Artillery and Australia.
-- Frederick the Great
It is interesting that this advice came from one of the most competent commanders of the latter half of the 18th Cent. One who was known to detest, and had a continuing and unhappy relationship with the technical arms of his army. Perhaps his complaint in 1768 that artillery was becoming `an abyss of expense' may have had something to do with it. It wasn't an original saying as there are guns made before his time inscribed, or which have moulded into their casting, the words, ULTIMA RATIO REGUM -- `the last argument of kings'.
I would like to mention first, the earliest known evidences of artillery in Australia as I think they will have some interest to this audience in historical terms. Then to move to the British settlement in 1788, the early colonial efforts toward defence, federation and onwards.
For a start perhaps one should come to grips with the definition of `artillery' in the context of this talk. I find it interesting that a number of books and articles about artillery seem to dodge a clear definition. To some it means, the guns' to others, the troops or units concerned with the service of such guns. The Macquarie Dictionary goes along with both, So bear with me, there will be touches of both.
First, the guns: they come in many sizes sometimes described by the weight of the round fired but also by the diameter of the bore in either imperial or metric measurement. To this at times could be added a description deriving from calibre and length, for example a 6 inch 50 calibre gun has a bore 300 inches long. Thus giving an indication of the relative power of specific guns.
Then we have various types described as guns, howitzers, mortars and combinations such as gun/howitzers. We can move to descriptions relating to purpose such as coast, heavy, medium, light, mountain, horse, field, anti-aircraft, anti-tank and so on.
You will appreciate that we could become mired down in definitions for modern items let alone with those quite romantic terms that applied before any guns came to our shores. To give you an idea of some: bombard and bombardel, culverin, basilisk, falconet, licorne, petard, robinet and the darkly endowed murderer. Another interesting twist to these early names was the prefix of `bastard', a term used to describe any gun which did not conform to the standard proportions of its calibre. This term does indicate that there was more than a little `hit and miss' in gun manufacture in those far off days.
By now you are probably asking what is a `gun'? Well, in the most simple terms it is a metal tube for throwing missiles with gunpowder or other propellant. The Oxford English Dictionary goes on to say `piece of ordnance, cannon, rifle etc.' The origin is obscure and seems to be from Middle English `gonne' or `gunne' and surmises that it may have come from the Scandinavian `Gunna' a shortened form of `Gunnhildr', a woman's name.
Prior to 1788
Artillery first came to Australia aboard the ships of early explorers and on those of the Dutch East India Company. There are quite a number of these in Western Australia recovered in large part by the efforts of the indefatigable Jeremy Green of the WA Maritime Museum. Guns from the wrecks of the Batavia and Zweewick at Houtman Abrolhos provide the back bone of the collection of at least 22 pieces dated 1603 to 1727 located for the most part at the Maritime Museums at Fremantle and Geraldton. Notable are two cannons made of an interesting composite construction. Why should they be constructed in this way? Perhaps some restriction in the defence vote?
There are two other mysteries I wish to mention concerning guns of an early date and associated with Australia. One known as the `Rushcutter Culverin' because of its location at HMAS Rushcutter for many years in the early part of the 20th Cent. This gun came into the possession of the NSW Naval Contingent to the Boxer Rebellion in North China in 1900. The markings show the gun being cast in 1595 AD for Phillip II, King of Spain, by Juan Vasques of Acuna, Captain General of the Artillery of the Kingdom of Naples. The mystery is what happened to it between 1595 and 1900? In addition to the `original' markings it is inscribed in Chinese `Sky 12', which may have been a battery designation. Today it is believed to be safely at the Navy Repository at Spectacle Island.
A mystery surrounds two brass guns located by HMAS Encounter on an island in Napier Broome Bay WA in 1916, now called Carronade Island. One could be dated c AD 1787 in Malay script. The other has no markings. The more ornate one is understood to be in the Maritime Museum Fremantle, the other at Garden Island, Sydney. The riddle remains, conjecture abounds, why were they found up-ended and arranged like a leading mark? Thoughts of pirate gold entered the minds of Encounter's crew. They took every shovel aboard the ship and thoroughly dug over the island, they recovered a few brass items identified as corroded fittings of a chest. Perhaps one could assume the treasure had been taken? The mystery remains. Who left these guns, when and why? Where did they come from?
One other set of guns of the 18th Century while not presenting a mystery has an interesting story. As Cook sailed North along the coast of Australia. HM Bark Endeavour struck Endeavour Reef on 11 June 1770. Cook's record says, `We not only started water but throw'd overboard our guns iron and stone ballast Casks, hoops staves oyle Jars, decayed stores & Ca--'.
The vessel was floated off and limped in to the Endeavour River, the site of the present day Cooktown, where she was careened and repaired. In 1969 the six cannon were recovered, treated and restored. During restoration one was found to be loaded. The Curator of the Museum of Cooktown, Mr Innes Wills, excavated on the site of the forge involved in repair work on the ship. He turned up a cannon ball that fitted! One of the guns is at Cooktown and one at the National Library in Canberra.
There are of course other guns still in Australia that predate settlement, such as a brass 4.5 in. mortar at Lindfield (1779), iron 6-pdrs from HMS Sirius (1780) in Macquarie Place, Sydney and Norfolk is, a brass 6-pdr at Victoria Barracks Sydney (1779) and perhaps a Chinese cannon, a relic of the Boxer Rebellion at HMAS Creswell, Jervis Bay.
