Wartime Wanderers Revisited

2015-07-21 22.46.10_origianl goslin grave
Harry Goslin’s Original Grave (Courtesy W Goslin)

Last week, as the historian and guide for 103 Regiment (V) I took part in a special battlefield study to Italy, in the footsteps of the Bolton and Manchester Artillery on the battlefields of the Sangro and Moro Rivers and Monte Cassino, as part of Ubique 300. 53 (Bolton) Field Regiment were the nearest thing in the Second World War to the pals or sports battalions of Kitchener’s Army raised in 1914. In March 1939 Hitler reneged on the Munich agreement and invaded Czechoslovakia. The following weekend the team captain of Bolton Wanderers football club, Harry Goslin addressed the crowd and called for supporters to join the TA. It was not enough to deplore what was going on in the world. Hitler would need to be stopped. He and the team were joining up.

The story of what happened to Harry Goslin is told in an earlier post, written close to the 70th anniversary of his death. It was mainly based on general histories of the battle and material available on line.

Map showing the attack by the 8th Indian Division on 14 Dec  1943, updated to show the attack from the South . (1) The “Impossible” Bailey bridge, built from the enemy side. (2) Position secured before the attack (3) 17th Indian Brigade attack (4) Canadian attack on Casa Beradi on the same day.

updated to show the

updated to show the

A visit to the National Archives and the war diary of 53 Field Regiment revealed more details about the story and the experience of the soldiers.

We can interpret documents such as fireplans.  Harry Goslin, the Bolton Wanderers fotball team captain was killed as an artillery forward observer in this battle
Fireplan Trace overlaid on 1943 1:50,000 map sheet.

The maps in the general histories portray the attack mounted by the 8th Indian Division on 14th December as an arrow from Villa Rogatti west north west to to Villa Caldari. The fire plan in the 53 Rd Regiment War diary shows a barrage by the divisional artillery supporting an attack north from the road between these villages, which curves first west then north. When superimposed on the 1:50,000 map the first line of the barrage is 50 yards north of the candy stripe road, an obvious start-line. 52 and 116 Field Regiments fired the lines of the barrage. 53rd Field Regiment fired a flanking barrage, three lines of shells fired at right angles to the main barrage to protect the left flank of the attack, exposed to enemy fire from the lateral road. All points calculated by hand in damp, cold dug out command posts.

members of 209 (Manchester) Battery pay respects to a Manchester Gunner in Sangro War Cemetery
Major T J Fox BC and members of 209 (Manchester) Battery, and the Captain General’s Baton  pay respects at the grave of a fallen Manchester Gunner in Sangro War Cemetery

The war diaries referred to the abysmal quality of the maps, with features up to 500 metres from their true location. It wasn’t much easier to find locations on modern maps. It is hard to find maps with more detail than 1:200,000 and the information on different publications can be contradictory, and at variance with the features on the ground.

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After the ceremony, Major A J Gledhill, BC and members of 216 Battery pose behind Harry Goslin’s Grave photographed by Philip Mason Chaplain of Bolton Wanderers FC

But the 53 Field Regiment gun positions seemed obvious. Plotting the battery locations on the 1944 map showed East of the road between S. Vito Chietano and Lanciano. west of Treglia The best fit of the 1944 map with Google maps put the gun positions just to the side of what is now a road through the edge of a village. This made sense. The fire plans called for hundreds of rounds of ammunition per gun per day. The weather in December 1943 was bad with the fields and tracks reduced to mud. The War diary noted that it was difficult to extract the guns from their old positions and that it took six hours before two of the batteries were ready after moving a couple of miles. Gun positions would need to be close to the driest ground. An old lady remembered, “yes. The guns were just over there”. What is now an olive grove was a field in 1943.

Grave of Gunner Plummer, a 53 FGiled Regiment OP Signaller who fell on the same day as Harry Goslin.
Grave of Gunner Plummer, a 53 Field Regiment OP Signaller who fell on the same day as Harry Goslin.

