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Searchlights within German defensive positions -Somme?


delta
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The magazine of the Bournemouth School includes a reference to Germans using searchlights as art of their defence scheme.

This is the first time I have come across such a system which, I think, must have been on the Somme in the one of the later battles (Oct - Nov 16)

Has anyone else come across this before?

Account in news Bournemouthian April 1917

"An extra half-holiday was given on February 15th in honour of Lieut HG Head, who was awarded the Military Cross under circumstances described later in this issue.

Lieut. Head paid us a welcome visit during the Christmas holidays, and spoke very modestly of his performance.

On one occasion when he was in action, and his tank in No Mans Land it was struck by a German shell, which destroyed the clutch. Unable to move the machine, he and his men were obliged to abandon it and retire to their own trenches. When night came they returned to the Tank with the tools and spare parts necessary to do the repairs, but they were spotted by German searchlight and, the neighbourhood having become unhealthy, they were obliged to discontinue their work and again retire. They by no means gave up hope of retrieving their derelict, however, and the next day, under the caver of a friendly fog, they went out again, completed the repairs, and brought back the Tank in triumph.

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I read an article that mentioned searchlights at night during the battle of the Aisne. If I find it again, will transcribe and post.

Mike

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This from the 1st Wiltshire Regiment War Diary

18/10/14 Sunday " Endeavoured to make ground to the front but enemy appeared to have been strongly reinforced; only succeeded in making about 200 to 300 yards. Germans shelled trenches and village. Made another effort to get forward at dusk, heavy firing continued till 10:30pm, but little progress made. Enemy employed guns, searchlights and star shells; they also fired hay-ricks. "

Mike

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When 1/7th King's went over the top at 11.30 pm on 15th May 1915 at the opening of the Battle of Festubert they made it halfway across no mans land when some soldiers report being "caught in the German searchlights". They definitely use this word as opposed to flares or very lights.

All the best,

Paul.

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This is quite probable as the German units on the Somme and elsewhere had Scheinwerfer units attached to them. While I have not seen any direct reference to them being used that I can recall, it is obvious that if they existed they would be used whenever possible. The enemy was reported using them often, especially the French.

Ralph

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Wouldnt a sniper on the other side just shoot them out?

J.

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It is nigh on impossible to shoot out a searchlight except by lucky chance. Try looking at one at night and the difficulties are immediately apparent. They were extensively used by the German army on the Western Front wherever there were fixed lines of defence. They frequently cooperated with adjacent lights in a coordinated way to help dominate No Man's Land. The map below of Schwaben Redoubt dates from July 1916 when Bavarian RIR 8 was defending this sector. Note the positioning of the searchlight [scheinwerfer].

Jack

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It is nigh on impossible to shoot out a searchlight except by lucky chance. Try looking at one at night and the difficulties are immediately apparent. They were extensively used by the German army on the Western Front wherever there were fixed lines of defence. They frequently cooperated with adjacent lights in a coordinated way to help dominate No Man's Land. The map below of Schwaben Redoubt dates from July 1916 when Bavarian RIR 8 was defending this sector. Note the positioning of the searchlight [scheinwerfer].

Jack

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Certainly possible to knock them out with artillery as the Germans knew well before the war - an American report from 1908

"An interesting- experiment in night artillery work was made in Germany recently. A searchlight was placed at a distance unknown to the officers In command of a field battery, and after it was turned on, the guns were brought into action against it. Six 4.7 guns were used, the range was obtained very rapidly, and within five minutes the light was broken to pieces. Another searchlight, at a range of about 2,200 yards, was broken after a few rounds had been fired"

An American guide to night time use of artillery published in 1913 recommends that search lights if used defensively are placed so that several can sweep the same ground from different positions and no single searchlight is on continuously for more than a few minutes at a time. I have a recollection of reading that the Germans adopted this tactic. During the war later doctrine for dealing with searchlights by the Allies was either gas shells to drive the operators away or indirect machine gun barrages - if the bullets didn't knock out the lights them selves they would make survival difficult for the operators. Illuminating shells and flares became a much safer bet.

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All true - hence my point about coordinated use. This is well attested and was organised rather in the same way as planned artillery harassing fire, but their vulnerability to gunfire did not put the defenders off from going to the trouble of deploying them, which leads me to believe that they were useful.

Jack

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Im having trouble seeing that these could ever have been a serious item on a ww1 battlefield.

J.

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Well you are entitled to your opinion. However, searchlight units deployed with German divisions on mobilisation and they went on being created throughout the war: Scheinwerferzug 364 being formed as late as 18 Sep 1917 and deployed with 87th Infantry Division. The literature is full of references to their various uses. On 27 Dec 16, for example, Reserve Scheinwerferzug 14, subordinated to 10th Reserve Division, was deployed near the Meuse and the history states that from there it was able to illuminate a strip of terrain 2,000 - 3,000 metres in depth. There are plenty of other examples which could be quoted. I repeat, if these devices were not useful they would not have seen service.

