The Battle of Waterloo is probably the most famous battle of the Napoleonic wars. But if you want to understand why Napoleon was so powerful you need to visit somewhere else. Within a couple of hours of Vienna you can find Austerlitz and Wagram; two of Napoleon’s key battles.
Austerlitz is regarded my many as seen as his masterpiece and genius for War. Wagram was Napoleon’s last decisive victory. These battles, four and a half years and 90 years apart marked the high points of Napoleon’s military career.
Napoleon fought two campaigns in Austria as Emperor of France. The 1805 campaign led to the decisive battle of Austerlitz 2nd December 1805 near Brno. This was a remarkable battle in which Napoleon beat superior numbers of Austrian and Russian troops. It is the single battle which demonstrated his genius and the superiority of the Grande Armee over the outmoded continental armies. It was also the setting for some chapters in Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Four years later Napoleon again campaigned in the Danube valley. This time the Austrians were better prepared and prevented the French from crossing the river Danube. When Napoleon launched a river crossing, the Archduke Charles inflicted Napoleon’s first defeat at the battle of Aspern-Essling in May 1809 but prevailed over the Austrian Army at the battle of Wagram in July 1809. Wagram is a little overlooked. It was the second largest battle in the Napoleonic wars over a three hundred thousand combatants fought.
Each of these campaigns was the cumulation of a series of actions in the Danube Valley. In 1805 the Russians turned and defeated a French column at the battle of Durnstein and the action described by Tolstoy as Schoengraben. In 1809 there were battles at Ablesberg and Znaim as well as Bratislava.
There is a lot to see at these battlefields. Austellitz is well preserved and it is easy to see how the ground influenced the course of the battle. There is a lot to see at Wagram too. Despite being subsumed into the suburbs of Vienna there is a lot to see at Aspern and Esseling
Vienna is a good base for Lower Austria and the Danube valley, with Brno in the Czech Republic right next to Austerlitz. There are cheap flights to both destinations.
The Military history museum in Vienna is well worth visiting. The whole area has good food and drink.
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.
In July this year a group of soldiers from from the 2nd Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment conducted a battlefield study in Normandy following the actions of their antecedent Regiments. The purpose of the exercises was to undertake a Battlefield Study over four days in Normandy with the aim of enhancing the conceptual training of Officers WOs and NCOs of an infantry battalion with regard to the conduct of operations of a light role battalion in conventional war, operating in conjunction with other forces. Around 25 officers and NCOs took part, preparing pre tour briefings and syndicate exercises for work on each stand.
The Normandy battlefield offers a good basis for battlefield studies, drawing on the wide range of military operations undertaken by the British Army in different phases of war. Following the story of the County regiments which were merged to form the Royal Anglian Regiment was an opportunity to personalise the Normandy campaign. Each of the companies of the current battalion is associated with one of the antecedents; the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment, Royal Leicestershire Regiments Northamtonshire and Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regiments. Soldiers from each of these regiments took part in the Normandy campaign, which offered an opportunity to explore different infantry roles in a major war.
1st Battalion Royal Lincolnshire. Parent formation: 8th infantry Brigade of 3rd Infantry division, landed on D Day and took part in the 3rd Infantry divisions battles for Caen .
4th Battalion Royal Lincolnshire Regiment. 146 Brigade of 49 infantry Division. Landed on 13th June, D+7 and took part in the battles south of Bayeux The division was transferred to the 1st Corps on East of Caen and fought in the breakout from Normandy, the advance to the Seine and the capture of le Havre.
1st Battalion the Royal Leicestershire Regiment: 147 Brigade of 49 infantry division. This battalion was not originally scheduled to serve in Normandy. It replaced the 6th Battalion the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment disbanded at the end of June 1944. It fought in the 49th Divisions battles during the breakout from Normandy and afterwards.
2nd Battalion the Hertfordshire Regiment joined 9 Beach Group, and the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel J.R. Harper, was appointed overall commander. The Infantry battalions which served as beach Sub Area troops are not as well known as the assault infantry. Despite Harper’s hope that it would be redeployed as infantry upon the completion of this task, it was disbanded on 17 August and the soldiers dispatched in replacement drafts to other units.
No formed battalions of the Northamptonshire Regiment took part in the Normandy campaign, but individual officers and soldiers did.
STRONG POINT COD – SWORD BEACH
The 2nd Battalion the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment landed on Sword beach on D Day.
Five hours earlier Major R H Barber of the Northamptonshire Regiment had led D Company of the 2nd Battalion the East Yorkshire Regiment, one of the assault waves on Sword beach. A veteran of the North West Frontier, he was also a falconer and had published a bibliography of Falconry. He was killed by a mortar bomb which struck his Company head quarters and is buried in Hermanville War Cemetery.
VER SUR MER
On the morning of 6 June 1944 the 2nd Hertfordshires landed in the fourth wave on King Sector of Gold Beach, through which two brigades of the 50th Division would come ashore. This unit landed on D Day at Ver-sur-Mer and provided local security, command and control and labour for unloading ships on King Sector of Gold Beach. It was involved in fighting throughout D Day and it cleared bypassed
positions in the hamlet of Vaux that had been harassing movement on the beach, the assault being supported by one of the group’s Bofors guns. In the following days the battalion assisted the Royal Engineers in clearing land mines and moving supplies off the beach. A memorial to the regiment stands near the point at which they landed. Even though the British had built a prefabricated Mulberry harbour at Arromanches, about half of all stores landed on the Normandy beach head was landed on the open beaches
OP MARTLET TESSEL WOOD AND RAURAY
Operation Martlet was the first major action for the 4th Lincolns. This was a Divisional attack to clear the Rauray feature. This was an area of high ground which dominated the Western Flank of the attack planned by VIII Corps, called Operation Epsom to the East of The bloody battles between the 49th Division and some of the toughest German Army and SS Panzer formations led to the destruction of much German armour and the 49th Division squiring the nickname of “Butcher Bears.” It is possible to trace the story of these actions over the rural landscape, which although not marked by many memorials, remains identifiable. The Ruray ridge is a place to look at the British army on the defensive against an armoured opponent. Although the 1st Tyneside Scottish bore the brunt of the German attack, 4th Lincolns were engaged to their west.
