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36th (Ulster) Division
Meuble héraldique Main.svg
Active World War I
September 1914 - January 1919
Branch New Army
Type Infantry
Engagements Battle of Cambrai
Battle of Messines
Battle of the Somme (1916)
Battle of Ypres (1917)
Battle of Ypres (1918)
Battle of Courtrai (1918)

The 36th (Ulster) Division was a division of Lord Kitchener's New Army formed in September 1914. Originally called the Ulster Division, it was made up of members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, who formed thirteen additional battalions for three existing Irish regiments: the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The division served on the Western Front for the duration of the First World War.

The division's insignia was the Red Hand of Ulster.

Contents

Unit history

The 36th was one of the few divisions to make significant gains on the first day on the Somme. It attacked between the Ancre and Thiepval against a position known as the Schwaben Redoubt. According to military historian Martin Middlebrook:

The leading battalions (of the 36th (Ulster) Division) had been ordered out from the wood just before 7.30am and laid down near the German trenches ... At zero hour the British barrage lifted. Bugles blew the "Advance". Up sprang the Ulstermen and, without forming up in the waves adopted by other divisions, they rushed the German front line ..... By a combination of sensible tactics and Ulster dash, the prize that eluded so many, the capture of a long section of the German front line, had been accomplished.

Martin Middlebrook

During the Battle of the Somme the Ulster Division was the only division of X Corps to have achieved its objectives on the opening day of the battle. This came at a heavy price, with the division suffering in two days of fighting 5,500 officers and men killed, wounded or missing.[1]

War correspondent Philip Gibbs said of the Division,

Their attack was one of the finest displays of human courage in the world.

Philip Gibbs, 1 July 1916[2]

Of nine Victoria Crosses given to British forces in the battle, four were awarded to 36th Division soldiers.[2]

36th Ulster Division, Somme

Thiepval - Somme

Thiepval, as a battle memorial, commemorates the 1916 Anglo-French Offensive on the Somme. It pays tribute and respect for those who died where it stands (90% of commemorations 1 July 1913 - 13 Nov 1916) and is the biggest British war memorial to the missing of The Western Front, both in physical size and the numbers it commemorates (>73,000). It was built in the late 1920s to early 1930s.

Almost all enlisted were from the UVF. At the timem Civil War in Ireland was postponed by the greater conflict on the European mainland; the Easter Rising had been only months before. To their left flank was the 29th Division, which included the Newfoundlanders. For them in less than half an hour it was all over; 801 men went into action and on the unwounded name call next day, only 68 answered.

To their right flank was the 32nd Division, including the Grimsby Chums. Prior to the attack at 07:28 a large mine was exploded beneath the German line; the Chums would then attack at 07:30. Unknown to them the mine was short of the German position. During the 2-minute gap between explosion and whistle, the Germans set up their machine guns, probably in the new bunker which would give them a second defense. The attack did not last long; their task was to take the fortress village of Thiepval.

The 36th Ulster Division's sector of the Somme lay astride the marshy valley of the river Ancre and the higher ground south of the river. Their task was to cross the ridge and take the German second line near Grandcourt. In their path lay not only the German front line, but just beyond it, the intermediate line within which was the Schwaben Reboubt.

On 1 July, following the preliminary bombardment, the Ulsterman quickly took the German front line. But intelligence was so poor that, with the rest of the division attacking under creep bombardment (artillery fired in front or over men; they advance as it moves), the Ulstermen would have come under attack from their own bombardment at the German first line.

But they still advanced, moving to the crest so rapidly that the Germans had no time to come up from their dugouts (generally 30'-40' below ground) in the Schwaben Reboubt, which was also taken. So successful was the advance that by 10:00 some had reached the German second line. But again they came under their own barrage, not due to finish until 10:10. However, this successful penetration had to be given up before nightfall, as it was unmatched by those at its flanks. The Ulstermen were exposed in a narrow salient, open to attack on three sides. They were running out of ammunition and supplies, and a full German counter-attack at 22:00 forced them to withdraw, giving up virtually all they gained.

