Royal Artillery - History

History

The introduction of artillery into the British Army came as early as the Battle of Crécy in 1346 but was not a permanent body, Henry VIII recognised what artillery could achieve and created a semi-permanent body of artillery. The recognition of the need for a permanent body of artillery however, did not happen until 1716.

Before the 18th century, artillery 'traynes' were raised by royal warrant for specific campaigns and disbanded again when they were over. On 26 May 1716, however, by royal warrant of George I two regular companies of field artillery, each 100 men strong, were raised at Woolwich. The title "Royal Artillery" (RA) was first used in 1720. On 1 April 1722 the two companies were increased to four and grouped with independent artillery companies at Gibraltar and Minorca to form the Royal Regiment of Artillery, commanded by Colonel Albert Borgard. In 1741 the Royal Military Academy was formed in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich (RWA) to provide training for RA and Royal Engineers (RE) officers. The regiment expanded rapidly and, by 1757, had 24 companies divided into two battalions, as well as a cadet company formed in 1741. During 1748, the presidential artilleries of Bengal, Madras and Bombay were formed. 1756 saw the creation of the Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery. In 1762 the Royal Artillery Band was formed at Minden. By 1771 there were 32 companies in four battalions, as well as two "invalid companies" comprising older and unfit men employed in garrison duties. During 1782, the regiment moved to the current Royal Artillery Barracks (front parade) on Woolwich Common. In January 1793, two troops of Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) were raised to provide fire support for the cavalry, augmented by two more in November 1793. All RHA personnel were mounted. The Royal Irish Artillery was absorbed into the RA in 1801. During 1805, the Royal Artillery moved to Woolwich Common. In 1819, the Rotunda was given to the regiment by the Prince Regent to celebrate end of the Napoleonic Wars. (It was originally built in St. James's Park as the outer casing of the tent in which the Prince Regent entertained the Allied sovereigns in 1814.) In 1832, the regimental mottoes were granted.

The regiment was under the control of the Board of Ordnance until the board was abolished in 1855. Thereafter the regiment came under the War Office along with the rest of the army. The School of Gunnery established at Shoeburyness, Essex in 1859. In 1862 the regiment absorbed the artillery of the British East India Company—21 horse batteries and 48 field batteries—which brought its strength up to 29 horse batteries, 73 field batteries and 88 heavy batteries.

On 1 July 1899, the Royal Artillery was divided into three groups: the Royal Horse Artillery of 21 batteries and the Royal Field Artillery of 95 batteries comprised one group, while the coastal defence, mountain, siege and heavy batteries were split off into another group named the Royal Garrison Artillery of 91 companies. The third group continued to be titled simply Royal Artillery, and was responsible for ammunition storage and supply. Which branch a gunner belonged to was indicated by metal shoulder titles (R.A., R.F.A., R.H.A., or R.G.A.). The RFA and RHA also dressed as mounted men, whereas the RGA dressed like foot soldiers. In 1920 the rank of Bombardier was instituted in the Royal Artillery. The three sections effectively functioned as separate corps. This arrangement lasted until 1924, when the three amalgamated once more to became one regiment. In 1938, RA Brigades were renamed Regiments. During World War II there were over 1 million men serving in 960 gunner regiments. In 1947 the Riding Troop RHA was renamed The King's Troop RHA and, in 1951, the title of the regiment's colonel-in-chief became Captain General.

The Royal Horse Artillery, which has always had separate traditions, uniforms and insignia, still retains a separate identity within the regiment.

Before the Second World War, Royal Artillery recruits were required to be at least 5 feet 4 inches (1.63 m) tall. Men in mechanised units had to be at least 5 feet 8 inches (1.73 m) tall. They initially enlisted for six years with the colours and a further six years with the reserve or four years and eight years. They trained at the Royal Artillery Depot in Woolwich.

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