Operation Charnwood 7-8th July 1944, the capture of Caen was 2nd Lincolns first major action. It was a three divisional attack supported by massive firepower, including the first use of heavy bombers for tactical bombing. The 2nd Lincolns were at the extreme left of the line. Their attack was made with minimal artillery support and over ground exposed to fire from across the Orne canal on their own left. The capture of Herouville was a tough fight which cost the 2nd Lincolns around 200 casualites. The CWGC records 50 members of 2nd Lincolns killed between 8-12 July, many of whom are buried in plot II of Ranville Commonwealth War Cemetery. The Herouville
area is not as heavily developed as other suburbs of Caen and it is still possible to follow the action on the ground and walk the assault route. There is an excellent account of this action written by a descendent of a veteran who took part in the action. http://www.angelfire.com/scary/richi/charnwood/2.pdf
Operation Goodwood 18-20 July 1944 was an attack by three armoured divisions supported by artillery and aircraft in a southerly direction East of Caen. Three infantry divisions carried out subsidiary operations in support of op Goodwood. The 3rd Infantry Division’s role was to attack towards Traon to protect the Eastern flank of the armoured advance. 2nd Lincoln’s was deployed in Banneville. The dry ground had been so badly churned up by bombing that it was difficult to dig slit trenches. The battalion endured bombardment from mortars which cost it ten officers and 200 other rank casualties in 72 hours. One of the best places to contemplate this operation is the War Cemetery at Bannevile en Campagne, which is not far from “Black Orchard”. After this action 3rd Infantry Division were redeployed to the Western flank of the British Second Army, but 2nd Lincoln’s do not seem to have been involved in further heavy fighting in Normandy.
The Normandy battles offer an opportunity to explore the role of leadership in units undergoing the strains of battle. The unit that the 1st Leicesters replaced,6th Duke of Wellingtons, had disintegrated under the pressure of heavy casualties. The respective roles of officers and warrant and non-commissioned officers under these circumstances makes for an interesting discussion topic.
In mid August the 49th Division, and with it the 4th Lincolns and 1st Leicesters were on the left flank of the 1st Canadian Army offensives along the Caen to Falaise road which formed the northern jaws of the Falaise Pocket. The Germans which the Lincolns and Leicesters faced were conducting an orderly withdrawal towards the Seine and sought to impose delay on each river line. Several of the villages remember the these units as their liberators. In the past groups of veterans have been feted in Conteville, Poussy la Campagne, Billy, Airan and Chicheboville. There is a memorial to 4th Lincolns in the village of Airan. The acting CO Major Stokes was killed by a stray shell on the 13th August. His death was particularly mourned as an ex-city counsellor and pre war TA soldier. The advance to the Seine is an episode which has been overshadowed by the capture of Paris. Yet the river crossings of the Vie and Touques were no picnic. On the 19-20th August the 4th Lincolns struggled to cross the Vie and on the 23 Aug river Touques was only crossed as divisonal crossing with heavy casualties for 1st Leicesters.
The 49th Division had a further operation in Normandy, the capture of Le Havre in Upper Normandy. The advance to the Seine is a chance to examine the operations of the British Army in the Advance to combat and obstacle crossing.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database lists 338 men of the antecedent Regiments of 2 Royal Anglian Regiment who died between 6th June and 31st August 1944 and are buried or commemorated in France or the UK. In the Normandy campaign there were 3.5 wounded for each dead, so the total casualties suffered by the four battalions serving in the campaign and individual soldiers attached to other units would have been around 1,200..
The casualties were not evenly distributed between the Regiments. 248 of the dead were from the Lincolns, 54 from the Leicesters, 27 from The Beds and Herts and 9 from the Northamptonshires.
Two battalions of the Lincolnshire Regiment served in Normandy, one from D Day. The CWGC records list 123 of the dead from 2nd Battalion which landed on D Day and 118 from the 4th,,which landed a week later. The Leicesters which landed in July, lost all but eight of their war dead in August, after the break out had started.
Although no units of the Northamptonshire Regiment served in Normandy, six officers and two private soldiers are buried or commemorated in Normandy. Two of the officers were killed as Commanders with other infantry units. Two of the officers and two of the privates died as Army Commandos and one officer with 8 Para.
These figures are not entirely consistent. The CWGC records do not always include the correct unit and may have excluded soldiers from other cap-badges who became casualties while serving with one of these units, such as Lt James Richardson a Canadian Officer Loaned to the 2nd Lincolns, who died of his wounds on the 9th July. However they give an indication of the scale of losses.
CASUALTIES AND THE REALITIES OF WAR FOR AN INFANTRY BATTALION IN NORMANDY
Dividing 1,200 casualties/338 dead by the 88 day duration of the campaign gives an average of 13-14 casualties per day of which, around 4 would be fatal, a loss of around a section plus per day. However the casualties did not occur at a steady rate. 42 men died on the 8th July, almost all lost in the 2nd Battalion’s attack on Herouville, and a further 21 were lost on 20th July in Op Goodwood. 24 men of the 1st Leicesters were killed on the 23 August, in the assault crossing of the River Torques, a largely forgotten engagement and under visited battlefield, while Op Martlet cost 4th Lincolns 15 dead on 25th June. Multiplying these numbers by the number of wounded would mean that these units would have lost between 60 and 160 men, between one and two companies on these days.
Most of the losses would have been suffered from the 360 riflemen in the rifle companies in each battalion. The total losses of 1,200 approximate to the number of riflemen in the rifle companies of the four battalions which served in the campaign and are more than the three which served as infantry. Perhaps this is why the Normandy campaign was such a good place to study leadership within an infantry battalion in war.
In addition to the story of these units the itinerary also included a study of the battle for the Hillman position captured by the 1st Suffolks, antecedents of 1st Battalions’s Vikings rather than the Poachers of the 2nd battalion. We also included lunch stops in Arromanches and Pegasus bridge, which offered museums and shops to explore.
A CUSTOMISED BATTLEFIELD STUDY FOR ANY CAP BADGE?
This battlefield study followed the fortunes of the antecedents of one cap badge. There was plenty to see and talk about, and much that was unique to this tour. The same kind of tour could be probably be undertaken for almost any British army unit with WW2 antecedents.
To find out more about planning staff rides and battlefield studies contact Frank@Baldwinbattlefieldtours.com
Two dramatic episodes from 1914 have been the centre of commemorations for the Royal Artillery. E Battery were supporting the cavalry screen ahead of the BEF when they fired the famous first shot on 22nd August 1914. The role of L battery in the “Affair at Néry” on 1st September 1914 has caught media and public attention ever since 1914. The German surprise attack on the 2nd British Cavalry brigade was beaten off with heroic acts rewarded by three Vcs and two MMs to the men of L Battery, and led to the award of the Honour Title of “Néry”. These events have tended to overshadow the other actions undertaken by E and L battery during the First World War, and by other batteries of the current 1st Regiment RHA.(1)
The current batteries are A Battery (The Chestnut Troop), B, E, L (Nery) and O Battery (The Rocket Troop) . Their 1914 home stations and wartime deployment are summarised in the following table.
Station in 1914
Indian Bde RHA then XVIth Bde RHA 4 Cav Div/Army troops
XVth Bde RHA 29 Div
1 Cav Div then 3 Bde RHA – 2 Cav Div.
1 Cav Div then XVth Bde RHA
Vth Brigade RHA 8 Div then Army troops
Each Battery was commanded by a Major with a battery captain, and three subaltern section commanders. Two Subsections formed a Section and in a six gun battery these would be designated as Left, Centre and Right Sections. A Subsection consisted of a single gun and limber drawn by six horses (with three drivers), eight gunners (riding on the limber or mounted on their own horses), and an ammunition wagon also drawn by six horses (with three drivers).
