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Steven Broomfield

Furchtbarkeit - 'Most Feared' Divisions

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Derek Black
On 15/01/2018 at 14:00, QGE said:

It is difficult to understand how Divisions could be assessed and compared. They were constantly changing in composition, quality of recruits (volunteers then conscripts)


My usual area of research, the 5th B.W. served in 5 divisions, so not really any particular formation to hang any group identity on to.

It's always surprised me when people go on about how good or bad a particular Division was during the war, due to the factors Martin has highlighted. How they could possibly take all the variables into consideration and asses it on anything other than a snapshot of a particular day or week?

I doubt the men in the trenches felt any less in danger knowing that months or years previously that their opposing division had taken a doing from their own division. It would be mostly new troops facing each other after all.

Derek.

Edited by Derek Black

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Neill Gilhooley
18 hours ago, QGE said:

The comment were made of course during the height of the Battles of Third Ypres  where casualties were mounting at an extraordinary rate

Good point. The 51st Division lost 45 officers and 1,110 other ranks (that Bewsher puts as relatively light), reached their objectives in front of Poelcappelle and were relieved 26th September 1917. Their performance would, naturally have elicited praise from the corps commander. Perhaps on that particular day their star was in the ascendancy? That it might be fixed there in written records for a century says something about how reputations are made.

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Neill Gilhooley

I'm reading Colin Campbell's 'Engine of Destruction', 2013, who 'suggests that such a list may have existed, even if it is yet to be found!'

He also puts the earliest reference to the document 'captured at this time' as Arras in April 1917, quoting Capt D. Mackenzie 'The Sixth Gordons in France and Flanders', 1922 

However the most interesting document he quotes from is a German document* from 1.1.18 on the quality of the British Army (p.207), noting that battlefield experience now counted for more than Regular/TF/K. From those assessed, the Besonders gute Angiffsdivision [especially good assault division] were: Guards, 7th, 9th, 29th, 33rd, 51st, 56th, 63rd, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders.

Campbell: 'does this lend retrospective credibility to the autumn 1917 list?'

I suspect this might be the list, given that the first properly dated reference is the Pall Mall Gazette 6.2.18.

*HStAS M33/2 B 536 Abteilung Fremde Heere Nr 4610 (Dr Alex Fasse per Jack Sheldon, and Judith Bolsinger, Haupstaatarchiv, Stuttgart)

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Steven Broomfield

Interesting - so the 1.1.18 list actually exists? if so, I would agree that they may well be one and the same.

 

Didn't realise it was in Mackenzie's book. I'll try and look this evening. (An excuse to look in one of my favourite battalion histories too!)

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QUEX
4 hours ago, Neill Gilhooley said:

I'm reading Colin Campbell's 'Engine of Destruction', 2013, who 'suggests that such a list may have existed, even if it is yet to be found!'

He also puts the earliest reference to the document 'captured at this time' as Arras in April 1917, quoting Capt D. Mackenzie 'The Sixth Gordons in France and Flanders', 1922 

However the most interesting document he quotes from is a German document* from 1.1.18 on the quality of the British Army (p.207), noting that battlefield experience now counted for more than Regular/TF/K. From those assessed, the Besonders gute Angiffsdivision [especially good assault division] were: Guards, 7th, 9th, 29th, 33rd, 51st, 56th, 63rd, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders.

Campbell: 'does this lend retrospective credibility to the autumn 1917 list?'

I suspect this might be the list, given that the first properly dated reference is the Pall Mall Gazette 6.2.18.

*HStAS M33/2 B 536 Abteilung Fremde Heere Nr 4610 (Dr Alex Fasse per Jack Sheldon, and Judith Bolsinger, Haupstaatarchiv, Stuttgart)

 

If this is the document then its 5 weeks from its production to its appearance in the Pall Mall Gazette.   Presumably not the sort of thing that would be captured in a trench raid (?) so I wonder how it came into British (or allied) hands - the PMG does hint at a ripping yarn surrounding its acquisition.  And is its appearance in the newspaper the result of a deliberate leak?

 

 

 

 

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gmac101

I've just be reading a few Divisional war diaries for March 1918 and the 51st comes over as the most detailed yet, does that indicate that they were more professional? and they sent out lots of patrols - every night, surprised, they didn't bump into each other in the dark.    The post battle critique also pulls in more reports from junior commanders c/w some of the other diaries - the writer is also disappointed with the troops behavior when they lose their officers as remarked  by  Robert Graves.

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gmac101

This doesn’t help find the German list but in the War Diary of the 152nd Brigade there’s a copy of a memo issued by the 51st Divisional Command with extracts from the Evening Standard and Pall Mall Gazette articles discussing the German list with instructions for general distribution- issued on the 25th of Feb 1918. So the British weren’t shy about using “the list” for propaganda value

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Neill Gilhooley
3 hours ago, gmac101 said:

in the War Diary of the 152nd Brigade there’s a copy of a memo

Thanks gmac, yes that is the one with Bewsher's name at the bottom that I mentioned in post #7. It is not surprising it forms an important part of his divisional history.

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EastSurrey

To take one example, as to how performance and reputation varied at different times, the 42nd Division was transferred to the Western Front in early 1917 from Egypt, and was seen as performing badly there. Some senior officers were changed; it was given Solly Flood as a commander; and then a good deal of training. It earned a fine reputation in 1918.

Michael

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