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Western Front tactics in 1917


Mat McLachlan
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Chris, here is the preliminary summary of the work in digging out the various war diaries:

post-1473-1236021927.png

Just under 40% have details of where the batteries were located.

Robert

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Tantalisingly, the Commander Heavy Artillery II Corps mentions a separate list of all locations. Unfortunately, the list is not included in the war diary. Such is the frustration of working with this content. Still, 230 Siege Battery's diary does have the complete table that unlocks the codes that were used for targets. And the CHA's reports list every battery's targets on a daily basis.

From the counter-battery intelligence reports, it is clear that II Corps was receiving inbound German artillery fire from a number of locations. I am now going to start studying how much overlap there was with targeting of German batteries in Second Army's CB plan.

Targeting and effect are two different things of course. Effectiveness can only really be gauged by the strength and location of German counter-preparatory fire and, ultimately, the effect that this fire had on British assaults. Some of this information is available already but I want to track the details for the key attacks on July 31, throughout August, and the assault on 20 September.

Robert

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Robert,

Did Corps HQ keep a location file?

Hendo

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Hendo, not that I have found so far. The hunt goes on. I still have to search the divisional and army artillery brigades that were attached to II Corps. It is possible that something will turn up there.

Robert

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Robert

What your after are the Location Lists which were held at Corps level. In most instances they will be found in the Diary Commander HA but on occasion they do turn up in Commander RA diaries. I have read notes stating that, on reciept of the new list the old one was to be destroyed, clearly this didn't always happen.

The Location Lists in the Commander RA diaries have the added bonus of including the location of the various Brigades and batteries of the Divisional Artillery. I have some whereby if you had a big enough map you could plot out the entire Corps Artillery, both Heavy and Field. I have plotted some of them onto trench maps that have been stitched together, the trouble is that they can cover 5 or 6 maps or rather parts thereof. I have over 100 of these so if you have a date and Corps in mind I'll see what I have.

Stuart

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Thanks Stuart. I have checked both the Corps Commanders RA and HA diaries but no luck. The focus of this part of the thread is II Corps from July 1 to August 31, 1917. Any help would be much appreciated.

Robert

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Crunchy said:
. . . I have been thinking about the issue of number of guns allocated to a front and the subsequent calculation of the number of guns per yard of front, or yards of front per gun . . .

Chris

More than 1.7 million shells were fired in the preliminary bombardments on the Somme.

Chapter 6 (The Artillery Programme) of bmac's Pro Patria Mori – The 56th (1st London) Division at Gommecourt, 1st July 1916 ends with this comment on page 192 "Such concentrations [which are very well documented] were unlikely to cause major damage to the Germans lurking in their deep dug outs, uncomfortable, frightened and hungry though they may have been. But dead they certainly were not"

Jack Sheldon makes an interesting point in

 

"The French were initially extremely successful because inter alia the length of front they attacked was determined mathematically by the number of heavy howitzers available. If anybody wants to read it up, it is all in the French Official History."

Not an expert, but as one who really likes metrics, I would suggest that with the huge bombardments that were to be the pattern from 1916 onwards, there would be a need, at least, for some form of 'on the back of a cigarette box' type of calculation that says because we have such-and-such a number of 'tubes' we can do this, that or the other.

Of course you really need to know the 'net explosive per hectare per hour' or some such.

Carl

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Sadly, not that simple Carl. Check out this post, which quotes Uniacke's description of next steps in providing artillery support for Third Ypres. Note the complexity of the patterns of barrage, all designed to achieve a specific purpose. Even more important, note that Uniacke's suggestions are prompted by the German responses to previous barrage patterns. I'm afraid that this complexity cannot be distilled into guns per yard or tons of shell per hectare, etc.

Robert

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. . . I'm afraid that this complexity cannot be distilled into guns per yard or tons of shell per hectare, etc.

Robert

Indeed.

In fact this particularly highlights the steepness of the learning curve and illustrates that there was indeed a concerted effort to be more effective in an increasingly complex war.

