Lieutenant Samuel Hanna DSC

Lieutenant Samuel Hanna DSC an Aucklander, went to England in early 1915 and joined the Armoured Car section of the Royal Naval Air Service. After serving in France and Belgium he was part of a unit that was sent to Russia and fought the Turks and Germans in the Caucasus, Armenia and Northern Persia (now Iran). Following the Russian Revolution in October 1917 the members of the unit made their way out of Russia and were transferred to the Army.

The son of Andrew and Helen, Samuel Jackson Hanna was born in Auckland in 1892. After completing school he attended university and joined his father’s law firm and was part way through his final examinations when war broke out. Samuel held a commission in the 16th Waikato Territorial regiment from July 1911 until May 1913 and in the Motor Reserve of Officers from January 1915. With his friend, Jack Macky and his parents, Samuel left New Zealand in RMS Niagara in March 1915. He and Jack left the ship in Vancouver making direct for England, while Mr and Mrs Macky waited to make the transatlantic crossing in the Lusitania. Both were lost when that ship was torpedoed off Ireland. There was some concern about the two young men until a telegram was received by the Hanna’s with the single word “Well”. In England Samuel joined the Royal Naval Air Service armoured car section on 21 June, while Jack joined the Royal Naval Division.

Both were lost when that ship was torpedoed off Ireland. There was some concern about the two young men until a telegram was received by the Hanna’s with the single word “Well”.

In command of C Section, Number 15 Squadron, which comprised four armoured cars and eight armoured motorcycles, Sub Lieutenant Hanna went to France on 5 July. In the ensuing months the vehicles were transferred to the Army and Samuel served with the Belgian Army motor guns. At this time there was a ‘demarcation’ dispute between the Army and Navy as to who should do what on the battle field, the Army believing that armoured cars should be part of the Army. In the main the Army view prevailed, with the exception of 15 Squadron. This had been raised privately by an Ulster Member of Parliament, Oliver Locker Lampson and in late 1915 he had a chance meeting with a senior Russian Officer from the Military Attaché’s office in Paris. The details are unclear, but on 1 December 15 Squadron departed Liverpool en-route to Archangel on attachment to the Russian Government.

Armoured car and Lieutenant S J Hannah, Belgium 1915
Armoured car and Lieutenant S J Hannah, Belgium 1915

After an extremely rough trip the ship arrived at Alexandrovsk (now Murmansk), because the winter was so cold that sea around Archangel was frozen. The unit finally arrived at Archangel at the end of May 1916. Now known as the Royal Naval Armoured Car Division it proceeded by train to the Caucasus, that region of what was Russia, now Ukraine, between the Caspian and Black Seas, where it meets Turkey and modern Iraq/Iran, then known collectively as Persia, the scene of some of the bitterest fighting of the war. Samuel was now Assistant Adjutant of the unit, responsible for all aspects of the administration and supply of the unit, a difficult task when operating vehicles in rough terrain at the limit of the supply line. Nevertheless the unit remained operational, engaged in sporadic actions. With the entry of Rumania into the war on the side of the allies the unit moved to Odessa from where it was engaged in its first major operation on 30 November – 1 December on the peninsula between the mouth of the Danube and the Black Sea. Despite the difficulties the unit was operational throughout the winter and by April morale was high, in stark contrast of that of their Russian allies.

Samuel was now Assistant Adjutant of the unit, responsible for all aspects of the administration and supply of the unit, a difficult task when operating vehicles in rough terrain at the limit of the supply line.

At this time there occurred the first revolution of 1917, not that of the Bolsheviks, but the less radical one of Alexander Kerensky, which led to the abdication of the Czar. In a delicate political situation the Russian leaders determined on a major offensive in Galicia on 1 July. The key to the offensive were picked battalions of Russian soldiers, known to be reliable, but the reliability of the second line troops was less certain. In addition to the armoured cars the British operated some mortars and to assist them were some Russian soldiers, who, however, went on strike and refused to work under fire. As anticipated, the first wave of the attackers went about their task with gallantry, but the supporting waves refused to follow-up, officers going on alone. Petty Officer Gardiner, one of the Australians, resorted to physically throwing the majority of a platoon of soldiers over the parapet, but to no avail. Although the offensive was a failure the efforts of Sam Hanna and Sub Lieutenant Lefroy, an Australian, in support of the fighting Squadron, providing food ammunition and all other supplies was of inestimable value. As a result they were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Following the failure of the offensive the unit relocated to Kursk and many of the men were sent home on leave. Some of the New Zealanders and Australians also returned home, via Vladivostock. In November the Bolshevik revolution took place and in London it was decided that the unit should be transferred to the Army as a part of the Motor Machine Gun Corps. Samuel, on leave in New Zealand, received notification that he along with the other officers, now had commissions in the British Army. They travelled to Basra where Samuel became unit adjutant. Compared to Galicia the fighting was light and ended with the capitulation of Turkey in October, but it was not until January that the unit was disbanded and March before they were in England for demobilisation. Besides his DSC, Samuel was mentioned in despatches and also received the Order of St Anne and the Order of St Stanilus from the Czar. He married Eileen Elfreda Guy in 1929 and died in 1958.