Military Wiki
1st London Division
56th (1st London) Division
1st London Infantry Division
56th (London) Infantry Division
56th (London) Armoured Division
British 56th (1st London) Division insignia.png
Shoulder patch of the 56th (1st London) Division, First World War.
Active 1908–1919
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Infantry
Armoured warfare
Size Division
Nickname(s) "The Black Cats"
Engagements First World War
Second World War
Sir Claude Liardet
Sir Montagu Stopford
Douglas Graham
Sir Gerald Templer
Sir Harold Pyman
56 inf div -vector.svg
The formation badge for the 56th Division during the Second World War featured Dick Whittington's black cat on a red background.

The 56th (London) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army, which served under several different titles and designations. The division served in the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War. Disbanded after the war, the division was reformed in 1920 and saw active service in the Second World War in Tunisia and Italy. The division was again disbanded in 1946 and reformed as an armoured formation before final disbandment in 1961.

The division's insignia in the First World War was the sword symbolising the martyrdom of Paul the Apostle from the coat of arms of the City of London; in the Second World War the insignia was changed to a black cat.


The 1st London Division was created upon the formation of the Territorial Force (TF), the part-time reserve force of the British Army, in April 1908. Originally designated as the 1st London Division, the division comprised the 1st, 2nd and 3rd London Brigades, along with supporting units and was one of fourteen divisions which constituted the peacetime TF.[1]

First World War

Troops of the 1/5th Battalion, London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade), in a reserve trench in Chimpanzee Valley between Hardecourt and Guillemont, 6 September 1916.

Horse ambulances of the 2/1st London Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps of the 56th Division on a track running east of Maricourt-Montauban Road, with wounded on stretchers just arriving, September 1916.

On the outbreak of the conflict the Division's pre-war establishment units were mobilized individually rather than in their divisional formation, and were initially used for garrison duty overseas in Malta, or as reinforcement for regular army divisions on the Western Front.
In February 1916 the Division was reconstituted as a fighting formation in the Abbeville district in France and numbered the "56th (1/1st London Division)".
For the remainder of the war the Division fought on the Western Front taking part in all of the major campaigns and seeing severe action. It was demobilized in May 1919.[2]

Order of battle

The 56th Division was constituted as follows during the war:[1]

167th (1st London) Brigade
168th (2nd London) Brigade
  • 1/5th Battalion, London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) (left November 1914)
  • 1/6th Battalion, London Regiment (City of London Rifles) (left November 1914)
  • 1/7th Battalion, London Regiment (left November 1914)
  • 1/8th Battalion, London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) (left November 1914)
  • 1/4th Battalion, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) (previously 1st London Bde; rejoined February 1916)
  • 1/12th Battalion, London Regiment (The Rangers) (from February 1916 to January 1918)
  • 1/13th Battalion, London Regiment (The Kensingtons) (from February 1916)
  • 1/14th Battalion, London Regiment (London Scottish) (from February 1916)
  • 168th Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps (formed 16 March 1916, moved to 56th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps 1 March 1918)
  • 168th Trench Mortar Battery (formed 13 June 1916)
169th (3rd London) Brigade
  • 1/9th Battalion, London Regiment (Queen Victoria's) (left November 1914, rejoined February 1916, left February 1918)
  • 1/10th Battalion, London Regiment (Hackney) (left April 1915)
  • 1/11th Battalion, London Regiment (Finsbury Rifles) (left April 1915)
  • 1/12th Battalion, London Regiment (The Rangers) (left December 1914)
  • 1/2nd Battalion, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) (from February 1916)
  • 1/5th Battalion, London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) (from February 1916)
  • 1/16th Battalion, London Regiment (Queen's Westminster Rifles) (from February 1916)
  • 169th Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps (formed 17 March 1916, moved to 56th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps 1 March 1918)
  • 169th Trench Mortar Battery (formed 17 June 1916)
Divisional Troops
  • 1/5th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (joined as divisional pioneer battalion February 1916)
  • 193rd Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps (joined 24 December 1916, moved to 56th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps 1 March 1918)
  • 56th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps (formed 1 March 1918)
Divisional Mounted Troops
Royal Artillery
Royal Engineers
Royal Army Medical Corps
  • 1st London Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps (left June 1916)
  • 2nd London Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps (left December 1914)
  • 3rd London Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps (left December 1914)
  • 2/1st London Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps (joined February 1916)
  • 2/2nd London Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps (joined February 1916)
  • 2/3rd London Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps joined February 1916
  • 56th Sanitary Section, Royal Army Medical Corps (joined 11 February 1916, left 1 April 1917)
Other Divisional Troops
  • 56th Divisional Train, Army Service Corps (originally 170, 171, 172 and 173 Companies but they were detached in November 1915 and moved to Salonika with 28th Division. Replaced by 213, 214, 215 and 216 Companies from the 30th Division)
  • 1st London Mobile Veterinary Section, Army Veterinary Corps (joined 14 March 1916)
  • 56th Divisional Ambulance Workshop (joined 28 February 1916, absorbed into Divisional Supply Column 31 March 1916)
  • 247th Divisional Employment Company (joined 23 June 1917)

