Battery Commander Major I P Roberts compiled this short history for the RAHS Spring meeting held on 26th April 2006. The reader should not that the text below was written to support a presentation.
Until the 18th Century Artillery'traynes' were raised by Warrant for specific campaigns and disbanded again when they were over. On 26 May1716two regular companiesof field artillery, each 100 men strong, were raised at Woolwich- these were the first permanent units of what became in 1722 the Royal Regiment of Artillery. By 1775 the Royal Artillery had expanded to four battalions each of eight companies. In 1775, ddifficulties with the American colonies led to the American War of Independence. In 1779 Spain, taking advantage of British pre-occupation in America, declared war and with the help of France began the Siege of Gibraltar.
On the 1stAugust 1779 authority was granted to raise two more companies for each of the four battalions and under this authority Capt David Scott’s Company, 1st Battalion RA was formed at Woolwich in 1779. In 1785 Captain Stephen Adye took command of the Battery in Jamaica. Capt Adye was the most famous President that Woolwich has ever had; having commanded Wellington's Horse Artillery at Waterloo, he took up office in 1819 as a Lieutenant Colonel and did not stand down until 1835 when he died as a Major General.
From 1792 to 1801 the Battery provided personnel and detachments for various tasks such as one gunner to be part of a twenty strong Gunner escort to Viscount MacCartney who was the Ambassador to China; this was “to give dignity to the mission”. In 1794, two lieutenants, one corporal, one bombardier and 24 gunners served with the Duke of York’s army on the Continent fighting the French and Captain George Koehler was given the acting rank of Brigadier General and with a bombardier was part of a British mission that accompanied the Turkish army on their campaign through Syria and Egypt. If you look at the bottom left corner of the picture (Figure 1) you can see ships firing mortars: in April 1801 two gun crews served aboard His Majesty's Bomb Sulphur at the battle of Copenhagen under the command of Rear Admiral Nelson. Bombs were small vessels 102ft long displacing 367 tons; their foremasts were removed and their hulls reinforced with massive oak timbers to accommodate one or two mortars of either 10 or 13-inch calibre. A 13-inch mortar could hurl its 192-pound shell two miles with a rate of fire of one round every five minutes. 1803 was the last time the Royal Artillery was tasked to provide mortar crews on gunboats for the Royal Navy; this task then being taken on by the Royal Marine Artillery.
In 1821 the Battery moved from Woolwich to Island Bridge Barracks, two miles west of Dublin Castle in Ireland. In January 1825 all Companies within Battalions were renamed: Battery Commanders' surnames were dropped and they were given a number. Thus Captain Cobwebs' Company become 1stCompany, 1stBattalion, Royal Artillery. The term Field Battery was used at this time but it only covered the equipment, drivers, artificers and horses. The RA Company provided the men who manned the equipment and were posted in but for only a short period of time. In August 1825 the Battery was posted to Canada and landed in Halifax Nova Scotia where it remained until 1832 when it returned to Woolwich. While the Battery was in Canada
Captain Belson took command.
The Blazers' name has been the subject of considerable controversy over the years with all sorts of claims and counter claims being made about its origin. The most plausible reason is that while under the command of Captain Belson the Battery used to regularly train on Woolwich Common "blazing" away vast quantities of ammunition (Figure 2), apparently to impress the local maidservants: "Belson's Blazers" thus became a household name in the area and although Belson's name was dropped the Battery still continued to use the unofficial title "The Blazers".
On 12thDecember 1849 the Battery took over 45 horses and the equipment of O Field Battery from 5th Company 2ndBattalion RA at Pigeon House Fort, Portobello, Dublin. In December 1853 the Battery moved to Athlone, where, due to the threat of war, field batteries at home were increased from 47 horses to 87.
On 28thMay 1854 Britain and France declared war on Russia. The Battery handed over the guns, equipment and horses of O Field Battery and moved via Woolwich to the Crimea, landing at Balaclava on 27thDecember where it reinforced the Siege Train as part of the right flank attack at Sebastopol where a second claim to the title Blazers originates. The story goes that soon after landing and before the Battery was placed into its bombardment position, the Allied forces were held up by strong Russian opposition and were only supported by a light battery. A General was heard to say “Wait until I bring up my Blazers, that will shift them”, whereupon the Blazers came into action with great dash and in spite of their heavy guns fired to such good effect that the opposition was soon cleared allowing the attack to continue (Figure 3).
On 24thMay 1855 a force of 15,000 British, French and Turkish troops set sail under the command of General Sir George Brown to capture Kertch, a strategic port that guarded the entrance to the Sea of Azof. The Artillery consisted of W Field Battery and a detachment of two guns from 1stBattery. Resistance was light and the Russians retreated leaving the Sea of Azof once again open for allied shipping. The Battery remained at the Cape of St Paul to defend the straits of Kertch.
