Guns

Royal Horse Artillery

The Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) was raised in 1793 and had the task of giving artillery support to the cavalry. With its soldiers all riding into battle on horses, wagons or limbers, the RHA was able to keep up with the fast moving mounted units. Six-horse teams were normally used to haul the RHA’s guns into action. The East India Company’s Bengal and Bombay Armies also formed their own horse artillery units on similar lines.

A battery of the Royal Horse Artillery galloping to a fresh position, 1911

A battery of the Royal Horse Artillery galloping to a fresh position, 1911
NAM. 1972-05-6-2

Once in position, horse artillery crews were trained to quickly dismount, unlimber their guns, then rapidly fire at the enemy. They could then just as rapidly limber up, remount and be ready to move to a new position, as in this painting by Harry Payne.

A classic use of horse artillery was against an enemy infantry square that had formed up to resist a cavalry charge. Firing grape shot into the massed ranks could break up the square and allow the cavalry to destroy it. Another common role for the RHA was as cover during the retreat of slower-moving units. Their speed of deployment meant they could also act as a rapid response force, repulsing attacks in a threatened sector of the battlefield.

Elephant

In ancient times elephants were used as weapons that charged the enemy in order to trample and terrify them. The famous Carthaginian general Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants and attacked the Romans during the Second Punic War (218-202 BC). Elephants could also carry or pull heavy loads.

While their use as war elephants eventually died out, their transport and logistics role continued right up to the 20th century. The Indian Army needed elephants to move its guns and supplies and assist in engineering projects.

Elephant pulling a field gun, Indian Mutiny, c1858

Elephant pulling a field gun, Indian Mutiny, c1858
NAM.1956-08-6-17

As late as the Second World War, elephants were still being used in India and Burma. This was not only as a means of transport, but also as a way of building bridges and roads in remote areas where it was impossible to use vehicles. The Indian elephant (shown here) reaches a height of three metres (10 feet), and is smaller than its African cousin. Although African elephants can be trained, the Indian elephant has the longer tradition of service to humans.

18-pounder battery

The horse-drawn 18-pounder was the main British artillery weapon of the First World War. With a crew of ten men and six horses, it could move quickly around the battlefield and fire 18-pound shrapnel, high explosive or smoke shells up to six kilometres (over 6,500 yards). In August 1914 the British Army was equipped with 1,226 of these guns. The 18-pounder remained horse-drawn until mechanisation in the 1930s.

A Royal Field Artillery 18-pounder battery towed into position on the Western Front, c1914

A Royal Field Artillery 18-pounder battery towed into position on the Western Front, c1914
NAM. 2007-03-7-140

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