|ROYAL ARTILLERY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
23rd April 2008
5 (GIBRALTAR 1779-1783) BATTERY ROYAL ARTILLERY
The Spring 2008 Meeting of the Society was held in the Newcome Hall at the Artillery Centre, Larkhill, on Wednesday 23rd April at 11 am. Brigadier Timbers was in the Chair and 31 members of the Society seven members’ guests, two former members of the Battery and six serving members of the Regiment, a total of 47, attended the Meeting.
After the Secretary had given the usual parish notices, The Chairman welcomed Major Tom Luker Horne, Battery Commander of 5 (Gibraltar 1779-1783) Battery who, together with his team: Capt Jennifer White, Lt Dominic Huxford, Sgt Potter and Bdr Davies, were going to give this year’s Presentation on the History of their Battery
Good morning and welcome to you all, and thank you for your interest in the history of 5 (Gibraltar 1779-1783) Battery, Royal Artillery. I am Maj Tom Luker, the current Battery Commander, and it gives me great pleasure to relate to you some of the history of this great battery over the next hour or so with my team.
5 Battery is the tenth most senior battery in the Royal Regiment’s order of precedence. It holds the double distinction of both the honour title ‘Gibraltar 1779-1783’, which it was granted somewhat belatedly in 1934, and the Croix de Guerre, which was awarded following the actions of the Battery on the 27th May 1918 in support of the French south of the River Aisne. All members of the Battery wear the ribbon of the Croix de Guerre to commemorate this heroic action.
The Battery was formed at St John’s, Newfoundland, in 1749 as Captain T Ord’s Company. This year then marks the 259th anniversary of the Battery, which is currently the senior gun battery of 19 Regiment (The Highland Gunners). Although now known as 5 Battery, it, along with all other batteries, was originally known by the surname of the officer commanding it. It was also known for long periods as 4 Company, 4 Battery and D Battery. It was only in 1889, on one of the multitude of Artillery reorganisations, that it came to be known as 5 Field Battery.
Rather than provide a compressed history of all 259 years we will discuss key elements of significance – the Siege of Gibraltar, the events of the Croix de Guerre action in this, its 90th Anniversary, some of the Battery’s actions from Burma, and then to narrate some of the Battery’s more recent history from Iraq and Afghanistan. Although I will place these in a historical framework, time prevents a more detailed narration of all of the Battery history, and I hope that the selected events are of interest, as they are of particular importance to the Battery. Equally, although the events of Iraq and Afghanistan are very recent, I feel that it is important that they too are recorded for posterity. I have a small team assisting me in this presentation, and without further ado I shall hand over to them to narrate the history of the Siege of Gibraltar.
The Siege of Gibraltar constitutes one of the most distinguished moments in the illustrious history of 5 Battery RA. The details of the Battery’s participation in the Siege offer a useful insight into both the technological progress of the Artillery in that period and the demands placed upon Gunners of the time during the lengthy struggle to defend Gibraltar.
In 1779, the Royal Artillery was organised into companies which were then assigned to one of four battalions for administrative purposes. As a result of this structure, 5 Battery RA were then known as Captain G Grove’s Company of the 2nd Battalion RA. The Battery set sail for Gibraltar in May 1772, and had been part of the garrison for seven years prior to the Siege itself.
A combined British and Dutch fleet had captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 in a rapid campaign of only two days, which resulted in a loss of three hundred men. From then on it was garrisoned by British Troops, and Spain heavily resented its occupation.
In 1779, Britain was already heavily involved in both the American War of Independence and had been at war with France since the previous year. Spain saw an opportunity to exploit Britain’s stretched resources and declared war in an attempt to recover her lost territory. The Spanish immediately began a blockade of Gibraltar by both land and sea, hoping to starve out the garrison. However, the Spanish had not bargained for the experience and foresight of General Sir George Eliott, the Governor of Gibraltar, who had taken ample precautions.
The Spaniards blockaded the fortress for nearly two years; a period used by both forces to develop their defences and, on the British side particularly, their technical proficiency in the use of Artillery. The Commander Royal Artillery at the start of the siege was Lieutenant Colonel John Godwin and he was in overall command of the five Artillery Companies at a total strength of 510 men. Despite these large numbers, Artillerymen proved to be in few in number and, in the early days of the blockade, could only provide approximately one trained gunner per gun illustrating the vast quantity of ordinance available to the defending forces. To combat these shortfalls in manpower, each Company of Infantry were ordered to provide between four and six men for training on the use of guns and mortars. As time went on and British bombardments intensified, each Company of Artillery was allocated an Infantry Battalion. Grove’s Company was given the 58th Regiment which later became part of the Northamptonshire Regiment and then the Royal Anglian Regiment.
The artillery, bolstered by infantry reinforcements, began refining their ammunition and techniques to maximise damage to the Spanish land defences and sea borne forces. Following the opening shots of the Siege on 11th July 1779, it became clear to British forces that the solid round shot they favoured would be of little use in harassing the Spanish working parties to slow the progress of their entrenchments. To combat this, an infantry officer with the 39th Regiment of Foot called Captain Mercier suggested firing the smaller 5.5 inch mortar bomb from the 24-pounder gun using a reduced charge. A normal powder filled fuze was used with the bomb and it was set to burst just before first graze. Captain Mercier’s innovative plan ‘was found to work well’ and the enemy were ‘much inconvenienced and discouraged by it’ (1).
