66th Division (United Kingdom)
|Branch||Territorial Force (1914–19)
Territorial Army (1939–40)
|Charles Beckett (1914–15)
Herbert Lawrence (1917)
Neill Malcolm (1917–1918)
Keppel Bethell (1918–19)
Arthur William Purser (1939–1940)
Alan Cunningham (1940)
|Divisional Patch||A blue triangle divided by a horizontal yellow bar|
The 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division of the British Army was a second-line Territorial Force division, formed in 1914, 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 formed as a duplicate of the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division in 1914, 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 In early 1918, it took heavy losses during the German Spring Offensive, and was withdrawn from the line and reduced to a cadre in order to rebuild.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 during the hurried expansion of the Territorial Army in 1939. It was active for slightly over a year before being finally disbanded in June 1940, having only seen home service.
- 1 Formation and home service
- 2 Western Front
- 3 Demobilisation and the Second World War
- 4 Order of battle
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
Formation and home service
The division was created as the "2nd East Lancashire Division", a second-line formation of the East Lancashire Division at the end of August 1914. At this time, Territorial Force soldiers could not be deployed overseas without their consent, and the existing 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 only. The second line units also served to absorb the large number of new, untrained, recruits who had joined the Territorial Force following the outbreak of war. Its initial commander was Brigadier-General Charles Beckett, a 65-year old retired officer who had commanded a Yeomanry brigade some years earlier.
As with the original East Lancashire Division, the 2nd East Lancashire was organised into three four-battalion infantry brigades. 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. The 197th drew its men from Bury and Salford; the 198th from Blackburn, Burnley, Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham; and the 199th from Wigan, Manchester, and Ardwick. The division also raised second-line Territorial artillery, medical, signal and engineer units, all from the Lancashire-Manchester recruiting area, and was assigned an attached squadron of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry.
Through the next two years, the 2nd East Lancashire, numbered as the 66th Division in 1915, provided trained men for its parent unit as well as carrying out home defence duties in England. Elements of the division assembled near Southport in late 1914, then moved south to the Kent-Sussex area in May 1915, and to Essex in early 1916. In early 1915, one second-line battalion (the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers) was detached for overseas service, joining 51st (Highland) Division, and was replaced by its third-line counterpart, the 3/5th Lancashire Fusiliers; this would become one of the few third-line territorial battalions to see active service. One of the three companies of Royal Engineers was also sent to France in 1915 (to join 48th (South Midland) Division), and during 1916 three of the division's four heavy and howitzer artillery batteries were withdrawn or broken up.
Following the Military Service Act 1916, all Territorial soldiers were deemed to able to serve outside the UK, and so the division became eligible for overseas service; in February 1917, it was instructed to prepare for a move to the Continent, and received a new and experienced commanding officer, Herbert Lawrence.
Flanders and Poelcappelle, 1917
The division arrived in France at the end of February, and was assigned to the relatively quiet coastal sector in Flanders. During the summer, it was held in reserve to support a breakthrough following the Operation Hush offensive along the coast, but this was delayed and then cancelled.
At the end of September, it was relieved by the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division, its parent unit, and moved south to the Ypres area, where it saw its first major action at the Battle of Poelcappelle. The division's lead brigade, the 199th, moved into the front line to replace 3rd Australian Division on 5 October; this was badly mismanaged, however, leading the Australian staff officers to seriously doubt the division's efficiency. On the night of the 8th, the two other brigades, the 197th and 198th, began to cover the two and a half miles, around an hour and a half's normal march, to the front line; despite starting ten hours before the attack was to begin, the 197th failed to reach it in time. The 198th attacked on the left into strong defences mostly untouched by the artillery barrage, and were held up short of their objective; meanwhile, the 197th, on their right, arrived late, exhausted, and disorganised after twelve hours march through mud and water, but successfully pushed through into Passchendaele village, their final objective. Elements of the 197th were ordered to fall back to keep touch with the neighbouring units, but this was misinterpreted as a general withdrawal by the other battalions, and the brigade ended the day holding positions just past their first objective line.
Battle of St. Quentin
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 single battalion. The division also acquired a pioneer battalion, the 1/5th Border Regiment. In late December 1917, the division also acquired a new commanding officer, Major-General Neill Malcolm, formerly the chief of staff of Fifth Army.
In March 1918, the 66th Division was one of the units which took heavy losses in the Battle of St. Quentin, the start of the German Spring Offensive. The attack began on 21 March; after a day of heavy fighting, the 66th and its neighbouring division, the 24th, were outflanked and had to fall back. The retreat continued the following day, when despite heavy resistance the division retreated in order to avoid being surrounded, but by the 23rd the situation began to stabilise. The 66th launched a series of counterattacks over the following days, with major fighting around Rosières on 27 March and Aubercourt on 30 March.
By the evening of 30 March, the division had been reduced to around 2,500 all ranks, with around 7,000 casualties. It was withdrawn from the line at the start of April and reduced to a cadre in order to rebuild, though elements may have participated in the Battle of the Avre on 4 April. The command of the division also changed; on 29 March, Malcolm had been badly wounded in his good leg (he was lame in the other, following an injury in South Africa), and he left the division to recover. His replacement was the 45-year-old Keppel Bethell, who had previously commanded a New Army brigade in 25th Division; he arrived on 31 March.
