181st Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

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181st Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
Royal Artillery Badge.jpg
Cap badge of the Royal Regiment of Artillery.
Active 1 March 1942 – 9 January 1946
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Field artillery
Size Regiment
Part of 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division
Nickname(s) "The Shropshire Gunners"
Engagements Operation Epsom
Operation Bluecoat
Geel
's-Hertogenbosch
Asten
Blerick
Operation Veritable
Operation Plunder
Uelzen
Elbe
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Sir Otway Herbert

The 181st Field Regiment, Royal Artillery ('The Shropshire Gunners') was a unit of the Royal Artillery, raised by the British Army during World War II. First raised as infantry of the 6th Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry from the Welsh Borders, it was converted to the field artillery role, serving in a Scottish formation in the North West Europe campaign in which it was the first British field artillery regiment to cross the Rhine and Elbe rivers.

6th King's Shropshire Light Infantry[edit]

In June 1940, shortly after the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk, the King's Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) formed a new 6th Battalion at its regimental depot at Shrewsbury. A previous 6th (Service) Battalion had been raised as part of Kitchener's Army during the Great War of 1914–18, and the men of the new unit were conscious of its heritage,[1][2] the bulk of the men (95 per cent) were recent conscripts, mostly from Shropshire, Herefordshire, Staffordshire, and other parts of the Welsh Borders and the English Midlands. The battalion's four rifle companies were designated W, X, Y and Z and the Commanding Officer of the battalion was Lt-Col Robert Munn, who had served with the KSLI in the First World War and was awarded a Military Cross.[3]

In July 1940 the new battalion moved to the Dukeries area of Nottinghamshire to commence basic training. Battalion Headquarters was established first at Thoresby Park and then a short distance away at Welbeck Abbey,[4] on 12 October the 6th KSLI became part of the new 204th Independent Infantry Brigade (Home), which had been formed by No 4 Infantry Training Group.[5][6]

After six months' training, the 6th KSLI and the rest of 204 Bde were sent at the beginning of January 1941 to man coastal defences in Lincolnshire as part of Lincolnshire County Division, which became operational on 27 March.[7][8]

181st Field Regiment, RA[edit]

In January 1942, when the battalion was stationed at Melton Mowbray, orders were received to convert 6th KSLI into a field regiment of the Royal Artillery (RA). The change was officially carried out on 28 February, when the battalion became 181st Field Regiment. Officers were given the choice of transferring to the RA or to another infantry unit; 484 Other Ranks continued with the regiment after suitability tests, while 140 transferred to other battalions of the KSLI and the Herefordshire Light Infantry and a similar number went to the Pioneer Corps. Specialists and signallers were drafted in from the RA, bringing the strength up to 672 all ranks. Lieutenant-Colonel E.O. Herbert, DSO, RA, was appointed to command the new regiment.[9][10]

Training[edit]

181 Field Regiment transferred to Northern Command to begin artillery training on ranges in North Yorkshire. It was organised into three batteries: 'Q' training drivers, 'R' training gunners, and 'S' (soon changed to 'P') training signallers. Later, the training batteries exchanged Troops to give three equal batteries, designated 177, 178 and 179 in January 1943, each battery was to be equipped with eight 25-pounder guns, though at first there were only two on which to train, and still only four in April 1942.[11]

On 7 November 1942, 181 Field Regiment was assigned to 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division (replacing a Scottish artillery unit), and began training with 44th (Lowland) Brigade, with whose units it would operate in action:[12][13]

Normandy[edit]

On 22 April 1944, 181 Fd Regt moved south to the Worthing area as part of the concentration for Operation Overlord. Then on 10 June it was moved close to Tilbury Docks ready for embarkation in two Liberty ships, which sailed on 12 and 13 June, arriving off Arromanches-les-Bains on the evening of 15 June (D + 9). Disembarkation was disrupted by a storm: 178 and 179 Btys were landed by 19 June, but RHQ and 177 Bty could not get ashore, at another beach, until 21 June, and then without guns and most of their equipment.[14]

The regiment was shelled on 25 June and took its first battle casualties, one gun being hit with three of its crew killed and three wounded, the following day 181 Fd Regt fired its guns in action for the first time as 15th (Scottish) Division commenced Operation Epsom (the Battle of the Odon, or 'Scottish Corridor') behind a moving artillery barrage. At one point there was a threat of German tanks breaking through and 181 Fd Regt prepared to fire in the anti-tank role over open sights, the fighting was intense, but on the second day the Scots captured the vital bridge over the Odon.[15][16][17][18]

Operation Bluecoat, the attack on Caumont-sur-Orne, began on 30 July. 15th (Scottish) Division's artillery including 181 Fd Regt were tasked with firing in support of the attacking troops. The division's objective was Point 309 ('Quarry Hill') to protect the flank of the attack. Heavy fighting ensued for several days, but by 11 August 181 Fd Regt had reached Monchamp near Caen when it was withdrawn for its first rest since the landings.[19][20][21]

