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The Royal Naval Division - a brief history.

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    Posted: 30 Aug 2010 at 18:22

63rd (Royal Naval) Division



63rd (Royal Naval) Division

Able Seaman Simon Owen James of the Anson Battalion, who was killed in action on 27 May 1917, in one of the most iconic photographs of Royal Naval Division personnel.


World War I
September 1914 - April 1919


United Kingdom


New Army




Antwerp (1914)
Battle of Gallipoli (1915)
Battle of the Somme (1916)
Third Battle of Ypres (1917)

The British 63rd (Royal Naval) Division was a First World War division of the New Army. At the direction of Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, it had been formed at the outbreak of war as the Royal Naval Division composed largely of surplus reserves of the Royal Navy who were not required at sea.[1]

The division participated in the defence of the Belgian city of Antwerp in late 1914. The division was shipped to Egypt prior to serving in the Battle of Gallipoli where it fought on both the Anzac and Helles battlefields. By the end of the Dardanelles campaign, the division's casualties were such that it no longer contained a significant number of naval servicemen and so in July 1916 it was re-designated as the 63rd Division[1] when the original Territorial Force 63rd (2nd Northumbrian) Division was disbanded. The division moved to the Western Front in France for the remainder of the war.[1]

Unit history

Defence of Antwerp


The RND was one of two British divisions (the other being the Regular Army 29th Division) at the Gallipoli landings. Originally the division was only required to make a diversion at Bulair in support of the main landings at Anzac Cove and Cape Helles. This diversion was carried out by one man, Bernard Freyberg. Shortly afterwards, on 28 April, four battalions were sent to Anzac to reinforce the hard-pressed Australian and New Zealand troops. Later the RND moved to Helles where it remained for the rest of the campaign on the peninsula.

Western Front

After the evacuation of Gallipoli, the RND moved to France where it participated in the final phase of the Battle of the Somme, advancing along the River Ancre to capture Beaumont Hamel.

Just prior to the fighting on the Ancre, the division received a new commanding officer after Major General Archibald Paris was wounded, Major General Cameron Shute, appointed on 17 October 1916. General Shute had an intense dislike for the unconventional "nautical" traditions of the division and made numerous unpopular attempts to stamp them out. Following a particularly critical inspection of the trenches by General Shute, an officer of the division, Sub-Lieutenant A. P. Herbert, later to become a famous humorous writer, legal satirist and Member of Parliament, penned a popular poem that summed up the feelings of the men of the RND[2]:

The General inspecting the trenches
Exclaimed with a horrified shout
'I refuse to command a division
Which leaves its excreta about.'

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

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

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

Order of battle

Recruiting poster for the RND

The division initially comprised eight naval battalions named after famous British naval commanders (Anson, Benbow, Collingwood, Drake, Hawke, Hood, Howe, Nelson), plus the Royal Marine Brigade of four battalions from the Royal Marine depots at the ports of Deal, Chatham Portsmouth and Plymouth.[1]

  • 1st (Drake) Battalion
  • 2nd (Hawke) Battalion
  • 3rd (Benbow) Battalion
  • 4th (Collingwood) Battalion
  • 5th (Nelson) Battalion
  • 6th (Howe) Battalion
  • 7th (Hood) Battalion
  • 8th (Anson) Battalion
  • 9th (Chatham) Battalion
  • 10th (Portsmouth) Battalion
  • 11th (Plymouth) Battalion
  • 12th (Deal) Battalion

Due to the changing nature of the unit, it was made up of a number of brigades during the war.

1st Royal Naval Brigade 

Also known as 1st (Royal Naval) Brigade, 1st Brigade (1914 - July 1916). Replaced by the 190th Brigade (July 1916).

2nd Royal Naval Brigade 

Also known as 2nd (Royal Naval) Brigade, 2nd Brigade, 189th Brigade.

Royal Marine Brigade 

Also known as 3rd (Royal Marine) Brigade, 188th Brigade.

As the naval character of the division diminished, more regular infantry battalions were included. Other battalions that served with the division include:

  • 1st Royal Marines
  • 2nd Royal Marines
  • 2nd Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment
  • 7th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers
  • 4th Battalion, The Bedfordshire Regiment
  • 1/4th Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry
  • 10th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers
  • 1/1st Battalion, Honourable Artillery Company
  • 2/2nd (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment
  • 2/4th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment
  • 1/28th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment


  • Battle of Gallipoli
    • Landing at Anzac Cove (4 battalions)
    • Landing at Cape Helles (2 battalions)
    • Second Battle of Krithia
    • Third Battle of Krithia


  1. ^ a b c d "Royal Naval Division (1914 - 1919)". The National Archives. Retrieved 2008-03-14. 
  2. ^ Martin Gilbert, The Somme, Henry Holt, 2006, p. 218

External links

Edited by Mal Murray - 30 Aug 2010 at 18:25
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