Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Germany's Artillery Trump Card in the Early War

Say what you will about Big Bertha or the French 75, one artillery weapon dominated the battlefield during the first half of the Great War.

A Battery of German 5.9-inch Howitzers on Prewar Maneuvers

In 1914, all Allied artillery weapons were outclassed by the German 5.9-inch howitzer,  the 15cm schwere Feldhaubitze 13. As the majority of these were guns, their flat trajectories severely curtailed their deployment in reverse slope positions. This resulted in the Allied gun positions being placed either on forward slopes in view of the enemy, or well to the rear, which hampered communication between observer and gun position and the range to which targets could be engaged.*

Krupp, Rheinmetall and Spandau factories manufactured 3,400 pieces during the war.  Each fired a 93-lb. shell up to 9,600 yards at a rate of 3 rounds per minute. The Allies did not field a comparable weapon until the British deployed their 6-inch howitzer in late 1915 and the French 155 Schneider appeared in 1917.

Siegfried Sassoon paid tribute to the German howitzer in his poem "Counter-Attack"

He wondered when the Allemands would get busy;
And then, of course, they started with five-nines
Traversing, sure as fate, and never a dud.
Mute in the clamour of shells he watched them burst
Spouting dark earth and wire with gusts from hell. . . 

* "The Changing Face of Australian Field Artillery in World War One," the Royal Australian Artillery History Company

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