Tag Archives: Artillery

Gunner Tours 2016 Programme

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

Somme_centenaryThe 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.

Picture 1 shrapnel_for_one Divisonal attack
This wall is built from 7,000 shrapnel shell cases fired by 18-pounder field guns. This is how many shells were fired in support of a single division in an attack in August 1916.

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.

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This mine explosion, captured on film was followed up by an infantry attack supported by B Battery RHA, who lost two men from the FOO party whose job it was to lay line across no mans land on 1st July 1916.

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,.

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A section of a map showing the gun positions. The 15“ BL Guns are shown as green squares.

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.

Picture 4 BL15InchHowitzerAndShell
Around half of the shells from these 15 “ guns did not go off, but even dud one ton projectile would collapse a German dugout.

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
dday_and landing grounds

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
Details Here

BEF Western Front 10-14 November 2016 £469

BEF Western frontFive 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
Details here

Bragg’s Buttocks – the only Gunner Nobel Laureate

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 .

Captain William Lawrence Bragg RHA
Captain William Lawrence Bragg RHA

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.

http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2015/03/10/4188332.htmhttp://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en/contributions/18653
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_ranging

www.gunnertours.com

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Ctesiphon – the Turning Point in the 1915 Mesopotamia Expedition

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Camp of 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery at Makina Masus near Basra, 1915 (NAM. 1987-01-70-42)

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.

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Turkish Prisoners

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

Meso-WW1-2The 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?

Kut1915The 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.

Mespot Album - 4 - Mountain GunsBy 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 Meso-WW1-3Kut. 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.

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Captain Blackadder – A Gallant Scottish Gunner Officer

51CVAPG2VCLBlackadder 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.

Major R J Blackadder MC
Major R J Blackadder MC

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.

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This photograph advertised on e bay was captioned as showing soldiers from 152 Siege Battery RGA

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.

Canadian_Siege_Gun_Jan_1918._MIKAN_No._3395340
8″ Howitzer of the type used by 151 and 152nd Siege Batteries

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.”


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8″ Howitzer towed by a Holts Tractor IWM Q 4322 These are the “Caterpillars” mentioned by Blackadder
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A location for 152 Siege Battery on the road from Bosinge to Langemark – whether Blackadder was with this battery is less certain

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.

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Conditions in the field in Flanders. This 18 Pdr is much smaller than the 8″ Howitzers in Blackaddder’s battery.

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.”

NLS_Haig_-_Repairing_one_of_our_guns_for_use_in_the_continued_advance
A gun under repair.

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)

If you want to visit the area where the real Captain Blackadder fought, or hear the  gunner side of the First World War, contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com  info@ Gunnertours.com

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Sources :

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.

 

 

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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Airborne Gunners In Crete

Crete_TOP_7
Following in the footsteps of thousands of allied troops down the 8 km evacuation route of the Imbros Gorge to Hora Sfakia.

8 km

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.

STAND 1 (MALEME)   Questions: Syndicate A: Discuss the attacker's problem in an air assault, using the 6 tactical functions. Syndicate B: Discuss the defender's problem in an air assault, using the 6 tactical functions. Syndicate C: Maleme was in many respects a "soldiers' battle".  Nonetheless, the three most fundamental components of fighting power (physical/conceptual/moral) played a part even at the lowest level; discuss. Syndicate D: What are the similarities/differences between the actual action and how we would tackle it today?
Stand 5 – The Abduction Of General Kreipe.
Airborne Ethos.  The graves of German Fallschirmjaeger are on the vital ground overlooking Maleme Airfield.
Airborne Ethos. The graves of German Fallschirmjaeger are on the vital ground overlooking Maleme Airfield.

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).

Crete_TOP_6
One of the Bofors guns abandoned in 1941

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

Suda Bay Commonwealth War Cemetery
Suda Bay Commonwealth War Cemetery

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.

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“British ANZACs” – Gallipoli Gunners

Australian gunners manhandle 18 Pdr Guns inland from ANZAC Cove  (Australian War Memorial G00918)
Australian gunners manhandle 18 Pdr Guns inland from ANZAC Cove

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.

8h May 1915_LR
ANZAC Corps Artillery Positions 8th May 1915. The broken hilly ground has forced the guns to be deployed forward in ones and twos. The guns marked “M” are mountain guns. (HQ ANZAC CORPS GS WD May 1915)

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.

BL_6_inch_30_cwt_howitzer_at_Gallipoli_in_colourIt 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.

