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Pembroke Royal Garrison Artillery
532nd (Pembroke) Coast Regiment, RA
620th (Pembroke) Infantry Regiment, RA
425th (Pembrokeshire) Coast Regiment, RA
Koning Soldaat., item 60.jpg
Cap Badge of the Royal Regiment of Artillery
Active 1910–1961
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Force
Role Coast Artillery
Part of Royal Garrison Artillery
Garrison/HQ Milford Haven/Pembroke Dock

The Pembroke Royal Garrison Artillery was a part-time unit of the British Army that defended the coast of West Wales during both world wars. Although it never saw action in its coastal defence role, it manned a number siege batteries of heavy howitzers for service on the Western Front and Italian Front in World War I.

Territorial Force

In 1910, the Glamorgan and Pembroke Royal Garrison Artillery, which had been reorganised in the new Territorial Force (TF) two years earlier, was broken up into separate Glamorganshire and Pembrokeshire units. The resulting Pembroke Royal Garrison Artillery had the following organisation:[1][2][3][4]

  • Headquarters at the Drill Hall, Charles Street, Milford Haven[5]
  • No 1 Company at Milford Haven
  • No 2 Company at Wogan Terrace, Saundersfoot, with a drill station at Tenby[6]
  • No 3 Company at Heol Emrys, Fishguard[6][7]

It was designated as a Defended Ports unit in Western Coast Defences, which was based at Pembroke Dock and included the Regulars of Nos 44 and 57 Companies, Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA).[4][8][9]

World War I

Mobilisation

The Pembroke RGA mobilised in August 1914 in Western Coast Defences under the command of Major T.W. Price of No 1 Company.[8] On the outbreak of war, TF units were invited to volunteer for Overseas Service and on 15 August 1914, the War Office (WO) issued instructions to separate those men who had signed up for Home Service only, and form these into reserve units. On 31 August, the formation of a reserve or 2nd Line unit was authorised for each 1st Line unit where 60 per cent or more of the men had volunteered for Overseas Service. The titles of these 2nd Line units would be the same as the original, but distinguished by a '2/' prefix. In this way duplicate brigades, companies and batteries were created, mirroring those TF formations being sent overseas.[10]

By October 1914, the campaign on the Western Front was bogging down into Trench warfare and there was an urgent need for batteries of Siege artillery to be sent to France. The WO decided that the TF coastal gunners were well enough trained to take over many of the duties in the coastal defences, releasing Regular RGA gunners for service in the field, and 1st line RGA companies that had volunteered for overseas service had been authorised to increase their strength by 50 per cent.[11]

Although complete defended ports units never went overseas, they did supply trained gunners to RGA units serving overseas. They also provided cadres to form complete new units for front line service, thus the siege batteries formed in late 1915–early 1916 were a mixture of Regular and TF gunners from the RGA coast establishments with new recruits.[12] Two of the siege batteries formed at Pembroke Dock in 1915–16 had cadres provided by the Pembroke RGA (68th and 171st), two others by the Glamorgan RGA (96th and 121st), while a number of others (88th, 113th, 137th, 146th, 160th, 188th, 203rd, 219th, 250th, 262nd, 292nd and 306th) may have included trained men from the Pembroke and/or Glamorgan RGAs among the regulars and recruits, although the War Office or Army Council Instructions did not specifically order this.[13]

6-inch 30 cwt Howitzer preserved by the Royal Artillery Museum.

68th Siege Battery, RGA

68th Siege Battery was formed under War Office Instruction 144 of October 1915 from one company of the Pembroke RGA (TF) with equal numbers of men from the Regular RGA.[14][15] The battery left the UK on 31 March 1916 and landed at Le Havre on 1 April to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). It took over four obsolescent 6-inch 30 cwt howitzers from 28th Siege Bty and joined VI Corps' Heavy Artillery.[15][16]

