The experiences of the Battle of the Somme have served merely to accentuate the importance of:
The destruction of hostile batteries by Artillery fire demands great accuracy of fire and considerable expenditure of Ammunition.
These again demand time, aeroplane observation and favourable weather.
Long before the day of assault we must therefore commence the steady methodical destruction of the enemy's artillery with the object of reducing his available strength on the day of battle.
Every favourable opportunity must be seized to carry out destructive shoots with Heavy Howitzers and aeroplane observation. If a Battery can be located, destroy it; the chance may never recur.
Nothing must permit us to be deflected from the pursuit of our object. This is easy to say, but there are two tempters ever on the prowl to lead us away from our quarry. The first is the employment of the Counter-battery Heavy Howitzers for other tasks, and the second is the employment of the Counter-battery aeroplanes for bombing enterprises and Trench shoots.
A daily record should be kept of all Counter-battery shoots carried out with aeroplane observation, successes and causes of failures being noted carefully.
Up to the moment of the Assault it is a question of how many guns we can destroy.
From the moment of the Assault, it becomes a question of neutralizing the fire of all those Batteries which we have not succeeded in destroying. For the time being, slow, methodical and accurate fire is neither feasible nor effective.
Our plan for the neutralization of all batteries known, or suspected as likely to be active, must have been in preparation for weeks past, based on constant observation and information and revised up to the moment of the Assault.
All available Guns and Howitzers must be employed for the purpose. It has been found by experience that very soon after the Assault takes place, Aeroplane Observers are able to communicate information, permitting the Counter-battery fire, which has been fully developed at the moment of the Assault, to be modified and corrected.
Kite Balloon Observers are not so well placed as are Aeroplane Observers for carrying out Counter-battery work, and although they have demonstrated their value in this respect, as a rule they are better employed in watching and aiding Artillery in dealing with hostile movements, thus also permitting the aeroplanes to concentrate more of their attention on Counter-battery work.
The experiences of the Battle of the Somme have confirmed those of the Battle of Loos on the great value of night firing.
It is by night that almost all German movement and work in the front line systems is carried out.
The object of night-firing is to render the relief of troops, the supply of ammunition and food, the movement of guns, and work of all kindsif not impossible, at any rate, a hazardous and expensive business.
The effect of night-firing is, moreover, most demoralizing to the enemyprevents information being obtained and the systematic organization of counter-attacks and generally serves to keep the battle "open."
It leads to retaliation, but forms part of the struggle in which we must establish our superiority in order to ensure victory.
It is most dangerous to allow local circumstances to over-ride the carrying out of this night-firing policy.
During the Battle of the Somme, a Division succeeded in stopping night-firing on its front in order to facilitate its preparations for attack. The Germans kindly ceased firing on the front concerned. The Division attacked in the early morning, only to find that the Germans had constructed new defences and repaired their wire, with the result that the attack failed with considerable loss.
Great stress is to be placed on the system of night-firing being decentralised. Tasks should be allotted to subordinate formations, who should base their plans on information derived from the study of maps and photos, and from prisoners' reports, etc. etc.
It is during the night, in preliminary operations, that the Field Artillery, and certain units of Heavy Artillery, are required to display their greatest activity.
Stress is laid on the necessity for a well thought-out system of relief amongst the personnel of units, and for guarding against any "closed time" such as is liable to occur in the early hours of the morning, and of which advantage is certain to be taken by the enemy.
The principal tasks of "long-range" guns are the enfilading of parts of the hostile defensive system, denied to guns of lesser range, and the systematic attack of the rear defensive system.
The latter task includes the attack of Kite Balloons, Ammunition Dumps, Railheads, and Billets.
It follows that the employment of these guns directly concerns the Army, and their effective use is much facilitated by their organization in special Groups.
A special plan should be drawn up for their employment on the day of battlea plan somewhat similar in its nature to that of the Counter-batteries, but dealing with distant approaches, etc., and equally dependant on thorough co-operation with the Flying Corps.
The two great factors in an Artillery plan of action, given a reasonable number of guns and adequate ammunition, are the possibilities of Enfilade fire and Concentrations of fire.
Their presence renders a plan a "good proposition" and in conjunction with "our" Infantry spells success. In their absence, success is not likely to be obtained without heavy loss.
The famous attack on the Bazentin Ridge on July 14th, constituting as it did a most difficult operation, from an Infantry point of view, was redeemed by the possibilities of artillery enfilade and concentrated fire.
