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The 8th Mountain Division was raised as the 8th Indian Infantry division of the British Indian Army. It is now part of the Indian Army and specialises in mountain warfare.
The 8th was formed as an infantry division in Meerut on 25 October 1940 under Major-General Charles Harvey, a British Indian Army officer, as part of the Indian Army during World War II. It served in the Middle East in the garrisoning of Iraq and then the invasion of Persia to secure the oil fields of the area for the Allies. A brigade was detached to the Western Desert to reinforce the British Eighth Army as it withdrew before the Axis forces. Following training in the Near East, the division entered the Italian Campaign landing at Taranto on mainland Italy.
The division was disbanded at the end of World War II but re-formed again in 1962 as a specialist mountain division of the Indian Army.
Despite its relatively late introduction into the mainstream of battle its members won nearly 600 awards and honours including 4 Victoria Crosses, 26 DSOs and 149 MCs. During the war the 8th Indian Division sustained casualties totalling 2,012 dead, 8,189 wounded and 749 missing.
Iraq Syria and Iran
When originally formed the division's main fighting formations were 17th, 18th and 19th Indian Infantry Brigades.
On 9 June 1941 17th Brigade arrived in Basra and joined Iraqforce, which had fought the Anglo-Iraqi War to secure the British-owned oilfields during May. These oilfields were perceived to be threatened when a coup d'état brought into power Rashid Ali al-Kaylani who was sympathetic to the Axis powers. By the second half of June the brigade had moved to Mosul to defend British-owned oilfields from an anticipated thrust by Axis forces south through the Caucasus.
At the end of 1 June 1/12th Frontier Force Regiment and 5/13th Frontier Force Rifles were detached from 17th Brigade to join two battalions from 20th Indian Infantry Brigade (part of 10th Indian Infantry Division) to take part in the Syria-Lebanon campaign and capture the Duck's Bill area in north east Syria and secure the Mosul to Aleppo railway. This was achieved without a shot being fired as the Vichy French forces retired westwards.
On 17 July Major-General Charles Harvey and the divisional HQ arrived in Basra and had 24th Indian Infantry Brigade (which had arrived on 16 June) assigned to the division. 18th Indian Infantry Brigade arrived in Iraq on 26 July. The British, having secured first the Iraqi oilfields and then Syria, now focused their concern on Persia (now Iran) where it had been estimated there were some 3,000 German nationals working as technicians, commercial agents and advisors. The division first saw shots fired in anger during the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in August 1941 when 24th Brigade made a night-time amphibious assault across the Shatt al Arab to capture the oil refinery at Abadan in South Persia. Meanwhile, 18th Brigade had crossed into Persia between Basra and Abadan to take Khorramshahr and became part of a three brigade advance (with Hazelforce) towards Ahwaz, 75 miles north east of Basra. The fighting ended on 28 August when the Shah ordered his forces to cease hostilities.
The 19th Indian Infantry Brigade arrived in Iraq in August, replacing 24th Brigade (which transferred to 6th Indian Infantry Division), and by 17 October, 18th and 19th Brigades had concentrated at Kirkuk in northern Iraq and moved north of the oilfields where they were joined by the 6th Duke of Connaught's Own Lancers (Watson's Horse) (6th DCO Lancers), the division's reconnaissance regiment.
In June 1942 the 18th Brigade, having been rushed over to North Africa from Mosul, and with only two days to prepare defensive positions, was overrun by Erwin Rommel's tanks at Deir el Shein in front of the Ruweisat Ridge. In the process, however, they gained valuable time for the British Eighth Army to organise the defences for what was to be the First Battle of El Alamein, halting Rommel's advance towards Egypt. The brigade was never re-formed.
Iraq and Syria
From August 1942 the division, still a brigade short, became part of Paiforce when Persia and Iraq became a separate command under General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson in Baghdad, (Lieutenant-General Edward Quinan's Tenth Army in Iraq and Persia having previously come under Middle East Command in Cairo). As the threat from the north faded following the Axis defeats at Alamein and Stalingrad the division withdrew in October 1942 to Kifri near Baghdad where it was joined by 21st Indian Infantry Brigade and the 3rd, 52nd and 53rd Field regiments of the Royal Artillery. It spent the winter in intensive training.