Indian_10_pounder_mountain_gun_and_crew_Gallipoli_AWM_C02073
Gunners from 24 Mountain Battery and their 10 Pdr BL Mountain Gun

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.

11th May 1915_LR
Sketch map showing artillery positions on 11th May 1915. (ANZAC Corps GS WD May 1915)

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.

5" Bkl Howitzers firing Gallipoli 1915
5″ Bkl Howitzers firing Gallipoli 1915

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.

6 Pdr Howitzer landed at ANZAC Ciove
6 Pdr Howitzer landed at ANZAC Ciove

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)

Brigadier C Cunliffe Owen CBR DSO (National Portrait Gallery)
Brigadier C Cunliffe Owen CBR DSO (National Portrait Gallery)

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

Brigadier G N Johnston DSO
Brigadier G N Johnston DSO

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.

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REFERENCES

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

GUNNERS ON THE D-DAY BEACHES – ANNOTATED GUIDE MAP FOR SALE

Here is an opportunity to obtain a unique guide prepared for the British Army which is a guide to the Royal Artillery story of the actions on the D Day Beaches and landing grounds.

Although the Royal Artillery was the largest single element of the 1944 British Liberation Army. there is little to inform the casual visitor to the D Day Beaches or the role of the Gunners or their achievements.  There four memorials to the Gunners to the 86 Fd Reg 147 and the artillery of the 3rd and 50th Divisions.  The only  explanation of field artillery are on the information board surrounding the Sexton SP Gun commemorating the 86th (Hertfordshire Yeomanry) Field  Regiment   There are neither memorials nor any explanation for the Anti tank or AA artillery.  There are artillery pieces scattered around Normandy, but usually out of context.   other branches of the Artillery AA  with no explanation.   There are only two places that mention the exploits of individual Gunners  or their  sacrifice.

A handout has been prepared for  Royal Artillery soldiers attending the 70th anniversary of the D Day Landings to  explain the Gunner story associated with the major D Day sites.  The incidents have been selected to illustrate the different roles of the Gunners and draw attention to those men whose action made a difference.

handout overall The A3 double sided annotated map includes:-

  • A copy of a 1944 map of the British beaches and the Orne bridgehead with the 1944 grid to help to interpret the locations in war diaries.
  • Description of the Gunners role at different places on the most visited  D Day locations.
  • Mention of the Gunners who took part in the actions at places from Merville Battery to Omaha Beach.
  • Summary information about the role, organisation and equipment of the artillery of 21 Army Group.
  • Information about Gunner war dead.

extract_2If you would like to have your own copy of the map, a high resolution electronic copy can be yours for £6.00, for your own non commercial use.  If you want a hard copy printed for you it will cost an additional £3.50 plus postage and packing.  Send an email to the author frank.baldwin@gunnertours.com

For every copy sold Gunner Tours will donate £1 to the Royal Artillery Charitable Fund. If you would like to make your own donation you can do so though their Virgin Giving page. 

If you would like a print of David Rowlands’ splendid painting of 9 (Irish) Battery firing the Run in Shoot on Sword Beach order it from his website 

The Forgotten Gunners at the Turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic.

SS Selvistan, sunk on 5 May 1943 while part of  ONS 5 by U 266.  Gne R Clarke of 3 Maritime Regiment was killed in the attack
SS Selvistan, sunk on 5 May 1943 while part of ONS 5 by U 266. Gne R Clarke of 3 Maritime Regiment was killed in the attack

“Just before the first explosion I was on the Bridge; the SELVISTAN was rather close to the next ship abeam, which was an American Tanker, when suddenly I saw something moving through the water, which at first I thought was a porpoise, as it appeared to be spouting water. This object passed very close across the American Tanker’s bow, and when it was half way between the SILVEISTAN and the American ship, it jumped out of the waterm and then continued on its course; I immediately realised that it was a torpedo, si I rang “Full speed ahead”, and put the helm hard to port, but unfortunately the ship did not have enough speed to swing clear. This torpedo struck the ship in No. 5 hold,”  Extract from the Master’s Report on the loss of SS Selvistan5 May 1943

On the 5th May 1943  Slow Outbound Convoy Convoy ONS 5, outbound from Liverpool to Halifax lost eleven merchant ships to U Boat attack in a force 6 seas in the mid Atlantic.  The Battle of the Atlantic was the most important naval campaign waged by Britain in WW2 and the only matter which Winston Churchill said kept him awake at night

By the time the week long voyage n the course of a week, ONS 5 had been the subject of attacks by a force of over 40 U-boats. With the loss of 13 ships totalling 63,000 tons, the escorts had inflicted the loss of 6 U-boats, and serious damage on 7 more.

