The 23rd Division in 1914-1918

The history of 23rd Division

Divisional symbolThis Division was established in September 1914 as part of Army Order 388 authorising Kitchener's Third New Army, K3. The units of the Division began to assemble at Bullswater (68th Brigade) and Frensham (69th and 70th Brigades and RE) in Hampshire in September 1914. The King, Queen and Princess Mary visited the fledgling Division on 29 September. The artillery formed at Mytchett Camp from November onwards.

In early December, as the weather worsened, the Division moved into Aldershot, with CII and CIII Brigades of the artillery going to Ewshott. More moves were made to Shorncliffe in Kent at the end of February 1915 and to Bordon in Hampshire at the end of May. In April and May, some of the infantry was engaged on building defences to the south of London.

Between 21 and 26 August 1915 the Division landed in Boulogne and proceeded to the concentrate near Tilques. The 23rd Division thereafter served on the Western Front until late 1917 when it moved to Italy:

1915
On 5 September the Division was attached to III Corps and moved to the Merris-Vieux Berquin area, where trench familiarisation began under the tutelage of the 20th (Light) and 27th Divisions. The Division took responsibility for a front line sector for the first time nine days later, taking over between Ferme Grande Flamengrie to the Armentieres-Wez Macquart road. CIII and CV Brigades RFA were attached to 8th Division for operations in connection with the Battle of Loos. At this time, 23rd Division was holding the front at Bois Grenier. It remained in this area for a considerable time. 10th Northumberland Fusiliers carried out the Division's first trench raid in the night of 31 December / 1 January.

1916
The Division was relieved after a lengthy five month spell in the front line by 34th Division, between 26 January
and 8 February 1916. After a certain amount of confusing movement, Divisional HQ was established at Blaringhem
and the units concentrated around Bruay.

On 3 March 1916 orders were received to relieve the French 17th Division in the Carency sector. The front to be held was between the Boyau de l'Ersatz and the Souchez River, including the posts on the Notre Dame de Lorette hill behind. Artillery was positioned in the area Carency - Ablain St Nazaire - Bois de Bouvigny, an exposed position
in which it was subject to severe shelling. In early March many former miners were withdrawn from the ranks to establish a Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers. Mid March saw 68th Brigade taking over the Calonne front and 69th the Angres front. Many parties attached to 176 Tunnelling Company RE especially for work in the Noulette sector. Relieved by 2nd Division between 12 and 19 April and withdrew to Bruay area. Moved back into the Souchez-Angres front 10-13 May.

The German Attack on Vimy Ridge
The enemy attack on 21 May fell most heavily on 47th (London) Division, which was to the 23rd Division's right in the area of Berthonval. Shellfire fell heavily around Aix Noulette from 4.30pm. Divisional artillery was very active in support of the 47th Division until 24 May and again on 1 June when 2nd Division continued operations to recover lost ground. 23rd Division was relieved by 47th (London) Division on 11 June and moved to Bomy, with the artillery going to Chamblain Chatelain ("Charlie Chaplin") and Therouanne. Intensive training commenced.

Thereafter the Division took part in the following major engagements:

The Battle of Albert* in which the Division played a part in the capture of Contalmaison
The Battle of Bazentin Ridge*
The Battle of Pozieres*
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette*
The Battle of Morval*
The Battle of Le Transloy* in which the Division played a part in the capture of Le Sars
The battles marked * are phases of the Battles of the Somme 1916

1917
The Battle of Messines
The Battle of the Menin Road***
The Battle of Polygon Wood***
The First Battle of Passchendaele***
The Second Battle of Passchendaele***
The battles marked *** are phases of the Third Battles of Ypres

In November 1917 the Division moved to Italy where it then remained. It completed concentration between Mantua and Marcaria on 16 November and took over the front line at the Montello on 4 December.

1918
The campaign in Italy
15-16 June: the fighting on the Asiago Plateau
26 October - 4 November: the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, including the passage of the Piave 26-28 October and of the Monticano 29 October.

On 2 November the Division came out onto XIV Corps Reserve and when the Armistice took effect in Italy at 3pm on 4 November, units were halted midway between the Rivers Livenza and Meduna, east of Sacile.

The Divisional units moved to a billeting area west of Treviso on 11 November. demobilisation took place largely in January and February 1919. By March the Division had been reduced to cadre strength.

During the war the Division lost 23574 men killed, wounded and missing.

