3rd Division (United Kingdom)

3rd Division
3rd Infantry Division
3rd Mechanised Division
3rd (United Kingdom) Division
Insignia of the 3rd Division from 1940[1]
Active Since 18 June 1809
Country  United Kingdom
Branch British Army
Type Armoured Infantry
Size Three Brigades
Part of Field Army
Garrison/HQ Bulford Camp, Wiltshire
Nickname(s) Iron Sides
Engagements Napoleonic Wars
Battle of Bussaco
Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro
Battle of El Bodón
Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo
Siege of Badajoz
Battle of Salamanca
Siege of Burgos
Battle of Vitoria
Battle of the Pyrenees
Battle of Nivelle
Battle of the Nive
Battle of Orthez
Battle of Toulouse
Battle of Quatre Bras
Battle of Waterloo
Crimean War
Battle of Alma
Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855)
Second Boer War
First World War
Battle of Mons
Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Ancre
Battle of Delville Wood
Battle of Arras 1917
Second World War
Battle of Belgium
Battle of France
Normandy landings
Battle of Normandy
Operation Market Garden
Overloon and Venray
Rhine crossing
Major-General Nick Borton
Command Sergeant Major WO1 Paul Carney
Thomas Picton
Charles Alten
Hubert Hamilton
Bernard Montgomery
William Ramsden

World War 1 Division sign.[2]

The 3rd (United Kingdom) Division, known at various times as the Iron Division, 3rd (Iron) Division, Monty's Iron Sides or as Iron Sides;[3] is a regular army division of the British Army. It was created in 1809 by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, as part of the Anglo-Portuguese Army, for service in the Peninsular War, and was known as the Fighting 3rd under Sir Thomas Picton during the Napoleonic Wars. The division is also sometimes referred to as the Iron Division, a nickname earned during the bitter fighting of 1916, during the First World War. The division's other battle honours include: the Battle of Waterloo, the Crimean War, the Second Boer War, the Battle of France (1940) and D-Day landings of 6 June 1944. It was commanded for a time, during the Second World War, by Bernard Montgomery. The division was to have been part of a proposed Commonwealth Corps, formed for a planned invasion of Japan in 1945–46, and later served in the British Mandate of Palestine.

During the Second World War, the insignia became the "pattern of three" — a black triangle trisected by an inverted red triangle, created by Bernard Montgomery to instil pride in his troops.

Napoleonic Wars

Peninsular War

The division was part of the Allied British and Portuguese forces that took part in the Peninsular War. It fought at the Battle of Bussaco in September 1810,[4] the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro in May 1811[5] and the Battle of El Bodón in September 1811,[6] before further combat at the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo in January 1812,[7] the Siege of Badajoz in March 1812[8] and the Battle of Salamanca in July 1812.[9] It also fought at the Siege of Burgos in September 1812[10] and the Battle of Vitoria in June 1813.[11] It then pursued the French army into France and saw action at the Battle of the Pyrenees in July 1813,[12] the Battle of Nivelle in November 1813[13] and the Battle of the Nive in December 1813.[14] After that it fought at the Battle of Orthez in February 1814[15] and the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814.[16]

Peninsular War Formation

Battle of Vitoria example
Commanding General: Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton (7,500)

According to Picton, the fighting by the 3rd was so intense at the Battle of Vitoria, that the division lost 1,800 men (over one third of all Allied losses at the battle) having taken a key bridge and village, where they were subjected to fire by 40 to 50 cannons, and a counter-attack on the right flank (which was open because the rest of the army had not kept pace).[11] The 3rd held their ground and pushed on with other divisions to capture the village of Arinez.[11]

Waterloo Campaign

The 3rd Division was also present at the Battle of Quatre Bras and the Battle of Waterloo.in the Waterloo campaign under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Alten K.C.B. (Count Carl von Alten).[17]

Battle of Waterloo formation

5th Brigade

Major-General Sir Colin Halkett K.C.B.