The topography of Gibraltar presented the British Artillerymen with a more pressing technical problem than ineffective ammunition. The angles of depression required to allow guns placed on the high coastal ground to engage the lower Spanish land based batteries, and later the sea borne gun batteries, were considerable. Depression carriages had been trialled as early as 1768 but it was a design by Lieutenant G. F Koehler R.A that enabled the British guns at Gibraltar to be effective. He designed a carriage which allowed the gun, after being loaded in the normal position to be depressed up to 42 degrees below horizontal. This has become known as the Gibraltar Gun, and was greatly influential in the Siege as it enabled far more of the besiegers to be engaged. Although not all of the guns were fitted on carriages this way, many of the Battery would have served such ordnance.
The Spanish blockade continued and supplies ran desperately low. British convoys successfully provided relief early in 1780 when Admiral Sir George Rodney made his way into port with little Spanish resistance and provided the defensive forces with ordinance stores, fuel and food. Following this British triumph Admiral Barcelo, the Spanish naval commander, re-imposed the blockade and, by the spring of 1781, British forces were verging on starvation and suffering with small pox and scurvy. The reliance of the land troops on British Naval forces is clear from these events. The sea provided the only opportunity to maintain the logistical support Gibraltar required to keep fighting and the Spanish began to limit this supply chain to the best of their ability.
Despite the re-imposed blockade, help came for a second time when, on the 12th April 1781, a large fleet arrived from England including one hundred store ships with a year’s supply of food and ammunition. The Spanish were far better prepared on this occasion and unleashed a massive artillery bombardment plus fire ships and gun boats to prevent the British re-supply. One hundred and fourteen pieces of Spanish ordnance bombarded the ships and British defences all over the rock. British batteries replied with as great a weight of fire as they could muster. It was reported that:
‘During April we fired 5,155 shot and shell at the Spanish works; the enemy from the 12th to the end of the month fired an estimated 34,187 shot and 11,350 shells at us! All the Artillery Companies suffered casualties’.
Despite the Spanish bombardment sufficient supplies came through and the British were able to maintain their defence.
This level of bombardment and counter-bombardment continued in a similar proportion throughout the summer months allowing the Spanish to advance and strengthen their siege works considerably. The Governor was well aware of the situation and gained significant intelligence of this progress from Spanish deserters and, as a result, decided to take action in November 1781.
Early on 27th November 1781, the Governor launched an early morning sortie taking advantage of the fact that the Spaniards did not man their forward works at night. A detachment of more than 2000 men including 114 Artillerymen took the Spaniards completely by surprise as earthworks were blown up, magazines fired and the complex entrenchments the Spaniards had been building for months significantly damaged. The Artillery personnel in the detachment had a specific role; they were to spike the enemy ordinance which would render the guns useless. Bombardiers Matthew Bruck and William Rudd both of Grove’s company played a crucial role. Along with the other Artillery NCOs they carried equipment including an empty 3-pounder cartridge filled with explosives and punched with holes and a hammer and six nails to spike up the enemy guns and mortars. Gunners were given flaming torches or hand lights to aid in this process. The Sortie was a resounding success as acknowledged by the Governor of Gibraltar when he wrote in General Orders:
‘The bearing and conduct of the whole detachment, officers, seamen, and soldiers, on this glorious occasion, surpasses the Governor’s utmost acknowledgement’ (2)
Despite the success of the British sortie, the Spanish persisted in rebuilding their defences and, with the help of considerable French reinforcements, turned their attention to an attack by sea to breach the walls and allow storming parties to enter British strong points. Charles III had offered rewards for any suggestions that might help Spain win back Gibraltar and one of the ideas returned was that of the ‘Battering ships’. Ten merchant ships were converted to incorporate two gun decks. The ships were carefully designed for maximum protection against the variety of British Artillery ammunition and techniques. The guns and gunners were protected by layers of hardwood three feet thick and were covered by a roof sloping towards the enemy, layered with iron sheets and hides. The threat of red-hot shot was combated by a complex system of irrigation which kept the cork and sand which lined and filled the gaps in the defences soaked. These preparations were visible to the garrison forces on Gibraltar and, coupled with the renewed Spanish effort on siege works, made it clear that another attack was imminent.
The British planned a spoiling attack on 7th September 1782, the day before the planned Spanish assault with the Battering Ships. Red hot shot was used by the forces in defence to significant effect; gun positions were burnt and stores destroyed. This was not enough to damage the Spanish determination to attack and, despite the Battering Ships not being ready to deploy until almost a week later, a bombardment from the land-based guns opened. Over 6000 shot and 2000 shells were fired into the fortress in 24 hours from approximately two hundred and forty pieces of ordinance. The British forces could only manage around 90 guns to combat this bombardment and were outnumbered in men by six to one (3) Grove’s company was located in the area of the King’s Bastion during this lengthy exchange of fire with Captain Grove in command aided by three Lieutenants of the 58th Regiment. They were at a critical point primarily because the King’s Bastion had been identified as the main objective of the Spanish attack. Indeed, late on the first day of this intense bombardment, ‘fifteen gun and mortar boats came close in to the King’s Bastion but were driven off’ (4).
