55th (West Lancashire) Infantry Division
The 55th (West Lancashire) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army. It was raised in 1908 upon the creation of the Territorial Force originally as the West Lancashire Division, gaining its number in 1915. The division served with distinction on the Western Front during the Great War from 1915 to 1918. Disbanded after the war in 1919, it was reformed in the Territorial Army in 1920 and remained in the United Kingdom during the Second World War and was subsequently demobilized and never reformed.
|West Lancashire Division|
55th (West Lancashire) Division
55th (West Lancashire) Motor Division
55th (West Lancashire) Infantry Division
|Sir William D. Morgan|
Sir Frederick E. Morgan
In 1901, following lessons learned from the Second Boer War and diplomatic clashes with the growing German Empire, the United Kingdom sought to reform the British Army so it would be able to engage in European affairs if required. This task fell to Secretary of State for War, Richard Haldane who implemented several policies known as the Haldane Reforms. As part of these reforms, the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 created a new Territorial Force by merging the existing Yeomanry and Volunteer Force in 1908. This resulted in the creation of 14 Territorial Divisions, including the West Lancashire Division.
As part of the legislation, the territorials were only liable to serve within the United Kingdom. Haldane envisioned that the territorials would take over the defence of the country against what was perceived as a very real threat of invasion, which would allow the regular army to be deployed aboard. In addition, Haldane saw the territorials as a source of reinforcements for the regular army. Six months following mobilisation, during which time the troops would have come up to an acceptable training standard, Haldane was confident that up to a quarter of the men would opt to go and fight abroad.
The newly created division was placed under the command of Major-General Edward Thompson Dickson, and was composed of the North Lancashire, Liverpool, and South Lancashire Brigades. Divisional headquarters, the Liverpool Brigade, and the divisional artillery were all based in Liverpool, with the latter based at Seaforth Barracks. The rest of the division was based in Blundellsands, Lancaster, and St. Helens.
First World WarEdit
Between November 1914 and April 1915 the divisional brigades were detached as reinforcements with other divisions already in serving on the Western Front in France and Belgium. In 1915, during the First World War, it became the 55th (West Lancashire) Division and the 164th (North Lancashire) Brigade, the 165th (Liverpool) Brigade and the 166th (South Lancashire) Brigade respectively. The 55th Division was reformed in January 1916. In April 1915 the 164th (North Lancashire) Brigade joined the 51st (Highland) Division as the 154th Brigade, but it returned to the 55th Division less than a year later, in January 1916.
The first Victoria Cross awarded by the reformed division occurred near Arras on 17 April 1916 when 2nd Lieutenant Edward Felix Baxter won the award while on a raid by the 1/8th (Irish) Battalion, King's (Liverpool) Regiment. The division moved to the Somme on 25 July to take part in that battle. The division took part in the Battle of Guillemont and the Battle of Ginchy, followed by a short rest period before being thrown back into the Battle of Morval. The 55th Division was then moved to the Ypres Salient, where it remained for up to a year.
After a rest and a period of retraining, the division took part in the Battle of Estaires in 1918, where it successfully fought the "First Defence of Givenchy" under the leadership of Major-General Hugh Jeudwine. This was to become the single most famous action of the Division, fighting off continuous attacks from three German divisions between 9–16 April. "It was afterwards publicly stated by an officer of the German General Staff that the stand made by the Division on April 9 and the days which followed marked the final ruination of the supreme German effort of 1918", says the Divisional history. Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée was eventually selected as the location of a large memorial to the Division. By the Armistice of 11 November 1918, the division had reached the Tournai area, having advanced fifty miles in eighty days.
Following the end of hostilities, the division was disbanded in 1919. In 1921, the Territorial Force was reconstituted as the Territorial Army following the passage of the Territorial Army and Militia Act 1921.[a] This resulted in the 55th (West Lancashire) Infantry Division being reformed. The division continued to based throughout Lancashire, with units located in Lancaster, Liverpool, Preston, Southport, St. Helens, and Warrington.
