The biggest commemorative battlefield event in 2016 will be the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Our tour commemorates the start of the battle, which was the opening barrage 24 June. We are also offering a proven Normandy and West Front tour that tells the Gunner side of these
The Somme Centenary, 23-26 June 2015 £469
The Battle of the Somme began on 24 June 1916 – known as U Day. It was a dull day, low cloud and heavy rain, following thunderstorms the day before.It is a myth, showing much misunderstanding of a First World War battle, to believe it began with the infantry attack on 1 July.
The Battle of the Somme is an iconic event in British memory of the First World War. But the Gunner side of the story tends to be overlooked. The Gunner Tout top the battlefield will visit places ignored by many visitors and tell stories not often told. This is the story of the Royal Artillery in the Somme battles of 1916.
The main public interest in the battle is the staggering losses suffered by the volunteers of Kitchener’s Army on the first day. As one “Two years in the making. Ten minutes in the destroying. That was our history.”- the description of one Pals battalion.
The Gunners don’t come out too well from the short version of the battle of the Somme. The largest ever concentration of British Artillery firing the largest ever barrage was supposed to cut the barbed wire in front of the German trenches, destroy German bunkers, defences and guns and keep the Germans heads down while the infantry advanced. But, over about eight out of thirteen miles of the front line attacked this did not happen, resulting in tragedy. We will show you why, and something of the efforts and sacrifices made by the Gunners to deliver the impossible,.
The tour has been based on research inspired by a project started by the late Will Townsend. It is based on research from original documents in the National Archives, Firepower Archives, the Historial de la Grande Guerre Château de Péronne and RUSI. We have brought together anecdotes and stories from a wide range of published and unpublished accounts by and about Gunners. We will have fire plans drawn by the future Field Marshall Lord AlanBrooke.
We will look at the French and German artillery too. Few Britons are aware of how closely the British and French artillery worked. Nor is the German experience well known- even thought the most enduring German memory of the Somme was probably how their trenches were stamped into the ground by the British guns.
We are going to travel the week before the national commemoration because that is when the battle started for the Gunners, and we will have a better opportunity to get around the battlefield.
The tour is four days and three nights and for more information follow this link.
D Day Beaches and Landing Sites, 2-5 September 2015 £389
A visit over a long weekend to the D Day beaches and landing sites. There is a gunner story on each beach and landing site. We will see the strength of the German defences and see where and how the Gunners helped to overcome them. We will explore the stories of the Gunners who took part, the planners, commanders and soldiers, heroes, poets and those who fell.
£389 per person sharing single supplement £75
BEF Western Front 10-14 November 2016 £469
Five days and four nights, covering the sites of the major battles of the British Expeditionary Force from Mons in 1914 to victory in 1918 over Remembrance day 11 November.
£469 per person sharing single supplement £110
2015 has been a big year for centennial anniversaries; 100th of Gallipoli, 200th of Waterloo and the 600th of Agincourt among others. Yet one of the most significant for the history of the Gunners has been largely overlooked.
12-13th November were the 300th anniversaries of two battles at Preston (12-Nov 1715) in Lancashire and Sherrifmuir in Scotland (13 Nov 1715) that decided the fate of the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion. On the death of Queen Anne in 1714 the crown of Great Britain passed to her second cousin George Elector of Hannover, a protestant rather than to her half-brother James, a catholic, exiled in France.
On 8th September John Erskine, Earl of Mar raised the standard at Braemar in the name of King James VIII of Scotland and III of England. By 22nd October his army of nearly 20,000 men had captured most of Scotland North of the Firth of Forth. Mar was indecisive and lacked any experience of campaigning. He hesitated and gave the Hanoverians under John Campbell 2nd Duke of Argyll time to increase the strength of his forces. The armies met at Sherrifmuir North East of Stirling on the 13th November 1715. Despite Mar outnumbering Argyll by perhaps as much as three to one the battle was inconclusive.
