21st Division 1914-18...a divisional history

The New Army

 

                                                                     


Probably the most well known picture or symbol of the Great War. This has been used over the years on numerous occasions to depict many things, but originally it was this and others like it that were used to call to arms the citizens of Britian and the Empire as Lord Kitchener saw what many did not, that the war would last for years rather than months.

It is then thoughtful to consider what would have happened if Asquith the then Prime Minister had not realised early on that he could not be the PM and Secretary of State for War (1), and called Kitchener back from the docks where he was waiting to return to Egypt. The new army was his dream and it is debatable if the territorial structure and its rules of enlistment and service would have coped with the required expantion.

Charles Messenger's book  'Call to Arms'  describes well the organisation and growth of the army as it struggled to cope with getting the men to the front. There are other books that describe the growth of the new army in its battles, but ultimately the Battle of the Somme showed eventually that the new divisions could and would perform as well as any other regular or territorial units. The 21st of which obviously this website is dedicated to and the 18th (possibly the best) of the new army divisions would show they could be the best of the best.

Loos would be the baptism of the new army divisions and some would perform well, 21st and 24th would be hard done by being neither equiped or well used as the reserve and would have to work hard to regain their reputations. The Somme would then be the next test of the new army, here some of the best performances were by the new army divisions. It was also a battle not just of the 1st of July but continuing on into November that would bleed many of the new army units dry.

 

to be continued.

1...Asquith had taken over the position of Secretary of State for War after the debacle of the Curragh Incident, march 1914, when J.E.B. Seely had resigned. Sometimes refered to as the Curragh Mutiny, the British Army had almost been ripped apart by the supposed use of the Army to enforce Home Rule on Ireland. In a badly handled situation by senior commanders and politicians, the Army came to the brink of mass resignation, averted at the last. It is horrific to think how the Army would have coped in 1914 deprived of its senior and junior officer corps!

Origins

Divisional Structure

 

1915 New Army Division Structure 

  • Divisional HQ.
  • [Infantry]
3 brigades, each comprising 4 battalions, with 4 machine guns each
  • Mounted troops
1 cavalry squadron
1 cyclist company
  • Artillery
H.Q. Divisional Artillery
3 field artillery brigades, 12 batteries - 18 pounders (~8 kg) with three ammunition columns
1 field artillery howitzer brigade, 4 batteries - 4.5 in. (114 mm) howitzers with one ammunition column
1 heavy battery, 4 x 60 pounder (27 kg) with one ammunition column
1 divisional ammunition column.
  • Engineers
H.Q. Divisional Engineers
3 field companies
  • Signals Service
1 signal company
  • Pioneers
1 pioneer battalion, with 4 machine guns
3 field ambulances
1 sanitary section
1 mobile veterinary section
1 motor ambulance workshop
1 divisional train

Composition

Number of Soldiers: 19,614
Horses & mules: 5,818
Guns:

48 x 18 pounder (8 kg)
16 x 4.5 in (114 mm) howitzer
4 x 16 pounder (7 kg)

Vickers machine guns: 52
Assorted carts & vehicles: 958
Cycles: 538
Motor vehicles:

cycles: 19
cars: 11
lorries: 4
ambulances: 21

 

 

1918 New Army Division Structure

 

Divisional HQ.

    • Infantry
    • 3 brigades, each comprising 3 battalions, with 36 machine guns each.
    • 3 light trench mortar batteries with 8 x 3 in (76 mm) Stokes
  • Artillery
    • H.Q. Divisional Artillery
    • 2 field artillery brigades, 8 batteries - 6 x 18 pounders (8 kg) and 2 4,5 Howitzers
    • 2 medium trench mortar batteries with 6 x 2 in (51 mm)
    • 1 divisional ammunition column
  • Engineers
    • H.Q. Divisional Engineers
    • 3 field companies
  • Signals Service
    • 1 signal company
  • Pioneers
    • 1 pioneer battalion, comprising 4 companies, with 16 Vickers machine guns each
    • 3 field ambulances
    • 1 sanitary section
    • 1 mobile veterinary section
    • 1 motor ambulance workshop
    • 1 divisional train

Number of troops and equipment:

  • All ranks: 16,035
  • Horses & mules: 3,838
  • Guns: 48
    • 18 pounder (8 kg): 36
    • 4.5 in (114 mm) howitzer: 12
    • trench mortars: 36
      • Stokes: 24
      • Medium: 12
      • Machine guns: 400
          • Vickers: 64
          • Lewis: 336
  • Assorted carts & vehicles: 870
  • Cycles: 341
  • Motor cycles: 44
  • Motor cars: 11
  • Motor lorries: 3
  • Motor ambulances: 21
 

New Army Divisions and Group Structure.

Kitchener's New Army was made up of the following Army Groups and Divisions:

K1 Army Group 
  • 9th (Scottish) Division
  • 10th (Irish) Division
  • 11th (Northern) Division
  • 12th (Eastern) Division
  • 13th (Western) Division
  • 14th (Light) Division
K2 Army Group 
  • 15th (Scottish) Division
  • 16th (Irish) Division
  • 17th (Northern) Division
  • 18th (Eastern) Division
  • 19th (Western) Division
  • 20th (Light) Division
K3 Army Group 
  • 21st Division
  • 22nd Division
  • 23rd Division
  • 24th Division
  • 25th Division
  • 26th Division
K4 Army Group 

Broken up into reserve regiments.

K5 Army Group 

Redesignated K4 following break up of original K4.

  • 30th Division
  • 31st Division
  • 32nd Division
  • 33rd Division
  • 34th Division
  • 35th Division
K6 Army Group 

Redesignated K5 following redesignation of original K5.

  • 36th (Ulster) Division
  • 37th Division
  • 38th (Welsh) Division
  • 39th Division
  • 40th Division
  • 41st Division