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The British 2nd Division is a regular division of the British army, with a long history. It dates its existence as a permanently embodied formation from 1809, when it was established by Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later to become the Duke of Wellington) for service in the Peninsular War. (Prior to this, it was common for formations with the same number to be temporarily established for a single campaign and disbanded immediately afterwards; divisions remained a permanent part of the British Army's structure only after the Napoleonic Wars).

The division has long been associated with the north of England. The divisional insignia, the Crossed Keys of Saint Peter, were originally part of the coat of arms of the Diocese of Yorkmarker, and were adopted before or during the First World War.

Peninsular War

The first commander of the 2nd Division was Major General Rowland Hill. Under his command, the division took part in the Second Battle of Porto and the battles of Talaveramarker and Bussacomarker.

In 1811, Major General the Hon. William Stewart became commander of the division. Stewart was apparently a magnificent Lieutenant Colonel, but a disastrous General. The division suffered heavy casualties at the Battle of Albueramarker. For the rest of 1812, the division was part of a detachment (essentially a corps) under Rowland Hill which covered the southern flank of Wellington's main army. It thus acquired the nickname of the "Observing Division", but was also known as the "Surprisers", after taking the French by surprise in engagements at Arroyo Molinos and Almaraz.

In 1813 and 1814, the division remained part of Hill's detachment. It contained three British brigades and one Portuguese brigade. It took part in the Battle of Vitoria on the right flank of Wellington's army. It subsequently was briefly driven from a position at the Battle of Maya after Stewart retired the division prematurely to camp, but fought in the later engagements of the Battle of the Pyrenees and the battles in southern France.

Peninsular War Formation

(Battle of Albuera, 16 May 1811)

Commanding General: Major General William Stewart

(from January 1813)

  • Portuguese Brigade: Brigadier General Charles Ashworth
    • 1/6th Portuguese Line Regiment
    • 2/6th Portuguese Line Regiment
    • 1/18th Portuguese Line Regiment
    • 2/18th Portuguese Line Regiment
    • 6th Caçadores


The division fought at the Battle of Waterloomarker, part of Wellington's II Corps commanded again by Rowland Hill. It consisted at Waterloo of a brigade of British light infantry and riflemen, a brigade of the King's German Legion and a brigade of Hanoverian Landwehr. The division began the day in reserve behind Wellington's right flank, but took part in the defeat of Napoleon's attacks later in the day.

Waterloo formation

Commander: Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton

3rd British Brigade Major-General Frederick Adam

1st King's German Legion Brigade Lieutenant-Colonel George Charles Du Plat
  • 1st Line Battalion, KGL
  • 2nd Line Battalion, KGL
  • 3rd Line Battalion, KGL
  • 4th Line Battalion, KGL

3rd Hanoverian Brigade Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Halkett
  • Landwehr Battalion Bremervörde
  • Landwehr Battalion 2nd Duke of York's (Osnabrück)
  • Landwehr Battalion 3rd Duke of York's (Quakenbrück)
  • Landwehr Battalion Salzgitter

Artillery Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Gold

Crimean War

The division formed part of the British army under Lord Raglan which landed in the Crimea and attempted to capture the port of Sebastopolmarker. It was commanded by Lieutenant General Sir George de Lacy Evans, and fought at the battles of the Alma and Inkermanmarker, where it suffered heavy casualties.

Crimean War Formation

Commanding General: Lieutenant General Sir George de Lacy Evans

Anglo-Egyptian War

In 1882, the division formed part of the Expeditionary Force under Lieutenant General Sir Garnet Wolseley which was sent to Egyptmarker after a rebellion (the Urabi Revolt) threatened British control of the Suez Canalmarker. During the subsequent 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War, the division was commanded by Major General Edward Bruce Hamley. One of its brigades was used as a garrison of Alexandriamarker, and did not take part in the main actions of the war, but the other brigade and the divisional headquarters took part in the decisive Battle of Tel-el-Kebir.

