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12th (Eastern) Division

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

12th (Eastern) Division
12th (Eastern) Infantry Division
British 12th (Eastern) Division Insignia.png
Insignia of the 12th (Eastern) Division, First World War
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
EngagementsFirst World War
Second World War
Division sign for the British 12th Infantry Division in World War 2

Second World War Division sign.[1]

The 12th (Eastern) Division was an infantry division raised by the British Army during the First World War from men volunteering for Kitchener's New Armies.[2] The division saw service in the trenches of the Western Front from June 1915 to the end of the war.

The division was raised again, now as part of the Territorial Army (TA), prior to the Second World War and saw service in France and Dunkirk in May 1940. However, it was disbanded shortly after returning to England due to the number of casualties that it took.

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Formation and First World War

The memorial to the glory of the 12th British Infantry Division to Epehy.
The memorial to the glory of the 12th British Infantry Division to Epehy.

The 12th (Eastern) Division, was one of the first Kitchener's Army divisions raised from volunteers by Lord Kitchener. It was formed within Eastern Command as a result of Army Order No. 324 of 21 August 1914, as part of the K1 wave of divisions.[3] It fought on the Western Front for the duration of the First World War. One of its most notable actions was the Battle of Épehy where there is a memorial cross to the 12th Division.

In the First World War, the division's insignia was the Ace of Spades, which has since been adopted by the present 12th Armoured Infantry Brigade.

Order of Battle

35th Brigade

36th Brigade

37th Brigade

Divisional Troops

  • 5th (Service) Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment (division pioneers)
  • 9 Motor Machine Gun Battery (joined early 1915, left 20 June 1915)
  • 235th Machine Gun Company (joined 16 July 1917, left to move into 12th Battalion M.G. C. 1 March 1918)
  • 12th Battalion Machine Gun Corps (formed 1 March 1918, absorbing the brigade MG companies)
  • Divisional Mounted Troops
  • 12th Divisional Train Army Service Corps
    • 116th, 117th, 118th and 119th Companies
  • 23rd Mobile Veterinary Section Army Veterinary Corps
  • 214th Divisional Employment Company (joined 16 June 1917)

Royal Artillery

  • LXII Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (R.F.A.)
  • LXIII Brigade, R.F.A.
  • LXIV Brigade, R.F.A. (left 6 January 1917)
  • LXV (Howitzer) Brigade, R.F.A. (broken up 30 August 1916)
  • 12th Divisional Ammunition Column R.F.A.
  • 12th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (left 8 June 1915)
  • V.12 Heavy Trench Mortar Battery R.F.A. (joined 31 July 1916, disbanded 12 February 1918)
  • X.12, Y.12 and Z.12 Medium Mortar Batteries R.F.A. (formed 1 July 1916; on 16 February 1918, Z broken up distributed among X and Y batteries)

Royal Engineers[4]

  • 69th Field Company
  • 70th Field Company
  • 87th Field Company (joined January 1915)
  • 12th Divisional Signals Company

Royal Army Medical Corps

  • 36th Field Ambulance
  • 37th Field Ambulance
  • 38th Field Ambulance
  • 23rd Sanitary Section (left 1 April 1917)

Second World War


Throughout the spring and summer of 1939 the Territorial Army (formerly the Territorial Force until renamed in the 1920s) was ordered by the British government to be doubled in size, in order to meet the increasing threat being posed by Nazi Germany. As a consequence, all Territorial formations were ordered to form a 2nd Line duplicate, that of the 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division was the 12th (Eastern) Infantry Division.[5]

Between 3 September, the day the war officially began, and 7 October 1939 the units of the 12th Division were administered by the 44th Division, until its brigade and division headquarters were formed, both divisions came under Eastern Command.[6]

Service in France and Dunkirk

The 12th Infantry Division came under direct control of the War Office on 18 April 1940 and was preparing to move to France. Four days later, on 22 April 1940, the 12th Infantry Division landed in France, commanded by Major-General Roderic Loraine Petre, DSO, MC, followed by the 23rd (Northumbrian) Division and 46th Infantry Division, both of which were also 2nd Line units, were sent as lines of communications troops to France to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).[7] All three divisions were under-equipped and did not have their signals, artillery or administrative units with them. As such, the 'division' contained mostly half trained units, some of whom had not even fired their rifles, and as a result were very poorly trained.[8]

When the German Army launched their attack in the West on 10 May 1940, only every third battalion had done a week's training. As a result, the 12th Division suffered heavy casualties during the Battle of France and the subsequent retreat to and evacuation from Dunkirk.


As a result of its high proportion of casualties (the 36th Brigade having been severely mauled on 20 May 1940) the 12th Infantry Division was disbanded on 11 July 1940. Another reason for the disbandment of the division was due to the experiment of motorised divisions, which had only two infantry brigades and, after the Battle of France, had been seen as a failure. It was decided to disband the motorised divisions and use the brigades to bring other motorised divisions up to a strength of three brigades.[9] This also happened with another division, the 66th Infantry Division, which disbanded around the same time as the 12th and the brigades were sent to other divisions.[10]

