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Verdun bombardment


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If anyone has to hand the detailed make-up of the artillery used by the German Fifth Army in the initial bombardment on 21st February 1916 at Verdun I would be grateful for the information. Any information on the ammunition expended in the that bombardment also gratefully received.

Cheers.

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Hi,

which informations do you want exactly? Type and caliber of guns?

If anyone has to hand the detailed make-up of the artillery used by the German Fifth Army in the initial bombardment on 21st February 1916 at Verdun I would be grateful for the information.  Any information on the ammunition expended in the that bombardment also gratefully received.

Cheers.

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This is quite a question and I shall see what I can do. The first snippet comes from the semi-official Vol 13 of 'Schlachten des Weltkrieges' 'Die Tragoedie von Verdun Part 1' (p 27) Ammunition: 'Each battery was to have three complete days of supply on the gun positions. For batteries of field guns [four weapons] this meant 3,000 rounds, for light field howitzer batteries 2,100 and heavy field howitzer batteries 1,200. Similar quantities of ammunition were held in ammunition depots and on wheels in ammunition trains.'

I have now come aross a handy little document - Annex 1 to Der Weltkrieg 1914-1918[Official History] 10th Volume, entitled 'German and Enemy Artillery at Verdun and the Somme 1916'. This is the situation as at 21 Feb 16 (Fifth Army, less XVI & XVIII Corps):

Calibre 69-99 mm - 488 guns (442 Field Gun 96, 46 90 mm guns)

Calibre 100 - 149 mm - 146 guns of various types + 108 Light howitzers

Calibre 150 - 199 mm - 63 guns of various types + 276 heavy howitzers

Calibres over 200 mm - 1 x 210 mm gun, 3 x 380 mm guns, 120 mortars (calibre not specified + 16x 210 mm mortars+ 2x 280 mm mortars + 13 x 420 mm mortars

1251 in total. This was a huge superiority over the French, especially in howitzers and heavy mortars. I hope that this sets you on you way.

Jack

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A.H.Farrar-Hockley states in his book "The Somme" that at -- "4-30 in the morning of the 21st a single 380mm shell hurtled across the battlefield into Verdun. Slowly, from this beginning,...a hurricane of iron and steel raged across the frostbound soil, the fire of 1400 guns, howitzers and mortars."

Unfortunately no further details but Jack seems to have done his homework and his 1251 guns can't be far out.

Pete.

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If anyone has to hand the detailed make-up of the artillery used by the German Fifth Army in the initial bombardment on 21st February 1916 at Verdun I would be grateful for the information.  Any information on the ammunition expended in the that bombardment also gratefully received.

Cheers.

Bill;

To amplify on the responses, especially on Jack's; the Anlagen (Appendices) of Schlachten des Weltkrieges, Volume (Band) 13, which are on sheets that should be tucked in the back, lays out the artillery in use, literally gun by gun, type by type, caliber by caliber, even noting the Russian 10 cm long guns in use, with most unit designations, etc. They also lay out the attacking units, by unit number, name of many COs, down to the level of pioneer companies. I think that you can puzzle these out even if you do not read German.

Unlike Der Weltkrieg 1914-1918 that Jack mentioned, the Schlachten series are very plentiful and cheap, often going for about 8 Euros a pop. I think that there are four volumes covering the Battle of Verdun. Volume or Band 13 covers the opening days, another one is on the topic of Fort Douaumont, including the events early in the battle, when it was captured. The Schlachten series are by individual authors and are somewhat variable, and tend to have a lot more close-up "shoot-em-up" detail. If you are seriously studying Verdun the four volumes are easily and cheaply obtained.

If you buy some of these books make an attempt to get all of the maps and appendices that they are supposed to have; I recently bought one of the rather expensive Der Weltkrieg books at a really low price, and I only got two maps, instead of, say, 32, and they were from other volumes. As Professor Friedman once said: "There is no free lunch."

I just spent yesterday afternoon in the stacks of my wife's library, and I have a bit better grasp of the French official histories. A lot of material, thousands of phone calls, telegrams, orders, but so far not that insightful. I am trying to get to the bottom of a French brigade being captured almost intact in a flame attack at Verdun, and with all the detail on other events it seems like this one never happened.

Bob Lembke

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Bill,

If you shoot me an e-mail I'll send you the information. Will probably be Monday before I can get to it though.

hedererp@werkost.com

Paul

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Jack, Paul, Bob, Pete & Jens,

Thanks for the helpful replies. Let me explain the background. I was at the NA last week and found a paper written by Haig and circulated to his Army commanders on March 4th 1916 in which he comments on the German bombardment of the 21st February. I found it interesting because some of the comments he made found their way into the generally accepted view about the effectiveness of the British bombardment in June 1916. I was interested, therefore, to compare the available artillery in order to judge how genuine a comparison there was between the two bombardments (taking into account their different durations).

