20th (Light) Division

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20th (Light) Division
20th (Light) Division sign World War 1.svg
20th (Light) Division sign, used on notice boards and signs.
Active September 1914 - May 1919
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Infantry

World War I

Battle of Loos
Battle of Mont Sorrel
Battle of the Somme (1916)
Battle of Guillemont
Battle of Flers-Courcelette
Battle of Morval
Battle of Le Transloy
Battle of Messines (1917)
Third Battle of Ypres
Battle of Cambrai (1917)

The 20th (Light) Division was an infantry division of the British Army, part of Kitchener's Army, raised in the First World War. The division was formed in September 1914 as part of the K2 Army Group. The division landed in France July 1915 and spent the duration of the First World War in action on the Western Front.



Formation and Training[edit]

The 20th (Light) Division was authorised on 11 September 1914 and was to be composed of newly raised battalions from quick marching rifle and light infantry regiments.[1] The 59th[a] and 60th[b] Brigades were concentrated at Blackdown with the Division Headquarters and other division troops. The 61st Brigade[c] was concentrated at Aldershot, where the medical component also trained, the Artillery was formed near Deepcut, the engineers were trained at Chatham.[2] Clothing, in the form of emergency Kitchener Blue uniforms did not arrive until November, together with a few old rifles for drill practice, the artillery had only two 90mm guns and two 15 pounders per brigade. The supply situation had improved by February 1915 when the Division moved to Whitley, by which time the 11th DLI, which had a large number or miners in it had become the Division pioneer battalion, trading places in the 61st Brigade with the 12th King's Regiment, the original divisional troops battalion.[3] In April the Division marched to Salisbury Plain to complete its training and were joined by the field ambulances after their training in June. the Division was inspected by the King at the end of that month, and embarked for France in the later part of July.[4]


Leaving Amesbury on 20 July, by 26 July the Division was concentrated in the Lumbres area 22 miles (35 km) east of Boulogne-sur-Mer. By 30 July the Division was part of III Corps of the First Army, and was billeted in the area between Hazebrouck and Armentières. Training now began in trench warfare, with officers and N.C.O.s being posted to the 8th and 27th Divisions, and bombing (grenades), machine gun and gas mask training for the other troops. The units of the Division were rotated though the 8th and 27th Divisions in turn to experience trench warfare first hand between 2 and 17 August. The engineers and pioneers were employed at various tasks behind the lines.[5]

Ammunition column carts of the 20th (Light) Division, Estaires, August 1915

At the end of August the Division went into the front line in front of Levantie, 5 miles (8.0 km) south west of Armentiers, 59th and 60th Brigades in the line and the 61st in reserve. In this area the high water table meant that breastworks were required for defence.[6] During September mining and counter mining were carried out and snipers were trained in response to losses from German snipers. The 61st Brigade moved into the line on 5 September, relieving a brigade of the 8th Division. In the early hours of 13 September a mine was exploded by the Germans under a small salient held by 7th S.L.I., the crater was occupied by others from the battalion in spite of German shelling and mortaring, and 12 of the soldiers buried by the explosion were rescued alive. The division history records the first gallantry awards earned by men of the Division during this action, a Military Cross and a Distinguished Service Medal.[7]


Main article: Battle of Loos

As part of a subsidiary action north of Loos, the 20th Division with the flanking Divisions (the Meerut Division to the south and the 8th to the north) were to launch a diversionary attack on the German lines, holding any lines gained. After four days of bombardment, with changes in the tempo of the shelling falsely indicating an imminent attack, and other demonstrations from the front line the attack was made on the morning of 25 September. Troops from the Indian Bareilly Brigade, and two battalions from the 60th Brigade (6th K.S.L.I. and 12th R.B.) managed to enter the German lines, but an attempt to drive a sap back towards the British lines was met with heavy enfilade fire and was halted Unable to be supported the British were forced to retire around midday. The other two brigades made no advance that day but were still shelled in their trenches. Lieutenant George Allen Maling R.A.M.C. of the field ambulance attached to the 60th Brigade won the Victoria Cross for treating men in the open under heavy shell fire all through the day.[8] The 60th Brigade had suffered 561 casualties in total, and next day the pioneers (11th D.L.I.) were attached to the Brigade as reinforcing infantry until 10 November, and the 68th Brigade from the 23rd Division was attached as division reserve.[9][10]
The three brigades remained in the line , engaged in patrolling, mining, mortaring, sniping and demonstrating in order to prevent the Germans relieving parts of their line. The Division's mounted troops rotated through the trenches, and the cyclist company troops provided working parties.[11] On 10 November the Indian Corps to the Division's right was relieved and replaced with XI Corps, this allowed the Division to shorten its line to two Brigades, the pioneers and the 68th Brigade returned to their normal roles.[12] For the rest of the year the Division's artillery saw the most use, however a trench raid by parties from 10th R.B. and 11th K.R.R.C. was mounted on the night of 12-13 December. The 11th K.R.R.C. entered the German trenches, inflicting casualties, the 10th R.B. party had further to travel over no-mans land and faced an alerted enemy and were forced to withdraw.[13]


