39th Regiment RA - alias - 'The 39ers Club' (est. 2003)

History of 171 Battery RA

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171 (The Broken Wheel) Battery

Royal Artillery

 

171 ( The Broken Wheel) Battery became part of 37th Field Regiment in April 1947,

in June 1955 the Regiment amalgamated with 63rd HAA Regiment as 37th HAA Regiment.

The Battery remained with the Regiment whilst the Regiment served in Malta. When the Regiment returned to

the UK in September 1959 it was re-titled as 37th Guided Weapon Regiment (Anti-Aircraft) in November 1959.

The Battery was placed into Suspended Animation in October 1959.

 

Here is the story of how this Battery received its Honour Title "The Broken Wheel".

 

This battery was raised as the 2nd Battery Reserve Battalion of the Bombay Artillery in the year of

the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and was shortly afterwards plunged into service which tested it as no

peace-time soldiering could have done.

 

The rebel held City of Delhi had been recaptured and the siege of Lucknow was about to be

completed when General Sir Hugh Rose was given the task of clearing a vast area in Central India which

was still infested with large forces of mutinous sepoys, disaffected irregular troops, and evilly disposed

persons seeking plunder whereever they could find it. They were inspired, and to a great extent physically

led, by a most re-doubtable Indian princess the Rani of Jhansi, and an equally formidable rebel leader,

one Tantia Topi. The Rani's implacable hatred of British rule was accompanied by fiendish cruelty

towards any Europeans who fell into her hands, but she was at the same time a lady of dauntless

courage and great resource.

 

These two leaders used the great fortresses which dominated Central India as the pivots on which

they manoeuvred and brought into the field forces which far outnumbered those with which Sir Hugh

could counter them. The short campaign in which he cleared the whole area and signally defeated the rebel

armies is a model of bold offensive action. Armed primarily only with light guns and howitzers Sir Hugh's

2nd Brigade, supported by 2/Res Bn., Bombay Artillery, was first flung against the hill fortress of Rahatgarh

which it took after beating off a relieving force. Joined by Sir Hugh's 1st Brigade, the whole force swept

on to the fortress of Jhansi which was held by 10,000 Native levies and 1,500 rebel sepoys under

command of the Rani.

 

The City's fortified perimeter was 4 and a half miles in circumference with granite walls 20-30 feet high

and 6-12 feet thick, and with the usual bastions covering the approaches. In one corner was the Citadel,

towering high above the city on a huge rock with inner defences of daunting strength. To stand today on

the plain south of the city, alongside the fine memorial to the Rani, and to look up at this great fortress

dominating the surrounding country makes it seem incredible that it could have been taken by a force

of a total strength of less than 2,000 men.

 

There were two small hills a few hundred yards from the city walls and on them the breaching batteries

were established, one of them manned by 2/Res Bn. By nightfall of the first day of action practicable

breaches had been made, but, before the assault could be made, news came of the approach of a relieving

force, 22,000 strong with 25 guns, under Tantia Topi. Without the slightest hesitation Sir Hugh recalled

the columns that were poised for the storm, brought his guns out of action, and, with no more than

1,500 men, launched that tiny force in a head on action attack on the rebel army. The audacity of this

move, and the excellent support provided by his guns, utterly routed Tantia Topi's army which was

dispersed to the winds. Sir Hugh then returned to his siege, the storming columns flung themselves through

the breaches and the fortress was captured. The Rani however, who had often been seen with her ladies

in royal apparel on the ramparts during the siege, was let down a precipice below the walls and

escaped with her adopted son.

 

And so the campaign continued. The fortresses of Kunch and Kalpi were taken, and finally Gwalior -

another gigantic hill fort which had been the Capital of the Mahratta prince Sindhia - fell to this

invincible army and peace was restored to Central India. Having started its life in this stirring way,

under a commander to whom nothing was impossible, 2/3 Bombay Artillery (as the unit became in 1859)

was absorbed, with the other European units of the Indian Artilleries, into the Royal Artillery after

the Mutiny. It then led a quiet life until it went to war again to win its Honour Title in the

Egyptian campaign of 1882.

 

This war followed an armed rising in which Europeans in Alexandria were massacred and to counter which

an expedition was launced underSir Garnet Wolseley's command. With it went N/2 RA armed with 16

pounder RML guns, and, throughout the operations the loose sand of the desert was to prove a serious

obstruction to the movement of all wheeled vehicles and often prevented the ammunition wagons from

keeping up with the guns.

 

Landing at Ismailia the British force advanced towards the Nile delta, met and defeated the Egyptian army

at Kassassin, and finally confronted it in a well prepared and entrenched position at Tel-el-Kebir. It was

essential if the war was to be won quickly not merly to manoeuvre the enemy out of that position but

actually to crush him there for good.

 

It was decided to attack at dawn after an approach march by night. The latter difficult operation was to

be carried out by the two infantry and one cavalry divisions moving in line, in an echelon from the left with

all the seven field batteries, also in line, in an interval between the two infantry divisions.

The left hand infantry division arrived first at the enemy's entrenchments in the half light and was met by

a blaze of fire. Their attack was not at first completely successful but with the aid of their supports they

and the other division forced their way into the entrenchments where hand to hand fighting continued.

 

Meanwhile the guns had been halted until there was enough light to see what was going on; but, as dawn

broke, they were ordered forward to come into action inside the entrenchments in positions from which

they could engage the defences in enfilade. N/2 galloped forward with the rest and, in the words of an

officer of the battery writing just after the battle, "All of a sudden the smoke lifted like a curtain and

we found ourselves close to a long line of entrenchments....We at once went on and Major Branker found

an angle in the line just in front where the ditch was not so deep, so the right gun galloped straight at it.

It went with a bump into the ditch, and stuck fast on the face of the parapet, with most of the horses over;

but a lot of 42nd rushed to our help, and we lifted and shoved the gun over; but found one of the

wheels smashed to pieces".

 

 Though one of its guns had thus come to grief, since a gun with a broken wheel is a gun out of action for the

time being, N/2 brought its remaining guns into action inside the entrenchments and engaged the rearward

parts of the defences with effective shrapnel fire in enfilade at 1,000 yeard range. The enemy, flaided both

from the front and in flank, were broken up, the victory was complete, and N/2 obtained its

Honour Title of The Broken Wheel.

(Info. from 36 Regt RA website)

Drop Me a Line !
I'm; Michael (Cabby) Hughes

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Michael (Cabby) Hughes in 1962

 
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Michael (Cabby) Hughes in 2004

 
Michael (Cabby) Hughes
(Secretary - The 39ers Club)
35 Roman Rd.,
Blackburn, BB2 3EZ
Lancashire, UK
 
 
New e mail address:


as April 2014

 
Thank you for looking at
'The 39ers Club' 'website'.

I'm
Michael (Cabby) Hughes
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(Sep 2003) All Rights Reserved
 

Please Note

 

This (The 39ers Club) is a personal web site and has no official status. The contents and design of this site is by me and no other. I WISH TO THANK ALL THOSE WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO MY SITE.

I myself served with the Royal Regiment of Artillery from 1954 till 1976 of which a considerable amount of that time was spent with - 39 Regt RA or 40 Regt RA - Sennelager or Gutersloh, West Germany