50th Infantry Division

Discussion in 'Higher Formations' started by merdiolu, Dec 6, 2013.

  1. merdiolu

    merdiolu Junior Member

    I have seen this division in several fronts during WW2. First in Western Front in 1940 then Syria and North Africa in 1941-42 , El Alamein 1942 , Tunisia 1943 , Sicily 1943 , Normandy 1944 (first unit to land on Gold Beach and fighting in Bayeux region) , Belgium Netherlands in 1944 where it was disbanded in December 1944. It was a veteran unit and seriously experienced. What was its specialty to fight so long in so many fronts ? Specially trained or more experienced ? If so why it was disbanded before end of war ?
     
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  2. Wessex_Warrior

    Wessex_Warrior Junior Member

    Hello,

    The 50th Division was certainly not disbanded ! It was sent back to the UK as a Reserve and Training Division before being sent to Norway in 1945 to form the nucleus of the British Troops stationed there. It was a Territorial Division after all.

    Regards,

    Will
     
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  3. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Merdiolu

    There is no question that 50th Inf Division was one of the best divisions we ever had - and would have held it's place along with the 78th - 6th Armoured and 1st Canadian Div - BUT Monty needed a veteran Div for his NWE campaign

    and along with V111 AB sent them off from Sicily and were even more effective initially than their corps members 51st Inf and 7th AD - the XXX corps was even more effective than 1st - 8th and 12th corps owing to their experience - training

    and general esprit de corps - it was said that when a battle was being planned in the desert all 50th members would discharge themselves from hospitals- that makes a great unit - Monty was no slouch and by October '44 he realised that they

    had done their duty with more casualties than most and needed a rest..so he sent them to the UK with honour...

    Cheers
     
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  4. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

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  5. Peccavi

    Peccavi Senior Member

  6. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Peccavi

    There is tremendous difference in the two divisions - the 50th had been fighting for nearly three years of their five whereas the Big Red One for only a few months since Torch so could hardly be called "Elite " even less after their Div

    Commander had been fired by Patton for no apparent reason in Sicily - before he himself was fired for bad conduct….the Big Red one was not all that elite either into NWE…they did recover to be a good division...

    Cheers
     
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  7. markdeml

    markdeml Member

    As tom Canning points out, the 50th was one of Mongomery's most trusted divisions from North Africa. They were not originally slated for a role on D-Day, however Montgomery wanted a division with experience in amphibious assault, so replaced the green 49th with the 50th on Gold beach. Alot of the criticism is directed at the British divisions in Normandy, but they were facing the highest concentration of German armour and were being bombarded day and night by mortar and artillery from three sides. The myth of Normandy is that is was an infantryman's battle, it was actually an artillery battle, reading the accounts of a typical day, it consisted constant exchanges of mortar fire. The 50th had been used to fighting in the more open desert of North Africa, when it came to the cramped geography of Normandy it was a different kettle of fish
     
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  8. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    markdeml
    You are forgetting that Tunisia is by no means a desert as is Lybia for example - neither was Sicily so the 50th and for that matter 51st and 7th AD had experience in fighting in cramped quarters - main reason for their laxity after D

    Day was the feeling that they had done their share and others should take up the running..they had after all been fighting since 1940 only the reconstituted 51st had joined 8th Army just before Wadi al Falpha in June '42…when the 8th was on

    the way back from Gazala

    Same thing happened to 1st Canadian Div for Sicily as they replaced Brit 3rd Div and landed green as grass straight from the UK to become one of Monty's favourite Divisions in Sicily and Italy and were a good substitute for 50th Div...

    Cheers
     
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  9. markdeml

    markdeml Member

    good point. Many historians have questioned the wisdom of even using the 50th division in Normandy at all, considering how much campaigning they had already done. Not sure about the 51st though, they were not as experienced, completely different personal to the original 51st division that was destroyed in France
     
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  10. merdiolu

    merdiolu Junior Member

    Actually 50th Infantry Div. performance in Normandy was considered quite satisfactory. They fought against elite strike forces of Wehrmacht like Panzer Lehr , 2nd Panzer Division and elements of 12th SS Hitlerjugend Div. and repulsed their counter attacks and gained ground albeit slowly and heavy casaulties. Their battles around Tilly sur Seulles and Hottot in June 1944 in Bayeux region were as fierce as any engagement if not more in Normandy. Commander of Panzer Lehr General Fritz Bayerlein (who was Rommel's aide in North Africa ) respected 50th Division a lot and called them "our old friends from Africa".

