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Middle East 1930 - 1947:

British Infantry Formations

There were four British infantry divisions that saw active service in Egypt and Libya in 1941 and 1942.

The 7 Infantry Division was a pre-war Regular Army division, based in Palestine, which on 3 November 1939 moved to Egypt, and was redesignated as the 6 Infantry Division.

The headquarters of the 6 Infantry Division became the H.Q. Western Desert Force on 17 June 1940. The 6 Infantry Division was reformed in Egypt on 17 February 1941. It took part in the invasion of Syria in June 1941, with only the 16 Infantry Brigade under command. The division was redesignated the 70 Infantry Division on 10 October 1941. The division was ordered to Tobruk, which was besieged at the time, to relieve the 9 Australian Division. The divisional headquarters assumed command of all forces in the Tobruk Fortress at 22.00 hours on 22 October 1941. It took part in the battle to relieve Tobruk between 18 November and 10 December. The division left Egypt on 28 February 1942, and arrived in India on 10 March 1942.

Having fought in France, the 44 Infantry Division was evacuated from Dunkirk on 31 May 1940. It then remained in the U.K. until it left for Egypt on 29 May 1942. It arrived in Egypt on 24 July 1942, and initially came under the command of GHQ Middle East Forces. On 15 August 1942, it came under the command of XIII Corps. The division fought at the battles of Alam el Halfa between 30 August and 7 September 1942, and in the battle of El Alamein between 23 October and 4 November 1942. On 1 December 1942, the division reverted to the command of GHQ MEF, and was broken up and disbanded on 31 January 1943.

A first line Territorial Army division, the 50 Infantry Division remained in the U.K. until 19 January 1940, when it left for France. It was evacuated from Dunkirk and re-equipped in the United Kingdom. This division became the first British formation to be sent overseas to the Mediterranean or Middle East when it left the U.K. on 22 April 1941. It arrived in Egypt on 14 June 1941, but moved to Cyprus on 25 July to guard the island against possible Axis invasion. It left on 4 November 1941 to travel by sea and land to Iraq, where it arrived on 21 November. It left Iraq on 13 January 1942 to move back to Syria. It travelled on to Egypt arriving on 12 February, and then onto Libya, where it joined XIII Corps on 21 February. The Axis Forces attacked the Gazala line on 26 May 1942 breaking through and behind XIII Corps, however, they were held and congregated in an area known as ‘The Cauldron’. This was where 150 Brigade was located, with it surrendering eventually on 1 June 1942.

The 51 Infantry Division was a first line territorial formation. 154 Brigade was given the task of defending Le Harve, from where it was evacuated, however, the rest of the division was captured at St. Valery. It was reformed in the U.K. by redesignating the second line Highland Infantry Division, (the 9) as the reconstituted 51 Division. Two second line territorial brigades (the 26 and 27) became the new 152 and 153 Brigades. The division was posted to Egypt, arriving on 12 August 1942. It concentrated in the Canal area, and commenced training and acclimatizing. The division played a key role in the battle of El Alamein between 23 October and 4 November 1942. It then continued under the command of 8 Army in pursuing the Axis forces out of Libya and into Tunisia.

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