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Hughes, David; James Broshot; and David A. Ryan. The British Armies in World War II: An Organisational History, volume three: British Infantry, Mountain, Reserve, and County Divisions, Independent Infantry Brigade Groups, Deception Divisions and Dummy Brigades. West Chester, OH: The Nafziger Collection, 2001
Preface; tables; charts; diagrams; TOEs; Bibliography
Ryan, David A.; David Hughes; and James Broshot. The British Armies in World War II: An Organisational History, Supplement One: Orders of Battle, 1939-1941. West Chester, OH: The Nafziger Collection, 2001
Preface; maps; tables; charts; diagrams; TOEs
George Nafziger remains a leader in the field of editing and publishing order of battle material, including his own German series and Charles Sharp's Soviet series among many others. In 1999 he published the first volume in The British Armies in World War II series by David Hughes, James Broshot, and Alan Philson. Philson has been replaced by David A. Ryan, one of the world's leading OB researchers, but the series is still going strong and Nafziger was kind enough to send along two recent volumes for review.
The first thing noticeable about volume three of the series is that the contents don't quite match what was originally planned. Instead of British Territorial divisions plus British armored and tank brigades, the book as published actually covers British infantry, mountain, reserve, and County divisions plus independent infantry brigade groups, deception divisions, and dummy brigades. That ends up being quite a lot of material!
As with the first volume, its important to note that volume three is not really a compendium of order-of-battle information. Instead, it's similar to Charles Sharp's works on Soviet forces, offering unit-by-unit histories and TOEs along with "Regimental Trivia" sidebars. Here's an example (slightly abridged) of a typical division:
45th Infantry Division
This was the duplicate of the 43rd (Wessex) Division, assigned the units from the western half of the Area. Since it lacked battalions of the Hampshire Regiment it was not allowed to assume the same title (Hampshire contained Winchester and other towns associated with the Wessex Kingdom of King Alfred the Great). Instead it included several first line battalions from the county regiments of Devon and Somerset. Unlike the 43rd it would also miss any active service, serving throughout the war in the United Kingdom.
The 45th spent the first months of the war in its native West Country, but moved to the Sussex coast in May 1940. Its lack of equipment and transport meant that it could only assume a coast defence role. This was only matched by the quality of the local defences. For example two 4.7" guns on the division frontage only had seven rounds each! The gun strength of the 142nd Field Regiment is a good example of the poor equipment level of the division during this period. Note that the type of gun available makes a mockery of the theoretical and printed field gun strengths listed at this time.
In a desperate attempt to achieve some degree of mobility each brigade was ordered to form a mobile platoon. That of the 143rd Brigade contained carrier and motorcycle platoons as well as a 'tank hunting' platoon, apparently formed of cyclists equipped with Molotov cocktails. Fortunately this derisory anti-tank capability was not put to the test, and was in theory backed up by the anti-tank companies formed in July. The 6th Shropshire Light Infantry were particularly innovative, building an armoured train on a diminutive (15" gauge) railway in their sector and equipping it with Lewis guns (which they were not supposed to have!). When adequately equipped divisions became available in August the 45th was moved to Essex.
The 45th remained in Essex, except for a short stay in the Midlands, until February 1943 when it moved to Northern Ireland. By this time it was clear that it was sliding down the priority list in terms of equipment and that it was highly unlikely to see combat. One telling giveaway was the dazzling rate at which units shifted in and out of the division, something that would not happen with a formation being prepared for battle. In effect its units were now being used to supply drafts for battalions in or preparing for combat, and most battalions sank to fewer than 300 men. The 4th Devons had left as early as May 1940 bound for a serene posting in Gibraltar. The 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, a battalion that had taken heavy casualties in France, replaced them. The Fusiliers would stay, presumably to provide some regular 'stiffening' until they joined the 38th Irish Brigade. Another regular battalion to join the division was the 2nd Battalion East Surrey Regiment. But this was in reality a wartime unit, assuming the title of the regular battalion after it was captured in Singapore. As time passed the rate of unit exchange increased, with, for example the 136th Brigade containing by mid 1943 the 12th Hampshire's and 10th East Surrey and 4th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. Only the last battalion had been in the division since its inception.
The division returned from Northern Ireland in January 1944 and six months later was in effect disbanded. A new 45th formed in September 1944 but this was really the renumbered 77th Holding Division, allocated the number of the better-known territorial division for deception purposes. The new formation had nothing in common with the original division. Instead the 45th Holding Division contained two brigades each of four battalions, all charged with maintaining the qualifications of troops who had returned from overseas service prior to their being sent back to active battalions. The divisional units were merely there to ensure that the troops had some training with support weapons. During 1945 two more brigades, the 137th and 138th were added, but these were merely headquarters units with no battalions of their own. It was in carrying out this humble but essential role the 45th ended the war.
