colonel/ brigadier general
A division is a large military unit or formation, usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. Infantry divisions during the World Wars ranged between 10,000 and 30,000 in nominal strength.
- Early divisions
- Modern divisions
- Armoured division
- Infantry division
- Peoples Republic
- National Revolutionary Army
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
- US Army
- US Marine Corps
- South Korea
- Russian Federation
In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades; in turn, several divisions typically make up a corps. In most modern militaries, a division tends to be the smallest combined arms unit capable of independent operations; this is due to its self-sustaining role as a unit with a range of combat troops and suitable combat support forces, which can be arranged into various organic combinations.
While the focus of this article is on army divisions, in naval usage division has a completely different meaning, referring to either an administrative/functional sub-unit of a department (e.g., fire control division of the weapons department) aboard naval and coast guard ships, shore commands, and in naval aviation units (including navy, marine corps, and coast guard aviation), to a sub-unit of several ships within a flotilla or squadron, or to two or three sections of aircraft operating under a designated division leader.
In administrative/functional sub-unit usage unit size varies widely, though typically divisions number far less than 100 people and are roughly equivalent in function and organizational hierarchy/command relationship to a platoon or flight (military unit).
In the West, the first general to think of organising an army into smaller combined-arms units was Maurice de Saxe (d. 1750), Marshal General of France, in his book Mes Rêveries. He died at the age of 54, without having implemented his idea. Victor-François de Broglie put the ideas into practice. He conducted successful practical experiments of the divisional system in the Seven Years' War.
The first war in which the divisional system was used systematically was the French Revolutionary War. Lazare Carnot of the Committee of Public Safety, who was in charge of military affairs, came to the same conclusion about it as the previous royal government, and the army was organised into divisions.
It made the armies more flexible and easy to manoeuvre, and it also made the large army of the revolution manageable. Under Napoleon, the divisions were grouped together into corps, because of their increasing size. Napoleon's military success spread the divisional and corps system all over Europe; by the end of the Napoleonic Wars, all armies in Europe had adopted it.
In modern times, most military forces have standardized their divisional structures. This does not mean that divisions are equal in size or structure from country to country, but divisions have, in most cases, come to comprise units of 10,000 to 20,000 troops with enough organic support to be capable of independent operations. Usually, the direct organization of the division consists of one to four brigades or battle groups of its primary combat arm, along with a brigade or regiment of combat support (usually artillery) and a number of direct-reporting battalions for necessary specialized support tasks, such as intelligence, logistics, reconnaissance, and combat engineers. Most militaries standardize ideal organization strength for each type of division, encapsulated in a Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) which specifies exact assignments of units, personnel, and equipment for a division.
The modern division became the primary identifiable combat unit in many militaries during the second half of the 20th century, supplanting the brigade; however, the trend started to reverse since the end of the Cold War. The peak use of the division as the primary combat unit occurred during World War II, when the belligerents deployed over a thousand divisions. With technological advances since then, the combat power of each division has increased; the Invasion of Iraq in 2003 involved only a handful of divisions but significant support forces.
Divisions are often formed to organize units of a particular type together with appropriate support units to allow independent operations. In more recent times, divisions have mainly been organized as combined arms units with subordinate units representing various combat arms. In this case, the division often retains the name of a more specialized division, and may still be tasked with a primary role suited to that specialization.
For most nations, cavalry was deployed in smaller units and was not therefore organized into divisions, but for larger militaries, such as that of the British Empire, United States, First French Empire, France, German Empire, Nazi Germany, Russian Empire, Empire of Japan, Second Polish Republic and Soviet Union, a number of cavalry divisions were formed. They were most often similar to the nations' infantry divisions in structure, although they usually had fewer and lighter support elements, with cavalry brigades or regiments replacing the infantry units, and supporting units, such as artillery and supply, being horse-drawn. For the most part, large cavalry units did not remain after World War II.
