Welcome to this blog which is intended to accompany a website on how Suffolk was defended during the Second War. The blog will describe my trips out and about looking for the remains of the Second War defences while the Website will concentrate on putting these into context.

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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

75mm Field Gun Battery Position - Part 2

This post will  look in more detail at the remains we recorded and attempt to relate them to what is known about Field batteries from Manuals and War Diaries. Obviously we can only record what remains - some features may have disappeared (either due to woodland management work as the battery is sited on the edge of a small covert or perhaps the position may have extended into surrounding arable land so any features obviously long since ploughed up). Another factor to consider is that as this position was only  occupied for a short while it may   never have been completed. 

Make up of a Field Battery position
A Field battery position would have consisted of the gun pits, a command post, shell trenches and crew accommodation. Positions for close defence may also have been constructed as well as slit trenches for Passive Air Defence (PAD).  The location would have been wired in. We recorded the area of the trench/gun pit/dugout and one of the other gun pits with tape and offsets. As always we seemed to have generated as many questions as we answered!

Image 1: GPS plot with areas recorded by tape and offset highlighted.
Image 2: Transect across the trench.
Image 3: Transect across old wood bank with two pits (weapon-pits or shell pit?)
Image 4: Transect across the dugout.
Image 5: Plan of the command post (or not - see below!)
Image 6: Plan of second gun pit

Location of Battery
The battery's  task was to provide Defensive Fire. According to FSR Defensive Fire was "used against troops actually attacking. It is usually put down on pre-arranged areas in co-ordination with the fire of other weapons, especially of machine guns, and is fired on a pre-arranged signal".  The guns would have been laid on their primary Defensive Fire task. Field batteries would have to be sited far back enough for a wide arc to be covered without changing the guns location. Field guns have a high muzzle velocity which gives them a long range but involves a comparatively flat trajectory. This means they would need to be sited so as  to clear the crests of any high ground or obstacle between the gun and target. The position of this battery fits perfectly with the above - it is sited far back enough so it can cover both Walberswick and Dunwich (the battery's Defensive Fire tasks). It is also sited on a piece of high ground ensuring "crest clearance". The battery is located on the edge of Forty Acre Covert which would enable concealment work to be kept to a minimum.

Command Post
At first it seems that the dugout and trench fit the illustration in the Field Engineering manuals of a command post   quite well. The dugout is a typical 'cut and cover' construction which is entered from a narrow trench which probably had steps down into it. The trench is curved to provide some blast protection. But there is a problem with this being the command post - why site a gun pit so close? With a 75mm firing so close by, this is hardly a good position to receive reports and issue orders.  There is no doubt that the remains we recorded are a dug out  but perhaps  not the command post.  Perhaps this was a post either for close defence of the battery or as DS suggested  to control anti-tank fire by direct observation? The more I think about this the more I like the anti-tank idea - the gun from this position would have covered a track leading directly to the battery position. So perhaps the large pits marked on the GPS plot are also remains of dugouts which housed the command post?

Above: Plan of a typical Command Post, FE Vol I 1937 amendment

Gun Pits
Guns would have to be aligned parallel for an effective barrage, but this does not mean the pits would have to be evenly spaced. This was discouraged as illustrated in FE Vol I - "In the study of ground from the air, regularity is invariably a sign of man. Regularity of spacing should be particularly avoided, and guns should be unevenly spaced as far apart as is compatible with control and the ground available". If we are right in our identification of the gun pits, this would explain the uneven spacing. The War Diary of 129 Field Regt has some useful notes on gun pits. The gun should be dug down as low as possible - usually so the axle was at ground level. Typically this would be 2 or 3 feet. The protection of the pit should be about 5 foot, requiring a further 2 to 3 foot above ground. Sandbags may have been used to to make the pit proof against small arms fire.However the pit was not to be built higher than cover from view  allowed; if insufficient cover was provided by the pit slit trenches should be dug sufficient for all the crew to be in them within 10 seconds. Overhead cover from view would be by a flat top cover (either string or wire netting) supported on a framework of poles.The two pits we ran tapes over are shallow excavations with perhaps a further foot of cover above ground. Sandbags may well have been added to provide extra cover. There seems to be   a lack of slit trenches either for the crew or for storing the shells in . We would have expected some indication of remains of shell storage as guns in position to deliver Defensive Fire would have first line ammunition dumped at the gun positions (in several small quantities of not more than 50 rounds). Second line ammunition would be kept on wagons in case the guns needed to move to support the local infantry. One pit recorded on the transects may have been for storing shells but there is no indication of other slits at the other three pits.

Part three of this post will look at the Tinkers Walks position  which E Troop moved to in April 1941 - I found no remains of this position although it is easy to visualise it in the landscape. Also started to add some 1945 aerials to previous blogs, starting with the Diver Battery sites.

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