British Royal Horse Artillery


By Richard Moore

Britain created its horse artillery arm in 1793 as a means of giving valuable heavy-gun support to its cavalry.

The use of fast-moving cannons had been successfully used by the British East India Company in India, and also by the armies of Frederick the Great.

With its artillerymen all riding into battle - on horses, wagons or limbers - the Royal Horse Artillery was able to keep up with the troopers it was meant to support.

It began with seven troops of five guns - initially six pounders, but later with some nine-pounder guns - and a 5.5 inch howitzer.

Each troop was split into three divisions of two guns and then down to one-gun subdivisions. Each subdivision had its own horses, ammunition wagons, gunners and support troops.

A complete troop of six-pounders would total some 168 officers and men, plus some 182 horses, while 200 men and 194 horses were needed for a nine-pounder troop.

While on campaign a troop - which usually had an alphabetical listing from A to I - would be known by the name of its commander. Two of the more famous being Captain Cavalie Mercer's G Troop, courtesy of the commander's memoirs, and William Ramsay's H Troop. Ramsay won fame at Fuentes de Onoro when he managed to stage a breakthrough with his division out of encircling French cavalry. He was killed at Waterloo.

The Royal Horse Artillery wore light cavalry uniforms of blue with gold lace and red facings. Their overalls were grey with a red stripe and on their heads they wore the distinctive Tarleton helmets. If needed, they carried 1796 light-cavalry sabres.

In 1806 the number of RHA troops was increased to 12 and eight units fought at Waterloo - including Captain Whinyates' 2nd Rocket Troop, which had five six-pounder subdivisions and a rocket subdivision at the battle.


Royal Horse Artillery troops rode hard into battle and usually split into two-gun divisions. They would not place the guns side-by-side - in order to lessen the damage from any enfilade fire - but placed one diagonally behind the other.

While each gun had its own stockpile of ammunition - roundshot, shell and cannister - reserves were kept on a wagon some 100 metres to the rear. When that was used a replacement wagon was brought up from the troop's park.

The RHA was one of the most-used British units in the Napoleonic Wars collecting 19 battle honours and won much acclaim for its courage and skill under heavy enemy fire. Throughout the Napoleonic Wars it never lost one gun to the enemy despite its proximity to the enemy.






Firing Sequence


Another major British invention was the Congreve Rocket, which would shoot a barrage of 12-pounder explosives in the general (hopefully) direction of the enemy.

Unfortunately, accuracy was not a major success with the rockets and although they did see action in Spain and Portugal, as well as in Germany, they were not viewed as being particularly useful.



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