56th (London) Infantry Division

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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
The Shoulder patch of the 56th (1st London) Division, First World War.
Country United Kingdom
BranchFlag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
Armoured warfare
Nickname(s)"The Black Cats"
EngagementsFirst 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[edit]

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]

Between the wars[edit]

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[edit]

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.[6][5]

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]


In 1946, the 56th Division was demobilised then re-constituted as the 56th (London) Armoured Division. 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.[10] The 56th Division was one of the eight divisions placed on a lower establishment for home defence only.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.

Victoria Cross recipients[edit]

General officers commanding[edit]

The following officers commanded the division:

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

Order of battle[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "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" (PDF). British military history. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  4. ^ "The London Division" (PDF). British military history. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e Joslen, p. 37
  6. ^ a b c d e f "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. ^ Yourdemocracy.newstatesman.com Archived 2 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Beckett 2008, p. 180.
  12. ^ Beckett 2008, pp. 183, 185.
  13. ^ National Archives
  14. ^ "Motor Division, British Army, 03.09.1939". niehorster.org. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  15. ^ Joslen, pp. 37-38.
  16. ^ Joslen, p. 227.
  17. ^ Joslen, p. 230.
  18. ^ Joslen, p. 282.
  19. ^ Joslen, p. 265.
  20. ^ Joslen, p. 269
  21. ^ TNA WO 166/1527
  22. ^ Litchfield, Appendix 5.
  23. ^ Watson, TA 1947 Archived 5 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine


  • 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[edit]

  • Dudley Ward, C. H. (2001) [1921]. The Fifty Sixth Division 1914–1918 (1st London Territorial Division) (Naval & Military Press ed.). London: Murray. ISBN 1-84342-111-9.

External links[edit]