The 42nd (East Lancashire) Division in 1914-1918

The divisional symbol

Divisional symbol

 

 

 


The history of 42nd (East Lancashire) Division


The East Lancashire Division was a formation of the Territorial Force (TF). It was formed as a result of the reforms of the army carried out in 1908 under the Secretary of State for War, Richard Burdon Haldane and was one of 14 Divisions of the peacetime TF. All units were mobilised for full time war service on 5 August 1914.

1914

The East Lancashire was the first TF Division to move overseas. The Division was warned on 5 September 1914 that it would be sent to Egypt and four days later it began to embark at Southampton, the first transports sailing on 10 September. Disembarkation began at Alexandria on 25 September, and with the exception of the Manchester Brigade concentrated around Cairo, where acclimatisation and further training commenced. The Manchester Brigade remained at Alexandria, sending one battalion to Khartoum and half a battalion to Cyprus, to garrison key military installations.

Initially, Britain set out only to defend the Suez Canal from the Turkish troops that were massed in Palestine, and it was for this purpose that the East Lancashire Division was moved to the theatre. Detachments from the Division began to move to the Canal Zone in October 1914.

The first clash in the Suez area occurred on 20 November 1914, when a patrol of the Bikanir Camel Corps met 200 Turk-controlled mounted Bedouin east of Kantara.

1915

By mid January 1915 the Turks were ready to advance, having assembled a force of two Divisions with another in reserve, plus assorted camel and horse units. This was not a big force, considering the scale of their ambition was to wrest Egypt from British control and score a strategic success by seizing the canal. The force took the central route across the Sinai desert, taking ten days to reach the canal zone, intending to capture Ismailia and therefore the critical drinking water supplies. British aircraft tracked their progress; on 28 January 1915 observers identified a large column of troops on the centre route. British and French ships entered the canal, and opened fire while infantry manned defensive positions. Patrols clashed on 2 February, but a sandstorm halted any further action until next day.

Various units of the East Lancashire Division were engaged in defending against the Turk attack on 3 February 1915.

Turkish attack on the Suez Canal

Once this first threat had subsided, they remained in the Canal Zone, until ordered to reinforce the beleagured garrison on Gallipoli.

Gallipoli

The East Lancashire Division began to embark at Alexandria on 1 May 1915. The first transports left next day, and the last on 6 May. 14,224 men of the Division landed at Cape Helles. The Division was involved in three notable attempts to break out of the Helles bridgehead to capture the dominating heights around the village of Krithia. These attacks took place on 6-8 May (in which only the Lancashire Fusiliers Brigade of the Division took part), 4 June and 6-13 August. The last of these is known officially as the Battle of Krithia Vineyard, which gives some impression of the relatively small areas being so violently contested. It was undertaken not only to try to capture ground but to divert Turk attention from a large British landing further up the coast at Suvla Bay; an enterprise which failed and ultimately led to the decision to evacuate the hopeless position on Gallipoli.

By mid August 1915 the East Lancashire Division, through battle casualties and sickness, was down to little more than one third of its normal establishment. It received reinforcement in the shape of men of the Yeomanry, fighting dismounted. The Division, along with all other units in the Helles bridgehead, made a successful withdrawal from Gallipoli by 8 January 1916.

1916

After a short stay on Mudros while sufficient shipping was made available and the army administration got on top of the flood of units coming to Egypt from Gallipoli, the Division returned to Alexandria.

The Battle of Romani (4-5 August 1916)

Further work was undertaken on the Suez Canal defences throughout the spring and summer of 1916. In early August 1916, the Lancashire Fusiliers and Manchester Brigades made a very long march under blazing sun, towards Romani where a short engagement took place in which the Turkish units were pushed back with heavy loss. The Brigades (of the by now retitled 42nd (East Lancashire) Division) had to wade and struggle through loose sand, and the physical effort was extreme. Many men collapsed.

Romani was an important victory, because from there the British force pushed a railway and water line across the Sinai desert that would enable an assault with the intention of clearing Palestine. The East Lancs were involved as advance guards as the building moved forward as far as El Arish. However, a decision had been taken to restructure the force in Palestine, and in consequence the Division was ordered for the first time to the Western Front. All units embarked at Alexandria by the end of February 1917.

1917

On arrival and after being re-equipped for trench warfare in very different conditions to those the men had become accustomed to, the Division entered the line at Epehy, as part of III Corps in Fourth Army. They remained in this area, soon moving to Havrincourt where they remained until 8 July. These positions faced the formidable German Hindenburg Line in front of Cambrai. Through the rest of July and August, the Division carried out rest and training, in the area of Albert (on the old Somme battlefield of 1916).

September 1917 saw a move north, to join the offensive at Ypres that had opened on 31 July. This is officially known as the Third Battle of Ypres, or more popularly, Passchendaele. Although the battle opened well it had soon become literally bogged down as Flanders endured the worst August weather for many years. September, however, was very warm and dry. During this time the British Second and Fifth Armies made a number of costly but successful "bite and hold" advances. The 42nd (East Lancashire) Division relieved 15th (Scottish) Division in XIX Corps of Fifth Army on the overcast day of 28 August.

The Lancashire Fusiliers Brigade carried out an unsuccessful attack on 6 September, against strongly held German pillboxes at Iberian, Borry and Beck House Farms. The small amount of ground they captured was in fact given up next day. The 4th East Lancashires made an attack on a strongpoint called Sans Souci on 15 September.

Later in the month, the Division moved to the Belgian coast at Nieuport. This was now a relatively quiet sector and it gave an opportunity for the Division to reorganise and assimilate many new drafts. The Division remained in this area until November, when relieved by a French Division, and moved to Givenchy, on the La Bassee Canal near Bethune.

Givenchy was a notorious spot. Although the front line here had been static since late 1914, it had been constantly fought over and was in particular a place where underground mine warfare had been undertaken by both sides. The lines were made of the lips of many craters of mines that had been blown in 1915 and 1916. The Division was mostly used in the construction of concrete defence works (which, incidentally, were used to great advantage by the 55th (West Lancashire) Division in stemming a strong enemy attack here in April 1918.

The 42nd (East Lancashire) Division then remained on the Western Front and took part in the following engagements:

1918
The Battle of Bapaume
The First Battle of Arras
The Battle of the Ancre
These battles are phases of the First Battles of the Somme 1918

The Battle of Albert
The Second Battle of Bapaume
These battles are phases of the Second Battles of the Somme 1918


The Battle of the Canal du Nord
The pursuit to the Selle
These battles are phases of the Battles of the Hindenburg Line

The Battle of the Selle, a phase of the Final Advance in Picardy

The forward units of the Division were at Hautmont and across the River Sambre when the Arnistice brought fighting to an end at 11am on 11 November 1918. Not selected to join the Army of Occupation, the Division was visited by King George V on 1 December 1918. Units moved to the Charleroi area between 14 and 19 December and demobilisation began. By midnight 15/16 March the units were down to their last cadres.

The Division reformed as part of the Territorial Army in April 1920.

The order of battle of the 42nd (East Lancashire)Division

125th (Lancashire Fusiliers) Brigade  
1/5th Bn, the Lancashire Fusiliers  
1/6th Bn, the Lancashire Fusiliers left February 1918
1/7th Bn, the Lancashire Fusiliers  
1/8th Bn, the Lancashire Fusiliers  
125th Machine Gun Company joined 4 March 1916, moved to 42nd Bn MGC 25 February 1918
125th Trench Mortar Battery joined 26 March 1917
   
126th (East Lancashire) Brigade  
1/4th Bn, the East Lancashire Regiment left February 1918
1/5th Bn, the East Lancashire Regiment  
1/9th Bn, the Manchester Regiment left February 1918
1/10th Bn, the Manchester Regiment  
123rd Machine Gun Company joined 14 March 1916, moved to 42nd Bn MGC 23 Feb 1918
123rd Trench Mortar Battery joined 26 March 1917
1/8th Bn, the Manchester Regiment joined from 127th Bde February 1918
   
127th (Manchester) Brigade  
1/5th Bn, the Manchester Regiment  
1/6th Bn, the Manchester Regiment  
1/7th Bn, the Manchester Regiment  
1/8th Bn, the Manchester Regiment left for 126th Bde February 1918
127th Machine Gun Company joined 14 March 1916, moved to 42nd Bn MGC 23 Feb 1918
127th Trench Mortar Battery joined 26 March 1917
   
Divisional Troops under direct command of Divisional HQ
268th Machine Gun Company joined 20 January 1918, moved to 42nd Bn MGC 23 Feb 1918
1/7th Bn, the Northumberland Fusiliers joined as Divisional Pioneer Bn 12 February 1918
42nd Battalion MGC formed 23 February 1918
42nd Divisional Train ASC retitled from the East Lancashire Divisional Transport and Supply Column on 17 January 1916, and the units also retitled as 447, 448, 449 and 450 Companies ASC. Remained in Egypt when the Division moved to France and was transferred to 53rd (Welsh) Division). replaced in France by 428, 429, 430 and 431 Companies ASC which joined at Pont Remy on 4 March 1917
19th Mobile Veterinary Section AVC  
239th Divisional Employment Company joined 1 June 1917
   
Divisional Mounted Troops under direct command of Divisional HQ
A Sqn, the Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry embarked with Division but remained in Egypt, did not go to Gallipoli, left 29 January 1917
   
Divisional Artillery  
CCX Brigade, RFA  
CCXI Brigade, RFA  
CCXII Brigade, RFA broken up 21 February 1917
CXCIII (Howitzer) Brigade, RFA broken up 26 December 1916
2nd Lancashire Heavy Battery, RGA a battery of four 4.7-inch guns which left the Division and moved independently to France, joining XVI HA Brigade RGA on 15 February 1916
42nd Divisional Ammunition Column RFA  
V.42 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery, RFA joined 23 March 1917; left for I Corps 3 February 1918
X.42, Y.42 and Z.42 Medium Mortar Batteries, RFA joined 23 March 1917; on 3 February 1918, Z broken up and batteries reorganised to have 6 x 6-inch weapons each
   
Royal Engineers  
427th (1st East Lancashire) Field Company  
428th (2nd East Lancashire) Field Company  
420th (2nd West Lancashire) Company joined August 1915, left June 1916
429th (3rd East Lancashire) Field Company joined July 1916
42nd (East Lancashire) Divisional Signals Company  
   
Royal Army Medical Corps  
1st East Lancashire Field Ambulance  
2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance  
3rd East Lancashire Field Ambulance  
22nd Sanitary Section joined 9 February 1916, left for XIX Corps 19 April 1917