[holograph notes by L. E. Kiggell: Read by C in C
1 to MGGS Fifth Army (see Fifth Army copy for remarks by Gen Sir H Gough)
1 to Gen Charteris
1 Fifth Army file]
4 copies: 1 CGS
I am of the opinion that in the operations of the Second and Fifth Armies which are shortly to take place we should not attempt to push infantry to the maximum distance to which we can hope to get them by means of our artillery fire, our tanks, and the temporary demoralisation of the enemy. Experience shows that such action may, and often does, obtain excellent results for the actual day of operations, but these results are obtained at the expense of such disorganisation of the forces employed as to render the resumption of the battle under advantageous circumstances at an early date highly improbable.
An advance which is essentially deliberate and sustained may not achieve such important results during the first day of operations, but will in the long run be much more likely to obtain a decision.
By a deliberate and sustained advance, I refer to a succession of operations each at two or three days' interval, each having as its object the capture of the enemy's defences, strong points, or tactical features, to a depth of not less than 1,500 yards and not more than 3,000 yards.
The operations of the first day will probably produce demoralisation and confusion on the part of the enemy, but such demoralisation and confusion are of a purely local and temporary nature and can only be exploited in a local and temporary manner. The enemy, if then allowed several days to reorganise, will again present a firm front with fresh troops and additional guns, and our task will be more difficult partly owing to our disorganisation due to the first attack and partly owing to the difficulty of the exact location of our own troops and the positions of the enemy.
It appears to me to be of the first importance that we should be able to deliver our successive attacks at not more than three days' interval, and that each advance should be regulated so as to admit of this.
It has been proved beyond doubt that with sufficient and efficient artillery preparation we can push our infantry through to a depth of a mile without undue losses or disorganisation, and I recommend strongly that the operations for the capture of the PASSCHENDAELE - STADEN Ridge should be conducted on the principle of a series of such operations, following one another at short intervals in such a manner as to avoid at any particular period wholesale reliefs, wholesale displacement of artillery, and the wholesale hurrying forward of guns, troops, ammunition, and supplies over ground which is practically devoid of communications.
The Germans will bring forward their reserves to stop our advance whether the latter is rapid or deliberate. It appears to be much more advantageous to us to accept battle with and engage those reserves when we are in an organised state, our guns in position, our troops not tired, and our communications in good condition, than to engage them in some more forward position where we have none of the advantages referred to. We shall not be in a position to obtain a victory or exploit success until we have thoroughly demoralised the enemy and defeated at all events the first series of divisions which he will bring up as reinforcements to the battle. This cannot be done on the first day and should not be attempted.
In considering the manner of carrying out the operations as recommended above, the following points require close study:
In order to carry out offensive operations successfully against an enemy whose reserves have not been defeated and demoralised we require to have good communications, both for purposes of troop movements and for supplies and ammunition. Roads and light railways must be constructed. It is not possible to do this at a very rapid pace.
- Displacement of Artillery.
In order to give the enemy no rest and to preserve continuity of artillery action, there must be no great displacement of artillery on any one day. The majority of the guns must always be in action. The displacement must therefore be gradual. Any abnormal displacement of artillery dislocates the whole mechanism of movement, supply, and the construction of communications.
- Continuity of Artillery Action.
There should be little or no diminution in the action of the artillery. When the preparation of the first operation is completed and the assault is delivered the destructive preparation of the next zone will be commenced at once. For this purpose it will be advisable in each phase of the operations, so far as the ground will permit, to have guns well forward and masked. A certain amount of displacement of artillery will always be proceeding. As soon as the objective on the first day has been reached, such artillery as it is necessary to move will be moved forward and the necessary preparation and registration commenced at once.
The destructive counter-battery work will be continued unceasingly and without any pause. Neutralising counter-battery work will be more limited.
- Intensity of Artillery Fire.
There will not be such long periods of intense barrage fire. This should materially help to save gun lives, the wear and tear of personnel and the formation of abnormally large dumps at the guns which have proved such a source of danger. It will be necessary only to keep up the intensity of barrage fire during the period of attacks, which will be comparatively short.
