The Indian 4th Infantry Division
, also known as the Red Eagle Division
, was an infantry division
of the British Indian Army
. The lineage of the unit is kept alive through a division of the Indian Army.
The division was formed in Egypt in 1939 under the command of Major-General (later Lieutenant General Sir) Noel Beresford-Peirse and was the first Indian formation to go overseas during the Second World War.
As with all formations in the Indian Army prior to independence, it primarily had British officers and Indians in other ranks. However, it did include Indian officers with ranks as high as Captain or Major. During World War II, it took part in campaigns in East Africa (Eritrea and Sudan), Syria, North Africa and Italy.
World War II history
During World War II, the Division was in the vanguard during nine campaigns in the Mediterranean
theatre. In the first of Archibald Wavell's
operations in Egypt
, as part of the Western Desert Force
, it took part in Operation Compass
in December 1940
. The Division was involved in the decisive battles of that campaign in the camps around Sidi Barrani
. Along with the 7th Royal Tank Regiment
, the 11th Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division destroyed the Italian Maletti Group
at the Nibiewa Camp.
In December 1940 the division was rushed to the British Sudan to join with the Indian 5th Infantry Division), to prevent the numerically vastly superior Italian forces (ten divisions in total) from threatening Red Sea supply routes to Egypt as well as Egypt and the Suez Canal itself from the South. The East African campaign culminated (March 1941) with the battles at Keren in Eritrea where 33 Italian battalions (subsequently reinforced by a further 9) were defeated by 19 British and Indian battalions.
It was at Keren that Subadar Richhpal Ram of the 1/6th Rajputana Rifles, part of 4th Division's 11 Infantry Brigade, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. In April 1941 Beresford-Peirse was promoted to command XIII Corps and Major General (later General Sir) Frank Messervy assumed command.
North Africa and Syria
Having returned to Egypt, part of the Division (its 5th Indian Infantry Brigade) was hurried across to Syria and was heavily involved in the advance on Damascus
(June 1941). The rest of the Division was heavily involved in the fighting which ebbed and flowed past Tobruk
from June 1941 onwards, having been rejoined by 5 Brigade, returning from Syria, in the autumn of 1941. For most of this period the Division was dispersed with units temporarily attached to other formations much to the disgust of Major General Francis Tuker
who assumed command of the Division in December 1941. Notable at this time was the break-out at the end of January by 7 Brigade, having been cut off at Benghazi during the Germans' counter-offensive from Agheila and moving 200 miles avoiding the enemy to rejoin the 8th Army
Early in April 1942 the Division was dispersed with 7 Brigade going to Cyprus, 5 Brigade to Syria, 11 Brigade to the Suez Canal Zone for training and the Central India Horse to Iraq after a period of training. By May 1942 11 Brigade was back in the fighting at Tobruk (attached to Indian 5th Infantry Division). 11th Brigade was caught in the siege of Tobruk which fell on 21 June, and so disappeared from the order of battle for the next 18 months. 5th Brigade was rushed to the desert in June 1942 - after escaping from Mersa Matruh, the brigade held the vital Ruweisat Ridge at Alamein in the fighting of July-August 1942. Shortly before the second battle of Alamein in October 1942 the 4th Indian Division was back together again with the 7th Brigade returning from Cyprus and 161st Brigade attached (until December 1942) to fill the gap of the over-run 11th Brigade. The Division had a relatively subsidiary role in the battle, holding in stiff fighting, as a diversionary tactic, the Ruweisat Ridge which was at the centre of the Allied front whilst the breakthrough was planned further North.
By December 1942 the Division was once again dispersed but strong representations by its GOC, Francis Tuker, (including his asking to be relieved of command) resulted in the Division being brought together as a fighting entity in March 1943 and it fought with distinction through to the fall of Tunis in May 1943 gaining a particular reputation for its prowess in mountainous country. The Division had the honour of capturing General von Arnim in Tunisia, bringing an end to the North African campaign. Its major battles in North Africa were Benghazi, Tobruk, Wadi Akarit, Enfidaville and Tunis.
