The Great War
During the Great War, the Battalions were distributed as follows:
The 1st Battalion was part of the 22nd Brigade of the 7th Division at the outbreak of war.
|The division had no existence before the outbreak of War; it was gradually assembled at Lyndhurst between the 31st August and the 4th October, 1914. The 12 infantry battalions included the three remaining unallotted regular battalions left in England, as well as nine battalions brought back from various overseas stations, viz. – Guernsey (1), Gibraltar (2), Malta (2), Cairo (1), Natal (1), and the Transvaal (2). The mounted troops included an existing yeomanry regiment as well as a cyclist company, formed on mobilization. The Field Artillery was made up by one R.H.A. Brigade (XIV., of two batteries), and one R.F.A. Brigade (XXXV.) still left at home, together with one R.F.A. Brigade (XXII.) from the Transvaal. The two heavy batteries were new units formed at Woolwich after the outbreak of War, and the field companies came from Chatham and Pretoria. Three of the A.S.C. companies (30, 40 and 42) came from Gibraltar, Malta, and Pretoria, but the remaining company (86) was a new formation.
The 7th Division embarked at Southampton on the 4th and 5th October, and began disembarkation at Zeebrugge on the 6th October. The division moved to Bruges on the 7th October, and reached Ghent on the 9th October. During the night of 11/12 October, a retirement on Ypres was begun and the place was reached on the 14th. The 7th Division served on the Western Front in France and Belgium until the 17th November, 1917, when it began entraining for the Italian Front, on which it served for the remainder of the War. The 7th Division was engaged in the following operations:-
|09 and 10 October||Antwerp Operations [IV. Corps].|
|19 October to 05 November||BATTLES OF YPRES|
|21 to 24 October||Battle of Langemarck [IV. Corps].|
|29 to 31 October||Battle of Gheluvelt [I. Corps].|
|18 December||Rouges Banes – Well Farm Attack [IV. Corps].|
|10 to 13 March||Battle of Neuve Chappelle [IV. Corps, First Army].|
|09 May||Battle of Aubers Ridge [In reserve, IV. Corps, First Army].|
|15 to 19 May||Battle of Festubert [I. Corps, First Army].|
|15 and 16 June||Givenchy [IV. Corps].|
|25 September and 08 October||Battle of Loos [I. Corps, First Army].|
As a unit of the 2nd Infantry Division, it will have taken part in the following battles and engagements.
|23 and 24 August||Battle of Mons [I. Corps].|
|24 August to 05 September||RETREAT FROM MONS [I. Corps].|
|01 September||Villers Cotterets.|
|06 to 09 September||Battle of the Marnes [I. Corps].|
|13 to 26 September||BATTLE OF THE AISNES [I. Corps].|
|13 September||Passage of the Aisne.|
|20 September||Actions on the Aisne Heights.|
|19 October to 20 November||BATTLES OF YPRES [I. Corps].|
|21 to 24 October||Battle of Langemarck [I. Corps].|
|29 to 21 October||Battle of Gheluvet [I. Corps].|
|11 November||Battle of Nonne Bosschen [I. Corps].|
|15 to 20 May||Battle of Festubert [I. Corps, First Army].|
|25 September to 04 October||Battle of Loos [I. Corps, First Army].|
|13 to 19 October||Hohenzollern Redoubt [I. Corps, First Army].|
The 7th Battalion started the Great War as a member of the 33rd Brigade, 11th (Northern) Infantry Division.
|This 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). Army Order No. 324 of the 21st August (amended by Army Order No. 382 of the 11th September) authorized the addition of six divisions (9th to 14th) and Army Troops to the Regular Army. This augmentation formed the First New Army, and late in August, 1914 the 11th (Northern) Division began to assemble around Grantham.
On the 22nd August when the G.O.C. reached Grantham he found that only the A.-A.&Q.-M.-G. of the division had arrived. On the 27th the first batch of 1,000 infantry (with a small proportion of regular officers and non-commissioned-officers, from depot staffs) reached Grantham. Other parties followed and by the 21st September the strength of the infantry had risen to 13,000. At first the infantry of the 11th Division consisted entirely of north country battalions; later on, however, when the 6/East Yorkshire became the pioneer battalion its place was taken by a Wessex battalion – 5/Dorsetshire.
At first there was the usual shortage of clothing, equipment, and arms, leading to some discomfort and to considerable delay in training for war. Nevertheless, on the 18th October Field-Marshal Earl Kitchener visited Grantham and inspected the infantry in Belton Park. Until the following April the Division remained scattered: infantry at Grantham, artillery at Leeds, Sheffield, Norwich, and Weedon; engineers at Newark; field ambulances at Sheffield; train at Lichfield. Then on the 4th April the 11th Division began to move to its concentration area at Witley and Frensham, and final training was carried out and divisional operations undertaken.
On the 31st May H.M. the King inspected the 11th Division on Hankley Common, and on the 12th June orders were received that the Division was to be ready to leave at short notice for the Dardanelles. On the 20th June embarkation began at Liverpool, and the bulk of the Division sailed in the Aquitania and the Empress of Britain. On the 10th July the Aquitania with divisional headquarters and the 32nd Infantry Brigade reached Mudros. On the 23rd all headquarters and troops at Mudros left Lemnos and moved to Imbros, and the 11th Division completed concentration at Imbros on the 28th July.
At 8.30pm on the 6th August the Division left Imbros for Suvla Bay; the troops embarked in torpedo boat destroyers and motor lighters (about 500 in each vessel) each man carrying on him 220 rounds of ammunition and 2 days’ iron rations. At 11.30pm the flotilla anchored off Suvla, and shortly after m/n. 6th/7th August disembarkation began near Lala Baba.
