- 'Trench Work and Trench Weapons'
- from 'the Times History of the War' 1915
A Novel Type of Warfare for the General Public
- a trench system - from a German popular science magazine
- see also : Trench Warfare in 1914
Life in Trenches - Its Discomforts and Dangers - Coming to and from the Trenches - The Work of the Army Service and Army Medical Corps - Modern Weapons Involve the Use of Trenches - The Increase in Their Power - Man-Killing and Material-Destroying Weapons - The Reintroduction of Grenades - Various Forms Employed - Trench Mortars - Heavy Guns - Machine Guns.
another schematic illustration of trench systems at the front - this time from a French magazine
When the Germans made their stand after the retreat from the Marne to the Aisne, a series of small engagements had enabled them to correct and consolidate their line, though without making any real advance. Both sides, therefore, settled down into the quasi- permanent habitation of their trenches. Weeks and months passed by with plenty of desultory fighting, which produced no very appreciable change in the situation. Artillery fire went on almost perpetually, and bombs and mine explosions were of constant recurrence; rifle and machine guns crackled intermittently and snipers were always busy. No engagements of any great moment took place, but attacks and counter-attacks, involving the capture and recapture of trenches, were frequent. There was a heavy loss of life - in one division the casualties of five weeks' trench warfare reached a total of 1,257 killed and wounded. Meanwhile continual labour on the entrenchments developed them into formidable works.
To afford shelter to the men guarding them they were elaborately provided with bomb-proof shelters and look-out posts, and with all sorts of refinements for making life in them less unbearable to their half-drowned and half-frozen inhabitants. Sometimes they were even converted into a travesty of houses, to which the soldiers often gave fantastic names. On the German side the soldiers had no compunction in looting neighbouring houses of their furniture for this purpose, to set it up in their trench abodes. With the Allies, too, from the deserted houses all round their positions, pieces of furniture could be obtained without much violation of the laws of property, and so even in the French and British trenches beds and chairs and domestic utensils of all sorts were a not uncommon feature. The men became extraordinarily ingenious and handy in contrivances for their comfort. They cut little fire-places in the side of the trench, fitted them with baskets made of the tin. linings of ammunition boxes, plentifully holed with a pick or entrenching tool, and topped them neatly with chimneys made of bully-beef tins. They built rifle racks, and they made themselves snug little sleeping holes, roofing them with doors taken from ruined houses in the neighbourhood, covering the doors with, earth.
another schematic illustration of a trench system
Many interesting communications about, life in the trenches were sent home to friends,, embracing pretty nearly all the units engaged. For although a relatively small proportion of them were actually in the trenches at any given moment, practically all, including even. the cavalry, had their turn in manning the defences. The duty was far too dangerous, too exhausting and nerve racking, for the constant maintenance in them of the same men, and they had, therefore, to be very often changed. The frequency of relief varied with the reserve forces available. In the earlier days long and irregular turns were common, but later some such arrangement as forty-eight or ninety-six hours in the fire trenches, followed by forty-eight or ninety-six hours in the support or reserve trenches, and after a week or two of this alternation a spell of rest in billets, became the rule. Another arrangement was three days in the fire trenches followed by six out. Half of those were passed in support, the other furnished a complete rest. It was then possible to wash off the horrible dirt. In various places abandoned manufactories, breweries, etc., tubs or even vats were made use of for the purpose. As the men emerged from their ablutions they were furnished with a complete change of clothes, so that they could be comfortable till they once more returned to the filth of the trenches.
