2nd Infantry Division (South Africa)

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2nd South African Infantry Division
Active 23 October 1940 – 21 June 1942
Disbanded 21 Jun 1942
Country  South Africa
Allegiance Allied forces of World War 2
Branch South African Army
Type Infantry
Size Division
Battle honours Clayden's Trench (Sollum): Jan 1942, Gazala: Jun 1942, Tobruk: Jun 1942
First From 23 Oct 1940: Major General IP de Villiers
Second From 26 Jul 1941: Brigadier FH Theron (acting)
Final From 5 Sep 1941: Major General IP de Villiers and from 14 May 1942: Major General HB Klopper

The South African 2nd Infantry Division was an infantry division of the army of the Union of South Africa during World War II. The division was formed on 23 October 1940 and served in the Western Desert Campaign and was captured (save for one brigade) by German and Italian forces at Tobruk on 21 June 1942. The remaining brigade was re-allocated to the South African 1st Infantry Division.



The division was formed on 23 October 1940 with its divisional HQ at Voortrekkerhoogte, South Africa. On 21 June 1942 two complete infantry brigades of the division as well as most of the supporting units were captured at the fall of Tobruk.

Deployment to Egypt


Bardia and the Western Desert

The division capture of Bardia was part of the Libyan campaign against Rommel's Afrika Corps from November 1941 to January 1942. They defeated a numerically superior Axis force in a strongly fortified position with a combined infantry and tank force.[1]

Order of battle

21 September 1941[1]

  • 3 S. A. Inf Bde. -
    • Comd. Brig. C. E. BORAIN MC,VD
    • Tps.
      • 1 I.L.H.
      • 1 R.L.I
      • 1 KAFF R. (under comd from 1000 hrs 25 Dec. 41)
      • B & C Coys D. M. R.
      • 2 S. A. Fd Coy less one sec.
      • One Sec 10 S. A. Fd Coy.
      • One Pl 4 Bde Sig Coy. Under comd from 1000 hrs 26 Dec.
      • 5 Bde Sig Coy less one pl.
      • 3 S. A. Bde 'Q' Services Coy.
      • Three dets 14 S. A. Fd Amb. (Under comd from D.-1)
    • with in support:
      • One Regt 1 Army Tank Bde.
      • Arty as arranged by C. R. A.
    • Task.
      • To attack BARDIA through perimeter defences as described in Para 6 (a) and in Operation Instruction No. 21 (Appx 'A').
    • Comd. Lt. Col. J. BUTLER-PORTER VD 1 R.D.L.I.
    • Tps.
      • 1 R.D.L.I.
      • Sec 2 S. A. Fd Coy.
      • Pl 5 Bde Sig. Coy.
      • Det 16 Fd Amb. Under comd from 1000 hrs 26 Dec.
    • with in support:
    • Tasks.
      • To contain and demonstrate against enemy forces within the perimeter along the gen line of enemy defences from incl 51143960—incl 51554030, in accordance with Operation Instruction No. 22 (Appx 'C'). [5]
    • Comd. Lt. Col. W. KINGWELL MC D. M. R.
    • Tps.
      • D.M.R. less B. C. & D. Coys and one pl A. Coy.
      • Two Pls 7 S. A. Armd Recce Bn.
      • Det 4 S. A. Fd Coy (Under comd from 1000 hrs 26 Dec.).
    • with in support:
      • One Sqn N. Z. Div Car Regt.
    • Task.
      • To contain and demonstrate against enemy forces along the gen line of the perimeter defences from incl 51973860—excl 51143960, in accordance with Operation Instruction No. 23 (Appx 'D'). [5]
    • Comd. Maj. P. J. JACOBS, 7 S. A. Armd Recce Bn.
    • Tps.
      • 7 S. A. Armd Recce Bn, less one Coy and two pls.
      • Det 4 S. A. Fd Coy
      • Det 14 S. A. Fd Amb. (Under comd from 1000 hrs 26 Dec.)
    • Task.
      • To contain and demonstrate against enemy forces along the gen line of perimeter defences from incl MARSA ER RAMLA 52423868—excl 51973860, in accordance with Operation Instruction No. 24 (Appx. 'E'). [5]
    • Comd. Lt. Col. R. J. PALMER, 1 S. A. P.
    • Tps.
      • One Regt 1 Army Tank Bde.
      • 1 S.A.P.
      • Sec 4 S. A. Fd Coy.
      • Det 14 S. A. Fd. Amb.

"Fortress Tobruk"


Maj.Gen. H. B. Klopper, Commander 2nd SA Inf Div at the surrender of Tobruk. (South African National War Museum)

The remaining brigade

Order of battle

Initial operational deployment: 2 December 1941

On 18 September 1941 the division was re-allocated from X Corps command to falling under General HQ command and were responsible for protecting the railway and water supply lines between Alexandria and Mersa Matruh. On 11 October, the Kaffrarian Rifles were detached from the division and deployed to protect the landing fields in the Daba-Fuka-Bagush area. On taking over responsibility for the Frontier area on 2 December 1941 the divisional order of battle, as part of the 8th Army was:[2]

Order of battle: The Fall of Tobruk

Order of Battle as at 20 June 1942[4]

Note: After the capture of the rest of the division, 3rd South African Infantry Brigade and the 1st Field Regiment of the Cape Field Artillery became part of the South African 1st Infantry Division.

Theatres of operation

The theatres that the division served in were as follows:

  • South Africa: 23 October 1940 to 20 April 1941
  • At Sea: 20 April 1941 to 6 June 1941
  • Egypt: 6 June 1941 to 22 March 1942
  • Libya: 22 March 1942 to 21 June 1942

Battles, actions and engagements

The division took part in the following battles, actions and engagements:

  • Bardia: 31 December 1941 to 2 January 1942. Some 8,000 Allied prisoners of war were freed and some 6,000 Axis prisoners were taken.
  • Clayden's Trench (Sollum): 11 January 1942 to 12 January 1942
  • Gazala: 26 May 1942 to 21 June 1942
  • Tobruk: 20 June 1942 to 21 June 1942. The number of South African prisoners taken at Tobruk has been recorded as 10,772[5]


  1. ^ This brigade was attached to the 1st South African Division after the loss of the 5th Infantry Brigade at Sidi-Rezegh. [3]
  2. ^ Infantry support tanks


  1. ^ a b U.S. War Department, WWII (25 July 1942). "The British Capture of Bardia (December 1941 - January 1942): A Successful Infantry-Tank Attack". Lone Sentry. Washington, DC: Military Intelligence Service, Information Bulletin No. 21. p. MID 461. Retrieved 27 December 2014.
  2. ^ Orpen 1971, p. Appendix 2.
  3. ^ Klein 1946, p. 110.
  4. ^ Agar-Hamilton & Turner 1952, p. Appendix B.
  5. ^ Agar-Hamilton & Turner 1952.


  • Agar-Hamilton, John Augustus Ion; Turner, Leonard Charles Frederick (1952). Crisis in the Desert, May July, 1942. [With Plates.]. Cape Town.
  • Klein, Harry Lt-Col (1946). Springbok Record. Johannesburg: White House.
  • Liddell Hart, B.H. (Ed.) (1953). The Rommel Papers. London: Collins. ISBN 9780306801570.
  • Orpen, Neil D. (1971). War in the desert. III. Cape Town: Purnell.

External links

Media related to Military history of South Africa at Wikimedia Commons

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