RHA batteries were armed with the 13 Pdr Gun. The 13 Pdr fired a 13 lb shrapnel shell to a range of 5,900 yd (5,400 m). The 18 Pdr, which equipped the Field Artillery fired a projectile weighing nearly 50% heavier and for which an HE shell was in service by October 1914. It also out-ranged the 13 Pdr and had a range of 6,525 yd (5,966 m) and 7,800 yd (7,100m) with the trail dug in. During the course of the war all but E Battery were re-equipped with 18 Pdr.
The introduction of the dial sight had made it possible to operate in an indirect role. However the flat trajectory of the 13 Pdr and the limited signal equipment tended to restrict indirect fire to situations where the battery commander could position the guns behind cover and act as the observer from a position where he could see the guns and the target. There were no established forward observer parties, but as trench warfare developed and telephones and wire became more widely available, an observation post might be deployed at some distance from the battery or a liaison team sent to the infantry.
Although indirect fire techniques were known and practised, the RHA went to war with equipment better suited to operating in the direct role. The 13 Pdr had a flat trajectory and it would be difficult to find good indirect gun positions in broken country such as the industrial landscape of Mons. The only ammunition provided for the 13 Pdr was shrapnel, which is very effective against troops in the open, but almost useless against troops behind cover.
The part the Horse Artillery played in the opening months was not far removed from pre war expectations. British Cavalrymen were equipped with the same SMLE rifle as the infantry and marksmanship training, which gave them an edge of the carbine equipped Germans in dismounted action. However, it was the battery of 13 Pounders supporting each brigade which contained the major part of its fire power, and guns which would inflict the majority of casualties in the Fist World War..
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) records 233 men as serving in one of the batteries.(2) Given WW1 norms of two wounded for each dead, this would imply around 700 casualties during the war. The establishment of a 1914 RHA Battery was five officers and 200 other ranks, giving 1,025 for the five current batteries. This gives a conservative estimate of a fatality rate of just under 23% of the establishment across all batteries. The casualties were not evenly distributed. L Battery’s 78 fatalities implies a figure of killed and wounded well in excess of the battery establishment of 205. Nor was 1914 the year in which L Battery suffered its highest casualties.
Current 1 RHA Batteries Fatalities 1914-1921
(Note that these figures are an indicative minimum. The CWGC database does not always identify the unit in which a soldier served. . )
Even before Néry, the fortunes of war placed L Battery in a position to play a significant role in the battles of Elouges on the 24th and Le Cateau on the 26th. On each occasion they brought down fire on German troops attempting to outflank the army. Even without Néry curtailing their participation in the campaign, L Battery were one of the most actively engaged RHA Batteries.
The fighting in the early months of the First World War was very different to other campaigns on the Western Front, or even other campaigns of the war. The pattern of warfare was closer in some ways to that of the previous century. The battles were of short duration with one side disengaging. Mons, Le Cateau, Elouges and Néry can be identified by a single day. At Le Cateau the British Army even deployed anachronistically on an open plain with the guns drawn up in the front line as if it were 1815. It was not until the battle of the Aisne that both sides became aware of the power that C20th weapons gave to the defence. After the trench lines developed between September and November 1914 the character of the war changed to become one continuous engagement. There would be no more individual battle days as bloody as Nery, but a trickle of casualties throughout the four years of the war, with some days bloodier than others.
In November 1914 O Battery arrived on the Western Front as part of the Vth Brigade RHA in the 8th Infantry Division’s artillery. . In 1915 The Chestnut Troop joined them on the Western Front as part of I Indian Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery. They both took part in the battles in the Neuve Chapelle area 1914-15.
The rebuilt L Battery joined B battery in the XVth RHA Brigade as part of the divisional artillery of the 29th Division in 1915. This division was formed from regular army garrisons around the world and first deployed in the Gallipoli campaign. It would become known as the “Indomitable” 29th and would take part in more attacks than any other formation. There is no specific monument in Gallipoli for the artillery of the 29th Division. However, one of the first fatalities suffered by the reconstituted L battery was Bombardier Darbyshire, who only relinquished the layers seat of F Sub at Néry after his ears and nose bled from concussion. He was killed on 12th July 1915 and is buried in Lancashire Landing Cemetery at Cape Helles, along with nine other horse gunners from B and L Battery. A further seventeen are buried or commemorated elsewhere in Turkey, Egypt and Malta.
After the evacuation from Gallipoli the 29th Division was brought back to the Western front, in time for the big push on the Somme. The Divisional symbol of the red triangle can be seen at Newfoundland Park, and tin triangles can be seen on the packs of the soldiers from the divisions filmed on the First Day of the Somme. At 07.30 on the 1st July the 2nd Royal Fusiliers and 16th Battalion the Middlesex Regiment stormed the crater formed by the detonation of the Hawthorn mine. 2 Lt Grant-Suttie and a party of telephonists from B Battery advanced with the CO of 16th Middlesex into the mine crater, but were forced to withdraw, with Bdr Port wounded, and Bdr Brockett and Driver Indge missing. Brockett’s body was found and he lies in Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No.1, Auchonvillers. Indge’s was never identified but might be one of the 68 unidentified graves in this cemetery. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.
O battery also took part in the battle of the Somme supporting the operations of the 8th Division on its disastrous first day, and in October in the battle of Le Transloy. Three O battery soldiers are buried on the Somme. The lower number of fatalities in 1916 than in 1917 and 1918 might be attributed to the weakness of the German counter battery artillery in the Somme. Nor were any of the batteries placed in situations were they were exposed to small arms or direct fire. There were very few occasions in 1916 where sufficient ground had been gained to justify moving the guns forward. No German counter attacks threatened the guns.
1917 was the bloodiest year for the 1st RHA Batteries, and can be attributed to the three major British offensives in that year. The 29th Division (B & L ) and V Brigade RHA (O Bty) took part in all three offensives. E Battery in two and Chestnut Troop in one.
The five week long Arras offensive 9 April – 16th May 1917 was one of the most intense the BEF endured. The daily casualty rate over the course of the battle was higher than any other BEF offensive. The initial attack was very successful, largely due to improvements in artillery technology and tactics,. German batteries were located by sound ranging and flash spotting, improved fuses increased lethality and enabled wire to be cut more easily. Aerial observation techniques and creeping barrages made it easier for the infantry to assault. In 1917 O Battery’s Vth RHA Brigade became an army artillery brigade and used to support whatever part of the line needed additional artillery support. On 9th April they supported the attack on Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Corps.
