Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Crunchy

Allenby's Gunners: Artillery in the Sinai & Palestine Campaigns 1916-1918

Recommended Posts

Crunchy

Allenby's Gunners: Artillery in the Sinai & Palestine Campaigns 1916-1918. Alan H. Smith, Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2017. 373pp.

 

    In the recounting of battles and campaigns, the artillery tends to play second fiddle to the infantry and cavalry units participating in them; generally their contribution is mentioned in passing, with little attention given to their participation. In Allenby's Gunners: Artillery in the Sinai & Palestine Campaigns 1916-1918, Alan Smith, a former CMF (predecessor of the Australian Army Reserve) artillery officer, seeks to redress this imbalance as regards the fighting in the Sinai and Palestine during the Great War. Contrary to the dust jacket blurb that this is the "First detailed account of Australian artillery during the Sinai & Palestine campaigns" this book addresses the participation of the many British artillery units which served there; no Australian artillery took part in the campaign. 

    

The title is a little misleading as Allenby commanded the Eastern Expeditionary Force (EEF) for only half of the period covered in the book, and 
despite the sub-title it is not so much a study of the EEF's artillery, but another recounting of the campaign with the injection of the Gunners' contribution alongside that of the infantry and mounted units. While Smith tries hard to give the artillery a prominence, it is the Australian light horse and the British infantry and mounted units who tend to take centre stage. Nonetheless, he is to be congratulated for raising the artillery's profile, and in this respect he is successful.  Told in thirty chapters, some being only a page or two long, Smith traces the campaign from its early days in Egypt to its conclusion at Aleppo in October 1918. Throughout the narrative we gain a good understanding of the artillery's participation in both the large and more obscure battles, and during the periods in between. Generally balanced in his judgements, and avoiding the parochial approach that mars much of the popular Australian military history, he does not neglect the considerable fighting undertaken by the British infantry and mounted units and their supporting artillery, and this is refreshing from an Australian author.  Rounding out the study are eight useful appendices, several of which are detailed and full of artillery data. Clear and useful maps accompany most of the battle chapters.

 

    Rather like the curate's egg, however, there are too many issues that detract from this being a sound or reliable book. Despite being based on what is obviously considerable research of extensive primary and secondary sources, Smith lets himself down with his style, too many errors, whether typographical, unintended or fundamental, and sloppy editing.  Moreover, the presentation of information and the flow of the narrative are uneven. While some chapters are clear and logical, too often others provide a disjointed account making them confusing, difficult to follow, and leaving the reader bewildered.  

 

    His initial discussion of the organisation and types of artillery is inadequate. Not only are there errors, but a clear understanding of the artillery from top down is missing. While the structure relating to battery organisations is detailed, that of the higher command and the allocation of organic artillery to formations is lacking, which leaves readers who are not conversant with them rather confused in later chapters. We are informed the "organic artillery for an infantry division in 1914 comprised three field artillery brigades and the divisional ammunition column" (p35), whereas at that time it also included a 4.5-inch howitzer brigade and a 60-pounder gun battery, together with their own respective ammunition columns. While it is true the 60-pounder batteries did not accompany their infantry divisions to Egypt, and during 1916 the howitzer brigades were disbanded to provide a field artillery brigade of three 18-pounder batteries and one 4.5-inch howitzer battery, these are issues Smith might have usefully clarified for the reader. 
    
