Not To Be Taken Into Front Line Trenches
- The time available for divisions when out of the line to train as divisions is short. It is necessary that the utmost use should be made of it, and that the object of the training should be clearly understood by all concerned.
Success depends on preparations for all the phases of an attack, viz.:
- The organization of our trenches for the assembly of the attacking force;
- The artillery bombardment;
- The crossing of the area between our front trenches and the enemy's;
- The capture of the enemy's defensive systems and artillery positions, and the consolidation against counter-attack of ground won;
- Exploitation of success.
The training ground must be carefully reconnoitred, beforehand, and a detailed programme of the whole period must be prepared. If possible, every brigade should be exercised in each form of training.
- The training of the division can be conveniently divided into two categories:
- Training for the attack from trenches against a hostile system of trenches and strong points, including the consolidation and occupation of the system won;
- Training for exploiting a success when the hostile systems of defence have been broken through.
- A complete system of hostile trenches and at least the first line of a second system together with the defended localities between these two systems, should be marked out on the hostile ground to full scale from trench maps and aerial photographs, to represent as far as possible an actual system of trenches and strong points. The assault over the area so marked out should be practised several times by the division as a whole; the division being disposed in depth on a narrow front with two brigades, and also with one brigade in the front line.
A suitable assaulting front for a brigade against a strong objective may be taken at from 400 to 600 yards. The average front for a division forming part of a larger force in an attack, however, must be governed by the nature of the country to be traversed, the difficulty of the task allotted, the intervals to be allowed between formations, the number of important objectives to be assaulted, and the number of brigades to be employed in the front line. It may be taken at from 1,000 to 1,800 yards, or an average of about 1,500 for several divisions in a decisive attack.
- The attack must aim at continuity and must be driven home without intermission, so that the attack gradually works forward till the endurance of the enemy is broken down.
Every attacking unit must be given a limited and clearly defined objective, which it is to capture and consolidate at all costs; the assaulting columns must go right through above ground to this objective in successive waves or lines, each line adding fresh impetus to the preceding line when this is checked, and carrying the whole forward to the objective. The cleaning up and consolidation of positions passed over by the assaulting columns in their advance, the formation of protective flanks, and the preparation of strong supporting points in the captured area will be carried out by other troops of the attacking force, following the assaulting columns and specially told off for the purpose. Local reserves must be held to reinforce those parts of the line which are checked, to fill gaps opening in the front and to relieve troops which are exhausted and whose endurance has gone.
From the moment when the first line of assaulting troops leaves our front trenches, a continuous forward flow must be maintained from the rear throughout the division. Up to our own front line this flow may be either above or below ground, according to topographical conditions, the nature of the enemy's fire, and the number of communication trenches available, but once the assaulting troops have left our trenches and are pushing on to their objective, their movement will be carried out above ground.
The movement of the Divisional Reserve may be controlled when required by ordering beforehand that its forward flow is to be checked on reaching some definite line (such as our original first line of trenches), in which it will await orders.
- When a particular line or succession of lines have reached an objective assigned to them, for the consolidation of which preparations have already been made, it will usually be inadvisable to order these troops to push on to a further objective. It follows, therefore, that, to secure continuity in operations on a large scale, it may be necessary to arrange for fresh troops to pass through others.
Occasions may also occur in which there is, beyond the first objective, a second objective, e.g. another system of hostile trenches or centre of resistance, which the Commander of the formation intends to attack, conditionally on the first attack succeeding, with a fresh body of troops, but as part of the same operation.
Divisions must, therefore, be practised in the passing of a fresh body of attacking troops through the troops which have carried out the first assault and have reached their objective. The second assault will be carried out on the same principles, the assaulting columns going straight through to the objective in successive lines.
The passing of one body of troops through another during an attack is, however, an extremely difficult operation, and should only be attempted when there is a reasonable opportunity of seizing and holding the second objective by immediate attack, as for instance when the first attacking force has succeeded in gaining the whole objective it was ordered to consolidate, the artillery preparation on the second objective has been adequate and effective, and the force detailed to attack it is well in hand.
The conditions of every attack vary, however, and a special solution must be found for each individual problem. It depends on whether the furthest objective that has been allotted to a division can be reached in one continuous advance, or whether it is necessary to capture and consolidate some intermediate objective before the final one can be assaulted.
