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"Best Commonwealth infantry division?" Topic

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Personal logo Weasel Supporting Member of TMP10 Apr 2017 10:53 a.m. PST

As with the American thread, by whatever criteria you choose, what British, Canadian, ANZAC etc. infantry division would you rate as "best".

PBI only, no tanks, gliders etc.

Rich Bliss10 Apr 2017 11:27 a.m. PST

6th Australian.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP10 Apr 2017 11:49 a.m. PST

2nd New Zealand


Rod I Robertson Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member10 Apr 2017 12:02 p.m. PST

Tough question Weasel.

My choices would be from the following:

9th Australian Infantry.
2nd New Zealand Infantry.
2nd Canadian Infantry Division.
15th Scottish.
51st Highland.
43 Wessex
Both Polish divisions of the 2nd Polish Corps (3rd Carpathian and 5th Kresowa)
1st British Airborne Division (are Airborne Divisions included under your "Infantry" definition?).

If forced to pick I suppose I would go with the 9th Australian.

Rod Robertson.

SGT Yuengling10 Apr 2017 12:03 p.m. PST

Let's look at the 9th Australian "Rats of Tobruk" who held on 24 weeks in the siege of Tobruk against combined arms assaults from the Afrika Korps. They later moved to the Pacific to pummel the Japs in Borneo, and Settleberg.

sebastien Inactive Member10 Apr 2017 1:20 p.m. PST

1st Canadian

Vigilant10 Apr 2017 1:29 p.m. PST

All of them, because they did the job they had to do.

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member10 Apr 2017 1:47 p.m. PST

2nd New Zealand, 15th Scottish.

foxweasel10 Apr 2017 2:30 p.m. PST

What are we comparing them against?

freerangeegg10 Apr 2017 2:48 p.m. PST

Possibly 17th Indian div

BattlerBritain10 Apr 2017 3:31 p.m. PST

I'd say the infantry in 11th Armoured Division, eg 159 Brigade, as they were basic infantry stuck in an armoured division but worked out how to fight with their tanks.

But that's probably out of scope….

Legion 410 Apr 2017 3:34 p.m. PST

Yes, a lot of choices there …

McWong7310 Apr 2017 3:52 p.m. PST

9th Australian, you had to ask??

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Apr 2017 5:11 p.m. PST

I think the 4th Indian deserves to be short-listed, unless we're calling it "Empire" and not "Commonwealth."

All good choices, though.

21eRegt Supporting Member of TMP10 Apr 2017 5:20 p.m. PST

I'll always have a spot of extra respect for the 51st Highland.

number4 Inactive Member10 Apr 2017 8:02 p.m. PST

There was only one, the 1st. And it fought in Korea.

The WWII formations were part of their respective national armies, with the exception of the Indian Army which was still at that time a British Empire force. link

willlucv11 Apr 2017 3:50 a.m. PST

All of them, because they did the job they had to do

+1 Some units just have better publicity than others

Legion 411 Apr 2017 6:39 a.m. PST

That is very true. We see something similar today. If you watch TV, etc. The Navy SEALs are the only "real" Spec Ops the US has. According to the media, etc.

Well we [all] know US ARMY SF "Green Berets", DELTA, USAF CCTs, USMC "Raiders"[they were just re-named that recently, IIRC], are very "busy" today also.

Plus most Spec Ops missions' helicopter assets are from the US ARMYs 160th Special Ops Air Rgt(SOAR). They flew the SEALs to get UBL. But many of the public don't know that. Or do they know that all the other US Spec Ops Forces are out there doing their "jobs" as well. Plus in many ops SF, SEAL, CCT, etc., work together.

And generally, these type forces and ops probably do best to stay out of the "limelight" IMO. OPSEC, Surprise, Deception[ala Sun Tzu], etc., etc., …

However, maybe with the SEALs, their notoriety in the media. May act somewhat like the UK Commandos did in early WWII. After the UK retreated from France, etc.

Those missions were just a much about keeping the moral high for the UK population as it was destroying Nazi assets, etc. And keeping them busy deploying forces all over to defend again those Commando attacks, etc.

So along with the SEAL's very important missions. Many in the US like to see successful ops. Taking the fight to the enemy, etc. And yes, killing the "bad guys" … E.g. the recent US TLAM strikes in Syria.