Many of these ships included detachments of Royal Artillery Gunners, who manned the armament of Defensively equipped merchant ship  (DEMS) alongside RN Gunners.  The ships sunk in ONS-5 typically had  two or three RA Gunners in the gun detachments of around a dozen.

This battle demonstrated that the convoy escorts had mastered the art of convoy protection; the weapons and expertise at their disposal meant that henceforth they would be able not only to protect their charges and repel attack, but also to inflict significant losses on the attacker.

Possibly the last  minutes of  U266 under attack by aa Handley Page Halifax GR Mk II of No.58 Squadron in the Bay of Biscay, 15 May 1943.  U266 was sunk by this attack with no survivors from its crew of 47.
Possibly the last minutes of U266 under attack by aa Handley Page Halifax GR Mk II of No.58 Squadron in the Bay of Biscay, 15 May 1943. U266 was sunk by this attack with no survivors from its crew of 47.

ONS 5 marked the turning point in the battle of the Atlantic. Following this action, the Allies inflicted a series of defeats and heavy losses on the U-boat Arm, a period known as Black May. This culminated in Dönitz withdrawing his forces from the North Atlantic arena.

The official historian, Stephen Roskill commented: “This seven day battle, fought against thirty U-boats, is marked only by latitude and longitude, and has no name by which it will be remembered; but it was, in its own way, as decisive as Quiberon Bay or the Nile”(1)

More on the battle here 

The ships lost on ONS 5 28 April – 5th May are shown in the following table from the U Boat Net. 

Date U-boat Commander Name of ship Tons Nat.
29 Apr 1943 U-258 Wilhelm von Mässenhausen McKeesport 6,198 am
4 May 1943 U-125 Ulrich Folkers Lorient 4,737 br
5 May 1943 U-707 Günter Gretschel   North Britain 4,635 br
5 May 1943 U-628 Heinrich Hasenschar Harbury 5,081 br
5 May 1943 U-264 Hartwig Looks   West Maximus 5,561 am
5 May 1943 U-264 Hartwig Looks Harperley 4,586 br
5 May 1943 U-358 Rolf Manke Bristol City 2,864 br
5 May 1943 U-358 Rolf Manke Wentworth 5,212 br
5 May 1943 U-638 Oskar Staudinger Dolius 5,507 br
5 May 1943 U-584 Joachim Deecke West Madaket 5,565 am
5 May 1943 U-266 Ralf von Jessen Bonde 1,570 nw
5 May 1943 U-266 Ralf von Jessen Gharinda 5,306 br
5 May 1943 U-266 Ralf von Jessen Selvistan 5,136 br
61,958
13 ships sunk (61,958 tons).

The Maritime Regiments.were the largest Regiments in the Royal Artillery in the Second World War. Their actions are also some of the most under appreciated.  Serving in small groups which Bombardier as the most senior  rank, out of sight, and largely of mind  of the rest of the British Army.  Their actions too numerous and disparate to attach particular attention.  It is worth sparing a moment to consider the RA participation in ONS-5.   Thirty one of the forty two merchant ships  in the Convoy were British.  With two or three Gunners on each ship, there would have been around 75 members of the Royal Regiment at this battle, a big troop or small Battery by modern standards.   Not many fewer than in some of the smaller  RA Battle Honours title engagements.

The Gunners are listed in the following table with the ship annotated where known.

Gnr DOUGHERTY 2 Maritime Regt. PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEM. SS North Britain
Gnr HARMER 2 Maritime Regt. PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEM.
Gnr CLARKE 3 Maritime Regt. CHATHAM NAVAL MEM. SS Selvistan
Gnr WILSON 3 Maritime Regt. CHATHAM NAVAL MEM.
LBdr KNIGHT 5 Maritime Regt. CHATHAM NAVAL MEM. SS Lorient
Gnr RIORDAN 5 Maritime Regt. CHATHAM NAVAL MEM. SS Lorient
Bdr MITCHELL 6 Maritime Regt. PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEM SS Bristol City
LBdr FORD 6 Maritime Regt. PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEM SS Harbury
Gnr BRUNNER 6 Maritime Regt. PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEM

The accounts from the interviews with the Masters of the sunk ships gives some insight into the conditions under which these men served, and died.  These were the records from the ships sailing in convoy , many of whose survivors were rescued.   The men on the Lorient were on a vessel straggling from the convoy and any that managed to take to a life boat  were subsequently lost.