Jack

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Are the references in German literature? I don't doubt their use, but can't recall reading about them in British war diaries and the like.

Chris

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They were actually used on the WF 1939/40 but not AFAIK on other "static" fronts after that but the same might be more or less applied to observation balloons - warfare had moved on and I think they were already obsolescent in 1918.

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Yes. Their operation was an engineer responsibility, so their deployments and technical information concerning their capabilities is covered primarily in the histories of the Pionier Battalions. Some histories are more informative than others, but that of the Bavarian Pioniers is quite detailed in places. It contains notes on the tactical use of the lights and a detailed description of the capabilities of a searchlight deployed north of Bequincourt in support of 11th Infantry Division. The two main responsibilities were anti-air and defence against infantry attacks or patrol activity, though support of artillery observers seems also to have been important. As time went by the heavier units tended to be used for the former role, but some of the lighter equipment, such as the oxy-acetylene type with effective ranges of circa 500metres, was reserved for front line use.

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Well you are entitled to your opinion. However, searchlight units deployed with German divisions on mobilisation and they went on being created throughout the war: Scheinwerferzug 364 being formed as late as 18 Sep 1917 and deployed with 87th Infantry Division. The literature is full of references to their various uses. On 27 Dec 16, for example, Reserve Scheinwerferzug 14, subordinated to 10th Reserve Division, was deployed near the Meuse and the history states that from there it was able to illuminate a strip of terrain 2,000 - 3,000 metres in depth. There are plenty of other examples which could be quoted. I repeat, if these devices were not useful they would not have seen service.

Jack

Jack, I feel very sorry that people here indeed question your expertise and your long lasting research on German warfare.

Let me assist you that my library on WW1 German language literature is full of documentation w/r to the use of Scheinwerfer units even in the front line trenches (other than the documented use for aerial defense purposes in the rear area). I visited myself various Scheinwerfer sites in the Vosges mountains that survived the century. A striking Scheinwerfer-Stellung is still visible between the Linge and the Rain de Chenes, put in concrete for eternity with inscriptions of construction date (1916) and Scheinwerfer unit markings in top front position! In my thread abouth the Buchenkopf, you will find a today picture from one of the generator bunkers that supplied the Scheinwerfer with electrical power (other Scheinwerfer-types were lit with gas from easy to carry gas bottles)).

I also hope my very own expertise on the Hartmannsweilerkopf (see my thread with a picture from the electrical wiring to supply the Scheinwerfer with electricity) is not questioned with i.e. 3 Scheinwerferpositions on/in Adlerhorst, Hirtzstein and Möllendorf , mentioned for 1.12.1917 and 1.6.1918 ( grown to 15 sites).

The Alpine warfare locations also were "littered" with Scheinwerfer units and were a vital part of the defenses as my documents prove.

Just by simple googling in German language I find immediate references in the internet regarding the use of Scheinwerfer in the trenches. I just read about the capture of a French Scheinwerfer at Vregny, 14.1.15 or a captured (British/Indian) Scheinwerfer at Festubert, 26.12.14, a picture from 20. schwere Scheinwerfer-Abteilung, near St.Mihiel 1915 etc etc.

Again tons of stories in German literature, some 2 meters behind me ......

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Gentlemen

Thank you for the detailed information - I am now much better informed

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And in British war diaries.........?

See post #3 Chris. I also saw a report in a newspaper about their use in the battle of the Aisne, which i will post if can locate again.

Cheers Mike

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Hi All,

Interesting topic. If anyone wants details of the searchlight units and the searchlights used there is a modest amount of detail given at page 102 of "The German Army Handbook 1918" which was compiled by British Intelligence.

Details are given there of the Heavy 90cm diameter electric light projector and the Light 60cm diameter electric light projector. In addition, there were two patterns of portable searchlights, one being a 25 to 35 cm electric light projector and the other more common type of 25 to 30 cm diameter type that was an oxy-acetylene projector. In addition, there were the anti-aircraft searchlights that used a 90cm naval projector said to have a range of 1,500 metres.

Regards,

Michael.

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I don't think many, if any, serious members are questioning the fact of the use of searchlights but some may legitimately question their value and "well they must have found some use if they kept deploying them" responses don't really answer the issue as I'm sure that many of us can think of examples where tactics, technology and techniques were persisted with by all sides long after when they should have been dropped.

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Didn't they use the lights at LIEGE to bombard the forts? Have seen drawings of this action & some had searchlights playing on the forts. If ever a good place to use them it was there. Wonder if they were used at Verdun or on the Russian front?

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