When attacks were successful artillery would need to be redeployed forwards if the infantry were not to advance beyond artillery range. On 24 April B and L Batteries followed up an infantry advance into a valley just North of the Wancourt Tower. As soon as the success signal was given the guns galloped forwards. According to the infantry the advance of the guns was a magnificent and inspiring sight, carried out with great dash and skill.(3) Unfortunately a German counter attack drove the infantry off the ridge, leaving L and B Battery in the open within rifle and machine gun range of German troops. The operations on the Arras front between April and June 1917 cost the XVth Bde RHA 49 killed, (including the BC and another officer from B Battery and six other officers) 74 wounded (including officers from each of B and L officers) and a further 13 men evacuated with shell shock.
The 29th Division was used as an assault division twice in the 3rd Battle of Ypres, fought in a muddy artillery landscape. The artillery destroyed the drainage along with the buildings and vegetation. On 16th August the 29th division assaulted the Langemark area alongside the 20th Division which included the late Harry Patch and his pals. Seven weeks later 29 Division attacked again on 4th October towards Poelcappelle. The main memorial to this attack is the memorial to Private Fred Dancocks of the 4th Worcesters who was awarded the VC for his gallantry capturing a bunker near Namur crossing on the old Ypres-Staden railway line, which is now a footpath.
The 3rd Battle of Ypres was an artillery battle. The Germans held the ring of low hills around Ypres. As the allies advanced it was hard to find solid ground for gun positions around the muddy shell holes. Solid platforms might be constructed from wood or even boxes of rations. These made it easier for the German counter battery fire. During the campaign B, L and O battery would have spent a lot of time in their gas masks. The Germans unleashed a new horror on the battlefield during this battle, drenching gun positions with persistent blister agent – Mustard Gas.
After the 3rd Battle of Ypres petered out in the muddy ruins of Passchendaele the 29th Division was picked to reinforce the 3rd Army’s attack at Cambrai. This battle was a test for new technology and tactics. Instead of a lengthy preliminary bombardment, the battle of Cambrai would use 400 tanks and a short intense fire plan based on predicted targets. The fire plan was as innovative as the massed use of tanks. All of the batteries of the current 1 RHA took part in this battle. The initial attack, on 20th November created a breach in one of the stronger sector of the Hindenberg line, capturing as much ground in fifteen hours as in five months in the Ypres Salient. The Germans too had a tactical surprise in store. On 30th November they too launched an attack under a heavy predicted barrage, in their case led by storm troops which infiltrated into and then broke through British infantry on the salient caused by the British success. This advance threatened the army artillery massed behind the British infantry, with some Germans within 40 yards of the guns. L Battery was order to act the rearguard to allow the army artillery to escape. They and a mixed force of infantry and artillerymen inflicted around 150 casualties on the Germans before withdrawing. The eight L Battery soldiers commemorated on the Cambrai memorial are evidence of the cost of this operation. The official history includes praise for L Battery, a rare mention of an individual battery.(4)
Cambrai would be a good battle for a 1st RHA commemoration. This the one battle in the war in which each battery served. It allows for a focus on the tactical and technical innovation which has characterised the professional ethos of the Royal Regiment.
At the beginning of 1918, the Germans had a chance to win the First World War before the American Army took the field in strength. The Germans redeployed troops released from the Eastern Front by the collapse of Imperial Russia. After three years of allied attempts to break the stalemate of the Western Front, the German offensives from 21th March initiated a eight months of mobile warfare. Between March and June the Germans achieved a series of breakthroughs and forced the allies back.
All of the Batteries were involved in these battles. The Cavalry divisions were deployed to plug gaps in the line. The majority of Chestnut Troop’s war dead are buried or commemorated on the Somme battlefields of 1918. There is an account in the History of the Royal Artillery on the Western Front of how the observed fire from E and two other RHA Batteries held a German advance on the 22nd March for a whole day. (5) The BC of O Battery was given 600 infantrymen back from leave, eight lewis guns from No3 Kite Balloon Company to fill a gap in the line. (6)
These battles are rarely the subject of battlefield studies. They are as significant as defensive battles as Mons or Le Cateau, but much larger. These are the only major defensive battles fought by the British Army that approach the scale of the operations on the Eastern Front in WW2.
The tide turned in August with the dramatic breakthrough at Amiens which repeated the techniques demonstrated at Cambrai, but on a larger scale. 450 tanks supported by a surprise predicted barrage by just under 1,500 guns and 800 aircraft broke through and destroyed a German army in what was the “Black day” for the German army. Chestnut Troop, E and O Battery took part in these operations.
After Cambrai the 29th Division was redeployed to the Ypres sector and fought in the defensive battle of the Lys and in the counter attacks in the summer On the 27th September 1918 B & L batteries, with the other batteries of 15 Bde RHA came into action outside the Menin Gate in Ypres.(7) The following morning they fired a creeping barrage in support of the 29th Division attack which recaptured the ground ceded in April capturing the village of Gheluveldt by the end of the day. L and B Batteries were deployed forwards to Gheluveldt on the 30th September, and supported the attacks over the River Lys in October.
1919 and Afterwards
The Armistice did not mean demobilisation. The CWGC records war dead until 1921 as the regular army was deployed to respond to the messy aftermath of the War. The CWGC records the deaths of Lance Naik Batu Khan of Chestnut Troop in St. Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen (23 Dec 1918) and Driver Noor Mohammed of B Battery in Haidar Pasha Cemetery in Turkey (30 Jan 1920), and serve as a reminder of the British Army as an Imperial force and the Regular Army’s relationship with the Indian Sub continent.
The history of 1st RHA’s batteries on the First World War is that of the Western Front, its batteries were ubiquitous, “quo fas et gloria decunt”. Their actions took place among some of the familiar land marks of the Western front. Their battles tell the story of the development of technology and tactics during the wear and the part that the Gunners. Anyone taking a professional interest in the develo-pment of artillery on the battlefield would be remiss if they restricted their interest to the 1914 battles.
These were also actions in which at least 233 men lost their lives and perhaps 500 wounded. One of the key themes of commemoration is Remembrance, which should include understanding what these men did and why. The Centenary is an opportunity to visit the graves, memorials and the places where these men fought and fell. Of course, we celebrate the achievements of the Bradbury, Dorrell and Nelson at Nery, worthy of the highest award for gallantry that Britain can bestow. It is proper that L Battery remembers these men and the others that were lost at Nery. But the Centerary ought to be the time to find out about some of the other men who served the guns and remember them. Were the eight members of L Battery who fell on 30th November at Cambrai necessarily less brave? Were any of the men who fell any less mourned?
While many people are familiar with the battles and battlefields of the Western Front, far fewer have explored them from the Gunner’s point of view. The actions by the 1 RHA batteries are ideal topics for battlefield studies, conveniently located from the UK. The Centenary of the First World War is an ideal opportunity to undertake low level battlefield studies.
For more information on planning battlefield studies ands staff rides contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com
 This article is based on a talk given to the Officers of the 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery on 8th April 2014.
 www.CWGC.org These are minimum numbers. The CWGC also lists RHA as “15 Brigade RHA,” which may include soldiers who might or might not be members of B or L Battery. They might have been members of Y Battery, the Warwickshire TA RHA Battery or the Brigade Ammunition Train.
