During World War II, the 4th Indian Division was in the vanguard during nine campaigns in the Mediterranean theatre. Major-General The Hon. P. Gerald Scarlett appears to have been the division's first commander, from October 1939 to January 1940. The British 14th Infantry Brigade was attached to the division from 1 June to 20 July 1940 and then the British 16th Infantry Brigade was attached from 9 September 1940 to 14 December 1940. In the first of Archibald Wavell's operations in Egypt, as part of the Western Desert Force, it took part in Operation Compass in December 1940. The Division was involved in the decisive battles of that campaign in the camps around Sidi Barrani. Along with the 7th Royal Tank Regiment, the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade of the 4th Indian Infantry Division destroyed the Italian Maletti Group at the Nibiewa Camp.
In December 1940 the division was rushed to the British Sudan to join with the 5th Indian Infantry Division, to prevent the numerically vastly superior Italian forces (ten divisions in total) from threatening Red Sea supply routes to Egypt as well as Egypt and the Suez Canal itself from the south. The East African campaign which culminated in March 1941 with the battles at Keren in Eritrea, where 42 Italian battalions (33 battalions, reinforced by nine battalions) were defeated by 19 British and Indian battalions.
It was at Keren that Subadar Richhpal Ram of the 4/6th Rajputana Rifles, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, 4th Division was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. In April 1941 Beresford-Peirse was promoted to command the Western Desert Force and Major General Frank Messervy assumed command.
Having returned to Egypt, part of the division (the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade) was hurried across to Syria and was heavily involved in the advance on Damascus (June 1941). From 14 to 17 June 1941 the British 4th Armoured Brigade was attached to the division. The rest of the 4th Indian Division was heavily involved in the fighting which ebbed and flowed past Tobruk from June 1941 onwards, having been rejoined by 5 Brigade, returning from Syria, in the autumn of 1941. For most of this period the division was dispersed, with units temporarily attached to other formations, much to the disgust of Major General Francis Tuker, who had assumed command of the Division in December 1941. Notable at this time was the break-out at the end of January by 7 Brigade, having been cut off at Benghazi during the Germans' counter-offensive from Agheila and moving 200 miles avoiding the enemy to rejoin the newly created British Eighth Army.
Early in April 1942 the 4th Division was again dispersed, with 7 Brigade going to Cyprus, 5 Brigade to Syria, 11 Brigade to the Suez Canal Zone for training and the Central India Horse to Iraq after a period of training. By May 1942 11 Brigade was back in the fighting at Tobruk (attached to the 5th Indian Infantry Division). 11th Brigade was caught in the siege of Tobruk which fell on 21 June, and so disappeared from the order of battle for the next 18 months. 5th Brigade was rushed to the desert in June 1942–after escaping from Mersa Matruh, the brigade held the vital Ruweisat Ridge during the First Battle of El Alamein in July–August 1942. The situation had become so confused that General Erwin Rommel, also known as the Desert Fox, lost his way and was forced to spend a night in the open. With the dawn came the realization that he was in the company of 4th Division. With a sigh of relief, he slipped away, undetected.
Shortly before the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 the 4th Indian Division was back together again with the 7th Brigade returning from Cyprus and 161st Indian Infantry Brigade attached (until December 1942) to fill the gap of the overrun 11th Brigade. The division had a relatively subsidiary role in the battle, holding in stiff fighting, as a diversionary tactic, the Ruweisat Ridge which was at the centre of the Allied front whilst the breakthrough was planned further North.
By December 1942 the division was, once again, dispersed but strong representations by its General Officer Commanding (GOC), Major-General Tuker, (including his asking to be relieved of command) resulted in the 4th Indian Division being brought together as a fighting entity in March 1943 and it fought with distinction in the Tunisia Campaign, right through to the fall of Tunis in May 1943, gaining a particular reputation for its prowess in mountainous country. The division had the honour of capturing General von Arnim in Tunisia, bringing an end to the war in North Africa. Its major battles in North Africa were Benghazi, Tobruk, Wadi Akarit, Enfidaville and Tunis.