There were also some VIPs. Harry Goslin’s son Bill and grandson Matt came to make a visit, their first to Harry’s grave, and to find out about what happened to him. Lieutenant Harry Goslin was mortally wounded as a forward observer, a task usually carried out by a captain troop commander. Harry’s normal role should have been on the gun position, either in a troop or battery command post or as a gun position officer. The command post officers were responsible for supervising the soldiers who calculated what direction the guns should point to hit any given target. This was difficult and tiring work, but not as dangerous as accompanying the infantry, with the higher risks from bullet, shell or mortar bomb.

Major John Young in the "Dorway to Valhalla"  The entrance to the German War Cemetery Caira
Major John Young in the “Dorway to Valhalla” The entrance to the German War Cemetery Caira

The 53 Field Regiment War Diary provides evidence of the pressure on the officers and soldiers who served at the sharp end. On1st December, after a week long battle on the Sangro Rover one battery commander had been evacuated with exhaustion The nearby 1st Canadian RCHA attacking on the right of the Indians lost four out of six FOOs over four days. Officers and signallers from the guns would have to take their turn at the OP. It was as a stand in OP Officer that Harry Goslin crossed the start line.

The Rapido Valley looing towards Cassino from Caira German War Cemetery
The Rapido Valley looing towards Cassino from Caira German War Cemetery

The attacks along the Adriatic coastal plain halted a month later on the next river line, the Arielli, with winter snow.  Four months later, the 8th Indian Division with the 52nd Manchester Artillery and 53 Bolton Artillery crossed the Apennine mountains  in secret to deploy South of Cassino.   Here the allies had tried battering a way through what was the strongest part of the German defences between December 1943 and March 1944.

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Memorial to the 36th Texan Division which suffered heavy losses attempting to cross the River Gari in January 1944. Four months later the 8th Indian Division, supported by the 52 nd and 53rd Field Regiments crossed the river near here.

The allies concentrated both of their armies to break through the German army on the front facing Rome.  This time the allies assembled a force of 1600 guns, including those of 52 (Manchester) Field  and 53rd  (Bolton) Field Artillery Regiments. These blasted a path across defences which had stopped the allies over the preceding months. Not without a hard fight or losses. The commonwealth War

Down time in the Adriatic sea., close to the mouth of the River Sangro
Down time in the Adriatic sea., close to the mouth of the River Sangro

Graves Commission records list 184 members of the Royal Artillery who died in Italy during May 1944. 110 are buried or commemorated in the Cassino War Cemetery. Twelve of the dead served in the 52 (Manchester) or 53 (Bolton) Field Regiments.gunner tours logo white on brown

Vulgar Fractions – Why was it the 1/4th Essex Regiment?

The 1/4th Essex Regiment   fought at Monte Cassino
The 1/4th Essex Regiment fought at Monte Cassino

Why was it that some units in the British Army of WW2 had some kind of fraction in their designation?  There was the 1/4th battalion of the Essex Regiment at Monte Cassino, along with the 1/9th Gurkha Rifles and 4/6 Rajput Rifles.  There were the 13/18th Hussars and the 16/5th Lancers and artillery  batteries such as 9/16 and 17/43 which made 7th Field Regiment.

2nd (City of London Battalion) Royal Fusiliers in WW2 was known as the 12th Battalion the Royal Fusiliers

Nor does there seem any consistency.  56 (London) Division in 1944 had three fractions in 169 Brigade (2/5/2/6/ and 2/7th battalions of the Queens Royal Regiment) but no fractions in 167 Brigade ( 8 & 9th battalions the Royal Fusiliers and the 7th Battalion the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry)

Many armies use a “fraction”  the slash or  “/” sign as part of a unit designation.  This 1/16 Infantry in the US Army can be assumed to stand for the 1st battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment.  In the German army I/Panzer Regiment 22, with a Roman number”I”   would be the   first abteilung  (Battalion) of  Panzer Regiment number 22.  Even more helpfully, each company within a Regiment of three battalions would be lettered in the US Army or numbered in the German army consecutively within a three battalion Regiment. So Easy Company is a rifle company in a US Regiment’s

13/18th Hussars formed from the amalgamation of the 13th and 18th Hussars
13/18th Hussars formed from the amalgamation of the 13th and 18th Hussars

second battalion and  7./ GR 736 would be the third infantry company in Grenadier Regiment 736.   Logical and straightforward once you understand which companies get their own letter and number. (HQ company  no, fire support company yes)

The British Army is frightfully tribal and adopts in house conventions to confuse and exclude.  The “fraction”  named battalions in the British Infantry were a convention from the First World War which was carried forward in some cases.  

