4/73 (Sphinx) Special Observation Post Battery RA

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4/73 (Sphinx) Special OP Battery RA
Spec Obs Badge.jpg
Active1980 – date
Country United Kingdom
BranchRoyal Artillery
TypeRegular Army
RoleSurveillance and Target Acquisition
Part of5th Regiment Royal Artillery
LocationCatterick Garrison
Nickname(s)Sphinx Battery
Anniversaries4 (Sphinx) Battery Alexandria Day 1 July
73 (Sphinx) Battery Alexandria Day 10 June
Battle honoursUbique

4/73 (Sphinx) Special Observation Post Battery Royal Artillery is the British Army's only regular Surveillance and Target Acquisition Patrol unit. It is part of 5th Regiment Royal Artillery, based at Marne Barracks in Catterick, North Yorkshire. The Army Reserve STA Patrols come from 1 Sqn of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC).[1][2]

Current role[edit]

4/73 Battery has six Officers and 58 other ranks divided between four Patrols Troops and Battery Headquarters. Three troops of a 3-man HQ and two 6-man Patrols provide support to the brigades of 3rd Mechanised Division and others and one troop of a 3-man HQ and one 6-man patrol at high readiness to support 16 Air Assault Brigade.

Working to the ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) group in each of the brigades, the STA Patrols Troop are subject matter experts on Static Covert Surveillance (SCS) and complement the reconnaissance activity conducted by other Ground Manned Reconnaissance (GMR) forces in the Brigade. The patrols' training includes:

  • Manned OPs
  • Survive, Evade, Resist, Extract (SERE) training
  • Terminal control of the full spectrum of joint fires
  • Long Range Electro Optical (LREO) systems (covert remote cameras and sensors)
  • use of long lens optics, cameras and data transfer systems to provide comprehensive technical surveillance and imagery of evidential quality
  • real time transmission of information and imagery
  • conduct of battle damage assessment (BDA)

Special observers give the commanders that they support the ability to deploy a specialist force element at range, in proximity to the enemy and in all weathers, to locate and prosecute targets as required.


Formation and Training[edit]

Following the Second World War, the emergence and subsequent development of the Cold War between the forces of the Warsaw Pact and NATO had its very obvious focus on the Inner German border (IGB) between East and West Germany. This was a heavily fortified "Iron Curtain" almost 1000 miles in length.

From the early 1970s the 1st (British) Corps General Support Artillery Regiment had been based in the foothills of the Harz mountains in the town of Hildersheim close to the IGB. This included 5th Regiment RA whose role as part of the NATO General Development Plan (GDP) in the event of war was to contribute to imposing delay on the advancing Warsaw Pact forces. This was to be done by deploying its M107 self-propelled guns along the border within the 1st (British) Corps boundaries, and firing them at High-value targets (HVT) advancing West. With a gun range of 32 km and no ability to see that far across the front line, most targets could only be predicted based on likely Orbat and intelligence form a variety of sources.

Members of 4/73 Battery Royal Artillery conducting a two-week long exercise in the Warcop training area in 2017.

The prevailing view is that the most reliable, flexible and effective form of artillery target indication was then, and still is, provided by the trained OP soldier. Operating deep inside enemy territory, however, required specialist training only then undertaken by the Corps Patrol Unit, consisting of the Territorial Army SAS regiments and the HAC. By 1980 the impending re-equipment program, involving the replacement of the M107 by the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) with an even longer range, served to focus thought on a means of making more effective use of what were likely to be the first Allied land forces to fire in the event of a Third World War. The Commanding Officer of 5th Regiment Royal Artillery, Lt Col (later Major General) ACP Stone,[3] prepared a detailed paper setting out the case that the Regiment needed its own "special" OP soldiers who could operate in this role and submitted it to the Corps Commander General Sir Nigel Bagnall. He agreed with the proposal, and tasked Lt Col Stone with the formation of such an organisation. The Troop was formed as part of 5 Heavy regiment in Hildesheim.

