Of No Earthly Use: The 2nd Line Territorial Force Divisions and the Western Front (Paperback)
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In 1914, the 2nd Line Territorial Force divisions experienced a difficult birth and faced an uncertain future. Deprived of men and equipment, and with the War Office patently biased towards the Kitchener Armies, the 2nd Line lived a Cinderella existence. Regularly the subject of querulous questions in parliament, the government and military authorities appeared to have had little clear idea of what they actually wanted from the 2nd Line.
After more than two years on home defense duties, and now filled with Derbyites and conscripts rather than volunteer territorials, seven divisions deployed abroad. The six divisions which remained in the UK were either disbanded or by the transfer of individual units lost what little of their territorial affiliation had survived. When the seven divisions arrived on the Western Front opinion on their potential worth was very much divided. Their deployment had almost as much to do with demonstrating British commitment to the continental war as it did with boosting the Allied armies by the dispatch of additional forces.
This study examines the 2nd Line's struggles to reach establishment, discover a role, and achieve a degree of efficiency. These difficulties defined the emerging qualities and ethos of the formations and of their component units. Analyses of their performances in different battlefield scenarios affords assessments of the divisions' fighting power. Their acquisition of battlefield skills, their conceptual understanding of the war's evolving character, and their development of organizational and command structures are examined critically through the prism of both contemporary and modern doctrine.
In addition to the experiences of general trench warfare, 2nd Line divisions fought at Fromelles, Bullecourt, Third Ypres, Cambrai, and in the German offensive of March 1918. In the same way as for many divisions, some of their engagements were poorly planned, ill-prepared, and badly executed; others demonstrated a developing maturity and willingness to learn from mistakes. While not appearing in recent historians' lists of 'best' divisions, the evidence suggests the sometimes derided 2nd Line formations generally did not warrant their often dubious reputations.