Now as to the use of any guns in Australia prior to settlement, the only evidence I know of is a very interesting report by a Mr H V Howe who witnessed in 1909 aboriginals on Graham Moore Island in the area of Napier Broome Bay re-enacting a battle using two canoes with two tubes of bark said to resemble cannon which they mimicked as firing by making loud sharp noises with conch shells. Mr Howe, in his description of this battle, likened the body makeup of the `invaders' to represent armour, he suggests the possibility of Portuguese having landed. This eyewitness account was before, but in the vicinity of Carronade Island where Encounter discovered the two brass gun already mentioned.
Phases in Fortification Construction
Turning to the settlement of Australia. Mr Ian B Wyness in a thesis during his studies at the University of NSW suggested that the development of fortifications in NSW occurred in three phases up to the end of the 19th Century. He based this on the various stages of defence policy relating to fortifications, it has been my good fortune to have seen Wyness' excellent thesis, I warmly endorse his phased approach and will follow it today.
The 1st Phase 1788 to 1835
The first phase started when Captain Phillip ordered Lieut Dawes of HMS Sirius, in July 1788, to build a redoubt on Bennelong Point (location of the Opera House). It was the first fort in Australia if one excludes the stockade at Houtman Abrolhos made by the Batavia survivors. The redoubt mounted two SB iron cannon from Sirius.
Shortly after, Dawes built another earthwork redoubt for a further eight guns from Sirius on the other side of Sydney Cove on the point which was later to bear his name, Dawes Point.
A fort remained on this site until 1925 when it was demolished to enable construction of the Harbour Bridge. An archeological dig a few years ago revealed the original positions of the five guns (42-pdrs), installed during the second phase in 1855 and which now stand under the Southern approach to the Harbour Bridge. This really is a historic site well worth preserving and displaying. Despite the enormous scale of the works involved in the construction of the Bridge, all five of the positions are exposed, but No 5 is somewhat `stamped upon' by the SE pylon. A magazine together with foundations of the officers' quarters and Greenway's guardhouse also are evident.
Returning to the first phase: there was an important development in the closing days of Governor Hunter's tenure- the formation of a militia. On 7 September 1800 he ordered the formation of the Sydney Loyal Association, the first Australian Artillery volunteer unit, 50 men in Sydney and 50 in Parramatta. This was a reaction to the evident unrest of `turbulent and worthless characters' who had been transported and of whom many were political prisoners. He also apprehended a threat from the French of whom it was thought may be inclined to count on support from Irish exiles.
Governor King, shortly after his arrival in 1800, reported the defences to be `in a state of decay' indicating that in addition to the redoubts on the East and West of Sydney Cove and the two field pieces each at Sydney and Parramatta there were batteries of two 6-pdrs at Garden Is and four at Windmill Hill. It seems evident that there was no provisions for regular maintenance except that seamen from the Supply were charged with caring for the Bennelong works.
In 1801 the Governor ordered the construction of a two gun emplacement at Georges Head to engage any enemy before they closed with Sydney Cove. The gun defences had been improved during this phase by more substantial building but by any comparative standard they were fairly puny. The defences continued to be manned, if I may be partisan, by non-professional gunners. It was `ad hoc' to say the least and the gun carriages suffered much from the depredations of white ants and weather. The Governor continued to urge the Colonial Secretary for `one or two subalterns and a party of artillerymen to be sent here for the service of our guns and batteries, as a future war may direct the Spaniards' attention to this colony'.
Learning of the war with France in November 1803, King authorised the The Loyal Association for duties which included service of the guns, it is doubtful if this involved careful attention to the state of the batteries. In any case they didn't last long as in 1810 they were disbanded, the Lieutenant Governor (Paterson) claimed that regulars would come more cheaply.
It was not long before Governor Macquarie in 1814 was recommending `in view of the ambitions of Napoleon' the formation of a temporary militia and for some Royal Artillery to be made available. The response was negative and the colony of NSW remained responsible to do what it could with such Imperial resources as it had available. This was not the first time that assistance had been requested, nor would it be the last.
The first phase can be said to have concluded with a number of achievements. The infant colony had been provided with some rudimentary defences, initially earthworks, but moving toward more substantial stone construction, there were quite a number of `close to the water' smooth bore small calibre cannon mounted to fire through embrasures rather than en barbette and there had been an extension of the defences toward the harbour entrance.
Sydney as an Example
At this point I should say that I will continue to talk about the defences of Sydney as an example. Of course for some years of the first phase there were no other colonies or outstations for a while, except Hobart, which had been established in 1804. As time went on there were demands for the defence of Newcastle, followed by the need to attend to the several colonies as they came into being. In general terms they followed a similar pattern to what was happening in NSW, but with different levels of enthusiasm dictated by their perception of the threat and their ability to pay.
The 2nd Phase 1835 to 1871
The second phase proceeded with many improvements in fortifications and a continued push outwards so there were quite distinguishable inner and outer lines of defence characterised by heavier calibres of rifled guns with greater range well emplaced, often en barbette in the living rock. So far my remarks have all related to the service of coast artillery. There were a few field pieces around, brass 6-pdr guns and 9-pdr howitzers as I have mentioned, but seemingly no organisation of RA to man them.