Reading the experiences of the men in them, one is as much struck by the horrible discomfort of the life they led as by its danger. It is, indeed, a record of appalling disagreeables; want of sleep, perpetual cold, filth and wet are the outstanding features of all accounts of trench life. The frequent night attacks and the necessity for vigilance throughout the dark hours kept the men constantly on the alert, and one wonders, indeed, how they could have withstood the strain and retained their health as most of them did. A Territorial private wrote home an account of his first experience of trench life, and mentioned incidentally that he had had four hours' sleep in roughly ninety-six hours, yet he spoke of himself as "quite fit." He, perhaps unintentionally, exaggerated his case, as the rule was even at night for half the officers and men to be on guard at a time, while the other half rested, and by day only sentries here and there along the line were on duty, and the remainder could sleep as much as they chose, or as the activities of the enemy would permit. An hour before daylight all stood to their arms. Night alarms and attacks and day-light bombardment were, however, so frequent that rest was perpetually broken, and the men had to look for proper repose to the time when they were withdrawn from the front line. Often when the soldiers had settled down for the night they would be called to arms by an outburst of fire from the enemy; or the Germans would send up star-shells. These when they burst threw a bright light on our position, which often presaged an attack.
flooded trenches were endemic to many sections of the Western front
What the men felt most was the cold and wet during the greater part of the winter. The weather might not always be severe, but the wet was almost unbroken, the water sometimes rose to their knees. To sit for hours at a stretch in a perpetual cold footbath but little above freezing-point and sometimes below it, and to do this in a cramped and motionless position, made the nights in the trenches a perpetual suffering. "Cold!" wrote home one man, "I should think that Dante's Hell for the traitors was warm compared with our trenches." An officer detailing his experiences in the dug-outs, or narrow chambers carved in the trenches, described the cold in them as "simply awful." "I have got a touch of frost-bite in both feet," is a phrase of frequent repetition in soldiers' letters. "The cold is our enemy," was a subaltern's comment upon his first experience of the trenches. And in a later letter he stated it was " really horrible. One never ceases shivering. At night the soles of one's boots freeze, and one is awakened by icy feet and forced to get up and stamp till the blood consents to circulate once more. The short hours of daylight bring some respite, but the whole time one is forced to muffle up to the eyes. Thus the dirt which accumulated on face and hands remained. "The idea of washing in such cold is too awful, for it is impossible to restore the circulation by doubling or exercise in a narrow crowded trench, and in the dug-outs there is only just room to lie down." He noted that the authorities were just beginning to serve out coal and coke in the trenches, and that the use of braziers appreciably mitigated the suffering from cold. These braziers had sometimes to be used for nursing machine guns back into action because the cold had frozen the water in the cooling- barrel.
The authorities did their best to make the conditions more endurable, not only by the fires in the trenches, but also by the provision of greatcoats of goat-skin, having the long hair outside. These coats made a novel and striking departure in the British uniform, but they were described by their wearers as "splendidly warm," and so, with the generous supply of warm knitted things from the women-folk at home, and with such expedients as double sets of underclothes and socks, all that was possible was done to render the cold bearable. Indeed, some were able to write almost with enthusiasm of "cosy funk-holes'' made comfortable with straw and waterproof sheets and blankets, and warmed with small braziers made out of bully-beef tins, while rum of excellent quality and strength helped to increase the genial feeling of well-being and avert injurious effects.
Even worse than the cold were the adjuncts of water and mud. Here is a typical experience. "The ground was all clay, and the mud and filth was ankle, sometimes knee, deep." And, alas for the British soldier's reputation for smart appearance, this correspondent had "never seen coalminers or dustmen look so filthy." When it rained, as it usually did, for the winter had a record rainfall, it was impossible to cook, for everything was drenched, and the fires would not burn. The misery of wet was thus accentuated by deprivation of the cup of hot tea which would have been so grateful. Another correspondent wrote of "viscid mud, four or five inches deep," which "squelched round the tops of one's boots and plastered over everything up to one's hat."
Drains in these French and Flemish trenches were impossible; there was nowhere to drain the water to: since, for the most part, the water was so near the surface that it naturally ran from the surrounding soil into them. Some attempt was made to mitigate matters by the use of pumps, but these afforded only a very partial remedy.