While horse cavalry had been found to be obsolete, the concept of cavalry as a fast force capable of missions traditionally fulfilled by horse cavalry made a return to military thinking during the Cold War. In general, two new types of cavalry were developed: air cavalry or airmobile, relying on helicopter mobility, and armored cavalry, based on an autonomous armored formation. The former was pioneered by the 11th Air Assault Division (Test), formed on 1 February 1963 at Fort Benning, Georgia. On 29 June 1965 the division was renamed as the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), before its departure for the Vietnam War.
After the end of the Vietnam War, the 1st Cavalry Division was reorganised and re-equipped with tanks and armored scout vehicles to form armored cavalry.
The development of the tank during World War I prompted some nations to experiment with forming them into division-size units. Many did this the same way as they did cavalry divisions, by merely replacing cavalry with AFVs (including tanks) and motorizing the supporting units. This proved unwieldy in combat, as the units had many tanks but few infantry units. Instead, a more balanced approach was taken by adjusting the number of tank, infantry, artillery, and support units. A panzer division was an armoured division of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS of Germany during World War II.
Since the end of the war, most armored and infantry divisions have had significant numbers of both tank and infantry units within them. The difference has usually been in the mix of battalions assigned. Additionally, in some militaries, armored divisions would be equipped with the most advanced or powerful tanks – such as the M1A2 Abrams in the United States.
Infantry division refers to a division with a majority of infantry sub-units but also supported by subunits from other combat arms. In the Soviet Union and Russia, an infantry division is often referred to as a rifle division. A motorised infantry division refers to a division with a majority of infantry subunits transported on soft-skinned motor vehicles. A mechanized infantry division refers to a division with a majority of infantry subunits transported on armored personnel carriers (APCs) or infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) or both, or even some other class of armored fighting vehicles designed for the transportation of infantry.
Divisions are commonly designated by combining an ordinal number and a type name. Nicknames are often assigned or adopted, although these often are not considered an official part of the unit's nomenclature. In some cases, divisional titles lack an ordinal number, often in the case of unique units or units serving as elite or special troops. For clarity in histories and reports, the nation is identified before the number. This also helps in historical studies, but due to the nature of intelligence on the battlefield, division names and assignments are at times obscured. However, the size of the division rarely makes such obfuscation necessary.
Historically, the Australian Army has fielded a number of divisions. During World War I, a total of six infantry divisions were raised as part of the all-volunteer Australian Imperial Force: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th. The 1st Division and part of the 2nd saw service during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 before later taking part in the fighting on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918 along with the 3rd, 4th and 5th. The 6th Division existed only briefly in 1917, but was disbanded without seeing combat to make up for manpower shortages in the other divisions. Another infantry division, known as the New Zealand and Australian Division, was also formed from Australian and New Zealand troops and saw service at Gallipoli. Two divisions of Australian Light Horse were also formed – the Australian Mounted Division (which also included some British and French units) and the ANZAC Mounted Division – both of which served in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign during the war.
In the inter-war years, on paper the Australian Army was organised into seven divisions: five infantry (1st through to 5th) and two cavalry, albeit on a reduced manning scale. During World War II, the size of Australia's force was expanded to eventually include 12 infantry divisions: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th. Of these, four – the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th – were raised as part of the all-volunteer Second Australian Imperial Force, while the others formed part of the Militia, and were maintained through a mixture of volunteers and conscripts. In addition to the infantry divisions, three armoured divisions were formed: 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The Australian divisions were used in various campaigns, ranging from North Africa, Greece, Syria and Lebanon, to the South West Pacific.
Since the end of World War II, the number of divisions has fallen significantly as the Australian Army has concentrated its force generation at brigade level. Three divisions – the 1st, 2nd and 3rd – have existed during this time, but the 3rd Division was disbanded in 1991, and only two divisions currently remain active. The 1st Division is a skeleton organisation that acts as a deployable force headquarters, while the 2nd is a Reserve formation.
The first division-sized formation raised by the Canadian military was the First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force; raised in 1914, it was renamed the Canadian Division in early 1915 when it took to the field, and became the 1st Canadian Division when a 2nd Canadian Division took to the field later that year. A 3rd Canadian Division and 4th Canadian Division saw service in France and Flanders, and a Fifth Canadian Division was disbanded in the United Kingdom and broken up for reinforcements. The four divisions (collectively under the command of the Canadian Corps) were disbanded in 1919.