The Ulstermen had gained an advantage on the day of battle by not sticking to the rigid orders issued. Both the German and British generals considered the men of the New Army/Kitcheners Men as insufficiently trained in the skills of warfare. Consequently, the battle tactics they were ordered to follow by commanders was more strict and regimented than those of regular army. But the Ulstermen advanced during the bombardment by pushing forward small trenches the depth of a man, then cutting the barbed wire which was 30 inches in depth and height in places (before bombardment). So when the bombardment stopped at 07:28/07:30 the Ulstermen attacked quickly. These Ulstermen were also here by choice. Kitchener himself spoke to the UVF and they arranged the enlistments, they were the only Pal Division to go under no training before entering battle.

Thiepval was not to fall until late September; the Schwaben Reboubt fell in mid-October. The battle ended in mid-November. The Allies advanced 8 km & the British suffered 420,000 casualties, the French 195,000, and the Germans 650,000. The only success was relieving the French at Verdun. On the first day of battle the British suffered 57,740 casualties, of which 19,240 were dead (the largest single loss). 60% of the officers involved were killed.

Intended to be a decisive breakthrough, the battle of the Somme instead became a byword for futile and indiscriminate slaughter, with General Haig's tactics remaining controversial even today.

The Ulster Memorial Tower

Ulster Tower, Thiepval

The Ulster Memorial Tower was unveiled by Field-Marshall Sir Henry Wilson in Thiepval, France, on 19 November 1921, in dedication to the contributions of the 36th Ulster Division during WWI.[1] The tower marks the site of the Schwaben redoubt, against which the Ulster Division advanced on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.[1]

The tower itself is a replica of Helen's Tower at Clandeboye, County Down. It was at Helen's Tower that the men of the then newly-formed Ulster Division drilled and trained on the outbreak of World War I.[1] For many of the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division, the distinctive sight of Helen's Tower rising above the surrounding countryside was one of their last abiding memories of home before their departure for England and, subsequently, the Western Front. [1]

Victoria Cross Recipients

In total, nine members of the 36th Division were awarded the Victoria Cross: [3]

  • 2nd Lieutenant James Samuel Emerson, 9th Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Died 22 years old, 6 December 1917, La Vacquerie.
  • Lance Corporal Ernest Seaman, 2nd Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Died 25 years old, 29 September 1918, Terhand Belgium.
  • Fusilier Norman Harvey, 1st Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Awarded for actions during 25 October 1918, Ingoyghem, Belgium.
  • Rifleman Robert Quigg, 12th Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles. Awarded for actions during the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. Also awarded the Medal of Order of St. George (Fourth Class), the highest honour of the Russian Empire.
  • Lieutenant Geoffrey Cather 9th Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles. Died 25 years old, 2 July 1916, Battle of the Somme.

Commendations

Captain Wilfred Spender of the Ulster Division's HQ staff after the Battle of the Somme was quoted in the press as saying, "I am not an Ulsterman but yesterday, the 1st. July, as I followed their amazing attack, I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman than anything else in the world."[4] The final sentences of Captain Wilfred Spender's account furthered his viewpoint:[5]

The Ulster Division has lost more than half the men who attacked and, in doing so, has sacrificed itself for the Empire which has treated them none too well. The much derided Ulster Volunteer Force has won a name which equals any in history. Their devotion, which no doubt has helped the advance elsewhere, deserved the gratitude of the British Empire. It is due to the memory of these brave fellows that their beloved Province [sic] shall be fairly treated.

After the war had ended, King George V paid tribute to the 36th Division saying, "Throughout the long years of struggle ... the men of Ulster have proved how nobly they fight and die ...".[1]

Formation

107th Brigade 
  • 15th (Service) Battalion (North Belfast), the Royal Irish Rifles
  • 8th (Service) Battalion (East Belfast), the Royal Irish Rifles
  • 9th (Service) Battalion (West Belfast), the Royal Irish Rifles
  • 10th (Service) Battalion (South Belfast), the Royal Irish Rifles (until February 1918)
  • 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Fusiliers (from August 1917 until February 1918)
  • 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Rifles (from February 1918)
  • 2nd Battalion, the Royal Irish Rifles (from February 1918)
  • 107th Brigade Machine Gun Company (from 18 December 1915, moved into 36 MG Bn 1 March 1918)
  • 107th Trench Mortar Battery (from 1 April 1916)

In August 1917 the 8th and 9th battalions of the Royal Irish Rifles amalgamated to form the 8/9th Battalion, which disbanded in February 1918.

Between November 1915 and February 1916 the brigade swapped with the 12th Brigade from the 4th Division.

108th Brigade 
  • 9th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Irish Fusiliers
  • 12th (Service) Battalion (Central Antrim), the Royal Irish Rifles
  • 2nd Battalion, the Royal Irish Rifles (from November 1917 to 107th Bde. February 1918)
  • 11th (Service) Battalion (South Antrim), the Royal Irish Rifles
  • 13th (Service) Battalion (County Down), the Royal Irish Rifles
  • 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Fusiliers (from 107th Bde. February 1918)
  • 108th Brigade Machine Gun Company (from 26 January 1916, moved into 36 MG Bn 1 March 1918)
  • 108th Trench Mortar Battery (from 1 April 1916)

In August 1917 the 11th and 13th battalions of the Royal Irish Rifles amalgamated to form the 11/13th Battalion, which disbanded in February 1918.

109th Brigade 
  • 9th (Service) Battalion (County Tyrone), the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
  • 10th (Service) Battalion (Derry), the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (disbanded January 1918)
  • 11th (Service) Battalion (Donegal and Fermanagh), the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (disbanded February 1918)
  • 14th (Service) Battalion (Young Citizens), the Royal Irish Rifles (disbanded February 1918)
  • 1st Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (from February 1918)
  • 2nd Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (from February 1918) ll
  • 109th Brigade Machine Gun Company (from 23 January 1916, moved into 36 MG Bn 1 March 1918)
  • 109th Trench Mortar Battery (from 1 April 1916).

Battles

Great War Memorials

See also

Further reading

  • Cyril Falls History of the 36th (Ulster) Division Constable and Robinso (1998), ISBN 0-09-476630-4
  • Timothy Bowman: Irish Regiments in the Great War: Discipline and Morale, Manchester University Press (2003), ISBN 0-7190-6285-3.
  • Steven Moore The Irish on the Somme, Local Press Belfast (2005), ISBN 0-9549715-1-5
  • Peter Hart The Somme, Weidenfeld and Nicolson (2005), ISBN 0-297-84705-8
  • Desmond & Jean Bowen: Heroic Option: The Irish in the British Army, Pen & Sword Books (2005), ISBN 1-84415-152-2.
  • Steven Moore: The Irish on the Somme (2005), ISBN 0-9549715-1-5.
  • Thomas Bartlett & Keith Jeffery: A Military History of Ireland, Cambridge University Press (1996) (2006), ISBN 0-521-62989-6
  • David Murphy: Irish Regiments in the World Wars, OSprey Publishing (2007), ISBN 978-1-84603-015-4
  • David Murphy: The Irish Brigades, 1685-2006, A gazatteer of Irish Military Service past and present, Four Courts Press (2007)
    The Military Heritage of Ireland Trust. ISBN 978-1-84682-080-9

External links

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f The Somme Heritage Centre
  2. ^ a b Allen, Sam (1985). To Ulster's Credit. Killinchy, UK. pp. 118.  
  3. ^ [1] The Ministry of Defence
  4. ^ BBC - Your Place And Mine.
  5. ^ Gordon Lucy The Ulster Covenant - A Pictorial History of the 1912 Home Rule Crisis (1989), New Ulster Publications. OCLC 315592829
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