 Farndale The Royal Regiment of Artillery on the Western Front
 Esmond, J E. Military Operations France and Belgium 1917, The Battle of Cambrai CH XV HMSO 1934
 War Diary D Battery RHA quoted in Farndale The Royal Regiment of Artillery on nthe Western Front
 Esmond, J E. Military Operations France and Belgium 1918, the German March Offensive and its preliminaries, CH XV HMSO 1934
 WO/95-2291 15 Bde RHA War Diary Entry September 1918
Prince Louis of France was invited by the rebel barons to become king of England following King John’s refusal to accept the Magna Carta he had sealed at Runnymede. Over 200 castles in England were besieged, by the rebel barons or King John’s forces, in what became the First Barons’ War. This aimed to safeguard the rights, privileges and liberties of the clergy and the nobles as enshrined in the Magna Carta, but spilt out into a dynastic war for the English throne. This was only settled with the death of King John, and his succession by King Henry III. Even then, the dispute continued until the end of the century.
The Battles and Sieges
There were dozens of battles and sieges between 1214 and 1267. This was an era of castles and sieges. Many of the castles still stand. At Rochester you can still see the damage caused by John’s army when it undermined the corner of the keep using the fat of 40 pigs to create a fire fierce enough to burn the props. These are events populated by heroes, heroines and villains that could have been created by Hollywood. There are princes fighting for their kingdom, wicked sherriffs, heroines, callous mercenaries, treacherous pirates and outlaws. A summary of the main military events are here.
The Battlefields Trust is planning to create a Battlefield Trail covering the battles and sieges of the barons wars. This will be a major project and be timed to coincide with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta as well as the 750th Anniversary of the Siege of Lewes. The Battlefields Trust is a member of Magna Carta 800. One of the most exciting developments is the inclusion of battlefields in the Magna Carta 800 Trail being developed for Vist England. This is the first time it has been possible to promote Britain’s Battlefield heritage as part of a tourism strategy.
There is a chance to hear military historian Julian Humphrys talking about the military history of Magna Carta on Tuesday 19th March 2013 between 12:30-14:00. This will be hosted by The Fusiliers Museum London in the Officer’s Mess of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers HM Tower of London
In his talk Julian Humphrys will focus on three key episodes in the Magna Carta War: King John’s dramatic capture of Rochester in 1215, Hubert de Burgh’s stubborn defence of Dover in 1216 and William Marshall’s crushing defeat of the French at Lincoln in 1217.
The 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Exercise Fabius 2-7 May 1944 was, arguably, the largest training exercise to take place in the UK. It would be the final rehearsal for Operation Overlord . It was a rehearsal of the landings on the four invasion beaches in the Normandy coast between the rivers Orne and Dives; ( Sword, Juno, Gold and Omaha beaches) .
Utah beach, geographically separated from the other four beaches was considered a separate assault from naval point of view. The rehearsal for the landing on Utah Beach was Exercise Tiger and took place on 26-30 April on Slapton Sands in Devon.
Ex Fabius allowed participants the chance to rehearse under conditions as close as possible to those they would face. It also allowed the ports to practice supporting a large scale landing. This was a dress rehearsal with the landing forces approaching the beaches behind mine sweepers and landing craft lowered ten miles off shore. The landings were accompanied by live firing from ships.
The assault troops for each of the D Day beaches would practice landing on a stretch of coast with a similar configuration to that they would face on D Day. The exercise was too close to D Day for any further experimentation or changes to the plan. Some units would not return to their previous accommodation, but instread to their assault assembly area.
3rd British Infantry Division was assigned to assault Sword beach with the town of Ouistrhem and the River Orne on their left flank and the city of Caen as its objective. On Exercise Fabius it landed near Littlehampton with the River Arun on its Left and Arundel its objective.
Robin Dunn, who was Battery Commander of 16 Battery of 7 Field Regiment claimed post war that there were problems which were identified and if put right would have enabled the allies to do better on D Day.
” While at Bolney we had our final rehearsal of the invasion on the south coast near Arundel……..We had a new divisional commander, Tom Rennie, who had commanded a brigade of 5lst Highland Division with distinction in 8th Army and had a high reputation. The commander of 185th Brigade was Brigadier K. R Smith, who had been with the brigade for some time and had so far in the war seen no action. He was a good trainer of troops who had worked us hard during our training in Scotland. But he did not fully accept the role of the brigade in the divisional plan. We had heard that 21st Panzer Division had been identified as having recently arrived about thirty miles inland of our landing beach. The presence of this division became a fixation in K.P.’s mind. He was haunted by the idea that, if 185th Brigade pushed too boldly inland, 2lst Panzer would come round our right flank, which was in open country and cut us off from the beaches. There was wooded country on the left and KP. wished to infiltrate his infantry through the woods beside the river and approach the objective in that way along the divisional left flank. During our final rehearsal he attempted this manoeuvre, which involved keeping one battalion on our original thrust line and passing the other two round their left flank in a wide turning movement. The result was chaos. The battalions became separated from one another and the Brigadier lost communication with the flanking force which lost all momentum. I was at brigade HQ when Tom Rennie arrived and said wearily, ‘You won’t let this happen on the day will you KP? It would have been better, even at that late stage, if he had sacked KP. on the spot.” Robn Dunn Sword and Wig.
Although many fewer than on Ex Tiger, there were casualties on Exercise Fabius. On the Morning of 4 May twin engine fighter bomber aircraft of Coastal Command attached Allied motor boats inflicting many casualties. Possibly the German attack on Ex Tiger had made the airmen a little trigger happy.
Places associated with the story of the training and rehearsals for D day can be found across Britain, from the sections of Atlantic Wall built in Scotland to the beaches which stood in for the Norman Coast.
490 years ago, Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, the commander of the French rear guard at the Battle of the Sesia, was mortally wounded by an arquebus ball, on 30th April 1524. This French soldier, generally known as Chevalier de Bayard, was renowned by his contemporaries as the fearless and faultless knight (le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche). He himself preferred to be referred to as “le bon chevalier”, or “the good knight”. The death of a man famed for his chivalry at the hands of an anonymous arquibussier appear to symbolise a transition in warfare. However the Bon Chevalier was much more than just a symbol. While most of his military services was in Italy and the borders of France, there are parts of his story which touches British Military history.
From the insular Britain the reign of the Tudors is fairly peaceful, fgive or take the odd Scottish incursion or Yorkist plot. But the forty years from 1490 was a turbulent time in Europe, with France at war for most of the time with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire was fought in Italy and along France’s still ill defined boundaries. This was a period when military technology, organisation and tactics were changing rapidly.
