In the early days of war the men who manned the cannons were not soldiers, but civilians employed by the board of Ordnance. The strength of the organization was 100 gunners plus, the permanent staff was commanded by the Master of Ordnance, and on the Cessation of hostilities all civilians would be laid off. Under instruction in 1455 from Charles 2nd all weapons, powder, and such stores were to be secured in the tower of London and be supervised by the Board of Ordnance; which the king had recently set up.
From the Board of Ordnance has descended such illustrious regiments as:
- Corps of the Royal Artillery
- The Royal Engineers
- The Royal Army Service Corps
- The Royal Army Ordnance Corps
- The Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers
- The Royal Logistic Corps raised in 1993
On the 26th may 1716 by order of the Royal Warrant two companies of artillery were formed at Woolwich. Each company consisted of 94 men, made up of 5 Officers, 9 NCOs and 80 soldiers.
The Regiment was increased to two battalions, each made up of 12 companies to each battalion in the August of 1757.
Both battalions during the seven years war served under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick at the Battle of Minden; which was the first conflict in which the guns where brought into action from the gallop. They also earned the reputation amongst the mixed force they were serving with, as having the cleanest guns on the battle field.
The British Artillery was once again in action between the years of 1779 – 1783 when, they engaged the French and Spanish, who attacked Gibraltar in 1779, ultimately laying it to siege. By the end of the conflict in 1783 the English Artillery had consumed approximately 800 barrels of powder and fired 200000 cannonballs.
In June 1815 the Royal Artillery found itself in Belgium supporting the British Army under the Command of the Duke of Wellington, south of Brussels at a place called Waterloo.
The artillery under the direct command of Lt Col. Sir George Wood consisted of 6000 men with approximately 150guns of various types they would be supporting an army of 68,000 men; which was inclusive of 6000 infantry from the Kings German Legion. The Artillery distribution was I Corps 64 guns, under command of Maj-Gen.Van Gunckel. II Corps 40 guns; the cavalry horse artillery had 30guns.
The day before the battle, it had rained most of the day leaving what ultimately became the battlefield water logged, which had a significant effect on the performance of the artillery during the battle.
At 11am on the 15 June 1815. The first ranging rounds of the imminent battle were fired by the French onto the extreme right of the British line at a place called Hougoumont Farm. A battery of the British artillery responded immediately from a ridge to the rear of the farm, and so Battle was joined.
Due to the sodden ground and heavy clay conditions caused by the torrential rain, the gun crews had severe difficulties moving the main heavy batteries quickly, as dictated and required by the changing battle.
Analysis after the engagement determined the way in the future how these weapons would ultimately be used in later warfare.
In the afternoon the English came under severe attack by wave after wave of French cavalry. In defense the English formed the three ranked hollow squire where the gunners from the heavy batteries were instructed to move for protection until it was safe to move back to their batteries.
It was the horse artillery under command of Lt Col. Sir Agustus Frazer with the lighter horse drawn guns, and who came to the fore at the crucial time and placed the French under direct fire when the larger artillery pieces couldn't be moved in sufficient time due to poor ground.
Its rather ironic that this battle determined the role of the heavy artillery piece, it took the French to design a superb 75mm quick firing gun 25 / 30 rounds per minute, that was light and extremely accurate which would be used to such devastating effect by the English horse artillery in future conflicts.
Like any organization, change is always in the air and the artillery as an organization was no different.
At the turn of the century the artillery was divided into Garrison and Field Artillery. The Field artillery was then divided into three groups;
1. Field Batteries
2. Mountain Batteries
3. Horse Batteries
Field batteries totaled 103; each battery was usually split into three sections with a 2 guns in each section.
The command structure is detailed below:
Battery Commander: Major
2IC of the battery: Captain
Section commander: Lieutenant
The deployment in peace time of field batteries across the country usually consisted of 2 or 3 batteries, with full support elements garrisoned together under the command of a Lieutenant Colonel.
The deployment in war time consisted of an artillery brigade made up of three batteries [18 guns] and attached to an infantry division.
The total number of mountain batteries deployed during this period was 10, all of which served in India, their establishment of personal and guns to a battery was exactly the same as field batteries.
The royal Horse Artillery was raised in January 1793 at Good-wood in Sussex by the 3rd Duke of Richmond, who held the position at the time of Master –General of Ordnance, whose role was to provide fire support for the cavalry.
Two more troops joined in November of that year with the Royal Irish Horse Artillery being absorbed into their ranks in 1801.
All personnel were mounted which; was a departure from the existing practice where the guns were operated and transported, or drawn by different parties, ultimately restricting at possible crucial moments fire and manoeuvre on the battle field.
Deployment in war was with 8-10 batteries with a manning level of 170 men per battery.
In 1855 the Board of Ordnance was abolished and so the artillery came under the War Office. In 1861 the British Artillery Regiment absorbed the artillery of the British East India Company. This consisted of 21 horse batteries, and 48 field batteries, thus increasing the establishment of the Royal Artillery to 29 horse Batteries, 73 field batteries and 88 heavy batteries.
On July the 1st 1899 the Royal Artillery was divided into the following groupings:
Group I - the Royal Horse Artillery The Royal Field Artillery
Group II - the Royal Garrison Artillery Coastal Defense Mountain Siege Heavy batteries
Group III - Royal Artillery [Ammunition storage and supply]
This Establishment lasted through the First World War until 1924 when the three groups became amalgamated once again.
At the end of World War II there were hundreds of regiments in the Royal Artillery, this was the result of a decision taken in 1938 to once again re-organise, by disbanding the Royal Artillery Brigades and renaming the unit’s regiments.
During this period of change the Royal Horse Artillery, which has always had its own traditions, uniform, and insignia, continued to retain its separate identity within the regiment
The Napoleonic Wars
The French greatly admired the English artillery, General Maximilien Foy Wrote:
"The artillery holds the first rank in the English army; it is better paid, its recruits are more carefully selected, and its period of enlistment is limited to 12 years. The gunners are distinguished from other soldiers by their excellent spirit. In battle they display judicious activity, a perfect coup d'oeil, and stoical bravery …"
English troops take few guns into the field with them; the most that my Lord Wellington ever had in the Peninsula barely amounted to two guns for every thousand men. Frames, caissons, barrels, powder and shot, every part of the equipage, are remarkable for the goodness of the materials, as well as the excellent workmanship"
Today's Royal Artillery The Royal Regiment of Artillery comprises both Professional and Territorial soldiers. They continue to show "excellent spirit and are stoical in their bravery" whether it’s ceremonial duties, Garrison duties, or active service in such far flung places as Afghanistan, Iraq, or Bosnia.
Regimental Motto: UBIQU (Everywhere)