The order of battle of the 23rd Division

68th Brigade
10th (Service) Bn, the Northumberland Fusiliers  
11th (Service) Bn, the Northumberland Fusiliers  
12th (Service) Bn, the Durham Light Infantry  
12th (Service) Bn, the Durham Light Infantry left 14 September 1918
68th Machine Gun Company joined 4 March 1916
moved into Divisional MG Battalion 1 April 1918
68th Trench Mortar Battery formed by 13 June 1916
   
69th Brigade  
11th (Service) Bn, the West Yorkshire Regiment  
8th (Service) Bn, the Yorkshire Regiment  
9th (Service) Bn, the Yorkshire Regiment left 13 September 1918
10th (Service) Bn, the Duke of Wellington's  
69th Machine Gun Company joined 4 March 1916
moved into Divisional MG Battalion 1 April 1918
69th Trench Mortar Battery formed by 23 June 1916
   
70th Brigade
18 October 1915 transferred to 8th Division, returning 17 July 1916
11th (Service) Bn, the Sherwood Foresters left 13 September 1918
8th (Service) Bn, the King's Own Yorkshire LI  
8th (Service) Bn, the York & Lancaster Regiment  
9th (Service) Bn, the York & Lancaster Regiment  
1/8th Bn, the Middlesex Regiment joined October 1915, left February 1916
70th Machine Gun Company joined July 1916
moved into Divisional MG Battalion 1 April 1918
70th Trench Mortar Battery formed by 18 June 1916
   
24th Brigade
18 October 1915 transferred from 8th Division, returning 15 July 1916
1st Bn, the Worcestershire Regiment  
2nd Bn, the East Lancashire Regiment  
1st Bn, the Sherwood Foresters  
2nd Bn, the Northamptonshire Regiment  
24th Machine Gun Company formed by 17 February 1916
24th Trench Mortar Battery formed by 13 June 1916
   
Divisional Troops  
8th (Service) Bn, the Leicestershire Regiment left 8 April 1915
9th (Service) Bn, the Leicestershire Regiment left 8 April 1915
9th (Service) Bn , the South Staffordshire Regiment converted to Pioneer Battalion in April 1915
194th Machine Gun Company joined near Vlamertinghe 16 December 1916
moved into Divisional MG Battalion 1 April 1918
23rd Machine Gun Battalion created 1 April 1918
100 (Warwicks and South Notts Yeomanry) Machine Gun Battalion joined 2 October 1918, left 19 October 1918
   
Divisional Mounted Troops  
RHQ, MG Section and C Sqn, the Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry joined 27 June 1915, left 20 April 1916
23rd Divisional Cyclist Company, Army Cyclist Corps formed in January 1915, left 20 April 1916
   
Divisional Artillery  
CII Brigade, RFA  
CIII Brigade, RFA  
CIV Brigade, RFA left 18 January 1917
CV (Howitzer) Brigade, RFA broken up by 3 September 1916
23rd Heavy Battery, RGA raised in August 1914 for the Division but left and moved independently to France on 15 September 1915, joining No. 1 Group in I Corps. In November 1915 moved to XXII HA Brigade
23rd Divisional Ammunition Column  
V.23 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery RFA formed in the Division in March 1916, disbanded in late October 1917
X.23 Medium Trench Mortar Battery RFA raised as 12th TM batt in 1915, joined Division in January 1916 and redesignated as X Battery in March 1916
Y.23 Medium Trench Mortar Battery RFA raised as 21st TM batt in 1915, joined Division in January 1916 and redesignated as Y Battery on 15 March 1916

 

Z.23 Medium Trench Mortar Battery RFA

formed in the Division in March 1916 and initially armed with French 58mm mortars. Broken up in March 1918; X and Y Batteries reorganised to have 6 x 6-inch weapons each
   
Royal Engineers  
89th Field Company left for 14th Division 22 January 1915
90th Field Company left for 9th Division in January 1915
101st Field Company joined from 32nd Division 1 February 1915
102nd Field Company joined from 32nd Division 1 February 1915
128th Field Company joined by 9 April 1915
23rd Divisional Signals Company  
2 Sections of 180 Tunnelling Company RE attached briefly in October 1915
   
Royal Army Medical Corps  
69th Field Ambulance  
70th Field Ambulance  
71st Field Ambulance  
40th Sanitary Section joined 20 August 1915, left 10 April 1917 for X Corps
   
Other Divisional Troops  
23rd Divisional Train ASC 190, 191, 192 and 193 Companies, formed 16 January 1915
35th Mobile Veterinary Section AVC joined 20 June 1915
223rd Divisional Employment Company formed by 30 June 1917
23rd Divisional Motor Ambulance Workshop merged into Divisional Supply Column April 1916

There is no memorial to the 23rd Division.