97 Battery (Lawson's Company) Royal Artillery was formed on 13 September 1803 as Captain H. Douglas's Company, 8th Battalion Royal Artillery and is currently a tac battery within 4th Regiment Royal Artillery based in Alanbrooke Barracks, Topcliffe, North Yorkshire. The battery was until recently a gun battery but was reduced to a tac battery in 2013 following its last operational tour of Afghanistan. It is now one of three tac batteries (each made up entirely of Forward Observation parties) who call in artillery fire from 4th Regiment Royal Artillery's two remaining gun batteries. The battery has been known by a variety of names during its existence and moved between different Royal Artillery Regiments or Battalions due to reorganisations of the Royal Regiment of Artillery and changes in role. However, its title "Lawson's" has endured for a considerable period of time. In the First World War it fought as 87th (Howitzer) Battery, Royal Field Artillery.
Formation and preparation for war
The battery was formed in 1803 as part of the newly formed 8th Battalion, during a period of expansion for the Royal Regiment of Artillery. As was the custom at the time each of the battalion's new companies (as artillery units of this size were referred to during this period), took the name of their company commander. As a result, the battery was first known as Captain Douglas's Company and stationed at Woolwich. It remained garrisoned at the Royal Arsenal until November 1805, after which it marched to Exeter and then onto Plymouth in May 1807. Captain TS Hughes then took command of the company for the subsequent embarkation to Gibraltar.
Captain Hughes command did not last long and he died in Gibraltar on 18 May 1808, being replaced by Captain Robert Lawson who was dispatched from England. The company was in the process of deploying to war for the first time and before their new commander could arrive from Great Britain the company was split with half, under command of the 2nd Captain (Captain HT Fauquier), being ordered to join a British force being sent to fight in Sicily whilst the remainder, temporarily under the command of Captain W Morrison, were dispatched on the Transport Ship Hornby to Mondego Bay in Portugal as part of the British force being assembled there. This was the British force which was to go on to fight the Peninsula War. After the latter groups arrival in Portugal they were joined by their new commander. The half of the unit sent to Sicily was never to rejoin them and was later absorbed into another Royal Artillery unit.
Lawson's Company holds the unique record of having been the only Royal Artillery unit to serve throughout the entire Peninsular War, from 1808 until 1814. During those years it experienced a good deal of hard marching and fighting in a campaign which perhaps, beyond all others, saw the Field Artillery established on a proper footing. At least three diaries of unit officers covering this period have survived until the present day, that of Captain Lawson himself (although only fragments of the text survive), that of Lieutenant Ingilby and finally that of Captain Johnson (still in the hands of his family).
Morrison embarked with General Spencer's expedition to Cadiz, but in August was transferred to Sir Arthur Wellesley's army in Mondego Bay, Portugal. Owing to the shortage of draw horses and stores, it was found impossible to equip this half company, so the 6-pounders were left in store in Mondego Bay. The officers and men made amends with a hotch potch of ordnance – some captured enemy pieces – with the army advancing against the French towards Lisbon. After manoeuvring Marshal Junot out of Lisbon, the British attacked and defeated the enemy at the Battle of Rolica. On 21 August, the Battle of Vimiera was turned into a British victory largely through the destructive fire of the guns, which shattered the enemy's attacking columns before they could reach the infantry.
The Company took part in the famous crossing of the Douro river, the capture of Oporto, the pursuit of Marshal Soult's army to Braga and the desperate fight at the Battle of Talavera. On 27 and 28 July, during this battle the 2nd Captain Taylor was severely wounded and captured.
Winter 1809 was spent at Badajoz, but the next year the Battery accompanied the now Lord Wellington in his campaign, which included the stern encounter at the Battle of Bussaco and also the retreat to, and occupation of, the Lines of Torres Vedras. In 1811, Lawson advanced the Company from the Lines and was in action at the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro in May. Later, in January 1812, he was employed in the trench warfare during the siege and subsequent storming of Cuidad Rodrigo as siege artillery. The battery was replenished six months later with 6-pounders, and fought a bloody battle at Salamanca, suffering casualties whilst in action, and at the Siege of Burgos, and the retreat to Portugal.
At the commencement of the 1813 campaign Lawson's Company was part of the 6th Division during the advance of the Army that summer, though at the battle of Vittoria it was with the 5th Division. At this decisive battle the French lost every gun they had in the field (over 150), and the massed fire of the British artillery contributed chiefly to the victory. Then followed the siege of San Sebastian, at which the assaulting infantry were supported by the covering fire of artillery shooting just over their heads – the first attempt at a barrage.
