50th (Northumbrian) Division

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the equivalent formation in World War II, see 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division.
Northumbrian Division
50th (Northumbrian) Division
Active 1908 – 19 March 1919
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army Territorial Force
Type Infantry
Size Division
HQ (peacetime) Richmond, North Yorkshire

Western Front (World War I)

Second Battle of Ypres
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Arras (1917)
Third Battle of Ypres
First Battle of the Somme (1918)
Battle of the Lys (1918)
Battles of the Hindenburg Line
Final Advance in Picardy

The Northumbrian Division was an infantry division of the British Army, formed in 1908 as part of the Territorial Force with units drawn from the north-east of England, notably Northumberland, Durham and the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire. The division was numbered as 50th (Northumbrian) Division in 1915 and served on the Western Front throughout World War I. Due to losses suffered in the Ludendorf Offensive in March 1918 it had to be comprehensively reorganized. It was once again reformed in the Territorial Army as the Northumbrian Division in 1920.



Under the Haldane Reforms of the Army of 1908, the Territorial Force was formed and organised into 14 regional Divisions, each with area Brigades and local Battalions. The Divisions were intended to be replicas of the regular army divisions of approximately 18,000 men on mobilisation including infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineer, medical, supply and signal units. The Northumbrian Division was typical, consisting of three infantry brigades, the 'Northumberland', 'York and Durham' and 'Durham Light Infantry (DLI)' Brigades. Each brigade was composed of four infantry battalions, descendants of the local Volunteer corps. In 1907 Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell was appointed to command the Division;[a] he held command from April 1908 to 1910.[1]

The terms of the Territorial Force soldiers were for home service only, they were to be used to garrison the country when the regulars left for overseas. In the summer of 1914 the Division was at its annual summer training camp in North Wales when, on 3 August, it received orders to return to the North East. Receiving mobilisation orders the next day, the Division arrived at its war station of the coastal defences, railways and dockyards of the Tyne and Wear area. After preparing these defences and undertaking more training, the territorials volunteered to serve overseas in September.[2] After more training the Division was the forth to be declared fit for service,[3] embarking for France between 16 and 19 April 1915 with orders to concentrate around Steenvoorde.[4]

World War I[edit]

A new division arriving in France would normally expect a period of additional training to teach the men about Trench warfare, however on the evening of the arrival of the last unit on 22 April, the division was ordered to have all units stand by.[5]

Second Battle of Ypres[edit]

The Northumbrian Division's first battles.
St Julien[edit]

In the early stages of this battle, the separate brigades and even battalions were to come under command of other divisions, the 4th, 5th, 27th and 28th British divisions and the 1st Canadian Division. The brigades were committed piecemeal to the battle with the York and Durham brigade the first to come under fire at first light on 24 April,[6] before moving into the GHQ line. Two battalions of the brigade (1/4th Green Howards and 1/4th East Yorkshire Regiment) were the first of the division to attack the Germans, attempting to take St Julien in the afternoon, but being beaten back and returning to Potijze in the dark.[7] The Northumbrian and DLI brigades were moved up to Potijze that evening. The 6th DLI was sent to the GHQ line and the 8th battalion began a long trek in the rain via Zonnebeke to relieve the 8th Canadian battalion at Boetleer's Farm on the Gravenstafel ridge, arriving in the early hours of 25 April.[8]

The Northumbrian and York and Durham Brigades were to be the Corps reserve for an attack on St Julien on 25 April. Two battalions of the York and Durham Brigade (1/5th Green Howards and 1/5th D.L.I.) and the four of the Northumbrian Brigade supported the attacks of the 10th Brigade, but due to poor communications and timing errors gained little but casualties from artillery.[9] The 8th D.L.I. (with a company of Monmouths and one of the Middlesex Regiment) at Boetleer's Farm, suffered almost constant shelling throughout the day, some of it from the rear from the southern end of the salient, but held on to repulse a German attack in the evening. Early the next morning the exposed position, North of the Gravenstafel—Koorsaelaere road, was flanked and the battalion suffered from machine-gun fire in enfilade, and was forced to fall back by sections, even then stopping the German advance with rifle fire, reaching a more established line and the reinforcements that had been promised earlier, late in the day.[10] The battalion was reduced to 146 officers and men.[11] The 6th and 7th D.L.I. were used to support the 85th Brigade around Zevenkkote and Zonnebeke, and were shelled throughout the day.[12]

