2nd Middlesex Artillery Volunteers

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2nd Middlesex Artillery Volunteers (Custom House)
3rd London Brigade, RFA
Active 1861–1919
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Force
Type Artillery Brigade
Role Garrison artillery
Field artillery
Engagements Gommecourt
Ginchy
Flers-Courcelette
Transloy Ridges
Arras
Passchendaele
Cambrai (1917)
Spring Offensive
Second Somme
Canal du Nord
Cambrai (1918)
Selle
Valenciennes
Commanders
Colonel of
the Regiment
Lt-Gen Sir Edward Bruce Hamley (1887–1893)
Notable
commanders
Sir William Palliser
Lord Arthur Hill

The 2nd Middlesex Artillery was a Volunteer unit of Britain's Royal Artillery. First raised in the Victorian era among Customs officers in the Port of London, it later became the 3rd London Brigade, Royal Field Artillery in the Territorial Force and saw action on the Western Front during World War I.

Origins

The enthusiasm for the Volunteer movement following an invasion scare in 1859 saw the creation of many Rifle, Artillery and Engineer Volunteer units composed of part-time soldiers eager to supplement the Regular British Army in time of need. Often these were drawn from a single place of work. One such was the Custom House, City of London, whose employees working in the London docks formed both the 26th Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps (Customs & Excise) and a year later the 2nd Middlesex Artillery Volunteer Corps (Custom House). The first commissions to the 2nd Middlesex AVC were issued on 26 April 1861, and initially it was attached to the 26th Middlesex RVC.[1][2][3][4]

Later the artillery grew to six companies and became an independent unit, moving its HQ to the Artillery Barracks in Leonard Street, off London's City Road. The artillery inventor Sir William Palliser was appointed Lieutenant-colonel in 1875, and was succeeded by the politician Lord Arthur Hill. At the latter end of the 19th Century most of the Artillery Volunteers were assigned to the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA), the unit becoming the 2nd Middlesex RGA (Volunteers) in 1902, ranking 60th in order of precedence and attached to the Eastern Division of the RGA.[2][5]

Territorial Force

Under the Haldane Reforms, the former Volunteers were subsumed into the Territorial Force (TF) in 1908. The 2nd Middlesex RGA (V) was transferred to the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) and became III London Brigade (3rd London Bde) in the TF's 1st London Division with the following organisation:[2][6][7][8]

  • 7th County of London Battery
  • 8th County of London Battery
  • 9th County of London Battery
  • III London Brigade Ammunition Column

World War I

Mobilisation and organisation

Annual training for 1st London Division had just started when war was declared on 4 August 1914, and the III London Brigade promptly mustered at City Road for mobilisation.[7] The infantry of the division were soon posted away to relieve Regular Army garrisons in the Mediterranean or to supplement the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. By January 1915, only the artillery and other support elements remained with the division, and these were attached to the 2nd Line TF division (2/1st London Division) that was being formed. Meanwhile, the artillery brigade formed its own 2nd line, the two units being designated 1/III and 2/III London Bdes.[7][9][10][11]

1/III London Brigade

In August 1915 the 36th (Ulster) Division was being readied for service. Its infantry were largely drawn from the Ulster Volunteers and had already received weapons training before the war; the artillery however were newly raised Londoners, and the drivers were still being taught to mount and dismount from wooden horses. The 1st London Divisional Artillery were therefore attached to the Ulster Division until its own gunners were ready for active service. The London field brigades were re-equipped with 18-pounder guns (four per battery) and accompanied the Ulster Division to France, 1/III London Bde landing at Le Havre on 5 October 1915. It was in the front line by the middle of the month.[12][13][14]

In December, the Ulster Division's artillery arrived from England, and the 1st London Divisional Artillery was transferred to the 38th (Welsh) Division, which had also arrived in France minus its own artillery. 1/III London Bde served with the Welsh Division from 11 December 1915 to 1 January 1916, when it briefly joined IV Corps Artillery and then the 47th (1/2nd London) Division. By then, 1st London Division (now numbered 56th (1/1st London) Division) was being reformed in France and its divisional artillery was finally able to rejoin at the end of February 1916.[10][13][15] The 1/III London Brigade was assigned to support 169th (3rd London) Brigade and went into billets at Bouret-sur-Canches.[16]

