G.O.C, R.A. Fifth Army letter RA/225
- As far as can be gathered, the comparative failure of many attacks at present is caused by one of two causes, viz:
- The hostile counter attack delivered shortly after the objective is gained, causing our Infantry to fall back.
- M.G. fire during the advance from one objective to another and while consolidating on preliminary objectives causing our Infantry to check, allow the barrage to run away from them, thus losing all its protective value.
The first cause can be remedied by improvement in Infantry training.
As regards the latter cause, a modification in our present Artillery methods may enable us to deal with the matter.
- As far as this Army is concerned there appear to be two essential differences between last year and this year.
This year the dugouts are shallow and small; hence the M.Gs. can be brought out very much more quickly and the team is not impeded by the Infantry of the trench garrison trying to get out at the same time.
The M.G. shelters are moreover, chequered all over the country side.
- The enemy's M.Gs. have been increased since last year but probably not in much greater proportion than the Artillery which on our part is available to deal with them, provided we recognise the principle that obliteration of trench lines is of minor importance as compared to anti-machine gun work.
- M.Gs. are no longer kept chiefly in deep dugouts with only a proportion in shell holes. The deep dugouts we met with last year were chiefly in the various trench line objectives, and the capture of these objectives stopped the bulk of the M.G. fire at once.
- These shelters are so small and so numerous that it takes up much time and an enormous expenditure of ammunition for them all to be destroyed. In some cases they are so strongly constructed that with the means at our disposal it is extremely doubtful if we can destroy them at all.
The shell craters created round them all probably in practice counterbalance the value of the few actually destroyed.
- Troops suffer from M.G. fire for two causes:
- Failure to keep so close up to the barrage that the enemy machine gunners can be shot or bayonetted before they can get their gun into action.
- M.Gs. placed in depth behind our attack barrage, and firing through the barrage, often from a flank.
- Failures have undoubtedly occurred from both causes during the recent battlefrom the first cause partly owing to the fact that the whole country has been so shot to pieces that it is extremely difficult to keep any sort of formation over the cratered ground, especially so when the shell holes are filled with water.
It must be realised that this year the attacking Infantry must keep even closer to the barrage than last year, since it now takes less time for the hostile M.G. to get into action after our barrage has lifted off it.
Troops who are not prepared to suffer a certain proportion of casualties from our own barrage incur the gravest risk of being decimated by machine gun fire.
The first cause then is again a matter of Infantry training.
- To turn to the second cause, a great point has been made this year of counter battery work, and rightly so; but without relaxing in any way whatsoever the vigour and determination with which this work is carried out during the preparatory period it is possible that a waste of power takes place during the actual period of attack.
Our universal experience in past and present battles has been that the hostile artillery may be dangerous when
- Troops are forming up, if the intention to attack is discovered by the enemy.
- Possibly during a long halt on a subsidiary objective if the enemy has time to find out where our own and his Infantry are.
- When we have reached and settled down on our final objective.
The occasions when he has been dangerous during the progress of the actual attack are exceedingly rare, particularly if such attack is on a large scale. Incidentally, on these occasions, it will generally be found that the C.B. work during the preparatory period has been ineffective.
- The M.G. however, is exactly the opposite. It is dangerous only during the advance and during the preliminary stages of consolidation.
- Therefore, from about zero plus 15 minutes onwards until such time as our troops have established themselves finally, it would appear that a large proportion of the counter battery guns and a certain number of the howitzers should now be put into the barrage in order to give it both strength as well as depth.
Our barrages at present are deep, but the more advanced portions are apt to be weak.
- These counter battery guns will return to counter battery work as soon as the Infantry have reached and established themselves on the final objective.
It will probably be advisable to bring them temporarily back in this manner during the final stages of a long halt on a subsidiary objective. This can be worked out on a time table if found necessary. A forward counter battery O.P. should be established wherever possible.
This O.P. should be sited where the subsidiary objective can be seen, and the Officer in charge, specially selected for the purpose, be made responsible for reporting at once if the hostile shelling on the subsidiary objective in his opinion was sufficient to warrant the withdrawal of the counter battery guns back to C.B. work. This will be a difficult matter owing to it being often very hard at times to distinguish between the enemy's shell and our own, and consequently the officer in charge should be selected for his general reliability.
- The attack barrage will then be organised in depth in four zones, which for descriptive purposes may be called:
- No. 1 The main creeping barrage.
- No. 2 The "Combing" barrage.
- No. 3 The "Neutralizing" barrage.
- No. 4 The "Standing" barrage.
- The "Creeping" barrage will follow normal lines as at present and consist of the major proportion of the 18-pounders.
- The "Combing" barrage will consist as at present of the 4.5" Howitzers and a portion of the 18-pdrs. be placed as at present in advance of the "Creeping" barrage, and while dwelling on strong points working up communication trenches etc., be at the same time organised in depth.
The fire should not follow an even cadence and should not lift in regular lines, but be so manipulated that a hostile machine gunner is unable to realize that a lift has taken place and the last shell of the barrage has passed over him.
- The "Neutralizing" barrage will similarly be organised in depth (from 500 to 1,000 yards), will consist of the 6" Howitzer with non-delay fuzes and the larger proportion of the available 60-pdr guns, and will search the ground behind the "combing" barrage. This fire will similarly be irregular. Its main object will be to search out and neutralize all distant machine guns that may be placed to fire through our "creeping" barrage once the advance has begun.
Special attention must be paid to localities from which flanking machine gun fire can be brought to bear over our front of attack.
All the three foregoing barrages will roll back according to a time table, the main principle being that there should always be searching fire up to 2,000 yards in front of our advancing Infantry.
- The "Standing" barrage will be to search out for and break up any formed bodies of enemy troops held back for immediate counter attack.
With this object it will from its commencement be placed well back beyond the final objective and come down on all valleys, ravines, woods, hutments, etc., in fact all areas or localities likely to shelter formed bodies. A close study of the map and of the enemy's general dispositions will be necessary in order to place this barrage correctly.
Pin point shooting is unnecessary and persistent and continuous shelling of any one spot (except in case of it being desired to deny the use of some particular route) is useless as the enemy merely avoids that spotthe fire should "search" and "sweep" definite areas.
- The barrages should search all ground whether seen or unseen as an indirect M.G. barrage may be nearly as dangerous as an aimed one.
- If, as appears to be the case, the enemy put their machine gun fire just this side of our creeping barrage it may be advisable to make No. 1 (Creeping) barrage into a double one with one-third of the 18-pdrs. 200 yards in front of the other two-thirds. This with a view to inducing the enemy to mistake the front one for the real one close behind which the Infantry are advancing.
- Each operation must, of course, be treated on its merits and a varying distribution of guns to the different barrages and also of the depth of the barrages be made in each case according to local circumstances and the accuracy and extent of the information available as to the enemy's dispositions.
(sd) H. UNIACKE, Major General
G.O.C, R.A., Fifth Army
25th August, 1917
"The Infantry cannot do with a gun less": The Place of the Artillery
in the British Expeditionary Force, 1914-1918