Positions of readiness are only to be considered if well concealed, but guns not required in action are better placed safe out of range.
Observing stations.In the open position the choice appears to make little difference. If, however, occupied in the dark and the battery completely dug in, the battery commander is better on a flank clear of blast and smoke of enemy's high explosive shell. In covered positions the battery commander almost invariably observes from in front no matter what nature of gun. The distance, from 500 yards up to 1,000 and more, according to nature of operation and ground. Communication always by telephone. This, indeed, is the only possible means and endeavour is made to dig in the wire, perhaps with a plough.
In the event of wire being broken, recourse must be had to chain of orderlies. Megaphones are useful.
Obtaining the Line.Two aiming posts seem to have been sometimes, but seldom, used. A battery angle is sent if battery commander can see the battery; but far more often line is given roughly in a quick series or by compass or map in a deliberate series. Trial shots are fired and correction made as required. With heavy guns the method employed is either the compass or direction given by a reference to a map placed on a plane table, the latter the most popular. Where possible, as in the operations on the Aisne, the 18-pr. gun may be used to range for the 60-pr. to save ammunition. There are many casualties to directors. The hand angle of sight is a good deal used. Plotter never used and may be dispensed with.
Battery headquarters is too large. Signallers and lookout men are not wanted as a rule. Patrols and ground-scouts neveri.e., as part of the battery headquarters. The battery commander has battery serjeant-major and a telephonist with him, and perhaps a director man who will take a few notes as penciller. The range-finder would be separately dug in, if used at all, and two or three men possibly dug in at intervals to pass orders on emergency. The ranging officer with the battery is dug in, probably under a limber in rear of line of guns, with telephone man. Section commanders are dug in close behind wagon bodies. The consensus of opinion of battery commanders seems to be decidedly against observation vehicles. They could only be used on certain occasions and are difficult to drag into position without being seen. Moreover, a battery commander does not feel secure perched up on such a vehicle. He prefers a tree or stack or building of some kind, or else to be dug right in. Climbing irons or dogs, rope ladders, &c., would be of great use. German observatories are never seen now; they are effectually concealed if used.
Ranging.The keynote is simplicity. Section ranging with percussionaccording to information at present availableis the method always used. It is not known if collective has ever been used or not.
Objectives.More information is necessary before a full report can be made under this heading. Most batteries have never seen any such target as troops in the open or guns in any sort of position. There are exceptions, however, and guns have had to deal with infantry columns crossing the front, infantry advancing in large bodiescrowdsand the rush of an infantry counter attack. In such cases the 18-pr. shrapnel is admitted on all sides as being most efficient. Time is certainly not the important factor that it is at practice. At the open pitched battles as at Mons, Cambrai, situations appear to have been considerably confused, and battery commanders were practically independent except those close to their own brigade headquarters. Telephone communication broke down at once owing to the wires being cut, and any orders that reached battery commanders came by mounted messenger. There appears to have been no visual signalling.
Gun targets.At the battles just referred to there were cases of guns being located and even knocked out by shrapnel, but these seem to have been rare cases. The covered position is the one adopted and retained to the last. It must be clearly understood that the artillery duel is very much "en evidence." All arms and all ranks agree that the artillery dominates the situation on either side. Its effect is devastating where a target is visible, and infantry, where the strengths approximate to an equality, are quite unable to face it. All efforts are consequently made to establish a superiority in artillery. On the battlefield there is no sign of battle, bar the few bursting shell and a few strips of newly-turned earth, which mark the infantry trenches. Not a man or a gun is visible unless some effort be made to test the strength of some corner of the field; even then it will be invisible to nine-tenths of the front. The chief effort on either side is to locate the big guns by any means. We employ aeroplanes, but the enemy apparently employ an amazingly efficient secret service in addition. The aircraft are always at a height of about 6,000 feet if up at all, and there they appear to be immune from fire. The big gun positions are frequently changednot less than every two or three days, but ours, however well concealed, are located to a yard by the hostile gunners, and 6-inch or 8-inch high explosive shell dropped right on the guns or in the pits. It is important that these big guns have alternative emplacements always ready for occupation at short notice, after dark, and these should always be irregularly placed with big intervals up to 100 yards, and at varying ranges of 50 yards or so. Inside a wood is often a suitable position. A megaphone in a wood carries well and assists section commanders in these difficult circumstances. Searchlights are hardly used at all. German balloons are always aloft, but our authorities are not in favour of these aids to observation, for reasons which have been thoroughly discussed.