D D Tanks of the 13/18th Hussars on D Day
D D Tanks of the 13/18th Hussars on D Day

The territorial army was originally part time troops to be mobilised to defend the British Isles, and the soldiers were not obliged to serve overseas.  In 1914 soldiers from the TA were asked if they would volunteer to serve overseas, Battalions were then split into two, a first line unit for overseas service and a second line unit that only served in the UK.  At the start of the Great War Those men from the 4th Battalion the Essex Regiment who volunteered for service overseas joined the 1/4 Essex and sailed for Gallipoli. Those that did not joined the 2/4th and  stayed in the UK.  During the war they changed the rules and anyone could be drafted for overseas service and second line divisions appeared in France formed from the units of men who had not volunteered for overseas service.

Just before the start of WW2 the British government decided they would double the size of the TA by telling each unit to form a duplicate unit.  The 4th battalion the Essex Regiment raised its duplicates as the 1/4 and 2/4 Essex, but without any difference in terms of service. Not every regiment  numbered its duplicates this way.  The duplicates of the 8th (1st City of London) and 9th(2nd City of London) battalions of the  Royal Fusiliers were known as the 11th and 12th battalions RF .

1 Bms - Plaque PL00153The Australians also had “fractional ” units in WW2.  These are units like 2/2 Field artillery or 2/18th infantry. In this case the “2” means that there had been a 2nd Field artillery and 18th infantry battalion in 1914-18 and this was the second time this unit had been formed. i.e. for the 2nd World War,

The Indian Army fractions resulted from decisions to amalgamate the many single battalion regiments of the Indian Army. This took place for Gurkha Regiments in 1908., and in the 1920s for other units.

0036-000-560-000The “Vulgar fraction” cavalry Regiments 4/7 Dragoon Guards, 9/12 lancers,13/18 Hussars, 16/5 and  17/21 Lancers are the result of amalgamations. (It is 16/5L and not 5/16L because the 5th disgraced themselves and lost seniority)

British artillery regiments didn’t have fractions – but batteries did for the first few years of WW2.  In 1938 the army decided to stretch its pool of artillery officers as far as it could by merging two six gun batteries to form a 12 gun field  battery,(or 8 gun RHA or Medium battery)  saving a major and technical specialists that could be used to build another unit.  So 51 and 54 batteries merged to become 51/54 battery and A and E Battery became A/E Battery.  At this time the gunners did remove one one cause of confusion, by renaming the Lieutenant Colonel’s command, known up to that point as a “brigade” of artillery batteries as a “regiment” which was consistent with the rest of the army.

These soldiers from 105/109 battery RAphotographed in a  POW camp
These soldiers from 105/109 battery RA photographed in a POW camp

Artillery batteries would have their own number or letter, but troops across a Regiment would be lettered alphabetically by seniority.  So 147 (Essex Yeomanry) Field Regiment was made up of  413,(A & B Troops)  431 (C &D Troops), 511 (E & F Troops)  Though sometimes there were inconsistencies when Batteries were reorganised from three troops to two some gaps might appear.

There was some possible confusion for the unwary as some lettered RHA batteries were also known by an honorific name as a “troop” – i.e. A Battery Chestnut Troop, N Battery (The Eagle Troop) and O Battery the Rocket Troop. At least post war, and possibly during the war, lettered batteries tended to call their troops by something other than a simple letter, possibly the battery founder “Leslie’s” in N Battery or a hero such as Bogue or Dancy in O Battery. L battery’s troops post war were “Bradbury” and “Dorrell” after two VC winners.  During 1940, L/N Battery RHA were a combined  battery with L and N Troops – which might also have been technically C and D troops of 2 RHA.

On top of this the Regimental system could be turned on its head and infantrymen could be converted into the armoured corps and cavalrymen could become gunners and the gunners become infantry.

