The Royal Artillery in the First World War

This section of the Long, Long Trail will be helpful for anyone wishing to find out about the history of the units of the British artillery.

“According to military historian John Terraine in his excellent White Heat – the new warfare 1914-18, “The war of 1914-18 was an artillery war: artillery was the battle-winner, artillery was what caused the greatest loss of life, the most dreadful wounds, and the deepest fear”.

Royal Air Force aerial photographs of an enemy village taken before and after a prolonged period of bombardment by the Royal Artillery. Note the obliteration of all natural features. Imperial war Museum image Q12222. The photograph on the right shows the entire area covered with the craters left by the explosion of artillery shells on impact with the ground.

Royal Air Force aerial photographs of an enemy village taken before and after a prolonged period of bombardment. by the Royal Artillery. Note the obliteration of all natural features. Imperial war Museum image Q12222. The photograph on the right shows the entire area covered with the craters left by the explosion of artillery shells on impact with the ground. The viewer can just about see the remains of the characteristic five-legged road junction on the right of the left-hand photograph.

Introduction

The Royal Regiment of Artillery at the time of the Great War comprised three elements:

  • The Royal Horse Artillery: armed with light, mobile, horse-drawn guns that in theory provided firepower in support of the cavalry and in practice supplemented the Royal Field Artillery.
  • The Royal Field Artillery: the most numerous arm of the artillery, the horse-drawn RFA was responsible for the medium calibre guns and howitzers deployed close to the front line and was reasonably mobile. It was organised into brigades.
  • The Royal Garrison Artillery: developed from fortress-based artillery located on British coasts. From 1914 when the army possessed very little heavy artillery it grew into a very large component of the British forces. It was armed with heavy, large calibre guns and howitzers that were positioned some way behind the front line and had immense destructive power.

During the war, the army (through technical development and joint working) was also able to deploy:

  • Trench mortar batteries: a whole new form of artillery developed to meet the unusual conditions of war on the Western Front. The lighter mortars weremanned by the regiments of infantry, while the RFA provided the manpower for the heavier mortars.
  • Batteries of the Royal Marine Artillery.

Details of history and organisation of artillery units

Depots, training and other home-based units

Units of the Royal Horse Artillery

Units of the Royal Field Artillery

Heavy Batteries of the Royal Garrison Artillery

Siege Batteries of the Royal Garrison Artillery

Mountain Batteries of the Royal Garrison Artillery

Royal Garrison Artillery Companies

Royal Marine Artillery

Artillery in action

Article: How the British artillery developed and became a war-winning factor in 1914-1918

Article: The development of Trench Mortar Batteries

Article: Development of British anti-aircraft artillery in the First World War

Article: Artillery communication letter codes