Who did what in a Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery? (164 Bty, 59th (Essex Regt) HAA)

Discussion in 'Royal Artillery' started by SteveDee, Aug 15, 2018.

  1. SteveDee

    SteveDee Well-Known Member

    One thing I'd like to know more about is just what everyone did in an HAA battery. Among my fathers possessions is an address book listing men from 164 battery of the 59th (The Essex Regt) HAA.


    This book is divided into 3 sections listing 15 officers, 300 other ranks and 81 that joined in a Garrison Police role after the cessation of hostilities. I'm guessing that all those listed were still alive when this was published, so ignoring the 3rd category, there were a total of 315 men employed in this battery during WW2.

    164 Battery had 2 'troops' ("Troop A" & "Troop B") each with 4 guns (i.e. 8 guns in total). Each gun crew generally consisted of 9 men, although I have one crew photo that shows 10 men. But lets say there were 8 x 9 = 72 men involved in firing the guns, that leaves 228.

    There were 5 men operating each predictor, so that accounts for another 8 x 5 = 40, leaving 188.

    There was a gun position officer (GPO) and assistant (GPOac), that's another 16.

    Then there was the gun operations room (GOR), the Royal Electrical & Mechanical engineers (REME), the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), and Signals/Telecomms Section.

    Dad was steadily promoted from gunner to sergeant, and his war record shows he did training courses in mechanics, so I guess he stopped firing guns well before the end of hostilities. So I wonder if there was a typical sergeant's role in the HAA.

    This photo probably shows all the sergeants in just Troop "B" sitting outside their Sergeants Mess.


    Dad is on the left, partially blocking the "Holiday Inn" sign.
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  2. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    I've struggled for years over the same question but regarding a LAA Regiment.
    Best answer for you I can come up with is to look at the site by fellow Forum member Mike aka Trux.
    Heavy anti aircraft artillery

  3. SteveDee

    SteveDee Well-Known Member

    Many thanks Tim.

    You may also be interested in Nigel Evans site: British Artillery Organisations 1939-45

    Although primarily concerned with Field Artillery, there may be some parallels with the way ack-ack units were organised.

    I've just noticed that in Field RA the #1 gunner was a sergeant, so maybe dad did spend most of his time on the guns. However, I don't remember him having a bad hearing problem, which was the fate of many a gunner.
  4. 379/101 HAA

    379/101 HAA Ubique


    My grandfather`s H.A.A. training notes on gun drill, hand written by him in late 1940, states each gun detachment had 10 men allocated as follows:

    No.1 Is in Command
    No.2 Is layer for line
    No.3 Is Layer for elevation
    No.4 Is fuze dial number
    No.5 Is breech operator
    No.6 Is ramming number
    No.7 Is loader
    No.8 Is loader
    No.9 Is fuze setter operator
    No.10 Is ammunition supply.

    With the later 3.7" guns I assume this total would have been reduced with the introduction of the automated fuze setting equipment, but certainly a total of 10 men seems to be the compliment for the earlier marks of this gun.

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  5. SteveDee

    SteveDee Well-Known Member

    Thanks John.

    Yes things changed during the coarse of WW2 with advances in gun design and operation. The old 3" guns were gradually phased out and the 4.7" were converted to the prefered 3.7" calibre.

    I have 4 photos showing the 4 gun teams for Troop "B" of 164 Battery;
    #1 gun crew shows 10 guys, crews #2 & #4 shows 9, and crew #3 shows 8.
    I have names for all gunners in these photos. But these pictures just represent a moment in time (probably towards the end of the war in Italy) and as I say, procedures changed over time, and don't know if they were operating with a mix of guns.

    From the information that I have (which is a close match to your info), there were generally 9 members in a QF 3.7" gun team, and they were known by their numbers:-

    Number 1: in charge of the gun (gave instructions)
    Number 2: bearing setter (direction)
    Number 3: elevation setter
    Number 4: fuze setter
    Number 5: the breech man
    Number 6: the rammer
    Numbers 7, 8 & 9: the ammunition men​

    These guns could be operated for short periods with only 6 men.

    According to an account by A.S.Cross (59th Rgmt HAA) relating to cleaning a 3.7" gun after the Battery's first shot fired in November 1939;
    "...never had a gun been given such loving care than this, as 9 loving fathers would help to put their first-born to bed and sleep."
  6. 379/101 HAA

    379/101 HAA Ubique

    No problem Steve.

    Your update is also of great interest for a comparison of later arrangements. I`ve only ever seen one photo` of a gun in use with my Grandfather`s regiment and this was taken in 1945. That shows just eight men but I suspect the ninth could be the one taking the photo, so that would match your figures.

    Had a look at your Blog as well and that looks very interesting so I`ll keep an eye on that. Seems like we`re on a similar quest - wanting to know what our fathers / grandfathers did.

