L (Néry) Battery History
The Battery was formed as 3rd Troop (later renamed 1st Troop) around 1809 when the East India Company governed Bengal and extending its trade and influence into the Indian territories. The Bengal Horse Artillery was formed to give quick fire support to the armies of the East India Company. It was 3rd Troop Bengal Horse Artillery, which was to become L Battery.
In the first half of the nineteenth century the battery took part in every form of warfare in and around India. Mountain warfare against our later friends the Ghurkhas in 1812, siege warfare at Hathras and the great fortress of Bhurtpore and open warfare in both Sikh wars- the Bengal Horse Artillery took part in them all. Armed with the lightest of guns, which were effective only at very short ranges, and exploiting their superb mobility, they could be seen galloping into action in front of the long scarlet clad line of Bengal Infantry. Resplendent in their laced jackets and brass mounted Roman helmets, the Troops of the Horse Artillery would gallop forward with the cavalry and come into action shattering an enemy counter charge with deadly salvoes of case shot. It was the age panache on the battlefield, when men fought and died in their gilded accoutrements. It was the age of rigid discipline in close order drill and great lines of battle drawn up to face each other 100 yards apart. It was one in which battlefields were shrouded in drifting powder smoke and the balance hung on the ability of soldiers to endure a sudden and daunting number of casualties and still retaliate with parade ground precision.
Before being absorbed into the Royal Artillery in 1861 the 1st Troop of the 3rd Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery (as it had become) saw service in the Indian Mutiny. Here the first of four Victoria Crosses was awarded to Gunner Conolly. During action against mutineers Gunner Conolly was wounded three times but remained at his gun until a counter attack was launched by the infantry and the situation restored.
After the Indian Mutiny, the dominions of the East India Company were made over to the crown and the Bengal Horse Artillery was disbanded. Therefore in 1861 the Troop became “F” Battery Royal Horse Artillery and 1889 renamed as L Battery Royal Horse Artillery. Very little action took place between then and 1914.
In 1914 L Battery rode into battle in support of 1st Cavalry Brigade as part of the British Expeditionary Force in the Great War. The greatest exploit in all it’s history was to occur during the famous “Retreat from Mons”when the battery took part in an action, referred to as “The Affair at Néry”, which was believed by many to be the turning point of the 1st World War. During the action at the village of Néry, L Battery suffered heavy losses but fought bravely until the last gun had expended all it’s ammunition and held the German 4th Cavalry Division at bay. Three Victoria Crosses were awarded to the battery for that action together with the battle honor title Néry.
After re-equipment the battery went through the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign and later returned to the Western Front where it was in the thick of the fighting until the Armistice in 1918.
Between the wars L(Néry) Battery served successively in Germany, as part of the occupation forces, Ireland, India, Egypt and England.
In 1938 the battery was mechanized and became “L” Troop of L/N Battery RHA. It was in this orbat that it returned to France in 1939 to join General Montgomery’s division and on May 10th 1940 crossed the Belgian frontier with the division. At dawn on 11th May they were engaging the advancing enemy at Louvain in defence of the River Dyle. When the retreat began they fought an almost continuous rearguard action to the “Gort Line” where they left the division to check the German advance to the Channel Ports. By now the enemy were advancing from the south and the east and on May 29th they found themselves with an infantry at Mont des Cals near Poperinghe with enemy almost surrounding them. They had only managed to get three guns into action, one of which was knocked out by a direct hit and finally the last gun was manned by two BSM’s, a sergeant and a battery cook. Eventually, during a bombing raid they were ordered to withdraw and the position was evacuated with two guns and three tractors to carry the wounded. The remainder of the battery marched 38 miles to the coast.
After Dunkirk a rest, then four months of intensive training and anti-invasion excersises, at thend of which areunited 2nd Regiment set sail for the east with the 2nd Armoured Division. They arrived too late for Wavell's great campaign but were in time for the German threat to the Balkans. The end of March saw them digging themselves in on the Bulgarian Frontier.