In December 1856 the Battery returned to Pigeon House Fort, Dublin where they took over 156 horses and field battery equipment of L Field Battery from H Troop RHA. In April 1859 they moved to Newbridge as part of the reorganisation of the Artillery; the titles Company and
Battalion were dropped and replaced with Battery and Brigade. Thus 1stCompany 1stBattalion became 6thBattery 9thBrigade. In 1861 the Battery had moved to Limerick and was renamed F Battery 9thBrigade under General Regimental Order No 22 which introduced the lettering of Batteries. In 1869 the Battery was posted to India where it carried out normal duties and exercises. In 1871 the rank of Major was restored, First Captains having commanded batteries up until then. In 1877, under Regimental Order No 86 the Battery became N Battery 1stBrigade. The Battery returned to Ireland in 1884 and took over six 16-pounder rifled muzzle loaders at Kilkenny; these were used to fire a salute as part of the Queens Jubilee celebrations in Phoenix Park Dublin in 1887. In November 1888 12-pounder breach loaders were issued in Newbridge. The Battery was then posted back to Leeds and took part in the Weedon Royal Tournament. In 1889 the term Field Battery was adopted and the Battery became 1stField Battery Royal Artillery. It remained in Leeds for another seven years. In 1896 the Battery returned to Kirkee in India with four officers, 155 NCOs and men, 11 women and 22 children. Nine men died from various diseases within the first month, showing that even in peacetime tours abroad were still a hazardous affair. In 1899 Regimental Order No 89 reorganised the Royal Artillery into the Royal Field Artillery and the Royal Garrison Artillery, and decreed that the title Field Battery would be replaced by Battery, Royal Field Artillery; the new title was 1stBattery Royal Field Artillery. In 1900 the battery was grouped with 16 and 41 Batteries in XLIII Brigade Division RFA: brigade division, soon shortened to brigade, was a new tactical grouping introduced during the Boer War.
The Battery has in its possession the Flag in Figure 4 which has the date 1705; this date is thought to be the date of the original foundation of the Battery as a Trayne of Artillery, however, due to the destruction of Regimental documents in 1799 this date can never be proved. Nevertheless, in February 1906 the Battery held its bi-centennial celebration, a few months late due to commitments; this involved a sports competition and a dinner followed by a show at the RA Theatre. These early, unproven, days give rise to a third explanation for the title "The Blazers": according to the story, the Battery was at the battle of Dettingen in 1743 where the gunners served with such bravery and tenacity that, in spite of heavy casualties, they still managed to keep their guns firing. King George II remarked on it and declared that the Battery should henceforth be named "The Blazers". However, a report from the RA Historical Committee of 1950 said “the title "Blazers" appears to be no more than a canteen nickname such as "the Linseed Lancers" and that not one piece of solitary evidence of any historical value has been advanced to support the claim”.
In 1910 the Battery returned to Woolwich with XLIII Brigade as the Woolwich training brigade where spent the next four years carrying out ceremonial duties at the Tower of London and peacetime training. In 1913, with a reorganisation of the training brigades, "The Blazers" were brigaded with 3rdand 5thBatteries in a new XLV Brigade RFA and moved back to Leeds.
The Battery had been equipped with the horse drawn 18-pounder since 1908 (Figure 5). The gun had a range of 6525 yards and a maximum rate of fire of approximately 13 rounds per minute. Later versions of the 18-pounder had an increased range of up to 11000 yards and a rate of fire of 30 rounds per minute. Throughout this period the title of the Battery remained 1stBattery, the only alteration being in 1924 from Battery, Royal Field Artillery to Field Battery, Royal Artillery and in 1938 when the term Regiment replaced Brigade.
In May 1914 the Battery were sent to Practice Camp at Trawsfynydd in North Wales where, once finished, it stayed on as part of the Depot Brigade. On 3rdAugust 1914, with the outbreak of War imminent, orders were received for the Battery to return to Leeds. On 5thAugust further orders were received to mobilize and the following day the Battery sent 4 officers, 82 other ranks and 56 horses to various units of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to make other units up to their war establishment. On 10thAugust, under the command of Maj Head, the Battery itself was made up to war strength, which was achieved by the 13thwith reservists and the local purchase of horses. The Battery moved to Hursley Camp near Winchester in September where it joined the Divisional Artillery of the newly formed 8thDivisioncommanded by Maj Gen F J Davies. The Battery embarked on SS Armenianat Southampton and disembarked at Le Havre. From there they moved by train to Merville from where they marched to Estaires, arriving there on the 11thNovember 1914. The Battery first saw action on 16thNovember 1914 when they engaged enemy machine guns at Aubers in support of the infantry. On 1stDecember men from the Battery formed a guard for King George V’s inspection of the Army in the Field of War, the first Monarch to do so since King George II at Dettingen in 1743. After three months of little action, the long-planned and much argued-over Allied Offensive in the Artois region eventually led to the Battle of Neuve Chapelle to regain ground lost in 1914 which had created a salient in the front line; the Battle lasted from 10thto 13thMarch 1915. 1st Battery was part of a 342-gun initial bombardment along a 2000-yard line. On the morning of 11thMarch at Rouge Croix, one mile north west of Neuve Chapelle, 2Lt de Stacpoole became the first officer of the Battery to be killed in action during the Great War.
