|15th (Scottish) Division|
15th (Scottish) Infantry Division
15th (Scottish) Division insignia, First World War
|Engagements||First World War|
Second World War
|Sir Frederick McCracken|
Sir Oliver Leese
Sir Philip Christison
Sir Gordon MacMillan
Sir Colin Barber
Divisional insignia during the Second World War
The 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army that served with distinction in both the First and Second World Wars. In the First, the 15th (Scottish) Division was formed from men volunteering for Kitchener's Army and served from 1915 to 1918 on the Western Front. The division was later disbanded, after the war, in 1919. In the Second World War, it was reformed as the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division on 2 September 1939, the day before war was declared, as part of the Territorial Army (TA) and served in the United Kingdom and later North-West Europe from June 1944 to May 1945.
The division was a New Army unit formed in September 1914 as part of the K2 Army Group. The division moved to France in July 1915 and spent the duration of the First World War in action on the Western Front. The division fought in the Battle of Loos in which it seizing the village of Loos and Hill 70, the deepest penetration of the German positions by the six British divisions involved in the initial day. It later fought in the Battle of the Somme (1916) which included the battles of Pozières and Flers-Courcelette, the Battle of Arras 1917 and the Third Battle of Ypres.
General Officer Commanding
In late March 1939 the Territorial Army (TA), the British Army's part-time reserve, was ordered to be doubled in size as a result of another European conflict with Germany being deemed by many in Britain and France as inevitable. The 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division subsequently came into being as an exact mirror duplicate of the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division. The division, under the command of Major General Roland Le Fannu, was again composed of the 44th, 45th and 46th Infantry Brigades, together with supporting artillery, engineer and signals units.
As a result of the German Army's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, the 15th (Scottish) Division was mobilised between late August and early September 1939. The Second World War began two days later and the division was mobilised for full-time war service. The division was serving in Scottish Command, alongside its parent 52nd (Lowland) Division. The division remained in the United Kingdom for most of the war and saw numerous changes in its composition, with the first being in November 1941 when, due to shortages of equipment, the division was, alongside several others, reduced to a Lower Establishment. However, it was raised back to Higher Establishment in March 1943 and was reorganised as a 'Mixed Division', consisting of a single armoured brigade (the 6th Guards replacing the 45th Infantry) and two infantry brigades (the 44th and 46th). This experiment was abandoned in September 1943 and the division, now commanded by Major General Gordon MacMillan, reverted to that of an ordinary infantry division, with the 6th Guards Tank Brigade being replaced by the 227th (Highland) Infantry Brigade, consisting of three Highland battalions.
After spending many years training in the United Kingdom, the 15th (Scottish) Division landed in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy, soon after the initial D-Day landings, in mid June 1944 and almost immediately took part in Operation Epsom. Epsom was an attack by most of Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey's British Second Army that was intended to outflank and seize the city of Caen, which was to be taken on D-Day and had, over the last few weeks, bore witness to much bitter fighting in what is known as the Battle for Caen. Epsom did not achieve its overall objective but forced the Wehrmacht to abandon their offensive plans and tied most of their armoured units to a defensive role.
To be certain of anticipating any German attack, Epsom was launched on 26 June. Although held up on parts of the front by infantry of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, the 15th (Scottish) Division, serving under command of Lieutenant General Richard O'Connor's VIII Corps, and the 31st Tank Brigade gained four miles on their left flank. Further to their left the 43rd (Wessex) Division also gained ground.
On 27 June, after repulsing small armoured counter-attacks, the 15th (Scottish) Division gained more ground and captured a bridge over the River Odon. The 11th Armoured Division passed through to capture Hill 112, a mile to the southeast. This deep penetration alarmed the German command and General Hausser was ordered to commit his units to contain and eliminate the Allied salient. German armoured counter-attacks from 27 June-1 July were repulsed and the foothold over the Odon was consolidated. German losses, particularly of armoured vehicles meant that the possibility of a German counter-offensive was eliminated and held the bulk of the remaining German armour in Normandy in the east around Caen, while American troops further west captured Cherbourg.
During the operation, the 15th (Scottish) Division had suffered heavy losses (which, at this stage of the war, the British Army could ill afford to lose) of over 2,300 casualties, nearly a third of the total infantry strength of the entire division. "The example of one battalion is typical: on 26 June the 2nd Battalion, The Glasgow Highlanders lost 12 officers and sustained nearly 200 casualties, mainly around the hotly contested village of Cheux. Total strength of this battalion was approximately 35 officers and 786 other ranks; thus one day's losses amounted to 34% of their officers and nearly 25% of the entire rifle battalion."
