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293 Siege Battery


       On 1 November 1916, 293 Siege Battery (SB) was formed at Leith Fort under the command of Major Harold Snowden. Sergeant John Kennelly was transferred to 293 SB from 21 Coy, RGA(1), and he served in that Siege Battery until 22 September 1917(1).

       Siege Batteries were approximately equivalent to an infantry company in terms of size and composition. Generally a Siege Battery   comprised  5 officers, 10 non-commissioned officers, and anything between 100 and 125 men.

       The 293 SB’s armament consisted of four 6 inch howitzers. They were equipped with the newer model of howitzer, which was lighter than the older model and had greater range. The barrel and breech of these guns weighed some 26 hundredweight alone, and they were capable of firing a 100 pound shell up to 9,600 yards, approximately 5½ miles; the whole assembly mounted on wheels weighed just over 3½ long tons (8,142 pounds)(15).

        Each gun was manned by a team of 10 men, led by a Sergeant, who was the gun commander and referred to as the ‘No. 1 of the gun(16a), which was Sergeant John Kennelly’s role at the time and it was he who supervised the rest of the gun team and gave the order to fire.

       Once the 293 SB had nearly its full complement of officers and men, it was transferred from Leith Fort on 20 December 1916 to Ewshot near Aldershot for further training. Several Battery photographs were taken on 9 January 1917 and subsequently. Of the 2 in my possession, the first comprises  107 officers and men - see HERE and the second comprises 123 officers and men - see HERE .

       On 30 March 1917, 293 SB embarked to Join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France(1), where John Kennelly would spend just over the next 2 years.

     The Battery landed at Le Havre on the early hours of the next day and subsequently moved some 200 miles by train to near Fleurbaix where it came under the command of 17 Heavy Artillery Group (HAG)(22), part of the Second Australia & New Zealand Army Corps (II ANZAC) on 11 April 1917 at Fort Rompu near Erquinghem-Lys, France.

      John served with 293 SB for just over 10 months(1), during which time he was involved in the Battle of Messines(17a), WHICH LASTED from 7 to 14 June 1917, and was a precursor to the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as the Battle of Passchendaele(17b), which lasted from 31 July 1917 to 20 November 1917.

       Whilst the Battle of Messines was a splendid example of a quick military success due to meticulous planning and co-operation between infantry, artillery, and tanks - it was also the first Allied success since 1916 - Passchendaele did not go to plan and became the final great battle of drawn-out attrition in WWI.

       The Battle of Messines was also notable because it started with the detonation by the Allies of 19 enormous mines which had been constructed beneath the German front-line. After these were detonated, the artillery barrage commenced. It was also the first time that German losses exceeded those of the Allies. Estimates claim that there were 25,000 enemy killed as opposed to ‘only’ 17,000 Allied troops (compare this to Passchendaele, where totAL allied AND  German CASUALTIES EXCEEDED 850,000(17d)).

       According to the 293 SB’s War Diary(18), the Battle of Messines(17a) started for the Battery at 3.10am on 7 June when ‘the barrage opened and was continued according to programme by the battery without cessation till 5.30pm’. The War Diary also records that the Battery received its first casualty, Gunner Emsley, who was wounded in the leg by a shell-splinter, but by the end of that day ‘the battle progressed very well and Messines Ridge has been captured’. On the 8 June, the War Diary(18) records that the Battery ‘continued the bombardment until 8.40pm’, when the Battery ‘pulled out to a new position...under the orders of X group H.A.’ and was joined by 2 other guns to become 6 in total. On 14 June, the Diary records that the Battery ‘fired a bombardment in the afternoon of 250 rounds’ and the day ended with the entire Messines salient being in Allied hands.

       Buoyed by their success at Messines, the Allies should have pressed home their advantage and immediately advanced on Passchendaele, but General Haig, the British commander, refused to press-on, which gave the Germans the opportunity to regroup and prepare their defences. The result was that despite the Allies initial bombardment by over 3,000 guns firing over 4 million shells(17c), Passchendaele soon became bogged down into yet another battle of attrition with the enemy, AND AFTER THE WAR IT ‘WOULD BE REMEMBERED AS a symbol of the worst horrors of the First World War, the sheer futility of much of the fighting, and the reckless disregard by some of the war’s senior leaders for the lives of the men under their command(17d).

       The 293 SB War Diary(18) records on 31 July 1917 that the Battle of Passchendaele ‘commenced at 3.50 am’, but by 2 August the ‘weather very bad, battle much affected, orders for a move forward held in abeyance.’ The bad weather continued, and it was not until the 7 August that the Battery is recorded as having been able to do much firing, when it was able to average 400 rounds per day for the next 6 days. Then from the 19 to 22 August, it managed only 200 rounds per day, but then bad weather impaired the ability to shoot and the number of shells fired on a daily basis varied between nil, to 100, to 400 depending on the weather. This seems to have been the pattern of shoots until the 10 September when the Battery ‘went out to rest, leaving a guard on the guns.’

       On 16 September 293 SB returned from rest and on 17 September the War Diary(18) notes that it ‘Fired a ten minute Bombardment.’ Also on the 17 September, virtually in the middle of the Battle of Passchendaele, Sergeant John Kennelly was  promoted to Battery Sergeant Major (BSM) in the 293 SB(1).Then, on the 19 September the War Diary(18) records that ‘Battery assisted in hurricane barrage lasting for 24 hours’, and on the 20 September, ‘Zero hour 5.40 am. battery fired continuously until 7.15 pm.’ On the 23 September 1917, BSM John Kennelly was posted from 293 SB to 194 SB(1).

     During his service in 293 SB, BSM John Kennelly was recommended for the Distinguished Service Medal (DCM), which was subsequently awarded(16). His citation reads ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has rendered continuous good service and has done his work with a thoroughness and attention to detail beyond all praise. In addition to his other duties, he acted as No. 1 of a gun, and during that period made his detachment highly efficient. He has always shown the greatest coolness and contempt of danger.(16a).

    More can be read about 293 SB and those who served in it on the excellent website devised by Sean Page(17), WHOSE GRANDFATHER ALSO SERVED IN the Battery, and in the Battery’s War Diary(18) I can heartily recommend Sean’s site as it was that which inspired me to produce this site.

       BSM John Kennelly’s story continues on the page dedicated to the 194 Siege Battery. Meanwhile, I close this page with an internal link photograph of BSM John Kennelly together with 3 other NCOs in France, but whether this was taken during his time in the 293 SB or the 194 SB I do not know, though perhaps some reader might.  The photograph can be seen HERE.

Copyright © 2020 Liam ÒCionnfhaolaidh

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[BSM John Kennelly  DCM MSM, RGA] [Pre-WWI] [293 Siege Battery] [194 Siege Battery] [Post WW1] [References] [Documents] [Photographs] [Addendum]