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59th Army Group Royal Artillery
Active 1944–1946
Country Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army British Army
Role Artillery headquarters
Engagements North West Europe (World War II)
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Brigadier William Pike

59th Army Group Royal Artillery was an artillery formation of the British Army in World War II. Having operated in the North West Europe theatre in late 1944, it was switched to India to command artillery units preparing for the liberation of South-East Asia.

OriginEdit

The British War Office realised even before D-Day that the army's manpower situation was so bad that some formations in 21st Army Group would have to be disbanded sooner or later. At the end of August 1944 the junior infantry division, 59th (Staffordshire), was selected to be broken up to provide reinforcements for other formations.[1][2] However, the Headquarters, Royal Artillery, (HQRA) and the field artillery regiments of the division were converted into an Army Group Royal Artillery (AGRA) attached directly to Second Army under the designation 59 AGRA with the following composition:[3][4][5]

Units were regularly attached to and detached from AGRAs, so their order of battle was very fluid. For example, in the second half of October, 59 AGRA was operating with the following units under its command:[5]

However in early November, 61 and 110 Field Regiments returned in place of 84 and 121 Medium Regiments.

North West EuropeEdit

On 8 September 1944, 59 AGRA set up its HQ at Chateau St Lubin at Louviers. Brigadier E.T. Boylan, previously Commander, Royal Artillery, (CRA) of 59 Division, left for another division and was replaced as CAGRA by Brig Harold Thicknesse from XII Corps staff, who had won a DSO with 126th (Highland) Field Regiment in the North African Campaign.[5][7]

In early October, 59 AGRA moved up to 'The Island', near Nijmegen, supporting the US 101st Airborne Division. Then, on 15 October, while 59 AGRA was in action in the Hoogboom area with its units under command of 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions, Brig Thicknesse and his Brigade-Major, Captain D.P. Whitehorn, disappeared and were posted missing.[5] Thicknesse was later buried in Dordrecht General Cemetery, with his date of death given as 23 October.[8] Lieutenant-Colonel Stirling and Major Simson of 121 Medium Regiment took over as acting CAGRA and BM respectively, until 21 October, when Brig K.A. Matthews arrived from 50th (Northumbrian) Division to take over command.[5]

On 20 October, 59 AGRA was supporting 4th Canadian Armoured Division and 2nd Canadian Division, but able to support 49th (West Riding) Division if its guns were not otherwise engaged. For most of November, with only 61 and 110 Field Regiments under command, 59 AGRA was not given any targets until 28–29 November when it fired in support of 15th (Scottish) Division's operation to clear Blerick (Operation Guildford).[5][9]

Then on 30 November the commander of XII Corps, Lt-Gen Neil Ritchie, visited HQ 59 AGRA with the news that due to the acute shortage of infantry replacements, the formation was soon to be disbanded. 59 AGRA's guns continued to fire in support of Operation Guildford, then on 4 December the formation moved to the Svegehem area, where it exchanged 61 Field Regiment for 150th (South Nottinghamshire Hussars Yeomanry) Field Regiment at Dunkirk.[5]

Disbandment began in December, with the first drafts of gunners transferring to the infantry in the UK. 110, 116 and 150 Field Regiments were placed in suspended animation from January 1945,[10][11][12] while 61 Field Regiment was converted into a Super Heavy Regiment,[13] and the Signal Section transferred to the Super Heavy Group.[5] However, on 30 December news arrived that 59 AGRA's HQ was not being disbanded, and instead it was sent back to the UK.[5]

Far EastEdit

In February 1945 the HQ staff were put through a basic training refresher course in Norfolk under a Sergeant Instructor, then told to prepare for deployment to a tropical location. Colonel W.G.H. Pike, who had commanded 77th (Highland) Field Regiment in the Tunisian Campaign,[14] was promoted to Brigadier and appointed to command 59 AGRA. The HQ staff embarked on HMT Mauretania at Liverpool on 28 March and disembarked at Bombay on 20 April. In May they moved up to Ranchi under Eastern Command (India) and began training exercises for units under the AGRA's command.[15][16]

From 18 May 1945, 59 AGRA had the following order of battle:[15][17][18]

During July 1945, 59 AGRA and its units were engaged in waterproofing their equipment and training for an amphibious landing on the coast of Malaya (Operation Zipper) after the monsoon. However, the Surrender of Japan on 15 August put an end to this plan.[15]

After the war, 59 AGRA appears to have been transferred to the Indian Army in 1946, becoming 59 Army Group Royal Indian Artillery, retitled 2 Army Group RIA the following year.[25]

NotesEdit

  1. Ellis, Vol I, p. 453.
  2. Joslen, pp. 93–4.
  3. Ellis, Vol II, Appendix IV, p. 370.
  4. 59 AGRA at RA 39-45 Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 59 AGRA War Diary, August–December 1944, The National Archives (TNA), Kew file WO 171/912.
  6. 84 Med Rgt War Diary 1944, TNA file WO 171/1066.
  7. London Gazette 18 March 1943.
  8. Thicknesse at CWGC
  9. Martin, p. 215.
  10. 110 Fd Rgt at RA 39–45.
  11. 116 Fd Rgt at RA 39–45. Archived 2015-01-12 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. 150 Fd Rgt at RA 39–45.
  13. 61 Fd Rgt at RA 39–45. Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. Blundell, Nigel (9 November 2008). "Our family at war: How four generations of the Pikes fought in four conflicts since WW1". The Daily Mail. London. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1084147/Our-family-war-How-generations-Pikes-fought-conflicts-WW1.html?ITO=1490. Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 59 AGRA War Diary, February–December 1945, TNA file WO 172/7515.
  16. Farndale, p. 403.
  17. Joslen, pp. 510, 512, 518, 525.
  18. Farndale, Annex K.
  19. 85 Med Rgt at RA 39–45
  20. 208 Fd Rgt at RA 39–45
  21. 69 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45
  22. 2 Svy Rgt at RA 39–45 Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. Joslen, p. 512.
  24. 86 Med Rgt at RA 39–45
  25. Kempton, p. 49.

ReferencesEdit

  • Major L. F. Ellis, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series: Victory in the West, Vol I: The Battle of Normandy, London: HM Stationery Office, 1962/Uckfield: Naval & Military, 2004, ISBN 1-845740-58-0.
  • Major L.F. Ellis, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series: Victory in the West, Vol II: The Defeat of Germany, London: HM Stationery Office, 1968/Uckfield: Naval & Military, 2004, ISBN 1-845740-59-9.
  • Gen Sir Martin Farndale, History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery: The Far East Theatre 1939–1946, London: Brasseys, 2002, ISBN 185753302X.
  • Chris Kempton, A Register of Titles of The Units of the H.E.I.C. and Indian Armies, 1666–1947', (British Empire & Commonwealth Museum Research Paper Number 1), Bristol: British Empire & Commonwealth Museum, 1997, ISBN 0-9530174-0-0.
  • Lt-Col H.F. Joslen, Orders of Battle, United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945, London: HM Stationery Office, 1960/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2003, ISBN 1843424746.
  • Lt-Gen H.G. Martin, The History of the Fifteenth Scottish Division 1939–1945, Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1948/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1-78331-085-2.

Online sourcesEdit

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