On 16 April 1916, the brigade was increased to four batteries by the addition of R Battery, formed from sections of the 93rd and 109th Regular Batteries.[7][17] 93rd Battery had been part of XVIII Bde RFA in the 3rd (Lahore) Division, remaining in France after the division went to Mesopotamia,[18] while 109th Bty had been part of XXIII Bde RFA in 3rd Division since the beginning of the war[19][20][21]

In May 1916, the TF artillery brigades were numbered in sequence with the Regular RFA: 1/III London became CCLXXXII Brigade (282 Bde) and the batteries were lettered A, B, C and D (R). Shortly afterwards, the brigade sent D (R) Bty to CCLXXIII (IV London (Howitzer) Bde) in exchange for a New Army howitzer battery raised in Camberwell that had come from 33rd Division; this became D (H) Bty, equipped with the QF 4.5-inch howitzer.[7][17][22]

Gommecourt

Throughout late June 1916, 56th Divisional Artillery was engaged in the preliminary bombardment for the division's attack on Gommecourt, an important diversion to the main British offensive (the Battle of the Somme) due to begin on 1 July. 56th Divisional Artillery was divided into three groups for this task: Northern, Southern and Wire-Cutting; the CO of CCLXXXII Bde, Lt-Col A.F. Prechtel, was placed in command of the wire-cutting group ('Peltart'), comprising five batteries of 18-pounders (A/CCLXXX and C/CCLXXXIII in addition to his own three) and one of 4.5 howitzers (D/CCLXXX, of which two howitzers were at the call of the counter-battery group). Two guns of C/CCLXXXIII were concealed in an orchard almost in the British front line. The Peltart group fired almost 24,500 rounds of mainly Shrapnel shell in the days before the attack. By 28 June the Barbed wire in front of the German first and second lines was reported to be satisfactorily cut, but German working parties continued to repair it at night.[23][24]

The division's attack on 1 July (the Battle of Gommecourt) was a costly failure. The artillery observers watched the infantry cross No-Man's Land, clear the German front-line trench and take the initial objectives, but German artillery retaliation and counter-attacks were intense, no reinforcements could cross No-Man's Land and no further progress could be made. The wire-cutting guns were now tasked with long-range fire into the enemy's rear areas, but the guns were worn out after the long bombardment, many were out of action with broken buffer springs, and their fire was ineffective.The division was pushed back into the German front-line trench and lost very heavily. Afterwards, its commander criticised the plan, especially the long-drawn-out artillery preparation, which allowed the enemy to prepare their response.[25][26][27]

On the night of 13 July the divisional artillery made a demonstration to help an attack made further south, and there was some raiding, but 56th Division did not make another offensive move during the weeks it remained in the Gommecourt sector. It was relieved on 20 August.[28]

Ginchy

After rest and training, 56th Division moved south to take over the line near Ginchy, and prepared to attack again. On 9 September it launched the Battle of Ginchy, with half the artillery putting down a stationary barrage on the successive enemy positions, the remainder firing a creeping barrage just in front of the advancing infantry. The attack went in at 16.45 in fading light, and soon fell into confusion. Further attacks in the night and at dawn established a line of sorts, and the artillery then had to respond to numerous enemy counter-attacks.[29]

Flers-Courcellette

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, a new set-piece attack, opened on 15 September. Preliminary bombardment started on 12 September and continued steadily until Z-day, with no discernible increase until zero hour itself. Lanes were left in the intense bombardment after zero, to allow the new tanks to pass through. Three of these were attached to 56th Division, and were intended to accompany the infantry onto their first and second objectives behind the barrage, and then move on without a creeping barrage to the third and fourth objectives. However, one tank broke down before zero hour, and the ground was so cut up by the artillery that the other tanks and infantry had difficulty getting forward. 56th Division was unable to capture Bouleaux Wood or the Quadrilateral, its final objectives. It took another attack on 25–6 September (the Battle of Morval) for the division to complete the capture of Bouleaux Wood and the village of Combles.[30]

