38th (Welsh) Infantry Division

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38th (Welsh) Division
38th (Welsh) Infantry Division
38th Infantry (Reserve) Division
38th Welsh Division dragon emblem (vectored).svg
The First World War shoulder patch
Active December 1914 – June 1919

Flag of the British Army.svg New Army

Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
 British Army
Type Infantry
Role Infantry, home defense, and training
Engagements Battle of the Somme
Third Battle of Ypres
Battle of Épehy

The 38th (Welsh) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army. A 38th Division was in existence in both the First and Second World Wars, but not between the wars and there is no direct link between the two formations. The division's insignia was The Red Dragon of Wales. During the Second World War the insignia was changed to the cross of Saint David (yellow, on a black background). In the First World War the division was raised from men volunteering for Kitchener's Army and served on the Western Front from late 1915 to the end of the war. In the Second World War it was part of the Territorial Army and a 2nd Line duplicate formation which remained in the United Kingdom throughout the war.

First World War

Formation and training

Recruiting poster for Herbert Kitchener's New Army.

On 28 July 1914, the First World War broke out, and on 4 August the United Kingdom entered the war in defense of Belgium following a German invasion.[2] Britain found itself facing a continental war it was not militarily prepared for. The British Expeditionary Force was dispatched, but the country lacked the forces required for a the protracted war envisioned by the military elite.[3]

On 5 August, Herbert Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War assuming a vital and largely independent role within the war cabinet.[4] His first act, the following day, was to request parliamentary approval to increase the strength of the British Army by 500,000 men. Over the coming days, following approval, the Army Council laid out plans for Kitchener's proposed expansion: traditional recruiting would be used to expand the regular army, bypassing the county associations and thus avoiding expanding the Territorial Force. The first wave, originally termed the New Expeditionary Force, became the First New Army.[5] Historian Peter Simkins comments that Kitchener held the Territorial Force in disdain, calling it an ill-trained "Town Clerk's Army" and this was partially why he bypassed expanding it. However, Simkin's notes it would be a "gross oversimplification to ascribe Kitchener's decision merely to prejudice and ignorance" and highlights that had the Territorial Force been used as the basis for expansion it would have been "swamped" and "rendered temporarily incapable of carrying out any function at all" when a "viable home defence force" was needed due to threat of a German invasion.[6]

On 19 September 1914, Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George stated "I should like to see a Welsh Army in the field". This thought quickly picked up support from politicians and Kitchener, and a Welsh Army Corps of two divisions totaling 50,000 men was approved on 10 October. The recruits were to be drawn not just from Wales, but from Monmouthshire, and from Welshmen living in Liverpool, London, and Manchester. The creation of the Corps soon became a source of heated dispute between Lloyd George and Kitchener, and was never raised.[7][8][9] In addition to the disagreements, there was issues recruiting the desired numbers. By the end of 1914, only 10,000 men had joined up to serve with the Welsh Corps.[lower-alpha 1] During December, having scaled back the ambitious plan for a whole corps, the recruited men were formed into the 43rd Division of Kitchener's Fourth New Army (originally part of the Fifth New Army).[11][12] Despite steady recruitment, by June 1915, 20 per cent of recruits had been removed primarily having been discharged for medical reasons or transferred to other units.[13]

Elements of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers training on a rifle range.

On 1 March 1915, the new division was inspected by Lloyd George.[14] On 29 April, the 43rd was re-designated the 38th (Welsh) Division. The division spent most of 1915 dispersed, with the majority located across North Wales with units training at Pwllheli, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno, and Rhyl, although some units were based in the south at Abergavenny.[15] At these locations, the men undertook basic training, were drilled, and trained for open warfare. On 19 August, the division moved to Winchester, England were it assembled for the first time as a single entity. Final training took place, and limited instructions were given on tactics to employ during trench warfare (the assumption being that practical experience would be easier to gain in France).[12][14][16][17][18] Despite the ongoing training, it was not until November that the entire division had been fully equipped with rifles.[16] To be declared fit for overseas service, the division's soldiers had to fire 24 rounds on a rifle range.[lower-alpha 2] On 29 November, the division was inspected for the final time before being deployed; Queen Mary and Princess Mary reviewed the troops at Crawley Down.[14]

The division (comprising the 113th, 114th, and 115th Brigades made up of battalions from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (RWF), the South Wales Borderers (SWB), and the Welsh Regiment (Welsh)) was roughly 18,500 men strong when it was deployed to France. During November, the division departed from Southampton and arrived in France via Le Havre by 5 December (although the division's artillery initially remained behind to conduct live fire exercises at Larkhill, they had rejoined the division by the end of December).[17][20][21][22]

The initial reaction by the regular army to the division was one of hostility. The division was seen as lacking experience and training, and questions were raised about the division's leadership which also saw influence securing officer commissions. Furthermore, as historian Clive Hughes comments "regulars professed disgust at the blatantly political character" of the division.[23] While the division was predominately made up of Welshmen, the rest of the United Kingdom was also represented within its ranks as well as several foreign nationals.[24]