Gommecourt

In June the battery moved to join VII Corps, which was preparing for the Attack on the Gommecourt Salient in the forthcoming 'Big Push' (the Battle of the Somme). Its main role was to bombard German trenches and strongpoints facing 56th (1/1st London) Division's attack frontage. However, the bombardment was unsatisfactory because of ammunition shortage and the bad weather that hindered observation.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21] On Z Day (1 July), the entire artillery supporting 56th Division fired a 65-minute bombardment of the German front, then lifted onto their pre-arranged targets in the German support and reserve lines as the infantry got out of their forward trenches and advanced towards Gommecourt. However, the German guns laid a Barrage across No man's land preventing supplies and reinforcements from reaching the leading infantry waves who had entered the German trenches. Also, 68th Siege Bty was ordered to change target to support 46th (North Midland) Division's failing attack on the other side of the salient. By mid-afternoon 56th Division's slight gains were being eroded and had to be abandoned after dark.[22][23][24][25]

VII Corps' costly attack was only a diversion from the main BEF attack further south, and was not renewed after the first day. 68th Siege Bty was transferred to Fourth Army, which continued the offensive throughout the summer and autumn. On 13 September the battery was rearmed with four modern Vickers-built 6-inch 26 cwt howitzers.[16]

1917–18

It was the policy to switch heavy batteries around as the situation demanded. In late 1916 and early 1917 68th Siege Bty made frequent switches, all in relatively quiet sectors. On 6 August 1917 the battery was joined by a section from the newly-arrived 402nd Siege Bty, and was made up to a strength of six howitzers.[16] The battery then moved to Second Army, in time for the final days of the Battle of Passchendaele. Second Army HQ was sent to the Italian Front shortly afterwards, and the battery moved to join Third Army. Third Army was partially involved in defending against the German Spring Offensive in 1918, then the battery transferred to Fourth Army, which played a leading role on the Allied Hundred Days Offensive from 8 August. By early October Fourth Army had reached the River Selle. 68th Siege Bty was assigned to the massive fireplan for the Battle of the Selle on 17 October, when the 50th (Northumbrian) and 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Divisions made an assault crossing of the river, with German counter-attacks broken by the guns. The BEF then closed up for the final set-piece engagement, the Battle of the Sambre. 68th Siege Bty was with Fifth Army by the time of the Armistice with Germany.[16][26][27][28][29]

Crew positioning a 6-inch 26 cwt howitzer in 1918.

171st Siege Battery, RGA

The 171st Siege Bty was formed at Pembroke Dock on 13 June 1916 under Army Council Instruction 1239 of 21 June, which laid down that it was to follow the establishment for 'New Army' (Kitchener's Army) units, with a cadre of three officers and 78 men (the wartime establishment of an RGA Company of the TF) from the Pembroke RGA.[30] It went out to the Western Front on 16 September 1916 equipped with four 6-inch 26 cwt howitzers and joined Second Army, switching to Fifth Army shortly afterwards.[16][26]

Fifth Army was engaged in the final weeks of the Battle of the Somme, then in a number of small actions in early 1917 as the German Army retired to the Hindenburg Line (Operation Alberich). During the Arras Offensive of April–May 1917 Fifth Army fought in attack and defence around Bullecourt and Lagnicourt.[31][32]

171st Siege Bty was joined by a section from 368th Siege Bty on 29 June 1917, and brought up to the strength to man six 6-inch howitzers, but it seems that the additional guns never joined.[16] The heavy guns of Fifth Army were engaged in a long artillery duel with the Germans throughout July in preparation for the Third Ypres Offensive, but the battery was transferred to Third Army after the first day of the battle. Third Army was not engaged in any major actions during this period.[16][17][26][31][33]

In October the battery transferred back to Second Army, which had taken over direction of the faltering Third Ypres Offensive and fought a series of successful battles employing massive weight of artillery. But as the offensive continued with the Battle of Poelcappelle and First and Second Battles of Passchendaele, the tables were turned: British batteries were clearly observable from the Passchendaele Ridge and were subjected to counter-battery (CB) fire, while their own guns sank into the mud and became difficult to move and fire.[16][26][31][34][35][36]

