The 59th (2nd North Midland) Division in 1914-1918

The history of 59th (2nd North Midland) Division

SymbolOn 31 August 1914 the War Office issued instructions for all units of the Territorial Force to form a reserve unit. The men who had agreed to serve overseas were separated from the rest. Those left as 'home service only' were formed into 'second line' units, which would be this reserve. They were joined by many new recruits from September 1914 onward.

The 'first line' 46th (North Midland) Division went to France in March 1915.

The units of the 'second line', the 2nd North Midland Division, remained at home for some time. Along with other 'second line' Divisions suffered it greatly from lack of equipment of all sorts, and training was inevitably affected

In early January 1915 the units moved and concentrated in the Luton area. Drafts began to leave for the 'first line' units in June, and their places taken by new recruits.In July 1915 the Division moved to St Albans and soon afterward the number 59 was issued and the full title became 59th (2nd North Midland Division).

1916

In April 1916 the Division was hurriedly ordered to Ireland to assist in quelling troubles that broke out in Dublin and elsewhere. Severe fighting took place in the battle against the Irish nationalist forces. The Division's first battle casualties were incurred. Once things had settled down the units moved from Dublin to the Curragh.

The passing of the Military Service Act in early 1916 deemed all men to have agreed to serve overseas and thus the Division was available to be sent, once it was trained.

1917

The Division returned to England in January 1917 and was based at Fovant by the end of the month. (The 65th (2nd Lowland) Division replaced it in Ireland). Orders were received to the effect that it would soon depart for France. Advanced parties left on 2 February: they missed an inspection by King George V that took place on 13 February. The units crossed the Channel from 17 February and completed concentration at Mericourt on 3 March 1917. Reports said that the Division could not be considered properly trained (largely as it had been split up in Ireland) but it did not have any opportunity to add to its training before it was thrown into the front line south of the Somme, near Estrees. The Division then remained in France and Flanders and took part in the following engagements:

The pursuit of the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line (17-5 April)
When the enemy began his strategic withdrawal east from the Somme area, 59th Division was among the formations that followed up in cautious pursuit. The lack of training began to be felt in this difficult tactical situation. Units of the Division captured Jeancourt but met a bloody repluse at Le Verguier. Divisional HQ was established at Bouvincourt in April 1917. Further attacks took place at Villeret and Hargicourt quarries.

May 1917: Division relieved by the cavalry and moved for rest but after a matter of days moved back into the Cambrai front line at Havrincourt and Flesquieres, Divisional HQ being set up at to Equancourt.

June 1917: relieved and moved for rest at Barastre. A lengthy spell here, being "fattened up" for the Flanders offensive. Received orders to move in late August and thence by train from Acheux to Winnezeele, arriving 1st September.

The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge (23-25 September)*
On 20 September 1917, the Division's role was to relieve the 55th (West Lancashire) Division after it had made an attack in the area of Gravenstafel. The Lancashires succeeded in capturing all objectives and the 59th duly moved to relieve them. Assembling around Goldfish Chateau, just outside Ypres, the Division moved up into the salient on the night of 23/24 September and completed the move into battle positions during 25 and 26th. Divisional HQ was set up in a pillbox on the eastern bank of the Ypres Canal.

The Battle of Polygon Wood (26-30 September)*
The Division attacked as part of the British force that made an assault early on 26 September. Using 177th and 178th Brigades in front, the Division captured all of its objectives and then held on against German counter attack. Divisional HQ, finding its canal position to be very near some heavy artillery, moved back a way to Mersey Camp Wood but were there bombed by enemy aircraft at night. The Division had suffered 2000 casualties while in the salient and was relieved on 29 September by the New Zealand Division.

* the battles marked * are phases of the Third Battles of the Ypres

October 1917: relieved 1st Canadian Division in front line in the Lens sector, with Divisional HQ being at Chateau-de-la-Haie. Warned that it would be used to exploit the success expected in the forthcoming attack at Cambrai, the Division was relieved by the Canadians and began to move to Bapaume on 17 November. Divisional HQ set up at Basseux three days later.