The shooting of the German artillery can only be described as "uncanny." Occasionally great waste of ammunition takes place from, no doubt, faulty information, but parties of troops, whether gun teams, ammunition columns, bivouacs, billets and even headquarters of brigades and divisions have to make constant changes of their position or incur the penalty of having a dozen of the large shells dropped right into them without warning and when least expected. Dummy batteries, observation posts, &c., to deceive hostile aeroplanes, have proved valuable.
Seventy per cent. of our casualties are said to be due to artillery fire, and most of them to the high explosive shell. The "error of the gun" appears to be nearly non-existent, and it is quite common to see four high-explosive heavy shells dropped within 2 or 3 yards of each other. It is difficult to find any explanation for this, possibly the design of shell has much to do with it. The enemy's time fuzes are also astonishingly accurate, particularly those of the field howitzers. Their shrapnel is far inferior to that of the 18-pr. This is admitted by all. There appear to be very few cases of shields having been hit by bullets. Casualties generally result from the backward effect of the high explosive shell. These will quickly destroy a battery when located, but shrapnel from frontal fire never will.
Laying.There is no direct laying. Our methods have well answered the test of war.
Methods of fire.Gun fire is evidently very rare, battery fire is the usual method. The largest number of rounds fired by a battery in a day, according to present information, amounts to 1,152 for an 18-pr. battery, but the total number in the war is not double this for the same battery.
Control of fire.Voice control has been employed in some of the somewhat confused actions referred to above. A Howitzer Battery on one occasion was engaged with infantry at 600 yards, firing shrapnel full charge; voice control was employed. Another battery, the day after disembarkation from the train, had to cover a front of over 180 degrees. It was shot at later from in rear also. Voice control was naturally used, but in the normal action it would never be considered for a minute.
Ammunition supply.No very definite system has been evolved as being the best. As much cover as possible must be gained both from overhead and from behind if possible. Sometimes both wagons may conveniently be up, or wagon one side and limber the other side of the gun. Replenishment of ammunition is normally by carriers, but may be effected by wagons at night, &c. Limber supply does not appear to have been ordered, but the limber ammunition has often been used up.
Corrector.Officers do not sufficiently use the table on page 164, Field Artillery Training. The cardinal fault of our shooting would appear to be bursting shrapnel too short; the same applies to that of the enemy.
4.5-inch Q.F. Howitzers.Never used in brigade at all, often by sections. Time shrapnel ranging with the howitzer is believed not to have been used at all.
60-pr. B.L. has been invaluable. Economy of ammunition is of first importance. It can sometimes be attained by making use of the 18-pr. for ranging purposes.
Entrenching.Types in "Field Artillery Training" of pits, &c., are not sufficient. Pits for men must be at least 4 feet deep and narrow, but many battery commanders prefer the gun to be in a deep pit. It depends partly on the weather. It is desirable to have a parapet in rear as well as in front on account of the high explosive shell. Solid overhead cover is also desirable as far as possible. The width, 13 feet, is not excessive in bad ground or wet weather.
Map reading.Map reading forms a very important detail in the daily work of officers and non-commissioned officers, and any work out in the open after dark, and should, therefore, be practised as much as possible.
Signalling.The amount of work and time devoted to visual signalling have not borne fruit in this war, but the more practice men have with the telephones and the buzzer the better. An enormous amount is dependent on the telephones. Heavy batteries go in for flag signalling with the Observation Officers.
On the whole peace training is proved to have been on the right lines, but from what has been seen much more might be done with the advanced artillery officer. The Germans are said to use him to a great extent. Much has also to be learnt by artillery in their work in conjunction with aircraft. Some notes on this subject will form a heading in a later communication.