Meanwhile, in England Jacobite supporters in the West of England and Northumberland prepared to rise for the House of Stuart, led by three peers and six MPs. The government arrested the leaders and deployed troops to Bristol Plymouth and Southampton to prevent these ports falling into Jacobite hands. The rising ion Northumberland did take place, supported by several peers, and joining forces with a force of Scottish Jacobites from the Borders moved into Lancashire, where they hoped to find support. Government troops caught up with this force in Lancashire and attacked them around the town of Preston on 12th November, with the main attack along Fishergate. The Jacobites had the best of the first day, inflicting heavy losses on the government troops, in what is probably the last battle in England. However, after reinforcements arrived, the majority of the Jacobite army surrendered.
Artillery did not play a significant role in either battle. At the time, there was no peacetime artillery organisation, and an artillery train was organised for each campaign from the gunners in the Tower. It took so long to find men to man the artillery train that the rebellion was over before the train was ready to march. This was a dangerous weakness and the Duke of Marlborough, obtained a Royal Warrant to form a permanent regiment. Accordingly, the Royal Regiment of Artillery was created in 1716.
Both battlefields are accessible. Sherrifmuir is still moorland. Although Preston has grown and sprawled over the centuries, the road layout remains the same. If you want to visit either, contact us.
100 years ago this autumn a visit to the lavatory by a Gunner Subaltern led to a breakthrough in military science. Archimedes had his inspiration sitting in the bath. Lieutenant William Lawrence Bragg, while sitting on the lavatory .
In 1915 William Lawrence Bragg was a 25 year old subaltern borne in Adelaide Australia. He had joined the Territorial Army while a Cambridge under graduate. when war broke out was a Second Lieutenant in the Leicestershire RHA. He was a brilliant mathematician and physicist who discovered in 1912 what is known as Bragg’s law of X-ray diffraction; the basis for the determination of crystal structure. In September 1915 he was awarded the 1915 Nobel Prize for Science, jointly with his father, William Henry Bragg. He is still the youngest ever recipient of the prize.
In 1915 Bragg was working on a key problem facing the artillery on the Western front. How to locate enemy artillery. One of the most promising technologies was to use the sound of the gun. But it was not easy to pick out the sound of the gun firing from the shock wave of the shell breaking the sound barrier, the crack from the thump. Nor did they know how much of the energy generated by a gun firing was transmitted as low-frequency sounds, too low to be audible.
The breakthrough came when Bragg was in the lavatory in his billet in Flanders. This was a a small room, with a door, but no window. When the door was shut, the only connection to the outside world was the pipe leading from under his toilet seat. There was a British six-inch gun about 400 metres away. When it fired, his bare bottom was actually lifted off the toilet seat by the inaudible infra-sound energy, even though he could often hear nothing at all. So now he knew there was enormous energy in the inaudible infra-sound.
It took a second eureka moment to solve the problem. Corporal W S Tucker, another physicist in Bragg’s team was accommodated in a tar paper hut. There were a couple of holes near his bed space. He noticed that even on a day with no wind or sound, annoying puffs of air would blow onto his face. He and Bragg compared notes and they deduced that these were the result of low frequency sound from artillery. He made a detector out of a wooden ammunition box, which became known as the Tucker microphone.
This led to the development of microphones to record the inaudible frequencies making it possible to develop sound ranging as a way to locate enemy guns to within 50metres. The same technology, applied in a slightly different way made it possible to measure the the muzzle velocity of individual guns, which made it easier to predict fire. Together these technique was used to devastating effect from 1917 onwards. For example at Cambrai 20 November 1917 a barrage of 1000 guns fired a predicted fire plan and hitting enemy guns located by sound alone. Bragg shared the results of his work with his father. Bragg senior was working for the Admiralty on acoustic detection and the result was ASDIC, an echo locating system to detect submerged submarines.
Bragg ended the war with an OBE, MC and three mentions in dispatches. He went on to have a very distinguished scientific career, including the announcement of the discovery of DNA. Bragg is probably the only serving soldier to receive the Nobel prize for Science.
