Top 10 Army Divisions in WW2

No matter how we look at it, every Army division that served in World War II performed to its utmost ability. In today’s post, I am going to provide my opinion of the top 10 Army Divisions in WW2, but please know that we feel a huge amount of gratefulness to all the Soldiers and officers who fought with guts, glory and honor during this war.

As I was not in World War II, this article demanded a huge amount of research. The many polls and opinions of others made this a very difficult article to put together. I am looking at many factors in the decision of the top divisions. These include:

  • Casualties suffered

  • Days of combat

  • Areas of combat

  • General opinions

Again I must reiterate, these are just my opinions. If you have a different opinion, we are happy to hear them in the comments section below.

These are my choices for the top 10 Army Divisions in World War II starting from #10 to #1.

top army divisions ww2

#10 – 4th Armored Division. Unofficial nickname: Breakthrough

The 4th Armored Division was activated in 1941 at Pine Camp, New York under Major General Henry W. Baird. The 4th entered World War II in France in July of 1944 under command of Major General John S. Wood. Working under Operation Cobra, the smaller 4th defeated much larger German armored forces.

After earning several French awards, the 4th took a short break and when the Battle of the Bulge enveloped, the 4th raced into Belgium and was the first to breakthrough at Bastogne. This all occurred under the command of Major General Hugh Gaffney. It was thanks to the 4th Armored Division that the 101st Airborne found relief. The 4th Armored Division was the first armored division that was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their service in World War II.

#9 – 9th Infantry Division. Nickname: Octofoil and also known as Old Reliables

This division was created during World War I but wasn’t deployed in that war. They were one of the first units to participate in ground combat in World War II. Under the command of Major General Manton S. Eddy, the 9th landed in North Africa and started their combat action. They moved into Sicily and captured both Randazzo and Messina.

After a short stint in England, the 9th landed on Utah Beach and they were some of the first troops to make their way into German borders. All of these troops were fighting machines. They had the second largest amount of casualties in the war at 23,277.

#8 – 11th Armored Division. Nickname: Thunderbolt

Activated in 1942 at Camp Polk, Louisiana, the 11th Armored Division was under the command of Major General Edward Brooks. Training was intense under this commander and when World War II began, Thunderbolt was ready.

In late 1944 the 11th landed in France and quickly fought its way into Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. They were fierce during this battle and were soon trampling into Germany with their guns blazing.

It was the 11th that liberated Mauthausen concentration camp.

#7 – 11th Airborne Division. Nickname: Angels

The first use of airborne troops was from German forces. United States military officials had mixed emotions about using airborne troops. The Angels were first activated in February of 1943, but because of the negative thoughts toward using airborne troops, they were held back from participating.

In mid 1944, the Angels were moved to the Pacific war zone. They first saw combat as normal infantry troops. Finally, under command of Major General Joseph Swing, troops parachuted in liberating Manilla and also raiding the Los Baños internment camp.

Many wonder if the 11th Airborne Division had not been used, would airborne troops be used today?

#6 – 81st Infantry Division. Nickname: Wildcat

The 81st was activated in June of 1942 at Camp Rucker, Alabama. Knowing that these Soldiers would possibly face serious battle, they were trained hard and true.

In June of 1944, the Wildcat landed in Hawaii. Soldier’s first thoughts were fun in the Pacific sun, but that soon turned into a nightmare on an island of dirt. They were sent to combat on Angaur Island that was held by many pockets of Japanese troops. Fighting from one side to the other, the 81st filled the island with Japanese blood, but there was a large supply of Wildcat blood too.

#5 – 101st Airborne Division. Nickname: Screaming Eagles

The Screaming Eagles were a major force in World War II, and they still are today.

A brand new division in airborne warfare, the 101st were the first troops to enter D-Day. Actually, they didn’t arrive on D-Day; they dropped in the night before. If the drop would have went more as planned, many allied troops may not have died on D-Day. It wasn’t bad planning as much as bad weather conditions.

Though many of these paratroopers were dropped into unplanned territory, their skills in war had them still killing many German troops. Over 1,500 101st troops were killed or captured in that drop, but that didn’t stop them. They fought in many battles all throughout the war, earning a great place in World War II history. The Screaming Eagles earned 2 Presidential Unit Citations for all their accomplishments during World War II.

101st airborne

#4 – 7th Infantry Division. Nickname: Bayonet

The 7th Infantry Division primarily consisted of Soldiers who were drafted during peacetime. Many of them were “ragtag” Soldiers, and were not easily trained. They were activated in 1940 under the command of Major General Joseph W. Stilwell.

Just after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the 7th Infantry’s base was Fort Ord, California. They were quickly mobilized to protect the West coast from possible attack.

