General Head Quarters
British Armies in France
9th August, 1916.
Royal Artillery Institution,
The two papers attached are sent to you privately [holograph replacement: for acknowledgement please]. They deal with the control and command of the artillery of higher formations, and with the status of the Artillery Commanders of Corps and Armies.
It is thought that, should the further history of the Royal Regiment ever be written and its direction in this war be described, these papers might be of considerable interest.
They are forwarded not for present day publication but solely for the purpose
Kindly acknowledge receipt.
- From interviews with various artillery commanders and from the notes left behind by my predecessor on the action of our artillery during the German attack on the VIMY RIDGE, I am led to believe that the fighting efficiency of the artillery could be very much improved if the General Staff issued instructions which would more clearly define the duties of the various grades of higher command in the artillery.
- I have no doubt in my mind that in many cases senior artillery officers neither exercise command nor regulate the work of the artillery as they should nor are they allowed in some cases to take up the necessary position in order to perform their duties efficiently. The longer this War continues, the greater the supervision and guidance required from the higher ranks.
- I am strongly of opinion that the B.G.R.A. of the Corps and the M.G.R.A. of the Army should be in the same position with regard to their respective commanders of formations as the B.G.R.A. of the division is with regard to his general. The ever increasing amount of heavy artillery in the firing line has altered war conditions. The G.O.C. of the Army and the G.O.C. of the Corps must of course command their own artillery, but they must have the instrument and necessary machinery to do so.
- In O.B./446 dated 23rd October 1915, the status of Artillery Adviser with the headquarters of a Corps was altered; he was appointed G.O.C. the artillery of the Corps, and given the executive command of such portion of the artillery in the Corps that the Corps Commander might from time to time direct.
- There were then three Armies in existence, and each Army interpreted the letter quoted in the preceding paragraph differently. In the First Army the G.O.C., R.A. of Corps formed his heavy artillery into group or groups and took executive command of group commanders. In the Second Army the heavy howitzers were given to Corps, but the 60-pdrs. were retained for counter-battery work under the Army. In the Third Army the 60-pdrs. were given to Corps to carry out counter-battery work, but the heavy howitzers remained under Army direction, that is to say, that in the First Army the combination of weapons necessary for efficient counter-battery work were in the hands of Corps, whilst in the other two the weapons were divided between the Army and the Corps.
In O.B./446 dated 29th March 1916, the status of the G.O.C., R.A. of the Corps was again altered. He became "Brigadier-General R.A. of the Corps", was robbed of all executive command, and given a position analogous to that of the M.G.R.A. in the Army. In O.B./446 dated 7th May, 1916, his duties were again defined, but not, I consider, satisfactorily. The Commander of the Corps Heavy Artillery should have been placed directly under his command.
- I recommend that the B.G.R.A. of the Corps should again be styled the G.O.C., R.A. of the Corps; that he should be absolutely responsible to his Corps Commander for the efficiency of the whole of the Artillery in the Corps; that he should co-ordinate the action of the Artillery both in offensive and defensive actionthe necessary instructions being issued direct to the Commander of the Heavy Artillery, but through the General Staff of the Corps in the case of the Divisional Artillery; and that he should take executive command of any concentration of Corps and Divisional Artillery at the direction of the Corps Commander.
From experience gained as a G.O.C., R.A. of a Corps, I know that all this can be done with an entire absence of friction, and without taking away from the Divisional General the responsibility for the defence of any portion of the line.
- I further recommend that the M.G.R.A., or Artillery Adviser, of the Army be made the G.O.C. of the Artillery of the Army, that he be made responsible to the Army Commander for the efficient conduct of the Artillery of the Army, and that he be given the power to take executive command of any concentration of Artillery that the Army Commander may see fit to make. It should be his duty when his Army Commander directs to carefully examine all offensive and defensive artillery plans made by Corps and, if the whole Army takes the offensive, to draw up the artillery plan. Unless actually in executive command, his instructions should be issued by the General Staff.
(sd) Noel Birch,
8th June, 1916
At your request I send in the following note. I consider that at present there are too many people mixed up with the gun and ammunition question (both fighting and supply) at G.H.Q., and that it would be better to inaugurate a system which would place the whole business under one man, who would deal directly with you and the General Staff. At present the following people deal with guns and ammunition:
With due respect, I believe you have written private letters on the subject.
The Deputy Chief of the Staff writes a great many official letters.
O.A. and O.B. both take a hand in the business.
The Quartermaster General telegraphs home when certain classes of ammunition are running short.
The Director of Ordnance Services deals with certain technical questions, which also affect the supply at the front.
The Artillery Adviser tries to help everybody with his advice, if they have time to ask for it and desire it: any decision that he may give on the points raised is not, of course, in any way authoritive.
What the General Staff at G.H.Q. want is a machinery which will make the most of the fighting power of their guns and ammunition in the simplest way and without hitch. With this ever increasing supply of artillery have they got it and, if not, would they have it if they made the Artillery Office at G.H.Q. a fighting branch of their Staff?
It is interesting to trace the growth of relations between the Artillery and the General Staff during the last two years throughout the Expeditionary Force in France. Great opposition was first raised as far as the Army was concerned. What has happened since? The Army Artillery Adviser, though it is distinctly laid down that he is neither a Staff Officer nor a Commander, has become a fighting officer, and has had to assume a position that he was never intended for by the General Staff and is not entitled to. He allots his guns, controls his ammunition, supervises the artillery fights, counter battery areas, &c. Some Corps Artillery Commanders had already assumed these duties. I do not say that this innovation has been brought about without difficulties and misunderstandings, because to a great extent it has come into being through the personality of individuals (Army Commanders, Corps Commanders, Artillery Commanders) and not from G.H.Q. direction. When in any formationArmy or Corpsthe lead has not been given from above, the Artillery results have been bad.
Do you intend to recognise the state of affairs that now obtain in the Fourth and Reserve Armies, and I believe in the Third Army, which has come about as a fighting necessity? If you do, I think you should issue instructions on the subject to bring other Armies and Corps into line, and also reconsider the machinery of the General Staff at G.H.Q. In my opinion no General Staff, except a Divisional one, is now officially constituted to fight a battle under the conditions obtaining, and the Army and Corps Staff would be very much strengthened by the addition of a recognised artillery machine. In fact the whole situation of the relations between the General Staff and the Artillery, from G.H.Q. to the Corps, wants reviewing in the light of recent experience and future necessity.
It is high time that the "bogey" dual control was knocked on the head. The Artillery Command throughout requires strengthening to prevent dual control in action, and to ensure rapid and efficient concentration of fire, efficient co-operation with aeroplanes , etc.
Witness the organization of the Flying Corps built up on the experience of this War. Nobody can say that there is friction because Brigades are under the G.O.C. Flying Corps as well as under the Armies; and it is worth noting that the Brigade Commander cannot do his work with the Artillery efficiently unless the Army Artillery Adviser is a commander.
(sd) Noel Birch,
29th. July, 1916.
"The Infantry cannot do with a gun less": The Place of the Artillery
in the British Expeditionary Force, 1914-1918