- With regard to the above, it is impossible to lay down any definite rules as to the strength of assaulting columns, the number of lines of which they consist, or the distance apart of these lines.
The depth of the assaulting column depends on the distance of the objective, and on the opposition that has to be overcome in reaching it. Its strength must be calculated so as to give sufficient driving power to enable the column to reach its objective and to provide sufficient remaining energy to enable the objective to be held when gained. The distance apart of the lines will usually be regulated by the rate at which the successive lines can be formed up and moved forward over the parapet. The men in each line should be extended at two or three paces interval. In this connection it is worthy of consideration that in many instances two lines have generally failed but sometimes succeeded, three lines have generally succeeded but sometimes failed, and four or more lines have usually succeeded.
- In these exercises the attack or part of it should frequently fail to reach its objective, and the commanders of the units thus checked be confronted on the spot with a new situation and practised in making rapid decisions based on the original plan.
Every brigade in turn should be called upon to move from reserve to the capture of an objective, in front of which the assaulting troops have been held up, or against which an attack has failed. The orders for this operation and a description of the artillery support that will be available will be given to Commanders on the spot.
- Any division may be in reserve to one or more assaulting divisions. Such a task requires as careful previous preparation and study as does the task of the divisions actually detailed for the assault.
The staffs and regimental officers of the division in reserve on any portion of the assaulting front must make themselves familiar by personal reconnaissance with the trench systems over which they may have to operate and with every detail of the ground. They must be provided with the same maps as those used by the assaulting division. The Staffs and higher Commanders of the division in reserve must study the plans and preparations of the assaulting divisions as closely as if they were their own. In this way only will they be able when the time comes to take up the attack without hesitation, and with a clear understanding of the task before them.
From the moment the operation begins, the closest liaison must be established, in accordance with arrangements made beforehand; and responsible Staff Officers from the Reserve Division should be attached to the Headquarters of the Divisions in front so as to follow every development of the action. As soon as it is known where the reserve division is to be put in, the proper place for the Commander of the Reserve Division and his Staff is at the Battle Headquarters of the Divisional Commander, who is controlling the operations in that particular portion of the battlefield.
- Special exercises should be held during the period of training by Divisional and Brigade Commanders with all their staffs and subordinate commanders:
- To consider in detail the preliminary arrangements for an attack on a large scale; and
- To consider the action to be taken by subordinate commanders when local unexpected situations arise, such as occur when a portion of a line is held up, impassible obstacles are encountered, or it becomes necessary to deliver or repel a local counter-attack.
With regard to (a), attention is directed to the memorandum on the preliminary arrangements in case of a large attack, issued with O.B./1207, dated the 2nd of February, 1916. The artillery programme and co-operation should be worked out in all exercises and explained to all concerned.
With regard to (b), it must be remembered that officers and troops generally do not now possess that military knowledge arising from a long and high state of training which enables them to act promptly on sound lines in unexpected situations. They have become accustomed to deliberate action based on precise and detailed orders.
Officers and men in action will usually do what they have been practised to do or have been told to do in certain situations, and it is therefore all the more necessary to ensure that a clear understanding should exist among all ranks as to what action is to be taken in the different situations that may arise in battle. In this connection every endeavour should be made to inculcate mutual confidence and the spirit of combination directly towards the achievement of the task set. During an advance under fire men must possess the habit of looking spontaneously to their leaders for direction; more often than not leaders have to look for and find their men. Even this in itself is not sufficient. Situations will constantly arise when there is no officer or non-commissioned officer present with groups of men, and the men must realise that, in such a case, one man must assume leadership on the spot and the remainder act under his control.
All must be prepared for heavy casualties, and must realize that the magnitude of the interests at stake necessitate the greatest self-sacrifice from one and all.
- Brigade Headquarters, as well as Battalion Headquarters, must be practised in moving forward during the progress of an attack, and it is essential that communication from front to rear must not be lost. It is, therefore, necessary that the route to be followed by Headquarters should be well defined and known, so that runners both from front and rear will know the route to follow in order to pick up the Headquarters should it be moving. In the case of Brigade and Battalion Headquarters it will usually be inadvisable to state a place to which the Headquarters will move, as that place may be inaccessible or untenable.
A thorough system of good communication throughout the division is of the first importance, and every kind of alternative form of communication from front to rear, including parties of men, under specially selected officers, detailed as runners, must be continually practised throughout every exercise both day and night. All ranks must be warned of the vital importance of forwarding accurate and speedy information. This portion of the training will receive the special attention of the higher Commanders.
