1. British Artillery.
2. Artillery Equipment and Horses.
3. Artillery Train.
4. The Rockets.
5. Sources and Links.
Combat at Coa: "The [British] artillery attached to the Reserve
"... some [rockets] actually turned back upon ourselves -
Picture: British artillery at Waterloo, by Keith Rocco.
French infantrymen were so frightened
The Royal Regiment of Artillery originated in early 1700s to ensure that a regular force of gunners was readily available. The Regiment expanded rapidly and has seen service in campaigns worldwide. By 1771 there were 32 companies of artillery formed in four battalions, as well as 2 Invalid Companies employed in garrison duties. In 1793, four troops of Royal Horse Artillery were raised to provide fire support for the cavalry. The Royal Irish Artillery was absorbed in 1801.
The British artillery of the Napoleonic Wars was well trained, efficient and motivated. Ther officers were very much educated professionals. They did not, could not, buy their commissions or promotions. However, the effects of all this excellent training and schooling was often negated by the small size of the artillery corps and the fact that promotion was by seniority rather than by merit.
The battery had 6 pieces and was divided into 3 divisions with 2 guns each.
Each division was under the command of a subaltern officer.
In November 1808 the artillery was organised as follow:
At Waterloo the British had:
In 1812 at Salamanca the artillery was under Ltn.-Col. Hoylet Framingham
In 1813 at Vittoria the artillery under Ltn.-Col. Alexander Dickson.
In 1815 at Waterloo Wellington's artillery was under Lt-Col. Sir George Wood.
Picture: uniforms of British foot gunners, by Timothy Reese.
Prior to 1808 the hair of foot gunner was worn in a queue and powdered. Buttons for the men were flat brass of the post 1803 pattern. Each man was supposed to have two pairs of shoes. They lasted for only a short time. Black woolen gaiters were worn fastened up to the knee cap. They were strapped under the shoe and buttoned on the outer side. Shorter, grey, versions were worn under the trousers. When breeches were worn the gaiter was held up by a button at the back of the knee of the breeches. Breeches came well up over the hips and below to the calves of the leg.
For campaign the gunners wore loose white or grey trousers. Originally they were worn over the breeches and gaiters. Later they were worn in their own right as trousers and the buttoned side fly was abandoned.
The coat was blue, single breasted and buttoned to the waist.
Junior NCOs and lance sergeants wore yellow worsted chevrons to denote their rank.
The collar was of red serge, three inches deep and lined about by flat yellow worsted lace.
The red shoulder straps had a yellow crest or roll where they were sewn to the shoulder of the tunic and were pointed at the other where they were secured close to the collar by a button.
The foot gunners wore shakos. The 'Tarleton' helmet and the tailless dolman of the horse gunners were in imitation of the light dragoons (1799).
British vs French and Prussian artillery.
The French had a high opinion about the British artillery. General Maximilien Foy writes: "The artillery holds the first rank in the army; it is better paid, its recruits are more carefully selected, and its period of enlistment is limited to 12 years. The gunners are distinguished from other soldiers by their excellent spirit. In battle they display judicious activity, a perfect coup d'oeil, and stoical bravery. ...
The British however considered the French gunners as more daring than they were themselves. For example the French gunners on many occassions (at Heilsberg 1807, Wagram 1809, Borodino 1812, Leipzig 1813 etc. etc.) mounted up and with sabers in hands attacked the enemy.
Comparison of the ammunition provision for the 12pdrs cannons
The British canister used fewer balls than its French counterpart,
approximate company sized screens.
(Paddy Griffith - "French Artillery" p 14)
(Anthoy Dawson - "Wellington’s Big Bang:
the British 12-pounders")
Wellington and artillery.
"With the exception of 2 or 3 artillery officers who had served him well in the Peninsula, such as Frazer and Dickson, the Duke was particularly cool towards gunner officers. In fact the corps as a whole found it unusually hard to win praise, or even recognition, no matter how much it contributed to victory." ( - Mark Adkin)
Wellington was not satisfied with his artilery after Waterloo. He wrote: "To tell the truth, I was not very pleased with the Artillery. They received the order not to shoot against the enemy's guns, only against his troops. It was difficult to get them to follow this order. ... We could not expect them to stand and die there, instead the officers and men were ordered to retreat to the squares (like I and my staff), until their cavalry was driven away. ... But they did no such thing. They ran from the battlefield, took with them the slow match, ammunition, and everything else. After we beat back the enemy's attacks and could have made good use of the artillery, we had no gunners. Actually, I would have had no artillery for the second part of the battle if I had not formed a reserve at the beginning." The gunners that ran into squares before the cavalry and "then returned to serve the guns again once the charges had passed, were rather the exception than the rule."
Wellington however wrote admiringly of the effectiveness of shrapnels.
Wellington never worked with big numbers of guns on the battlefield. He usually dotted the guns along battleline. The artillery was there only to support the infantry and it worked for him. Except one or two battles there were no concentrations of guns to break enemy's line or to support a massive attack of infantry or cavalry as did the French. The French were also superior in tactics, leadership and organization of artillery. The British artillery staff system at Waterloo appears cumbersome.
