What was an artillery brigade?

The Brigade was the basic tactical unit of the field artillery of the British army in the Great War of 1914-1918. It was composed of a Brigade Headquarters and a number of batteries of guns or howitzers. At full establishment, a brigade of 18-lbr field guns consisted of 795 men of whom 23 were officers. For a 4.5-inch howitzer brigade, this was 755 and 22. The following notes refer to the establishment of a field gun brigade. Where howitzer brigade details differ, they are highlighted.

Brigade HQ

The Brigade was usually commanded by an officer with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Brigade HQ also had two other officers : a Captain or Lieutenant filled the role of Adjutant (in charge of administration); similarly a Captain or Lieutenant was the Orderly Officer (responsible for stores and transport); an officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps was attached, as was an officer of the Veterinary Corps.

Brigade HQ also included a Sergeant-Major plus two Corporals, two Bombardiers, nine Drivers, 7 Gunners, a Clerk, and aTrumpeter. These filled roles as signallers, telephonsists and assisted with range-taking duties. A Corporal and 3 privates of the Royal Army Medical Corps were attached for water duties; 8 Gunners acted as Officers Batmen (personal servants), and 2 as Orderlies for the Medical Officer. The Brigade HQ was in command of 3 Batteries and an Ammunition Column.


Batteries

Usually lettered A to D, each of the Batteries numbered 198 heads at full establishment. Each was commanded by a Major or Captain, with a Captain as Second-in-Command, and 3 Lieutenants or Second-Lieutenants in charge of 2-gun sections. Battery establishment also included a Battery Sergeant-Major , a Battery Quartermaster Sergeant , a Farrier-Sergeant, 4 Shoeing Smiths (of which 1 would be a Corporal), 2 Saddlers, 2 Wheelers, 2 Trumpeters, 7 Sergeants, 7 Corporals, 11 Bombardiers, 75 Gunners, 70 Drivers and 10 Gunners acting as Batmen.

tipTip: how do I find out my soldier's brigade? This will be given on his army service record if it exists. For artillerymen who went overseas in 1914, their brigade when they embarked is often shown on their medal index card. But for others, where the man's service record dose not exist it can be virtually impossible to find or deduce the brigade. The exception to this relates to the brigades of the Territorial Force, where new numbers issued in 1917 allow direct deduction of the brigade.

Brigade ammunition column

The Ammunition Column numbered 158 heads. Commanded by a Captain, with 3 Lieutenants or Second-Lieutenants, the job of the BAC was to bring ammunition and other supplies to the Battery positions from the Divisional dumps. It was divided into two sections. BAC establishment also included a Battery Sergeant-Major , a Battery Quartermaster Sergeant , a Farrier-Sergeant, 4 Shoeing Smiths (of which 1 would be a Corporal), 2 Saddlers, 2 Wheelers, a Trumpeter, 4 Sergeants, 5 Corporals, 5 Bombardiers, 30 Gunners, 96 Drivers and 3 Gunners acting as Batmen. Brigade Ammunition Columns disappeared in May 1916, when they were reorganised into Divisional Ammunition Columns.

Also on the strength of the Brigade

Included in the figures shown above were 34 Acting Bombardiers (one stripe; the equivalent of a Lance-Corporal). They were the Medical Officer's orderly, plus 9 in each Battery and 8 in the BAC. Each Brigade had a detachment at its Base Depot which did not take the field when the Brigade was on active service. The Base Detachment consisted - in theory - of a subaltern, 2 Sergeants, 5 Drivers and 41 Gunners to form a first reinforcement (to make good Brigade casualties or other losses); 4 Storemen, and a Sergeant-Clerk (who was on the headcount of the Records Section of the Adjutant-General's Office).

Brigade arms and equipment

At the outbreak of war, field gun batteries of the regular army had 6 guns, and those of the Territorial Force 4 guns. The standard weapons, which did not alter during the war other than by technical improvements, were the 18-lbr field gun, and the 4.5-inch howitzer.

Ammunition stock (rounds per gun, planned) 18-lbr 4.5-inch How.
At the battery position 176 108
With the Brigade Ammunition Column 76 48
With the Divisional Ammunition Column 126 44
At the Divisional Ammunition Park 150 80
Other reserves, on Lines of Communication 472 520
Total rounds per gun in the field (minimum) 1000 800

Changes during the war

In 1914 a Division had 3 Field Brigades and 1 Howitzer Brigade. The Howitzer Brigades at Divisional level were broken up during May 1916, and the sections allocated to join the field gun Brigades, usually of the same Division. In January 1917, one of each Division's three Brigades was taken under Army control. Brigade Ammunition Columns disappeared in May 1916, when they were reorganised into Divisional Ammunition Columns.

Battle reality

As the war progressed it became icreasingly rare for a Brigade to be at full establishment with regard to men. Equipment was lost, damaged or destroyed, and not always replaced quickly or fully. Field guns and howitzers were sometimes lost or abandoned to the enemy, if his infantry penetrated the infantry positions. The guns would almost always be destroyed first if possible, by removing the gunsights or exploding a charge in the barrel or breech.