Raising of the RHA, 1793
The date recognised as the origin of the Royal Horse Artillery is 1793. In January of that year two Troops of Horse Artillery were raised, to provide mobile fire support and to keep pace with the cavalry. These Troops differed from field artillery units in that all personnel were mounted. In November, two more Troops were formed, each one having six 6-pounder guns.
The Artillery itself dates from 1716 when the Duke of Marlborough called for the formation of two regular Companies of Artillery, becoming Royal in 1722. Heavy guns had been used since the Middle Ages, and in the 17th century the men who operated these weaopns were employed by the Board of Ordnance, the gunners referred to as the Train of Artillery. It was not considered a fast moving arm of the service. Starting off as only suitable for garrison and siege work it developed into horse-drawn artillery which, however, took much longer to reach the battlefield than the infantry and wagons. The establishment of fast-moving artillery was essential for army commanders to keep their column together and not have to wait hours for the guns to arrive at the chosen battle site.
Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond
The man mainly responsible for the creation of horse artillery in the British Army, was Charles, 3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennox, who held the position of Master General of the Ordnance from 1782 to 1795. An incident in Southampton is said to be what inspired the Duke to develop highly mobile artillery. Some French prisoners rioted on board a ship lying offshore and there was no local artillery to assist in suppressing them. It is alleged that an enterprising gunner officer stationed at Winchester harnessed a couple of 6-pounders to some post horses and galloped, with his detachments in post-chaises, to Southampton in time to quell the disturbance.
The Duke raised Troops A and B in 1793 and brought them to his country house at Goodwood so that he could oversee their structure and training. The new mounted branch of the Royal Regiment of Artillery was to be known as the Royal Horse Artillery and was to be distinct from its parent, but at the same time integrated with it and controlled by its senior commanders. The officers did not join it permanently but were posted to their Troops for tours of duty and then returned to the RA.
Each Troop contained 180 horses and men capable of moving and firing six guns. The guns were known as sub-divisions (2 guns made a Division) and were drawn by 6 horses in pairs, the near-side ones being ridden by a driver. As in the rest of Europe, 2 gunners rode on the limber and 8 others were individually mounted to form the detachment. Each sub-division had its own ammunition wagon, similarly drawn by 6 horses. Each 2-gun division could operate separately or as a 3-gun half battery. Additionally, each Troop had its own baggage train, a wheel wagon complete with a wheel-right, farriers, harness-makers, artificers and a surgeon.
Training of Men and Horses
The detachment which served the guns had a variety of drills to perform in order to bring the piece into action, before firing rapidly and accurately. A large number of complicated and sometimes dangerous items of equipment had to be prepared and maintained for the successful firing of each round. Similar drills had to be carried out by the Field Artillery companies, but the Horse Artillery had to be considerably quicker. As well a carrying out these complicated manoeuvres the men also trained in cavalry skills, which they often used. All members of a sub-division were expected to be as proficient with a sabre as the cavalry which they supported. The drivers, too, unarmed initially, were skilled men. They were small men but extremely proficient riders. They trained hard with their teams of horses to be able to cope with them all being harnessed together and pulling a ton and a half of bucking gun and limber across rough country, under fire.
The horses were required to be 4 to 6 years old when bought, short-legged, ‘open-chested and broad-winded’. They were not to exceed 15 hands 2 inches. They had to be sought out, vetted and tested for suitability before purchase. They then had to be backed and broken before breaking them further for draught harness.
The Growth of the RHA in Britain and India
Between 1793 and 1811 the two Troops of the newly raised RHA were increased to 14 complete Troops. The heavy 12-pounders with which they started out were dispensed with leaving the 6-pounders and the 5.5 inch howitzer. By 1808 the main armament was the 9-pounder. Meanwhile, in India, the East India Company formed their own Horse Artillery Troops in the three presidencies. The first was the 1st Bengal Troop in 1800 as part of the Experimental Brigade which went to Egypt in 1801. The Royal Horse Artillery served abroad during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, in Holland, Buenos Aires, the Peninsula as well as Ireland.
The Napoleonic Wars
The Rocket Brigade at Liepzig, 16 - 19 Oct 1813
In September 1811 an experimental unit was established at Woolwich to test Congreve’s rockets. Captain Richard Bogue commanded the Troop of 30 gunners. The opportunity to try them out on active service arose when an alliance of nations took part in the effort to aid Russia in driving the French army back into France after their defeat in Moscow in the winter of 1812. The Rocket Brigade RHA was the only contribution made by Britain to the alliance. They had a strength of 142 officers and men, and 100 horses. The first action was at Görde on 18 Sep when half the brigade helped stop a French division advancing south from Hamburg.
The Rocket Brigade were not engaged for the first two days of the Battle of Leipzig, but on the 18th Oct Captain Bogue requested permission to engage the enemy and proceeded to attack the village of Paunsdorf. He defeated 5 battalions there with his rocket fire and caused more than 4,000 Saxons to desert Napoleon and change sides. They were then ordered to attack Sellerhausen. But the French fired on them with artillery and sharp-shooters. A musket ball hit Bogue in the face and entered his brain so that he died instantly. Command of the Rocket Brigade passed to Lieutenant Strangways who continued Bogue’s work and again the French were halted in their advance and thrown back in disorder. When the allied army marched over the area that had been targeted by the rockets, the dead Frenchmen were seen by one German eye-witness to have completely burnt faces and uniforms ‘so that one could readily understand how the enemy’s morale had been shaken..’ The casualties of the Rocket Brigade were one officer and one gunner killed, six men wounded and 26 horses killed or wounded. The Crown Prince of Sweden, later King of Sweden, awarded silver medals for bravery to 5 NCOs of the Rocket Brigade. The Troop as it became, adopted the battle honour LEIPZIG.
Captain Ramsay’s Troop in the Peninsula
One of the great heroes of the RHA is Captain Norman Ramsay. He was a veteran of the Egyptian campaign of 1801 and was a second captain in 1806. In the Peninsula War he was second in command of ‘I’ Troop (Major Bull’s) which was engaged at Busaco and thanked by Stapleton Cotton for covering the retreat to Torres Vedras. Wellington mention the Troop in despatches for their action at Casal Nova, Foz d’Aronce and Sabugal. But it was at Fuentes d’Onor that Ramsay’s men showed their mettle. Ramsay commanded part of ‘I’ Troop that was cut off and surrounded after the British cavalry had been driven back. In Sir William Napier's History of the Peninsula War there is a well-quoted passage that describes in poetic terms Captain Ramsay's break-out from the cavalry melee:
‘A great commotion was observed in their main body. Men and horses there closed with confusion and tumult towards one point, a thick dust arose, and loud cries, and the sparkling of blades, and the flashing of pistols, indicated some extraordinary occurrence. Suddenly the multitude became violently agitated, an English shout pealed high and clear, the mass was rent asunder, and Norman Ramsay burst forth at the head of his battery, his horses breathing fire, stretched like greyhounds along the plain, the guns bounding behind them as things of no weight, and the mounted gunners followed in full career.’
This earned the RHA the rarest of artillery distinctions, an Honour Title. The Troop went on to fight at Salamanca, the advance and retreat from Burgos. At Venta de Pozo on 23 Oct 1812, Major Bull was wounded and command passed to Norman Ramsay. At Vittoria the Troop was largely responsible for the capture of Abechuco which cut off the French retreat. Two days after this, on 23 June 1813, Wellington gave orders to Ramsay that his Troop were to remain where they were until further orders. But Ramsay disobeyed and was placed under arrest. He was defended by Sir Thomas Graham but Wellington was not easily mollified. However, by the middle of July Ramsay was back, and even given a brevet-majority in November 1813.
At Biarritz on 10 - 12 Dec he was twice wounded in action. On returning to England he was put in command of K Troop, then in the spring of 1815 he commanded H Troop. Augustus Frazer, who commanded the RHA wrote about Norman Ramsay, ‘...adored by his men; kind, generous and manly. He is more than the friend of his soldiers.’ Sadly he was killed at Waterloo at the age of 33.
Eye Witness Accounts 1806 - 1815
The letters written by Thomas Dyneley while on service commanding a battery in the Peninsula give a good idea of life in the Horse Artillery at that time. Letters Written by Lieut-General Thomas Dyneley CB RA while on active service between the years 1806 and 1815 Arranged by F A Whinyates (Lionel Leventhal 1984). But the best known and most colourful account of the Napoleonic Wars was written by Captain Mercer who fought at Waterloo. Journal of the Waterloo Campaign Kept Throughout the campaign of 1815 by the late General Cavalié Mercer (2 vols) (William Blackwood & Sons 1870).
Mercer’s Troop, June 1815
Captain Alexander Cavalié Mercer’s journal of the Waterloo campaign starts with his departure from England in April 1815 in command of G Troop. They fought at Genappe and Waterloo with a strength of 193 officers and men, and 220 horses. Five of the 6 sub-divisions were armed with a 9-pounder gun while the 6th had a 5.5in howitzer. Each gun was drawn by 8 horses. There were nine ammunition wagons drawn by 6 horses each, one spare wheel carriage with 6 horses. Additionally there were 3 more wagons with 4 horses each, carrying the forge, curricle cart and baggage. There were 5 officers; 2 captains and 3 lieutenants, one surgeon, 2 staff sergeants, 3 sergeants, 3 corporals, 6 bombardiers, one farrier, 3 shoeing smiths, 2 collar-makers, 1 wheeler, 2 trumpeters. The bulk of the personnel was made up of 84 drivers and 80 gunners. The gunners either rode on the limbers or were mounted individually.
Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815
The artillery Troops and Brigades were positioned on a ridge behind the infantry at 100 yard intervals, although the Rocket Troop RHA (ordered by Wellington to be armed with guns instead of rockets) was 500 yards to the east of the artillery. Their objective was to inflict maximum casualties on the attacking French cavalry and infantry as they advanced up the slope. The Duke of Wellington gave strict instructions to the artillery to leave their guns and take shelter inside the infantry squares when the enemy broke through. But Mercer was to disobey this order. His Troop was placed on the extreme right, and ordered to take action against the enemy cavalry charging in the centre. Sir Augustus Frazer led them to the position, shouting “Left limber up as fast as you can!” Mercer wrote:
‘I rode with Frazer, whose face was as black as a chimney sweep’s from the smoke, the jacket sleeve of his right arm torn open by a musket ball or case-shot, which had merely grazed the flesh. As we went along he told me that the French had assembled an enormous mass of cavalry…and that in all probability we should immediately be charged on gaining our position…. As he spoke we were ascending the reverse slope of the main position and we breathed a new atmosphere. The air was suffocatingly hot, resembling that issuing from an oven. We were enveloped in thick smoke, and ….the incessant roar of cannon and musketing, could distinctly hear round us a mysterious humming noise, like that which one hears of a summer’s evening proceeding from myriads of black beetles; common-shot, too, ploughed the ground in all directions, and so thick were the trails of balls and bullets that it seemed dangerous to extend the arm lest it should be torn off. Our first gun had scarcely gained the interval of the Brunswickers’ squares, when I saw through the smoke the leading squadrons of the enemy coming at a brisk trot. I immediately ordered line to be formed for action. “Case-shot!” and the leading gun was unlimbered and commenced firing almost a soon as the word was given.’
The French cavalry were at this stage 100 yards away, advancing at the trot. The first gun reduced them to a walk, and subsequent rounds of the vicious shot reduced them to mounds of dead horses and men. Mercer felt that he could not even contemplate Wellington’s orders, as he was causing heavy casualties. He was sure that ordering his men to leave their guns and retreat into the square was not a safe option; the Brunswickers might not keep their nerve if they saw the British artillery running for safety. The guns kept firing until the French scrambled their way to the rear. Wave after wave of French dragoons and cuirassiers fell to the fire which Mercer’s Horse Gunners continued to produce in a rhythmic drill. Gradually a rampart of dead men and horses grew in front of his gun muzzles and here they stayed until the last charge of the Imperial Guard was broken and the ominous cry of “La Garde récule!” signalled the final collapse of their repeated assaults on the Allied line.
The combined guns of the horse and field artillery fired a total of 10,000 rounds during the battle, an average of 129 rounds per gun. They must have inflicted between 10,000 and 30,000 casualties. During the attack by d’Erlons’ Corps it is estimated that the guns killed 3,000. The artillery casualties included four commanders, George Bean, Samuel Bolton, Norman Ramsay and Vaughan Lloyd who were killed. Of the rest, 265 officers and men were killed or wounded. Of the horses, 309 killed or wounded.
The Crimean War 1854-56
Embarkation and Voyage to Scutari Mar - May 1854
War against Russia was declared on 28 Mar 1854 but orders were sent to Woolwich before that on 17 March for the embarkation of the field batteries. At that time the Royal Artillery consisted of 7 Troops (Batteries) of Horse Artillery and 12 Battalions of artillery, 8 companies in each battalion. A number of these companies were designated as field batteries, the rest were Garrison Artillery. On 18 March ‘C’ Battery RHA and half the Ball Cartridge Brigade paraded and marched to the dockyard. The Ball Cartridge brigade was an ammunition supply train manned by the RHA but later, in 1855 converted to a gun battery (B Battery). By evening the whole detachment was loaded onto 6 Transports which were towed downstream. On 20 March they sailed through the Med and the Dardanelles for Scutari (Üsküdar) on the Bosporus near Istanbul.
Landing in the Crimea Sep 1854
In April ‘I’ Battery RHA set sail, and by the end of May two Batteries of RHA and 7 Companies of Royal Artillery were assembled at Varna on the west coast of the Black Sea. It was not until 24 August that the Expeditionary Force embarked for the voyage to the Crimea. The two RHA batteries were allocated to their divisions; ‘I’ Battery, initially commanded by Capt G A Maude, to the Cavalry Division and ‘C’ Battery, commanded by Capt J J Brandling, to the Light Division. The flotilla actually set sail on 7 Sep and reached Kalamita Bay where the artillery were sent ashore in Pinnance or Barge class boats, the horses and guns towed on flat platforms. The entire landing lasted from 14 to 18 Sep.
Bulganak River Crossing 19 Sep 1854
The march to Sevastopol began on 19 Sep with the divisions formed into diamond-shape formations. On crossing the River Bulganak a large force of Russian cavalry was seen to advance from a position on the upper slopes. The Light Division and the 2nd Division were formed into line with the 8th Hussars and 17th Lancers. The two RHA batteries were resting and watering but had to move fast when ordered up in support. The cavalry began to skirmish but Lord Raglan was unwilling to commit his men to battle whilst the main body were on the march so the cavalry were withdrawn squadron by squadron. ‘C’ and ‘I’ Batteries were now in a position to give covering fire, and exchanged shots with Russian artillery. This ended when the Russians withdrew.
Alma 20 Sep 1854
The first set battle took place the next day on 20 Sep, at the River Alma, the next obstacle on the way to Sevastopol. As the allies moved forward ‘C’ Battery RHA took up position on the river bank and fired on the Russian infantry. They were the first artillery to come into action; three RA batteries soon followed. The Light Division and 1st Division were ordered to assault the Kourgane Heights and were supported by ‘C’ Battery and ‘E’ Battery RA. The redoubt was captured but at a heavy price in men’s lives. Unfortunately the position was recaptured by the enemy and the Light Division driven back down the hill. They would have been pursued but artillery fire kept the Russians back. The 2nd Division was held up by Russian artillery batteries on the Causeway but their progress continued after prodigious efforts by the RA, especially ‘G’ Battery under Captain Turner.
