Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

The hapless 61st Division


Sapper Will
 Share

Recommended Posts

The 2nd/4th Royal Berkshires were in the 61st Division. If you already haven't done it, it might be worth trying the Regimental Museum at Salisbury. The website that lists and shows the battalion war diaries is located at www.thewardrobe.org.uk . You can only view the war diaries day by day but they might be worth looking at.

Cheers

MAC

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The 2nd/4th Royal Berkshires were in the 61st Division. If you already haven't done it, it might be worth trying the Regimental Museum at Salisbury. The website that lists and shows the battalion war diaries is located at www.thewardrobe.org.uk . You can only view the war diaries day by day but they might be worth looking at.

Cheers

MAC

Thanks to another helpful member I was recently informed about the Museum website. I ordered a transcript of the 2/4's diary and I'm looking forward to reading some nice print rather than squinting at someone else's handwriting!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

I have recently completed an MA at Birmingham University and used the opportunity to do some detailed research in the 61st Division, producing a dissertation entitled:

"The 61st Division had the reputation of being a poorly performing formation. How did it acquire this reputation and was it a justified description?"

The conclusion was fairly simple. That the reputation was acquired when the Corps commander at Fromelles ( Haking) attempted to avoid possible criticism of his own decisions and planning by blaming the two divisions involved of being not well enough trained ( the 5th Aus Div) and lacking offensive spirit ( the 61st). He did this in the covering letters sent to Army and GHQ with the Divisions own after action reports.

Oddly enough Haig had repeatedly asked Haking and his superior (Monro) if Haking had enough artillery. Repeatedly Haking had advised that the artillery preparations were adequate. Haig's reason for asking was that, in 1915, when GOC First Army, he had written, of the failure of the attack on Aubers ridge, part of which had taken place over the ground the Aus 5th Division occupied in the 1916 attack:

"The defences in our front are so carefully (and strongly) made that (in order to demolish them) a long methodical bombardment will be necessary (by heavy artillery [guns and howitzers] before infantry are sent forward to attack" (Diary entry for 11th May 1915, Douglas Haig, war diaries and letters 1914-1918, Ed Sheffield & Bourne, p.122.

My analysis of the artillery used in 1916 showed that fewer shells per yard were fired than in 1915 and largely by inexperienced gunners. Moreover the casualty figures for both divisions fell within those of battalions attacking two weeks earlier on the Somme. Mackenzie, commanding the 61st Division, got it right in my opinion when he said that his Division had done the best that could be expected of it. In fact few, if any, German machine gun emplacements had been destroyed, with predictable results. Oddly enough Haking neglects to comment on machine guns at all!

The 61st went on improving as the war went on the the BEF learned on the job. Riddell's comment does not stand up to scrutiny if the war diaries of the 182nd Brigade are examined, and it is likely that the battlefield gossip about events elsewhere in the Battle of Cambrai were attached to the 61st Division. In the same book that Riddells assertion appears (A wheen of medals) , Captain Densmore Walker is quoted, talking of events of the 6th December:

"We went up the main from the Hindenburg Line. This really was a filthy place,. Corpses were touching , laid along the fire-step, all men of the 61st Division". A wheen of medals p161

The blunt fact of the matter is that the 61st did as well as any "run of the mill" infantry Division, and "run of the mill" here means being a reliable part of an Army at the top of its game tactically and operationally by 1918. Hakings self serving and erroneous remarks on the action at Fromelles should be seen as what they were, misleading and designed to protect his own reputation at a time when not a few divisional commanders were being sacked for poor performance.

I take my hat off to the 61st Division's outstanding performance in the German Spring attacks of 1918 where, as part of Gough's 5th Army they were virtually destroyed fighting a stubborn rearguard action, an achievement hard enough won to merit particular praise from the Corps commander, Ivor Maxse, who knew sound soldiering when he saw it. (One of the Bns re-organised into an entrenching Bn prior to the German attack simply, and in the absence of orders to the contrary, found out where the remnants of the division were being withdrawn to, marched there and rejoined the Division as infantry. That tells you everything you need to know about morale within the Div!)