The Northumberland Brigade was to suffer once more from poor communications on 26 April. Concentrated around Wieltje, the brigade was designated the reserve for the 1st Canadian Division. In the morning the 5th N.F. was ordered to reconnoitre and block a possible German attack from Fortuin, reaching the village, it came under artillery fire and dug in.[13] At 1:30 pm orders were received for the rest of the Brigade to attack St. Julien in cooperation with the Lahore Division and 10th Brigade, this was the first attack by a territorial brigade in the war. With only 35 minutes in which to prepare before the start of the attack, no artillery support was obtained and the routes through the wire of the GHQ line were unknown, as a result the troops were slow in leaving the and presented targets for the Germans. On reaching the front line the 10th Brigade could not be found, its orders had been changed. Advancing from here the 6th N.F. took some trenches the Germans had retired from, the 4th and 7h battalions were unable to leave the front line. Under artillery fire the 6th battalion dug in and withdrew during the night. The Northumberland Brigade lost 1954 officers and men, over 2/3 of its strength, during the day.[14]

The next few days were spent preparing the new line to which the allies were to fall back to, and alternately holding the front line, often reinforcing other units in company strength, all the while under fire. The infantry of this novice and unacclimatised Division was withdrawn from the salient during the night of 2-3 May, having lost 3764 men killed, wounded and missing since 24 April.[15] On 5 May the 5th (Cumberland) Battalion of the Border Regiment joined the Northumbrian Brigade to reinforce it.

Frezenberg Ridge[edit]

The next German attack, on the Frezenberg Ridge, began on 8 May and for the first time involved the division's artillery under the control of the other British Divisions in the area (the 4th, 27th and 28th). The Howitzers firing from positions West and North of Ypres and the field guns from south of Potijze revealed the age and limitations of the 4.7 inch guns, and 15 pounders. The infantry would be used to provide working parties, with the Durham Light Infantry Brigade (6th, 7th and 9th battalions) moving into the 2nd line trenches on 11 May astride the Menin Road, and the 5th Green Howards and the 5th D.L.I. being split into companies and attached to Regular battalions near Sanctuary and Hooge Woods. None of the infantry was involved in fighting.[16] On 12 May the division HQ was informed that it was now to be known as the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, and its infantry Brigades numbered as the 149th, 150th and 151st, and artillery Brigades 250th, 251st, 252nd and 253rd.[17] The artillery would remain attached to other divisions in action around Ypres until the end of the month.[18]


The infantry of the division continued its dispersed existence to the extent that some battalions were split into companies and attached to different battalions of other divisions in the line, even the division history admits difficulty in following them.[19] The brigades of the division were used to reinforce the regular units in the line, (from North to South) the 149th brigade with the 4th Division around Verlorenhoek, the 151st with the 28th Division, West of Bellwaarde, and the 150th with the Cavalry Corps[b] near Bellewaarde lake and the Menin Road.[21]

In the early morning of 24 May the Germans launched an intense artillery and gas attack on the British lines, even those units not in the front line suffered from the gas. In some areas of 4th Division's line the German trenches were only 30 yards away, for example at Mouse Trap Farm, and surprise was gained, forcing the British back to reserve lines. Here the 5th Borderers and 5th N.F. were very much distributed among 10th and 12th Brigades.[22][c] The 5th Northumberland Fusiliers lost 24 dead, 90 wounded and 170 missing, while the 5th Borderers simply state in their history that they had heavy casualties to gas but difficulty in numbering them due to the dispersion.[23] The trenches in the line held by 85th Brigade (28th Division) were in a poor state due to the weather, and here the Germans broke through the front line between the Potijze—Verlorenheok road and the Ypres—Roulers railway.[24] Two companies of the 9th D.L.I., attached to the 2nd East Surreys, found themselves of the North shoulder of the breakthrough, with two companies of the 7th D.L.I., attached to the 3rd Royal Fusiliers, on the Southern, which was attacked again and forced back to rear lines. The 8th D.L.I. (now 275 of all ranks strong) was ordered to reinforce this Southern section and close the gap and after being shelled moving up through the GHQ line, succeeded in surprising the Germans and rushing 200 yards of open ground without loss to do so.[25][d]

Holding the Line[edit]

On 1 June the division HQ learned that it was to take over a section of the line as a whole division, the first time since 22 April. It first had to reassemble, which was completed on 5 June, concentrating at Abele.[27] On 7 June, the 150th Brigade took over from 9th Brigade (3rd Division) in the trenches West of Zillebeke, joined by 149th Brigade on 10 June to their North up to the Menin Road.[28]

The Somme[edit]

and the Battle of the Somme in 1916.[29]


In 1917 it took part in the Battle of Arras and the Third Battle of Ypres.