This photograph in the National Army Museum Collection shows the men of the 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer battery in Mesopotamia, modern Iraq in 1915. It was a Territorial unit, with many men from the Isle of Wight. Around half of the battery and three other batteries from the Regular Xth Field Brigade which served alongside them, would die during the war. This November is the centenary of the fateful events which lead to these units being doomed to suffer some of the highest proportional losses of any Gunner units losses in the Great War.
The 1915 campaign in Mesopotamia is over-shadowed by the Gallipoli expedition. After the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire joined the war on the side of Central Powers the British send a small expeditionary force “Indian force D” based on the 6th (Poona) Indian Infantry Division to secure the oil refinery at Abadan, important for fuel oil for the Royal Navy. In addition to the 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer battery, the artillery included the Xth Brigade Royal Field Artillery, (63,76 and 83 batteries) The 1st Indian Mountain Brigade, 23rd and 30th Batteries), a Territorial Army unit and S Battery RHA
The Mesopotamian campaign started well and by April 1915 had secured its limited objectives. After landing at Fao on the 6th November 1914, the expeditionary force defeated the Ottoman defenders in battles for Basra and Qurna in 1914. At the battle of Shaiba 12-14 April 1915, the British defeated an Ottoman attempt to evict them, the last time that they would threaten Basra. But what next?
The strategists in London wanted to scale the operation back, in favour of the Western Front and other theatres. Those in India saw an opportunity to exploit success and capture Bagdad given the light, defeated opposition. This was to be achieved with the resources in theatre.
So on a logistic shoestring, General Townsend with a force of around 11,000 men of the 6th Poona Division was ordered to advance up the River Tigris, supported by river gunboats as far as Kut-al- Amara and , if possible Bagdad. On 29 September the British defeated the Ottomans south west of Kut after an night march and dawn attack.
By 21 November the 6th Division was approaching the next line of Ottoman defences on a six mile front at Ctesiphon 26 Km South East of Bagdad. The Turkish commander had entrenched his troops across the valley. The British plan was to form four infantry columns and attach the Turk positions at dawn on the 22nd while a flying column manoeuvred around the right, Eastern flank. Much of the fire-power to support the attack was to be from gun boats on the River Tigris. The Turks concentrated their artillery fire on the gun boats and by the end of the 22nd each side had suffered close to 50% casualties in a very bloody battle. Both commanders ordered their men to withdraw. Townsend had only a few thousand unwounded men, not enough to capture and hold Bagdad, and thousands of wounded. He fell back to Kut. The suffering of the wounded was pitiful. Townsend entrenched his men at Kut and waited for relief. The Turks brought up reinforcements, defeated relief efforts and in April 1916 Townsend and his Army surrendered. Prisoners of War were not well treated by the Turks and around half of the British and Indian soldiers who fell into their hands died in Mesopotamia or on a forced march to Anatolia or in the harsh conditions there.
Among them were the men of the 1/.5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery and the three batteries of the Xth Brigade RFA (63,76 and 82). The Commonwealth War Graves records lists 442 dead from these units, which had an establishment of around 800.
Two batteries of the current day 106 Regiment are based in Hampshire are continue the traditions of Hampshire volunteer artillerymen, even though 457 and 295 batteries draw on the traditions of the Hampshire Yeomanry. The regular batteries were reformed, but none survived the post WW2 reorganisations.
One other battery which took part as Force D is still in existence. The 23rd Peshawar Mountain battery (Frontier Force) was transferred to the army of Pakistan in 1947. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/23rd_Peshawar_Mountain_Battery_(Frontier_Force)
Camp of 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery at Makina Masus near Basra, 1915.
Photograph, World War One, Mesopotamia (1914-1918), 1915.
1/5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery landed at Basra on 23 March 1915 and joined 6th Indian Division which had arrived in November 1914.