The initial bombardment had concentrated on wire cutting but most of the German positions remained intact. Although good initial gains were made, plans to push further towards Lille had to be stopped due to strengthening German defences and the need to preserve artillery ammunition. Although we had gained a much-strengthened line it was deemed that in future offensives, destruction of the enemy positions would take priority over achieving surprise.
With nearly six months of little action, some of the routine of peace continued, with the Battery winning first prize for the Light Draught Team at the 8thDivision Horse Show.
The next main offensive was the Battle of Loos in September 1915. 1stBattery's guns were emplaced in front line trenches in support of 25thBrigade. The artillery bombardment started on the 25thSeptember on a narrow frontage so that maximum effect could be brought to bear on German machine guns. The infantry attacked shortly after the release of chlorine gas at 0515 hours on 25thSeptember and although the initial attack went well and gains were made, the reserve divisions arrived exhausted at the front after a long march, and their attacks failed. The British gas alone caused some 2600 Allied casualties.
By 1916 the New Armies had arrived in force ready for the Big Push - the Battle of the Somme. 1stBattery's involvement with the 8thDivision was to the north east of Albert, the bombardment starting on 24thJune. The 8thDivision attack on 1stJuly made no ground and the Battery fired almost continually for the next four days before being relieved. The Battery then moved with the Divisional Artillery to support 61stDivision at Fromelles in a diversionary attack to lure German reserves away from the Somme. 61stDivision was made up of inexperienced Territorials and faced the same German division that had inflicted a defeat on the 8thDivision in 1915. A slow but methodical bombardment using more guns per yard frontage than at the Somme was followed by a three infantry division attack with a further three divisions in reserve. With the wire cutting shrapnel rounds proving ineffective, infantry troops became bottlenecked in the few gaps that had been made and were gunned down in No Man’s Land. It would be over 18 months before 61st
Division would see action again. The Australian and New Zealand Divisions came off the worst although their first reports were that they had successfully captured 14 POWs.
For the remainder of 1916 the Battery moved back towards Albert and Daours where the Battery Commander, Maj Rich, was injured by shrapnel and returned to UK; Captain Bulteel took command.
On 14 March 1917 the German retreat to the well prepared Hindenburg Line. The Battery moved to Clery Sur Somme with the wagon Lines at Maricourt. It was during this time that the recently promoted Maj Bulteel was killed in action at Lieramount. May and early June 1917 was spent training and resting until the Battery moved to Zillebeke Lake two miles South East of Ypres ready for the next main attack at Ypres.
31stJuly 1917 saw the Battery involved in heavy action 200 yards from the front line for a four day period followed by eight days rest. The Battery moved forward to Barr Cross Roads for the second attack where Maj Rich became the second BC to be killed in action after only just returning to the Battery from his injuries he received in 1916. The 3rdBattle of Ypres resulted in the capture of the Passchendaele Ridge where the Battery was in action at Bellevue just one mile west of Passchendaele.
In February 1918 the Battery position was gassed as a prelude to the German Spring Offensive of 1918 which began on 21stMarch, the Battery being engaged by heavy machine gun fire whilst engaging bridges at St Christ and Brie on the River Somme, bringing only one gun back to the wagon lines.
After desperate fighting on the Somme in March and April, 8thDivision was sent to recuperate in a quiet area of the French sector. However, on 27thMay 1918, the Battery suffered its worst casualties of the War when five guns in action at Bois de Mines became surrounded and although the order to remove breech blocks was given, none made it back, and only eight survivors reached the wagon lines. The BC, Maj Bargh, was in the wagon lines when the attack began and he took a repaired gun from the workshops and reported to 75thInfantry Brigade where over the next 24 hours he successfully engaged targets with great results at Venteley, Roucy and Les Ventaux. 5thBattery, who received the Croix de Guerre for their actions in the fighting, relieved him. The Battery withdrew for the rest of May and thereafter saw no further action till October and the final Allied Advance to Victory. The last day in action for the Battery in the Great War was 27thOctober 1918.
In 1919, after the end of hostilities, the Battery began to demobilize and eventually returning to the UK and reformed as part of XXXVII Brigade Royal Field Artillery (XLV Bde's post-War number). The Battery spent a short period in Ipswich before moving to Lille Barracks, Aldershot. They were called upon to deal with the impending coal strike but were stood down in June 1921 and deployed to Ireland as C Sqn 2 Regiment RA Mounted Rifles, returning in January 1922 to Shorncliffe. In 1922 37 Bde was renumbered 28 Bde RFA and in 1924 28 Fd Bde RA.
The Battery moved to India in 1926 and took over from 87 Fd Bty in Meerut, then swapped with 5 Fd Bty in Bareilly. In 1929 the Battery took part in the horse versus mechanization trials in Delhi.