The capture of Delville Wood on July 27th, was rendered a certainty by the enormous concentration of guns1 Gun to three yardsthe Infantry assaulting under a barrage fire from over 200 Field Guns on a comparatively narrow front.
The difficulties of concentrating artillery fire, and the absence of all enfilade fire, on Guillemont of themselves rendered the capture of this place a most difficult proposition.
The importance of these two factors must therefore never be lost sight of in regulating the plan of action.
A thorough defence of the Front will entail generally Anti-aircraft Units being sited to form front and second line barrages, and to protect important localities on the rear defensive system.
Units forming the front line barrage are well sited at intervals of about 4,000 yards, and at distances of about 3,000 yards behind our front line.
The number of Units required for the second line barrage is about half the number required for the front line barrage.
The distance between front and second line barrage Units should be about 5,000 yards.
The above distances can be taken as a guide only. The actual siting of Units must be dependent on local circumstances; the value of those whose position is located accurately by the enemy is likely to be comparatively small. Hence, Units should change their positions repeatedly, and good communications facilitating this being carried out with safety and rapidity are important.
During the Battle of the Somme, 15 hostile machines were destroyed and 15 damaged by the anti-aircraft guns on the Fourth Army front.
Irrespective of Counter-battery and "Long-range" Gun work, which have been dealt with, this bombardment aims at the demoralization of the enemy and the methodical destruction of his wire defences, strong points, machine gun emplacements, observing posts, and front line system generallyso far as it constitutes an impediment to the Infantry advance.
Most of the above tasks demand the accurate and observed fire of Heavy Howitzers.
The fire will, therefore, generally be slow and deliberate, based on information derived from all sources, directed by aeroplane observation and checked and corrected by the study of aeroplane photographs.
The character and duration of this bombardment will vary according to the strength of the enemy's defences, his morale, the time available, etc. Generally, it may be taken that the initial bombardment will be a long one (Verduna month; Sommea week).
After the initial defences are broken through, it will be important to exploit the success quickly; the guns, according to a pre-arranged scheme, will be pushed forward as rapidly as possible, and the bombardment will be of shorter duration (three days to six hours).
The importance of ensuring accuracy of fire and of maintaining the bulk of our artillery in action for the day of battle militates against prolonged bombardments of an intensive nature, which are fatal to our equipments.
The destruction of well constructed and deep dugouts is not likely to be attained by Howitzer fireour hopes in this direction rest principally on Heavy Trench Mortars, which should play an important part in the destruction of the front line defences.
We cannot hope to destroy everything and our efforts should be concentrated on the destruction of those parts which constitute the principal obstacles to the Infantry advance. At the same time, there is no part of the defensive system which we can afford to ignore altogether.
The destruction of the wire defences has hitherto been almost exclusively the province of our Field Guns.
It is hoped that the provision of fuzes acting immediately on impact may enable our Howitzers to play a prominent part in future wire-cutting operations, and that they may be further supported by our Medium Trench Mortar Batteries.
It is frequently necessary for the Infantry to clear back from their advanced positions in order to permit of the bombardment of hostile front trenches without undue risk to themselves.
From in rear of their front line, our Infantry should, by means of machine gun fire and rifle grenades, prohibit any attempt of the enemy to seek cover in advance of their front line, possibly even to enter our own.
Stress is laid on the importance of allowing the Infantry ample time to make all arrangements for temporarily clearing their trenches.
Concealment of the actual time of attack is all-important. To facilitate this the methodical bombardment should be varied from time to time with short periods of intensive fire, simulating the approach of the assault. In these bombardments all guns should join. These occasions form an opportunity for the Field Artillery to test their intended barrage. They likewise afford opportunities for inflicting losses on the enemy, should he be induced, in expectation of an attack, to man his defences, and, finally, of studying the enemy's barrage system, should be he led to open fire.
During the day the Field Artillery should preserve a sharp look-out with the object of inflicting losses on the enemy, should favourable opportunity offer itself, and the Artillery generally should be practised thoroughly in developing fire rapidly in response to aeroplane emergency calls. Otherwise, Field Artillery tasks by day should be confined, as far as possible, to the short bombardments mentioned above, and to any requisite wire-cutting operations or registration.
The importance of the Infantry attacking close under the protective barrage of their own artillery need not here be insisted on.
To achieve this result and at the same time limit the risk incurred by the Infantry from their own artillery fire, experience indicates the importance of close attention to the following points:
The creeping barrage forms a protection against machine guns and riflemen concealed in the ground intervening between the Infantry and their objective.
