Unit History: Honourable Artillery Company

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Honourable Artillery Company
The Honorable Artillery Company is the oldest regiment in the British Army and the second most senior unit of the Territorial Army. The HAC can trace its history as far back as 1087 and known as the Fraternity or Guild of Artillery of Longbows, Crossbows and Handgonnes.
It was incorporated by the Royal Charter in 1537 by King Henry VII and is the also the second oldest military organization in the world (behind the Vatican’s Pontifical Swiss Guard).  According to the Charter, the Guild of St George was intended for ‘The better increase of the Defence of this our Realm and maintenance of the Science and Feat of shooting Long Bows, Cross Bows and Hand Guns’. The Guild became known as ‘The Gentlemen of the Artillery Garden’, after its practice ground in Spitalfields, then simply as ‘The Artillery Company’. The word ‘artillery’ was used at that time to describe archery and other missile weapons, while guns were known as ‘great artillery’. The courtesy prefix ‘Honourable’, which was first used in 1685, was officially confirmed by Queen Victoria in 1860. However, the Archers’ Company of the Honourable Artillery Company was retained into the late 19th century, though as a private club founded in 1781 by Sir Ashton Lever.  The Archers Company remained a part of the regiment operated from 1784 to the late 1790s.
The regiment has the rare distinction of having fought on the side of both Parliament and the Royalists during the English Civil War 1642 to 1649.
The company trained from its formation at the Old Artillery Ground in Spitafield and at The Merchant Taylors Company hall.  By 1622 it had built an Armoury House at the site of the Old Artillery Gardens.  Then in 1657 it sold its armoury House in Spitalfield and moved to a New Artillery Gardens on 28 October 1664 the body of men that would become The Royal Marines was first formed.
The Company has always had strong connections with the City of London. In the early part of the 17th Century the Court of Aldermen appointed the chief officers and paid the professional soldiers who trained members of the Company. The Lord Mayor and Aldermen are honorary members of the Court of Assistants.
Since the Restoration, the Company has provided Guards of Honour in the City for visits by members of the Royal Family and overseas Heads of State. In gratitude for the Company’s role in restoring order to the City at the time of the Gordon Riots in 1780, the Corporation of London presented "two brass field-pieces", which of necessity led to the creation of an HAC Artillery Division.
By 1830 King William ordered that the uniform of the HAC should be based on that of the Grenadier Guards, except that where the Grenadiers wear gold, the HAC were to wear silver. This tradition is continued today by the wearing of the silver coloured grenade in the forage cap similar to the brass one of the Grenadiers, and the buttons and lace on HAC dress uniforms being silver coloured instead of gold. The Corps of Drums wear the Household Division's blue red blue.
Thirty years later, control of the Company moved from the Home Office to the War Office and in 1889 a Royal Warrant gave the Secretary of State for War full control of the Company’s military affairs.
The HAC first served as a formed unit over sesa in the South African War (1899-1902) in 1908 the Company became part of the newly formed Territorial Force with the passing of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act. The HAC Infantry was due to become part of the newly formed London Regiment as the "26th (County of London) Battalion", but instead managed to retain its own identity as the Honourable Artillery Company Infantry Battalion. The HAC also had its property and privileges protected by the Honourable Artillery Company Act 1908.
Post war in 1947 the company was reorganised into an Infantry Battalion, Royal Horse Artillery Regiment of Self propelled Artillery, a regiment of mobile heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery (disbanded 1955), Locating Battery (disbanded 1961).  Then in 1973 the regiment was again reorganized into three patrol squadrons (1, 2, &3), a forth patrol squadron was formed far a short period in the 1980’s, HQ Squadron, including Training Wing and Medical Wing, Band and Corps of Drums.

Honourable Artillery Company during WW1


During the First World War three infantry battalions and seven artillery batteries were raised for service during WWI. September 1914 the 1st Battalion went to France and fought the 1st Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Ancre and the Battle of Ancre and Arras. There after they became an officer training battalion. The 2nd Battalion HAC was raised in August 1914 and was in France by October 1916. By 25th February 1917 they were in action at Bucquoy, and then fought at the Battle of Arras and in May the 3rd Battle of Ypres in October. In November 1917 the battalion moved to the Italian front for the Battle of Vittorio Veneto October 1918, they led a force of Italians, Americans and British compelling the garrison of the strategic island of Papadopoli. For this remarkable feat of arms the HAC was awarded two Distinguished Service Orders, five Military Crosses, three Distinguished Conduct Medals and 29 Military Medals.