Initial actions and the Battle of the Somme

Once in France, the division joined XI Corps, and was placed in reserve relieving the 46th (North Midland) Division in the process. The first casualties were soon suffered due to training accidents with grenades. The division was then temporarily split up and spent time attached to the Guards Division and 19th (Western) Division in order to gain experience in trench warfare. Afterwards, it relieved the 19th (Western) on the front line, and until the summer manned the front in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. It was rotated along XI Corps' sector, spending time in Festubert, Givenchy, La Gorgue, Laventie, and Neuve Chapelle. Here, the division's units rotated on and off the line, maintained positions, conducted trench raids, and were subjected to German bombardments, all of which allowed the men to gain vital experience.[17][20][21][25] The most notable action during this period was a trench raid carried out by Captain Goronwy Owen of the 15th RWF. Owen, was leading a raid into no man's land when he located a party of German soldiers who had just finished laying barbed wire. Owen followed the German's back to their trench, and ambushed them. The divisional history comments that "the greater portion [of the German party] were killed", and the raid was considered by the Army to be "the third best ... carried out so far" in the war. For his actions, Owen's was mentioned in dispatches.[26]

Map of the Somme battlefield (click to enlarge). The village of Mametz and the surrounding woodland are centrally located.

Between 10 and 11 June 1916, the division was relieved by the 61st (2nd South Midland) Division and pulled off the line. It then moved south and joined XVII Corps of the Third Army. With XVII Corps, the division trained for the upcoming Battle of the Somme. New trenches were dug, and the division proceeded to assault them undertaking what was new tactics: attacking in successive waves in conjunction with artillery and machine gun fire. Towards the end of the month, the division resumed moving south; this time towards the Somme valley.[27] They then joined II Corps, and were placed in reserve. For the upcoming battle, the division's intended role was as a second wave force of infantry to help exploit the intended success. Following the breach of the German lines, the Reserve Army's cavalry divisions would capture Bapaume. The 38th (Welsh) would then move forward to relieve the cavalry and secure the town, to allow the cavalry to advance north towards Arras.[28][29][30]

On 1 July, the Battle of the Somme began. Despite still being behind the lines in reserve, the division suffered its first casualty of the battle due to German artillery fire.[31] During the first day of the battle a breakthrough was not achieved, and the British offensive met with mixed results for the loss of 57,470 casualties.[32] In particular, XV Corps had been assigned the task of capturing the villages of Fricourt and Mametz. Throughout the day, the 7th Division assaulted and captured Mametz. The 21st Division pushed into the German lines and flanked Fricourt. Due to this move and capture of Mametz, the Germans abandoned Fricourt. The two divisions had advanced up to 2,500 yards (2,300 m), and suffered 7,500 casualties.[33] Between these two villages were the entrenched German position at Mametz Wood. This needed to be captured to allow XV Corps to further advance into German territory.[34] While additional ground was gained in subsequent attacks, German defenses and rain hindered moves to clear Mametz Wood. Following additional casualties within the 7th Division, the 38th (Welsh) was attached to XV Corps to relieve them and the division was tasked with clearing the wood.[30][35][36]

Mametz Wood, 7 July, prior to the fighting to capture it.

Mametz Wood was defended by elements of the German Lehr and 163rd Infantry Regiments. While these units were entrenched within the Wood, the German second line of trenches were only 300 yards (270 m) behind allowing the position to be easily reinforced. Between 6 and 9 July, the 38th conducted reconnaissance of the Wood, and launched probing attacks to determine the strength of the German position.[37][38]

On 7 July, the division launched two battalions upon the wood following a brief preliminary bombardment. At 08:00, the 16th Welsh and 10th SWB attacked. As soon as the advance began, it had become obvious that the preliminary bombardment had failed to silence the German machine gun positions, and German shells started to fall upon the attacking troops and the trenches they had left resulting in a temporary communication breakdown. Caught between machine gun fire from their front and their flanks, the attack bogged down within 200 yards (180 m) of the wood. Unable to move further, they were ordered to dig-in to await a renewed British bombardment. At 11:00 a second attempt was made, but the troops were unable to get further forward. A proposed third attack in the afternoon was eventually called off. The battalion historian of the 16th Welsh commented that "'Cut to Ribbons' would be an apt description" as casualties amounted to 276 men. The 10th SWB suffered 180 casualties.[17][37][37][39][40]

During the evening the 14th RWF launched a minor trench raid. On 8 July, this was supposed to develop into an attack on the southern tip of the Wood. While the division prepared to launch a battalion sized attack, XV Corps commander Lieutenant-General Henry Horne ordered a smaller attack by a single platoon. The day was spent in confusion with conflicting orders issued, and Horne traveling to the division to clarify his intentions. In the end, no attack was launched during the day.[41]