2/5th Gurkha Rifles remain a vulgar fraction in the modern Indian Army
2/5th Gurkha Rifles remain a vulgar fraction in the modern Indian Army

For example, the 7th Battalion the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment was converted from an infantry battalion to become a Light AA regiment.  As 92nd  (7th Loyals)  LAA Regt RA it landed on D day and defending Pegasus bridge from air attack.  The Essex Yeomanry, the old volunteer horse from  Essex  were converted to artillery in the 1920s and  landed on D Day as SP Gunners 147 Essex Yeomanry RA.  This was the duplicate of 104 (Essex Yeomanry) RHA which styled itself Horse artillery and fought in North Africa.

Two units with broadly the same history might end up being designated is a different way. The 10th (3rd City of London) battalion Royal Fusiliers was converted to a searchlight unit in 1938 becoming 69 searchlight Regiment Royal Engineers   (Royal Fusiliers) TA in 1938 and then in Aug 1940 to 69 Searchlight Regiment RA (RF) TA as responsibility for searchlights was transferred to the gunners.  Its title retains the mention of Royal Fusiliers.  However, the 4th City of London battalion the London Regiment which had been converted to AA artillery in 1935 was the 60th  (City of London ) AA Brigade RA until 1939 when it became 60th  (City of London ) AA Regiment RA.  No mention of Fusiliers, but the “City of London” has been retained.

royal_household_cavalry_london_england_bumper_sticker-r722698c151b54368952152374170460c_v9wht_8byvr_324141 Regiment R.A.C. (The Buffs) was formed from 7th Battalion the Buffs and retained their own dragon cap badge, but in RAC silver.  This unit crewed crocodile flame throwers supporting British Canadian and US units in NW  Europe.

Some of these units retained their old cap badge or badges, flashes. Others did not.   Some infantry battalions  units had lettered sub-units from A-D for all their battalions, while some might have different letters, say WXYZ, or consecutively letter their companies or even platoons across their regular battalions. Thus D Company of 2nd Battalion the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light infantry, which captured Pegasus bridge  had platoons numbered in the high twenties.

Simple really…

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King Louis the First of England!

File:BitvaLincoln1217ortho.jpgKing Louis the First of England!

Prince Louis of France was invited by the rebel barons to become king of England following King John’s refusal to accept the Magna Carta he had sealed at Runnymede. Over 200 castles in England were besieged, by the rebel barons or King John’s forces, in what became the First Barons’ War. This aimed to safeguard the rights, privileges and liberties of the clergy and the nobles as enshrined in the Magna Carta, but spilt out into a dynastic war for the English throne. This was only settled with the death of King John, and his succession by King Henry III. Even then, the dispute continued until the end of the century.

The Battles and Sieges

There were dozens of battles and sieges between 1214 and 1267.  This was an era of castles and sieges. Many of the castles still stand. At Rochester you can still see the damage caused by John’s army when it undermined the corner of the keep using the fat of 40 pigs to create a fire fierce enough to burn the props.    These are events populated by heroes, heroines and villains that could have been created by Hollywood.  There are princes fighting for their kingdom, wicked sherriffs, heroines, callous mercenaries, treacherous pirates and outlaws.   A summary of the main military events are here.


The Capture of Eustace the Monk: Mercenary, Pirate and Outlaw
The Capture of Eustace the Monk: Mercenary, Pirate and Outlaw

The Battlefields Trust is planning to create a Battlefield Trail covering the battles and sieges of the barons wars. This will be a major project and be timed to coincide with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta as well as the 750th Anniversary of the Siege of Lewes. The Battlefields Trust is a member of Magna Carta 800. One of the most exciting developments is the inclusion of battlefields in the Magna Carta 800 Trail being developed for Vist England. This is the first time it has been possible to promote Britain’s Battlefield heritage as part of a tourism strategy.

If you want to help with this project contact Edward  Dawson Project Director at the Battlefields Trust. magnacarta800@battlefieldstrust.com    See more here  http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/page136.asp

British Battlefields has been set up to promote and organise visits to British military heritage. It will be offering battlefield tours to the battlefields of Magna Carta.  Brit_Bat_logo_lores


26 Regiment, BAOR and the Cold War

The Inner German Border
26 Regiment RA at the Inner German Border; once a death strip covered by mines and automatic shotguns, now part of a European Green-way. Note the Captain General’s Baton to the right of the sponsor’s banner.