The long-awaited Battering Ship assault came on 13th September 1782. As soon as the first ship dropped anchor, as many guns as were in range opened fire. This bombardment and counter-bombardment continued for 13 hours. The British faced difficulties in reaching the ships anchored in the Bay and in the diminished effectiveness of their red hot shot because of the good design of the Battering ships. Approximately 7729 rounds were expended against the Battering ships of which 2440 were fired from the King’s Bastion, the location of Grove’s Company. By 2pm some small flames were seen aboard the leading Spanish ships which gave the British some hope. In fact, the Battering Ships were badly damaged and struggling to stay afloat. As the bombardment continued, flames were more evident and, by 2am, the Marines deployed to drive off the enemy boats with grape shot. The Royal Standard of Spain was captured signalling the victory of the British forces. The enemy lost around 1400 men and had failed to breach British coastal defences. This was the culminating action of the Siege, and thereafter British supplies began to come through unhindered.
The Siege had lasted for four years against the might of the Spanish Empire, but the British forces had outlasted and out shot their opponents.
Lieutenant-General Robert Boyd, who was present throughout the siege, wrote:
‘The Royal Artillery, the 39th and 72nd Regiments… stood the brunt of the day’s heavy fatigue, yet a glorious conquest was the reward for their toil; for braver soldiers and better practice from any Batteries in the Universe was never made, than what has crowned this day’ 5
Captain Grove was wounded while he commanded the batteries of the King’s Bastion and was replaced by Captain R Garstin RA. Of the 1900 casualties suffered by the garrison, 196 were gunners.
After the Siege of Gibraltar the Battery returned to the UK for seven years before returning to garrison Gibraltar again from 1790 to 1795. Over the next 200 years there were few conflicts or parts of the world that the Battery did not serve in, with long periods garrisoning Gibraltar, Malta, Ireland, Canada and India, serving in the Crimea, the Anglo-Egyptian War, and the Boer War. Sadly time will not permit the telling of these periods of history, and we fast forward to the Battery leaving South Africa in November 1902. On return, 5 Battery had twelve years of service in the UK, but moved barracks no less than six times. On the reorganisation of the training brigades in 1913, 5 Battery came to be brigaded with 1st and 3rd Batteries RFA in XLV Brigade in Leeds, equipped since 1908 with the horse drawn 18-pounder gun. Much of the Battery’s First World War history was narrated at last year’s Spring Meeting in the history of 1st Battery, so no more than a synopsis should be necessary now.
With the outbreak of war imminent, 5 Battery Royal Field Artillery prepared for deployment, and deployed to France as part of the newly formed 8th Division British Expeditionary Force in November 1914. It fought in most of the well-known battles of the war such as Neuve Chapelle, Loos, The Somme, the Third Battle of Ypres, the March Retreat. However their most significant battle was to take place in May 1918 in the German Spring Offensive.
The German authorities had realised that their only remaining chance of victory was to defeat the Allies before the overwhelming human and materiel resources of the United States could be deployed. They also had the advantage of nearly 50 divisions released by the recent Russian surrender. The German Spring Offensive, or Kaiserschlact (Kaiser’s Battle) began on 21st March 1918, but more properly was not one, but four separate sequential offensives.
8 Division with 5 Battery had been engaged in heavy fighting on the Somme in March and April 1918. The Germans had made many territorial gains during offensives MICHAEL and GEORGETTE , and their storm troopers had been particularly successful at seizing and exploiting weaknesses in the Allied lines. Following desperate fighting the British Forces had taken severe casualties and were in no condition to hold an active sector of the line. It was decided they would be moved to a quieter French area in the vicinity of Reims, in exchange for fresh French troops.
On 12th May, 5 Battery moved to a position at Bois des Buttes, one mile south of Ville aux Bois under their BC, Major J C Griffiths MC. The Battery was equipped with six 18-pounders and had two OP parties commanded by Lieut C Counsell, and 2nd Lieut H Reakes.
Unluckily for them, the move of the British troops coincided with the next phase of the German offensive, code-named BLUCHER-YORCK. This was to be a new attack on the French line, designed to draw forces further away from the Channel and allow renewed German progress in the north. The strategic objective remained to split the British and the French and gain victory before American forces could make their presence felt on the battlefield. Ironically, the British troops had moved from the frying pan into the fire.
Throughout the offensive of 1918, the Germans used the novel artillery tactics of Lieutenant Colonel Georg Bruchmüller. Known as the Feuerwalze, (or Waltz of Fire), this was an effective and economical artillery bombardment scheme. There were three phases: a brief attack on the enemy's command and communications, destruction of their artillery and lastly an attack upon the enemy front-line infantry defences. Bombardment would always be brief so as to retain surprise. Bruchmüller's tactics were made possible by the vast numbers of heavy guns (with correspondingly plentiful amounts of ammunition for them) which Germany possessed by 1918. It was possible for the Germans to launch an offensive at almost any vital part of the front without giving the Allies notice of their intentions by moving guns and shells to the threatened sector.
