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Remembered Today:

RFA Battery Positions


JakeDerrick
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Hi,

A while ago I asked about RFA battery position layouts on The Somme. I am re-looking into this subject and would really love some help. I am trying to get an idea of the layout of a battery, how close were the guns, were the pits connected by small communication trenches etc?

In addition in the book 'The Unreturning Army', it makes mention of dugouts and shelters close to the firing line. How close would these be?

I hope someone might be able to help.

Thanks

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  • 4 weeks later...

Jake,

Then, as now, the deployment of a battery was subject to numerous factors, perhaps the three most important of which were the ground, the threat and the requirements of artillery survey (which are almost infinitely technical and won't be gone into in detail here). A battery was deployed by the Battery Commander himself, who received orders from his (artillery) brigade as to the area in which he was to deploy the battery and the likely targets he should be able to achieve from that area. The BC then decided where each gun should go, the command post, the wagon lines, etc.

The type of position the battery established - i.e. in the open, in pits, with overhead protection, etc. - depended on the threat, which in turn depended largely on the 'stage of the campaign'. For example, from the war diary of the 35th (Howitzer) Battery RFA, we know that when they came down to the Somme a few days before the preliminary bombardment began, they occupied a position north of Bray, with targets in the vicinity of Mametz/Fricourt. As this position could not be directly observed by the Germans and so was judged to be relatively safe from a counter-battery threat, the guns were in the open 30-50 yards apart with narrow trenches dug to shelter the detachments in case of counter-battery fire. After Happy Valley (less than a mile away) was heavily shelled, it was decided to dig the guns in and improve the trenches. Interestingly, this was done with the assistance of some infantry, who also helped dig-in the telephone lines forward for the FOOs.

On 11 July, the batteries of 22 Bde RFA (which included 35th Bty) moved forward to positions in the vicinity of Bottom Wood, Queen's Nullah and Willow Avenue, a German communication trench which ran up the valley between Mametz and Fricourt Wood. 35th Battery was allocated the Willow Avenue position (as you'd expect, it being a howitzer battery - the 18-pdr batteries got the forward positions). Ammunition had been pre-dumped on the position and the guns came into action on 12 July, cutting the wire in front of the Second Position. As limited time had been available, the guns were once again in the open approximately 50 yards apart, but urgent work went on throughout the next few days to dig shelter trenches next to each gun to shelter the detachment and to dig the guns in. Full use was made of Willow Avenue to shelter the command post and accommodate the detachments. Willow Avenue ran NE/SW, with the guns deployed to the north of the trench on a line N/S.

So as you can see, the deployment of the battery was affected by the ground and the threat. In a low-threat area with no pre-existing trenches, the guns were in the open with the minimum protection for the detachments. This saved labour for the detachments and so prevented fatiguing them unnecessarily. As the threat went up, so extra measures were taken. When the battery went forward, work began on gun pits and trenches as soon as the guns came into action, use was made of pre-existing trenches and the guns were more widely dispersed due to the increased counter-battery threat.

The survey factor (i.e. where exactly is each gun and what direction is it pointing in) also affected deployment during the Somme offensive. The temptation for BCs was to keep the guns as tight together as possible and orientate them on a line a near as possible parallel to any linear features (i.e. trenches) that they were likely to engage. This was due to the difficulty of exactly plotting the location of each gun and producing firing data for each gun to hit the target. The same firing data could be given to each gun for speed and simplicity, which produced a fall of shot which mirrored the deployment of the guns. The fall of shot was therefore easier to adjust. However, the tighter the deployment, the greater the threat from counter-battery fire, so the BC had to find a balance between a deployment which allowed for accurate survey and one which preserved his guns and detachments from enemy indirect fire.

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