Reconstitution and the Hundred Days Offensive
The 66th Division had a complicated organisational history as it regained its strength over the following months, with a large number of individual units being attached or withdrawn for short periods, while others were merged or disbanded; in total, around thirty infantry battalions were attached for short periods. Meanwhile, the divisional artillery and supply columns remained in support of the front line, while one ambulance company was transferred to serve with the American 27th Division.
By the end of September, following amalgamations and reorganisation, the 198th Brigade consisted of the 5th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the 6th Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the 6th Lancashire Fusiliers, while the 199th consisted of the 9th Manchester Regiment, 5th Connaught Rangers and the 18th King's (Liverpool Regiment). The 197th Brigade had been detached and replaced with the South African Brigade, and the divisional pioneers were the 9th Gloucestershire Regiment. Less than a year and a half after arriving in France, the division only retained 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.
Following its return to the front lines during the Hundred Days Offensive, the division saw action at the Battle of Cambrai. Here, it was part of XIII Corps in Fourth Army, which broke through the German front lines and advanced forward several miles. The 66th captured Serain on 8 October and continued to press forwards, with advance patrols entering Le Cateau late on 10 October and reaching the River Selle. On the night of 16 October, the divisional pioneers and engineers bridged the Selle, and the South African Brigade crossed to capture the eastern side of Le Cateau after heavy fighting on 17 October. This crossing was the opening stages of the Battle of the Selle, and thus the final advance into Germany.
In early November, the division fought at the Battle of the Sambre, where it supported the 25th Division's capture of Landrecies, and on 7 November leapfrogged past the 25th to advance forward as one of the leading units of the Fourth Army. On 11 November, at the Armistice, it had reached the Sivry-Beaumont area in Lorraine.
Demobilisation and the Second World War
Following the Armistice, the 66th 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 around the Huy-Rochefort area. The division remained here while it demobilised, and ceased to exist on 24 March 1919.
The division was not re-established in the Territorial Army after the war, but in September 1939, the existing Territorial divisions were all instructed to form a second line formation as part of the preparation for the Second World War. At this point, the 66th 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 the Borders as well as Lancashire and Manchester. It did not see active service, and was disbanded in June 1940 following the Dunkirk evacuation.
Following the disbandment of the division, its constituent units were dispersed. 197th Brigade (along with 257th Field Company RE and 110th Field Regiment RA) was assigned to 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division; it fought in the Normandy Campaign before its battalions were disbanded to make up combat losses in August 1944. The brigade was then assigned a number of support units for to battlefield clearance duties.
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. The 199th Brigade (with 109th Field Regiment RE) was assigned to 55th (West Lancashire) Infantry Division, and renumbered the 166th Infantry Brigade in 1944. The 111th Field Artillery Regiment was assigned to the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division, and the 256th Field Company RE would later serve with 78th Infantry Division in Africa and Italy.
Order of battle
- Organisation details are taken from The British Army in the Great War unless otherwise noted.
Organisation, December 1914
Organisation as formed in late 1914.
|2nd Lancashire Fusiliers Brigade
||2nd East Lancashire Brigade||2nd Manchester Brigade
Royal Army Medical Corps
Organisation, February 1917
Organisation after arrival in France, February 1917.
|197th (Lancashire Fusiliers) Brigade
||198th (East Lancashire) Brigade||199th (Manchester) Brigade
Royal Army Medical Corps
Organisation, October 1918
Organisation after reconstitution, in October–November 1918.
|198th (East Lancashire) Brigade||199th (Manchester) Brigade||South African Brigade
Royal Army Medical Corps
Organisation, September 1939
Organisation when reformed in 1939.
|197th Infantry Brigade||198th Infantry Brigade||199th Infantry Brigade
- Chris Baker, The British Army in the Great War: The 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division
- BECKETT, Brig.-Gen. Charles Edward, in Who Was Who (2008)
- Chris Baker, The British Army in the Great War: The Lancashire Fusiliers
- Chris Baker, The British Army in the Great War: The East Lancashire Regiment
- Chris Baker, The British Army in the Great War: The Manchester Regiment
- Chris Baker, The British Army in the Great War: The Territorial Force
- "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)
- Chris Baker, The British Army in the Great War: Operation Hush
- Bean, p. 886
- Bean, pp. 887-8
- Bean, pp. 888-9
- Malcolm, Sir Neill (1869–1953), in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- Stirling, pp. 196–7
- Stirling, p. 197
- Stirling, p. 224
- Quarterly Army List for the quarter ending 31st December 1919. London: HMSO. 1920. p. 153.
- Stirling, pp. 198–99
- Stirling, p. 200
- "66 (East Lancashire) Infantry Division". Orders of Battle.com. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
- Nafziger, George (1992). "Organization of British Infantry Divisions, 1939-1945".
- 59th Division, 1939-44
- Nafziger, George (1992). "British Infantry Brigades, 1st thru 214th, 1939-1945".
- Stirling, John (1922). The Territorial Divisions, 1914–1918. London: J. M. Dent. OCLC 5529219.
- Bean, C E W (1941). Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918: Volume IV (11th ed.).