The Royal Naval Division was formed in August 1914 from naval reserve forces when warships of the fleet were fully crewed. The tradition of naval personnel serving on land had been long established and a shortfall in infantry divisions in the army led to the formation of the Royal Naval Division to supplement the army. The Royal Naval Division was retained under Admiralty control even though they were fighting on land alongside the army. Reserve personnel from the Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Fleet Reserve and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve with a brigade of Marines were assembled at Crystal Palace to form the Royal Naval Division. The battalions were named after famous naval people and were:
1st Brigade - Collingwood, Hawke, Benbow, Drake
2nd Brigade - Howe, Hood, Anson, Nelson
3rd Brigade (RM) - Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, Deal
When the Royal Naval Division had transferred to France in May 1916, they were redesignated the 63rd (RN) Division and were supplemented by additional army battalions.
188th Brigade - Anson, Howe, 1st and 2nd RM battalions
The Royal Naval Division were sent into many theatres of war including:
189th Brigade - Drake, Hood, Nelson, Hawke
190th Brigade - Hon Artillery Co., 7th Batt. Royal Fusiliers,
4th Batt. Bedfordshire Regt, 10th Batt. Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
1914 - Antwerp
1915 - Gallipoli
1916 - Ancre Valley, Salonika Army
1917 - Passchendaele, Gavrelle, Welsh Ridge
They were also active at the Hindenberg Line to stem the German offensive in 1918 and continued up until the end of the war at Cambrai, Canal du Nord, St Quentin Canal and Mons. The Royal Naval Division sustained great losses - probably three times the original number of men recruited.
The Royal Naval Division retained the great naval traditions, even while on land. They flew the White Ensign, used bells to signal time, used naval language (including "going ashore" and "coming on board"), continued to use naval ranks rather than army equivalents and sat during the toast for the King's health. Attempts to convert the Royal Naval Division to conform to army practices were tried but were generally unsuccessful, especially an attempt to disband the Royal Naval Division in 1917 which was thwarted by the influence of the First Lord of Admiralty, Sir Edward Carson. The Royal Naval Division was disbanded in 1919 after an inspection and address by the Prince of Wales.
© Royal Naval Museum Library, 2001
The information contained in this fact sheet is correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for a bibliography of further reading materials, if available.