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Western Front tactics in 1917


Mat McLachlan
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...the Germans worked overtime on preparing their defences in the Ypres area after the British success at Messines.
Chris, that is absolutely correct. The preparations were made at several levels, including the construction of concrete strong points and pill boxes, the refinement and training for counter-attacks, etc. Not least was the transfer of von Lossberg to the Flanders Front. He was one of the intellectual masterminds behind aspects of the German defensive approach, not least the exploitation of the reverse slope and the empty battlefield. Von Lossberg's personal energy and drive also had a significant effect as well. He joined the General Staff of the German 4th Army on 13th June 1916.

Robert

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Chris, so far there is no evidence for this being a problem with the first wave, whose target objective was the Blue Line. This comment is heavily caveated though.

Robert

Robert,

One of the problems that can occur when there are delays, or the troops are too slow, or for that matter too fast in the attack, is that the first wave of the assault line can whiplash (due to commanders/everyone in the leading wave trying to maintain momentum and timing). The following troops inevitably fall behind (concertina) as they stop/start, particularly in this war where subsequent waves were also Ammunition and Supply Bearer Parties.

As a visual analogy, think of a person playing the piano accordion, with the in/out movement being the depth of the attack and the up/down wave motion the player makes being the appearance of the line from overhead. You see the same sort of effect at motorway accidents with the following traffic stopping and starting and those closer to the front don't lose much time, the further back you are the more time lost.

Cheers,

Hendo

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Full listing of the II Corps' siege and heavy batteries' locations found today. Well, I ANZAC Corps to be precise, but the same batteries, given that they were transferred. I will cross-check the locations with those that I have already.

Robert

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Well done Robert, where was the list?

Chris H (hendo)

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The following comes from 8th Division's preliminary battle plan, which was issued at the beginning of July 1917. It describes the ideas for attacking the Red Line. This was the furthest objective suggested.

"The first essential [to attack on Red Line] is to discover if the enemy is demoralised: this can best be done by pushing the 2nd R Berks. Regt. through to the high ground S. of ZONNEBEKE. If successful either fresh troops must be brought up to continue the attack or I must arrange before-hand to continue the attack with some of the troops which captured the BLUE LINE. [GOC 8th Division] should be glad to be informed in due course as to the policy in this matter."

The answer is written in pencil:

"Army Orders are that [preceding] Green line is to be consolidated and 'patrols' pushed forward."

At the earliest stage of the planning process, Fifth Army was not planning a break-through, but a break-in battle.

Robert

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  • 3 weeks later...

After extensive reading of the various divisional, brigade and battalion histories, it appears that all of the first-wave assault battalions pushed forward on time behind the creeping barrage. Most reached the Blue line. Starting with the 24th Division on the right of 30th Division, the assault troops then came under heavy machine gun and rifle fire. Often this came from previously unknown strongpoints. One strongpoint, Lower Star Post, forced the lead elements of 24th Division to swerve north, crossing into the path of the right battalion of 30th Division. The open ground of the reverse slope made it very hard for any movement in the open, and the resumption of the forward movement of the barrage from the Blue line to the Black line was lost.

It was the second-line assault battalions that ran into trouble with the German counter-preparatory barrage, not the first-line. In any event, the delays to their forming up and then proceeding forward were of no consequence in failing to reach the Black line. As these battalions struggled forward they had to stop on the Blue line, reinforcing the remnants of the first wave. This is because they too came under heavy machine gun fire.

Once 30th Division realised that the barrage had been lost, the barrage was recalled. By this time, however, the German counter-preparatory fire was strong enough (and ?the new British barrage so weak) that the assault troops failed to realise that the barrage had been re-started. I am going to study how many of the British artillery batteries told off for the creeping barrages actually received and then acted on the order to restart it just in front of the Blue line.

Robert

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  • 1 month later...

The gun-per-yards artillery metric is mentioned in the volume of the U.S. Army's official history of World War II that describes the Ninth U.S. Army's crossing of the Roer River near Cologne and the Rhine in February 1945. (Ninth Army by the way was then part of Montgomery's 21 Army Group.) According to the book, for the operation Ninth Army amassed one gun per ten yards of front for the two corps making the main effort. The artillery preparation in advance of the initial river crossings was only 45 minutes long but the strong artillery support protected the early bridgeheads and the subsequent advances from them. The sources cited are Ninth Army's artillery reports from 1945 for the operation. I don't believe the metric was a planning factor used in advance of the operation--rather, I think the officer writing the report took the heavy allocation of artillery assets and turned it into the gun-per-yards figure.

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Having studied all of the relevant Heavy Artillery Group diaries, there are precise locations for 50% of the heavy and siege batteries that supported II Corps. In addition, most of the Division Artillery Groups and Army Brigades RFA have locations in their diaries. Here is a map based on those locations. It shows the concentration of field artillery brigades and groups (white), counter-battery batteries (blue), and bombardment batteries (red). The HAG locations are shown in a lighter shade of the relevant colour (light blue or light red respectively), with black numbers.

post-1473-1244263041.jpg

Robert

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  • 10 months later...
Having studied all of the relevant Heavy Artillery Group diaries, there are precise locations for 50% of the heavy and siege batteries that supported II Corps. In addition, most of the Division Artillery Groups and Army Brigades RFA have locations in their diaries. Here is a map based on those locations. It shows the concentration of field artillery brigades and groups (white), counter-battery batteries (blue), and bombardment batteries (red). The HAG locations are shown in a lighter shade of the relevant colour (light blue or light red respectively), with black numbers.

post-1473-1244263041.jpg

Robert

Hello Robert,

Do you have info on the black numbers 1, 4, 5, 6 en 7.

I live in that region and know that beginning 1918 154 Siege Battery has been overthere with 4 Heavy 9.2 " guns.

Before them other Siege Batteries were in the region but I don't know which ones. Do you know? We live South of Zillebeke Lake on the farm called Manor Farm during 14-18 wartime.

Regards,

Marc

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