2nd Brigade, King's German Legion

Brevet Colonel Baron Christian Freiherr von Ompteda

  • 1st Light Battalion
  • 2nd Light Battalion
  • 5th Line Battalion
  • 8th Line Battalion

1st Hanoverian Brigade

Major-General Friedrich, Graf von Kielmansegge

  • Field Battalion Bremen
  • Field Battalion 1st Duke of York's
  • Light Battalion Grubenhagen
  • Light Battalion Lüneburg
  • Field Battalion Verden
  • Field Jaeger Battalion (two companies)


Lieutenant Colonel John Samuel Williamson

  • Lloyd's Field Brigade R. A. 5/390 5x9lb guns 1x5.5 inch Howitzer
  • Cleeves' Field Brigade King's German Legion 6/209 5x9lb guns 1x5.5 inch Howitzer

Crimean War Formation

The 3rd Division took part in the Crimean War and fought in the Battle of Alma and the Siege of Sevastopol.

Second Boer War

During the Second Boer War (1899–1902) the division began under the command of General Gatacre but was subsequently partially absorbed into the Natal Field Force under the command of General Francis Clery.

In 1902 the army was restructured, and a 3rd Infantry division was established permanently as part of the 1st Army Corps, comprising the 5th and 6th Infantry Brigades.[18]

First World War

During the First World War the 3rd Division was a permanently established Regular Army division that was amongst the first to be sent to France at the outbreak of the war as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The 3rd Division served on the Western Front in France and Belgium for four years, from 1914 to 1918. During this time, it was nicknamed "The Iron Division". Its first commander during the war, Major-General Hubert Hamilton, was killed by shellfire near Béthune in October 1914. The division served in many major battles of the war, including the Battle of Mons and the subsequent Great Retreat, and later the First Battle of Ypres, which saw the pre-war Regular Army all but destroyed, with the 3rd Division suffering considerably.

Order of battle

During the Great War the 3rd Division's composition was as follows:[19]

7th Brigade (to 18 October 1915) 

The brigade moved to the 25th Division in October 1915 and was replaced by the 76th Brigade.

8th Brigade 

The following battalions joined the brigade for periods in 1914 and 1915.

The following battalions joined the brigade for periods in 1915 and 1916.

The following battalions left the brigade for the 76th Brigade when it joined the division in October 1915:

9th Brigade 

The brigade served with the 3rd Infantry Division throughout the war, except for a brief a period in early 1915 when it exchanged places with the 85th Brigade of 28th Division.

76th Brigade (from 15 October 1915) 

The brigade joined the division from the 25th Division in October 1915.

Between the wars

After the end of the First World War, the division was stationed in southern England where it formed part of Southern Command. In 1937, one of its brigades, the 9th Infantry Brigade, was commanded by Brigadier Bernard Montgomery. He assumed command of the 3rd Division shortly before Britain declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939.

Second World War

The 3rd Infantry Division, under the command of Major General Bernard Montgomery, was sent overseas to France in late September 1939, just under a month after the outbreak of the Second World War.[20] There the division became part of Lieutenant General Alan Brooke's II Corps of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).[20] However, unlike in the First World War, where the division was almost immediately engaged in desperate fighting, there was no action. Montgomery instantly began training the men of his division in a tough training regime. As with most of the rest of the BEF, training was severely hampered by a shortage of modern equipment.[21]

In May 1940, after several months of relative inactivity, the German Army launched its attack in the west which resulted in the BEF being split up from the French Army, evacuated from Dunkirk. Due to Montgomery's strict training regime, the 3rd Division suffered comparatively few casualties and earned a reputation as one of the best British divisions in France. During the evacuation Montgomery was promoted to temporary command of II Corps and Brigadier Kenneth Anderson took temporary control of the division before, in July, Major General James Gammell assumed command.[20]

Composition 1939–40

From the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939 until the Battle of Dunkirk and subsequent evacuation at Dunkirk in May 1940 the composition of the 3rd Infantry Division was as follows:[22]

General Officer Commanding: Major-General Bernard Montgomery[23][24]

7th Guards Brigade[25]