The division then moved in January 1944 to Italy (joined by the newly re-constituted 11 Brigade), where it took part in the Italian Campaign. It took a major role (sustaining very heavy casualties) in the second Battle of Monte Cassino (where in Tuker's absence through illness it was commanded by Brigadier Harry Dimoline, the divisional Commander of Royal Artillery). During the battle, the Division was to attack in an arc towards the south and southwest, taking Point 593 and then moving southeast, up the heights towards the Abbey. The Indian Division would only advance on the Abbey, once the 2nd New Zealand Division had attacked south and southeast taking the town of Cassino. The main attack eventually commenced just after last light with the NZ Division's 28 (Maori) Battalion tasked to cross the Rapido River and to seize the station south of Cassino town, to establish a bridgehead for the corps armour to move into the town and to the foot of the Cassino massif—the attack starting at 2:130. However, the 28th Battalion attack failed, and so had the 4th Indian Division attack on Point 593.
The division also suffered heavy casualties during the third battle (in March 1944) when it was commanded by Major-General Alexander Galloway, who had been released from command of the British 1st Armoured Division.
Command of the division was assumed by Major-General Arthur Holworthy late in March 1944 and the division took part in the advance from Cassino after the fourth battle in May 1944 to the Trasimene Line in Central Italy and then the Gothic Line. As part of the attachments and detachments for the campaign, the British 9th Armoured Brigade was attached to the division from 8 July 1944 to 19 July 1944.
In November 1944 the division was shipped to Greece to help stabilise the country after the Axis withdrawal. Holworthy was succeeded by Major-General Charles Hamilton Boucher in January 1945 who commanded the division until the end of hostilities.
According to author Chand Das, during World War II the "Division captured 150,000 prisoners and suffered 25,000 casualties, more than the strength of a whole division. It won over 1,000 honours and awards which included four Victoria Crosses and three George Crosses".
Field Marshal Lord Wavell wrote: "The fame of this Division will surely go down as one of the greatest fighting formations in military history, to be spoken of with such as The Tenth Legion, The Light Division of the Peninsular War and Napoleon's Old Guard". Das wrote also: "Even beyond its fighting reputation, it will be remembered for the spirit of mutual trust and fellowship maintained between all ranks coming from so many different races and creeds".
The unit listing is from a booklet issued to mark the inauguration of the Indian Divisions' Memorial 1939–1945 at RMA Sandhurst in June 1982.
General Officer Commanding:Major-General The Hon. P. Gerald Scarlett (Oct 1939 – Jan 1940)
Major-General Philip Neame (Feb 1940 – Aug 1940)
Major-General Noel Beresford-Peirse (Aug 1940 – Apr 1941)
Major-General Frank Messervy (Apr 1941 – Dec 1941)
Major-General Francis Tuker (Dec 1941 – Feb 1944)
Brigadier Harry Dimoline (Feb 1944 – Mar 1944)
Major-General Alexander Galloway (Mar 1944)
Major-General Arthur Holworthy (Mar 1944 – Jan 1945)
Major-General Charles Boucher (Jan 1945 – Aug 1945)
Central India Horse (up to April 1942 and from July 1944) (Divisional Reconnaissance Regiment)
Commanders divisional artillery:Brigadier Noel Beresford-Peirse
Brigadier P. Maxwell (Jun 1940 – Sep 1940)
Brigadier William H.B. Mirrless (Sep 1940 – Mar 1942)
Brigadier Harry Kenneth Dimoline (Mar 1942 – Feb 1944)
Brigadier John F. Adye (Feb 1944 – Mar 1944)
Brigadier Henry C.W. Eastman (Apr 1944 – )
3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery
1st, 4th, 11th, 25th, 31st and 32nd Field Regiments, RA
57th Light A.A. Regiment, RA
35th and 149th Anti-Tank Regiments, RA
Indian Engineers: Sappers and Miners
4th Field Company, King George's Own Bengal Sappers and Miners
12th Field Company, Queen Victoria's Own Madras Sappers and Miners
