A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of around ten to thirty thousand soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions make up a corps. In most modern militaries, a division tends to be the smallest combined arms unit capable of independent operations; due to its self-sustaining role as a unit with a range of combat troops and suitable combat support forces, which can be divided into various organic combinations.
While the focus of this article is on land-based military divisions, the military unit division also refers to a sub-unit of a department aboard Naval and Coast Guard ships and shore commands. In this usage, unit size varies widely, though typically divisions number less than 100 persons. In the U.S. Navy, a division officer (DIVO) is usually an Ensign or Lieutenant (JG) who oversees a team of enlisted sailors in their duties.
It was another French military leader who put the ideas into practice, Victor-François de Broglie. He conducted practical experiments in the Seven Years' War, and even though the war was not a success for the French, the divisional system was.
It made the armies more flexible and easy to manoeuvre, and it also made the large army of the revolution manageable. Under Napoleon the divisions were grouped together into corps, because of their increasing size. Napoleon's military success spread the divisional and corps system all over Europe. When the Napoleonic Wars ended, all armies in Europe had adopted it.
The modern division had become in many militaries the primary identifiable combat unit during the second half of the 20th century, supplanting the brigade, however the trend is reversing since the end of the Cold War. The peak of use of the division as the primary combat unit was during World War II, when over a thousand divisions were deployed by the belligerents. Presently, smaller numbers of divisions represent significant combat power. The recent Invasion of Iraq was completed with only a handful of divisions with significant support forces.
Divisions are often formed to organize units of a particular type together with appropriate support units to allow independent operations. In more recent times, divisions are more often organized as a combined arms unit with subordinate units representing various combat arms. In this case, the division often retains the name of a more specialized division, and may still be tasked with a primary role suited to that specialization.
The most common form of divisions formed throughout most of history have been infantry divisions. Often, in small militaries, all divisions were infantry and therefore the term division is synonymous with infantry division in those forces. The basic infantry division is usually formed with a number of infantry regiments (usually three), an artillery regiment, and a few support battalions.
Infantry divisions are often formed for specific purposes, and these are sometimes reflected in their name. Basic infantry, without its own transportation (thus relying on leg and horse mobility), is in modern times often considered light infantry, thus the formation of the light infantry division. Its primary value in today's military environment is that it is easy to transport and keep supplied due to its lack of heavy equipment. It is ideal for low-intensity conflict, but lacks firepower for full scale warfare.
Another kind of infantry division is mountain infantry. These units are designed to move and fight in alpine environments, and thus their training and equipment must be able to withstand rugged terrain and inclement conditions. Mountain units are often considered elite units, and they may be used in more conventional environments when high-quality troops are needed. Another popular elite infantry formation is the airborne infantry, commonly called parachute infantry (or paratroopers). The task organization for an US Army airborne infantry division calls for 14,341 paratroopers to be assigned. These units are designed to drop their forces by air (both parachute and glider) and maintain combat operations autonomously behind enemy lines. More so than mountain divisions, these units require special training and equipment. A recent off-shoot has been the air-mobile infantry, designed to use helicopter insertion versus traditional airborne operations. All of these units are often employed as elite infantry in traditional combat situations.
During World War II, infantry units became increasingly mechanized. Many were given enough trucks to carry their entire force, sometimes becoming known as motorized infantry. Some were equipped with halftracks and other armored carriers, and were known as armored infantry (Germany's units were given the name Schützen, and later renamed Panzergrenadier). As these units were developed after the war, the term motorized became common regardless of the type of transportation. For example, the Soviet Union made wide use of armored personnel carriers in its motor rifle divisions, as did the United States Army in its infantry (motorized) divisions.
Today, one of the most common kinds of infantry divisions are mechanized infantry divisions. Essentially an evolution of the motorized infantry division, mechanized infantry divisions contain infantry soldiers transported in armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, backed up with heavy fire and striking power provided by tanks, helicopters, and artillery. In the U.S. Army, three out of the eight active infantry divisions (the 1st, 3rd, and 4th) are mechanized, and another, the 2nd, has a mixture of mechanized and non-mechanized forces.
