The Pre War Artillery Revolution

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1 Slide 1

2 Slide 2 The Pre War Artillery Revolution The war of was an artillery war. Artillery was the battle winner, artillery was what caused the greatest loss of life, the most dreadful wounds and the deepest fear (John Terraine, White Heat

3 Slide 3 The Pre War Artillery Revolution In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, nine out of every ten soldiers killed died as a result of bullets fired by opposing soldiers using muskets, pistols and rifles. Likewise, nine out of ten wounded soldiers were injured by those weapons.

4 Slide 4 The Pre War Artillery Revolution In the Great War 60% of German fatalities were caused by artillery fire!

5 Slide 5 The Pre war Artillery Revolution 70% of British casualties and 75% of French casualties were inflicted by artillery fire!

6 Slide 6 The Artillery Revolution Clearly this War in which the cause of casualties changed so dramatically indicated that something remarkable had taken place. In this session we will begin to explore the reasons for that remarkable change by considering the evolution of artillery during the Great War

7 Slide 7 The Pre War Artillery Revolution In the American Civil War and the Franco Prussian War as this picture depicts artillery were located close behind their infantry, and shot directly at the enemy infantry some metres away. In other words the gun crews could see their opponents, line their sites by eye and fire directly at the enemy just as a soldier did with his rifle. The main reason for this close proximity of the guns to the frontline was because the smooth bore rifles used by infantry back then only had a lethal range of about 50 metres, and a competent soldier could only get off one round per minute in combat conditions.

8 Slide 8 The Pre War Artillery Revolution By 1900 the infantry in all European armies were equipped with newer bolt action magazine rifles that enabled competent soldiers to accurately fire 5+ shots a minute at ranges well in excess of 500 metres. Consequently, this increased rifle lethality meant that artillery gunners within rifle distance of a battle were then placed at severe risk.

9 Slide 9 The Pre War Artillery Revolution The extended killing field of the rifle had consequences for artillery doctrines By the start of the Great War the artillery doctrines (policies) of European armies meant that by 1914 their guns were generally located well to the rear of their front line infantry, preferably behind hills or in woodlands, for greater protection

10 Slide 10 The Pre war Artillery Revolution Because Artillerymen could no longer view their targets directly over open sites they resorted to using indirect fire whereby they shot at targets defined by map coordinates relayed to the gunners by an observer. To illustrate the impact of the artillery evolution in the early months of the war, at a distance of 3 kilometres a battery of just four French 75mm guns in 1914 had the killing power of about 70 of the older type 1870 weapons. So even at the beginning of the War we can begin to see reasons why artillery casualty rates would be higher than in previous conflicts.

11 Slide 11 The Pre war Artillery Revolution This is a photo of an older style gun used by the Turks to protect the Dardanelles Strait. In all guns such as this, manufactured before 1898, the gun barrel was attached directly to the gun carriage, and the mounting as well as the breech (bottom) end of the barrel were heavily reinforced, because these points had to absorb the enormous force from the blast. As is illustrated here, these older weapons needed to be extremely heavy in order to reduce the backward movement of the weapon upon firing. While weapons such as this could fire large shells over long distances, the backward movement upon firing (The Recoil) meant that it was inherently difficult to place the gun back in its exact firing location, so that it could fire its next shot accurately. What this meant was that at a range of 6,000 metres a re-positioning deviation of just one degree would result in the second shell landing more than 200 metres from the first shot. Consequently, during the Great War it was virtually impossible for pre 1898 guns (and Batteries) to fire a reasonably accurate barrage at a given target.

12 Slide 12 The Pre War Artillery Revolution 1898 Resolution of the Gun Recoil problem In 1897 French engineers solved this re-coil problem by using hydraulics. They designed a gun barrel to slide along a trough, and as the barrel moved backwards after firing, it compressed a cylinder filled with air and oil, which absorbed the force generated by the expanding gases in the barrel. This meant the backward movement of the barrel could be absorbed in the hydraulic system, thereby leaving the base of the gun in the same place.

13 Slide 13..

14 Slide 14 The Pre War Artillery Revolution The French 75 mm Because the hydraulic cylinder could absorb the blast, the gun barrel and the carriage could be considerably lighter. Consequently the gun could be transported more easily, set up relatively quickly and fired more rapidly. When fired, the carriage remained in exactly the same position, thereby allowing it to place sequential rounds accurately on a given target. This change was revolutionary. The French 75mm could fire up to twenty rounds in a minute while the older guns it replaced could fire only three.