Lawson's Company – then equipped with 9-pounders – took a leading share in the Passage of Bidassoa in October 1813, and in the battle of Nivelle. 2nd Captain Mosse was in command of the company when it repulsed the French attacks on 10 and 11 December, and received special thanks for its service.
Captain Robert Lawson's Company, 8th Battalion Royal Artillery left Spain on 22 July 1814 on board HMS Hydra bound for Plymouth. The following year, on 4 June 1815, Major Robert Lawson received an award from the Prince Regent. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath, a subsidiary of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, awarded for his outstanding service and command during the campaign.
General duties 19th century
The post war period was a quiet one for a number of years following the service in the Peninsular. The Company was not sent overseas to the Waterloo campaign, but moved in 1821 to Gibraltar and then later to Corfu, then part of the British governed United States of the Ionian Islands. They were based there during the Greek War of Independence and a period of tense relations with the Ottoman Empire which did end up leading to a number of engagements at sea in the area. The company was then afterwards stationed at Woolwich, Leith, Bermuda, Ireland and Ceylon, returning to Woolwich in 1856. On the introduction of the brigade system, the Company was converted into a field battery as 'H' Battery, 8 Brigade in 1861. The Company then went to India in 1867.
Ten years later the Company became 'H' Battery, 3 Brigade Royal Artillery, and in 1884 was converted into a Depot Field Battery for 3 Brigade Royal Field Artillery at Hillsea. Not until 1895 did the Company recover its status as a service battery under the designation of 87 Field Battery Royal Artillery. The battery went out to South Africa for the Boer War in December 1900 and was engaged in the Eastern Transvaal mostly by sections or single guns working with small mobile columns. In 1914 the Battery – then equipped as a howitzer battery – went to France again with XII (12th) Brigade.
World War I
87 Battery Royal Field Artillery was based in Ireland when the war broke out and were immediately mobilised along with the rest of 12th (Howitzer) Brigade Royal Field Artillery, under the 6th Division. They spent the wars duration within the relatively small battlefields of France and Belgium, fighting in extremely poor conditions in the trenches of the First Battle of the Aisne, Somme, Ypres, Cambrai and the Hindenburg Line. During the Battle of Aisne the battery fired though-out the day/night for 48 hours carrying actions on the Aisne heights. A month later, on 13 October, the Battle of Armentières began and lasted until 2 November.
In August 1915, the Battery fired at the Battle of Hooge. Then the battery moved to fight in the battles for the Somme. In May 1916, 87th Battery was transferred from the 12th (Howitzer) Brigade Royal Field Artillery to the 2nd Brigade Royal Field Artillery. The Battery split again, one section was peeled off to form D Howitzer Battery after joining with another section from 43 Howitzer Battery. The Battery then fought in the Battle of the Somme on 15 September 1916 to the end on 22 April 1917.
The Battle of Cambrai (1917) started on 20 November and lasted to 3 December 1917, first tank attack that lasted for a full 24 hours. Then between 23 and 28 November the battery engaged in support of the Capture of Bourbu Wood (now the location of a Canadian War Memorial), and continued to engage throughout the German Counter Attack from 30 November until 3 December. In 1918, on 21–22 March, the battery revisited the Somme as the tide of the war was turning. They helped win a crushing defeat on the Kaiser's army at the Battle of St. Quentin (1918). From here they moved onto the Battle of the Lys, which started on 13 April. On 18 September they moved to engage the enemy at the Battle of Épehy, and then to the Battle of St. Quentin Canal on 24–30 September. Finishing again at the second Battle of Cambrai (1918), with a huge battle on 8–9 October, ending what was to become known as the Battle of the Hindenburg Line, fighting for and with the Fourth Army, although now with the IX (9) Corps as part of 2nd Brigade Royal Field Artillery. 87 Field Battery took part in the Final Advance in Picardy, notably at the Battle of the Selle, which lasted a week and a day, from 17 to 25 October 1918.
The Irish War of Independence
The Battery returned to their peace time barracks in Ireland just as the Irish War of Independence was breaking out and were involved in fighting the Rebels as part of flying columns. At the end of this relatively short conflict they returned to the mainland UK, just in time for the Irish Civil War to break out. Not long after these events; in 1926, the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) branch of the Royal Artillery was amalgamated with the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) branch. As a result all RFA and RGA battery's simply became RA battery's, including 87 Battery RA. The Royal Horse Artillery branch endured leaving just two branches of the Royal Regiment of Artillery; the RA and RHA.
World War II
From 1939 to 1940, the battery was in France as part of I Corps with the new 25 pdr guns. It was evacuated from Dunkirk on HMS Worcester, having destroyed the guns and handed over all ammunition and rifles. It was then in the UK from 1940 to 1942, before returning to campaign service in North Africa with General Montgomery in 1943.