1939 & Beyond
On 3 September 1939 Great Britain declared war on Germany. By this time the Regiment was virtually fully converted to its new role as a mechanised field regiment. The new designation for the Battery was 1/5 Field Battery RA, 28 Field Regiment RA. 1st Battery became A Tp and 5 Battery B Tp. 1/5 Bty had 18-pounders and 3/57 Bty 4.5-inch howitzers. Vintage Albion lorries replaced the horses as gun tractors and American civilian type 15 cwt Chevrolet trucks were the staff vehicles. The big steel rimmed gun wheels on the 18-pounders were changed for smaller wheels with pneumatic tyres.
On 10 June 1940 Italy declared war on Great Britain and France. On 23 July orders were received to mobilise and assemble all stores and equipment for embarkation overseas. The Battery was to be part of the Divisional Artillery of the 5thIndian Division. On 24 August the Battery embarked at Bombay on HMT Nevassa and sailed for an unknown destination which turned out to be Port Sudan where the Battery landed on 13 September. New Kassies Spider gun tractors were loaded at Bombay and towed the guns for the first time on their arrival at Port Sudan. 1/5 Battery was sent to Haiya Camp 100 miles along the railway to Khartoum.
After a month, A Tp were despatched via Khartoum to join Col Messery’s Gazelle force. BHQ and B Tp moved to Gebeit to cover the approaches to Port Sudan along the Red Sea coast in support of 29thIndian Infantry Brigade. Their first shots were fired at Kassala where one shell was reputed to have killed an Italian general. After further action in November against superior Italian forces the Troop rejoined the Battery at Khartoum towards the end of December and also swapped the 18-pounders for 25-pounders. The Battery then moved to Gedarf where they joined up with the remainder of 28 Field Regiment and 10th Indian Infantry Brigade.
The 13,400 yards range of the 25-pounders (Figure 6) was a big improvement over the 9,800 yards of the 18-pounders Mk 2 and the 6,800 yards of the 4.5-inch howitzer.
On 19 January 1941 the Battery crossed the frontier into Eritrea, and harboured 10 miles over frontier. On 21 January it moved off towards Aicota, driving along the first main road since leaving Khartoum, but enduring punctures from nails scattered on road by the retreating Italians. The Battery turned off at Aicota along a route classed by the Italians as impassable to vehicles; this was a right hook through the Italian lines to come in behind the Italians at Keren Gorge where 4th Indian Division was held up. In late January the Battery moved via Biscia to put in a left hook on Barentu from the north to help out 29thIndian Brigade who were approaching from the south. They were then held up by a line of hills north of Barentu and a bad roadblock where 1stBattery fired their first rounds in the Eritrean Campaign with the new 25-pounders. Most of February and early March saw the Battery withdraw to Tessenei for intensive training in mountain warfare. After training the Battery moved forward to Keren, dug in and provided pivot guns for the forthcoming attack.
The Regiment moved into battle positions on the night of 14th-15thMarch. 1stBattery sent a FOO Party of two officers to observe for the attack of 10th Indian Infantry Brigade on Fort Dologorodoc. The party spent the night of 14th-15thMarch in the shadow of Cameron ridge. The Plan was for 4thIndian Infantry Division to attack Sanchill, Briggs Peak, Hogs Back and Samanna at 0700 on 15thMarch. If they were successful 5thDivision was to assault the Fort at 1030 hrs. The attack was opened with the roar of 120 guns. It was a very impressive sight to see the guns
blasting the heights, some of which stood nearly 2000 feet above them. The 4thIndian Division attack was partially successful and at 0130hrs the Highland Light Infantry led the 5thIndian Division attack across the open ground. A hail of gunfire met them and after considerable casualties the attackers were pinned to the ground before reaching the Pinnacle feature. The 1stBattery OP party was also pinned down and it was almost impossible to observe the gunfire owing to the weight of fire of the defenders. It was not until that evening that the 5thMahrattas were able to pass through the HLI and capture Pimple and Pinnacle after hard fighting. By this time the Italians were so disorganised that they had evacuated the Fort under the cover of night. 1stBattery OP was amongst the first troops into the vital point and the OP remained there for the rest of the battle. The Battery had fired nearly 600 rounds per gun during the battle. Everyone worked like a Trojan and certainly the guns contributed a great deal to the success of the day. By 1stApril Asmara was occupied, the Battery again leading the gunners and establishing themselves at the railway station of the Eritrean capital.
Thousands of forlorn Italians were to be seen wandering along the road to Asmara or Keren and only a few thousand managed to get away to Massawa or Amba Alagi in Abyssina. In the town all was quiet except for two native battalions which mutinied but were soon dealt with.
The Battery followed up behind the tanks and infantry and some miles from Massawa the Battery began light shelling. The Italian gun positions were all wide open and many were destroyed, so that it was with surprise that an order came through to Cease Firing. It transpired that the Italians were granted a 24-hour truce to consult El Duce and it was suspected too, that they were playing for more time in which to prepare the port for demolition. For the moment the truce was over and shelling began again. An attack was launched with artillery support on 8 April. The attack was completely successful and soon enormous explosions were seen in the dock area, ships were scuttled and coastal guns blown up. Massawa surrendered with about 10,000 prisoners.
5thIndian Division then left East Africa and moved north to the Western desert, arriving at Burg El Arab in mid- August 1941 and during the same month moved east.