The 1st Division advanced against the Redoubt held by the enemy infantry. Turner’s battery kept up a devastating fire on the Russians moving to a position further up the pass as the Guards and Highlanders advanced. As the 1st Division reached the crest of the hill the Light Cavalry Brigade and ‘I’ Battery RHA moved up to the heights in line with the Highlanders. The enemy retreated and ‘C’ Battery and other RA guns opened fire on them. The battle ended at 4.30pm, and the cavalry and Horse Artillery waited by the Post Road for the order to pursue but it never came. The only casualty in the RHA was one man killed in ‘C’ Battery. They had fired 138 rounds while ‘I’ Battery had fired 128.
The cavalry accompanied by ‘I’ Battery RHA covered the advance after the battle at the Alma. The army halted beyond the River Belbec on 24 Sep, the horses having not been fed or watered for 48 hours. The march was resumed on the 25th and the port at Balaclava was easily occupied. The town of Balaclava was now garrisoned by the 93rd Highlanders,1200 Marines and a battery of artillery. Camped on the plain near the town was the Cavalry Division and ‘I’ Battery RHA. When naval guns were moved to siege positions the horses of the field and horse artillery were ‘unsparingly used’ to haul the siege train seven miles to the batteries and ‘suffered much in the service’. The allied batteries were ready to open a combined bombardment of Sevastopol on 17 Oct. This was the first of six bombardments that were fired between 17 Oct 1854 and 5 Sep 1855. The Horse Artillery was not employed in the siege.
Balaclava 25 Oct 1854
While the garrison of Sevastopol was enduring the bombardment, a field army under Prince Menschikoff concentrated for an attack on the allied positions. The redoubts on the Causeway Heights were threatened so the Cavalry Division advanced to their support. These redoubts were defended by the Turkish Army who manned the artillery there. ‘I’ Battery unlimbered and opened fire on the Russians but were forced to retire through lack of ammunition as their wagons had been used to transport shot and shell to the trenches. ‘W’ Battery RA managed to spike the guns in the redoubts before they were captured. This battery were then ordered to take up a position to the left of the 93rd Highlanders who formed their famous thin red line. This small force checked the Russians and was soon joined by the Heavy Brigade, and then ‘C’ Battery RHA who arrived from a daybreak parade at Inkerman. They were in time to prevent the Russian Cavalry from regrouping after their encounter with the Heavies.
The Charge of the Light Brigade 25 Oct 1854
The famous hand-written note from Lord Raglan to Lord Lucan delivered by Captain Nolan has the line. ‘Troop horse Artillery may accompany.’ The Light Brigade was waiting at the western end of the South Valley but prevented from taking action as Lucan was expecting infantry support. The note was sent because Raglan could see that the Russians were in the process of removing the guns from the captured Redoubts. ‘I’ Battery were not actually given any orders to accompany the Light Brigade but the commander of the battery, Captain J D Shakespear, decided to follow the cavalry up the valley. Shakespear later wrote; ‘ that it became momentarily more and more apparent as the Troop trotted steadily forward that, before it could render efficient service, the Russian fire would entirely cripple it; accordingly the word was given to go about, and it retired to a position not far from the Heavy Brigade.’
After the charge was over and the stragglers returned slowly up the valley, ‘C’ Battery RHA. who had been dismounted at the start, fired a few rounds at the Russian guns in and near the redoubts to prevent them from firing on the remnants of the Brigade. ‘I’ Battery suffered one gunner killed and one officer wounded. They had fired 151 round shots and 40 shrapnel from their four 6-pounder guns, and 13 shells and 51 shrapnel from their two 12-pounder howitzers. ‘C’ Battery had no casualties having fired 28 round shots and one shrapnel from their four 9-pounder guns, and 5 shrapnel from their two 24-pounder howitzers.
Up to the End of the War, Oct 1854 - March 1856
There was more fighting on 26 Oct when the Russians made a large sortie against the trenches. Later, the British siege batteries suffered from Russian fire, as well as disease. Men from the field and horse artillery were drafted into these batteries until reinforcements from Woolwich could be shipped in. The battle of Inkerman on 5 Nov 1854 did not involve the Horse Artillery but the RA won two VCs in the confused and bitter fighting. The winter of 1854/5 was very severe and the army suffered badly from lack of food, shelter and clothing. Many men and horses died from cold and sickness. By the spring of 1855 things improved and there were no more set battles for the Horse Artillery. Peace was signed on 30 March 1856 and the artillery returned to England in time for the grand review on Woolwich Common on 14 July.
The Second Afghan War 1878 - 80
The Royal Horse Artillery was part of the column under Brigadier-General G R S Burrows that was sent out from Kandahar on 4 July 1880 to meet the threat of Ayub Khan’s huge army of tribesmen based at Herat. E Battery, B Brigade, was commanded by Major George Blackwood. The column was accompanied by the troops of Shere Ali Khan, the Wali of Kandahar, who mutinied at the River Helmand and had to be dealt with before the column could continue. These troops were armed with smooth bore artillery, four 6-pounders and two 12-pounder howitzers, which were captured and placed under the command of Captain John Slade and an officer of the 66th. Two of the guns were horse drawn, the others by oxen. They had a range of 2,000 yards whereas the 9-pounder guns of E Battery were sighted to 3,500 yards.
Brigadier Burrows had received erroneous reports that the enemy artillery had not reached the battlefield so E Battery found themselves out-gunned when the battle of Maiwand began at mid-day. The Bombay Grenadiers were on their left and Jacob’s Rifles on their right. The artillery duel caused many casualties on both sides, and Major Blackwood was wounded in the leg early on. After about 2 hours it became clear that the enemy artillery was quietening down and a general advance was in preparation. But before this, the Ghazis, a large group of fanatical tribesmen made repeated rushes at the 66th Regiment and were not put off by their disciplined volleys. The fanatics were not afraid to die and changed direction towards E Battery, running across the front of Jacob’s Rifles. Even the carnage caused by canister shot did not deter them. The Grenadiers tried to form a square but they were in disarray.
Captain John Slade, who was now in command of the battery, ordered limber up and retire to save the guns from being captured. Lt Fowell had been wounded so Slade led his division out first. Lt Edmund Osborne’s guns were next but Osborne dismounted to help his depleted gunners and was shot dead. Lt Maclaine stubbornly remained to fire a last canister at the enveloping horde but left it too late and his two 9-pounder guns were captured in a frantic hand-to-hand struggle. They managed to get the horses away and the survivors of the gun teams, with may acts of individual heroism, especially that of Sergeant Patrick Mullane who was awarded the VC.
According to the account written by Gunner Collis VC, there was an abortive cavalry charge led by General Nuttall against the enemy infantry in which Gunner Smith decided to take part. He mounted one of the gun team horses and rode beside Nuttall, but the sowars refused to obey the order to charge and turned about. Nuttall burst into tears prompting Gunner Smith to continue alone on a suicide mission, never to be seen alive again. Maclaine and Slade took the remains of the gun teams back to the starting place chosen by Blackwood. Here the limbers were refilled from the ammunition supply.
The infantry were withdrawing towards Khig and a bugle was already sounding retire. The enemy cavalry were advancing and E Battery fired a couple of rounds of canister before joining in the retreat. The smoothbore guns were completely out of ammunition and hooked up on Maclaine’s limbers which also carried many wounded men. The Afghans harried the tail of the retreating column and picked off stragglers, but did not otherwise try to cut off their progress. When a serious attack looked imminent the guns were unlimbered and brought into action. The retreat to Kandahar was one of those terrible episodes in the history of the British and Indian army dominated by the awful thirst, the suffering of the wounded men and animals, and the terror of passing near hostile villages. The journey was a nightmare, involving the crossing of a 16-mile desert and fighting against armed villagers. As well as the two guns of E Battery, 5 smoothbore guns were lost. On 9 Sep Captain Slade wrote a letter to Lieutenant M H Saward RHA praising the heroism of his gunners:
‘The 27th July was certainly an unfortunate one for British arms but I think that when the truth is known Gunners will be found to have done their duty. Nothing could have been steadier in my opinion than the behaviour of both N.C.Officers and men of E/B - both in the action and in the retreat - and I have already brought to the notice of the Lt.General Comding the distinguished and conspicuous conduct of 5 or 6 of them, and I trust if you can further their interest that you will do so, as considering the panic stricken state of 9 out of every 10 individuals present it was all the more praiseworthy on their part.'