In 1944–1945, the battery was in action in Tunisia and Italy, in support of 3"1 INF BDE, during the Anzio bridgehead and the push north through Florence towards Bologna. In 1945, it was withdrawn from the front line to concentrate at Lake Trasimene for a while and then moved with the rest of the Division to be employed on IS duties firstly in Syria and then Palestine.
On 1 May 1947, the Battery became known as 97 (Lawson's Company) Airborne Light Battery in recognition of the old 87th and 212th Airborne Light Battery with which merged. The Battery formed part of 33 Airborne Light Regiment and stayed on Internal Security duty in Palestine till the spring of 1948 where they were stationed at Flensburg and after that joined the rest of the Regiment at Fallingbostel.
Lawson's Company was loaded onto transport ships, HMS Theseus, on 5 August to Cyprus. The BCs' party, with the CO and his group, left Nicosia to fly out on De Haviland aircraft and parachute on Gamil Airfield at the start of the action on 4–5 November 1956. The Battery loaded on LSLs and transport ships and sailed for Port Said at the same time. The holding of Gamil Airfield was an overwhelming success, as was the whole campaign, let down only by the tide of public opinion against the action, coupled with Nassers' use of the world media.
The Company eventually landed at Port Said. The forces advanced south along the line of the canal at breakneck speed. On the evening of 6 November a cease-fire was ordered as the attacking forces had reached Kilometre 99. The company settled down and dug in for what was believed to be a long wait. However, the Battery was ordered home with the rest of the Airborne forces, almost in disgrace, with the land forces following on shortly after.
1960s and 70s
The Battery moved back to the home of the airborne soldier in Aldershot. where it stayed until 1961, barring tours to Cyprus, Jordan and Hong Kong. In June 1961, 33 Para Lt Regiment was redesignated as passed into history and the Battery joined 4th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery and almost immediately set off for a long 3-year tour of Hong Kong till January 1964. The Battery was invited to stay at Bullfold before taking part in the Borneo campaign around 1 April 1965.
In 1971 the Company pulled a tour in Londonderry, which saw a number of casualties – due to shootings and bombings by the PIRA. A year later, Lawson's Company returned to Northern Ireland this time to the Long Kesh prison and surrounding area. During this tour three soldiers were seriously injured, and one killed as a result of a direct mortar hit on an OP hangar. They stayed there until 1977 where another Regimental moved them back to Aldershot where they replaced 7th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery as the Artillery Regiment supporting the Airborne Brigade.
The Battery set sail to the Falklands on board the QE II. The long journey to the southern hemisphere was taken up by endless fitness sessions around the decks, small arms training including live firing into the sea, first aid. and other ATD tasks. By the time the Battery arrived at South Georgia it was in great shape and ready for a fight. The Battery cross decked to the P&O Cruiser SS Canberra and sailed for Port San Carlos, just inside the Falkland Sound, arriving 2 June 1982. The next day the SS Canberra began to unload 5 Infantry Brigade and the battery departed the ship, landing onto Blue Beach in one landing craft. The battery quickly established itself at Head of the Bay House.
The Battery fired its first round on 7 June. The boggy ground meant that on occasion a gun would move sometimes up to seven or eight feet. The Campaign ended on 14 June 1982, the only casualties from the Battery were due to minor injuries and the battery was relatively unscathed.
The battery remained in Aldershot after the campaign until 1 February. They then moved with the regiment out to Osnabruck Germany, rerolling from their airborne role to a Heavy Artillery. The airborne role was taken over by 7th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. Afterwards, Lawson's augmented 4th Royal Tank Regiment on a Cyprus tour and undertook a further tour of Northern Ireland at Middletown and Keady. The battery also carried out exchange trips with 1" Batterie d' Artilterie d' Marine (a French battery) and sent detachments to other gun batteries for the regimental Belfast tour in 1994.
In 1997, the regiment was ordered to Bosnia and Herzegovina to help stabilise the peace established by the Dayton Agreement. Lawson's deployed as a battery group with a troop from 88 (Arracan) Battery Royal Artillery to Sanski Most Coal Mine, to provide the SFOR commander with offensive fire support with their AS90 guns.
- Clarke, W.G. (1993). Horse Gunners: The Royal Horse Artillery, 200 Years of Panache and Professionalism. Woolwich: The Royal Artillery Institution. ISBN 09520762-0-9.
- Laws, M.E.S. (1952). Battery Records of the Royal Artillery 1716–1859. Woolwich: The Royal Artillery Institution.
- Laws, M.E.S. (1952). Battery Records of the Royal Artillery 1859–1877. Woolwich: The Royal Artillery Institution.
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