|North Wales Brigade|
158th (North Wales) Brigade
158th Infantry Brigade
Insignia of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, Second World War
|Part of||53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division|
|Engagements||First World War|
|Officer Commanding||Brigadier S.O. Jones|
The 158th Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade of the British Army that served in both the First and Second World Wars, before being disbanded in 1968. Throughout its existence the brigade was assigned to the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division and was composed almost entirely of Territorial battalions from the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
The North Wales Brigade (as it was originally known) was created in 1908 under the Haldane Reforms when the Volunteer Force and the Yeomanry were merged to create the Territorial Force and was composed of the 4th (Denbighshire), 5th (Flintshire), 6th (Carnarvonfonshire and Anglesey) and 7th (Merioneth and Montgomery) Volunteer battalions of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The brigade was assigned to the Welsh Division, one of fourteen divisions of the peacetime Territorial Force. As the name suggests, the brigade recruited primarily from North Wales.
The Welsh Division was mobilised on 5 August 1914, the day after Britain declared war on Germany, which officially began the Great War. According to the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 soldiers of the Territorial Force were only able to serve overseas with their permission and so, when asked, a large majority of the men volunteered for overseas service.
Throughout 1915 all divisions of the Territorial Force were given numbers and so, on 13 May 1915, the division was numbered as the 53rd (Welsh) Division and all the brigades of the division were also numbered, the North Wales Brigade becoming the 158th (1/1st North Wales) Brigade. The battalions were also redesignated, becoming, for example, '1/5th RWF', to distinguish them from their 2nd Line duplicates which were currently being formed in 203rd (2/1st North Wales) Brigade, of the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division, which consisted mainly of the men who, when asked at the outbreak of the war, did not wish to serve overseas, together with the many recruits and thousands of men volunteering.
The brigade fought with the 53rd (Welsh) Division throughout the First World War in the Middle Eastern theatre from mid-1915 until the end of the war in 1918. In its first action the brigade was involved in the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign where it landed in August 1915. After temporarily serving under command of the 2nd Mounted Division, between 31 October and 28 November, the brigade, together with the rest of 53rd Division, was evacuated form Gallipoli to Egypt in December 1915 and continued serving in the Middle Eastern theatre in Sinai and Palestine. The brigade took part in the Battle of Romani in August 1916, the Battle of El Buggar Ridge in October 1917 and the Action of Tell 'Asur in March 1918, where it fought off several counter-attacks by the Ottoman forces.
Throughout mid-1918, most of the British battalions of the brigade were posted to reinforce the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) serving in the trenches of the Western Front, after the German Army launched its huge Spring Offensive, which saw huge territorial gains for the Germans. As a result, the British battalions were replaced by Indian Army battalions. This occurred in most British divisions serving in the Middle East.
The brigade commanded the following units in the First World War:
The division and brigade, along with the rest of the Territorial Force, was disbanded after the war but started to reform in 1920, and was later renamed the Territorial Army. The division was reformed as the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division and the brigade was itself reformed and renamed as the 158th (Royal Welch) Infantry Brigade, with its headquarters at Wrexham. The brigade again consisted of four battalions of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and this remained the order of battle of the brigade for most of the inter-war period.
In 1938 a reorganisation of the Territorial Army's infantry divisions saw them reduced from twelve to nine infantry battalions. As a direct consequence of this, the 5th (Flintshire) Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers was chosen to be converted into another role, being transferred to the Royal Artillery and converted and redesignated to become the 60th (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery and acted as the anti-tank regiment for the 53rd Division until December 1939 when it transferred to the 1st Armoured Division.
The Territorial Army, and 53rd Division, was mobilised in late August/early September 1939, due to the situation in Europe becoming increasingly worse. The German Army invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 and Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later, officially beginning the Second World War. Over a month later, in October the brigade, as in the First World War consisted of three battalions of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the 4th, 6th and 7th. The 158th Brigade the first element of the 53rd Division to be sent to Northern Ireland, followed in December by the 160th Brigade and later 159th Brigade in April 1940. The brigade would remain there until November 1941, training hard with the rest of the division.
After the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was evacuated from Dunkirk in late May/early June, the brigade, with the division, moved to Ulster to counter a possible German invasion there and the garrison was strengthened by the arrival of the 61st Infantry Division and, in March 1941, the 5th Infantry Division, a Regular Army formation that had seen service in France with the BEF in 1940.
In November 1941 the division was sent back to the mainland again, briefly serving in Wales before transferring to Kent, coming under command of XII Corps and serving alongside 43rd (Wessex) and 46th Infantry Divisions. The corps was commanded by Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery.
The 158th Infantry Brigade was constituted as follows during the war:
The following officers commanded 158th Brigade during the war:
During operations undertaken by the 158th Brigade to close the Falaise Pocket, heavy fighting took place on 16 August around the town of Balfour. During this action, Captain Tasker Watkins, commanding B Company of the 1/5th Battalion, Welch Regiment, personally led a charge across a heavily defended stretch of open ground, reaching and personally eliminating an enemy position in spite of his companies' very heavy losses. For this action, he received the Victoria Cross.