The 25th Division in 1914-1918

The history of 25th 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 in the area of Salisbury. Early days were somewhat chaotic, the new volunteers having very few trained officers and NCOs to command them, no organised billets or equipment. Inspected by Lord Kitchener on 12 August 1915, the units of the Division crossed to France 25 - 30 September and concentrated in the area of Nieppe. The 25th Division thereafter served on the Western Front throughout the war, except for a period in 1918 when it underwent a major refit and reorganisation.

1916

German attack on Vimy Ridge
During this defensive fight, the Division's first Victoria Cross was won by Lieutenant Richard Jones of the 8th Loyal North Lancs. It was a posthumous award, for this officer was killed in action on 21 May 1916.

Withdrawn for rest and training, west of St Pol. Moved to the area behind the Somme front in the third week of June 1916, in the area around Warloy. Was in Fourth Army Reserve at the opening of the offensive.

The Battle of Albert (a phase of the Battles of the Somme 1916)
7th and 75th Brigades with some supporting units received orders on 2 July to move to Aveluy Wood and Martinsart respectively, and came under orders of 32nd Division. On 3 July, 75th Brigade made a virtually unsupported and inevitably costly and unsuccessful attack in one of the awful, piecemeal, efforts to hold on to the minor gains made in the Thiepval area on 1 July. The rest of the Division relieved 32nd Division in the night of 3/4 July. More localised and equally ineffective attacks were made. On 5 July, 74th Brigade was detached for duty with 12th (Eastern) Division at La Boisselle, where it took part in an attack on Ovillers. Divisional HQ moved to Henencourt on 8 July and the following day, 25th Division took over the front held by 12th (Eastern) Division.

The Battle of Bazentin (a phase of the Battles of the Somme 1916)
As the Somme offensive moved from its early phase (designated the Battle of Albert) to the next major push (the Battle of Bazentin), the 25th Division continued to carry out operations on a small scale in the Ovillers area. Casualties were heavy, with no gains of any significance being made. Relieved by 48th (South Midland) Division during the night 16/17 July, the Division moved to Beauval.

The Battle of Pozieres (a phase of the Battles of the Somme 1916)
From 23 July to 10 August 1916, the Division held a sector of the line north of the River Ancre. Once again,just as in the Bazentin battle, the Division is recognised as having been in action during the Battle of Pozieres, without being in the area of most attention during the fighting. Relieved by units of 6th and Guards Divisions between 7 and 14 August, the Division moved to Bus les Artois for rest and training. Divisional HQ moved up to Hedauville on 18 August and the infantry moved into the trenches of the Leipzig Salient. A local attack by 7th Brigade on 21 August was carried out successfully, using for the first time a device known as a "push pipe mine" to destroy enemy defences before the infantry went in. Further attacks were made on 23, 25 and 26 August. On 3 September, a larger scale attack was made in support of the 4th Australian Division which was assaulting Mouquet Farm. The Division was relieved on 11 September by 11th (Northern) Division and moved by bus to Abbeville.

Somme

The Battle of the Ancre Heights (a phase of the Battles of the Somme 1916)
On 26 September, 74th Brigade took over a sector of line immediately south of the River Ancre. The rest of the Division followed. After a series of small scale raids and operations, a major attack was made by the Division on 9 October - in appalling ground conditions - that captured the northern face of Stuff Redoubt. German counter attacks were beaten off, before another attack went in to capture "The Mounds" just north of Stuff Redoubt. Relieved and moved to Doullens area on 22/23 October 1916. On 31 October, Divisional HQ moved to Bailleul and the forward units took over the Ploegsteert sector.

1917
The first quarter of 1917 was spent in the Ploegsteert sector: a relatively quiet time punctuated by frequent raids and minor operations.