I am still curious has to how the preliminary bombardments were 'sized'.

How would the useable stockpile at Ypres of say 5 million rounds in July 1917 have been determined?

Or would it have been much like the bank bailouts in 2008/2009/20xx where the quantum is determined by whatever it takes?

Carl

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Robert

I have looked at the two Corps either side of II Corps, XIX on the left and X Corps on the right. The XIX HA diary for this period is missing, however X Corps HA & RA diaries do provide some detail with regard to the cross Corps co-operation between them.

X Corps provided bombardment and enfilade fire, the CB report is useful in so much as it provides not only the target reference but the also the map reference which identifies where these targets were located.

There are letters and OP Or's from early July indicating the fireplan to be employed. On the 24th Aug. MGGS, 2nd Army, ordered ammunition allotments to be ignored and to fire what was neccesary in support of II Corps losing ground. There are a number of little snips like this which may be of interest.

I have attached the allotment estimate list for X Corps which gives some idea of the nature and number of rounds prior to attacks in early July.

Stuart

post-6041-1236207233.jpg

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Robert

Not having the numbers (and not knowing where to get them here in South Africa) I turned to Farndale who can be disappointing if not actually infuriating at times.

My figure of some 5 million rounds came from the 4,283,550 rounds given in the 'Official Statistics' and quoted by punjab612 in this post

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...=78581&st=5.

But on page 195 Farndale says "In the eighteen day preparatory bombardment alone, almost three million shells were fired . . . " from the 3106 guns [and howitzers] with details of the Fifth Army divisional artilleries (12) but no details of the balance "consisting of divisional artilleries not otherwise employed, Army Field Brigades and medium [that word again], heavy and super heavy batteries".

This scan might in fact show Farndale's post WW2 interpretation of the plan issued by Uniacke on 30th June 1917.

post-11597-1236238276.jpg

Carl

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Thanks, Stuart. X Corps is on my list for this weekend. I have not read the CRA and CHA diaries yet but the General Staff diaries do contain information about the cooperation between II and X Corps, as you say.

Robert

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Thanks Carl. The material from Farndale is patchy, as you say. It was included earlier in this thread but, given the extra levels of detail that are emerging from the relevant war diaries, an extensive re-write of Farndale will be possible. At least with respect to this phase of Third Ypres. I have to say that it is really fascinating to see how the British artillery plans were being adapted to the Germans, and vice versa, even within the three months period (July 1st to September 20th) that is covered by this thread.

Robert

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Carl, Crunchy et al,

Can I suggest that the answer to Crunchy's question about the utility of the "Guns per yard of Front" question is in Carl's response at #664, sub paragraph h, where Farndale describes the principles General Uniacke applied, the number of guns required to provide the necessary density of fire during the creeping barrage to protect, as best as possible, the advancing infantry. In essence therefore the much repeated calculation of "guns per yard' by later commentators and historians' is either a misinterpretation of the principle, or only relates to the guns for the creeping barrages and neglects the much broader and comprehensive fire planning.

Neglecting the complexity of the fire plans as they evolved doesn't surprise me given the Lions' and Donkeys' argument. I say evolved, a learning curve, rather than developed as the improvements took into account their experience during previous battles and analysis of German reactions and tactics, rather than just technological developments in fuzes, guns, mapping, sound ranging and so forth.

Cheers,

Hendo

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Just some points I have turned up recently on the idea of a formula or metric.

Guns per yard of front was not the only formula or metric used to compare the opposing strengths. At the Boulogne Conference held in 1915, the following is stated in the OH.

" The BEF was still far behind. Its proportion of artillery to bayonets at the time of the conference slightly exceeded that of the German army as a whole( 5.7 as against 5.2 of all calibres to every 1000 bayonets), but there were only seventy one pieces of heavy ordnance, 6 inch and upwards, with the Armies in France, compared with 1,406 field guns and light howitzers , a proportion of 1 to 20."