- With regard to the latter part of paragraph 2 (a), attention is directed to the memorandum on the consolidation of trenches and localities after assault and capture (O.B. 1629, dated 4-5-16) already issued.
- With regard to the second category of training (paragraph 2 (b)), the general principles laid down in our training manuals hold good, and special attention is directed to Chapters V, VI, VII, and IX, Field Service Regulations, Part I. Special exercises should be carried out by divisions to practise the continuation of the advance after a hostile system of defences have been broken through.
Such an advance will probably take the form of a series of attacks on tactical points which are still held by the enemy by portions of the force, whilst other portions continue a vigorous advance (105.5).
Special attention should be given during some of these exercises to the methods of establishing a defensive flank to the division as it advances, and in all exercises the general principles of securing the ground gained must be carried out (see paragraph 11 above).
- In all exercises the following points require special study on the part of Brigade and Battalion Commanders:
- The employment of Brigade Machine Gun Companies and Lewis guns, to ensure that full advantage is taken of this great increase in fire power.
In particular, opportunities should be looked for to practice pushing forward Lewis guns to precede the attacking infantry or to reinforce an advance which is held up.
Attention is directed to "Notes on the Use of Lewis Guns in an Advance," dated the 18th March, 1916, and "Notes on the Tactical Employment of Machine Guns and Lewis Guns" (S.S. 106).
- The use of bombers (see S.S.398 "Training and Equipment of Bombers").
- The use of Trench Mortars.
- The arrangements for getting all the above forward as rapidly as possible and keeping them supplied in action.
- The service of supply, also, both as regards ammunition, food and water, should be carried out thoroughly in every detail, at least one exercise of this nature being carried out after dark.
- The following points have proved the chief stumbling blocks to a complete success in past attacks, and every effort must therefore be made to overcome them:
- Failures in mutual support. Every endeavour must be made to maintain lateral communication; when a gap occurs in the line, whether caused by the failure of some portion of the force to reach its objective or otherwise, the troops on either side of the gap, who have reached their objective, must at once close the gap by extending inwards, or by pushing into the gap their nearest available reserves, and in this way both re-establish lateral communication and isolate any hostile detachment which is holding out.
The value of machine guns to fill a gap of this kind should be borne in mind.
- Failures in passing on information as to the situation. The vital importance of information and the responsibility of everyone in assisting to obtain and forward it must be impressed on all ranks.
- Failure to re-organize and to consolidate the ground won in time to resist a counter-attack. Every effort must be made to retain control and cohesion, and every suitable opportunity of reforming must be taken. Consolidation, on the principles laid down in the memorandum referred to in paragraph 11, must be carried out with all speed and determination.
- Unnecessary crowding of the assaulting columns, with the consequent increase in casualties and congestion. It must be borne in mind that beyond a certain point the addition of more men merely results in hampering an attack.
- Premature using up of reserves. Every commander must make arrangements to retain control of his reserves till they are required for some definite purpose, and must not allow them to drift into the fight piecemeal and with no clear guidance as to their objective.
- The strictest attention must continue to be paid to the cultivation of the power of command in young officers, also to discipline, dress, saluting, cleanliness and care of billets, and the importance of strict obedience to instructions as regards arrangements of supply, preservation of iron rations, water, etc., must be impressed on all ranks.
Self-denial in the matter of water in particular must be practised; men must accustom themselves to not drinking out of their water-bottles without orders, and control over the men in this respect will be exercised by officers during operations.
Too great stress cannot be laid on developing good moral, a soldierly spirit, and a determination in all ranks to achieve success at all costs.
- Troops once launched to the attack must push on at all costs till the final objective is reached.
It must be impressed on all ranks that "decisive success in battle can be gained only by a vigorous offensive" (F.S.R. 99.1), and in no operation of war is rapidity and determination more important than in exploiting a success after breaking through a hostile system of defences.
To ensure success it is impossible to exaggerate the vital importance of thorough training of all ranks, so that all may feel convinced that "when we fight we win."
L.E. Kiggell, Lieut.-General, C.G.S.
G.H.Q., 8th May, 1916
"The Infantry cannot do with a gun less": The Place of the Artillery
in the British Expeditionary Force, 1914-1918