Italy

Following the disastrous Battle of Caporetto on the Italian Front, Second Army HQ and several of its sub-formations were sent to reinforce the Italian Army; 171st Siege Bty was selected as part of these reinforcements, and went to support the First Italian Army.[16][26][34][37] In Aril 1918 the British artillery was concentrated for a planned offensive, but finding level sites for the howitzers was difficult in the wooded mountainous terrain. The Allied offensive was postponed when it became clear that the Austrians were planning their own: the howitzers were ready when the Austrian assault began on 15 June (the Second Battle of the Piave River). The heavy howitzers systematically destroyed the Austrian guns on the Asiago Plateau and the offensive failed all along the front.[38][39][40][41][42][43]

The heavy guns were then moved to join the British-commanded Tenth Italian Army for the final battle on the Italian Front, the stunning success of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto. The assault crossed the River Piave on 27 October, with the heavy guns engaging all known Austrian gun positions. A bridge was ready by 29 October and the heavy guns crossed the river. By 1 November the Austrian army had collapsed and the pursuing British troops had left their heavy guns far in the rear. Austrian signed the Armistice of Villa Giusti on 3 November, ending the war in Italy. 171st Siege Battery was disbanded in 1919.[41][44][45][46][47][48]

9.2-inch gun preserved at the Imperial War Museum Duxford.

QF 12-pounder preserved at Newhaven Fort.

Later war

Under Army Council Instruction 686 of April 1917, the coastal defence companies of the RGA (TF) were reorganised. The Pembroke RGA serving in the Milford Haven garrison was reduced from the three 2nd Line companies to just one, albeit with a slightly larger establishment of five officers and 100 men, and was to be kept up to strength with Regular recruits.[49] Early in 1918, Nos 44 and 57 Companies (and presumably the Pembroke RGA Company as well) were absorbed into No 25 Coastal Fire Command, responsible for the defence of Milford Haven. In April 1918 the Milford Haven Garrison comprised the following batteries:[9][50]

Interwar

After the TF was demobilised in 1919 the Pembroke RGA was placed in suspended animation. It was reformed in 1920, and when the TF was reconstituted as the Territorial Army (TA) in 1921, the unit was designated as the Pembrokeshire Coast Brigade, RGA. In 1924 the RGA was subsumed into the RA, and the coast brigades were redesignated as heavy brigades. The Pembroke Heavy Bde was in 53rd (Welsh) Divisional Area with the following organisation:[2][51][52]

  • HQ and 184 Heavy Battery at the Drill Hall, Miliford Haven
  • 185 Heavy Battery at the Drill Hall, Pembroke, later at Saundersfoot

Finally in 1938 the RA redesignated its brigades as regiments, the unit becoming the Pembrokeshire Heavy Regiment, RA.

A 1927 report on coastal defences by the Committee of Imperial Defence had made recommendations for the defence of 15 'Class A' home ports, including Milford Haven (Scheme 9), but little was done to modernise them before the outbreak of World War II, and the Milford Haven scheme was still unfinished.[53]

World War II

BL 6-inch Mk VII gun preserved at Newhaven Fort.

The regiment mobilised in Western Command on the outbreak of war in September 1939.[54]

When the Battle of France turned against the Allies in May 1940, the Admiralty made a number of 6-inch guns available to the army for coastal defence, and when the whole of the UK was put on invasion alert after the Dunkirk evacuation a massive programme of coastal defences was initiated. Although this mainly involved the likely invasion areas of South and South-East England, an emergency battery of two BL 6-inch Mk XII naval guns was authorised on 12 June for Soldiers Rock Battery at Milford Haven.[55] By November 1940 Milford Haven was protected by two 9.2-inch and six 6-inch guns.[55][56]

The coastal artillery regiments had been reorganised in September 1940, with the Pembroke regiment becoming 532nd (Pembroke) Coast Regiment.[2][57][58]

By the end of 1944, serious naval attacks on the United Kingdom could be discounted and the War Office began reorganising surplus coastal units into infantry battalions for duties in the rear areas. Meanwhile 21st Army Group fighting in North West Europe was suffering a severe manpower shortage, particularly among the infantry. In January 1945, the War Office accelerated the conversion of surplus artillery into infantry units, primarily for line of communication and occupation duties, thereby releasing trained infantry for frontline service.[59] In early 1945, 532nd Coast Rgt reorganised to the infantry role as 620th (Pembroke) Infantry Regiment, RA, though it does not appear to have served overseas.[2][58][60]