Personally, I find the notion of ratio of guns to bayonets harder to understand as a measure but this was a conference between the two General Staffs. ( French & British).

A few paragraphs further on, the OH totals infantry divisions, artillery, (heavy and field ) and states the breadth of front for a successful attack. This was the preliminary to the Battle of the Somme. Here we see the idea of so many guns to cover so many miles of front was extant in 1915.

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Tom,

The numeric comparison of guns, bayonets, tanks and so forth has long been a consideration in estimating the potential for success and identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing forces by commanders . It used to be a formal step in post WW1 "Intelligence Estimate" until the US "Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield" process became the vogue. But even with "IPB" it was formally considered.

Cheers,

Hendo

spelling error corrected

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Carl, Crunchy et al,

Can I suggest that the answer to Crunchy's question about the utility of the "Guns per yard of Front" question is in Carl's response at #664, sub paragraph h, where Farndale describes the principles General Uniacke applied, the number of guns required to provide the necessary density of fire during the creeping barrage to protect, as best as possible, the advancing infantry. In essence therefore the much repeated calculation of "guns per yard' by later commentators and historians' is either a misinterpretation of the principle, or only relates to the guns for the creeping barrages and neglects the much broader and comprehensive fire planning.

Neglecting the complexity of the fire plans as they evolved doesn't surprise me given the Lions' and Donkeys' argument. I say evolved, a learning curve, rather than developed as the improvements took into account their experience during previous battles and analysis of German reactions and tactics, rather than just technological developments in fuzes, guns, mapping, sound ranging and so forth.

Cheers,

Hendo

Hmm, wasn't reference to "guns per yards of trench" being used before the use of the creeping barrage?

On the German side, as already stated, the so many meters per battery was used in terms of calculations used in supression and destruction of trenches and not in relation to a creeping barrage.

Paul

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Paul,

You are no doubt right, I would say that its use pre dates WW1 and would have been a consideration in the American Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars and probably further back to other wars with guns lined up in pallisades against infantry.

Nevertheless in what I believe to be the common English language usage since WW1, it does overlook the complexity of the fire plans as they developed during WW1 that Crunchy raised and really only addresses the guns suppressing enemy trenches/attempting their destruction or protecting assaulting infantry. Therefore those writers who just total up the guns by the yard, irrespective of their task, can create a false impression of the fire weight and density on the enemy trenches, HQ, supply dumps and lines of supply and communications for the reader and those without the experience of war.

By the way, I love your work on the 3d maps of Verdun and follow your updates with great interest.

Cheers,

Hendo

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The first definite reference in the OH which I have been able to find is this. It is in reference to Aubers Ridge the second of the Early Battles. Vol. 2 1915, p14.

" In spite of the doubled or trebled strength of the German defences, the weight of metal per yard of front to be used to demolish them was little, if any, greater. On the front of 1st Division, considered as the main attacking force, there were to be, for example, 46 howitzers for demolishing the German front parapets and trenches on a frontage of fifteen hundred yards; at Neuve Chapelle there had been 60 howitzers for an attack frontage of two thousand yards."

I think there is a direct correlation being drawn here between guns and yardage. Of course, it is possible that this is a later manner of looking at things being applied to an earlier battle. The book was originally released in 1928 and the passage quoted is not a contemporary report.

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Paul,

You are no doubt right, I would say that its use pre dates WW1 and would have been a consideration in the American Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars and probably further back to other wars with guns lined up in pallisades against infantry.

Nevertheless in what I believe to be the common English language usage since WW1, it does overlook the complexity of the fire plans as they developed during WW1 that Crunchy raised and really only addresses the guns suppressing enemy trenches/attempting their destruction or protecting assaulting infantry. Therefore those writers who just total up the guns by the yard, irrespective of their task, can create a false impression of the fire weight and density on the enemy trenches, HQ, supply dumps and lines of supply and communications for the reader and those without the experience of war.

By the way, I love your work on the 3d maps of Verdun and follow your updates with great interest.

