37th Division (United Kingdom)

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37th Division (United Kingdom)
Active March 1915–March 1919
Country United Kingdom
Type Infantry

The 37th Division was a unit of the British Army during World War I. The divisional symbol was a gold horseshoe, open end up.

Formed as part of the New Army, the division was established at Andover as the 44th Infantry Division in March 1915. The division was created as a potential replacement for the 16th (Irish) Division as there were doubts, misplaced as it turned out, as to whether sufficient volunteers would be forthcoming in Ireland to complete the 16th Division.

As a result of its early origins, using unallocated battalions from the first three waves of New Army battalions, although the division, renumbered 37th in May 1915, formed part of the sixth and final group of New Army divisions, it was well provided with trained officers and NCOs by New Army standards. The divisional commander was the experienced Lord Edward Gleichen who had commanded a brigade in the regular 5th Infantry Division in 1914. The division's three infantry brigades were the 110th, composed of four battalions of the Leicestershire Regiment, the 111th, two battalions of the Royal Fusiliers and one each from the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and the Rifle Brigade, and the 112th, one battalion each from the Warwick, Bedford, East Lancashire and North Lancashire Regiments. The North Staffordshire Regiment provided the divisional pioneer battalion. The divisional artillery had been raised for the original 31st and 32nd divisions, which were broken up before being completed.

The division's unusual composition—the majority of higher-numbered New Army divisions were created from weakly officered Pals battalions and lacked any cadre of experienced soldiers—meant that its training at Cholderton in Hampshire proceeded rapidly, and the 37th Division moved to Saint-Omer in France in July 1915, months earlier than other divisions of the fourth and fifth New Armies.

Men of 111th Brigade with trench mortar bombs at Beaumont-Hamel late 1916

The 37th Division, forming part of VII Corps of Third Army, played no part in the diversionary attack on Gommecourt staged by VII Corps on 1 July 1916 during the first day on the Somme. The perceived poor performance of some New Army divisions in the fighting, and the heavy losses suffered by the 34th Division, led to changes in the organisation of the 37th Division in the first half of July. The 110th Brigade was posted to the 21st Division and the 63rd Brigade received in return. The 111th and the 112th Brigades were loaned to the 34th Division from 6 July to 22 August to replace the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) and 103rd (Tyneside Irish) Brigades. While under command of 34th Division the brigades took part in the Battle of Bazentin Ridge and the Battle of Pozières.

The division took part in the Battle of the Ancre, the final stage of the Battle of the Somme, under the command of V Corps and Fifth Army in November 1916. By this time Lord Gleichen had left the division and his replacement, Major-General Scrase-Dickens, had fallen sick. Now under the command of Major-General Bruce-Williams, who would command the division for the rest of the war, 37th Division's brigades once again saw action under the command of other divisions rather than as a division.

The division participated in the first three phases of the 1917 Battle of Arras, capturing the village of Monchy-le-Preux during the First Battle of the Scarpe. A monument to the division stands at Monchy. 37th Division fought in the Third Battle of Ypres, under the command of IX Corps of Second Army, taking part in the battles of the Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle, first and second Passchendaele in September, October and November 1917.

The division took little part in the fighting begun by the German Spring Offensive in 1918, but did take part in the first counter-offensive, the April 1918 Battle of the Ancre, which included the world's first tank versus tank combat at Villers-Bretonneux. At this time the division was under the command of Third Army's IV Corps, and remained part of this formation for the rest of the war. The division took part in the Hundred Days Offensive, fighting in the Battle of Amiens, the 1918 Second Battle of the Somme, the Battle of the Hindenburg Line, the Battle of the Selle and the Battle of the Sambre.

Demobilization began on Boxing Day 1918, and the division had ceased to exist by March 1919. During its active service on the Western Front the division had suffered some 29969 casualties, killed, wounded and missing.

References[edit]

  • James, E. A. (1924), A Record of the Battles and Engagements of the British Armies in France and Flanders, 1914–1918. Aldershot: Gale and Polden (Reprinted 1990, London)
  • Middlebrook, Martin (2000) Your Country Needs You. Barnsley: Leo Cooper.
  • 37th Infantry Division at 1914-1918.net