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by W.L. Ruffell


As in the past we had adopted British equipments and tactics it is reasonable to assume those organising the exercise might have done it in the light of Royal Artillery experience in South Africa, to which we will briefly refer.

Most of the colonial wars of the Victorian era had been fought against natives armed with spears, clubs, and ancient smoothbore muskets. We read tales such as '...the gallant Captain So and So galloped his troop to within half-musket shot of the enemy, dropped his trails and opened with case...' The Regiment had so performed at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 with great success.

Then they tried the same tactics at Colenso in 1899 against Boer marksmen armed with Mauser magazine rifles! It was a very nasty lesson; 10 out of twelve guns lost, and inordinately heavy casualties, both in men and horses. The Royal Regiment then woke up.

Obviously tactics had to change; guns must henceforth fire from concealed positions. In other words Gunners must resort to indirect fire - but how? Britain lagged badly behind European powers in the development of field artillery. Guns were fitted with open sights only; they had no dial sights. Something had to be done smartly.

Early in 1900 the Director General of Ordnance (UK) went direct to the British Cabinet with a demand for complete rearmament of horse and field artillery. The outcome was the purchase of 108 (18 six-gun batteries) QF 77-mm guns from the German firm of Ehrhardt - a point few regimental histories mention!

The new guns were the first QF field guns employed in the British Army. They were fitted with dial sights and their recoil systems were of the long-recoil type permitting a much higher rate of aimed fire than the old BL 12- and 15-prs.

At the same time the British Government set in motion the production of the QF 13- and 18-prs first issued in 1904 and which later saw extensive service in World War 1 - and some in World War 2.

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With the South African War over, the BL 15-prs became obsolete, and were offered to the New Zealand Government at half price. And believe it or not, the Government accepted! Thus New Zealand field batteries were 're-equipped' with guns totally inadequate for their allotted role.

This was a clear case of false economy for by the time the first 15-prs arrived in New Zealand the new 18-prs were in production. With the onset of World War 1 New Zealand was obliged to again re-equip with the latter pieces.

Another memorable event occurred in 1900. Treasury for the first time found the money to send Regular NCOs overseas for training, six being posted to Shoeburyness, UK, for the 'long course of gunnery'; previously Officers only had been sent. Unfortunately opportunities to attend long courses overseas were never again offered on the same scale. In the decades which followed RNZA were sometimes permitted to attend such courses, but the occasions were rare and followed no logical pattern. Money, or the lack of it, was always the dominant factor.

Parliamentarians, who never failed to insure their personal possessions, could only spasmodically find the wherewithal to insure their country by keeping key defence men abreast of overseas techniques and developments.

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With effect from 15 Oct 1902 King Edward VII granted the title 'Royal' to both branches of the New Zealand Permanent Force; No 1 Service Company was designated 'Royal New Zealand Artillery', No 2 became 'Royal New Zealand Engineers'. The RNZA took precedence.

Establishment of the RNZA in 1902 was 200 all ranks. Not only did they maintain all fixed armament and instruct Garrison, Field and 'Naval' Artillery Volunteers, but they were also called upon to instruct Infantry and Mounted Rifles. To men of lesser calibre the last-named duties might have seemed an imposition, but the RNZA carried them out to the best of their ability and reports by Inspectors of the Forces amply testify they were not lacking in that attribute.

Reports from the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) confirmed the lessons learned in South Africa. Indirect fire capability was a 'must' and with the arrival of directors and 'gun arcs' in 1905-06 the RNZA soon learned the new gunnery techniques although the equipment available was crude. They were thus prepared for the new QF 13-pr guns and 4.5-in howitzers that arrived in the country just before World War 1.

Great advances had also been made in coast artillery, which for some time had been considered a more scientific branch than field. RML guns had been declared obsolete, and around 1904 most of them were presented to local bodies who set them up in parks etc for the public to gaze upon. The disappearing guns were obsolescent but survived until about 1925. A few were even rejuvenated for World War 2!

The first two of four QF 12-pr coast guns had arrived in 1900 and in 1906 plans were made to install more up-to-date heavy equipments. BL 6-in Mk 7 guns of 1895 vintage were mounted at Auckland and Wellington in 1910, but Christchurch and Dunedin had to carry on with their 19th century ordnance.

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In a further reorganisation in 1907 the RNZE, which in effect had become a coast artillery electric light (searchlight) section, was absorbed into the RNZA. The establishment now read:

  • RNZA Gunnery Section 200 all ranks
  • RNZA Electric Light Section 55 all ranks

to which a small clerical section was added. Included in the overall establishment were twelve Artificers RNZA, inevitably dubbed 'the dirty dozen'. This organisation lasted until 1926 when the sections were amalgamated into one RNZA and distinctions dropped.

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After the South African War Defence authorities gave considerable thought to improving the state of the forces. They embarked on a much-needed re-equipment programme, standardised training procedures, and took steps to provide adequate permanent instructional and administrative staff for all Volunteer units. For the first time they made provision for mobilising an expeditionary force. However, public support, the most important ingredient for an effective Army, was not forthcoming. Therefore they resolved to end the Volunteer system and with the Defence Act of 1909 introduced compulsory military training.