Artillery Equipment and Horses.
The field artillery in 1802 consisted of 3pdrs, 6pdrs, and 12pdrs and the park 12pdrs and light 24pdrs. The medium 12pdrs cannon was adopted for use by the horse artillery in 1792 (modelled on the Prussian practice). The artillery introduced the 9pdr cannons into service c.1809 and these fought alongside the 12pdrs. The 9pdr cannon was heavier and less manoeuvrable than the 6pdr and required more horses to draw it.
The cannon barrels were brass, with the carriages, wheels and limbers painted grey, while metal parts were black. The British gunpowder, carriages and limbers were probably the best in Europe. The pieces fired cannonballs, canister, and Shrapnell's spherical case-shots. "In battles, the artillery made most copious and effective use of a kind of hollow bullet, called Shrapnell's spherical case-shot, from the name of the inventor" (- General Foy).
"It has long been considered by artillery historians or commentators on the subject, that the Royal Artillery in the Peninsula lacked any field guns that could match the French 8- and 12-pounders; it is obvious from these returns that the British did have 12-pounders in the field brigades and therefore would have had guns that were able to reply to them. The British had and used a 12-pounder field gun.
Strength of British artillery in Peninsula on 1st November 1808 (by Ltn.-Col. William Robe):
The "... guns of the largest calibre must be posted in those points from whence the enemy can be discovered at the greatest distance, and from whence may be seen the whole extent of his front ... to place a strong battery in the center; this should be composed of the guns of the heaviest calibre, and it should be posted in the interval between the right and left wing, by which means it does not offer a double object for the enemy to fire at." (- Adye )
Henry Shrapnel was born in 1761, the youngest of Zachariah Shrapnel’s 9 children. All his life he was to spend his money on the inventions. When he was 18, he became a cadet at the Royal Military Academy in London. All cadets were trained in the technology of artillery but for Shrapnel it became an obsession. In 1784 Lieutenant Shrapnel developed an anti-personnel weapon called by him 'spherical case' shot. His shell was a hollow cast-iron sphere filled with a mixture of balls and powder, with a crude time fuse. If the fuse was set correctly then the shell would break open, either in front or above the intended target, releasing the musket balls. The explosive charge in the shell was to be just enough to break the casing rather than scatter the shot in all directions. As such his invention increased the effective range of canister shot from 300 to about 1100 m.
It took until 1803 for the British artillery to adopt it. Wellington used it beginning in 1808 and also in the Battle of Waterloo, and wrote admiringly of its effectiveness. Admiral Sir Sydney Smith was so enthusiastic that he ordered 200 shells at his own expense. Wellington’s gunnery commander Colonel Robe said, "no fire could be more murderous." French infantrymen were so frightened by the casualties that they were often taken prisoner lying down !
"In his lifetime Shrapnel was a forgotten and bitter man. The very success of his weapon kept its origins shrouded in secrecy on Wellington’s orders." (- J. Southworth July 28, 1994 )
NOTE: The French used captured pieces, Russian, Prussian, Austrian and British. Napoleon was very interested in British shrapnells. One howitzer and 2 waggons filled with shrapnells were captured at the battle of Albuera (1811). Napoleon ordered General Eblé, to have experiments carried out to determine the mode of loading these shells. Thenceforth Napoleon attached great importance to their property of bursting on graze and projecting their contents as far as possible.
Artillery Horses (and Elephants).
In 1801 Major General Lawson indicated that the draught animals (used by the Royal Artillery) were rejected horses from the dragoon regiments. According to Anthony Leslie Dawson "one can say that the lack of British artillery in the Peninsula was not due to small numbers of gun in use by the army, but due to the lack of horses to transport them. Various improvised schemes appear to have been adopted, such as moving the guns and limbers on bullock carts or dismantling them and man-handling them. It would also appear than any horse or mule that could be drafted into artillery service, was, such was the chronic shortage of animals. This shortage ultimately led to the reduction in the size of the Brigades, in some cases by half."
The 10th Battery at Assaye. Picture by David Rowlands.
This unit was originally formed in 1755 as the 3rd Company Bombay Artillery
At the time of formation it was equipped with cannons pulled by elephants.
According to Adkin until 1793 the British guns and wagon teams for the movement of artillery were in the hands of hired civilians. This was a wretched arrangement that frequently saw drivers abandoning their horses as soon as they heard the first shots on the battlefield.
In 1793 the Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers was formed. It had own officers and was, supposedly, a disciplined body. However, it quickly develped a reputation as a 'nest of infamy', as one officer described it in Spain. There was a lot of drunkenness and absence. At Waterloo about half of the 5.300 artillerymen in Wellington's army were drivers. Mercer's 9pdrs had 8 horses pulling each gun at Waterloo, although they usually had 6. Many of these animals were from Ireland.
General Foy wrote: "The English got the start of the French in the formation of the artillery-train: the first trials of it were made in 1793, under the auspices of the Duke of Richmond, then Master-general of the Ordnance. The corps of Royal Artillery Drivers is organized as soldiers. Very high prices are paid for the horse employed to draw the guns, and they are, consequently, extremely good. The harness is as good as that used in French carriages. No nation can rival the English in the equipment and speed of their conveyances."
