...a new title from Pen and Sword Books
Title: Artillery in the Great War
Author: Paul Strong and Sanders Marble
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books
This new book is one I found not only enjoyable to read, but one that tells a lot about the modern development of the science and tactics of artillery, without getting bogged down in the science or by trying to go too deeply into specific battles. It remains focussed on the title subject throughout, and in such as way as to make this a really useful study for anyone interested in the tactics and use of artillery.
After a prologue which examines the lessons of the Battle of Le Cateau in August 1914, the book is split simply into chapters for each year, of 1914 through to 1918 before the closing conclusions. Each chapter looks at the developments and lessons of each year, and looking at the war on the Western Front, in Italy, Serbia and Russia. Each nation is covered, and the authors look at how the lessons were learned and the solutions that were applied as a result. Sometimes those solutions worked, and sometimes they didn't, war was not an exact science, though it became more of a factor as the Great War rolled on.
We tend to think about the Trench Warfare of the Western Front, the casualties, the use of gas, and the development of artillery. Having come out of the 19th Century, when field artillery was in close support of the troops, it was something Napoleon or the generals of the US Civil war would have recognised. The stagnation of trench warfare however led to a host of new developments, and as each year dragged on, so that development moved on, as new counters had to be found to your opponents new equipment and tactics. The book leads us through the development of the artillery arm, especially in the armies of Britain, France and Germany, and how the equipment and lessons were shared (or not) and applied (or not) by the Austro-Hungarian, Serbian, Russian and Italian armies as well. It wasn't just a case of sheer volume of shells, though on some occasions it may have appeared that way. In 1914-15, the main powers were not geared up to the production volumes to allow for the vast expenditure of ammunition that was to be used, and how much of the early increase in production was let down by faulty shells that proved to be 'duds' on firing, a surprisingly high percentage, though perhaps a good lesson as to why the old battlefields can be so dangerous to amateurs even today, almost 100 years later.
All this was coupled with the new sciences of meteorology and taking account of wind and air temperature along with the measurement of barrel wear, of firing beyond the line of sight, and the observation, air reconnaissance and resultant improvements in communications required to manage it through the battle. The reliance on telephone wires was quickly rendered useless from the front line as the deluge of an artillery barrage would cut telephone wires just as easily as runners and horseman. The ability to work out positions and ranges using flash spotting and sound detection were perfected, and coupled with new types of weapon, so the artillery became such a key element in the war, a key element that has continued to this day. Counter battery fire became a vital part of any offensive, and the use of Gas shells added to the chances of success, even if slightly off target. Read about the development of defence in depth, and the use of concrete strongpoints to protect machine gun and troop positions. The task of cutting the huge wire entanglements was a major task of huge barrages, expensive in time and shells, and how new fuze development helped but still the loss of the vital surprise element of an attack.
For the rest of the story I would have to say read and enjoy this well balanced book, see how the technologies changed as the war progressed, and even include the lessons learned by at least one German commander in the mountains of Italy, one Erwin Rommel. The lessons that were learned in WW1 went on to be practiced at an even greater pace later in WW2, and on to the present day.
For details of this and other books by Pen and Sword, do check their website.