The standing barrage lifts off the objective and forms a screen behind which the Infantry clean up and consolidate the position won. This screen should be adjusted to form a protection against hostile reinforcements or counter-attack.
At the time of the assault the Heavy Howitzer fire will generally be concentrated on strong points or localities of special importance or to cause blocks at trench junctions.
At zero, that is to say, the time at which the Infantry commence their advance, it is inadvisable to make any immediate change in the objectives of the Heavy Howitzers, such as would clearly point to the moment of assault having arrived.
Heavy Howitzer fire should be lifted from one point to anotherit is not suitable for forming a creeping barrage in proximity to our Infantry.
In the later stages of the Somme Battle, there was a marked tendency on the part of the Germans to site their machine guns at a considerable distance behind their front line. It is hoped that this may be dealt with adequately by imposing a smoke barrage of 4.5" or 18-pounder shells.
The most effective barrage under ordinary circumstances is one of time shrapnel with long correctorbut in the attack of villages and woods H.E. should be partially or entirely substituted for shrapnel.
As soon as all details connected with the barrages have been settled between the Artillery and Infantry they are issued in the form of orders and should be impressed on all concerned.
After this it is most inadvisable to make changes, which almost invariably result in misunderstandings.
Any what is commonly called "monkeying" with the barrage by subordinates should be absolutely prohibited.
The Infantry are required to conform their movements strictly in accordance with the barrage programme.
The moulding of this programme in accordance with the progress of the Infantry is an ideal which may be attained in the future; if so, it is likely to be so through the medium of aeroplane observation.
It is all a question of reliable information and communication. Hitherto our experience has been that neither of these factors can be relied on to function during the battle in sufficient time and with sufficient certainty.
The results, however, obtained from co-operation between Infantry flares and Aeroplane Observers are encouraging and one of the features of the Somme Battle has been the reliability of Aeroplane Observers' reports in general.
Any local modifications in artillery fire must always be dangerous as affecting the position of troops on the immediate flanks.
A Division is certainly, under normal circumstances, the smallest formation which can be permitted to modify the later stages of the Artillery programme with due regard to the general tactical situation.
The provision of special signals enabling the Infantry to call upon the Artillery to lengthen or shorten their range is under consideration. The use of many signals is to be deprecated as confusing and dangerous. But it should be possible to introduce some simple form of signal for these purposes, aiding to what is, in any case, a much desired result.
There are also possibilities connected with "wireless" which have not yet been fully exploited.
Divisions should generally be allotted an emergency call on certain units of Heavy and Siege Artillery, in order to facilitate local co-operation with the Artillery.
Plans to meet counter-attack both during the attack and after the capture of the position, require to be worked out in detail, and in close co-operation with the R.F.C. and made known to all concerned previous to the day of the attack. These counter-attacks generally afford the Artillery its best opportunity of inflicting severe losses on the enemy.
It is only when acting in close co-operation with the R.F.C., that our Artillery can hope to obtain the best results.
This alone is sufficient to indicate the importance of fine weather as a factor in the attack, in addition to which accuracy of artillery suffers much in bad weather.
If, at the moment of the assault, the defenders' artillery could but grasp the full tactical situation and act on it immediately, no attack under normal circumstances would be likely to succeed. Our own, French, and probably German experience also, has been that the defenders' barrage fire soon after the assault takes place is directed on the assailants' front trenches and that presumably owing to difficulties in obtaining reliable information as to the true state of affairs, is slow to turn on to trenches which are captured.
In the assault, therefore, it is well that all waves of attack should be got clear of the front trenches as soon as feasible. It represents a difficult problem for the defence. If the requisite guns and ammunition are available, it is certainly advisable to develop counter-preparation at an early date and not to await the actual moment of assault.
The extent to which our Artillery is now called upon to direct its fire in close proximity to our own Infantry calls special attention to the paramount importance of the factor of accuracy.
This refers alike to Field and Heavy Artillery.
Our attention should, with the object of attaining the maximum of accuracy, be directed specially to the importance of:
The degree of rapidity with which we can afford to fire our guns is limited practically by two factors:
For the barrage fire of 18-pounder guns, three to four rounds per minute per gun may be regarded as the maximum to be maintained for any appreciable time and even then guns should be afforded a rest of about a quarter of an hour in every hour in order to allow them to cool.
The destruction of Material and Field Fortifications is best brought about by steady, methodical and carefully observed fire.