The Regiment returned to Kabreit on 16thOctober 1941 and left for Cyprus in November. On 15thNovember 1/5 Battery became 1stField Battery RA once again and the Regiment remained in Cyprus as part of the 7thIndian Division until March 1942. By mid-May 1942 the enemy intention to attack the 8thArmy in its position at Gazala had become apparent; 28 Fd Regt with 1st, 3rdand 5/57 Btys was moved to Gambut to support the 10thIndian Infantry Brigade where they remained in tactical reserve for nearly two weeks. The German attack came on the night of 26 May, and on 29 May 22ndArmoured Brigade, pivoting on the Knightsbridge box, had scored a success by driving a wedge due west into the enemy flank. The next day the enemy was forced to withdraw his considerable force of tanks and men from the prominent Maabus Er Rigel feature (due north of the box), and to establish a battle position some six miles west of it later known as ‘The Cauldron’. As dusk fell on 5 June enemy armour put in a strong attack at the ‘hinge’ in a north east direction, and the armoured brigades were withdrawn to a position north of the box. No doubt their move had been arranged for some purpose to the north before the enemy attack began, and the 2ndArmoured Brigade began to move north at dawn the next day to fulfil this purpose. The enemy, however, resumed his attack on 5thIndian Division at first light and succeeded in rolling up the position and over-running all four of the Division's artillery regiments. Nearly all the guns and vehicles and most of the personnel of 28 Fd Regt were captured; only the men in the wagon lines and MT got away. One of the officers captured was 2Lt Goddard; after his capture he was moved to a prisoner of war camp in Northern Italy. After the Italian Armistice on the 8thSeptember 1943, Lt Goddard paired up with Lt Hampson, also from the Regiment, and walked out of their camp. They walked 300 miles south to the Allied positions and after three months and many escapes they passed through the German lines to reach the British lines on the morning of 1stDecember 1943. They came back to Britain and after leave reported for duty.
Remnants of 28 and 157 Fd Regts RA collected at Buq Buq and then proceeded to Mena. The Battery reformed from remnants of these two Regiments, consisting of 2 officers and 75 Other Ranks. Initially designated 1/3 Field Battery RA, it was soon changed to 1stField Battery RA. 5thIndian Division, 28 Fd Regt with it, left for India in May 1943 and by July the Regiment was firmly ensconced in Cdas Camp near Ranchi where, in late August, the Regiment was renamed 28 Jungle Field Regiment and issued with 3.7-inch howitzers (Figure 7). On the 8thof October the Battery embarked at Calcutta for Chittagong, arriving at the end of the month.
5thIndian Division was assigned to the new season's campaign to clear the Arakan of Japanese, operating west of the Mayu range on the coastal plain towards Maungdaw and Razabil. The first action for the Regiment in this new theatre of operations came during the first week of December 1943, when they engaged a supply boat in Maungdaw harbour. From then on there was plenty of action as the batteries engaged Japanese patrols and working parties. Christmas Eve was interrupted by a call for fire by one of the Regimental OPs. 1944 began with a mass of activity as the Battery and other units of the Division began attacks upon the Japanese positions in the Tunnels. During the first week of January unseasonal and torrential rain hampered operations.
In February 1944 offensive operations were brought to a halt by the long-expected Japanese offensive to invade India, the March on Delhi. This began with them seizing the Tunnels (of an abandoned railway) through the Mayu Range linking Maungdaw and Buthidaung and threatening the Ngakyedauk Pass to the North. The task of 5thIndian Division was to recapture the Pass from the west, linking with 7thIndian Division from the east. The infantry pressed home their attacks supported by fire from the guns of the Battery and by the end of the month the daily rate of ammunition expenditure by the batteries of the Regiment had increased dramatically, as various targets, including Japanese mortar and artillery positions, were engaged. This continued throughout the month as the British attempted to prise the Japanese forces out of the various defensive bunkers and strategic points they occupied. The fighting reached its climax with the Battle of the Admin Box (7thIndian Division's Administrative Area) and the reopening of the Pass on 24thFebruary, and ended with the recapture of the Tunnels on 3 May.
By the end of March the situation on the Arakan front had stabilised, while a new threat had developed on the Central front , the northern wing of the March on Delhi directed at Imphal and Kohima on the Assam border. 5thIndian Division was therefore flown in mid-March from the Arakan to the Central Front, the first time a whole division had been moved by air. The Division, including 28 Fd Regt, flew to Imphal, less 161 Brigade which went to Dimapur and on to Kohima. The Battery was in action immediately on arrival, supporting the attacks to recapture Nunshigum Hill, which dominated the Imphal plain, in April, then supporting operations to link up with 33rdCorps advancing from Kohima in May and June. The monsoon broke in May but the fighting continued nonetheless despite the appalling weather and terrain.
