3rd Division (United Kingdom)

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3rd Division
3rd Infantry Division
3rd Mechanised Division
3rd (United Kingdom) Division
British 3rd Infantry Division2.svg
Insignia of the 3rd Division
Active Since 18 June 1809
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Type Armoured Infantry
Size Three Brigades
Part of Land Forces
Garrison/HQ Bulford Camp, Wiltshire
Nickname(s) Iron Sides
Engagements Napoleonic Wars
Battle of Sabugal
Battle of Orthez
Battle of Nivelle
Battle of Fuentes de Onoro
Battle of Badajoz (1812)
Battle of Vitoria
Battle of Bussaco
Battle of the Pyrenees
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 Venraij
Rhine crossing
Major-General Patrick Sanders
Thomas Picton
Charles Alten
Hubert Hamilton
Bernard Montgomery
William Ramsden

The 3rd (United Kingdom) Division, known at various times as the Iron Division, 3rd (Iron) Division, Monty's Iron Sides or as Iron Sides;[1] 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 British forces that took part in the Peninsular War and fought in the Battle of Sabugal, Battle of Orthez, Siege of Badajoz (1812), Battle of Salamanca, Battle of Nivelle, Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, Battle of Vitoria, Battle of Bussaco and the Battle of the Pyrenees

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).[2] The 3rd held their ground and pushed on with other divisions to capture the village of Arinez.

Waterloo Campaign

Map of the Battle of Waterloo the 3rd Division holding the centre under Alten

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)

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 (1854–1855)

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.

First World War

During the Great 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. The 3rd Division served on the Western Front 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.

First World War composition

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

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) 
  • 8th (Service) Battalion, King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment)
  • 13th (Service) Battalion, King's (Liverpool Regiment)
  • 10th (Service) Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers
  • 2nd Battalion, Suffolk Regiment
  • 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders
  • 1/4th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders (until February 1916)

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

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 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 was part of the ill-fated British Expeditionary Force evacuated from Dunkirk early in the Second World War but suffered comparatively few casualties. At the time, it was commanded by Major General Bernard Law Montgomery, who would command the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, consisting of the British Second Army and First Canadian Army, in the North West Europe Campaign in 1944 after the D-Day landings on 6 June. Throughout the war the 3rd Infantry Division had the nickname of Monty's Iron Sides or the Iron Sides.

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:[4]

General Officer Commanding: Major-General Bernard Montgomery[5][6]

7th Guards Brigade[7]

8th Infantry Brigade[8]

9th Infantry Brigade[9]

Divisional Troops[4]

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, 7th Guards Brigade was transferred to the Guards Armoured Division, and in November 37th Infantry Brigade Group joined the 3rd Division and was renumbered 7th Brigade with the following composition:[4][13]

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[14]

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:[4][15] 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[8]

9th Infantry Brigade[9]

185th Infantry Brigade[16]

Divisional Troops

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

A dispersed group of infantry moving through a field
Men of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, advancing through a wheat field during the final assault on Caen.


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 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;[10][17][18][19] anti-tank regiment: M10 tank destroyer[20][21]) 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.[22][23] 3rd Division's brigades were organised as brigade groups for the assault, with 8 Bde Group making the first landing, followed by 185 Bde Group and 9 Bde Group in succession during the morning and early afternoon.[22]

After D-Day

File:Monument to the UK 3rd Division in Caen October 2011.JPG
A memorial to the 3rd Division in Caen which commemorates the division's participation in the D-Day landing on 6 June 1944, and its role in the liberation of Caen on 9 July 1944.

After D-Day the 3rd Infantry Division fought through the Battle for Caen, in Operation Charnwood and Operation Goodwood. The 3rd Division also 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.[24] During the campaign in Normandy, the division won its first Victoria Cross of the Second World War, awarded posthumously to Sidney Bates of 1st Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, part of the 185th Brigade, for incredible bravery. James Stokes of 2nd Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry, also of the 185th Brigade, was the second recipient awarded the Victoria Cross.[25] 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.[26] 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.[27]

During the 1970s the division consisted of two "square" brigades, the 6th Armoured Brigade and 33rd Armoured Brigade.[28] 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.[29] 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.[30]

1993 to 2014

The division was given a new role as a mechanised division becoming 3rd Mechanised Division with headquarters at Bulford in 1992.[31] It provided the headquarters for Multi-National Division (South-West) in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995 / 1996 and again in 1998.[32] 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 it became a deployable or "fly-away" division.[33]

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, in Wiltshire and reported to the Commander Land Forces at Andover.

The following brigades made up the 3rd (UK) Mechanised Division during that period:[34]

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:[35][36]

