JULY 2013

The Bulletin of the Birmingham Branch of the WFA

Compiled by Bob Butcher

 

BRIGADE HQs

In case Aimee's excellent talk at our June meeting got you wondering just what a brigade HQ looked like, here is the official 1914 War Establishment for an infantry brigade HQ. It was to consist of a brigadier general, a brigade major, a staff captain, a veterinary officer, a branch post office of an NCO and two privates, five Military Mounted Police (including a sergeant), a clerk, a quartermaster sergeant, a cook, seven batmen, five Army Service Corps drivers with a further two attached from the divisional train, a total of twenty-seven personnel, There were to be twenty-three riding, draught and heavy draught horses and a 'Vehicle for Cooks' and two 'Wagons GS' for entrenching tools whilst attached to it from the divisional train would be one 'Wagon GS' for baggage and a 'Cart Forage' for supplies.

Initially, a brigade commanded four infantry battalions but this was reduced to three in 1918. In 1915 the four Maxim/Vickers machine guns were withdrawn from battalions to form a brigade machine gun company of eighteen guns. A light trench mortar battery of eight Stokes mortars was later added.

It might be as well to point out that the terms brigade major and staff captain were appointments, not ranks, although ordinarily holders of those appointments would indeed

be a major or captain respectively but in wartime it was usually the case of making do with what was available, at least in the short term. I suppose it would be possible for there to be occasions when the brigade major was a captain and the staff captain a major, but probably not for long.

HUNTER BUNTER

During a recent talk it was mentioned that Lieutenant General Hunter-Weston, aka Hunter Bunter, was at one stage reputed to act oddly. It may therefore be of interest to look at his war record. The outbreak of war found him a brigadier general commanding the 11th Brigade in 4th Division. He may have been one of the officers of that rank who 'had reached his ceiling' and would not ordinarily receive further promotion. On the other hand I rather fancy that he was regarded as 'ready for the next rank' and in the normal course would be made major general when a suitable vacancy arose.

HB commanded his brigade in France during the early months but in February 1915 was returned to the UK and in the following month promoted major general to command the 29th Division then forming from regular battalions brought home from India. His promotion may of course have been one of convenience to get rid of him from the BEF but would command of Britain's last regular division be given to a dud?

Hunter-Weston commanded 29th Division during the difficult, indeed daring, landings at Helles, an operation for which there was no modern precedent. He has been criticised for not reinforcing one of the successful landings where exploitation might well have altered the course of the entire campaign. However, he believed that moving seaborne troops during the landing stage would have caused confusion. Moreover communications were very bad and it is as well to remember that one of the lessons (re)learned from the Dieppe raid in August 1942 was that a force commander needed the exclusive use of a HQ vessel equipped with adequate means of communication.

In May 1915 HB was promoted to lieutenant general and appointed to command the VIII Corps formed from the three divisions at Helles, the 29th 42nd and Royal Naval but was invalided in July of that year.

With great courage and heavy loss the British had clawed out a beach head but, with the limited means available, were unable to break out of it. On the other hand the defenders had been unable to throw them back into the sea. There was a stalemate and with both flanks resting on the sea, there were no flanks to turn and the test of generalship was how the inevitable set piece frontal attacks were mounted and handled. Unfortunately British Army training, based on its colonial war

experience was for an open war of manoeuvring by small bodies of troops.

After the Gallipoli Evacuation, VIII Corps was reconstituted in France early in 1916 and HB resumed command in time to take part in the Somme Battles. Haig was prejudiced against anyone who had any connection with the Gallipoli campaign believing that they had not been fighting real soldiers under difficult conditions. He was ready to believe that on that terrible 1st of July the troops of VIII Corps did not leave the trenches although their casualties were amongst the heaviest along the whole front.

HB was criticised because a mine in his sector was blown before zero hour thus alerting the enemy, although one wonders whether they needed to be alerted. In fact the actual timing of the detonation was influenced by GHQ,

VIII Corps did not take part in any further major offensives until the last hundred days although the divisions originally in that corps did. HB became a MP and seemed to divide his time between Westminster and France.

I don't know if there is a biography of him or if his record has been critically and objectively examined but I would like to read it if there is one.

Bob Butcher

 

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