from ‘the War Budget’, October 21st, 1915
'War by Night'
by W. T. Palmer

The Art of Attacking in the Darkness


One of the first things a soldier in training should master is a perfect understanding of night conditions. This important matter is. however, too often left to luck, and not one in twenty of non-commissioned officers—and even of commissioned officers of the newer type—has any real idea what night conditions are. Night outposts are so generally planted before dusk, and night marches are along macadam roads. So our men talk glibly of night duty, of darkness that could be felt, of walls of gloom which separated man from man.

To many of our recruits who have come from indoor occupations this deception is true; their eyes have been so imaged by brilliant electric and gas lights that the finer sensations of night fail to make any impress at all upon then. Some months hark one had a shrewd commentary on this. An all-nighter from Fleet Street applied for a commission for which he was in many ways eminently qualified. But after dark, away from the City, he was blind as a bat. Even on a main road a guiding hand was essential. The all-nighter was wise, and before taking up his papers he spent a month in the country where his night rambles were put down to poaching proclivities. Yet in the darkened trenches he was at once quite at home and was marked fur rapid promotion.

On has in one's mind's eyes a very opposite picture of the pre-war days when, by the inversion of a.m. for p.m. in an order, a platoon of City Territorials were despatched to cross a. moor at night. So long as daylight held, the young sub followed the path all-right, but later the in full kit were ordered to make a wide front in order to re- discover it. They did not, and about midnight the drew to him by whistle four-fifths of the men, many of whom were stained with brown peat from the bog. At dawn they halted, a shivering crowd, after which an advance was made for the distant canteen and encampment.

Stragglers of that party came in from all points of the compass during the next twenty-four hours. In peace time an incident is a joke, but one trembles to think what happen to so blind a regiment in a night attack in Flanders.

Night battle practice is a regular part of Naval manoeuvres, and no Army Corps would be passed as efficient for the field which had not been thoroughly practised in this art. Yet in individual units there is little attention given to this matter. Prior to a night attack the ground is thoroughly surveyed and much information added to that shown even on the military maps. The angles from trench to the point of attack are carefully settled, so that the officer with his night compass has simply to impress on his men the exact direction to face; There are few detours permissible to a night attack in force, and in rushing a German trench the orders are simply to go straight ahead. The enemy's volleys are only to be avoided by the prone position, as when the whole line is advancing good cannot be sought. Luckily, the average German soldier is a much worse night hawk than our British Tommy.

For night attacks our Ghurkas and other Indian troops are frequently employed — not because of their darker visages but because they can see much better at night than their comrades. A city-bred soldier fires for the flash of the German sniper, the man whose eyes are attuned to the darkness will wait until the head of the aggressor is visible against the skyline.

No amount of caution in the advance over strange country is to be compared with a little practice. In Territorial days how often one had to shepherd in after a sea-fog, files of men who had become detached. Often indeed they unrolled blankets and, hopeless, bivouacked until daylight, bereft of any idea as to where the correct route lay. Only good practice can bring about a noiseless advance. The expert will slide rifle in hand down the slippery peat-bank where at one time he would unawares make a clattering pitch. In night patrol over strange country one gets into an easy step, yet a cautious one, so that whether the shadow prove a hole or a boulder the foot is merely checked and no great upset occurs. Compass work is coming in own in this war. In a war of trenches, hidden works, fire from immense altitudes, the location of one's own and the enemy's men must not be left to guess-work. A regiment informed that their arc of fire is from say N.E. to N.W. is not likely, equipped with compasses, either by day or night to send bullets among their own comrades in arms. The compass, as a warner of gas attacks by night and day. is invaluable.


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