Between the wars

The TF was disbanded after the war, as was the 56th Division, but started to reform in early 1920 and was later renamed the Territorial Army (TA) in 1920 and the division was reformed, as the 56th (1st London) Infantry Division, with much the same composition as before the First World War.[3]

However, between the wars, the division saw many changes as many of its units were transferred and converted into other roles, eventually leading to the division being reorganised as a motorised infantry division and renamed as The London Division, after the 47th (2nd London) Division was disbanded and converted into 1st Anti-Aircraft Division. After the 47th Division, the London Division absorbed many of the units from the former 47th Division.[4]

Second World War

At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, the division, commanded by Major General Claude Liardet,[5] was mobilised as motorised infantry under the title of the 1st London Division. It was reorganised as an infantry division in June 1940 and renamed the 56th (London) Infantry Division on 18 November 1940. The divisional insignia during the Second World War was changed to an outline of a black cat in a red background. The cat stood for Dick Whittington's cat, a symbol of London.[6]

Men of the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles training in boat handling on a lake in Pippington Park, East Grinstead, April 1940.

The division remained in the United Kingdom during the Battle of France, moving to the Middle East in November 1942, where it served in Iraq and Palestine, until moving to Egypt in March 1943 and thence forward to Libya and the front, in April.[7] This involved the division, commanded by Major General Eric Miles, travelling some 2,300 miles (3,700 km) by road, a notable achievement and testament to the organization of the division and the ability of its mechanics and technicians. The division, minus the 168th Brigade, fought in the final stages of the Tunisian Campaign, where it suffered heavy casualties, including its GOC, Major-General Miles, who had been in command since October 1941. He was replaced by Major-General Douglas Graham.[5][6]

Universal carriers 'attack' men of the 10th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment defending from slit trenches during training near Sudbury, Suffolk, 10 June 1942.

The division sat out the Allied invasion of Sicily and moved to Italy in September 1943, where they fought in the landings at Salerno under the command of the British X Corps.[6] During this time the 201st Guards Brigade joined the division,[5] to replace the 168th Brigade which returned to the division in October, although the 201st remained attached until January 1944. The 56th Division then crossed the Volturno Line in October and took part in the fighting around the Bernhardt Line. In January 1944, the 56th Division, now commanded by Major General Gerald Templer,[5] saw service in the Battle of Monte Cassino, serving there until February 1944 and participated in the Anzio Campaign until relieved in March.[6]

A British Bren gun of the 56th Division crew keep watch in a trench at Anzio, Italy, 1944.

After being withdrawn to Egypt at the end of March, the division, under Major-General John Whitfield,[5] returned to Italy in July 1944, where it took part in the Battles along the Gothic Line and remained there until after Victory in Europe Day.[6] During the fighting of 1944 and 1945, some of the infantry battalions that suffered heavy casualties were disbanded, to make up for an acute manpower shortage. The division also took part in Operation Grapeshot, the Allied offensive which ended the war in Italy.[6]

After crossing the Volturno in October 1943, the division entered the town of Calvi Vecchia. Their attempts to radio the Fifth Army to cancel a planned bombing on the town failed. As a last resort, the 56th released an American homing pigeon, named G.I. Joe, which carried a message that reached the allies just as the planes were being warmed up. The attack was called off and the town was saved from the planned air assault.[8][9]

Order of battle

The 56th Infantry Division was constituted as follows during the war:[10]

