The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919: A Popular History Based on Official Records
It does not fall within the province of this book to describe the raising and dispatch of the original New Zealand Expeditionary Force, the formation of the New Zealand and Australian Division, which consisting predominantly of New Zealanders included an Australian infantry brigade and other Australian units, or the achievements of the composite Division in Egypt and Gallipoli. 1 The present narrative has for its subject the history of the New Zealand Division, whose inception dates from the early spring of 1916 with the transference of the Australian units of the old composite Division to Australian formations and the raising of fresh units to take their place and to complete the establishment of a purely New Zealand Division.
1 For the early history of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, the New Zealand and Australian Division, and the Australian and new Zealand Army Corps, see Waite. The New Zealanders at Gallipoli.
2 The 3 Australian light Horse Brigades and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade had been despatched to zeitoun in the vicinity of Cairo.
Pending the development of the renewed Turkish threat at the Canal, the role of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force was defined by the Chief of the Imperial Staff as being that of the strategical reserve of the Empire. With this function in view, the depleted ranks were immediately filled up from accumulated reinforcements, and the troops, who despite the rigours of the Gallipoli campaign and its tragic dénouement were in excellent health and fine morale, embarked without delay on a vigorous course of training. The main principles governing military policy in Egypt were two. On the one hand there was the possibility of an attack on the Canal, and on the other the probability that the various Corps quartered for the moment in the country would be required for operations in some other theatre of war in the spring. To meet the Turkish attack, extensive fortifications and engineering works were in process of construction east of the Canal. It was, however, the latter principle that was to affect the New Zealand and Australian Division for the first 2 months of the year. General Headquarters and Corps emphasised the urgency of intensive training. Thus, on 17th January, the Australasian Divisions received from Corps a memorandum whose nature is indicated by the following extract:—
“There is little enough time in which to fit ourselves to take the field against the Germans, which may be our next move, and every moment is precious. Each officer and man must make the fullest use of his opportunity for training. Except on one, or possibly two, days in the week,, at the discretion of Divisional commanders, lunch should now be taken in the field, and troops should be clear of camp by 7.30 am., and should not return before 4 p.m., at the earliest”.
A few days later G.H.Q. issued secret instructions impressing the necessity of taking every measure to ensure complete preparation for the field.page 3
The New Zealand and Australian Division had all round its quarters a practically unlimited area, admirably suited alike for barrack-square drill, musketry, field firing and tactical operations. The broken surface of the desert, the tortuous wadis, the deep unexpected hollows, the glacis or sheer declivities of the yellow sand hills, the mud villages and the palm plantations lent themselves readily for all manner of schemes. In view, too, of the possibility of having to deliver a counter-attack through the front line defences, the Division was frequently exercised in moving over the desert on a broad front and in passing through “gaps” of a size similar to those left for the purpose of counter-attack in the defence system. Night operations were practiced twice a week, with the object of training the troops to carry out close formation marches and to execute attacks over the featureless desert in the dark with confidence and facility. Many courses of instruction were held. In addition to Divisional and brigade manoeuvres, a feature was made of “staff rides,” including a series for junior officers. A first acquaintance was made in the machine gun school at Ismailia with the recently invented Lewis gun, the far-reaching potentialities of which were to win speedy recognition.
Owing to shortage of equipment and to other reasons, the new artillery units, whose formation will be referred to presently, were confined to general or theoretical work; the other batteries fired practices with live shell, and occasionally in co-operation with aeroplane observers. Apart from their technical training and reorganisation, the Engineers were employed in pontoon-building on the Sweet Water Canal, near Ismailia, and on the Suez Canal at Ballah Serapeum and El Ferdan; in general camp improvements, such as pipelaying and the provision of water supply; the building of huts; the supervision of native labour in the construction of tramways and of light piers; and in the development of the field works at Abu Arak and other points in the Canal defences. On 16th January the Division was inspected by Sir Archibald Murray, the new Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Force, who had relieved Sir C. C. Munro a week previously.
