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12th (Eastern) Infantry Division

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

12th (Eastern) Infantry Division
12th British Infantry Division WW2.svg
The shoulder insignia of the division
Active7 October 1939 – 11 July 1940[1]
Country United Kingdom
Flag of the British Army.svg
Territorial Army
TypeInfantry / Unskilled labour
Size~6,000 deployed to France
EngagementsBattle of France

The 12th (Eastern) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army, which fought briefly in the Battle of France during the Second World War. In March 1939, after the re-emergence of Germany as a European power and its occupation of Czechoslovakia, the British Army increased the number of divisions within the Territorial Army by duplicating existing units. The 12th (Eastern) Infantry Division was formed in October 1939, as a second-line duplicate of the 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division.

It was transferred to France in 1940, and became engaged in the Battle of France. Following the Dunkirk evacuation, the division was disbanded due to casualties, and its units were transferred to other formations to bring them up to strength.


During the 1930s, tensions increased between Germany and the United Kingdom and its allies.[2] In late 1937 and throughout 1938, German demands for the annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia led to an international crisis. To avoid war, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in September and brokered the Munich Agreement. The agreement averted a war and allowed Germany to annexe the Sudetenland.[3] Although Chamberlain had intended the agreement to lead to further peaceful resolution of issues, relations between both countries soon deteriorated.[4] On 15 March 1939, Germany breached the terms of the agreement by invading and occupying the remnants of the Czech state.[5]

On 29 March, British Secretary of State for War Leslie Hore-Belisha announced plans to increase the part-time Territorial Army (TA) from 130,000 to 340,000 men and double the number of TA divisions.[6][a] The plan was for existing TA divisions, referred to as the first-line, to recruit over their establishments (aided by an increase in pay for Territorials, the removal of restrictions on promotion which had hindered recruiting, construction of better-quality barracks and an increase in supper rations) and then form a new division, known as the second-line, from cadres around which the divisions could be expanded.[6][11] This process was dubbed "duplicating". The 12th (Eastern) Infantry Division was to be a second-line unit, a duplicate of the first-line 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division.[12] In April, limited conscription was introduced. This resulted in 34,500 twenty-year-old militiamen being conscripted into the regular army, initially to be trained for six months before deployment to the forming second-line units.[12][13] It was 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.[14][15]

Service in France and Dunkirk

Between 3 September, the day the war officially began, and 7 October 1939 the units of the 12th Division were administered by the 44th Division, until its brigade and division headquarters were formed, both divisions came under Eastern Command.[16]

The 12th Infantry Division came under direct control of the War Office on 18 April 1940 and was preparing to move to France. Four days later, on 22 April 1940, the 12th Infantry Division landed in France, commanded by Major-General Roderic Loraine Petre, DSO, MC, followed by the 23rd (Northumbrian) Division and 46th Infantry Division, both of which were also 2nd Line units, were sent as lines of communications troops to France to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).[17] All three divisions were under-equipped and did not have their signals, artillery or administrative units with them. As such, the 'division' contained mostly half trained units, some of whom had not even fired their rifles, and as a result were very poorly trained.[18]

When the German Army launched their attack in the West on 10 May 1940, only every third battalion had done a week's training. As a result, the 12th Division suffered heavy casualties during the Battle of France and the subsequent retreat to and evacuation from Dunkirk.


As soon as the Allied troops returned from France, the British Army began implementing lessons learnt from the campaign. This involved the decision to abandon the two-brigade motor division concept[b] and for the basic infantry division to be based around three brigades. This process involved the break up of four second-line TA divisions to reinforce depleted formations and aid in transforming the Army's five motor divisions into infantry divisions.[22][23][c] This included disbanding the 12th (Eastern) Infantry Division, which occurred on 11 July, when its units were dispersed.[1]

The 35th Infantry Brigade (along with the 113th Field Regiment and the 67th Anti-Tank Regiment (renumbered the 57th)) was transferred to the 1st London Division, a motor formation. The arrival of the brigade was part of the division's re-organisation into an infantry division. With little change to the composition of the brigade, it would go on to fight in the Italian Campaign between 1943 and 1945.[27] The 36th Infantry Brigade was briefly attached to the 2nd London Division (another motor formation), before becoming an independent infantry brigade directly under the command of either the War Office or Corps-level formations. It was eventually transferred to the 78th Infantry Division, and the brigade (with some changes) fought in the North African Campaign in 1942, the invasion of Sicily in 1943, and in the Italian Campaign from 1943 through to the end of the war.[28] The 37th Infantry Brigade became an independent formation under Corps level commands. It was re-designated the 7th Infantry Brigade in 1941, before being assigned to a variety of divisions based in the United Kingdom throughout the rest of the war.[29] The 114th Field Regiment also joined the 2nd London Division, and stayed with the division until the end of 1941.[30] It later was transferred to the 20th Indian Infantry Division, and fought in the Burma Campaign, and in particular the Battle of Imphal.[31] The 118th (8th London) Field Regiment was transferred 18th Infantry Division, and surrendered to the Empire of Japan following the Battle of Singapore.[32] The division's engineers became the XII Corps Troops, Royal Engineers and served as part of British Second Army in North-western Europe from July 1944 until May 1945.[33][34] 12th (Eastern) Divisional Signals, Royal Corps of Signals was disbanded, with the men being sent to the Middle East, joining 3 Lines of Communications Signals, Sudan Signals, or remained based in the United Kingdom as part of Home Counties District Signals and 1 Army Signal Training Regiment.[35][36]