Largely as a result of recommendations of a select committee in 1863, batteries were established quite distinctly on outer and inner lines taking advantage of the availability of heavier and longer ranging guns, rifled rather than smooth bore, mounted en barbette and in flush positions for the most part excavated from the natural rock.
This period saw the construction of some gems of colonial military architecture -- Fort Denison off Sydney Cove and the reconstruction, including the upper level, at Fort Dawes to name but two. It also saw some reawakened interest in raising volunteer corps in all colonies. Three batteries of volunteer artillery were formed in NSW and supplemented the RA troops which had arrived in 1856.
The first ordnance to be manufactured in Australia were produced in 1845 by Captain Gother Kerr Mann, lately of the Bombay Horse Artillery. There was a need to provide high trajectory fire in the attack on Maori pas (fortifications) during the campaigns in New Zealand 1845-1864. Mann organised the production of a number of 5.5 inch Coehorn mortars in Sydney. Replicas were produced in 1979. One is known to be at Keswick Barracks, SA and another was presented to the New Zealand Army.
This second phase was also notable for some perceived `scares': the Russians in the 1850s, and later in the 1870s the French were also counted in the equation from time to time and during the US Civil war the sudden appearance of the Confederate Shenandoah in Port Phillip gave the colonists a start. The response to such apprehensions was always long delayed. Notwithstanding, and despite the development of fortifications, there was a paucity of RA in the Colonies. The year 1871 saw an end to Imperial garrisons -- from then on we were on our own.
The 3rd Phase 1871-1901
The first permanent troops in the colonies were formed at this time. In NSW one battery of artillery and two companies of infantry were raised from 1 August 1871.
The infantry was disbanded after about a year and the artillery increased to two batteries in 1876 and three in 1877 to man additional armament. The first battery raised has since had a continuous history, albeit with some change in title from time to time, but mostly it has been known as `A' Field Battery. It served overseas with the NSW Contingents to the Soudan campaign 1885, the war in South Africa 1900-1901, the Great War, World War 2, with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan, Malaysia, South Vietnam and most recently in East Timor.
While Lieutenant Colonel George Barney, Royal Engineers, was undoubtedly the foremost figure in design and construction of fortifications in the second phase, that accolade passed in the third phase to Major General Sir William Jervois and Lieutenant Colonel Peter Scratchley, both Royal Engineers of considerable experience. Initially they were charged, in 1874, with advising the British Government on schemes of defence work for all the colonies except WA. Most of the practical work which arose from their plans fell to the lot of the energetic Scratchley.
Again we see an `up-gunning' and remodelling of the harbour forts as rifled muzzle loading guns became available, while a number of new works were put in hand. Notable among these were Fort Scratchley at Newcastle and Bare Island to close the `back door' to Sydney through Botany Bay. Both these forts are attractive examples of military architecture, which are much visited today and are under the care of The Fort Scratchley Historical Society and the NSW NPWS respectively.
The introduction of breech loading and quick firing equipment presaged further changes towards the end of the century. The most important being the emplacement of 9.2 inch and 6 inch guns on hydro-pneumatic mountings located to engage an enemy well outside the harbour while light quick firing guns found a place covering controlled minefields and the introduction of searchlights reduced the uncertainties of a night attack.
A very important event in the history of Artillery in Australia was the establishment of the NSW School of Gunnery at Middle Head in 1885. This unit continues today in vestigial form as the Offensive Support Division of the Army Combat Arms Training Centre. It could be that sadly a military bureaucrat has been at work after 115 years.
On Friday 28 April 1893 proof rounds were fired from the guns at Albany forts. This was the culmination of much consideration and discussion between the various colonies and the British Government. It signalled a first practical and permanent era of cooperation between the colonies in defence and a contribution to Empire defence by the protection of the world wide network of coaling stations necessary to sustain the Royal Navy. The six colonies had agreed to combine to build, fund, and man forts at Thursday Island and Albany. The main armament being three 6-inch breech loading guns at each location contributed by Britain. South Australia provided the garrison for Albany, and Queensland for Thursday Island, each of about 30 all ranks from their meagre permanent artillery.
Another important regimental event of the period was the grant of the title `Royal Australian Artillery' to the permanent artilleries of NSW, Victoria and Queensland with effect from 24 August 1899. This title was later to become the `Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery'. It is interesting that the formation of the RAA antedates the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia by some 20 months.
The turn of the century and federation saw the coast defences of the colonies in fair shape as to guns and defence works, with limited permanent forces ably supplemented by garrison volunteers. On the other hand field artillery was clearly deficient in numbers of units and modern guns despite the enthusiasm of the volunteers.
Two Decades of Federation
1901 saw the production of one of the first Commonwealth defence papers. A report by a military committee enquiring into the state of our defences. It was a virtual stocktake and audit of the forces available in each of the States in great detail, in a number of parts and with many tables and appendices. Particularly valuable is Part IV prepared by Major Bridges (Artillery) and Major Owen (Engineers) dealing with armaments and fortification. It is a starting point for a catalogue of guns in Australia which is slowly coming together. WA has been completed by Bob Glyde of the AA Historical Society of WA, and Bill Billett lately of the Museum of Victoria has dealt with pieces in Victoria prior to 1901 and World War 1 trophy guns.