Canada had nominal divisions on paper between the wars, overseeing the Militia (part-time reserve forces), but no active duty divisions. On 1 September 1939, two divisions were raised as part of the Canadian Active Service Force; a Third Division was raised in 1940, followed by a First Canadian (Armoured) Division and Fourth Canadian Division. The First Armoured was renamed the Fifth Canadian (Armoured) Division and the Fourth Division also became an armoured formation. The 1st and 5th Divisions fought in the Mediterranean between 1943 and early 1945; the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Divisions served in Northwest Europe. A Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Division were raised for service in Canada, with one brigade of the Sixth Division going to Kiska in 1943. By 1945, the latter three divisions were disbanded as the threat to North America diminished. A Third Canadian Division (Canadian Army Occupation Force) was raised in 1945 for occupation duty in Germany, organized parallel to the combatant Third Division, and a Sixth Canadian Division (Canadian Army Pacific Force) was undergoing formation and training for the invasion of Japan when the latter country surrendered in September 1945. All five combatant divisions, as well as the CAOF and CAPF, were disbanded by the end of 1946.
A First Canadian Division Headquarters (later renamed simply First Division) was authorized once again in April 1946, but remained dormant until formally disbanded in July 1954. Simultaneously, however, another "Headquarters, First Canadian Infantry Division" was authorized as part of the Canadian Army Active Force (the Regular forces of the Canadian military), in October 1953. This, the first peace-time division in Canadian history, consisted of a brigade in Germany, one in Edmonton and one at Valcartier. This division was disbanded in April 1958.
The First Canadian Division was reactivated in 1988 and served until the 1990s when the headquarters of the division was transformed into the Canadian Forces Joint Headquarters and placed under the control of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command. The CFJHQ was transformed back into Headquarters, 1st Canadian Division, on 23 June 2010, the unit once more falling under the control of the Canadian Army. The unit is based at Kingston. Canada currently has five divisions under its command.
The 1st Canadian Division has approximately 2000 troops under its command, while the 2nd Canadian Division, 3rd Canadian Division, 4th Canadian Division, and 5th Canadian Division have approximately 10,000 troops each.
The People's Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) is the world's largest ground force, currently totaling some 1.6 million personnel, or about 70% of the PLA's total manpower (2.3 million in 2005). The ground forces are divided into five Theater Commands. The regular forces of the ground forces consist of 18 group armies: corps-size combined arms units each with 24,000–50,000 personnel. The group armies contain among them:
There are also three airborne divisions manned by the PLA Air Force (PLAAF). The PLA Navy (PLAN) has two multi-arm marine brigades.
National Revolutionary Army
The NRA Division (Chinese: 整編師,編制師) was a military unit of the Chinese Republic. The original pattern of the infantry Division organization of the early Republic, was a square division. It was formed with two infantry brigades of two infantry regiments of three infantry battalions, an artillery regiment of fifty four guns and eighteen machineguns, a cavalry regiment of twelve squadrons, an engineer battalion of four companies, a transport battalion of four companies, and other minor support units.
In the mid-1930s, the Nationalist government with the help of German advisors attempted to modernize their army and intended to form sixty Reorganized Divisions and a number of reserve divisions. Under the strains and losses of the early campaigns of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese decided in mid-1938 to standardize their Divisions as triangular divisions as part of their effort to simplify the command structure and placed them under Corps, which became the basic tactical units. The remaining scarce artillery and the other support formations were withdrawn from the Division and were held at Corps or Army level or even higher. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese Republic mobilized at least 310 Infantry Divisions, 23 Cavalry Divisions, and one Mechanized Division, (the 200th Division).
In the Colombian Army, a division is formed by two or more brigades and is usually commanded by a major general. Today, the Colombian Army has eight active divisions:
In 2016, the French Army has two active divisions:
Each division consists of several brigades and 25,000 personnel.