When Horne found out that the 14th RWF had not attacked and their planned attack had been pushed back to 8 July, he summoned the division's commanding officer Major-General Ivor Philipps to Corps headquarters. By mid-day on 9 July, Philipps had been relieved of command.[42] General Douglas Haig, commanding the fighting on the Somme, referenced this event in his diary. He wrote "visited HQ XV Corps and saw General Horne. He was very disappointed with the work of the ... 38th Welsh Div". He comments that Philipps was relieved since despite the "most adequately bombarded" of the wood, the division "never entered" having suffered "under 150" casualties and despite "a few bold men [who had] entered the Wood [who] found little opposition." Historian Don Farr notes Haig's entries are at odds with the facts, and that he relied heavily on what Horne had told him. Farr states Horne's account to Haig was self-serving, and did no justice "to the difficulties confronting the troops on the ground" and did not acknowledge the failure of the bombardment. He also suggests that the sacking of Philipps may have been political, by a distrusting Officer Corps towards a perceived 'political officer'.[43] Clive Hughes quotes a regular officer who was attached to the division that described Philipps as "an excellent administer" who was "valued [for] his service with the division."[44] Tim Travers comments "perhaps Philipps was a poor commander", but the opening attacks on Mametz Wood demonstrated the faults of the entire command structure not just of Philipps as there was pressure from top down to get results.[45] Farr notes that "there is evidence that ... Philipps ... balked at sending waves of [his] men unprotected against machine guns",[46] and Traver's contributes Philipps had shown moral courage in cancelling unprepared attacks and for giving his troops "instructions not to press the attack if machine-gun fire was met".[45]

Horne had intended to replace Philipps with Major-General Charles Blackader, but this decision was overruled by Haig who ordered that Herbert Watts General officer commanding 7th Division take temporary command.[46] During 9 July, the decision was made that the division would launch a full-scale attack the following day.[37] At 03:30 10 July, the preliminary bombardment began.[47]

Mametz Wood, as seen in August

The initial bombardment lasted for 45 minutes, striking the German front line positions, with the shelling halted temporarily to attempt to lure the German defenders back into the front line when the barrage resumed. At 04:15, the division launched its attack. Advancing behind a creeping barrage were the 13th Welsh (on the right flank), the 14th Welsh (in the centre), and the 16th RWF (on the left flank). As part of the preliminary bombardment, a smoke screen had been laid down on either flank, which had succeeded in drawing German fire away from the assault.[47][48] The divisional history called this attack "one of the most magnificent sights of the war ... wave after wave of men were seen advancing without hesitation and without a break over a distance which in some places was nearly 500 yards."[47] The 14th Welsh rapidly entered the Wood and cleared the German positions with bayonets and rifle fire. In the face of heavy German resistance and flanking machine gun fire, the 13th Welsh suffered heavy casualties and their attack stalled. In response, the division reinforced the right flank by committing the 15th Welsh who were able to push through into the Wood. Before they could link up and aid the 13th, German troops infiltrated the gap between the two battalions and were able to get behind the 15th Welsh and almost wiped out an entire company. The divisional history records these troops had to "cut their way back out", and returned with just eight men. Despite the losses, the three battalions of the Welsh regiment were able to form a cohesive line defending the edge of the Wood and repulsed strong German counterattacks.[47][49] The 16th RWF, who had fell behind the creeping barrage, were met with determined German resistance who repulsed two assaults by the Welshmen. The 15th RWF was sent to reinforce the effort, and both battalions were then able to push their way into the Wood although German resistance and a machine gun prevented a further advance. The 10th Welsh moved up to cover the gap between the five already committed battalions, and the 13th RWF were deployed to clear the German position in front of their sister battalions. Meanwhile, divisional engineers arrived to dig trenches and lay wire.[50] During the afternoon, the 10th SWB and 17th RWF were committed to the Wood. At 16:00, a renewed attack was launched that was met with little resistance. The 10th SWB captured the eastern stretches of the Wood, and inflicted heavy losses. The 15th Welsh along with the 15th and 17th RWF proceeded to fight their way north through the Wood and made it to within 40 yards (37 m) of the northern edge when they were thrown back by German fire.[51] A further attack, during the evening was called off, and the troops were pulled back up to 300 yards (270 m) and ordered to dig-in for the night.[49]

A painting by Christopher Williams depicting the division's assault to capture Mametz Wood.

During the night, the 113th and 114th Infantry Brigades were ordered out of the Wood, and the 115th Brigade assembled in their place.[51] The next day, 115th Brigade prepared a final assault to clear out the German presence. 115th Brigade's commanding officer, Brigadier-General H. J. Evans, wanted to launch a surprise attack, but was overruled. The subsequent bombardment to support the attack fell short in places hitting 115th Brigade, and also provoked German artillery fire. Despite the friendly fire, the barrage also caught German troops in the open as they fled from the Wood. The remaining Germans offered heavy resistance, and the 16th Welsh were held up by machine gun fire and the use of a flamethrower. Despite this, the brigade was able to clear Mametz Wood by the end of the day. The German second line position, beyond the wood, was on higher ground dominating the edge of Wood. This, coupled with German artillery fire, resulted in the brigade pulling back to its start line to avoid further casualties.[52][53][54]

King George V (centre-right) speaks with Major-General Charles Blackader (centre-left) while visiting the division, 13th August 1916.