8th Infantry Brigade[26]

9th Infantry Brigade[27]

Divisional Troops[22]

Composition 1940–44

For over a year after Dunkirk the composition of 3rd Division remained largely unchanged (except that the motorcycle battalion was converted into 3rd (RNF) Reconnaissance Regiment, Reconnaissance Corps). Then, in September 1941, the 7th Guards Brigade was transferred to help create the Guards Armoured Division, and, in November, the 37th Infantry Brigade Group joined the 3rd Division and was renumbered 7th Brigade with the following composition:[22][31]

7th Infantry Brigade

The brigade anti-tank companies were disbanded during 1941 and 92nd (Loyals) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, formerly the 7th Battalion, Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire), joined the division in March 1942.

In June 1942, 3rd Infantry Division was reorganised as a 'Mixed' Division, with 33rd Tank Brigade replacing 7th Infantry Brigade:

33rd Tank Brigade[32]

By early 1943, the experiment with 'mixed' divisions was abandoned, and 3rd Division reverted to being an infantry formation, 33rd Tank Brigade being replaced by 185th Infantry Brigade, composed of the 2nd Royal Warwicks, 1st Royal Norfolks and 2nd KSLI, from the 79th Armoured Division:[22][33] Shortly after this the division was originally intended to join the British Eighth Army in the invasion of Sicily but this was given to the 1st Canadian Infantry Division instead. By May 1944 the 3rd British Infantry Division (which it was called to avoid confusion with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division) had the following composition:

8th Infantry Brigade[26]

9th Infantry Brigade[27]

185th Infantry Brigade[34]

Divisional Troops

Thus the division had attained the organisation with which it went into action on D-Day.


The 3rd British Infantry Division was the first British formation to land at Sword Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944, as part of the invasion of Normandy, part of the larger Operation Overlord. For the assault landing, 3rd British Division was organised as a Division Group, with other formations temporarily under its command. These included 27th Armoured Brigade (Sherman DD amphibious tanks) and 22nd Dragoons (Sherman Crab flail tanks), 1st Special Service Brigade and No. 41 (Royal Marine) Commando, 5th Royal Marine Independent Armoured Support Battery (Centaur IV close support tanks), 77 and 79 Assault Squadrons of 5th Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers (Churchill AVREs), plus additional Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery and Royal Army Service Corps personnel.

The division's own artillery were all self-propelled (field regiments: M7 Priest;[28][35][36][37] anti-tank regiment: M10 tank destroyer[38][39]) and the SP field guns and RM Centaurs were able to fire from their landing craft during the run-in to the beach. In addition, 3rd British Division had 101 Beach Sub-Area HQ and Nos 5 and 6 Beach groups under command for the assault phase: these included additional engineers, transport, pioneers, medical services and vehicle recovery sections.[40][41]

The 3rd Division's brigades were organised as brigade groups for the assault, with 8 Brigade Group making the first landing, followed by 185 Brigade Group and 9 Brigade Group in succession during the morning and early afternoon.[40]

After D-Day

After D-Day the 3rd Infantry Division fought through the Battle for Caen, in Operation Charnwood and Operation Goodwood. With the fighting in Normandy over after the Battle of the Falaise Gap, the division also participated in the Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine and fought in the Netherlands and Belgium and later the Allied invasion of Germany. For the campaign in Normandy, the division was commanded by Major-General Tom Rennie until he was wounded on 13 June 1944; Major-General 'Bolo' Whistler, a highly popular commander, took command on 23 June 1944.[42] During the campaign in Normandy, the division won its first Victoria Cross of the Second World War, awarded in August 1944 to Corporal Sidney Bates of 1st Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, part of the 185th Brigade. Private James Stokes of the 2nd Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry, also of the 185th Brigade, was the second recipient awarded the Victoria Cross in March 1945.[43] Both awards were posthumously.

During the often intense fighting from Sword Beach to Bremen, the 3rd Division suffered 2,586 killed with over 12,000 wounded.[44] In Normandy alone the 3rd Division suffered over 8,000 casualties, 3,500 of them being within the first three weeks of fighting after D-Day.