The wikipedia entry on Chevalier de Bayard lists his military service over thirty years service for three successive French monarchs Charles VII, Louis XII and Francis I mainly in Italy but also in Flanders. He seems to have played an important role in many of the battles of the Italian wars, from Charles’ ,VII’s campaigns .
The Chevalier de Bayard seems to have combined the personal qualities expected of a medieval knight with the professional abilities needed in the new world of gun powder, and pike and shot. While his chivalrous deeds and gallantry charmed Kings and courtiers – and Lucretia Borgia, he was far more than a dashing knight. He was a good organiser and trainer. In 1509 he raised a body of horse and foot which set the standard for discipline and battlefield effectiveness in an army which had previously despised infantry as a mere rabble. As a commander he was known for his accurate knowledge of the enemy, obtained by skilled reconnaissance and efficient espionage. In 1521, with 1000 men he had successfully held the “indefensible” city of Mezieres in the Meuse valley against an Imperial army of 35,000
In 1503 the re was a battle on the line of , with the Spanish Army assaulted the French Army across the the River Garigliano, via bridges of boats. One of the more famous incidents of the battle is the single handed defence of a bridge over the Chevalier de Bayard single handed held off a force of 300 Spaniards. This took place close to the village of Minturno, close to where the British Army attacked in a similar fashion in January 1944 and a few hundred metres from the Commonwealth War Cemetery.
Ten years later Bayard fought at the battle of Guines, known by the English as the battle of the Spurs, in which a French cavalry force was defeated by the English. Fleeing from the field Bayard was trapped, but noticing an English knight un-armoured and resting he forced the man to yield and then in turn offered himself as a prisoner. This act of chivalry endeared him to Henry VIII who released him on parole.
On 30th April 1524 Bayard died in “the midst of the enemy, attended by Pescara, the Spanish commander, and by his old comrade, Charles, duc de Bourbon, who was now fighting on the opposite side. Charles is reported to have said “Ah! Monsieur de Bayard… I am very sad to see you in this state; you who were such a virtuous knight!” Bayard answered,“”Sir, there is no need to pity me. I die as a man of honour ought, doing my duty; but I pity you, because you are fighting against your king, your country, and your oath.”
That is an interesting view from a historic figure at a time which we assume is dominated by treachery, Machaivelli and mercenaries.
For more about Chevalier de Bayard check the following:-
The attack on Pointe du Hoc by the US Rangers on D Day is a famous episode in the history of the cross channel invasion. On 6th June 1944 the US 2nd Ranger Battalion stormed 30m (100 ft) high cliffs to capture a German artillery battery which had to be neutralised. The action featured in the 1961 film “The Longest Day” and in many TV documentaries. The mission epitomised the Rangers ‘s ethos, inspired by the British Commandos. Few people are aware that along with the US Rangers some British logistics soldiers played an important and heroic part in the operation and were awarded medals for gallantry.
On Pointe du Hoc, the Germans had built, as part of the Atlantic Wall, six reinforced concrete case-mates to house a battery of captured French 155mm guns. Pointe Du Hoc was on a headland situated between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east. These coastal defence guns threatened Allied landings on both beaches, risking heavy casualties in the landing forces. Although there were several bombardments from the air and by naval guns, intelligence reports assumed that the fortifications were too strong, and would also require attack by ground forces. The US 2nd Ranger Battalion was therefore given the task of destroying the strong point early on D-Day.
Prior to the attack, the guns were moved approximately one mile away; however, the concrete fortifications were intact, and would still present a major threat to the landings if they were occupied by artillery forward observers, which could still direct the fire of the guns.
Assaulting the 100 ft rocky cliffs was expected to be a tough challenge. This was rather similar to the problem facing armies scaling city or castle walls. If the Germans were at all alert they could rain fire down on men climbing rope ladders. The operation was planned to take place shortly before dawn in order to achieve surprise.
The Rangers planned to use a secret weapon to help them climb the 100 ft cliffs quickly; the modern equivalent of a siege tower. DUKW amphibious 2 ½ ton trucks were fitted with the turntables from London Fire engines and machine guns fitted to the top of the ladder. The idea was that the DUKW would land on the small beach below the cliffs, extend the ladders and the Rangers would rush up the ladders, which were easier to climb than ropes or rope ladders. This was tried and practiced on training exercises on the South Coast.
On D Day itself the plan didn’t work out as well. Firstly due to a navigation error, the assault took place later than scheduled. Instead of landing in the dark the convoy travelled for some way along the cliff in full view of the now very alert German defenders.
The landing took place at a higher tide than planned. Secondly, the allied naval and air bombardment had brought down some of the cliff and created a heap of rubble in front of the cliff. It proved impossible to get the extendable ladders in place or a firm footing for the DKUW. One account describes a Ranger manning the machine guns on an oscillating ladder firing at the Germans when the ladder passed through the highest point of each roll.
The Rangers assaulted the cliffs using rope ladders launched up the cliff with rockets. Despite the Germans throwing hand grenades and shooting at them from the cliff edge, the Rangers were successful. They cleared the battery, found and destroyed the guns themselves, which were about a mile inland and started what proved to be a 48 hour battle to fight off German troops counter attacking.
The DUKW drivers were RASC drivers. The fire engine ladders mounted on the cargo bay of the DUKW made them top heavy and harder to control, especially in the heavy seas on D Day. Navigating and operating these amphibious vehicles was a difficult and arduous duty performed with skill. But this isn’t the end of their story.
At least two of the DUKW drivers, Corporal Good and Private Blackmore, scaled the cliffs using the rope ladders and joined the Rangers in the fight as riflemen. When ammunition was running low they went back down the cliffs and recovered machine guns from the DUKWs, which were under fire. They then returned up the cliff and brought the machine guns into action.
Pte Blackmore was wounded in the foot. After receiving first aid, he then returned to the front line and rescued a badly wounded Ranger under machine gun and mortar fire. He then volunteered to carry ammunition to the front line, salvage ammunition from the beach and repair weapons until he was evacuated on 7th June.
Cpl Good remained with the 2nd Rangers until Pointe Du Hoc was relieved by a force arriving by land from Omaha Beach to the East on 8th June. As you can see Pte Blackmore was originally recommended for a DCM, the second highest British Medal for Gallantry, but it was downgraded to an MM.
Colonel Rudder, the Commanding Officer fo the 2nd battalion US Rangers recommended that the actions of these two soldiers should be recognised. Corporal Good was awarded the Military Medal Private Blackmore was recommended the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but was awarded the Military Medal.
For most of the British assault troops on D Day, the fighting on the beach was over within a few hours. These two RASC soldiers fought one of the longest infantry actions undertaken by the RASC in North West Europe. They fought alongside specially selected, commando trained US Rangers in one of the actions which defined the US Ranger ethos. They are the exemplar of soldier first tradesman second and deserve to be role models.