    51th Division at the other hand considered to be performed poorly in its initial deployment to Normandy along with 7th Armored Div. Montgomery was so disappointed he relieved commanders of these units at least once in Normandy Campaign.
     
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  11. idler

    idler GeneralList

    My opinion is that it wasn't the experience of the troops that was wanted, it was the experience of the command structure. A battle-proven headquarters would be much less likely to flap or feck up under the adverse conditions that could easily occur during an assault landing. I don't think it's any accident that the two experienced assault divs (50 Br and 1 US) were landed side by side as the keystone of the assault.
     
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  12. Staffsyeoman

    Staffsyeoman Member

    I'm afraid that point falls as the keystone of the assault in the British sector was 3rd Division - which had seen no action since Dunkirk.

    I would refer everyone to John Buckley's "Monty's Men" were he discusses the old arguments of Monty wanting 'his' old units from the desert, and their combat performance being found wanting (e.g. 50th Division, 51st Highland, 7th Armoured) . It would be invidious to try and boil down a nuanced discussion too much, but he examines the views that they were 'burnt out' against application of outdated tactical doctrine for changed circumstances (which is where most critics [D'Este, Hastings] stop - and then looks into how they adapted post Normandy.
     
  13. idler

    idler GeneralList

    True - if you subscribe to the COSSAC/SHAEF 'Caen is the key' theory. Monty recognised that Caen's importance was it's importance to the Germans. Sword was also too vulnerable on the left flank as a base for the build up.

    As for Monty wanting his old units from the desert, they were earmarked for NWE before he was. Morgan mentions the requirement for experienced units in his Overture to Overlord. I have got Buckley on the Christmas list, though...
     
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  14. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake The Mayor of London's latest dress code

    The Williams thesis refutes many of the "good but overused" criticisms. However, the argument Williams presents about the continuous service of the armoured Brigades is flawed. The Armour did not suffer the same level of casualties as the infantry.

    In both world wars it was British practice to rotate assault formations, unlike in the US Army which tended to expect units to absorb replacement whilst in the line. Commander recognized infantry units lost their effectiveness after suffering casualties. Even if the absolute numbers of casualties were rarely as high as in WW1 assaults, most of these were suffered by relatively small number of front line fighting troops. An infantry Division may nominally have an establishment of 18,400 but most of the casualties would be taken by the C.4,000 men in the 36 rifle companies. My father, who was an artilleryman in 43 Div told me that one measure of the casualties suffered by an infantry battalion was to hear, on the Brigade net a piping teenaged voice say the words "sunray speaking."

    The accounts of Stan Hollis and the Robin Hastings show an efficient and aggressive formation which did very well on D Day and in the following days. The tough fights at St Pierre, Lingevres and Christot cost the infantry many of their junior commanders. Look at the number of company commanders in Bayeux war cemetery..

    One key decision was when to relieve commanders. The pressure of command could not be borne indefinitely. Lord Carver in a talk in 1984 talked about replacing all of the unit commanders when he took over 4th Armoured Brigade, The decision to withdraw 50 Div might have reflected subjective perceptions about Graham and his brigade commanders. The choice of the formations to break up seems to have been a matter of judgement. Verney GOC 7th Armoured Division was offered a "good brigade" from 59th Division to replace 131 Brigade which had the highest AWOL rate of any formation in Normandy and a reputation for poor performance. 7 AD kept the 131 Brigade but took over 2 Devons and 9 DLI from 50 Div.,.

