LET it be granted
The writer spent half the war as a General Staff Officer and half as a Regimental Artillery Officerhis only excuse for the following platitudes.
Often there is no artilleryman on the staff of a formation of all arms; the influence of the formation staff, shy of artillery technique, is exercised largely in saying "Don't," like an anxious nurse, and not always giving the maximum assistance to the Artillery Staff Captain, part of whose work is the comfort of the artillery, but whose position is too junior to get all that is necessary, and whose hands are already full of priority work dealing with ammunition.
It is not pretended that the artillery is blameless. Gunners prefer to run their own administration (and, indeed, it is the best solution of the problem), but once taught by experience to look for help from their Formation Staff, they will not try to obtain the necessary assistance through some other channela course which may work against true co-operation. The writer once heard on his telephone a conversation between an outgoing and an incoming (artillery) brigade-major; said the latter: "I suppose I must tell 'G' we're in?" "Why?" said the outgoing man, "they never think of us." That speaker is now a senior General Staff Officer, and one wonders. A wrong spirit, of course, but not so uncommon as it should be, and provocation for it is not always absent. One plays into one's partner's hands unless one has overwhelming cards oneself. The infantry and artillery are, or should be, partners in the greater game.
It is suggested that the assurance of co-operation between infantry and artillery is the special duty of the senior G.S.O. (The word co-operation implies that the assistance must be mutual.) To perform the duty doubtless requires "personality," but that kind of personality can be gained by study, because authority is based on knowledge. The duty has two phasesinitiation and observation, both of which demand a degree of expert knowledge of artillery matters; G.S. must put Training on the correct lines, but that does not absolve it from the duty of Criticism during progress.
Granted the initiation has been correct, responsibility for criticism can be allocated: for instance, G.S. is probably the best critic of opportunity for fire, while the Technical Staff is the best judge of effect; whether delivered from the right place interests both critics. Again, in battle, the Artillery Commander is the authority to criticize the positions occupied (subject to certain limitations), the upkeep of equipment, and the soundness of the gunnery; but a good General Staff Officer can efficiently test and criticize communications, observation, alarm arrangements, liaison, distribution of batteries, and their mobility; and G.S. are scarcely ensuring co-operation if not personally acquainted with existing conditions in this respect. The knowledge gained by the critic in his attempt to criticize will be the very life-blood of orders that he may be called upon to give in the future, for a mental picture of conditions as they are will be present to him when fighting by the map.
One cannot rest satisfied after grouping a body of infantry and artillery together unless (a) one is acquainted with the two commanders; (b) those two commanders have worked satisfactorily together before.
It is not asking too much of G.S. occasionally to watch bombardments; it requires no great technical knowledge to see whether the right target is being bombarded, whether the shrapnel is bursting evenly, while a hint that the Commander is watching shooting with his own or his representative's eye must have a salutary effect at the gun-position and the O.P.
Synchronization is a G.S. duty, and amongst the writer's unpleasant experiences has been one in which casualties were caused to the infantry owing (ultimately) to the fact that the responsibility for synchronization had not been definitely allotted to one individual.
Occasionallyin fact too often, under our systema force of artillery is brought into action which is not under direct command of the senior artillery officer of the formation responsible for the operation; it then becomes the duty of G.S. to ensure that things are put on a correct basis. To exemplify this, one can quote the sad case of a G.S.O. who could not at a moment's notice answer the question as to exactly what heavy guns were actually cutting certain wire on his division's front; it was, as a matter of fact, impossible to say, for the heavy guns in question were not under the divisional C.R.A., and had not one but several tasksi.e., the arrangements were not on a satisfactory basis; had their G.S. made it their job to ensure they were, not only a reputation but a number of soldiers' lives might perhaps have been saved.
Gunners want rest and sleep, relief and training, like everyone else; this is for consideration by the General as well as by the Technical Staffone usually finds G.S. pretty careful as regards its infantry.
It is the greatest compliment the "gunners" can receive to know that their own infantry are glad to have them close at hand, but a divisional artillery has been known to crawl back half destroyed from the battle into its own division's rest-area, after an extra long turn in support of other troops, without any marked exuberance of feeling about its arrival; it is as if one failed to notice the return of one's mate after an absence. It is possible that the gunners are equally to blame.
The principal method of initiating co-operation is by ensuring that each arm gets practical experience of its partner. This has been attempted in several ways:
It might be beneficial if the same terms and habits were in force in each armin such simple things as the mode of measure of lateral angles, the use of the degree and minute, and so on. Both arms need instruction and experience in map-reading and resection of positionmore mistakes have occurred from incorrect resection than one cares to contemplate; mixed classes from infantry and artillery could study this subject together, also the practice of reconnaissance and patrolling.