The destruction of Personnel and the prevention of movement is best achieved by sudden and short bursts of fire, at frequent intervals, in preference to slow continuous fire.
A "Smoke Barrage" has practically never failed to draw the fire of the German Artillery. This is a factor to be made use of.
The various factors affecting co-operation between Artillery and Infantry cannot be discussed here in detail. Generally, it may be said that co-operation demands:
The organization of the Artillery has been discussed.
Artillery units require auxiliary means of Signalling, such as Electric lamps and Shutters, in addition to Telephones.
For the rest, the crux of the whole matter is the vital importance of Senior Officers, Battery Commanders, and Junior Officers of both Field and Heavy Artillery visiting and maintaining the closest relations with the Infantry in the line.
If this is thoroughly carried out, much less will be heard of regrettable errors on the part of our Artillery in shooting and mistakes on the parts of our Infantry in distinguishing between our own and German shells.
During the attack, Brigade Commanders or their Staff Officers should be in immediate touch with Infantry Brigadiers.
Observing Officers should be sent forward, under cover of the Infantry, to enable them to occupy positions from which they are better enabled to direct the fire of their Batteries, in accordance with the tactical situation.
Although this constitutes the paramount duty of those Forward Observing Officers, it should not preclude their doing all in their power to preserve touch with Battalion Headquarters.
Before the day of assault, the Infantry should be made aware of the plan for sending forward F.O.Os in order that they may on their side facilitate the arrangements for communication by means of Runners, etc.
During the Battle of the Somme, the want of sufficient guns of long range and the absence of light guns and howitzers made themselves felt, at times severely.
Before the operations commenced the importance of the preservation of guns was realised and measures taken accordingly. Even so, between the 23rd June and the 22nd of November:
89 Guns and 130 Carriages were destroyed by hostile fire.
667 Guns and 338 Carriages were condemned for wear, etc.
The attention paid by Units to their equipment was, on the whole, satisfactory, and the lessons learnt centralise more on the necessity for ample provision of spare parts such as buffer springs and vents, and on the importance of everything possible being done in the Manufacturing Departments at Home to simplify not only the tasks of our men in the line but of those in our Workshopsfor whose work during the Battle of the Somme I have nothing but good to say.
The quality of our Ammunition during the Battle had a tendency to improve. It is hoped that this may continue and that we may gradually reduce the variety in kinds of Ammunition with which the Unit Commander at present has to deal.
The effect of our Thermit shells was disappointing.
It is very difficult to gauge the effect of our Lethal Shells. On the whole it would appear to have been chiefly moralmost felt during the night hours.
The introduction of an instantaneous fuze should add enormously to the effect of our Howitzer fire.
Our Field Gun H.E. requires either as at presenta delay-action fuze combined with ricochet effector an instantaneous fuze. Longer burning fuzes are required for our "Long-range" Guns.
Armour piercing shells are useful.
As N.C.T. has come to stay, attention should be concentrated on protecting it from dampthe conditions under which cartridges were supplied during the Battle were in this respect bad, but much is now being done by supplying, strengthening, and improving metal cylinders to remedy past defects.
There was comparatively little shortage of Ammunition during the Battle, and but few difficulties connected with Ammunition supply, until the later stages, when owing to the state of the ground, brought about by shell fire and rain, it became necessary to supply practically all Field Ammunition by pack transport. At this time the absence of roads and railways rendered the supply of Heavy Ammunition a most arduous business.
Men and horses both suffered in consequence of the strain imposed.
One of the most difficult problems to solve is the prompt removal of Ammunition from gun positions when an advance takes place. Our arrangements in this respect were inadequate to prevent a considerable amount of ammunition becoming derelict.
Every formation, ArmyCorpsHeavy and Divisional Artilleriesshould detail an Officer to supervise the strict performance of orders issued on the subject.
The total number of rounds fired from June 24th to November 21st, 1916, both dates inclusive, were:
The Total Expenditure on June 30th and July 1st together amounted to 600,000 rounds, and this figure was repeated almost exactly on September 14th and 15th.
Spare personnelOfficers and mento take the place of those suffering from overstrain of work, in addition to those killed and wounded, are requisite. Special Rest Camps should be established for Officers and Men in need of a short period of rest.
The enormous amount of extra labour connected with Ammunition supply and preparation of new positions also demands extra labourin fact, it must be recognised that the fixed establishment of Artillery personnel is inadequate for a great and prolonged battle.
The total casualties in the Artillery of the Fourth Army were: