Direct Support Affiliations in Brigade and Battlegroups Normandy 1944

Discussion in 'Royal Artillery' started by Sheldrake, Aug 6, 2016.

  1. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    During July and August 1944 British Armoured Divisions regrouped to form brigade groups and battlegroups for operations in the enclosed countryside of Normandy.

    E.g. in Operations BLUECOAT and KITTEN in August 1944 11th Armoured Division formed
    29th Armoured Brigade group (less 3RTR plus 2 Mons) with 13 RHA as the DS Regiment
    159th Brigade group (less 2 Mons + 3 RTR and 2 Northants Yeomanry)

    Each of these operated as two regiment/battalion all arms battle groups.

    The Guards Armoured Division did something very similar - arranged, according to ian Dagliesh in around 90 minutes.

    How did the direct support arrangements work for these units? Which of these is correct:-

    A. The Direct Support Regiment provided three BCs and six FOOs//LOs among the four units in the brigade group, with the BCs normally affiliated to 3RTR and 2 Mons swapping affiliations?

    B The BCs and FOOs retained their supported arm affiliations and moving with the unit?

    There were also LO parties from AGRA units, thus a BC from 25 Field Regiment becomes the DS BC for 12 KRRC, the left forward battlegroup of 29 Armd Bdr group, which also has a BC and FOOs from 13 RHA with the armoured regiment

    I can't find any clues in the war diaries, but calls for fire from both all battlegroups to a variety of gunner Regimental HQs.

    Can anyone case light on this?
  2. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Unfortunately I've not seen anything on how the Divs re-ordered things to accommodate the Group system, which impacted on S&T, Medical and Workshops to an extent as these were all structured to support one Armd Bde and one Inf Bde rather than two mixed groups.

    There's nothing in RA or RCA WEs to suggest a change in the provision of OPs in Fd Regts (towed or SP) up to war's end, though they may have done so in post-war issues (I believe the 1946 Armd Div moved to four Armd Regts, four Inf Bns, one Armd C Regt and one Mot Bn, with two SP Fd Regts).

    Given the Group system permanently paired an Armd Regt with an Inf Bn, was there still an expectation of one Bty per Bn sized unit? Once the Armd Recce becomes another Armd Regt, and the Mot Bn deploys whole (rather than divided up between the Armd Regts), you've got 8 'manoeuvre' units with only 6 Btys in Div Arty to support them. If an AGRA level Fd Regt were to be added to the mix that would allow one Bty per Bn/Regt as normal, but was that always the case? If Bde commands two mixed Groups though, each can have a Bty in support, with a third Bty in reserve to add its fire where required?

    That's a lot of question marks I know, but if there's nothing recorded in war diaries on the matter I can't think of who else would have been good enough to write the specifics down!

  3. idler

    idler GeneralList

    A seems much more likely as B implies cross-posting sub-unit commanders between the SP and towed Fd Regts.

    There was already an issue with the mismatch of resources at battery/battalion level (i.e. only three OP parties - BC + 2x Tp Ldrs per 4x coys, or 2x Tp Ldrs per 4x coys if the BC stayed with the Bn CO), so the new arrangements wouldn't have made a great deal of difference to the already-overworked OPs.

    The original div organisation implied that armd regts needed the same level of OP support as an inf bn. If we dispute this and take the infantry units as the core to which armour and artillery are attached, a possible advantage of the Bde Gp organisation is that our 9x OPs (3x BC + 6x Tp Ldrs) per Fd Regt divides out quite neatly into 8x OPs for the 8x inf coys per Bde Gp (let's not quibble over the Motor Bn's three-coy organisation) plus a spare. There are enough to go round and, in theory, they'd be able to go into reserve with their affiliated coys and get some rest. Of course, there are still only six troops to divide across the eight coy+sqn 'combat teams', but RHQ could handle the allocation of guns to OPs. In essence: separate the OPs from the guns and use RHQ as the link between the two. All that needed to give was the concept of true DS, i.e. a BC or Tp Ldr exclusively controlling his own guns.

    IIRC it was Carver who commented on OP availability whilst CO of 1 R Tks. He wasn't in a div at the time we're interested in so he wasn't in a position to tell how, or if, things changed later on.
  4. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Afterthought: it might be worth checking out the divisional CRA diaries to see if there are any reports on the restructuring?
  5. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    That was my starting point. The artillery operation orders for Op Bluecoat give instructions for the division to advance in two columns mixed infantry and armour with 13 HAC RHA in Direct Support of the left column based on 29 Armd Bde and 151 Fd in Direct Support of the Right column based on 159 Bde.(which has 3 RTR added)

    A week later the RA 11 Div OO for Op Grouse specified 159 brigade with 151 Fd Regt in DS and 3 RTR under command plus BC and two FOOs from 13 (HAC) RHA

    Then a week on OP Kitten has columns with the Regiments under command of the columns.

    Somewhere, I think in the history of 3 RTR is the comment that their BC and FOOs were always from 13 HAC. This can't have been true if their DS battery changed whenever the regiment was switched to 159 Brigade group.

    One answer to the OP conundrum is that Armoured Divisions were usually reinforced for a major operation - possibly a lesson learned in Op Goodwood. In Op Bluecoat 11th Armd Div had 25 Field Regiment and 77 Med Regt under command each of which which provided an OP party for each column - one of which under Major Mitchell ended up as the BC/LO FOO for the KRRC in 29 Armd Bde.

    At this stage of the Normandy campaign there was also quite a bit of swapping brigades. 53rd and 59th Divisions shuffled the pack around Thierry Harcourt while on Op Bluecoat One brigade from 3rd Infantry Division came under command 11th Armoured Division and a brigade from 15th Div was placed under command of the Guards Armoured Division giving the Corps four triangular divisions each with one armoured and two infantry brigades. I assume that the tac element of the gunners stayed with their brigade because anything else would be unworkable.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2016
  6. idler

    idler GeneralList

    If the OP parties stuck with their supported units rather than their own guns, the only conclusion I can draw is that it was easier for OPs to work with different guns than with different infantry. That 'feels' right in the context of standardised intra-arm procedures versus inter-arm 'relationships' that took time to build.
  7. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    Yes but...

    Technically if a Field Regiment has been placed under command of a brigade then its CO has no authority to detach BCs and OP parties to support a unit attached to another brigade. Whether that was applied in practice I don't know. Atts and dets are often forgotten about as operations are staffed by different HQ.

    The essence of the British field artillery system is that while guns were commanded at the highest level they were controlled at the lowest levels by OPs and BC parties trusted by gunen r chain of command. It is as important that the CO of a Gunner Regiment in direct support of a brigade has a set of human relationships with individuals as well as procedures. Maybe the strength of the Larkhill standardisation made it easier to ensure that Gunners could work together. There are stories that 7th Armoured Division was the exception with its own non standard terminology.

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