178th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, WW2.

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by Teletran, Oct 27, 2019.

  1. Teletran

    Teletran Member

    Good afternoon,

    My grandfather 'Leonard Roy Howell' was a Battery surveyor then a Topographical Draughtsman (although he was classed as a 'Gunner' on some paperwork then a W/Bombardier) within the 178th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (later 178 Assault field) then the 36th Division (HQ) during WW2.. Whilst I have his service record I am intrigued to find out what he may have 'got up to' on a daily / weekly basis? May he had seen front line action? He recalled his division was surprise attacked one evening with great loss of life (my grandfather recalled he lost all his patrol, but can now not be confirmed) through 'Bayoneting' however he survived as he was in a field hospital at the time. He travelled around India, Poona, Murree, Punjab, Assam, and was based at the Kharakvasla Camp. Can anybody detail what typically his role and other Battery Surveyors may have been? Many thanks for any help.

  2. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

  3. Teletran

    Teletran Member

    Hello, yes I have a copy of his service record which has a wealth of information or course, I guess I was trying to find out what his division did and how his role intertwined with it. I'll have a look at the links you sent also. Many thanks.
  4. Teletran

    Teletran Member

    Would the Survey Regiment RA be a different regiment to a Battery surveyor in the 178th Field Artillery?
  5. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    ah right you require the war diaries
    a couple of forum members do a copy service from the National Archives at Kew for a reasonable fee

  6. Teletran

    Teletran Member

    I'm all ears..... who might they be?
  7. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    You might be interested in the book The Forgotten Army: A Burma Soldier's Story in Letters, Photographs and Sketches by James Fenton. Fenton was in 366 Battery, 178 Field Regiment, and then with 'G' Branch Intelligence at 36 Div HQ - also as a draughtsman, funnily enough, after his paintings and drawings caught the attention of an officer. His letters give a real sense of day-to-day life.

    36 Div as a whole was involved in the relief of the Admin Box during the Second Arakan Campaign in early 1944. Later that year the Division transferred from the Fourteenth Army to Stilwell's American/Chinese NCAC, and fought along the 'Railway Corridor' from Northern Burma down towards Mandalay, through many hundreds of miles of thick, remote jungle, often reliant entirely on air supply. The last operation in Burma was an attempt to capture Kalaw, which was ordered after the Division had been promised it was going home - many of the men were almost due for repatriation at this point.

    36 Division's head of medical services wrote a booklet about its exploits with the NCAC while sailing home. It's called 36th Division - The Campaign in North Burma 1944-45 by Geoffry Foster, and you can download scans of the whole thing here:

    36 Div. | WW2Talk

    Regarding your grandfather's story, it's a long shot, but do his records show him on the 'X List' (away from the unit on medical grounds) in March 1944. The 36 Div gun line was infiltrated on 6 March 1944, with a number of gunners bayoneted during a surprise attack at night. Petrol bombs and grenades were hurled into the gun pits, and a number of guns put out of action with magnetic charges.

    516 Bty of 178 Field suffered about 15 casualties in the attack. 130 Field (my grandfather's regiment) was also hit that night, as was 1 Medium Regiment. The Japanese group was eventually wiped out when it ran into 29 Brigade's Tac HQ. All the diaries (Div HQ, HQRA etc.) give slightly different accounts of losses. 178 Field and 130 Field entries below:

    178130.jpg 130178.jpg
    timuk likes this.
  8. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

  9. Teletran

    Teletran Member

    Thanks CLI, @ PackRat, That is really interesting with respect to the attack on the 6th of March 1944 and the letter 'x'. There is an entry in his service record dated the 12th of March 1944 'Order 178FD 17/44', then under posting it says 'X 2. (IND) 12.3.44 & 178 FLD 21.03.44'. I wonder if that is an 'X' as you refer too?
    Immediately before that he was part of the No 18 Air Survey party (for training) and immediately after he was posted to what looks like X LiiL G or X(ii) (G) In November 1944 he transferred to HQRA of the 36th division assuming that is 'back at base' perhaps in India. Do you think the 'X' references might be related to the incident?
  10. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Can you post photos of his service record? It can be very helpful to see everything in context, and some people on here are good at deciphering all the abbreviations and scribbles into something meaningful.