BLUCHER-YORCK was to attack across the line SOISSONS-REIMS but did not have sufficient heavy artillery to attack the whole front so a concentrated attack was planned for 37 miles of the Allied line between Beuilly and Brimont. Troops, guns, ammunition and supplies were moved at night to avoid detection, and on the eve of the attack there was one battery for every 100 meters of frontage being attacked and at least one battery to fire on each British or French battery within range.
The sector was partly held by six British divisions which were "resting" after their exertions earlier in the year. In this sector, the defences had not been developed in depth, mainly due to the obstinacy of the commander of the French Sixth Army, General Duchêne.
The Allied Forces would have been taken totally by surprise if it were not for the capture of two German prisoners who belonged to units not known to be in the area. On further interrogation the plan for the German attack on the 27th May was revealed; hasty plans were made to counter this attack and reserve companies were moved forward to reinforce the line, amongst these were 2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment who moved to Bois des Buttes, just forward of 5 Battery RFA.
The Battery were at this time under the command of Capt John Hamon Massey as on the 19th May the wagon lines consisting of the horses and gun limbers had moved back to Burgoyne to be joined on the 25th May by the BC who had gone back to join them for a few days rest. Lieut C Counsell and his OP party were forward with 2nd Battalion West Yorkshires and 2nd Lieut H Reakes was at the OP bunker at Wagram.
Having been in position for several days the Battery had prepared adequate field defences. The guns were in two sections of three with gun and ammunition pits for each gun and local defence trenches for the position. From 2100hrs on the 26th May the guns fired harassing fire missions on likely enemy approach routes and the position was prepared for the imminent attack with sufficient ammunition to fire throughout the night.
At 0100hrs the German Artillery returned fire with a High Explosive and Gas barrage that would last on and off for the next five and a half hours but during this time the Battery continued its fire. On realising the men could not keep up this heavy work for prolonged periods, Capt Massey organised a system of reliefs with an NCO and two gunners manning each gun at any one time with the remainder in cover.
Lieut Large and 2nd Lieut Button helped out with the manning of the guns while Capt Massey moved from gun to gun encouraging the men and reminding them of their duty to the Royal Regiment. During one of the barrages Lieut Large was injured by an enemy shell while helping on one of the guns. Although he had lost most of his right foot he refused to leave the Battery.
By 0500hrs the 2nd Devonshires were engaged with a large enemy force and had no artillery support due to most of the guns being knocked out by the German counter battery fire or having no means of communications. They fought bravely for up to three hours but were overwhelmed by the larger German force.
At 0630hrs the German artillery fire on the 5 Battery position stopped just as German infantry were spotted 200 meters from the position. Capt Massey ordered the guns to direct fire in defence of the position, and under this effective fire he took a Lewis Gun and four gunners armed with rifles and set out towards Wagram to drive the German infantry back.
The Germans then broke into the rear of the gun position. Capt Massey had not returned so Lt Large took command, despite his wounds, and continued the direct fire on the enemy attack. 2Lt Button went to the Command Post and set about burning the maps and documents. The members of the battery were now engaging the enemy with their personal weapons as well as with the guns. With the position almost lost, Lt Large gave the order to remove and destroy their breech-blocks and dial sights; as he did this he was shot through the lungs and died. 2Lt Button threw himself into the fight and was also killed moments later.
The remainder of the Battery fought on hand to hand with the enemy, but of the three officers and 46 NCOs and men of 5 Battery RFA on the gun position, only six men escaped death or capture - Gunner Sowerbutts and Sergeant Schofield MM fought their way out with rifles and four unarmed men, Gunners Cocking, Frazer, Haigh and Mant, escaped. Sgt Schofield MM died of his wounds on 6th June 1918 and is buried at St Sever Cemetery, Rouen, France. Capt J H Massey’s body was discovered in 1935 and he is buried at Jonchery-sur-Vesle British Cemetery, France. For his conduct on the 27th May he was awarded an MC and the Croix de Guerre. Lieut C E Large and 2nd Lieut C A Button were awarded the Croix de Guerre, Gunner Sowerbutts was awarded the Military Medal for his effort to get Sgt Schofield to safety and Gunners Cocking, Frazer, Haigh, and Mant were awarded parchment certificates.
Due to the heavy losses of both units on that day 5 Battery RFA and 2nd Battalion The Devonshire Regiment, were selected by the GOC of the Fifth French Army for the award of the Croix de Guerre avec Palmes en Bronze, the highest category of the medal. We have the original citation shown here, together with the citation from IX Corps Special Order, signed by a Major on the General Staff, one Bernard Montgomery. As mentioned previously, the Battery remains fiercely proud of its award, which is worn on all forms of headdress, and on the sleeves of our Dress uniform.
Despite the appalling losses, the Battery was reconstituted, and took part in further actions in the War, participating in the 2nd Battle of Arras in Aug 1918, and in some of the final actions of the war in October 1918, including the taking of Douai.
