941) with the battles at Keren in Eritrea where 42 Italian battalions (an initial 33 battalions, subsequently reinforced by a further nine battalions) were defeated by 19 British and Indian battalions.

It was at Keren that Subadar Richhpal Ram of the 4/6th Rajputana Rifles, part of 4th Division's 5 Infantry Brigade, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.[1] In April 1941 Beresford-Peirse was promoted to command Western Desert Force and Major General (later General Sir) Frank Messervy assumed command.

North Africa and Syria

Having returned to Egypt, part of the Division (the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade) was hurried across to Syria and was heavily involved in the advance on Damascus (June 1941). From 14 to 17 June 1941 the 4th Armoured Brigade was attached to the division.[2] The rest of the Division was heavily involved in the fighting which ebbed and flowed past Tobruk from June 1941 onwards, having been rejoined by 5 Brigade, returning from Syria, in the autumn of 1941. For most of this period the Division was dispersed with units temporarily attached to other formations much to the disgust of Major General Francis Tuker who assumed command of the Division in December 1941. Notable at this time was the break-out at the end of January by 7 Brigade, having been cut off at Benghazi during the Germans' counter-offensive from Agheila and moving 200 miles avoiding the enemy to rejoin the 8th Army.

Early in April 1942 the Division was dispersed with 7 Brigade going to Cyprus, 5 Brigade to Syria, 11 Brigade to the Suez Canal Zone for training and the Central India Horse to Iraq after a period of training. By May 1942 11 Brigade was back in the fighting at Tobruk (attached to the Indian 5th Infantry Division). 11th Brigade was caught in the siege of Tobruk which fell on 21 June, and so disappeared from the order of battle for the next 18 months. 5th Brigade was rushed to the desert in June 1942 – after escaping from Mersa Matruh, the brigade held the vital Ruweisat Ridge at Alamein in the fighting of July–August 1942.
The situation had become so confused that General Erwin Rommel, also known as the Desert Fox, lost his way and was forced to spend a night in the open. With the dawn came the realization that he was in the company of 4th Division. With a sigh of relief, he slipped away, undetected.[3]

Shortly before the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 the 4th Indian Division was back together again with the 7th Brigade returning from Cyprus and 161st Brigade attached (until December 1942) to fill the gap of the overrun 11th Brigade. The Division had a relatively subsidiary role in the battle, holding in stiff fighting, as a diversionary tactic, the Ruweisat Ridge which was at the centre of the Allied front whilst the breakthrough was planned further North.

By December 1942 the Division was once again dispersed but strong representations by its GOC, Francis Tuker, (including his asking to be relieved of command) resulted in the Division being brought together as a fighting entity in March 1943 and it fought with distinction through to the fall of Tunis in May 1943 gaining a particular reputation for its prowess in mountainous country. The Division had the honour of capturing General von Arnim in Tunisia, bringing an end to the North African campaign. Its major battles in North Africa were Benghazi, Tobruk, Wadi Akarit, Enfidaville and Tunis.


The division then moved in January 1944 to Italy (joined by the newly re-constituted 11 Brigade), where it took part in the Italian Campaign. It took a major role (sustaining very heavy casualties) in the second Battle of Monte Cassino (where in Tuker's absence through illness it was commanded by Brigadier Harry Dimoline, the divisional Commander of Royal Artillery). During the battle, the Division was to attack in an arc towards the south and southwest, taking Point 593 and then moving southeast, up the heights towards the Abbey. The Indian Division would only advance on the Abbey, once the NZ Division had attacked south and southeast taking the town of Cassino.[4] The main attack eventually commenced just after last light[5] with the NZ Division's 28 (Maori) Battalion tasked to cross the Rapido River and to seize the station south of Cassino town, to establish a bridgehead for the corps armour to move into the town and to the foot of the Cassino massif—the attack starting at 2:130. However, the 28th Battalion attack failed, and so had the 4th Indian Division attack on Point 593.[6]

The division also suffered heavy casualties during the third battle (in March 1944) when it was commanded by Major-General Alexander Galloway, who had been released from command of the British 1st Armoured Division.

Command of the division was assumed by Major-General Arthur Holworthy late in March 1944 and the division took part in the advance from Cassino after the fourth battle in May 1944 to the Trasimene Line in Central Italy and then the Gothic Line. As part of the attachments and detachments for the campaign, the 9th Armoured Brigade was attached to the division from 8 July 1944 to 19 July 1944.[2]

In November 1944 the division was shipped to Greece to help stabilise the country after the Axis withdrawal.[7] Holworthy was succeeded by Major-General Charles Boucher in January 1945 who commanded the division until the end of hostilities.


According to author Chand Das, during World War II the "Division captured 150,000 prisoners and suffered 25,000 casualties, more than the strength of a whole division. It won over 1,000 honours and awards which included four Victoria Crosses and three George Crosses".[7]

Field Marshal Lord Wavell wrote: "The fame of this Division will surely go down as one of the greatest fighting formations in military history, to be spoken of with such as The Tenth Legion, The Light Division of the Peninsular War and Napoleon's Old Guard". Das wrote also: "Even beyond its fighting reputation, it will be remembered for the spirit of mutual trust and fellowship maintained between all ranks coming from so many different races and creeds".[7]

Formation during World War II

The unit listing is from a booklet issued to mark the inauguration of the Indian Divisions' Memorial 1939–1945 at RMA Sandhurst in June 1982.