For the two decades following federation the concerns of the Australian artillery were the reorganisation to build the colonial elements into a homogeneous force, the challenges of compulsory military service and the Great War. The artillery elements of the colonies were well placed to fit into a wider framework, each had been modelled on the Royal Artillery and had common technical standards and regimental culture. Each field battery was designated by a number and state designation, eg No 1 NSW Bty. This was not to last long -- the military bureaucrats were waiting. With the introduction of compulsory training in 1911, the designations became No 1 Bty AFA and so on to No 16. The brigade organisation was introduced in 1912 and further refined in 1913 and we find by the end of 1914 we had 14 AFA brigades, six howitzer, and four fight horse batteries on the authorised order of battle.
Similar developments occurred in the garrison artillery, the major element being the designation of permanent companies in Roman numerals. This lasted until 1911 when Arabic numerals were decreed. Also in 1911 the title Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) changed to Royal Australian Garrison Artillery (RAGA) and Royal Australian Field Artillery (RAFA) for permanent units. (These titles changed back to RAA in 1927.) AGA and AFA continued to be used for the militia. Quiet resolve is needed to follow the changes in title of units in Australia before the war through various military orders. The formation of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in 1914 was, by comparison, a fairly tidy affair although there were changes in designation from time to time, ably summarised in Bean's Official History Vol V, The AIF in France 1918, Appendix 1.
Quite apart from bringing the various colonial units together in a reasonable structure, there was an urgent need to standardise on effective equipment particularly for the field artillery. In terms of reasonably modern breech loading field guns our holdings in 1903 were 14 15-pdr guns (with six on order) together with 18 12-pdr guns which could be converted. There was a deficiency in numbers and a need to standardise on one type.
A new field gun had been developed in Britain taking account of the South African War experience and foreign developments such as the French 75mm. Twenty-four were ordered and distributed by 1907 and a total of 116 by 1914. It was first class quick firing equipment which, with some modifications, was the backbone of the British field artillery during the war and continued in useful service well into World War 2.
In accordance with war plans, the coastal defences were manned on receipt of the precautionary cables from the UK on 2 August 1914. The first shot in the war was fired by a coast battery at Point Nepean, Victoria, on 5 August as a `bring to' round to prevent the escape of the German steamer Phaltz.
Notwithstanding their enormous expansion and successful efforts, their courage and determination and technical excellence, it will be possible only to touch on the record of the Australian artillery in the Great War. It involved the formation of 20 field brigades in the AIF and as noted, organisations changed from time to time as did the allotment of field guns and howitzers to ensure a common standard with British units. The field artillery for five infantry divisions, a siege brigade of two batteries, three army field brigades five heavy and fifteen medium mortar batteries, plus the five divisional artillery headquarters, counter bombardment offices and ammunition columns were the main elements in the Australian contribution throughout the struggle. The problem of fielding trained personnel to meet such an expansion was immense. It was fortunate Australia was not required to provide artillery for its mounted brigades. Chauvel and his ANZAC mounted Division in Sinai and Palestine were supported by RHA and RA units.
The first action of the artillery of the 1st and NZ&A Divisions was at Gallipoli. The terrain and the space available coupled with the types and quantity of available ammunition limited the number and effectiveness of deployed guns. The conditions demanded the use of howitzers -- few were forthcoming. It was a case of doing the best with available resources. The artillery were a help to, and appreciated by, the infantry, but could not practice in this campaign the use of well coordinated massed fire. One very positive result was the experience gained by many young officers who would later, in France, have every opportunity to practice their art. After Gallipoli, the divisional artillery of 1st and 2nd Divisions had to expand from 36 to 60 guns while at the same time provide a base on which to form the artillery for the new 4th and 5th Divisions formed in Egypt.
By dint of a huge effort 1st and 2nd Divisions were made ready and moved to France in March 1916 in reasonable order. It was clear that the artillery of the 4th and 5th Divisions would take a few months to be operationally ready. The problem in its simplicity was to turn units with 10% gunners and 90% former infantry and light horsemen into artillery units that could take their place in the line of battle. Of course it could not be done before they left for France in May. They required some nurturing after arrival.
It was a new war in France -- a gunners' war and every history acknowledges this. But it had taken two years to react to, and perfect, the modern requirement for control of artillery to be exercised at successive and higher levels of command. This was the key lesson. It was absorbed and acted on by a number of brilliant Australian artillery commanders. After some tragic and devastating battles on the Somme, Pozieres, Ypres, Passchendaele and Messines, the Australian artillery came into its own under its own Corps commander, Monash, first at Hamel on 4 July 1918 and in the next month on 8 August at Amiens. In both battles meticulous planning and coordination were distinctive features which led Ludendorff to comment that the `the black day' of the German Army was 8 August.
At Amiens, Brigadier General W A Coxen, the GOC RA Australian Corps, had over 550 pieces under command including about 239 heavy guns and howitzers ranging from 60-pdrs to 12-inch railway guns. Never has an Australian commanded so many since. The artillery plan was the secret of the success of this battle. It opened the way for the operations of the ensuing six weeks when Monash maintained unremitting pressure on the enemy by masterly exercise of the use of the power of his artillery arm. These British operations led to the breaking of the German defence.
The war brought enormous challenges both technically and tactically. Artillery development responded and the Australian share in this was notable in so many fields, such as the perfection of indirect and predicted fire, survey and counter battery tactics and techniques, the construction of fire plans which took care of most contingencies and yet still retained a measure of flexibility. The Australian infantry appreciated the steadfast support they rendered with such sustained courage and determination.
