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How many observers in H.A. Siege Battery?


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#1 ruthw

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 08:17 PM

Hello again

I would be very grateful if anyone could tell me how many trained/qualified observers would normally be attached to a siege battery (293 SB RGA 4 x 6" Howitzers) and, if any other battery personnel would be called upon to observe trained or otherwise.

Many thanks

Ruth

#2 nigelfe

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 01:35 AM

Doctrinally the Battery Commander was his battery's observer, since he was the commander he could order it to fire. Initially, one of the Section Commanders (subalterns) was routinely given the task of being an additional observing officer if required. As the war progressed it became fairly normal for all the subalterns to take their turn as observing officer. It was rare for a RGA battery to have more than one observer, and by late war it wasn't unusual for there to be only a single observing officer for an RGA brigade. As the 'Subalterns Catechism' makes clear when acting as an observing officer the subaltern had the battery commander's authority to order the guns to fire.

As far as training went, it was probably mostly 'on the job' and inexperienced observing officer would be paired with an experienced one to learn the ropes.

#3 Op-Ack

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 12:00 PM

There were also Observers, Ground Bombardment, who were members of either a Siege Company or Howitzer Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Such observers had to have either passed the advanced course in flash observation or be certified as fully qualified observers by their commanding officer. Their role was to observe the enemy’s movements and artillery fire, together with responsibilities for surveying and flash spotting for counter bombardment. The badge, which consisted of a letter O encircled with by a laurel wreath worn on the upper left sleeve was introduced by GRO 1905 of 1917 and was abolished (along with the role) by ACI 396 of 1921. The badge was also worn by members of the Field Survey Companies of the Royal Engineers.

#4 ruthw

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 01:16 PM

Nigelfe - Thanks for your comments - greatly appreciated, as ever.

Ronald Skirth, whose memoir I'm researching, claims he was the battery's 'sole Observer' - a claim which, on the face of it, seems justified, given your comments. However, in his story Skirth implies that he was the only person who observed for the battery - he does not mention, for instance, that this role was rotated between a number of personnel. In addition he states that after his 3-week specialist training 'on matters highly technical' (i.e./e.g. "ballistics") he was raised to the rank of Corporal and became 'technically a Specialist' - entitled to wear the brass 'O' for Observer (visible on the photo of him in uniform). 'The combination of all the above made me a B.C.A.' (p.25)

Early on, during his active service, Skirth says he was demoted to Bombardier as a result of disciplinary action, although Arthur Starr's records (which I cannot put my hands on) states that Skirth was 'reverted' to Bombardier - being replaced by Starr (A/Cpl.) Skirth also states that he was the only person able to do his B.C.'s calculations for him and that no gun could be fired until he had done said calculations.

So, at the moment my questions arre these:

How likely is it that a corporal or bombardier was an observer for the battery, given that he would have command of the guns at times in that role?

How likely is it that a corporal or bombardier was a B.C.A.?

Is it likely that the roles of B.C.A. and Observer were held by the same person simultaneously?

How likely is it that a B.C.A. was the only person able to do the calculations needed to fire the guns?

Any answers gratefully received.

Ruth

Edit: addition of name for salutation

#5 ruthw

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 06:03 PM

There were also Observers, Ground Bombardment, who were members of either a Siege Company or Howitzer Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Such observers had to have either passed the advanced course in flash observation or be certified as fully qualified observers by their commanding officer. Their role was to observe the enemy's movements and artillery fire, together with responsibilities for surveying and flash spotting for counter bombardment. The badge, which consisted of a letter O encircled with by a laurel wreath worn on the upper left sleeve was introduced by GRO 1905 of 1917 and was abolished (along with the role) by ACI 396 of 1921. The badge was also worn by members of the Field Survey Companies of the Royal Engineers.



Many, thanks for this . The role of 'Observer, Ground Bombardment', sounds exactly like the one Skirth had - he says he was asked to make a 'survey', implies he had to plot in features on a map and that he made a map/s and did drawings, although he does not say that his observation duties were purely related to ground bombardment. The badge you describe sounds & looks exactly like the one in the photo of Skirth except that he is wearing it on his upper right sleeve - any significance to that? Are there any written resources which might give me more information about this particular role and that I could reference in my research notes? (What would his duties have been re surveying/counter bombardment?)

Thanks again

Ruth

#6 Op-Ack

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 07:41 AM

Ruth

Sadly, that is all the information I have to hand on the role. I will try an find out some mor detail, but can't guarentee anything.