1st London Infantry Brigade

(became 167th (London) Infantry Brigade 18 November 1940)[11]

2nd London Infantry Brigade

(became 168th (London) Infantry Brigade 18 November 1940, detached from division between 8 April 1943 and 17 October 1943, left 26 September 1944)[12]

3rd London Infantry Brigade

(left 6 October 1939)

35th Infantry Brigade

(from 8 July 1940, became 169th (London) Infantry Brigade 28 November 1940)[13]
  • 2/5th Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment
  • 2/6th Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment
  • 2/7th Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment
  • 35th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Regiment (formed 2 October 1940)
  • 169th (London) Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (disbanded 7 April 1941)

201st Guards Brigade

(from 23 July, left 17 September 1943)[14]

24th Guards Brigade

(from 10 March 1945)[15]
Divisional Troops
  • 1st Battalion, Queen Victoria's Rifles (Motorcycle Battalion, left 21 May 1940)
  • 1st Battalion, Princess Louise's Kensington Regiment (Machine Gun Battalion, from 11 November 1941, left 20 May 1942)
  • 6th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (Machine Gun Battalion, from 12 January 1943)
  • 56th Battalion, Reconnaissance Corps (formed 1 January 1941, became 56th Regiment 6 June 1942, detached 15 August 1942)
  • 44th Regiment, Reconnaissance Corps (from 8 March 1943, became 44th Reconnaissance Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps 1 January 1944)
  • 64th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 90th (City of London) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (left 18 March 1943)
  • 113th (Home Counties) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 9 July 1940)
  • 65th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 23 April 1943)
  • 67th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 1 July 1940)
  • 115th Field Regiment (North Midlands), Royal Artillery (from 15/16 July 1940, left 31 December 1940)[16]
  • 100th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 3 February 1942, disbanded 9 November 1944)
  • 220th Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 501st Field Company, Royal Engineers (from 8 September 1939, left 18 March 1943, rejoined 13 October 1943)
  • 221st Field Company, Royal Engineers (from 3 July 1940)
  • 42nd Field Company, Royal Engineers (from 9 July 1943, left 3 January 1944)
  • 223rd Field Park Company, Royal Engineers (left 30 September 1939)
  • 563rd Field Park Company, Royal Engineers (from 15 January 1940)
  • 1st London Divisional Signals Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals (56th (London) Division Signals Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals)


In 1946, the 56th Division was demobilised then re-constituted as the 56th (London) Armoured Division. The new formation included the 22nd Armoured Brigade and the 168th (Lorried) Infantry Brigade, with the Inns of Court & City Yeomanry acting as the divisional reconnaissance unit. The divisional artillery comprised:[17][18]

On 20 December 1955, the Secretary of State for War informed the House of Commons that the armoured divisions and the 'mixed' division were to be converted to infantry.[19] The 56th Division was one of the eight divisions placed on a lower establishment for home defence only.[20] The territorial units of the Royal Armoured Corps were reduced to nine armoured regiments and eleven reconnaissance regiments by amalgamating pairs of regiments and the conversion of four RAC units to infantry.

On 20 July 1960, a further reduction of the T.A. was announced in the House of Commons. The Territorials were to be reduced from 266 fighting units to 195. The reductions were carried out in 1961, mainly by the amalgamation of units. On 1 May 1961, the T.A. divisional headquarters were merged with regular army districts and matched with Civil Defence Regions, to aid the mobilisation for war.[21] The division ceased to exist as an independent entity and was linked to London District.

The 4th Battalion, Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment was formed in 1961, by the amalgamation of the 6th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment and the 23rd London Regiment, with a Battalion HQ and HQ Company at Kingston upon Thames.[22] It formed part of 47th (London) Infantry Brigade (56th London Division/District). An echo of the 56th Division emerged again from 1987–1993, when the public duties battalions in the London District were grouped as the 56th Infantry Brigade.