For most nations, cavalry was deployed in smaller units and was not therefore organized into divisions, but for larger militaries, such as that of the United States, First French Empire, Russian Empire, and Soviet Union, a number of cavalry divisions were formed. They were most often similar to the nations' infantry divisions in structure, although they usually had fewer and lighter support elements, with cavalry brigades or regiments replacing the infantry units, and supporting units such as artillery and supply being horse-drawn. For the most part, large cavalry units did not remain after World War II.
While horse cavalry had been found to be obsolete, the concept of cavalry as a fast force capable of missions traditionally fulfilled by horse cavalry made a return to military thinking during the Cold War. In general, two new types of cavalry were developed: air cavalry or airmobile, relying on helicopter mobility, and armored cavalry, based on an autonomous armored formation. The former was pioneered by the U.S. 11th Airborne Division, under the name 11th Air Assault Division, and was reflagged as the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) during the Vietnam War.
After the end of the Vietnam War, the 1st Cavalry Division was reorganised and re-equipped with tanks and armored scout vehicles to form armored cavalry, as were all of the United States' independent Cavalry Regiments.
After the 1990-91 Gulf War, the U.S. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (2nd ACR) was re-equipped with Humvees and designated Armored Cavalry (Light), while units retaining their Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting Vehicles were classified as Armored Cavalry (Heavy). In 2004 the 2nd ACR was again reequipped, this time with Stryker Armored Combat Vehicles, and renamed the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.
The development of the tank near the end of World War I prompted some nations to experiment with forming them into division-size units. Many did this the same way as they did cavalry, by merely replacing infantry with tank units and giving motorization to the support units. This proved unwieldy in combat, as the units had many tanks but few infantry units. Instead, a more balanced approach of balancing the number of tank, infantry, and artillery units within the division took place.
By the end of World War II, in most cases armoured division referred to divisions with significant tank battalions and motorization for its infantry, artillery, and support units. Infantry division referred to divisions with a majority of infantry units.
Since the end of the war, most armoured and infantry divisions have had significant numbers of both tank and infantry units within them. The difference has usually been in the mix of battalions assigned. Additionally, in some militaries, armoured divisions would be equipped with the most advanced or powerful tanks - such as the M1A2 Abrams in the United States.
In most nations, divisions are designated by combining an ordinal number and a type name. Nicknames are often assigned or adopted although these often are not considered an official part of the unit's nomenclature. In some cases, divisions titles lack an ordinal number, often in the case of unique units or units serving as elite or special troops. For clarity in histories and reports, the nation is identified previous to the number.
It is important to note that division names are completely subject to the whim of whatever controlling body names the unit, commonly resulting in fanciful and incongruous names. Quite often the ordinal numbers do not run sequentially, leading to high numbers without that many divisions existing. Types as well are not always indicative of the actual structure or mission of the unit. Germany raised a parachute armoured division (Fallschirmpanzer-Division) during World War II which obviously never conducted, nor was intended to conduct, a parachute drop.
Nomenclature primarily serves to give each unit a unique identification to assist in command and control. This also helps in historical studies, but due to the nature of intelligence on the battlefield, division names and assignments are at times obscured. However, the size of the division makes such obfuscation rarely necessary.
The first division sized formation raised by the Canadian military was the First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force; raised in 1914, it was renamed the Canadian Division in early 1915 when it took to the field, and became the 1st Canadian Division when a 2nd Canadian Division took to the field later that year. A 3rd Canadian Division and 4th Canadian Division saw service in France and Flanders, and a Fifth Canadian Division was disbanded in the United Kingdom and broken up for reinforcements. The four divisions (collectively under the command of the Canadian Corps) were disbanded in 1919.
