The Gunners of August 1914, Baptism of Fire

B2099

The author has assembled graphic eyewitness accounts of gunner’s experience in the first months of the Great War in 1914. This includes previously unpublished first-hand accounts from the Royal Artillery Museum. Using this source information, the author has charted the progress of artillery tactics and strategy. In the process, he corrects the misconceptions that result from a general belief that the machine gun was king of battle.

The author has provided a graphic and effective description of how the artillery tactics and strategy rapidly evolved to meet the needs of a new form of intensive fire competition across the trenches. A very informative work that will help enthusiast and new-comer alike to gain a better understanding of how artillery shaped the battles on the Western Front.

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NAME: The Gunners of August 1914, Baptism of Fire
DATE: 021214
FILE: R2099
AUTHOR: John Hutton
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 215
PRICE: £25.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWI, World War One, First World War, Great War, Western Front, trench warfare, artillary
ISBN: 1-47382-372-2
IMAGE: B2099.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/pkkouno
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: The author has assembled graphic eyewitness accounts of gunner’s experience in the first months of the Great War in 1914. This includes previously unpublished first-hand accounts from the Royal Artillery Museum. Using this source information, the author has charted the progress of artillery tactics and strategy. In the process, he corrects the misconceptions that result from a general belief that the machine gun was king of battle.

The gun emerged in the opening years of the 13th Century as a potential battle changer. At that time, the projectiles were most frequently stone balls, the powder quality was highly variable, the gunners were regarded as the servants of Satan, but the gun began to change siege warfare and was to turn the castle from a military refuge into a bloody trap. Guns began to increase in size and heavy siege cannon were often transported in several sections to be assembled and mated with the gun carriage in sight of the besieged enemy. To become effective on the battlefield, the canon needed to be developed as a portable weapon system.

By the 17th Century, the artillery piece had evolved into a family of weapons for use at sea and on land. Bronze was favoured but the cheaper steel began to take over, Carriages became more effective with the four wheel truck becoming the common mount on board ship and the two wheel carriage becoming the land standard for field artillery. The Swedish forces in Germany also introduced the leather gun where leather was shrunk over a metal barrel to increase barrel strength without significant extra weight. This allowed the Swedish forces and their allies to present very large numbers of these highly mobile weapons in artillery walls where the cannons were positioned wheel to wheel. The standard configuration was for the canon to be attached to a limber, containing immediate use ammunition, and two or four horses to pull the gun and limber. Artillery was now at the stage were batteries could be positioned, opening salvoes fired, and the guns then moved to a new position before the enemy could fire on them with their own artillery.

Into the 19th Century, and artillery was becoming again breech-loading guns, with a higher rate of fire and dependability. The interrupted screw breech was to make quick firing practical for the first time and for the gun crew to remain behind the gun. It did however place additional pressure on the logistics because it required more ammunition to be brought forward. There was as yet now practical machine gun but this requirement was to be addressed shortly. Initially, machine guns were seen as new forms of light artillery and as defensive artillery for use from fortifications. When the 7th Cavalry soldiers were annihilated by native Americans, it was because the early rotary barrel Gatling guns were seen as cumbersome, slowing down the cavalry. As a result, the Gatling guns were left behind and their impressive defensive fire denied the cavalrymen. This was because they were configured like any field artillery, with the gun mounted on a two wheel artillery carriage, linked to a limber with the ammunition, and pulled by a team of horses. Armies had yet to discover the devastating firepower of the machine gun.

By the outbreak of WWI, the machine gun was typically a Maxim design manufactured by all the combatants under license. It was usually mounted on a tripod and light enough to be carried into position and quickly mounted by infantry. Belt-fed ammunition proved reliable in extended firing and the opposing infantry could only defend themselves by digging in and setting up their own machine guns. This rapidly converted WWI from a war of movement with cavalry and infantry, supported by field artillery, into a trench war of attrition. That sudden and significant change in the course of the land war gave the machine gun considerable coverage and credit, way beyond its due. The real king of battle was artillery and in the opening months with the 13 and 18 pounder Quick Firing field artillery deployed in mobile batteries, firing, moving and firing again. However, the trenches became deeper and more sophisticated, requiring heavier guns to be employed.

Artillery fire was almost constant through the duration of the Western Front battles. Progressively heavy guns were added to the artillery contingent on both sides. Technology made up-gunning practical. The guns were fitted with tracks that were either attached to each wheel, or used in a tracked chassis similar to agricultural equipment or the later tanks. Petrol and steam engined vehicles were used to haul the bigger guns into position and were themselves increasingly equipped with tracks for mobility in the muddy conditions. Some of the largest guns were mounted on railway rolling stock. This made it possible for even the largest guns to be moved around to avoid counter battery fire from the enemy, although artillery duels between opposing gun batteries were not uncommon.

The open sights of typical field artillery were inadequate for indirect fire, where the barrel was elevated to fire over visual barriers. Fire control was provided by directors in balloons or aircraft. The balloon was in many ways more reliable because the spotters were equipped with field telephones that connected into the increasingly complex communications networks that were being installed to enable commanders in rear positions could speak directly with their junior officers and NCOs. There was also the introduction of wireless telegraphy that enabled aircraft to communicate directly while circling above the trenches.

The consumption of ammunition was prodigious and required considerable improvements to the logistics systems. Motor vehicles were increasingly employed to bring ammunition forward, but rail was to provide much of the requirement to the fixed trench and battery positions. In addition to existing wide gauge tracks of the pre-war rail network, narrow gauge rails were laid extensively and often used petrol engine locomotives.

The use of artillery became the direct counter to the machine gun. Before an assault by infantry, artillery was used to lay a heavy fire on the enemy trenches and the communications systems behind them. As the infantry climbed out of their trenches to make a frontal assault on the enemy trenches, the bombardment changed to a rolling bombardment, keeping ahead of friendly troops but keeping enemy heads down and making it difficult for the enemy to bring up reinforcements. The weakness of these new tactics was that the enemy saw increasing bombardment as a sign of a new assault across no-man’s-land. Trenches became deeper with shell resistant bunkers in which the defenders could get some sleep between watches and retire to ahead of an enemy assault, to escape the softening up fire of the enemy artillery.

The author has provided a graphic and effective description of how the artillery tactics and strategy rapidly evolved to meet the needs of a new form of intensive fire competition across the trenches. A very informative work that will help enthusiast and new-comer alike to gain a better understanding of how artillery shaped the battles on the Western Front.

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