Phil

#7 nigelfe

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 09:19 AM

It would be a very strange bty where an NCO was the bty's sole observer. At best he might have been when, for some reason, there was no officer in the OP. In France RGA btys seem to have been fairly well off for officers, although I've no doubt that sometimes leave, sickness and casualties left them a bit stretched.

I would have thought that if a NCO was required to observe then the BCA was the obvious candidate.

#8 nigelfe

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 09:37 AM

There were also Observers, Ground Bombardment, who were members of either a Siege Company or Howitzer Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Such observers had to have either passed the advanced course in flash observation or be certified as fully qualified observers by their commanding officer. Their role was to observe the enemy’s movements and artillery fire, together with responsibilities for surveying and flash spotting for counter bombardment. The badge, which consisted of a letter O encircled with by a laurel wreath worn on the upper left sleeve was introduced by GRO 1905 of 1917 and was abolished (along with the role) by ACI 396 of 1921. The badge was also worn by members of the Field Survey Companies of the Royal Engineers.


Not sure how consistent that is with facts on the ground. After late 1914 flash spotting was the sole preserve of the RE survey elements (sect, coy, bn). It was fairly specialised work with specialised instruments and dedicated communications. However, soldiers in these RE units were not limited to RE, as the built them up they took suitable men from wherever they were although on paper the base trade was surveyor. As I understand it flash spotting posts didn't routinely engage targets, although they did report battlefield information. Sounds to me as if the same badge was worn by two different types, observers in RGA btys and observers in RE FS groups. Which invites the question 'What about RFA/RHA'!

#9 ruthw

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 09:57 AM

Ruth

Sadly, that is all the information I have to hand on the role. I will try an find out some mor detail, but can't guarentee anything.

Phil


Thanks, Phil. Anything you can find out would be greatly appreciated.

Ruth

#10 Op-Ack

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 12:23 PM

Not sure how consistent that is with facts on the ground. After late 1914 flash spotting was the sole preserve of the RE survey elements (sect, coy, bn). It was fairly specialised work with specialised instruments and dedicated communications. However, soldiers in these RE units were not limited to RE, as the built them up they took suitable men from wherever they were although on paper the base trade was surveyor. As I understand it flash spotting posts didn't routinely engage targets, although they did report battlefield information. Sounds to me as if the same badge was worn by two different types, observers in RGA btys and observers in RE FS groups. Which invites the question 'What about RFA/RHA'!


Nigel

I hae cetainly seen photographic evidence of RGA gunners wearing the badge, but nothing from the RFA/RHA. As you know, the RGA was often considere too technical/scientific by members of the RFA/RHA, perhas tat has something to do with it.

Phil

#11 kevrow

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 02:59 PM

Hi Ruth,

I'll try to answer your questions from what little I know.

1. How likely is it that a corporal or bombardier was an observer for the battery, given that he would have command of the guns at times in that role?

I would say highly likely. From the thousands of records I have viewed it is surprising how few one sees where the mans role in the battery is given. One can only assume from any indicated courses they went on. Of those that mention BCA the most obvious are those that had passed their Observer exam, and more likely Plotting and Observing. After joining a battery they are nearly always made up to A/Bdr., which I have assumed is because they have been given a BCA job.

2. How likely is it that a corporal or bombardier was a B.C.A.?

Again highly likely. I would have thought he was a natural choice, but I have seen an Observer who remained a gunner; perhaps he had other duties.

3. Is it likely that the roles of B.C.A. and Observer were held by the same person simultaneously?

Yes, for reasons given above.

4. How likely is it that a B.C.A. was the only person able to do the calculations needed to fire the guns?

Unlikely. Find that hard to believe. The longer the war went on the I could imagine all the officers having gone on courses to be able to do the job, or most could in a battery excluding new replacements. Even then I would have thought the later replacements, post 1917, probably were taught before going out.

Without knowing all the BCAs it is impossible to say if Skirt was the only one to have passed Plotting and Observing. He was obviously only an acting rank, as Starr's records indicate, so I am inclined to think that Starr was his senior and also a BCA, although his technical ability was in Signalling and Telephony. I strongly recommend reading "Occasional Gunfire" by A Paton. He was a BCA with 118 Sge Bty. and not only records the batteries movements, but some of the experiences of being a BCA. These were not unintelligent men. It is some while since I read it but I am sure he records when a gun had been fired short....too short with the result that an allied trench was very nearly hit. Another story that would be worth researching through the official diaries to see if it was covered up. Although I believe Paton's account completely. Given the time that has elapsed I think it would be impossible to prove one way or another what actually occurred.