It fought in the Battle of Shaiba (April 1915) and took part in the advance towards Baghdad, including the Battle of Es Sinn, capture of Kut (September 1915) and Battle of Ctesiphon (November 1915). The battery was captured by the Turks following the British surrender at Kut in April 1916.
Blackadder goes Forth was the final series of the Blackadder BBC TV comedy programme. “The series placed the recurring characters of Blackadder, Baldrick and George in a trench in Flanders during World War I, and followed their various doomed attempts to escape from the trenches to avoid certain death under the misguided command of General Melchett.” The six programmes in this series were a satirical comedy set in the trenches of the Western Front. The characters were grotesque and funny, but the series ended with the poignant death of most of them in a hail of bullets in 1917, in slow motion with a final scene cutting into a shot of a field of poppies.
This was the “Oh What Lovely War” version of the First World War, with a heavy handed moral slant, but it is also glorious comic satire. And being funny is one of the core values of the British Army. Not the official Core Values of the British Army , which are Courage, Discipline, Respect for others, Integrity, Loyalty and Selfless Commitment. All worthy ideals but they do not round out the character of the British Army. There are at least three other unofficial core values –“ Sense of Humour”; “BS Baffles Brains” and above all “Don’t get Caught” all come to mind.
There is a grain of truth in each episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. Starting with the existence of a Captain Blackadder in the Royal Field Artillery, as reported by the Radio Times in 2014. The Imperial War Museum (IWM) has a copy of his diary. This is listed as providing details of his service in 151 Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery. However, Peter Hart and Nigel Steel, both senior staff members of the IWM, record his unit as the 152 Battery – so I am not sure which is right. Both of these batteries were raised in Scotland, equipped with four 8″ Howitzers and deployed to France in August 1916. Blackadder took part in the major battles from the 1916 battle of the Somme to the end of the war and his observations are a primary source for these battles. During this time he rose from lieutenant to major and decorated for gallantry for organising the withdrawal of his guns , ammunition and stores under heavy fire.
The real Blackadder, with his accounting background looks a little more like Tim McInnerny’s Captain Darling.
However, the extracts from his diary from summer 1917 in the 3rd battle of Ypres make it clear that he was far from a pen pusher with a paper-clip fetish.
The road to the new position is a mere apology for a road and as we are taking down the first gun at night the road surface collapses and the gun sinks to its cradle. It has lain there for three days now and we have not been able to shift it — two caterpillars failed to move it. Now we have had heavy rain so it is very doubtful if we will get the guns to their new place at all. The result of three nights’ work is to get one gun into a hole and another off to a workshop. Tonight I am to get the gun out of the ditch and another to the workshop if possible. The Hun shelled the battery all afternoon, broke another limber and badly damaged the road again. About midnight he again shelled and set off more ammunition but all the men got clear. I got the gun out of the ditch with two engines and into the new position. It was difficult to get the gun away to the workshop owing to the road being cut up but we succeeded without mishap about 3 a.m.”
29 July (1917) At night, about 11 p.m., the old Hun began to strafe us and all around. The guns got it first of all so I ordered all to clear out. Then he worked up towards the fighting post, a concrete erection left by the Hun. Several of the gunners had come up here for shelter some very badly shaken. The shells were falling very near now, the concussion putting out the lights several times, then, all of a sudden, a tremendous crash and all darkness and smoke almost suffocating us — a direct hit on the post! We lit the candles again, but could hardly see for the smoke.
After ascertaining all were untouched I tried to get out, the shelling having moved to the guns again, but found the entrance blocked with debris. All wires had been broken too so we were out of touch with the guns and headquarters. We soon worked a passage out and set to work to get into communication. Meantime some of the ammunition on No. 3 gun had been set on fire and the limber and stores were burning merrily: I got this gunner to come with me to put the fire out, this we did without mishap and returned to the concrete post. About 2 a.m. the shelling stopped and at dawn we reckoned up the damage done. Casualties, nil, material destroyed, very little. The fighting post was only slightly damaged and will stand many more hits thanks to the excellent work of` the Hun.”
