ROYAL FIELD ARTILLERY
During World War One the British Army used two mobile artillery units, The Royal Field Artillery (RFA) and the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA). Both units used horse-drawn gun limbers; however the RHA limbers were navigated by two drivers, each riding one of the six light-draughts horses, whereas the RFA drivers sat on the limber while handling the horses.
Since the RHA used smaller caliber guns they were mobile and served with Cavalry brigades, whereas the RFA used heavier calibre weapons and served with Infantry Divisions.
When supporting infantry divisions, the RFA batteries would position their guns behind the infantry to support either their advancement or protection if under attack. If the infantry were attacked, the guns would continue their support until the very last minute, before being withdrawn.
Fred was assigned to the RFA 43rd Brigade, which was formed prior to the British Expeditionary Force’s deployment to France. The 43rd included the 30th, 40th and 57th(Howitzer) Batteries, which were equipped with 4.5 inch Howitzers[i] Upon formation, it was attached to the 1st Infantry Division, I Corps; which was commanded by General Haig. [ii]
The 1st Infantry Division was under the command of Major-General S.H. Lomax, and comprised of a number of brigades, each containing multiple infantry regiments. The following list displays the brigade’s number, then the quantity and name of the regiments, such as, 2nd Brigade: 2/ Royal Sussex Regiments, denotes that two Royal Sussex Regiments served in the 2nd Brigade:
1st (Guards) Brigade : 1/Coldstream Guards; 1/Scots Guards; 1/Black Watch; 2/Royal Munster Fusiliers
2 nd Brigade: 2/Royal Sussex Regiment; 1/Loyal North Lancashire Regiment; 1/Northamptonshire Regiment; 2/King Rifle Corps
3rd Brigade: 1/Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment); 1/South Wales Borderers; 1/Gloucester Regiment; “A” Squadron, 15th Hussars
5th Brigade: 2/Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry; 2/Worcester Regiment; 2/Highland Light Infantry; 2/Connaught Rangers
6th Brigade: 1/King’s (Liverpool Regiment); 2/South Staffordshire Regiment; 1/Royal Berkshire Regiment; 1/King’s Royal Rifle Corps; “B” Squadron, 15th Hussars
In 1914 each RFA brigade contained three artillery batteries. Each battery included two gun sections with six guns. There were a total of 198 men, who included a battery commander, who held the rank of Major (or Captain), a second-in-command with a rank of Captain. Others who served within a battery included: a Battery Sergeant-Major, Battery Quartermaster, who held the rank of Sergeant, a Farrier-Sergeant, 4 Shoeing Smiths, 2 Saddlers, 2 Wheelers, 2 Trumpeters, 7 Sergeants, 7 Corporals, 11 Bombardiers, 75 Gunners, 70 Drivers and 10 Gunners acting as Batmen[iii]. Each battery section had 3 Lieutenants (or 2nd Lieutenants) in charge. [iv]
A battery also had a small contingent of men trained as signalers / telephonists, which were responsible for maintaining open phone lines between forward observation posts and the battery, which was critical for reporting fire accuracy or target locations. Lines were repeatedly severed by shellfire, forcing signallers to crawl along the wire in order to locate and repair the break, usually while under shell and or rifle fire. Their lives were often placed in jeopardy in order ensure the battery’s ability to continue firing. As a signaler, Fred’s journal accurately describes the hazards faced by this small contingent of men.
Howitzer brigades used a 4.5 inch gun, which were manned by a six man crew and could fire 4 rounds per minute; with a maximum range of around 7,000 yards.
Loading a shell required the shell to be loaded first and rammed home with a short wooden rammer, then cartridge case was placed into the chamber and the breech closed then the gun fired.
Mounted on the inside of the gun shield near the top was a slide-rule- like fuse indicator. The indicator was used for setting the time on shrapnel shell fuses made them burst at the ideal point for greatest effect. Each shell contained 480 lead alloy balls, which would be released when the shell exploded.
When a battery arrived at a battle position, the signallers were responsible for immediately running wire to a forward observation post, each battery section, and to headquarters. When messages from the forward post were received at headquarters, assessments were made before sending firing instructions to the gun batteries.
Two signallers were always on duty serving as operators Inside the Battery Telephone dug-out.
The most commonly used field phone was the Fullerphone called the D3 (pronounced Don 3) telephone, as well as the Fuller Four-plus-three exchange[v]. Both of these phones were invented by Captain Fuller.[vi]
The lines to each station would be tested by sending a Morse code ‘OK’; if a station didn’t respond it meant that the line was broken – termed ‘Dis’. A break in a line required two signallers to be sent out immediately to find and repair the break. During a battle this task was extremely dangerous for signallers were exposed to both artillery and rifle fire.
During a battle, and contrary to their training, signallers would run phone lines over open ground, hang them in trees or bury them.
Because weather impacted the flight of shells, a weather reports would be sent to each battery twice a daily; then artillery officers would use various calculations and adjustments before ordering the guns to fire.
When the batteries were firing, observers in forward observation post would watch where the shells landed and report back to the Battery the range, and degrees left or right[vii] of the intended target.
[i] a cannon with a bore diameter greater than 30 mm and a maximum elevation of 60 degrees
that fires projectiles in a curved trajectory
[ii] The Long, Long Trail, The British artillery of 1914-1918 http://www.1914-1918.net/whatartbrig.htm
[iii] [iii] Batman: A soldier that takes care of everyday life so that an officer could concentrate on commanding.
[v] This portable field telephone exchange created in miniature the same service rendered by an ordinary permanent exchange. The exchange could take four incoming lines, all of which could be connected to each other by the exchange operator, who could also send and receive calls on each of the four lines
[vi] Hanson, Ivor J., Plough & Scatter Haynes Publishing, Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, UK pp 175-176
[vii] Hanson, Ivor J., pp 175-176