Churchill wanted to send 18th & 50th Divs to Russia

Discussion in 'The Eastern Front' started by Owen, Dec 13, 2011.

  1. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I remember reading awhile back in Alanbrooke's Diaries that Churchill wanted to send a couple of British Infantry Divsions to fight on the Eastern Front.
    I've just looked it up, date was 3rd December 1941.

    3 December 1941

    COS meeting at 10.30 where Pug Ismay produced memo from PM to the effect that 18th and 50th Divs were to be offered to the Russians for their Southern Front ! Eden to make this offer to Stalin during his impending visit to Moscow! This would probably mean having to close down the Libyan offensive ....

    COS = Chief(s) of Staff.

    ...Also question question of whether Eden was to offer 50th and 18th Divs to Stalin . Luckily we succeeded in riding PM off such a suggestion but only at expense of some 500 tanks to be sent to Russia, this according to Beaverbrook's suggestion.

    I really do wonder what Churchill waas thinking about sending 2 British Divisions and what they could have done to help on the Russian Front, logistics would have been a headache for starters.

    Does make me wonder though , I hate what if's , but how our perception of the Eastern Front would have changed in the UK if we'd had British formations fighting on the ground there.
    I know we sent a Hurricane Wing of the RAF there but troops on the ground are a different matter.

    Luckily for the men of 18th & 50th Divs they were spared their trip to Russia.
    I suppose it goes to show how much Churchill was perpared to give to help the USSR defeat Hitler in those dark days of December 1941.
    A few days later the Soviet counter-offensive started to relieve the pressure on Moscow.

    Just thought, if 18th Div had been sent to Russia , it would have been spared Singapore.
  2. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Well, remember that at the start of 1941....he (and Eden again) had strongarmed Wavell into agreeing to transfer up to 100,000 men to Greece! Not that he had them in the ME, mind you...

    Winston was, occasionally, full of mad dogs' willies like that.
  3. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Yes , that's one thing that crops up again in Alanbrooke's diaries , many of Churchill's madcap schemes.
    Been a few years since I read the book though.
  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Just thought, if 18th Div had been sent to Russia , it would have been spared Singapore.

    And if 50 Div went they wouldn't have existed for D-Day?

    I think there's too many 'What If's already - Cya ;)
  5. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    Correct me if i'm wrong but wouldn't fighting on the 'Southern Front' as Alanbrooke put it have meant fighting in the Crimea? In January and February of 1942 the temperature there was around -30 C. Road and Rail links would be frozen. Maybe Churchill the Historian as opposed to Churchill the strategist gave thought to the previous time the British Army had wintered in the Crimea and the suffering it created?
  6. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Thanks to dbf for link to this document on TNA website.
    CAB 66/20/21
    Russia. Directive from the Prime Minister to the Foreign Secretary
    Dated 6 December 1941

    Attached Files:

  7. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Arguably the army had already experienced operations in something approaching those Northern France in the winter of 1939-40.

    That was a very extreme winter, particularly on the Continent and in more Northern latitudes...1940 saw the start of a three-year La Nina event, and the Gulf Stream moved south - hence the very bad winter that year. It also lasted much longer than usual, anything up to 8 weeks longer than normal....and look at the problems THAT created for the Allies in Norway!
  8. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Blimey I didnt know this.
    The Soviets asked for 25 to 30 Divisions to help fight the Germans in October 1941.
    CAB 66/19/45
    Title: Relations with Russia.Author: Anthony Eden
    EDIT: Superb document this one, really interesting & intriguing stuff.
    Shame I cant upload it all.
    Anyone interested can follow this link & download it for free.
    The National Archives | DocumentsOnline | Image Details

    Attached Files:

  9. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    another document D found for me.
    CAB 66/19/47
    Assistance to Russia. Telegrams circulated by direction of the Prime Minister.Author: E E Bridges

    Attached Files:

    • 1.jpg
      File size:
      140.8 KB
    Za Rodinu likes this.
  10. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Owen -
    It should be recalled that at the dates mentioned - Alanbrooke was NOT the CIGS until the back end of December '41- and thus Churchill was the BIG strategist- so it took a few fights to get WSC to back down - and it was october '42 before we started to win the war at El Alamein- when Alanbrooke's strategy started to pay off......
  11. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    logistics would have been a headache for starters.

    I don't think "headache" would begin to describe it.
  12. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Blimey I didnt know this.
    The Soviets asked for 25 to 30 Divisions to help fight the Germans in October 1941.

    And how many Divisions were the French asking for in 1940?
  13. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Hello Owen,

    As mentioned earlier, this is the message I posted way back in February this year:

    ...Although you raise the point about what land based assistance was given to the Soviets between June 1941 and October 1942. I would first echo what Rich said, which is that we were in no position to offer any significant land based assistance to anyone. But for our cousins in the Commonwealth we would have probably lost all 'influence' in N Africa, the Middle East and the Eastern Med during this period as well.

    However, we - the Commonwealth - did what we could and this saw the introduction of the north Atlantic convoys, as well as the bombing of industrial targets (but not always) in Germany, which had to have held back industrial output and certainly manpower that would otherwise of found itself on the eastern front. The Russians coudn't have failed to notice the state of Germany when they eventually arrived, courtessy mainly of the RAF and USAAF.

    On land, the 50th (Northumbrian) Division was embarked from Cyprus for Palestine on 6 November 1941, with the ultimate objective of concentrating in Iraq and then moving to fight side by side with the Russians in the Caucasus. Soon after two Brigades, the 151st and 69th, of 50 Div had arrived in 'Kirkuk' the Caucasian project was cancelled. I can't currently recall the source of the following comment, but I understand it was the Russians that cancelled the assistance.