Once again, it is ‘Der Tag’ and again we are nibbling at the Bosche line. Our Battery is busy closing up the Hun guns and during the day in addition to carrying out our programme during the attack, we received many calls from aeroplanes who saw Hun guns active. The Hun strafed the Battery area just before zero hour and broke all the communications to the guns, but we got these put right just in time. He did little damage though he hit No. 2 gun pit twice. During the day too, he endeavoured to neutralise the Batteries about our area with shrapnel and high velocity guns, but we got off with no damage.
Lieutenant Robert Blackadder 152nd (sic) Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery. (Steele and Hart Passchendaele: The Sacrificial Ground)
1. Steele and Hart Passchendaele: The Sacrificial Ground – on e of the best histories of this battle, drawing heavily on personal accounts and one of the few that tells the story from the Gunner’s perspective.
2. https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/366252 The entry credited to Paul Evans look like the work of Firepower’s archivist
3.http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=101508 The pictures of 152 Seige battery, triggered by someone’s family research.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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 German 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.
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.
In wartime it would have been an alternative crossing had the Soviets captured or destroyed other crossings.
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
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.
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,
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.
His 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.
53 Louisburg Battery’s Exercise Louisburg Pegasus took place in Crete with aims that encompassed developing an ethos and a pride in the air assault role, understanding information, surveillance and target acquisition.
One of the most impressive aspects of this exercise was the way that the unit had organised planned syndicate discussions on doctrinal concepts. The exercises used the German invasion and occupation of Crete in the Second World War as a vehicle for introducing all ranks to doctrinal concepts.
“Stand 5” was the site where the British and Cretan Resistance abducted general Kreipe, the German Commander of the Island. His vehicle was stopped at gun point and he was driven away in his own car. When he was in command he was known for responding to challenges by sentries with “Don’t know who you know who I am?” A policy he might have regretted when held at gun point in the back of his staff car while Patrick Leigh Fermor wore his cap.
These are the questions considered by the syndicates:-.
Syndicate A: Sometimes, effect can be achieved by minimal tactical engagement (eg through influence or strategic SF ops). Discuss the similarities and differences between the approach here and the way in which it would be conducted now (mentioning LOAC if needs be).
Syndicate B: Security and surveillance in a cluttered and contested battle-space: how might events such as this be avoided?
Syndicate C: The German COIN problem: the similarities and
differences between their approach and our own experience (post Boer War, Malaya, Afghan…).
Syndicate D: Planning and executing an abduction…how would you go about executing this operation?
The intellectual discussion didn’t take place at the crossroads, but over an ice-cream and a lemonade in nearby Archanes.
25 April was the anniversary of the landings on the Gallipoli peninsular. It has become synonymous with the Australian and New Zealand forces, the ANZACs. This was the day when the forces of these dominions first played a significant role in military operations. Gallipoli; in particular ANZAC Cove has become a place of pilgrimage for antipodeans commemorating the endeavours and sacrifices of the antipodean dominions.
But the ANZAC corps which fought in Gallipoli was not just made up of Aussies and Kiwis. British and Indian gunners also served in it. The Corps comprised the 1st Australian Division and the Australian and New Zealand Division. Neither included as much artillery as a British infantry Division. The 1st Australian Division included three artillery brigades, each of three four gun batteries equipped with 18 Pdr field guns, a total of 36 x 18 Pdr guns. The Australian and New Zealand Division’s artillery support was the 1st New Zealand Artillery Brigade with twelve 18 Pdr guns and a howitzer battery of four 4.5” Howitzers. By comparison a British infantry division was supported by fifty four 18 Pdr guns, eighteen 4.52 Howitzers and four 60 Pdr guns. The ANZAC Corps had less than half of the artillery that supported comparable British formations.