Transloy Ridges

56th Division's last action during the Somme offensive was the Battle of the Transloy Ridges, which began on 1 October. The mud was awful, supplies and ammunition could only be got forward with great difficulty, and the barrage was consequently feeble. The infantry of 56th Division were relieved on 9 October, but the artillery remained in place, covering the flank of the French forces. When relieved on 31 October, it took two days to dig some of the guns out of the mud. 56th Divisional Artillery then went into the line near Vimy, covering the 3rd Canadian Division from 7 November until 1 December.[31]

Reorganisation

After the Somme, the BEF's field artillery was reorganised into six-gun batteries. Hence on 5 November 1916, A/CCLXXXII Bty was broken up between B and C and the following month was temporarily replaced as A Bty by a New Army howitzer battery (500 (H) Bty). In January 1917 it was permanently replaced as A by B/CXXVI (from 37th Division), while a section of D (H)/CXXVI (also from 37th Division) brought D (H) up to six guns, giving the brigade the following organisation:[7][17][32][33]

  • A Battery: B/CXXVI from 37th Division (6 x 18-pounders)
  • B Battery: Original 8th London Battery plus half of 7th (6 x 18-pounders)
  • C Battery: Original 9th London Battery plus half of 7th (6 x 18-pounders)
  • D (H) Battery: former C (H)/CLXVII from 33rd Division plus 1 section of D (H)/CXXVI from 37th Division (6 x 4.5-inch howitzers)

On 20 January 1917, CCLXXXII Brigade was detached from 56th Division and became an Army Field Brigade, available to be attached to any formation requiring additional artillery support.[7][17] For example, at the start of the Battle of Arras on 8 April 1917, CCLXXXII AFA Bde was attached to 14th (Light) Division.[34] Again, at the start of the Battle of Cambrai on 20 November 1917, the brigade was supporting III Corps.[35]

By the Armistice with Germany, CCLXXXII AFA Bde was operating under the command of First Army.[36] During the Battle of the Selle (20–24 October) and the Battle of Valenciennes (1 November) it had fired in support of successful attacks by 4th Division.[37]

2/III London Brigade

After the 1st Line divisional artillery left for France, 2/III London Bde joined 58th (2/1st London) Division at Framlingham on 25 September with the following composition:[9]

  • 2/7th County of London Battery
  • 2/8th County of London Battery
  • 2/9th County of London Battery
  • 2/III London Brigade Ammunition Column

The division remained in East Anglia, digging trenches, manning coastal defences, and training, until July 1916, when it moved to Salisbury Plain for final battle training. As with the other TF artillery, the brigade was assigned a number and became CCXCIII Brigade (293 Brigade). By then the artillery had received their 18-pounders (2/7th and 2/8th Batteries) and 4.5-inch howitzers (2/9th Battery), but were still organised in 4-gun batteries.[9][11][13] In August, the brigade was joined by 1/Shropshire Battery and 1/Glamorgan Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery, which had been left in Britain when their parent Welsh Border and South Wales Mounted Brigades had sailed for Egypt in March. Re-equipped as field artillery with four 18-pounders each, they became A and B Batteries respectively, brought up to six guns (with a section from a 2nd Line Sussex battery in the case of the Shropshire RHA), alongside C (Howitzer) Battery. A second howitzer battery was added (from 2/IV London (Howitzer) Brigade) and became D Battery. Brigade ammunition columns were abolished at this time, the men of the Glamorgan, Shropshire and London Ammunition Columns finding themselves in the 58th Divisional Trench Mortar Brigade.[9][11][13][38][39][40]

