Owen Forbes Phillips was born in Warwick, Queensland, on 9 June 1882, the son of Dr A. O. H. Phillips. He was educated at Armadale School, NSW, where he was a keen athlete and a corporal in the school cadet unit.
In 1900, Phillips was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Permanent Military Forces of the Queensland Artillery. This became the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery in 1901. Phillips served with the defences of Brisbane, Lytton and Townsville. In 1910 he was promoted to the rank of captain, and transferred to the Royal Australian Field Artillery in Victoria.
On 18 August 1914, he was appointed to the AIF with the rank of captain. On 17 September 1914, he was promoted to major and took command of the 4th Field Artillery Battery. The battery was armed with He embarked for overseas with the battery on 2 October 1916.
Two guns of the 4th Field Artillery Battery were landed on the evening of 25 April 1915, but lack of prospects for their use caused Bridges to order them back to their ships. One gun landed later that evening, firing on Gaba Tepe from the beach at 6pm. On 5 May 1915 Phillips and his men, aided by the infantry and sappers, manhandled their guns up to the 400 Plateau. No sooner did they open fire on Turkish positions on Baby 700 they were promptly shelled by Turkish guns, and forced to move to a more sheltered position on the Plateau. Here they remained for the rest of the campaign, exercising an important influence, for these guns formed part of the defence of the exposed posts at the northern sector of Anzac, including Quinn's and Courtney's Posts. They also participated in the attack on Lone Pine in August.
Phillips served with his battery until he was evacuated to England with influenza on 20 August 1915. Hospitalised for influenza, he was not cleared by the medical board until 10 January 1916, by which time the 4th Battery was back in Egypt.
Phillips rejoined the 1st Division Artillery in Egypt on 15 February 1916. At this time the artillery was undergoing a nearly fourfold expansion, the number of field batteries in Egypt increasing from 18 to 64. With every prospect of an early deployment to the Western Front to participate in the major campaign of 1916, battery and brigade commanders were at a premium. On 27 February 1916, Phillips was appointed to command the newly formed 14th Field Artillery Brigade and on 12 March 1916, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Only on 1 April 1916 was he promoted to brevet major in the AMF. His new command consisted of infantry and light horse reinforcements who needed to be retrained as gunners.
The 14th Field Artillery Brigade embarked for France at Alexandria on 20 June 1916.Within a month they were firing over the heads of the 5th Division infantry at Fromelles. The results were patchy. Wire was not cut, counter battery fire was insufficient and troops were shelled by their own guns. But the gunners managed to retain the confidence of their infantry, despite the cataclysmic failure of the attack. Phillips role, commanding eleven batteries, was regarded as superior, and he awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
During the German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line in March 1917, Phillips' brigade provided support for Brigadier General H. E. Elliott</a>'s 15th Infantry Brigade. In this campaign, they practiced the techniques of artillery in open warfare; quickly limbering up and moving, and firing over open sights. Remaining in the line after their infantry was withdrawn to rest, the brigade participated in the Battles of Lagnicourt in April and Bullecourt in May, and Third Ypres in September and October.
On 24 September 1917 Phillips was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the AMF. Then on 12 October 1917, he became GOCRA of the 2nd Division, with the rank of colonel and temporary brigadier general. Phillips had relatively quiet time to become acquainted with his new command before it was deployed to the Somme front to help staunch the German advance in March 1918. The 2nd Division Artillery fired in support of the division's minor attacks on Ville-sur-Ancre on 19 May and Morlancourt on 10 June.
For the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918, Phillips had control of 9 brigades of field artillery. They fired the initial barrage and then became part of the defensive artillery set-up. The operation was conducted under conditions of secrecy, with battery positions prepared and ammunition dumped during the night so as not to alert the Germans. Nor was the barrage registered. Nonetheless the artillery scheme was carried out as planned and the attack was a stunning success that dealt the German army what would prove to be a mortal blow.
Phillips returned to Australia in August 1919 and reverted to his permanent rank of lieutenant colonel, with the honorary rank of brigadier general. He became Chief Instructor at the School of Gunnery at Sydney. He was CRA of the 1st Division from 1921 to 1922. He was on the A & Q staff of the 1st Cavalry Division from 1922 to 1924. From 1923 to 1924 he was Chief Instructor of the Artillery School of Instruction in Sydney, then AA & QMG of the 1st Cavalry Division from 1926 to 1929. In 1930 he became Director of Ordnance Services, and then became Commandant of the 2nd Military District. He served as Quarter Master General and Master General of Ordnance from 1933 to 1939.
From 1939 to 1942, Phillips was Inspector General of Anti-Aircraft and Coastal Defences, a task that gradually became more and more urgent and critical. Phillips managed to get authorisation to create and deploy batteries that would soon be firing on the Japanese.
Phillips retired in June 1942. He died on 15 May 1966 and was buried in Cheltenham Cemetery.
Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1899-1939, Vol 11, p.219; AWM43 A687
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Last update 8 June 2010