When I first heard about this story I tried to find out what training these men would have received. The US Rangers and the British Army Commandos on which they were based were specially selected raiders expected to undertake physical feats not normally expected of ordinary soldiers, such as for example, such as scaling 100′ cliffs under fire. However, according to Andy Robertshaw, the Curator of the Royal Logistics Corps Museum it is very unlikely that these men would have been given any Commando training. Their bit of the operation was to drive these amphibious trucks, top heavy with the extension ladders through heavy seas.
It is remarkable that these men, specially selected for their qualities as helmsmen and DUKW drivers, after what must have been an arduous and difficult voyage, then chose to join the Rangers in their fight. I cannot find any pictures of these every-man heroes and been unable to trace any relatives or old comrades. The Sustainer magazine, the Journal of the Royal Logistics Corps published this article in their Winter issue Their story deserves to be more widely known.
There are a lot more men like Corporal Good and Blackmore, who served in many different roles, doing their bit. If you are interested in finding out more about other forgotten heroes please contact me and I can help you to find out more and where to visit the places where their did their bit..
The 18th December 2013 is the 70th anniversary of the death of Lt Harry Goslin RA of 53 Field Regiment. He is buried in the River Sangro Commonwealth War Cemetery, in Cheti Province, Italy. His story and that of the battle in which he died deserve to be remembered as they show a different aspect of the Second World War.
THE WARTIME WANDERERS
Before the Second World War Henry “Harry” Goslin had been the captain of Bolton Wanderers Football Club. On 1st March 1939 Hitler broke the terms of the Munich Agreement by invading the rest of Czechoslovakia. On 14th March 1939, before the next home match Harry addressed the crowd with a megaphone urging them to join the Territorial Army. After the match, 32 out of 37 men on the playing staff joined the armed forces, 17 joining their local TA unit, the Bolton Artillery. The idea of “pals” battalions of chums joining the same unit and serving together is much more associated with the First rather than the Second World War. However the Wartime Wanderers joined together and served together in what was mobilised as 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment RA. They served in France and Belgium in 1940, were evacuated at Dunkirk, then sent overseas serving in Iraq and at the second battle of El Alamein as part of the 8th Indian Division. The Regimental football team was much in demand as an expert position matches. While the Regiment was based in the Uk, players continued to play for their own side and as guests for football clubs close to where the Regiment was stationed. Harry Goslin played for Bolton in 4 out of 22 matches played in the 1939-40 season as well as appearing as a guest for Chelsea and Norwich City.
THE EIGHTH INDIAN DIVISION
The 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment RA was in direct support of the 21st Indian Brigade, comprising the 5th Battalion the Royal West Kent Regiment, the 3/15th Punjabi battalion and the 1/5th Mahratta. Harry Goslin was a Forward Observation Officer attached to the 3rd Battalion of the 15th Punjabi Regiment. (3/15th Punjabi) Divisions of the Indian Army were comprised of a mixture of British and Indian troops. Two thirds of the infantry would be Indian, with the remainder from the British army, all the artillery would be British while the sappers and services would be Indian. The “Indian” units were still mainly commanded by British officers but the proportion of Indians holding a Kings Commission rose during the war. The divisional machine battalion of the 8th Indian Division was commanded by Lt Col D S Brar, one of the Indian officers to command a combatant unit in the field. (2)
The 3/15th Punjabi Regiment had originally been raised as the Rawlpindi Regiment in 1857, and served in the Second Opium War alongside some of the Dragon batteries, and then in Afghanistan and Somaliland. As the 27th Punjabi Regiment it served in France and Mesopotamia in the First World War, and was renumbered 3/14th when the Indian army was reorganised in the 1920s. After partition it was transferred to the Pakistan army where it still exists as the 11th Punjabi Regiment. The Punjab countryside was fertile recruiting ground for the British Indian Army, with military service an attractive alternative to life on the land. In return the British values its soldiers for loyalty and hardiness. These were some of the conditions which led British post war industry to attract workers from the Punjab to serve in the textile industry of the North of England.
The policy not to raise artillery units from the Indian population dated from the aftermath of the Indian mutiny, as a measure to prevent any future rebellion from having access to the firepower of the artillery. The story of the Royal Artillery in the World Wars is that of the Indian as well as the British Army and its formations. Three Indian Army Divisions served in Italy, the 4th, 8th and 10th and with them nine field regiments and three LAA regiments. In September 1943 the 8th Indian Division and with it the Wartime Wanderers sailed to Italy to reinforce the 8th Army.
MONTGOMERY ON THE SANGRO NOV-DEC 1943
The battlefields of the Sangro and Moro rivers do not attract as many visitors as those on the Garigliano and Rapido, conveniently between Rome and Naples with the focus of the historic cultural icon of the Abbey of Monte Cassino. The Sangro battlefields took place in the Adriatic region of Chieti, which isn’t as accessible and further from the major cultural tourist sites. The battle has also been overshadowed by the historic drama of the battles of Cassino and the Anzio landing.
But this battlefield does not deserve to be neglected. These battles were the last battle fought by Montgomery as commander of the Eighth Army, and the largest set piece battle commanded by him on the mainland of Italy. In late 1943 the allies stiller had hopes of capturing Rome. In October the Germans made the decision to try to stop the allies south of Rome and constructed the Gustav or Winter Line based on the Garigliano River flowing west and the Sangro River flowing east across the “calf” of the Italian boot. The Fifth Army under Mark Clark was to advance from Salerno and Naples via the West coast. Montgomery with 8th army was to push along the Eastern Adriatic coast, break through the Gustav line on the coastal plan, press on the Pescara and then attack Rome from the east, across the ApennineMountains. While the coastal strip south East of Pescara is much gentler country than the mountainous terrain around Cassino, the landscape played an important part in shaping the battle and is reasonably well preserved.
The battle of the Sangro was a set piece battle mounted by the four infantry divisions of the Vth Corps, and started on the 20th November 1943. Supported by 652 guns and the Desert Air Force the Eighth Army blasted its way across the Sangro River and almost obliterated the 65th German infantry division defending the sector and capturing its divisional commander.
The operation took place under appalling weather conditions. “The winter rains had set in, and no reprieve from bitter cold, swollen streams, and sodden earth could be expected. The Sangro in spate averaged five feet in depth, and was of such turbulence that patrols on more than one occasion had been drowned. The infantry bivouacked miserably in boggy fields under pelting showers. Transport speedily churned the water-logged earth into mud soup; vehicles slithered and skidded uncontrollably on the greasy tracks. Heavy transport and guns were winched and manhandled into position by their shivering, mud-soaked crews. Sappers and transport services toiled unceasingly to keep the roads open, and to get supplies through to the advanced positions.”(3) The 100ft wide Sangro River became a 1000ft wide torrent which washed away the initial bridges constructed by the Engineers.
After a week of fighting, which drew in the German reserves from across Italy, the German commander decided to fall back from the Line of the Sangro and the Gustav line defences and defend the next river line back, that of the River Moro. In itself this was an achievement as it took the 5th Army many more months to break through the Gustav line on the admittedly more difficult sector they faced.
