Somerset Royal Horse Artillery

The Somerset Royal Horse Artillery was a Territorial Force Royal Horse Artillery battery that was formed in Somerset in 1908. It saw active service during the First World War in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign with the ANZAC Mounted Division from 1916 to 1918. A second line battery, 2/1st Somerset RHA, served on the Western Front with the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division from 1916 to 1918. It was disembodied after the end of the war and was not reconstituted in the Territorial Force in 1920.

The Territorial Force (TF) was formed on 1 April 1908 following the enactment of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 (7 Edw.7, c.9) which combined and re-organised the old Volunteer Force, the Honourable Artillery Company and the Yeomanry. On formation, the TF contained 14 infantry divisions and 14 mounted yeomanry brigades. Each yeomanry brigade included a horse artillery battery and an ammunition column.

On 18 March 1908, Somerset Royal Horse Artillery (Territorial Force) was proposed as a new unit and it was recognized by the Army Council on 30 September 1908 (and the ammunition column on 2 December 1908). The unit consisted of

The battery was equipped with four Ehrhardt 15-pounder guns and allocated as artillery support to the 2nd South Western Mounted Brigade.

In accordance with the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 (7 Edw.7, c.9) which brought the Territorial Force into being, the TF was intended to be a home defence force for service during wartime and members could not be compelled to serve outside the country. However, on the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914, many members volunteered for Imperial Service. Therefore, TF units were split into 1st Line (liable for overseas service) and 2nd Line (home service for those unable or unwilling to serve overseas) units. 2nd Line units performed the home defence role, although in fact most of these were also posted abroad in due course.

The battery was embodied with the 2nd South Western Mounted Brigade on 4 August 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War. The brigade was assigned to the Third Army of Central Force and moved to the Colchester area of Essex in August 1914 where it remained until September 1915. In late September 1915, the 2nd South Western Mounted Brigade (without the battery) was dismounted and left Essex for Liverpool en route to Gallipoli. The battery remained in the United Kingdom until February 1916 when it (and its ammunition column) was embarked at Southampton and transported to Alexandria in Egypt.

III Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery (T.F.) was formed in April 1916 in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force with the Leicestershire and Somerset Batteries, RHA.[a] It was assigned to the ANZAC Mounted Division to provide artillery support. In practice, the batteries were permanently attached to the mounted brigades of the division and Somerset RHA joined the Australian 2nd Light Horse Brigade.

The battery served with the ANZAC Mounted Division in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign throughout the rest of the war. With the division, it saw action at the Battle of Romani (4 - 14 August 1916) as part of No. 3 Section, Suez Canal Defences. This saw the repulse of the final Turkish attempt to cut the Suez Canal.

The division then joined the Desert Column and with it took part in the advance across the Sinai. It fought at the Battle of Magdhaba (23 December 1916) and the Battle of Rafah (9 January 1917). The batteries were then re-equipped with four 18 pounders each before taking part in the First (26 - 27 March 1917) and Second Battles of Gaza (17 - 9 April 1917).

In June 1917, the Desert Column was reorganised from two mounted divisions of four brigades each (ANZAC and Imperial Mounted Divisions) to three mounted divisions of three brigades each (ANZAC, Australian - Imperial Mounted Division renamed - and the new Yeomanry Mounted Division). Consequently, the 22nd Mounted Brigade was transferred from the ANZAC to the Yeomanry Mounted Division on 6 July 1917. With a reduction to three brigades, there was a corresponding reduction in the artillery to three batteries. The Leicestershire Battery departed on 20 June to join XX Brigade, RHA (T.F.) in the Yeomanry Mounted Division.[b]

This led to a reorganization of ANZAC Mounted Division's artillery. A new headquarters, XVIII Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery (T.F.), was formed for the division and took command of the Somerset Battery and Inverness-shire and Ayrshire Batteries of IV Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery (T.F.).[c] Somerset RHA was now attached to the 1st Light Horse Brigade. The batteries were still equipped with 18 pounders when the new brigade was organised but were re-equipped with 13 pounders (four per battery) in time for the Third Battle of Gaza at the end of October 1917.

The brigade, and its batteries, remained with the ANZAC Mounted Division for the rest of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. As part of the Desert Mounted Corps, the division took part in the Third Battle of Gaza, in particular the Capture of Beersheba (31 October) and the Battle of Mughar Ridge (13 and 14 November), and the defence of Jerusalem against the Turkish counter-attacks (27 November - 3 December).