A newspaper correspondent wrote of thigh-deep water, out of which many of the men climbed, digging for themselves a niche in the earth half-way up the parapet, notwithstanding that they thereby forfeited some of the protection against the enemy's artillery fire. The reader may well be inclined to suppose that "thigh deep" water must be an exaggeration. But similar phrases were in common use. "Our men are in water well towards the middle, or rather in a mixture of mud and water," wrote a newspaper correspondent. An officer wrote of scrambling along a communication trench 3 ft. 6 in. deep in water After this a statement of a Territorial that in his trench the water came over boot-tops sounds very mild; but he was at the top of a slope, and his account discloses discomfort enough, for he added: "the sides of the trench kept tumbling in as we leant against them." In such cases the parapet often had to be made up with sandbags, of which millions were employed. But these had the disadvantage of rendering them more visible, and were consequently frequently destroyed by the enemy's fire.
Trenches sometimes fell into such a state of collapse through mud and water that they had to be abandoned, and new ones dug - an operation which implied something more than labour when conducted in the firing line, within 400 yards of the enemy, and his searchlights and star shells. Another Territorial declared that some of the trenches in his neighbourhood contained four feet of water, and nevertheless they had to be held, because of the enemy's close proximity. In those trenches six hours' spells were the rule.
The reader will hardly perhaps need to have his imagination stimulated by further illustrations of this picture of utter discomfort, yet room may be found for one, because of its vivid detail. An officer wrote home that he was wet from head to heel, with nowhere a chance to dry himself; that his hands and his breeches were caked in mud; that everything and every pocket was ruined, and his money nothing but a lump of coloured paper. He had tried to dry the lead pencil he was writing with by the flame of a candle in his dug-out, without success. The water was trickling down the walls, and giving him a shower-bath all the time. He had tried in vain to dry his hands. His revolver case had turned into putty, and his muffler he compared to a mud-pie. The wet and mud had penetrated his watch and stopped it. He was "gradually getting cold and chilled all through." His trenches had fallen to pieces, and were filling with mud and water; parapets were falling down and dug-outs were collapsing, and his men on sentry duty stood shivering in the bitter wind, while the others tried to keep warm by huddling together. To complete this picture of misery he added, "We have not slept for nights." Yet he described himself as cheerful, and his men as not grumbling. To prove the reality of the mud he recounted how he dug one of his men out of it, and the operation occupied the rescuers over an hour and a half!
It was, of course, no better in the German trenches. In some cases their situation was higher, and then, if they were near enough, they considerately drained their water into those of the Allies. Sometimes the situation was reversed. Deserters from the German side and German prisoners had gloomy stories to tell of their discomforts, and the complaint in a letter found on a German soldier, "We are never dry," aptly summed up the enemy's experience of trench life during the winter months.
This was, indeed, the normal condition during the long wet spell which marked the late autumn and winter. But sometimes luck, care, and a favourable site turned out a much more pleasing article. For instance, a battalion of the Rifle Brigade in the advanced trenches, only forty yards from the German lines, made them so secure that a subaltern, writing about the end of January, said he had never heard of a casualty in them. They were rendered comfortable as well as safe, by a high and well constructed parapet of sandbags, shelters of corrugated iron and dry earth, covered with brushwood and straw, with well plenished braziers for cooking and keeping out the cold, and ample provisions. Trench life in these circumstances was not a formidable experience for a short spell: but such conditions were very rare.
another photo of a German trench
The above will perhaps serve as a brief picture of the discomforts of life in the trenches. When to the lack of sleep, the cold, the filth, the wet, and the cramped inactivity combined with ceaseless vigilance, one adds the stench arising from corpses lying a few feet away, yet unapproachable, and sometimes buried only a few inches underneath the bottom of the trench, one is not surprised to learn that the men living this life were, after their initial experience, more impressed with these discomforts than its dangers. Normally, indeed, the fire trench was not such a dangerous place as one might imagine, considering that the enemy's trenches were often only fifty yards or so away, and that snipers concealed in ruined buildings, trees, &c, ceaselessly watched for an exposed head. Of course, over these miles of works casualties did occur, but, except when repelling a charge, or when the enemy's artillery found the exact spot for a shell, the dangerous points were outside rather than inside the trenches. The parapet was high enough to shelter a man who was careful not to expose himself, but in doing work outside the trenches, such as patrol duty, or digging improvements, or mending wire entanglements, and also in going to and from the trenches, there was considerably more risk.
Digging, a most frequent duty in the trenches, was responsible for a considerable proportion of the casualties. It was usually done at night, but even darkness was not a complete protection against snipers, who fired at sound when they had not sight to guide them. But night firing was by no means directed only by sound. Searchlights, flares of various kinds, and star shells burst up in the air, frequently lit up the scene, and any noise or movement was pretty sure to provoke the beams of the first or the discharge of one of the illuminating contrivances. The only course open to unfortunates caught in the open when these lights were turned on them was immediately to throw themselves flat upon their faces, and as the ground was usually covered deep in semi-liquid mud the operation was not successful from the point of view of comfort.
But more trying to the nerves of the soldiers, especially to the new hands, was the journey to and from the trenches - to the trenches, rather; for when a man had done his spell in them he was too seasoned and too tired to care much, though the risk was the same. In coming, it was the danger from bullets and shells which usually peppered the last mile of the way from billets to firing line, which had to be feared. The reliefs were never made in the daylight; that would have been to court destruction, but the enemy often guessed accurately the time after dark at which reliefs would be coming up, and behaved accordingly. Often he tried to check his time-table by sending up star-shells. In any case the newly arriving party found themselves walking under fire as they neared their journey's end; and the actual firing-line - the trench - appeared in the light of a shelter, rather than a post of danger.
In soldiers' correspondence there were frequent descriptions of their sensations on first going up to the trenches, and it is clear from them that they were not pleasant - "It is a nasty feeling," wrote an officer. First, there were the heavy guns of his own side, booming and whistling overhead, to disturb him, three miles in rear of the trenches. But the " really nasty " part was the last mile. It seemed so very likely that some of the bullets whistling through the air would come down low enough to do damage - as they unfortunately often did. There were long communication trenches, as a rule, to give underground protection for part of the way, but their condition was often so deplorable that a more dangerous above-ground route was chosen.
from French magazines
Trench life would have been far less bearable but for the splendid organization of the Army Service and Army Medical Corps. Never had soldiers been fed so well as were the British soldiers in this campaign. Though it was not always possible to get good meals brought up into the advanced trenches, the men of the Army Service Corps, by general consent, did their ' best, and were usually successful, though they, too, had to take the risk of shells and bullets: in carrying out their work. Of course, men in the fire trenches took with them their own rations, and hunger was certainly not one of the hardships from which they suffered. The menu comprised bacon, bullv-beef, bread, jam, cheese, tea, sugar, rum, and sometimes butter, and it was characterized by quantity and quality alike. Even tobacco and cigarettes were served out as rations, notwithstanding the large quantities sent privately from England. So with the Army Medical Corps. Men who were hit were never left lying untended in the trenches, and the doctors and stretcher-bearers were always ready to risk their own lives in attending to them and getting them away. If wounded men were left untended for some time it was because they were lying in front of the trenches, where the unrelenting vigilance of the enemy's fire made it impossible to reach them, until darkness permitted their comrades to make the attempt.*
Nor must the part played by the Army Ordnance Corps be forgotten. Always over difficult and often over almost impossible roads, along tracks frequently swept by shell -fire they never failed to bring up the supplies of munition to their fighting comrades. Truly the auxiliary Corps and Departments of the British Army played their parts well.