That evening, the 21st Division relieved the 38th, and the Welsh moved near Gommecourt and relieved the 48th (South Midland) Division on the line. The division saw no further action until 1917.[51] The Division suffered 3,993 casualties during the six days it fought on the Somme, with over 600 men killed. Despite capturing 400 prisoners as well as Mametz Wood (the largest on the Somme), which paved the way for the assault on Bazentin Ridge, the reputation of the division had been sullied by inaccuracies. The initial failed attack caused much harm to the division's reputation, as the comparably few casualties were seen as evidence of a lack of determination by the men. A report by Brigadier-General Price-Davies, commanding officer of 113th Brigade, compounded matters as he inaccurately reported that there was widespread panic among the men who were unwilling to carry out orders. Despite Price-Davies revising his opinion, commenting "I may not have given my brigade full credit for what they did", the damage had been done. The difficulties in fighting in heavily wooded areas were not appreciated at the time, and Farr comments that the divisions reputation suffered due to the repeated interference by Lieutenant-General Horne in matters best left to the divisional or brigade staff and his "inexperience of battlefield command at this level".[51][53][54][55]

Ypres Salient

At the end of August, the division was deployed to the Ypres area where it remained for the following ten months seeing no major action. The division spent its time engaging in the vital effort of rebuilding and consolidating washed out trenches, and raiding German positions. For the former, the division was commended by their Corps commander Rudolph Lambart (XIV Corps).[56] The most notable raid conducted during this period occurred in November, and was undertaken by the 14th Welsh. Elements of the battalion launched a large-scale raid on a German position known as 'High command Redoubt'. This was a strongly fortified position, based on a slight rise, that overlooked and dominated the British lines. From this redoubt, the Germans had been able to direct artillery fire and snipe the British positions. The 14th Welsh raided the position, killing 50 defenders in hand-to-hand combat and took 20 more as prisoners.[57][58][59]

Aerial reconnaissance photo showing the cross west of Pilckem, and the devastation unleashed upon the ridge.

In June, the division was pulled off the line to conduct training exercises for the upcoming offensive in Ypres area. Replicas of the German positions on Pilckem Ridge were constructed, and then assaulted by the division. On 20 July, the division returned to the front taking over from the 29th Division.[60] Until the end of the month, the division was subjected to German artillery fire. These shells, a mixture of high explosive and mustard gas, inflicted–according to the divisional history–"a considerable number of losses". At the same time, due to the preliminary barrage, aerial reconnaissance and infantry patrols by the division confirmed that the Germans had largely pulled back from their front line to their second line positions.[61][62]

At 03:50 on 31 July, the Battle of Pilckem Ridge began. The division was tasked with capturing the German front line, their second line positions based on Pilckem Ridge–a low ridge that also contained the heavily shelled village of Pilckem–followed by 'Iron Cross Ridge', which lay to the east, before storming down the other side and across a small stream known as the Steenbeck. The Welsh would be primarily opposed by the German 3rd Guards Infantry Division, along with elements of the 3rd Reserve and 11th Infantry divisions, dug-in among trench lines and based within 280 concrete pillboxes and bunkers. To secure these various objectives, the division planned to attack in waves with fresh troops constantly moving forward to tackle the next objective.[39][63][64]

Map showing Pilckem Ridge and the objectives assigned to the division as well as the 51st (Highland) Division (Click to enlarge).

Due to the Royal Artillerys use of gas shells, the German artillery had largely been silenced and played little part in the initial fighting. The 10th and 13th Welsh (advancing on the right) and half the 13th and 16th RWF (on the left) were able to rapidly take the German forward positions, capturing several Germans who had remained behind. The 13th and 14th Welsh then pushed beyond their sister battalions up the ridge along with the remaining half of the 13th and 16th RWF. Centered on the village as well as Marsouin and Stray Farms, the German resistance was much fiercer resulting in increasing Welsh losses. Arthur Conan Doyle, in his history of the war, described the scene: "[The German's] poured bullets upon the advancing infantry, who slipped from shell-hole to shell-hole, taking such cover as they could, but resolutely pushing onwards." Where concrete bunkers were encountered, the Welshmen worked their way around them, cutting the German troops off, and forcing them to surrender. Despite the resistance, the German second line was captured without delay.[65][66] Half of the 13th and 14th Welsh, along with the 15th RWF, then pushed towards Iron Cross Ridge. German troops holding Rudolphe Farm, in the area allocated to the 51st (Highland) Division who had not yet advanced as far, were able to fire into the flanks of the advancing Welsh troops. A platoon from 15th Welsh was diverted, and assaulted the farm capturing 15 men and either killing or scattering the rest thus securing the flank of advance. 14th Welsh then rushed Iron Cross Ridge and engaged in hand-to-hand combat to seize the position, before pushing on to capture a dressing station. Their charge had resulted in heavy losses, but yielded 78 prisoners and three machine-guns. The 15th RWF had fell behind the protective rolling barrage to their front, and in doing so came under heavy fire from a German position known as Battery Copse. Despite heavy losses, they pushed on forward and were able to secure their portion of Iron Cross Ridge.[65] With Iron Cross Ridge in British hands, the 11th SWB and 17th RWF pushed forward for the Steenbeck. Despite German resistance based in more concrete positions, these positions were cleared and the river reached and the two battalions dug-in on the opposite side. However, due to the casualties taken in doing so, elements of the 16th Welsh and 10th SWB were moved forward to reinforce the newly gained position. At 15:10, the German infantry launched a counter-attack. Fighting continued throughout the day, with the forward British battalions forced to pull back beyond the Steenbeck although the German attempts to retake further territory were thwarted. During the course of the afternoon, heavy rain began to fall and did so for the following three days hindering future operations.[67] The fighting broke the 3rd Guards Division, which the Welsh divisional history notes "had to be withdrawn immediately after the battle." During the day, the Welsh took close to 700 prisoners.[68] Conan Doyle places the division's losses at 1,300 men.[69] Other than an exchange of artillery fire, no further fighting took place and the division was pulled off the line on 6 August.[70]

