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Remembered Today:

How to understand the army?


Kathie

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I am most grateful to particularly Dick Flory for advising that the 15th Siege Battery was attached to the 21st Heavy Artillery Group in October 1917.

I have access to Farndales book "History of the Toyal Regiment of Artillery". Alas it is all Greek to me. I cannot work out the differences between siege and other batteries; I cannot find 21st HAG only 21 St Divsion but that only had 95 and 95 Brigade with A,B and C Batteries. In short I am a military nincompoop.

I do not need to be an expert 0- I jsut want to explain to local readers (village where war memorial is) what 2nd Lt SAH Dell who was in 15th Seige Battery was doing when he died and before that - ie what did he join, what would he gnerally have been doing, and so on.

Can anyone put into plain civilian terminology what Farnham or others mean?. I woudl be most grateful. Or tell me where to look.

Many thanks

Kathie - also on other email at Kathie2

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Robert Dunlop

Kathie

If it is any consolation, I found Farndale's appendix on heavy artillery organisation less than clear :blink: . I presume the concept of the battery, which consisted of 4-6 guns, is ok for you? Field gun batteries comprised the smaller, lighter field guns and light howitzers that could be quickly transported with horses. Heavy artillery were organised as heavy batteries and siege batteries. Heavy batteries comprised bigger, heavier guns, such as the 60 pdr. Typically, they could fire a shell for a long way but not high into the air. This meant they were not as effective at reaching targets that were behind steep hills or deep inside bunkers. Siege batteries also comprised heavy guns but they were large howitzers. These fired big shells high into the air, which could then plunge down onto forts or behind hills. Heavy artillery often needed heavy vehicles, such as caterpillar tractors, to pull them around so they were less mobile. It took time to gather these big guns together to support a major attack.

With heavy artillery, the key was to group batteries together so that their power could be concentrated. It also meant that supplies of petrol and ammunition, which were needed in large quantities, could be organised more efficiently. In the middle years of the war, batteries of heavy artillery were gathered together into Heavy Artillery Groups, also known as HAGs. Typically, this would comprise 5 batteries. Some HAGs reported to the director of artillery for an army corps, known as Brigadier General Royal Artillery (BGRA). Some reported to the Major General Royal Artillery (MGRA), who was responsible for co-ordinating artillery for an army headquarters.

The system of HAGs did not prove satisfactory. For example, individual batteries might get moved around a lot, which caused disruption and lack of continuity. Heavy artillery batteries were re-organised into Heavy Artillery Brigades. This gave more stability and improved efficiency.

I think I have got this right but I know that any mistakes will be quickly corrected. Hope this is a little clearer for you.

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This is a help - I was always intending just to do a personal story of each soldier on the memorial and now have got caught up in all this expertise. So thanks very much Robert for this info. i must read more - mainly you have sorted out the siege battery bit for me- I kept thinking maybe this was a colonial reference of some sort.

Kathie

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Robert Dunlop
mainly you have sorted out the siege battery bit for me- I kept thinking maybe this was a colonial reference of some sort.

:lol:

As a 'colonial', I can assure you that this is not the case. :D

'Siege battery' comes from the concept of a 'siege train', which was made of the big guns that trundled along after the pikemen and musketeers for example in the English Civil War. These big artillery pieces would be lined up in front of a castle or fort that was surrounded and under siege. It would take a while to get them into place, all a bit worrying for the occupants of the castle, and then the guns would slowly but surely batter away at the walls. Often, this would lead the besieged to surrender. Some of the ruined castles around England show the effects of siege guns during the Civil War.

In the First World War, there was a lot of store placed on the fact that the big forts in Belgium, such as Namur, would be able to withstand a siege. However, the Germans used huge howitzers that were so big they had to be transported in pieces. However, their shells were so big that when fired high into the air they fell to ground without any noise - they were travelling faster than the speed of sound. These shells could penetrate the armoured concrete of the forts and the Germans were hardly held up at all. Overnight, the whole notion of forts basically went out the window. So siege artillery could turn it's attention from attacking forts and castles to attacking the enemy's artillery and deep bunkers, etc.

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How interesting - this is a nice little add on to my story about Arthur Dell who was in 15th Siege Battery - he was a good cadet at school in the Eastern Cape and I'm putting together how he got to France etc

Thanks

Kathie

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I would add a couple of comments to what has already been said. Each Army Corps had two Brigadier Generals for artillery. One was the Brigadier General, Royal Artillery (BGRA) who commanded the field artillery of the corps and the other was the Brigadier General, Heavy Artillery (BGHA) who commanded the Siege and Heavy Artillery of the Corps. The Heavy Artillery of a corps consisted of Siege Batteries and Heavy Batteries. These had heavier guns than the Royal Field Artillery batteries, generally 6" guns up to 12" guns. For most of the war the siege and heavy batteries were administered by headquarters units referred to as Heavy Artillery Groups (HAGs) that, as has already been mentioned, consisted of a number of batteries. The complicating factor in all this is that during the first three years or so of the war the batteries in a HAG constantly changed as the tactical situation changed, so that a siege battery or heavy battery would constantly move around from one HAG to another as the situation dictated. It was not uncommon for a particular battery to be assigned to four or five different HAGs within the period of a month. In late 1917 it was decided that some stability was needed in this situation and from that time on most siege and heavy batteries were assigned to a single HAG (which at the same time were redesignated as Brigades, RGA) for the rest of the war.

During the earlier part of the war siege and heavy batteries consisted of four guns but starting in 1917 most of them were brought up to six guns. A battery was commanded by a Major assisted by a Battery Captain and three or more Lieutenants. The senior enlisted man was referred to as a Battery Serjeant Major and there was also a Battery Quartermaster Sergeant. Each gun section (usually two guns) was commanded by one of the Lieutenants and a Sergeant was in charge of each gun. The No. 1 for each gun was usually a Corporal or Bombardier and the rest of the crew for the gun were Gunners. The horses (or tractors) that pulled the guns were kept at the horse lines somewhat behind the guns usually under the direction of an officer (these were usually rotated from the guns for a period of rest), the Battery Sergeant Major and the Drivers who rode (drove) the horses and cared for them.

Hope this is of some assistance. Regards. Dick Flory

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