This persistent trench-fighting was the natural outcome of the deadly nature of modern projectiles and the vastly greater profusion in which they were employed which rendered protection from their effects more necessary than ever. The picture of the heap of empty cartridge cases fired by a French 75 mm. gun gives some idea of the expenditure involved. The old notion of slow firing has been quite discredited and the common-sense view prevails that the more you can fire, provided you have a fair target to fire at, the better. Moreover, the precision of modern guns makes it possible for the artillery to throw a veil of shrapnel bullets over ground across which reinforcements must come to support the front line. This can be made so thick that no troops can penetrate through it. This was impossible with the old weapons. Napoleon said, "Fire is everything, the rest nothing," and this applies with tenfold force to modern fighting. Moreover, the proportion of injuries inflicted by the artillery was far greater than formerly. French accounts show that approximately two men are wounded by the artillery to one by infantry fire. In Manchuria it was only 22 to 100. Artillery fire is, therefore, nine times more effective than it was in the Russo-Japanese War. Everything possible has therefore been done to add to the fire capacity of the troops. The infantry have had their destructive capacity enhanced by a rich endowment of machine guns, the artillery by giving them far heavier guns and howitzers than have ever been employed before in any number in the field.
It followed, therefore, that no sooner did the Army halt to fight than it at once proceeded to go to earth for cover. This lesson had come down from the Russo-Turkish War. Taught by the deadly experience of the long days before Plevna the Russian infantry soldiers in 1878 had learned the need of cover, and when they crossed the Balkans in their advance on Constantinople clung religiously to their spades. Many of these were of ordinary construction, ill-suited for transport on the backs of the men, and the latter had most often to improvise the means of carrying them. But. nevertheless, the soldiers regarded them as indispensable parts of their equipment, coming second only to their rifles and ammunition, and nothing could prevent them sticking fast to them. The spade now plays a part in War second only to that of the rifle.
Just as there has always been a tendency in most armies to belittle the part of the bullet and to extol that played by the bayonet totally without reason, and in the teeth of all evidence, so was there for a long time a dislike among military organizers .to introduce the spade as an essential part of infantry equipment. Entrenching was held to damp the offensive spirit and no doubt it did and does still to some extent. But the successive experiences of the Russo-Turkish War, of that in South Africa, and of the conflict between Japan and Russia, led to an extension of the movement for its employment, and at the present time portable entrenching tools, not always very efficient, form part of the infantry equipment of every nation. These have-been recently supplemented by the liberal employment of ordinary digging implements, which the stationary character of the trench warfare has rendered it possible to bring up to the scene of labour. Motor transport has permitted this, and except perhaps when constantly on the move it will be rare that the soldier will not have served out to him a more efficient implement than that which considerations of weight and portability compel him to employ on the more fleeting occasions of immediate entrenchment, for which he can only use what he can carry.
The constant use of earth cover naturally had a reflex action on the weapons employed against it. So long as conflicts took place in the open, the great object was to have projectiles which produced the best results against troops so exposed to them. In the days of Napoleon and Wellington, case-shot - i.e., a large number of bullets of either lead or iron enclosed in an iron canister, which broke up when it left the gun, was the most effective. Then a British officer, Colonel Shrapnel, invented the shell known after his name, which even in its first crude form did good service in the Peninsula and at Waterloo. It is best described as long-range case-shot. From the canister the bullets begin to drop to the ground shortly after leaving the gun. Shrapnel hit on the idea of enclosing them in a shell which was to be burst by a small powder charge set going by a time-fuse when close to the target. The bullets then went on with the velocity which the shell had at the time or opening.
French trenches on the Western front
Now it is not difficult to comprehend that shrapnel bullets and those from infantry weapons can be easily stopped by a comparatively thin earthen parapet even such as a soldier can throw up in half an hour. When the use of deep trenches became common, such as were used by the Boers, by both sides in Manchuria and in the present war, it was plain that neither the projectiles of the infantry rifles nor those of the gunners' shrapnel were of much utility - neither could penetrate the cover behind which the soldiers were ensconced. Recourse was, therefore, had to the more primitive form of shell known as common shell - i.e., a hollow projectile with walls strong enough to withstand the shock of discharge, and with the interior filled, originally with gunpowder, now by one of the various forms of high explosives, which weight for weight have a far greater disruptive force than the older material. Shells of this character can blow in trenches, totally destroy buildings, cut down obstacles and generally produce far higher local destruction than is possible with shrapnel, the bursting charge of which is small and only just sufficient to open the shell and free the bullets to go forward on their mission. For destroying wire entanglements shrapnel are useful, as the bullets cut the wire; but they need supplementing by high explosive shell to destroy the posts to which the wire is fastened, and to blow the latter away from the area chosen for breaking in.