While other ops remain in the shadows for a variety of reasons. Some of which are not to put our forces at more risk than they already are … Which is as it should be … IMO …

wrgmr111 Apr 2017 8:07 a.m. PST

2nd Canadian
2nd New Zealand

Mike Target12 Apr 2017 1:31 a.m. PST

I recall that in his book Tommy, Richard Holmes mentions the (probably untrue) rumour that used to circulate amongst the British Army in WW1 that the Germans kept a list of who they thought were the best ten divisions in the British Imperial/commonwealth forces, which invariably included the Anzacs, Scots and Guards divisions (supplemented of course by the division that the speaker was in, whichever that was!).

In ww2 though I'd vote for the 50th.

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP12 Apr 2017 1:31 a.m. PST

This is all quite interesting – it suggests that British divisions (with the exception of the Scots) were systematically worse than divisions raised throughout the Commonwealth/Empire. Or alternatively, that people systematically undervalue British divisions.

Choosing 51st Highland Div as the best formation is quite bold: link

Mike Target12 Apr 2017 5:39 a.m. PST

Certainly the units raised from across the commonwealth were generally thought to be pretty good- I think it goes back to the Napoleonic recruitment- Back then the recruiting parties were always on the look out for country folk, it was considered they made better soldiers. As the 19th century wore on more and more people lived in cities, and they were thought to be not as good soldier material.

By the early 20th century most Britons would have been city dwellers, whereas the Canadians and New Zealanders etc were still very much living on the frontier. Whatever qualities had made the rurual briton so attractive to the recruiters during the Napoleonic wars would presumably have applied to Australians et al in ww2.

When the LRDG was formed I think most of its men were australian/new zealanders for the same reason.

Martin Rapier12 Apr 2017 6:36 a.m. PST

" Or alternatively, that people systematically undervalue British divisions."

We are British, very modest you know.

Part of the problem is that higher formations (divisions, brigades) are largely ephemeral things in the British Army with units coming and going, and the formations themselves being endlessly renamed, reorganised and reformed. What actually matters are the regiments, and a good way to start a fight is to ask which regiment of the British Army is the best:) (answer: they all are)

A few of my pals were in the Army, and they can tell you in great detail about their regiments, but don't have a clue what divisions or brigades they were in.

uglyfatbloke12 Apr 2017 6:38 a.m. PST

Freerangeegg for the win..17th Indian (or so my better half tells me).

Robhb113 Apr 2017 4:25 a.m. PST

Is it not likely that the real/perceived higher ratings for Commonwealth and Empire divisions reflects the fact that initially they were volunteer units with strong regular cores. By the time we got to NWE and Italy the U.K. manpower pool was pretty empty, and I've seen many references to a particular weakness at the junior leader level because of the high losses for experienced NCOs and battalion level officers hence the Canloan programme. Not to knock the sacrifices of conscripts, but one wouldn't expect the same sustained performance from them as from volunteers.

The discussion on US divs also made the extremely relevant point about declining unit effectiveness as infantry casualties resulted in very high frontline turnover after several months in Europe, and I'd expect a similar effect after four years of war for British units.

Conclusion: you can't meaningfully compare divs at a high level over a long period.

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP13 Apr 2017 9:05 a.m. PST

I don't see how that conclusion follows from the premises. Surely you could compare them, they would just be worse (after suffering those casualties)? Or some divisions would show a very variable level of effectiveness, others would maintain high (or low) standards?

Personal logo Weasel Supporting Member of TMP13 Apr 2017 1:11 p.m. PST

Wargamers are all about comparing the incomparable though :-)

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP14 Apr 2017 2:34 a.m. PST

Part of the problem is that higher formations (divisions, brigades) are largely ephemeral things in the British Army with units coming and going, and the formations themselves being endlessly renamed, reorganised and reformed. What actually matters are the regiments, and a good way to start a fight is to ask which regiment of the British Army is the best:) (answer: they all are)

All perfectly true, but I hadn't imagined that the other suggested armies were any different (Australian, New Zealand, Indian, Canadian, Scottish(!)) in this regard.

kevanG14 Apr 2017 4:22 a.m. PST

There is a tendency to rate Austrailian /NZ /Can/ scots divisions as somewhat superior to english /welsh /irish composed divisions.

It is absolute rubbish.

What mattered was the quality and length of training of the men and the experience of their junior leaders.
similar performances from 15th scottish, polar bears , 43rd wessex and the canadian /NZ / austrailian forces were generally due to those factors, long periods of training with officers who had seen some combat experience on the front line.

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