Belgium[edit]

After its rest, the regiment was engaged in rapid movements as 21st Army Group advanced across the Seine towards Belgium. 181 Field Regt crossed the Belgian border on 6 September. The following day, guided by Belgian Resistance fighters, the regiment fired all day at columns of retreating Germans and pockets that required clearing, the regiment reached the Albert Canal on 12 September.[22]

15th (Scottish) Division established a small bridgehead across the canal near Geel on 14 September, but it attracted no less than 13 German counter-attacks over the next eight days that reduced it to an area less than 440 yards square. Despite the artillery Observation Posts being shelled and disrupted, 181's CO, Lt-Col Dick Bethell, organised fire plans that beat off the attacks. Eventually, the position was abandoned and the division shifted to another sector, the regiment's forward observation officers won high praise during this action, and afterward the 181st was awarded three Military Crosses, three Military Medals and a Distinguished Service Order (to Bethell) for this action.[23]

Netherlands[edit]

After another short rest, 181 Fd Regt went into action in support of 51st (Highland) Division, which was attacking 's-Hertogenbosch, and finally took it on 27 October, after 15th (Scottish) liberated Tilburg on the same day, the Germans put in a heavy counter-attack against US forces at Asten and 181 Fd Regt was engaged for six days under bomb and shell fire before this was suppressed.[24]

On 4 December the Division was engaged in a textbook attack on Blerick to eliminate the remaining German bridgehead on the River Maas,[25][26] the following day the regiment lost one of its best-known members, Gunner Frederick 'Paddy' Mills, a pre-war professional footballer for Leeds United, who dismounted from a vehicle while it was halted in a taped route through a minefield. It was unclear whether he stepped on a mine or tried to retrieve a booby-trapped box, but he was killed instantly.[27]

Rhineland[edit]

On 17 January 1945, the divisional artillery shot in support of an attack by 7th Armoured Division on Roermond, and during Operation Veritable in February, the guns were in almost constant action, supporting one division or another.[28] During the attack on the Siegfried Line on 9 February, Capt A.D.G. Shaw of D Troop, 178 Battery, took command of an infantry company that had lost all its officers and led it to its objective, while continuing to direct the fire of his guns from his Forward Observation Post. (He had trained as an infantryman with 6th KSLI). Shaw was awarded a DSO for this action.[29][30]

Rhine crossing[edit]

On 1 March 1945, 181 Fd Regt was withdrawn to Belgium to begin training for the assault crossing of the River Rhine (Operation Plunder). 15th (Scottish) Division's role was to establish a bridgehead at Xanten, and 181 Fd Regt was to cross to support 44 (Lowland) Bde. Covered by an intense artillery bombardment, the assault crossing on the night of 23/24 March went according to plan. 181 Field Regt was rafted over in the afternoon, the first field artillery to cross the Rhine, and went into action with 44 Bde as German resistance stiffened.[31][32][33]

To the Elbe[edit]

The division was pulled out of action on 29 March and went into billets in German houses. Three days later it was on the move again, to catch up with the fighting. 181 Field Regt harboured in Münster. By 14 April the regiment was back in action, supporting the four-day attack on Uelzen, and then on 20 April it reached the River Elbe. Here it halted for nine days to prepare for the assault crossing, after firing in support of the crossing, 181 Fd Regt itself crossed the river on 30 April, once again being the first field regiment to do so. As the division continued to advance rapidly, the regiment's batteries were in constant demand in the final days of the war. 178 Battery was the last subunit in action, on 4 May 1945, the day of the German surrender at Lüneburg Heath.[34][35]

After some months of occupation duties in Germany, 181 Field Regiment was formally disbanded on 9 January 1946. Many of the remaining personnel who had not already been demobilised or sent to South East Asia Command were posted to 121st (The Leicestershire Regiment) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA.[36]

Uniform[edit]

While part of 204 Bde, the battalion wore that formation's badge on the upper sleeve, this comprised a triangle composed of three smaller conjoined triangles in the Facing colours of its three senior units: buff (South Lancashire Regiment), pearl grey (Leicestershire Regiment) and Lincoln green (Sherwood Foresters), the whole being edged in blue (KSLI).[37]

When converted to the RA, there was a shortage of insignia, so on 27 March 1942 the troops were ordered to cut off the 'KING'S' and 'L.I.' from the ends of their cloth shoulder titles, leaving 'SHROPSHIRE', which led to the regiment's nickname 'the Shropshire Gunners'. They were allowed to keep their light infantry green Field service caps instead of the RA's red and blue, and officers could retain their green lanyards and KSLI buttons. All ranks exchanged their KSLI cap badges for RA 'gun' or 'bomb' badges. Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert devised a distinctive embroidered arm badge for the regiment, of a light infantry bugle-horn embroidered in gold on a green background, this was worn throughout the unit's service in the RA.[38][39]