It was particularly short of howitzers capable of lobbing high explosive shells over hills and into trenches. Almost all of its guns were 18 Pdr guns with a flat trajectory and very difficult to deploy in the hills inland from Anzac Cove. Often the way to enable the guns to engage was to run them forwards with the infantry in the direct role. These guns were supplied solely with shrapnel shells which was almost useless against troops in trenches. Although the Allies could call on the support of the naval guns of the fleet, these too had a flat trajectory and could not be easily brought to bear onto Turkish positions among the hills.
At least three other Imperial gunner units were brought in to support the ANZAC Corps to redress this deficiency. Even so, the expeditionary force as a whole was never supplied with the level of artillery support, either in the number of guns or ammunition that was found necessary to support a successful attack.
The 7th Mountain artillery brigades of the Indian Army was attached to the ANZAC Corps.The mountain artillery were the only artillery part of the Indian army manned by Indian rather than European gunners. Ever since the Indian Mutiny Indians were not entrusted with artillery, with the exception of the relatively small mountain artillery, a kind of elite which supported operations on the North West frontier, between British India and Afghanistan.
The two batteries which formed the brigade: 1st (Kohat) Mountain Battery and 6th(Jacobs) Battery are still in existence in the Pakistani Army. These were equipped with the BL 10-pounder Mountain Gun. This was a 2.75 inches (69.8 mm) calibre gun, which lacked a recuperator or recoil system. It could be dismantled into 4 loads of approximately 200 pounds (90.7 kg) for transport, typically by mule. It could fire a shrapnel round or common shell. This was a shell filled with a low explosive such as gun powder. As a whole this was a weapon better suited to colonial warfare than a C20th battlefield. It was deployed in sections of two guns, as can be seen in the sketch map.
Major Ferguson, (known to the Australians as “Percussion Sahib”) commanded the 21st Mountain Battery. He met Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan, commander of the 3rd Infantry Brigade on the morning of the 26th April . ‘I found him at last, plumb in the middle of the firing line and asked where he wanted artillery support…. He waved his arm through a semi circle and said everywhere around there. I selected a gun position pretty high up and ordered up the battery. After a long interval a very heated subaltern arrived with a couple of gunners carrying wheels and said that all the loads would have to be carried up as the ground was very steep and sodden with rain, and the mules weak, and that we could not possibly have four guns in action in under an hour… We got into action at last and began shelling movement on the chessboard, while two guns began shelling us… The Australians were very polite about our assistance that day, as always.” Within three weeks the 7th Mountain Brigade unit needed 75 replacement soldiers.
The 1/4 Lowland Brigade RFA, (4th City of Glasgow) equipped with 5“ Howitzers was transferred from Cape Helles to support the ANZAC Corps at the end of July 1915. This was a territorial unit whose heritage and traditions are maintained by 207 (City of Glasgow) battery RA, who hold what is believed to be the breech of the gun which fired the last rounds on the Gallipoli campaign.
A lone 6” howitzer, under the the command of Regimental Sergeant Major David Hepburn with a Royal Marine Artillery detachment was deployed ashore in mid May and attached to the New Zealand Artillery Brigade. His gun had been deployed on the battleship HMS Prince George, which was damaged below the waterline by a shell on 3rd May. “We had to fire over two successive ridges each 400 feet high at a target only 1,300 yards away. We could not see the target. We had the sea at our backs, and that was the only direction in which we did not fire. On one occasion we fired in one direction, then turned the gun round completely and fired in the other direction. One afternoon we received a message “engage enemy heavy gun!” Out came the map and from the map we laid our gun. It pointed bang over our won headquarters! It is ticklish work when the shells only just slither over the crests and when the target is only 30-100 yards from our own trenches. I never did get over the idea of firing so close to our own men.(2)
Several of the artillery commanders in the ANZAC units were Royal Artillery Officers. Brigadier Charles Cunliffe Owen CBE was Brigadier General RA of the ANZAC Corps. A South African War veteran he had commanded 26 Brigade RFA in 1914 in the Retreat from Mons and the battles of the Marne and the Aisne and the 2nd Infantry Brigade in Ypres.