Order of battle

See also


  1. ^ The Territorial Army (TA) was a reserve of the British regular army made up of part-time volunteers. By 1939, its intended role was the sole method of expanding the size of the British Armed Forces. (This is comparable to the creation of Kitchener's Army during the First World War.) Existing territorial formations would create a second division using a cadre of trained personnel and, if needed, a third division would be created. All TA recruits were required to take the general service obligation: if the British Government decided, territorial soldiers could be deployed overseas for combat. (This avoided the complications of the First World War-era Territorial Force, whose members were not required to leave Britain unless they volunteered for overseas service.)[7][8][9][10]
  2. ^ British military doctrine development during the inter-war period resulted in the three kinds of division by the end of the 1930s: the infantry division, the mobile division (later called the armoured division), and the motor division. The 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".[19] By 1940, five such divisions had been formed within the TA: 1st London Division, 2nd London, 50th (Northumbrian), 55th (West Lancashire), and the 59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division.[20][21] French wrote that the motor division "matched that of the German army's motorized and light divisions. But there the similarities ended". German motorised divisions contained three regiments (comparable to British brigades) and were as fully equipped as a regular infantry division, while the smaller light divisions contained a tank battalion. Whereas the motor division, fully motorised and capable of transporting all their infantry, contained no tanks and was "otherwise much weaker than normal infantry divisions" or their German counterparts.[20]
  3. ^ The two-brigade strong 23rd (Northumbrian) Division was disbanded on 23 June. One brigade transferred to the 50th (Northumberland) Infantry Division as part of their transition to infantry formations, while the other was eventually transferred to the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division to bring it up to full strength.[24] The 66th Infantry Division was disbanded on 3 June, one brigade transferred to the 59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division to finalise its re-organisation into an infantry division, and the other was initially attached to another transiting motor formation, the 1st London Division.[25] On 7 August, the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division was re-created by the re-designation of its second-line duplicate, the 9th (Highland) Infantry Division.[26]


  1. ^ a b c Joslen 2003, p. 56.
  2. ^ Bell 1997, pp. 3–4.
  3. ^ Bell 1997, pp. 258–275.
  4. ^ Bell 1997, pp. 277–278.
  5. ^ Bell 1997, p. 281.
  6. ^ a b Gibbs 1976, p. 518.
  7. ^ Allport 2015, p. 323.
  8. ^ French 2001, p. 53.
  9. ^ Perry 1988, pp. 41–42.
  10. ^ Simkins 2007, pp. 43–46.
  11. ^ Messenger 1994, p. 47.
  12. ^ a b Messenger 1994, p. 49.
  13. ^ French 2001, p. 64.
  14. ^ Perry 1988, p. 48.
  15. ^ Levy 2006, p. 66.
  16. ^ Joslen, p. 56.
  17. ^ Beckett, 2008, 128.
  18. ^ [1][permanent dead link]
  19. ^ French 2001, pp. 37–41.
  20. ^ a b French 2001, p. 41.
  21. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 37, 41, 61, 90, 93.
  22. ^ French 2001, pp. 189–191.
  23. ^ Perry 1988, p. 54.
  24. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 79–82, 301.
  25. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 93–94, 97, 362.
  26. ^ Joslen 2003, p. 55.
  27. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 37, 56, 282, 596.
  28. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 41-42, 102, 284.
  29. ^ Joslen 2003, p. 286.
  30. ^ Joslen 2003, p. 41.
  31. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 November 2008. Retrieved 10 June 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  32. ^ Joslen 2003, pp. 60-61.
  33. ^ a b Morling, pp. 210–34.
  34. ^ "World War II unit histories & officers". Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  35. ^ Lord & Watson, pp. 152–4.
  36. ^ Nalder, p. 598.
  37. ^ Joslen, pp. 282-283.
  38. ^ Joslen, pp. 284-285.
  39. ^ Joslen, p. 286.


  • Allport, Alan (2015). Browned Off and Bloody-minded: The British Soldier Goes to War 1939–1945. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-17075-7.
  • 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.
  • Bell, P. M. H. (1997) [1986]. The Origins of the Second World War in Europe (2nd ed.). London: Pearson. ISBN 978-0-582-30470-3.
  • Cole, Howard (1973). Formation Badges of World War 2. Britain, Commonwealth and Empire. London: Arms and Armour Press.
  • French, David (2001) [2000]. Raising Churchill's Army: The British Army and the War Against Germany 1919–1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-199-24630-4.
  • Gibbs, N. H. (1976). Grand Strategy. History of the Second World War. I. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. ISBN 978-0-116-30181-9.
  • Joslen, H. F. (2003) [1960]. Orders of Battle: Second World War, 1939–1945. Uckfield: Naval and Military Press. ISBN 978-1-84342-474-1.
  • Levy, James P. (2006). Appeasement and Rearmament: Britain, 1936–1939. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7425-4537-3.
  • Lord, Cliff & Watson, Graham Royal Corps of Signals: Unit Histories of the Corps (1920–2001) and its Antecedents, Solihull: Helion, 2003, ISBN 1-874622-92-2.
  • Messenger, Charles (1994). For Love of Regiment 1915–1994. A History of British Infantry. 2. London: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 978-0-85052-422-2.
  • Morling, L.F Sussex Sappers: A History of the Sussex Volunteer and Territorial Army Royal Engineer Units from 1890 to 1967, Seaford: 208th Field Co, RE/Christians–W.J. Offord, 1972.
  • Nalder, R.F.H. The Royal Corps of Signals: A History of its Antecedents and Developments (Circa 1800–1955), London: Royal Signals Institution, 1958.
  • Perry, Frederick William (1988). The Commonwealth Armies: Manpower and Organisation in Two World Wars. War, Armed Forces and Society. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-71902-595-2.
  • Simkins, Peter (2007) [1988]. Kitchener's Army: The Raising of the New Armies 1914–1916. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 978-1-84415-585-9.

External links

This page was last edited on 13 November 2019, at 00:13
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