Anglo-Egyptian War formation

Commander: Lieutenant General Sir Edward Hamley

3rd (Highland) Infantry Brigade (Major General Sir Edward Alison)

4th Infantry Brigade (Major General Sir Evelyn Wood VC)

Divisional Troops
  • 19th Hussars (2 Sqns)
  • 3rd Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps
  • I Battery, 2nd Field Brigade, Royal Artillery
  • N Battery, 2nd Field Brigade, Royal Artillery
  • 26 Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 11 Company, Army Commissariat and Transport Corps
  • 2 Bearer Company, Army Hospital Corps (Half)
  • 4 Field Hospital, Army Hospital Corps
  • 5 Field Hospital, Army Hospital Corps

Boer War

The division was part of an Army Corps under General Sir Redvers Buller which was sent to South Africa when the Boer War broke out in 1899. The division's commander was Lieutenant General Sir Francis Clery. The division, or parts of it, suffered defeats at the Battle of Colensomarker and Battle of Spion Kopmarker before gaining victory during the Relief of Ladysmith. It subsequently took part in operations which drove the Boers from Natal and the eastern Transvaalmarker.

First World War

The division was subsequently stationed on Salisbury Plainmarker, and designated to be part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which would be despatched in the case of general European war. When war did break out, the BEF was sent to support the French and Belgian armies. The division's commander at this point was Major General Charles Monro. The division took part in the long retreat from Mons, and suffered heavy casualties in the First Battle of Ypresmarker.

The division served on the Western Front for the duration of the war. Although most of the division's regulars became casualties or were transferred to other formations, the division never lost its standing and reputation as a Regular formation. It fought in all the major battles on the Western Front.

After the war the division was part of the occupation force stationed at Cologne.

First World War formation

4th Brigade :

The brigade left the division on 20 August 1915 to join theGuards Division and was renamed the 1st Guards Brigade.

5th Brigade

The following battalions were part of the brigade during 1915.

6th Brigade

The following battalions were part of the brigade during 1915.
  • 1st Battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment (August 1914 to December 1915)
  • 1/5th Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment) (February 1915 to December 1915)
  • 1/7th Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment) (March 1915 to September 1915)
  • 1/1st Battalion, The Hertfordshire Regiment (August 1915 to June 1916)

The 17th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers joined the brigade fromthe 5th Brigade in February 1918.

19th Brigade (19 August 1915 to 25 November 1915) :

The brigade joined the division in August 1915 from the 27th Division and left in November for the 33rd Division,where it swapped with the 99th Brigade.

99th Brigade
  • 22nd (Service) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers
  • 23rd (Service) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers
  • 1st Battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment (from 6th Bde. December 1915)
  • 1st Battalion, the King's Royal Rifle Corps (from 6th Bde. December 1915)

The brigade joined the division from the 33rd Division in November 1915.The following battalions left the brigade shortly afterwards:

  • 17th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers (to 5th Bde. December 1915)
  • 24th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers (to 5th Bde. December 1915)
  • 1/5th Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment) (from 6th Bde. December 1915)

Second World War

Battle of France

Following its return from Germany, the division continued to be a regular army formation stationed in Britain. In 1939, it once again became part of a British Expeditionary Force sent to fight alongside French armies. Its commander was Major General Henry Loyd. In 1940, the British Expeditionary Force, including the 2nd Division, was driven from France in the Dunkirk evacuation, with few casualties but losing almost all its equipment.

India and Burma

The 2nd Division was re-equipped in Britain. In December 1941, Japanmarker entered the war. After British and Commonwealth forces in the Far East suffered disastrous defeats in early 1942, the division was sent to India, which was threatened by Japanese advances and internal disorder. For some time, the division was involved in internal security operations and training for amphibious operations.