On arrival in Egypt from Gallipoli, administration had been hampered by more than the usual difficulties attendant on the redistribution of large forces. The baggage sent from Anzac had not arrived, and owing to insufficiency of camp equipment the troops were at first obliged to bivouac in the page 4open. There was also a shortage of supplies due to the enormous congestion on the railways, so that for the first few days less than half the bread ration and no jam or bacon were procurable. The provision of an adequate water system presented grave difficulties. The Supply Units had only temporary structures formed of biscuit-boxes covered with tarpaulins to protect their most perishable commodities from the sun's rays. They surmounted all obstacles, however, just as rapidly as they circumvented the craftiness of the native dealers, who increased the weight of their bales of green feed by a judicious use of the roadside watering pipes and inserted stones in every crutch or cavity of their consignments of wood. Brick sheds with wooden roofs and Venetian ventilators were erected, and the services of native carpenters were engaged to expedite the construction of tables and benches for offices canteens and mess-rooms. Tents and marquees rose gradually in orderly formations, followed by baths canteens and cinema halls. With such amenities, with plenty of food, with undisturbed sleep and freedom from anxiety, with the unrivalled winter air of the desert, even the very strenuous training was an extraordinary relaxation after the hardships of Gallipoli. Ismailia, in addition, though less cosmopolitan than Cairo, provided diverse opportunities for amusement. The deep clear waters of Lake Timsah, reflecting the blue sky and the bare yellow hills, afforded scope for bathing and swimming. Football and athletic competitions gave relief from training and reorganisation, and mounted steeplechases were held over the sand-dunes and the network of little canals. All around were the habiliments of war—guns horses aeroplanes warships—but the trials and horrors of battle and of the trenches seemed remote and unreal.
Shortly after. Sir Archibald Murray had assumed command, the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in Egypt, augmented by the large forces returned from the Peninsula, was reconstituted and located, from the southern extremity of the defences northwards, as follows. The IX. Corps (Lieut.-General Hon. Sir J. Byng) with headquarters at Suez and comprising the 29th 46th and 10th (Indian) Divisions, was responsible for the area from Suez to Kabrit inclusive. The intermediate section from Kabrit to El Ferdan, both exclusive, was in charge of the Anzac Corps. Northwards from El Ferdan to Port Said extended the XV. Corps (Lieut.-General H. S. Horne), with the 11th 13th and 31st Divisions. page 5In general reserve at Tel-el-Kebir was the VIII. Corps, consisting of the 42nd and 52nd divisions under Lieut.-General Sir F. J. Davies.
To the defensive front allotted to the Anzac Corps the 2 Australian Divisions began to move from Tel-el-Kebir on 24th January. The New Zealand and Australian Division remained in Corps reserve at Moascar. At the same time the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade under Brigadier-General E. W. C. Chaytor, who had succeeded General Russell, began a wearisome trek from Zeitoun to the Corps area. They bivouacked alongside the infantry at Moasear on the night of 28th/29th January, whence they reached their destination at Serapeum on the following day The Light Horse Brigades followed by rail.
The fact that the New Zealand and Australian Division was thus left in reserve facilitated the complex task of reorganisation. By the beginning of 1916 there had been a remarkable expansion of the Australasian forces in Egypt owing to the piling up of sick and wounded, and particularly to the steady flow of reinforcements from the Dominions. These had been temporarily drafted into makeshift formations, training brigades, and the like but their numbers demanded some radical reorganisation. The problem now pressed for solution. It was earnestly considered at Corps Headquarters during the latter part of January and was reviewed, from all aspects. On 21st January Sir Archibald Murray wired in code to the Chief of the Imperial Staff:—
“I find there is now a very large accumulation of Australian and New Zealand reinforcements here which cannot be absorbed in existing organisations. It is essential that these should be formed into definite units, with the least possible delay, both for reasons of training and discipline. I have consulted General Birdwood, and we are of the opinion that it is possible to form immediately four new Australian brigades, four Australian Pioneer battalions, and another New Zealand brigade. The New Zealand Division1 at present contains the 4th Australian Brigade and two dismounted Light Horse and Mounted Rifles brigades. The dismounted brigades are being replaced by the New Zealand Rifles Brigade; and the, formations, if additional to New Zealand brigade, from reinforcements in Egypt will enable a complete New Zealand Division to be formed and will release the 4th Aus-page 6tralian Brigade.” (The proposed Australian formations of 2 fresh Divisions to be raised in Egypt in addition to the Division to be raised in Australia are then discussed.) “I understand that General Birdwood has the confidence of the Australian and New Zealand Governments, and if these proposals are agreed to, I propose to organise at once, and it will simplify and hasten matters if General Birdwood is permitted to arrange all details in direct communication with the relative Defence Ministers.”