At the opening of this war, so far as the guns of field artillery were concerned, the proportion of high-explosive shells carried by France or Germany was comparatively small compared with that of shrapnel. Thus in France 11.5 per cent., in Germany 20 per cent. For the English field-guns proper none were provided, because it was thought by our artillery authorities that the small bursting charge the 18-pounder shell could hold was not sufficient to produce noteworthy effect. It was considered preferable to rely on the heavy shells of the howitzers and 60-pounder heavy field guns in cases where high- explosive shells were needed, and it must be remembered that the proportion of these more powerful weapons was larger in the British Division than in that of any other European Power. However, last autumn it was seen that high-explosive shells were necessary even for the field guns, and they have since been regularly supplied with them.
Larger guns and howitzers have also been brought into the field to reduce the defences with which the modern army surrounds itself, and by which it creates a species of improvised fortress. Given forty- eight hours it is possible to construct works provided with good cover for the men not actually lining the parapets, while the actual firing line can be so covered that its casualties from machine gun, rifle, and shrapnel fire are but small, and access to it by the enemy can be barred by wire entanglements. Against such structures, which become more and more strong if time be given to the enemy, success is only to be gained by the vise of powerful shells which can blow away both cover and obstacles. It is this which has brought heavy artillery weapons into the field and been the origin of the enormous expenditure of projectiles in the present war. No European Power foresaw how great this would be, and although Germany was at first better provided, there are signs that now her prodigality is beginning to tell on her resources.
From what has been said it is clear that the invention of high explosives has put a new and great power in the hands of the artillery. But it must not be thought for a moment that shrapnel have seen their day. Far from it. Wherever troops are in the open they are far more effective, and hundreds of examples could be quoted to prove this. Moreover, they are needed to keep down the fire of the enemy's infantry. Men who feel themselves under a hail of shrapnel bullets do not care to show themselves, and clinging to cover as they do their fire is often quite worthless.
Infantry fire has as ever, played a great part in the fighting, and it is universally acknowledged that machine guns have been of the highest importance. One represents the fire of fifty men concentrated on a small front. Nothing can equal them at close ranges, and, as is well known, the Germans have made great use of them. The regulation number per battalion is the same in Germany as in most other countries, but they are accustomed to concentrate the six from the three battalions forming a German regiment into one battery, and judging from accounts received they have had even more probably, at least, a double proportion.
Man-killing projectiles - i.e., bullets from shrapnel, rifles, and machine guns - still have their uses. But the greater local destruction wrought by explosive shells is also needed. It is a judicious combination of the two kinds of projectile, varying with the target, to which we must look to obtain the best effects.
It has been said that the effects from high-explosive shells are very local, but within their radius of action very destructive. When infantry is assaulting a position the artillery on either side must cease its fire to prevent inflicting casualties on its own men. But clearly it would be advantageous to have some form of weapon which would enable shells still to be thrown among the troops. This was recognized from the early infancy of artillery, and a solution of the problem was found in giving hand shells, known as hand-grenades, to special bodies of infantry (grenadiers), and both in the Russo-Japanese War and in France there has been a revival of the custom.
The forms adopted by the different countries vary. France still adheres to a large extent to the old form. It consists of a shell provided with a fuse burning for seven seconds. The man places the leather strap round his wrist, attaches the hook to the end of the firing pin, throws the grenade, and by a slight jerk, pulls out the firing pin, which ignites the fuse.