Historian Toby Thacker comments that "the attack on the Pilckem Ridge was considered a great success by Haig and has been similarly viewed by historians." He further notes that "In Haig's eyes the Welsh Division had redeemed its reputation after what he had perceived as its poor showing at Mametz Wood" and Haig went on to write the division had "achieved the highest level of soldierly achievement".[71] Steven John echos these views, stating that the division "regained the honour which it had unjustly lost after their supposed tardiness in the capture of Mametz".[72]

The division returned to the line on 20 August, and played a minor role in the latter stages of the Battle of Langemarck. On 27 August, elements of the division attacked. Throughout the day, heavy rain had fallen saturating the ground. The divisional history comments "the men who had been lying in shell-holes which were gradually filling with water found great difficulty in getting out and advancing and keeping up with the barrage." As the advancing infantry waded through deep mud, their supporting artillery barrage moved away from them. Left vulnerable, the Germans opened fire. Elements of the division were able to reach the German line, but as the 16th Welsh battalion's historian comments "it had been a gallant but hopeless endeavor." The failed attack resulted in hundreds of casualties. The division passively remained in the line, subjected to German artillery bombardments, until it was withdrawn on 13 September to take up new positions at Armentières.[17][39][70]

Raiding and reorganization

Men of the 15th RWF, outside their dug-outs, in the trenches, late December 1917.

Until spring 1918, the division manned various sections of the frontline and at times as much as ten miles of the front. During this period, the division worked to improve the trenches they inherited and conducted raids on the German lines. For example, on 7/8 November the 10th SWB conducted a nearly 300 strong raid on the German lines. Having penetrated 200 yards into German territory, the battalion destroyed three concrete dugouts, inflicted at least 50 casualties, and took 15 prisoners. However, the battalion equally suffered 50 casualties.[39][73] In addition to raiding, the division aided the 1st Portuguese Division gain experience in trench warfare by having a battalion at a time attached for tutoring.[74]

During the winter period, the British became aware that the Germans were intending to launch an offensive in 1918. As a result, the division spent the following months improving reinforcing the front line positions as well as constructing rear-line defenses from the Armentières region to the northern bank of River Lys laying, what the divisional history described as, "inconceivable amount of concrete and barbed wire".[75]

Men of the 13th Welsh constructing rear-line positions near Houplines.

By 1918, the number of front line infantry within the British Army in France had decreased leading to a manpower crisis. In an attempt to consolidate manpower and increase the number of machine guns and artillery support available to the infantry, the decision was made to reduce the number of battalions in a division from twelve to nine.[76][77] This had the effect of reducing the establishment of a division from 18,825 men to 16,035.[78] In addition, to ease reinforcement, an attempt was made to consolidate as many battalions from the same regiment within the same brigade.[79] These changes impacted the division, resulting in the 15th RWF, 11th SWB, and 10th and 16th Welsh being disbanded, and the 2nd RWF joining from the 33rd Division.[80] These changes to the division also saw the machine gun companies consolidated into a single battalion, one medium mortar battery broken up and absorbed by the remaining two batteries, and the heavy mortar battery leaving the division to become a Corps asset.[1]

Following a short break to train and rest, the division returned to the front line in mid-February and recommenced raiding the German lines. On 15 March, the 16 RWF conducted a raid on a similar scale and with similar success to the one conducted by the 10 SWB in November.[80] During the same period, the Germans raided the Welsh lines but not with the same level of success and only managed to capture two men. In addition, the Welsh snipers were able to get the upper hand on their German rivals. The divisional history places the success of the numerous raids carried out, on the "control of No Man's Land" which the division's patrol had gained, which allowed "thorough previous reconnaissance", in addition to the sniping that made it "possible to move about unmolested in exposed trenches or even in the open" in front of the German lines.[81]

Final battles

The division took part in the Battle of Épehy, and was disbanded in 1919.

Second World War


File:Hore-Belisha 1935.jpg
Leslie Hore-Belisha, the man responsible for the 1939 expansion of the Territorial Army, and ultimately the re-creation of the division.