Cheers,

Hendo

It's a very interesting subject and the discussion of terms that have been adopted, and perhaps "modified" by historians and later analysts away from their original usage and meaning is an important one.

I agree with you. Even for the German examples I've given I've tried (and hope I did) convey that they were used in relation to actual infantry positions to be dealt with as part of the fire planning, and not a raw measure of the width of the front in question.

I feel a bit like a terrier on this subject, and hope I'm not being an obstructionist. I'm only concerned that we're mixing the terms as they have been mentioned (used by modern writers) and how they were being used at the time.

The use of artillery and the planning for fire missions, using the techniques of the Great War are something much on my mind at the moment. The calculations involved in "How many shells do we need to fire to destroy a position," are fascinating. Not in that they were hard and fast (the first shell could fly through a gun aperture and destroy an armored gun) but the calcuations were based on principles, and understanding them gives a much greater understanding into the workings of the artillery--a huge factor in operations during the war.

Thank you very much for the kind words on the maps. I am currently using my latest Verdun creation in a rather low-tech way, with an acetate sheet to plot gun positions.

Paul

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The German artillery expert Colonel Bruchmuller in his postwar work "Die Deutsche Artillerie in den Durchbruchschlachten des Weltkrieges," cites in the section entitled "force calculation" for artillery one factor as being something very much resembling the frontage formula. He reckons one heavy battery for every 150 meters of enemy infantry position or one battery every 100 meters at the breakthrough point

It is possible that Colonel Bruchmuller was describing of the concept of the sheaf, the pattern a battery's rounds make when they explode on (or above) the ground. The term is still much in use. The figures of 100 and 150 meters are approximate sheaf sizes, the lesser figure being a bit more converged than the other.

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The guns per 1000 bayonets metric seems to have been the normal one pre-1914. Numbers per frontage was subseuquenty quite widely used, for example the Red Army seems to have found it useful as a planning guide - by 1945 they seemed to use around 250 mors, guns & RLs per 1 km of breakthru sector which could be several kms wide.

The first (April 1916) edition of GHQ Arty Notes No 4 Arty in Offensive Ops, in sect 1-3 Estimate of guns and ammo required states: "The general plan of attack having been settled, it is the next duty of the artillery commander to prepare an estimate of the amount of artillery and ammunition required for the operation. The first point to remember is that the ammunition required depends upon the work to be done., i.e. upon the enemy's defences, more than on the number of guns available. The latter is, however, the governing factor as regards the time which will be required for preparation, and has therefore an important bearing on the general plan of attack, for if surprise forms any part of the latter, it is essential that sufficient fire units should be available to allow of the different portions of the enemy's defences being bombarded simultaneously.

The nature of guns required depends, like the ammunition, on the nature of the enemy's defence. There has sometimes been a tendency to think that nothing but the heaviest howitzers should be demanded on all occasions. A little consideration shows that even if the number of these natures available, and still more the amount of ammunition for them, were unlimited - conditions which are never likely to be fulfilled - questions connected with the supply of ammunition alone would necessitate economy in their use. In estimating the requirments the heavier natures should only be detailed for the tasks beyond othe power of the lighter."

This hits most of the key points and implies that crude metrics about guns per frontage distance or whatever weren't much us.

I won't try and copy chapter and verse, but broadly there was preparation fire on forward trenches aimed at cutting wire and doing as much damage as possible. A bit of data and assumptions could make this amenable to estimating quantities of ammo, time and hence guns needed. Then there was the barrage, to provide covering fire (neutralization) during the assault. Obviously this required lighter natures (troop safety being an issue). Since the barrage was based of fire unit lanes then for a given barrage width the fire unit numbers were readily calculated. CB took two forms, destruction using howitzers or neutralization using guns. Notes No 4, in its Allotment of tasks section, deals with the tasks for field guns, field hows, 4.7 & 60-pr, 6-in How, 8-in & 9.2-in Hows, 6-in guns, and 12 & 15-in Hows.

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