In January 1943 command of the 8th Indian Division passed to Major-General Dudley Russell (The Pasha), promoted after 15 months commanding the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, part of the excellent "Red Eagles" 4th Indian Infantry Division. The 8th Indian Division moved in March 1943 to Damascus and continued to spend much of its time training, notably in mountain warfare and combined operations.
In June 1943 the division was selected to participate in the anticipated Dodecanese Campaign ("Operation Accolade"), and seize the Italian-occupied island of Rhodes, the chief Axis stronghold in the Dodecanese Islands. After frantic preparation and having loaded the first wave of ships, the division's participation was canceled when the Italian government surrendered and it was redirected to Italy which the German Army had continued to occupy.
On 24 September 1943 the 8th Indian Division landed in Taranto, to take its part in the Italian Campaign. The division landed 21 days after the initial invasion, as part of V Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General Charles Allfrey, serving alongside British 4th Armoured Brigade and the British 78th Infantry Division. For 19 months the division was almost continuously in action, advancing through mountainous country, crossing river after river. The formation later adopted the motto "One more river".
From October 1943 to April 1944 the 8th Indian Division was part of the Allied thrust by the British Eighth Army, under General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, up the Adriatic front on the Eastern side of Italy. This involved opposed river crossings of the Biferno, Trigno (October 1943), Sangro (November 1943) and Moro (December 1943). The following three months proved almost as arduous for, although there was no formal offensive, the period was characterised by patrolling and vicious skirmishes in very difficult terrain and abominable winter weather, which proved to be extremely demanding, both physically and mentally, and very stressful.
Men of 'A' Company of the 5th Battalion, Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment
advance along a road past an abandoned German 75mm anti-tank gun in the Rapido bridgehead, Italy, 16 May 1944.
When the spring came the 8th Indian Division was switched in great secrecy (along with the bulk of the British Eighth Army, now commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese) 60 miles west across the Apennine Mountains to concentrate as part of Lieutenant-General Sidney C. Kirkmans British XIII Corps, serving alongside the British 4th and 78th Infantry Division, 6th Armoured Divisions, as well as the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade, along the River Garigliano at a part of the river better known as the Gari. Their heavily opposed night crossing of the Gari in May 1944, supported by Canadian tanks (1st Canadian Armoured Brigade) with which the division had formed a particularly close fighting relationship over the previous six months, was critical to the Allies' success in this, the fourth and final Battle of Monte Cassino. Following this, the division advanced some 240 miles in June across mountainous country, fighting many actions against rearguards and defended strongpoints. In late June they had reached Assisi and the division was rested. It was during the fighting on the Gari that Kamal Ram of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Punjab Regiment was awarded his Victoria Cross. At 19 years of age, he was one of the youngest recipients of the VC during the Second World War.
Florence and the Gothic Line
King George VI
is driven past cheering Indian troops on his way to a ceremony to invest Sepoy Kamal Ram with the Victoria Cross, Italy, 26 July 1944.
By the end of July 1944, after a few weeks out of the line, the 8th Indian Division was back in the line with 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade in front of Florence pushing towards the River Arno. Florence was occupied by the 21st Indian Infantry Brigade on 12 August where they had the unusual task to recover some of the world's greatest art treasures and arrange safe custody. By mid-September the division was in the mountains again, breaking through the Gothic Line and then spending two months of grim (and ultimately unsuccessful) battling in foul weather towards the plains of Northern Italy, together with the British 1st Infantry, 78th Infantry and 6th Armoured Divisions, alongside the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade, forming British XIII Corps. XIII Corps had now become the right wing of the U.S. Fifth Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark. It was during this time that Thaman Gurung of the 1st Battalion, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles was awarded the Victoria Cross.
