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British Divisional Mobilization in World War I

With one exception, in 1914 all of the armies were essentially cadre armies. That is, the standing peacetime force comprised a permanent cadre of regular officers and sergeants, which was supplemented by two or three year-classes of conscripts, who, upon completion of their time "with the colors" passed into the reserve, to be called up in an emergency. The exception was the British Army.

With only seven active divisions in the British Army, plus nine more in the Indian Army, Britain was hardly a major land power. Russia, France, or Germany would each put 100 or more divisions into the field within weeks of the outbreak of war, Austria-Hungary fielded 50-some divisions, and even Serbia and Turkey easily put more divisions in the field than Britain did that summer.

So Britain, and the Commonwealth and Empire, had to hustle to raise the ground forces ground needed to help shoulder the burden of the war.

Active Infantry Divisions on Hand, 1914-1918
Date Britain India Dominions Total
   1 Aug ’14 6 9 0 15
31 Dec ’14 72 11 1 Australia 85
1 Canada
31 Dec ’15 70 15 2 Australia 91
4 Canada
31 Dec ’16 69 8 5 Australia 87
      5 Canada  
1 New Zealand
31 Dec ’17 67 10 5 Australia 88
      6 Canada  
1 New Zealand
11 Nov ’18 61 14 5 Australia 85
      5 Canada  
1 New Zealand

The results were impressive, particularly since Britain did not introduce conscription until 1916, and it was never implemented in Ireland, the Dominions, or India. By the end of the war there were 85 British, Dominion, or Indian infantry divisions on active duty, out a total of about 100 raised in the course of the conflict, of which some had to be disbanded as manpower became tight, a couple were converted from infantry to mounted divisions, and one was lost through surrender.

Active Cavalry, Cyclist, and Mounted Infantry Divisions on Hand, 1914-1918
Date Britain India Dominions Totals
   1 Jul   ’14 1 0 0 1
31 Dec ’14 5 2 0 7
31 Dec ’15 6 2 0 8
31 Dec ’16 4 3 1 Aus/NZ 8
31 Dec ’17 5 3 1 Aus/NZ 10
      1 Australia  
11 Nov ’18 6 0 1 Aus/NZ 8
      1 Australia  

The growth in mounted divisions, whether cavalry, cyclist, or mounted infantry, was equally impressive, rising from one to a peak of 14, before falling to 8 as manpower and operational needs dictated.

 

"The Old Hoss Has Put Us Here."

Charles Scott (1739-1813), a native Virginian, gave up farming to serve in the French and Indian War (1754-1763), gaining some fame as a scout in Col. George Washington’s First Virginia Regiment, and by the end of the war had risen to captain in the Provincial forces. Returning to farming, on the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Scott – like Cincinnatus – once more abandoned the plow for the sword. During the first year of the war he rose from command of a militia company to that of the 5th Virginia Continentals.

Scott and his regiment joined Washington’s army in New Jersey in November of 1776, as it was retreating from its series of defeats in and near New York City over the summer and fall. 

Following his victory at Trenton (December 26, 1776), Washington took his little army east into central New Jersey, in order to set up an attack at Princeton a few days later. Knowing Scott well from their days together during the French and Indian War, Washington assigned his regiment the task of securing a bridge over a stream to impede pursuit by the British. When Scott acknowledged his orders, Washington turned and rode off.

At that, Scott turned and addressed his troops, “Well, boys, the old hoss has put us here to defend this bridge; and by God! -- it must be done, let what will come. Now I want to tell you one thing. You’re all in the habit of shooting too high. You waste your powder and lead; and I have cursed you about it a hundred times. Now I tell you what it is nothing must be wasted; every crack must count. For that reason, boys, whenever you see them fellows first put their feet upon this bridge, do you shin ‘em” 

At that a strong laugh rang out over the assemblage. Turning about, Scott was chagrined to see that Washington had not, in fact, ridden off. He had had merely gone a few yards and halted to observe Scott’s preparations, and thus had heard the colonel’s little speech, “old hoss” and all.

Perhaps anticipating a blast of Washington’s notable vocabulary, Scott was surprised when the general merely gave him a pleasant smile, and rode off.

On January 2, 1777, Washington added to his victory at Trenton one at Princeton, due in part to Scott’s effectiveness in protecting the army’s movement.

Scott continued to serve in Washington’s army through victory and defeat until late 1779, by which time he had risen to brigadier general and effective chief of intelligence. Late in 1779, Scott and his brigade were transferred to the Army of the South. Captured by the British on the fall of Charleston (May 12, 1780), Scott remained a prisoner-of-war for most of the rest of the war. Upon being mustered out of the service, Scott was promoted to brevet major general

Settling in Kentucky, Scott became active in politics, served in the Northwest Indian War (1790-1795), surviving the two disastrous American defeats at the hands of Little Turtle, Kekionga (19–22 October 1790) and the Wabash (November 4, 1791), and took part as a major general of Kentucky militia in the victory over the Northwestern Confederation at Fallen Timbers (August 20, 1794).

Returning to civilian life, Scott resumed farming, and continued to be active in politics, crowning his long career with a hitch as Governor of Kentucky (1808-1812).


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