Field & Med. Artillery

Field Artillery

Field and Medium artillery were in direct support of the infantry and were under the command of C.R.A until “Action Stations” when they came under the command of Infantry Sub-sector commanders. As at the beginning of May 1940, 55th Div Field artillery consisted of only eight 18 pdrs and four 4.5” Howitzers. More guns soon arrived including 12 mobile 4” naval guns which at first 115 and 120 Field Btys were responsible for manning. During September, 24 French 75mm guns, purchased from the USA, arrived and a redistribution of Field guns took place so that each Field Regt had 20 guns each. The Field Regts had been relieved of manning the “fancy equipments” such as the mobile 4” guns in August. By 1941, some Field Regts had been supplied with the modern Mk II 25 pdr.

Above: Left - 18 pdr Field Gun. Middle - 4.5" How in gun pit with overhead cover. Right - 25 pdr Field Gun

All Field Regts were to have positions prepared from which they could carry out Anti-tank defence on likely lines of enemy approach. This role was given greater importance early in 1941 when all Field guns were re-sited to make the greatest fire power available for Anti-tank defence; the Commander-in-Chief considered that the most important role Field guns would be called on to perform in the event of invasion would be the engagement of enemy tanks. Guns were to be in their new positions by 16th April 1941. These new positions were to be sited within infantry defended localities to ensure greater protection for the guns. Wagon Lines were also to move up to the same infantry defended locality as the Battery HQ or troop positions on “Action Stations” to ensure guns could be moved rapidly to new positions and to give more protection to vehicles and personnel.

Battery Commanders of Field Regts were expected to liaise with Battery Commanders of the Anti-tank Regt in order to learn the latest ideas on Anti-tank defence. However there was still concern that many Battery commanders knew little of Anti-tank drill and that the level of observed shooting was poor. Training was to be stepped up to eradicate these weaknesses. In June 1941, some Troops were instructed to site one field gun from the battery for a specific anti-tank task on “Stand To”.

Field guns were emplaced in gun pits to give as much protection against small arms fire and shell splinters as possible. The vast majority would have been of earthwork and sandbag construction but at least some 18 pdr gun pits were of concrete construction. The first principle was to dig the gun down so that the axle was at ground level. To gain the maximum effect, protection should be about five ft above the gun platform, therefore another two or three foot of protection would be required to be built up above ground. At first, during the hectic summer of 1940, many pits were no doubt hastily constructed and not adequate as there is frequent reference in War Diaries to the improvement of gun pits. At least some concrete emplacements were built to conceal field guns. Each of the four 4.5” Howitzers at Lowestoft, sited to cover the Harbour, had its own irregular hexagonal shelter, approx 31 ft wide and 16 ft deep, built with a single large opening from which the gun could be wheel out into position for firing.

Cover from aerial observation was usually by camouflage mesh supported on a pole framework. If concealment was not reduced as a result, overhead cover from the weather could be provided. In 1941 several gun sites used fir trees and tree tops for making dummy woods to camouflage Observation Posts, gun posts etc – a supply came from Tangham Forest were felling was taking place and treetops of 6ft to 10ft were normally burnt. Tree tops lasted for a long time and their life could be extended by spraying them with green paint.

Above: Left - standard frame on which camouflage mesh was supported on. This would only be effective against aerial observation. Right - Gun pit for a Field Gun with overhead cover.

Observation Posts were placed in a variety of locations such as pillboxes, buildings and trees. At least two examples of purpose built concrete posts still survive today.

Above: Left and middle - Field Artillery OP and plan, Bawdsey. Right - Field Artillery OP, Walberswick.

Battery Command Posts would most likely have been "Cut and Cover" type dugouts, not surprising given the mobilitly of Field Artillery.

Right: A Field Battery Command Post from the Manual
of Field Engineering Vol 1, 1933 (Admnt 2 1937) and a
plan of surviving earthworks to the west of Walberswick
which maybe a 75mm Field Battery Command Post

Medium Artillery

Medium Regts manned a variety of guns including 6” Howitzers, 4” Statics, 6 pdr Statics and 6” Mortars. As with all branches of the artillery, the equipping of Regts in the summer of 1940 was a haphazard affair – for example on July 6th 72 Med Regt received four 6” Howitzers without any gun stores. By September 1940, the Medium Regts along with Defence Regts had taken over the manning of the “fancy equipments” from the Field Regts. The role of Medium Regts was primarily the same as for Field Regts – to directly support the infantry.

4” Statics

The first four 4” Naval guns arrived by rail in July 1940 along with wooden baulks on which to mount them. The problem of emplacing the guns in their chosen locations was not an insignificant one – the guns weighed 25 cwt, the cradle and pedestal 48 cwt and the wooden baulks 24 cwt but the Divisional Artillery had no equipment capable of lifting such loads. The problem was overcome with a great deal of man power, with help from a party of naval ratings in the area mounting coastal defence guns and the use of an R.A.O.C. Recovery Crane. These four 4” Naval guns were subsequently increased to six. These guns were sited at:

  • Thorpeness and Dunwich (two) with a role to cover the beaches
  • Shotley – to cover the lower reaches of the river Orwell
  • Trimley – to cover the upper reaches of the River Orwell
  • Bawdsey – to cover the River Deben.
    • Left: A 4" static, probabaly on the South Coast. At least one of the guns in Suffolk, at Thorpeness, had a
      simple concrete emplacement.

      6” Mortars

      During the summer of 1940, 221 Medium Battery, 56 Medium Regt, which had lost its equipment at Dunkirk, arrived with eight 6” mortars. The role of these guns was to cover the beaches.

      6” Howitzers

      On June 4th 1940, 72 Medium Regt moved into the Suffolk area with four 6” Howitzers. This was later increased by another 12, with four troops each with four guns placed at Henham , Wrentham, Kirton and Shottisham with a role to cover the beaches.

      Right: The crew of a 6" Howitzer ram home a shell. The charge,
      usually cordite or some other comparatively slow-burning
      explosive, is then inserted. The breech is then closed and the
      charge fired by a percussion striker. The charge is varied
      according to the range.

18pounder
4.5inchhow
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GUN EMPL

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