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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

No1 Armoured Train Royal Garrison Artillery



No1 Armoured Train Royal Garrison Artillery( 1AT RGA)  was formed on the 15th September 1915.


It's origins lay in the armoured trains operated by the Royal Naval Air Service which were formed in September 1914 to support the Belgians in the defence of Antwerp. The First Sea Lord, Winston Churchill, sent  six naval guns and detachments drawn from naval gunnery schools to Belgium. The Belgians decided to mount these guns onto railway trucks and formed three armoured trains Two consisted of 4.7 inch guns, the third using 6 inch guns. The trains consisted of two guns, two engines and two magazines, all protected by 5/8th thick steel plate. The guns were manned by Belgians and Royal Naval gunners.


The trains were sent to Antwerp engaging targets in the defence of Antwerp. When it as decided that the Belgian Field Army and the Royal Naval Division would withdraw from Antwerp, the guns supported the movement along the coast. The armoured trains then covered the movement of the 7th Division and 3rd Cavalry Division who had landed at Ostend, supporting their withdrawal to Ypres. The armoured trains would be enraged during the First Battle of Ypres, winter operations around La Bassee and the Battle of Neuve Chappelle, before being laid up in April 1915.



The armoured trains were consolidated into a single Armoured Train and responsibility for it's operation was handed over to the Royal Garrison Artillery in September 1915. The train consisted of a 4.7 inch gun and a 6 inch gun.






 Officers and other ranks were drawn from existing siege batteries under the command of Major JA  Robinson. The battery strength on formation was 3 officers and 28 ORs, plus a wireless operator. In addition the train retained 8 Belgians (1 Sous officer, 3 engine drivers, and 2 telegraphist)   who had been on the train under the Navy.


The train would be an Army level asset allocated to the First Army, being deployed in the area of Bethune.




On the 19th September 1915, 1 AT RGA fired it's first rounds. Two targets were registered using both  aeroplane observation and visual observation. The church at Aubers was f engaged first using the 4.7 inch gun, then the 6 inch gun. The first combat mission, under the command of 4th Heavy Artillery group, occurred on 21st September using both the 4.7 inch gun and six inch gun.


The train engaged targets intermittently till mid-October, when on the 16th a second 6 inch gun was received, the 4.7 inch being handed over the next day. For the rest of 1916, the train was largely at rest with some firing, moving between Bethune, Lestrem, Le Drumez and Lavante.


In December the Belgians left the train, the engine drivers being replaced by engine drivers from the Railway Construction Company Royal Engineers. The war diary records that the establishment was confirmed 3-January 1916 as 4 officers and 37 ORs plus 2 attached personnel.



Officers: 1 Major or Captain / 3 Subalterns


Serjeant: 2

Corporal:  1

Bombardier: 1

Gunners: 28 including 2 acting Bombardiers

Smith: 1

Servants: 3

Wireless operator (attached): 1

RAMC orderly (attached): 1



Railway Rolling Stock: 10

Motorcycle : 1

Motorcycle with sidecar: 1

Bicycle (pedal): 2


For much of the first half of 1916 the war diary details "No 1 Armoured Train at Rest on Siding" , normally BEAUMARIS SIDING BEUVRY








There would be only two days firing between January and May days firing. The most notable event being the Battery Commander wA knocked over by an armoured locomotive in February and evacuated to a casualty clearing station, and onward to England. A gas attack and shelling of Bethune was recorded in April. For the remainder of 1916 and into 1917 there were intermittent fire missions between periods in the sidings at Beaumaris. With the train at rest, Army routine of painting and cleaning between the periods of action were the main activities. In April 1917, no 2 gun was found to be not returning to the fire position and was sent for repair. The guns engaged targets throughout May,  June and July 1917. On 22nd July the train would appear to have a lucky escape when no 2 gun truck was hit by a 4.2inch shell, the armour deflecting the shell which caused a fire.


In August both guns were inspected by the Ordnance Department, and no 1 gun was given a further life of 500 rounds, no 2 gun 615 rounds. Fire missions continued, the Germans responding on one occasion when 2 base plates of a 9.3inch shell came through the roof of the officers mess. From September 1917 onwards the train was at rest. The period saw a lot of personnel movements, officers and men going on leave and returning. There were visits from senior officers including a Portuguese General. The war dairy for October 1917 records one mission of 20 rounds harassing fire, the quiet period being highlighted by the fact that "During this month the men have been employed on agricultural work in their spare time".


Despite no 2 gun being given a further life of 615 rounds in August, on 1st November it was condemned for "scoring plus wear", and sent to Bethune Station where guards were mounted over it.  On the 29th November 1918 No 1 gun fired 18 rounds in retaliation for an enemy bombardment. This would be the last mission fired by No1 Armoured 


No 1 Armoured Train joined I Corps Heavy Artillery on 20th December 1917 where it would broken up. On 16th January 1918, the locomotive and Royal Engineer personnel were returned to the Railway Operating Department at Minx. The following day No. 1 Armoured Train was re-designated 523 Siege Battery RGA which was to be equipped with two 9.2 inch Mark XVIII Railway Guns. 


Railway trucks belonging to No.  1 Armoured Train were withdrawn on 23rd January, and the remaining gun, 6" Q.F. Mk II (no 582), complete with mounting and cradle on armoured gun truck, together with all gun stores were taken to Bethune and handed over to for consignment to base depot. The remaining rolling stock was removed on 30th January.


The personnel of 523 Siege Battery began their training on a 9.2 inch Mark XVIII Railway Guns of 461 Siege Battery.








Edited by ianjonesncl
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Many thanks to Wigeon for finding the re-designation of No1 Armoured Train to 523Seige Battery and the breaking up of the train.



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