Canada had nominal divisions on paper between the wars, overseeing the Militia (part time reserve forces), but no active duty divisions. On 1 September 1939, two divisions were raised as part of the Canadian Active Service Force; a Third Division was raised in 1940, followed by a First Canadian (Armoured) Division and Fourth Canadian Division. The First Armoured was renamed the Fifth Canadian (Armoured) Division and the Fourth Division also became an armoured formation. The 1st and 5th Divisions fought in the Mediterranean between 1943 and early 1945; the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Divisions served in Northwest Europe. A Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Division were raised for service in Canada, with one brigade of the Sixth Division going to Kiska in 1943. By 1945, the latter three divisions were disbanded as the threat to North America diminished. A Third Canadian Division (Canadian Army Occupation Force) was raised in 1945 for occupation duty in Germany, organized parallel to the combatant Third Division, and a Sixth Canadian Division (Canadian Army Pacific Force) was undergoing formation and training for the invasion of Japan when the latter country surrendered in September 1945. All five combatant divisions, as well as the CAOF and CAPF were disbanded by the end of 1946.
A First Canadian Division Headquarters (later renamed simply First Division) was authorized once again in April 1946, but remained dormant until formally disbanded in July 1954. Simultaneously, however, another "Headquarters, First Canadian Infantry Division" was authorized as part of the Canadian Army Active Force (the Regular forces of the Canadian military), in October 1953. This, the first peace-time Division in Canadian history, consisted of a brigade in Germany, one in Edmonton and one at Valcartier. This Division was disbanded in April 1958.
The First Canadian Division was reactivated one last time in 1988, but is no longer on the official order of battle. Canada currently has no active duty divisions.
Currently, the British Army has five active divisions:
However, only the 1st Armoured Division and the 3rd Mechanised Division are actually field formations and operationally deployable. The remaining divisional headquarters act as regional commands within the UK, training subordinate formations and units under their command for operations in the UK and overseas. This task leads to them being described as Regenerative Divisions. These divisions would only be required to generate field formations in the event of a general war.
Today the German Army has five active divisions:
1. Panzerdivision includes the main part of the rapid reaction forces. The DSO is specialized in airborne and commando operations, the DLO covers army aviation, airmobile forces and combat support troops. 10. Panzerdivision and 13. Panzergrenadierdivision are planned for peace keeping missions.
Each division is structured in two brigades and divisional troops.
A divisional unit in the United States Army typically consists of 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers commanded by a major general. Two divisions usually compose a corps and each division consists of four maneuver brigades, an aviation brigade, an engineer brigade, and division artillery (latter two excluded from divisional structure as of 2007), along with a number of smaller specialized units.
The United States Army currently has ten active divisions:
The United States Marine Corps has a further three active divisions and one reserve division. They consist of three infantry regiments, one artillery regiment, a tank battalion, a Light Armored Reconnaissance battalion, an Amphibious Assault Vehicle battalion, a reconnaissance battalion, a combat engineer battalion, and a headquarters battalion.
In the Soviet Armed Forces, a division (diviziya) may have referred to a formation in any of the Armed Services, and would have included subunits appropriate to the Service such as regiments and battalions, squadrons or naval vessels. There is also a similarly sounding unit of military organization in Russian military terminology, called divizion. A divizion is used to refer to an artillery battalion, a specific part of a ship's crew (korabel’nyy divizion, ‘ship battalion’), or a group of naval vessels (divizion korabley). Almost all divisions irrespective of the Service had the 3+1+1 structure of major sub-units, which were usually regiments.
The title Guards is an honor bestowed on units for heroism demonstrated in battles as a legacy of the Soviet formations, and was bestowed on divisions in all wartime Services. The Guards designation was created on 18 September 1941, when the 100th, 127th, and 153rd Rifle Divisions were renamed the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Guards Rifle Divisions respectively. In many cases the unit simultaneously received a name usually related to place of the heaviest battles for which it was honored; for example 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division, 2nd Guards Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division and others.