The dissertation was marked by two authors and authorities well known on these forums, so I have some confidence in my conclusions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Congratulations on your M.A., David. I have come across Haking a few times. He is associated with heavy losses at Loos. He seems to have been prepared to accept heavy casualties to achieve his objective. I keep meaning to look closer at his career but have not yet done so. I have him pegged as one of the poorer commanders who presumably produced enough results to keep his job and make some progress through the war.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Congratulations on your M.A., David. I have come across Haking a few times. He is associated with heavy losses at Loos. He seems to have been prepared to accept heavy casualties to achieve his objective. I keep meaning to look closer at his career but have not yet done so. I have him pegged as one of the poorer commanders who presumably produced enough results to keep his job and make some progress through the war.

Thank You, it was an interesting two years!

Yes, I would agree about Haking. He was, at best, a lacklustre commander, pedestrian and unimaginative, but not quite bad enough to sack.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not material help but just some thoughts on reputations and so forth.

I have always been of the opinion that a reputation of a division was either often not appropriate or out dated by the time its was a common thought. 21st division gained a reputation at Loos in 1915 by 1st July 1916 it had rehabilitated itself and went on to serve competently for the rest of the war. 46th division likewise at Gommecourt, gained a poor rep and then by the end of the war gained a better reputation. It is, to my opinion, wrong to label any 20,000 men as useless or incompetent and more often to label them as badly trained, inexperienced or just darn unlucky to attack where they did. Are 18th division,7th or 21st etc better divisions on 1st July 1916 or would they have suffered the same fate as most north of them, rather than where they did. Of course commanders come in to it, but even the best divisional commanders can not do it all and get it right all the time.

Regards

Arm

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I absolutely agree, the need for individual units to become battle hardened and the general "learning curve" the BEF had to go through while learning "on the job" was often (understandably, in my view) not understood by most of those involved. The more I look the more amazed I am that GHQ managed to fashion the army it needed by 1918, despite both the Germans and Lloyd George.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Recently I have looked in some detail at 182 Brigade and its four Warwicks 2nd line battalions. From formation to arrival in France, Fromelles and as far as May 1917 when they left the St Quentin centre. I can find nothing to reproach them for.

Haking's comment that the Division lacked 'offensive spirit' at Fromelles is one of the most objectionable judgements of the war. He had the chance to pull out of the plan on July 16 and failed to take it.

A brigade which had been in France for only eight weeks should never have been thrown in

2/6 Warwicks who attacked with 2/7 spent the week before in very onerous, exhausting working parties

They appear to have thrown their first 'live' bombs only when on the continent

The attack plan was very flawed particularly having two different divisions trying to take the Sugar Loaf.

Etc Etc

Brigadier General Gordon later blamed Haking. He was 100% right.Haking is responsible for the deaths of 199 Warwicks that day.

It must have been heart-breaking for patrols over the future weeks to discover the same German units across No Man's Land so the rationale for the attack was a false one.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not material help but just some thoughts on reputations and so forth.

I have always been of the opinion that a reputation of a division was either often not appropriate or out dated by the time its was a common thought. 21st division gained a reputation at Loos in 1915 by 1st July 1916 it had rehabilitated itself and went on to serve competently for the rest of the war. 46th division likewise at Gommecourt, gained a poor rep and then by the end of the war gained a better reputation. It is, to my opinion, wrong to label any 20,000 men as useless or incompetent and more often to label them as badly trained, inexperienced or just darn unlucky to attack where they did. Are 18th division,7th or 21st etc better divisions on 1st July 1916 or would they have suffered the same fate as most north of them, rather than where they did. Of course commanders come in to it, but even the best divisional commanders can not do it all and get it right all the time.

Regards

Arm

I totally agree. When a battle goes badly wrong, we naturally try to assign cause and sometimes blame. We are reluctant to assign the deaths and maiming of hundreds of men to luck but that is sometimes the reality. Bad timing, bad weather, a river deeper than thought, a chance changeover of units, many things impossible to foresee can simply cause the balance to tip in one direction rather than the other. The beneficiary is going to claim that the victory was due to good leadership and fine soldiery, the loser in turn will look for someone to blame.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Recently I have looked in some detail at 182 Brigade and its four Warwicks 2nd line battalions. From formation to arrival in France, Fromelles and as far as May 1917 when they left the St Quentin centre. I can find nothing to reproach them for.

