1939: 54th / 18th Div

  54th Division 18th Division

From 1939 to Spring 1940, Suffolk was defended by 54th Division (responsible for the defence of the East Coast from Foulness Island (Essex) to exclusive of Lowestoft) and 18th Division ( inclusive of Lowestoft to the Wash).

54th Div was a first-line Territorial Division made up of T.A units from Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Herts and Essex. Its Divisional Badge was a red circle with the monogram "JP", the initials of the Commander, Major-General J.H.T Priestman, C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C.

18th Division was a second-line Territorial Division, a duplicate of the 54th Division composed of Territorials from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. It was commanded by General Beckworth-Smith, Welsh Guards (who died as a prisoner of war) and was dispatched from the U.K to Malaya in 1941, disembarking at Singapore a few days before the fall of the city in Feb 1942. The Divisional Badge was a windmill, to donate its association with East Anglia.

54th Division was comprised of:

162nd Infantry Brigade (1 Herts, 2 Herts and 6 Beds & Herts)

163rd Infantry Brigade (2/4 Essex, 5 Royal Berks, 7 Royal Berks)

164th Infantry Brigade (1/4 Essex, 1/5 Essex and 2/5 Essex)

The battalion defending Lowestoft (18th Division) was 4th Suffolks.

54th Division’s Home Defence Scheme, December 1939, notes that anticipated forms of enemy attack included air attacks, naval attack on the coast and the landing of raiding parties by air or sea. The purpose of such raiding parties would be to attack aerodromes or ports with facilities to land reinforcing troops. The object of the raids would be to attack points of national interest, to cause disorganization or, combined with air attacks, to cause panic.

The role of 54th Div was the defence of the coast against landings from (excluding) Foulness to (excluding) Lowestoft, the defence of aerodromes and other vulnerable points and to give assistance to Civil authorities.

The system of defence was based on a series of defended localities sited to protect vulnerable areas and points. These were to be defended to the last irrespective of the situation elsewhere. A mobile force was held to reinforce threatened areas (one platoon per company to be on immediate call). 7th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regt was in Divisional reserve. Any other Field Army troops within 54th Division’s area would come under the operational orders of the commander of 54th Division in case of emergency. Home Defence battalions were responsible for the defence of certain Vulnerable Points.

No beach defences were prepared at this time – local commanders only being ordered to carry out reconnaissance of potential landing areas and routes leading to them in order to gain a good knowledge of countryside in case an enemy force needed to be repelled and maintaining close touch with Coast Guards. The only Fixed Coastal Defences in the area was the defended port of Harwich. If a town or village was in danger of capture by the enemy, motor vehicles were to be disabled. A rear line, in 163rd Brigade area at least, was to be organized to prevent enemy penetration west of this line (the railway line Saxmundham to Halesworth in 163rd brigade area).

It is likely that the only defence works constructed during this period would have been slit trenches in the area of billets for shelter against air attack and a few sandbagged breastworks at defended localities.

Lowestoft was in the area that 18th Division was responsible for. Orders were issued in November 1939 that no defence works were to be dug or wired although breastworks section posts could be constructed as sandbags became available. It was not until May 11th 1940 that orders were issued to dig and wire defence works at Lowestoft. Artillery was placed to engage enemy transports and landing craft attempting to land in the vicinity of the harbour.

Units of 1st Armoured Division were available for the support of 54th and 18th Divisions. The striking force available for support consisted of an Advance HQ, 2nd Light Armoured Brigade and a Support group (2 Kings Royal Rifle Corps). The remainder of 1st Armoured Division was either in GHQ Reserve (1st Heavy Armoured Brigade) or to be retained for the defence of its own Divisional area. Reconnaissance was carried out by 2nd Light Armourded Brigade for the move of the striking force to 18th and 54th Division areas – notably the areas Ipswich, Colchester and Maldon. 1st Armoured Division was itself notably deficient of equipment and was not expected to reach full War Establishment until May 1940.

References:
Heraldry In War - Formation Badges 1939-45, Lt-Col. H.N. Cole, O.B.E., Gale & Polden Ltd 1946
54th Div papers, TNA
18th Div papers, TNA

18th div
54 Div

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