The concept of operations for this new troop was for a number of patrols to dig underground shelters close to the Inner German Border and allow the advancing enemy forces to pass by them. Following this, two pairs of Gunners would emerge from each underground patrol shelter to direct the fire from the Regiment's guns. A great deal of thought went into selection and training. Visits were made to P company at Aldershot, Royal Marines training at CTCRM Lympstone and Hereford, and input sought from Brigadier (later General Sir Michael) Wilkes, the then chief of Staff 3rd Armoured Division, a Royal Artillery Officer who had previously commanded 22 Special Air Service Regiment, this eventually led to a unique selection and training course. Course number 1 was set up and the "Stay Behind Special OP Troop" was born in 1982. When the Regiment moved to Dortmund in 1984 two troops were formed, one in 5 Heavy which continued to conduct the selection and training for both and one in the neighbouring 32 Heavy Regt RA. In 1989 Capt DB Jones, then the OC of 5 Regt's Troop suggested to the CO that to be effective and to avoid duplicate training there should only be one Special OP organisation and that ideally it should be based back in Hildesheim near the operational deployment area. He dismissed the idea but when Jones presented it to the new Commander General Support, Col Kit Faith, he agreed and within a few months the Troops were united in 5 Heavy Regiment as 4/73 (Sphinx) Special OP Battery RA.

The first selection team included Instructors from the SAS, Royal Marine Commandos and the Parachute Regiment, all seconded to 5th Regiment. The Battery retained permanent SAS representation in the form of a WO2 from the SAS until the start of operations in Afghanistan. Originally the course was confined to soldiers from 5th Regiment but was soon opened to units across the Royal Artillery as a whole and eventually all parts of the British armed forces.[4] Today volunteers must complete the 13-week Surveillance and Target Acquisition Patrols Course (STA PC). The course is run once a year starting at the end of August and begins with 3 weeks fitness and navigation training in the Northumbrian hills. Applicants then progress through Medical and Communications training, Patrol skills, OP Construction, live firing and a final test exercise. Once volunteers have completed the STA Patrols Course they continue with training in advanced photography, learn to call in artillery strikes and complete Survive, Evade, Resist, Extract (SERE) training. They will then join a six-man patrol ready to deploy on operations anywhere in the world.

Op HERRICK 7 was a high-risk deployment for the Battery which resulted in two soldiers being killed in two separate mine strike incidents, as well as three seriously injured. The Battery broke the record books during the tour by mounting the longest uninterrupted long-range desert patrol since the Second World War,[5] living off their WMIK vehicles for 7 weeks without an operational pause. After successfully identifying and engaging a suicide bomber who tried to drive his vehicle into the BRF convoy whilst they were transiting through the town of Gereshk, the Taliban nicknamed the BRF "warriors protected by God"[citation needed].


Whilst most Gunners wear a dark blue beret, since 2008 soldiers of 4/73 Battery have changed to a Khaki beret to mark the close working relationship of the battery with the Honourable Artillery Company. Soldiers within the battery that have passed the STA Patrol Training selection course also wear the Special Observers badge on their arm as displayed above.[6]

The Sun Military Awards[edit]

4/73 Battery was the Army nomination for Unit of the Year at the 2013 Sun Military Awards.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "4/73 Special Observation Post Battery".
  2. ^ "Welcome to the HAC website - Honourable Artillery Company".
  3. ^ http://www.debretts.com/people-of-today/profile/9062/Anthony-Charles-Peter-STONE
  4. ^ "British Army Website".
  5. ^ Mines, Heidi. "Life after Harry". Soldier Magazine (October 2008).
  6. ^ "Yorkshire Gunners Honoured For Service In Iraq And Afghanistan". Archived from the original on 29 September 2012. Earlier in the day, in what marks a historic change in the history of one of the Batteries from the Regiment - 4/73 (Sphinx) Battery, the traditional dark blue beret of the Royal Artillery was replaced with a khaki-coloured beret.
  7. ^ "Sun's 6th annual Millie awards".

External links[edit]