The Divisional History of 50th Inf Div

1914-18 War

Formed in 1908 as part of the new Territorial Force the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, consisted of the Territorial Battalions of the Royal Northumbrian Fusiliers, Durham Light Infantry, Green Howards and East Yorkshires. The Division was sent to France in April 1915 and served on the Western Front for the duration of the First World War. The 50th Division had four commanders during its time in France:

  • Major General Sir W.F.L. Lindsay to 29th June 1915
  • Major General the Earl of Cavan to 5th August 1915
  • Major General P.S. Wilkinson to 24th February 1918
  • Major General H.C. Jackson to the end

The Division comprised of three brigades:

  • 149th (Northumberland) Brigade
  • 150th (York and Durham) Brigade
  • 151st (Durham Light Infantry) Brigades

50th Infantry Division
Divisional Patch 1914-18

The Division fought in most of the major battles of the campaign:

  • Second Battle of Ypres
  • Battle of the Somme (1916)
    • Battle of Flers-Courcelette
    • Battle of Morval
    • Battle of Le Transloy
    • Battle of Arras
    • Third Battle of Ypres
      • Second Battle of Passchendaele

During the Second Battle of the Aisne in May–June 1918, the Division suffered such heavy casualties that it was almost completely reconstituted in July 1918 and underwent a total reorganisation. A composite brigade consisting of three battalions (one from each brigade and known as 50 Composite Brigade was formed on 1st June 1918 under Brigadier General F. J. Marshall (149 Brigade). This Brigade was disbanded on 30th June 1918 and the personnel rejoined their units, most of which became training cadres. After the war, the Division returned to the North of England as a Territorial Division.

The Second World War

Image - WW2 Patch

The 50th Division's new shoulder flash was of overlapping 'T's representing the Tyne and Tees rivers. Whilst looked at from the side, an 'H' is visible which represents the River Humber. Being a first line Territorial Army Division at the beginning of the war, it was organized as a Motor Division, commanded by Major- General G. Le Q. Martel, and was part of Southern Command. In June 1940, it was reorganized as an Infantry Division and was commanded by Maj.-Gen. W.H.C. Ramsden. It crossed over to Belgium as part of the BEF. The Division was heavily committed during the retreat to Dunkirk at the battles of Ypres and Comines Canal and took part in the temporarily successful British counter-attack at Arras. Most of the Division was fortunate enough to get out at Dunkirk, becoming part of 8 Corps, British Home Forces.

On the 12th April 1941, after extensive refitting and training, the Division was dispatched to the Middle East first via Cyprus to Iraq, then on to Syria, Egypt and then into Libya as part of 13 Corps. On 15th June 1942, now part of Montgomery's 8th Army, it was in the Gazala defensive line, when Rommel's Africa Corps broke through. Gen. Neil Ritchie had to face facts and he ordered the 8th Army to abandon the remains of the line before Rommel could destroy his army in detail. The 1st South African and 50th Infantry Divisions were ordered to pull out. The 50th Division, having lost 150th Brigade to Rommel at Dahar el Aslaq, had its withdrawal delayed 10 hours due to a command muddle. Its withdrawal was novel, however, having to head west through the Italian position.

The withdrawal began during a dust-storm. The 5th East Yorks advanced to within 10 yards of an Italian position singing 'Rule Britannia'. They then scattered the Italians with a bayonet charge and by 4 a.m. the 50th Division's breakout was complete. The Division pulled back towards the El Alamein defence line taking part in the Battle at Mersa Matruh on route.

On the 23rd October 1942, now refitted but down to two British Brigades, the Division had one Free French and one Greek Brigade put under its command for the next phase of Montgomery's El Alamein plan. Monty had a high regard for the Geordies as during their time in North Africa, they had won three VCs. After seeing action at El Alamein, they were further involved in the battles at the Mareth Line and Tunis.

After the North African Campaign had finished, 50th Div, still part of the 8th Army, but in 13 Corps took part in the invasion of of Sicily (operation 'Husky'), being deployed at the north end of the British landing zone. Now under command of Major-General Sidney Chevalier Kirkman and joined by 168 Inf Bde, they were put ashore on a one brigade front near Avola. The landings in Sicily were a great success but the division did not have time to settle. Montgomery had been called back to the Britain to command the Allied Assault Force and he took back with him some of his best divisions, of which 50th was one.

On arriving back in the UK, 168 Bde was replaced by 231 (Malta) Bde and training for the invasion was started in earnest in January 1944. Maj.-Gen. D.A.H. Graham took over command and was to see them through the D-Day Operations. On 6 June 1944, the 50th had the dangerous honour of being in the first wave ashore, landing in Normandy, on a five kilometre wide frontage on Gold Beach with its first objective of Bayeux.

The 50th fought throughout the punishing Normandy and Arnhem operations and paid a high price for their front line role. Their casualty list in the war numbered 21,000. On 16 December 1944 it was reorganized as an Infantry (Reserve) Division in the UK. On the 1st August 1945, Divisional Headquarters ceased to command its formations and units, and moved to Norway by 25 August, and assumed the title Headquarters British Land Forces Norway.