While in Northern Command the regiment wore that formation's green apple badge, but on joining the 15th Scottish Division it adopted the divisional shoulder badge of the rampant lion, the men were issued with the Scottish Tam o' Shanter head-dress (the smaller Balmoral bonnet for officers) on which RA 'bomb' badges were worn on a red and blue cloth strip.[40]

Commanding officers[edit]

The following officers commanded 6th Bn KSLI/181 Fd Regt RA:[41]

  • Lt-Col R.B.S. Munn, MC, commanded 6th KSLI throughout its existence, but did not transfer to the RA.
  • Lt-Col E.O. Herbert (later Lt-Gen Sir Otway Herbert), appointed 1 March 1942; went to North Africa as CO of 132 Field Regiment.[42][43]
  • Lt-Col (later Brig) A.C.E. Devereux, appointed 6 August 1942.[44][45]
  • Lt-Col (later Brig) R.B.W. Bethell, DSO, appointed 6 August 1944; posted to SEAC as Commander, RA, of 23rd Indian Division in March 1945.[46][47]
  • Lt-Col (later Brig) T.P. Keene, appointed 6 March 1945.[48]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ KSLI at Regiments.org
  2. ^ Neal, p. 41.
  3. ^ Neal, pp. 1–2 & Appendix 2.
  4. ^ Neal, pp. 1–2, 41.
  5. ^ Neal, p. 3.
  6. ^ Joslen, p. 367.
  7. ^ Neal, p. 5.
  8. ^ Joslen, p. 113.
  9. ^ Neal, pp. 5–8, 41.
  10. ^ 181 Fd Rgt at RA 39–45 Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Neal, pp. 8–10.
  12. ^ Neal, p. 10.
  13. ^ Joslen, p. 58.
  14. ^ Neal, pp. 14–15.
  15. ^ Neal, pp. 16–8.
  16. ^ Ellis, Vol I, pp. 277–80.
  17. ^ McKee, pp. 154–78.
  18. ^ Keegan, pp. 170–81.
  19. ^ Neal, p. 19.
  20. ^ Ellis, Vol I, pp. 388–91.
  21. ^ McKee, pp. 332–3.
  22. ^ Neal, pp. 20–1.
  23. ^ Neal, pp. 21–2, Appendix 7.
  24. ^ Neal, pp. 22–3.
  25. ^ Neal, p. 23.
  26. ^ Ellis, Vol II, pp. 160–1.
  27. ^ Neal, p. 71.
  28. ^ Neal, p. 24.
  29. ^ Neal, pp. 23 & 73.
  30. ^ London Gazette 10 May 1945
  31. ^ Neal, pp. 25, 49–50.
  32. ^ Ellis, Vol II, pp. 289–93.
  33. ^ Saunders, pp. 147–59.
  34. ^ Neal, pp. 29–30.
  35. ^ Ellis, Vol II, pp. 309 & 337.
  36. ^ Neal, Appendices 12 & 20.
  37. ^ Neal, pp. 3 & 30, Plate XLVII.
  38. ^ Neal, pp. 8, 31.
  39. ^ 181 Fd Regt insignia at RA 39–45
  40. ^ Neal, pp 30–31.
  41. ^ Neal, Appendix 2.
  42. ^ Neal, p. 42.
  43. ^ Herbert at WWII Officers
  44. ^ Devereux at Liddell Hart Military Archives
  45. ^ Devereux at WWII Officers
  46. ^ Bethell at WWII Officers
  47. ^ Bethell at WW2 Talk
  48. ^ Keene at WWII Officers

References[edit]

  • Major L. F. Ellis, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series: Victory in the West, Vol I: The Battle of Normandy, London: HM Stationery Office, 1962/Uckfield: Naval & Military, 2004, ISBN 1-84574-058-0.
  • Major L. F. Ellis, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series: Victory in the West, Vol II: The Defeat of Germany, London: HM Stationery Office, 1968/Uckfield: Naval & Military, 2004, ISBN 1-84574-059-9.
  • Lt-Col H. F. Joslen, Orders of Battle, United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945, London: HM Stationery Office, 1960/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2003, ISBN 1-84342-474-6.
  • John Keegan, Six Armies in Normandy, From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris, London: Jonathan Cape 1982/Penguin 1983, ISBN 0-14-005293-3.
  • Alexander McKee, Caen: Anvil of Victory, London: Souvenir Press, 1964/Pan, 1966, ISBN 0-330-23368-8.
  • Don Neal, Guns and Bugles: The Story of the 6th Bn KSLI – 181st Field Regiment RA 1940–1946, Studley: Brewin, 2001, ISBN 1-85858-192-3.
  • Tim Saunders, Operation Plunder: The British and Canadian Rhine Crossing, Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2006, ISBN 1-84415-221-9.

Online sources[edit]