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Caithness Archives

63rd (Royal Naval) Division. 1914-1919.

 

The Naval Division was formed in August 1914. The Admiralty realized that with the mobilization they would have between 20-80,000 men of the Reserve, for whom there would not be room an any ship of war. This surplus would be sufficient to form two naval Brigades and a Brigade of Marines available for Home Defence or for any special purpose. From this they formed the "Naval" Division.

The Royal Marine Bde (became the 3rd Bde, RMA, Chatham, Portsmouth, Plymouth Bns) landed at Ostend 27/08/14. The other two Bdes were forming at Walmer and Betteshanger at that time. The RM Bde returned from Ostend 31/08/14 and re-embarked for Dunkirk 19/09/14 (2,200 men), they reached Cassel 30/09/14 and detrained at Antwerp 03/10/14. Antwerps outer fort were taken by this time and the Bde were put in the trenches immediately. The two other Bdes (1st & 2nd RN Bdes) embarked from Dover 04/10/14, landed at Dunkirk, detrained at Antwerp 06/09/14 and joined the RM Bde in the trenches. The Div withdrew to St Gilles Waes 09/10/14, and began entraining for Ostend, except for about 1,500 men of the 1st RN Bde, who failed to cross the Scheld River in time and crossed into Holland and were interned for the rest of the war (A few did manage to "escape" back to Britain).

 

4-9 Oct 1914 Defence of Antwerp

 

The RN Div landed at Dover about 11/10/14 and started to replace lost equipment and men. (Note; by 1916 there were only a handful of the "Antwerp" men left, the casualties being so high). The Div assembled around Blandford 27/11/14.

The Div started to embark for Lemnos at Devonport 06/02/15 and by 01/03/15 the rest of the Div (except the training Depot) were on their way to Lemnos. By 19/03/15 the Div were stationed of the Gallipoli Peninsular, but as the "great Naval attack" on the 18th had failed the Div were landed at Port Said by 29/03/15. The Div re-embarked for Mudros 08/04/15 and were landed Helles, Gallipoli 25/04/15.

25-26 Apr 1915 Gulf of Xeros
25-26 Apr 1915 Landing at Cape Helles (Anson & Plymouth Bns)
28 Apr -12 May 1915 Defence of Anzac (Chatham, Portsmouth, Nelson & Deal Bns)
28 Apr 1915 1st Krithia (2nd RN Bde and Drake & Plymouth Bns)
1-2 May 1915 Eski Hissarlik (2nd RN Bde and Drake & Plymouth Bns)
6-8 May 1915 2nd Krithia (Drake, Plymouth, Howe, Hood & Anson Bns)
2 May 1915 The Chessboard (Nelson, Deal, Chatham & Portsmouth Bns)
4 Jun 1915 3rd Krithia (RN Div)
7-9 Jan 1916 Evacuation of Helles (RN Div).

 

The Div were evacuated to Mudros and split up. Drake and Hawke to Imbros 19 Jan - 15 Feb 1916. Hood to Mudros 20 Jan - 22 Feb 1916. 2nd Bde to Stavros 20 Jan. The Division did not reform until arriving back in France in May 1916. During this time the Naval Division were transferred from the Admiralty to the War Office (Army) (Authority. - 79/8954 (S.D.2.) d/d. 29/04/16).

The Battalions landed in France at Marseille

Howe 12/05/16, 2nd RM 12/05/16, Anson 19/05/16, 1st RM 19/05/16, Hood 20/05/16, Nelson 22/05/16 and Hawke 23/05/16.

In France the Naval Division were numbered the 63rd (Royal Naval) Div and the Brigades were numbered the 188th, 189th and 190th. (A.C.I. No 1363. d/d. 08/07/16).

The 63rd (RN) Div fought in France & Belgium for the rest of the war and fought in the following battles.

13-18 Nov 1916 Somme V Corps, 5th Army
13-15 Nov 1916 Ancre V Corps, 5th Army
20 Jan - 27 Feb 1917 Operations on the Ancre II Corps, 5th Army
17/18 Feb 1917 Miraumont II Corps, 5th Army
23-29 Apr 1917 Arras XIII Corps, 5 Army
23/24 Apr 1917 2nd Scarpe XIII Corps, 5 Army
28/29 Apr 1917 Arleux XIII Corps, 5 Army
26 Oct - 10 Nov 1917 3rd Ypres XVIII Corps, 5th Army
26 Oct - 5 Nov 1917 2nd Passchendaele XVIII Corps, 5th Army
30/31 Dec 1917 Welch Ridge V Corps, 3rd Army
21 Mar - 5 Apr 1918 1st Somme V Corps, 3rd Army
21-23 Mar 1918 St Quentine V Corps, 3rd Army
24/25 Mar 1918 1st Bapaume V Corps, 3rd Army
5 Apr 1918 Ancre V Corps, 3rd Army
8-23 Aug 1918 2nd Somme IV Corps, 3rd Army
21-23 Aug 1918 Albert IV Corps, 3rd Army
26 Aug - 3 Sept 1918 2nd Arras XVII Corps, 3rd Army
2/3 Sept 1918 Droucourt-Queant Line XVII Corps, 3rd Army
27 Sept - 8 Oct 1918 Hindenburg Line XVII Corps, 3rd Army
27 Sept - 1 Oct 1918 Canal du Nord XVII Corps, 3rd Army
8 Oct 1918 Capture of Niergnies, Cambria XVII Corps, 3rd Army
7-11 Nov 1918 Advance in Picardy XXII Corps, 1st Army
7 Nov 1918 Grande Honnelle XXII Corps, 1st Army

 

The 63rd (RN) Div were fighting till the last minute of the war. They ended the war 11/11/18 capturing their objective for that day, the Mons-Givry Road. The Div HQ opened at Harveng. The 63rd were to have advanced into Germany with the Army of Occupation, but this was cancelled on the 13th Nov 1918. On the 17th Nov 1918 the Army of Occupation marched through the Divisions outpost line. The Division were withdrawn to Valenciennes 26/11/18 and the King visited the Div there 05/12/18. Demobilization started in Dec 1918 with the Key-men ie, miners demobbed first. The strength of the Div dwindled fast , by the end of Jan 1919 3,875 men were demobbed, end of Feb 1919 7,047 were demobbed. The 63rd (RN) Div became a Cadre in Mar 1919 and were disbanded in Apr 1919. Thus came the end of a brilliant fighting force, which had lost 47,953 men killed, wounded or missing 1914-18, or equivalent to three 1918 Infantry Divisions, in four years.

 

Throughout the war the 63rd regarded themselves as sailor, even though they were wearing the khaki uniform and toting a bloody rifle, instead of sailing a ship. They even kept to the naval traditions, and bollocks to the Army Generals. So thus the 63rd (RN) Div grew their own "esprit de corps" which lasted till the last sailor left the Division. But this was a long war and this would be remembered for a long time. Which was probably why they did not get the honour of advancing into Germany in 1918/19. This was a bitter pill for the Div to swallow, as this was equivalent to the Army High Command saying that they were not good enough or had not fought hard enough to earn the right to be part of the Army of Occupation, which the sailors new was "Army bull". They had fought the Germans (and Army) from the beginning Oct 1914, with more determination and bravery than most "land lubber Divisions". And this is probably why the Army got rid of one of the best fighting Divisions they have ever seen, because they embarrassed the Army!

 

One of the real troubles with the army came in the form of General Shute. He joined the Division during the Somme of 1916 and insisted on wearing the army rank. So they wore on one arm the naval rank and the army rank in the other, even though they loathed the other arm. The sailors did not go "for all the spit and polish" of the army, as they were pulling the army out of the shit by supplying the best fighting Division in the British Army. Living in trenches, it was near impossible to keep the rifles clean but "Schultz the Hun" would insist that they were kept clean and complained at every opportunity about the state of the rifles, dress and general kit. He inspected the Division when they took over the Souchez Sector from the Portuguese. The trenches were a mess even to the sailors of the 63rd, and had no time to clear things up, when along came "Schultz". He went back and wrote an official complaint about the disgusting state of the 63rd's trenches to the High Command. A. P. Herbert (who became a writer) wrote a poem about the episode, which was eventually turned into a song. It started being sung by the 63rd Div, then by the whole Army, so "Schultz" liveth for ever in the song. The song is sang in tune of "Wrap me up in my tarpaulin jacket"

 

The General inspecting the trenches
exclaimed with a horrified shout,
"I refuse to command a Division
Which leaves its excreta about."

