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Remembered Today:

During combat, what would RFA Drivers actually be doing?


Wazzok1
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From what I understand, Drivers were the ones who rode the horses pulling heavy guns, etc. So during combat, once all the guns are in position, and all supplies have arrived, would Drivers just be sitting there?

Furthermore, what would Shoeing Smiths be doing in combat and out of combat?

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Guns have to be moved about quite a bit, especially when the enemy locates their position, so the drivers would have to be ready to go forward and bring the guns away at short notice, and often under fire. The story of 37 Battery RFA at le Cateau is a good illustration, when Drivers Luke and Drain both earned the VC by doing just that. Drivers would also be responsible for looking after their horses when away from the guns. A good driver would know when his horses needed re-shoeing, and so would arrange with the shoeing-smiths for this to be done when the battery was not in action.

 

Shoeing-smiths would not have much to do when the battery was in action, except possibly making new shoes (if it was feasible to have a forge fired up) and re-shoeing horses which were not part of a gun team, such as officers' chargers or those pulling the cooks' wagons or store wagons.

 

Ron

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2 hours ago, Ron Clifton said:

Guns have to be moved about quite a bit, especially when the enemy locates their position, so the drivers would have to be ready to go forward and bring the guns away at short notice, and often under fire. The story of 37 Battery RFA at le Cateau is a good illustration, when Drivers Luke and Drain both earned the VC by doing just that. Drivers would also be responsible for looking after their horses when away from the guns. A good driver would know when his horses needed re-shoeing, and so would arrange with the shoeing-smiths for this to be done when the battery was not in action.

 

Shoeing-smiths would not have much to do when the battery was in action, except possibly making new shoes (if it was feasible to have a forge fired up) and re-shoeing horses which were not part of a gun team, such as officers' chargers or those pulling the cooks' wagons or store wagons.

 

Ron

I hope this isn't overly-specific, but my ancestor was both a Driver (rank) and Shoeing Smith (appointment), which is my reason for asking these questions.

What would a soldier who was both be doing in combat?

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With around 200 horses in each battery there was plenty to keep the drivers and smiths busy, in action or not.  The horses still needed to be cared for; large amounts of fodder and water needed to be brought and distributed to them, they needed to be groomed regularly (particularly in muddy conditions), they needed to be mucked out - all the normal stabling functions, but in difficult and trying circumstances.  Horse lines needed to be moved altogether quite frequently in winter months or wet conditions, because the horses naturally trampled the ground into a morass, which was bad for their feet...

 

As Ron says, guns moved quite often - particularly field batteries of 18-pdr and 4.5" howitzers because of their limited range and relative ease with which they could be located.  Guns were deployed so they could cover a specified area with their fire (called 'zone' at the time); if they were subsequently ordered to cover a different zone, they usually needed to move - sometimes to an entirely new position, which would involve bringing the teams up.

 

When they weren't maintaining the horses, drivers were put to work carrying ammunition up to the guns (usually dumped at a central spot a few hundred yards from the guns, from which the gun detachments would collect it for their own gun), carrying salvage (i.e. empty cartridges, ammunition boxes, etc.) back to the wagon lines, and sometimes lending a hand in constructing gun pits or dug-outs on the gun position.  There was also their own dug-outs or accommodation to build or improve at the wagon lines. 

 

There was (and still is) a tremendous amount of graft in a gun battery - 'many hands make light work'.

 

 

- brummell

 

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3 hours ago, Wazzok1 said:

I hope this isn't overly-specific, but my ancestor was both a Driver (rank) and Shoeing Smith (appointment), which is my reason for asking these questions.

What would a soldier who was both be doing in combat?

He would be a shoeing-smith, and would not have other duties as a driver with a team of horses (except perhaps in emergency).

 

Ron

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The horse lines of a battery were often some miles behind the battery gun position, in order to provide some relative safety from enemy artillery fire.  Usually the battery captain (or sometimes another officer who is resting for a short period) is in command of the horse lines.  The daily work of drivers in maintaining the horses and shoeing smith in shoeing the horses continued even under combat conditions.  If the gun crews suffered heavy casualties or if ammunition needed to be offloaded or moved to the guns drivers were often detailed from the horse lines to the gun position.

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