  • Major-General Alfred E. Codrington: March 1908-December 1909
  • Major-General Arthur H. Henniker-Major: December 1909 – February 1912
  • Major-General William Fry: February 1912 – January 1915
  • Major-General C. P. Amyatt Hull: February 1916 – July 1917
  • Major-General W. Douglas Smith: July–August 1917
  • Major-General Frederick A. Dudgeon: August 1917 – April 1918
  • Major-General Sir C. P. Amyatt Hull: May 1918 – June 1919
  • Major-General Sir Cecil E. Pereira: June 1919 – June 1923
  • Major-General Sir Geoffrey P. T. Feilding: June 1923 – June 1927
  • Major-General Hubert Isacke: June 1927 – June 1931
  • Major-General Winston Dugan: June 1931 – June 1934
  • Major-General Percy R. C. Commings: June 1934 – June 1938
  • Major-General Claude F. Liardet: June 1938 – January 1941
  • Major-General Montagu G. N. Stopford: January–October 1941
  • Major-General Eric G. Miles: October 1941 – May 1943
  • Major-General Douglas A. H. Graham: May–October 1943
  • Major-General Gerald W. R. Templer: October 1943 – July 1944
  • Major-General John Y. Whitfield: July 1944 – September 1946
  • Major-General Gerald L. Verney: September 1946 – September 1948
  • Major-General Robert H. B. Arkwright: September 1948 – August 1949
  • Major-General Harold E. Pyman: August 1949 – April 1951
  • Major-General Richard W. Goodbody: April 1951 – March 1954
  • Major-General David Dawnay: March 1954 – April 1957
  • Major-General Robert N. H. C. Bray: April 1957 – March 1959
  • Major-General Cecil M. F. Deakin: March 1959 – 1960

Victoria Cross recipients

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The 56th (1st London) Division in 1914-1918". Retrieved 4 July 2017. 
  2. 'The Fifty Sixth Division 1914-1918', C. Dudley-Ward (Pub. 1921).
  3. "56th Division". British military history. Retrieved 4 July 2017. 
  4. "The London Division". British military history. Retrieved 4 July 2017. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Joslen, p. 37
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 "badge, formation, 56th (London) Infantry Division & 1st (London) Infantry Division". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 4 July 2017. 
  7. Joslen, p. 38
  8. Wendell.
  9. Blechman, pp. 35–6.
  10. pp. 37-38.
  11. Joslen, p. 227.
  12. Joslen, p. 230.
  13. Joslen, p. 282.
  14. Joslen, p. 265.
  15. Joslen, p. 269.
  16. TNA WO 166/1527
  17. Litchfield, Appendix 5.
  18. Watson, TA 1947 Archived 5 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. Archived 2 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. Beckett 2008, p. 180.
  21. Beckett 2008, pp. 183, 185.
  22. National Archives


  • Ian F.W. Beckett, Territorials: A Century of Service, first published April 2008 by DRA Printing of 14 Mary Seacole Road, The Millfields, Plymouth PL1 3JY on behalf of TA 100, ISBN 978-0-9557813-1-5.
  • D. Blechman, Andrew (2006). Pigeons: the fascinating saga of the world's most revered and reviled bird. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-1834-8. .
  • Jackson, General Sir William & Gleave, Group Captain T. P. (2004) [1st. pub. HMSO:1986]. Butler, Sir James. ed. The Mediterranean and Middle East: Victory in the Mediterranean, Part 2 – June to October 1944. History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series. VI. Uckfield, UK: Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-071-8. 
  • Norman E.H. Litchfield, The Territorial Artillery 1908–1988 (Their Lineage, Uniforms and Badges), Nottingham: Sherwood Press, 1992, ISBN 0-9508205-2-0.
  • Levi, Wendell (1977). The Pigeon. Sumter, S.C.: Levi Publishing. ISBN 0-85390-013-2. 
  • Blaxland, Gregory (1979). Alexander's Generals (the Italian Campaign 1944-1945). London: William Kimber. ISBN 0-7183-0386-5.
  • D'Este, Carlo (1991). Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome. New York: Harper. ISBN 0-06-015890-5.
  • Joslen, Lt-Col H.F. (2003) [1st pub. HMSO:1960]. Orders of Battle: Second World War, 1939–1945. Uckfield: Naval and Military Press. ISBN 978-1-84342-474-1.
  • Williams, David. The Black Cats at War: The Story of the 56th (London) Division T.A., 1939–1945

Further reading

  • Dudley Ward, C. H. (2001). The Fifty Sixth Division 1914–1918 (1st London Territorial Division) (Naval & Military Press ed.). London: Murray. ISBN 1-84342-111-9. 

External links

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