Spring Offensive[edit]

As a result of the losses suffered in the Ludendorf Offensive (First Battle of the Somme and Battle of the Lys), the division had to be comprehensively reorganized.[30] The assigned infantry battalions were reduced to cadre on 15 July 1918 and left the division.

Hundred Days[edit]

They were replaced by six battalions from Salonika, one from Palestine and two that had been in France since August 1914.[31] Thereafter, it took part in the Battles of the Hindenburg Line and the Final Advance in Picardy.[30]


The 50th Division had crossed the Sambre and reached Solre-le-Château on 10 November 1918 when it was relieved from the line. Demobilization started in December and by 19 March 1919 the division had ceased to exist in France. It was reformed again in England on 1 April 1920 as the Northumbrian Division.[30]

Order of Battle, World War I[edit]

  • Peacetime HQ: Richmond (Yorkshire)

149th (Northumberland) Brigade[edit]

Until July 1918:

  • 1/4th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers – reduced to cadre and left 15 July 1918
  • 1/5th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers – reduced to cadre and left 15 July 1918
  • 1/6th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers – reduced to cadre and left 15 July 1918
  • 1/7th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers – transferred to 42nd Division as a Pioneer Battalion, 10 February 1918
  • 1/5th (Cumberland) Battalion, Border Regiment – joined May 1915, left for 151st Brigade December 1915
  • 149th Machine Gun Company – formed 6 February 1916, moved to Divisional Machine Gun battalion 1 March 1918
  • 149th Trench Mortar Battery – formed 18 June 1916

From July 1918:

150th (York and Durham) Brigade[edit]

Until July 1918:

  • 1/4th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment – reduced to cadre and left 15 July 1918
  • 1/4th Battalion, Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own (Yorkshire Regiment) – reduced to cadre and left 15 July 1918
  • 1/5th Battalion, Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own (Yorkshire Regiment) – reduced to cadre and left 15 July 1918
  • 1/5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry – to 151st Brigade 12 February 1918
  • 150th Machine Gun Company – formed 1 February 1916, moved to Divisional Machine Gun battalion 1 March 1918
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery – formed 18 June 1916

From July 1918:

151st (Durham Light Infantry) Brigade[edit]

Until July 1918

  • 1/6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry – reduced to cadre and left 15 July 1918
  • 1/7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry – left to become Division's Pioneer Battalion 16 November 1915
  • 1/8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry – reduced to cadre and left 15 July 1918
  • 1/9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry – left 12 February 1918
  • 1/5th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment – joined 11 June 1915, left 21 December 1915
  • 1/5th (Cumberland) Battalion, Border Regiment – joined from 149th Brigade December 1915, left 12 February 1918
  • 1/5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry – joined from 150th Brigade 12 February 1918, reduced to cadre and left 15 July 1918
  • 151st Machine Gun Company – formed 6 February 1916, moved to Divisional Machine Gun battalion 1 March 1918
  • 151st Trench Mortar Battery – formed 18 June 1916

From July 1918


From[32] and[33]