There is no mention of the DEMS Gunners in The Cruel Sea, the book and film which is a portrait of the U Boat war.

Here is a link to the a radio adaptation of the book and to the trailer of the film

Although the battle has no name or location other than a track over points of latitude  and longitude, there are places to see the U Boat war in Britain.

It is possible to see a U Boat in Birkenhead on Merseyside. This is a type XI larger than the type VII Uboats used by the German wolf packs against ONS 5.

U boat conningtower
U 534 preserved in Birkinhead

The Western Approaches control room in Liverpool is where the Atlantic war was fought.

The  Commonwealth War Grave Commission lists 736 fatalities on 4-5 May 1943, a time when there were operations on  land in Burma and Tunisia  and in the air over Germany. Of these 114 were lost at sea, most oif them in the battle for ONS-5

Unknownsailor
Tower Hill Merchant Marine Memorial

The merchant marine sailors who lost their lives on ONS 5  are recorded on the Tower Hill memorial to the missing.    The Royal Artillery and Royal Navy Gunners are listed on the Chatham , Portsmouth and Plymouth Memorials.

If you would like to visit any of the places associated with this battle contact Gunner Tours

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3 MAY 1944 TARGET #78 WIZERNES NO BALL

C10/V-2The war in the West was a race between the Allies and the Germans. Could the Allies mount D Day before the Germans had perfected a new generation of weapons which would terrorise Britain into submission. The German revenge weapons included the Fi 176 cruise missile, (the V1 flying bom), the A4 surface to surface ballistic missile (the V2) and a very long range gun, the V3.

Mimoyecques-Eperlecques-Wizernes_map
Map showing the location of Wizernes and two other V Weapon sites in the Pas de Calais

Ever since the allies became aware of the existence of these weapons the Allied air forces had mounted a bombing campaign against the structures that the Germans were building to house these weapons. This campaign cost the allies 1,900 aircrew, a comparable number of fatalities to those lost on D Day.

Wizernes_site_octagon
1944 conjectre about the use of the Wizernes Site

On 3rd May 1944 the 8th USAAF Target was the the huge bunker at d’Helfaut-Wizernes, northern France. This vast structure was intended as a hardened launch centre for V2 and built with slave labour. This air raid was one of sixteen carried out by the allies air forces between march and the end of July 1944. 47 B24 Bombers of the 392nd Bombardment Group of the USAAF would drop 180 x 2000 lb bombs.

Briefing for crews was held between 0930-1000 hours. The mission was to be GH ship led with (22) aircraft carrying 2000# GP bombs. Despite fairly good visual bombing weather over the target with 3/lOths – 5/lOths cloud cover, bombing was poor with only a few hits in the target area of the (80) weapons released. While no enemy fighters were sighted, flak over the target was intense and accurate causing damage to (14) aircraft and wounding some crewmembers. No aircraft were lost and the mission recovered at base around 1740 hours after a 4 1/2 hour mission.http://www.b24.net/missions/MM050344.htm

B-24Bombs
B-24 Bomber being loaded with 2,000 lb bombs

The bombing by bombs of up to a ton in weight made no impact on the concrete dome, but wrecked the un-armoured facilites above ground, including the rail connections.

The bunker would be abandoned after a raid by 617 Sqn RAF :Lancasters and a on 17th July using six ton Tallboy bombs. Three of these exploded next to the tunnels, one burst just under the dome, and another burst in the mouth of one tunnel. The whole hillside collapsed, undermining the dome support, and covering up the two rocket vertical entry ways. The Germans abandoned the site in late July 1944.

Wizernes_low_level_6_July_1944
Photograph taken by a low flying RAF aircraft on 6th July 1944, before the raid by 617 Sqn RAF.

According the the French Records, the ultimate fate of the 1,100 Russian slave labourers who worked site is not known.

The Bunker complex is now a museum, easily accessible from Calais and a day trip from the SE of England. Although the Germans never used the site for its intended purpose, the sheer scale of the building , the conditions under which it was built and its sinister purpose make it a thought provoking place. It is part of the V weapon story and the defeat of the V weapon bombardment of London. The story of the aerial campaign waged by the RAF and USAAF against the V weapon sites deserves to be better known.

La Cupole Visitor Centre site

USAAF Official History – Chapter on Operation Crossbow

392 BG website

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