    The 50 Div was sent to the assistance of the Russians in November 1941 despite the fact that there was no English Infantry division facing the enemy anywhere in the world until February 1942; and 50 Div was that division, situated in the Western Desert...

    I still can't find the source of the foregoing information; I know I have it and I wish I'd 'marked' it. That said, in 'The Path of the 50th' - Clay - it comments on the 50 Div leaving Cyprus thus:

    "...The 50th Division stole away by night, crowded on the decks of warships, heading for Palestine with the ultimate object of concentrating in Iraq and moving to fight side by side with the Russians in the Caucasus..."

    I will step up the search for the authority and post again in due course.


  14. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Hello again, Owen,

    Echoing the second thumbnail in message #8, from 'Monty's Northern Legions' - Delaforce:

    "...Winston Churchill noted to the CIGS, '31 Oct 1941, I am very glad to see the 50th Division moving out of Cyprus, relieved by the [5th] Indian division. No decision has however yet been taken about moving the 50th Division to the Caucasus. Where will it wait in the interval? And on the 5 November, Churchill to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, 'We do not know when the Germans will arrive in the Caucasus. It is quite certain that if the Germans press hard neither the 50th nor the 18th British Division could be on the spot on time.'

    There were five Russian divisions crowded into Northern Persia protecting Russian interests. Churchill promised Stalin that the 50th and 18th Divisions could move there, to relieve them to return to the Caspian basin, promising 'the faith of Britain that no rightful interest shall suffer in Persia'. The German Plan Orient was for a Panzer corps to drive southwards through Persia in the winter of 1941-2 if the Russian defences in the Caucasus were defeated..."

    When 50 Div left Cyprus it had had to leave all of its transport and a lot of its equipment behind for the 5th Indian Infantry Division, and in return inherited the latters dilapidated kit; which it had fought with throughout the Abyssinian Campaign. A lot of the kit was not serviceable.

    As a consequence "...150 Brigade [- 4th Bn East Yorkshire Regt, and 4th & 5th Bns Green Howards -] was stripped of most of its transport to make 69 [- 5th Bn East Yorkshire Regt, and 6th & 7th Bns Green Howards -] and 151 [-6th,8th & 9th Bns Durham Light Infantry-] Brigades up to strength. They moved across the desert via Baghdad to Kirkuk. In April and May the German coup to seize the oil wells had been defeated, mainly by the RAF around Habbaniya. Stalin and Churchill had every reason to protect their various oil interests in Iraq..."

    The 150th Infantry Brigade was instead taken out of 50 Div and placed in GHQ reserve. It arrived at Sidi Haneish in the Western Desert in early December 1941.

    Meanwhile the two remaining Infantry brigades of 50 Div arrived at their destinations, the 69th at the Kirkuk oilfields and the 151st at Two Rivers; both on the 7 December 1941. We all know what happened the following day, with the British immediately declaring war on Japan and the 18th Infantry Division being sent to the far east instead.

    The German threat to the oilfields did not materialise and the 50 Div was withdrawn from Iraq to Palestine, the 69th Infantry Brigade leaving on the 12 January 1942.

    The 151st Infantry Brigade did not leave immediately moving up to Eski Kelleck, slightly to the east of Mosul and not far from the Soviet border, to dig defences. Eski Kelleck was an important - strategic - river (the Great Zab and Kazir rivers) and road junction. It was also then withdrawn to Palestine.

    I am convinced that if the Germans had broken through the Russians in the Caucasus the 50 Div, and later other British and Commonwealth troops, would have been fighting side by side with the Russians in this theatre.

    My Christmas reading will now include the RAF's exploits in this theatre.


    Owen likes this.
  15. Hi Steve, maybe you can confirm what Dad says, that the rumour was they were going to Crete originally (it fell while they were en-route).

    Another what if.

    Cheers Mel
  16. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Hello Mel,

    All that I have read says they were going to Egypt, but they were were embarked in April and en route when Crete was the big battle - May 1941. Had Crete not fallen it would not have been surprising if 50 Div had been sent there. However, shortly after arriving in Egypt via the Cape of Good Hope route 50 Div, minus at first 150th Infantry Brigade, were sent to Cyprus; as this is where the Germans were expected to land next.

    Churchill was not best pleased, he wanted 50 Div fighting the enemy - he was subject to criticism principally from the USA and Australia that the British were only willing to fight to the last Aussie and not willing to sacrifice British troops. The facts do not support the criticism.

    I haven't got any applicable War Diaries for this time, it would be interesting to see what they have to say some time in the future.


    Last edited: Aug 22, 2020
  17. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Steve, maybe you can confirm what Dad says, that the rumour was they were going to Crete originally (it fell while they were en-route).

    Another what if.

    Cheers Mel

    Hi Mel,

    I would check the Div's GS diary when you are next at Kew:

    WO 169/1197 50 Infantry Division: General Staff (GS) 1941 May- Nov.

    I can't seem to find the GS Diary between 30th June 1940 to the May one above. If one exists I suspect that would be more likely to have the info in.

  18. Thanks for that Steve/Andy,

    It seemed the word went around while they were at sea that Crete was in trouble and that was where the Div was being sent.
    During what sounds like a mad dash down from Kirkuk in Jan 42 word was they were being sent to Burma.
    ....but the look on his face when he read about going to help the Russians was priceless!

  19. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Burma - that's a new one. :)
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2020
  20. mapshooter

    mapshooter Senior Member

    It's amusing to think that if Churchill was dictating his 6 Dec memo in the evening, then at about the same time the Japanese carrier air groups were probably being launched as were the land based aircraft in French Indo China.

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