66th Division (United Kingdom)

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66th Division
Active 1914–19
Country United Kingdom
Branch Territorial Force (1914–19)
Territorial Army (1939–40)
Type Infantry
Nickname Clickety-Clicks

Third Battle of Ypres

Spring Offensive

Hundred Days Offensive


Charles Beckett (1914–15)
Charles Blomfield (1915–17)
Herbert Lawrence (1917)
Neill Malcolm (1917–18)
Keppel Bethell (1918–19)

Arthur William Purser (1939–40)
Alan Cunningham (1940)
Divisional Patch A blue triangle divided by a horizontal yellow bar

The 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division was a second-line Territorial Force division of the British Army which saw service on the Western Front, during the later years of the First World War. It was reformed in 1939 as the 66th Infantry Division in the Territorial Army but disbanded in 1940, without seeing active service in the Second World War.

The division was created at the end of August 1914, as the 2nd East Lancashire Division, a second-line formation of the East Lancashire Division, composed primarily of soldiers from eastern Lancashire and the industrial towns around Manchester. After training and home service, it deployed to the Western Front in early 1917; its first major combat came in October of that year, at the Battle of Poelcappelle. In early 1918, it took heavy losses during the German Spring Offensive and was withdrawn from the line and reduced to a cadre in order to rebuild. It returned to the front in time for the Battle of Cambrai, part of the Hundred Days Offensive and the Battle of the Selle. Following the Armistice, it was stationed in Belgium, where it was demobilised in March 1919.

The division was not reformed after the war but was reconstituted as the 66th Infantry Division (with no regional title), during the hurried expansion of the Territorial Army in 1939. It was active for slightly over a year, before finally being disbanded in June 1940, having only seen home service.

Formation and home service[edit]

The division was created at the end of August 1914, as the 2nd East Lancashire Division, a second-line formation of the East Lancashire Division. Territorial Force soldiers could not be deployed overseas without their consent and the Territorial units were accordingly split into a "first line", with men who had volunteered for overseas service and a "second line", which was intended for home service, by the ten percent who refused to volunteer on 12 August.[1] The second line units also served to absorb the large number of recruits who had joined the Territorial Force following the outbreak of war.[2] Its initial commander was Brigadier-General Charles Beckett, a 65-year old retired officer, who had commanded a Yeomanry brigade some years earlier.[3]

As with the original East Lancashire Division, the 2nd East Lancashire was organised into three infantry brigades of four battalions each. These were later numbered as the 197th, composed of the 2/5th, 2/6th, 2/7th and 2/8th Lancashire Fusiliers; the 198th, composed of the 2/4th and 2/5th East Lancashire Regiment and the 2/9th and 2/10th Manchester Regiment; and the 199th, composed of the 2/5th, 2/6th, 2/7th and 2/8th Manchester Regiment.[2] The 197th drew its men from Bury and Salford;[4] the 198th from Blackburn, Burnley,[5] Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham;[6] and the 199th from Wigan, Manchester, and Ardwick.[6] The division also raised second-line Territorial artillery, Royal Army Medical Corps, and Royal Engineer units, all from the Lancashire–Manchester recruiting area, and had an attached squadron of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry.[2]

For two years, the 2nd East Lancashire (numbered the 66th Division in August 1915), provided trained reinforcements for its parent unit and carried out home defence duties in England.[2] Elements of the division assembled near Southport in late 1914, then moved south to the KentSussex area in May 1915 and to Essex in early 1916. In early 1915, the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers, a second-line battalion, was detached for overseas service and joined the 51st (Highland) Division. The battalion was replaced by another duplicate battalion, the 3/5th Lancashire Fusiliers, which became one of the few third-line territorial battalions to see active service. One of the three companies of Royal Engineers, was sent to France in 1915 to join the 48th (South Midland) Division and during 1916, three of the division's four heavy and howitzer artillery batteries were withdrawn or broken up.[2] Following the Military Service Act of January 1916, all Territorial soldiers were deemed to liable for overseas service. In February 1917, the 66th Division was instructed to prepare for a move to continental Europe and received a new and experienced commander, Major-General Herbert Lawrence.[7][8]

Western Front[edit]

Flanders and Poelcappelle, 1917[edit]

An observer from 2/4th East Lancashire Regiment at the extreme left of the British front line in September 1917, manning a position on the Belgian coast at Nieuport Bains.