Kevin

Edit. One thought that crossed my mind when I read Skirt's book some time ago (and I am not going to read it again) was if he was the only plotter and observer how was the mistake of firing at a cliff made. Was it actually his fault and was why a disciplinary action was taken against him? I cannot remember who he blamed, but now impossible to prove after all this time.

#12 ruthw

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 05:48 PM

It would be a very strange bty where an NCO was the bty's sole observer. At best he might have been when, for some reason, there was no officer in the OP. In France RGA btys seem to have been fairly well off for officers, although I've no doubt that sometimes leave, sickness and casualties left them a bit stretched.

I would have thought that if a NCO was required to observe then the BCA was the obvious candidate.


Many thanks for your post.

I did think myself that Skirth's claim to being the sole observer seemed a bit far-fetched, but then it wouldn't be the first time I've thought something Skirth said was far-fetched and it turned out to be quite plausible.

Ruth

#13 ruthw

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 06:30 PM

Edit. One thought that crossed my mind when I read Skirt's book some time ago (and I am not going to read it again) was if he was the only plotter and observer how was the mistake of firing at a cliff made. Was it actually his fault and was why a disciplinary action was taken against him? I cannot remember who he blamed, but now impossible to prove after all this time.



Many thanks for your post, Kevin - it's much appreciated. I'll try to get hold of a copy of the book you've recommended.

Skirth maintains that his role as B.C.A. was given to Bmdr. Bromley around 10th June 1918. He says Bromley joined the battery then with a new intake of men (my g/f was an original member of the battery). Hence Bromley is responsible for the accident. Skirth declined the opportunity of going on a course/promotion, remaining as the battery's 'sole Observer', although he maintains that he did not have any equipment to observe with and only had a pair of binoculars for some of the time. There was a telephone, but it was not connected to the C.P. (or anything else) due to lack of cable (-since April)

At this time (June 1918 onwards) the battery seem to be using predicted fire though not exclusively (and I might be completely wrong about this of course). Would observers still be needed with predicted fire?


Ruth

#14 GRUMPY

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 06:37 PM

As regards the badge, O in wreath, it was an APPOINTMENT badge and so should have been worn on upper right sleeve, but never say never!

#15 Op-Ack

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 07:22 PM

As regards the badge, O in wreath, it was an APPOINTMENT badge and so should have been worn on upper right sleeve, but never say never!


You are of course correct Grumpy, I never could tell my left from my right! Which makes marching a heck of a challenge! :rolleyes:

#16 seany

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 09:11 PM

Ruth - this is the entry from Starr's service records - right at the bottom 'Skirth reverted'

Attached Files



#17 ruthw

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 09:40 PM

Seany, thank you for posting Starr's record. (My filing system leaves a lot to be desired!)

Ruth



#18 nigelfe

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 08:34 AM

At this time (June 1918 onwards) the battery seem to be using predicted fire though not exclusively (and I might be completely wrong about this of course). Would observers still be needed with predicted fire?


Plotting in the OP would not necessarily be high precision, and its questionable whether corrections for non-standard conditions were applied. Basically plotting at the OP meant ranging and getting rounds on the ground ASAP then correcting them.

Predicted (map) shooting was a different matter, plotting and calculations would be done on the gun position in the battery commander's CP alongside the battery phone exchange and RFC/RAF radio. Usually by the battery commander or under his eye, this involved accurate plotting using an artillery board (probably at 1:20,000 scale) provided by the RE surveyors, to find map range and deflection, this was then adjusted by calculating corrections for non-standard conditions (wind, air temp, etc), and fired without ranging. Unless sound ranging was being used or high airburst observed by flash spotting posts, in either case their section/group plotting centre would tell the firing battery the coords of where the round(s) fell/burst, these would be plotted in the BCP and the correction found.

#19 ruthw

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 08:22 PM

It was rare for a RGA battery to have more than one observer, and by late war it wasn't unusual for there to be only a single observing officer for an RGA brigade.


Could you explain why the reduction in Observers took place?

Thanks



#20 nigelfe

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 08:50 AM

Presumably because they weren't needed. Observers are really only needed for opportunity targets. Such targets found by ground observers weren't really the sensible thing for RGA - that's what RFA were for, apart from the occasional strongpoint that needed 'heavy metal', but such targets weren't going anywhere. Air observers were another matter. Most CB targets came from HB lists, no observer required, the lists being compiled by artillery intelligence staff from the locations found by sound ranging, flash spotting and air photographs. Perhaps the most important job for RGA ground observers by late war was checking the guns' calibration and maybe datum shoots if required, although I suspect the ranges for ground obsn weren't ideal for good datums for CB targets.