The new Territorial Force as it was called was to have an establishment of 30,000 men, a number quite beyond the capacity of existing staff to handle. To meet the need for additional officers and instructors necessary, in 1911 Government approved the formation of the New Zealand Staff Corps (NZSC) and the New Zealand Permanent Staff (NZPS). Members of the former Corps were officers, the latter Warrant Officers and NCOs. In the RNZA the establishment was increased. In 1913 it read:

  • Field Artillery Section   120 all ranks.
  • Garrison Artillery Section 195 all ranks.

Now since the earliest days there had existed in New Zealand a small staff of officers and senior NCOs engaged in administering and instructing Militia and Volunteers. Most were serving or retired British regulars hired by the Defence Department for the purpose, and included some Royal Artillery personnel. Collectively, they were referred to as 'the permanent staff'. They were permanent but they were not a force, hence the New Zealand Permanent Force (which after 1907 meant the RNZA), took precedence over them. But the Act reversed the position, giving both the NZSC and NZPS precedence over the RNZA. Reaction in the Regiment can well be imagined, but worse was to follow.

Initially Defence filled the NZSC by commissioning ex-Regular and Volunteer officers. They then made arrangements for officer cadets to be trained at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in Australia from which candidates for both NZSC and RNZA graduated as substantive Lieutenants. A few were sent to the RMA Woolwich or to Sandhurst. Thus the organisers of the new order catered well for the officers.

What they did for men on the lower rungs of the ladder was less praiseworthy. They decreed that recruits for the NZPS be enlisted as Staff Sergeants, while in the RNZA men still had to serve twelve years and pass the prescribed examinations before even becoming eligible for promotion to that rank. Thus many long-serving Gunners and Junior NCOs found themselves doing the same work for the Artillery as PS Warrant Officers and Staff Sergeants, some with fewer qualifications, were doing for the Infantry and other arms. RNZA requests for equity in the Service got nowhere. Regular Gunners felt they had been badly let down. As a result esprit de corps suffered; old hands advised youths contemplating an Army career to join the NZPS if they wanted promotion, not the RNZA - or if there were no vacancies in the PS to join the RNZA then transfer at the first opportunity. Many did so, and the procedure eventually became the normal method of PS recruitment.

The new regulations made the RNZA and NZPS races apart. Disparities in conditions of service bred jealousy and animosity, and relations between the two factions were often acrimonious. To make matters worse young and impressionable soldiers under training often copied the attitudes of their instructors without understanding the underlying reasons.

Despite hard feelings the compulsory training scheme soon demonstrated its worth. By early December 1914 the Main Body, 1 NZEF, landed in Egypt with 8427 all ranks of whom 6900 had had military training before the war - not a bad effort when the voyage alone took seven weeks. The Gunners' baptism of fire came at Gallipoli.

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First guns ashore at Anzac were the two of Left Section, 4 Howitzer Battery, New Zealand Field Artillery (NZFA). They landed at 0630 hrs, 26 April 1915 and fired their first round at 0650 to let the Infantry know they had arrived.

The Battery's new QF 4.5-in howitzers brought from New Zealand, were the only guns really suited to the terrain until 6 (4.5 howr) Bty NZFA arrived in October. Had 4 Bty not been available the Infantry would have suffered much more than they did, if such were possible.

Four more NZFA Batteries, 1,2,3, and 5, which landed in the next few days were equipped with QF 13-pr guns, quite unsuitable for the gullies and razor-back ridges of Gallipoli, but no others were made available. In some cases they had to be literally lifted up to their positions by hundreds of Infantry manning dragropes, and when in action their fields of fire were extremely restricted. Nevertheless their shrapnel shattered many a Turkish attack.

Although the difficulties were immense, and the guns few and starved for ammunition, the professional manner in which the Artillery went about their business never failed to win the heartfelt admiration of the Infantry whose doubts, if any, about the capability of their supporting arm were soon dispelled. Throughout the campaign Gunner and Rifleman had supreme confidence in one another.

Later in France the same situation prevailed. As in South Africa, World War I saw no New Zealand Batteries manned entirely by regulars. But each Battery included a liberal sprinkling of RNZA Officers and NC0s, who not only trained their Gunners soundly and well, but also imbued them with the desire to maintain the best traditions of the Regiment. The high reputation enjoyed by the NZFA during the whole of World War I was based on foundations laid by the RNZA.

Recruits for the RNZA were accepted up to 1916, the year conscription was introduced. Many were seconded to the NZEF after completion of basic training, but of necessity some were posted to coast artillery batteries at defended ports. A few were posted to Defensively Armed Merchant Ships (DAMS). Those who were not sent overseas were unlucky for they never commanded quite the same respect as 'returned men'. A regular soldier must experience active service before he can claim to be fully qualified in his profession.

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