Who's Who - Sir Andrew Russell

Sir Andrew Russell Sir Andrew Hamilton Russell (1868-1960) served as commander of the New Zealand Division from its formation in March 1916 until its disbandment after the armistice.

Having left his native New Zealand for an education at Harrow and Sandhurst and following initial military service with the Border Regiment in Burma and India between 1887-92, Russell spent a period back home in New Zealand as a sheep farmer.

Although the latter activity occupied much of his time he nevertheless retained links with the armed services, forming the New Zealand Hawke's Bay Mounted Rifles in 1900 and acting as its commander.

With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 Russell was prompt in offering his services on a full-time rather than part-time basis.  Appointed to the command of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade Russell - a formidable disciplinarian who was wholeheartedly in favour of the death penalty - inevitably served in Gallipoli in 1915.

Emerging with distinction from that ultimately disastrous Allied campaign (where he worked well with Monash) he was placed at the head of the newly formed New Zealand Division (of four brigades each of three battalions) in March 1916.  They sailed for France and arrived at Marseilles the following month.

September 1916 saw the New Zealand Division - which developed a reputation as one the finest among all Allied armies -  take centre stage in the first tank action at Flers (part of the wider British Somme Offensive of 1916).  In total the division served 23 days on the Somme during which time 1,560 men were killed and 5,440 were wounded.

1917 brought hard service at both the successful attack at Messines in June - in which the division took all its initial objectives within the first two days, meticulously planned by Russell - and calamitously at Passchendaele from July.  During the latter campaign the division lost 2,700 casualties in just four hours at Gravenstafel during early October.  Russell himself favoured more limited forms of attack rather than wide-scale offensives, believing the former more effective in conditions of trench warfare.

In 1918 the division served to help stem the tide of the great German advance of the spring, fighting at Serre and on the Somme, crucially helping to prevent the Germans from reaching Amiens in early April.  During the subsequent Allied advance Russell led the division at Bapaume, Havrincourt, Le Cateau and (most notably and impressively) Le Quesnoy.

Following the armistice the division was officially disbanded on 25 March 1919.  Russell, who remains little known outside New Zealand in spite of his impressively successful wartime record, died in 1960.

A 'Tracer' was a phosphorescent machine-gun bullet which glowed in flight, indicating course as an aid to artillery.

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