Two of the divisions' constituent brigades, the 35th Infantry Brigade and the 36th Infantry Brigade would see service later in the war. The 35th Infantry Brigade was transferred to 1st London Division, reforming it as a standard infantry division (previously it was organised as a motor division of only two motor infantry brigades), and the brigade was later renumbered 169th (London) Infantry Brigade (also known as the Queen's Brigade) in November. The 36th Infantry Brigade became independent for almost two years until June 1942 when it transferred to the newly created 78th Infantry Division, nicknamed the Battleaxe Division due to its insignia. Both divisions saw service in the final stages of the North African Campaign in the Tunisia Campaign and served throughout the Italian Campaign from September 1943 until May 1945, with the 78th Division also fighting in Sicily. The 37th Infantry Brigade became an independent brigade and remained in the United Kingdom for the rest of the war, later transferring to 3rd Infantry Division in December 1941, later being redesignated 7th Infantry Brigade.[5]

The 113th (Home Counties) Field Regiment[11] and 57th Anti-Tank Regiment,[12] both part of the Royal Artillery, were also transferred to 1st London Division with 35th Brigade, serving with the division for the rest of the war. 114th (Sussex) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery was transferred to the 2nd London Division, later transferring to British India to become part of 20th Indian Infantry Division, serving with it for the remainder of the war, fighting in the Burma Campaign, and in particular at the Battle of Imphal.[13] 118th (8th London) Field Regiment was transferred in August to the 18th Infantry Division and was captured, with the rest of the division, during the Battle of Singapore in February 1942 and remained as prisoners of the Imperial Japanese Army for the rest of the war.[14]

After the 12th Division disbanded, the Divisional Royal Engineers became XII Corps Troops, Royal Engineers and served as part of British Second Army in North-western Europe from July 1944 until May 1945.[15][16][17]

12th (Eastern) Divisional Signals, Royal Corps of Signals was disbanded, with the men being sent to the Middle East, joining 3 Lines of Communications Signals, Sudan Signals, or remained based in the United Kingdom as part of Home Counties District Signals and 1 Army Signal Training Regiment.[18][19]

Order of Battle

12th Infantry Division was constituted as follows during the war:[6]

35th Infantry Brigade (left 2 July 1940)[20]

36th Infantry Brigade (left 10 July 1940)[21]

37th Infantry Brigade (left 9 July 1940) [22]

Royal Artillery

12th (Eastern) Divisional Engineers[15][23]

Royal Signals

General Officer Commanding

  • Major-General Frederick D.V. Wing February 1915 – 2 October 1915
  • Major-General Arthur B. Scott 1916-1918
  • Major-General H. W. Higginson April 1918 –
  • Major-General Roderic Loraine Petre April 1940

See also


  1. ^ Divisional signal units of the Royal Signals were battalion-sized and commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel; they were not termed 'regiments' until 1946.[24]


  1. ^ Cole p. 38
  2. ^ Beckett 2008, and other authoritative references, refer to this formation as '12th (Eastern) Division'. No mention of 'Infantry.' Beckett 2008, 128
  3. ^ The British Army in the Great War: The 12th (Eastern) Infantry Division, accessed October 2009 Archived 5 February 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Watson & Rinaldi, p. 29.
  5. ^ a b "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 9 June 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ a b Joslen, p. 56.
  7. ^ Beckett, 2008, 128.
  8. ^[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 15 June 2015. Retrieved 31 December 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 31 December 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 November 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 April 2016. Retrieved 31 December 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 November 2008. Retrieved 10 June 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 April 2016. Retrieved 31 December 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ a b Morling, pp. 210–34.
  16. ^ Watson & Rinaldi, p. 132.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Lord & Watson, pp. 152–4.
  19. ^ Nalder, p. 598.
  20. ^ Joslen, pp. 282-283.
  21. ^ Joslen, pp. 284-285.
  22. ^ Joslen, p. 286.
  23. ^ Watson & Rinaldi, p. 138.
  24. ^ Lord & Watson, p. 21.


  • Middleton Brumwell, P. (2001) [1923]. Scott, A. B. (ed.). History of the 12th (Eastern) Division in the Great War, 1914–1918 (Naval & Military Press ed.). London: Nisbet. ISBN 1-84342-228-X. OCLC 6069610. Retrieved 8 October 2014.
  • Ian F.W. Beckett, 'Territorials: A Century of Service,' First Published April 2008 by DRA Printing of 14 Mary Seacole Road, The Millfields, Plymouth PL1 3JY on behalf of TA 100, ISBN 978-0-9557813-1-5.
  • Cole, Howard (1973). Formation Badges of World War 2. Britain, Commonwealth and Empire. London: Arms and Armour Press.
  • Lt-Col H.F. Joslen, Orders of Battle, United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945, London: HM Stationery Office, 1960/Uckfield: Naval & Military, 2003, ISBN 1-84342-474-6.
  • Cliff Lord & Graham Watson, Royal Corps of Signals: Unit Histories of the Corps (1920–2001) and its Antecedents, Solihull: Helion, 2003, ISBN 1-874622-92-2.
  • Col L.F. Morling, Sussex Sappers: A History of the Sussex Volunteer and Territorial Army Royal Engineer Units from 1890 to 1967, Seaford: 208th Field Co, RE/Christians–W.J. Offord, 1972.
  • Maj-Gen R.F.H. Nalder, The Royal Corps of Signals: A History of its Antecedents and Developments (Circa 1800–1955), London: Royal Signals Institution, 1958.
  • Graham E. Watson & Richard A. Rinaldi, The Corps of Royal Engineers: Organization and Units 1889–2018, Tiger Lily Books, 2018, ISBN 978-171790180-4.

External links

This page was last edited on 8 September 2019, at 21:07
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