British military doctrine development during the inter-war period resulted in the three kinds of divisions by the end of the 1930s: the infantry division, the mobile division (later called the armoured division), and the motor division. Historian David French wrote "The main role of the infantry ... was to break into the enemy's defensive position." This would then be exploited by the Mobile division, followed by the motor divisions that would "carry out the rapid consolidation of the ground captured by the Mobile divisions" therefore "transform[ing] the 'break-in' into a 'break-through." As a result, in 1938, the army decided to create six such Motor Divisions from Territorial Army units. Only three infantry divisions were converted into motor divisions prior to the war, this included the 55th (West Lancashire) alongside the 1st London and 50th (Northumbrian) divisions. The reform intended to reduce the division from three to two brigades along with a similar reduction in artillery. French wrote that the motor division "matched that of the German army's motorized and light divisions. But there the similarities ended." German motorized divisions contained three brigades and were as fully equipped as a regular infantry division, while the smaller light divisions contained a tank battalion. Whereas the motor division, while being fully motorized and capable of transporting all their infantry, contained no tanks and was "otherwise much weaker than normal infantry divisions" or their German counterparts.
Following this, many of the division's battalions were converted to new roles and transferred to other branches of the army. For example, the 6th Liverpool Rifles were retrained and transferred to the Royal Engineers becoming the 38th (The King’s Regiment) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, Royal Engineers; the 5th King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster) was converted into an artillery role, becoming the 56th (King’s Own) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery; the 7th King’s Regiment (Liverpool) becoming the 40th (The King's) Royal Tank Regiment. The division retained three brigade until March 1939, when the 164th Brigade was removed and brought the division into line with the intention of the motor division organization. The division now comprised just the 165th (Liverpool) and the 166th (South Lancashire and Cheshire) Infantry Brigades.
Buildup to the Second World WarEdit
Throughout the 1930s, tensions built between Germany and the United Kingdom as well as its allies. During late 1937 and throughout 1938, German demands for the annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland led to an international crisis. In an attempt to avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in September and brokered the Munich Agreement. The agreement averted immediate war and allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland. Chamberlain had intended the agreement to lead to further peaceful resolution of issues, but relations between both countries soon deteriorated. On 15 March 1939, Germany breached the terms of the agreement by invading and occupying the remnants of the Czech state.
In response, on 29 March, the British Secretary of State for War Leslie Hore-Belisha announced plans to increase the Territorial Army from 130,000 men to 340,000 and in so doing double the number of territorial divisions. The plan of action was for the existing units to recruit over their allowed establishments (aided by an increase in pay for territorials, the removal of restrictions on promotion that had been a major hindrance to recruiting during the preceding years, the construction of better quality barracks, and an increase in supper-time rations) and then form Second Line divisions from small cadres that could be built upon. As a result, the 55th was to provide cadres to form a Second Line duplicate unit, which would become the 59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division following the start of the war. In April, limited conscription was introduced. At that time 34,500 militiamen, all aged 20, were conscripted into the regular army, initially to be trained for six months before being deployed to the forming second line units. Despite the intention for the army to grow in size, the programme was complicated by a lack of central guidance on the expansion and duplication process and issues regarding the lack of facilities, equipment and instructors.
Second World WarEdit
It had been envisioned that the duplicating process and recruiting the required numbers of men would take no more than six months. Some TA divisions had made little progress by the time the Second World War began; others were able to complete this work within a matter of weeks. By the outbreak of the war, the 55th Division had reformed the 164th Brigade and on 4 September established the 2nd Line duplicate of the 166th Brigade, the 177th. On 15 September, the 166th Infantry Brigade (re-designated the 176th Infantry Brigade) and the 177th Brigade were transferred to the 59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division. The 55th was now made up of the 164th and 165th Infantry Brigades.
