The division was formed as a standard armoured formation in November 1942, but in March 1943, it was about to be disbanded for lack of resources.
Alan Brooke (Chief of the Imperial General Staff), however, foresaw the need for specialised armoured vehicles and offered its command to Major General Sir Percy Hobart. Hobart accepted on the understanding that the 79th would be an operational division, not just a training and development one. The number assigned - 79 - appears to be in the higher infantry division series between the regular 78th Infantry Division (United Kingdom) and the low grade 80th Infantry Division (United Kingdom).
As an all-armoured formation its infantry brigade was removed; the 27th Armoured Brigade remained as the nucleus of its new role but was moved to the 3rd British Infantry Division in early 1944. Hobart gave firm direction and the strange-looking tanks it developed and operated were known as Hobart's Funnies. They included tanks that floated, could clear mines, destroy defences, carry and lay bridges, and roadways - anything that would enable the invasion force to get ashore and break through the German defences.
One less successful development was the Canal Defence Light a giant light intended to dazzle enemy gunners, although it was used to provide artificial daylight during the attack on the Geilenkirchen salient. Initially, 79th Armoured Division also had the usual contingents of Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and other Army units attached but these were removed after its change of role. After formation in October 1942, the 79th, based at the time mostly in Yorkshire, trained as a regular armoured division for about six months before the change of role.
The Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, two Canadian units, the 1st Hussars and Fort Garry Horse and three American units were trained on DD tanks by the division though not part of the formation itself. In mid-1943 the Assault Brigade RE was formed: its units were Assault Squadrons RE. The formation did not operate as a single division: its vehicles were distributed as small units across the Divisions taking part in the landings and subsequent operations. At first, difficulties were encountered in persuading infantry commanders to use the specialised armour to best effect but these were resolved with the appointment of representatives of the GOC to each formation where elements were assigned.
The units of the 79th were distributed as short term assets to a particular operation or battle and once complete returned to the 79th, the liaison officers of the 79th having the power to recall the vehicles. The Division was further used during the battle for the Scheldt estuary (Operation Infatuate), the battle for the Roer Triangle (Operation Blackcock), the Rhine crossings (Operation Plunder) and the Elbe crossing to transport the assault troops and to re-supply. The 79th Armoured Division was disbanded on 20 August 1945. Hobart subsequently commanded the Specialized Armour Development Establishment (SADE) which was formed from elements of the 79th together with the Assault Training and Development Centre
Arrived European Theatre of Operations 12 August 1944