Following the end of hostilities the Battery returned to England as part of XLV Brigade, now renumbered XXXVII Bde RFA, initially posted to Ipswich, and then Lille Barracks, Aldershot and Shorncliffe, Dover, before leaving for India in 1926, where it remained until after the declaration of hostilities at the start of the Second World War. Following yet further reorganisations, together with a re-equipment to become a mechanised field regiment, 5 Battery became part of 1/5 Field Battery RA, 28 Field Regiment RA, where 1st Battery formed A Tp, and 5 Battery B Tp.
From India the Regiment deployed in 1940 as part of the Divisional Artillery of the 5th Indian Division and sailed to Eritrea, taking part in the victory at Keren. Although little studied today, the Battle of Keren in March 1941 proved to be a decisive victory, indeed the turning point, of the East African campaign. Moreover, Keren constituted the first significant Allied victory of the war after months of withdrawal and frustration epitomised by Dunkirk. The Red Sea became a more secure supply route and allowed the British forces in North Africa to begin their quest for a similar level of success.
From Eritrea 5 Battery moved via Egypt and Iraq to Cyprus, but was called back to North Africa to support 10th Indian Infantry Brigade in the defence of Gazala in 1942. Rommel’s Army was hugely successful here and in the ensuing German victory nearly all of the Regiment’s guns and vehicles were captured, along with the majority of the personnel. Remnants of 28 and 157 Field Regiments reformed 28 Fd Regt still part of the Divisional Artillery of 5th Indian Division. While in Cyprus in 1941, 28 Field Regiment reorganised into a three-battery regiment. The linked batteries were de-links to separate 1st and 3rd Batteries and 5 and 57 Batteries re-linked as 5/57 Battery. After a quick consolidation the Regiment and Battery set sail for Eastern India and Burma in late 1942 and in 1943 had arrived and established camp at Ranchi, India. The Regiment was renamed 28 Jungle Field Regiment and re-equipped with 3.7-inch howitzers, a far better weapon for the jungle terrain.
Once equipped and trained, it embarked at Calcutta for Chittagong, arriving there in October 1943. Fresh from the Middle East, the Battery’s move to the jungle came as somewhat of a culture shock.
The Division’s task was to clear the Arakan peninsula of Japanese. In early 1942, the Japanese army had driven Allied troops (British, Indian and Chinese) from Burma. During 1943, the Allies had tried a limited offensive into Arakan, the coastal province of Burma. The aim had been to secure Akyab Island at the end of the Mayu Peninsula. The island possessed an important airfield, from which the Japanese Army Air Force had launched raids on Calcutta and other Indian cities, and which also featured prominently in Allied plans to recapture Burma.
The Arakan is the large coastal province on the northwest edge of Burma. It is separated from the Central Plain by the Chin Hills and the Arakan Yomas, a series of knife-edge ridges that rise to six and eight thousand feet. The Mayu Peninsula is a narrow finger of land that points straight down to the port and airfield at Akyab. The peninsula is basically a mountainous spine, two thousand feet high and heavily covered with jungle vines, thorns and trees. On the west side of the spine was a littoral shelf of varying width and on the east a broader alluvial plain that merged uncertainly into the Mayu River. Mobility around the jungle was largely solved by the use of large numbers of Mountain Regiments (usually one or two regiments per division), equipped with mule-packed 3.7-inch Howitzers and by Jungle Regiments (one in most divisions by 1944), which employed a mixture of 25-pounders or 3.7inchs and large numbers of 3-inch mortars. However, these weapons lacked sufficient range to be mutually supporting and frequently the attached battery of 3.7s or mortars were the only artillery support to be had by infantry in the jungle.
The first Allied offensive in the Arakan had failed disastrously, for several reasons. Because the British Indian Army was being massively expanded, most of the Indian units committed to the attack lacked training and experience. Allied tactics and equipment were not suited to the jungle-covered hills, and Japanese units repeatedly achieved surprise by crossing rivers and hills which the Allies had dismissed as impassable. Also, the Allied command structure was inefficient, with a single overworked division headquarters trying to control a large number of sub-units and also a large line-of-communications area. During the following months, the Allies reorganised, engaged in extensive jungle training, and prepared for a renewed effort in 1944. Under British Fourteenth Army, the offensive was to be launched by Indian XV Corps under Lieutenant General Philip Christison.
The XV Corps offensive started at the end of December 1943 and by January 1944 the 5th and 7th Indian Divisions were advancing down the Mayu Peninsula towards the Mayu Tunnels and Akyab, 5th Division on the coastal plain and 7th Division down the Mayu Valley east of the Mayu Range. Further inland 81st West African Division was advancing down the Kaladan River.
The Japanese Plan for 1944 sought to capitalize on their successes of the previous year and invade India – the March on Delhi. This would start with an offensive in the Arakan. The Japanese 28th Army under Lieutenant General Shozo Sakurai commanded the troops in Arakan and in southern Burma. Its 55th Division under Lieutenant General Tadashi Hanaya occupied Arakan. By launching their attack in the first week of February, they intended to force the Allies to send reinforcements from the Central Front, thus clearing the way for the main Japanese offensive there, planned to begin in the first week of March.