With the road from the base at Dimapur through Kohima opened for supply in June, 14thArmy went over to the offensive to pursue the Japanese back to the Chindwin in preparation for the reconquest of Burma as soon as the monsoon ended. 5thIndian Division pursued the Japanese down the road from Imphal through Bishenpur to Tiddim over some of the most rugged terrain in the world. Here the Japanese were numerous and well-organised and their rearguards fought tenaciously for every inch of ground. In the first week in July the Regiment was re-equipped with 25-pounders again. The fighting followed a pattern - as soon as an enemy position was located it was shelled and strafed from the air. While this preparation was going on, a wide flanking movement would be launched through the hills to strike behind the enemy. Once this was in place it would be coordinated with a frontal attack with tanks. The terrain was so extreme that often the only gun positions were on the road itself and to achieve the high angle required for crest clearance involved digging the trails into the side of the mountain (Figure 8). In this way the Division slowly advanced, two miles a day, to Tiddim, then on to Kalemyo across such features as the Chocolate Staircase where the road climbed 3,000 feet in seven miles round 38 hairpin bends and the 8871- foot Kennedy Peak, the watershed between India and Burma. Throughout the advance the Division was supplied entirely by air. In November the Division handed over to 11 East African Division and, its task achieved, it was flown out to India to refit.
Mid-March 1945 saw the Battery move out from the rather tranquil location of Maram where they had been since late November carrying out tasks such as training, maintenance and repairs. The Battery now back into action after a tortuous road journey saw them arrive in the area of Meiktila on 2ndApril 1945 and by evening the first rounds had been fired on enemy locations. This part of the campaign had the British virtually chasing the Japanese out of Burma. The Regiment remained in and around the area of Meiktila, gradually moving south, constantly in action against the enemy; all batteries sustaining casualties. In the middle of April 1945 the Japanese finally broke and the Battery became involved the 14thArmy's pursuit from Central Burma to Rangoon, a series of leapfrog movements over 100 miles down the Sittang RiverValley. Rangoon fell to a combined sea and airborne invasion on 3rdMay 1945. Resistance, however, continued. As the guns of the Allied Forces fell silent in Europe on 8thMay 1945, 28thField Regiment was involved throughout the day in an attack upon the usually stubborn Japanese defensive positions as they contested every inch of ground to protect their withdrawal routes into Siam (Thailand). By the end of May the Battery were deployed in the area of Legoo and Nyaungtashay. The 5thIndian Division was withdrawn to India to prepare for the Invasion of Malaya, but the British units that had been with the Division since 1940 were transferred to formations still fighting in Burma, so that they could return to Britain once the fighting in Burma was over. On 19 June 194528 Fd Regt joined the 19thIndian Division following the Japanese up the Mawchi Road towards Siam, one of the most malarial areas in the world. The Regiment continued to suffer casualties, especially among the OPs.
As a result of the American atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima on 6thand 9thAugust 1945, the Japanese forces in Burma surrendered to the Allies on 15thAugust. On 24thAugust the Battery along with the Regiment moved to Pynmana; thus ended five years of war for 28thField Regiment. They had served with distinction on two Continents, and fought all three of the axis powers: the Italians in East Africa, the Germans in the Western Desert and the Japanese in Burma.
The immediate post-War period saw a number of changes. In 1947, as part of a Royal Artillery-wide reorganisation, 28 Field Regiment renumbered as 14 Field Regiment RA, but 1stBattery retained its number, one of only three batteries to do so. Also, the Battery moved a number of times: they left India in 1947, disembarking at Liverpool in November 1947 after twenty-one years continuous service overseas. They moved to Dover in February 1948 where they carried out Regimental duties and training exercises with the 25-pounders. In 1949 the Battery was warned off for a move to Hong Kong, where they arrived in September of that year where they spent the rest of the year and all of 1950 in training exercises and ceremonial duties.
As 1951 dawned the Battery were warned off for yet another move, this time for a tour of active service with the UN forces in Korea. The Advanced Party left for Korea in October.
Korea To Modern Times
As 1951 dawned the Battery was yet again was on the move, this time on active service with UN Forces in Korea. On the morning of the 8thNovember, 1st Battery took over the gun positions from a battery of 45thField Regiment.
During the Korean War, elements of the United NationsForces were engaged in resisting aggression by the North Koreans against South Korea. By late 1951 the line had stabilised, but there was still fierce fighting to prevent Chineseforces from gaining ground prior to a possible cease fire and thus deny them additional bargaining power during negotiations.
The first major operation in which the Battery was involved was an advance by 29thBrigade, part of 1stCommonwealth Division, north across the river Imjin. Throughout November the Battery was involved in countless offensive operations as the Chinese put in their mass attacks in an attempt to push UN forces back. As the New Year dawned, the Battery helped continue with the consolidation of its offensive operations against the enemy. During which much time was also given to training, the only change to their routine came at the end of the month with another large concentration of UN artillery fire, accompanied by air strikes to mark the Chinese New Year. Operations, including much harassing fire by our own guns onto enemy positions continued through out February. The only relief being the firing of a Royal Salute of 101 guns by the Commonwealth Division Artillery to mark the death of King George VI on 7thFebruary - the King actually died on the 6thof February but the news did not reach the Commonwealth Division until the 7th. The Royal Salute was memorable because it was actually fired live into the enemy positions, the first time this has been known. On the 9thof February the Battery took part in a 21-gun salute to mark the proclamation of the Accession HM Queen Elizabeth II to the throne.