If I read Jack's information correctly, the Verdun and Somme bombardments were delivered by (in British measurement equivalents):

Guns:

Verdun Somme

3.1" 442 18 pdr 808 (+ 60 French)

3.5" 46 4.7" 32 (+ 24 French)

4.2" 146 60 pdr 128

5.9" 63 6" 20

8.4" 1 9.2" 1

12" 1

Total 698 1074

Howitzers

4.2" 108 4.5" 202

5.9"+ 276 6" 104

15" 3 8" 64

9.2" 60 (+ 16 French)

12" 11

15" 6

Total 387 363

(John Keegan says there were 542 'heavies' including 13 420mm (16.5") and 17 305mm (12") howitzers. Ian Hogg gives: 24 380-420mm (12"+ howitzers), 2 380mm (15") guns, 128 21cm (8.4") howitzers, 266 105-155mm (4.2"-5.9")

howitzers, 150 105-155mm (4.2"-5.9") guns, 247 77-90mm (3.1"-4.2") guns + 600 trench mortars. So, about 420 howitzers seems about right.

As I understand it, the initial German bombardment was on an 8 mile (12,900 yard) front (according to Keegan). The Somme front was 25,000 yards.

According to my calculations this means:

Verdun Somme

Yard of front per gun 18.5 23.3

Yard of front per how. 30.7 68.9

However, I understand that 150 of the guns were on counter-battery duty not the mainly wire cutting operations allocated to the British 18pdrs prior to 1st July.

If you take out the light 4.5" RFA howiters and the 4.2" German howitzers there were nearly twice as many 6"+ medium and heavy howitzers at Verdun than on the Somme, i.e. one per 155 yards on the Somme and one per 41 yards at Verdun. In other words, in order deliver the same weight of heavy howitzer fire as the Germans did in 8 hours on 21st February, the British would have had to fire continuously, at hurricane bombardment rates, for 30 hours.

Of course, Haig argued with Rawlinson in favour of a hurricane bombardment a la Verdun for several weeks before giving in and accepting the longer preparation. What seems obvious is that, had Haig won the argument, the resulting 'hurricane' bomardment on the Somme would have been a fraction of the intensity achieved at Verdun. Also, in his March paper he remarks on how "little or no time seems to have been devoted to the registration of the heavy artillery". Interestingly, there is a parallel here with the Somme where many of the batteries used came to the front fairly late and were given little chance to register targets prior to the start of the bombardment. Rawlinson also wrote to Haig that "with many new gun detachments we cannot expect very accurate shooting", a problem for the many batteries that came out fresh from the UK often with guns that had rarely been used.

Interestingly, Haig then spends three pages setting out the defensive lessons to be learned from Verdun and only three, very general, paragraphs on lessons for the offensive. One of these states that the British had already employed a cut down version of the Verdun surprise hurricane bombardment - at Neuve Chapelle in Haig's abortive action in March 1915.

Lastly, there is Haig's conclusion that " The result of the combination of surprise and an overwhelming artillery preparation was that infantry appear to have had little more to do in their first advance than to take possession of ground already practically won by the artillery." Such optimistic sentiments seemed to have been very widespread amongst senior officers prior to 7.30am on 1st July, one suspects because the comparison with and lessons learned from Verdun were based on a severaly flawed intepretation of the actual event and that much of this misintepretation perhaps came from the initial analysis of the Commander in Chief.

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Super piece of research and helps to understand why the Somme bombardment didn't achieve what was expected. Thanks for the posting.

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I know quite a bit about Verdun, quite a bit less than that about the Somme. But the situations were very different. Some thoughts.

The situations were very different, enough so that any attempt to directly apply the "lessons" seems to me a not particularily useful exercise. The French positions at Verdun were generally weak and not strongly garrisoned. At most points on the attack sector the Germans applied a day's bombardment and then made limited probing attacks. On the second day at most points they shelled till noon and then attacked. The French positions were mostly destroyed and the troops killed or shell-shocked; so much so that it might had been better to forgo the second bombardment, if the goal was to take territory, or possibly Verdun. Good advances were made for several days, but then the assault troops were weakened and tired (the weather was horrible, the earth very waterlogged and muddy), the artillery could not move up readily, and French reserves began to arrive. In the first 2-3 days two and a half French divisions were almost totally destroyed. For the first few days the French artillery, whose shortages of shell was much more severe than fewer barrels they had, had almost no observation of any sort and generally was only able to shell some road junctions in a blind attempt to interrupt the movement of troops, etc. The French command had almost no idea what was happening on the front lines.

