63rd (Royal Naval) Division

The history of 63rd (Royal Naval) Division

1914

At the declaration of the war on 4 August 1914, there was a surplus of some 20-30,000 men of the reserves of the Royal Navy who would not find jobs on any ship of war. It was recognised that this was sufficient to form two Naval Brigades and a Brigade of Marines for operations on land.

The defence of Antwerp (4-10 October 1914)

The Royal Marine Brigade was formed at once and was moved to Oostende on 27 August 1914, although it returned four days later. On 20 September it arrived at Dunkirk with orders to assist in the defence of Antwerp. The two other Brigades moved to Dunkirk for the same purpose on 5 October 1914. In the haste to organise and move the units to Belgium, 80% went to war without even basic equipment such as packs, mess tins or water bottles. No khaki uniform was issued. The two Naval Brigades were armed with ancient charger-loading rifles, just three days before embarking. The Division was orginally titled the Royal Naval Division, and was formed in England in September 1914. At this stage, it had no artillery, Field Ambulances or other ancillary units.

RND units that managed to successfully withdraw from Antwerp returned to England, arriving 11 October 1914. Approximately 1,500 troops of the 1st Royal Naval Brigade crossed the Dutch frontier to escape from Antwerp and were interned in the Netherlands.

1915

After a lengthy period of refit and training (scattered in various locations, and still short of many of the units that ordinarily made up the establishment of a division), the RND moved to Egypt preparatory to the Gallipoli campaign.

The deployment of the RMLI to Gallipoli

Gallipoli

1916

When the Gallipoli peninsula was evacuated by the British, the division was retained to hold the islands of Lemnos, Imbros and Tenedos. By this time, very few men with sea service remained. The division transferred from the authority of the Admiralty to the War Office on 29 April 1916 and was redesignated as the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division on 19 July 1916. It moved to France, arriving Marseilles 12-23 May 1916, after which it remained on the Western Front for the rest of the war and took part in the following engagements:

The Battle of the Ancre, a phase of the Battles of the Somme 1916 (13-18 November 1916)

1917

The Operations on the Ancre (January-March 1917)

The Second Battle of the Scarpe (23-24 April 1917), a phase of the Arras Offensive, in which the Division captured Gavrelle

The Battle of Arleux (28-29 April 1917), a phase of the Arras Offensive

The Second Battle of Passchendaele (26 October – 10 November 1917), a phase of the Third Battles of Ypres 1917

The action of Welsh Ridge (30 December 1917), subsequent to the Cambrai operations

1918

The Battle of St Quentin~ (21-23 March 1918)
The Battle of Bapaume~ (24-25 March 1918)
~ the battles marked ~ are phases of the First Battles of the Somme 1918

The Battle of Albert (21-23 August 1918), a phase of the Second Battles of the Somme 1918

The Battle of Drocourt-Queant (2-3 September 1918), a phase of the Second Battles of Arras 1918

The Battle of the Canal du Nord^ (27 September – 1 October 1918)
The Battle of Cambrai 1918^ (8-9 October 1918)
^ the battles marked ^ are phases of the Battles of the Hindenburg Line

The passage of the Grand Honelle (5-7 November 1918), a phase of the Final Advance in Picardy

This unique Division was demobilised in France by April 1919. It had suffered over 47,900 casualties.

Battle of Cambrai, 1918. Prisoners taken by 63rd (Royal Naval) Division being marched in near Noyelles, 8 October 1918. Imperial War Museum image Q9513
Battle of Cambrai, 1918. Prisoners taken by 63rd (Royal Naval) Division being marched in near Noyelles, 8 October 1918. Imperial War Museum image Q9513

The order of battle of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division