The division then moved in January 1944 to Italy (joined by the newly re-constituted 11 Brigade), where it took part in the Italian Campaign
. It took a major role (sustaining very heavy casualties) in the second battle for Monte Cassino
(where in Tuker's absence through illness it was commanded by Brigadier Harry Dimoline
, the divisional Commander of Royal Artillery
) and also the third battle (in March 1944) when it was commanded by Major-General Alexander Galloway
, who had been released from command of British 1st Armoured Division
Command of the division was assumed by Major-General Alan Holworthy late in March 1944 and the division took part in the advance from Cassino after the fourth battle in May 1944 to the Trasimene Line in Central Italy and then the Gothic Line.
In November 1944 the division was shipped to Greece to help stabilise the country after the Axis withdrawal. Holworthy was succeeded by Major-General Charles Boucher in January 1945 who commanded the division until the end of hostilities.
During World War II the Division captured 150,000 prisoners and suffered 25,000 casualties, more than the strength of a whole division. It won over 1,000 Honours and Awards which included 4 Victoria Crosses and 3 George Crosses.
Field Marshall Lord Wavell wrote:Even beyond its fighting reputation it will be remembered for the spirit of mutual trust and fellowship maintained between all ranks coming from so many different races and creeds.
Formation During World War II
General Officer Commanding:
Commanders divisional artillery:
- Brigadier Noel Beresford-Peirse
- Brigadier P. Maxwell (Jun 1940 - Sep 1940)
- Brigadier William H.B. Mirrless (Sep 1940 - Mar 1942)
- Brigadier Harry Dimoline (Mar 1942 - Feb 1944)
- Brigadier John F. Adye (Feb 1944 - Mar 1944)
- Brigadier Henry C.W. Eastman (Apr 1944 - )
- 3, Royal Horse Artillery
- 1, 4, 11, 25, 31 & 32 FD Regts RA
- 57 Light A.A. Regt RA
- 35 & 149 Anti-Tank Regts RA
- Indian Engineers: Sappers and Miners
- 4 Field Coy. King George's Own Bengal Sappers and Miners
- 12 Field Coy. Queen Victoria's Own Madras Sappers and Miners
- 18 & 21 Field Coys. Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners
- 11 Field Park Coy. Queen Victoria's Own Madras Sappers and Miners
- 4 Indian Division Signals
- 1 Machine Gun Battalion Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (1940- ?)
- Machine Gun Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles (1942 - 1945)
5 Indian Infantry Brigade
7 Indian Infantry Brigade
- Brigadier Sydney A.H. Hungerford (Sep 1939 - Sep 1940)
- Brigadier Harold Rawdon Briggs (Sep 1940 - May 1942)
- Brigadier John A. Finlay (May 1942 - Oct 1942)
- Brigadier Alan Holworthy (Oct 1942 - Jan 1943)
- Brigadier Osmond de T. Lovett (Jan 1943 - Apr 1943) (wounded)
- Lieutenant-Colonel Charles E.A. Firth (Apr 1943 - Jun 1943)
- Brigadier Osmond de T. Lovett (Jun 1943 - )
11 Indian Infantry Brigade (1939 - 1942 and 1944 - 1945)
- Brigadier Alan B. Macpherson (Aug 1939 - Mar 1940)
- Brigadier Reginald Savory (Mar 1940 - Sep 1941)
- Brigadier Andrew Anderson (Sep 1940 - Jun 1942)
- Brigadier Victor C. Griffin (Jan 1944 - May 1944)
- Brigadier Henry C. Partridge (May 1944 - Oct 1944)
- Brigadier H.J.C. Hunt (Oct 1944 - Aug 1945)
- Royal Indian Army Service Corps
- 4 Ind Div Troops Transport Company
- 5, 7 & 11 Brigade Transport Companies
- 220 Indian DID
- Medical Services
- 14, 17, 19, 26 & 32 Indian Field Ambulances
- 4 Indian Div Provost Unit
- Indian Army Ordnance Corps
- 4 Indian Div Ordnance FD Park
- Indian Electrical & Mechanical Engineers
- 117, 118 & 119 Infantry Workshop Companies
- 4 Indian Div Recovery Company
The Division, known as Red Eagle due to its badge of a red eagle on a black background, is now a part of the Indian Army. Coming under the Central Command, it is headquartered in Allahabad.
Notable Members of the 4th Indian Division