If the objective was to maximize French losses it might have been better to shell for a couple of days, advance, and when the defense stiffened dig in. At first they probably were trading casualties at a ratio of 4 to 1 or 5 to 1. But the effort and material put into preparing for the attack was so great that such a limited effort would probably not been cost-effective. Plus it would probably be disappointing to public and military morale.

The German positions on the Somme were, relatively, much stronger, I assume.

Was it true that at the Somme the British fired vast amounts of field artillery shrapnel shell that did little to cut the wire?

The Brits seemed to load their infantry with 75 pounds of gear, the Germans, on the assault, usually left their field packs behing and toted a small assault pack of (I am guessing), about 30 lbs. The British then had to slowly stagger through the mud and wire and MG fire. Was this an important factor?

Bob Lembke

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In the bombardment on the Somme John Keegan estimates that two thirds of the 1.5 million shells fired were 18pdrs of which a large proportion were used for wire cutting. The 6" howitzers fired about 80,000 rounds and the 8" and 9.2" howitzers about 50,000 each. The rest came from the light and ultra heavy howitzers and the medium to long guns. So, maybe 200,000 medium to heavy howitzer shells were fired along a 25,000 yard front. Couple of other things though:

1. Some estimates put the percentage of mis-fires at 30% (especially amongst the 9.2" shells); and

2. 25,000 yards underestimates the size of the target as the German lines consisted in most areas of three lines and the howitzers also had to target communication trenches and strongpoints.

As for 'learning lessons' I agree. Unfortunately Haig seems to have put considerable weight on the 'lessons' to be learned from the Verdun bombardment.

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Bill,

Sorry, didn't see the replies. I subscribed to this topic, but never got an e-mail notice.

The two bombardments were very different. Weight of fire and concentration achieve much more than punding away slowly over a length of time.

There is actually a formula out there for calculating casualties and damage over time and it drops off dramatically after a short bit.

As Bob said Verdun and the Somme were two very different battles. The intent of the Verdun offensive at its conception was never to take the city or fortess, but to inflict casualties by forcing the French to concentrate their forces and then using superior concentrations of fire, especially from weapons like the 210mm mortar and 150mm how. to pound them into dust.

The Germans were actually dissapointed by the results of the initial bombardment at Verdun, and you can find numerous references to them being "surprised" at survivors holding them up.

Bill, if you'd like I can scan in and send you Bruce Gudmundsson's section from "On Artillery," on Verdun. I was lucky enough to come into contact with him, and we discussed the use of artillery there at length via e-mail. Very interesting conversations those.

Please let me know if you need any more information. I have a notebook full of German artillery information from Verdun.

Paul

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Paul,

Thanks for this. My main interest is in whether Haig and other senior officers misinterpreted the impact (and type) of bombardment that occurred in Verdun on 21st February. It seems to me that they may have equated weight of shell delivered with the effectiveness of the overall bombardment - and got it significantly wrong. In this light, your formula (a post-war creation?) sounds interesting.

The Allies seem to have been more impressed by events at Verdun than the Germans. From what little I know about Verdun the Germans may have contributed to their relative disappointment in the first day's progress by not pressing forward immediately and instead sending in officer patrols in order to judge the state of the French defences. This gave people like Driant and his battalions time to prepare some sort of defence which came as a surprise to the attacking infantry.

The Allies, however, seemed to have looked at the impact on the defences and not what defence they then managed to put up. This interpretation was then applied by GHQ to the initial Somme bombardment - thus the argument between Haig and Rawlinson about the length of the bombardment. Oddly, they ended up with a planned bombardment longer than Rawlinson had initially suggested which was, of course, 'extended' still further because of bad weather. On the other hand, the intensity of the bombardment was reduced when Haig, four days before it was due to start, wrote to Rawlinson hinting very strongly that the bombardment should be reduced in intensity in order to conserve both ammunition and guns for later actions. After initial objections, Rawlinson took Haig's 'hint' and cut by 50% the duration of the 8 1/4 hrs of intense bombardment in the plan. Thus the Somme bombardment became even weaker and any resemblance to the Allied interpretation of Verdun more remote. However, the expectation of the results on the Somme remained the same and senior officers and many at battalion level too repeated the Haig mantra from his March 4th note:

"The result of the combination of surprise and an overwhelming artillery preparation was that infantry appear to have had little more to do in their first advance than to take possession of ground already practically won by the artillery."