Throughout the 1930s, tensions built between Nazi Germany and the United Kingdom as well as its allies.[82] During late 1937 and throughout 1938, German demands for the annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland led to an international crisis. In an attempt to avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and brokered the Munich Agreement in September. The agreement averted war and allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland.[83] While it had been intended as an agreement to reconcile differences and for future issues to be resolved peacefully, relations between both countries soon deteriorated.[84] On 15 March 1939, Germany breached the terms of the agreement by invading and occupying the remnants of the Czech state.[85]

In response, on 29 March, Secretary of State for War Leslie Hore-Belisha announced plans to increase the Territorial Army from 130,000 men to 340,000 and in doing so double the number of territorial divisions. The intended plan of action was for the existing units to over-recruit, and then form 'Second Line' divisions from small cadres that could then be built upon.[86] As a result, the 38th (Welsh) Infantry Division was to be created as a 'Second Line' unit, a duplicate of the 'First Line' 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division.[87] In April, limited conscription was introduced. 34,500 'Militiamen', all of the age of 20, were conscripted into the regular army with the intent of being trained for six months before being deployed to the forming second line units.[87][88] However, despite the intention for the army to grow in size, the programme was complicated by a lack of central guidance on the expansion and duplication process, and issues regarding the lack of facilities, equipment, and instructors.[86][89]

Formation and home Defence

Elements of the division, the 5th Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry, training near Liverpool. An infantry section shelter behind a Matilda II as a Vickers Medium Mark II moves past in the background.

Despite the ongoing efforts and some regiments being able to recruit the required numbers to form new battalions, the whole process had – in the words of historian James P. Levy – "not progressed beyond the paper stage when [the Second World War] began in September."[89][95] The 38th (Welsh) Infantry Division finally became active on 18 September 1939, although its constituted units had already formed and had been administered by the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division. The 38th was again composed of the 113th, 114th, and 115th Infantry Brigades.[96]

The division was initially assigned to Western Command, and by early 1940 was spread out along the River Severn in England and Wales.[96][97] By summer, the division was under the command of III Corps and based in the North West around Liverpool to conduct manoeuvres and training.[96][98][99][100] In April 1941, the division was assigned to IV Corps and had moved to Sussex, the 18th Infantry Division having replaced them around Liverpool. In Sussex, the division was held in reserve and placed behind the 47th (London) Infantry Division and the 55th (West Lancashire) Infantry Division who were defending the coast between Bognor Regis – in the west – to Beachy Head in the east.[96][101] Despite being in reserve, historians Michael Glover and Jonathan Riley note that the Royal Welch Fusiliers battalions of 115th Brigade all took part in coastal defense duties.[102]

On 1 December 1941, the division was placed on the 'Lower Establishment'.[94] During the war, the Army was divided between 'Higher Establishment' and 'Lower Establishment' formations. The former were intended for deployment overseas and combat, whereas the latter were strictly for home defence in a static role.[103][104] During 1942, the division was assigned to V Corps and had shifted west to defend the Dorset coastline.[96][105] Notably, on 27 and 28 February, the anti-aircraft platoon of the 4th Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment supported Operation Biting, the commando raid on Bruneval, France.[106] In July, the division lost the 10th Royal Welch Fusiliers to the Parachute Regiment.[102] The division spent 1943 and early 1944 moving around the country spending time in Kent, Hertfordshire, and Northumberland; as well being assigned to II and XII Corps.[96][100] By March, the 115th Infantry Brigade had formed "'B' Marshalling Area" and was aiding the movement of troops in preparation for Operation Overlord.[107]

The 38th (Welsh) Infantry Division's Second World War shoulder badge.

By 1944, there was five 'Lower Establishment' divisions allocated to home defense duties (the 38th, the 45th, the 47th (London), the 55th (West Lancashire), and the 61st Infantry divisions). These five divisions had a combined total of 17,845 men. Of this number, around 13,000 were available as replacements for the 21st Army Group fighting in France.[108][lower-alpha 3] The remaining 4,800 men were considered ineligible at that time for service abroad, for medical reasons, or for not being fully fit or fully trained, or for other reasons. Over the following six months, up to 75 per cent of these men would be deployed to reinforce 21st Army Group following the completion of their training and certification of fitness.[110] Specifically, the vast majority of the 1st Brecknockshire Battalion, South Wales Borderers were deployed to Normandy at the end of June as replacements to reinforce 21st Army Group, and by mid-July so had the 2nd Battalion, Herefordshire Light Infantry resulting in that battalion being disbanded.[100][111] Stephen Hart comments that, by September, the 21st Army Group "had bled Home Forces dry of draftable riflemen" after the losses suffered during the Normandy Campaign, leaving the army in Britain, with the exception of the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division, with just "young lads, old men, and the unfit".[112]

Compounding the loss of men to reinforce 21st Army Group, on 3 July the 115th Infantry Brigade was withdrawn from the division. The brigade was earmarked for an operation to liberate the Channel Islands, and was re-designated Force 135. Ultimately such an operation did not take place, and the brigade was deployed to Europe.[107] During August, the 38th (Welsh) Infantry Division began to disperse. On 15 August, the divisional headquarters had ceased commanding any subordinate units and by the end of the month the division had been disbanded.[94]


An example of infantry training at Western Command's training school.