He then named Sgt Maj William Paton, Sgt Mullane VC, Corporal Thorogood, Trumpeter Jones and Gunner James Collis VC. He recommended Mullane for the VC but erroneously believed that his recommendation was unsuccessful because of insufficient evidence. This sergeant raced back to pick up a wounded man 15 yards from the enemy infantry and put him on the limber, but the man was already dead. Also mentioned was Lieutenant Maclaine who lost his two guns and later taken prisoner, but killed by his captors on 1 Sep after the battle of Kandahar. His treatment at the hands of the tribesmen must have been terrible. He also named the two officers and 16 men of the Battery who were killed:
Major George Frederick Blackwood
Lieutenant Edmund George Osborne
Collar Maker Cumings
Gunner George Scrutton
Driver Richard Jones
And the 5 men wounded:
Gunner Edwardes (lost his left arm)
Not mentioned in his list of casualties is Gunner Smith who, according to James Collis, joined a cavalry charge and ended up the only man to ride towards the enemy, and was cut down. Also Gunner Francis Nayor who lost a hand in the battle and who later wrote an eye-witness account of the events at the battle and the retreat. Lieutenant Fowell was also wounded.
Captain Slade was praised by Major-General Sir E May RA in his book of 1893 for covering the retreat to Kandahar: ‘The manner in which the Horse Artillery (E/B, now 58th Field Battery) under Captain (now Colonel) J R Slade behaved during the retreat from Maiwand enabled them by their excellent discipline and staunch courage to materially assist in averting complete ruin.’ As well as the two VCs won by Mullane and Collis and the CB to Captain Slade, the DCM was awarded to eight NCOs and men.
A footnote to this in the Journal of the Society of Army Historical Research vol XLII dated Dec 1964 says that in 1944 E/B Battery became 58th Field Battery (Maiwand Battery) and in 1961 it became 145th Battery (Maiwand Battery), 29th Regiment RA.
Chestnut Troop in the 19th Century
On 1 Feb 1793, under the influence and encouragement of the Duke of Richmond, a Troop of Horse Artillery was raised at Woolwich using only chestnut horses. They saw action in Ireland in that year when the Rebellion broke out, and again in 1799 in the Netherlands. Their most well known commander took over the Troop in 1806, Captain Hew Dalrymple Ross who rose to the rank of Field Marshal. He commanded the Troop for 19 years and led them with distinction in the Peninsula War. In 1815 they fought at Waterloo under Ross’s leadership, achieving fame not least because the Duke of Wellington famously inquired the whereabouts of ‘the Chestnut Troop’. This was their unofficial name until May 1902 when King Edward VII sanctioned the official title of A Battery (Chestnut Troop) RHA. They served in the latter stages of the Crimean War and saw much service in India. In 1880, A Battery, A Brigade as they were called officially, moved from Aldershot to St John’s Wood, replacing the Household Cavalry. This was the first RHA unit to occupy ‘The Wood’ and the Horse Artillery have been there ever since. It is now the home of the King’s Troop, the last remaining riding Troop of the RHA.
Chestnut Troop in the 20th Century
The Chestnut Troop saw service in the Boer War and throughout the whole of the First World War. They were in action first at Givenchy on 20 Dec 1914 and remained in France until they fired their last round at Orrs in 4 Nov 1918. In 1919 they were part of Norperforce in North West Persia. Before WW2 they were serving in the Middle East, where they were mechanised in 1935, but after a spell in England they went to France with the BEF and had to cover the retreat to Dunkirk. They then fought in North Africa, as part of 1st Reg RHA in the 7th Armoured Division. They were at the capture of Tobruk, came under siege for most of 1941, and then stayed in N Africa, as part of the Long Range Desert Group, until the invasion of Italy in which they took part. They remained in Italy until the end of the war, equipped with 105mm Self-Propelled Guns. Since the war they have served in Iraq, Bosnia, Cyprus and Afghanistan.
D Battery RHA
The battery was raised as F Troop in November 1794. They fought in the Peninsula, first at Vittoria and then being involved in pursuing the retreating French Army. At Waterloo they were hotly engaged in repulsing the attack on Hougoumont Farm. The commander of D Troop RHA, Major George Beane was killed but it is not clear if this is the same D Troop. In 1839 they were in action against Chartist rebels. On 5 Jan 1858 they famously fought at Secundra Gunge during the Indian Mutiny. They were on their way to Allahabad when Major Anderson, commander of the Troop was ordered by Brigadier W Campbell to send his gunners as cavalry to attack a large formation of mutineers. Their charge was a success, between two and three hundred of the enemy were killed.
D Battery 1859-2010
In 1859 Troops of the Royal Horse Artillery were designated as Batteries so it was as F Battery RHA that they were part of the campaign against hostile tribesmen in the Second Afghan War of 1878-80. Soon after this conflict they were re-named D Battery RHA. In 1893 they were stationed at St John’s Wood and took part in ceremonial parades and performances including the Royal Tournament at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington.
The Battery fought in two World Wars with distinction and is today a close support Battery of 3rd Regiment RHA. One of their most recent casualties was Lance Bombardier Mark Chandler who was killed in Afghanistan on 8 June 2010.
F (Sphinx) Battery RHA
The unit was raised in India in 1800 as an experimental Brigade of Bengal Horse Artillery, part of the army of the East India Company. They were sent to Egypt in 1801 to take part in General Abercromby’s campaign against the French Revolutionary army. The Troop entered Egypt via the Red Sea and were subjected to a gruelling desert march to the Nile during which most of the horses died. They sailed down river to Giza and camped at the Isle of Roda. The British army had meanwhile beaten the French at Alexandria so the battery were denied the glory of taking part. The Troop were, however, granted the battle honour in the form of the Sphinx, but not until 1926, so that F Battery now display the Sphinx on their badge. They returned to India to be stationed at Dum-Dum, Calcutta where two more Troops of Bengal Horse Artillery were raised, and over time grew to 13 Troops, organised as three brigades. They were in action in the 2nd Mahratta War of 1803-05, the Gurkha War of 1814-16, the Pindari Campaign of 1817, and the 1st Burma War of 1823-26.
Retreat from Kabul, 1842
Disaster befell the Troop in 1842 when they had the misfortune to be in Kabul when the British were forced to retreat. They lost their guns due to the death of the horses, and were subjected to repeated attacks by Afghans which cost them the lives of the captain, 2 officers and 102 men. They remained in India and took part in the Second Afghan War of 1878-80.
Relief of Lucknow, 14-22 Nov 1857
When the Indian Mutiny broke out in 1857, there were four batteries of the Bengal HA manned by Indians. Two of these mutinied so that it was decided to reform the four batteries as European. The Troop were called upon in 1857 to take part in the fight against the mutinous sepoys. They achieved fame at Lucknow due to the action of Rough Rider Edmond Jennings. He was at the Relief of Lucknow when he heard a cry for help from a wounded British lieutenant. He was mounted and accompanied by two others. Urging his horse forward, and over a high wall, he saw that the officer was surrounded by mutineers. Jennings alone galloped into them, slashing at them with his sword. They dispersed and he was able to help the officer onto his horse and get him to a medical tent. A few days later he was called to the tent and found the wounded officer who was recovered enough to thank Jennings and reward him with 1,000 rupees. He was gazetted for the VC on 24 Dec 1858 and sailed to England to receive the medal from the Queen in Oct 1859, but his ship was delayed and he missed the ceremony. As one of the consequences of the Indian Mutiny, the regiments of the HEIC were transferred to the Crown and in 1861 the Troop was designated A Battery, B Brigade.
Ahmed Khel, 19 April 1880
In 1880 the battery were in action in the Second Afghan War of 1878-80. They took part in General Sir Donald Stewart’s column sent out from Kandahar to open up the route to Kabul. On 19 April the British/Indian force of 7,200 were confronted by 15,000 tribesmen at Ahmed Khel. The battery came into action against a charge by the enemy, giving the force time to take up battle positions. The tribesmen were defeated and the column resumed their march, reaching the fort of Ghunzi. It was here that they recovered two of the guns lost in 1842. One of them is still owned by the battery.
World War One
At some point at the beginning of the 20th century the Battery was designated F Battery RHA. In WW1 they were part of 14th Brigade RHA which in turn was part of 7th Divisional Artillery. During Oct 1914 they were engaged in the Battle of Ypres. On 23 Oct they were in action about 600 yards behind the line held by the Grenadier Guards just west of Kruiseik. They sent a section forward in close support which dealt most effectively with some enemy machine guns. Two days later a single gun was run forward close up to the trenches of the Gordon Highlanders and was of great assistance to the infantry. On 26 Oct when the fighting became more intense they withdrew but continued to inflict heavy losses on the advancing Germans. At the crisis of the battle on 31 Oct the battery at first assisted a French attack but were compelled to withdraw to Sanctuary Wood. leaving a section on Hill 60. The battery was also in action at Loos, The Somme, Arras and Cambrai. From the Western Front they were posted to Italy.
World War Two
In the 1930s the Battery were stationed at Rawalpindi then at the outbreak of WW2 returned to Cairo. They were in 4th Regiment RHA at Helmieh with C Battery and G Battery, equipped with 25-pounder QF guns. They were placed in the 7th Armoured Division ‘The Desert Rats’ and fought at Sidi Rezegh in Nov 1941.
In 1961 they were reorganised again, with the official title of F (Sphinx) Parachute Battery RHA as part of 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. They were sent to Aden, involved in the fighting in the Radfan Mountains. Further deployments included Northern Ireland, Cyprus, and Bosnia. Then in 1999 they were part of the newly formed 16 Air Assault Brigade. In 2003 they had the distinction of firing the first shots of any coalition troops in the ground campaign in Iraq. When they were posted to Afghanistan in June 2006, Captain Jim Philippson became the first British soldier to be killed in Helmand Province. Not long after that Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson had the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most seriously injured soldiers to survive the fighting there.
G Battery (Mercer’s Troop) RHA
G Troop was raised on 1 Sep 1801 at Mallow, County Cork. Their famous commander, Cavalié Mercer joined the Troop in 1806 when he was a 23 year-old second captain. In 1807 the Troop was sent to Buenos Aires as part of Lieutenant-General John Whitlocke’s failed expedition that ended in the British surrender to the Spanish. But it is due to Mercer’s Journal that the Troop’s heroic actions at Waterloo in 1815 are so well known. They did not take part in the Peninsula War, but when Napoleon returned from Elba, G Troop was chosen to be part of Wellington’s allied army. To bring the Troop up to a high standard, two other Troops were amalgamated at Colchester and the best men and horses formed into the reconstituted G Troop. When Marshal Blücher inspected the Troop in May 1815 he remarked that there was not one horse of it that was not fit for a field marshal.
The Waterloo Campaign, June 1815
Mercer’s Troop was actually called Dickson’s Troop at the time, since Mercer was acting commander. The Troop comprised 80 gunners, 86 drivers, 226 horses, five 9-pounder guns and a 5.5inch howitzer. They embarked in April 1815 and were stationed for the whole of May at Strijtem, west of Brussels. News of Napoleon’s approach reached them too late to join the army for the battle at Quatre Brason 16 June, although they were able to help cover the retreat and narrowly avoided being captured by French cavalry. The next day, at the battle of Genappe they were in action with the cavalry rearguard. They arrived at the field of Waterloo on 17 June, actually exchanging fire with French artillery before retiring.
Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815
Mercer had no orders on the morning of the battle and, seeing d’Erlon’s Corps advancing against Wellington’s left, was about to take the initiative and take up position to fire on them. But he then received orders to go to the extreme right of the line which was a quiet sector. There he could not restrain himself from ordering his guns to fire on the French batteries. This attracted a return of fire which was much superior. In mid-afternoon his Troop was ordered to the hottest part of the battle between the crossroads and Hougoumont. It was here that, under pressure from enemy cavalry, Mercer was ordered to get his men inside the infantry square for safety. This would have meant abandoning the guns, so the gunners of Mercer’s Troop stuck to their guns against persistent and determined attack. The Grenadiers à Cheval received deadly rounds of case-shot at close range and suffered heavy casualties. Enemy skirmishers caused problems for the Troop and Mercer himself was fortunate to avoid being shot as he rode up and down in front of the guns to encourage his men. A second determined charge by French Cuirassiers was met by Mercer’s guns which had double case-shot loaded on top of ball shot. They fired at a range of 50 or 60 yards causing the whole of the front rank of cavalry to fall, and creating great gaps in the ranks behind with the ball shot.
A third cavalry attack petered out, and towards the end of the action Mercer’s Troop came under fire from a battery that took up position on the left. This caused a huge amount of casualties amongst his horses before the enemy battery was driven off by Belgian artillery. Mercer was told by a Brunswick officer that the ‘enemy’ battery was in fact Prussian, but there is some doubt about that. Now the Troop was short of good horses so were unable to join the pursuit of the retreating French army. They suffered 5 men killed, 15 wounded and 69 horses lost. They had fired 700 rounds. Sir Augustus Fraser, the Horse Artillery commander commented that he could see from a distance the position of G Troop because of the huge mound of dead cavalrymen and horses. The Troop had to wait for supply wagons before it could move away from the battlefield. Some guns had to be left behind through lack of horses. Some time after they reached Paris Mercer was transferred to D Troop whose commander, Major George Beane, had been killed. This Troop was subsequently disbanded and the other Troops altered their lettering so that G Troop became F Troop on 31 July 1816.
Service in India 1858 and Re-organisation
Mercer’s Troop, as it was now called, was sent out to India in 1858 to help in the final stages of the Mutiny. From 1 July 1859 it was assigned to the 1st Horse Brigade RA along with other nine other RHA Troops, now referred to as batteries. The disbanded Horse Artillery units of the three Presidencies were absorbed into batteries under Crown administration forming the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Horse Brigades. Because the 1st Horse Brigade was much larger than the other brigades it was spit into A and B Brigades. Mercer’s Troop changed letter again so that from 13 April 1864 it was C Battery, B Brigade (C/B Battery). On 14 April 1877 the brigades were reduced to three, of 10 batteries each. Mercer’s then regained its old letter and became G Battery, A Brigade. The Brigades were dispensed with in 1889 and Mercer’s were then simply known as G Battery RHA.
South Africa 1899 - 1901
G Battery were assigned to Lord Methuen’s force and fought at Magersfontein on 11 Dec 1899. In his despatch,Lord Methuen wrote: ‘G Battery RHA fired hard till dark, expending nearly 200 rounds per gun.’ The number actually fired was 1,250 from 6 guns, a record expenditure. Major Bannatyne-Allason was also mentioned and unofficial accounts were full of praise for the battery. Two officers and 3 men were wounded. G and P Batteries accompanied General Broadwood in the hurried ride from Kimberley on 17 Feb 1900. They carried out a successful action at Koodoesrand Drift and took part in the battle of Paardeberg. There followed more fighting all the way to Bloemfontein and afterwards to Pretoria and Diamond Hill. In Jan and Feb 1901 two guns from G Battery went with General Alderson’s column for operations in East Transvaal. The battery then joined the pursuit of De Wet in Feb 1901, and later sent four guns to Orange River Colony with Colonel Bethune.