The fact that the Somme artillery was significantly weaker in heavy howitzers than that employed at Verdun, that German defences around the villages and with their deep dugouts were significantly stronger and that the troops involved in the attack were less experienced and more constrained in their tactics seems not to have featured in the planning process. Thus the results of the first day of the Somme.

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Bill,

The formula I've seen was a post-war creation, but the concept developed during the war.

I know, at least from the German side, that the Germans moved away from destruction to neutralization for fire effect on infantry and artillery. Part of this lesson was learned at Verdun, though there were huge and concentrated fires used later, say for example, on the Mort Homme, to literally blast the French defenders off.

I'll look for the actual formula tonight, but I remember off-hand that most of the casulaties occur in the first two minutes, brefore everyone has a chance to go to ground. For complete destruction of a unit (in modern terms about 30% casualties) it takes something like 400% more shells than neutralization.

That makes sense. Complete destuction is virtually impossible. As the number of surviviors gets smaller that dispersion factor gets larger, unless you can literally see the survivors, which is rare, or they well, wouldn't be surviving.

If Haig thought that the weight of shell fired equated to effectiveness then he learned a lesson 180 degrees out from the Germans. Concentration of fire, and suprise and suddeness of fire was more effective. If you read accounts of German bombardments later in the war you'll see references as to how they "suddenly deluged an area, "or how the entire horzon lit up suddenly."

Paul

Paul,

Thanks for this.  My main interest is in whether Haig and other senior officers misinterpreted the impact (and type) of bombardment that occurred in Verdun on 21st February.  It seems to me that they may have equated weight of shell delivered with the effectiveness of the overall bombardment - and got it significantly wrong.  In this light, your formula (a post-war creation?) sounds interesting.

The Allies seem to have been more impressed by events at Verdun than the Germans.  From what little I know about Verdun the Germans may have contributed to their relative disappointment in the first day's progress by not pressing forward immediately and instead sending in officer patrols in order to judge the state of the French defences.  This gave people like Driant and his battalions time to prepare some sort of defence which came as a surprise to the attacking infantry. 

The Allies, however, seemed to have looked at the impact on the defences and not what defence they then managed to put up.  This interpretation was then applied by GHQ to the initial Somme bombardment - thus the argument between Haig and Rawlinson about the length of the bombardment.  Oddly, they ended up with a planned bombardment longer than Rawlinson had initially suggested which was, of course, 'extended' still further because of bad weather. On the other hand, the intensity of the bombardment was reduced when Haig, four days before it was due to start, wrote to Rawlinson hinting very strongly that the bombardment should be reduced in intensity in order to conserve both ammunition and guns for later actions.  After initial objections, Rawlinson took Haig's 'hint' and cut by 50% the duration of the 8 1/4 hrs of intense bombardment in the plan.  Thus the Somme bombardment became even weaker and any resemblance to the Allied interpretation of Verdun more remote.  However, the expectation of the results on the Somme remained the same and senior officers and many at battalion level too repeated the Haig mantra from his March 4th note:

"The result of the combination of surprise and an overwhelming artillery preparation was that infantry appear to have had little more to do in their first advance than to take possession of ground already practically won by the artillery."

The fact that the Somme artillery was significantly weaker in heavy howitzers than that employed at Verdun, that German defences around the villages and with their deep dugouts were significantly stronger and that the troops involved in the attack were less experienced and more constrained in their tactics seems not to have featured in the planning process.  Thus the results of the first day of the Somme.

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  I'll look for the actual formula tonight, but I remember off-hand that most of the casulaties occur in the first two minutes, brefore everyone has a chance to go to ground. 

Paul

Paul and Bill;

In my area of study, flame attacks, some successful German flame attacks used a two minute bombardment of the first line. The defenders would be rattled, some killed, the lookouts got their heads down, and then the flame pioneers would be on top of them, while the barrage lifted to the communication trenches and the second line.

The longest bombardment for a largely flame attack that I can remember, off the top on my head, was a couple of hours, although I imagine there were longer ones.

Bob Lembke

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Bill,

I forgot to mention (don't think I saw it mentioned) that the first "stage" of the Verdun had an allocation of 2,000,000 shells, this was for the first six days. With a further allocation 2,000,000 in reserve.

I'm away from my sources, but I'm pretty sure those numbers are correct.

@Bob

That's interesting and it sure jives.

Paul

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Guys;

Against my better judgement, here is a snippet of draft from my book-in-progress. I stress the word "draft". Additionally, I am embarrassed by the paupacy of citations, unless all of this came from Weltkrieg. Will have to check this. I usually include an excessive number of citations.