And certain responsible critics
Made haste to reply to his words
Observing that his Staff advisers
Consisted entirely of turds.

But nobody took any notice
No one was prepared to refute,
That the presence of shit was congenial
Compared with the presence of Shute.

For shit may be shot at odd corners
And paper supplied there to suit,
But a shit would be shot without mourners
If somebody shot that shit Shute.

 

Shute commanded the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division 17/10/16 to 19/02/17. Four months of Hell. Even after Shute left a lot of their Commanding Officers (which were Army Generals as they had the training and experience) had a great pride in the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, but could not voice it, as their "Army" career would be cut short.

 

 

Order of Battle 1914-18.

Antwerp Oct 1914

1st RN Bde 2nd RN Bde 3rd RM Bde
1st(RN) Bn, Drake 5th(RN) Bn, Nelson 8th(RM) Bn, Chatham
2nd(RN) Bn, Hawke 6th(RN) Bn, Howe 9th(RM) Bn, Portsmouth
3rd(RN) Bn, Benbow 7th(RN) Bn, Hood 10th(RM) Bn, Plymouth

4th(RN) Bn, Collingwood

8th(RN) Bn, Anson 11th(RM) Bn, Deal

 

Gallipoli Apr 1915 - Jan 1916

1st RN Bde 2nd RN Bde 3rd RN Bde * 02/08/15
Drake Bn Howe Bn Chatham Bn (till 27/07/15)
Nelson Bn Hood Bn (till 02/08/15) Portsmouth Bn (till 27/07/15)
Hawke Bn Anson Bn Plymouth Bn (till 27/07/15)
Benbow Bn (*09/06/15) Collingwood Bn (*09/06/15) Deal Bn (30/05/15 - 27/07/15)
Deal Bn (till 30/05/15) Chath & Deal Bn (02/08/15-12/08/15) Chath& Deal Bn (27/07/15-02/08/15)
Hood (from 02/08/15) Port & Ply Bn (02/08/15-12/08/15) Port & Ply Bn (27/07/15-02/08/15)
1st RM Bn (from 12/08/15)
2nd RM Bn ( from 12/08/15)

* Disbanded

Chatham & Deal Bns amalgamated 27/07/15 and became the 1st RM Bn 12/08/15.

Portsmouth & Plymouth Bns amalgamated 27/07/15 and became the 2nd RM Bn 12/08/15.

 

 

Composite Division (Temporary). Helles, Gallipoli. 5th - 17th May 1915.

Composite Bde 5-10/05/15. Australian Bde New Zealand Bde
Drake Bn,(RN) 5th Bn Auckland Bn
Plymouth Bn,(RMLI) 6th Bn Canterbury Bn
1st Lanc Fus(86th Bde, 29th Div) 7th Bn Otago Bn
8th Bn Wellington Bn
2nd (RN) Bde 10-17/05/15
Howe Bn
Hood Bn
Anson Bn
Drake Bn

Plymouth Bn

 

 

63rd (Royal Naval) Division France & Flanders 1916-18.

188th(RN) Bde 189th(RN) Bde 190th(RN) Bde

Howe Bn (* 28/02/18)

Drake Bn

7/ Royal Fus

Auson Bn Hawke Bn 4/ Bedfords
1/ RM Bn (+ 29/04/18) Nelson Bn (* 28/02/18) 10/ Royal Dublin Fus (till 22/06/17)
2/ RM Bn (+ 29/04/18) Hood Bn 1/1 Honourable Artillery Company (till 29/06/17)
RM Bn (from 29/04/18) 1/28 London Rgt (28/06/17)
2/ Royal Irish Rgt (from 23/04/18)

 

* disbanded. + amalgamated.

 

P.S. the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division came very close, but they could never match the 51st (Highland) Div. Ask any Highlander, he will verify what I say is true!

 

"Cudich n'Rich" "Cabar Feidh".

 

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David Bews 1998 


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