Structure of 3rd Mechanised Div. under Army 2020

Recipients of the Victoria Cross

  •       This along with a * indicates a posthumous award
Name Unit Campaign Date of action Place of action
Grady, ThomasThomas Grady 0044th Regiment of Foot Crimean War 1854-10-1818 October 1854 Sevastopol, Crimea
McWheeney, WilliamWilliam McWheeney 04444th Regiment of Foot Crimean War 1854-10-2020 October 1854 Sevastopol, Crimea
Nickerson, WilliamWilliam Nickerson Royal Army Medical Corps Second Boer War 1900-04-2020 April 1900 Wakkerstroom, South Africa
Beet, HarryHarry Beet Derbyshire Regiment Second Boer War 1900-04-2222 April 1900 Wakkerstroom, South Africa
Dease, MauriceMaurice Dease Royal Fusiliers First World War 1914-08-2323 August 1914* Mons, Belgium
Godley, SidneySidney Godley Royal Fusiliers First World War 1914-08-2323 August 1914 Mons, Belgium
Jarvis, CharlesCharles Jarvis Corps of Royal Engineers First World War 1914-08-2323 August 1914 Jemappes, Belgium
Wright, TheodoreTheodore Wright Corps of Royal Engineers First World War 1914-08-2323 August 1914
14 September 1914*
Mons, Belgium
Garforth, CharlesCharles Garforth 01515th The King's Hussars First World War 1914-08-2323 August 1914 Harmingnies, France
Martin, CyrilCyril Martin Corps of Royal Engineers First World War 1915-03-1212 March 1915 Spanbroek Molen, Belgium
Mellish, EdwardEdward Mellish Royal Army Chaplains' Department First World War 1916-03-2727–29 March 1916 St. Eloi, Belgium
Congreve, BillyBilly Congreve Prince Consort's Own (Rifle Brigade) First World War 1916-07-066–20 July 1916 Longueval, France
Bates, SidneySidney Bates Royal Norfolk Regiment Second World War 1944-08-066 August 1944*[C] Sourdeval, France
Stokes, JamesJames Stokes King's Shropshire Light Infantry Second World War 1945-03-011 March 1945* Kervenheim, Germany
Beharry, JohnsonJohnson Beharry Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment Iraq War 2004-05-011 May 2004
11 June 2004
Al-Amarah, Iraq
Ashworth, JamesJames Ashworth Grenadier Guards War in Afghanistan 2012-06-1313 June 2012* Nahr-e Saraj District, Afghanistan

Recent Commanders

Recent Commanders have been:[37]
GOC 3rd Division

GOC 3rd Armoured Division

GOC 3rd (UK) Division

GOC 3rd (UK) Mechanised Division

GOC 3rd (United Kingdom) Division

Brigadier General (select) Michael J. Tarsa of the United States Army has been assigned as Deputy Commander of the Division.[38][39] 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.[40]

See also


  1. Delaforce
  2. Cannon
  3. Baker, Chris. "The 3rd Division in 1914–1918". The Long, Long Trail. Retrieved 10 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Joslen, pp. 43–4.
  5. Keegan, pp. 148–165.
  6. Montgomery, pp. 49–70.
  7. Joslen, p. 243.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Joslen, p. 246.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Joslen, p. 247.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "RA 1939–45 76 Fld Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-01-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Horrocks, pp. 76–92.
  12. Keegan, pp. 225–241.
  13. Joslen, p. 286.
  14. Joslen, p. 206.
  15. Joslen, pp. 30, 360.
  16. Joslen, p. 360.
  17. Ellis, p. 542.
  18. "RA 1939–45 7 Fld Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-01-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "RA 1939–45 33 Fld Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-01-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Ellis, p. 546.
  21. "RA 1939–45 20 A/Tk Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-01-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. 22.0 22.1 Ellis, pp. 173, 184–6.
  23. Joslen, pp. 584–5.
  24. Delaforce, p. .
  25. "James Stokes". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 18 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Delaforce, p. 206.
  27. Blaxland
  28. Watson, Graham (2005). "The British Army in Germany: An Organisational History 1947–2004". Tiger Lily. p. 95.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. "St Sebastian Barracks". BAOR Locations. Retrieved 27 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Black, Harvey. "The Cold War Years. A Hot War in reality. Part 6".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. "3rd Division". Global Security. Retrieved 27 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. Conrad, John (2011). Scarce Heard Amid the Guns: An Inside Look at Canadian Peacekeeping. Natural Heritage Books. ISBN 978-1-55488-981-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. Soldier Magazine, December 1998, p.13
  34. British Army Units[dead link]
  35. Army basing plan
  36. Army 2020 Brochure
  37. Army Commands
  38. "General Officer Assignments" (Press release). United States Department of Defense. 30 January 2015. Retrieved 30 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. "American General joins the ranks". Ministry of Defence. 3 September 2015. Retrieved 3 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. Stairrett, Amanda Kim (25 November 2013). "2nd British general officer takes post with 'BRO'". Fort Riley, Kansas: 1st Infantry Division. Retrieved 3 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Gregory Blaxland, The Regiments Depart: A History of the British Army 1945–70, London: William Kimber, 1971.
  • Richard Cannon, Historical Record of the Seventy-fourth Regiment (Highlanders), Parker, Furnivall & Parker, 1847. http://books.google.ca/books?id=DMkJ3xvg34AC
  • Patrick Delaforce, Monty's Iron Sides, Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1995, ISBN 0-7509-0781-9,
  • Major L.F. Ellis, History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Military Series: Victory in the West, Volume I: The Battle of Normandy, London: HMSO, 1962/Uckfield: Naval & Military, 2004, ISBN 1-84574-058-0.
  • Lt-Gen Sir Brian Horrocks, A Full Life, London: Collins, 1960.
  • Lt-Col H.F. Joslen, Orders of Battle, United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945, London: HM Stationery Office, 1960/Uckfield: Naval & Military, 2003, ISBN 1-84342-474-6.
  • John Keegan (ed), Churchill's Generals, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991.
  • Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, Memoirs, London: Collins, 1958.
  • 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.

External links