The standard pattern of bomb now used in the British Army is an egg- shaped contrivance of steel, which contains a number of shrapnel bullets and a charge of trinitro-toluol, one of the latest forms of high explosives. At the moment of firing the soldier removes a safety catch, which releases a trigger, this flies off when the bomb is thrown and a pellet is released which ignites a length of quick-match, calculated to burn seven seconds. By the time the bomb reaches its destination the explosive charge is fired which bursts it, and the effect is produced not only by the explosive force, but also by the bullets thrown in all directions. The bombs are carried by the soldier in a species of bandolier.
throwing hand-grenades in esthetically-pleasing and heroic-looking poses
All sorts of contrivances were at first used to form improvised grenades and shells. Meat tins, mess-tins, and, in fact, anything that would hold a charge. The British, French, and Germans used the "fives-bat" form, which consists of a cake of explosive, to which is attached a fuse ignited just before it is thrown. With high explosives it is really a matter of comparative indifference what the charge is contained in, the greater part of the effect is from its explosion, and not from its confinement in the surrounding cover. English, French, and Germans also use a grenade which can be fired from a rifle. This has a range of about 400 yards. The cartridge is the ordinary infantry one, but with a smaller charge, the long stalk takes the rifling, and thus ensures some degree of accuracy. The German grenade can be detached from the stalk and used as a hand grenade. French accounts seem to show that it is very often blind.
The hand grenade has been supplemented by more powerful weapons, such as the mine-thrower of the Germans, which has also been introduced into our Army. This throws a thin iron shell, containing over 100 lb. of explosive, and can be fired for a range of about 200 to 400 yards. Falling among men or in a trench its effects are very destructive. To project the bombs recourse has even been had to the ancient catapult.
a make-shift contraption for throwing bombs
There is really nothing new in all these contrivances. In the days of Vauban and Coehorn small mortars were used at sieges to throw shell into trenches. Carnot, "the organizer of victory'' of the French Revolutionary epoch, proposed to cover the ground in front of a permanent fortification by showers of shot from mortars. At the siege of Gibraltar a large mortar was used by us to throw "bouquets" of small shells on the besieging Spaniards in their trenches.
At the early part of the seventeenth century every line battalion had its grenadier company - tall men who carried a large pouch with grenades, an axe to cut down obstacles, and a light musket slung over their shoulders. They covered the advance of the battle or led the way at an assault on fortifications. It was not very long before the grenade disappeared, because so long as troops fought almost entirely in the open the musket was found to be more effective. But the name grenadier survived long after the weapon which gave rise to it had disappeared from the field equipment, to be revived again when the exigencies of the present war showed it was again necessary. At the present moment twenty men in each of the four infantry companies of a battalion are trained as bomb throwers and act, usually together, under the command of an officer.
With regard to machine guns, those of all nations fire the infantry cartridge to prevent complication in the supply of ammunition. In England and Germany the Maxim type has been adopted, in which the gun barrel is kept cool by a jacket containing water. In France, where the Hotchkiss has been adopted, the barrel is air-cooled, which is not as effective as the Maxim system. Recently a new form of weapon, known as the Lewis, has been introduced, and has been employed for work in aeroplanes. It is an ingeniously constructed type, very light, and in which the barrel is kept cool by a constant current of fresh air drawn over it by means of the powder blast at the muzzle.
Everyone has heard of the huge howitzers brought out by Krupp and the Skoda Works in Austria. The latter appear to have been employed chiefly in fortress warfare, and the illustration on this page gives an idea of the huge size of its shells. The Krupps are even bigger. But pieces of this huge size and weight are not sufficiently mobile for universal employment, and the largest howitzers commonly used do not fire a shell over 9 inches in diameter. Even these weigh 290 lb., and contain a large bursting charge of high explosive, and are very devastating in their effects. A 12-inch howitzer fires a shell of nearly 1,000 lb., and both these natures were used to some extent- in the field. There was, too, a tendency to increase the size of field guns, i.e., of those which immediately accompany the infantry divisions. For instance, the French employed large numbers of 10'5 mm. guns - i.e., of a calibre of 4"2 inches.
It will easily be understood how, with these enormous projectiles to deal with, troops must be kept under cover until they are silenced, and this was found to be constantly the case in this present war.
a schematic illustration
see also : Trench Warfare in 1914
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