The Battle of Messines
The Division was selected to be one that would make the assault and was placed in the front line between the Wulverghem-Messines and Wulverghem-Wytschaete roads. The New Zealand Division was on the right and the 36th (Ulster) Division on the left of 25th Division. The attack was made by 74th Brigade on the right, 7th Brigade on the left, with 75th Brigade in close support. In addition to its own field artillery, the Division enjoyed the support of the Guards Division artillery and 34th, 93rd and 2nd New Zealand Army Field Brigades RFA. Two of the huge mines exploded at the start of the attack - those at Spanbroekmolen and Ontario Farm - fell just outside the boundaries of the Divisional front. The Division lost no fewer than 24 infantry company commanders during this action. In total, the losses in this successful action were 145 officers and 2907 men killed, wounded or missing. A further attack was carried out on 14-15 June, designed to advance the line another 800 yards. The Divisional front for this action was between the Blauwepoortebeek stream and the river Douve. Again, this was a successful action and the Division reached the line through Gapaard which is shown on the map below. On the night of 22-23 June, the Division began to withdraw and moved to rest in the area of Bomy, near St-Omer. It then moved on 7 and 8 July to Ypres, where much work began preparing for the Division's part in the next great offensive.

Somme

The Battle of Pilkem (a phase of the Third Battles of Ypres)
On 8 July 1917, Divisional HQ was established at Busseboom and came under orders of II Corps for the opening of the Third Ypres offensive. When the attack began on 31 July, 25th Division was in Corps Reserve, behind 24th, 30th and 8th Divisions which were in the front line. 7th and 75th Brigades, in place at Belgian Chateau, received orders to reinforce the attacking units as early as 8.30am but were not called upon to take up the advance as expected, due to the attack being held up. 7th and 75th Brigades relieved the tired units of 8th Division in the front line of the Westhoek and Bellewaarde ridges on 1 August. On 10 August, 74th Brigade took part in the renewal of the attack. In a successful action, Westhoek was captured, although at a severe cost: 47 officers and 1244 men killed, wounded or missing. The 13th Bn, the Cheshires alone lost 19 officers and 395 men. Heavy and continuous localised fighting took place until the Division was withdrawn on 9 September 1917, whereupon it moved to the Bethune area.

At the beginning of October 1917, the artillery went into action for a few days near Lievin, in support of 11th (Northern) Division. 25th Division took over the Givenchy sector on 4 October and held it for seven weeks. The Divisional history notes the establishment of a Reinforcement Camp at Ferme du Roi. No operations of any significance took place at this time, Many Portuguese units carried out familiarisation in trench warfare while attached to the Division.

On 1 December 1917, the Division moved by train to Achiet le Grand and moved to relieve 3rd Division south of Bullecourt. It remained in this position, carrying out much work in digging a continuous front trench system, until relieved on 13 February 1918.

1918
The Division moved to the area north west of Bapaume on 13 February, becoming reserve Division to IV Corps. AS rumours of an impending enemy attack grew, 74th and 75th Brigades moved up closer to the front, at Fremicourt and Biefvillers respectively, where manual work in cable laying was undertaken.

The Battle of St Quentin (a phase of the First Battles of the Somme 1918)
In this battle, the units of the Division were ordered to reinforce other sorely pressed formations in a piecemeal fashion. From the opening phases of the attack until the Division was withdrawn six days later, it fought continuously under strange commanders and staffs, and not as a Division. 74th Brigade was ordered to support 51st (Highland) Division on the Bapaume-Cambrai road; 75th Brigade moved up to Favreuil to reinforce 6th Division. 7th Brigade moved up as support and took up position at Fremicourt.

The First Battle of Bapaume (a phase of the First Battles of the Somme 1918)
The defensive fight was continuous and confusing, as enemy units pushed forward on all sides. Carrying out a fighting withdrawal, by 26 March the Division found itself on the 1916 Somme battlefield. On that date, the Division was finally relieved and moved to Pommier and thence to Couin. Bty 28 March, the Brigades were south of Doullens and out - for the moment - of harm's way. The Division was desperately tired, having been in continuous action and covering on 27 and 28 March a considerable distance on foot (36 miles in 36 hours). It had also lost more than half its fighting strength: 318 officers and men dead, 1496 wounded and 1588 missing, many taken prisoner.

Somme 1918
25th Division locations on 26 March 1918 (Official History)

On 30 and 31 March, the Division entrained and moved to Caestre. (The Divisional artillery remained behind, supporting the New Zealand Division, until 7 April). Here, many reinforcements arrived, bringing the Division back up to full strength, although of course with many newly trained recruits and large numbers of 19 year-olds. The absence of experienced NCOs and troops who had worked together for a lengthy period would soon be keenly felt. In addition, many senior officer positions in the Division changed hands: the 25th Division of 9 April was a very different one to that which had been ordered forward on 21 March. The Division was once again holding the front line near Ploegsteert when the enemy struck again.

The Battle of Estaires (a phase of the Battles of the Lys)
74th Brigade was in Divisional Reserve when the enemy attacked the British positions to the south (between Armentieres and Givenchy) on 9 April 1918. It was ordered to join the defence south of Steenwerck and held on only with difficulty.

The Battle of Messines, 1918 (a phase of the Battles of the Lys)
The enemy attack broke through the British Ploegsteert and advanced along the Ypres road, endangering the garrison holding Ploegsteert Wood. Ordered to counter attack, 75th Brigade, the Royal Engineers, Machine Gun Battalion and other elements of the Division became involved in heavy fighting. With the enemy infiltrating on either side on 10 May, losses at the Catacombs of Hill 63 were serious although there were many remarkable acts as some units managed to extricate themselves and withdraw. Further retirements were forced upon the Division - which also had 100th Brigade of 33rd Division under orders - on 12 April; the forward position on this day ran through Kortepyp. The army's line of defence that ran in front of Dranoutre and Kemmel, was held by a hastily organised composite force of units and men of the Division.

The Battle of Bailleul (a phase of the Battles of the Lys)
By the morning of 13 April, 74th Brigade was established on the high ground east of Bailleul. Coming under bombardment from 9.30am onwards and attacked by infantry two hours later, the Brigade fought a staunch defence - as did 7th and 75th Brigades nearby. Fighting continued throughout the 14th, and next day the high ground and the town of Bailleul itself fell to the Germans. The Division was by now thoroughly shattered: broken up, exhausted by continuous fighting for five days, and fragmented by heavy losses. A sad composite formation of what was left of 7th and 75th Brigades withdrew through Boeschepe on 16 April but were ordered up to the area south of Mont Noir in support of 34th Division.

The First Battle of Kemmel (a phase of the Battles of the Lys)
By 17/18 April it had been withdrawn to Abeele. 74th Brigade came out to Proven on 20/21 April.

The Second Battle of Kemmel (a phase of the Battles of the Lys)
There would be little rest. After four days out of the line, during which French troops had joined the line and lost on 25 April 1918 the key position of Kemmel Hill, 25th Division was ordered to reinforce and counter attack under orders of the French 2nd Cavalry Corps. The attack went in at 3am on 26 April after a heavy overnight fall of rain. Two brigades of the artillery of 38th (Welsh) Division supported the 25th Division in this enterprise. Assisted by fog but held up by the flooded Kemmelbeek, the objectives were captured although the line of the railway could not be held and the troops consolidated. Casualties were light at first but heavier in the withdrawal from the railway position. The Divisions to the left and right fared less well, leaving 25th Division holding a narrow sector including the Le Clytte (De Klijte) - Kemmel road.

Intelligence reports began to indicate that an attack might be expected against the British positions as far north as Ypres. German shellfire opened in the early morning of 29 April but British artillery and infantry firepower from 75th Brigade broke up several enemy attempts. The line afterward became comparatively quiet, and the Division was withdrawn by 4 May to about 10 miles west of Poperinge. From the start of the Battle of the Lys on 9 April, the Division had suffered another 7702 casualties, of whom 270 were known to be dead. This was two thirds of the Division's fighting strength. Of the total, 3407 were missing. The 10th and 11th Cheshires, 4th South Staffordshires, 1st Wiltshires and 9th Loyal North Lancashires suffered particularly heavy casualties.

Memorial

The Battle of the Aisne 1918
The Division entrained at Rexpoede on 9 May and undertook a long journey to Fismes, 20 miles SE of Soissons in the Champagne. It was the last of four British Divisions making up IX Corps to arrive in the area, under a plan to relieve fresh French Divisions for the north. The front line on the Chemin des Dames and south of the Aisne had been very quiet since spring 1917 and it was expected that the tired Divisions could recuperate there.

On 26 May, intelligence confirmed a heavy German attack could be expected. 25th Division was in reserve and ordered up into a closer support position.

Book

At 1am on 27 May 1918, a heavy German bombardment with gas and high explosive hit the entire area between the front line beyond the Chemin and Fismes itself. The infantry began to attack three hours later. The Division was instructed to hold the second line of defence, except for the poor 8th Border which was sent off to hold the Aisne bridges at Pontavert and Concevreux. By 10am, all three Brigades had come under orders of the 21st, 8th and 50th Divisions respectively, which by now were fighting for their lives north of the river. By mid-day the Germans had broken through and crossed the Aisne: the units of 25th Division were thrown piecemeal into action. They were all but destroyed. The 11th Lancashire Fusiliers, holding high ground north of the Vesle, held out to the last man. The remnants of many units were temporarily joined into composite units, fighting a withdrawal as the enemy pressed on many miles across the River Marne. Casualties between 26 May and 14 June amounted to 4338 officers and men, of whom 2511 were missing.

By 9 June, a decision had been taken to break up what was left of the Division to reinforce other formations. On 24 June, Divisional HQ with the artillery, Field Ambulances and Machine Gun Battalion entrained for Hesdin. HQ returned to England on 30 June 1918 to begin the process of rebuilding. The infantry was assigned to other Divisions. The reformed Division moved back to France in September 1918, moving at first to St Riquier near Abbeville. Late in the month, it entrained for Fourth Army, coming under XIII Corps which was by now engaged in the more or less continuous and eventually victorious advance across Picardy.

The Battle of Beaurevoir (a phase of the Battles of the Hindenburg Line)
Marching up from between Amiens and Albert to Templeux-le-Guerard, the Brigades took up position on 3 October at Ronssoy, Moislains and Nurlu, preparatory to an attack on the enemy's defensive line at Beaurevoir.
> General map of the area > Fighting for the well defended position went on until 7 October, by which time a 3000 yard advance had been made despite heavy casualties. 508 German prisoners were taken.

The Battle of Cambrai 1918 (a phase of the Battles of the Hindenburg Line)
8 October proved to be a highly successful day for the Division, which made a fine advance in the area of Ponchaux with few casualties.

The Pursuit to and Battle of the Selle (phases of the Final Advance in Picardy)
The following days followed a similar pattern as the Division pressed through Honnechy and St Benin, although losses mounted. The Division was relieved during the night 11/12 October by 50th Division. The Division rested in the area Serain - Premont - Ellincourt until 16 October.

The Battle of the Sambre (phases of the Final Advance in Picardy)
In this action, the Division fought the passage of the Sambre-Oise Canal at Landrecies. The crossing of the canal was a considerable feat: it was 55 feet wide and over 6 feet deep. Fortunately, wooden foot bridges left by the Germans were captured quickly, thanks to a brilliant rapid advance in which the suppression of stubborn machine gun posts was a feature. Many prisoners and stores were taken in Landrecies itself. The advance pressed on next day across the Petit Helpe river. In all, the Division moved forward 12 miles in difficult country, including the Bois l'Eveque, halfway between Le Cateau and the Foret de Mormal. The Division was relieved by 66th Division in the night of 7/8 November.

1919
Casualties in the operations since returning to France were 5289 in all. After the signing of he Armistice on 11 November 1918, the Division moved to billets in the area of Le Cateau and began salvage work near Cambrai two weeks later. Some 3000 men who had enlisted after 1 January 1916 were transferred to units going forward as part of the Army of Occupation of the Rhine. By 1 March 1919, all men who had enlisted before 1916 had been sent home for demobilisation.

The Division was demobilised by 28 March 1919, having suffered 48,300 casualties during the war.

The order of battle of the 25th Division

74th Brigade from formation to mid 1918
11th Bn , the Lancashire Fusiliers disbanded August 1918
13th Bn, the Cheshire Regiment disbanded August 1918
8th Bn, the East Lancashire Regiment left November 1914
8th Bn, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment left October 1915
9th Bn, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment left June 1918
2nd Bn, the Royal Irish Rifles joined October 1915, left November 1917
74th Machine Gun Company joined on 17 March 1916
moved into 25 MG Bn 1 March 1918
74th Trench Mortar Battery formed by 17 June 1916
3rd Bn, the Worcestershire Regiment joined November 1917, left June 1918
   
74th Brigade during and after reconstitution in mid 1918
2/7th Bn, the Lancashire Fusiliers joined June 1918, disbanded July 1918
21st Bn, the Middlesex Regiment joined June 1918
9th Bn, the Yorkshire Regiment joined September 1918
11th Bn, the Sherwood Foresters joined September 1918
13th Bn, the Durham Light Infantry joined September 1918
74th Trench Mortar Battery see above
   
75th Brigade from formation to mid 1918
10th Bn, the Cheshire Regiment left October 1915
11th Bn, the Cheshire Regiment left as a cadre June 1918
8th Bn, the Border Regiment left June 1918
8th Bn, the South Lancashire Regiment disbanded February 1918
2nd Bn, the South Lancashire Regiment joined October 1915, left June 1918
75th Machine Gun Company joined on 15 March 1916
moved into 25 MG Bn 1 March 1918
75th Trench Mortar Battery formed by 16 June 1916
   
75th Brigade during and after reconstitution in mid 1918
On 9 September 1918, the Brigade was renumbered as 236th Brigade and was placed under orders for service in North Russia. It left the 25th Division at this point and sailed from Dundee on 17 October 1918.
1/6th Bn, the Cheshire Regiment joined May 1918, left July 1918
17th Bn, the King's (Liverpool Regiment ) joined June 1918
11th Bn, the Royal Sussex Regiment joined June 1918
6th Bn, the Yorkshire Regiment joined June 1918
13th Bn, the Yorkshire Regiment joined June 1918
A new 75th Brigade was formed on 17 September 1918
1/8th Bn, the Royal Warwicks joined September 1918
1/8th Bn, the Worcesters joined September 1918
75th Trench Mortar Battery see above
   
76th Brigade  
left to join 3rd Division on 15 October 1915  
8th Bn , the King's Own  
10th Bn, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers  
6th Bn, the South Wales Borderers left February 1915
10th Bn, the Welsh Regiment joined and left in September 1914
7th Bn, the ing's Shropshire Light Infantry  
13th Bn, the King's (Liverpool Regiment) joined February 1915
   
7th Brigade  
joined from 3rd Division in exchange for 76th Brigade on 18 October 1915
10th Bn, the Cheshire Regiment left as a cadre July 1918
3rd Bn, the Worcestershire Regiment left November 1917
2nd Bn, the South Lancashire Regiment left to join 75th Brigade a week after Brigade joined Division
8th Bn, the Loyal North Lancahire Regiment disbanded February 1918
1st Bn, the Wiltshire Regiment left June 1918
2nd Bn, the Royal Irish Rifles left to join 74th Brigade a week after Brigade joined Division
7th Machine Gun Company joined on 12 January 1916
moved into 25 MG Bn 1 March 1918
7th Trench Mortar Battery formed by 17 July 1916
4th Bn, the South Staffordshire Regiment joined October 1917, left June 1918
   