In 1944, the Japanese launched an invasion of India. The 2nd Division was sent to recapture the vital position at Kohimamarker. After driving the Japanese back at the Battle of Kohima, the division relieved a besieged Indian corps at Imphal. The epitaph carved on the memorial of the 2nd Division in the large cemetery for the Allied war dead at Kohima reads,

“ When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today ”

This has become world-famous as the Kohima Epitaph. The verse is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds and is thought to have been inspired by the epitaph written by Simonides to honour the Greek who fell at the Battle of Thermopylaemarker in 480 BC.

The division continued to serve as part of British Fourteenth Army during its offensive into Burma. It was withdrawn to India at the end of March 1945, as it could not be maintained nor kept up to strength. It was rebuilt in India and was intended for further amphibious operations, but the war ended before it saw further action.

Second World War formation

(On Deployment to India, April 1942)
  • 4th Infantry Brigade

5th Infantry Brigade

6th Infantry Brigade



The division was amalgamated in the Far East with the 36th Division in 1946-7. It was disbanded there soon afterwards, and reformed in Germany in February 1947 around the structure of the disbanding 53rd Welsh Division. It subsequently amalgamated also with the disbanding 6th Armoured Division. The 2nd Division remained in Germany as part of I Corps as 2nd Armoured Division.

Until the late 1970s, it consisted of the 4th Armoured Brigade and 12th Mechanised Brigade, but from 1976 to 1983 it was reorganised as a small armoured division, incorporating two brigade-sized headquarters, Task Force Charlie (TFC) and Task Force Delta (TFD), which controlled five tank/mechanised infantry battle groups (one armoured and two infantry in TF Charlie, and one armoured and one infantry in TF Delta). The 2nd Armoured Division was the first British division in Germany to undergo this reorganisation, and the division's commander while this establishment was tested was Major General Frank Kitson.

In a major reorganisation of British forces in 1982 and 1983, the division returned to the United Kingdom. Its new headquarters was at Imphal Barracks in Yorkmarker, and it consisted of three infantry brigades: the regular 24th Airmobile Brigade, and the 15th Brigade and 49th Brigade from the Territorial Army. Its role would have been to cross the Channel and protect I (BR) Corps rear area in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

Present day

Structure 2nd Division
Following the end of the Cold War, the division disbanded, but the title was resurrected for the amalgamation of several military districts - North East District and part of Eastern District, when the formation reformed on 1 April 1995. The 1998 Strategic Defence Review led to a reorganisation of Land Command. The 2nd Division absorbed Scotland District and its headquarters moved to Craigiehallmarker, near Edinburgh.

Following further reshuffing, 52nd Infantry Brigade was reformed as an operational, rather than regional, brigade consisting of several light infantry battalions, and left the formation to join 3 Division in 2007.

The Division reports to Commander Regional Forces at Headquarters Land Command at Wilton. It is tasked with maintaining the infrastructure and resources and the command and control responsibilities, for the training and administration of all Regular Army and Territorial Army units in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England.

Current formation

The division HQ controls Catterick Garrisonmarker and four Regional Brigades:

Recent Commanders

Recent Commanders have been:
  • 1995-1996 Major General PAJ Cordingley
  • 1996-1999 Major General CD Farrar-Hockley
  • 1999-2002 Major General RDS Gordon
  • 2003-2004 Major General NR Parker
  • 2004-2006 Major General WEB Loudon
  • 2007-2009 Major General D McDowall
  • May 2009-September 2009 Major General AD Mackay
  • October 2009-Present Major General D Shaw


  2. Moorsom, W S, (ed). "Historical Record of the Fifty-Second Regiment (Oxfordshire Light Infantry) from the year 1755 to the year 1858". 2nd edition. London: Richard Bentley, 1860 p267 (facsimile printed by The Naval & Military Press Ltd, East Sussex, England)
  3. Whitaker's Almanacks
  4. Service appointments
  5. New Head of the Army in Scotland

Further reading

  • Jon Latimer, Burma: The Forgotten War, London: John Murray, 2004 ISBN 0-7195-6576-6

External links

See also

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