A gas attack, planned for the previous December, was finally launched with the arrival of favourable winds, as the Division began to leave the Levantie sector on 9 January 1916. Less than half of the cylinders intended were still in place and trench raids planned for that night were cancelled.[14] The final units of the division arrived in the reserve area on 13 January. After one weeks rest and training the Division was ordered to the Ypres Salient.[15]


Map showing topography and locations in the Ypres district, detailing British–French advances at Ypres, 1917

Arriving on 22 January in VI Corps reserve area, officers and N.C.O.s were sent to 14th Division, which the Division was to relieve, to become acquainted with the area. On 4 February VI Corps handed over to the newly formed XIV Corps (20th Division and the Guards Division).[16] The Division was in the northern section of the salient, 2.5 miles (4.0 km) north of Ypres with its left on the canal. The area had been rendered a quagmire by shelling and the trench system was fragmented, shallow and poorly maintained, these remnants being separated by gaps of up to 80 yards (73 m) of mud.[17] On the night of 11-12 February during the first placement of 60th Brigade into the line, the Germans attempted to interrupt the relief, but were thrown back after temporarily capturing one of the trench fragments. They were praised by Army and Corps commanders for their successful actions "...in novel conditions which might have placed them at a disadvantage.", and by their own Division and Brigade commanders. Shortly after this isolated points were abandoned, one of which was 20 yards (18 m) from the German line and connected to it by a sap. The engineers and pioneers began the task of improving the trench system, the size of the task indicated by the fact that for a time 4 long tons (4.1 t) of material per night were being moved from divisional workshops to the 96th Field Company R.E., attached to the 60th Brigade.[18] The difference in conditions in the salient can be seen in the casualty figures for the first month, of around 1,000 men killed, wounded or missing, equal to those of the whole five months while in the Laventie sector.[19]
In early March the Division was strengthened by the arrival of three companies of machine gunners, each attached to a brigade.[20]
The Division was relieved by the 6th Division on 15 April, and went into GHQ and Corps reserve around Poperinghe, with each brigade spending around a week in Calais. During a month of rest and retraining, the artillery was reorganised and the mounted troops and cyclist company left the Division.[21]
On 18 May the Division returned to the salient, relieving the Guards Division to the right of its previous position between Wieltje and Hooge, with the 6th Division on its left and the Canadian Corps on its right.[22]

Battle of Mont Sorrel[edit]
Main article: Battle of Mont Sorrel

On 2 June the Germans launched an attack on the Canadians to the right of the Division. The right of the 60th Brigade received some of the German artillery barrage and two artillery pieces, placed near the Canadian front line to give enfilade fire along the Division's front, were lost with most of the crews. Units travelling up to the line were also shelled, including two companies of 12 K.R.R.C., sent to reinforce the Canadian left.[23] The 60th Brigade was targeted by German artillery on 6 June, however it was able to fire on Germans moving up to Hooge, an infantry attack on the brigade later that day was repulsed, but a mine was exploded under the trenches of 12 R.B. at Gulley Farm killing 11 men.[24] Throughout the day the Division supported the Canadians with Trench mortar fire and the engineers assisted with the maintenance of communications. When the Canadians counter-attacked in the early hours of 13 June the Division launched gas, smoke and artillery attacks on the German lines, followed by patrols and trench raids which met with varied success.[25]
The remainder of the Division's time at Ypres was spent patrolling and in trench raids. On 13 July 60th Brigade was placed under orders of II ANZAC Corps and transferred to the Armentieres sector, and supported an unsuccessful attack by the 61st (2nd South Midland) Division and the 5th Australian Division on 19 June. The remainder of the Division was relieved on 14 July. On 19 July the Division began to move back into the Line between Messines and Wytschaete, relieving the 24th Division. The Division Commander had been in command of the area for little more than an hour when verbal orders were received for a move south. The 60th Brigade rejoined the Division on 23 July, on 25-26 July the Division moved south leaving its artillery in the Ypres area.[26]

Men of the 11th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry being taken forward by light railway near Elverdinghe, during the Third Battle of Ypres, 31 July 1917.