The regiment was placed in suspended animation in 1946[2]

Postwar

When the TA was reconstituted in 1947, the Pembroke coast artillery was reformed as two regiments:[2][61][62]

  • 424 (Pembrokeshire) Coast Rgt at Milford Haven
  • 425 (Pembrokeshire) Coast Rgt at Pembroke Dock

Both regiments formed part of 104 Coast Brigade, but the following year 424 Coast Rgt reorganised as 424 (Pembrokeshire) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Rgt. It was disbanded in 1950, with some personnel transferring to 302 (Pembroke Yeomanry) Field Rgt and some to 109 Transport Column, Royal Army Service Corps.[2][61][62]

In 1953, 425th (Pembrokeshire) Coast Rgt amalgamated with 664 (Glamorgan) Coast Rgt to form 408 Coast Rgt, which changed its title to 408 (Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire) Coast Rgt the following year. The new unit was based at the Defensible Barracks, Pembroke Dock, with 425 Rgt providing P and Q Btys.[2][62][63][64]

In 1956 the regiment was broken up again and the Pembroke batteries were amalgamated with 302 (Pembroke Yeomanry) Field Rgt, while the Glamorgan Btys amalgamated with 281st (Glamorgan Yeomanry) Field Rgt[2][63][64][65][66]

The Pembroke Yeomanry reverted to their 'cavalry' role in 1961 as a unit of the Royal Armoured Corps, ending the artillery lineage.[65][66]

Honorary Colonels

The following served as Honorary Colonel of the unit:[51]

  • Hugh Edwardes, 6th Baron Kensington,CMG, DSO, appointed 12 February 1909, died 4 March 1938[67]
  • J.L. Adams, TD, appointed 21 January 1939

Notes

  1. London Gazette, 14 October 1910.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Litchfield, p. 204.
  3. Litchfield, p. 81.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Conrad 1914.
  5. Milford Haven at Drill Hall Project.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Pembrokeshire at Great War Centenary Drill Halls.
  7. Fishguard at Drill Hall Project.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Monthly Army List August 1914.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Lawes.
  10. Becke, Pt 2b, p. 6.
  11. WO Instruction No 248 of October 1914.
  12. Sir John Eldridge's account in MacDonald, Pro Patria, p. 162.
  13. Army Council Instructions, 1915–1916.
  14. War Office Instructions for October 1915.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 MacDonald, Pro Patria, pp. 188–9.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 16.7 16.8 16.9 'Allocation of Siege Batteries RGA', The National Archives (TNA), Kew, file WO 95/5494/4.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Becke, Pt 4, pp. 92–8.
  18. Becke, Pt 4, p. 177.
  19. MacDonald, Pro Patria, pp. 161, 181, 198–9; Appendix 1.
  20. MacDonald, Lack of Offensive Sprit, pp. 106, 219–21, 225–6, 243–4, 248–9, 254–6, 262.
  21. Edmonds, 1916, Vol I, p. 460.
  22. Edmonds, '1916, Vol I, pp. 462–4, 471–3.
  23. MacDonald, Lack of Offensive Spirit, pp. 423–4.
  24. MacDonald, Pro Patria Mori, pp. 528–30.
  25. Ward, pp. 37–44.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 'Allocation of HA Groups', TNA file WO 95/5494/1.
  27. Blaxland, pp. 251–2.
  28. Edmonds & Maxwell-Hyslop, pp. 295–8, 308–15, 318, 325.
  29. Farndale, Western Front, pp. 307–9; Annex M.
  30. Army Council Instructions for June 1916.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Becke, Pt 4, pp. 114–7.
  32. Farndale, Western Front, p. 181.
  33. Farndale, Western Front, pp. 195–204.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Becke, Pt 4, pp. 84–5.
  35. Farndale, Western Front, pp. 211–13.
  36. Wolff, pp. 223–35, 249–51.
  37. Farndale, Forgotten Fronts, pp. 178, 183.
  38. Farndale, Forgotten Fronts, pp. 184–5.
  39. Falls, pp. 89–92, 131–2, 143, 157–67.
  40. Campbell, pp. 96–100.
  41. 41.0 41.1 Shepard, in Campbell, p. 125.
  42. Thompson, pp. 328–30, 344–7.
  43. Kurt Peball, 'The Piave: Austria's last Throw', Purnell's History of the First World War, Vol 7, No 6, pp. 2833–8.
  44. Campbell, pp. 101–4.
  45. Falls, pp. 169-77.
  46. Farndale, Forgotten Fronts, pp. 189–92.
  47. Thompson, pp. 356–64.
  48. Franco Velsecchi, 'Vittorio Veneto', Purnell's History of the First World War, Vol 7, No 14, pp. 3064–71.
  49. Army Council Instructions April 1917.
  50. Farndale, Forgotten Fronts, Annexes 4 and 7.
  51. 51.0 51.1 Amy List, various dates.
  52. Titles & Designations 1927.
  53. Collier, Chapter III.
  54. Western Command 3 September 1939 at Patriot Files.
  55. 55.0 55.1 Farndale, Years of Defeat, Annex B.
  56. Collier, Appendix XIX.
  57. Farndale, Years of Defeat, Annex M.
  58. 58.0 58.1 532 Coast Rgt at RA 39–45.
  59. Ellis, pp. 141–2, 369, 380.
  60. 620 Rgt at RA 39–45.
  61. 61.0 61.1 Watson, TA 1947.
  62. 62.0 62.1 62.2 414–443 Rgts RA at British Army 1945 on.
  63. 63.0 63.1 Litchfield, p. 83.
  64. 64.0 64.1 372–413 Rgts RA at British Army 1945 on.
  65. 65.0 65.1 Litchfield, p. 203.
  66. 66.0 66.1 289–322 Rgts RA at British Army 1945 on.
  67. Burke's.