The war-time deployment of the Territorial Army envisioned it being deployed piecemeal, to reinforce the regular army that had already been dispatched to the European mainland, as equipment became available. The plan envisioned the deployment of the whole force in waves, as divisions completed their training, with the final divisions not being transported to France until a year had elapsed from the outbreak of war. As a result, the division did not leave the United Kingdom as the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from France during May and June 1940. The evacuation had resulted in the abandonment of much of the BEF's heavy equipment, leaving the troops in Britain sparsely equipped. Priority for new equipment was given to a handful of formations that would launch the riposte to any German landings, which factored into the 55th Division having very little of its required equipment. On paper, an infantry division was to have seventy-two 25-pounder field guns. On 31 May 1940, the division had eight in addition to four First World War vintage 18-pounder field guns and eight 4.5-inch howitzers. Furthermore, the division had only two anti-tank guns against a nominal establishment of 48, and only 47 of the required 307 Boys anti-tank rifles.
Furthermore, as soon as the troops returned from France, the British Army began implementing lessons learned from the campaign and re-organizing formations. As part of this, the army's five motor divisions (made up of two brigades) were to be reformed as regular infantry divisions (made up of three brigades). As a result, the 66th Infantry Division was disbanded on 23 June, and its 199th Infantry Brigade was re-assigned to the division, which became the 55th (West Lancashire) Infantry Division.
The division was initially assigned to Western Command, before transferring to Northern and Eastern Command. By early 1940, it was spread out along the Essex coastline where it remained for the year. By 1941, it had been replaced by the Essex County Division, and the 55th moved south to defend the Sussex coastline. During January 1942, the division was placed on the Lower Establishment. This meant, that unlike Higher Establishment divisions that would be used for overseas deployments and combat, the division had been relegated to a static home defence and training role. The division was then reassigned to Northern Command, and deployed to Yorkshire in the vicinity of Kingston upon Hull. In December 1943, the division deployed to Northern Ireland under the command of British Troops Northern Ireland. In May 1944, the 55th was raised to the Higher Establishment and returned to the mainland in July.
While raised to the Higher Establishment, the division did not increase in size. In 1944, the war establishment (the on-paper strength) of such an infantry division was 18,347 men. In comparison, the 55th in conjunction with the 38th (Welsh), the 45th, the 47th (London), and the 61st Infantry divisions had a combined total of 17,845 men. The division would remain within the United Kingdom and be drained of manpower to a point that it was essentially disbanded, but maintained as a deception formation.
On a disinformation level, the division played a role in Fortitude North; a deception plan aimed to make the Germans believe that the notional 250,000-strong Fourth Army, based in Scotland, would assault Norway. As part of this plan, the division was assigned to the fictional II Corps and assigned the task of notionally preparing to assault Stavanger. The division aided in this effort by maintaining wireless signals suggesting the division was moving around the United Kingdom as part of Fourth Army, while it actually remained in Northern Ireland. The rouse of an attack on Norway was maintained through July, with the plan coming to an official end in September. Meanwhile, the division joined Fourth Army's notional move south from Scotland to England, becoming part of Fortitude South; the ongoing effort to convince the Germans that the Normandy landings were a feint and the main Allied invasion would take place in the Pas de Calais with a force of 500,000 men. The goal of the deception aimed to persuade the Germans not to move the 18 divisions of the 15th Army to Normandy. The division also provided the signal and headquarter staff to create the phantom US 55th Infantry Division that was also part of this effort. The deception has been met with mixed assessment. Gerhard Weinberg stated that the Germans readily believed the threat to the Pas de Calais was real and "it was only at the end of July" that they realized a second assault was not coming; "by that time, it was too late to move reinforcements". Mary Barbier wrote "it is time to consider that the importance of the deception has been overrated". She argued 15th Army was largely immobile and not combat-ready,[b] and despite the deception numerous German divisions – including the 1st SS Panzer Division, which was held in reserve behind the 15th Army – from across Europe were transferred to Normandy to repel the invasion, and that the Germans had realized as early as May that a real threat to Normandy existed. Barbier further commented that while the Germans believed the deception due to "preconceived ideas about the importance of the Pas De Calais", the Allied staff had overestimated the effectiveness of the deception after the 15th Army's inaction because they held a "preconceived notion of what FORTITUDE would accomplish".