Both A and B Batteries of the Honourable Artillery Company went to Suez in April 1915. In July, B Battery fought in the recapture of Sheikh Othman. In February 1917, both batteries took part in the Palestine Campaign, were in action at the First and Second Battle of Gaza and entered Jerusalem in December 1917. In the German counter attack during the Second action of Es Salt on 1 May 1918, A Battery was forced to make a rapid withdrawal under heavy fire, which resulted in the loss of all its guns. Both A and B Batteries took part in the Battle of Megiddo in September. A third battery, the 309th (HAC) Siege Battery, went to France in April 1917 and saw action at the Battle of Messines and the Battle of Amiens

Its company suffered a total lose in WWI of 1600 soldiers, with two Victoria Cross awarded for action in 1917 at Gavrelle.

Honourable Artillery Company during WW2


During actions in 1939 the Infantry Battalion became 162(HAC) Officer Cadet Training Unit, leading to 3,800 commissions, while four regiments of artillery were provided. In North Africa at the Battle of Knightsbridge the 11th (HAC) Regiments of the Royal Horse Artillery fought with 25pdr gun, then after was equipped with the M7 Priest self propelled gun in the second battle of El Alamein, then took part in the Allied invasion of Italy and the Italian Campaign. The 12th (HAC) Regiment of the Royal Horse Artillery took part in the first joint allied landings of Operation Torch and were in action at Thala in 1943. By March 1944 and after being re-equipped with Priests they went to fight at the Battle of Monte Casino. The 13th HAC Regiment of Royal Horse Artillery fought in Normandy and the Netherlands and across the Rhine into Germany as part of 11th Armoured Division the 86th (HAC) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment took part in the defence of the Capital during the London Blitz. Theirs were the first heavy AA guns ashore after D-Day and they operated in the anti-aircraft and ground support roles across north-west Europe, including the defence of Antwerp against a V-1 flying bomb barrage.
Over 723 members of the Company lost their lives during the Second World War.

Battles / Campaigns

Marne (1914) WW1

1st Honourable Artillery Company were attached to 8th Infantry Brigade 3rd Division and was part of the British Expeditionary Force (John French, serving as the first Commander-in-Chief of the BEF)

The First Battle of the Marne fought between 5 and 12 September 1914 marked the end of the German sweep into France and the beginning of the trench warfare that was to characterise World War One.
It was also one of the first major battles in which reconnaissance planes played a decisive role, by discovering weak points in the German lines and allowing the allies to take advantage of them.

Germany's grand Schlieffen Plan to conquer France entailed a wheeling movement of the northern wing of its armies through central Belgium to enter France near Lille. It would turn west near the English Channel and then south to cut off the French retreat. If the plan succeeded, Germany's armies would simultaneously encircle the French Army from the north and capture Paris.

A French offensive in Lorraine prompted German counter-attacks that threw the French back onto a fortified barrier. Their defence strengthened, they could send troops to reinforce their left flank - a redistribution of strength that would prove vital in the Battle of the Marne. The German northern wing was weakened further by the removal of 11 divisions to fight in Belgium and East Prussia. The German 1st Army, under Kluck, then swung north of Paris, rather than south west, as intended. This required them to pass into the valley of the River Marne across the Paris defences, exposing them to a flank attack and a possible counter-envelopment.

On 3 September, Joffre ordered a halt to the French retreat and three days later his reinforced left flank began a general offensive. Kluck was forced to halt his advance prematurely in order to support his flank: he was still no further up the Marne Valley than Meaux.

On 9 September Bülow learned that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was advancing into the gap between his 2nd Army and Kluck. He ordered a retreat, obliging Kluck to do the same. The counterattack of the French 5th and 6th Armies and the BEF developed into the First Battle of the Marne, a general counter-attack by the French Army. By 11 September the Germans were in full retreat.

This remarkable change in fortunes was caused partially by the exhaustion of many of the German forces: some had marched more than 240km (150 miles), fighting frequently. The German advance was also hampered by demolished bridges and railways, constricting their supply lines, and they had underestimated the resilience of the French.

The Germans withdrew northward from the Marne and made a firm defensive stand along the Lower Aisne River. Here the benefits of defence over attack became clear as the Germans repelled successive Allied attacks from the shelter of trenches: the First Battle of the Aisne marked the real beginning of trench warfare on the Western Front.

In saving Paris from capture by pushing the Germans back some 72km (45 miles), the First Battle of the Marne was a great strategic victory, as it enabled the French to continue the war. However, the Germans succeeded in capturing a large part of the industrial north east of France, a serious blow. Furthermore, the rest of 1914 bred the geographic and tactical deadlock that would take another three years and countless lives to break.

The Battle of Marne was also one of the first major battles in which reconnaissance planes played a decisive role, by discovering weak points in the German lines and allowing the allies to take advantage of them. The mobility and destructive power of the numerous French 75 batteries engaged in the Battle of the Marne played a key role in slowing down and then halting German progress everywhere.

Over two million men fought in the First Battle of the Marne, of whom more than 500,000 were killed or wounded. French casualties totalled 250,000, 80,000 of them dead, while British casualties were 13,000, 1,700 of them dead. The Germans suffered 220,000 casualties.
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