#21 ruthw

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 08:42 PM

Presumably because they weren't needed. Observers are really only needed for opportunity targets. Such targets found by ground observers weren't really the sensible thing for RGA - that's what RFA were for, apart from the occasional strongpoint that needed 'heavy metal', but such targets weren't going anywhere. Air observers were another matter. Most CB targets came from HB lists, no observer required, the lists being compiled by artillery intelligence staff from the locations found by sound ranging, flash spotting and air photographs. Perhaps the most important job for RGA ground observers by late war was checking the guns' calibration and maybe datum shoots if required, although I suspect the ranges for ground obsn weren't ideal for good datums for CB targets.


Thank you for explaining that, although I don't understand why observers weren't needed if a target was from a HB list.

I don't know whether the following list of types of shoot from 293 SB's war diary (June - Nov 1918) might shed any light on the situation re ground observation:

Registration (rounds recorded against all)
Concentration Programme shoot
C.B. shoot with aerial observation
Instructional ranging shoot
MQNF call
Bombardment/Target programme
Destructive shoot
Destruction of enemy huts/working party observed on roadway
Neutralization/General neutralization/Special Neutralization
Movement
GF call
Plane Observed 71 rds FOO continued
XX call
Harrassing fire
CB shoot with 29th FSC
NFAA
Calibration/Calibration experimental
NF call
Gas Bombardment
Gas neutralization programme/tasks
CB shoot stopped owing to Signals ceasing abruptly
Calibration with 6oz additional 4th Charge N.C.T.
Registration with 29th Observation Group

The registration shoots had stopped by August, and there was a marked increase in neutralization shoots.


Thanks for bearing with me

Ruth

#22 allen h

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 03:55 PM

Some more information ,in the R.A.COMMEMORATION BOOK,it gives the details that Captain R.H. WADE-GERY, C.O of 1st SIEGE BATTERY, R.G.A
was killed instantaneously by a shell which exploded by his side as he was directing the fire of his guns from a front line trench near Pozieres.
on July 18 .1916.

ALLEN

#23 ruthw

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 12:33 PM

Plotting in the OP would not necessarily be high precision, and its questionable whether corrections for non-standard conditions were applied. Basically plotting at the OP meant ranging and getting rounds on the ground ASAP then correcting them.

Predicted (map) shooting was a different matter, plotting and calculations would be done on the gun position in the battery commander's CP alongside the battery phone exchange and RFC/RAF radio. Usually by the battery commander or under his eye, this involved accurate plotting using an artillery board (probably at 1:20,000 scale) provided by the RE surveyors, to find map range and deflection, this was then adjusted by calculating corrections for non-standard conditions (wind, air temp, etc), and fired without ranging. Unless sound ranging was being used or high airburst observed by flash spotting posts, in either case their section/group plotting centre would tell the firing battery the coords of where the round(s) fell/burst, these would be plotted in the BCP and the correction found.


Many thanks for this, Nigelfe. I'm very grateful to you and everyone else who has gone to the trouble of posting information on this thread.

Regards

Ruth

#24 nigelfe

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 02:22 AM

Thank you for explaining that, although I don't understand why observers weren't needed if a target was from a HB list.

I don't know whether the following list of types of shoot from 293 SB's war diary (June - Nov 1918) might shed any light on the situation re ground observation:

Registration (rounds recorded against all)
Concentration Programme shoot
C.B. shoot with aerial observation
Instructional ranging shoot
MQNF call
Bombardment/Target programme
Destructive shoot
Destruction of enemy huts/working party observed on roadway
Neutralization/General neutralization/Special Neutralization
Movement
GF call
Plane Observed 71 rds FOO continued
XX call
Harrassing fire
CB shoot with 29th FSC
NFAA
Calibration/Calibration experimental
NF call
Gas Bombardment
Gas neutralization programme/tasks
CB shoot stopped owing to Signals ceasing abruptly
Calibration with 6oz additional 4th Charge N.C.T.
Registration with 29th Observation Group

The registration shoots had stopped by August, and there was a marked increase in neutralization shoots.


Thanks for bearing with me

Ruth



#25 nigelfe

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 02:26 AM

Only two or three that obviously needed an observer. One registration refers explicitly to flash spotting group, the others aren't clear. Neutralization was most likely map shooting against HBs.