During 1944, the British Army was facing a manpower crisis. In an effort to downsize the army and consolidate as many men within as few formations as possible to maintain fighting strength and efficiency, the War Office began disbanding divisions. This downsizing included the 80th Infantry (Reserve) Division.[113][114][115] On 1 September 1944, the 38th Division was recreated as the 38th Infantry (Reserve) Division to replace the 80th as Western Command's training formation. The new 38th Division was commanded by Major-General Lionel Howard Cox, who had previously commanded the 80th Division.[116][117] At this point, the divisional insignia was only worn by the permanent members of the division.[118]

The 38th (along with the 45th Holding, the 47th Infantry (Reserve), and the 48th Infantry (Reserve) Division) were used to complete the training of new recruits to the army.[119][lower-alpha 4] At the division, the soldiers were given five weeks of additional training at the section, platoon and company level, before undertaking a final three-day exercise. Troops would then be ready to be sent overseas to join other formations.[119]

Undertaking this role, for example, the 5th Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry-between 1944 and 1945-trained over 4,000 replacements for other battalions within the regiment as well as the North Staffordshire Regiment.[120] Having fulfilled its purpose, the division was disbanded at the end of the war.[116]

General officer commanding

The division had the following commanders during the First World War:[123]

Appointed General officer commanding Notes
19 January 1915 Major-General I. Philipps
9 July 1916 Major-General H.E. Watts Temporary
12 July 1916 Major-General C.G. Blackader
22 October 1917 Brigadier-General E.W. Alexander VC Temporary
17 November 1917 Brigadier-General W.A.M. Thompson Acting
22 November 1917 Major-General C.G. Blackader Sick, 20 May 1918
20 May 1918 Brigadier-General H.E. ap Rhys Pryce Acting
23 May 1918 Major-General T.A. Cubitt

The division had the following commanders during the Second World War:[94]

Appointed General officer commanding Notes
18 September 1939 Major-General G.T. Raikes
11 May 1940 Major-General A.E. Williams
28 October 1940 Major-General N.M.S. Irwin
7 November 1941 Brigadier A. E. Robinson Acting
15 November 1941 Major-General A.A.B. Dowler
8 April 1942 Brigadier A. E. Robinson Acting
23 April 1942 Major-General D.C. Butterworth
1 September 1944 Major-General L.H. Cox