The division began embarking for France on 20 January 1917 and by early February it was on the Western Front, where it remained for the rest of the war.[9][11][13] However, CCXCIII Bde was not with it: after arrival in France, D (H) was broken up on 6 February 1917 among the rest of the divisional artillery, C (H) was redesignated D (H), and B/CCLXXXVII (2/III West Lancashire RFA) joined from 57th (2nd West Lancashire) Division on 17 March 1917 to become the new C Battery. The brigade then left the division to become an Army Field Brigade, with the following organisation:[9][36][41]

  • A Battery: former 1/1st Shropshire RHA (6 x 18-pounders)
  • B Battery: former 1/1st Glamorgan RHA (6 x 18-pounders)
  • C Battery: former 2/13th West Lancashire RFA (6 x 18-pounders)
  • D (Howitzer) Battery: former 2/9th London RFA (4 x 4.5-inch howitzers)

Scarpe

For Third Army's forthcoming Arras Offensive, CCXCIII Bde was attached to 56th (1/1st London) Division. The Germans partly forestalled this offensive by withdrawing to the Hindenburg Line, but near Arras they only went back a short distance to a new line behind Neuville Vitasse. The bombardment began on 4 April. CCXCIII's main task before the attack was wire-cutting; then on 8 April a rehearsal of the barrage was carried out with an unlimited supply of ammunition and the barrage proper on 9 April. 56th Division attacked Neuville Vitasse at 07.45 on 9 April with tank support, leapfrogging its battalions across successive objectives. Within half an hour, the Shropshire Battery was ordered forward, the gun teams already waiting. Although the movement was observed by the enemy and shelled, by 10.00 the whole divisional artillery had moved across the old German front line to within 1000 yards of Neuville Vitasse, with ammunition brought up, ready to fire the barrage for the assault on the Hindenburg main line. This second phase began at 12.10 and after two hours 56th Division was through the Hindenburg front line, but its flanks were in the air and further progress was slow. The Shropshire Battery moved into the sugar refinery in Neuville Vitasse on 10 April, but as the battle moved on it was left out of range. This phase of the Battle of Arras (the 1st Battle of the Scarpe) ended on 16 April.[34][39][42]

During the next stages of the Arras offensive, CCXCIII Bde was variously attached to 56th, 9th (Scottish), 34th and 31st Divisions. At one stage German counter-attacks reached to within 1000 yards of the battery positions and the guns were prepared for individual defence before the enemy attack was halted and the battery positions could be shifted back. After further spells supporting 2nd Canadian, 7th and 62nd (2nd West Riding) Divisions during the closing stages of the Arras offensive, the brigade was withdrawn to a relatively quiet location in the St Quentin sector. Although the Shropshire Battery was shelled out of its first position, it relocated to a well-camouflaged site behind a sugar factory and remained there unmolested.[39]

Ypres

After this quiet spell, the brigade was moved up to the Ypres Salient, where it supported 17th (Northern) and 18th (Eastern) Divisions for the last six weeks of the Battle of Passchendaele. Guns had to be provided with wooden platforms to avoid sinking into the mud, and were devoid of cover or camouflage, the gunners sheltering in captured German pillboxes when not serving the guns.[39]

Spring 1918

After Christmas 1917, the brigade moved into the Bapaume sector, under IV Corps. When the German Spring Offensive opened on 21 March 1918, the brigade responded to SOS signals from the infantry in front until the Germans reached the village of Doignies. Two batteries of the brigade had to evacuate this village quickly, and the Shropshire Battery's guns had to be hauled out of their pits to concentrate fire on the village, when they were seen and machine-gunned by German aircraft. The batteries remained under continuous shellfire throughout 22 March, and retired in the evening when German infantry were within 500 yards. Next morning the new Shropshire battery position came under machine-gun fire and became untenable, the guns having to be destroyed where they stood. Two fresh guns were brought up from the waggon lines that evening, and the Shropshire battery moved to Foncquevillers, from where it sent out mounted patrols to locate the enemy in front. After further withdrawals, the brigade reached the area round Essarts before going into Corps reserve. During this period, CCXCIII Army Bde had been supporting 42nd (East Lancashire) and 51st (Highland) Divisions, and received thanks from the commander of 154th (3rd Highland) Brigade: 'I doubt if artillery ever had greater difficulties to meet – there were certainly occasions when your guns had no knowledge as to whether the nearest thing in front of them was not the advancing German infantry'.[39]

