The 61st (2nd South Midland) Division in 1914-1918
The history of 61st (2nd South Midland) Division
On 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' 48th (South Midland) Division went to France in March 1915.
The units of the 'second line', the 2nd South 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 Northampton area. Drafts began to leave for the 'first line' units, and their places taken by new recruits. In April 1915 the Division moved to Chelmsford and soon afterward the number 61 was issued and the full title became 61st (2nd South Midland Division). The units were inspected by Lord Kitchener on 6 August 1915.
In February and early March 1916 the Division moved to Salisbury Plain. King George V inspected the Division at Bulford on 5 May 1916.
The Division was warned in May that it would go on overseas service and entrainment began on the 21st. By 28 May the Division, less the Ammunition Column (which was still at Le Havre), had concentrated in the area of Merville - Gonnehem - Busnes - Thiennes. The Division then remained in France and Flanders and took part in the following engagements:
The Attack at Fromelles
The first major action in which the Division was engaged turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. An attack was made on 19 July 1916 at Fromelles, a subsidiary action to the much larger battle taking place further south on the Somme. The Division suffered very heavy casualties for no significant gain and no enemy reserves were diverted from the Somme. Such was the damage to the Division and its reputation that it was not used again other than for holding trench lines until 1917.
The Operations on the Ancre
The German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line
The 61st was one of the Divisions employed in the cautious pursuit of the enemy, when the Germans carried out a deep withdrawal from the area of the Somme to formidable pre-prepared positions that the British called the Hindenburg Line, in March 1917. On 17 March, it captured Chaulnes and Bapaume.
The Battle of Langemarck 916-18 August 1917)*
* the battles marked * are phases of the Third Battles of the Ypres
In late August and early September the Division was involved in the efforts to push the line forward at positions around Schuler Farm and Aisne Farm near Kerselaar.
The German counter attacks**
** the battles marked ** are phases of the Cambrai Operations
In late November 1917, the British Third Army made a highly successful attack, using massed tanks for the first time, near Cambrai. 61st Division was initially held in reserve and was still in the area when the enemy made a determined counterattack on 30 November. The Division was ordered up to reinforce the units under attack in the area of La Vacquerie and for some days was involved in a hard fight to stem the enemy attack.
The Battle of St Quentin~
The Actions at the Somme Crossings~
~ the battles marked ~ are phases of the First Battles of the Somme 1918
On 21 March 1918, the enemy launched what was intended to be a decisive offensive, attacking the British Fifth and Third Armies on the Somme in overwhelming strength. The 61st (2nd South Midland) Division was holding the forward zone of defences in the area northwest of Saint Quentin in the area of Ham and lost many men as it fought a chaotic but ultimately successful withdrawal back over the Somme crossings over the next ten days. In the initial clash, the South Midland faced three enemy Divisions and only began to retire on the afternoon of 22 March, when ordered to do so in consequence of the enemy's progress at other parts of the line.
The Battle of Estaires^
The Battle of Hazebrouck^
The Battle of Bethune^
^ the battles marked ^ are phases of the Battles of the Lys
By the time it was relieved after fighting all the way back to the very gates of Amiens in the First Battles of the Somme 1918, the Division had been involved in continuous action since August 1917 and was most exhausted. The remnants were moved north to what had been a quieter part of the line on the La Bassee Canal near Bethune. Unfortunately it was near where the Germans launched the second phase of their offensive on 9 April 1918. The Division became involved and many casualties were incurred.
The Battle of the Selle+
The Battle of Valenciennes+
+ the battles marked + are phases of the Final Advance in Picardy
It took quite some months for the Division to be rebuilt, but once ready it played an important part in the final defeat of the enemy. It joined XVII Corps and took part in actions in October 1918 at Bois L'Eveque, Pommereuil, Bousies Forest and Vendegies-sur-Ecaillon. It pushed on, across the rivers Rhonelle and Selle and into the industrial area of Valenciennes. In the first week of November, the Division crossed the Sambre, the last prepared defensive position the enemy had.
The Division was relieved on 2/3 November and was south of Valenciennes, along the River Ecaillon, at the Armistice. It withdrew west, being near Cambrai by 17 November and west of Dullens from 28 November. The Division began to demobilise in January 1919 and for a time men were leaving for home at a rate of 1,000 per week. Two battalions were detached for duties at the Base Ports, otherwise the Division was chiefly employed on guard duty and working parties. A battalion was sent to restore order when trouble broke out between the British West Indies Regiment and the Chinese Labour Corps at Abancourt. In July drafts were sent to Egypt and the Black Sea, and Divisional HQ in France closed on 30 July 1919.
The order of battle of the 61st (2nd South Midland) Division
|182nd (2nd Warwickshire) Brigade|
|2/5th Bn, the Warwickshire Regiment||disbanded February 1918|
|2/6th Bn, the Warwickshire Regiment|
|2/7th Bn, the Warwickshire Regiment|
|2/8th Bn, the Warwickshire Regiment||disbanded February 1918|
|182nd Machine Gun Company||joined 19 June 1916, moved to 61st Bn MGC 1 March 1918|
|182nd Trench Mortar Battery||formed 13 June 1916|
|2/8th Bn, the Worcestershire Regiment||joined from 183rd Bde February 1918|
|183rd (2nd Gloucr & Worcester) Brigade|
|2/4th Bn, the Gloucestershire Regiment||disbanded February 1918|
|2/6th Bn, the Gloucestershire Regiment||disbanded February 1918|
|2/7th Bn, the Worcestershire Regiment||disbanded February 1918|
|2/8th Bn, the Worcestershire Regiment||left for 182nd Bde Bde February 1918|
|183rd Machine Gun Company||joined 19 June 1916, moved to 61st Bn MGC 1 March 1918|
|183rd Trench Mortar Battery||formed 27 June 1916|
|1/9th Bn, the Royal Scots||joined February 1918, left June 1918|
|1/5th Bn, the Gordon Highlanders||joined February 1918, left June 1918|
|1/8th Bn, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders||joined February 1918, left June 1918|
|9th Bn, the Northumberland Fusiliers||joined June 1918|
|11th Bn, the Suffolk Regiment||joined June 1918|
|1st Bn, the East Lancashire Regiment||joined June 1918|
|184th (2nd South Midland) Brigade|
|2/5th Bn, the Gloucestershire Regiment|
|2/4th Bn, the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry|
|2/1st Bucks Bn, the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry||disbanded February 1918|
|2/4th Bn, the Royal Berkshire Regiment|
|184th Machine Gun Company||joined 20 June 1916, moved to 61st Bn MGC 1 March 1918|
|184th Trench Mortar Battery||formed 27 June 1916|
|1/5th Bn, the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry||joined as Divisional Pioneer Bn April 1916|
|267th Machine Gun Company||joined 18 January 1918, moved to 61st Bn MGC 1 March 1918|
|61st Battalion MGC||formed 1 March 1918|
|Divisional Mounted Troops|
|2/1st Bedfordshire Yeomanry||joined October 1915, left February 1916|
|2/2nd County of London Yeomanry||joined 24 January 1916, left February 1916|
|C Sqn, 1/1st Hampshire Yeomanry||joined 18 March 1916, left 7 June 1916|
|2nd South Midland Divisional Cyclist Company||left June 1916|
|Divisional Artillery||Note: the artillery of 59th Division was also attached between 8 and 26 August 1918|
|CCCV (2/I South Midland) Brigade, RFA||broken up 17 September 1916|
|CCCVI (2/II South Midland) Brigade, RFA|
|CCCVII (2/III South Midland) Brigade, RFA|
|CCCVIII (2/IV S.M.) (Howitzer) Brigade, RFA||broken up 27 January 1917|
|2/1st South Midland (Warwicks) Heavy Battery, RGA||left 3 February 1916|
|2/2nd London Heavy Battery RGA||joined 24 January 1916, left 3 February 1916|
|1/1st Wessex Heavy Battery RGA||attached 24 January to February 1916|
|2/1st Wessex Heavy Battery RGA||attached 24 January to February 1916|
|61st Divisional Ammunition Column RFA|
|V.61 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery, RFA||formed by 16 August 1916; left 7 February 1918|
|X.61, Y.61 and Z.61 Medium Mortar Batteries, RFA||formed June 1916; on 7 February 1918, Z broken up and batteries reorganised to have 6 x 6-inch weapons each|
|477th (2/1st South Midland) Field Company||moved independently to France and joined 48th Division June 1915|
|478th (2/2nd South Midland) Field Company|
|479th (3/1st South Midland) Field Company|
|476th (1/3rd South Midland) Field Company||joined by May 1916|
|61st Divisional Signals Company|
|Royal Army Medical Corps|
|2/1st South Midland Field Ambulance|
|2/2nd South Midland Ambulance|
|2/3rd South Midland Field Ambulance|
|61st Sanitary Section||left for IV Corps 12 April 1917|
|Other Divisional Troops|
|61st Divisional Train ASC||521, 522, 523 and 524 Companies ASC|
|2/1st South Midland Mobile Veterinary Section AVC|
|251st Divisional Employment Company||joined 7 June 1917|
Memorial to the 61st and 74th Divisions at St Floris recalls their time here during and after the Battles of the Lys.