References

  • Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 2b: The 2nd-Line Territorial Force Divisions (57th–69th), with the Home-Service Divisions (71st–73rd) and 74th and 75th Divisions, London: HM Stationery Office, 1937/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-847347-39-8.
  • Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 4: The Army Council, GHQs, Armies, and Corps 1914–1918, London: HM Stationery Office, 1944/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-847347-43-6.
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  • Gen Sir Martin Farndale, History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery: The Forgotten Fronts and the Home Base 1914–18, Woolwich: Royal Artillery Institution, 1988, ISBN 1-870114-05-1.
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  • Lt-Col M.E.S. Lawes, Battery Records of the Royal Artillery, 1859–1877, Woolwich: Royal Artillery Institution, 1970.
  • Norman E.H. Litchfield, The Territorial Artillery 1908–1988 (Their Lineage, Uniforms and Badges), Nottingham: Sherwood Press, 1992, ISBN 0-9508205-2-0.
  • Alan MacDonald, Pro Patria Mori: The 56th (1st London) Division at Gommecourt, 1st July 1916, 2nd Edn, West Wickham: Iona Books, 2008, ISBN 978-0-9558119-1-3.
  • Alan MacDonald, A Lack of Offensive Spirit? The 46th (North Midland) Division at Gommecourt, 1st July 1916, West Wickham: Iona Books, 2008, ISBN 978-0-9558119-0-6.
  • Purnell's History of the Second World War, London: Purnell, 1969–71.
  • Mark Thompson, The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915–1919, London: Faber & Faber, 2008, ISBN 978-0-571-22333-6.
  • Maj C.H. Dudley Ward, The Fifty Sixth Division, 1st London Territorial Division, 1914–1918, London: John Murray, 1921/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2001, ISBN 978-1-843421-11-5.
  • War Office, Instructions Issued by The War Office during October, 1914, London: HM Stationery Office, 1917.
  • War Office, Instructions Issued by The War Office during October, 1915, London: HM Stationery Office.
  • War Office, Army Council Instructions issued during June, 1916, London: HM Stationery Office.
  • War Office, Army Council Instructions issued during October, 1917, London: HM Stationery Office.
  • War Office, Titles and Designations of Formations and Units of the Territorial Army, London: War Office, 7 November 1927 (RA sections also summarised in Litchfield, Appendix IV).
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External sources

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