    Your very lucky to have so many photo`s, I just wish I had more of my grandfather`s which were orientated towards the guns and equipment in his regiment, rather than self-portraits, but of course they were largely under instruction not to take such photo`s. My greatest source of frustration has been my failure to find out exactly what his role was on the 3.7". Although I have his service record there`s no clue in that, likewise I have his early training books, but there`s no clue there either and unfortunately his AB64 is missing. I also have hundreds of his wartime letters but he never mentions once what he did. All I know is he went from being a Gunner to W/Bdr and I guess the only slight clue I have is that in one letter he mentions he`s, quote: "Still training on the instruments". That makes me suspect he may have been a "Layer" or pehaps worked on a predictor. That said I suppose when men were being trained they might have all been taught every position in case they had to take over, so his statement may well be no clue at all. I just wish I understood things a little better.

    That`s what makes the research interesting I suppose, that drive to find out more.


  7. SteveDee

    SteveDee Well-Known Member

    John, my only regret in life is that I did not talk to dad about his war service during the last couple of years of his life, when I think he would have opened up about it.

    I'm very grateful for the information I do have, and for the spoken histories by 2 guys from his regiment (BTW have you searched the IWM website?).

    It will be good when the RA Museum re-opens at Larkhill in 2020. I suspect it contains a lot of interesting information, not to mention (hopefully) 3", 3.7" & 4.5" anti-aircraft guns!
  8. 379/101 HAA

    379/101 HAA Ubique

    Agreed Steve,

    I regret not starting my research when I was much younger when so many people who knew my Grandfather were still alive. Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course.

    Don`t get your hopes up too much with the RA Museum in terms of documentation, much of what they have are copies of war diaries kept at Kew. That said they`re worth a try as they also have more personal documentation such as diaries written by Gunners etc. They were also very helpful each time I wrote to them.

    Good luck with the research.

  9. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    Look in this section of this site for the establishment and groupings for a HAA Unit.
    Heavy anti aircraft artillery

    Each troop of four guns also includes two radars. One consisting of separate transmitter and receiver trailers is the equivalent of the CHain Home or Chain Home Low radars used to provide warning of enemy raids into the UK. In the HAA it is used to establish a rough bearing to "put on' the Gun laying radar which can provide accurate firing data to guns./(It can also pick up mines deiopped by aircraft or mortar bombs in flight). A HAA Battery is cutting edge technology for 1944
  10. SteveDee

    SteveDee Well-Known Member

    Yes, if only we could turn the clock back. Or better still, bring them 'back' for a couple of days. My dad was just 9 years older than I am now when he died. So apart from being father & son, we would now probably be good mates with similar interests, ...not to mention similar aches & pains!
  11. SteveDee

    SteveDee Well-Known Member

    Thanks Sheldrake.
    That's great info by Trux. I need to go through it in detail when I have time to see how the personnel numbers add up.

    As the war progressed from 1939 and technical developments were introduced, I wonder how this affected the number of people. e.g. early on they didn't have radar but used listening devices, but later in the war there was great pressure to release gunners for other duties.
  12. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    Yoiu need "A History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery: Anti-aircraft Artillery, 1914-55" by Routledge, N.W.
  13. SteveDee

    SteveDee Well-Known Member

    Yes I borrowed that book from the library last winter. Excellent. I may need to borrow once again this winter and re-read some of the chapters
  14. HAARA

    HAARA Well-Known Member

    The Vickers A.A. guns were each manned by a gun crew of up to ten men, or of women or mixed crews later in the War, under the command of a commissioned Gun Position Officer (G.P.O) and a Gun Position Officer Assistant (G.P.O.A.). When the gun, Mk. III, was used in a field role from 1944 onwards, the gun crew was commonly:
    No.1 Commander (N.C.O.)
    No.2 Gun layer for line.
    No.3 Gun layer for elevation.
    No.4 Fuze setter.
    No.5 loading and firing.
    No.6 loading and firing.
    No.7 not used.
    No.8 not used.
    No.9 Calling corrected fuze (omitted if 208 fuze being used).

    .... and details of the 3.7" vickers gun:

    Production period 1937–1945
    Number produced approx 10,000
    Weight 9 tons 12 cwt (9.75 tonnes)
    Length 16 ft 3 in (4.95m)
    Width 8 ft 0 in (2.45m)
    Barrel length 15 ft 5 in (4.69m)
    Gun crew 7 – 10
    Weight of shell 49 lb (22 kg)
    Calibre 3.7” (94 mm)
    Elevation -5o to +80o
    Traverse 360o
    Rate of fire hand loading: 8 rounds per minute
    auto-loading: 19 rounds per minute
    Mobile mountings Mk I, and Mk III variants.
    Static mountings (fixed) Mk II, and Mk VI variants.
    Muzzle velocity, Mk I-III (new barrel) 2,670 ft/s (814 m/s)
    (worn barrel) 2,598 ft/s (792 m/s)
    Muzzle velocity, Mk VI 3,425 ft/s (1,044 m/s)
    Maximum horizontal range 20,000 yds (11 miles/18.2 km)
    Ceiling Mk I, II 32,000 ft (9,750 m)
    Mk VI 50,000 ft (15,240 m)

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