The School opened with the arrival of the first Course on Sunday, 26th November, 1916. The Instructors and Staff had gradually assembled previously at Salisbury in order to arrange a programme of work and receive instruc-tions as to what exactly was to be taught to the Courses.
The new Range, officially known as Chapperton Down Range, occupied a strip of land running almost Southwest from the road joining Tilshead and Lavington, 9,000 yards in length and 2,200 yards wide, so that the centre of the Range was just 2,500 yards to the Southeast of Imber. Contracts were made to hire the land until the end of April.
A permanent telephone system was laid down on the range under the direction of the G.P.O., so that all O.P.s and battery positions were linked up on to one system.
Three main trench systems to represent targets were dug by Infantry, whilst R.E. Companies erected target gun emplacements dispersed by sections or batteries about the range. These served the double purpose of providing targets for shooting, and by a variety of designs testing the destructive power of the different kinds of projectiles.
A large amount of labour and material were expended in this work, and many of the targets are still in existence or can be easily repaired. Splinter-proof observing stations were also built at the same time, and some three or four of them are each capable of accommodating about 70 officers. In addition a survey was made of the range by the Ordnance Survey from Southampton, and excellent contoured maps were produced by that department, both of 1/20,000 and 1/10,000 scales. Artillery boards were also prepared for each battery position, and heights surveyed.
It transpired subsequently that there were some small errors in the survey which became apparent with experience of shooting, and certain corrections were made. This fact showed how all important it is for the survey to be absolutely accurate if satisfactory map shooting is to be possible.
The range is situated 16 miles from Salisbury, the Headquarters of the School, where the Lectures took place, and where the Classes and Staff were billeted. This was a drawback, and considerably more time would have been available for instruction had accommodation been available at Lavington.
In the event of the School re-opening next winter different arrangements regarding housing of Officers, messing, etc., are desirable.
Fourteen Courses attended the School, between the dates 27th November, 1916, and 10th March, 1917, a period of 15 weeks. There was one week's break from 14th January to 20th January.
In addition, some 85 Lieutenant-Colonels and Majors, commanding Artillery Brigades in Divisions at the time in England, and five Artillery Brigadier-Generals. Many visitors, both from Overseas and Home Forces, to the number of 78, also witnessed shooting on one or more days.
The bulk of the Officers in the Courses were Battery Commanders, but many batteries have been represented by subalterns only, which is to be regretted. It was also unfortunate that difficulties of accommodation limited the number who could attend from Home Divisions.
Each Course arrived on Sunday in time for a Lecture in the evening, and left either on Friday night or Saturday afternoon.
The Courses were divided up into four parties:
The assembling of Officers of both branches of the Royal Artillery together at one School has been beneficial in many ways. But where, as explained below, the instruction aimed at has been mainly of the more scientific kind, it must be admitted that the R.F.A. have reaped the greatest benefits by close association with the more scientific branch.
The standard of technical knowledge in the R.G.A. is very considerably higher than in the R.F.A. There is, however, just as great need for science in one branch as the other.
The R.F.A. have much leeway to make up, and it is thought that if only for this reason, the more the personnel of the two branches of the Artillery can be mixed together the better.
In the R.G.A. both the equipments themselves and some of the methods for controlling fire tend towards slow work, and if it is realised that more speed might be a great advantage, no doubt it could be obtained. In the Field Artillery two main considerations are responsible for demanding a higher standard of technical gunnery knowledge from Officers :
But the need for calibration has been no new discovery for Siege and Heavy Batteries, whereas in the R.F.A. the continuance of siege warfare has only gradually brought Officersin many cases with reluctanceto admit the possibilities of map shooting and the consequent need (if for no other reason) for calibration.
Whether siege warfare is about to develop into more open operations, or whether it is likely to be prolonged for many months to come, highly technical knowledge on the part of regimental Officers is a necessity if the best value from the equipments is to be obtained. Instruction cannot be imparted satisfactorily except at regular Artillery Schools, and the selection and training of instructors for these is of vital importance to the future efficiency of the Artillery.