Hundred Days' offensive

After a week's rest, the brigade was sent to support the New Zealand Division's defences, and later carried out training in open warfare, including anti-tank gunnery. On the night of 19 August the guns were taken back to Essarts, where they were carefully emplaced and camouflaged to support the British attack of 21 August (Second Battle of the Somme (1918)). After firing a two-hour standing barrage to support the advancing infantry and tanks, the guns were out of range and had to be moved up with difficulty over the old Somme battlefield. This process being repeated over several days, through Bapaume, sometimes under fire from enemy aircraft. During this advance, CCXCIII Army Field Bde acted as divisional artillery successively with the 51st, 5th, 11th (Northern) and New Zealand divisions.[39][43]

CCXCIII Brigade was next transferred to the Canadian Corps in First Army. After two weeks' rest, the guns moved into position to fire across the Canal du Nord. The Canadians launched their attack (the Battle of the Canal du Nord) behind a huge creeping barrage on 27 September and then continued towards Cambrai on 8 October, the infantry attack being preceded by a seven-hour bombardment continued until the guns were left behind out of range.[36][39][44]

After a move to Vimy, the brigade followed the advance across the strong Drocourt-Quéant Line, which had been abandoned by the Germans, to Auby. The Shropshire Battery was the first to cross the Scarpe Canal. It then moved via Saint-Amand-les-Eaux to Haute-Rive, where it fired its last shots of the war.[39]

Postwar

File:London Troops memorial, Artillery figure.jpg
The artilleryman depicted on the London Troops Memorial.

When the Territorial Army was reformed in 1920, the former 3rd London Brigade was represented by 9th (County of London) Battery at Kennington in the reformed 5th London Bde RFA (later numbered 365 (9th London) Battery and 92nd (5th London) Field Brigade respectively).[45][46] This unit served in 5th Division during World War II, in France, the Middle East, Italy, and finally in North West Europe. After the war it was reformed as 289 Parachute Regiment RHA, which was eventually reduced in size to 289th Parachute Troop, Royal Artillery, and then disbanded in 2014.[47][48][49]

Memorial

The III London Brigade is listed on the City and County of London Troops Memorial in front of the Royal Exchange, with architectural design by Sir Aston Webb and sculpture by Alfred Drury.[50] The left-hand (northern) figure flanking this memorial depicts a Royal Artilleryman representative of the various London Artillery units.

Honorary Colonels

The following served as Honorary Colonels of the brigade:[5]

  • Lt-Gen Sir Edward Bruce Hamley, KCB, KCMG, MP, appointed 6 November 1887, died 1893.
  • T.A. Irwin, appointed 18 December 1895.