The capture of Bourlon Wood (28 November)**
The German counter attacks(30 November - 3 December)**
** the battles marked ** are phases of the Cambrai Operations
After moving on 23 November to Etricourt, preparatory to taking over the line at Gouzeaucourt, orders were relived for the Division to switch to the northern flank of this operation, to relieve the Guards Division at Bourlon Wood. This took place on 29 November, with Divisional HQ going into huts at Trescault. On 1 December, many casualties were sustained from German shellfire which preceded an enemy infantry counter attack. This was beaten off by the Division. During the day, 470 Field Company RE, which was marching to the area of Gouzeaucourt, found itself caught up in the German advance in that area. Fighting as infantry, it assisted in the defence of the area until the Guards Division counter attacked and retook Gouzeaucourt. 59th Division was ordered to withdraw from Bourlon, which it did successfully, taking up a position at Flesquieres. On 16 December, Divisional HQ moved to Ytres.

23 December: moved out for rest at Le Cauroy, where Chistmas and all of January 1918 was spent.

1918

After a long period of rest and training, the Division took over the front line at Bullecourt on 11 February 1918, with HQ being established at Behagnies. Much work was done of strengtheneing the line for defence against expected enemy attack.  

The Battle of St Quentin (21-23 March)^ (only 177th Bde and the artillery were in action on 22-23 March)
After suffering heavy casualties from German shellfire on 21 March, the enemy infantry succeeded in breaking through the Division's position where it met that of 6th Division in the valley of the River Hirondelle. Parties held on and continued to resist but were gradually destroyed and "mopped up". Fewer than 100 men of the 176th and 178th Brigades which had been holding the front line before the attack were assembled at roll call. Two battalion commanding officers were killed in action. At 7pm, the Division was officially relieved but 177th Brigade and various parties of ancillary units remained to take part in the continued defence.


The Battle of Bapaume (24-25 March)^
The next ten days were chaotic, as parties and individuals reassembled and the location of HQ meandered west, going via Bucquoy, Bouzincourt, Contay and Fienvillers to Villers-Chatel. On 1 April, the remnants of the Division moved by train to the Poperinge area in Flanders, leaving its artillery behind. New drafts of men arrived and on 5 April the Division took over the front line at Passchendaele, without having had any real opportunity to assimilate these drafts let alone train them.

^ the battles marked ^ are phases of the First Battles of the Somme 1918

The Battle of Bailleul (14-15 April)#
On 13 April, the Division was ordered to reinforce the Lys area that was under terrific enemy attack. 177th Brigade was split off to reinforce 19th (Western) Division north of Neuve Eglise (Nieuwkerke), while the rest moved to Westouter. A 6000 yard long line (that is, very thinly held) was taken over near Loker and here in the middle of 14 April, the units came under violent attack.The enemy broke through on the left and the British line crumbled. Bailleul fell and 176th and 178th Brigades fell back in disarray on Mont Noir (Zwarteberg). Losses had been heavy.

The First Battle of Kemmel Ridge (17-18 April)#
On 26 April, Division was relieved. HQ moved to Vogelje Convent north of Poperinge and the troops were engaged in digging new defence lines.

# the battles marked # are phases of the Battles of the Lys

In early May 1918 after considerable losses had been incurred in the Battles of the Somme and Lys, the infantry and pioneer battalions, brigade trench mortar batteries and machine-gun battalion were reduced to training cadre establishment. All surplus men were sent to the Base or drafted to other units. The Division was reconstituted and made up to strength with Garrison Guard battalions. The Division was placed on rear defence construction during June 1918. The 59th was then again reconstituted and underwent training to enable it to hold a sector of front line again. The Division took over a sector on 25 July 1918 and came under the command of Third Army

The Battle of Albert (21-22 August)+
The Division took part in an attack near Ablainzeville as the Allies began a series of powerful blows that eventually defeated the German Army, on 21 August 1918. This was a puny affair in comparison with the Somme fighting in 1916, for the 59th Division captured a number of enemy positions with very little loss and the enemy did not counter-attack. Two days later, it held the British front line as three Divisions from the same Corps launched the next blow, across the valley of the River Scarpe near Arras. As the Armies advanced, the 59th was - because it was seen as a second-grade formation - used to follow up the attacking units, to consolidate positions held, and to provide endless working parties.

+ the battles marked + are phases of the Second Battles of the Somme 1918

The general final advance in Artois and Flanders (2 October - 11 November)
In early October, the Division operated in the area of the River Lys. At this time it had transferred to the command of Fifth Army (Lieut-Gen. Sir William Birdwood). On 16 October, it was fighting to recapture Lille and after initial fighting made a significant unopposed advance to the Basse Deule canal. The Division was welcomed by thousands of liberated French people in the streets of Lille. By 23 October, the position had advanced to near Valenciennes on the Belgian border but only after hard fighting on the Scheldt. 178th Brigade was the first Allied formation to coss that river when it seized the bridge at Pont-a-Chin. When the fighting ended on 11 November 1918, the forward units halted north-east of Tournai in Belgium, facing Lessines.

The units moved to the area south and south east of Lille after the Armistice, going on to Noeux les Mines and Bethune between 4-7 December. Here the units began to demobilise. Some units moved after a few days to Dunkirk to assist with a dispersal camp, through which coal miners were prioritised for early demobilisation. Divisional HQ was located at Vaudricourt Chateau from 6 December 1918 and then at Le Beau Marais near Calais from 8 March 1919. In May, the battalions of 176th Bde left to go to Egypt. By July 1919 the Division was down to a small set of cadres and on 1 September 1919 the history of the Division came to an end.

The order of battle of the 59th (2nd North Midland) Division

176th (2/1st Staffordshire) Brigade  
2/5th Bn, the South Staffordshire Regiment disbanded 31 January 1918
2/6th Bn, the South Staffordshire Regiment reduced to cadre 9 May 1918, left 30 May 1918
2/5th Bn, the North Staffordshire Regiment became 5th Bn when merged with 1/5th Bn 30 January 1918, reduced to cadre 9 May 1918, left 2 June 1918
2/6th Bn, the North Staffordshire Regiment reduced to cadre 9 May 1918, left 7 June 1918
174th Machine Gun Company joined 178th Bde 28 February 1917, moved to 176th Bde 6 March 1917, moved to 59th Bn MGC 7-8 Mar 1918
176th Trench Mortar Battery formed 20 January 1917, disbanded 8 May 1918, reformed 11 July 1918
6/7th Bn, the Royal Scots Fusiliers joined as cadre 7-10 May 1918 and left for 176th Bde, left 18 June 1918
1st Provisional Garrison Guard Bn joined 13 May 1918, renamed 17th Garrison Bn, the Worcestershire regiment on 25 May, left 18 June 1918
2nd Provisional Garrison Guard Bn joined 13 May 1918, left for 177th Bde 22 May1918
3rd Provisional Garrison Guard Bn joined 13 May 1918, left for 177th Bde 22 May1918
4th Provisional Garrison Guard Bn joined 13 May 1918, redesignated as 23rd Garrison Bn, the Lancashire Fusiliers 25 May 1918, left 18 June 1918
4th Garrison Guard Bn, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers joined 16 May 1918, renamed 26th Bn 16 July 1918
25th Garrison Guard Bn, the Kings (Liverpool Regiment) joined from 177th Bde 16 June 1918, renamed 25th Bn 16 July 1918
5th Provisional Garrison Guard, the Royal Sussex Regiment joined 13 May 1918, renamed 17th Garrison Guard Bn 25 May 1918 and then 17th Bn 16 July 1918
   
177th (2/1st Lincoln & Leicester) Brigade  
2/4th Bn, the Lincolnshire Regiment became 4th Bn when merged with 1/4th Bn 31 January 1918, reduced to cadre 8 May 1918, left 2 June 1918
2/5th Bn, the Lincolnshire Regiment reduced to cadre 8 May 1918, left 29 May 1918
2/4th Bn, the Leicestershire Regiment reduced to cadre 8 May 1918, left 18 June 1918
2/5th Bn, the Leicestershire Regiment disbanded 31 January 1918
44th Machine Gun Company attached 23 February 1917 to 22 March 1917
177th Machine Gun Company joined 127 February 1917, moved to 59th Bn MGC 7-8 Mar 1918
177th Trench Mortar Battery formed 20 January 1917, disbanded 8 May 1918, reformed 17 August 1918
2/6th Garrison Guard Bn, the Durham Light Infantry joined 10 May 1918, renamed 2/6th Bn 16 July 1918
11th Garrison Guard Bn, the Royal Sussex Regiment joined 12 May 1918, renamed 11th Bn 16 July 1918
15th Garrison Guard Bn, the Essex Regiment joined 12 May 1918, renamed 15th Bn 16 July 1918
2nd Provisional Garrison Guard Bn joined from 176th Bde 22 May 1918, redesignated as 25th Garrison Bn, the King's Royal Rifle Corps on 25 May 1918, left to become Divisional Pioneers 16 June 1918
3rd Provisional Garrison Guard Bn joined from 176th Bde 22 May 1918, redesignated as 13th Garrison Bn, the Duke of Wellington's on 25 May 1918, left for 178th Bde 16 June 1918
   
178th (2/1st Sherwood Forester) Brigade  
2/5th Bn, the Sherwood Foresters reduced to cadre 7 May 1918, left 2 June 1918
2/6th Bn, the Sherwood Foresters reduced to cadre 7 May 1918, disbanded 31 July 1918
2/7th Bn, the Sherwood Foresters became 7th Bn when merged with 1/7th Bn 31 January 1918, reduced to cadre 7 May 1918, left 28 May 1918
2/8th Bn, the Sherwood Foresters disbanded by 30 January 1918
174th Machine Gun Company attached 24 February 1917 to 6 March 1917
175th Machine Gun Company joined 13 March 1917, moved to 59th Bn MGC 7-8 Mar 1918
178th Trench Mortar Battery  
36th Garrison Guard Bn, the Northumberland Fusiliers joined 12 May 1918, renamed 36th Bn 16 July 1918
11th Garrison Guard Bn, the Royal Scots Fusiliers joined 12 May 1918, renamed 11th Bn 16 July 1918
2nd Garrison Guard Bn, the Royal Irish Regiment joined 17 May 1918, resdignated 8th Garrion Bn 25 May 1918, left 19 June 1918
25th Garrison Guard Bn, the Cheshire Regiment joined 25 May 1918, left 19 June 1918
13th Garrison Bn, the Duke of Wellington's joined from 177th Bde 16 June 1918, renamed 13th Bn on 16 July 1918
   
Divisional Troops  
6/7th Bn, the Royal Scots Fusiliers joined as Divisional Pioneer Bn 21 February 1918, reduced to cadre 7-10 May 1918 and left for 176th Bde
200th Machine Gun Company joined 18 January 1917, moved to 59th Bn MGC 7-8 Mar 1918
59th Battalion MGC formed 7-8 March 1918, reduced to cadre and disappeared May 1918
25th Garrison Bn, the King's Royal Rifle Corps joined as Divisional Pioneer Bn 16 June 1918, retitled as 25th Bn 16 July 1918
200th Machine Gun Company joined 2 October 1918
   
Divisional Mounted Troops  
2/1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry left when Division moved to Ireland
2/1st North Midland Divisional Cyclist Company joined 17 March 1915, left when Division went to France
C Sqn, 2/1st Northumberland Fusiliers joined 28 March 1916, left for XIX Corps on 26 March 1917
   
Divisional Artillery  
CCXCV (2/I N Midland) Brigade, RFA  
CCXCVI (2/II N Midland) Brigade, RFA  
CCXCVII (2/III N Midland) Brigade, RFA broken up before Division moved to France
CCXCVIII (2/IV N Midland) (How) Bde, RFA leftto become Army Brigade 4 April 1917
2/1st North Midland Heavy Battery, RGA joined 5 February 1915, left and moved independently to France, arriving on 3 May 1916 and coming initially under orders of VI Corps Heavy Artillery
1/IV Home Counties (How) Bde, RFA attached 10 March to 27 June 1915
1/I Wessex Heavy Battery, RGA attached 13 March to 7 April 1915
2/I Wessex Heavy Battery, RGA attached 20 February to April 1916
59th Divisional Ammunition Column RFA  
V.59 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery, RFA formed 20 January 1917, left March 1918
X.59, Y.59 and Z.59 Medium Mortar Batteries, RFA formed 20 January 1917, in February 1918 Z broken up and batteries reorganised to have six 6-inch weapons each
   
Royal Engineers  
467th (1/3rd North Midland) Field Company  
469th (2/2nd North Midland) Field Company joined 4 February 1915
470th (3/1st North Midland) Field Company joined 4 February 1915
59th Divisional Signals Company joined 4 February 1915
   
Royal Army Medical Corps  
2/1st North Midland Field Ambulance joined 3 February 1915
2/2nd North Midland Field Ambulance joined 3 February 1915
2/3rd North Midland Field Ambulance joined 3 February 1915
59th Sanitary Section left for Cavalry Corps 18-19 May 1917
   
Other Divisional Troops  
59th Divisional Train ASC 513, 514, 515 and 516 Companies ASC
59th Mobile Veterinary Section AVC  
250th Divisional Employment Company formed by 16 June 1917

There is no published history to this Division.