56th (London) Infantry Division
|1st London Division|
56th (1st London) Division
1st London Infantry Division
56th (London) Infantry Division
56th (London) Armoured Division
The Shoulder patch of the 56th (1st London) Division, First World War.
|Nickname(s)||"The Black Cats"|
|Engagements||First World War|
Second World War
|Sir Claude Liardet|
Sir Montagu Stopford
Sir Gerald Templer
Sir Harold Pyman
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.
First World War
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.
Between the wars
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.
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.
Second World War
At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, the division, commanded by Major-General Claude Liardet, 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.
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. 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.
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. During this time the 201st Guards Brigade joined the division, 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, saw service in the Battle of Monte Cassino, serving there until February 1944 and participated in the Anzio Campaign until relieved in March.
After being withdrawn to Egypt at the end of March, the division, under Major-General John Whitfield, 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. 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.
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.
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. The 56th Division was one of the eight divisions placed on a lower establishment for home defence only. 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. 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. 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
- Corporal James McPhie, 416th (Edinburgh) Field Company, Royal Engineers, First World War
- Private George Mitchell, 1st Battalion, London Scottish, Second World War
General officers commanding
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
|56th (1/1st London Division)|
167th (1st London) Brigade
168th (2nd London) Brigade
169th (3rd London) Brigade
56th (1/1st London Division) Divisional Artillery
Machine Gun Units
Medical and Veterinary
Divisional Train, Army Service Corps
|London Division (1939)|
1st London Brigade
2nd London Brigade
|56th (London) Infantry Division (Second World War)|
1st London Infantry Brigade (became 167th (London) Infantry Brigade on 18 November 1940)
2nd London Infantry Brigade (became 168th (London) Infantry Brigade on 18 November 1940, detached from division between 8 April 1943 and 17 October 1943, left 26 September 1944)
3rd London Infantry Brigade (left 6 October 1939)
35th Infantry Brigade (from 8 July 1940, became 169th (London) Infantry Brigade on 28 November 1940)
201st Guards Brigade (from 23 July, left 17 September 1943)
24th Guards Brigade]] (from 10 March 1945)
|56th (London) Armoured Division|
22nd Armoured Brigade
168th (Lorried) Infantry Brigade
- List of British divisions in World War I
- List of British divisions in World War II
- British Army Order of Battle (September 1939)
- Independent Company
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- Joslen, p. 282.
- Joslen, p. 265.
- Joslen, p. 269
- TNA WO 166/1527
- Litchfield, Appendix 5.
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- Norman E.H. Litchfield, The Territorial Artillery 1908–1988 (Their Lineage, Uniforms and Badges), Nottingham: Sherwood Press, 1992, ISBN 0-9508205-2-0.
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- Williams, David. The Black Cats at War: The Story of the 56th (London) Division T.A., 1939–1945