In June 2015, a  party from 26 Regiment, based in Guetersloh,   Germany, carried out Exercise Mansergh NorthAG,  a battlefield study of the Cold War   battlefields of Western Germany and Berlin. This was their leg in Ubique 300 taking the Captain General’s Baton everywhere the Royal Regiment of Artillery served in the past three centuries.

Overlooking  Lutter-am-Barenberg, two officers give their terrain analysis of the Hainberg feature north of the Harz mountains
Overlooking Lutter-am-Barenberg, two officers give their terrain analysis of the Hainberg feature north of the Harz mountains

Fortunately,  the armed forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact never came into armed conflict, but for nearly 50 years this is where armies planned to fight at short notice. The North IMG_1210German Plain is one

of the few places where it is possible to study how the Britain and its allies would fight against a modern well equipped army.  It is sobering to consider how chemical and tactical nuclear weapons might have been used, and how and why they were replaced by more effective precision weapons.

26 Regt Gun No1 describes how he would deploy AS 90 in the villages around the Bockenem bowl
26 Regt Gun No1 describes how he would deploy AS 90 in the villages around the Bockenem bowl

There were casualties including fatalities. Hundreds of Germans died trying to escape Eastern Germany in addition to servicemen and women injured in training.  The marks of the divided city of  Berlin are evidence of the human and economic cost and a reminder of the psychological and intelligence war that took place throughout these decades.

It was fascinating and impressive to see how the soldiers of the modern army explored the past, considered the lessons for the current day and how to apply them in the future.

Ferry site across the Weser, It featured heavily in exercises but was an alternative crossing had the Soviets captured or destroyed other crossings.
Ferry site across the Weser at Grossenwieden.  This featured heavily in exercises, as can be seen in the video from Ex United Shield 2008.  

In wartime it would  have been an alternative crossing had the Soviets captured or destroyed other crossings.

39 Heavy Regiment Veteran of Ex Iron Hammer talks about service in the Cold War in the village of Bierbergen  on the North German Plain "Pin Table" east of Hannover. The Zur Linde has a photo on the wall of the landlady as a young woman sitting on the back of an RTR Chieftain tank.
39 Heavy Regiment Veteran of Ex Iron Hammer talks about service in the Cold War in the village of Bierbergen  on the North German Plain “Pin Table” east of Hannover. The Zur Linde has a photo on the wall of the landlady as a young woman sitting on the back of an RTR Chieftain tank.

It is a forgotten battlefield, not least because the mainly classified documents associated with the Cold War were destroyed as part of the peace dividend in the 1990s.

 It was only possible to assemble the information to carry out the study with support from many retired soldiers and officers who taxed their brains to retrieve what were once state secrets. Many thanks to Generals Mungo Melvin, Jonathan Bailey and John Milne and to the various RA Regimental associations, in particular the 50 Missile Association.

The Brandenburg Gate - the symbol of a divided city

The Brandenburg Gate – the symbol of a divided city

Major Simon Fittock, the exercise director, gave his view:-

“I requested Frank’s assistance to deliver a battlefield study, based on the ‘Functions in Combat’ that was designed to look at the Cold War and specifically the multinational Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) centred around the North/Central area of Hannover, West Germany. The tour also visited Berlin to continue its studies of the Information and Intelligence Wars.

Model of the Stasi buildings inside the old Stasi HQ
Model of the Stasi buildings inside the old Stasi HQ

Right from the off Frank’s engaging style kicked in. His impromptu introduction on the coach during the journey to our first stand set the context fantastically,

An aircraft of the Berlin airlift
An aircraft of the Berlin airlift

bringing the scenario to life and immediately putting the troops in the era and whilst relating his own memories to our current dispositions and our approach to the very high readiness lifestyle that those in the 70-80’s lived through.

IMG_1200His insight into the era, having lived through exercises and deployments, combined with an acute ability to translate the issues into modern day language and engage with all ranks worked fantastically.

I cannot recommend him highly enough and will certainly be using him again in the future.”

One of the results of this exercises is that we have assembled a useful collection of information and documents about the Cold War. If anyone is interested in studying this period either in Germany or the UK contact Gunner Tours.

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