1st Wessex Artillery

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1st Wessex Artillery
Active 1860–1971
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
Type Artillery Regiment
Role Garrison Artillery (1860–1908)
Field Artillery (1908–1932)
Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery (1932–1967)
Infantry (1967–1971)
215th Brigade Royal Field Artillery and 57th (Wessex) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery redirect here.

The 1st Wessex Artillery was a volunteer unit of the British Army that existed under various titles from 1860 to 1971, including active service in World War I and World War II


19th century[edit]

Artillery Volunteers (1859-1908)[edit]

An invasion scare in 1859 led to a surge of new Rifle and Artillery Volunteer corps coming into existence across Great Britain, forming a large Volunteer Force. The 2nd Hampshire (2nd Hants) Artillery Volunteers (AV) were formed at Southsea in May 1860 and the following year became part of the 1st (Portsmouth) Administrative Brigade of the Hampshire Artillery, along with the 1st Hants AV at Bitterne, Southampton, and the 3rd Hants (Dockyard) AV raised from civilian staff of Portsmouth Dockyard. In 1871 the 2nd Hants absorbed the Dockyard AV. The 2nd Hants AV drilled on the guns at Southsea Castle and was attached to the Royal Garrison Artillery.[1][2] By 1900 the 2nd Hants had 10 garrison batteries (companies) and a total enrolment of 777 out of an authorised strength of 805 officers and men.[1] The companies were distributed as follows:[3]

(an 11th company was raised later).

20th century[edit]


On the creation of the Territorial Force in 1908, Nos 1-9 companies of the 2nd Hants Volunteer Artillery formed 1st (Wessex) Brigade Royal Field Artillery (RFA), organised as follows:[3][4]

  • 1st Hampshire Battery at Portsmouth
  • 2nd Hampshire Battery at Portsmouth
  • 3rd Hampshire Battery at Gosport
  • 1st Wessex Ammunition Column, newly raised at Southsea

Nos 10 and 11 Companies were separated to form the nucleus of 2nd Wessex (Howitzer) Brigade RFA on the Isle of Wight.[3][5][6] 2nd Hants Volunteer Artillery also provided the nucleus of The Wessex (Hampshire) Heavy Battery, RGA (TF), with headquarters at Southsea.[7]

As the change of title indicates, 1st Wessex Brigade was now trained and equipped as field artillery rather than garrison artillery. It formed part of the Wessex Division of the TF. When war was declared in August 1914 the whole division was at its annual camp on Salisbury Plain.[8]

World War I[edit]

On mobilisation in 1914, the Territorials of the Wessex Division were sent to India to relieve British and Indian Regular troops for the Western Front. The artillery left behind their horses and their ammunition column, which were needed in France.[8][9][10]

With the expansion of the army, the division was designated 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division in April 1915 and 1st Wessex Brigade became CCXV (or 215) Brigade RFA. Its three batteries were renamed A, B and C.[8][11][12]

All those Territorials who had not volunteered for overseas service, together with the recruits, were left behind to form Second Line units. The 45th (2nd Wessex) Division containing the CCXXV (2/1st Wessex) Bde RFA resulted from this process, and was ready so quickly that it followed the 43rd to India in December 1914. These units remained in garrison in India, supplying drafts to the First Line and other theatres throughout the war until they had virtually disappeared. CCCXV Bde was broken up in April 1917.[13][14]

Initially, CCXV brigade had been equipped with obsolete 15-pounder field guns, but in July 1916 it re-equipped with 4 x 18-pounders per battery in preparation for front line duty.[8][15]

With a reformed Brigade Ammunition Column, CCXV Bde moved in October 1916 to Basra to take part in the Mesopotamian campaign, and on 8 December 1916 it joined 3rd (Lahore) Division of the Indian Army on the Tigris front. At this time it had 524 (Howitzer) Battery (4 x 4.5-inch howitzers) attached, which remained with the brigade until September 1917.[8][15][16]

From 14 December 1916 until 19 January 1917 the division participated in the advance to the Hai and the capture of the Khudaira Bend. The one-hour bombardment at Khudaira by 3rd Division's guns on 9 January was described by the Turks as 'violent' and caused heavy losses. When the infantry went in they occupied the Turkish front line in minutes with few losses. The Turks counter-attacked under cover of a mist, but when that cleared a 15-minute bombardment enabled the British to secure the position.[17]