There are also 11 "division level" (niveau divisionnaire) specialized commands such as Special Forces, Logistic, Intelligence...
Today the German Army has three active divisions:
With 1.13 million soldiers in active service, the Indian Army is the world's second largest. An Indian Army division is intermediate between a corps and a brigade. Each division is headed by a General Officer Commanding (GOC) in the rank of Major general. It usually consists of 15,000 combat troops and 8,000 support elements. Currently, the Indian Army has 37 divisions: four RAPIDs (Reorganised Army Plains Infantry Divisions), 18 infantry, 10 mountain, three armoured and two artillery. Each division consists of several brigades.
The Israeli Defense Forces operates 10 divisions of various sizes, that are separated into three categories: regular, territorial and reserve.
Divisions in reserve:
An Army division in the Pakistan Army is an intermediate between a corps and a brigade. It is the largest striking force in the army. Each division is headed by General Officer Commanding (GOC) in the rank of major general. It usually consists of 15,000 combat troops and 8,000 support elements. Currently, the Pakistani Army has 29 divisions: 20 infantry, two armoured, two mechanized, two air defence, two strategic and one artillery. Each division consists of several brigades.
South Africa has fielded several infantry and armoured divisions in its military history:
In the British Army, a division is commanded by a major-general with a WO1 as the Brigade Sergeant Major (BSM) and may consist of three infantry, mechanised and/or armoured brigades and supporting units.
Currently, the British Army has two active divisions:
The British Army previously had four other infantry divisions. These are now disbanded and were placed under one single two-star command, Support Command.
A divisional unit in the United States Army typically consists of 17,000 to 21,000 soldiers commanded by a major general. Two divisions usually form a corps and each division consists of three maneuver brigades, an aviation brigade, an engineer brigade, and division artillery (latter two excluded from divisional structure as of 2007), along with a number of smaller specialized units. In 2014 divisional artillery (DIVARTY) organizations began to re-appear with some fires brigades reorganizing to fill this role.
The United States Army currently has ten active divisions and one deployable division headquarters (7th Infantry Division):
The Army National Guard has a further eight divisions:
There are two division within the Army Reserve that are responsible for training operations:
U.S. Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps has a further three active divisions and one reserve division. They consist of a headquarters battalion, two or three infantry regiments, an artillery regiment, and a reconnaissance battalion. Additionally, all Marine divisions (MARDIV), except 3rd MARDIV, have an assault amphibian (AA) battalion, a tank battalion, a light armored reconnaissance (LAR) battalion (two in 1st MARDIV), and a combat engineer (CE) battalion (two in 1st MARDIV). (3rd MARDIV has a combat assault battalion including one company each of AA, LAR, and CE. Tank support for 3rd MARDIV can be provided by tanks deployed with the 31st MEU or directly from one of the three divisional tank battalions under the Unit Deployment Program.)
Japan Ground Self-Defense Force divisions are combined arms units with infantry, armored, and artillery units, combat support units and logistical support units. They are regionally independent and permanent entities. The divisions strength varies from 6,000 to 9,000 personnel. It should be noted that the division commander is a Lieutenant general positions.
JGSDF currently has 9 active duty divisions (1 armored, 8 infantry):
Republic or Korea Army divisions are major tactical formations led by and general officers. There are currently 41 Army and 2 Marine Divisions. Of the 41 Army divisions, 6 are Mechanized Infantry Divisions (Combined Arms formations centered around tanks, IFVs, APCs, and SPGs) 16 are Infantry Divisions (motorized divisions with various levels of mechanization) 12 are Homeland Infantry Divisions (향토보병사단, Infantry divisions kept at a 70-80% manpower level, to be reinforced during national emergencies) and 7 Reserve Infantry Divisions (동원보병사단, Infantry Divisions kept at 10-20% manpower level, to be reinforced during national emergencies.) There are 2 marine divisions organized similarly to their American counteparts. Though similarly formed, the 1st ROK Marine Division is specialized to perform amphibious landing operations while the 2nd ROK Marine Division performs more security operations and mans a sector of the DMZ facing the North Korean border.