Between the Wars 1919-1939
One thing that was clear from the Great War: artillery fire, carefully coordinated with the actions of other arms, was a war winner and we in Australia had a great reservoir of experience.
The world remained uncertain, Australia retained compulsory military service. The order of battle at home remained for the time being that laid down pre-war. It wasn't long however, before the military bureaucrats were at it again. Numbers were changed and a general sorting out of field artillery was made to keep alive these units which had striven so mightily and had firm war time and State associations.
Equipment too was plentiful if somewhat slightly used. There were sufficient guns and basic artillery equipment for five infantry and two cavalry divisions, but with no reserves and no equipment for corps and army troops. The political mood was one believing that Australia's security had been assured by the outcome of the Great War.
Despite maintaining the pre-war order of battle, drastic cuts in the defence vote in 1923-24 dictated that the militia could only be maintained at 25% strength and one battery in each field brigade was disestablished. The permanent force suffered reduction and the enforced retirement of 72 valuable and experienced officers. The gunners were cut from 1088 to 518 and two field batteries disbanded.
In 1924 a modest five year defence program was introduced. There was an increase in the militia to 45,000, a provision for small numbers of anti- aircraft guns (a new field for the RAA) medium artillery and tanks.
This enabled modest progress in the field army but little in coast defences. Stronger coast defences, particularly at Darwin and Albany, were recommended by the Committee of Imperial Defence in 1925 and appropriate proposals put to the Council of Defence. A decision was deferred until 1929. Despite restricted circumstances, the 1st and 2nd Medium Brigades with 60-pdr guns and 6-inch howitzers were raised in 1925, mechanisation made some progress from 1928, and an anti-aircraft battery and two artillery survey companies established. The Depression continued the squeeze on resources. The year 1929 saw the suspension of compulsory service and a reduction in funds. Members of the Permanent Force were invited to have eight weeks annual leave without pay. Numerous units were disbanded and strength declined.
The invasion of Manchuria by Japan in 1931 illuminated the problem of coast defence. Despite the financial difficulties oil storage had been constructed at Darwin. The Thursday Island garrison of 12, together with barrack buildings, were moved there by RAN vessels. Four 6-inch Mark II guns from scrapped RAN cruisers with 42 RAA & RAE joined them and they were emplaced at Emery Point and East Point. Some 26 6-inch Mk II pieces and mountings were provided by the RAN about this time. They were a welcome boost to the fixed defences.
As the Depression receded, re-armament slowly gathered momentum: 9.2-inch guns were to be installed at Cape Banks, North Head, Fort Wallace, Rottnest Island (WA) followed later by East Point (Darwin), Garden Island (WA) and Fort Drummond (Kembla). In addition 6-inch Mk II guns (ex-RAN) were added to counter bombardment capabilities. Comprehensive fortress systems were installed to maximise their capability. To deal with the close defence problem low angle 6-inch Mk 7, BL guns and various lighter calibre QF guns were installed or planned. The possibility of night action was catered for by the deployment of a number of search lights. In the field army mechanisation was pushed forward at an increasing pace. Field Artillery (18-pdr guns both Mk2 and Mk 4 and 4.5-inch howitzers) with their limbers were `pneumaticized' -- wooden wheels were replaced with pneumatic tyres -- and tractors and battery staff vehicles slowly made their appearance. Hired civilian tracks were also a feature, they added to the colour of a battery on parade with their bright advertising signs.
Anti-aircraft defences also received attention after 1938 when we still had only the four 3-inch 20 cwt, guns purchased 10 years before. Australian manufacture of 24 guns was undertaken (The since Gother K Mann in 1840!). Orders were placed in the UK for fire control instruments, searchlights and 40-mm LAA guns. Anti-tank artillery was not entirely neglected. Although no unit was formed an order was placed in the UK for 22 2-pdr guns.
The immediate pre-war period saw the raising of Australia's first regular infantry force. The Darwin Mobile Force of 245 comprising an infantry company, a troop of four 18-pdr guns, four 3-inch mortars, four medium machine guns with other elements. All were enlisted as members of the RAA as the Defence Act would not allow enlistment of regular infantrymen.
When World War 2 started the artillery had a skills base nurtured and honed by militia and regulars who had served in the Great War and some who had learned well from them. This together with improvements in the numbers and capability of guns and associated systems gave a small but solid base for expansion.
World War 2 1939-45
Once again the coastal defences reacted to a precautionary war telegram on 1 September 1939. They were joined by the anti-aircraft cadres in Sydney, Melbourne and those flown to Darwin on 26 August (perhaps the first air-mobile operation by Australians!). Within a short while the militia gunners had closed up to their various equipment. Then began a routine of extended camps of continuous training and the formation of the 2nd AIF. This followed the pattern of the 1914 experience, with similar frustrations and achievements.
The School of Artillery performed a crucial role in the expansion necessary to field the first two divisions of the AIF, the 6th and 7th plus corps troops required. It expanded and new and separate elements were formed to meet diverse requirements. There were Schools of Artillery at various times for Coast, Anti-Aircraft, Searchlights, Anti-Tank, Field Medium and Survey, and the School of Radiophysics (Radar). These separate elements had either been disbanded by 1945 or became part of single School of Artillery that year at North Head.