During the Great War the 11th (Northern) Division served in Gallipoli and in Egypt, and on the Western Front (in France and Belgium), and was engaged in the following operations:
BATTLES OF SUVLA
|06 to 15 August||The Landing at Suvla [IX Corps].|
|07 August||Capture of Karakol Dagh (34th Bde.) [IX Corps].|
|21 August||Battle of Scimitar Hill [IX Corps].|
|21 August||Attack on “W” Hills [IX Corps].|
|Night, 19/20 December||Evacuation of Suvla [IX Corps].|
|On the last night every gun, trench mortar, cart, and animal was withdrawn, and the 11th Division suffered no casualties to its personnel during the final evacuation of Suvla. On leaving Suvla the Division concentrated at Imbros.|
The 8th Battalion started the Great War as a member of the 51st Brigade, 17th (Northern) Division.
|This New Army Division had no existence before the outbreak of the Great War.Army Order No. 382 of the 11th September 1914 authorized the further addition of six divisions (15th – 20th) and Army Troops to the Regular Army (see Appendix I). This augmentation formed the Second New Army, and during September 1914 the 17th (Northern) Division began to assemble around Wareham.
By the end of September 1914 all the surplus stores of arms, equipment, and uniforms had been issued, and for some time no uniforms were available for the rank and file of the 17th Division. Even blankets were scarce in the improvised billets and later on in the crowded camps. For months the infantry had only a few old drill-pattern rifles; and machine guns had to be represented by home-made dummy guns. In October a varied assortment of peace-time uniforms arrived; the infantry then paraded in red coats, combined with civilian head-dresses and overcoats. At the same time a supply of tents was issued to the Division, and the men were placed under canvas until the unsettled November weather compelled the abandonment of tents; the units were then moved into recently erected huts. Before the end of 1914 the infantry received a large supply of Lee-Enfield magazine rifles and a generous supply of ammunition; elementary musketry instruction became possible. Then, in March 1915 a limited issue of service rifles and new leather equipment was made to the infantry.
In the Artillery most of the officers had everything to learn, and it was soon found that 20 per cent of the recruits, who had been accepted in the rush, were unfit for military service and had to be replaced, also very few of the recruits had ever ridden of had any previous experience with horses. At the outset the only available artillery materiel was a few limbers and wagons, together with some ancient and obsolete guns and two old French 90-mm. guns, dating from the war of 1870 – pieces which were more suitable for museums than for a training centre. Even so the guns were without sights, and naturally no dial sights, directors, range tables, or telephones were available. But ingenuity, assisted by the local carpenters, provided rough and ready imitations of the missing stores, and allowed the recruits to be given some training during the early months. The first horses for the artillery arrived in February 1915, the 18-pdrs. were issues in April, and the first howitzers reached Swanage in the middle of May.
During this time the artillery had been in empty houses in Swanage and the infantry brigades had shifted their quarters more than once. Originally the three infantry brigades were around Wareham; but in October 1914 the brigades were at Wareham (50th), West Lulworth (51st), and Bovington Camp, Wool (52nd). In December the 51st moved to Wool, and the 52nd to Wimborne. In March 1915 the 51st returned to West Lulworth, and the 52nd moved back to Wool. These stations were maintained until May. Between the 27th May and the 1st June the Division marched to Winchester, Romsey, Hursley, Pitt Corner, and Flowerdown, and final intensive training for the field was undertaken.
On the 5th July the Division was informed that it would be retained in England for some time and be employed on Home Defence. At midnight this arrangement was cancelled and the 17th Division was ordered to embark for France between the 12th and 15th July. On the 6th the advanced party left, and on the same day the Division completed its mobilization – but the three field ambulances only joined the Division at Southampton during embarkation. On the 12th July embarkation began. By the 17th the Division concentrated to the southward of St. Omer, and on the 19th July it moved forward and came under V Corps, Second Army. For the remainder of the Great War the 17th Division served on the Western Front in France and Belgium and was engaged in the following operations:-
|09 August||Hooge [V Corps, Second Army].|
It’s MG Section will have been disbanded on the attachment of 51st MG Company, which took place on 12 February 1916, machine gunners may have been absorbed by the 51st MG Company, or trained on the Lewis Gun, which now equipped the Infantry Battalion.
Second World War
This remained until the formation of Divisional Machine Gun Battalions in 1936 where guns were brigaded once again when the majority of Battalions had their Machine Gun assets centralised into those Battalions.
The 1st Battalion was a ‘Chindits‘ Battalion, where it was formed into Columns each having an MG Section of two guns, the Battalion’s MG Platoon being spread across the Columns and supplemented with additional guns and machine gunners where required.
The recollections of a 43 Column (12 Bn, Nigeria Regiment) Officer, Dick Stuckey, in War in the Wilderness, describe the direct fire role that the Vickers was used in defensive positions:
I remember a South Staffords CSM known as ‘One Belt.’ He was wonderful with the Vickers. I watched him in action. When he got the enemy in his sights he fired an entire belt – 250 rounds – in one go.
The 2nd (Airborne) Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment became Airlanding Battalion of the 1st Airlanding Brigade of the 1st Airborne Division. This Battalion therefore retained an Machine Gun Platoon within its support company. These guns were transport using ‘Man Carry’ and with Jeeps.
The 1st Airborne Division was formed in November 1941. It saw action at the following battles:
- North Africa (1943)
- Sicily (1943)
- Italy (1943)
- Arnhem (17th – 27th September 1944)The Officer Commanding the MMG Group at the time of Operation Market Garden (September 1944) was Capt. B.W.H. Hingston.
Post-Second World War
After the Second World War, the MG assets reverted to MG Platoons within support companies of Infantry Battalions.