In horse artillery teams of 8 horses drew all 9pdr cannons and limbers, the left horse being ridden by a driver. If the battery had, let say, 120 horses, 48 were pulling the 6 guns and limbers, 44 were hauling the 9 ammunition wagons, and 18 pulling the remaining wagons (6 for the carriage wagon, and 12 for the 3 other wagons). There were also spare horses (Mercer's battery at Waterloo had 30 of them !) It was not until 7 years after Waterloo did drivers become an integral part of every horse battery (troop).
The story about rockets starts with ... gunpowder which was probably used to fumigate houses by the Chinese in about 700 BC. In Europe already in 1730s a German artillery colonel, C. F. von Geissler, was manufacturing rockets. The British troops fighting in India found themselves engaged against the Mogol forces of Tippoo Sultan of Mysore who used rockets in 1792 at the Battle of Seringapatam. Seeing an interesting thing, the English adopted the rocket as a weapon and used it against the French, Danes and the Americans.
By 1808, the projectile had been modified by Englishman Sir W. Congreve for a land combat. He was son of Lt. General Sir William Congreve, the Comptroller of the Royal Laboratories at the Royal Arsenal.
Congreve's rockets came in 6 different calibres: 3, 6, 9,12, 18 and 24 pounds and consisted of a steel case, which had a conical or spherical head and was filled with black gunpowder. The warheads were attached to guide-poles and were launched in pairs. It was set by the degree of elevation of the launching frame and flew relatively slowly up tp 2,000 metres. The rockets could outrange the guns of the time.
The aim of the rockets however was notoriously inaccurate and very often prematurely exploded. Loud explosion, red glare and a very occasional hit created an impressive demoralising effect.
Rockets in combat.
The first use of rockets by the British against the French was in 1806, at the bombardment of Boulogne.
The rocket troops were used in 1807 during a naval attack on neutral Copenhagen (Denmark). Approx. 25,000 rockets were launched which burnt hundreds of buildings.
Rockets were used in naval attacks. At Flushing in 1809, they wrought such havoc that General Monnet made a formal protest to Lord Chatham against their use.
In 1813 British rocket troops fought in Germany at Gordhe where their first salvo was a failure as the rockets fell alarmingly close to the Swedish soldiers. The rockets moved forward and a second salvo was fired, and although also inaccurate, "Enemy troops not in the line of fire were considerably annoyed ".
The rockets were also used at Leipzig under the command of Bernadotte, the Crown Prince of Sweden. The rockets effectively bombarded the village of Paunsdorf. Russian monarch, Tsar Alexandr, was so impressed by their performance that he decorated the British officer with his own badge of Order of St. Anne.
The rockets were also used in 1814 in an unsuccessful British attack on Fort McHenry (USA).
In 1815 in Belgium, Mjr. Whinyates commanding the Rocket troop received orders from Wellington to supply his troop with 6pdr cannon in exchange for his rockets, to ensure his troop’s effectiveness. Eventually Wellington relented and allowed Whinyates to take 800 rounds of 12 pdr rockets as well as the guns. The Rocket Troops participated at the battles at Quatre Bras, Genappe, and Waterloo.
At Bladensburg (USA) the rockets fired by the Royal Navy stampeded the untrained raw militia. Rockets used at Baltimore were chiefly the heavy naval rockets fired from specially designed or modified ships and launches.
Wellington and rockets.
Wellington was not convinced of the capabilities of rockets as their main successes had been to bombard towns, causing fires and destroying the morale of the defenders. In Spain and southern France he could not use rockets on towns held by the French troops for the political fall out from extensive civilian casualties.
In November 1813 distrusting Wellington wrote to Earl Bathurst: ‘My dear Lord, I have received your letter of the 11th, regarding the Rocket Brigade. The only reason why I wished to have it was to get the horses; but as we are to have them at all events, I am perfectly satisfied. I do not want to set fire to any town, and I do not know any other use of the rockets." - signed Wellington
I can understand Wellington's negative opinion about rockets and their effectiveness.
But what about the "impressive demoralising effect" ? Well, actually not only the rockets but also the bursting common shell made a huge impression on the soldiers. The explosion created more terror than a solid but unvisible cannonball. A British soldier wrote " during shelling my comrade looks like a boy who is beginning an illness with shivering attacks, and in the frankest way he will tell you he is just petrified by the business." He added that the bursting shells had frightened more men away from the line than anything else. Other stated that every shell that fell near the troop seemed to be but the beginning of a new cataclysm. But not only the British were freightened by shells.
Sources and Links.
Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion"
Miller - "The History of Rockets"
Stine - "Handbook of Model Rocketry"
Mitton - "Roaring Rockets"
Nosworthy - "With Musket, Cannon, and Sword."
Picture of Ramsay's Battery - Keith Rocco.
History of the Royal Arsenal
A Brief History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery
Napoleon, His Army and Enemies