During the early stages of the war shortage of equipment and ammunition plagued the militia, the AIF and training organisations, It was not unusual to conduct gun drill around some planks on the ground, relics from the Great War, German dial sights, were re-engraved in degrees, vehicles were at a premium so deployment drills were conducted with gunners bearing cards in their hats with vehicle designation or with the use of dinky toys on a hut floor.
The 6th Australian Division was the first formation of the 2nd AIF. Its artillery component was three field regiments of two batteries each of three troops with four guns apiece, together with a fourth field regiment as a slice of corps troops. Each battery had two troops armed with 18-pdr guns and one with 4.5-inch howitzers. It would be armed with 25-pdrs when they became available. The three troop battery was unwieldy and soon changed to three batteries of two troops.
Before the 6th Division had completed its move to the Middle East the War Cabinet had decided to raise 1st Australian Corps and 7th Division. This was shortly followed by the decision to raise the 8th Division and in September 1940 the 9th Division. Artillery units were raised to conform with the program. In addition to the three field and one anti-tank regiment for each of the four divisions there were three army field regiments, a survey regiment and an anti-aircraft brigade of three regiments. The AIF artillery was quite substantial and there was much juggling of guns to meet training and possible operational requirements.
There was action in store--6 Division in the very successful desert campaign to Benghazi: then to the heroic but short-lived rearguard actions in Greece and Crete in 1940-41; the 7th Division in the spectacular campaign in Syria; while the 9th showed an Anzac determination in the defence of Tobruk. Each of these campaigns showed the Australian artillery to be well trained, well handled, determined and innovative.
The rush of events in the Pacific put a new light on matters. After the Japanese attack on 8 December 1941, the 6th and 7th Divisions were withdrawn from the Middle East. The 9th Division followed after their considerable success at El Alamein and participation in the most powerful artillery attack Australians were involved during World War 2. The 8th Division on the other hand, despite a dogged defence were overwhelmed in the extraordinarily rapid advance of the Japanese in Malaya. We lost two field regiments and an anti-tank regiment but not before causing some difficulties for the enemy. The troops became prisoners of the Japanese and were grievously maltreated during the next 3 1/2 years.
Security of the home base became of paramount importance. Australian manufacture of a variety of guns proceeded apace: 3.7-inch and 40-mm anti-aircraft guns, 4-inch naval guns, 25-pdr gun/howitzers, 2-, 6- and 17-pdr anti-tank guns together with associated stores, sights and fire control systems. The first air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942 brought the war to Australia. The anti-aircraft defences performed well but were too sparse and the warning systems were deficient. This was corrected in time by the deployment of Australian designed and built radar.
We lost Rabaul with Selby's puny pair of 3-inch 20-cwt AA guns and a coast battery of 6-inch Mk 7s. Koepang was attacked and 2/1st Heavy Battery with two 6-inch Mk 11 guns was overrun. Milne Bay was attacked and resulted in Japan's first defeat on land. Major General Clowes, a gunner, commanded the Australian force and his anti-aircraft gunners and the 2/5 Field Regiment played a significant role in this success. Port Moresby was under frequent air attack and threatened by Japanese troops moving over the Kokoda Track from Buna-Gona.
Terrain difficulties and lack of mountain artillery had prevented artillery assistance as the devoted men of the 21st and 25th Brigades fought a masterly withdrawal. With enormous effort gunners of 14th Field Regiment partly dismantled two guns and hauled them forward to shell Ioribaiwa. This was a turning point. The Japanese fell back. It illustrated the urgent need for mountain artillery. Four 3.7-inch mountain guns were obtained from the RAN and RNZN and formed into 1st Mountain Battery. They assembled all the necessary horses and pack harness to use this mode of transport, but hot humid conditions were unsuitable for the horses. The guns had to be moved by jeep or man power (carriers). 1 Mountain Battery saw a great deal of action in the Buna-Gona-Sanananda area and on to Mount Tambu, where it could be said the guns and gunners were worn out and ammunition was exhausted. The battery returned to Australia, re-armed with US 75-mm pack howitzers and became our first parachute battery.
In mid-1942 there seemed little prospect of obtaining sufficient mountain guns for the task ahead. It was decided by the MGRA that endeavours should be made to lighten the 25-pdr. This was achieved to the extent that a practical lightweight and effective weapon emerged. It was first used by 2/4 Field Regiment during the air assault on Nadzab when two guns and gunners were parachuted into action. The Short 25-pdrs proved to be useful, and were authorised on a scale of one battery in each field regiment on a jungle division establishment, but, as some complained, they were noisy and difficult to handle compared with their `mothers'.
The early operations in New Guinea saw the Australians with a considerable force of artillery, but the means to deploy and sustain it effectively were lacking. These challenges together with lack of maps and survey information, difficulties of observation, uncertain radio communications, mostly a consequence of operations in a hot humid climate in rugged terrain, were progressively overcome. To meet the need for coastal defence of allied bases in forward areas. In 1942 the US made available 68 155-mm M1917/M1918 guns. Sixteen were lost at sea. In addition 24 155-mm M1 guns were received from the US in 1943 all with an outfit of fire control equipment and search lights. These guns were allotted to the batteries lettered from `S' to `U' and performed a valuable service as mobile coast batteries in Australia and New Guinea including on occasion in a field role in the Aitape-Wewak sector and on Bougainville.