The division arrived in France at the end of February as part of the last batch of second-line Territorial divisions from Britain and joined the First Army.[9] In June the division was transferred to the XV Corps of the Fourth Army on the relatively quiet coastal sector in Flanders. During the summer, XV Corps was held ready to support an advance from Ypres by the Fifth Army, with Operation Hush (an amphibious landing by one division and an offensive along the coast by the rest of XV Corps), which was postponed several times and then cancelled in October.[10] At the end of September, the 66th Division was relieved by its parent unit, the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division. After a few days of overlap, where many men were able to meet friends and relations they had not seen since 1914, the 66th moved south to the Ypres area, where it would see its first major action at the Battle of Poelcappelle.[11] The 199th Brigade moved into the front line to replace the 3rd Australian Division on 5 October. The relief was badly mismanaged, leading the Australian staff officers to doubt the efficiency of the division.[12]

On the night of 8/9 October, the 197th and 198th brigades began to cover the 2.5 miles (4.0 km) to the front line, which usually took about 1 12 hours. Despite starting ten hours before the attack, the 197th Brigade was late.[13] At zero hour, the 198th Brigade attacked on the left flank of the divisional front, into defences which had been little damaged by the artillery bombardment, advancing behind a meagre creeping barrage and were held up 300 yards (270 m) short of the first objective. The 197th Brigade arrived late on the right flank, exhausted and disorganised after twelve hours march through mud but attacked as soon as it arrived. The brigade rapidly advanced over drier sandy ground and reached the final objective, 700 yards (640 m) short of Passchendaele village at 10:00 a.m.; an officer's patrol entered the village and found it empty. Around midday, the 197th Brigade battalions near the village withdrew their flanks, to gain touch with the units on either side at the first objective; the troops in the centre misinterpreted this and also withdrew the same distance. A German counter-attack was repulsed at 5:10 p.m. and before nightfall, the divisional commander ordered a short withdrawal, to link with the 49th Division on the left and to avoid enfilade fire from the Bellevue Spur; the brigade ended the day 500 yards (460 m) beyond the start line. The division had 3,119 casualties and was relieved by the 3rd Australian Division on the night of 10/11 October.[14][15]

Battle of St. Quentin[edit]

Main article: Operation Michael

During the winter of 1917–18, three battalions (the 3/5th Lancashire Fusiliers and 2/8th and 2/10th Manchester) were disbanded and the brigade machine-gun companies were consolidated into a battalion. The division acquired a pioneer battalion, the 1/5th Border Regiment.[2] In late December 1917, the division also gained a new commanding officer, Major-General Neill Malcolm, formerly Chief of Staff of the Fifth Army.[16]

In March 1918, the 66th Division was one of the units which had many casualties in the Battle of St. Quentin, the start of the German Spring Offensive. The German attack began on 21 March and by the end of the day, the 66th and the 24th Divisions had to fall back, having been outflanked. Despite a determined defence the following day, the retreat continued as the division was threatened with encirclement. The division remained intact and by 23 March, the situation began to stabilise. Elements of the 66th Division counter-attacked over the following days, particularly around Rosières on 27 March and Aubercourt on 30 March.[17] The units operated under independent leadership as the divisional headquarters had ceased to function by 26–27 March.[18] On 27 March, the three brigade headquarters had moved forward to reinforce the left flank of the division. Until the 66th Division was reorganised later in the year, casualties were so numerous that the brigade structure was not reformed and the brigadiers took turns to command the infantry.[19] During its short period of fighting in the Spring Offensive, the division had been reduced to around 2,500 all ranks,[20] of whom just 1,200 were riflemen; two of the three infantry brigades and eight of the twelve infantry battalions had lost their commanders. A proposal to disband the division entirely was discussed in the first week of April, but quickly countermanded.[21]