    Incidentally, disbanding the formation did not save the infantry soldiers in the formation from exposure to combat. The British formations were broken up to keep the infantry units in others up to strength, thus the "Gateshead Gurhkas" of 9 DLI fought on, probably bropught up to strength with drafts from other 151 Brigade units. If any British formation deserved to be a British Band of Brothers it would be found in in 50 Div. No other formation served as continuously or in as many critical places.
     
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  15. markdeml

    markdeml Member

    historians have criticised the British and Canadian tendency to dig in after taking an objective, but as the US army learnt in places like hurtgen forest, the German army always counter attacked lost ground with ferocity. This, combined with the geography of Normandy which favoured the defender, and the sheer concentration of German artillery and armour around caen, is the reason I think the British army had slow progress in Normandy
     
  16. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake The Mayor of London's latest dress code

    While XXX Corps was earmarked to return to the UK for the Second front, Montgomery did select 50 Div to be the assault formation. Originally 49th Division were to have been an assault division, . This made for a bit of swapping of equipment between the Divisions in the 1st Quarter of 1944. ER.g. 90 Fd regiment, a towed 25 Pdr regiment re-rolled as a 105mm Priest regiment.

    Montgomery and Eisenhower made the decision to widen the invasion from a three division to eight, thumping the table to get the additional assault craft built in six months. Caen was the original initial objective, and was considered vital to seize it early if the beachhead was restricted to a three divisions between Sword to Omaha. Caen and the area between Caen and Falaise obviously wasn't as vital as people thought, because the Allies won the Normandy campaign decisively despite not capturing the ground seen as important for airfields until the second half of August.
     
  17. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    While it is true that 51st HD morale was at a low in the early stages of Normandy, not one author/Historian has ever mentioned that they never fought as a complete division until July, or that they were not at full strength until the first week of July. My Fathers regiment (Camerons) split into 3 landing parties (as were other regiments) did not get the D+7 Party ashore until June 24th, 10 days late and D+14 Party ashore 30th June, also 10 days late. Rifle companies during their first 2 weeks were fighting at slightly more than half strength. Maybe other formations were the same?
     
  18. Mr Jinks

    Mr Jinks Bit of a Cad

    The 50th Division went home in name only, the men who served with the various regiments fought on used as replacements in other units in the case of two DLI battalions 6th and 8th DLI they returned home in Cadre form only? I`m sure Stevie Mac will confirm this ?

    Kyle
     
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  19. Peccavi

    Peccavi Senior Member

    Found this revealing snippet ----

    2nd Cheshires were a MMG battalion in 50th Division and had fought all the way from Dunkirk to Nijmegen. In December 1944, they were reduced to 110 officers and men (as a Demonstration\Training Regiment) and the reminder sent for retraining as infantry and posting to other units (less those judged unfit for further service). In 1981, an ex-officer in 2 Cheshires, who had fought in most of these battles and then drafted to 6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers but, even after 35 years still felt bitter at the treatment, wrote this in a letter to the Regimental Magazine:


    My regrets are confined to the way in which we, 'the surplus officers and men', were hustled away from 2 Cheshires camp at Helmsley, Yorkshire to be hastily retrained as infantry. We were denied the opportunity of a last ceremonial parade and a valedictory address at which an explanation could have been given and the thanks of the Regiment and the 'brass' conveyed for our very considerable contribution to the war effort. By way of contrast 6 RWF held a drum-head service in the field, as soon as they could, to commemorate those who had been killed and become casualties in the Reichswald and subsequent battles and to welcome the reinforcements.
    It is all a long time ago, but there may be lessons for units and organisations experiencing traumatic change. I would emphasise that if an unpleasant reality has to be faced it is better to do so with panache and with the will to maintain the dignity and morale of all involved... December 1944 was a disaster for 2 Cheshire and many of the officers and men sent to other units, I am sure that those of us who are left can now, with whole heart, join other old comrades in recognising, with pride, the achievements and traditions of a fine Regiment.
     
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  20. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Sheldrake -

    Didn't think Eisenhower had anything to do with the expansion of the main front for D Day….Monty was home first and berated Morgan for such a small effort based on his landing at Sicily - so he changed it and took off before Ike got back to the UK….Ike then ratified it - only...

    Cheers
     

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