First World War
In the years prior to WW1 the battery was placed in V Brigade along with O Battery stationed at Umballa. When war broke out Z Battery was added to their brigade and G battery were attached to 8th Cavalry Brigade. They first saw action in 1915 at Second Ypres, fighting at Frezenberg Ridge 11 - 13 May. They fought at Loos in September. Also at the first battle of the Scarpe, at Arras, on 9-12 April 1917, later serving as infantry in the trenches. In April 1918 the battery was posted to V Army Brigade RHA and armed with 18-pounder guns.
After the war they were posted to Aldershot until November 1926 when they sailed to India to be stationed at Meerut. They were not mechanised until 1939 when they were transferred to Egypt. There they formed 4th Regiment RHA on 28 May at Helmieh, along with C and F Batteries. G Battery was at first linked with F Battery to form F/G Battery but when WW2 broke out they were split up.
Second World War
The battery returned from Egypt and posted to Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire in 5th Regiment RHA. They went to France in 1940 but were part of the retreat to Dunkirk. On 8 May they left Britain to join the North African Campaign as part of the 8th Armoured Division. The sea journey had to be via the Cape of Good Hope so took several weeks. In North Africa they took part in the Defence of the El Alamein Line, the Battle of el Halfa and the Battle of El Alamein. From 1 Dec 1942 they were in the 7th Armoured Division and took part in the Western Desert and Tunisian Campaigns. They went to Italy after the allied invasion, and fought in the North-West European Campaign from 8 July 1944 up until the end of the war.
As part of 5th Regiment RHA the battery were equipped with Sexton 25-pounder SP guns, stationed first at Osnabrück, then Larkhill and Cwrt y Gollen, Crickhowell. In 1958 they were placed in 4th Regiment RHA and equipped with Cardinal 155mm SP guns, stationed at Hohne. In June 1961 F, G and I Batteries were transferred to 7th Parachute Regiment RHA and armed with the L118 Light Gun. Since then it has been posted to Kuwait, Aden, Northern Ireland (as infantry), Cyprus, Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosova, Afghanistan, The Gulf War, and Operation Herrick in Afghanistan.
I Battery (Bull’s Troop) RHA
I Battery (Bull’s Troop) RHA
The battery was raised on 1 Feb 1805 as I Troop Horse Artillery, at Colchester. It was commanded by Captain Robert Bull and sent to the Peninsula fighting from 1809 to 1814, most notably at Fuentes d’Oñoro where, under Captain Norman Ramsay’s leadership they escaped capture by charging out of an encirclement of French cavalry. They were at the Battle of Waterloo, earning the approval of Wellington and Augustus Frazer by clearing a wood of French skirmishers, firing shrapnel over the heads of friendly troops. They then advanced on Paris with the victorious allied army. They were called Bull’s Troop thereafter but not until 1926 were they allowed to use the name officially. The name became significant later on when the reorganisation of the Horse Artillery in the middle years of the 19th century meant that the alphabetical designation was changed around, causing confusion for military historians.
The first shift of letter designation came in July 1816 when D Troop was disbanded and the other Troops moved up the alphabet, so that I Troop was then called H Troop. In 1859 they were assigned to the Horse Brigade RA in Madras. This became 1st Brigade RA in 1862 when the Indian Horse Artillery units were taken under Crown administration as 2nd and 5th Horse Brigades. In 1866 the Troop briefly became D Battery, B Brigade RHA, stationed at Aldershot. In 1877 they were stationed at Meerut in India and re-designated again, this time as I Battery, A Brigade. The brigade system for the artillery was dropped on 1889 and each battery was given its alphabetical designation according to seniority (based on the date of raising). They fortunately remained as I Battery RHA.
First World War
I Battery were in India until the First World War by which time they were equipped with 13-pounder QF guns. They were brigaded with L Battery attached to the 1st Cavalry Brigade. They spent the whole war on the Western Front. They were at Mons in Aug 1914, Le Cateau, Néry, 1st Marne, 1st Aisne and Messines. In 1915 they were at Frezenberg, Bellewaarde Ridge, and Flers-Courcelette. In 1917 they were at the Battle of Arras (Scarpe) and Cambrai. In 1918 they were in the Battle of St Quentin, 1st Bapaume, Rosières, Amiens, 2nd Somme, Albert, Hindenburg Line, Cambrai again in October, and the Pursuit of Selle.
Between the Wars
In 1921 they were an independent battery, posted to India, stationed at Meerut, Risalpur, Sailkot and Trimulgherry. On 13 Oct 1926 they were officially recognised as Bull’s Troop, an honour title. Mechanised from 1934 to 1936, at Risalpur, they were issued with 18-pounders and 3.7in Howitzers. They returned to England in 1936, and at Newport were linked with H Battery. In 1938 they were in 2nd Regiment RHA.
Second World War
The linked H/I Battery (12 guns) were initially sent to France but were evacuated at Dunkirk. They then went to Egypt at the end of 1940. The following year they were fighting in Greece with 1st Armoured Brigade. In April 1942 they were unlinked from H Battery and armed with eight 25-pounders. They then fought in North Africa, at Gazala, Mersa Matruh, and the Defence of the El Alamein Line. They then fought in the Tunisia campaign, at El Alamein, Tebaga Gap, Akarit, El Kourzia and Tunis. After North Africa had been cleared of German and Italian forces, the army invaded Italy and the battery took part in the action at the Battle of Coriano on the Gothic Line. They stayed in Italy until the end of the war.
They were part of 2nd Regiment RHA after the war, equipped with Sexton 25-pounder SP guns, and went first to Palestine, then Hildesheim in Germany. In 1958 they were transferred to 4th Regiment RHA and equipped with Cardinal 155mm SP guns, stationed at Hohne. On 27 June 1961 they became part of 7th Parachute Regiment RHA, equipped with 105mm Pack Howitzers, serving in Kuwait in 1961, Aden in 1964, and Northern Ireland. Then in 1974 exchanged to the L118 Light Gun. From 1977 to 1984 they were posted in Germany. Since then they have served in Belize, Cyprus, Macedonia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, the Gulf, and in 2008 back to Afghanistan in Operation Herrick. I Battery is now HQ battery of 7th Parachute Regiment RHA based in Colchester where it was originally raised in 1805.
L (Néry) Battery) RHA
Gunner William Connolly VC
L Battery was raised in India in 1809 as the 3rd Troop of Bengal Horse Artillery. They took part in the Gwalior campaign, being present at the Battle of Punniar on 29 Dec 1843. During the Indian Mutiny they were in action at Jhelum on 7 July 1857 where one of the gunners in the Troop, William Connolly, conducted himself with such bravery that he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was wounded while acting as sponge-man on the guns during the Battle of Jhelum. The sponge-man’s job was to use the wet sponge end of the rammer to cool the barrel and remove inflammable material before the next shell was loaded. A bullet in the thigh caused him great pain and loss of blood but he insisted on mounting his horse and following the battery which was retiring to another position. He was wounded again later that morning when a musket ball hit him in the hip, but continued to carry out his work and refused to be taken to the rear for medical attention. Later that afternoon the battery were in action at another location, against the 14th Native Infantry. Connolly worked away as sponge-man until he was wounded a third time, at the same time encouraging another wounded gunner. Finally, after loading his gun six more times, he succumbed and fell unconscious.
William Connolly VC was a Liverpudlian who joined the East India Company army in May 1837. He served in the Horse Artillery for 21 years but after the Indian Mutiny and the fight at Jhelum he never recovered from his wounds, and was discharged in 1859. He was described as a man of ‘indifferent character’, quite short in stature. He returned to England and lived in Liverpool, having to sell his medal in 1886 for 10 pounds to help him survive. He died on 31 Dec 1891 at Kirkdale, at the age of 75.