If you look at the picture (Figure 9) on the left you will see Lt Avery who was a member of the Battery during the Korea conflict and is here in the audience today. Throughout the summer the Battery continued to fire in support of battalion attacks, fighting patrols and ‘hate programmes’. On 18 November the Battery became involved in operations that culminated in the First Battle of the ‘Hook’. 'The Hook', a crescent shaped ridge of tactical importance in the Commonwealth Division sector, was a potential attack point which the Chinese needed to take before assaulting the 'Yong Dong', another dominating ridge. The Black Watch was responsible for holding 'The Hook' against repeated attacks and duly did so with the aid of the Royal Artillery. During one of the battles it is alleged that 1stBattery “Blazed” through 3242 rounds before breakfast. After the Battle of Hook things calmed down which gave the Battery time to square things away ready for the impending handover to 20thField Regiment. At noon on the 25th December 1952 the handover to 20thField Regiment took place and on the 29th the Battery sailed for Hong Kong.
On arrival they were initially quartered in Quay Camp in the New Territories. By the end of January 1953 all equipment had been taken over from the rear party of 20thField, and the Battery set off on a regimental exercise to occupy their ‘Forward’ positions. This was an essential precaution as all British forces in Hong Kong were on ‘War Alert’ for a possible attack by the Communist Chinese Forces. At the end of March all thoughts of exercises were cast aside as preparations began for the first celebration of the new Queen's Birthday Parade on the 21stApril. Once this was accomplished there began further preparations for the Coronation Parade, scheduled to take place at Sek Kong airstrip on 2ndJune. On the completion of these festivities the Battery slipped into a routine of guards, exercises and duties for the remainder of the year.
1954 dawned with nothing more spectacular in the diary than Battery and Regimental sports meetings, followed by shooting at Castle Peak ranges and a Battery exercise. In the spring of 1955 the Battery was warned for a move back to the United Kingdom in January 1956. On 30 January 1956 the Battery disembarked in the UK, proceeded on leave, then reassembled at their new station at Barford Camp, Barnard Castle Co Durham. When the Regiment was settled in at Barford Camp 1stBattery was detailed to run Low North Bridge TA Camp at Scarborough from 23 April to 26 September, during which six major units carried out their annual training camp. After this once again the Battery slotted back into Regimental life and continued with training, exercises, Battery and Regimental sports. In November 1956, with a worsening international crisis over the Suez Canal, the Battery was warned off and started intensive training for a move to Egypt, but the threat receded and in January 1957 the Battery was stood down. In the spring of 1957, 1stBattery took part in Royal Salutes for the Birthdays of both HM the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Catterick. 1958 began with the news that 14thField Regiment was placed under orders to a move to Germany later in the year, but shortly afterwards that was changed to Aden.
The Regiment was only required to send independent Batteries on a one-year tour of duty to Aden to assist British and local forces in their fight against dissident Arab tribesmen. First to go was 5 (Gibraltar) Battery followed in October 1959 by 1stBattery (The Blazers). The batteries in Aden had been were equipped with the portable 75mm gun but by the time 1stBattery arrived the 75mms were relegated to a reserve pool of weapons and the Battery used 25-pounders. While 5 Battery was detached in Aden, the remainder of 14thField Regiment was warned to move to Hong Kong, so in September 1960 the Regiment embarked on SS Oxfordshire and sailed via the Suez Canal, stopping in Aden where 1stBattery rejoined after its tour of duty and moved to Hong Kong.
On the arrival in Hong Kong 1stBattery converted to the 4.2 inch Mortar and in direct support of 48thGhurkha Infantry Brigade Group. Within a few weeks of arriving, the Battery assisted the Regiment as controlling unit and umpire duties on a large-scale exercise with 42 RM Commando from HMS Bulwark. The Battery also demonstrated the 4.2” mortar during a visit from Lord Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Defence Staff. Throughout its second tour of Hong Kong the Battery was involved in various live firing exercises and demonstrations, and in November 1961 1stBattery was required to provide a full guard of honour to mark the departure from the colony of the Commander British Forces, Lt General Sir Roderick McLeod. By the end of January 1962 the thoughts of many turned to their impending return to the United Kingdom in June.
Their new station would be Horseshoe Barracks, in Shoeburyness, and on arrival the Battery plunged into a frenzied bout of individual training. At this time several of the batteries were a little more than cadre strength of some 50 ranks. As they were under orders to move to Dortmund in Germany the following year, large drafts of recruits were needed, and duly arrived by the end of the year. During the year the Army had said farewell to the last of its National Servicemen. From 1962 onwards all recruits would be regulars, part of the new Regular Army whose recruitment slogan boasted the virtues and professionalism of soldiers of the Sixties.