The CRA of the Australian and Zealand Division was Lieutenant Colonel G N Johnston RA. He was born in Canada but schooled in Scotland and commissioned through Woolwich. Johnson served
throughout the war as CRA of the New Zealand Division receiving the CMG and DSO and mentioned in dispatches eight times.
The CRA of the 1st Australian Division was Brigadier Talbot Hobbs, an Australian architect and militiaman who ended the war succeeding Monash as the GOC of the Australian Corps. His senior staff officer, Brigade Major Royal Artillery (BMRA) was Major Stuart Anderson, a British Regular Officer. Educated at Westminster and Clare College Cambridge. Major Anderson was appointed as the Instructor in Gunnery for the Australian Commonwealth forces artillery in 1912, and in 1917 he became CRA of 1st Australian Division.(3)
Gunner Tours is happy to provide subject matter expertise for any group seeking to understand the Gunner side of the Gallipoli Campaign.
1. AWM War diary HQ ANZAC CORPS GS May 1915
2. IWM Docs manuscript quoted in Hart Gallipoli
2. Venn, J, Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Volume 2
One of the first Allied soldiers to land, and be killed on Omaha beach was a Royal Artillery Officer, spy and pirate, whose story is closely linked to the James Biond story.
Omaha Beach is one of the most visited battlefields in Europe if not the world. Tens of thousands of people visit the coast between Vierville and St Laurent usually in conjunction with a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Some may notice the plaque on the sea wall on Dog Red beach west of the demarcation memorial at les Molins. This commemorates Operation Aquatint a commando raid which landed on the beach on 12-13 September 1942.
This raid was led by a remarkable Gunner officer who deserves to be much better known, especially by the Gunners themselves. Henry Gustavus March-Phillips(1) was a Royal Artillery Officer Reservist who served in the BEF in the 1940 battles for France and Belgium, with sufficient distinction to be awarded the MBE. Frustrated by the experience, disliking the restrictions of conventional military life and determined to make a personal contribution to winning the war, he joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and founded what seems to have been his own force of commandos, the Small Scale Raiding Force, also known as No 62 Commando.
This was an organisation which owed little to the usual principles behind British army organisations. About half of the 55 man unit were British Officers, with the other ranks mainly volunteers from occupied countries, and a handful of British NCOs.
According to Marcus Binney, whose father served in SOE and whose mother knew him before the War, “March-Phillips had the guts and the daring-do to carry off great coups, as well as an engaging ability to admit his own fears to others. But while courage was his greatest attribute it was also to be his undoing, for at times it veered into foolhardiness. On occasion, impetuosity clouded his judgements and prevented him from weighing risks as a commander should. His success was due above all to his ability to motivate his men, and to forge a team in which rank played little part. All worked together with total commitment, pitching their physical strength, stamina, quick wits and resourcefulness into a series of pioneer commando raids intended to show in the desperate days after Dunkirk, that Britain was still on the attack.…’ In operations that depended on careful preparation and rehearsal, intense fitness, superb morale and swift execution , March-Phillips was a brilliant leader, able to delegate tasks to others and giving all the sense of playing a vital role. Some found him exasperating, and could never have served with him, but those who did gave him their complete loyalty and trust.
March-Phillips was an archetypal English Hero, a good looking all rounder, keen on sport, a countryman but literary minded and above all , incredibly brave. He was also described by one of his NCOs as “impatient with anybody who was slow or dithery, and valued the importance of getting on with something quickly, doing whatever you did well, and a kind of built -in dislike of any sort of slackness … And a great scorn of anyone who was carrying an ounce too much weight’.