There was much confusion with what should be done with the 7th. They were turned into a motorized division, and then back to an infantry division. In May of 1943, it was decided that Bayonet would go to battle. It was the snow and ice covered Aleutian island of Attu that these Soldiers first saw the war up close.

The inexperience and the terrible conditions found many of these Soldiers being shipped back in body bags. It was this experience that taught these Soldiers that they must fight, and fight hard.

The 7th went to the Kwajalein Atoll in early 1944. They put death and fear in the hearts of the Japanese, and took the island back from Japanese control. The 7th participated in many other battles all throughout the Pacific. They became a force to be reckoned with. Throughout World War II, the 7th had 3 Medals of Honor, 26 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1 Distinguished Service Medal, 982 Silver Stars, and many other awards.

Bayonet moved from “ragtag” to heroes.

#3 – 3rd Infantry Divisions. Nickname: Rock of the Marne

When you think of the word tough, one of the first pictures that would come to mind if you lived in the days of World War II would be the 3rd Infantry Division.

The 3rd Infantry received its nickname from its solid war skills in World War I. This reputation held true into World War II and beyond.

Rock of the Marne were one of the few divisions that fought on every European front. They were part of invading North Africa, Sicily and Italy. These Soldiers battled their way through France and then into Germany. It was the 7th Infantry Regiment which was part of the 3rd that captured Adolf Hitler’s retreat in Berchtesgaden.

The great actor and Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy was a member of the 3rd Infantry Division.

#2 – 1st Infantry Division. Nickname: The Big Red One

If you have ever watched the movie Saving Private Ryan, it is an enactment during D-Day of the 1st Infantry Division landing on Omaha Beach. Within the first hour of the assault, The Big Red One sustained 30% casualties.

D-Day wasn’t this division’s start of World War II. They saw action in North Africa before that day. General George Patton specifically requested that The Big Red One be the primary invasion forces in Sicily because he knew just how ferocious these Soldiers were.

The 1st Infantry Division had 3,616 KIAs and 15,208 WIAs in this war. A total of 16 members of the 1st Infantry Division were awarded the Medal of Honor.

Another fact that many people don’t know is: The Big Red One is the oldest continuing division still in operation in the United States Army.

#1 – 32nd Infantry Division. Nickname: The Red Arrow

Whenever we see and hear stories about World War II, they are primarily about the fighting in Africa and Europe. The 32nd Infantry Division saw no battle in those locations, but they fought, and they fought hard.

Why do I put the 32nd in first place? Well I have a place in my heart for the National Guard, and before this war began, the 32nd was made up of National Guard units from Michigan and Wisconsin. These Soldiers were thrown into battle with less than stellar equipment. They were being sent to jungle warfare in the South Pacific using the long and heavy M1 Garands. They didn’t have the training time that was recommended, but they were fighters.

The 32nd was sent to Australia to help protect from Japanese invasion. There next stop was New Guinea. These soldiers fought all throughout the Pacific battlefield with an array of different commanders. They included:

  • Major General Edwin Harding who was relieved of his command on Dec. 2, 1942

  • Brigadier General Albert Waldron who was wounded in action on Dec 5, 1942

  • Brigadier General Clovis Byers who was wounded in action Dec 15, 1942

  • Major General Lawrence Eichelberger who led through the fierce battle of Buna-Gona

The 32nd played leap frog with the Japanese and followed them to the Philippine Islands where the 32nd showed there power and strength. At Luzon, the 32nd was an extreme example of the American Army at its best. The 32nd captured General Tomoyuki Yamashita which cost the Japanese one of their best. The war was soon over.

Final Thoughts

You may, or may not agree with my choices here. Please share your opinion below. No matter what, all the Soldiers who gave their service and sacrifice deserve great honor and thanks; so if you see a WW2 veteran, tell them thanks.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

Suggested Resources:

  • Drop the Belly Fat Today! Decrease cravings. Lose weight and feel great. Learn how.
  • The # 1 Health Product you need, but haven't heard of before! Get the info.
  • The # 1 Side Hustle for 2024 & Beyond! Daily Pay. Take the free tour.

11 thoughts on “Top 10 Army Divisions in WW2”

  1. Steven F Underwood

    I am surprised by how few of your commentators mention the 30th Division. It was chosen the best American division in the ETO by S.L.A. Marshall. Its reputation has stood the test of time. However, I do think that the fact it started out as a National Guard division might be influencing some of the writers on this piece. It certainly held the 30th back from getting some awards it should have received. Still, there are now a series of books that place the 30th front and center of the top US divisions in WWII. ( I imagine it may have something to do with its commanding officer Leland Hobbs, less known but considered to have a sharp military mind and a strong supporter of enlisted men was Brigadier General William Harrison.

