Artillery of World War I

Artillery of World War I

The artillery of World War I was used to counter the trench warfare that set in shortly after the conflict commenced, and was an important factor in the war, influencing its tactics, operations and incorporated into strategies that were used by the belligerents to break the stalemate at the front. It was a direct cause of the development of the tank. World War I raised artillery to a new level of importance on the battlefield. The years of the First World War had provided several developments in the art and science of artillery warfare; trench warfare had brought about the reintroduction of the mortar. Use of shrapnel was replaced by the high-explosive shells. Artillery shells were used for gas release by the German troops in 1915, and the Allies followed their example. Although light artillery was still horse drawn, trucks were coming into use to draw the heavier pieces.

Pre-war artillery development

Artillery of all First World War belligerents largely included quick-firing ordnance pieces developed during the last decade of the 19th century, notably the revolutionary design of the Canon de 75 modèle 1897 [p.4, Gudmundsson] , designed and developed as an answer to the outcome of the Franco-Prussian War, however no consensus on the use of this artillery had been reached by the start of the conflict. [p.1, Gudmundsson] There were vast changes to the artillery use and design when compared to the Franco-Prussian War which included introduction of smokeless gunpowder, recoil mechanisms, and more sophisticated means of targeting. [p.6, Gudmundsson] Increasingly the artillery batteries were combined into larger organisations, "groupes" in France, and "abteilungen" in Germany. [p.4, Gudmundsson]

Wartime development

World War I saw the development of a variety of new artillery techniques and devices as means of destruction. Tactics during this war included preparation fires, which lasted anywhere from 4 hours to 16 days, the introduction of the chemical shell, the appearance of massive and effectively controlled artillery barrages, and the new dimension added to combat by aerial observation were among the most significant advances relevant to artillery. Most important of all, the artillery established itself as the greatest killer on the battlefield, inflicting over 75 percent of the total number of casualties suffered by the enemy. With the first involvement by the United States in European affairs, many mistakes were made by the Allies and the US Army in inducting these new troops to the battlefields, while many operational issues were accomplished quite effectively. The artillery Arms of the national armed forces handled conscription with considerable difficulty due to the new skills required from the population still largely lacking in appropriate education, placing a heavier burden on the officers, and disrupting the economy by removing the skilled and educated personnel from the commercial production. The armies expanded with incredible speed while still trying to maintain efficiency, nowhere more true then the US Army that entered the war in 1917.

United States Army artillery

When the United States entered the war in 1917, the condition, the equipment, the training, and the discipline of the American field artillery were nothing short of chaotic.

Unprecedented American production and ample Allied support provided the weapons with which the American artillery had to fight. Materiel used by the Americans was mostly French, and during the war only 100 American weapons saw action. The French alone contributed 3,834 field pieces and mortars, as well as 10 million rounds of ammunition. The old 3-inch gun--the Army possessed only 600 at the beginning of the war was replaced by the French 75-mm gun. The French 75-mm gun was the best of its type. Its recoil system worked on glycerin and air, it was easy to aim, and it could be fired more rapidly that other artillery pieces. It was able to shred infantry columns to pieces but was unable to penetrate reinforced earthworks. Germany had about 3,500 105-mm and 155-mm howitzers; France, about 300.

In late 1917, American troops moved into quiet sectors of the Western Front. The honor of firing the first American artillery round in World War I went to Battery C, 6th FA Battalion (later the 2d Battalion, 6th Artillery, 3d Armored Division), on October 23, 1917. Although the war seemed to have settled down to stabilized trench fighting, General John J. Pershing wisely insisted that American troops be trained in open warfare.

In the spring of 1918, American troops were thrown in at Chateau-Thierry to halt General Erich Ludendorff's massive offensive. Counterattacking under a heavy artillery barrage, they cleared the Germans out of Belleau Wood in 2 weeks of hard fighting.

The capture of plans for a reopening of the German attack in the Champagne region on the eve of July 4 enabled Allied artillery to lay down a devastating barrage 1 hour before the enemy's guns were scheduled to commence their preparation for the attack. The 75mm guns of the 42d Division, standing hub to hub, joined the artillery of the Allies in shredding the German assault. The 38th and 3d Divisions stood firm on the Marne despite the ferocity of Germany's last desperate gamble for victory. Finally, the enemy fell back and a massive Allied attack was launched in the direction of Soissons, while the Saint Mihiel salient, which the Germans had held for years, was sealed off by Pershing's First Army.

Again, artillery played a key role. About 3,010 guns of 26 calibers and 46 models poured 74 types of ammunition into the salient in the 4 hours and 45 minutes prior to the attack. Altogether, 838,019 rounds of ammunition—high explosive, smoke, and nonpersistent gas--were expended in a single battle. The careful preparation of the attack and the air superiority that had been achieved paid off in terms of 16,000 German prisoners and 443 artillery weapons captured. In the final Allied offensive of the war, the First and Second US Armies, operating between the Meuse and the Argonne, were thrown forward against the Hindenburg line. An unprecedented artillery bombardment supported the advancing infantry. French and American artillery averaged one gun per 8 yards of front, whereas the enemy could muster only one gun per 25 yards. In the American sector over a quarter of a million rounds rained down on the enemy in the first day of the attack, alone. Stunned, but taking a heavy tog of American troops, the enemy pulled back. By the end of October, the last German defensive stronghold, the Kriemhilde Stellung, had been reached. Blasted by the massed firepower of divisional, corps, and army artillery directed by careful aerial observation, the enemy offered little resistance to the infantry attack that followed the 2-hour barrage of October 31, 1918. The Allied forces rushed for Sedan and the German border. On November 11, 1918, the German Government capitulated.

Soon after the armistice of November 1918, the War Department urged Congress to authorize the establishment of a permanent regular army of nearly 600,000 and a 3-month universal training program, which would facilitate a quick expansion of this force to meet the requirements of a new major war. The Congress and the American public rejected these proposals. They believed that the defeat of Germany and the exhaustion of the other European powers guaranteed that there would be no major land war for years to come. The possibility of war with Japan was recognized, but the American powers assumed that such a war would be primarily a naval conflict. Therefore, the fundamental factor in the military policy of the United States during the next two decades was reliance on the US Navy as the first line of national defense.

Usage of artillery

The artillery Arm developed several new methods and tactics of combat during the war, including:
*Box barrage
*Chinese barrage
*Clock method of calling fall of shot [p.26, Rawlings]
*Counter-battery fire
*Creeping barrage
*Field survey companies
*Flash spotting Harold Hemming
*Sound-ranging developed in United Kingdom by Lawrence Bragg

ee also

*Infantry support guns
*Field artillery



* Gudmundsson, Bruce I., "On Artillery", Praeger, London, 1993
* Rawling, Bill; "Surviving Trench Warfare - Technology and the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918", University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1992

Further reading

* "Right of the Line: History Of The American Field Artillery", US Army Field Artillery School, Ft. Sill Oklahoma, April 1984 []
*Terraine, John; "The Smoke and the Fire: Myths and Anti-myths of War, 1861-1945", Pen and Sword, 2004
*Terraine, John; "White Heat: The New Warfare 1914-18", Pen & Sword Books, 1992

External links

* [ Royal Engineers: Field Survey Companies]
* [ Defence Surveyors Association]
* [ Kloot, William van der; "Lawrence Bragg’s Role in the Development of Sound-Ranging in World War I" 2005 Royal Society (London), Notes & Records]
* [ Lupfer, Timothy T; "The Dynamics of Doctrine: The Change in German Tactical Doctrine during the First World War" 1981 Combat Studies Institute, Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas]

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