- Concentration in Artillery preparation.
Since the zone of preparations will not be so deep, the artillery fire for the purposes of destruction will be more concentrated.
- Line of departure.
The line of departure in each successive step of the operations must not be ragged, that is to say, the objectives on any day of attack must be fully reached. It often happens that, if the advance of the infantry is ragged, it is not only difficult for the infantry to start forward to a fresh attack but it is also impossible for the Field Artillery to put down a satisfactory barrage. The best means of securing a good line of departure for the next operation is to ensure that the infantry are not pushed too far and that the objectives are well within their reach.
A large proportion of the casualties which are incurred are due to the density of the infantry which is necessitated by the intention of penetrating the enemy's position to a great depth. The less the depth to be penetrated, the less the depth of the troops required. Divisional Reserves instead of being close up can be kept at some distance, immune from losses and fresh for the next effort.
With short and frequent advances, reliefs of large formations will be avoided. This is an important factor and one which will reduce disorganisation and confusion, and ensure continuity of action by avoiding the long delays which are inseparable from wholesale reliefs.
- Morale of the troops.
The less the depth to which attacking troops have to penetrate at the outset of the operations, the greater is the confidence of the troops in their ability to reach their objectives, and the fewer will be the casualties. These facts tend to raise the morale of the troops since they feel confident of succeeding in their task.
- Sustained nature of the fight, the cumulative effect on the enemy's morale, and the possibilities of eventual exploitation.
By the means described above the fight can be sustained under conditions which are entirely to our advantage. The enemy will be allowed no respite. The first day's operations, which will probably aim at the capture of the enemy's second line of defence, will throw him into a state of disorganisation and destroy a considerable portion of his forces. Our experience shows that the enemy does not recover from this state of partial demoralisation for a period of two or three days; if, therefore, we are in a position to deliver a second and well organised attack during that period we shall already have secured very great advantages. These advantages are likely to increase as the process continues. The great danger of missing the advantages gained by a local and temporary disorganisation of the enemy lies rather in the serious delays which are inseparable from over-reaching our strength and our organizing capabilities on the first day, than in the failure to carry out a local and temporary exploitation of our initial success.
By the process described above and by a succession of successful operations deliberately planned and deliberately executed, there should come a moment when we will be justified in taking risks. Such risks should not, however, be undertaken until we have positive proof of the enemy's demoralisation, which must be of more than a local and temporary character. The character of the enemy's demoralisation will probably change and become more evident with the congestion and intermixture of his troops and the disorganisation in rear. Rapid and effective blows struck at him one after the other at short periods are likely to destroy his troops at a far greater pace than spasmodic efforts. It is the pace at which we can destroy the enemy's troops that will cause the greatest disorganisation in his rear by congesting the areas with defeated troops and necessitating the hurried arrival of reinforcements on his railways.
The most satisfactory period for using tanks is that in which we are operating over ground which has not been destroyed by shell fire, when the enemy is partly demoralised, when his artillery arrangements are disorganised and when he has not been able to establish his anti-tank defences. With the exception of a few tanks which may be used at the outset of the operations for the purposes of rounding up pockets, etc., the bulk of the tanks should be reserved for use against the enemy during the later stages of the battle, when we are beginning to feel ourselves justified in taking risks.
No success can be complete without the use of cavalry to exploit and reap the fruits of victory. Cavalry cannot be used in numbers effectively until the enemy has been thoroughly shaken and demoralised, and until such disorganisation and demoralisation is of more than a local and temporary nature.
By a series of rapid and effective blows dealt against the enemy's reserves under our own organised artillery fire, that is to say, by sustained and deliberate action, allowing the enemy no time for reorganization, and by the use of tanks in large numbers during the later stages, we may reasonably hope to produce a situation when the cavalry can be employed in large numbers and with decisive effect.
[signed] J. H. Davidson
"The Infantry cannot do with a gun less": The Place of the Artillery
in the British Expeditionary Force, 1914-1918