The 12th (Eastern) Division was an infantry division raised by the British Army during the Great War from men volunteering for Kitchener's New Armies. 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, 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.
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. 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.35th Brigade
7th (Service) Battalion, Norfolk Regiment
7th (Service) Battalion, Suffolk Regiment (left May 1918)
9th (Service) Battalion, Essex Regiment
5th (Service) Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales's (Royal Berkshire Regiment) (left February 1918 for 36th Brigade)
35th Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps (formed 1 February 1916, moved to 12th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps 1 March 1918)
35th Trench Mortar Battery (formed 25 June 1916)
1/1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Regiment (joined May 1918)
8th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) (disbanded February 1918)
9th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)
7th (Service) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment
11th (Service) Battalion, Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex Regiment) (disbanded February 1918)
36th Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps (formed 1 February 1916, moved to 12th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps 1 March 1918)
36th Trench Mortar Battery (formed 15 June 1916)
5th (Service) Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales's (Royal Berkshire Regiment) (joined February 1918 from 35th Brigade)
6th (Service) Battalion, Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment)
6th (Service) Battalion, Buffs (East Kent Regiment)
7th (Service) Battalion, East Surrey Regiment (disbanded February 1918)
6th (Service) Battalion, Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)
37th Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps (formed 4 February 1916)
37th Trench Mortar Battery (formed 15 June 1916)
5th (Service) Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment
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 and so the 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division formed an exact mirror duplicate, to be known as the 12th (Eastern) Infantry Division.
Between 3 September, the same day the war officially began, and 7 October 1939 the units of the 12th Division were administered by the parent 44th Division, both of which came under Eastern Command.
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). 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.
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. 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.
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.
The 113th (Home Counties) Field Regiment and 57th Anti-Tank Regiment, 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. 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.
The 12th (Eastern) Divisional Signals Regiment, 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.
After the 12th Division disbanded, all the units of the Royal Engineers became Army Troops Companies. 262nd and 263rd Field companies served as part of British Second Army in North-western Europe from July 1944 until May 1945.
12th Infantry Division was constituted as follows during the war:
35th Infantry Brigade (left 2 July 1940)2/5th Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey)
2/6th (Bermondsey) Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey)
2/7th (Southwark) Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey)
36th Infantry Brigade (left 10 July 1940)2/6th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment (left 25 October 1939)
6th Battalion, Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment
7th Battalion, Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment
5th Battalion, Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) (from 25 October 1939)
37th Infantry Brigade (left 9 July 1940) 5th Battalion, Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) (left 25 October 1939)
6th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment
7th (Cinque Ports) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment
2/6th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment (from 25 October 1939)
Divisional Troops113th (Home Counties) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (left 8 July 1940)
114th (Sussex) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (left 5 July 1940)
118th (8th London) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (left 2 July 1940)
67th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (left 1 July 1940)
262nd Field Company, Royal Engineers (left 10 July 1940)
263rd Field Company, Royal Engineers (left 10 July 1940)
264th Field Company, Royal Engineers (left 10 July 1940)
265th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers (left 10 July 1940)
12th (Eastern) Divisional Signals Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals (left 10 July 1940)
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