On 29 March, near Vauchelles-lès-Domart, Malcolm had been badly wounded in his good leg (he was lame in the other, following an injury in South Africa) and left the division to recover, command being taken over temporarily by Brigadier-General A. J. Hunter.[16][22] On 31 March Keppel Bethell, who had commanded the New Army 74th Brigade in the 25th Division since October 1916, was promoted to take over the division.[23][24] At 35, Bethell became the youngest man to command a division during the war; while a temporary Major-General, he still only held the substantive rank of Captain.[25]

A driven and mercurial figure, Bethell inspired both admiration and loathing from his contemporaries, who saw him as an outstanding commander but with a furious, and often unjustified, temper. During his time at 74th Brigade, relations with his staff had diminished to the point where they refused to take meals with him.[26] He also believed in taking whatever he felt he needed from other units, regardless of their needs or wishes, and after leaving 25th Division, he repeatedly returned to poach staff officers and battalion commanders. 74th Brigade would provide the new divisional GSO.2, Walter Guinness (transferred after Bethell's intervention to the Chief of Staff at Army headquarters), and the GSO.3, John Marriott (simply taken by Bethell from hospital).[27] This approach extended to reorganising his new command. On 2 April, Bethell he sent Gordon Macready, the divisional GSO.1, to acquire several hundred guns in order to reform the 66th as a machine-gun division, an idea that appears to have been entirely Bethell's own. After raiding other divisions and emptying the Machine Gun Corps training school, Bethell reported to Field-Marshal Douglas Haig that the 66th was ready to return to combat; he was surprised to find that his friend "Duggie" disapproved of these methods, rejected the proposal and informed him that his division would instead be withdrawn and used as a training unit.[28] Bethell was later offered a new division, but chose to retain the 66th, hoping that they would return to the front lines at a later date.[29]


Following the heavy losses, the 66th was reduced to cadre; the reduction meant that infantry battalions were cut to ten officers and about 45 men, any surplus being sent to base depots, and the artillery, engineer and machine-gun units were distributed among other formations.[30] The divisional artillery was attached to XIX Corps during the Battle of the Avre on 4 April, and with XI Corps at the Battle of the Lys later in the month.[31]

During the summer, Bethell continued to plan for rebuilding the 66th, having recruited a staff he felt he could work with, and expecting that experienced men would become available as drafts returned from the Mediterranean; the divisions there had not taken such heavy casualties, and the reduction from four to three battalions per brigade meant that large numbers would be returning in the coming months.[32] While reinforcements were assembled, the divisional cadres were used to train a series of American divisions. The training process was complicated by a rigid schedule laid down by the American high command, who strongly objected to any deviation from their plans.[33] In July, the American divisions moved up to the front and the new British troops began to arrive from Salonika and Palestine, though the assembly of the division was delayed by the returning men being given home leave and having to spend time acclimatising.[34]

The division had a complicated organisational history during this period, with a large number of units being attached or withdrawn for short periods, while others were merged or disbanded. About thirty infantry battalions were attached for short periods and the divisional artillery and supply columns remained in support of the front line, while one ambulance company was later transferred to serve with the American 27th Division.[2] The future of the division was again in doubt by early September; the 197th Brigade had been transferred away to a training role, and the others were expected to be dispersed in order to disband the division. However, Bethell successfully argued for retaining the division, and was ordered to prepare it for front-line service; the 197th Brigade was replaced by the South African Brigade in order to bring the division back up to strength.[35] By the end of September, following amalgamations and reorganisation, the division was left with the South African Brigade (1st, 2nd, and 4th South African Infantry Regiments), the 198th Brigade (5th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 6th Royal Dublin Fusiliers and 6th Lancashire Fusiliers), and the 199th Brigade (9th Manchester Regiment, 5th Connaught Rangers and 18th King's (Liverpool Regiment)). The divisional pioneers were the 9th Gloucestershire Regiment. Less than a year and a half after arriving in France, the division retained only two of the twelve infantry battalions it had initially possessed (the 6th Lancashire and 9th Manchester) and both of these had been amalgamated with other units from the 42nd Division.[2]

Hundred Days Offensive and war's end[edit]

