The 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division, also nicknamed the "Pithead Division" due to its divisional insignia, was an infantry division of the British Army, part of the Territorial Army, that saw active during World War II. The division served as part of the 21st Army Group during the early stages of the Battle of Normandy a few weeks after the D-Day landings, which took place on 6 June 1944. It was one of two divisions, with the other being the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division later in the year, of this army group that was disbanded due to an acute shortage of British infantry replacements.
The 59th (Staffordshire) Motor Division was created on 21 August 1939 as a 2nd Line Territorial Army duplicate of the 1st Line 55th (West Lancashire) Motor Division as, by this time, another European conflict against Germany was deemed inevitable. The 55th Division was split in two and sent the 166th Infantry Brigade and the 177th Infantry Brigades to help form the new 59th Division. Also transferred were the 61st and 116th (North Midland) Field Regiment, RA, together with the 509th and 510th Field Company, RE. On 4 September, the day after World War II began, the 166th Infantry Brigade was redesignated as the 176th Infantry Brigade. Like its parent formation, the 59th Division was originally raised as a motorised infantry division of only two motorised infantry brigades. Unlike most 2nd Line Territorial divisions, which formed an exact 'mirror' duplicate of their parent units, some, including the 59th, were instead separated on a geographical basis, with all the infantry units from Staffordshire being sent to the 59th, while the 55th retained the units from Liverpool and Lancashire.
In June 1940, the 197th Infantry Brigade from the disbanded 66th Infantry Division, along with the 110th (Manchester) Field Regiment and the 68th Anti-Tank Regiment, RA, was assigned to the 59th Division and it was reorganised as a standard infantry division. This was due to a perceived poor performance of the motorized divisions during the battle of France in May–June 1940, which led to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) being forced to retreat to Dunkirk where most of the BEF was evacuated.
Having spent many years training in Britain until mid-1944, the division's lead units landed in Normandy, France as part of the British Second Army on 26 June. Attached to I Corps for Operation Charnwood, the division was employed in the north-western outskirts of Caen, fighting heavily against elements of the 12th SS Panzer Division. Subsequently, the division was attached to XII Corps in the Odon Valley.
General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, named the 59th, along with seven other divisions, as one of his most reliable divisions, bemoaning that units such as the 7th Armoured, 3rd Infantry and 51st (Highland) Divisions were not combat worthy after their initial performance, inland, after landing. The most reliable divisions of the 21st Army Group in Normandy were the 15th, 43rd, 49th, 50th, 53rd, 59th, 11th Armoured and 6th Airborne.
In August, the division was awarded its first and only Victoria Cross of the war, belonging to Captain David A. Jamieson of D Company, 7th Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment.
The division fought in Normandy until 21 August 1944 when, due to the severe casualties suffered by other British units in the Second Army and the severe shortage of infantrymen throughout the whole British Army, it was disbanded and its men were used as badly needed infantry replacements for the rest of the British divisions in France, all of which had suffered heavy casualties during the attritional fighting in Normandy. The 59th Division was chosen merely because it was the most junior of all the British divisions fighting in the Normandy Campaign, having been formed just two weeks before the declaration of war on 3 September 1939. The divisional headquarters was placed in suspended animation and, being a 2nd Line formation, it was not reformed in the Territorial Army after the war.
The 59th Division's last major action was in the town of Thury-Harcourt, where there is now a road named after the commander at the time: the Avenue du General Lyne. In the time after this period, the 197th Brigade (containing 1/7th Royal Warwicks, 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers and 5th East Lancs) became a battlefield clearance brigade, tasked with tidying up parts of the Normandy battlefield and returning any ditched, dumped or lost but serviceable equipment.
The 59th Divisional Artillery continued as 59th Army Group Royal Artillery, commanding artillery units in the North West Europe campaign until December 1944, after which it was sent to the Far East to prepare for an amphibious assault on the coast of Malaya (Operation Zipper) that was forestalled by the Surrender of Japan. Similarly, 59th Divisional Engineers continued as 59th GHQ Troops Royal Engineers under 21st Army Group.
The 59th Infantry Division was constituted as follows during the war:
176th Infantry Brigade7th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment
6th Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment
7th Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment (left 14 October 1942)
176th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 13 July, disbanded 31 December 1940)
7th Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment (from 14 October 1942)
177th Infantry Brigade5th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment
1/6th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment (detached January 1940, rejoined June 1940)
2/6th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment
177th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 13 July, disbanded 31 December 1940)
197th Infantry Brigade (from 22 June 1940)2/5th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers
2/6th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers (left 4 October 1942)
5th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment
197th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 13 July, disbanded 31 December 1940)
1/7th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment (from 4 October 1942)
Divisional Troops6th Battalion, Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) (Motorcycle Battalion, left 23 June 1940)
7th Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers - (Machine Gun Battalion) (from 18 November 1941)
59th Battalion, Reconnaissance Corps (from 27 January 1941, became 59th Regiment 6 June 1942, became 59th Reconnaissance Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps)
61st (North Midland) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
116th (North Midland) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
110th (Manchester) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 10 July 1940)
66th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 17 November 1939, left 30 June 1940)
68th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 1 July 1940)
68th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 19 April 1943)
509th Field Company, Royal Engineers (from 11 January 1940)
510th Field Company, Royal Engineers (from 2 March 1940)
257th Field Company, Royal Engineers (from 23 June 1940)
511th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers (from 30 December 1939)
24th Bridging Platoon, Royal Engineers (from 1 October 1943)
59th (Staffordshire) Divisional Signals Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals (joined from 66th Division and renamed June 1940)
59th Division was commanded by the following officers:Major General J. Blakiston-Houston (from 15 September 1939 until 1 December 1939)
Major General T.R. Eastwood (from 1 December 1939 until 11 May 1940)
Major General F.V.B. Witts (from 11 May 1940 until 15 February 1941)
Major General J.S. Steele (from 15 February 1941 until 8 April 1942)
Major General W.P.A. Bradshaw (from 8 April 1942 until 29 March 1944)
Major General L.O. Lyne (from 29 March 1944)