badge, formation, African, 81st (West African) Division

Catalogue number
  • INS 4165
Department
Exhibits
Materials
  • Button: metal
  • Badge: cloth
Dimensions
  • whole: Height 56 mm, Width 51 mm
Alternative names
  • full name: badge, formation, African, 81st (West African) Division
  • simple name: badge, formation, African
Category
uniforms and insignia

© IWM (INS 4165)

Purchase & License
Label

Second World War period formation badge for 81st West African Division. The divisional commander, General Woolner, chose the black spider design, which represented 'Gizzo' or 'Anase', a figure in Ashanti mythology who could overcome his enemies through guile. The badge was worn head down so it would appear to be going forward when a soldier was about to fire his weapon. The spider was often mistaken for a tarantula, but these were not indigenous to West Africa. Formation note: the division was the first ever to be formed from units of the West African Frontier Force. Divisional HQ was formed on 1 March 1943 in Nigeria, initially titled 1st West African Division but changed to 81st on 3 March. It comprised the pre-existing 3rd, 5th and 6th West African Brigades which operated as Brigade Groups. The Division went to India in August 1943. In November 1943, it lost a Brigade when the 3rd Brigade left to join Wingate's Special Force ('Chindits'), forming six columns. As a two-brigade formation under XV Indian Corps (15th Indian Corps), 14th Army, the Division operated in Burma. In December 1943 it crossed the hills into the Kaladan Valley and operated on the left flank of the main advance in the First Arakan campaign. It was the first large formation to be wholly supplied by air. After the withdrawal from the Arakan it reorganized, the Brigade Groups reverting to Brigades in September 1944. In January 1945 the Division again advanced down the Kaladan Valley and took part in the successful assault on Myohaung. It returned to India in March 1945.

Physical description

badge black spider emblem printed on a yellow rectangular patch with cloth backing (H 2.2in x W 2in). This example has a white metal button on the reverse of each of its corners.

History note

See TNA WO 203/1103 The symbol is that of a traditional hero of West African folk-lore, Gizzo or Anase. His outstanding quality is subtlety and by using his wits he repeatedly outwits those who would harm him. This was the first division ever to be formed from units of the West African Frontier Force. Divisional HQ was formed on 1 March 1943 in Nigeria, initially titled 1st West African Division but changed to 81st on 3 March. It comprised the pre-existing 3, 5 & 6 West African Brigades which operated as Brigade Groups. The Division went to India in August 1943. In November 1943, 3 Brigade left the Division in to join Wingate's Special Force (Chindits), forming six columns. The Division operated in Burma as a two-brigade formation under XV Corps (15th Indian Corps), 14th Army. In December 1943 it crossed the hills into the Kaladan Valley and operated on the left flank of the main advance in the First Arakan campaign. It was the first large formation to be wholly supplied by air. After the withdrawal from the Arakan it reorganized, the Brigade Groups reverting to Brigades in September 1944. In January 1945 the Division again advanced down the Kaladan Valley and took part in the successful assault on Myohaung. It returned to India in March 1945. (Cole 1973 p. 92; Joslen pp.124, 436-7, 439 and 440).

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