In January 1942 he met, and then married the actress Marjorie Stewart, who was working in SOE as the lift operator in Baker Street, but rose to serve in a “Miss Moneypenny” role as secretary to Patrick Howarth an SOE Controller. More about her career More about her acting career on the IMDB Database
In early 1942 the SSRF carried out Operation Postmaster,, a raid to sink and seize German and Italian ships in the Neutral Spanish port of Fernando Po. The operation was a great success and March-Phillips and his men towed the Italian liner Duchess d’Aosta to Lagos in an exploit that could have appeared in a James Bond story. It has been argued that the story WAS the inspiration for some of the Bond stories, as Ian Fleming was the Press officer for the operation. Afterwards March-Phillips was awarded the DSO for the operation which also resulted in prize money from the Duchess d’Aosta. More about Operation Postmaster here.
During the Summer of 1942 the SSRF started raiding the French coast using a modified MTB, named “The Little Pisser” on account of its turn of speed. Operation Barricade was a raid to the radar site at Pointe de Saire south of Barfleur, which inflicted nine casualties on a German patrol. Operation Dryad was the abduction of the seven man garrison of the Casquets Light house on the night 1-2 September.
Operation Aquatint was intended to seize a German guard from the small garrison Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes, an isolated coastal town on the cliffs between what would be known as Omaha beach and Port-en-Bessin. The raid was scheduled for the night of 11-12th September. But as one of the survivors recalled ‘We couldn’t find this ruddy kink in the cliff, so we went back the next night and still couldn’t find it. Then Gus said “What do you think chaps, shall we have a bash?”’ Sadly they had made a navigation error and were 6 km West of where they had planned. They had navigated to Cap Barfleur on the Eastern extremity of the Cotentin peninsular and plotted a course from there, but were 3.5 degrees off course. Instead of landing near the Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes, they had landed near the village of St Laurent, in what had already been identified as a likely invasion beach. Instead of stalking a guard, they were discovered by a patrol with a dog. They attempted to seize one of the patrol, but the numerous defenders from Infantry Regiment 726 garrison, under the command of Sergeant Major Pieh (2) opened fire. No one got back to the MTB. March-Phillips and two others were killed on the night of the raid. The remainder were captured evading through France. Of these one was executed by the Germans and two others, disappeared without trace in German camps. More on Operation Aquatint here
March-Phillips, reported missing, was recommended for a bar to the DSO for his leadership, approved by Lord Mountbatten. After his death had been confirmed he was awarded a mention in dispatches, in place of the DSO which was not awarded posthumously.
Operation Aquatint was a heavy blow for SSRF and in 1943 it was disbanded and the survivors became the nucleus of the 2nd Regiment SAS. One of the SSRF members, Anders Larsen would be the recipient of the sole VC awarded to the SAS during the War.
March-Phillips was also an author and a poet. His novels include an intriguing spy novel “Ace High” featuring John Sprake as its hero. It is possible that , had he survived, Gus March-Phillips might have beaten Ian Fleming to publishing spy novels based on SOE. Perhaps the name John Sprake would be as well known as James Bond. More here about James Bond and John Sprake
Major Henry Gustavus March-Phillips DSO MBE, Mentioned in Dispatches was buried in the churchyard of the village of St Laurent-sur-Mer alongside Sergeant Williams of the Queens Regiment and Private Leonard of the Pioneer Corps, whose real name was Richard Lehniger, a Jewish communist, WW1 veteran from the Sudetenland.
March Phillips’ grave is covered with a stone slab inscribed with what seems to be a poem of his own composition. “If I must die” which you mcan see in the photograph.
Gus March-Phillips deserves to be remembered by the Royal Artillery. Much of the contribution of the Royal artillery in the Second World War is a story of collective success as an integral part of the British war machine, epitomised by the motto “Ubique”. He was a hero, an inspirational leader and a larger than life character. Not without flaws, but a man whose actions could easily be case studies in leadership. His legacy includes the antecedents of the modern SAS. His style lives on in the world Ian Fleming created.
Gunner Tours is the only battlefield tour business to include the story of Gus March Phillips, and we tell his story and that of other Gunners in our tours to the battlefields of Normandy. Operation Aquatint wasn’t the most important historic event to take place on Omaha beach, but its story should be known to Gunners.