    X (ii) is an ‘X List’ code pointing to an illness or injury that required treatment beyond the Regimental Aid Post, so he was probably admitted to a Casualty Clearing Station or hospital around that time. The incident on 6 March 44 is the only one that springs to mind involving 36 Div arty and a bayonet attack, so sounds like it roughly matches up with your grandfathers’s story (but he could have been referring to something completely different, of course).

    November 1944 was a strange time for the 36 Div artillery. The light batteries were in action in North Burma (Mawlu/Pinwe area), the rest were frustratingly trapped in Assam but constantly flying detachments of specialists forward to assist Trevor Dupuy’s joint US/Chinese arty group.

    36 Div rear areas were at Shillong and Ledo (in Assam), but most of Divisional HQ deployed in to Burma. HQRA usually moved with the main Div HQ, so again most of its personnel would have been in Burma rather than back in India for the NCAC campaign.

    36 Div HQRA controlled three main units: 130 Field, 178 Field and 122 Anti-Tank. The rough history is that 130 and 178 Field joined the Division around August 1943 and converted from standard field regiments (3 batteries of 25-pounders) to experimental ‘Assault’ Field Regiments. They both had one normal field battery (8 x 25-pounders), one SP battery (with 8 x ‘Priest’ self-propelled guns, plus tanks for armoured OPs) and one Light battery (with 6 x 3.7” Howitzers, light enough to tow with a jeep or break down for air dropping or mule transport, later increased to 8 guns). 178 Field primarily supported 72 Infantry Brigade, 130 Field supported 29 Brigade.

    130 & 178 did Combined Operations training near Bombay (including two major assault landing exercises: Exercise Otter and Exercise Viking III). The intention was for 36 Div to make an amphibious landing somewhere in the Arakan in early 1944, while 5 and 7 Divisions fought inland. In the end that plan was all scrapped when 7 Div was surrounded in the Japanese Ha-Go counter-offensive (Battle of the Admin Box). 36 Div helped relieve them, then had a successful campaign against the Razabil Fortress and Mayu Tunnels (Operation Markhur). The March 6 1944 incident I mentioned happened during this time.

    The Division was withdrawn from the Arakan in May (Operation Polite) and went up to Shillong, Assam to rest and refit. The SP batteries dumped their ‘Priests’ which had never been used and reverted to the old faithful 25-pounders. The Div was then assigned by Mountbatten to join the Americans and Chinese of NCAC in North Burma (Operation Propaganda).

    The infantry started to fly in to Myitkyina by Dakota in August 1944 to begin the fight down the Mogaung Valley. Problem was, the Divisional arty couldn’t join them as the 25-pounders needed to move by road, and the road from Ledo into Burma was still under construction. The light batteries could be shifted by air (366 Battery of 178 Field successfully air dropped its howitzers right to the front line), but the 25-pounders were stuck at Shillong. Luckily, an arty group under Trevor Dupuy, US Army, was available to assist 36 Div. It was mostly Chinese gunners with US officers, but was short of forward observers and other staff, so 130 and 178 flew personnel in to assist them.

    In November the road was finally finished, so the 25-pounder batteries and all the divisional transport that had been left behind could get into Burma to join the rest of the Division. HQRA moved forward by road on 7th November and opened at Mawlu on the 18th.
    CL1 likes this.
  11. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Image000021.jpg Image000011.jpg
    CL1 and Teletran like this.
  12. Teletran

    Teletran Member

    Thanks for the detailed response PackRat, that truly is a great read. Please find attached the main elements of my grandfathers service record, indeed whilst I can understand some of it, there is still coding and abbreviations that I am confused over and any help deciphering the record would be fantastic. If I could ask to keep the scans within the confines of this forum that would also be great. Hopefully I have uploaded them correctly, I have had to use low res copies to keep them within the limits but have Hi res versions also if required. Once again many thanks.

