55th Division

The 55th Division was a first-line Territorial Army Division made up of units from Liverpool and West Lancashire. It never served overseas, forming part of the Home Forces throughout the war, latterly in a training role . It comprised of:

164th Infantry Brigade (9th Kings Regt., 1/4 South Lancashire Regt., 2/4 South Lancashire Regt.)
165th Infantry Brigade (5th Kings Regt., 1st Liverpool Scottish, 2nd Liverpool Scottish)
199th Infantry Brigade (2/8 Lancashire Fusiliers, 6th Manchester’s, 7th Manchester’s)

Prior to the German invasion of Holland in May 1940, 55th Div was responsible for the East coast from (excluding) Foulness Island to (excluding) Lowestoft. The 2nd London Division came under the command of 55th Division.

  Above: Area under the command of 55th Div - Home Defence upto mid-May

The 55th Division Home Defence Scheme notes the expected form of enemy attack was either an airborne or seaborne landing of troops with the objective of raids against RDF stations, aerodromes and ports. The aim of the attacks would be to destroy points of national interest, to cause disorganization and with combined air attacks cause panic.

The system of defence was to hold certain troops in readiness at four hours notice as follows:

  • Immediate Assistance Platoons – these would provide assistance to RDF stations and aerodromes at the scale of one platoon per RDF station/aerodrome.
  • Emergency Platoons – sufficient troops would be held at a state of readiness to move at short notice to the assistance of any point that would require their presence. This would likely include vulnerable points other than RDF stations and aerodromes, the relief of Immediate Assistance platoons or dealing with saboteurs or parachutists.
    • All other troops would be at 24 hours notice.

      Following the German invasion of Holland, Code word “Julius” was issued (“Julius Cesar" Plan). On May 16th it was decided that 55th Division would cease to have control over2nd London Division. To reflect these changes in circumstances a new Home Defence Scheme was issued.

      It was now planned to prepare all positions occupied by troops for all round defence – “NO GARRISON WILL EVER WITHDRAW”. The Field Army was to continue to provide maximum protection for vital areas and schemes were to be prepared locally to provide assistance. Local Defence Volunteers and AA/searchlight Units were to deal with parachutists. Beaches were to be protected by wire and “concrete pillars” to prevent landing. Forward posts on beaches were provided with anti-tank rifles. Exits from Felixstowe, Ipswich, Aldeburgh, Dunwich and Southwold were to be prepared for demolition. A line of bridges from (excluding) Manningtree to Kessingland were also to be prepared for demolition in conjunction with Ministry of Transport and L.N.E.R.

      On June 2nd 55th Division took over command of Lowestoft from 18th Division.

        Above: Area under the command of 55th Div - Home Defence from June 1940

      Following the Battle of France, with the threat of a full scale invasion to compel the submission of Britain, a new Home Defence Scheme was issued. Priority was to be given to the defence of fighter aerodromes. The Division was also to fight to hold the coast. Posts were to hold to the last, by doing so the enemy’s attack would be disorganized allowing time for counter attack troops to move up.

      The beaches were to be defended by various obstacles and maximum use was to be made of concrete pillboxes to house light machine guns and anti tank rifles. A series of rear defensive (or stop Lines) were organized. These were to be held if the enemy gained a footing on the coast, as bounds for reserves moving up or in cases of confusion on the coast to provide a line of stabilization from which to counter attack.

      Artillery was to cover the beaches, potential parachute landing areas and tank approaches.

      Throughout July 55th Division strength was built up as new units moved into its area. The Division changed from a Motor Division with two brigades to an Infantry Division with three brigades complete with the necessary artillery and other services.

      Work was speeded up on defences. CRE 55th Division issued large contracts for the erection of pillboxes and construction of permanent concrete road blocks. Possible landing grounds were obstructed by digging trenches, erecting poles or the placing of derelict vehicles.

      The War Diary for August 1940 is interesting for the shift in policy to the construction of road blocks and pillboxes. It was acknowledged that many pillboxes were constructed that could never be occupied and many road blocks were not tank proof – it being possible for tanks to get round on the flanks. As a result all work was halted on concrete defences except for were the contracts were still in progress and to be finished.

      By September the War Diary noted that positions for Flame Fougasses had been reconnoitered and 80 rounds issued to each man of the Home Guard within a 10 mile radius of the coast and 50 rounds per man outside that radius. The diary also noted the issue of the new code word “Cromwell” being issued on Sept 7th. Warning was also received that the Division was to be relived and would move to the area Oxford-Chipping Campden-Cheltenham.

      During October additional units continued to arrive in the area – e.g. 21 Army Tank Brigade. The War Diary noted the consolidation of coastal defence works and the completion of wiring. A new obstacle had been approved and arrangements put in place for its erection at Felixstowe, Aldeburgh and Kessingland – tubular scaffolding to prevent barges from landing.

      Although according to the War Diary much work had been carried out on camouflaging, the onset of winter and the loss of foliage revealed the need the urgent need for more and better camouflage.

      Orders were finally received for the relief of the Division by 42nd Division, with command passing to 42nd Division by 1400 hrs on Nov 5th.

      References:
      Heraldry In War – Formation Badges 1939-45, Lt.-Col. H.N Cole, O.B.E, Gale & Polden, 1946
      55th Division papers, NRA

55 Div
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