The division was formed from the battalions of the existing Royal West African Frontier Force, which was being expanded. The Division's Headquarters was created on August 1 1943. It followed the British 81st (West Africa) Division in the numbering sequence of British war-raised infantry divisions. The HQ took control of its sub-units (which had previously existed as independent "brigade groups") on November 1 that year. The 1st (West Africa) Infantry Brigade and the 2nd (West Africa) Brigades had previously taken part in the East African Campaign in 1940 and 1941. The division's formation sign was crossed spears on a porter's headband, in black (sometimes white) on a yellow shield.
On May 20 1944, the division sailed for Ceylon, where the complete division was assembled on July 20. In August, the organisation was slightly changed, with supporting arms being controlled by the division HQ. The division was organised on a "head load" basis, with porters carrying all heavy equipment and supplies. Although many of the troops were from the savannah of northern Ghana and Nigeria, they were well-trained and effective when operating in jungle and mountains.
After further training, the division took part in the third Arakan Campaign in December, 1944. It first advanced south along the Kalapanzin valley, then crossed a steep and jungle-covered mountain range to converge with the British 81st (West Africa) Division on Myohaung at the mouth of the Kaladan River. This move forced the Japanese to evacuate the Mayu peninsula which they had held for almost four years, and retreat south along the coast. As they retreated, units of the Indian 25th Infantry Division landed in inlets and chaungs ahead of them. Caught between the troops landing from the sea and the pursuing 82nd African Division, the Japanese suffered heavy casualties.
Later in the season, operations along the Arakan coast had to be scaled back to allow the available transport aircraft to supply the Allied forces in Central Burma. The Japanese were able to hold the two main passes across the Arakan Range of hills, the An pass and Taungup pass. The 82nd Division nevertheless maintained pressure, capturing the port of Gwa shortly before the Japanese abandoned Burma.