On 5th February 1944 the Japanese began to infiltrate the front lines of the 7th Indian Division, which was widely dispersed, and moved north undetected on the small town of Taung Bazaar. Here they swung west and south, and on 6th February they attacked the HQ of 7th Division. There was heavy fighting, but 7th Division's signallers and clerks eventually had to destroy their documents and equipment and retreat. Sakurai's force then followed up towards Sinzweya and the rear of 7th Division.
A Japanese battalion crossed the Mayu Range at a seemingly impossible place, to set ambushes on the coastal road by which Indian 5th Division was supplied. The Japanese still holding the railway tunnels area launched raids and diversions, while unexpectedly large numbers of Japanese fighter aircraft flew from Akyab to contest the skies over the battlefield.
It was evident to all of XV Corps that the situation was serious. However, Fourteenth Army had spent much time considering counters to the standard Japanese tactics of infiltration and encirclement. The forward divisions of XV Corps were ordered to dig in and hold their positions rather than retreat, while the reserve divisions advanced to their relief.
The administrative area at Sinzweya was converted into a defended area, known as the "Admin. Box". Command was assumed by Brigadier Geoffrey Evans, commander of Indian 9th Brigade, part of the 5th Division. He reinforced the defenders, who were mainly headquarters and line of communication troops. Even more important were two troops of M3 Lee tanks of the 25th Dragoons.
The commander of 7th Division reached the Admin. Box, followed by several of his HQ personnel who had made their way in small parties through Japanese forces, and re-established control over the Division. Meanwhile, Allied Dakota transport aircraft dropped rations and ammunition to the cut-off troops, including the defenders of the Admin. Box. The Japanese had planned to use captured supplies and had not foreseen this development. While they themselves ran short of supplies, the Indian formations could fight on. The Japanese tried to supply them with a convoy of pack mules and Arakanese porters, following the route of Sakurai's original infiltration, but this was ambushed and the supplies were captured.
The first air-drop missions met opposition from Japanese fighter planes, but three squadrons of Spitfires, operating from new airfields around Chittagong contested the air over the battlefield. Sixty-five Japanese aircraft were claimed shot down for the loss of three Spitfires. Whatever the true figures, the Japanese fighters were quickly driven from the area.
On the ground, the fighting for the Admin Box was severe. On the night of 7th February, Japanese troops captured the Divisional hospital. In what was undoubtedly a war crime, thirty-five medical staff and patients were murdered. Japanese fire caused heavy casualties in the crowded defenses and twice set ammunition dumps on fire. However, all attempts to overrun the defenders were thwarted by the tanks, to which the Japanese had no counter once their few Mountain Guns were out of ammunition. The Japanese tried an all-out attack on the night of 14th February and succeeded in capturing one hill on the perimeter; with support from the tanks, the West Yorkshires recaptured it the next day, suffering heavy casualties. By 22nd February, the Japanese had been starving for several days. Colonel Tanahashi, commanding the Japanese 112 Infantry Regiment stated that his regiment was reduced to 400 men out of a nominal 2150, and refused to make further attacks. Sakurai was forced to break off the operation.
5 Battery was heavily involved in supporting the operations by 5th Indian Division along the Ngakyedauk Pass to relieve the Admin Box.
Although total Allied casualties were higher than the Japanese, the Japanese had been forced to abandon many of their wounded to die. For the first time in the Burma Campaign, the Japanese tactics had been countered and indeed turned against them.
As the monsoon began, it was found that the low-lying area around Buthidaung was malarial and unhealthy and the Allies actually withdrew from the area to spare themselves losses to disease.
Although the Battle of the Admin Box marked the beginning of the end of the Japanese in the Arakan. In March 1944 5th Indian Division was flown to Imphal on the Central Front where it took part in breaking the Japanese siege and pursuing them through the Monsoon back to Tiddim and the Chindwin River, and, after refitting in India, returning to take part in the Reconquest of Burma in 1945, ending the War with the 19th Indian Division on the Mawchi Road, a story related by 1st Battery in their Presentation to the Society in 2006 and so will not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that the Regiment and Battery were heavily engaged in some of the fiercest fighting of the Burma Campaign. This slow forcing of the Japanese out of Burma was heavily contested, fought in the most challenging of environments and wholly reliant on airdropped supplies.
With the Japanese capitulation in August 1945 the Second World War ended for the Battery and Regiment and with it five years of fighting. 28 Field Regiment had fought with distinction on the African and Asian continents, against all three of the axis powers.
Returning to the UK in 1947, 28 Regiment was retitled 14 Field Regiment as part of a Royal Artillery wide reorganization, with 5 Battery becoming a separate Battery once more.