Néry, 1 Sep 1914
The battery came under Crown administration after the Mutiny and was re-named L Battery RHA in 1889. The next action that brought honour to the Battery was in World War One at Néry on 1 Sep 1914. That morning, the German 4th Cavalry Division attacked the British 1st Cavalry Brigade and L Battery who were camped at Néry. L Battery had all its guns disabled by enemy artillery batteries which were located 1,000 yards away, except for one which was manned by Captain Bradbury, WO2 Dorrell, Sergeant Nelson, Gunner Osbourne and Gunner Derbyshire. The continuous firing of this one gun allowed the British cavalry to counter attack with some success. Captain Bradbury was mortally wounded in this action, as well as the two gunners. BSM Dorrell and Sgt Nelson worked on until all ammunition was expended. Bradbury, Dorrell and Nelson were all awarded the VC. The actual gun is displayed at the Imperial War Museum.
Service for the Next 100 years
L Battery served in North Africa and Italy in WW2. After the war they were in Palestine, Malaya, Cyprus and Northern Ireland. Elements of the battery were sent out to the Gulf in Operation Granby in 1991. They served in the Balkans, and in 1999 amalgamated with N Battery (Eagle Troop). In 2004 they were deployed in Iraq on TELIC 4.
N Battery (The Eagle Troop) RHA
1st (Leslie’s) Troop Bombay Horse Artillery
N Battery was raised at Seroor on 11 Nov 1811 (11.11.11) as the 1st Troop Bombay Horse Artillery. In 1830 they were equipped with five 6-pounder guns and one 12-pounder howitzer. In 1833 the Troop, commanded by Captain John Leslie, were posted to the Persian Gulf and then served in Afghanistan. They took part in the capture of the forts in the Khojak Pass in Feb 1841 where the gunners acted as infantry because insufficient volunteers could be found for the storming parties. They then formed part of General England’s column around Kandahar, and supported General Nott’s operations towards Kabul.
Battle of Hyderabad, 23 Mar 1843
When Sir Charles Napier embarked on his campaign in Sind, Leslie’s Troop marched from Sukkur to join him. They were not at the battle of Meanee but arrived in time for the battle of Hyderabad at the village of Dabo. The British/Indian force of 2,800 was up against an army of Baluchis 22,000 strong who were entrenched around the village. Napier’s regiments on the left of the line, the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment and the 25th Bombay NI, moved too far forward, so Leslie’s Troop, on the right, were ordered to gallop across the front of the line to support them. Under very difficult circumstances, the guns were brought across open ground, stopping alternately to fire by sections, and in the face of heavy musketry fire from the Baluchis. The guns were manoeuvred into position beside the Fuleli River in order to enfilade the enemy in their trenches. This enabled the 22nd and 25th NI to storm the village, which they did with great bravery. Captain Leslie’s second in command, Lt John Smith, was unfortunately killed in the action.
The Eagle of Hyderabad
By an order in Council headed by the Governor-General Lord Ellenborough, dated 11 April 1843 the 1st Troop Bombay Horse Artillery received the official designation ‘Leslie’s’ for its gallantry in the battle, and was permitted to bear the eagle of Hyderabad on its appointments. John Leslie was appointed CB and received his brevet of Colonel soon afterwards. The origin of the eagle is unclear. The Royal Arms of Hyderabad State do not have an eagle, only two big cats.
The three Presidencies of India, Bengal, Bombay and Madras all had their own Horse Artillery, employed by the East India Company. The Indian Mutiny brought this to an end so that the Troops all came under the Crown administration and were absorbed into the Royal Horse Artillery. The Eagle Troop was re-named five times between 1862 and 1889 when it was finally named N Battery RHA.
World War One
N Battery served in France throughout WW1, taking part in the battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915 in which they were unable to be supplied with sufficient shells. In 1916 they were on the Somme, and in 1917 they claimed a record of the battery that had fired the highest number of shells in one month. Their six 13-pounder guns fired 115,360 rounds in August, in support of the Canadian contingent, They also fought at Cambrai and at Hailles. They were in action right up to the Armistice in 1918, and on 11 Nov 1920 had the honour of bearing the coffin of the Unknown Soldier to Westminster Abbey. The Troop had been granted a similar honour in 1901 when they bore the coffin of Queen Victoria.
World War Two and After
In 1938 the battery was linked to L Battery and known as L/N (Nery) Battery as part of 2nd Regiment RHA. In 1939 they went to France with the BEF until evacuated at Dunkirk. They then went to Greece and North Africa. They regained their separate identity in 1942 and joined 6th Regiment RHA. After the war they went to Malaya during the Emergency. Then in 1961 to Cyprus to keep the peace between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. In 1965 they were posted to Münster. they also served in Northern Ireland in the 1970s followed by further postings in Germany. They have more recently served in the Balkans and in Iraq and are now the Tactical Group of 3rd Regiment RHA.
Q (Sanna’s Post) Battery RHA
This battery originated as 3rd Troop of the Bombay Horse Artillery administered by the East India Company.It was raised at Poona on 1 Mar 1824 and served in the First Afghan War (1839-42), the two Sikh Wars (1845-6 & 1848-9), the Persian war (1856-7) and the Indian Mutiny. The Bombay HA had British officers and British gunners, but also Indian other ranks. In 1862, because of the Mutiny it was decided that all artillery should be in the hands of Europeans. After 27 years of name-changing and re-organisation the battery, in 1889, became Q Battery RA, serving in India, stationed in Sialkot in 1893.
Sanna’s Post 31 Mar 1900
Q Battery fought in the Boer War from 1899 to 1901. On 31 Mar 1900 they earned the honour title ‘Sanna’s Post’ by which the battery was known ever after. The action was related at length in the London Gazette on 26 June 1900:
‘On the occasion of the action at Koorn Spruit on March 31, 1900, a British force [commanded by Brigadier-General Robert Broadwood], including two batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery, was retiring from Thabanchu towards Bloemfontein. The enemy [commanded by Christian de Wet] had formed an ambush [of 400 Boers] at Koorn Spruit, and, before their presence was discovered by the main body, had captured the greater portion of the baggage column and 5 out of the 6 guns of the leading battery [U Battery]. When the alarm was given, Q Battery RHA was within 300 yards of the spruit. Major Phipps-Hornby, who commanded it, at once wheeled about and moved off at a gallop under heavy fire. One gun upset when a wheel-horse was shot, and had to be abandoned, together with a waggon, the horses of which were killed. The remainder of the battery reached a position close to some unfinished railway buildings, and came into action 1150 yards from the spruit, remaining in action until ordered to retire. When the order to retire was received, Major Phipps-Hornby ordered the guns and their limbers to be run back by hand to where the teams of uninjured horses stood behind the unfinished buildings. The few remaining gunners, assisted by a number of officers and men of a party of mounted infantry, and directed by Major Phipps-Hornby and Captain Humphreys, the only remaining officers of the battery, succeeded in running back four of the guns under shelter. One or two of the limbers were similarly withdrawn by hand, but the work was most severe and the distance considerable. In consequence, all concerned were so exhausted that they were unable to drag in the remaining limbers or the fifth gun.
It now became necessary to risk the horses, and volunteers were called for from among the drivers, who readily responded. Several horses were killed, and men wounded, but at length only one gun and one limber were left exposed. Four separate attempts were made to rescue these, but when no more horses were available the attempt had to be given up, and the gun and limber were abandoned. Meanwhile the other guns had been sent on, one at a time, and, after passing within 700 or 800 yards of the enemy, in rounding the head of the donga and crossing two spruits, they eventually reached a place of safety, where the battery was reformed.
After full consideration of the circumstances of the case, the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief in South Africa [Lord Roberts] formed the opinion that the conduct of all ranks of Q Battery, RHA was conspicuously gallant and daring, but that all were equally brave and devoted in their behaviour. He therefore decided to treat the case of the battery as one of collective gallantry under Rule 13 of the Victoria Cross Warrant, and directed that one officer should be selected for the decoration of the VC by the officers, one NCO by the non-commissioned officers, and two gunners or drivers by the gunners and drivers. A difficulty arose with regard to the officer, owing to the fact that there were only two unwounded officers — Major Phipps-Hornby and Captain Humphreys — available for the work of saving the guns, and both of these had been conspicuous by their gallantry and by the fearless manner in which they exposed themselves, and each of them nominated the other for the decoration.It was ultimately decided in favour of Major Phipps-Hornby, as having been the senior concerned.