See also



  1. In comparison: by 30 September, 50,000 Welshmen had already joined the Army and these recruits had formed 12 new Welsh battalions within Kitchener's New Army, and had also been used to reinforce existing units.[10]
  2. Training for pre-war regulars involved firing ten times this number.[19]
  3. The war establishment—the paper strength—of a "Higher Establishment" infantry division in 1944 was 18,347 men.[109]
  4. Having entered military service, a recruit was assigned to the General Service Corps. They would then undertake six weeks training at a Primary Training Centre and take aptitude and intelligence tests. The recruit would then be posted to a Corps Training Centre that specialized in the arm of the service they were joining. For those who would be joining the infantry, Corps training involved a further sixteen week course. For more specialized roles, such as signallers, it could be up to thirty weeks.[119]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Becke 1945, pp. 83–86.
  2. Cook & Stevenson 2005, p. 121.
  3. Simkins 2007, pp. 38–39.
  4. Simkins 2007, p. 35.
  5. Simkins 2007, pp. 39–40.
  6. Simkins 2007, pp. 41–42.
  7. Simkins 2007, pp. 96–99.
  8. John 2009, p. 20.
  9. Munby 1920, p. 1.
  10. Simkins 2007, pp. 97–99.
  11. Middlebrook 2000, pp. 80–81.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Beckett & Simpson 1985, p. 120.
  13. Beckett & Simpson 1985, p. 118.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Griffith 2010, p. xvi.
  15. Munby 1920, pp. 7 and 13.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Thacker 2014, p. 104.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 "16th (Service) Battalion (Cardiff City) The Welsh Regiment" (PDF). The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh (Brecon). Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  18. Munby 1920, pp. 13–15.
  19. Griffith 2010, pp. xvi-xvii.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Thacker 2014, pp. 137–138.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Griffith 2010, pp. xvi, 7.
  22. Munby 1920, p. 14.
  23. Beckett & Simpson 1985, pp. 117, 120–121.
  24. Beckett & Simpson 1985, pp. 116–117.
  25. Munby 1920, pp. 14–15.
  26. Munby 1920, pp. 15–16.
  27. John 2009, p. 66.
  28. Griffith 2010, p. 118.
  29. Sheffield 2007, pp. 21, 64–65.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Munby 1920, p. 16.
  31. John 2009, p. 68.
  32. Sheffield 2007, pp. 41–69.
  33. Edmonds 1932, pp. 346–353, and 368–370.
  34. Scotland & Heys 2014, p. 46.
  35. John 2009, pp. 70–71.
  36. Miles 1938, pp. 15–16, and 21.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 37.3 Munby 1920, p. 17.
  38. Renshaw 2011, p. 61.
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 39.3 "10th and 11th Battalions The South Wales Borderers" (PDF). The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh (Brecon). Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  40. Renshaw 2011, pp. 60–67.
  41. Renshaw 2011, pp. 75–76.
  42. Farr 2007, p. 101.
  43. Farr 2007, pp. 101–102.
  44. Beckett & Simpson 1985, p. 121.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Travers 2009, p. 167.
  46. 46.0 46.1 Farr 2007, p. 102.
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 47.3 Munby 1920, p. 18.
  48. Farr 2007, p. 103.
  49. 49.0 49.1 Farr 2007, p. 104.
  50. Munby 1920, pp. 18–19.
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2 51.3 Munby 1920, p. 19.
  52. Farr 2007, p. 106.
  53. 53.0 53.1 Glover & Riley 2008, p. 131.
  54. 54.0 54.1 Rawson 2008, p. 75.
  55. Farr 2007, pp. 106–107.
  56. Munby 1920, pp. 20–21.
  57. Munby 1920, p. 21.
  58. Lewis 2010, p. 8.
  59. McGreal 2004, pp. 71–72.
  60. Munby 1920, pp. 22–23.
  61. Munby 1920, p. 22.
  62. Thacker 2014, pp. 173–174.
  63. Munby 1920, pp. 24 and 28.
  64. Thacker 2014, p. 173.
  65. 65.0 65.1 Munby 1920, pp. 24–25.
  66. Conan Doyle 1919, p. 142.
  67. Munby 1920, p. 26.
  68. Munby 1920, p. 28.
  69. Conan Doyle 1919, p. 144.
  70. 70.0 70.1 Munby 1920, p. 27.
  71. Thacker 2014, p. 175.
  72. John 2009, p. 126.
  73. Munby 1920, p. 29.
  74. Munby 1920, p. 30.
  75. Munby 1920, pp. 30-31.
  76. Perry 1988, pp. 26-28.
  77. Morrow 2005, p. 239.
  78. Perry 1988, p. 26.
  79. Perry 1988, pp. 28-29.
  80. 80.0 80.1 Munby 1920, pp. 31-32.
  81. Munby 1920, pp. 32-33.
  82. Bell 1986, pp. 3–4.
  83. Bell 1986, pp. 258–275.
  84. Bell 1986, pp. 277–278.
  85. Bell 1986, p. 281.
  86. 86.0 86.1 Gibbs 1976, p. 518.
  87. 87.0 87.1 Messenger 1994, p. 49.
  88. French 2001, p. 64.
  89. 89.0 89.1 Perry 1988, p. 48.
  90. Joslen 2003, p. 305.
  91. "1st Battalion The South Wales Borderers" (PDF). The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh (Brecon). Retrieved 6 December 2015. 
  92. Joslen 2003, pp. 66, and 306.
  93. Joslen 2003, p. 307.
  94. 94.0 94.1 94.2 94.3 94.4 Joslen 2003, p. 65.
  95. Levy 2006, p. 66.
  96. 96.0 96.1 96.2 96.3 96.4 96.5 Joslen 2003, p. 66.
  97. Collier 1957, p. 85.
  98. Collier 1957, p. 219.
  99. "The British Army in the United Kingdom 1939–45". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 6 December 2015. 
  100. 100.0 100.1 100.2 "Brecknockshire Battalion, The South Wales Borderers TA" (PDF). The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh (Brecon). Retrieved 6 December 2015. 
  101. Collier 1957, p. 229.
  102. 102.0 102.1 Glover & Riley 2008, p. 175.
  103. French 2001, p. 188.
  104. Perry 1988, p. 65.
  105. Collier 1957, p. 293.
  106. "4th Battalion The Monmouthshire Regiment TA" (PDF). The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh (Brecon). Retrieved 6 December 2015. 
  107. 107.0 107.1 "Badge, formation, 115th Infantry Brigade". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 6 December 2015. 
  108. Hart 2007, p. 52.
  109. Joslen 2003, pp. 130–131.
  110. Hart 2007, pp. 48–51.
  111. "History: The Herefordshire Light Infantry (TA)". The Herefordshire Light Infantry Museum. Retrieved 6 December 2015. 
  112. Hart 2007, pp. 49–50.
  113. Messenger 1994, p. 122.
  114. Allport 2015, p. 216.
  115. Hesketh 2000, p. 246.
  116. 116.0 116.1 Forty 2013, Reserve Divisions.
  117. Joslen 2003, pp. 65 and 103.
  118. Davis 1983, p. 107.
  119. 119.0 119.1 119.2 French 2001, p. 68.
  120. "The King's Shropshire Light Infantry 1939 – 1945". Shropshire Regimental Museum. n.d. Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  121. Joslen 2003, pp. 66, 290, and 305.
  122. Joslen 2003, pp. 66, 306, and 374.
  123. Becke 1945, p. 81.


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External links