During the Soviet era a Motorised Rifle Division (MRD) usually had approximately 12,000 soldiers organized into three motorized rifle regiments, a tank regiment, an artillery regiment, an air defense regiment, surface-to-surface missile and antitank battalions, and supporting chemical, engineer, signal, reconnaissance, and rear services companies. A typical Tank Division had some 10,000 soldiers organized into three tank regiments and one motorized rifle regiment, all other sub-units being same as the MRD. A typical Soviet Frontal Aviation Division consisted of three air regiments, a transport squadron, and associated maintenance units. The number of aircraft within a regiment varied. Fighter and fighter-bomber regiments were usually equipped with about 40 aircraft (36 of the primary unit type and a few utility and spares) while bomber regiments typically consisted of 32 aircraft. Divisions were typically commanded by Colonels or Major Generals, or Colonels or Major Generals of Aviation in the Air Force. Soviet Naval and the Strategic Missile Forces divisions.
Compared to Russian forces, U.S. Army divisions have more infantry personnel and greater number of logistic assets, but fewer armored vehicles and artillery pieces. Russian forces are intended primarily for intensive, shorter operations, being quickly replaced by another division when worn out. Thus Soviet divisions had fewer mobility assets and projection capabilities than possessed by the United States. The U.S. military posture thus can deploy and operate at long distances, but the Russian military posture cannot do so to nearly same degree.
In the early 1980s, out of a total of 194 active tank, motorized rifle and airborne divisions in the Soviet force, 65 were located in the western USSR, 30 in Eastern Europe and an additional 20 in the Transcaucasus and North Caucasus Military Districts (MDs). All these divisions were available for offensive operations against NATO. In addition to these forces, 17 low-strength divisions, centrally located in the USSR, constituted the Strategic Reserves. For operation in the Southern Theater the Soviet Armed Forces had in place six divisions in the Turkestan Military District and four engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan as part of the 40th Army. These forces could be reinforced by the 20 divisions from the Caucasus MDs if they were not engaged against NATO. Soviet forces for operations in the Far East were composed of 52 tank and motorized rifle divisions. The six Warsaw Pact allies of the Soviet Union had a total of 55 active divisions, which, collectively with Soviet divisions, amounted to 249 combat divisions.
Many of these divisions, most notably those in the interior of the USSR, were at low levels of readiness. The Soviet Union also maintained 17 mobilization bases, predominantly in the western USSR, that could form additional combat divisions. These bases usually contained the combat equipment needed to form new divisions and would require augmentation in manpower and a substantial amount of training before they could be committed to combat operations.
In 1989 the Soviet Union had 150 motorized rifle and 52 tank divisions in three states of readiness:A, B, and V. The Ground Forces had sixty-five divisions, kept at between 50 and 75 percent of their projected wartime strengths, in the westernmost military districts of the Soviet Union; fifty-two divisions at less than half their wartime levels in the Siberian Military District, the Transbaykal, Central Asian, and Far East Military Districts along the border with China; and twenty-six low-readiness divisions in the Transcaucasus MD, the North Caucasus Military District, and the Turkestan Military District.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian tank and motorized-rifle divisions were reduced to near-cadre state, many being designated Bases for Storage of Weapons and Equipment (Russian acronym VKhVT). These bases, or "cadre" divisions were equipped with all the heavy armaments of a full-strength motor-rifle or tank division, while having only skeleton personnel strength, as low as 500 personnel. The officers and men of a cadre division focus primarily on maintaining the equipment in working condition. During wartime mobilization such a division would be beefed up to full manpower strength; however, in peacetime a cadre division is unfit for any combat.
In 1995, of 81 land forces divisions, 51 were not combat ready. Of 26 brigades, 14 are not in a state of operational readiness. Airborne troops and two peacekeeping divisions had the highest level of readiness. By 1996 the ground forces included sixty-nine divisions: seventeen armored, forty-seven motorized infantry, and five airborne.
Under the new defense policy document signed by President Boris Yeltsin on 1 August 1998, the number of divisions in the regular armed forces was to be reduced to ten. These were to be full-strength, high-readiness Ground Forces divisions, one of which will be specifically trained in peacekeeping operations. The divisions, deployed in various parts of the country, would engage exclusively in combat training. This policy was not carried out, and was superseded by the "constant combat readiness" concept (see Russian Ground Forces for details).
