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12 (Minden) Battery RA

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The Seven Years War broke out in 1756 with no British Army units taking part in Germany until 1758, when a contingent of about 12,000 men joined the Allied Army defending Hannover. The Allied Commander-in-Chief was one of the ablest generals of his day; General Field-Marshal Ferdinand, Prince of Brunswick and Luneburg, his uncle Frederic the Great. By the time the campaign opened in 1759 the British contingent consisted of six cavalry regiments, six infantry battalions and the following companies of the Royal Artillery:-

  • W.Phillips' Coy - 1st Bn - now 32 (Minden) Bty RA
  • S. Cleaveland's Coy - 1st Bn - reduced 1819
  • F. Macbean's Coy - 1st Bn - now 12 (Minden) Bty RA

Here under Ferdinand the Artillery trialled a new method of applying themselves, it was in fact the emergance of the field battery as we now know it, as the tactical fire unit. With guns of such limited range, concentration of fire could only be achieved by enhanced mobility and though this had been realised by Frederick the Great, who introduced horse artillery in to the Prussian Army, the British Army was ill equipped to achieve it.

The Allies slowly being defeated withdrew before the superior numbers of the French, now commanded by Marshal de Contades, until Minden was captured by de Broglie on the 9th July and the whole French Army concentrated in the vicinity. Ferdinand realised that if Hannover was to be saved, the French must be defeated.

Just before midnight on the 31st July, the whole French Army began to defile through Minden, this information quickly reached Ferdinand who gave the order for his columns to move east at 4am on the 1st August. The French were slow at deploying and at about 6.30am just as de Broglie began his attack on Wagenheim, the Allies formed the general line Hartum-Stemmer.

The Light Brigades of Foy and Drummond had already come into action 300yds west of Hahlen and the former had detached his two howitzers to support an attack on the village. Facing them was the French left wing mainly comprising of Saxon troops supported by a Battery of 30 guns. On their right and holding the French centre was the dark mass of French cavalry and forming in front of them were six British and three Hannoverian Battalions.

Macbean was hurrying up on their right, even putting his teams to the trot when the six British infantry battalions began their amazing attack against the 63 Squadrons ranged against them. Controversy surrounds the launching of their attack but nothing can detract from the glory they won that day, which was summed up by M. de Contades in these words: 'I never thought to see a single line of infantry break through three lines of cavalry ranked in order of battle and tumble them to ruin'.

As the British infantry began to advance in two lines with three battalions in each, the enemy swung 18 guns to rake the front line, but Macbean dropped into action about 200 yds to the north-east of the eastern end of the long fir wood and engaged them and for the loss of two guns eventually managed to silence them.

When the last French cavalry had been repulsed, Macbean swung his guns on the cavalry attempting to reform and when the enemy altered formation to attack the leading British line in flank, engaged them and prevented any such attack developing. With the French cavalry in disorder and the centre of their line breached, now was the time for the British cavalry to attack and turn victory into a rout, but Lord George Sackville commanding the cavalry appeared unable to understand the repeated messages which he received from Ferdinand to this effect and they remained uncommitted.

So it fell to the Artillery to gather the laurels of pursuit:- 'limbered up their guns and moved with astonishing rapidity along the border of the marsh, halting from time to time to pound the retreating masses of the enemy; till at last they unlimbered for good, opposite the bridge of the Bastau, and punished the fugitives so heavily that they could not be rallied until they had fled far beyond their camp.'

The French Army of 51,000 had ben defeated by Prince Ferdinand and had suffered the loss of 7,000 casualties and 43 guns. The Allies numbering 33,000 had lost 2,800 casualties of which the British total was 1,394 and of this the Royal Artillery lost two other ranks killed.

On the 2nd August, Prince Ferdinand issued a Compliment of Thanks in which the following passage appears:- 'His Serene Highness is extremely obliged to the count of Buckbourg (Grand Master of the Artillery in the Allied Army) for all his care and trouble in the management of the Artillery, which was served with great effect, likewise to the Commanding Officers of the several Brigades of Artillery, viz- Colonel Braun, Lt Colonel Hutto, Major Hasse and the three English Captains Phillips, Drummond and Foy.'

There can in fact be little doubt that if the part played by the British infantry in this battle was decisive and unique, the other feature worthy of note was the efficiency of the British artillery. Next to the unprecedented feat of the infantry in attacking cavalry, the feature that seems to have attracted most attention among both contemporary and modern critics was the remarkable efficiency of the British artillery. Scharnhorst wrote in 1806:- 'The English Artillery have always been distinguished by their bravery in spite of the want of a judicious and systematic organisation. Their conduct at Minden gained for the them the special thanks of Prince Ferdinand.'

The battery was also represented at the British Army´s other great victory of 1759 - Quebec. A detachment of four other ranks under Fireworker Thomas Hosmer (later to command the Battery) served on bomb vessels in the operations leading up to and culminating in the capture of the city by General Wolfe.

The battery next saw a major action at Warburg in 1760, where as there were no infantry immediately available, the cavalry and the artillery were used to attack 20,000 French. The attack led by Marquis of Granby (perhaps best known to the general public by the number of public houses named after him) was extremely successful and the French were routed.

1760 to Present Day

In the years 1760 to 2003 the battery has had the pleasure of serving in many theatres, conflicts and operations such as, Quebec in 1767, Montreal 1773, Gibraltar 1783, France 1793, Germany 1805, Denmark in 1807, Portugal 1809, Ireland 1816, between 1835 - 1855 the Battery served successively in Barbados, Woolwich, Dublin, Bermuda, Woolwich, Chatham and Sheerness, Crimea 1855, Gibraltar, Bermuda, India, Africa, India, France, Mesopotamia, Persia, France and Malaysia.

Since forming, the battery has had many name and roles changes. Equipped with 6, 9 pounder guns, 18 pounder QF guns 17 pounder guns, 4x 105 Pack Howitzers, Swingfire anti-tank missile system, BLOWPIPE, Rapier FSB1, FSB2 and finally High Velocity Missile.

The many name changes culminating in 1926 when the battery received its honour title of 'MINDEN' becoming 2nd (Minden) Field Battery RA then finally on the renumbering of batteries and regiments in 1947, the battery became 12 (Minden) Anti Tank Battery of 20 Anti-Tank Regiment.

After the return from the Falklands the battery moved to BAOR in 1985 and converted to Tracked Rapier. It was Tracked Rapier that the battery deployed on The Gulf War in 1991 as part of 1st Armoured Division. They took part in the whole of the offensive operation though were not required to fire due to lack of enemy aircraft activity over the battlefield.

In December 1995 the Battery deployed to Cyprus as part of the United Nations Force in Cyprus. 1997 was predominantly occupied with the acceptance of HVM and the regiment being warned for a Northern Ireland tour, training started in Jan 1998 with T/HQ Battery personnel attached to the three other batteries of 12 Regiment doing a variety of jobs. The Regiment deployed in April 1998 to Armagh and South Armagh.

In April 1999 12 Battery formed a large portion of the JRDF CAD (Joint Rapid Deployment Force Close Air Defence) Troop and were part of the first live firing of HVM over land and sea at Utska, Poland and notably the first troops to deploy to Poland after they become the newest members of NATO.

With tensions rising in Kosovo the JRDF Troop deployed to Macedonia on the 29th March 1999 with Fire Units from the battery providing air defence coverage for 4 Brigade HQ. By mid July the troops entered Kosovo and after four month deployment the air threat was deemed low enough for AD to be stood down and adopt.