    Attached Files:

    CL1 likes this.
  13. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Definitely recommend reading that James Fenton book, as comparing your grandfather's embarkation dates and his stop-over in South Africa they must have sailed together on the same ship: Fenton says he left Liverpool docks on the MV Britannic, then sailed on SS Orbita from Cape Town to Bombay.

    If your grandfather was a battery surveyor he was most likely in RHQ rather than one of the three batteries of 178 Field. I'm afraid I've got no idea what their duties were, but this excellent site explains the organisation of a field regiment and shows where the surveyors fitted in:

    Organisation of a Field Regiment 1944

    So it looks like he was with RHQ of 178 Field from 20/1/43 until 1/11/44, then moved up to 36 Div HQRA. I think these are the war diaries that would be of most interest to you:

    WO 166/11310 178 Fd. Regt. 1943 Jan., Feb.
    WO 172/2310 Field Regiments: 178 Assault Regt.1943 Mar.- Dec.
    WO 172/4660 Field Regiments: 178 Regt. 1944 Jan.- Dec.
    WO 172/4366 36 Indian Division: R.A. 1944 Jan.- Dec.
    WO 172/7056 36 Indian Division: R.A. 1945 Jan.- Nov.

    Others will be better at telling you about the service records, but a couple of useful abbreviations are:

    CTBA - Ceased To Be Attached
    SOS/TOS - Sent or Struck Off Strength / Taken On Strength (of a unit for ration & admin purposes)
    WEF - With Effect From

    Looking at the later section, it seems he got a nice long leave after the Division came out of Burma:
    "Granted Leave with ration allowance @ 2 Rupees 14 Annas per day for the period 11/7/45 - 31/7/45 (21 days)"
    Then he was "Promoted P/A/Bdr" - Paid Acting Bombardier ('U' is Unpaid)
    Then "Granted WS rank of Bdr" - War Substantive Bombardier
    The final section on LRH4 is "To India Command pending Class A Release - Ceased to be administered by Officer-in-charge Second Echelon Allied Land Forces South East Asia" on 16/11/45 (so he probably left HQRA and went to the HBTD at Deolali to wait for a ship home at that point), then he embarked for the UK on the 22/11/45.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2019
    CL1 likes this.
  14. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Also, those entries in March 44 look like:

    "Admitted to 68 Indian General Hospital & posted to X (ii) (B?) List with effect from 12/3/44"
    "Discharged Hospital & Taken On Strength (of 178 Field) from X (ii) (B?) List with effect from 21/3/44"

    It looks like he officially returned to 178 Field after finishing the Air Survey course (not sure exactly what or where that was), then was evacuated to hospital quite soon after.

    178 Field RHQ was at Cox's Bazaar until 2nd March, then moved into action with 366 Battery in the Arakan to join the rest of 36 Div. If his course finished on 28th Feb that gave him very little time to catch up with them. Possibly he fell ill (or was injured) immediately on rejoining, or before even getting back to the Regiment, and therefore missed the terrible events on the night of 6th March. He wasn't actually in hospital on the 6th, but he was by the 12th and was in there for over a week. I'm speculating, but that the only indication I can see of any time spent in hospital anywhere on your grandfather's record - there are no other 'X List' entries.
    CL1 likes this.
  15. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    One more little thing. If you access this:

    Wilkes, James Douglas (Oral history)

    and listen at about ten minutes into Reel 16 of the interview, you'll hear James Wilkes talking about what can only be the incident at Kwela Binga. He was a ‘B’ Echelon mechanic of 1 Medium Regiment, which was grouped with 130 Field and 178 Field, but volunteered to take a group forward to reinforce the defences around 5/22 Battery so was present for the raid. Interestingly, he reports that the CO got canned for the loss of his guns that night - 1 Medium's war diary does confirm that the CO left the Regiment a few days after it happened, but doesn't say why. That's the only actual eye witness account to 6th March 1944 I've ever been able to find (other than the war diaries).
  16. Teletran