At the beginning of 1918, the division was attached to XX Corps and helped to capture Jericho (19 - 21 February) and then formed part of Shea's Force for the First Trans-Jordan Raid (21 March - 2 April). It returned to the Desert Mounted Corps for the Second Trans-Jordan Raid (30 April - 4 May), the Battle of Abu Tellul (14 July) and the capture of Amman (25 September).

After the Armistice of Mudros, the division was withdrawn to Egypt. The Australian brigades departed for home in March and April 1919 and the New Zealanders by the end of July. The brigade was broken up some time after April 1919.

Somerset RHA formed a 2nd line in 1914, initially designated as the Somerset (Reserve) Battery RHA and later given a fractional designation as 2/1st Somerset Battery, RHA. 2/2nd South Western Mounted Brigade was formed in January 1915.

The pre-war Territorial Force infantry divisions were generally[d] supported by four field artillery brigades.[e] These were numbered I, II, III and IV within each division and consisted of three gun brigades (each of three batteries, equipped with four 15-pounder guns) and a howitzer brigade (two batteries of four 5" howitzers). Artillery for 2nd Line divisions were formed in a similar manner, with a fractional designation, for example the artillery for the 63rd (2nd Northumberland) Division consisted of 2/I Northumberland Brigade, RFA (with 2/1st, 2/2nd and 2/3rd Northumberland Batteries, RFA), 2/II Northumberland Brigade, RFA (with 2/1st, 2/2nd and 2/3rd East Riding Batteries, RFA), 2/III Northumberland Brigade, RFA (with 2/1st, 2/2nd and 2/3rd Durham Batteries, RFA) and 2/IV Northumberland (Howitzer) Brigade, RFA (with 2/4th and 2/5th Durham (Howitzer) Batteries, RFA).

Between 8 and 22 May 1916, the artillery of 63rd (2nd Northumberland) Division was reorganized. The brigades were numbered (CCCXV, CCCXVI, CCCXVII, and CCCXVIII) and the batteries lettered (so 2/1st Northumberland Battery became A Battery, CCCXV Brigade). The howitzer batteries of CCCXVIII Brigade were transferred to CCCXV and CCCXVI brigades and the brigade was reformed with three gun batteries. 2/1st Leicestershire RHA joined as A Battery and 2/1st Somerset RHA as B Battery. The batteries each consisted of four 18 pounders.

On 2 July 1916, the 63rd (2nd Northumberland) Division's artillery left for France where it joined the Royal Naval Division.[f] On 18 July, A (Howitzer) Battery of XXCCIII Brigade (formerly 1/4th Kent (Howitzer) Battery of 1/IV Home Counties (Howitzer) Brigade) joined the brigade as D (Howitzer) Battery. With the breakup of XXCCIII Brigade, CCCXVIII Brigade was redesignated XXCCIII Brigade on 31 July. On 31 August, the batteries of the brigade were made up to 6 guns apiece and the battery now consisted of six 18 pounders.

The battery, and the brigade, served with 63rd (Royal Naval) Division for the rest of the war on the Western Front. With the division, it took part in the Battle of the Ancre (13 - 15 November 1916), Operations on the Ancre (20 January - 27 February 1917) and Battle of Miraumont (17 and 18 February). It then took part in the Battles of Arras, notably the Second Battle of the Scarpe (23 and 24 April) and the Battle of Arleux (28 and 29 April). At the end of 1917, it took part in the Third Battle of Ypres notably the Second Battle of Passchendaele (26 October - 5 November) and Welch Ridge (30 and 31 December).

In 1918, the division faced the German offensive in the First Battles of the Somme: Battle of St. Quentin (21 - 23 March), First Battle of Bapaume (24 and 25 March), and the Battle of the Ancre (5 April). Then followed the advance to victory: the Battle of Albert (21 - 23 August), Battle of Drocourt-Queant Line (2 and 3 September), Battle of the Canal du Nord (27 September - 1 October), Battle of Cambrai and Capture of Niergnies (both on 8 October) and the Passage of the Grande Honnelle (7 November).

At the Armistice, the battery (six 18 pounders) was still with CCXXIII Brigade, RFA serving with 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. The division did was not selected to form part of the Army of Occupation and by April 1919 it had been disbanded.

The Somerset Royal Horse Artillery was not reconstituted in the Territorial Force in 1920.