After the peacetime period between the wars, the 51st Highland Division was mobilised again in 1939 for deployment to France in January 1940 as part of the B.E.F. After the initial operations, as the B.E.F. retired on Dunkirk and the Division formed a defensive perimeter around St. Valéry.
Here, in what would be its darkest chapter, the Division was isolated, abandoned and forced to surrender. Fortunately, one of its brigades, 154 Brigade - which had been detached, was able to escape through le Havre.
The Division was reborn from its twin, the Territorial 9th Scottish Division, along with many of those that had escaped St Valéry. Changing its name to the 51st Highland Division, it was deployed to North Africa, spearheading Montgomery's attack at El Alamein and pursuing the Axis forces through Tripoli, Medenine, Mareth and Wadi Akarit to final victory in North Africa.
After a brief respite the Division took part in Operation HUSKEY, the Allied invasion of Sicily, where is saw much hard action at Vizzini and Francofonte, Gerbini and Sferro before retuning home to prepare for D Day.
The Division landed at Normandy on the 7th June 1944 as part of 1 Corps and fought in the breakout from the beachhead and in the return to St Valéry, conducted operations in the Low Countries, spent Christmas in theArdennes, and went on to negotiate the Reichswald and the Rhine Crossing en route to final Victory in Europe.
This is the history of the 51st Highland Division during World War II:
Some photos courtesy of IWM:
- Men of the 51st Highland Division (known as "The Ladies from Hell") charging with fixed bayonets during a training exercise in the desert, 23 September 1942 (IWM - E 17348)
- Troops of 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry, 51st Highland Division, take cover in a ditch during an attack on St Michielsgestel, 24 October 1944 (IWM - B 11221).
- An officer of the Seaforth Highlanders, part of the 51st (Highland) Division, talking with the crew of a Valentine tank during training in the Western Desert, 3 October 1942 (IWM - E 17624).
- Men of the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 51st Highland Division, Millbosche, 7 June 1940 (IWM - F 4733).
- Men of 51st Highland Division show off their stock of cigarettes, 24 July 1943 (IWM - NA 5005).