The immediately post war period saw neither stability in posting terms, nor in operations, with the Regiment fighting in Korea in 1951. A notable period while in Korea saw the Battery fire minute guns for King George VI in 1952 (where I believe the then Lt Luckman, who is in the audience today, was there!). The Battery prepared for Suez in 1956, and in Aden in 1958, and was posted alternately between the UK and Germany. In 1971 further Army cuts struck and 14th Light Regiment was to be placed in suspended animation. After 58 years of serving together 1st, 3rd (now 13) and 5th Batteries moved to separate Regiments – 5th Battery to become part of 19 Regiment for the first time. 5 Battery were based mainly in Germany, with only tours of Northern Ireland to contend with, before in 1982 under a further Royal Artillery reorganisation it was redesignated the AMF(L) Battery, or to give it its full name, the ACE (Allied Command Europe) Mobile Force (Land) artillery battery, based at Larkhill, taking over from 13 Battery.
The AMF(L) was intended as a multinational force that could be quickly despatched to any part of ACE's command area - from North Norway, to Germany, to eastern Turkey - to demonstrate the solidarity of the alliance and its ability to resist all forms of aggression against any member state. During the Cold War the AMF-L did frequent exercises in North Norway (Exercises Hard Fall and Ardent Ground, among others) and in other areas. The land component of the force, consisting of a brigade-sized formation of about 5,000 personnel, was composed of units from 14 NATO states. 5 Battery was the only British artillery component.
For many of the Battery this was a great part of the Battery’s history, and many old comrades harken back to the ‘AMF days’. The Battery was unique, had a large establishment, practical sub-unit independence, and a strong battery identity. It trained for all environments, and regularly deployed on exercise, so had an exciting operational raison d’etre. The Battery deployed to Bosnia at the height of the war as a show of force to both warring sides.
In 1993, as part of the Post Cold War ‘Options for Change’, 19 Battery linked with 5 Battery to became 19/5 Battery. The Batteries remained linked until 2005, slightly longer than the AMF(L) role which Britain relinquished in 1998. The Battery then rejoined 19 Regiment (The Highland Gunners) as the senior gun Battery in the Regiment.
In 2004 the Battery was formally warned for operations in Iraq, and began an intensive training programme that would aid them over the next seven months of deployment. This pre-deployment training, or PDT, covered both Regimental and Brigade aspects of training, as well as the mandatory OPTAG (Operational Training and Advisory Group) training led by the Land Warfare Centre. As the Battery was to deploy in the infantry role with no expectation of firing any artillery, the training covered how to function and fight in the infantry role, in particular, patrolling, advanced driver training and team medics courses. There were a whole host of other training needs such as mine awareness training, prisoner handling, riot control, and body and vehicle search techniques. These were taught in PDT and continually refreshed in theatre when opportunities allowed.
5 Battery deployed to Iraq in May 2005, and had two main tasks; Security Sector Reform, and Facilities Protection Services including the patrolling and guarding of Basra Palace. It also involved the planning and security of convoys to and from Kuwait. The Battery was equipped with Snatch armoured Land-rovers. Their job either provided protection for convoys of 10 or more vehicles carrying vital supplies such as bottled water and medicines or provided close protection for VIPs including local government representatives and visiting commanders from neighbouring AORs (Areas of Operational Responsibility). Although superficially mundane, this task required military planning, attention to detail and constant awareness due to the threat of ambush, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers. Some of the routes were in excess of 150miles, and with 50 degree heat and wearing body armour and helmet, the journey was made that bit more demanding.
Security Sector Reform involved the training of the Iraqi Security Services in the necessary skills to command and control their own AORs and provide effective security to key assets within their respective locations, such as hospitals, water treatment plants and power stations. This role was essential in the long term main objective to handing over power to the Iraqi people.
The Battery received one major casualty when the detonation of an explosive device penetrated an Armoured Land Rover. Gunner Young, on top cover, received severe shrapnel wounds to his neck, but his body armour, and the quick actions of his comrades saved his life. Gunner Donahue, aided by Gunner Curwood, quickly administered first aid, and saw Gunner Young extracted, with the remainder of the patrol returning safely. Gunner Donahue received a Commendation for his efforts and Bdr Haywood received the Mansergh award for his actions in controlling the incident and the vital decisions he made which saved lives. Gunner Young is now recovering well.
The Battery returned from Iraq in October 2005 back to Regimental duty at Larkhill where it looked forward to deploying to Afghanistan in 2007.
In November 2006 the Battery started to prepare for deployment to Afghanistan on Op HERRICK 6. The Battery was split due to the Operational requirements, as only two batteries of six guns were needed. The HQ elements of the Battery provided manpower for the Operational Mentoring Liaison Team (OMLT) under the command of the Grenadier Guards. The FOO parties formed Fire Support Teams that helped support all of the coalition forces in the Helmand Province, including those of 12 Brigade, the Afghan National Army, the Theatre Reserve Battalion, the Brigade Reconnaissance Force and coalition partners and the gun detachments of 5 Battery back-filled 127 and 28/143 Batteries and fired in support of British and coalition forces.
