Military Wiki
II Corps
Active Waterloo Campaign
First World War
Second World War
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Type Field corps

Battle of Waterloo
First World War:[1]

Second World War

Lord Hill
Horace Smith-Dorrien
Claud Jacob
Alan Brooke
Bernard Montgomery (acting)
Kenneth Anderson
Gerald Templer

II Corps was an army corps of the British Army formed in both the First World War and the Second World War. There had also been a short-lived II Corps during the Waterloo Campaign.

Napoleonic precursor

Assembling an army in Belgium to fight Napoleon’s resurgent forces in the spring of 1815, the Duke of Wellington formed it into army corps, deliberately mixing units from the Anglo-Hanoverian, Dutch-Belgian and German contingents so that the weaker elements would be stiffened by more experienced or reliable troops. A he put it: ‘It was necessary to organize these troops in brigades, divisions, and corps d’armee with those better disciplined and more accustomed to war’.[2] He placed II Corps under the command of Lord Hill. However, Wellington did not use the corps as tactical entities, and continued his accustomed practice of issuing orders directly to divisional and lower commanders. When he drew up his army on the ridge at Waterloo, elements of the various corps were mixed up, and although he gave Hill command of the left wing, this included elements of I Corps. Subsequent to the battle, the corps structure was re-established for the advance into France, and Wellington issued orders through Hill and the other corps commanders.[3]

Composition of II Corps in the Waterloo Campaign

GOC: Lieut-Gen Lord Hill

Prior to the First World War

After the Waterloo campaign the army corps structure disappeared from the British Army for a century, except for ad hoc corps assembled during annual manoeuvres (e.g. Army Manoeuvres of 1913). In 1876 a mobilization scheme for eight army corps was published, with 'Second Corps' based at Aldershot and composed of regular and militia troops. In 1880 its organization was:

  • 1st Division (Aldershot)
  • 2nd Division (Guildford)
  • 3rd Division (Dorking)
    • 1st Brigade (Dorking)
      • Ayr and Wigtown Militia (Ayr), Renfrew Militia (Paisley), Perth Militia (Perth)
    • 2nd Brigade (Dorking)
      • Galway Militia (Longbrea), North Cork Militia (Mallow), South Cork Militia (Bandon)
    • Divisional Troops
      • Armagh Militia (Armagh), Middlesex Militia (Uxbridge)
    • Artillery
      • E/5th Brigade RA (Bristol), P/5th Brigade RA (Trowbridge), L/3rd Brigade RA (Woolwich)
  • Cavalry Brigade (Lewes)
  • Corps Artillery (Artillery)
    • C Battery A Brigade RHA (Aldershot), G Battery C Brigade RHA (Christchurch), D Battery C Brigade RHA (Dorchester)
    • A/1st Brigade RA (Devonport), A/6th Brigade RA (Woolwich)
  • Corps Engineers (Aldershot)
    • 15th Company Royal Engineers and Field Park (Kensington)

This scheme had been dropped by 1881.[4] The Stanhope Memorandum of 1891 (drawn up by Edward Stanhope when secretary of state for war) laid down the policy that after providing for garrisons and India, the army should be able to mobilise three army corps for home defence, two of regular troops and one partly of militia, of three divisions each. Only after those commitments, it was hoped, two army corps might be organised for the unlikely eventuality of deployment abroad. The 1901 Army Estimates introduced by St John Brodrick allowed for six army corps based on the six regional commands, of which only I Corps (Aldershot Command and II Corps (Southern Command on Salisbury Plain) would be entirely formed of regular troops. However, these arrangements remained theoretical. The Haldane Reforms of 1907 established a six-division British Expeditionary Force (BEF) for deployment overseas, which did not envisage any intermediate headquarters between GHQ and the infantry divisions.[5]

First World War

On mobilisation in August 1914 it was decided that the BEF would have two-division army corps like the French armies with which the BEF was to operate but only one corps HQ existed, two were improvised.[6] II Corps proceeded to France in August 1914 under the command of Sir James Grierson but Grierson died suddenly on the train to the front on 17 August. Sir John French (GOCinC BEF) wanted Sir Herbert Plumer to succeed Grierson, but the secretary of state for war, Earl Kitchener, instead chose Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, transferred from Southern Command. Smith-Dorrien caught up with his HQ at Bavai on 21 August.[7] II Corps was first engaged two days later at the Battle of Mons and remained on the Western Front throughout the war.

Composition of II Corps in the First World War

The composition of army corps changed frequently. Some representative orders of battle for II Corps are given here.

Order of Battle at Mons 23 August 1914:[8]

GOC: Lieut-Gen Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien (Took command 21 August 1914)

Order of Battle on the Somme (Battle of Bazentin Ridge 14–17 July 1916)[10]

GOC: Maj-Gen Claud Jacob

Order of Battle at the start of the final advance in Flanders (27 September 1918)[11]

GOC: Lieut-Gen Sir Claud Jacob

Second World War

On the outbreak of the Second World War, II Corps was mobilised at Salisbury with two unprepared infantry divisions, under the command of Lieut-Gen Sir Alan Brooke from Southern Command. II Corps' insignia, designed by its Chief of Staff, Vyvyan Pope, was a visual pun on the name of its commander, who was also a keen fisherman: it depicted a red leaping salmon upon three wavy blue bands against a white background, all in an oblong red border. The corps crossed to France to join the British Expeditionary Force at the end of September 1939 and at once moved up to the French frontier.[12] It took part in the advance into Belgium, and was then pushed back with the rest of the BEF to Dunkirk. During the retreat, II Corps covered the vulnerable left flank of the BEF. On 29 May 1940, Brooke was ordered back to Britain to form a new force, and he handed over temporary command of II Corps to Maj-Gen Bernard Montgomery of 3rd Division.[13] Under Montgomery, II Corps was evacuated from Dunkirk in June 1940.