In December 1944 the 2nd New Zealand Division, advancing from the Adriatic on the division's right along the Romagna plain, took Faenza and the resistance on the 8th Indian Division's front weakened as the Germans withdrew to shorten their front. In late December 1944, 19th and 21st Brigades were rapidly switched across the Apennines to reinforce the U.S. 92nd Infantry Division on the Fifth Army's left flank in front of Lucca. By the time they had arrived the Germans had broken through but decisive action by Major-General Russell halted their advance and the situation was stabilised by the New Year. The 8th Indian Division then moved to Pisa for a period of rest.
Spring offensive 1945
In mid-February 1945 the division was back in the line on the Adriatic front, this time as part of British Eighth Army's V Corps, in front of the River Senio. The main assault on the Senio started on 9 April. In desperate fighting two members of the division, Namdeo Jadav and Ali Haidar, were awarded the Victoria Cross. By 11 April the division reached and crossed the River Santerno breaking open a hole in the German line for the British 78th Division and elements of British 56th Division to engage the enemy and defeat them in the Argenta Gap. This opened the way to Ferrara and the Po River and for the British 6th Armoured Division to pass through, veer left and race westward across country to link with the advancing U.S. Fifth Army, now commanded by Lucian Truscott, and complete the encirclement of the divisions of the German 10th and 14th Armies defending Bologna. In the aftermath of the Argenta fighting, the 8th Indian Division drove on rapidly through to Ferrara and across the Po and shortly thereafter to their last river crossing of the war, the Adige.
The campaign ended on 2 May 1945. The 6th DCO Lancers marked the occasion with a special mission, sending an officer and nine men far up the road towards Austria and arranged the surrender of 11,000 men of their old enemy, the German 1st Parachute Division.
Post World War II
Re-raised in 1962, the division differs from more conventional infantry divisions in the emphasis that is placed on infantry tactics and the limited role that armour can be expected to take in operations in mountainous terrain. The armour that is used may differ from that used by other infantry divisions, for example, specialised mountain guns are required in many areas where the division might be expected to operate.
The division has been constantly involved in operations since its creation. It was initially created for operations against insurgents fighting for a separate state of Nagaland. In the mid-1990s, the formation was moved to the Kashmir valley in response to conflict there. During the early summer of 1999, the division was moved north to the Kargil District to augment the beleaguered 3rd Infantry Division, which was based in Leh, during Operation Vijay II. It is now permanently based in that sector as part of XIV Corps.
The 8th was shifted 1 June 1999 to XV Corps for the Kargil conflict, taking over vacant positions formerly held by 28th Mountain Division. It controlled the 50th Parachute Brigade; its own 56th, 79th and 192nd Mountain Brigades; and the 121st (Independent) Infantry Brigade. The shift to Kashmir became permanent after 1999, with the division placed under the new XIV Corps. It now includes 56th Mountain Brigade, which itself during the Kargil War of 1999 included 1st Battalion, the Naga Regiment.
