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Alfred Leete's recruitment poster for Kitchener's Army.

The New Army, often referred to as Kitchener's Army or, disparagingly, Kitchener's Mob [1], was an (initially) all-volunteer army formed in the United Kingdom following the outbreak of hostilities in World War I. It was created after the recommendation from the then-Secretary of State for War, Horatio Kitchener.

Kitchener's Army represented a major turning point in British military history: for the first time, the full effort of the nation and its people was committed to a massive land force fighting against other powers of Europe, with the Royal Navy playing an important but secondary role.

Contents

Origins

Contrary to general popular belief that the war would be over by Christmas of 1914, Kitchener predicted a long and brutal war in which, if timed right, the arrival of an overwhelming force of new, well-trained and well-led divisions would prove a decisive blow against the Central Powers.

Kitchener fought off all opposition to his plan, and all attempts to weaken or water down its potential, including a piece-meal dispersal of the regiments to reinforce the formations of the regular army or Territorial Force. Kitchener declined to use the existing Territorial Force as the basis for the New Army, as many of its members had volunteered for "Home Service" only. In the early days of the war, the Territorial Force was not immediately available to reinforce the regular army as it lacked modern equipment, particularly artillery, and First-Line units composed only of men who had volunteered for "General Service" took time to form.

Those recruited into the New Army were used to form complete Battalions under existing British Army Regiments. These new battalions had titles of the form "xxth (Service) Battalion, <regiment name>".

The New Army was sorely tested in the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Passchendaele, where Field Marshal Douglas Haig used the troops in a costly attrition strategy that has been the source of controversy.

At the beginning of 1918, the shortage of manpower in the British Expeditionary Force in France became acute, and it was decreed that infantry divisions were to be reduced from twelve infantry battalions to nine. It was also laid down that the higher-numbered battalions (in effect the New Army units, and some Second-Line Territorial units) were to be disbanded rather than the lower-numbered Regular and First-Line Territorial battalions. (Kitchener had died in 1916, and no other major figure opposed this fundamental change to the principles on which the New Army had been raised.) In some cases, New Army divisions had to disband about half of their units to make room for surplus battalions transferred from Regular or First-Line Territorial divisions. While this change led to a loss of the unique sense of identity of some New Army formations, it also made the divisions in France into more homogeneous units.

Following the failure of the Ludendorff Offensive in the spring of 1918, Kitchener's Army performed a combined arms counterattack (the Hundred Days Offensive) which drove the German forces back through Belgium with enormous casualties. Many hundreds of thousands of German soldiers were captured or surrendered. This, coupled with a revolution in Germany, led their generals to request an armistice, which came into effect at 11 o'clock on November 11, 1918.

Recruitment

All five of the full army groups were made up of volunteer recruits, which included the famous Pals' Battalions. Due to the huge numbers of men wishing to sign up, in places queues up to a mile long formed outside recruitment offices. There were many problems in equipping and providing shelter for them. Rapidly the Government added many new recruitment centres which eased the admissions burden and began a programme of temporary construction at the main training camps. Almost 2.5 million men volunteered for Kitchener's Army.

However, by the beginning of 1916 the queues weren't so long anymore. Information about the true nature of the war had leaked back home and enthusiasm plunged. Great Britain had to resort to conscription like the other great powers involved in the war.

(Conscription was also applied "in reverse" to some extent, so that skilled workers and craftsmen who had volunteered early in the war could be drafted back into the munitions industry where they were sorely needed.)

The first conscripts arrived in France in late 1916 to fill the gaps in the volunteer units that had been greatly diminished during the Battle of the Somme. After the bloody battles of 1917 the volunteers were in a minority in these units. The British army facing the Ludendorff Offensive of 1918 were mainly boys pressed into service, most of them under 20 years of age. At the end of the war more than half of the five million men serving in the British Army were conscripts.

Training

In theory a recruit who was accepted into the army was first sent to his Regimental depot, where he would receive his kit and be given an introduction to army discipline and training, before being sent to the main training camps to join his battalion. In practice, no Regiment had the required stocks of equipment, or the manpower to train the flood of recruits, men were trained in their own clothes and shoes. In order to mitigate this problem, old stored uniforms, including First Boer War vintage red jackets, were issued. Some Regiments bought their own uniform and boots with money paid from public collections. Many Regiments were also issued with emergency blue uniforms, popularly known as Kitchener Blue.

A Church of England service at the 10th (Irish) Division's camp at Basingstoke in 1915.

In order for the soldiers to be able to show which unit they belonged to whilst this crisis went on, they wore regimental and unit badges or patches on their clothing. Many photographs from the era show uniformed soldiers drilling alongside civilian clothed soldiers, perhaps led by red jacketed NCOs.

The Regiments also suffered from a lack of officers to train them and the government called up all reserve list officers and any British Indian Army officer who happened to be on leave in the UK during the period. More new officers were created, when their commanding officers were encouraged to promote them from the ranks.

Weapons also proved to be a problem, no artillery pieces had been left in Britain to train new artillery brigades, and most battalions had to drill with obsolete rifles or wooden mockups.

By early 1915 many of these problems had been overcome, in one way or another, including pressing into use old ceremonial cannons and unfinished modern artillery pieces (they lacked targeting sights) and as 1915 progressed even these shortages were made good.

Structure

Kitchener's New Army was made up of the following Army Groups and Divisions:

K1 Army Group 
K2 Army Group 
K3 Army Group 
K4 Army Group 

Broken up into reserve regiments.

K5 Army Group 

Redesignated K4 following break up of original K4.

K6 Army Group 

Redesignated K5 following redesignation of original K5.

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Divisional structure in 1915

In 1915, the prescribed structure of one division would have comprised the following units:

  • Mounted troops:
    • 1 cavalry squadron
    • 1 cyclist company
  • Artillery:
    • HQ Divisional Artillery
    • 3 field artillery brigades (12 batteries - 18 pounders (~8 kg) with three ammunition columns)
    • 1 field artillery howitzer brigade (4 batteries - 4.5 in. (114 mm) howitzers with one ammunition column)
    • 1 heavy battery (4 x 60 pounder (27 kg) with one ammunition column)
    • 1 divisional ammunition column
  • Pioneers:
    • 1 pioneer battalion (with 4 machine guns)
    • 3 field ambulances
    • 1 sanitary section
    • 1 mobile veterinary section
    • 1 motor ambulance workshop
    • 1 divisional train

Composition

  • Number of Soldiers: 19,614
  • Horses & mules: 5,818
  • Guns:
    • 48 x 18 pounder (8 kg)
    • 16 x 4.5 in (114 mm) howitzer
    • 4 x 60 pounder (27 kg)
  • Vickers machine guns: 52
  • Assorted carts & vehicles: 958
  • Cycles: 538
  • Motor vehicles:
    • cycles: 19
    • cars: 11
    • lorries: 4
    • ambulances: 21

Divisional structure in 1918

In 1918, a typical division would have comprised the following units:

  • Artillery
    • H.Q. Divisional Artillery
    • 2 field artillery brigades, each comprising 4 batteries with 6 x 18 pounders (8 kg) and 2 x 4.5-inch Howitzers
    • 2 medium trench mortar batteries with 6 x 2 in (51 mm)
    • 1 divisional ammunition column
  • Engineers
    • H.Q. Divisional Engineers
    • 3 field companies
  • Signals Service
    • 1 signal company
  • Pioneers
    • 1 pioneer battalion, comprising 4 companies, with 16 Vickers machine guns each
    • 3 field ambulances
    • 1 sanitary section
    • 1 mobile veterinary section
    • 1 motor ambulance workshop
    • 1 divisional train

Number of troops and equipment:

  • All ranks: 16,035
  • Horses & mules: 3,838
  • Guns: 48
    • 18 pounder (8 kg): 36
    • 4.5 in (114 mm) howitzer: 12
    • trench mortars: 36
      • Stokes: 24
      • Medium: 12
  • Machine guns: 400
  • Assorted carts & vehicles: 870
  • Cycles: 341
  • Motor cycles: 44
  • Motor cars: 11
  • Motor lorries: 3
  • Motor ambulances: 21

See also

External links

Footnotes

  1. ^ "'Kitchener's Mob' they were called in the early days of August, 1914, when London hoardings were clamorous with the first calls for volunteers. The seasoned regulars of the first British expeditionary force said it patronizingly, the great British public hopefully, the world at large doubtfully. 'Kitchener's Mob,' when there was but a scant sixty thousand under arms with millions yet to come. 'Kitchener's Mob' it remains to-day, fighting in hundreds of thousands in France, Belgium, Africa, the Balkans. And to-morrow, when the war is ended, who will come marching home again, old campaigners, war-worn remnants of once mighty armies? 'Kitchener's Mob.'
    -Kitchener's Mob: Adventures of an American in the British Army by James Norman Hall

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