The British forces included the men of the 15th (Scottish) Division, 11th Armoured Division, 43rd (Wessex) Division and 53rd (Welsh) Division. Principal among the units fighting on Hill 112, and the tanks of 7th and 9th Royal Tank Regiments, plus numerous other units. Approximately 63,000 men over a period of seven weeks fought on and around Hill 112.
The first battle for Hill 112 was fought by 43rd (Wessex) Division at the end of Operation Epsom, when the tanks of 11th Armoured Division broke out from a bridgehead established by the 2nd Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, of 227th Brigade, at Tourmauville. Hill 112 was only an intermediate objective on the way to the Orne River crossings but such was the German reaction that the 23rd Hussars were only able to capture and hold the hill with difficulty.
The main attack on Hill 112 was strategically designed to FIX the German panzers and tactically to gain 'elbow room' in what was still a tight beachhead. The German defenders survived naval bombardment, air attack and artillery fire but held their ground, crucially supported by Tiger tanks from the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. These mighty tanks armed with the 88 mm gun had both greater protection and firepower and outclassed the opposing British Churchill tank and Sherman tank.
Even though the hill was not captured and was left as a no-man's-land between the two armies, important surrounding villages had been taken. Above all, however, the 9th Hohenstaufen SS Panzer Division, which had been in the process of moving out of the line to form an operational reserve, was brought back to contain the British. Therefore, on the strategic level Operation JUPITER was a significant success.
It was not until American troops eventually started to break out from the Normandy lodgement, as Operation Cobra developed momentum, in August 1944, that the Germans withdrew from Hill 112 and the 53rd (Welsh) Division occupied the feature, with barely a fight. Casualties during that period amounted to approximately 25,000 British troops and 500 British tanks.
Operation Bluecoat was an attack by most of the British Second Army from 30 July 1944 to 7 August 1944. The objectives of the attack were to secure the key road junction of Vire and the high ground of Mont Pinçon. Strategically, the attack was made to support the American exploitation of their breakout on the western flank of the Normandy beachhead, codenamed Operation Cobra. The British Second Army was switched westward towards Villers-Bocage, adjacent to the U.S. First Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges. Originally, Lieutenant General Dempsey, the Second Army commander, planned to attack on 2 August, but the speed of events on the American front forced him to advance the date.
Initially, only two weak German infantry divisions held the intended attack frontage, south and east of Caumont, although they had laid extensive minefields and constructed substantial defences. They also occupied ideal terrain for defence, the bocage.
After the Battle of the Falaise Gap, which saw most of the German Army in Normandy virtually destroyed (although the division took no part in it), the 15th (Scottish) Division, commanded by Major General Colin Barber, previously the 46th Brigade commander, after Major General MacMillan was wounded in early August, fought virtually continuously from then on through Caumont, the Seine Crossing, the Gheel Bridgehead, Best, Tilburg (Operation Pheasant), Meijel, Blerwick, Broekhuizen, the Maas, Operation Veritable and across the Rhine, entering Germany, in Operation Plunder in late March 1945, then taking part in the Western Allied invasion of Germany.
The particular distinction for the 15th Scottish was to be selected to lead the last set piece river crossing of the war, the assault across the River Elbe (Operation Enterprise) on 29 April 1945 spearheaded by the 1st Commando Brigade (commanded by Brigadier Derek Mills-Roberts), after which they fought on to the Baltic occupying both Lübeck and Kiel. The 15th (Scottish) was the only division of the British Army during the Second World War to be involved in three of the six major European river assault crossings; the Seine, the Rhine and the Elbe. The end of World War II in Europe arrived soon afterwards, followed by the surrender of Japan in September, bringing an end to just under six years of war.
On 10 April 1946 the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division was finally disbanded. Its battle casualties- killed, wounded and missing - in nearly eleven months of fighting were 11,772 with well over 1,500 men killed. According to military historian Carlo D'Este, the "15th (Scottish) Division was considered to be the most effective and best led infantry division in 21st Army Group."
The 15th Infantry Division was constituted as follows during the war:
The following officers commanded the 15th Infantry Division during the war: