The 39th Division in 1914-1918

The history of 39th Division

The 39th Division began to form around Winchester in early August 1915. It moved to Marlborough Lines at Aldershot on 28 September but by this time only the Divisional Staff, 117th Infantry Brigade, the Pioneer Battalion and 287 Company ASC had yet joined. The remainder (except the Divisional mounted squadron, 118th Infantry Brigade, the Field Ambulances and Veterinary Section) joined at Aldershot by 18 October 1915 and soon after the entire Division moved to Witley, where it was completed.

Divisional symbolsMobilisation orders were received in February 1916 and advance parties departede late in the month. 118th Brigade was well behind in its training and was left behind; its staff went to France and took over five new battalions on 29 February. The rest of the Division crossed to Le Havre and by 11 March all units were concentrated near Blaringhem.

The Division then remained on the Western Front for the remainder of the war and took part in the following engagements:

1916
An attack near Richebourg l'Avoue (30 June) in which the Sussex battalions suffered heavy casualties
The fighting on the Ancre*
The Battle of Thiepval Ridge*
The Battle of the Ancre heights* including the capture of Schwaben Reddoubt and Stuff Trench
The Battle of the Ancre*
* the battles marked * are phases of the Battles of the Somme 1916

1917
The Battle of Pilkem Ridge**
The Battle of Langemarck**
The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge**
The Battle of Polygon Wood**
The Second Battle of Passchendaele**
** the battles marked ** are phases of the Third Battles of Ypres 1917

1918
The Battle of St Quentin***
The actions at the Somme crossings***
The Battle of Bapaume***
The Battle of Rosieres***
*** the battles marked *** are phases of the First Battles of the Somme 1918
The fighting on Wytschaete Ridge++
The First Battle of Kemmel++
The Second Battle of Kemmel++
The Battle of the Scherpenberg++
++ the battles marked ++ are phases of the Battles of the Lys

After suffering heavy losses during the Battles of the Lys a decision was taken to reduce the Division down to a cadre. This took place by 1 June. After this it was engaged in supervising courses of instruction for American troops, beginning with units of the 77th American Division.

Divisional HQ was based at Eperlecques from 11 April to 7 June 1918; it then went to Wolphus and then Varengeville (from 15 August) and finally Rouen (5 March 1919). Orders were received on 1 November to demobilise the training cadres.

The Division was reconstituted by taking over the 197th Brigade (ex 66th Division) and the brigade at the malarial camp at Martin Eglise. These units operated embarkation camps and reinforcement depots in early 1919. Demobilisation proceeded and by 10 July 1919 the Division ceased to exist.

The Great War cost 39th Division 27869 men killed, wounded or missing.

The order of battle of the 39th Division

116th Brigade  
This brigade was originally raised (numbered 121st) for the original 40th Division of the Fifth New Army.
11th Bn, the Royal Sussex Regiment (1st South Down) left as cadre June 1918
12th Bn, the Royal Sussex Regiment (2nd South Down) disbanded 8 February 1918
13th Bn, the Royal Sussex Regiment (3rd South Down) left as cadre June 1918
14th Bn, the Hampshire Regiment (1st Portsmouth) disbanded 23 February 1918
116th Machine Gun Company joined 18 May 1916, moved to 39th Bn MGC 14 March 1918
116th Trench Mortar Battery formed on 16 June 1916 from two sections that joined in April
1/1st Bn, the Hertfordshire Regiment joined from 118th Bde 8 February 1918, left 9 May 1918
Units attached as cadres for short periods after 21 May 1918: 15th and 16th Royal Scots; 18th and 23rd Northumberland Fusiliers; 1/4th and 10th Lincolnshire Regiment; 7th Suffolk Regiment; 1/4th East Yorkshire Regiment; 6th Bedfordshire Regiment; 1/4th and 1/5th Yorkshire Regiment; 4th South Staffordshire Regiment; 1/5th North Staffordshire Regiment
   
117th Brigade  
16th Bn, the Sherwood Foresters (Chatsworth Rifles) left as a cadre 16 August 1918
17th Bn, the Sherwood Foresters (Welbeck Rangers) disbanded 8 February 1918
17th Bn, the King's Royal Rifle Corps (British Empire League) left as a cadre 16 August 1918
16th Bn, the Rifle Brigade (St Pancras) left as a cadre August 1918
117th Machine Gun Company joined 18 May 1916, moved to 39th Bn MGC 14 March 1918
117th Trench Mortar Battery formed 18 June 1916 from two sections that joined on 15 April
Units attached as cadres for short periods after 21 May 1918: 2/10th King's (Liverool Regiment); 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment; 11th Cheshire Regiment; 2/5th Sherwood Foresters; 8th and 9th King's Royal Rifle Corps; 1/5th North Staffordshire Regiment; 1/5th, 1/6th and 1/8th Durham Light Infantry; 6th Connaught Rangers; 8th and 9th Rifle Brigade; 6th Royal Munster Fusiliers
   
118th Brigade  
This brigade was raised in London in July 1915 but reorganised at Aldershot on 16 October 1915. It moved to Witley and joined 39th Division in November 1915.
10th Bn, the Royal West Kent Regiment (Kent County) left 16 October 1915
11th Bn, the Royal West Kent Regiment (Lewisham) left 16 October 1915
13th Bn, the East Surrey Regiment (Wandsworth) remained in England 23 February 1916
20th Bn, the Middlesex Regiment (Shoreditch) remained in England 23 February 1916
21st Bn, the Middlesex Regiment (Islington) remained in England 23 February 1916
14th Bn, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders remained in England 23 February 1916
1/6th Bn, the Cheshire Regiment joined in France 29 February 1916, left 28 May 1918
1/4th Bn, the Black Watch joined in France 29 February 1916, amalgamated with 1/5th Bn March 1916 and became 4/5th Bn, resumed identity 6 May 1918, left 14 May 1918
1/5th Bn, the Black Watch joined in France 29 February 1916, amalgamated with 1/5th Bn March 1916 and became 4/5th Bn
1/1st Bn, the Cambridgeshire Regiment joined in France 29 February 1916, left 9 May 1918
1/1st Bn, the Hertfordshire Regiment joined in France 29 February 1916, left for 116th Bde 8 February 1918
118th Machine Gun Company joined 21 March 1916, moved to 39th Bn MGC 14 March 1918
118th Trench Mortar Battery formed 1 July 1916 from two sections that joined 7 April 1916
Units attached as cadres for short periods after 21 May 1918: 1/4th, 1/5th, 1/6th and 18th Northumberland Fusiliers; 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment; 6th Bedfordshire Regiment; 4th East Lancashire Regiment; 11th and 13th Royal Sussex Regiment; 9th Black Watch; 8/10th Gordon Highlanders; 7th Cameron Highlanders; 11th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders
   
39th Divisional Composite Brigade  
Formed on 10 April 1918 after the Division suffered heavy losses and placed under command of Brig-Gen. A. Hubback. Fought in the Battles of the Lys as an independent command attached to XXII Corps. Returned to Division and men deployed to old units by 6 May 1918
1st Bn formed from remnants of 11th Royal Sussex and 1/1st Hertfordshire
2nd Bn formed from remnants of 13th Gloucestershire and 13th Royal Sussex
3rd Bn formed from remnants of units of 117th Brigade
4th Bn formed from remnants of units 118th Brigade
5th Bn ormed from remnants of units of all three Brigades
118th Trench Mortar Battery  
No 4 (287) Company, 39th Divisional Train ASC  
   
Divisional Troops  
13th Bn, the Gloucestershire Regiment (Forest of Dean) left as a cadre by 6 May 1918
228th Machine Gun Company joined 19 July 1917, moved to 39th Bn MGC 14 March 1918, left for 40th Division 11 September 1918
39th Battalion MGC formed 14 March 1918
Units attached as cadres for short periods after 21 May 1918: 25th Northumberland Fusiliers; 13th Yorkshire Regiment; 13th East Surrey Regiment; 7th Sherwood Foresters; 21st Middlesex Regiment; 14th Highland Light Infantry; 8th Suffolk Regiment
   
Divisional Mounted Troops  
E Sqn, the South Irish Horse joined 17 March 1916, left for I Corps Cavalry Regiment 10 May 1916
39th Divisional Cyclist Company, Army Cyclist Corps joined 14 November 1915, left for XV Corps Cyclist Battalion 10 May 1916
   
Divisional Artillery  
The three field gun Brigades were all raised by the Thames Ironworks Company.
CLXXIV Brigade, RFA  
CLXXIX Brigade, RFA broken up 18 January 1917
CLXXXIV Brigade, RFA broken up 30 November 1916
CLXXXVI (Howitzer) Brigade, RFA  
39th Divisional Ammunition Column RFA  
V.39 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery, RFA formed 27 August 1916; broken up 7 February 1918
X.39, Y.39 and Z.39 Medium Mortar Batteries, RFA formed by 17 June 1916; on 7 February 1918, Z broken up and batteries reorganised to have 6 x 6-inch weapons each
   
Royal Engineers  
225th (Stockton on Tees) Field Company  
227th (Stockton on Tees) Field Company  
234th (Stockton on Tees) Company  
39th Divisional Signals Company (Empire)
   
Royal Army Medical Corps  
132th Field Ambulance  
133rd Field Ambulance  
134th Field Ambulance  
82nd Sanitary Section left 17 April 1917
   
Other Divisional Troops  
39th Divisional Train ASC 284, 285, 286 and 287 Companies, all raised in Pangbourne.
50th Mobile Veterinary Section AVC  
236th Divisional Employment Company joined 30 June 1917
39th Divisional Motor Ambulance Workshop absorbed into Divisional Supply Column 9 April 1916