15 Slide 15 The Pre War Artillery Revolution Trajectories & Gun Types Field guns such as the French 75, the British 18 Pounder and the German 77mm Felkanone had low elevations (up to 16 degrees) which meant the missiles they fired maintained a relatively flat trajectory over long distances. As the name implies these guns were designed to shell massed infantry on open and flat terrain, which, before 1914 had always been the way that previous conflicts had been fought. The effectiveness of field guns was restricted by topography (hills, ravines, ridges and forests) and by man made objects such as concrete bunkers and deep trenches. Because of their flat trajectory a field gun was relatively ineefective when aiming at targets on the lee side of a hill. For example, a battery of 75s could fire hundreds of shells at a target emplaced in the dead space behind a 200 metre high hill. Without landing a hit. The alternative artillery piece to the low trajectory Field Gun was the howitzer which could lob (small and large) shells at a steep angle over relatively short distances.

16 Slide 16 The Pre War Artillery Revolution Shrapnel V High Explosive Shells

17 Slide 17 British 18 Pounder Field Gun Australian 18 pound field gun in action 3 rd Ypres 1917 Note the flat terrain, which would have been suited for shrapnel shells, IF the enemy was above ground

18 Slide 18 Shrapnel Shell Both the French and British Artillery Doctrines of 1914 were based primarily on field guns using line of sight firing of shrapnel shells to be used against enemy infantry and cavalry units manoeuvring on relatively flat and open terrain. Shrapnel shells such as those fired by the British 18 Pounders and the French 75s fired a shell fused to explode in the air (eg 75 metres above ground) at a nominated distance (say 2,000 metres) above the heads of exposed infantry and cavalry. Each shrapnel shell fired by a British 18 Pounder delivered and ejected 374 X 2cm metal balls in an airburst above a nominated target. This would have been extremely effective for killing exposed men and horses on the open plains of the African veldt. The problem was however, that from late 1914 on the German army on the Western Front entrenched and dug deep underground. Consequently shrapnel airburst shells were largely ineffective against deeply fortified defensive positions and the barbed wire entanglements placed in front of them. Despite this reality, the British army persisted for a further three years and continued to primarily use that type of ammunition. Because of their poor experience with HE shells in the Boer war, for much of the Great War the British artillery predominantly preferred to use shrapnel shells. These proved largely ineffective in achieving trench war objectives such as cutting barbed wire, destroying trenches and key defensive strong points or impacting on enemy soldiers sheltered in deep under-ground dugouts.

19

20 Slide 19 High Explosive Shells Big and Bigger HE Shells

21 Slide 20 High Explosive Shell Holes HE Shell Craters Small to medium calibre

22 Slide 21 HE Shell Craters Craters formed by HE shells not Shrapnel

23 Slide 22 The Pre War Artillery Revolution The Artillery Registration Problem Early in the war the gunners in all armies had a problem with variability meaning that it was difficult for them to consistently place their shots reasonably close to a given target. This problem was caused by two factors the vagaries of weather conditions such as wind and rain, AND the characteristics of individual guns. To ensure accuracy and consistency with their barrages, a process of registration was employed. Prior to commencing a barrage against the enemy each gun was involved in carrying out a series of test-firings. A gun would fire a test shot at a target, and forward observers would report the extent to which it missed (long, short, left, right). Adjustments would be made to the gun settings and another short fired. Eventually the adjustments required for a given gun and its ammunition, taking into account factors such as wind and rain, would be calculated, and the registration process would be completed. Then each gun in a battery could commence rapid firing reasonably accurately on its nominated target. The problems with this registration process was that it took a considerable amount of time, and moreover its use signalled a clear early warning to the other side that a barrage / attack was about to take place. The German solution to this problem involved test firing each individual gun at a location well back from the front, to determine its performance as an individual weapon in a range of different atmospheric conditions.

24 Each German gun-crew could subsequently ascertain the prevailing weather conditions and then refer to a chart and map reference alone to fire on a nominated target at a designated time without alerting their opposing Allies enemy of an imminent attack.

25 Slide 23 The Pre War Artillery Revolution By 1910 the armies of all the major European powers had discarded their mechanical- recoil field guns and had brought new hydraulic recoil weapons into service. However most of the heavier howitzer guns of the British and French armies continued to be of the old style recoil types. If you observe media footage of this type of gun firing, note the recoil movement which would measure some metres. However this was not the case with Howitzer type guns with recoil mechanisms whereas the 1914 German howitzers already employed the hydraulic mechanism, up until as late as 1917 many British & French howitzers used outdated and less effective recoil mechanisms.

26 Slide 24 A German Heavy Howitzer Note the high elevation of the barrel, its wide diameter and four oil filled recoil cylinders, and its relative mobility for such a large weapon.

27 Slide 25 Australian Battery of 8 Inch Howitzers NB With hydraulic recoil mechanisms - Probably summer 1918

28 Slide 26 German Minenwerfer German Minenwerfer (A mobile front line light howitzer)

29 Slide 27 German soldiers towing a 147 kg Minenwerfer Mobility was a key feature.

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