- from the War Illustrated Deluxe volume IV page 1131
- 'The Insatiable Hunger of the Guns'
- by Major George W. Redway
the Marvellous Organisation of our Artillery
A Full Description of the Marvellous Organisation of our Artillery in Action and the Consumption of Shells
The shibboleth of the Prussian Junkers, "cannon fodder," as applied to the hapless pawns of their military system, is a misleading term. The real food for the guns is, of course, ammunition, an overwhelming supply of which, it came to be generally recognised, was to be the deciding factor in the European conflict. The expenditure by the French during the operations about Souchez, in June, 1915, of 300,000 shells in a few hours, and subsequent greater extravagance of German batteries on the Eastern front, came as a colossal surprise to those unversed in modern military tactics. So little has been said on the distribution and consumption of projectiles at the front, that the following article by Major George W. Redway, the eminent military critic, will constitute a valuable and absorbing subject to our readers.
For the only picturesque story of artillery in action that is artistically true we are indebted to the admirable "Eye-Witness," Colonel Swinton, who combines knowledge and imagination so perfectly in "The Green Curve." He shows us in his sketch, entitled "The Kite," how one battery caught another battery in flagrante delicto, otherwise in the formation known as column of route, and annihilated it. Colonel Swinton is a sapper, not a gunner, and yet all the characteristics of artillery, its strength and its weakness, are brought out in his narrativerange, power, and rapidity of fire on the one side, and the vulnerability of a target formed of a mass of horses, vehicles, and guns on the other side. But nowadays the brigade, not the battery, is the tactical unit, and like the battalion of infantry and regiment of cavalry, it is commanded by a lieutenant-colonel, who is assisted by an adjutant. The battery in our regular service consists of six guns, the brigade of eighteen guns; but a brigade is not merely three batteries, for it comprises what is called an ammunition column that is, a reserve of everything likely to be required by the three batteries in action ammunition, of course, in the first place, but also men, horses, waggons, and spare parts, to repair or renew whatever may be lacking in the batteries in the course of a duel with the enemy.
Artillerymen's Three Rules
The battery par excellence is the field battery, which works with infantry, the gunners riding on the limbers and waggons. The horse battery works with cavalry, and in order to go the pace it must lighten the weight behind the teams, and, therefore, the gunners ride on horses. The "horse" guns, too, are lighter. But the brigade organisation is adopted both for Royal Field Artillery and Royal Horse Artillery, and how this unit would look upon a road in Flanders may be imagined if the reader will conceive a procession of eighteen 18-pounder quick-firing guns, each gun preceded by its limber and followed by two waggons; every pair of guns (a section) is in charge of a subaltern, and every three sections (a battery) is commanded by a major, who is assisted by a captain. Following the third battery come half a dozen baggage, store, and supply waggons, called the train, and then a collection of thirty-four waggons which form the brigade ammunition column, the entire cavalcade filling about one and a quarter miles of road space, and taking about nine minutes to pass at the trot. Including bicycles and water-carts, cooks'-waggons, and medical carts, there might be counted one hundred and seven vehicles drawn by five hundred and sixty-eight horses. Add one hundred and ninety-eight riding horses and seven hundred and ninety-five officers and men, half of whom are drivers, and you may realise what a prodigious quantity of machinery is needed to get even eighteen guns to the front.
Now, curiosity has been excited by discussions about the supply of shells as to how many projectiles a gun or a battery will consume in a day's fighting. Fabulous stories have been told of the consumption of ammunition, some of which may be true in the sense that on special occasions a large number of guns had to fire as rapidly as possible for a short period. But we must be on our guard against exaggeration in this matter. The first rule of the artillery is to find what is called a "remunerative" target, and this is not so easy in days when the art of tactics so largely depends on concealment by every artifice that ingenuity can suggest. The second rule is to hit, and that implies ranginga tedious process when the target is a moving one. The third rule is to keep the reserve of ammunition under cover and well to the rear of the guns, which involves bringing up supplies by hand over ground that is not altogether immune from shrapnel bullets and splinters from high-explosive shells. All these factors being considered, you would have found, if serving with a field battery, less activity than might be expected from the unofficial reports that reached us.
The British field-gun is capable of discharging twenty aimed rounds a minute, and a certain Krupp gun with complete automatic action can double this rate of fire. But needless to say, artillery is not taken into the field to give a pyrotechnic display, and economy in the use of ammunition is only second in importance to accuracy of fire.
The French operations about Souchez in June, 1915, attracted attention mainly by reason of a statement that our ally supported the infantry attacks with a deluge of 300,000 shells. To the uninstructed the quantity seems enormous, but when the circumstances are considered we shall see that the gunners were not really overworked.
Twenty Shells for Every Man Hit
The defending force consisted of eleven German divisions, as estimated by the attackers, who would presumably be in superior strengthprobably sixteen divisions. But let us take the French force as only twelve divisions, and assume that each division had an average of twenty-five guns in action for two days. These three hundred guns might consume five hundred shells apiece per day by a steady fire for fifty minutes at the rate of ten rounds a minute, or by five spells of ten minutes at the same rate, or by increasing the rate of fire to twenty rounds a minute they would expend five hundred rounds per gun within half an hour.