After the fighting in Europe was over, the 3rd Division was selected to form a Commonwealth Corps together with an Anzac and a Canadian division to assault Japan alongside the Americans. Fortunately for the men of the 3rd Division the Japanese surrendered. If they hadn't, it seems likely that the 3rd Division may well have suffered many more heavy casualties in the invasion.

Post Second World War

Postwar, the division was reformed on 1 April 1951, in the Suez Canal Zone, under the command of Sir Hugh Stockwell. The division became part of Middle East Land Forces. It consisted of three recently reraised brigades, the 32nd Guards, the 19th Infantry, and the 39th Infantry. It served in the UK for many years and was part of the Army Strategic Command in 1968. It had elements of 5th, 19th, and 24th Brigades attached to it.[45]

During the 1970s the division consisted of two "square" brigades, the 6th Armoured Brigade and 33rd Armoured Brigade.[46] It became 3rd Armoured Division in 1976 and served with I (BR) Corps being based at St Sebastian Barracks in Soest near the Möhne Dam from 1977.[47] After being briefly reorganised into two "task forces" ("Echo" and "Foxtrot") in the late 1970s, it consisted of the 4th Armoured Brigade, the 6th Airmobile Brigade and the 19th Infantry Brigade in the 1980s.[48]

1993 to 2014

The division was given a new role as a mechanised division, becoming 3rd Mechanised Division with headquarters at Bulford, Wiltshire, in 1992.[49] It provided the headquarters for Multi-National Division (South-West) in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995 / 1996 and again in 1998.[50] At that time it comprised 1st Mechanised Brigade, 5th Airborne Brigade, and 19th Mechanised Brigade.

On 1 September 1999 the division was freed from its administrative and regional responsibilities and became a deployable or "fly-away" division.[51] As 3rd (UK) Mechanised Division it was the only division at continual operational readiness in the United Kingdom (the other at operational readiness being 1st (UK) Armoured Division in Germany). It was based at Picton Barracks, Bulford Camp, and reported to the Commander Land Forces at Andover.

The following brigades made up the 3rd (UK) Mechanised Division during that period:[52]

Current formation

Under Army 2020, the division was renamed as 3rd (United Kingdom) Division and will continue to be based at Bulford Camp, and command the Reaction Force, which comprises:[53][54]

Recipients of the Victoria Cross

  •   This along with a * indicates a posthumous award
NameUnitCampaignDate of actionPlace of action
Thomas Grady4th Regiment of FootCrimean War18 October 1854Sevastopol, Crimea
William McWheeney44th Regiment of FootCrimean War20 October 1854Sevastopol, Crimea
William NickersonRoyal Army Medical CorpsSecond Boer War20 April 1900Wakkerstroom, South Africa
Harry BeetDerbyshire RegimentSecond Boer War22 April 1900Wakkerstroom, South Africa
Maurice DeaseRoyal FusiliersFirst World War23 August 1914*Mons, Belgium
Sidney GodleyRoyal FusiliersFirst World War23 August 1914Mons, Belgium
Charles JarvisCorps of Royal EngineersFirst World War23 August 1914Jemappes, Belgium
Theodore WrightCorps of Royal EngineersFirst World War23 August 1914
14 September 1914*
Mons, Belgium
Charles Garforth15th The King's HussarsFirst World War23 August 1914Harmingnies, France
Cyril MartinCorps of Royal EngineersFirst World War12 March 1915Spanbroek Molen, Belgium
Edward MellishRoyal Army Chaplains' DepartmentFirst World War27–29 March 1916St. Eloi, Belgium
Billy CongrevePrince Consort's Own (Rifle Brigade)First World War6–20 July 1916Longueval, France
Sidney BatesRoyal Norfolk RegimentSecond World War6 August 1944*[C]Sourdeval, France
James StokesKing's Shropshire Light InfantrySecond World War1 March 1945*Kervenheim, Germany
Johnson BeharryPrincess of Wales's Royal RegimentIraq War1 May 2004
11 June 2004
Al-Amarah, Iraq
James AshworthGrenadier GuardsWar in Afghanistan13 June 2012*Nahr-e Saraj District, Afghanistan