On the personnel level, of the 17,845 within the five aforementioned formations (including the 55th), around 13,000 were available as replacements for the 21st Army Group fighting in France. The remaining 4,800 men were considered ineligible for service abroad at that time for a variety of reasons, including a lack of training, or being medically unfit. Over the next six months, up to 75 per cent of these men would be deployed to reinforce the 21st Army Group after the completion of their training and certification of fitness. As an example of how the division was used, the Liverpool Scottish were used as a training formation and a source of reinforcements for other Scottish regiments. In other cases, entire units were stripped from the division and deployed abroad; the 2nd Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) (previously the 10th battalion) was transferred from the division and deployed to Italy.
In the aftermath of the war, the British army demobilized its forces. Following the period of the demobilization, the Territorial Army was reformed in 1947. However, it was recreated on a much smaller scale of eight divisions that did not include the 55th West Lancashire.[c] In 1947, the division's insignia was temporarily adopted by the 87th Army Group Royal Artillery, which was based in Liverpool and was made up primarily of units from West Lancashire creating a connection with the division.
General officers commandingEdit
The following officers commanded the division:
|Appointed||General officer commanding (GOC)||Notes|
|1 April 1908||Major-General Edward Thompson Dickson|
|6 July 1909||Major-General Edward Cecil Bethune|
|3 June 1912||Major-General Walter Lindsay|
|5 August 1914||Major-General Frederick Hammersley|
|3 September 1914||Major-General John Burton Forster|
|3 January 1916||Major-General Sir Hugh S. Jeudwine|
|29 May 1919||Major-General Sir Reginald Barnes|
|1 April 1921||Major-General Sir Cecil L. Nicholson|
|1 April 1925||Major-General Hugo de Pree|
|16 July 1926||Major-General Basil Hitchcock|
|14 September 1928||Major-General Harold W. Higginson|
|14 September 1932||Major-General George Alexander Weir|
|1 January 1934||Major-General James Cooke-Collis|
|5 December 1935||Major-General Ernest Lewin|
|1 June 1938||Major-General Vivian Majendie|
|1 June 1941||Major-General William Duthie Morgan||Injured on 12 October 1941|
|13 October 1941||Brigadier R. J. Brett||Acting GOC|
|30 October 1941||Major-General Frederick E. Morgan|
|14 May 1942||Major-General H. B. Hibbertt|
|15 August 1943||Major-General Walter Clutterbuck|
|13 July 1944||Major-General Horatio Pettus Mackintosh Berney-Ficklin|
Order of battleEdit
|West Lancashire Division|
North Lancashire Brigade
South Lancashire Brigade
|55th (West Lancashire) Division (1914 - 1918)|
164th (North Lancashire) Brigade (left 18 April 1915, rejoined January 1916)
Divisional Mounted Troops
Divisional Machine Guns
Divisional Medical Services
|55th (West Lancashire) Motor Division (September 1939 - June 1940 |
|55th (West Lancashire) Infantry Division (June 1940 onwards)|
164th Infantry Brigade (until 17 June 1945)
165th Infantry Brigade
- The Territorial Army was created as the reserve of the British regular army made up of part-time volunteers. Its intended role was to be the sole method of expanding the size of the British armed forces (compared to the creation of Kitchener's Army during the First World War). First Line territorial formations would create a second line division using a cadre of trained personal and, if needed, a third division would also be created. All Territorial Army recruits were required to take the general service obligation meaning that, if the British Government decided, territorial soldiers could be deployed overseas for combat. (This avoided the complications with the Territorial Force, whose members were not required to leave the United Kingdom unless they volunteered for overseas service.)
- The 15th Army was made up of seven static divisions trained for defensive operations, and supplemented with two Luftwaffe Field Divisions. Furthermore, the army lacked equipment, transport, and was under-trained.
- The 49th (West Riding) and 56th (London) Armoured Divisions, and the following infantry divisions: 42nd (Lancashire), 43rd (Wessex), 44th (Home Counties), 50th (Northumbrian), and 51st/52nd (Scottish) Division.
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- Chappell 1987, p. 36.
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- Allport 2015, p. 323.
- French 2001, p. 53.
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