Haking's comment that the Division lacked 'offensive spirit' at Fromelles is one of the most objectionable judgements of the war. He had the chance to pull out of the plan on July 16 and failed to take it.

A brigade which had been in France for only eight weeks should never have been thrown in

2/6 Warwicks who attacked with 2/7 spent the week before in very onerous, exhausting working parties

They appear to have thrown their first 'live' bombs only when on the continent

The attack plan was very flawed particularly having two different divisions trying to take the Sugar Loaf.

Etc Etc

Brigadier General Gordon later blamed Haking. He was 100% right.Haking is responsible for the deaths of 199 Warwicks that day.

It must have been heart-breaking for patrols over the future weeks to discover the same German units across No Man's Land so the rationale for the attack was a false one.

I agree with everything you say except for one sentence. The Germans killed those soldiers that day. Haking and his subordinates could and should have done better but they did not deliberately send these men to their deaths. That sort of over reaction tends to negate all the other perfectly good points raised in the post. Taken to its extreme, that style of argument ends in a sterile depiction of generals as donkeys, butchers and bunglers and does not help in any analysis of what happened, why it happened and what might have been done instead.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We do appear to be going slightly off track in this thread but in defence of Haking (no I don't really mean defence!) He was a model and intelligent student in his time at Camberley staff college and was considered one of the better students in the class along with Edmonds and McDonough. Pre war he wrote two books to my knowledge and the other one, not mentioned above was about company command and was, if I remember correctly,considered good. I see Haking as a man who in theory could cut the mustard but in reality was outmoded by the warfare he confronted and reverted to type, bash on!

Regards

Arm

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You were not to know this but I have now written nearly 200000 words on the whole Royal Warwickshire Regiment 1914-November 1916 and the 2nd Line further to May 1917. Fromelles is the only example where the lions were definitely led by donkey (s). At the very least Haking and others made some very bad judgement calls. Generally I am totally in line with the recent historiography of the War in all other respects.

I agree with everything you say except for one sentence. The Germans killed those soldiers that day. Haking and his subordinates could and should have done better but they did not deliberately send these men to their deaths. That sort of over reaction tends to negate all the other perfectly good points raised in the post. Taken to its extreme, that style of argument ends in a sterile depiction of generals as donkeys, butchers and bunglers and does not help in any analysis of what happened, why it happened and what might have been done instead.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 8 years later...

Hi folks,

 

I am looking for primary source material (diaries, memoirs etc) by participants in the Battle of Fromelles within the 61st.Div.

 

Phil (WW1 Digger History Podcast)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 years later...
On 21/02/2011 at 10:54, Porteous said:

I have recently completed an MA at Birmingham University and used the opportunity to do some detailed research in the 61st Division, producing a dissertation entitled:

"The 61st Division had the reputation of being a poorly performing formation. How did it acquire this reputation and was it a justified description?"

The conclusion was fairly simple. That the reputation was acquired when the Corps commander at Fromelles ( Haking) attempted to avoid possible criticism of his own decisions and planning by blaming the two divisions involved of being not well enough trained ( the 5th Aus Div) and lacking offensive spirit ( the 61st). He did this in the covering letters sent to Army and GHQ with the Divisions own after action reports.

Oddly enough Haig had repeatedly asked Haking and his superior (Monro) if Haking had enough artillery. Repeatedly Haking had advised that the artillery preparations were adequate. Haig's reason for asking was that, in 1915, when GOC First Army, he had written, of the failure of the attack on Aubers ridge, part of which had taken place over the ground the Aus 5th Division occupied in the 1916 attack:

"The defences in our front are so carefully (and strongly) made that (in order to demolish them) a long methodical bombardment will be necessary (by heavy artillery [guns and howitzers] before infantry are sent forward to attack" (Diary entry for 11th May 1915, Douglas Haig, war diaries and letters 1914-1918, Ed Sheffield & Bourne, p.122.

My analysis of the artillery used in 1916 showed that fewer shells per yard were fired than in 1915 and largely by inexperienced gunners. Moreover the casualty figures for both divisions fell within those of battalions attacking two weeks earlier on the Somme. Mackenzie, commanding the 61st Division, got it right in my opinion when he said that his Division had done the best that could be expected of it. In fact few, if any, German machine gun emplacements had been destroyed, with predictable results. Oddly enough Haking neglects to comment on machine guns at all!