45th Infantry Division: September 1939
134th (Devon) Infantry Brigade
4th Battalion Devonshire Regiment
6th Battalion Devonshire Regiment
8th Battalion Devonshire Regiment
135th (Somerset) Infantry Brigade
5th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry
6th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry
7th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry
136th (Cornwall) Infantry Brigade
4th Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
5th Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
9th Battalion Devonshire Regiment
55th (Wessex) Field Regiment
96th (Royal Devon Yeomanry) Field Regiment
381 st Battery
142nd Field Regiment
69th Anti-Tank Regiment
205th Field Company
250th Field Company
562nd Field Company
262nd Field Park Company
under command 7th Battalion Devonshire Regiment (machine-gun Battalion)
The bulk of the book comprises twenty-eight infantry/reserve/holding division entries, most of which also have additional TOE data for some specific engagements with numbers and types of weapons at hand for the operation. County divisions are relegated to three pages of text and tables while independent infantry brigade groups receive the same. Two and a half pages are given over to deception and dummy formations.
The unit history entries are framed by a great deal of useful explanatory material such as ten pages on territorial formations, types of divisions, and components of infantry divisions. Appendices further cover Irish Regiments and Brigades, Guards Regiments and Brigades, The London Regiment, TOEs of motor divisions, mixed divisions, and mountain divisions, and even "Emergency Motorcycle Platoons, June 1940."
This is all great stuff, but it shouldn't be confused with orders of battle. Hughes, Ryan, and Broshot haven't forgotten OB fans, though.
The first "supplement" to the British series is titled Orders of Battle, 1939 to 1941 and it's a gold mine of terrific information. The core of what the authors present in this supplement is available in the old stand-by, Joslen, but it's tough to dig straight OB material out of the Joslen volumes becauselike the main Hughes, Ryan, and Broshot volumesit's arranged by unit, not by date or theater. Thus, the authors have done a fine job to extract the material and arrange it in useful order-of-battle format. But this supplement actually goes several steps farther. First, in addition to Joslen's British (in the strict sense) units, the supplement also contains British (in the broadest sense) units: Australian, New Zealand, Indian, Canadian, South African, etc. Second, the supplement often delves down to battery and company level. Finally, these OBs often include numbers and types of tanks and guns on hand.
Here's an example of a typical OB, albeit one of the smallest ones:
ORDER OF BATTLE FILE 11
Operation 'Brevity' May 15th 1941
Headquarters Western Desert Force -- commanding field forces in Libya and Egypt
22nd Guards Brigade Group
12th Field Company, RE -- one section only
6th Australian Anti-Tank Battery, RM -- 12 2pdr guns; from 2/2nd Australian A-T Regiment
260th Anti-Tank Battery, RA -- 12 2pdr guns portee
A and C Squadrons 4th Royal Tank Regiment -- 26 A12 (Matilda II) Infantry, 5 Mk VIC Light tanks
3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards
2nd Battalion Scots Guards
1st Battalion Durham Light Infantry
31st Field Regiment, RA -- 16 25pdr guns
7th Armoured Brigade
Composite Squadron 2nd Royal Lancers -- motor company
259th Anti-Tank Battery, RA -- 12 2pdr guns portee
2nd Royal Tank Regiment -- 6 A9, 17 A10, 7 A13 Cruiser tanks
6th Australian Divisional Cavalry -- about 28 Mk VI Light tanks
11th Prince Albert Victor's Own Indian Cavalry -- motor battalion
7th Support Group
A Squadron 1st Royal Dragoons -- Marmon-Herrington II armoured cars
D Squadron 3rd Hussars -- 15 MKVI Light tanks
D Battery 3rd Royal Horse Artillery -- 12 2pdr guns portee
5th Australian Anti-tank Battery, RM -- 12 47mm guns portee; from 2/2nd Australian Anti-Tank Rgt
12th Australian Anti-tank Battery, RM -- 12 47mm guns portee; from 2/3rd Australian Anti-Tank Rgt
37th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, RA -- 12 40mm guns
38th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, RA -- 12 40mm guns
11th Hussars -- Marmon-Herrington II armoured cars
1st Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps -- motor battalion
2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade -- motor battalion
8th Field Regiment, RA -- 16 25pdr guns
Supplement One contains fifteen British OBs varying from a half page to fifty pages in length.
September 1939 (all British forces, all over the world)
Norway, April - June 1940
Western Europe, 10 May 1940
British Somalia, August 1940
UK, September 1940
Mediterranean - Middle East - East Africa, December 1940
Greece, April 1941
Crete, May 1941
Cyrenaica, March 1941
Tobruk, April 1941
Operation Brevity, May 1941
Operation Battleaxe, June 1941
Invasion of Iraq, April 1941
Invasion of Syria, June 1941
Invasion of Persia, August 1941
As usual, the gang has done a fine job on these two volumes. A few minor problems slipped throughboth these volumes have the wrong title page, the page headings are often incorrect, and one page of volume three has actually been printed with handwritten proofreader's marks scrawled across itbut those errors certainly can't detract from the huge amounts of terrific unit history and OB material packed into every page. This is great stuff and highly recommended.
Volume three, by the way, indicates that volume four will cover tank and independent armored brigades, armored car regiments, and colonial troops while supplement two will carry the OBs through 1943.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the Nafziger Collection.
Thanks to George Nafziger for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 18 March 2001
Copyright © 2001 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone