The Great War
The Somerset Light Infantry consisted of Infantry Battalions that would have had an MG Section as part of its Battalion Headquarters. These weapons would have been brigaded when the Machine Gun Corps was formed in 1915. The guns, and crews, would have been formed into a Machine Gun Company.
During the Great War, the Battalions were distributed as follows:
As a unit of the 4th Infantry Division, it will have taken part in the following battles and engagements.
|25 August to 05 September||RETREAT FROM MONS [II. Corps, 26 to 30 August 1914, and III. Corps from 31 August 1914.]|
|26 August||Battle of le Cateau [under II. Corps].|
|06 to 09 September||Battle of the Marne [III. Corps].|
|12 September||Crossing of the Aisne (11th Bde.).|
|13 to 20 September||BATTLE OF THE AISNE [III. Corps].|
|13 October to 02 November||Battle of Armentieres [III. Corps].|
|13 October||Capture of Meteren|
|25 April to 25 May||BATTLES OF YPRES [V. Corps, Second Army].|
|25 April to 04 May||Battle of St. Julien [V. Corps, Second Army, and from 28 April to 07 May in Plumer’s Force].|
|08 to 13 May||Battle of Frezenberg Ridge [V. Corps, Second Army].|
|24 and 25 May||Battle of Bellewaarde Ridge [V. Corps, Second Army].|
The 6th Battalion was part of the 43rd Brigade, attached to the 14th (Light) Division.
|FORMATION, BATTLES AND ENGAGEMENTSThis New Army Division had no existence before the outbreak of the Great War.
A proclamation was issued on the 11th August 1914 asking for an immediate addition of 100,000 men to the Regular Army (see Appendix 1). Army Order No. 324 of the 21st August, 1914 authorized the addition of six divisions (8th to 13th) and Army Troops to the Regular Army. This augmentation formed the First New Army, and early in September, 1914 the 8th (Light) Division, the senior division of the First New Army, began to assemble in Aldershot. The three infantry brigades of the Division were numbered: 23rd, 24th, and 25th.
It was, however, seen ascertained that the additional regular battalions released from the overseas garrisons would suffice to form another regular division. In consequence of this, Army Order No. 382 of the 11th September, 1914 directed that henceforward the number of the Light Division would be 14, and its infantry brigades would be renumbered 41, 42, and 43. On Monday the 14th September, 1914 this new numbering came into force, and instead of being the senior division, the Light Division became the junior division of the First New Army.
On the 26th September, whilst it was still at Aldershot, H.M. the King inspected the 14th (Light) Division on Queen’s Parade. Late in November, 1914 the Division moved out to billets in the Guildford and Godalming district, and on Friday the 22nd January, 1915 the Division was inspected on Hankley Common by Field-Marshal Earl Kitchener. The Division remained in billets around Guildford until the 18th February, and the troops then returned to Stanhope Lines, Aldershot. Divisional field manoeuvres and the fnal training for war were now undertaken.
On the 11th May a warning was received from the War Office that the 14th Division would proceed overseas on the 14th; this date, however, was altered to the 18th May, and on the 18th entrainment began. The Division then crossed from Southampton to le Havre, and by the 25th May it completed its concentration around Watten (north-west of St. Omer). For the remainder of the Great War the 14th Division served on the Western Front in France and Belgium and was engaged in the following operations:
|30 and 31 July||Hooge (German Liquid Fire Attack) [VI Corps, Second Army].|
|25 September||Second Attack on Bellewaarde [VI Corps, Second Army].|
The 7th Battalion was part of the 61st Brigade, attached to the 20th (Light) Division.
As a unit of the 20th (Light) Infantry Division, it will have taken part in the following battles and engagements.
|FORMATION, BATTLES, AND ENGAGEMENTS|
|This New Army Division had no existence before the outbreak of the Great War.Army Order No. 382 of the 11th September 1914 authorised the further addition of six divisions (15th to 20th) and Army Troops to the Regular Army. This augmentation formed the Second New Army, and during September, 1914 the 20th (Light) Division, the junior division of the Second New Army, began to assemble in the Aldershot area.
At first the infantry brigades formed at Blackdown, Deepcut, and Cowshott Camp; and all units encountered the usual difficulties which were eventually overcome by goodwill and keenness. The divisional artillery was started by sending to Deepcut two officers and two drafts of nearly 2,000 men each. The available artillery accommodation, which had been built for two brigades with a total peace-time strength of 700, was strained to its utmost: rooms originally intended for 20 men had to accommodate about 50. By December, in the Artillery, the men were clothed partly in full dress blue uniforms, partly in canvas suits, and partly in shoddy thin blue suits. By this time a few horses had also arrived, and the available saddlery was made up of civilian-pattern snaffles, regulation bridles, hunting saddles, and colonial saddles. Each artillery brigade also possessed enough harness for one six-horse team, and each brigade also had 4 guns (2 French 90m/m and 2, 15-pdrs.) but no sights. In February 1915 twelve old 18-pdr. Q.F.s arrived from India and each 18-pdr. battery received one gun, henceforward proudly known as “our battery’s gun.”
Later on in February 1915 the Division moved to Witley, Godalming, and Guildford; but part of the divisional artillery had to go by train as there was not enough harness to move all the vehicles. The issue of khaki now began, additional horses and harness arrived, and the divisional ammunition column was completed with mules.
In April 1915 the Division marched to Salisbury Plain, covering the 62 miles in four days. On arrival the artillery drew its remaining harness and modern 18-pdr. Q.F. equipments were received; but it was somewhat later before the 4.5″ howitzer equipments were issued. From the outset the 4.5″ howitzers were equipped with No. 7 dial sights, whereas until July 1916 there were only No. 1 dial sights for the division’s 18-pdrs. In June all the batteries went to gun-practice. The training for war was now nearing its final stage.
On the 24th June H.M. The King inspected the 20th Division on Knighton Down. Embarkation for France began on the 20th July and by the afternoon of the 26th July the Division completed its concentration in the area to the west of St. Omer. For the remainder of the Great War the 20th Division served on the Western Front in France and Belgium and was engaged in the following operations:-
|25 September||Attack towards Fromelles [III Corps, First Army].|
When the first experimental mechanized formation was created in the mid-1920s, the 2nd Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, was chosen to be the Machine Gun battalion as part of this formation, alongside the 2nd and 5th Battalions, Royal Tank Corps. Not only was the larger formation the mother of the Armoured Division, the role of the Somerset L.I. was the predecessor of the later Divisional Machine Gun Battalion. It consisted of a HQ Company and 3 Machine Gun Companies, each of 3 sections, each of 4 Vickers MGs. They were transported in half-track Crossley-Kegresse and 6-wheeled Morris Trucks. The commanding officer of the 2nd Bn at the time was Lieut-Colonel H.I.R. Allfrey. The Experimental Armoured Force only lasted for the summer exercise season and was disbanded once the exercise season was complete, and the 2nd Bn. would have reverted to its regular Infantry role. However, during its establishment, it proved how armoured forces could be used to overwhelm defending troops in a way that was proven later in action in Poland, 1939.
Second World War
This remained until the formation of Divisional Machine Gun Battalion in 1936 where guns were brigaded once again.
Post-Second World War
Upon the disbandment of Divisional Machine Gun Battalion in the post-WW2 restructure of the British Army, the Vickers Machine Gun assets reverted to individual Battalions as part of the Support Company as a Machine Gun Platoon.