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Remembered Today:

Artillery - No Helmets?


Si Botak

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Hi all

I've just viewed some newly put together footage from the Great War shot by Charles Bean around the Battle of Pozieres... curiously it shows Aussie gunners firing away wearing service caps and slouch hats... would this be due to a cest la vie attitude in the case of Counter-battery fire would setting off their own nearby stockpile of shells? Or was there some other reason? I would've thought the risk of counter-battery fire was almost constant, seeing how logically if you were at a range where you could hit a target, conceivably you could also be a target yourself?

The footage also clearly depicts mounted lumbers and drivers who are (quite understandably given their chances of copping shellfire on the roads) wearing their tin hats..

Any advice on this much appreciated...

Cheers

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Si

I noticed the same thing and the only thought I had was not being in a trench a tin hat does not provide much additional protection and may be uncomfortable and cumbersome to wear when working a gun. Sitting on a wagon I think it’s more a psychological than a physical protection.

By the way the 3 clips are here http://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/australia-in-france-part-one/

Tim B

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Not going to be of much help if a big (or little for that matter) shell lands near you, I would think that when heaving shells around at a fast clip a tin hat would get in the way, slipping and sliding all over the place.

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Not going to be of much help if a big (or little for that matter) shell lands near you, I would think that when heaving shells around at a fast clip a tin hat would get in the way, slipping and sliding all over the place.

Well that's pretty much what I was thinking. With that much boom-boom around the place, maybe the attitude was "'helmet shmelmet', that bloody thing won't do much but get in my way". Those blokes are awfully exposed if some stuff does come in, so I was kinda wondering if there would've been any point... I can imagine especially after a few months getting all worn in, a KFF would've been a much more comfortable thing to put on your head than a helmet and if the latter won't help you when things get hairy anyway...

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Hello Si

Another point to bear in mind is that the British only introduced steel helmets in 1916 and priority of issue was given to the infantry, so there might not have been enough to go round at the time the film was shot!

But the more likely explanation is that a steel helmet simply got in the way, and in particular its weight would be inconvenient. The fact that the men are not wearing helmets does not mean that helmets were not to hand in the event of incoming enemy shell-fire.

Ron

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Another point to bear in mind is that the British only introduced steel helmets in 1916 and priority of issue was given to the infantry, so there might not have been enough to go round at the time the film was shot!

Ron

Even the Australian infantry at Pozieres, going over the bags, didn't have helmets. So, it's no surprise the gunners didn't either.

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I remember reading that the WW1 tin hats were very hot to wear. In a sequence of field artillery rapid firing the No 1 nearest the camera is bare to the waist so it must have been pretty hot weather. I particularly noticed him because he illustrates a note from my Grandfather's records that the No 1 acknowledges receipt of an order by saluting and the officer is shown, shortly afterwards, calling out an order and responding with a salute of his own.

Keith

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I would've thought the risk of counter-battery fire was almost constant, seeing how logically if you were at a range where you could hit a target, conceivably you could also be a target yourself?

Not necessarily; if the 18pdrs are firing at the German trenches at close to maximum effective range then they will be out of range of the German 77mm guns some distance behind their targets. They would only be in effective range of the German heavies, who may well be otherwise engaged.

I think it was rare for the BEF/French and German field artillery to be in range of one another.

I agree that shortage of helmets is the reason for the crews not having them in this case.

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A further possible reason is that steel helmets were introduced as protection against shrapnel for soldiers in trenches. The whole of a gunners body is vulnerable unless behind the shield of a field piece.

Old Tom

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Some armies only wear helmets while under fire while others make them a standard part of the field uniform. The modern U.S. Army makes helmets part of the field uniform and soldiers who don't wear them are considered to be out of uniform. During World War II the Wehrmacht would often take off their helmets and put on soft caps once engagements ended. It's a matter of command policy.

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This business of "Force Protection" regarding helmets and body armor is a topic of debate in U.S. military circles. Post-Vietnam the wisdom in DoD has been that mounting casualties cause public support for war efforts to erode and decline. The military medical people have statistics that purport to show that body armor saves lives. Thus U.S. policy is generally that flak vests and helmets are required to be worn at all times.

However, if you're a dismounted light infantryman in Afghanistan in a mountainous region of 10,000 feet in elevation -- where the air is thin and it's hard to breathe -- do you want to be wearing a helmet and a 35-pound flak vest? They impair your agility, stamina and endurance. We need to outfight and defeat the Taliban and wearing all that weight up in the mountains makes it more difficult to do so. We're letting public relations and political considerations get in the way of tactical efficiency. If protecting our own forces becomes more important than defeating the enemy than we shouldn't bother fighting in the first place.

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In the note accompanying the second clip of the second series, one sentence may explain the discrepancies between infantrymen and artillerymen and helmets: The soldiers have exchanged their slouch hats for the relatively new British steel helmets used in the forward areas. Were the gunners "in the forward areas"? I wouldn't have said so for the field guns but definitely not for the heavies.

Keith

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Just a thought but if there was a chance of counter battery fire would a film crew be standing in the open filming?

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Mate,

My records of former LH soldiers serving in the Artillery in 1916 shown many being wounded and killed by counter battery fire during late 1916 on the Somme battle at Poziers and later at Flers.

So I do wonder why they were not wearing there tin hats?

Concidering this was the first big battle for the AIF in France, the late issue of tin hats and the bravdo of the AIF soldiers could be the main reasons here?

Some soldiers shown are'

ADDIS Clement Riggs 4711 Dvr 3 FAB 7R to 3 BAC 9-15 to 7Bty/3 FAB 3-16 WIA 21-8-16 multiple at Pozieres F&B buried Becourt Military Cemetery Becordel-Becourt France

CARROLL Henry James 1523 A/Sgt 9 LHR 12R Tos 12-15 to Gnr 60Bty/25 FAB 5-16 WIA 9-8-16 head at Pozieres F&B died at 1 CCS buried Estaires Communal Cemetery France Ex 9R/03 LHR (1245) DNE (WAMI CMF 1 year)

COCKERILL Charles Cahill 1523 Pte 03 LHR 11R to C Sqn? to Gnr 19Bty/22 FAB F&B reported killed near Albert Wood at Pozieres NKG listed on Villers Bretonneux Memorial France (ACo CMF) only brother Francis 5 Pnr Bn KIA 13-8-16

FALLON George 1179 Pte 11 LHR 6R to A Sqn att 02 LHR 11-15 to Dvr 44Bty/11 FAB 4-16 WIA 3-8-16 chest/back & abdomen at Pozieres F&B buried Trois-Arbres Cemetery Steenwerck France

HEARN Thomas Patrick 1414 Pte 8 LHR 11R to A Sqn? 12-15 to Gnr 48Bty/24 FAB 4-16 to Dvr 4 DAC 5-16 WIA 24-8-16 head & face R/eye shrapnel at Pozieres to 39Bty/10 FAB (1414a) 6-17 WIA 16-4-18 R/thigh near Dernencourt F&B disch 18-10-18

Just a few

S.B

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