The Motorized Rifle Troops have been mechanized infantry since 1957. The Soviet Union fielded a new model of armored personnel carrier (APC) every decade since the late 1950s, and in 1967 it deployed the world's first infantry fighting vehicle (IFV). Similar to an APC, the tactically innovative IFV had much greater firepower, in the form of a 73 mm main gun, an antitank missile launcher, a heavy machine gun, and firing ports that allowed troops to fire their individual weapons from inside the vehicle. In 1989 the Soviet Union had an inventory of over 65,000 APCs and IFVs, with the latter accounting for almost half of this inventory.
The Soviet Ground Forces viewed the tank as their primary weapon. In 1989 the Tank Troops had five types of main battle tanks, including the T-54/55, T-62, T-64, T-72, and T-80. The greater part of the total tank inventory of 53,000 consisted of older, although still highly potent, T-54/55 and T-62 tanks.
The Rocket Troops and Artillery have been an important combat arm of the Ground Forces because of the belief that firepower has tremendous destructive and psychological effect on the enemy. In 1989 the Ground Forces had eighteen artillery divisions, in addition to the artillery and missile units organic to armies and divisions. Artillery and surface-to-surface missile brigades were attached to each combined arms or tank army. An artillery regiment and a surface-to-surface missile battalion were parts of each Soviet motorized rifle and tank division. In 1989 the Rocket Troops and Artillery manned 1,400 "operational-tactical" surface-to-surface missile launchers.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deploys the world’s largest ground force, currently totaling some 1.6 million personnel, or about 70% of the PLA’s total manpower (2.3 million in 2005). The ground forces divide into seven Military Regions (MR). The regular forces of the ground forces consist of 18 group armies: corps-size combined arms units each with 24,000–50,000 personnel. The group armies contain among them 25 infantry divisions, 28 infantry brigades, nine armoured divisions, nine armoured brigades, two artillery divisions, 19 artillery brigades, 19 antiaircraft artillery/air-defense missile brigades, and 10 army aviation (helicopter) regiments. There are also three airborne divisions manned by the PLA Air Force (PLAAF). The PLA Navy (PLAN) has two multi-arm marine brigades.
In time of crisis, the PLA ground forces will receive reinforcements from numerous reserve and paramilitary units. The PLA reserve component has about 1.2–1.5 million personnel divided into 50 infantry, artillery, and antiaircraft artillery (AAA) divisions. In addition, approximately 1.1 million personnel serve in the People’s Armed Police (PAP), which includes internal security and border defense forces under the control of the Ministry of Public Security. The PAP internal security forces organize into 14 mobile divisions, 31 provisional/municipal internal security general corps, and 23 provisional/municipal border defense general corps.
The PLA’s tank inventory numbered around 10,000 during its peak time in the 1980s/90s, though current estimates say this number has reduced to 6,000–8,000 over the past few years. The Chinese-produced versions of the Soviet T-54/55 (Type 59/69) account for over two-thirds of the total PLA tank inventory. While retiring some of the older Type 59/69 series and replacing them with the second generation Type 88 and Type 96, the PLA is also upgrading the remaining Type 59/69 series tanks with new technologies including improved communication and fire-control systems, night vision equipment, explosive reactive armour, improved power plant, and gun-fired anti-tank guided missiles so that they can remain in service as mobile fire-support platforms.
The PLA operates about 2,000 light tanks including the Type 62 light tank and the Type 63 amphibious tank, both of which entered production in the 1960s. The improved Type 63A has replaced the Type 63 and features computerized fire-control, gun-fired anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), night fighting equipment, satellite navigation, and an improved power plant.
The armoured combat units previously known as tank divisions and brigades are now called armoured divisions and brigades to reflect their more combined arms nature. The PLA has transformed some former motorised infantry divisions (truck mobile) into mechanised units with tracked or wheeled armoured personnel carriers (APCs). Two amphibious mechanised divisions were also created in Nanjing and Guangzhou Military Regions. At least 40% of PLA divisions and brigades are now mechanised or armoured, almost double the percentage before the reduction.