Too much reliance is apt to be placed on the value of information and instructions circulated to units. Officers have frequently shewn ignorance of important items of information known to have been issued in writing. Such matters as difference in ranging of projectiles or effect of propellants and similar points concerning ammunition or equipment fail sometimes to reach those whom they most concern. This may on occasions be traced to a failure to recognise the importance of the information concerned, but more often it is due to the lack of an office and facilities for keeping or even reading papers, and, in fact, to the conditions of active operations as a whole.
The duration of each Course was two weeks. The first week was, spent at Shoeburyness in the case of the Heavy and Field Battery Officers, and at Lydd by Officers of Siege Batteries. During this week the instruction was mainly theoretical, particular stress being laid on the value of Range Tables. Lectures were given on equipment, buffers, sights, ammunition, etc., together with a certain amount of practical instruction in the Gun Park regarding adjustment of sights and care of equipment generally.
To many Officers who had not had the opportunity of such instruction previously the first week was of great value, and excellent results were obtained both at Lydd and at Shoeburyness.
A preferable arrangement would have been for both weeks to have been spent at Salisbury, but this was impracticable owing to accommodation and transport difficulties.
The work at Salisbury was mainly practical and out-of-doors, Lectures being held in the evenings, usually between 5 and 7 p.m.
The first point regarding shooting which was impressed on Officers has been the necessity when ranging, whether on a target or on a datum point, of making positively certain that the correct "range" is found. It was shewn that the bracket system is not sufficient, or rather that extensive verification is essential before the correct elevation to place the M.P.I. on the target can be ascertained.
The old trapse.g., guessing from rounds which are off the linewere exemplified, and endeavours made to ensure that all Officers should in future be on their guard against ranging in such a way as might lead to wrong deductions. What may indeed be called amateur ranging has been specially prevalent in the past in connection with ranging for fuze, both with 18 and 60-pdrs., and it is hoped that improvements in this respect will be noticeable in the future. The main instruction at Salisbury, however, both theoretical and practical, was devoted to the subject of Map Shooting.
Map Shooting in reality embraces the whole of the points of theoretical and practical gunnery, whether advanced or elementary, which confront the Artillery Officer, and efforts were directed to showing to each class that accurate map shooting is in fact an achievement which is within reach of all. The process was progressive, commencing on the first day with a demonstration of 100% zones with the various guns and howitzers.
These demonstrations have proved most instructive, and to some Officers quite a revelation. Many Officers have failed to be impressed with the necessity of including in all calculations the average performance of the gun, and realising in consequence what are the actual limitations of every equipment. Succeeding steps, summarized, are (a) ranging on datum points, (b) methods of keeping records of shoots that have been carried out, (c) application and use of datum points to enable fire to be brought to bear on other targets as practised in the field, (d) process to be followed in order to arrive at a correctly predicted elevation, etc., such that a target located on the map may be effectively shelled without previous registration.
All the precautions that need be taken, the calculations and information necessary, the care required within units regarding the sorting of ammunition; these and all that they entail constitute a big subject for instruction in six days.
But very considerable progress was made, and probably most Officers now realise the power which a Commander possesses of being able at will, either by night or day in favourable circumstances, to shell accurately any target within the zone. It was considered that no extension of the scope of the instruction beyond the above was feasible. All efforts, therefore, were concentrated on what might be termed the scientific side of Artillery Shooting, for which the Chapperton Down Range offers special and rare facilities.
Much useful work was done by a flight of the R.F.C. permanently attached to the School.
Observation of special series was earned out, photographs taken, and trial flights given to a large number of Officers on the course who were anxious to practise aerial observation for themselves.
The following types of guns and howitzers formed the armament of the School:
Personnel for the first three were collected from various Depots and were formed into one Battery. Fifty of these men were changed every month, with the idea of training as many men as possible during the time available. This Battery reached a high state of efficiency.
The 60-pdr. Detachments formed a separate party and manned the four guns of which two were new, and two were condemned for wear.
The 4.5" Howitzers, four, and 18-pdr. Guns, six, were supplied as complete batteries by a Division. Both these two units were extremely efficient, and they were difficult to replace when the Division left for overseas. They were succeeded by units training as reinforcing batteries, and the change led for some time to a certain loss of instructional value to the class.