THE BATTLE OF THE MORO RIVER
Technically, Harry Goslin fell at the battle of the Moro River rather than the Sangro. The title of the History of the 8th Indian Division is “One more River”. (1) The geography of the Italian peninsular meant that the campaign was the story of an assault on the inevitable hill between one river valley and the next. The Germans did not defend the river banks themselves. Instead they held the high ground dominating the exits from the river valleys and reverse slope positions beyond the ridgelines, while deploying snipers and patrols on the forward slopes. Towns and villages on the ridges such as Orsogna and Ortona were often built on tactically important positions, which had withstood the ancient endemic risk of attack by pirates. The German defenders were drawn from the 26 Panzer Division, 90th Panzer Grenadier Division and the 1st Fallschirmjaeger Division.
In early December 1943, the 8th Indian division was deployed between the 2nd New Zealand Division and 1st Canadian Division which were intended to make the main attacks on the towns of Orsogna and Ortona respectively on the ridges. Initially the 8th Indian division was tasked with making a diversion to distract attention from the attacks on their flanks. To this end very obvious preparations were made to build a bridge across the Moro. The configuration of the approaches made it impossible to build from the home bank, so the sappers manhandled materials across the river and built the “Impossible Bridge” from the enemy bank. On 8/9th December, as the flanking Canadian and New Zealand attacks faltered and the Indians were ordered to secure the village and the ridge line north west of the MoroRiver. On the night 9/10th December the 3/15th Pubjabis with one company of 5th Royal Mahratta Machine-Gunners, and other supporting arms the Forward Observation Officer (FOO) parties from 53 Field Regiment Royal Artillery crossed the Moro to secure the bridgeheads. FOO parties consisted of an officer, such as Harry Goslin, trained to control artillery fire, and soldiers providing technical and communications support. It was on his judgment, and the competence of his signallers in maintaining communications to the guns 7km in the rear, that the survival of the infantry might depend. He and his men would move and live with the infantry sharing the dangers of the front line. The presence of FOO parties was sufficiently important that Montgomery himself took a personal interest that they were correctly allocated. A few weeks earlier, at the Sangro crossing, one infantry company of another division crossed the river without an FOO party and found themselves unable to call for artillery fire and forced to retreat. This made Montgomery very angry and spoke severely to the Corps commander on the subject and obtained an assurance that it would not happen again. ()
“The Germans reacted violently to this incursion. From patrol clashes the fighting mounted into a tense struggle. The Punjabis went forward to clear a strong-point with the bayonet. That night, “Impossible Bridge” was strengthened, and next morning British tanks crossed to come up in close support of the Punjabis and Mahrattas. Mopping up continued, but the area remained unhealthy with enemy snipers and mortar teams infiltrating audaciously. In destroying these pests a number of cat-eyed, soft-footed Indians compiled remarkable individual bags. Havildar Badlu Ram of the Punjabis slew sixteen Germans, and others were not far behind his total. The ground was cleansed and a firm bridgehead established.“ (3)
On the 13th and 14th other troops from the Indian Division attacked towards Villa Caldieri and the lateral road on the ridgeline parallel to the Moro. The Germans shelled the area heavily and counterattacked with infantry and tanks. The war diary of the 53 Field Regiment made at 0250hours on the 14th records that the Regiment had fired 170 rounds per gun ona timed programme to support the advance of 17 Brigade through the Punjabis positions and then a series of defensive fires against counter attacks made at dawn by German tanks and infantry. (4)
Later that day the diary noted “heavy enemy shelling of the Observation Post (OP) positions – an increase” and two serious casualties. One was Gunner Plummer an OP signaller killed by a sniper’s bullet. The second was Harry Goslin, wounded by a shell or mortar round bursting in a tree above his slit trench. The slit trenches customary in the Second World War provided protection against splinters from shells or bombs bursting on the ground. However, without overhead cover they were vulnerable to splinters from exploding shells overhead. Prior to the invention of radar “proximity” fuses, it was difficult to achieve accurate air bursts. However, if a shell struck a tree it would burst at the optimum height to inflict casualties. Harry Goslin was caught like this and paralysed by a shell splinter in the back. He was evacuated but died four days later and is buried 20 km south at the Sangro War cemetery in plot XV. Row C. grave 29. He was the only member of the Wartime Wanderers to be killed in the Second World War, but two other members of the seventeen who served in 53rd Field Regiment were wounded during the war.
The conditions under which the troops fought were atrocious, and closer to the popular imagination of the First World War than the Second. The weather was vile. According to the New Zealand histories, it took six men to carry a laden stretcher. One Canadian soldier described the land beyond the Moro river as “ a landscape that seemed almost lunar in its desolation where men lived and died in unremembered ways.” Brigadier Kippenberger, a New Zealander veteran of the First World War, wrote that “I had not seen men so exhausted since Flanders. Their faces were grey”
The Battle of the MoroRiver was a significant battle, the last attempt by the 8th Army to break through on the Adriatic coast. To the right of the 8th Indian Division the 1st Canadian Division attacked towards Casa Beradi and the crossroads leading towards the town of Ortona. The bitter house to house fighting in Ortona between the Canadians and the German paratroops which lasted until the New Year is the main episode remembered from the battle of the Moro River. The story of the Indians who fought alongside them and endured the mud and slit trenches in awful conditions, deserves to be remembered, as does that of the gunners who supported them.
BRITAIN’S BAND OF BROTHERS
A film is being made.It is great to see that it is about a bunch of gunners.
Pescara is a good base for exploring the battlefields of the Sangro and the Moro. There are cheap direct flights from the UK to Pescara. As a holiday resort it has ample accommodation and, out of Italian peak season it is easy to find accommodation. It is possible to fly to Rome and travel over the Apennines by road or rail. The countryside is quite spectacular and illustrates why the Allied plan to take Rome via Pescara was doomed from the moment the Germans decided to stand South of Rome. Ortona has a fine little military museum and the Commonwealth War Cemeteries, as everywhere, are well maintained and their staff helpful.
The battlefield is one of the battlefields that need to be visited to appreciate the micro-terrain, the tactically important minor features of what Montgomery described as “ridge and furrow” countryside. Although Ortona has sprawled along the lateral road the battlefield is much less overgrown than the Monte Cassino massif or litter laden and developed than Anzio. There are plenty of view points beloved for military studies and TEWTs.
The area is less geared to battlefield tourism than around Cassino, but when aware of the purpose of a visit the local response can be humbling. An explanation to the hotel owner of the purpose of the visit resulted in the owner telling the story of her father, taken prisoner in Sicily and her uncle who fought with the partisans alongside the British Major Lionel Wigram. As soon as the occupants of the “manor House” in Casa Beradi had worked out that the group of people in German registered minibuses were British soldiers the hospitality was overwhelming.
For more information about visiting the battlefield contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com +44 207 387 6620