    Teletran Member

    Hi PackRat, just acknowledging I have seen your responses, fascinating, I will be back on line tonight to 'digest' the content thoroughly as deserved.
  17. Teletran

    Teletran Member

    Adding to the great detail provided here by PackRat I can now confirm my Grandfather was in medical care on the 12th of March 1944 as he was suffering from Cholera, perhaps falling ill on this return from the Air survey training. The '18 Air Survey Party' was a long term air survey of India where presumably a topo draughtsman would be at the map producing end of the process, that's all I know so far. After that, at some point, he was posted up to Assam as he wrote a letter to his local parish Church, that was received in October 1944. Although the letter itself is long gone in their journal, it quotes 'he is in the dampest of damp places in Assam but was otherwise in good health'. The fact his service record has no mention of a specific battery perhaps, as you say, he was in the RHQ. My Aunt still has his A1 Regulator watch that is initialled and dated 11/07/1945 which was believed to have been handed out to the guys as they came out of Burma.
  18. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Cholera would lean towards him falling ill before managing to rejoin 178 Field at the end of his Air Survey training. Malaria, scrub typhus and all the other joys of service in Burma took a huge toll on 36 Div during the Arakan, but Brigade Water Points in the field were scrupulously maintained (by 236 Fd Coy RE for 29 Brigade) and an outbreak of cholera would have been a serious failure. It was rife in parts of India, though, worsened by the refugee crisis. If you look in the war diary appendices of 36 Div units during the move up to the Arakan, there are strict instructions warning not to purchase fruits and mineral waters from local vendors due to the risk.

    RHQ and all batteries of 178 Field were at Rynjah Camp, Shillong, Assam by the end of May 1944. The monsoon broke as they arrived and continued through to October/November, turning some of the camps into seas of mud. The author of the 36 Div booklet, ADMS Geoffry Foster, said:

    [Shillong] is undoubtedly a picturesque and attractive little place and, when put to its proper use, which is to accommodate and entertain a limited number of people in a lazy kind of way, it serves its purpose admirably. Its annual rainfall is 86.05 inches, all of which descends upon it within three months or thereabouts, which, compared with Great Britain, where the rainfall is approximately 42 inches, well distributed throughout the year, might be described as a flood. But this in no way disturbs the visitor who is prepared for it and his remedy is quite simple and practicable, namely, to stick his feet on the mantelpiece over a log fire and dream until the bar opens. No, there is nothing wrong with Shillong provided you go there from choice, prepared and fully cognisant of all the various evils and excitements that may befall you. So far as our men were concerned, and it must be remembered they were not there for pleasure, some said: “Good old Shillong,” while others voiced their opinions differently and far more forcibly...

    Our easiest approach to Myitkyina was through the Ledo airfield (so far as troops were concerned Shillong to Ledo was two days by train and one by road). A concentration area was therefore established in Margherita Camp near Ledo; the site was a most unfortunate choice, but there was no option. The camp itself was in an indescribable state of filth. It was inches deep and in some cases feet deep in mud. It rained hard incessantly, with the result that the duckboards either floated downstream or were trodden into the mud. The tents leaked and to add to the general discomfort, the putrid smell of decaying vegetation was stifling and quite inescapable. Everybody was fully aware of the unpleasant conditions under which the troops had to live and every effort was made to find more suitable accommodation, but none was available and we had to accept the fact. Those who appeared to worry least were the troops themselves and they took the whole thing most philosophically. Even so, they were only too delighted to leave when the time came and any who may have had qualms at the idea of becoming airborne for the first time quickly shook them off at the prospect of departure.​

Share This Page