Composition of II Corps in the Second World War

Order of Battle at Dunkirk[14]
GOC: Lieut-Gen Alan Brooke (until 30 May 1940)
Maj-Gen Bernard Montgomery (acting from 30 May 1940)

Deception plans

After commanding forces in the United Kingdom,the corps was being disbanded in early 1944 when selected to be one of the two corps comprising the notional British Fourth Army, which under the deception plan Fortitude North was supposed to attack Norway.

For this operation II Corps was supposedly headquartered at Stirling in Scotland, and notionally consisted of the genuine British 3rd Infantry Division (shortly replaced by the notional British 58th Infantry Division), the genuine British 55th Division in Northern Ireland, and the genuine 113th Independent Infantry Brigade in Orkney. Under Fortitude North II Corps was supposedly to attack Stavanger, with the 3rd (later the 58th) Division and supporting commandos and paratroops seizing the airfields, the 55th (West Lancashire) Division joining as followup; the genuine U.S. XV Corps from Northern Ireland would augment the force, which would advance on Oslo.

The corps was transferred to First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) in early June 1944 and moved to Lincolnshire; restored to Fourth Army when that formation joined FUSAG for Fortitude South II, headquarters now at Tunbridge Wells in Kent, with under command the British 55th and 58th Divisions and the British 35th Armoured Brigade. It was notionally transferred to France in late September, consisting of the essentially notional 55th Division, the genuine 79th Armoured Division, and the essentially notional 76th Division; also apparently at times the genuine 59th Division, disbanded but notionally kept alive. It was notionally part of Canadian First Army in the deception Operation Trolleycar II (threatening an attack on the Germans in Holland) in November 1944.

Post Second World War

After the Second World War, as a genuine corps it was based in the Middle East, controlling British forces around the Suez Canal. Following the British withdrawal from Egypt, II Corps was also the controlling force for the invasion of the country during the Suez Crisis. Lt Gen Hugh Stockwell commanded the corps during 'Musketeer.'

General Officers Commanding

Commanders have included:[23]


  1. The British Corps of 1914-1918
  2. Hofschroer, ‘’Ligny and Quatre Bras’’, p.109.
  3. Hofschroer, ‘’The German Victory’’, p. 61.
  4. Army List 1876–1881.
  5. Dunlop.
  6. Official History 1914, Volume I, p. 7.
  7. Official History 1914, Volume I, pp. 50–2.
  8. Official History 1914, Volume I, Appendix 1.
  9. Sir John French, Operation Order No 5, Official History 1914, Volume 1, Appendix 10.
  10. The Battles of the Somme 1916
  11. Official History 1918, Volume V, Appendix 1.
  12. Bryant pp. 18 & 50.
  13. Bryant pp. 146–151; Montgomery pp. 62–3.
  14. Official History 1939-40, Appendix I.
  15. 2 Corps
  16. 60 (North Midland) Field Regiment RA (TA)
  17. 88 (2nd West Lancashire) Field Regiment RA (TA)
  18. 53 (London) Medium Regiment RA (TA)
  19. 59 (4th W Lancs) Medium Regiment RA (TA)
  20. 53 (Kings Own Yorks L.I.) Light AA Rgt RA (TA)
  22. 2nd Survey Regiment
  23. Army Commands
  24. "No. 27360". 1 October 1901. 
  25. James Grierson at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  26. Horace Smith-Dorrien at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  27. Charles Fergusson at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  28. Claud Jacob at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


  • Sir Arthur Bryant, The Turn of the Tide, based on the War Diaries of Field Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke, (London, 1959).
  • Lt-Col Ewan Butler & Maj J.S. Bradford, The Story of Dunkirk, (London, nd).
  • Colonel John K, Dunlop, ‘’The Development of the British Army 1899–1914’’, London, Methuen (1938).
  • Peter Hofschroer, ‘’1815: The Waterloo Campaign: Wellington, his German Allies and the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras’’, London: Greenhill Books (1998) (ISBN 1-85367-304-8).
  • Peter Hofschroer, ‘’1815: The Waterloo Campaign: The German Victory’’, London: Greenhill Books (1999) (ISBN 1-85367-368-4).
  • Viscount Montgomery,The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Montgomery, (London, 1958).
  • Official History 1914: Brigadier-General Sir James E. Edmonds, Military Operations France and Belgium, 1914 Volume I: Mons, the Retreat to the Seine, the Marne and the Aisne, August–October 1914 3rd revised edn 1933 (reprint Imperial War Museum, 1992) (ISBN 1870423569).
  • Official History 1918: Brigadier-General Sir James E. Edmonds and Lieutenant-Colonel R. Maxwell-Hyslop, Military Operations France and Belgium, 1918, Volume V: 26 September-11 November: The Advance to Victory, 1947 (reprint Imperial War Museum, 1993) (ISBN 1-87023-06-2).
  • Official History 1939-40: Major L.F. Ellis, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series: The War in France and Flanders 1939-1940, London: HMSO, 1954.

External sources

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