Jump to content
Free downloads from TNA ×
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Mechanisation of the Royal Artillery



676060429_MovingtheGuns.jpg.da936e01b2a7084822b658c2cafd736e.jpg Moving the Guns - Mechanisation of the Royal Artillery 1854 - 1939 by Philip Ventham and David Fletcher.

Moving the Guns - The mechanisation of the Royal Artillery 1854 - 1939 traces how the Royal Artillery transitions from it's guns being moved by horses, to the mechanised force that began the Second World War.

I was supprised that the story began in 1854, though with the advent of the Railways from 1825 onwards, the thought for steam traction engines had been considred for some time.

A Garret Steam Traction Engine took part in the Lord Mayors parade in London in 1854, piquing the interest of the military. An experimental Experimental vehicle  trialled by Army moved a siege gun between Woolwich Common and  Plumstead Common [0.3 miles]

During the Crimean War, the realistaion that artillery guns were getting heavier led the Ordnace Committee to consider the use of traction engines as a means of moving artillery. A prototype manufactured by Charles Burrell & Sons of Thetford Norfolk in Norfolk was purchsed and trials began in 1858, howver the traction engines were thought to be unsuitable and not as reliant as horses. 

The colonial nature of wars in the late 19th Century did not require a lot of heavy artillery so military interest in traction engines waned. The main developemts were the civilian use of engines, particularly in agriculture, though the odd engine was purchased for military experimentation.

As civilian traction engines grew in use and designs became more robust, the military began to take a renewed interest. In 1871 the Army purchased  lightweight machines from Aveling and Porter - the Steam Sapper. They were not however considered for moving guns.

The first purpose built traction engine designed specifically for military use was manufactured by John Fowler and Company in 1880.  The engine had a crane for lifting gun barrels and a winch. It was trialled at Shoeburyness for hauling artillery. The machine was expensive and did not progress beyond the trials. During 1880's compound engines were developed which increased the power output, and road engines were increasingly used for haulage.

It was during the Boer War which saw the first significant military use of mechanised transport by the British Army.  On the 1st Novemeber 1901, 45 Steam Transport Company Royal Engineers was formed. During the conflict 55 engines served in South Africa, predominantly Fowler steam engines. The War Office placed order for Fowler Armoured trains with wagons that could carry guns, but non were used.

After the Boer War a Mechanised Transport was Committee set up to consider use of mechanical transport within the Army. The Committee determined steam engines offered the best solution (petrol engines not being sufficiently developed) and the Army purchased Thornycroft steam lorries. Major HA Bethell proposed a Motor Field Battery based on Thornycroft steam lorries, but idea was not accepted. The Royal Artillery conducted their own trials with traction engine gun haulage and concluded horses could perform as well as tractors.

The development of the internal combustion engine for civilian use continued. The Army purchased vehicles to conduct trials. In 1910 the Army purchased three Thornycroft and three Horsby wheeled tractors, as well as a Hornsby chain tracked tractor. A trial was undertaken to compare horse v engine, and a review undertaken by the Director Royal Artillery. The conclusion was that advantage of mechanised transport over horses was not significant.

Whist the Royal Artillery did not embrace mechanisation, the Army Service Corps (ASC), who had taken over the respobsibility for mechanised transport  from the Royal Engineers, were more entusiastic. By 1911 they had equipped with a single specification 3 ton lorries. Whilst non were used as gun tractors, they did have a crucial function in the artillery logistic chain of moving ammuntion.


Thornycroft 3 Ton Lorry

On 19 July 1914  West Riding RHA (TF) conducted an experiment with motor cars drawning 15 pounder Erhardt  guns. They moved a battery 89 miles before coming into action. With the outbreak of war on 4th August, no further development of field artillery being drawn by mechanised transport would take place till after WW1.

With the transition from mobile to postional warfare, there was a demand for heavy artillery, and consequently a need for a mechanism to haul them. Steam traction engines were called upon to move heavy artillery, however the smoke and steam attracted gun fire,plus they could not go off road,  making them unsuitable. British combustion engine vehicles were too small to move heavy artillery.


Fowler Steam Transaction Engine

Consequently in 1915 British Government began purchasing Holt Tractors from USA to be operated by Army Service Corps They were used to move 6 inch guns, 8 inch howitzers, and  9.2 inch howitzers. Demand led to Rushtons of Lincolnshire being licensed to build Holts, though this was not successful. 


Hotl 75 HP Caterpillar Tractor


Army Service Corps Caterpillar Section Holt Tractor personnel


Holt 75 HP Tractor hauling a dismantled 9.2 Howitzer 


Holt Tractor pulling an 8-inch Howitzer


A Holt caterpillar tractor hauling a 6inch Mark III gun


Holt tractor hauling a 6inch Mark VII gun


Holt tractor hauling a 6-inch Mark XIX gun

Demand for lorries for the logistic chain also grew and, also in 1915, the British Army began to purchase large numbers of  Four Wheel Drive Auto Company 3 ton lorries (FWD-3). The FWD-3 was used to pull 6 inch Howitzers. 


FWD lorry hauling 6-inch 30cwt howitzer


FWD lorry hauling 6-inch 26cwt howitzer



Edited by ianjonesncl


Recommended Comments

There are no comments to display.

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...