Republic of Korea Army divisions are typically smaller than their foreign counterparts. Mechanized Infantry Divisions are fully formed at around 9,900, Infantry Divisions are fully formed at about 11,500 men, and other types of divisions are smaller in size during normal operations according to their reserve manpower levels. There are very few articles discussing ROK Marine Corps tactical organization, but an active duty force of 29,000 is divided into 2 divisions, 2 brigades, and its supporting units.
Mechanized Infantry, Infantry, Homeland Infantry, and Marine Divisions are led by Major Generals, while Reserve Infantry Divisions are led by Brigadier Generals.
List of South Korean Armed Forces Divisions:
Please note that no major Republic of Korea Armed Forces formation contain the number 4 in their name.
In the Soviet Armed Forces, a division (Russian: diviziya) may have referred to a formation in any of the Armed Services, and included subunits appropriate to the service such as regiments and battalions, squadrons or naval vessels. Almost all divisions irrespective of the service had the 3+1+1 structure of major sub-units, which were usually regiments.
There is also a similarly sounding unit of military organization in Russian military terminology, called divizion. A divizion is used to refer to an artillery battalion, a specific part of a ship's crew (korabel'nyy divizion, 'ship battalion'), or a group of naval vessels (divizion korabley).
In Imperial Russia, infantry formations were designated as (Russian: pekhoty); in English, "infantry". But on 11 October 1918 all such formations in the new Red Army were re-designated as "rifle" (Russian: strelkovaya). This was deliberately chosen as a means of breaking with the Imperial past, while also giving these troops a sense of being an elite; in the Imperial Army the riflemen had been the best of the foot soldiers outside the Guards. The new designation also hearkened back to the Streltsy of the 16th to early 18th Centuries, which were also elite troops.
Before the Second World War, besides the Mechanised Corps, there were independent tank battalions within rifle divisions. These were meant to reinforce rifle units for the purpose of breaching enemy defences. They had to act in cooperation with the infantry without breaking away from it and were called tanks for immediate infantry support (tanki neposredstvennoy podderzhki pekhoty).
After 1945, some Red Army rifle divisions were converted to Mechanised Divisions. From 1957, all rifle and mechanised divisions became Motorised Rifle Divisions (MRDs). These divisions usually had approximately 12,000 soldiers organized into three motor rifle regiments, a tank regiment, an artillery regiment, an air defense regiment, surface-to-surface missile and antitank battalions, and supporting chemical, engineer, signal, reconnaissance, and rear services companies. A typical tank division had some 10,000 soldiers organized into three tank regiments and one motorized rifle regiment, all other sub-units being same as the MRD.
A typical Soviet Frontal Aviation Division consisted of three air regiments, a transport squadron, and associated maintenance units. The number of aircraft within a regiment varied. Fighter and fighter-bomber regiments were usually equipped with about 40 aircraft (36 of the primary unit type and a few utility and spares), while bomber regiments typically consisted of 32 aircraft. Divisions were typically commanded by Colonels or Major Generals, or Colonels or Major Generals of Aviation in the Air Force. Soviet Naval Aviation and the Strategic Missile Forces divisions had either Colonels or Major Generals as commanding officers while the Ship Divisions were led by Captains 1st Rank or Captains 2nd Rank.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russian tank and motorized-rifle divisions were reduced to near-cadre state, many being designated Bases for Storage of Weapons and Equipment (Russian acronym BKhVT). These bases, or "cadre" divisions, were equipped with all the heavy armaments of a full-strength motor-rifle or tank division, while having only skeleton personnel strength, as low as 500 personnel. The officers and men of a cadre division focus primarily on maintaining the equipment in working condition. During wartime mobilization, such a division would be beefed up to full manpower strength; however, in peacetime, a cadre division is unfit for any combat.
After the 2008 Russian military reforms, most active divisions were disbanded or converted into brigades. Exceptions are the:
In addition to the Army divisions, Ministry of Internal Affairs has one, rapid deployment capable Internal Troops division: