First World War & military vocabulary


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.

Heavy ordnance designed to fire a variety of missiles, generally at a long range or high trajectory. Different to small-arms carried by individual soldiers, artillery is usually mounted on a platform or wheels, and can fire light or heavy ammunition.

Usually built underground, a bunker is a fortified defensive position built to protect soldiers against artillery and other enemy projectiles.

Creeping barrage
A pre-planned curtain of artillery fire designed to ‘creep forward’ in short, controlled bounds, often in front of advancing infantry.

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.

A hole, dug into the ground and often built around with timber or other material to offer protection or shelter.

Troops tasked with the occupation and defence of a particular locality.

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.

Lewis gun 
A light machine gun used by infantry and aircraft during the First World War. Invented by US Army Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis in 1911, the Lewis gun was manufactured in the United Kingdom by the Birmingham Small Arms Company. It was used predominantly throughout the British Empire and adopted by other armies.

Mills bomb
Named after William Mills, an English hand grenade designer, the Mills bomb, with its grooved, cast-iron design and distinctive ‘pineapple’ appearance, became the standard grenade used by the British Army and some of its allies during the First World War.  

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.

Regimental Aid Post
Often referred to as an RAP, a regimental aid post is a frontline medical facility, staffed by a medical officer, medical orderlies, and equipped with stretcher bearers. A RAP is  incorporated into an infantry battalion with its role being the immediate care of wounded soldiers before they are sent to a casualty clearing station. 

An area of land, or landform, that projects out from its surroundings. In military terms, a salient was a position or series of positions that penetrated into enemy lines and was thus vulnerable to attack from several sides.

A strongly held and often fortified defensive position that can include anything from bunkers, pillboxes, trenches, and machine gun nests. A strong-point is fortified to withstand attack by infantry and artillery.

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