7th Brigade during and after reconstitution in mid 1918
13th Bn, the East Surrey Regiment joined as cadre in, June 1918, disbanded November 1918
9th Bn, the Devonshire Regiment joined September 1918
20th Bn, the Manchester Regiment joined September 1918
21st Bn, the Manchester Regiment joined September 1918
7th Trench Mortar Battery see above
   
Divisional Troops  
13th Bn, the Manchester Regiment joined September 1914, left October 1914
13th Bn, the King's (Liverpool Regiment) joined October 1914, left February 1915
8th Bn, the East Lancashire Regiment joined November 1914, left March 1915
6th Bn, the South Wales Borderers joined as Divisional pioneer battalion February 1915, left June 1918
8th Bn, the Leicestershire Regiment joined as a cadre June 1918
11th Bn, the South Lancashire Regiment joined as a cadre June 1918, became Divisional pioneer battalion October 1918
195th Machine Gun Company joined 16 December 1916
moved into 25 MG Bn 1 March 1918
25th Machine Gun Battalion created 1 March 1918, left 23 July 1918, rejoined 19 October 1918
100 (Warwicks and South Notts Yeomanry) Machine Gun Battalion joined 2 October 1918, left 19 October 1918
   
Divisional Mounted Troops  
RHQ and B Sqn, the Lothians and Border Horse Yeomanry joined summer 1915, left May 1916
   
Divisional Artillery  
The Divisional artillery remained in France when the rest of the Division returned to England for re-fit after severe casualties in June 1918. It was attached in succession to Third Army, then IV Corps and III Corps in Fourth Army. On 31 July 1918, it covered 58th Division, and between 4 and 30 August 1918 12th Division, where it took part ion the Battles of Amiens and Albert. On 30 August it transferred to 47th Division, taking part in the Second Battle of Bapaume. The Divisional Artillery subsequently covered the 58th, 74th and 12th Divisions. CX Brigade took part in the Battle of Epehy. On 25 September, it transferred to the Australian Corps and took part in the Battle of the Saint-Quentin Canal, then rejoined the 25th Division on 4 October 1918.
CX Brigade, RFA between 26 May and 4 June 1918, attached to 8th Division
CXI Brigade, RFA broken up 27 November 1916
CXII Brigade, RFA between 26 May and 21 June 1918, attached to 21st Division
CXIII (Howitzer) Brigade, RFA left 14 February 1917
25th Heavy Battery, RGA raised with the Division but moved independently to France
25th Divisional Ammunition Column the four Brigade Ammunition Columns amalgamated into DAC in May 1916
W.25 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery RFA joined by 17 July 1916, broken up 4 March 1918
X.25, Y.25 and Z.25 Medium Mortar Batteries RFA joined by 19 April 1916; on 4 March 1918, Z broken up and batteries reorganised to have 6 x 6-inch weapons each)
   
Royal Engineers  
93rd Field Company left February 1915
94th Field Company left February 1915
106th Field Company joined January 1915
105th Field Company joined February 1915
130th Field Company joined May 1915
25th Divisional Signals Company  
   
Royal Army Medical Corps  
75th Field Ambulance  
76th Field Ambulance  
77th Field Ambulance  
42nd Sanitary Section left 18 April 1917
   
Other Divisional Troops  
25th Divisional Train ASC 198, 199, 200 and 201 Companies, joined November 1914.
37th Mobile Veterinary Section AVC  
225th Divisional Employment Company joined 21 May 1917
25th Divisional Motor Ambulance Workshop joined 14 November 1915, merged into Divisional workshops 7 April 1916

Memorial

A history of the Division was written by Lieutenant Colonel M. Kincaid-Smith while the war was still in progress. It does not cover any period before July 1916 and it must be said is not among the best of Divisional histories. This
can perhaps be excused by the fact that it was written by 5 March 1919. The book includes long lists of gallantry awards, with selected citations even down to those for awards of the Military Medal.

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