1 i.e. the New Zealand and Australian division
On reference to the Dominions the War Office was notified by Australia that she agreed to the proposals. The New Zealand Government, however, having already sent the Rifle Brigade in excess of the numbers originally contemplated, desired further information in view of the necessity that would arise of maintaining 3 infantry brigades with reinforcements arranged for only 2, and with no increase on the scale in force possible before the autumn. General Murray was therefore instructed by the War Office on 5th February to notify General Birdwood that he must await instructions with regard to the proposed New Zealand Division. On the 8th the Commander-in-Chief replied to the War Office that while quite understanding the situation as regards New Zealand, he trusted that he might be permitted to form a third infantry brigade at once, as there were sufficient men available for it in excess of the establishment of the 2 existing brigades.
“The formation of such a brigade is necessary in any case for the purpose of training and discipline. In addition to the surplus of infantry reinforcements who are available for the formation of a third infantry brigade, there is a large number of surplus Mounted Rifles who are available and willing to come forward either for artillery or infantry brigade. Reinforcements are coming in every month at the rate of 20% in excess of establishment, and there seems little chance in the near future of absorbing this surplus in existing units. It therefore seems practically certain that we could keep up the proposed New Zealand Division to approximate strength until New Zealand can increase the present scale of reinforcements.”
Lieut.-General Sir A. J. Godley, K.C.B., K.C.M.G.
Brig.-Gen. G. Napier Johnston, C.M.G., D.S.O.
Meanwhile Generals Birdwood and Godley had been in communication with the New Zealand Government, and the latter formally notified its approval of the proposals completed to the War Office, which cabled to Headquarters Mediterranean Expeditionary force to that effect in the middle of February.
The organisation of the new Division was based in the main on War Establishments, Part VII., as laid down in 1915 for the New Armies. There were some minor modifications. Thus a Cyclist Company1 and a Motor Machine Gun Battery were not raised, nor an Ammunition Sub Park, nor a Divisional Supply Column. A squadron of the former Divisional cavalry, the Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment, now with the Mounted Brigade at Serapeum, was on 23rd February designated Divisional Mounted Troops, and the remainder of the Regiment was drafted into the newly-formed Pioneer Battalion, Their horses were sent to the new; arti1lery infantry and pioneer units. Even then a remount demand for over 1800 horses had to be rendered to complete the Division's establishment. The formation of; an Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division, mooted by the War Office as early as 29th December, and now on the point of accomplishment, absorbed the Light Horses Brigades and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade.
1 A Cyclist Company was formed however, in New Zealand in April 1916, by voluntary transfers from the Mounted Rifles units in training at that time, and arrived in France in July of the same year: see p. 59.
The problems faced in artillery expansion were complicated by the lack of trained personnel. It was even proposed at one time to adhere to the inadequate establishments laid down for British Territorial Divisions operating in Egypt. Eventually, however, it was decided not to be satisfied with half-measures, but to adopt boldly Part VII. Establishments, with the one exception that the Howitzer Brigade should consist of 3 instead of 4 batteries. Eight new 18-pounder batteries were therefore formed,1 the 7th and 8th being added to the old 1st Brigade; the 9th and 10th being added to the old 2nd Brigade, and the 11th 12th 13th and 14th constituting the new 3rd Brigade. An additional Howitzer Battery (the 15th) completed the 4th (Howitzer) Brigade. The artillery therefore now consisted of three 18-pounder brigades of four batteries each and one howitzer brigade of three batteries. In the training of the raw artillery material the experience of the C.R.A. (Brigadier-General Napier Johnston) on the Instructional Staff of the British Army was invaluable.
To bring the Engineers up to establishment, the Field Troop New Zealand Engineers was transferred from the Mounted Rifles Brigade and expanded with the addition of skilled tradesmen drawn from the infantry into a third Field Company.
By the middle of January the 2nd Battalion of the New Zealand Rifles Brigade had arrived at Moascar from Alexandria, where it had acted as Lines of Communication troops in the Western Frontier campaign against the Senussi. It was followed towards the end of the month by the 1st Battalion, which had received instructive experience, seen some fighting, and suffered its first casualties at Jebel Medwa in December. The 3rd and 4th Battalions did not arrive from New Zealand till the middle of March.
1 The 1st Artillery Brigade had consisted of the 1st 3rd and 6th (How.) Batteries; the 2nd of the 2nd 5th and 4rh (How.) Batteries.
2 The original N.Z. Infantry Brigade was formed of 4 "Regiments" drawn front the 4 military districts, Auckland Canterbury. Otago Wellington. In the "Regiment, each company was drawn from and designated by the number and title of the regiment in, the N.Z. Military Forces from whose area it was raised. Thus the Canterbury companies were the 1st (Canterbury); the 2nd (South Canterbury); the 12th (Nelson and Marlborough); the 13th (North Canterbury and Westland).
A happy solution lay to hand for the formation of a Pioneer Battalion. After the August operations on the Peninsula the remainder of the original Maori contingent, together with reinforcements which had joined them, had been divided up by tribes among the 4 infantry regiments. The same course was adopted with the reinforcements which arrived at this time and here welcomed with ancient Maori ceremonial on the Egyptian desert. These now constituted the nucleus of the Pioneer Battalion, the remainder being drawn, as mentioned above, from the headquarters and the 2 surplus squadrons of the Otago Mounted Rifles. The appointment of battalion commander was given to Major (now Lt.-Col.) G. A. King, N.Z.S.C., who had been Staff Captain of the Mounted Brigade. Further reinforcements arrived on 15th March, consisting of 112 Maoris, 125 Niue Islanders,1 and 45 Rarotongans. In the formation of each company the 2 lending platoons were composed of Maoris or Islanders in tribes, and the other 2 of pakehas.2
1 Climatic conditions proved too severe for the Niue Islanders of the tropical Pacific. Some of them were sent home from Egypt, the remainder from France in May. Of the Address despatched by the Chief of Niue to England in 1914 the opening words merit quotation here: "To King George V., all those in authority and the brave men who fight: I am the island of Niue, a small child that stands up to help the Kingdom of King George"
2 Pakeha, Maori for "European."
The expansion of old and the formation of new units not merely absorbed the excess personnel of the disbanded Otago, Mounted Rifles Regiment and all accumulated 7th 8th and 9th Reinforcements, but also drained the Mounted Rifles surplus reluctance in New Zealand as well as in Egypt. The natural reluctance of the horseman to leave his particular arm was overcome firstly by the precedent set on Gallipoli, where Mounted Rifles and light Horse had served in the open as in trenches on foot, and secondly by the reflection, not unreasonable at this stage of the evolution of tactics, that there was; a brighter prospect of seeing fighting in other branches of the service. The spirit with which all ranks transferred is given generous recognition by General Godley in an order issued on 3rd June:—
“The G.O.C. wishes to place on record his appreciation and that of the New Zealand Government of the patriotic and public-spirited action of the many officers, n.c.os, and men of the Mounted Rifles who have voluntarily transferred, both in Egypt and in New Zealand, to the infantry and other arms when it became known that men were urgently required for these services.
“That so large a number of all ranks should have readily and cheerfully responded to the call to place the interests of the Force before everything else is a most gratifying and convincing proof that the N.Z.E.E. has in it that first essential for efficiency and succecss—the true soldierly spirit.”
Towards the end of February, while all these augmentations were in progress, the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade left the Division at Moascar to join their comrades at Tel-el-Kebir. Their movement had ken delayed by a shortage of tents and camp equipment in their new quarters, but now a battalion marched out daily, and by the evening of 28th February the 16th Battalion and the: 4th Field Ambulance, the last of the Australians of the old composite Division, had page 11gone. They were given a spontaneous and moving send-off by the New Zealanders who had shared with them dangers and privations on the Anzac ridges and had partaken of their open-handed hospitality at Moascar. The separation from these old comrades, though inevitable and indeed desirable from the administrative point of view in both forces, was keenly and genuinely regretted on personal grounds. On 1st March authority was given for the assumption of the title "The New Zealand Division" instead of "The New Zealand and Australian Division," and the new formations and units were taken on strength. The labour travails were over and the new Division born.