Sergeant Charles Parker was chosen by the non-commissioned officers as the one among them most deserving of the distinction. Gunner Isaac Lodge and Driver Horace Glasock were selected in the like manner by the vote of their comrades.’
Lieutenant Francis Aylmer Maxwell of the Indian Staff Corps attached to Roberts’ Light Horse also received the Victoria Cross for assisting the men of the battery to save the guns. It was also said that the guns would not have been saved if it had not been for the bravery of men of the Burma Mounted Infantry. Lieutenant Grover of that unit was killed. However the heroism and coolness of Q Battery elicited this comment form the scout, Major Burnham:
‘Those artillerymen, how I admired and felt proud of them! and the Boers too, were astonished at their courage and endurance. Fired at from three sides, they never betrayed the least alarm or haste, but cooly laid their guns and went through their drill as if it had been a sham-fight, and men and horses were not dropping on all sides.’
After this battle the battery accompanied Brigadier-General Broadwood and Ian Hamilton in the advance to Pretoria. At Diamond Hill, on 11 and 12 June 1900, the battery was heavily engaged and again got rather too close to the enemy's position, and was only saved by Broadwood ordering a charge of the Household Cavalry and 12th Lancers. The battery accompanied Broadwood in the first movements for surrounding Prinsloo in the Orange River Colony, and in the pursuit of De Wet to the Pteitzburg Hills, and after he had crossed the Vaal to the Megaliesberg. They then went to the relief of Hore. The battery remained about Rustenburg until the end of 1900.
Q (Sanna’s Post) Battery is the HQ Battery of 5th Regiment RA. It currently serves as the HQ Battery for the British Army’s Surveillance and Target Acquisition regiment.
The King’s Troop RHA
The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery is the Saluting Battery of The Queen’s Household Troops. It was formed in 1946 at the express wish of King George VI to fire Royal Salutes in Hyde Park on royal anniversaries and to take part in the other ‘great ceremonies of state.’
The standard of riding required for horsed artillery has always been very high, so not long after the raising of the Troops of the Royal Horse Artillery it was decided to set up a Riding Establishment. An expert Riding Master was sought to supervise the training of gunners and drivers, the man chosen being Captain C A Quist. He was brought to Britain from Hanover at the express wish of King George III. At the age of 71 he was a very experienced horseman, having been a student at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. His Troop had a staff of 3 subalterns and 20 Gunners and Drivers. Quist worked there for 20 years until his death at the age of 91. There was not another Riding Master until 1858
The Riding House Department was formed at Woolwich on 20 Sep 1803. Initially The Troop came under the Corps of RA Drivers, made independent from 1808 until 1857 when it was controlled by the War Office. In 1877 the Riding Establishment, as it was called since 1861, was brought under the control of the RA and then in 1903 reverted to the Royal Horse Artillery. From 1873 it was commanded by a Major Superintendent as opposed to a Captain. This rank title lasted until 1947. In the early days the Troop worked on improving horsemanship within the Royal Artillery Regiment but later provided the training for cadets at the RA Military Academy.
The Army School of Equitation
From 1919 the Riding Establishment RHA was moved to Weedon where a School of Equitation was set up by Major Charles ‘Taffy’ Walwyn. As well as training the Woolwich Riding Masters, Walwyn built up a large stock of Irish horses and set about building an outdoor training area on the 250 acres of land, providing an abundance of manèges, arenas and cross-country obstacles. In 1923 the Cavalry School at Netheravon merged with the Riding Establishment to form the Army School of Equitation. The Riding Troop as such only existed now at Woolwich until it was disbanded in 1939.
Re-Raising of the Riding Troop 1946
The present day King’s Troop was, until 2012, based at St John’s Wood in North London which had been used by the Horse Artillery since 1880. But because the RHA had been mechanised in the 1930s it was no longer suitable. However, after WW2 it was the express wish of King George VI that the practice of firing Royal Salutes on State occasions should be continued. His Majesty was referring to the fact that RHA batteries took turns at 2 or 3-year tours of duty in St John’s Wood Barracks to perform saluting, musical drives at the Royal Tournament and other displays.
After six years of warfare it was asking a lot of the RHA to provide a Troop of gunners to parade in the old ceremonial uniforms with enough suitable horses and guns, within a matter of months. The guns used by the King’s Troop nowadays are the 13-pounders but at that time there were only 18-pounders with ammunition available. Lieutenant-Colonel H K Gillson was nominated as Superintendent of the re-raised ‘Riding Troop’. Officers, NCOs and men with pre-war experience were found and posted to the Troop, initially at Shoeburyness where the only active stables remained. The horses from those stables and a number of elderly horses found at remount depots were gathered and used in the first ceremonial parade, the Royal Salute on 13 June 1946.
The King’s Troop 24 Oct 1947
That first parade in June 1946 was very sedate, gun teams moving at the walk, with two gunners sitting on each limber, but for the next year more horses were brought in and expertise developed so that the movements could be carried out at the canter. The first Drive took place at Aldershot in the summer of 1947 and the GOC London District held his inspection. The unit was called The Riding Troop at that time but on 24 Oct 1947 King George VI paid a visit to St John’s Wood Barracks. He inspected the Troop in full dress on the square and then had lunch with the officers in their mess. The King asked them if they would like to be called The King’s Battery but the Superintendant, Major J A Norman, asked in return, “Could it be The King’s Troop?” His Majesty replied “All right, so long as it’s mine I don’t mind what you call it.” One of the prized possessions of the Troop is a page of the visitor’s book on which King George crossed out the word Riding and put King’s.
St John’s Wood Barracks
In 2012 the King’s Troop left St John’s Wood for the last time and moved to Woolwich. Their association with ‘The Wood’ as it a called, dated back to 1804 when a detachment of the Corps of Gunner Drivers and their horses was billeted there. It may seem odd that an expensive residential area of London should have been the home of an army unit, but in 1804 the district was outside the capital and surrounded by farm land. The landlords were the Eyre family who charged the Board of Ordnance 150 pounds a year. The unit was enlarged in 1812 and a larger barracks built so that the whole of the Horse Artillery could be housed together. This only lasted until 1819 when the Horse Brigade was moved to Woolwich.
The Wood was chosen as the place to train officers and men on the Cavalry Riding Establishment from 1822 to 1830. In 1832 the barracks was the home of the Foot Guards for a year but for the next 40 years it was used by various infantry battalions. In 1876 the Household Cavalry had to spend 4 years there while their barracks were being constructed at Knightsbridge. During this period wooden stables were built to accommodate 128 horses at The Wood. They were only supposed to be temporary, but lasted 94 years until 1969.
The Royal Horse Artillery finally returned to St John’s Wood in 1880. On 24 June A Battery, A Brigade, the Chestnut Troop, moved from Aldershot and set up home there. Apart from periods during the two world wars the RHA occupied The Wood for the next 132 years. Although the horses were well housed in the new wooden stables, the men’s quarters were less comfortable, having poor washing facilities and sanitation. One half of the Riding School had to be used to keep the guns, stores and harness. After WW1 improvements were made and the officer’s mess was completed in 1922, built in a neo Georgian style and providing a friendly atmosphere for the officers and their guests. Married quarters were provided when Jubilee Buildings was opened in 1935. The largest development took place from 1969 to 1972 during which time the RHA were housed at Combermere Barracks in Windsor.
Apart from ceremonial duties like Royal Salutes, funerals, Displays, Musical Drives, Armistice Day and the Lord Mayor’s Show, the Troop has travelled abroad to Copenhagen, Milan, Canada and other destinations. When on parade with the guns, such as the Trooping of the Colour, they take precedence over all other regiments and have the honour of parading on the right of the line.
There are more pictures of the King's Troop and their activities in the Post-War period here.