The first contact with the Germans was made at Veve Pass south of the Florina Cap. After three days of hard fighting with snow blizzards blinding the OP's for hours on end the small British-Australian force had to withdraw to the Olympus - Aliakmon line with 1st Armoured Brigade fighting a reaguard action to cover their retreat. On Easter Sunday at Ptolemaise, twenty miles further south a single gun sited in full view on top of a hill had a period of "layers bliss" shooting up tanks and vehicles emerging from the town. That evening the Regiment pulled out with L/N Battery engaging the advancing tanks over open sights. Those rearguard actions, fought in the traditional Horse Artillery style gained precious hours for the main force digging in at the Olympus Line. Then began the long anxious retreat to the south. Days of rain and bombings turned the roads into a morass of potholes, mud and slime. Vehicles were jammed nose to tail for miles, buses and cars, Italien lorries captured in Albania, Greeks on horseback and on foot all jumble in between the guns. And when the sky cleared, German planes were overhead, ceaseslessy bombing and straffing the mountain roads. But the regiment got through to join the New Zealand Division for the last stand at Thermopylae, until on the night of April 24th , guns and equipment were destroyed and the force withdrew to Raffina to embark for Alexandria. So ended the second evacuation in the space of 11 months.
Again the Regiment was re-equipped and in August 1941 set out once more to face the enemy, this time into the desert. After three months of "column activity"? it crossed the wire on November 18th and chased the enemy accross Cyrenaica to Agedabia, where a halt had to be called for supplies and replenishment. Rommel's famous counter attack took place as the Regiment was being relieved and they found themselves digging in on the Gazala Linewith more "column activity"? across the thirty miles of no mans land. In May the Regiment handed over and withdrew to Buk Buk for a short rest, from which they were suddenly recalled to join the Gazala Line. On May 27th, Rommel's great attack swept round Bir Hachiem, and several days later was re-inforced by another break through in the position the Regiment had recently left. Where those two attacks met stood a Guards Division with 2nd RHA, at Knightsbridge. Here for seventen days this box withstood the enemy attacks, sometimes at 1000 yards range and from all points of the compass, until on June 13th they withdrew through a protective line of tanks.
They remained at Alamein until the beginning of August.
After a break of two months re-eqipping in the Delta, the Regiment, this time with a Armoured Division, took part in the break through which was the prelude to the great advance to Tripoli and Tunis. However the Regiment took took no more action until the Mareth battle, where it took part in the classic "left hook" through El Hamma with the New Zealanders whom they had fought alongside at Thermopylae. And so "on to Tunis" and the beaches until they finally puled up, on May 12th, at Grombalia to witness the capitulation of the much vaunted Africa Korps.
Note - The above account was taken from information supplied by Pete Wood from his father's papers and has been edited to show L(Néry) Battery involvement.
The two years following the war were spent in Italy, Palestine and Egypt and it was not until December 1947 that the battery returned to England. With the rest of 2nd Field Regiment Royal Horse Artillery it moved to Hildersheim, West Germany where it remained as part of BAOR for the next eight years.
On 1st February 1958, as part of the reorganisation of the army, the battery ceased to be part of the Royal Horse Artillery and became L(Néry) Battery Royal Artillery.
From 1958 until 1961 the battery served in Malaya where it saw active service, returning to Colchester as part of the Strategic Reserve. In 1964 the battery, with the Regiment, moved to Cyprus as a peacekeeping force joining the United Nations during the four-month tour to stop the Greeks and Turks fighting over island sovereignty.
In 1965 the battery moved to Portsmouth Barracks in Munster, West Germany and remained there until 1968 when it moved back to the UK and Barnard Castle in County Durham. After a three-year tour in England the battery moved back to Germany, this time to Hemer until 1977, it then moved to Ubique Barracks in Dortmund for a short tour before moving to Larkhill in 1979 as the Support Regiment to the Royal School of Artillery.
In 1982 the battery returned to Munster in West Germany with 2nd Field Regiment where it remained till the disbandment of the Regiment in 1993 and the battery moved to Tidworth as part of 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. In 1998 this famous battery with a magnificent record suffered the humiliation of “cadreisation”, losing it’s guns and reducing to Tac Group strength but remaining within 1st RHA. In 2018 the battery moved from Tidworth and 1RHA to it's current location with 3RHA.
Over the past fifty years the battery has been equipped with a variety of artillery weapons including: 4.2” Mortar – 25 Pounder – 5.5” Gun – 105mm Pack Howitzer –105mm Light Gun – M109 – ASA90 / seen active service in Malaya, Cyprus, The Falklands, Kosovo and Iraq amongst others.