Any statements as to the expenditure of ammunition are of little military value without exact information as to number of guns in action and the effect of their fire, and history tells us that the Japanese on May 30th, 1904, at Nan Shan, with about one hundred and ninety-eight guns, under General Oku, opposed General Fock, and expended 3,747 high-explosive shells and 30,300 shrapnel shells. The artillery carried about one hundred and ninety-eight rounds per gun, and expended about one hundred and seventy-five rounds per gun. The enemy's loss was 1,416 all ranks, and evidently at least twenty shells were fired for every man hit.
General Oku, at Ta Shih Chiao, on July 24th, with two hundred and fifty-two guns, opposed General ZarubaiefL Oku expended an average of eighty rounds per gun, while the Russian artillery expended two hundred rounds per gun.
The Russian losses were estimated at 2,000 of all ranks. But, of course, the Japanese infantry may have accounted for fifty per cent, of the enemy's loss.
338,960 Shells on Twenty Miles' Front
These figures, taken from the " Official History," form the latest reliable data on the subject of field-artillery tactics, and we see that at Ta Shih Chiao one side expended only eighty rounds per gun, while the other expended two hundred rounds per gun. These are averages, for one group of sixteen Russian guns alone consumed 7,141 rounds of shell that is, an average of four hundred and forty-six rounds per gun in this group. Now let us assume that for some reason the whole of the artillery of a British division fired at this rate at the Battle of the Marne. There were three brigades of 18-poundcrs, one brigade of howitzers, and a battery of heavy guns, and together they would have expended 33,896 shells. And it follows that if we had ten divisions in action, and every gun was firing at the given rate, we should use 338,960 shells on the front which the hostile infantry were defending; this front would certainly not exceed twenty miles. On this front we could hardly expect to find commanding positions for forty brigades, besides positions for ten batteries of heavy guns, and so the attacking batteries would have to come into action where they could, in cornfields or meadows, in villa gardens with the palings broken down, on railway embankments in single or double tiers of fire. The target front of each brigade being reckoned at half a mile, the one thing needful is that the guns should get into action even if they must be pushed forward to within machine-gun range.
One of these days the British Army may have a million men at the frontsay, fifty divisions, including fifty heavy batteries, fifty brigades of howitzers, and one hundred and fifty - brigades of field-guns. How are we to supply two hundred 60-pounders, nine hundred howitzers, and 2,700 18-pounders with ammunition for a six days' battle? Take the 18-pounder, for instance; the gun limber contains twenty-four rounds, and the two waggons seventy-six rounds eachtotal per gun with battery, one hundred and seventy-six rounds. Another waggon-load per gun is with the brigade ammunition column. Some miles in rear is the divisional ammunition column, conveying another one hundred and twenty-six rounds per gun. Thus with the division are three hundred and seventy-eight rounds, the whole of which could be fired away in twenty minutes. From the advanced base another one hundred and fifty rounds per gun could be brought up by motor-lorries, and from an ordnance depot another four hundred and seventy-two rounds might be forwarded at a day's notice by rail to complete 1,000 rounds per gun. By similar arrangements the 45-in. howitzers could get eight hundred rounds, and the 60-pounders five hundred rounds per gun. But how shall we replace this gun ammunition for fifty divisions, the mere weight of which is 60,334 tons?
Difficulties of Shell Distribution
An ideal arrangement would allocate one factory to each division. The output of each factory should approximate to r,20o tons for every day its division has its guns in action. Transport would be watting to convey the shells to the railway en route for the coast. Then it must be loaded into vessels at the port of embarkation and unloaded at the overseas base. Another train journey would bring it to railhead, somewhere in rear of the zone in which the division is operating. Thence by motor-lorries (called the ammunition park) it would be taken to the divisional ammunition column (horsed transport), which would distribute the shells among the four brigade ammunition
columns and the heavv battery, and from these points the shells would be delivered to the firing batteries. Thus every 18-pounder gun might obtain another 1,000 rounds, but if the gun were in action three times for periods of half an hour, and fired at the rate of ten rounds a minute, the whole of this supply would be exhausted. The same is true of the heavier pieces.
We see, then, that the question of ammunition supply must be approached not from the gunner's point of view, which regards only the capacity of the weapon to fire rapidly, but from the standpoint of the shell - maker, the railway manager, and the director of transport, who really must govern the consumption of shells. In short, the artillery must cut its coat according to the cloth, as the phrase goes. And what was true for us was equally true for our allies, though in their case the overseas journey was not needed if they manufactured at home. The quantities required, however, had to correspond with the size of their armies. If the French had fifty corps in action, their consumption of shells would be double the quantities given for fifty British divisions, although their rate of fire might be no greater. The Germans were in a worse plight, for they had one hundred corps to supply, and in the event of all these being in action the German guns would have needed about a quarter of a million tons of shells, if each gun was to fire shot for shot with the French and British guns, for a period which may be reckoned in minutes, if their utmost capacity for rapid fire was fully exploited.
Armaments and Armageddon's End
But in fact no army dare employ all its guns in this way, for fear of being suddenly rendered helpless by a cessation of ammunition supply, and the larger the army the greater the danger of this happening. To have cut off a British army from the coast, or interposed a French army between the German army and Krupp's works at Essen, would have done more to end the war than a repetition of all the inconclusive actions in the first year of the war, and if the Frankenstein monster created by the German military hierarchy should in the end devour the authors of its being, posterity will only say that the punishment fitted the crime.
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