After the capture of Baghdad, 524th (Howitzer) Battery was lent to 7th (Meerut) Division for the advance on Hassaiwa and Fallujah, which was captured on 19 March 1917.[16][18] In parallel, the rest of CCXV Bde was with another force advancing towards Khaniqin, where they were supposed to link up with Russian troops. There was no sign of the Russians, but the Turks were present in force in the Jabal Hamrin hills. A brigade group including B Battery CCXV was ordered to outflank this position, and at one point B/CCXV was engaging the enemy at 1500 yards' range from open positions in the plain. But the Turkish position was too strong and the British force had to fall back towards Baghdad.[19]

In July the British resumed their advance, making for Ramadi. CCXV had its own A and B Batteries, 66th Battery and 524 (Howitzer) Battery under command. Contact was made at Mushaid Ridge, where the force was held by heavy fire from the banks of the Euphrates Canal and from the Regulator House. 2nd Battalion 7th Gurkha Rifles and CCXV Bde were ordered to try a left flanking movement. The Turks had about six guns firing very accurately, but 66th and 524th Batteries got the upper hand and by 1830 hours the Gurkhas were across the canal, only to come under heavy fire from the Ramadi trenches. Forward artillery observers saw signs of a Turkish retirement and brought down fire on the Aziziya Ridge to cut them off. But now confusion set in: Turkish shells cut telephone wires, two forward observers were wounded, and a dust storm blew up. Then two guns of B Battery were hit. No effective artillery bombardment was possible and the attack had to be called off. The flanking force had lost 566 casualties, 321 from the effects of heat.[20]

On 7 August 1917 CCXV's 18-pounder batteries were renamed again, as 1086, 1087 and 1088, and 1087 Battery was then broken up (probably to make the other batteries up to 6 guns each).[16] CCXV Bde transferred to 15th Indian Division on 4 October 1917 and gained an extra battery: 2/1st Nottinghamshire Royal Horse Artillery (renumbered 816 Battery RFA in February 1918).[8][16][21][22]

With 15th Indian Division on the Euphrates front, CCXV Bde participated in the occupation of Hīt on 8 March 1918 and the Action of Khan Baghdadi on 25 March 1918.[21][23] At the latter battle, CCXV and CCXXII Brigades advanced by alternate batteries over rough country under heavy enemy fire. 1088 Battery lost a gun and many casualties, but they continued moving forward and kept the momentum of the infantry advance going. By now the gunners were so far forward that they were engaging at ranges of 1800–2200 yards, putting down a steady barrage on the Turkish trenches followed by 15 minutes of intense fire, described by the RA's historian, Gen Sir Martin Farndale, as 'the most accurate seen so far' on the Mesopotamian Front. The infantry were able to enter these trenches with few casualties, taking many prisoners and enemy guns.[23]

After Khan Baghdadi, CCXV was sent to the rear to ease supply problems, and therefore took no part in the pursuit to Kirkuk through April and May. 15th Indian Division played little part in the final battles in Mespotamia.[21][24] CCXV Bde was placed in suspended animation in 1919.[4]

Interwar years[edit]

In 1920 the Territorial Army was reformed and prewar TF units reconstituted. 1st Wessex reabsorbed the Wessex Heavy Battery and now became 54th (Wessex) Field Brigade, Royal Artillery (RA), organised as follows:[3][4]

  • 213 (Hampshire) Battery at Portsmouth
  • 214 (Hampshire) Battery at Southsea
  • 215 (Hampshire) Battery at Gosport

The unit was given a new role and title in 1932 as 57th (Wessex) Anti-Aircraft Brigade RA, (TA), taking over 219 (Isle of Wight) Battery from 95th (Hampshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment – this battery had originally been part of 2nd Wessex Bde, soon it absorbed 216 Battery at Cosham which had a similar history.

On the eve of World War II, 57th (Wessex) Bde was organised as follows:[3]

  • 213 (Portsmouth) Battery at Southsea
  • 214 (Southsea) Battery at Southsea
  • 215 (Gosport and Fareham) Battery at Gosport
  • 219 (Isle of Wight and Cosham) Battery at Newport.

