1st Field Artillery Brigade 1st Brigade, 1st Division, AIF

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About This Unit

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The 1st Field Artillery Brigade formed in Australia prior to embarkation in late  1914 to support the newly raised 1st Division. 

  • 1st Field Artillery Brigade August 1914 – November 1918, comprising

    • 1st Field Artillery Battery

    • 2nd Field Artillery Battery

    • 3rd Field Artillery Battery

    • 101st Field Artillery (Howitzer) Battery

    • 1st Brigade Ammunition Column

It went on to serve in ANZAC: Defence of ANZAC, Egypt: Defence of Egypt, Western Front:  Pozieres Retreat to the Hindenburg Line, Bullecourt, Messines, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Passchendaele, Ancre, Villers Bretonneux, Hamel, Amiens, Albert, Hindenburg Line.

Napoleon Bonaparte famously described Artillery as "the God of War" because of the effect that its fire can bring to bear on the battlefield.  In WW 1 on the Western Front, artillery dominated and defined the battlefield. In concert with the weather, it turned the terrain into the pulverised devastated quagmire that is so synonomous with that period and place. 

Artillery inflicted the most casualties and battle space damage and instilled the most fear among opposing forces. Its effect was both physical and psychological, with the term 'shell shock' coming into general use early in the war.  Artillery required a Herculean logistic effort to keep ammunition up to the guns from manufacture to the gun line. It was also a very dangerous occupation, attracting the attention of the enemy, the general result of which was 'counter battery fire' designed to neutralise and destroy gun positions and ammunition.

At the outbreak of the War, Australian Artillery was in short supply in both quantitative and qualitative terms.  The standard 'fire unit' of artillery is a Battery comprising variously four to six guns described as light medium or heavy depending on the equipment, calibre and weight of shell. 

The standard field gun was the British 18 pounder (so-called because of the weight of the high explosive shell).  When the AIF embarked, its artillery was light-on indeed.  As it turned out the scope to use it at Gallipoli was extremely constrained anyway so it mattered less than had the AIF gone straight to Europe, where artillery was the definitive feature of the battlefield. 

At ANZAC, guns were deployed singly purely becasue of a lack of suitable fire positions.  The 18 pounders were the first into action but later an improvised heavy Battery was formed with two  6 inch (150mm) howitzers and a 4.7 inch (120mm) Naval Quick Firing gun.

Artillery units had arguably the least intuitive structure and organisation of any of the major Corps in the AIF. This in part reflected changing priority and availability of equipment. As the war progressed, concentration to facilitate command and control at the highest level, became a defining characteristic of the structure of artillery units (generally and somewhat confusingly called Field Artillery Brigades, - rather than the contemporary term 'regiments' - which were aggregations of like Batteries). Specialised sub units (Batteries equipped with specialised weapons like Siege Artillery, Heavy Howitzers and Medium and Heavy Mortars) were raised and allocated across the AIF generally at Division and Corps level.  The allocation of their fire support.was similarly controlled.

The standard organisation of Field Artillery took on the form of the Field Artillery Brigade which were formed to support infantry divisions. In 1914 and 1915 the First and Second Division each had three brigades (initially corresponding to the Brigade numeric designation) equipped with 12 x 18 pounder field guns.  On arrival in France, the artillery was reorganised with each field artillery brigade having 12 x 18 pounders and 4 x 4.5 inch howitzers. There was initially a lack of howitzers available to meet the establishment.

Each Brigade generally comprised three Batteries of four 18 Pounder Mk 1 or II guns. With a range of about 6,500 yards (almost 6km) they fired a range of ammuntion natures including High Explosive fragmentation, Shrapnel, Smoke, Gas, Star (illumination) and Armour Piercing projectiles.

In March 1916 a fourth battery of four 18 pounder field guns was added. At the same time a Howitzer Brigade was raised for each division with 12 x 4.5 inch howitzers each.

In January 1917, batteries were increased in size to 6 guns each in order to economise on headquarters structures and the number of Field Artillery Brigades in each division was reduced to two.

 

 Steve Larkins Nov 2014

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