  2. Donald C. Feller

    I seem to have lived through WWII in Europe, that is between 1937 (when I was born) and May 1945 when I was awarded a certificate of service by the War Production Board for meritorious service for the collection of ‘waste paper’ and I value that as a eight year old.
    It was well earned too! Then in 1957 I was doing my duty as a PFC in the USArmy when I was assigned to the Fourth Armored Division at Fort Hood Texas. The Fourth was resurrected the previous year and we went on to be ‘Gyroscoped) to southern Germany. I served then in 1957 – 1958 as secretary to the Chief of Staff of the Division located at a former Luftwaffe base in Goepingen Germany. Even though saw no I saw no military action, I served loyally as did my father in France in WWI as an infantry man in the US Army as did my brother in Korea 1951-1954 in the Transportation service in combat. The Forth Armored Division had a proud history.

  3. My Father was machine gunner Army second infantry 24th division. They were among the first to see combat in WW2 and the last to stop fighting. He’s a bronze star recipient and the Purple Heart. The 24th lost 7000 men if there not ranked in the top ten well I don’t have to say anything else. He saw action every day.

  4. Wow. How can you leave out the 82nd Airborne Division? Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Market-Garden, Bulge, etc. Not only on the front lines of the biggest battles of the war but behind enemy lines. Fourth most days of active combat of any division, more distinguished unit citations than eight of the 10 divisions listed, captured more than 100,000 POWs, liberated a concentration camp. C’mon. Didn’t have Ambrose’s book (or the TV series) and the All-Americans are still considered the best airborne division — and a case could be made for the best division — in WWII.

  5. WWII has long been a special area of American History I love. One of my closest uncles was a squad leader in the 37th Ohio National Guard Infantry Division. I worked with him three summers of my high school years from 1954 to 1958. Plus he lived just two doors down from us, so I was at his house often. On occasion he’d open up about the things he did. Later, I learned from his wife(my aunt) of things he would not talk about. He won a Bronze Star. He was in the later stages of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Leyte, Luzon, and the Manilla bloodbath with the 11th Parachute and one other. He joined the 37th early 1940 and they shipped out for the Fiji Islands near the start of the war. He was in theater so long, at 44 months he qualified to come home earliest after the war. I’ll never forget seeing him the first time. I was 5 years old. For me it is a precious, precious memory. My mother and I were in the backyard hoeing in our garden. The sun was full up. With our heads down working, I heard a very loud whooping/laughing
    sound. Looking up, I see this large unknown man running toward my mother and myself with the biggest grin on his face I’d ever seen. His arms were lifted up and outwards with joy showing all over his whole self. It was my Uncle Gig-Clarence Myron Harris. He hugged us both over and over. I think he had just gotten off the bus and were his first family to see. I’ll never forget – ever!

  6. A couple thoughts:
    1. MacArthur believed that his best division was the 1st Cavalry Division, which fought in the Admiralties, Leyte, and Luzon.
    2. Andrew Bruce’s 77th Division, which fought in Guam, Leyte, and Okinawa, impressed almost everyone. Indeed, the Marines referred to it as the 77th MarDiv.
    3. J. Lawton Collins’ 25th Division was a fine outfit, as was the 37th Division, which some rated as the best national guard division in the Pacific.
    4. After rocky starts, both the 8th and 90th divisions were considered among the best in Europe by the war’s end.
    5. The 10th Mountain Division in Italy was an elite outfit, supposedly the best division there.
    6. I don’t think I would rate 32nd and 81st divisions among the best. Former turned into a good outfit after a poor start at Buna. Latter was good, but never really tested like some others.

  7. 45th US ID. Thunderbirds. Patton and Kesselring said they were the best. Far more tough combat than others. Home of “Willie and Joe.”. They were listed as among the very best right after the war. Racially integrated with thosands of Indians. Airborne units and armor got long respites. Not the 45th.

    1. I was waiting for somebody to say the 45th. They sure were one of the best with 511 days of combat — more than the 82nd and 101st Airborne, 1st Infantry, 2nd Armored, etc. Without a doubt, those divisions definitely played a major role and sacrificed much to the victory in Europe and the other “best” divisions. But the 45th should have been in the top 3 of that list.

  8. I am searching for such information on Google from last couple of hours but not able to find it anywhere. Finally I came to your website and find amazing info about army division in WWII

  9. I have always taken a big interest in WW2. It started with an interest in just the Holocaust and as I learned more it blossomed into the entire ordeal. Very cool post!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *