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Artillery - Kaiserliche Heer Regiments

The field (including horse) artillery consisted in 1910 in peace of 94 regiments subdivided into two or three groups (Abteilungen), each of two or three 6-gun batteries. In each regiment there are about 700 officers and men. The field gun was of the 1896 pattern, with a quick-firing mounting adopted since that date. It threw a 15-pound shell.

The foot artillery was intended for siege and fortress warfare, and to furnish the heavy artillery of the field army. It consisted of forty battalions. Machine gun detachments, resembling 4-gun batteries and horsed as artillery, were formed to the number of sixteen in 1904-1906. These were intended to work with the cavalry divisions. Afterwards it was decided to form additional small groups of two guns each, less fully horsed, to assist the infantry, and a certain number of these were created in 1906-1908.

An army corps had twelve batteries attached to each of its two divisions- twenty-one of these batteries were made up of field guns - the other three batteries were made up of what are known as light field howitzers. The howitzer was a gun shorter in length and wider in bore than the field piece. While the former was intended for direct fire against an enemy's position, the latter was intended to throw a heavier shell on a high-curved flight, so as to send down a shower of shrapnel balls on troops sheltered by entrenchments or under cover.

The howitzers were also used for dropping into an enemy's works shells loaded with a high explosive and bursting by percussion on reaching the ground. These shells were meant to destroy or demoralize hostile troops by the shock of the explosion, and to shatter buildings or obstacles held by the enemy. The high angle fire of the howitzer was also useful for shelling an enemy from guns kept completely out of sight behind a swell of the ground, walls and banks, or other obstacles.

Artillery of all kinds tried to conceal its position, either by digging itself into gun pits, using natural cover, or heaping up round the guns anything that will make it difficult to identify them from a distance. But though there was no longer the dense cloud of smoke which used to mark the position of a battery in action, the long bright flashes of a smokeless powder generally soon showed where field guns were firing. It was true that these can be used from behind an obstacle to fire at a target the gunners cannot see, the elevation and direction being given by an observer at some distance by signal or telephone. But the range of elevation in the field gun is very limited, and it is much easier to employ the howitzer in this way.

The field howitzers of the German army were like the field guns - fitted with hydraulic brakes and steel shields. The light howitzer throws a 30-pound shell. To each army corps there were attached four batteries of a much more formidable weapon - the heavy field howitzer - this threw a shell weighing 94 pounds, and is generally used with charges of high explosives and percussion fuses that burst the shell on contact. These are the big shells that our soldiers describe as "Black Marias," "Coal-boxes," and "Jack Johnsons" [a boxer who became the first black heavyweight champion]. During the Great War they had been the most formidable and effective weapons on the German side. All these guns could be moved on field carriages, even over rough ground, and brought into action without platforms.

Much heavier artillery was used in the siege trains for the attack of fortresses. It seemed that some of these heavy guns had been brought into action on entrenched positions during the war, but this was an exceptional use for them. Until the attack on the Belgian fortresses revealed the fact that the Germans possessed a much heavier weapon, it was supposed that the heaviest guns in their siege trains were the 28-centimeter siege howitzers. These were mounted on carriages with broad wheels on what is known as the "pedrail" system, originally an English invention for enabling a traction engine to work over soft or broken ground. The wheel ran inside an endless chain of wide plates which in succession bear its weight and acted as a kind of moving tramway.

Before the Great War, military writers in Germany had urged the necessity of providing a much heavier gun for the attack of modern forts defended by steel armor and masses of concrete. But it was not until the attack on Liege that anyone outside the inner circle of the German army knew the gun had been provided. It was officially known as the 42-centimetre siege howitzer. The gun and its mounting were so designed that they can be taken to pieces and carried on separate carriages. Four traction engines or thirty-two horses are required for the transport of a single gun. The bore is in English measurement about 16 inches, and the shell weighed approximately a ton. Loaded with a powerful high explosive it is practically a flying mine. Some of the forts at Liege and Namur were wrecked by four or five well-placed shots, and the garrisons were made temporarily helpless by the gases produced by the explosion and driven into the casements and turrets. There were very few of these guns with the German army, and the greater part of the bombardment of the Liege and Namur forts, and probably the whole of the bombardment at Antwerp, was the work of the lighter howitzers.

Another peculiar gun, described in German official publications before the war, was intended to throw heavy spherical bombs on a high curved flight at moderate ranges. It was used in the trench fighting in Belgium. The principle is the same as that which has been introduced by an English inventor for throwing large grenades from an ordinary rifle. The bomb, which is four or five times the diameter of the bore of the gun, had a kind of stem attached to it which fits into the cannon and is in contact with the driving charge. When the gun was loaded the big round shell is just outside its muzzle, looking like a bubble blown from a pipe. On firing the gun the long stem drove the bomb forward on its curved flight. But the range was short and the whole device was intended for bringing a heavy shell fire at close quarters to bear upon troops defending themselves in buildings or behind obstacles.

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Page last modified: 19-01-2019 18:36:07 ZULU