1st Royal Naval BrigadeEstablished in August 1914. By April 1915 it was known as 1st (Royal Naval) Brigade. Redesignated as 1st Brigade on 2 August 1915. The Brigade was broken up on 2 July 1916, the staff joining the 3rd (Royal Marine) Brigade.
1st (Drake) Bnleft May 1916
2nd (Hawke) Bnleft May 1916
3rd (Benbow) Bndisbanded 9 June 1915
4th (Collingwood) Bnleft 30 May 1915
5th (Nelson) Bnjoined April 1915, left May 1916
7th (Hood) Bnjoined August 1915, split into 1/Hood and 2/Hood Bns during the period 1 June – 5 July 1916, left July 1916
12th (Deal) Bnjoined 12 March 1915, left 30 May 1915
2/4th Bn, the London Regimentjoined October 1915, left January 1916
188th Machine Gun Companyjoined 12 May 1917 as 224th Machine Gun Company, left for 189th Bde 19 June 1917
  
2nd Royal Naval BrigadeEstablished in August 1914. By April 1915 it was known as 2nd (Royal Naval) Brigade. In July 1915, the Brigade was broken up. It reformed on 2 August 1915 and was redesignated 2nd Brigade. It was further redesignated the 2nd (Royal Naval) Brigade on 7 July 1916, and on 19 July 1916, became 189th Brigade.
5th (Nelson) Bnleft for 1st Bde April 1915, rejoined May 1916
6th (Howe) Bnleft July 1916
7th (Hood) Bnleft for 1st Bde 2 August 1915, rejoined July 1916
8th (Anson) Bnleft May 1916
Chatham & Deal Bntwo RMLI Bns that amalgamated and joined 2 August 1915, was renamed 1st Bn, the Royal Marines ten days later, left May 1916
Portsmouth & Plymouth Bntwo RMLI Bns that amalgamated and joined 2 August 1915, was renamed 2nd Bn, the Royal Marines ten days later, left May 1916
2/2nd Bn, the London Regimentjoined October 1915, left January 1916
2nd (Hawke) Bnjoined from 1st Bde May 1916
4th (Collingwood) Bnjoined from 1st Bde 30 May 1915, disbanded 9 June 1915
1st (Drake) Bnjoined from 1st Bde 5 July 1916
189th Machine Gun Companyjoined from 1st Bde 12 June 1917, moved to 63rd Bn MGC 1 March 1918
189th Trench Mortar Batteryjoined 21 July 1916
  
Royal Marine BrigadeEstablished in August 1914. By April 1915 it was known as 3rd (Royal Marine) Brigade. On 2 August 1915, the four Bns of the Brigade were reorganised into two; these units were then transferred to the 2nd Bde and the Royal Marine Brigade ceased to exist.
Royal Marine “A” Bnleft 31 August 1914
9th (Chatham) Bnamalgamated and left for 1st Bde 2 August 1915
10th (Portsmouth) Bnamalgamated and left for 1st Bde 2 August 1915
11th (Plymouth) Bnamalgamated and left for 1st Bde 2 August 1915
12th (Deal) Bnjoined 31 August 1914, left 12 March 1915, rejoined 30 May 1915, amalgamated and left for 1st Bde 2 August 1915
  
3rd (Royal Marine) BrigadeOn arrival in France on 22 May 1916, the Royal Marine Brigade was reformed. On 7 July 1916, with the staff of the 1st Brigade, it was redesignated the 1st (Royal Naval) Brigade. it was again redesignated as 188th Brigade on 19 July 1916 
8th (Anson) Bnjoined from 2nd Bde May 1916
1st Royal Marinesjoined May 1916
2nd Royal Marinesjoined May 1916
6th (Howe) Bnjoined from 2nd Bde July 1916
188th Machine Gun Companyoriginal company joined 4 August 1916, transferred to Base Depot 17 May 1917. 223rd MG Company arrived 8 May 1917 initially for 189th Bde, but transferred to 188th Bde 12 June 1917 and was redesignated. Moved into 63 MG Bn 1 March 1918
188th Trench Mortar Batteryjoined 21 July 1916
2nd Bn, the Royal Irish Regimentjoined 23 April 1918
  