Meanwhile the Turkish debacle in the Caucasus1 had compelled the Porte not merely to reduce to garrison strength its forces in Thrace Gallipoli and Western Anatolia, but even to divert the Syrian Army northwards. Thus the danger to the Canal and nodal centre of the Empire was daily receding. The Egyptian garrison was therefore reduced by the despatch of the 29th and other British Divisions to the Western Front. The first results of the German blow at Verdun, its repercussions in the political atmosphere, and the desirability of reliving a French Army on a sector of the defensive front2 made it, however, increasingly obvious that there would be a further call on the troops in Egypt.
The call came to the I. Anzac Corps at the beginning of March. It was arranged thereupon that General Birdwood should reassume command of I. Anzac, and that General Godley should take that of II. Anzac. General Godley would naturally have preferred to retain his New Zealanders under his own command, but as neither of the newly-formed 4th and 5th Australian Divisions was as yet sufficiently trained to complete General Birdwood's Corps for service in France, be magnanimously insisted that the New Zealand Division should be retained by and accompany I. Anzac pending his own arrival in France with II. Anzac.
1 The Russians entered Erzerum on 16th February.
2 Haig's Despatch of 29th May, 1916, parass. 1 and 10.
The contrast between the Canal defences now and at the time of the Turkish fiasco a year previously was most striking. Then there had been a few bridgeheads on the eastern bank, but the general situation had been described by an inspecting General, not less justly than caustically, as one in which the Canal protected the troops instead of the troops defending the Canal. Now railways and metalled roads ran eastwards into the desert, and elaborate provision had been made for the supply of water. The first line of defence was now not on the Canal, but 7 miles distant. It had been selected by Major-General Horne, afterwards in turn XV. Corps and First Army Commander in France, who had been specially sent to Egypt for the purpose. The engineering operations and the administration were carried out by the Director of Railways and the Director of Works under the control of Major-General Sir H. V. Cox, who acted as Staff Officer (ad hoe) to Sir John Maxwell.
Brig.-Gen. W. G. Braithwaite, C.P., C.M.G., D.S.O.
Brig.-Gen. G. S. Richardson, C.B., C.M.G. C.B.E.
The front line system which the Mounted Brigade now took over was still in process of organisation. Wide and formidable entanglements were laid out in the light of most recent experience, concealed in hollows and with deceptive pockets to allure the assault on to enfilade and co-ordinated machine gun fire. The trenches themselves were not continuous, but constituted a series of fortified "localities," the garrisons of which would vary from a battalion or less up to a brigade. The primary role of these garrisons was defined to be passive defence. With a touch of imagery rare in military "Defence Schemes" they were compared to rocks round which a torrent might surge without sweeping them away. Between them were left gaps free from obstacles for the development of counter-strokes by other troops.
1 Maori for "dance," here of welcome.
For it was now the turn of the New Zealanders to follow the 2nd and 1st Australian Divisions to France. On 23rd March, when the Chief of the Imperial Staff directed that the Division should follow immediately the 1st Australian Division, it was already concentrated at Moascar, with the exception of Divisional Headquarters which remained with the Mounted Brigade till the sector was transferred on the 30th to the 5th Australian Division from Tel-el-Kebir. The War Office pressed for expedition of despatch and chafed against the necessity of exchanging the long rifles for the short rifles firing the new ammunition used in France. It was too late, however, to modify the arrangements made with the 11th Division for the exchange.
A farewell inspection of the Division was held by General Murray on 3rd April His satisfaction was indicated in the following congratulatory message from General Godley to the Divisional Commander:—
“The Commander-in-Chief has directed me to convey to you and all ranks under your command his high appreciation of the fine turn-out and soldierly bearing of your Division at his inspection of it this afternoon. The steadiness and good marching of the troops were all that could be desired, and the staff arrangements were excellent.I need hardly tell you how proud I am to be the medium of communication of such a message to my old Division, or how pleased I was to see it acquit itself so creditably.”
A day or two later the Division entrained for Alexandria and Port Said, where embarkation of advanced parties commenced on 5th April. Divisional Headquarters sailed on the Minnewaska, and in all 16 transports were employed. Guns and wheeled vehicles with the exception of the artillery telephone carts were left in Egypt. Many regrets were expressed by the artillery at losing their pre-war New Zealand guns which had been used on Gallipoli, nor were they ever to get such good pieces again.
The following was the composition of the Division at this date.