Formation During World War II
General Officer Commanding:
- Major-General Charles Harvey (Oct 1940 – Dec 1942)
- Major-General Dudley Russell (Jan 1943 – Aug 1945)
- Brigadier T. S. Dobree (acting) (18 Feb – 11 March 1945)
- Brigadier T. S. Dobree (acting) (3–18 Jun 1945)
- Brigadier R.V.M. Garry (Oct 1940 – Sep 1942)
- Brigadier M.W. Dewing (Sep 1942 – Sep 1944)
- Brigadier F.C. Bull (Sep 1944 – Jul 1945)
- Brigadier T.S. Dobree (Jul 1945 – Aug 1945)
- 3, 52 & 53 Field Regts. RA
- 26 Light Anti-Aircraft Regt RA
- 4 Mahratta Anti-Tank Regt
- Indian Engineers: Sappers & Miners
- 8 Indian Div Signals
- 5th Royal Battalion Machine Gun 5th Mahratta Light Infantry
- Brigadier John Geoffrey Bruce (Nov 1940 – May 1941)
- Brigadier Douglas Gracey (May 1941 – Mar 1942)
- Brigadier F.A.M.B. Jenkins (Mar 1942 – Oct 1943)
- Brigadier H.L. Wyndham (Oct 1943 – Nov 1943)
- Brigadier J. Scott-Elliott (Nov 1943 – Jan 1944)
- Brigadier Charles Boucher (Feb 1944 – Jan 1945)
- Brigadier P.R. Macnamara (Jan 1945 – Aug 1945)
- Brigadier C.W.W. Ford (Oct 1940 – Feb 1943)
- Brigadier T.S. Dobree (Feb 1943 – Jul 1945)
- Brigadier W. Sandison (Jul 1945 – Aug 1945)
- Brigadier C.J. Weld (Sep 1940 – May 1942)
- Brigadier J.J. Purves (May 1942 – Mar 1943)
- Brigadier B.S. Mould (Mar 1943 – Aug 1945)
- Royal Indian Army Service Corps
- 8 Ind Div Troops Tpt Coy
- 17, 19 & 21 Brigade Tpt Coys
- Div Supply Units
- Medical Services
- 29, 31,& 33 Indian Field Ambulances
- 8 Indian Div Provost Unit
- Indian Army Ordnance Corps
- 8 Indian Div Ordnance FD Park
- Indian Electrical & Mechanical Engineers
- 120,121 & 122 Infantry Workshop Coys
- 8 Indian Div Recovery Coy
During World War II the insignia of the division was a yellow four-leafed clover (some versions appear as three-leafed -see images) flanked on each side by a yellow three-leafed clover, their stalks forming a "V", all on a red background. The division and its members were thus referred to as "clovers".
During the period the Scotsmen of the 1st Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders served in the division, in the 19th Indian Infantry Brigade, the Jock soldiers fondly referred to the division insignia as "the three wee floo'ers" (the three little flowers).
In its second incarnation the formation sign of the division depicts a red dagger superimposed on two overlapping gold circles on a black background.
All these brigades were assigned or attached to the division at some time during World War II
Operation Sabine (1941)
- ^ Condon (1962), p.336
- ^ One More River: The Story of The Eighth Indian Division, pp. 44–45
- ^ Compton Mackenzie, Eastern Epic, p. 83
- ^ Compton Mackenzie, Eastern Epic, p. 124
- ^ Compton Mackenzie, pp. 125–6
- ^ Compton Mackenzie, Eastern Epic, p. 129
- ^ Compton Mackenzie, pp. 130–139
- ^ Renaldi and Rikhye, 2011, 41
- ^ Renaldi and Rikhye, 2011, 107
- ^ "8 Division units". Order of Battle. Archived from the original on 3 June 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2009.
- Anon (1946). One More River: The Story of The Eighth Indian Division. Bombay: H.W. Smith, Times of India Press.
- Anon (1946). The Tiger Triumphs: The Story of Three Great Divisions in Italy. HMSO.
- Blaxland, Gregory (2001). Alexander's Generals (the Italian Campaign 1944–1945). London: William Kimber & Co. ISBN 0-7183-0386-5.
- Condon, Brigadier W.E.H. (1962). The Frontier Force Regiment. Aldershot: Gale & Polden.
- Kempton, Chris (2003). Loyalty and Honour: The Indian Army September 1939 – August 1947. Part I: Divisions. Milton Keynes: Military Press. pp. 51–63. ISBN 0-85420-228-5.
- Majdalany, Fred (1957). Cassino: Portrait of a Battle. London: Longmans, Green & Co Ltd.
- Mackenzie, Compton (1951). Eastern Epic. London: Chatto & Windus.
- Mason, Philip (9 June 1982). The Indian Divisions Memorial, 1939–1945, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Wellingborough: Skelton's Press.
- Orgill, Douglas (1967). The Gothic Line (The Autumn Campaign in Italy 1944). London: Heinemann.
- Renaldi, Richard A.; Rikhye, Ravi (2011). Indian Army Order of Battle. Orbat.com for Tiger Lily Books. ISBN 978-0-9820541-7-8.
- Yeats-Brown, F (1945). Martial India. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.