18th and 21st Field Company, Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners
11th Field Park Company, Queen Victoria's Own Madras Sappers and Miners
4th Indian Division Signals
1st Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (Machine Gun) (April–December 1940)
Machine Gun Battalion, 6th Rajputana Rifles (1942–1945)
HQ 5th Indian Infantry Brigade
1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (up to Sept 1941)
1st Battalion, Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) (from Sept 1941 to Dec 1941))
1st Battalion, Welch Regiment (from Dec 1941 up to April 1942)
1/4th Battalion, Essex Regiment (from April 1942)
1st Battalion, 1st Punjab Regiment (up to April 1942)
3rd Battalion, 1st Punjab Regiment
4th Battalion (Outram's), 6th Rajputana Rifles (with 11th Indian Infantry Brigade in Italy)
3rd Battalion (Queen Mary's Own), 10th Baluch Regiment (from April 1942)
1st Battalion, 9th Gurkha Rifles
HQ 7th Indian Infantry Brigade
1st Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment
2nd (Royal) Battalion, 11th Sikh Regiment
4th Battalion, 11th Sikh Regiment (up to April 1942)
4th Battalion, 16th Punjab Regiment
1st Battalion, 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) (from April 1942)
HQ 11th Indian Infantry Brigade
2nd Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
2nd Battalion, 5th Mahratta Light Infantry (up to June 1942)
1st Battalion (Wellesley's), 6th Rajputana Rifles (up to April 1942)(with 5th Indian Infantry Brigade in Italy)
4th Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment (up to January 1942)
3rd (Royal) Battalion, 12th Frontier Force Regiment
3rd Battalion, 14th Punjab Regiment (from January 1942)
2nd Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles (from April 1942)
Royal Indian Army Service Corps
4th Indian Division Troops Transport Company
5th, 7th and 11th Brigade Transport Companies
220th Indian DID
14th, 17th, 19th, 26th and 32nd Indian Field Ambulances
4th Indian Division Provost Unit
Indian Army Ordnance Corps
4th Indian Division Ordnance Field Park
Indian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
117th, 118th and 119th Infantry Workshop Companies
4th Indian Division Recovery Company
All these brigades were assigned or attached to the division at some time during World War II.
The Division, known as Red Eagle due to its badge of a red eagle on a black background, is now a part of the Indian Army. Immediately after the war ended it was in Greece, but returned to India later in 1945.
In 1947 the division became the nucleus of the Punjab Boundary Force under Major-General T.W. Rees. The Boundary Force was established on 17 July 1947, with it headquarters at Lahore. It became operational 1 August 1947, but was disbanded on 1 September because of its ineffectiveness in controlling the riots breaking out as a consequence of Partition. It had approximately 15 Indian and 10 Pakistani battalions, and comprised 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, 11th Indian Infantry Brigade, 14 Parachute Brigade, which became part of the Pakistan Army, 43 Lorry Brigade (ex 1 Armoured Division) and 114th Indian Infantry Brigade. Also attached were 50th Parachute Brigade and 77th Parachute Brigade (both formerly with 2nd Airborne Division), and 123rd Indian Infantry Brigade. After Rees handed over, Major-General K. S. Thimayya reportedly took over command of the Boundary Force. The Division moved to Jullunder after the Boundary Force was disbanded.
Elements fought in the Sino-Indian War of 1962. Before the war the division comprised 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, 7th Infantry Brigade, and 11th Indian Infantry Brigade. 7th Indian Infantry Brigade was effectively destroyed at the Namcakhu during that war. It was converted to a mountain division in 1963 and fought in the 1965 war.
It also fought on the Bangladesh front during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. It consisted of 7, 41, and 62 Mountain Brigades, and also included A Squadron, 45 Cavalry. Coming under the I Corps (India) and Central Command, the division is headquartered in Allahabad.