So much for the G.S. duties in initiating the principles of co-operation; it remains to ensure that these principles are being carried out in practice.
Criticism of artillery work at man¦uvres has not in the past been efficient; so noticeable was the lack of attention to the part taken by artillery, that it became an expensive but effective custom, just before the war, for the artillery to draw attention to itself by firing off rounds of blank at a quick rate of battery fire (or salvos) to remind all and sundry of its existence; the umpiring needs to be done every bit as carefully at man¦uvres as at "practice." A battery which has exposed itself previous to occupation of a position, guns emplaced where they could not clear the crest, breakdown of communications, are causes of inefficiency, which, if passed unnoticed, constitute bad training and will at the great test occasion failure and casualties.
Co-operation between heavy and field artillery needs as much "forcible feeding" as does that between infantry and artillery.
Normally, position warfare implies the local defensive, and the obvious thing to work for is a good S.O.S.i.e., alarm arrangements. The exploitation of light signals in our army took place only very slowly. Failing the use of coloured lights, one is dependent on communications, a just appreciation of the importance of which is the first step towards the proper direction of artillery fire. The writer was on a certain occasion ordered by the Technical Staff to construct rearward positions in the event of a withdrawal; now reconnaissance of rearward positions is a necessity, but construction is of doubtful value, for they get known to the enemy, and, worse still, they tempt batteries to occupy them even if not suitable to the tactical situation of the momentand so it turned out on this occasion. The labour devoted to building rearward positions would have been better expended on burying communications in the forward area, for it is conceivable that a good artillery defence might have obviated the need to withdraw at all; it was thought that G.S. might have laid down such priority in the defence scheme.
When compiling the defence scheme, there is a very human tendency on the part of the collator to get it completed and to accept contributions for the purpose without properly examining them. A defence scheme existed in which the artillery defence formed one (not even the first) of many appendices. The point is that the artillery and the infantry defence are inseparable and interdependent. G.S. initiates proper co-operation by a defence scheme; a further task is to see that it is properly studied and applied by each single unit, artillery as well as infantry, to its own circumstances.
Artillery defensive arrangements do not, however, consist only in the putting up of a good S.O.S. barrage; they must contemplate artillery action (a) before the attack, in the shape of counter-preparation, (b) after the assault has taken place; first attacked on March 21st, 1918, the writer does not remember being informed of a definite policy regarding (b) until July, when it was laid down that in event of a hostile offensive, batteries would continue to fire on their old S.O.S. lines unless otherwise ordered, so as to stop hostile reinforcementsa very, very old policy half-forgotten; certain artillery units were detailed, whose fire could be switched on to any gap which the enemy may have forced. It is not the object of this paper to discuss whether such a policy was right or not, but rather to note the need of a G.S. policy of some kind.
In position warfare, there is generally very little trouble as regards liaison and observation, but the certainty of being able to speak to anyone at short notice in an old established line led to the emplacement of O.P.s in positions quite unsuited to an enemy offensive and to an exaggerated expectation of liaison on the part of the infantry, which it needed such a shock as the German offensives in 1918 to rectify. For observation and a good artillery defence, the one essential is safe communicationsfar more so than in the attack, at any rate until the artillery has moved forward and is once more on the defence against a counter-attack.
The early stages of an attack from and against trenches are better understood; or may it be that they are made before that bugbear, the will of the enemy, has been consulted? In any case we seemed efficient at the art of distributing responsibility for bombardment (when once the creeping barrage had become a drill), of fixing the first line of the barrage, the lifts, and the protective line, so far as position warfare was concerned. In the later stages of an attack, however, especially where a salient had been formed, there cropped up often the question of short shellsthe great enemy of good feeling, and one which demands intimate knowledge and patient study on the part of G.S., before one approaches the truth. It is perhaps worth while to enumerate the various kinds of evidence which help to settle this question:
One can then hope to find out what guns of what calibre were firing at that time, and test the suspected gun. The writer, having good and clear evidence from the infantry, was on one occasion able within thirty minutes, by the process of elimination, to fix responsibility on one of two detached sections out of a group of seven batteries; and an honest officer, who perhaps deserved praise for his honesty as well as censure for the mistake, pleaded guilty to a wrongly-set sight; another time a bad-shooting gun was located; more often no decision was reached, and one had to suspect the enemy of the offence. No amount of trouble on the part of the Staff is too great to get a definite answer to this gravest of complaints.