    Similarly, in discussing the 1914 field artillery brigade, we learn its three field batteries each had six guns, yet over the page he writes "The twenty-four 18-pounders and four battery headquarters required... " (p35). Only at the bottom of p36 do we learn that one of the four batteries had 4.5-inch howitzers - nor does he explain the change in organisation that saw these batteries distributed to the 18-pounder field brigades. Having informed us batteries had six guns in 1914 we are later told  "Eventually, in 1916, the six-gun battery superseded the four gun battery ..." (p36). To avoid such confusion, Smith ought to have distinguished between the six gun battery of a regular artillery brigade, and the four gun battery of a Territorial Force (TF) artillery brigade in 1914, which were increased to six gun batteries during 1916.  Some organisation charts showing the allocation of organic artillery units to divisions, and the changes in organisations during the campaign would have been useful. Nor does he adequately distinguish between the RFA, RGA and RHA before getting into the detail of battery organisations. We are informed an RHA brigade commander, a lieutenant colonel, was called the Commander, Royal Artillery (CRA), which this reviewer has now been informed was actually titled Commander, Royal Horse Artillery (CRHA). There is no explanation that the CRA, generally a brigadier general, was actually the commander of the infantry divisional artillery, although the term is used regularly throughout the book. 
     
    Typical of his confusing style, Smith writes of the desperate fight of the horse artillery supporting the light horse during the Es Salt raid.  Focussing on B Battery, Honourable Artillery Company's (HAC) fight, and with no mention of the other batteries, we learn the guns were ultimately abandoned (p215). Six lines later B Battery is withdrawing by sub-sections. Continuing with this battery's retreat it is not until two pages later we find it was A Battery, HAC and the Notts Battery, RHA, the first mention of these units during the retreat, that lost all their guns, while B Battery only lost one. At other times information not relevant to the specific issue under discussion is lobbed into the narrative, disrupting the flow of the story and adding nothing to it. Nor is Smith's discussion of the various battles always clear and logical. Whereas, he provides a generally good account of the infantry assaults at Third Gaza (Chapter 13) and in the narratives of the Amman and Es Salt operations (Chapters 19 and 21), where he outlines the background, topography, intended plan and objectives before narrating the outcomes, in others, such as First and Second Gaza, and Beersheba, he launches into the actions of units and formations without providing the necessary backdrop to follow the storyline. Nor does he develop some key issues; for example although he recounts the incident of Meinertzhagen's dropped haversack as part of the deception plan for Third Gaza, nowhere are we told what the deception plan actually entailed.

    

    There are not only errors concerning the artillery that confuse the reader. To give three examples of several. He writes " [during the construction of] a railway line from the east bank of the canal into the Sinai Desert at Katia ...[Maxwell] allocated the 5th Light Horse Brigade to defend the project" (p23). This occurred in 1916, yet the 5th Light Horse Brigade was not formed until July 1918. On p100 (Second Battle of Gaza) we are told that "Squadrons of the 2nd and 22nd Light Horse brigades had been detached ..."; there was no 22nd Light Horse Brigade, and it is probably the 22nd Mounted Brigade he is referring to. In discussing the Amman Raid and first Es Salt Affair (Chapter 19) we learn " Shea's force comprised: A&NZ Mounted Division (less the 2nd Light Horse Brigade). ... " (p197). Yet three pages further on the 2nd Light Horse Brigade is listed as Shea's southern group, which is correct as it did participate in the raid. Conversely, listing the 3rd Light Horse Brigade as Shea's northern group is odd; the 3rd did not take part in the operation, and was not in the A&NZ Mounted Division.  These and other errors, some of which appear to be typographical - such as "Ryrie's 3rd Light Horse Brigade" (p80) - when in fact he commanded the 2nd - not only cause confusion, but cast doubt on the veracity of the less well known information and data Smith provides.

    

     Sadly, given Smith's background and the extensive research he undertook, this book had the potential of being more than it is. Rather than listing the artillery units allocated to units and formations, and interweaving their participation and contribution into what is essentially another narrative of the campaign, and a disjointed one at that, a more valuable contribution would have provided a cogent and in-depth study of the artillery itself against the backdrop of the operations. That is make the artillery the central player of the study, rather than a supporting actor.  Such issues that might have been included are the problems the Gunners faced and how they overcame them, the use of artillery tactics in different scenarios, comparisons between the employment of the field and heavy artillery supporting the infantry, with that of the horse artillery supporting the mounted formations, and how the artillery adapted and improved as the campaign progressed. That analysis which is provided is not well developed, and sometimes tenuous.