General Officers Commanding

Commanders have been:[55]
Major General Commanding 3rd Division

GOC 3rd Division

GOC 3rd Armoured Division

GOC 3rd (UK) Division

GOC 3rd (UK) Mechanised Division

GOC 3rd (United Kingdom) Division

Brigadier General Douglas Crissman of the United States Army has been assigned as Deputy Commanding General of the Division.[57] This is part of the growing practice for senior officers of the British Army and the United States Army to be assigned as deputy commanders (and effectively liaison officers) in each other's operational units.[58]

See also


  1. Cole p. 36
  2. Chappell p. 8
  3. Delaforce
  4. Cannon, p. 48
  5. Cannon, p. 56
  6. Cannon, p. 59
  7. Cannon, p. 61
  8. Cannon, p. 65
  9. Cannon, p. 73
  10. Cannon, p. 77
  11. 1 2 3 Cannon, p. 81
  12. Cannon, p. 90
  13. Cannon, p. 92
  14. Cannon, p. 93
  15. Cannon, p. 95
  16. Cannon, p. 99
  17.  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Alten, Sir Charles". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  18. Rinaldi, p. 31
  19. Baker, Chris. "The 3rd Division in 1914–1918". The Long, Long Trail. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  20. 1 2 3 Joslen, p. 43-44
  21. "badge, formation, 3rd Infantry Division". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 4 August 2017.
  22. 1 2 3 4 Joslen, pp. 43–4.
  23. Keegan, pp. 148–165.
  24. Montgomery, pp. 49–70.
  25. Joslen, p. 243.
  26. 1 2 Joslen, p. 246.
  27. 1 2 Joslen, p. 247.
  28. 1 2 "RA 1939–45 76 Fld Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Archived from the original on 18 December 2014. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
  29. Horrocks, pp. 76–92.
  30. Keegan, pp. 225–241.
  31. Joslen, p. 286.
  32. Joslen, p. 206.
  33. Joslen, pp. 30, 360.
  34. Joslen, p. 360.
  35. Ellis, p. 542.
  36. "RA 1939–45 7 Fld Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
  37. "RA 1939–45 33 Fld Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Archived from the original on 22 May 2014. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
  38. Ellis, p. 546.
  39. "RA 1939–45 20 A/Tk Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
  40. 1 2 Ellis, pp. 173, 184–6.
  41. Joslen, pp. 584–5.
  42. Delaforce, p. .
  43. "James Stokes". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  44. Delaforce, p. 206.
  45. Blaxland
  46. Watson, Graham (2005). "The British Army in Germany: An Organisational History 1947–2004". Tiger Lily. p. 95.
  47. "St Sebastian Barracks". BAOR Locations. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  48. Black, Harvey. "The Cold War Years. A Hot War in reality. Part 6".
  49. "3rd Division". Global Security. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  50. Conrad, John (2011). Scarce Heard Amid the Guns: An Inside Look at Canadian Peacekeeping. Natural Heritage Books. ISBN 978-1-55488-981-5.
  51. Soldier Magazine, December 1998, p.13
  52. British Army Units
  53. Army basing plan
  54. Army 2020 Brochure Archived 18 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  55. Army Commands Archived 5 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
  56. "Army Corps appointments". The Times (36871). London. 12 September 1902. p. 6.
  57. "General Officer Assignments". United States Department of Defense. 25 March 2016. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  58. Stairrett, Amanda Kim (25 November 2013). "2nd British general officer takes post with 'BRO'". Fort Riley, Kansas: 1st Infantry Division. Retrieved 3 September 2015.


  • Scarfe, Norman (2006) [1947]. Assault Division: A History of the 3rd Division from the Invasion of Normandy to the Surrender of Germany. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Spellmount. ISBN 1-86227-338-3.
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