One cannot leave this chapter without reference to trench mortars. In position warfare they provide a lion's share of the preliminary bombardment, from which it is argued that they should be under the artillery, though the supervision of their work takes the artillery commander out of his usual spherewhich has its advantages as well as its defects. On the one hand, it can be argued that they are sited in the infantry area; that they fight in support of the infantry, against the enemy infantry area, and that infantry are almost always required to carry up the ammunition; and that therefore they should be controlled by G.S. working through infantry channels. This was a controversial question at one time, but decision generally favoured making them an integral part of the artillery.
In position warfare, especially, G.S. has to ensure working co-operation between the artillery and aircraft.
We never reached this war of movement, unfortunately; we got near it at timesforming up for assaults on ground practically unknown, almost unlimited objectives, disappearance of telephonic communication in the later stages, disappearance of ammunition dumps at the gun positions, etc. Barrages we were never able to dispense with; in fact they were so much in demand that it almost needed interference from G.S. to limit that demand. It was in connection with these "lightning" barrages that the artillery was hardest tried; for they are never easy to arrange if they are really needed, and the delay caused by continual changes in "forming-up places" and "first objectives" used to result in insufficient time at the gun-positions to put them properly into executiona thing which, owing to the really strenuous efforts of the artillery, G.S. perhaps hardly realized.
In such actions as one was called upon to fight from August, 1918, till the armistice, development could never be foreseen; communication by mounted orderly only was not feasible in the preliminary stages of such a battle, and telephonic communication was essential for such matters as dictating the moment for guns to advance. As before, so still at that period, the proper direction of artillery was dependent on telephonic communication; once the headquarters had been fixed upon, and wires laid out, dispositions could not be changed under several hours' notice. The aim of the artillery was to have its headquarters with those of the infantry it was supporting, the better to be able to deal with what circumstances might arise; if, after laying out the artillery plan in wire on the field, the infantry headquarters were changed, the infantry and artillery commanders became separated, and the artillery had to be represented at infantry headquarters by a liaison officer. But no liaison officer is as equal to the task as the artillery commander himself; unless he has the rank and personality and knowledge to gain the confidence of both his own commander and the infantry brigadier, he is almost uselessand such officers were almost always commanding their batteries.
Without going further into this subject, it may be admitted that "liaison" between infantry and artillery is what G.S. must principally watch when the battle begins to move; and there was a widespread feeling in the artillery that (granted the importance of the two commanders being side by side) infantry brigadiers did not always sufficiently consider the necessity for the artillery commander being located where it was possible for him to direct his fire (i.e., control his batteries) as well as to keep close touch with the infantry progress.
Facilities for observation also want watching; not so much the choice of an O.P., which may be left to the artillery, but the gaining of ground by the infantry which is needed for artillery observation.
The writer's experience is that G.S. could get better value for information during the battle from the mounted patrols which the artillery must for security send out to the flanks; or perhaps it is that the artillery commander did not always report back the very valuable information that these patrols sometimes obtained, when well handled.
G.S. fixes zero, but occasions have been known when the artillery, hard put to it for issue of barrage orders and supply of ammunition, might have been consulted.
In the more "sticky" stages of an advance, when the enemy is only being beaten back very slowly and is well provided with guns, the artillery needs a helping hand as regards allotment of available accommodation; everyone knows what happens to dug-outs in a just captured area.
It requires some temerity on the part of the writer to make the following suggestions for the better performance of G.S. duties towards artillery:
(a) It is easier to discuss matters when people live together in the same house; artillery needs are reported to the artillery commander if they cannot be adjusted on the spot; the artillery commander (whether brigade, division, or corps is concerned) is, from the artillery point of view, best situated in mess with the infantry commander, if it be possible to overcome parochial difficulties to attain the great end.
(b) However good the artillery, however capable its commander, support will be better for sustained observation and reasoned criticism by G.S. For this criticism some degree of technical knowledge is desirable. Moreover, liaison between heavy and field artillery is sometimes lacking, which G.S. can discover, even if they cannot rectify.
(c) An operation order should never be written without some reference to the artilleryeven if it is only to say (for the benefit of an incoming formation) that "such and such artillery (Commander So-and-So) is in support of the outgoing formation"or that "the 100th Division (less artillery) will be relieved on the night X/Y." Orders and Instructions are seen too often whose wording shows that the writer was thinking only of infantry.
(d) There should be an officer on every artillery formation staff to deal with ammunitionhe works partly with "G" and partly with "Q"; his existence will allow of the better performance of the real "Q" duties by the present overburdened staff captain.