The division reached the forward areas on 27th September, under the command of XIII Corps, the reserve corps of Fourth Army. They moved into the line on 5 October, relieving 25th Division, and launched an attack at dawn on 8 October, in the opening phase of the Second Battle of Cambrai. After heavy resistance, the village of Serain was captured by nightfall. After this breakthrough, the division moved forward 14 miles (23 km) in three days, with patrols of the Connaught Rangers entering the outskirts of Le Cateau on 10 October.[36] On the night of 16 October, the divisional pioneers and engineers bridged the Selle and the South African Brigade crossed in heavy fog to capture Le Cateau, after heavy losses.[37] The river crossing was the opening stage of the Battle of the Selle (17–25 October), the final advance into Germany.[38]

The division was withdrawn for a short rest, moving back into the line on 2 November. From this point onwards the 66th would be moving almost continually, in close pursuit of the retreating German army. It supported the 25th Division at the Battle of the Sambre on 4 November, and on 7 November leapfrogged past the 25th Division to advance as one of the leading units of the Fourth Army. However, supplies were running short, and the supply system was finding it very difficult to bring up sufficient food and ammunition over heavily cratered roads and wrecked bridges; as a result, the main British advance was forced to halt.[39]

In order to keep up the pursuit, Fourth Army created an improvised formation on 9 November - "Bethell's Force", consisting of 5th Cavalry Brigade, the South African Brigade, and two RAF squadrons, along with various support units from 66th Division. It began pushing forward on 10 November and advanced several miles along a broad front, with a second advance on 11 November only stopped at the last minute by the divisional staff, who had received warning that the armistice would begin at 11 am.[40]

At the Armistice of 11 November 1918, Bethell's Force had reached the Sivry–Beaumont area.[38] From 27 September – 12 November the division had taken 2,195 casualties,[41] and during the Hundred Days offensive was one of only two Allied divisions to consistently succeed in every attack it made.[42] The 66th Division was selected to move north to secure eastern Belgium. On 18 November, it began to move north into the Namur region, where it was stationed in the area from HuyRochefort. The division remained here while it demobilised and ceased to exist on 24 March 1919.[2] Bethell remained in Germany as Colonel-Commandant of the 2nd Rhine Brigade, headquartered at Wiesbaden.[43]

Second World War[edit]

The division was not re-established in the Territorial Army after the war but in September 1939, Territorial divisions were instructed to form a second line formation, as part of the preparation for the Second World War. At this point, the 66th Division was re-embodied, duplicating units of the 42nd (East Lancashire) Infantry Division, as the 66th Infantry Division. It was headquartered in Manchester and retained its local association with the North-West of England, though it now contained units from Liverpool and Cumberland, as well as Lancashire and Manchester. It did not see active service and was disbanded in June 1940, following the Dunkirk evacuation.[44]

Men from No. 5 Beach Group, formerly of 8th King's Liverpool, coming ashore at Sword Beach on D-Day

Following the disbandment of the division, its constituent units were dispersed. The 197th Brigade, with the 257th Field Company RE and 110th Field Regiment RA, was assigned to 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division, which fought in the Normandy Campaign before its battalions were disbanded in August 1944, to make up combat losses in other divisions.[45][46] The brigade was then assigned a number of support units for battlefield clearance duties.[47]

The 198th Brigade was independent for six months and was then assigned to 54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division. After the division was disbanded at the end of 1943, it became an administrative headquarters for lines of communications units.[45][47] The 8th Kings and 6th Border Regiment were retrained as beach groups and landed in Normandy on D-Day.[48] The 199th Brigade with 109th Field Regiment RA, was assigned to 55th (West Lancashire) Infantry Division and renumbered the 166th Infantry Brigade in 1944.[45][47]

The 111th Field Regiment RA was assigned to the 42nd (East Lancashire) Infantry Division, then to 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and in 1942 was sent to the Middle East, where it served in the Eighth Army in Africa, Sicily and Italy.[45][49] In 1944–45, the field regiment was detached to Land Forces Adriatic and operated from Vis on the Croatian coast.[50] The 256th Field Company RE later served with 78th Infantry Division in Africa and Italy.[45]

