The 51st (Highland) Division in 1914-1918

The history of 51st (Highland) Division

symbolThe Highland Division was a formation of the Territorial Force. 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.

1914

The units of the Division had just departed for annual summer camp when emergency orders recalled them to the home base. All units were mobilised for full time war service on 5 August 1914. A week later the Division was ordered to concentrate at Bedford. On 22 October it was inspected there by King George V. Several units left the Division during the period November 1914 - March 1915, being sent independently to France as reinforcements for the BEF.

1915

On 13 April the Division was warned that it would go on overseas service. It crossed the Channel between 30 April and 3 May and by 6 May had concentrated in the area of Lillers, Busnes and Robecq.

In early May 1915, the Highland Division was hurried to the defence of Ypres. The enemy had attacked on 22 April 1915, using poison gas for the first time. All available reserves were deployed to stop the Germans taking advantage of the initial surprise. The Division remained in action until moved to the area of Estaires on the River Lys, on 19 May.

The Division then remained in France and Flanders and took part in the following engagements:

The Battle of Festubert

The Highlanders were still "practically untrained and very green in all field duties" before Festubert, according to First Army commander, Sir Douglas Haig.

The Second Action of Givenchy

Shortly after thus unusscessful action the Division moved south to the area north of the River Somme. They relieved a French Division near Hamel. At this time, the Highland Division now being considered experienced, various New Army units were attached to it for instruction. Indeed, it had also begun to build a reputation as a hard, fighting formation.

1916

The attacks on High Wood*
The Battle of the Ancre* in which the Division captured Beaumont Hamel and took more than 2000 prisoners.
* the battles marked * are phases of the Battles of the Somme 1916

1917

The First Battle of the Scarpe~
The Second Battle of the Scarpe~
The capture and defence of Roeux~
~the battles marked ~ are phases of the Arras Offensive

The Battle of Pilkem Ridge**
[154th Brigade was in reserve when its two sister Brigades attacked successfully, capturing the front lines and advancing on Langemark. By 5 August, patrols had pushed further forward and across the Steenbeek, a steep sided stream that was vastly swollen by recent torrential rains. The Division was relieved on 7 August]

The Battle of Menin Road Ridge**
[After two less eventful tours in the Ypres area, the Division took part in this attack on 20 September 1917. This was a successful assault in the area of Pheasant Trench, but strong resistance at the fortified Malta, Rose and Delta Houses caused many casualties. The Division was relieved again on 25 September]
** the battles marked ** are phases of the Third Battles of the Ypres

The tank attack^
The capture of Bourlon Wood^
[The Division attacked in the area of Cantaing and Flesquieres on 20 November 1917. The first day's assault was an overwhelming success, new tactics having proved decisive. The reserve units, deployed to continue the assault next day, moved into action at 10am, halting on the Premy Chapel - Graincourt road for the arrival of the tanks, now depleted after the main assault. But the tanks were late in arriving, and the infantry attacked without their assistance, being halted by a storm of machine gun fire. After suffering heavy losses the Division made several more fruitless attacks in the direction of Fontaine-Notre-Dame]

The German counter attacks^
[The Division moved briefly out of the Cambrai battlefield for a rest, but was on its way back again when the enemy unexpected struck on 1 December, recapturing virtually all of the ground gained. It arrived in time to help stem the German attack but had missed the brunt of it.]
^ the battles marked ^ are phases of the Cambrai Operations


1918

The Battle of St Quentin***
The Battle of Bapaume***
[The Division remained in the Cambrai until 21 March 1918, when the enemy launched a huge and overwhelming attack on the fronts of Fifth and Third Armies, the Division being in the latter near Flesquieres. The defensive front around Flesquieres formed a salient and was strongly held by the British. The enemy decided not to attack it frontally, but instead drenched it with gas while attacking on either side. The pressure grew during the day, and from early evening the Division began a fighting withdrawal that took it over the next few days back several miles, through Beaumetz, towards Bapaume. In fighting a number of critical rearguard actions, Divisional losses built up to a total of over 4,900 men]
*** the battles marked *** are phases of the First Battles of the Somme 1918

The Battle of Estaires^
The Battle of Hazebrouck^
[On 1 April, the Division entrained for the Bethune area where it was hoped things would be quieter. Unfortunately, the enemy opened a second phase of his offensive on 9 April 1918, and the Highland Division moved into defensive positions behind Richebourg Saint Vaast, where it played a key part in beating off incessant attacks, again at great cost: another 2,500 men. Following the heavy casualties sustained during this action, a composite force consisting of troops from 152nd and 153rd Brigades, RE, 11th (Canadian) Railway Bn, 51st MGC and various other details was formed under Lt-Col. J. Fleming, the Divisional CRE. It held part of the First Army front near Robecq from 12 to 15 April 1918]
^ the battles marked ^ are phases of the Battles of the Lys

At the beginning of May, the Division moved to Oppy near Arras, where it stayed until 11 July in a relatively quiet spell.

The Battle of the Tardenois, a part of the Battles of the Marne
[When a third huge enemy attack opened in the area held by the thinly-stretched French Army south west of Reims, Sir Douglas Haig agreed to send a British Corps consisting of 15th (Scottish), 34th, 51st (Highland) and 62nd (2nd West Riding) Divisions. The 51st and 62nd had several days of very heavy fighting, which is now officially known as The Battle of the Tardenois. Fighting took place in the valley of the Ardre, at Marfaux and Mont de Bligny]

The Battle of the Scarpe, a phase of the Second Battles of Arras 1918
[On 26 August 1918, the Highland Division attacked near Arras and had five successive days of fighting in which it captured the strong points at Roeux, Greenland Hill and Plouvain]

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

The Division had been relieved and was resting the Cambrai-Iwuy area on 11 November 1918. The demobilisation of the Division began December and the service of the Division came to an end in March when the final cadres left for England. The 6th Black Watch, 4th Seaforth Highlanders and 4th Gordon Highlanders had the honour of selecetion to join the Army of Occupation on the Rhine and left for Germany in February 1919. The Division reformed as part of the Territorial Army in April 1920.

The order of battle of the 51st (Highland) Division

152nd (1st Highland) Brigade named Seaforth & Cameron Bde up to 12 May 1915
1/4th Bn, the Seaforth Highlanders left November 1914
1/5th Bn, the Seaforth Highlanders  
1/6th Bn, the Seaforth Highlanders  
1/4th Bn, the Cameron Highlanders left February 1915
1/6th Bn, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders joined from 153rd Bde April 1915, left June 1915
1/8th Bn, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders joined from 153rd Bde April 1915, left February 1918
1/6th Bn, the Gordon Highlanders joined June 1916 (later retitled 6/7th Bn)
152nd Machine Gun Company formed 16 January 1916, moved to 51st Bn MGC 19 Feb 1918
152nd Trench Mortar Battery formed July 1916
   
153rd (2nd Highland) Brigade named Gordon Bde up to 12 May 1915
1/4th Bn, the Gordon Highlanders left February 1915
1/5th Bn, the Gordon Highlanders left February 1918
1/6th Bn, the Gordon Highlanders left December 1914
1/7th Bn, the Gordon Highlanders left October 1918
Shetland Coys, the Gordon Highlanders absorbed late 1916
153rd Machine Gun Company formed 15 January 1916, moved to 51st Bn MGC 19 Feb 1918
153rd Trench Mortar Battery formed July 1916
1/6th Bn, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders joined 6 October 1918
   
154th (3rd Highland) Brigade originally named Argyll & Sutherland Bde, it was replaced by the North Lancashire Bde from West Lancashire Division on 18 April 1915 and retitled on 12 May 1915. The components of the former North Lancashire Bde returned to their old Division on 6 January 1916
1/6th Bn, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders left for 152nd Bde April 1915
1/7th Bn, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders left December 1914, rejoined March 1916
1/8th Bn, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders left for 152nd Bde April 1915
1/9th Bn, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders left February 1915
1/4th Bn, the King's Own joined 18 April 1915, left 6 January 1916
1/8th Bn, the King's (Liverpool Regiment) joined 18 April 1915, left 6 January 1916
2/5th Bn, the Lancashire Fusiliers joined 18 April 1915, left 6 January 1916
1/4th Bn, the Loyal North Lancashire Rgt joined 18 April 1915, left 6 January 1916
1/6th Bn, the Cameronians joined 2 June 1915, left 12 January 1916
1/4th Bn, the Black Watch joined 6 January 1916, left 29 February 1916
1/5th Bn, the Black Watch joined 6 January 1916, left 29 February 1916
1/4th Bn, the Seaforth Highlanders joined 7 January 1916
1/4th Bn, the Cameron Highlanders joined 7 January 1916, left 26 February 1916
1/4th Bn, the Gordon Highlanders joined 23 February 1916
1/9th Bn, the Royal Scots joined 1 March 1916, left 6 February 1918
154th Machine Gun Company formed 14 January 1916, moved to 51st Bn MGC 19 Feb 1918
154th Trench Mortar Battery formed July 1916
1/5th Bn, the Durham Light Infantry joined from 151st Bde 12 February 1918, reduced to cadre and left 15 July 1918
   
Divisional Troops  
1/8th Bn, the Royal Scots joined as Divisional Pioneer Bn 19 August 1915
232nd Machine Gun Company joined 20 July 1917, moved to 51st Bn MGC 19 Feb 1918
51st Battalion MGC formed 19 February 1918
   
Divisional Mounted Troops  
D Sqn, the North Irish Horse left May 1916
Highland Divisional Cyclist Company left 9 May 1916
   
Divisional Artillery  
CCLV (I Highland) Brigade, RFA  
CCLVI (II Highland) Brigade, RFA  
CCLVIII (III Highland) (Howitzer) Brigade, RFA broken up 21 August 1916
IV Highland (Mountain) Brigade, RFA left 10 March 1915
CCLX (I Lowland) Brigade, RFA joined 10 November 1915, broken up 28 January 1917
Highland (Fifeshire) Heavy Battery, RGA a Battery of four 4.7-inch guns which left the Division to join IV Brigade HA on 3 May 1915
51st Divisional Ammunition Column RFA  
V.51 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery, RFA joined 18 October 1916, left for IV Corps in February 1918
X.51, Y.51 and Z.51 Medium Mortar Batteries, RFA joined 28 April 1916, in February 1918 Z broken up and batteries reorganised to have six 6-inch weapons each
   
Royal Engineers  
400th (1st Highland) Field Company  
404th (2/2nd Highland) Field Company  
3rd (Durham) Field Company joined 19 September 1915, left 30 January 1916
404th (2nd Highland) Field Company rejoined January 1916
51st Divisional Signals Company  
   
Royal Army Medical Corps  
2nd Highland Field Ambulance  
3rd Highland Field Ambulance  
2/1st Highland Field Ambulance joined May 1915
51st Sanitary Section left for XVII Corps 17 April 1917
   
Other Divisional Troops  
51st Divisional Train ASC retitled from the Highland Divisional Transport and Supply Column, and the units also retitled as 471, 472, 473 and 474 Companies ASC
1st Highland Mobile Veterinary Section AVC  
51st Divisional Ambulance Workshop joined May 1915, absorbed into Divisional Supply Column 6 April 1916
245th Divisional Employment Company joined 6 June 1917

Memorial