12th (Eastern) Division

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12th (Eastern) Division
British 12th (Eastern) Division Insignia.png
Active First World War: August 1914–22 March 1919
Second World War: 1939–1940
Country United Kingdom
Branch New Army
Type Infantry
Engagements Battle of Epehy

The 12th (Eastern) Division was an infantry division raised by the British Army during the Great War from men volunteering for Kitchener's New Armies.[1] The division saw service in the trenches of the Western Front from June 1915 to the end of the war. The division was raised again, now as part of the Territorial Army, prior to World War II and saw service in France and Dunkirk in May 1940. However, it was disbanded shortly after returning to England due to the number of casualties that it took.

Formation and First World War[edit]

The 12th (Eastern) Division, was one of the Kitchener's Army divisions raised from volunteers by Lord Kitchener. It was formed within Eastern Command as a result of Army Order No. 324 of 21 August 1914, as part of the K1 wave of divisions.[2] It fought on the Western Front for the duration of the First World War. One of its most notable actions was the Battle of Epehy where there is a memorial cross to the Division.

In the First World War, the division's insignia was the Ace of Spades.

Second World War[edit]

The division was reformed as the 12th (Eastern) Infantry Division, a 2nd Line Territorial Army formation formed just before the start of the Second World War, a duplicate of the 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division. As such it contained mostly half trained units, some of whom had not even fired their rifles. In April 1940 the 12th Infantry, along with the 23rd (Northumbrian) Division and 46th (West Riding) Infantry Divisions, were sent as lines of communications troops to France to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).[3] They were all under-equipped and did not have their signals, Royal Artillery or administrative units with them.

When the German Army attacks began on 10 May 1940 only every third battalion had done a week's training. As a result the 12th Division suffered heavy casualties during the Battle of France and the subsequent retreat to and evacuation from Dunkirk.

As a result of its high proportion of casualties (the 36th Infantry Brigade having been severely mauled on 20 May 1940) the 12th Division was disbanded on 11 July 1940. However, two of its constituent brigades, the 35th Infantry Brigade and the 36th Infantry Brigade would see service later in the war, the 35th Brigade was redesignated as the 169th Infantry Brigade, with the 56th (London) Infantry Division, and the 36th with the 78th Infantry Division. Both divisions saw service in North Africa and Italy. The 37th Infantry Brigade remained in the United Kingdom for the rest of the war.

First World War Order of Battle[edit]

  • 36th Brigade
    • 8th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) (disbanded February 1918)
    • 9th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)
    • 7th (Service) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment
    • 11th (Service) Battalion, Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex Regiment) (disbanded February 1918)
    • 36th Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps (formed 1 February 1916, moved to 12th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps 1 March 1918)
    • 36th Trench Mortar Battery (formed 15 June 1916)
    • 5th (Service) Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales's (Royal Berkshire Regiment) (joined February 1918 from 35th Brigade)

Second World War Order of Battle[edit]

(Divisional formation as of 3 September 1939, on the outbreak of war)

35th Infantry Brigade

36th Infantry Brigade

37th Infantry Brigade

Divisional Troops

  • 113th (Home Counties) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 114th (Sussex) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 118th (8th London) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 67th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 274th Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 275th Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 276th Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 277th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers

The 35th Infantry Brigade was a duplicate of the 131st (Queen's) Infantry Brigade, part of 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division. The 36th Infantry Brigade was a duplicate of the 132nd (Kent) Infantry Brigade. The 37th Infantry Brigade was a duplicate of the 133rd (Royal Sussex) Infantry Brigade, and was re-created on 7 October 1939. In the battles of Belgium France the 37th Brigade was nearly completely destroyed fighting the German invasion. It was reorganised as the 7th Infantry Brigade on 8 December 1941.

From 7 October 1939 to 25 October 1939 the 5th Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) was also part of 37th Infantry Brigade.[4]

The Divisional formation badge of the Ace of Spades has since been adopted by the present 12th Armoured Infantry Brigade.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beckett 2008, and other authoritative references, refer to this formation as '12th (Eastern) Division'. No mention of 'Infantry.' Beckett 2008, 128
  2. ^ The British Army in the Great War: The 12th (Eastern) Infantry Division, accessed October 2009
  3. ^ Beckett, 2008, 128.
  4. ^ http://www.ordersofbattle.com/UnitData.aspx?UniX=1897, accessed November 2011


External links[edit]