Order of battle[edit]

Organisation details are taken from The British Army in the Great War unless otherwise noted.[2]


  1. ^ Gibbon, 1920, p. 5
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Baker, Chris (2010). "The 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division". The British Army in the Great War. 
  3. ^ BECKETT, Brig.-Gen. Charles Edward, in Who Was Who (2008)
  4. ^ Baker, Chris (2010). "The Lancashire Fusiliers". The British Army in the Great War. 
  5. ^ Baker, Chris (2010). "The East Lancashire Regiment". The British Army in the Great War. 
  6. ^ a b Baker, Chris (2010). "The Manchester Regiment". The British Army in the Great War. 
  7. ^ Baker, Chris (2010). "The Territorial Force". The British Army in the Great War. 
  8. ^ "Lawrence, Sir Herbert Alexander (1861–1943)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/34438.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ Falls, 1940, p. 64
  10. ^ Edmonds, 1948, pp. 116–118
  11. ^ Gibson (1920), p. 106
  12. ^ Bean, p. 886
  13. ^ Bean, pp. 887–8
  14. ^ Bean, pp. 888–9
  15. ^ Edmonds, 1948, pp. 334, 339
  16. ^ a b Beckett, Ian F.W. "Malcolm, Sir Neill (1869–1953)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/37730.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  17. ^ Stirling, pp. 196–7
  18. ^ Travers, Tim (2005). How the War was Won: Factors that Led to Victory in World War One. Barnsley, S. Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military Classics. p. 73. ISBN 1844152073. 
  19. ^ Edmonds, 1937 p. 22
  20. ^ Edmonds, 1937 p. 491
  21. ^ Bond, pp. 198-99
  22. ^ Edmonds, 1937, p. 91
  23. ^ Quarterly Army List for the quarter ending 31st December 1919 (N & M Press 2001 ed.). London: HMSO. 1920. p. 153. ISBN 1-84342-055-4. 
  24. ^ Kincaid-Smith, 1918, p. 194
  25. ^ Harvey, A.D. (1992). Collision of Empires: Britain in Three World Wars, 1793–1945. London: A & C Black. pp. 312–313. ISBN 1852850787. 
  26. ^ Bond, pp. 16–18
  27. ^ Bond, p. 210
  28. ^ Bond, pp. 16–18
  29. ^ Bond, p. 215
  30. ^ Edmonds, 1939, p. 5
  31. ^ Stirling, pp. 197, 224; Edmonds, 1937, pp. 123, 160
  32. ^ Bond, pp. 215-216
  33. ^ Bond, pp. 216-218
  34. ^ Bond, pp. 222-223; Griffith, pp. 67-68
  35. ^ Bond, pp. 225-227
  36. ^ Bond, pp. 228-234; Edmonds (1947), pp.193–195, 215–217, 237; Hart, pp. 474-475
  37. ^ Stirling, pp. 198–99; Bond, pp. 235-236
  38. ^ a b Stirling, p. 200
  39. ^ Stirling, p. 200; Bond, pp. 239-240
  40. ^ Edmonds, 1947, p. 528; Bond, pp. 240-242
  41. ^ Edmonds, 1945, pp. 552–553, 561
  42. ^ Griffith, p. 56
  43. ^ Edmonds, 1944, p. 292
  44. ^ "66 (East Lancashire) Infantry Division". Orders of Battle.com. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  45. ^ a b c d e f Nafziger, George (1992). "Organization of British Infantry Divisions, 1939–1945". 
  46. ^ Morss, Robert (2011). "59th Division, 1939–44". 
  47. ^ a b c Nafziger, George (1992). "British Infantry Brigades, 1st thru 214th, 1939–1945". 
  48. ^ Latham, H.B. (1958). "The Assault Landings in Normandy: Order of Battle, Second British Army". 
  49. ^ "Units That Served With The 4th Armoured Brigade: Royal Artillery Regiments". The History of the British 4th and 7th Armoured Brigades. 2005. 
  50. ^ "Index: Private Papers of Brigadier T de F Jago OBE". Imperial War Museum. 2014. 


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