The work at the battery and on the Range was throughout under the supervision of two specially selected Officers.
It was not desired to undertake purely experimental work, which is, of course, only properly carried out under expert supervision and with all the usual experimental conditions fulfilled.
It was, however, realised that the firing of a comparatively large number of rounds might lead to the acquisition of much valuable information regarding range accuracy and effect of the various projectiles and weapons.
The following quantities of ammunition were expended during the season:
In the case of Siege and Heavy Batteries, calibration has for a long time been an everyday experience, and the process is well understood. To these Batteries special slide rules are issued which greatly aid the calculations if Officers choose to use them.
But in the R.F.A., owing to the wear of the guns and howitzers and to the somewhat recent development of map shooting, calibration has only lately been recognized as a necessity.
Grouping guns according to wear will be of great assistance, though the disadvantage is that as wear continues it will lead to the perpetual exchanging of guns among batteries.
Nevertheless it should be possible so to distribute them that in any 6 gun battery the best and worst guns should not usually vary in wear by more than about 10/1000 or 15/1000 of an inch.
With a 4.5" Howitzer Battery the condemning limit is .12 inches. In a battery all guns should show a wear measurement varying by not more than 10/1000ths of an inch, and the most worn ones might have reached an amount in wear say of 80/1000ths or 90/1000ths of an inch.
It is understood that endeavours are being made by the War Office and Ministry of Munitions to obtain some definite relation between wear measurement and loss of M.V., which would be of great value and provide a most useful check on calibrations. In the case of howitzers this will hardly be possible, but for guns some figures should be obtainable.
Notes have been forwarded from time to time to G.H.Q., France, recording experiences gained with the several equipments in use at the school, but experience in the concluding weeks has in some cases not confirmed that gained at the commencement.
Speaking generally, shooting with the various equipments has been most instructive, owing to a comparatively large number of rounds being available for shooting under the closest observation in such a way as to gain reliable figures in practice as distinct from theory, both in regard to accuracy and effect.
Several trials have been made to test the accuracy of the adjustment of the charges with all natures. It is found in practice that whereas the adjustment works out fairly well with most lots, occasionally a lot is liable to be met with which will give very divergent results. It is important that this should be generally known, as it is by no means safe to rely on uniform results being obtained with different lots of the same propellant. The various points concerning the effect of projectiles are dealt with in a separate pamphlet.
It has been most instructive to note how the accuracy in practical circumstances compares with the figures which exist in the Range Tables. These latter may be intended only as a guide, but it is extremely important that they should be as accurate as they can possibly be made.
It is probably not always recognised that accurate figures in Range Tables present in ordinary circumstances a too favourable aspect of the case. They are obtained by fire under precise and exact experimental conditions, which in the conditions of war are unattainable.
It is important, therefore, that this should be clear in the minds of those who are concerned with schemes, allotment of ammunition, etc., based on the probability of obtaining hits.
A further interesting feature noticeable during the firing of many rounds is the comparison of the theoretical probability of hitting with the actual results obtained. On the whole, probability figures work out reasonably well in practice, as of course is to be expected. For instance, in firing 100 rounds to show a practical 100 per cent. zone, it has sometimes been found that almost exactly 50 rounds are to be found in the 50 per cent. zone obtained by calculation from the 100 per cent. zone.
On the other hand there are exceptions. It is found that the first five rounds of 100 practically never give a mean which tallies with the mean of the 100.
This fact means that only comparative reliance must be placed on the fall of a group of 4 rounds during ranging. From the investigation of many series it appears that it is about 5 to 4 on the fall of a group of 4 rounds giving a true result as to whether plus or minus of a target, but in the case of the M.P.I. of 5 rounds the chances are considerably against its being found to tally with that of a large number.
From investigation it appears that it is necessary to fire some 20 to 25 rounds in order to be reasonably sure that the M.P.I. has been found correctly. The greater the mean error the more desirable it is for plenty of rounds to be fired in order to arrive at the mean. This applies specially to Time Fuzes.