MarkN wrote: ↑
20 Dec 2019 23:07
On several occasions you have pointed to the 103 HAA Regt in 1941. What exactly was their intended role? Was it darting around the battlefield as a sort of fire brigade unit or was it a more static last line of defence type thing? Or something else? Are there any reports that describe lessons learned and recommendations of how it could / should be introduced into a more recognised dual role? The ME doesn't ever seem to have even experimented with putting HAA into manouver units and formations. Is that because of the 103 HAA Regt experience?
The short answer is that I don't know and havent seen much detail. A lot of the answers to this were not known at the date the unit was ordered to take on a dual role. As I have mentioned there was nothing in British contemporary written doctrine about deploying HAA within a divisional area in attack or defence. But British military doctrine was never hard and fast and the Empire was built and defended by soldiers who applied common sense.
There were drills for engaging tanks or other ground targets with AA guns. AA Command has a section on the preparations for the threatened German invasion in 1940, including ensuring gun pits offered a clear field of fire to local ground targets. "Lessons from the BEF" included a mention of the effectiveness of the 3.7 HAA as a tank killer. The history of 103 HAA says
11 AA Bde was not in existence and a mobile drill was evolved on Fd Arty principles. Courses for officers began in OCT 41 at Blandford and shortly afterwards the Blandford “bible” came out. Our trg had been largely on the same lines so there was very little to re-learn. Most officers went on courses in the Spring of 42.
In JUL 41 we became a “Bargain” regt on the special service roster with an anti-invasion role to proceed to Bedford and Bletchley and if required in an anti-tank role on the east coast in case a 90 ton tank invaded us. This never materialized. but the tiger tank KW VI appeared in Egypt in 1942. The Hun may have had. an experimental tank of that weight.
After a few staff exercises we made our debut on the road each battery in turn doing a 3 day exercise. Many will remember how the cooking arrangements started at nil of the first day. This was followed by a 3 day exercise of the whole regt in Shropshire under Brig Crewdson. A week later we did a 3 day exercise under our div comd Maj Gen Cadell in the North of Lancashire. On 25 SEP we went to Basingstoke and took part in BUMPER exercise in the Aylesbury-Fenny Stratford area until 5 OCT.
Deployment to Bletchley or Bedford in the event of a threat suggests that operationally the unit was envisaged as a mobile fire brigade.
They took part in the big Ex BUMPER. Maybe the exercise reports will have something to say
Home Forces Command seem to have learned a lot about dual role and extended the use even further.
11 AA Brigade ran a conversion training programme to re train AA Regiments for an expeditionary role from 1942-3. It would be surprising if its syllabus did not draw on the lessons learned by the Op Bargain units. The "Blandford Bible" must refer to the procedures for AA units in the field.
By 1944 the HAA units of the 21 st Army group were expected to have secondary roles as medium, anti tank and coastal defence artillery. HAA was given priority over medium artillery in loading tables because of its flexibility. The need never arose to test the anti tank defences of the D Day Beaches, but HAA had secondary anti tank positions covering armoured approaches. (Some units deployed captured 88mm Anti tank guns in these positions.) The early warning and gun laying radars in Heavy AA units gave them a serious coastal defence capability. Not only could they engage German craft but they could also plot where German aircraft had dropped mines beyond AA range. 103 HAA landed on D Day on Sword beach.
In the anti tank role the HAA in Normandy were part of the beachhead defences whose infantry was from the Battalion assigned to each beach.As medium artillery they were usually assigned as batteries or troops under the command of a medium or heavy regiment.