    

    Smith has undertaken considerable research, and ensured the artillery participation in the campaign is throughly recounted, and he should be commended for doing so. It is a shame, however, that he and his editor didn't spend as much time revising the draft into a clear, flowing narrative, and correct the errors that litter its pages. Altogether the result is a frustrating read.
 

Edited by Crunchy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Philip Wilson

Thank you for a very erudite book review.

 

Philip

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
josquin

Your review of Smith's book is informed in its scrutiny and judicious in its criticism.  Your explication of the missed possibilities is as instructive

as it is thoughtful.  You clarify that the definitive work for this subject remains to be written.

 

Josquin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
stu

Thank Crunchy you for your detailed review.

My grandfather served in the RFA throughout this campaign, when I saw the book title I initially thought I would rush out to buy this book, however I am now having second thoughts !

 

Stuart

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Crunchy

Phillip, Josquin, and Stu,

 

Thank you for your kind comments.  It was not an easy book to review, and I hope I struck the right balance.

 

Cheers

Chris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DB4rc
On 17/03/2018 at 08:15, stu said:

Thank Crunchy you for your detailed review.

My grandfather served in the RFA throughout this campaign, when I saw the book title I initially thought I would rush out to buy this book, however I am now having second thoughts !

 

Stuart

Late in my picking up on all this, my Paternal Grandfather also served throughout the campaign and after demobilisation continued in service as an Administrator in Palestine. My father was born in Nazareth. I have found it very difficult to track my grandfather's service beyond his being quoted in a Diary FOO in the Battle of Romani with the 1/1st Hants RFA. He was then 2Lt Richard Dorian Badcock. Somewhere in the campaign he earned the MC (I don't know how and the timing of the LG announcement doesn't really match up with any major part of the campaign). At demobilisation, he was a Major. In my case it MIGHT be that the book could help sharpen my focus.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
NorthStaffsPOW

Like others I appreciate your review of the book in question. To those interested in the role of artillery in this campaign might I suggest reading Amateur Gunners: The Adventures and Letters of a Soldier in France, Salonika and Palestine. These are the memoirs and Letters of Alexander Douglas Thorburn and offer an entertaining and in my case enlightening insight into the work of the RFA in the First World War. 

 

While Amateur Gunners does not go into a huge amount of detail concerning the more technical aspects of a battery on campaign, it certainly gives the reader a sense of what it was like to have been there. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
rflory

DB4rc wrote: "He was then 2Lt Richard Dorian Badcock. Somewhere in the campaign he earned the MC"

 

Badcock's MC was gazetted in the London Gazette of 11 April 1918, but was backdated to 1 January 1918, which means that it was a New Year's Honor and as such, has no citation. The heading of the entry indicates it was awarded for the capture of Jerusalem.  The MC was sent to him "by post" on 4 August 1921.

 

If you do not already have a copy your should obtain a copy of History of the 1/1st Hants Royal Horse Artillery during the Great War, 1914-1919 which has be reprinted by Naval & Military Press.  You are probably aware that Badcock attended Dulwich College and the Dulwich College Register 1619-1926 has some information on him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DB4rc
17 hours ago, rflory said:

DB4rc wrote: "He was then 2Lt Richard Dorian Badcock. Somewhere in the campaign he earned the MC"

 

Badcock's MC was gazetted in the London Gazette of 11 April 1918, but was backdated to 1 January 1918, which means that it was a New Year's Honor and as such, has no citation. The heading of the entry indicates it was awarded for the capture of Jerusalem.  The MC was sent to him "by post" on 4 August 1921.

 

If you do not already have a copy your should obtain a copy of History of the 1/1st Hants Royal Horse Artillery during the Great War, 1914-1919 which has be reprinted by Naval & Military Press.  You are probably aware that Badcock attended Dulwich College and the Dulwich College Register 1619-1926 has some information on him.

rflory,

 

Thank you for your research and affirmation.

 

DB.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...