  • 1st Northumbrian Brigade – renamed 250th Brigade R.F.A. 16 April 1916:
    • 1st, 2nd and 3rd Northumberland batteries – renamed A, B and C batteries 16 April 1916.[e]
    • D battery – formed 10 April 1916, transferred to 253rd Brigade on 16 April and replaced by 4th Durham (Howitzer) battery, renamed D battery[f]
    • 1st Northumbrian Ammunition Column. Peacetime HQ – Newcastle
  • 2nd Northumbrian Brigade – (renamed 251st Brigade R.F.A. 16 April 1916.:
    • 1st, 2nd and 3rd East Riding Batteries – renamed A, B and C Batteries 16 April 1916.[e]
    • D Battery – formed 10 April 1916, transferred to 253rd Brigade on 16 April and replaced by 5th Durham (Howitzer) Battery, renamed D Battery[f]
    • 2nd Northumbrian Ammunition Column. Peacetime HQ – Hull
  • 3rd Northumbrian (County of Durham) Brigade – renamed 252nd Brigade R.F.A. 16 April 1916. Broken up in late January 1917,[34] D (Howitzer) battery distributed to 250th and 251st Brigades.:
    • 1st, 2nd and 3rd Durham Batteries.[g] – Renamed A, B and C Batteries 16 April 1916, B broken up on 16 November, then C renamed B.[e] In January 1917 A battery transferred to 242nd Brigade R.F.A., B to 72nd Brigade.
    • D Battery – formed 10 April 1916, transferred to 253rd Brigade on 16 April and replaced by D/61 Battery, renamed D Battery[h]
    • 3rd Northumbrian (County of Durham) Ammunition Column. Peacetime HQ – Seaham Harbour
  • 4th Northumbrian (County of Durham) Howitzer Brigade – renamed 253rd Brigade R.F.A. 16 April 1916. Broken up 16 November and distributed to 250th and 251st brigades.:
    • 4th Durham and 5th (Howitzer) batteries.[i] – transferred to 250th and 251st brigades on 16 May 1916
    • D/61 battery – joined from the Guards Division 21 February 1916, transferred to 252nd brigade on 16 May 1916
    • A, B and C batteries – the D batteries from 250th, 251st and 252nd brigades joined on 16 May 1916 and renamed[e]
    • 4th Northumbran (County of Durham) Ammunition Column. Peacetime HQ – South Shields
  • Northumbrian (North Riding) Heavy Battery R.G.A..[j] – joined 13 Brigade R.G.A. on 16 May 1915 Peacetime HQ – Middlesbrough
  • Trench Mortars
    • V.50 Heavy Trench Mortar battery RFA.[k] – joined July 1916, left for V/VIII Corps on 11 February 1918
    • X.50, Y.50 and Z.50 Medium Mortar batteries RFA.[l] – formed 5 March 1916, Z broken up on 1 March 1918 and distributed to X and Y batteries

Division Troops[edit]


  • 1/7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry – joined from 151st Brigade 16 November 1915, left 20 June 1918
  • 5th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment – joined 14 July 1918

Machine gunners[edit]

  • 245th Machine Gun Company – joined 30 July 1917, moved to Divisional Machine Gun battalion 1 March 1918
  • 50th Battalion MGC – formed 1 March 1918 from Brigade and Division machine gun companies

Mounted Troops[edit]


Originally composed of companies forming the 1st Newcastle Engineers, the 1st and 2nd (Newcastle) Northumbrian Field Companies and the Northumbrian Division Signal Company. Peacetime HQ at Newcastle.

  • 1st (Newcastle) Northumbrian Field Company – left December 1914, rejoined June 1915. Renamed the 446th (1st Northumbrian) Field Company in 1917
  • 2nd (Newcastle) Northumbrian Field Company – Renamed the 447th (2nd Northumbrian) Field Company in 1917
  • 7th Field Company – joined June 1915
  • Northumbrian Division Signal Company – Renamed the 50th Divisional Signals Company in May 1915

Transport & Supply[edit]

The Northumbrian Divisional Transport and Supply Column was renamed the 50th Divisional Train (Army Service Corps) in May 1915, and was composed of:

  • Divisional Company (HQ)
  • Northumbrian Brigade Company
  • York and Durham Brigade Company
  • Durham Light Infantry Brigade Company

Renamed the 467–470 Companies A.S.C. in May 1915.[m]


  • 1st Northumbrian Field Ambulance. Peacetime HQ – Newcastle
  • 2nd Northumbrian Field Ambulance. Peacetime HQ – Darlington
  • 3rd Northumbrian Field Ambulance. Peacetime HQ – Hull

Battle Honours[edit]



  • Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell: April 1908-March 1910
  • Major-General Francis H. Plowden: March 1910-September 1911
  • Major-General Frederick Hammersley: September 1911-March 1912
  • Major-General Benjamin Burton: March 1912-April 1915
  • Major-General Sir Walter F.L. Lindsay: April-June 1915
  • Major-General the Earl of Cavan: June-August 1915
  • Major-General Sir Percival S. Wilkinson: August 1915-February 1918
  • Major-General Henry C. Jackson: March 1918-July 1919
  • Major-General Sir Percival S. Wilkinson: July 1919-July 1923
  • Major-General Frederick A. Dudgeon: July 1923-July 1927
  • Lieutenant-General Sir George N. Cory: July 1927-April 1928
  • Major-General Henry W. Newcome: April 1928-February 1931
  • Major-General Ladislaus H.R. Pope-Hennessy: February 1931-February 1935
  • Major-General William N. Herbert: February 1935-February 1939
  • Major-General Giffard Le Q. Martel: February 1939-December 1940
  • Major-General William H. Ramsden: December 1940-July 1942
  • Major-General John S. Nichols: July 1942-March 1943
  • Major-General Sidney C. Kirkman: March 1943-January 1944
  • Major-General Douglas A.H. Graham: January 1944-1945
  • Major-General Robert F.B. Naylor: 1945-August 1946
  • Major-General John B. Churcher: August-October 1946
  • Major-General John Y. Whitfield: October 1946-January 1948
  • Major-General Charles F. Loewen: January 1948-May 1950
  • Major-General Lashmer G. Whistler: July 1950-March 1951
  • Major-General Horatius Murray: March 1951-August 1953
  • Major-General Cyril H. Colquhoun: August 1953-September 1956

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reported as "a Yorkshire division" in The Times of 29 October 1907
  2. ^ An example of the dispersion was the 1/4th East Yorkshires, they had A Company with the 11th Hussars, B Company with the Queen's Bays, C Company in reserve and D Company with the 5th Dragoon Guards.[20]
  3. ^ 5th Borderers: A Coy to 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, B to 1st Royal Warwickshire Regiment, C to 2nd Seaforth Highlanders and D to 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. 5th Northumberland Fisiliers: A Coy to 5th South Lancashire Regiment, B to 1st King's Own, C to 2nd Essex Regiment and D to 2nd Royal Irish Regiment.
  4. ^ The 8th D.L.I., now reduced to one effective company in strength, was joined to the 6th battalion to form a composite 6th/8th battalion on 8 June.[26]
  5. ^ a b c d 4 18 Pounders each, 6 after November 1916
  6. ^ a b 4 4.5" howitzers after the transfer, 6 after January 1917
  7. ^ Peacetime HQs – Seaham Harbour, Durham and West Hartlepool
  8. ^ 4 4.5" howitzers after the transfer
  9. ^ Peacetime HQs – South Shields and Hebburn on Tyne
  10. ^ 4 4.7" Guns
  11. ^ 4 9.45-inch Heavy Mortars
  12. ^ 4 then 6 6" Mortars
  13. ^ Peacetime HQs: Gateshead, Newcastle, Hull and Sunderland


  1. ^ http://www.gulabin.com/armynavy/pdf/Army%20Commands%201900-2011.pdf
  2. ^ Wyrall p. 4
  3. ^ Ward p. 321
  4. ^ Wyrall p. 5
  5. ^ Wyrall p. 6
  6. ^ Wyrall p. 15
  7. ^ Wyrall pp. 17-20
  8. ^ Wyrall pp. 20-21
  9. ^ Wyrall pp.24—27
  10. ^ Wyrall pp. 29—33
  11. ^ Wyrall pp. 33-34
  12. ^ Wyrall pp. 34-35
  13. ^ Wyrall p. 36
  14. ^ Wyrall pp. 36—38
  15. ^ Wyrall p. 48 footnote
  16. ^ Wyrall pp. 48-57
  17. ^ Wyrall pps. 54, 362-363
  18. ^ Wyrall p. 74
  19. ^ Wyrall p. 57
  20. ^ Wyrall p. 60
  21. ^ Wyrall p. 58
  22. ^ Wyrall pp.65-66
  23. ^ Wyrall pp.67-68
  24. ^ Wyrall pp. 61-62
  25. ^ Wyrall pp. 63-64
  26. ^ Wyrall p. 83
  27. ^ Wyrall p. 71
  28. ^ Wyrall pps. 72, 79
  29. ^ Becke 1936, p. 99
  30. ^ a b c Becke 1936, p. 100
  31. ^ Becke 1936, p. 98
  32. ^ Wyrall pp.362-363
  33. ^ http://www.1914-1918.net/50div.htm
  34. ^ Wyrall p. 201 footnote
  35. ^ Wyrall p. 367


External links[edit]