" In order to plan and prepare the artillery preparation, Generalmajors (equivalent to brigadier general) Schabel was appointed “General of the Foot Artillery with the Army Command” (Foot artillery was the phrase used in German for heavy artillery) An artillery staff was appointed for each of the three sectors that had been chosen for the initial assault. These three sectors in total formed an arc of about six miles east of the Meuse River, starting about two miles from river bank. A corps of two assault divisions was assigned to each sector, each spanning about two miles of front. In addition to the divisional artillery that was integral to each infantry division, whose fire-power was being steadily improved, Schabel had 416 heavy high-angle-of-fire guns (primarily 15cm, 21cm, and 28cm howitzers), and 232 heavy flat-trajectory long-range guns (mostly a mix of calibers from 10cm to 21cm. The 15cm howitzer, throwing a 93 pound shell 9295 yards, only weighed 4850 pounds, while the 10cm gun, throwing a 41 pound shell 15,420 yards, weighed 7055 pounds in the field, hence the designation of the latter as heavy artillery.) Also, 26 high-angle guns of the “heaviest” calibers, Austrian and German 30.5cm mortars and German 42cm howitzers, were brought up, as well as three naval 38cm battleship guns mounted railroad carriages, to be assigned to the interdiction of distant high-value targets. 340 of the 416 heavy high-angle guns and 153 of the 232 heavy flat-trajectory guns were assigned to the sectors of the initial assault. Of course, field artillery was also available, mostly divisional artillery; 550 cannon, of which 308 barrels were deployed at the assault sectors.

These guns were to have a great deal of ammunition at their disposal. The Highest Command allocated, for example, 300 shells per each 77mm field gun, 400 shells per gun for the 105mm light howitzers, 180 shells for each 15cm heavy field howitzer, 120 shells for the 21cm and 28cm heavy howitzers, 100 shells for each 30.5cm mortar, 50 shells per 42cm howitzer, and 100 to 250 shells for each heavy flat-trajectory long-range gun, depending on caliber.

In addition to artillery, the assault sectors were assigned 32 heavy 24cm (check this) “mine-throwers” (close-support mortars, usually served by pioneers) with 9120 shells, 88 17cm medium mine-throwers with 28,500 shells, and 82 light 76mm mine-throwers with 69,600 explosive and 7200 gas mortar shells. Additional “minen” (mortar shells) were on hand in the 5th Army’s pioneer park.

Initially, it required 213 full-sized ammunition trains to bring up the initial allocation of artillery ammunition; thereafter it was planned to bring in an additional 33 3/4 train-loads of artillery ammunition per day when the assault commenced. (Der Weltkrieg, Band 10, pp. 61-62)

In contrast, the French had far fewer artillery barrels in the area of Verdun, mostly their excellent but light and flat-shooting 75mm field gun, not well-suited for the hilly terrain about Verdun, plus an assortment of mostly obsolete heavier guns, many recently pulled out of fixed mountings in the remaining French forts. Their initial stocks of ammunition were woefully low. Across the front from Brabant, on the east bank of the Meuse, the right end of the sectors of the initial attack, to Fromezey, a distance down the arc of the French front about twice the length of the front of the German attack, the French had on hand 3700 155mm shells, 3100 120mm shells, 600 95mm shells, 2700 90mm shells, 500 80mm shells, and 6400 shells for their many 75mm field guns, a total of 17,000 shells. (Colonel Thomasson, as reported in Lefebvre, Verdun, p. 60.) Additional stocks were in the Verdun area, but the very heavy German air-directed interdiction fire would make it impossible to bring up more artillery ammunition in the opening phase of the attack. In comparison, the Germans had brought up approximately 180,000 shells for their 77mm and 90mm field guns, about 35,000 shells for their heavy flat-trajectory long-range guns, 70,000 shells for their heavy howitzers of 15 and 21cm, about 2000 shells for their super-heavy 30.5 and 42cm guns, plus 114,420 shells for their mine-throwers, for a total of over 400,000 shells. In every category except the light field guns the German guns were heavier and more modern (many of the older French heavier guns, and those recently pulled out of the many fortresses, were without modern recoil systems and carriages, and were not far from useless), and in the opening phase of the battle the French had almost no artillery fire direction, due to the effects of the German barrage and an overwhelming air offensive, so the disadvantages the French artillery faced at the beginning of the assault went far beyond the 23 to 1 ratio of the number of shells on hand. Adjusting for the longer front along which the French shells enumerated above were distributed, keeping in mind that for the first few days of the attack the French were incapable of transferring artillery ammunition, the ratio of available shell stocks in the sector of the assault was probably more than 40 to 1. Clearly the Germans were to have a overwhelming artillery advantage in the opening phase of the coming battle. "

Bob Lembke

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