World War II[edit]

Early in WWII, the unit – now designated 57th (Wessex) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – was part of Home Forces. During the Battle of Britain and Blitz it served in 65 AA Brigade of 5 AA Division, defending Portsmouth and Southampton.[25][26]

In October 1942, 57 (Wessex) HAA Regt was sent to North Africa to join Eighth Army, and it served with that formation through the rest of the North African Campaign and the Italian Campaign until the end of the war.[25][27] 57 (Wessex) HAA was placed in suspended animation in 1946.[4]

Postwar years[edit]

On the reconstitution of the TA in 1947, the regiment was designated 457 (Wessex) HAA Regiment RA. In 1955 it absorbed 428 HAA Regiment, formerly Princess Beatrice's Isle of Wight Rifles, which formed P (Princess Beatrice's Isle of Wight) Battery alongside Q (Portsmouth) and R (Gosport) Batteries. In 1963, the regiment absorbed 295 (Hampshire Carabiniers Yeomanry) HAA Regiment, and became 457 (Wessex) Heavy Air Defence Regiment, RA, (Hampshire Carabiniers Yeomanry).[2][3]

In 1967 the regiment became infantry as C Company (Wessex Royal Artillery Princess Beatrice's) in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Territorials, but when that regiment was subsumed into the Wessex Regiment the Royal Artillery and Hampshire Yeomanry links were discontinued. However, when 106 (Yeomanry) Regiment Royal Artillery was created in 1999, the old number '457' was revived for 457 (Hampshire Yeomanry) Battery.


There is a memorial plaque on the seafront at Hayling Island to 219 Batty, 57 HAA Regiment. Unveiled in July 1994, it lists the names of six men of the battery killed during a German air raid on Portsmouth and Hayling Island on the night of 17/18 April 1941.[28]

Re-enactment group[edit]

The Palmerston Forts Society has a re-enactment group, the Portsdown Artillery Volunteers, based on the 2nd Hants Artillery Volunteers.[29]



  1. ^ a b http://www.victorianforts.co.uk/HantsArtillery.htm
  2. ^ a b http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/onlinelists/GB0042%201153A-2.pdf
  3. ^ a b c d e f "1st Wessex Regiment, RA (TA) [UK]". Web.archive.org. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  4. ^ a b c d Litchfield, pp. 89–92.
  5. ^ "2nd Wessex Regiment, RA [UK]". Web.archive.org. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  6. ^ Litchfield, p 93.
  7. ^ Litchfield, p 92.
  8. ^ a b c d e f The Long, Long Trail. "The Royal Field Artillery of 1914-1918". 1914-1918.net. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  9. ^ "Royal Field Artillery Batteries". Web.archive.org. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  10. ^ Farndale, p. 334.
  11. ^ "The 43rd (Wessex) Division of the British Army in 1914-1918". 1914-1918.net. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  12. ^ "43rd (Wessex) Division". Web.archive.org. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  13. ^ The Long, Long Trail. "The 45th (2nd Wessex) Division of the British Army in 1914-1918". 1914-1918.net. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  14. ^ Fardndale p 335.
  15. ^ a b Farndale, p. 242.
  16. ^ a b c d Perry, 3rd (Lahore).
  17. ^ Farndale, p. 243.
  18. ^ Farndale p. 255
  19. ^ Farndale, p9. 255–6
  20. ^ Farndale, p. 264.
  21. ^ a b c Perry, 15th Indian
  22. ^ The Long, Long Trail. "The Royal Horse Artillery of 1914-1918". 1914-1918.net. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  23. ^ a b Farndale, p. 272.
  24. ^ Farndale, p. 275.
  25. ^ a b "RA 1939-45 57 HAA Rgt". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  26. ^ "RA 39-45 5 AA Div". Ra39-45.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  27. ^ Joslen, pp. 467, 486.
  28. ^ UKNIWM Ref 21275
  29. ^ "Portsdown Artillery Volunteers Re-enactment". Palmerstonfortssociety.org.uk. 1908-03-31. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 


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