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United Kingdom 1944 - 1947:

British Infantry Formations

One of the main differences with regards to the narrative of the Second World War for the British Army, as opposed to the First World War, was that between June 1940 and June 1944, the majority of the strength of the British Army was based in the United Kingdom and not engaged in actual fighting. This period of four years, i.e., the same period of time as the duration of the First World War, allowed the British Army to rebuild, adopt new new weapons and tactics, and train to a high standard ready to invade France when the situation allowed.

The focus of the British Army in late 1940 was to reconstitute itself after the losses incurred in France, and to guard against an invasion by German forces across the English Channel. It can be argued that this threat had diminished to a negligible state by early 1941, and as can be seen by the preparations required by the Allies to land forces on Normandy, the German Army did not have time to prepare, nor the specialist equipment needed for such an undertaking. Nevertheless, in the U.K. the threat of invasion persisted into 1941, leading to the creation of ‘County Divisions’, static formations for coastal defence. These were disbanded by December 1941.

By the beginning of 1944, there were nine British infantry divisions in the United Kingdom that had not been designated to become part of the 21 Army Group for the forthcoming invasion of France. Three of these divisions still had some form of operational responsibilities.

The 38 (Welsh) Infantry Division was stationed in the Hampshire and Dorset District within Southern Command. The 55 (West Lancashire) Infantry Division was stationed in Northern Ireland on garrison duties, with the 61 Infantry Division based in South Eastern Command. The 55 (West Lancashire) Division was a pre-war Territorial Army formation, the other two were second-line formations raised in 1939. All three of these divisions provided some advanced training facilities for Home Forces.

Four other divisions were designated as reserve formations, responsible for training and draft finding for the whole British Army. The 48 (South Midland) Infantry Reserve Division had been a first-line, pre-war Territorial Army formation. In spite of seeing active service in France in 1940, it had been downgraded to a reserve division in December 1942. The 45 Infantry Division was a second-line formation raised in 1939, and the 76 Infantry Division and 80 Infantry Division were both war-raised formations; the former dating from 18 November 1941 and the latter from 1 January 1943.

The 77 Holding Division had been formed on 1 December 1941 by the redesignation of the Devon and Cornwall County Division. It was reorganised and redesignated as a holding formation on 1 December 1943 to sort, retrain and hold personnel on a temporary basis as a result of units disbanding or for those returning from medical leave.

In July 1944, a major reorganisation began of Home Forces reserve formations. By this date, 21 Army Group had successfully landed in Normandy, but, the demand for infantry reinforcements was already considerable. On 1 September 1944, the new arrangements became effective. The 76 Infantry (Reserve) Division, 77 Holding Division and 80 Infantry (Reserve) Division were all disbanded. The 38 Infantry (Reserve) Division became the training formation for Western Command, the 47 Infantry (Reserve) Division had that role for Southern and Eastern Command, with the 48 Infantry (Reserve) Division responsible for Northern and Scottish Command. The 45 Division became the new holding formation within Home Forces. The 55 Infantry Division and 61 Infantry Division retained some degree of an operational role, with the latter even being prepared for service in the Far East in July 1945.

These formations were joined by the 50 Infantry Division when it was downgraded and transferred back to the United Kingdom from North West Europe in December 1944. It appears all these reserve formations disbanded in 1946 and 1947, only the 50 (Northumbrian) Infantry Division being reconstituted in the Territorial Army in 1947.

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