Notes

  1. Beckett, Appendices VII & VIII.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Litchfield & Westlake, p. 120.
  3. Westlake, p. 172.
  4. Barnes, Appendix III.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Monthly Army List
  6. London Gazette, 20 March 1908.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Becke, Pt 2a, pp. 141–7.
  8. Barnes, Appendix IV.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 Becke, Pt 2b, pp. 9–15.
  10. 10.0 10.1 56th (1st London) Division at Long, Long Trail
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 58th (2/1st London) Division at Long, Long Trail
  12. Becke, Pt 3b, pp. 61–9.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 Royal Field Artillery at Long, Long Trail
  14. 36th (Ulster) Division at Long, Long Trail
  15. Becke, Pt 3a, pp. 61–9; Pt 3b, pp. 61–9, 81–9.
  16. Ward, pp. 4–9.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Ward, Appendix.
  18. XVIII Bde RFA at Trail
  19. Becke, Pt 1, pp. 52–3.
  20. XXIII Bde RFA at Trail
  21. Farndale, p. 8.
  22. Becke, Pt 3b, pp. 31–9.
  23. Ward, p. 32–6, 46.
  24. MacDonald, pp. 207–17.
  25. Ward, pp. 36–48.
  26. Middlebrook, pp. 170–3, 185, 193–4, 214–6.
  27. MacDonald, pp. 359–60, 398–9, 522.
  28. Ward, p. 48.
  29. Ward, pp. 49–65.
  30. Ward, pp. 69–80.
  31. Ward, pp. 82–7, 102–3.
  32. Becke, Pt 3b, pp. 71–9 & Appendix 1B.
  33. Ward, p. 112.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Farndale, p. 168.
  35. Farndale, p. 221.
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Farndale, Annex M.
  37. Edmonds, pp. 343–4, 381.
  38. Shropshire RHA outline history at Shropshire Regimental Museum
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 39.3 39.4 39.5 39.6 39.7 Harrison & Duckers.
  40. Martin, pp. 21–2/
  41. Becke, pp. 1–7.
  42. Ward, pp. 114–31.
  43. Farndale, p. 292.
  44. Edmonds, pp. 19–25, 199–200.
  45. 5th London Artillery at Regiments.org
  46. Titles and Designations 1927.
  47. 92 Fd Rgt at RA 39–45
  48. 289–322 Regiments at British Army 1945 on
  49. Barnes, Appendix V.
  50. UK WMA Ref 11796

References

  • Maj R. Money Barnes, The Soldiers of London, London: Seeley Service, 1963.
  • Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 2a: The Territorial Force Mounted Divisions and the 1st-Line Territorial Force Divisions (42–56), London: HM Stationery Office, 1935/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-84734-739-8.
  • Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 2b: The 2nd-Line Territorial Force Divisions (57th–69th), with the Home-Service Divisions (71st–73rd) and 74th and 75th Divisions, London: HM Stationery Office, 1937/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-84734-739-8.
  • Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3b: New Army Divisions (30–41) and 63rd (R.N.) Division, London: HM Stationery Office, 1939/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-84734-741-X.
  • Ian F.W. Beckett, Riflemen Form: A study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859–1908, Aldershot: Ogilby Trusts, 1982, ISBN 978-1-84415-612-2.
  • Brig-Gen Sir James E. Edmonds & Lt-Col R. Maxwell-Hyslop, History of the Great War: Military Operations, France and Belgium 1918, Vol V, 26th September–11th November, The Advance to Victory, London: HM Stationery Office, 1947/Imperial War Museum and Battery Press, 1993, ISBN 978-1-870423-06-9.
  • Gen Sir Martin Farndale, History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery: Western Front 1914–18, Woolwich: Royal Artillery Institution, 1986, ISBN 1-870114-00-0.
  • Derek Harrison with Peter Duckers, Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery 1908–1920, Shrewsbury: Kingswood/Shropshire Regimental Museum, 2006.
  • Norman E.H. Litchfield, The Territorial Artillery 1908–1988 (Their Lineage, Uniforms and Badges), Nottingham: Sherwood Press, 1992, ISBN 0-9508205-2-0.
  • Norman Litchfield & Ray Westlake, The Volunteer Artillery 1859–1908 (Their Lineage, Uniforms and Badges), Nottingham: Sherwood Press, 1982, ISBN 978-0-9508205-0-7.
  • Alan MacDonald, Pro Patria Mori: The 56th (1st London) Division at Gommecourt, 1 July 1916, 2nd Edn, West Wickham: Iona Books, 2008, ISBN 978-0-9558119-1-3.
  • David Martin, Londoners on the Western Front: The 58th (2/1st London) Division in the Great War, Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2014, ISBN 978-1-78159-180-2.
  • Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme, 1 July 1916, London: Allen Lane 1971/Fontana, 1975.
  • Titles and Designations of Formations and Units of the Territorial Army, London: War Office, 7 November 1927.
  • Maj C.H. Dudley Ward, The Fifty Sixth Division, 1st London Territorial Division, 1914–1918, London: John Murray, 1921/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2001, ISBN 1-84342-111-9.
  • Ray Westlake, Tracing the Rifle Volunteers, Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2010, ISBN 978-1-84884-211-3.

Online sources