The 61st went on improving as the war went on the the BEF learned on the job. Riddell's comment does not stand up to scrutiny if the war diaries of the 182nd Brigade are examined, and it is likely that the battlefield gossip about events elsewhere in the Battle of Cambrai were attached to the 61st Division. In the same book that Riddells assertion appears (A wheen of medals) , Captain Densmore Walker is quoted, talking of events of the 6th December:

"We went up the main from the Hindenburg Line. This really was a filthy place,. Corpses were touching , laid along the fire-step, all men of the 61st Division". A wheen of medals p161

The blunt fact of the matter is that the 61st did as well as any "run of the mill" infantry Division, and "run of the mill" here means being a reliable part of an Army at the top of its game tactically and operationally by 1918. Hakings self serving and erroneous remarks on the action at Fromelles should be seen as what they were, misleading and designed to protect his own reputation at a time when not a few divisional commanders were being sacked for poor performance.

I take my hat off to the 61st Division's outstanding performance in the German Spring attacks of 1918 where, as part of Gough's 5th Army they were virtually destroyed fighting a stubborn rearguard action, an achievement hard enough won to merit particular praise from the Corps commander, Ivor Maxse, who knew sound soldiering when he saw it. (One of the Bns re-organised into an entrenching Bn prior to the German attack simply, and in the absence of orders to the contrary, found out where the remnants of the division were being withdrawn to, marched there and rejoined the Division as infantry. That tells you everything you need to know about morale within the Div!)

The dissertation was marked by two authors and authorities well known on these forums, so I have some confidence in my conclusions.

I have just finished researching one of my relatives who fought with the 61st Division from their arrival in France in 1916, right through to the end of the war. Having first enlisted in the Suffolk Regiment underage in October 1914, he joined the 2/1 Ox and Bucks (184th Brigade) just prior to their disembarkation for France in May 1916. He stayed with the battalion and transferred in 1917 to the 184th Company Machine Gun Corps (which later merged and became the 61st Battalion MGC in 1918).

I was fascinated when I saw this thread about the 61st being a poorly regarded division, and would love to read your dissertation Porteous if you would be prepared to send me a copy. I would also appreciate any book or article recommendations about the 61st or indeed any battles they took part in, for example the Battle of Fromelles or any of the actions during the German Spring Offensive (etc).

Cheers

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Admin

Welcome to the forum Dan. @Porteous hasn't visited the forum fir a year, you can try sending a private message to them. 

 

Michelle 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

14 hours ago, Dan180 said:

I have just finished researching one of my relatives who fought with the 61st Division from their arrival in France in 1916, right through to the end of the war. Having first enlisted in the Suffolk Regiment underage in October 1914, he joined the 2/1 Ox and Bucks (184th Brigade) just prior to their disembarkation for France in May 1916. He stayed with the battalion and transferred in 1917 to the 184th Company Machine Gun Corps (which later merged and became the 61st Battalion MGC in 1918).

I was fascinated when I saw this thread about the 61st being a poorly regarded division, and would love to read your dissertation Porteous if you would be prepared to send me a copy. I would also appreciate any book or article recommendations about the 61st or indeed any battles they took part in, for example the Battle of Fromelles or any of the actions during the German Spring Offensive (etc).

Cheers

It's available here as a PDF download.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, KernelPanic said:

available here as a PDF download.

Just finished reading it and it is well researched and balanced.  Well worth downloading.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks all. I have just finished reading the dissertation - thoroughly interesting.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 08/07/2021 at 14:54, Dan180 said:

any of the actions during the German Spring Offensive

Morning,

GK Rose wrote of the 2/4th Ox and Bucks (1920) in 184 Brigade https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20395 

There are some good books on the Lys offensive in 1918.

I cover the 61st Division in the German Spring offensives from the point of view of the 9th Royal Scots.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cheers mate, I'll check Rose out.

On 15/07/2021 at 09:05, Neill Gilhooley said:

Morning,

GK Rose wrote of the 2/4th Ox and Bucks (1920) in 184 Brigade https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20395 

There are some good books on the Lys offensive in 1918.

I cover the 61st Division in the German Spring offensives from the point of view of the 9th Royal Scots.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...