In 1942 to meet the requirements of coordination of the growing artillery force the Commander in Chief appointed a Major General Royal Artillery (MGRA) to his staff. At this time there were 10 divisional artilleries, 33 field regiments, three medium regiments, 12 anti-tank regiments, 37 coast batteries, over 80 anti-aircraft batteries together with survey and searchlight batteries. The strain of manning and equipping this mass of units was considerable.
As the Japanese were forced on the defensive and the US forces gained supremacy at sea and in the air, the nature of the Australian involvement changed. The focus of our operations became the Wewak-Aitape area, New Britain and Bougainville as holding operations. None the less they were very active and depended on continued artillery support.
Then in the final months there were the successive and somewhat controversial Oboe operations, the landings at Balikpapan, Tarakan, Brunei and Labuan employing 7th and 9th Divisions. Naval gunfire support was provided for these landings and indeed had been an important feature for assault landings and coastwise movement for some time. To meet the need for observation of fire and navy-army coordination a new unit had been formed in 1943 the 1st Australian Naval Bombardment Group. It proved to be highly successful in controlling fire where and when the infantry needed it. They were much in demand by the US forces when their ships and f troops were involved.
The artillery effort during World War 2 was enormous. A figure for the number of men and women involved is not available. David Horner estimates 80,000 from a total establishment of 400,000 for the whole Army in 1942. He also quotes a figure of 34 brigadiers in artillery appointments and perhaps that gives a better perspective. Artillery had to consider their experiences of this war and look to the challenges. What was to be the shape of artillery in the future? Of course it would depend on the Government's defence policy as it developed. The iron curtain had not yet descended on Europe and the cold war had not been thought of. To quote David Horner again, `whatever lay ahead, the Australian gunners could reflect on an outstanding achievement of organisation, training service and devotion to duty over six hard years'.
After the War
In 1945 there was a substantial residue of guns, equipment and expertise. All, of course, have a relatively short shelf life. It had been exceeded in a number of different types of equipment (eg radar) and methods by the time the reality of the cold war had been recognised. The most marked change in the early post-war days was the formation of a regular army based on a relatively small field force, It had a far reaching effect on the RAA for the remainder of the 20th Century.
There were also the seemingly continuous operational deployments. The first was to Korea in 1950. No RAA unit was committed to this campaign. However many young regular gunner officers gained valuable experience with 16 Field Regiment RNZA, with one of our infantry battalions, as air OP officers or with Commonwealth Division headquarters or units. In addition gunners provided a strong contribution to the anti-tank and mortar platoons of all the battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment. In Australia in 1951 we had a regular field regiment for the first time, far from complete and ill-arranged with anti-aircraft and locating elements. Air OP was on the order of battle, we took note of the need for self propelled artillery to support armour and hastily produced the `Yeramba', a General Grant tank with a 25-pdr superimposed. The impetus was forward.
A form of National Service was introduced with three months full time duty followed by two years CMF service. The 30,000 annual intake put the Regular Army under intense strain to effectively handle them. The artillery order of battle indicated the magnitude of the task. It included for the first time Army Groups Royal Artillery (AGRA) both field and anti-aircraft, light regiments, heavy regiments, an amphibious observation regiment and a movement light battery. Anti-tank responsibilities were given to infantry and armoured units.
The Army began to think seriously about missiles and the demise of coast artillery was under way before all but one of the new 5.25-inch CA/AA batteries had been proof fired. RAAF was given the task of home air defence and the Army the low level air defence of the army in the field.
Forward defence was the theme from the mid-1950s for a decade. The building of the forts had led to requirement to man them and permanent gunners were formed to do this. It was an emotional experience for some of them to see the forts dismantled, wrecked and often vandalised. From the wreckage in some places military museums have arisen, which attempt to tell the story and in some way preserve this important part of our military heritage. First and foremost among them is the RAA National Museum at North Fort Sydney with a growing and already comprehensive collection of guns, artefacts, memorabilia and an excellent library reflecting the history of gunners in Australia. Sadly it does not have a 9.2-inch gun. Others are the RAA Association (NT) Museum at East Point, Darwin, the RAA Historical Society of WA at Leighton Battery, the Fort Queenscliff Museum, The Forts at Albany, Fort Scratchely Military Museum, just to name some organisations and locations where this heritage is being preserved.
The return of our UN contingent, from Korea (basically two infantry battalions) in 1953, enabled Australia to contribute to the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve (BCFESR) in Malaya. The roles of BCFESR were to provide a standing force for the defence of SEATO countries including Singapore and Malaya and to assist in anti-terrorist operations in Malaya. A battery of regular field artillery was included in the Australian contribution. It was an active and rewarding task which gave much practical experience in jungle operations at brigade level. The battery formed part of an RA regiment.
At home 1st Field Regiment with two field (25-pdrs) and one fight (4.2-inch mortars) batteries became part of the 1st Brigade Group. Our first regular field force since the DMF in 1938.
Australia went on to experiment. The `pentropic' division was thought to be the answer. It was not. At least as far as artillery was concerned. There were many unsolved problems in providing responsive centralised fire support. When the new `conventional' division was devised in 1965 there was a collective sigh of relief.
