First World War & military vocabulary

Somme 1918

An operational unit composed of two or more Army Corps and supporting units, often numbering several hundred thousand men.

Army Corps
An operational unit composed of two or more divisions and supporting units, numbering 30-40,000 men.

Numbering over 18,000 men, in 1916 the New Zealand Division consisted of 3 infantry brigades, 4 field artillery brigades, a mounted rifles regiment and numerous smaller engineer, signals, medical, labour, logistic, trench mortar and machine gun units. Supporting the Division in a non-combat role was a large administrative and support structure composed of medical, training and administrative units.

Field Artillery Batteries and Brigades
New Zealand Field artillery batteries consisted of either six 18-pounder field guns or six 4.5-inch howitzers. A field artillery brigade consisted of 3 batteries of 18-pounders and 1 battery of 4.5-inch howitzers. By 1916 four such field artillery brigades were included in the New Zealand Division, in addition to 1 heavy, 3 medium and 3 light trench mortar batteries.

Infantry Battalion
Infantry battalions were commanded by a lieutenant colonel and were composed of 4 companies. At full strength a battalion numbered over a thousand men, but would usually go into action with less than 800. After severe fighting battalion strengths could fall dramatically to as few as 300 or 400 men. Medical, signalling and logistics troops were also contained within a battalion.

Infantry Brigade
New Zealand Infantry brigades were composed of 4 infantry battalions and at full strength numbered over 4,000 men, commanded by a brigadier-general. Whereas British infantry brigades were reduced to only three battalions in 1918, New Zealand infantry brigades retained their 4-battalion strength throughout the war, making the New Zealand Division one of the strongest in the British and Commonwealth armies.

Infantry Company
Infantry companies were commanded by Majors or Captains and consisted of a small headquarters and 4 platoons, totalling about 227 men at full strength. 4 companies formed a battalion.

Infantry Sections and Platoons
The smallest tactical unit within an infantry battalion, the infantry section consisted of 12 men led by a non-commissioned officer. At the beginning of the war almost all infantry sections were composed exclusively of riflemen, but by 1918 they also contained specialised bombing and light-machine-gun personnel. 4 Sections were normally required to form an Infantry platoon commanded by a junior officer.

Morale is used to refer to the feeling or mood among troops. Morale can be high - meaning the troops are in good spirits and confident, or morale can be low - meaning the troops are unhappy or disaffected.

Mounted Rifles Regiment
Composed of 3 squadrons, each of 4 troops of 38 NCOs and troopers, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Regiments  initially numbered 550 men each trained in scouting and reconnaissance roles and as mobile reserves that would ride to the battle but go into action on foot. Only one regiment, the Otago Mounted Rifles, accompanied the newly formed New Zealand Division to the Western front and was soon reduced to a single squadron.

The top of a defensive trench facing the enemy, that would protect soldiers from enemy shelling and small arms fire.

Potato masher grenades
Named by the British because of its distinctive shape, the potato masher grenade, or Model 24 Stielhandgranate, was a German grenade used in both the First and Second World War.
With its stick handle, the Model 24 could be thrown further than the Mills bomb grenade, but was not generally as effective at killing and considered to be a ‘concussion grenade’, as opposed to the deadlier fragmentation blast given by allied grenades such as the Mills bomb.

Also known as Stormtroopers or Sturmtruppen, Stormtroops were German soldiers trained for fast attacks to overwhelm enemy trenches or fortified positions. Stormtroops would usually attack after an artillery bombardment on the enemy position, carrying rifles, machine guns, large pouches or bags of grenades, and hand-to-hand fighting weapons such as knives or clubs.

Whippet tank
The Medium Mark A ‘Whippet’ was a British tank of the First World War. Armed with up to four machine guns, the Whippet was a faster tank than the Mark I-V class and was designed to exploit breakthroughs while supporting other tanks and infantry.

Zero hour
The military time for the start of an attack.