Units & Formations 1930 - 1956
Divisions - Infantry
The infantry division was the main, all arms formation, deployed by the British Army and British Indian Army during the Second World War.
The origin of a 'division' in Army terms dates back to the Napoleonic Wars. It developed during the 1800's, but the modern division was formalised with the British Army in the 1908 reforms. This included the implementation of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 and the creation of the fourteen divisions within the Territorial Force.
During the Great War, a division comprised three brigades, each of four infantry battalions. There were four artillery brigades (regiments) allocated to each division, plus engineer, machine gun and pioneer units. Apart from an infantry division, there were a few cavalry divisions during the war.
This structure continued after the Great War, right up to 1938 and the imminent outbreak of the Second World War. An infantry division remained with three brigades, but now with three infantry battalions. There were three field artillery regiments, with an anti-tank regiment added in 1938. The Royal Engineers provided three companies for each division, as did the Royal Army Service Corps. On the Medical side, there were three field ambulances on the establishment. In 1938, a machine gun battalion was added to most divisions in addition to a cavalry or yeomanry regiment as divisional reconnaissance unit.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, there were five Regular Army infantry divisions in the U.K., plus two in Palestine. In the U.K. was an embryonic armoured division and one forming in Egypt. In 1936, two of the fourteen Territorial Army (T.A.) divisions converted into anti-aircraft divisions. In early 1939, the twelve remaining T.A. divisions were ordered to form a duplicate formation, although none of these second-line divisions were ready for deployment when war came in September. Seven anti-aircraft divisions covered the U.K. as part of Air Defence Great Britain.
In India, there were four divisions, although these were divisions in name only as they were also static districts covering areas of India. Plans existed for the mobilisation of three brigades to form an expeditionary force for deployment in the event of war. This formation became the famous 4 Indian Infantry Division (The Red Eagles).
During the Second World War, although changes in establishment were made to infantry divisions, the basic structure of a division remained intact throughout the war. The structure of an armoured division did change significantly (see Armoured Divisions) in the light of operational experience. A cavalry division existed for two years, and two airborne divisions were formed during the war (see: http://www.britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk/documents.php?aid=168&nid=23&start=10
The concept of a division within the British Army has continued since the Second World War, although the Second Iraq War probably saw the last ever deployment of a British Army division with the 1 (British) Armoured Division seeing active service in 1990.