From 1959 major exercises with troops had a marked and beneficial effect on the Army and prepared individuals and units for forthcoming contributions in the confrontation with Indonesia 1963-67 and the Vietnam War 1965-71. The artillery contribution to confrontation saw the field battery with BCFESR serving in Borneo and the despatch of a light anti-aircraft battery for the air defence of RAAF Butterworth for 2 1/2 years. In Vietnam the first gunner unit was 105 Field Battery in 1965 equipped with L5 pack howitzers. It became part of 319th US Artillery Regiment until the 1st Field Regiment deployed in 1966. From then until 1971 a field regiment with two Australian and one NZ batteries was maintained on annual rotation. A troop of 131 Divisional Locating Battery, on individual rotation, provided a counter mortar radar facility.
The most memorable actions involving the gunners were the battles for Fire Support Bases `Balmoral' and `Coral' where some portion of the gun positions were overrun. The battle at Long Tan was also dramatic, where intensive and effective fire with the intervention of APCs saved the day for the infantry. In Vietnam the RAA practised all the skills of their trade with the added experience of controlling the fire of heavy US equipment (8-inch howitzers, 175- and 155-mm guns). The use of counter mortar radar, frequent air OP sorties and much predicted and observed shooting were also features of the experience. The age old prime function was the support for our infantry and armour, and of course, defeat of the enemy. As it turned out the enemy was not defeated, but this was more a result of political action on the streets of Australia and the US. Notwithstanding, it cannot be denied that Australian soldiers had done their job well with an absolutely professional precision. The last artillery unit to withdraw from Vietnam was 104 Field Battery which left in December 1971.
The regular force now had three field regiments and a wealth of expertise. A reduction was in store with the suspension of National Service.
In 1971, while A Field Battery was serving in Vietnam there was an important anniversary, its centenary as the oldest serving regular unit. To mark this the RAA King's Banner, presented in 1904 by King Edward VII in recognition of services rendered in the war in South Africa was replaced by a new Queen's Banner. It was interesting to note that on the day of the Banner ceremony at Victoria Barracks Sydney, the Battery recognised the occasion in Vietnam by firing a 50 gun `salute' at the Viet Cong.
This does not end the story of Australia and artillery, but it is a convenient place to end this quick scamper through history. There was, of course, later a small air defence contribution during the Gulf War and participation in peacekeeping, most recently with Interfet in East Timor. There have been, and will continue to be changes in armament, equipment, structure and locations to meet defence policy objectives. The RAA will continue to meet these challenges, it will continue to bring honour and pride to all Australians as it has in the past.
Some useful references to Artillery and Australia:
History of the School of Artillery 1885 to 1996. Ed by Ian Burch, Development Wing School of Artillery, 1996.
The Gunners: A History of Australian Artillery. David Horner. Allen and Unwin, 1995.
Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Vol V. C E W Bean, Angus & Robertson, 1939
Sydney Loyal Association, Austratia's First Volunteer Artillery Unit 1800-1810. R H E Harvey. MS RAA Historical Society, 1990.
Guns of the Regiment. S N Gower, Australian War Memorial, 1981
A History of `A' Battery: New South Wales Artillery (1871-1899), Royal Australian Artillery (1899-1971). Richmond Cubis, Elizabethan Press, 1978.
The Australian Victories in France in 1918. Gen Sir John Monash, The Lothian Book Publishing Co, 1920.
Thesis, `Coastal Defences of New South Wales 1788-1900', Ian B Wyness, 1965, University of NSW Faculty of Engineering.
Thesis, `Coastal Defences of New South Wales 1900-1969'. John R Graham, 1969, University of NSW Faculty of Architecture.
We Stood and Waited: Sydney's Anti-Ship Defences 1939-1945, R K Fuliford, RAA Historical Society, 1994.
The Battle of Coral: Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral May 1968, Lex McAulay, Hutchinson Australia, 1988
Hell and High Fever, David Selby, Currawong Publishing Co, 1956
The Guns of King Georges Sound. The Albany Forts, Les Johnson, Albany Advertiser, 1989.
A Sound Defence; The Story of Princess Royal Fortress King George III Sound WA, Roger Martin, Scott and Scott Publishing, about 1987.
A Question of Defence: The Story of Green Hill Fort, Thursday Island, S J Earle, Torres Strait Historical Society, 1993
Fort Scratchley, Newcastle, NSW, L Carey et al, Council of the City of Newcastle, 1986.
But Little Glory: The NSW Contingent to the Sudan 1885, Peter Stanley, Military Historical Society of Australia, 1985
The Letter Batteries: The History of the `Letter' Batteries in World War II, Reg Kidd and Ray Neal, self published, 1998
Distribution of Guns, Australia, WA, R K Glyde, RAA Historical Society of WA, 1996
Australian National Gun Register, Jeremy Green, WA Maritime Museum, 1983
Short History of the Military Forces in NSW from 1788 to 1953, Keith Coleman and John Knight, Eastern Command, 1953
Report of the Military Committee of Inquiry 1901
The Story Of the Guns, Sir James Emerson Tennent, 1864, reprinted Richmond Publishing Co, 1972
A Treatise of Artillery 1780, John Muller, reprinted by Museum Restoration Service, Canada
Gun founding and Gunfounders, A N Kennard, Arms and Armour Press, 1986
Coast Artillery 1815-1914, Roger F Sarty, Museum Restoration Service, Canada, 1988
The Armouries of the Tower of London, Vol 1 The Ordnance, H L Blackmore, HMSO, 1976.
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|Date:||Mar 1, 2001|
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