Order of Battle[edit]

59th Brigade
  • 10th (Service) Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps (disbanded February 1918)
  • 11th (Service) Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps
  • 10th (Service) Battalion, Rifle Brigade (disbanded February 1918)
  • 11th (Service) Battalion, Rifle Brigade
  • 2nd Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) (from February 1918)
  • 59th Machine Gun Company (joined 3 March 1916, left to form 20th MG Battalion 15 March 1918)
  • 59th Trench Mortar Battery (formed July 1916)
60th Brigade
61st Brigade
Divisional Troops
  • 12th Battalion, King’s (Liverpool Regiment) ( to 61st Brigade January 1915)
  • 11th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (pioneers) (from 61st Brigade January 1915)
  • 9th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment (left April 1915)
  • 14th Motor Machine Gun Battery (26 January 1915 — 22 April 1916)
  • HQ, D Sqn and MG Section, Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry (24 June 1915 — 29 April 1916)
  • 20th Divisional Cyclist Company, Army Cyclist Corps (formed 22 December 1914, left 17 May 1916)
  • 217th Company, MGC ( March 1917, moved into 20th Machine Gun Battalion 15 March 1918)
  • 20th Battalion Machine Gun Corps (formed 15 March 1918)
  • 20th Divisional Train Army Service Corps
    • 158th, 159th, 160th and 161st Companies
Royal Artillery
  • XC Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (RFA) (broken up 30 August 1916)
  • XCI Brigade, RFA
  • XCII (Howitzer) Brigade, RFA (left 8 January 1917)
  • XCIII Brigade, RFA (broken up 8-9 September 1916)
  • 20th Divisional Ammunition Column RFA
  • 20th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) (raised with the Division but moved independently to France in August 1915)
  • V.20 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery RFA (formed May 1916, broken up 2 February 1918)
  • X.20, Y.20 and Z.20 Medium Mortar Batteries RFA (formed May 1916; Z battery broken up in February 1918, and distributed to X and Y batteries)
Royal Engineers
  • 83rd Field Company
  • 84th Field Company
  • 96th Field Company (from 26th Division in January 1915)
  • 20th Divisional Signals Company
Royal Army Medical Corps
  • 60th Field Ambulance
  • 61st Field Ambulance
  • 62nd Field Ambulance
  • 33rd Sanitary Section (left 24 April 1917)

Victoria Cross Recipients[edit]

Main article: Victoria Cross


Memorial to the division close to Delville Wood in the Somme

General Officer Commanding[edit]


  1. ^ 10th and 11th battalions King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC), 10th and 11th battalions Rifle Brigade (Rifles)
  2. ^ 6th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Ox & Bucks), 6th battalion King's Own Shropshire Light Infantry (KSOLI), 12th battalion KRRC and 12th battalion Rifles
  3. ^ 7th battalion Somerset Light Infantry, 7th battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry (DCLI), 7th battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) and (initially) the 11th battalion Durham Light Infantry] (DLI)


  1. ^ Inglefield p. 1
  2. ^ Inglefield pp. 3-4
  3. ^ Inglefield pps. 3, 5
  4. ^ Inglefield pp. 6-7
  5. ^ Inglefield pp. 7-9
  6. ^ Inglefield pp. 11-12
  7. ^ Inglefield pp. 12-14
  8. ^ Inglefield pp. 15-22
  9. ^ Sandilands p. 32-33
  10. ^ Inglefield p. 23
  11. ^ Inglefield p. 34
  12. ^ Inglefield p. 29
  13. ^ Inglefield pp. 31-33
  14. ^ Inglefield pp. 33-34
  15. ^ Inglefield p. 35
  16. ^ Inglefield p. 36
  17. ^ Inglefield p. 37
  18. ^ Inglefield pp. 39-43
  19. ^ Inglefield p. 37
  20. ^ Inglefield p. 43
  21. ^ Inglefield pp. 47-48
  22. ^ Inglefield p. 48
  23. ^ Inglefield pp. 49-51
  24. ^ Inglefield pp. 51-52
  25. ^ Inglefield pp. 53-54
  26. ^ Inglefield pp. 54-60


  • Inglefield, Capt. V.E. The History of the Twentieth (Light) Division. Naval and Military Press. ISBN 9781843424093. 

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]