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25 pounders and alll that

History - EY History

Shortly before joining the first desert campaign in December 1940 the 104th Essex Yeomanry Regiment RHA was equipped with 25 pounder guns to replace their world War I 18 pounders, I was probably the only one in the Regiment who had previously seen this new wonder gun – but I knew it as the "3.45inch Experimental".

Before the War I had worked as a technical assistant at the artillery testing ranges at Shoeburyness, and the future 25 pounder was one of the many guns that were put through their paces. Part of my job was to operate the apparatus to calculate the velocity of shells, which was done by rather antiquated techniques.

One method was to fire the shell through two fine wire screens a fixed distance part. The first screen was connected to an electro-magnet holding up a long vertical rod, and when the shell broke the screen the rod fell. In doing so it passed by a sprung knife blade that was triggered off by the second screen being broken. By measuring the length of rod to the knife cut the shell velocity could be calculated. Later on more sophisticated methods were developed using interrupted light beams and automatic timing to determine shell velocities.

Anti-aircraft rockets were another innovation tested at the ranges in the run-up to World War II. These were very hush-hush, and because they were ‘unrotational projectiles’ they were called UP's. For security this was translated to ‘Whoopees’ – not a very subtle piece of coding!

Working on the ranges was regarded as a plum job for the gunners although it was not entirely without danger when new equipment was under trial. The troops wore a special uniform of white overalls, navy reefer jacket and black jackboots. The RSM was resplendent in a white starched uniform from top to toe.

The establishment was a strange mixture of military and civilians, either could be in charge of the other in a particular section. Many of the civilian clerks and fitters old soldiers who used to regale me with lurid tales of service life in India.

As a civilian I wasn't allowed on the gun positions during firing. One day after a trial the Major who was my boss suggested that some practical experience of gunnery would be useful to put more meaning into my job. So off I trotted to the Southend Drill Hall to enrol with the Essex Yeomanry! It was an unusual reason for joining, but one I've never regretted.

KW (Pitch) Payne

ex 104th & 14th RHA

Extract EYA Journal 2004

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