190th Brigadeformed in France in July 1916
7th Bn, the Royal Fusiliersjoined 27 July 1916
4th Bn, the Bedfordshire Regimentjoined July 1916
1/1st Bn, the Honourable Artillery Companyjoined July 1916, left 29 June 1917
10th Bn, the Royal Dublin Fusiliersjoined 19 August 1916, left 23 June 1917
190th Machine Gun Companyjoined July 1916, moved to 63rd Bn MGC 1 March 1918
190th Trench Mortar Batteryjoined 25 July 1916
1/28th Bn, the London Regimentjoined 28 June 1917
1/4th Bn, the King’s Shropshire Light Infantryjoined 18 August 1917, left 4 February 1918
  
Divisional Troops 
Armoured Motor Machine-Gun Squadronjoined 17 March 1915, left late May 1915
14th Bn, the Worcestershire Regimentjoined as Divisional Pioneer Bn 21 June 1916
223rd Machine Gun Companyjoined 7 September 1917, moved to 63rd Bn MGC 1 March 1918
63rd Battalion MGCformed 1 March 1918
  
Divisional Mounted Troops 
RN Divisional Cyclist Companybroken up June 1916
  
Divisional ArtilleryNote: the artillery, which had been with the 63rd (2nd Northumbrian) Division, joined on 5 July 1916
CCXXIII (I/IV Home Counties) (How) Bde, RFAjoined 9 June 1916, broken up 26 July 1916
CCCXV (2/I Northumbrian) Brigade, RFAjoined 5 July 1916, left 11 February 1917
CCCXVI (2/II Northumbrian) Brigade, RFAjoined 5 July 1916, broken up 31 August 1916
CCCXVII (2/III Northumbrian) Brigade, RFAjoined 5 July 1916
CCCXVIII (2/IV Northumbrian) (How) Bde, RFAjoined 5 July 1916
63rd Divisional Ammunition Column RFAjoined 5 July 1916
V.63 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery, RFAjoined from 29 July 1916, when a single weapon arrived; broken up 2 February 1918
X.63, Y.63 and Z.63 Medium Mortar Batteries, RFAjoinedf 5 July 1916; on 2 February 1918, Z broken up and batteries reorganised to have 6 x 6-inch weapons each
  
Royal Engineers 
RE Detachment2 officers and 32 other ranks arrived France with the Royal Marine Brigade on 20 September 1914
247th Field CompanyOriginally No 1 Company, joined before embarkation for Gallipoli; On 1 February 1917, it transferred to the Corps of Royal Engineers, and was redesignated
248th Field Companyas 247th. Originally No 2 Company
249th Field Companyas 247th. Originally No 3 Company
63rd Divisional Signals Company 
  
Royal Army Medical CorpsNote: These units were redesignated as, for example, 1st (Royal Naval) Field Ambulance, on arrival in France
No 1 Field Ambulance 
No 2 Field Ambulance 
No 3 Field Ambulance 
Royal Naval Sanitary Sectionjoined in Egypt 30 March 1915; remained in Egypt when Division moved to France
63rd Sanitary Sectionformed 31 May 1916, left for First Army area 8 April 1917
  
Other Divisional Troops 
RND Divisional Train ASCjoined in Egypt 26 March 1915, the two original Companies left 15 March 1916; replaced by complete Divisional Train in France 14 June 1916. Train renumbered 63rd on 19 July 1916, composed of 761, 762, 763 and 764 Companies ASC.
19th Mobile Veterinary Section AVCjoined 31 March 1915, left 18 February 1916
53rd Mobile Veterinary Section AVCjoined 18 June 1916

Divisional memorials

There are memorials to the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division at Beaucourt (Somme), Gavrelle (Arras) and on Horse Guards Parade, London.

Detail from the RND memorial at Gavrelle [Author's collection]
Detail from the RND memorial at Gavrelle [Author’s collection]

Links

The history of the divisional artillery

Other British Divisions

How to research a man of the Royal Naval Division