After the usual period of training and reorganisation, 5 and 13 Batteries were equipped with the 25-pounder and 1stBattery with the 5.5-inch gun ready for the move to West Riding Barracks in Dortmund. Life in BAOR soon settled into a routine of individual training followed by Battery and Regimental practice camps at Soltau training area and Bergen-Hohne ranges. There were many visits to the Battery at this time, the most notable being that of the Master Gunner, General Sir Robert Mansergh, in July 1965. During his visit he spoke to all ranks and watched a 5.5-inch gun alarm stakes competition carried out by 1stBattery. By the end of 1966 14 Regiment was once more making plans for an Arms Plot move, this time back to the United Kingdom, to Weeton camp near Preston in Lancashire for a period of retraining and reequipping before departing to the Far East, this time to Malaysia. Before this took place however there was much work to be done preparing all equipment and stores for handover to the incoming 19thField Regiment RA. Fortunately for the gun batteries they would not hand their guns over, for the 25-pounder was finally to be leave active service in the British Army and 19 Regiment would be equipped with the new 105mm SP gun Abbot. To mark this auspicious occasion, there was a large parade in Dortmund on the 25thMay 1967. With the whole of the Regiment on parade to say farewell to perhaps the most famous gun the British Army has ever known. The Corps Commander, Lt General Sir Reginald Heweston attended the parade (Figure 10).
In August 1967 the Regiment, now retitled 14 Light Regiment, started training in Weeton Camp, all ranks being involved in intensive individual and Battery training on their new equipment, the 105mm Pack Howitzer. Once the rudiments of the equipment were mastered it was off to Otterburn for a two-week period of dry training. The following few months were taken up with trials and exercises, as the Battery honed not only its gunnery skills but also the relatively new technique of moving by helicopter.
On the return from leave in January the Battery continued training as part of the preparations for the move to Malaya. But only 1stand 5thBattery was to deploy as 13thBattery set off for Sharjar in the Middle East. The new station for 1stLight Battery and 14 Light Regiment RA in Malaysia was Terendak Camp, and here they were in support of 28thCommonwealth Infantry Brigade. The Battery spent very enjoyable two years in Malaysia, during which, the Battery had exercised with many units in the Peninsula as well as in Brunei.
As a result of the British Government’s policy of complete withdrawal from the Far East by the end of the decade, the Battery departed Malaysia in November 1969. During their time in the country, many strong links and bonds of friendship had been forged with the other units in the Brigade. On arrival in the United Kingdom the Regiment was once again stationed at Weeton Camp near Preston. After a period of disembarkation leave the Regiment returned to duty on the 29thDecember 1969.
Within days 1stBattery were warned off for a tour of duty in Northern Ireland, where serious rioting resulting from civil rights marches and demonstrations had escalated beyond the control of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. After a period of training under the instruction of 5thLight Regiment, under whose command the Battery was to operate with in Ireland, the Battery sailed from Liverpool for Belfast on the 16thApril 1970. Life in Ulster during the early years of the troubles was not a comfortable experience. Troops were invariably housed in any accommodation that could be found. Initially it was many of the TA drill halls, where troops were crammed in, sleeping almost cheek to cheek. On one occasion, their presence was barely tolerated by the resident TA Regiment. An example of this was the reception 1stBattery received at Girdwood Park TA Centre during their tour of duty. After an extremely tiring period on the streets of Belfast, the TA asked them if they would mind moving out in tents on the sports field so that they could hold their annual spring dance! After a very hectic period of four and a half months in the province 1stBattery returned to 14 Light Regiment with great praise and many plaudits from the CO of 5thLight Regiment.
All this action and turbulence had taken place during a year the Regiment was informed that as part of the defence cuts, 14thLight Regiment was to be placed in suspended animation in 1971. The only good news was the fact that the remaining two gun Batteries, 1stand 5thwere to continue to exist within other units. 14thLight Regiment Royal Artillery was officially placed in suspended animation on 31stJuly 1971, by which time 1stBattery were on their way to Singapore to become the British Battery in the newly formed Commonwealth Brigade, part of 28thANZUK Field Regiment, ANZUK standing for Australian, New Zealand and United Kingdom. Their aim was to help the governments of Singapore and Malaysia to get on with the job of developing their economies and to help building up their armed forces to help them to improve their expertise. Among the tasks that the battery helped with was border control patrols to assist the Malaysian forces in stopping the communists receiving arms through its borders. In the four years 1stBattery were in Singapore they carried out many training exercises with multi-national forces and many visits and demonstrations were carried out as well as the help to training to both the Singapore and Malaysia forces.
Early 1975 brought news that 1stBattery was to return back to England, and the officers and soldiers were to form M Battery, 3 RHA, revived from suspended animation. The name of 1stBattery "The Blazers" was not, however, to go into suspended animation but to become part of Administrative Wing of the Support Regiment in Larkhill where it was to consist of MT Troop, Range Detachment, Gunnery Trials Detachment, Guided Weapons Troop and the Royal Artillery Sales Team. The title of 14thField Regiment was revived on 3 December 1984 and took over the tasks of Support Regiment at Larkhill.
1stBattery has continued to support 14 Regiment and the Royal School of Artillery at larkhill ever since. The Battery has been responsible for many types of equipments: guns, air defence and targeting.