5 Battery were sent to the main effort of the British Forces in Afghanistan; Helmand Province in the south of the country. The main feature of this area is the River Helmand that runs from north to south dividing the operational area that they were working in. The countryside surrounding the river provided lush, fertile soil that many locals used for farming to grow agricultural crops and poppies and was known as the green zone. This made for densely populated areas consisting of compounds, fields, and small river channels. Pushing one or two kilometres away from the green zone, the landscape drastically changed into desert. To the East of the river the desert was flat and proved easy travelling for vehicles with several MSRs (Main Supply Routes) criss-crossing the area. To the west of the green zone the terrain was harsh with mountainous areas, sheer cliffs and incredibly steep drops. This made driving very hard and there were a number of accidents that occurred due to the terrain.
5 Battery guns mainly worked in the desert area and in camp with the Fire Support Teams pushing into the Green Zone from where the Taliban operated. While in ‘camp’ so to speak, the guns were deployed in Forward Operating Bases or FOBs throughout Helmand province. These were fort like structures with a thick protective wall providing a certain amount of protection, however they were still subject to indirect fire attacks. It enclosed an area that allowed the troops to rest and administer themselves. FOBs varied in size yet when a gun troop moved in they deployed in a role to both counter any indirect fire from the Taliban or support troops carrying out patrols within range of the guns. They also assisted in base security.
When the guns deployed out of the FOBs they formed part of Mobile Outreach Groups, or MOGs. The idea of a MOG was to provide close support for operations and troops on the ground that were out of range from base locations. These saw the 5 Battery gun detachments manoeuvre across Helmand and push up both the east and west side of the Green Zone. These moves could take up to two days and involved setting up hasty positions overnight in hostile territory. Depending on the operational situation, the 5 Battery guns were escorted by infantry companies in armoured Vikings and Mastiffs, or recce squadrons of scimitars. However, if these were not available then they were in charge of their own protection. There were several instances of these convoys being hit by mines and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and on one occasions they were ambushed with small arms, RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades) and mortars. Thankfully there were no injuries.
The FST formation was a then novel concept in that it combined a forward observation officer (FOO) and a forward air controller (FAC) permanently as opposed to having them employed separately. This combination gave the ground commander a lot more support and types of fire at his disposal: artillery, fast air, mortars, guided MLRS and attack helicopters. During the tour the FSTs contributed to over a million rounds fired in a mixture of natures in the combined effort of 12 Mech Bde against the Taliban.
The remainder of the Battery Headquarters elements formed the Operational Mentoring Liaison Team or OMLT. Maj Law, followed by Maj Luker, mentored the Afghan Close Support Battalion Commander in all aspects of training and operations, with the remainder teaching the Afghans gunnery. During pre-deployment training, they underwent intensive training on the D30 Artillery piece in the Czech Republic, this being the Artillery piece the Afghans used. As well as getting the ANA (Afghan National Army) to fire indirect fire operationally for the first time, the OMLT practised live direct fire, greatly improved response times of the Afghan artillery, and ran a variety of courses. The last six weeks of the tour were spent in the infantry role, patrolling with the ANA in support of 1 R ANGLIAN in the vicinity of Kajaki, northern Helmand.
Tragically the Battery suffered one death, when Sgt Wilkinson was killed while on vehicle patrol by a suicide bomber in Gereshk.
The Battery returned to Larkhill in October 2007. Since then there has been an intensive session of courses with the Battery preparing to head to BATUS in July. On our return we are due to arms plot with the Regiment to Tidworth in October before starting pre-deployment training in the build up to TELIC 14 in April 2009.
Which brings the Battery history up to date. We are very proud of our heritage, and next month will be conducting Battlefield Studies with the whole Battery to Pontavert, and a select few will go to Gibraltar.
This presentation has been of benefit to the Battery already by providing the impetus to review our history, and the spur to make us research some otherwise little known aspects of our history. I hope that it has been of interest to you, and, with the permission of the Secretary, we will be prepared to take any questions and will try our best to answer them.
Clive Reynard: Can you say a bit more about Pre-Deployment Training for Iraq; what does it consist of?
BC: We will be involved in the counter-mortar role, detecting the firing of insurgent mortars. This is done with radars and UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles) and we react with the guns.
Unindentified Member: Do you know why Gibraltar superceded the Croix de Guerre as the Battery’s honour title?
BC: I regret to say I’m not sure.
Brig Timbers: The Battery was awarded the Croix de Guerre but the use of Croix de Guerre was more as a nickname than an honour title, so when Gibraltar was awarded as an honour title it was the correct one to use.
Capt Luckman: Croix de Guerre continued to be used as it there were five Gibraltar batteries and Croix de Guerre was distinctive.
Lt Col Townend: It seems unkind to relate that the other batteries in the Regiment – my own among them – referred to 5 Battery as the Pomme de Terre Battery.
Maj Schuster-Bruce: I notice from your memorabilia that Maj F A Hook was BC in 1939 and again in 1948, which must be unusual. I recall he was rolled up in a carpet at his dining out in 1949.
The Chairman brought the Meeting to a close by thanking Maj Luker and his team for an excellent presentation which covered the Battery’s History very well, and although it covered only a selection of the actions of the Battery it demonstrated what a wide range of activities it had carried out over its 259 year existence.
The Meeting finished at 1235 pm and the Members went on to lunch in the RA Mess followed by the AGM.
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