General Officer Commanding:


Commanders divisional artillery:

5 Indian Infantry Brigade

7 Indian Infantry Brigade

11 Indian Infantry Brigade (1939–1942 and 1944–1945)

Support units

  • Royal Indian Army Service Corps
    • 4 Ind Div Troops Transport Company
    • 5, 7 & 11 Brigade Transport Companies
    • 220 Indian DID
  • Medical Services
    • I.M.S-RAMC-I.M.D-I.H.C-I.A.M.C
    • 14, 17, 19, 26 & 32 Indian Field Ambulances
    • 4 Indian Div Provost Unit
  • Indian Army Ordnance Corps
    • 4 Indian Div Ordnance FD Park
  • Indian Electrical & Mechanical Engineers
    • 117, 118 & 119 Infantry Workshop Companies
    • 4 Indian Div Recovery Company

Assigned brigades

All these brigades were assigned or attached to the division at some time during World War II.[8]


The Division, known as Red Eagle due to its badge of a red eagle on a black background, is now a part of the Indian Army. Immediately after the war ended it was in Greece, but returned to India later in 1945.

In 1947 the division became the nucleus of the Punjab Boundary Force under Major-General T.W. Rees.[9] The Boundary Force was established on 17 July 1947, with it headquarters at Lahore. It became operational 1 August 1947, but was disbanded on 1 September because of its ineffectiveness in controlling the riots breaking out as a consequence of Partition. It had approximately 15 Indian and 10 Pakistani battalions, and comprised 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, 11th Indian Infantry Brigade, 14 Parachute Brigade, which became part of the Pakistan Army, 43 Lorry Brigade (ex 1 Armoured Division) and 114th Indian Infantry Brigade. Also attached were 50th Parachute Brigade and 77th Parachute Brigade (both formerly with 2nd Airborne Division), and 123rd Indian Infantry Brigade. After Rees handed over, Major-General K. S. Thimayya reportedly took over command of the Boundary Force. The Division moved to Jullunder after the Boundary Force was disbanded.

Elements fought in the Sino-Indian War of 1962. Before the war the division comprised 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, 7th Infantry Brigade, and 11th Indian Infantry Brigade.[10] 7th Indian Infantry Brigade was effectively destroyed at the Namcakhu during that war.[11] It was converted to a mountain division in 1963 and fought in the 1965 war.[12]

It also fought on the Bangladesh front during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. It consisted of 7, 41, and 62 Mountain Brigades, and also included A Squadron, 45 Cavalry.[13] Coming under the I Corps (India) and Central Command, the division is headquartered in Allahabad.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Das 1996, p. 379.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Division Subordinate Units". 
  3. Reagan 1992, p. 19.
  4. Molony 2004, p. 712.
  5. Ellis 1984, p. 185.
  6. Ellis 1984, p. 191.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Das 1996, p. 380. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "FOOTNOTEDas1996380" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "FOOTNOTEDas1996380" defined multiple times with different content
  8. "4 Division units". Order of Battle. Retrieved 22 October 2009. 
  9. Ravi Rikhye and Mandeep Bajwa, 4th Infantry Division: An Outline History, V3.0, 25 March 2008, (Centre for Indian Military History), accessed 1 August 2010
  10., The Indian Army on the eve of the 1962 War,
  11. "India 7th Infantry Brigade at the Battle of the Namkachu 1962". 31 March 2002. Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  12. Conboy 1992, p. 8.
  13. Gill 2003, p. 71.


  • Anon (1946). The Tiger Triumphs: The Story of Three Great Divisions in Italy. HMSO. 
  • Conboy, Kenneth (1992). Elite Forces of India and Pakistan. Elite No. 41. London: Osprey. ISBN 9781855322097. 
  • Das, Chand (1996). "Indian Infantry Divisions in World War II – Part I". pp. 374–387. 
  • Ellis, John (1984). Cassino: The Hollow Victory. London: Andre Deutsch. 
  • Gill, John H. (2003). An Atlas of the 1971 India – Pakistan War: The Creation of Bangladesh. Washington D.C: Near East South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies (National Defense University). OCLC 53906774. 
  • Mackenzie, Compton (1951). Eastern Epic. London: Chatto & Windus. OCLC 1412578. 
  • Mason, Philip (9 June 1982). The Indian Divisions Memorial, 1939–1945, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Wellingborough: Skelton's Press. 
  • Molony, Brigadier C.J.C.; with Flynn, Captain F.C. (R.N.); Davies, Major-General H.L. & Gleave, Group Captain T.P. (2004) [1st. pub. HMSO:1973]. Butler, Sir James. ed. The Mediterranean and Middle East, Volume V Part 1: The Campaign in Sicily 1943 and The Campaign in Italy 3rd September 1943 to 31 March 1944. History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series. Uckfield, UK: Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-069-6. 
  • Reagan, Geoffrey (1992). Military Anecdotes. Guiness Publishing. ISBN 0-85112-519-0. 
  • Yeats-Brown, F (1945). Martial India. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode. 
  • "Orders of". Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 2 September 2007. 

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).