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(1914-1918) WWI
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john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 9:37:56 PM

I understand at some point during the fighting on the Western Front, the German High Command ordered that local counterattacks end due to the waste of life. If so then bite and hold would not work as well since it depended on the men capturing the trenches, turning them and establishing a defensive front to fight off the counterattack. With no counterattack coming then any success would be truly limited
----------------------------------
"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/12/2020 3:10:50 AM

John,

There is a trope used by historians : there is nothing inevitable, except for German counterattack!

Sometimes a bite and hold operation was predicated on objectives that could be served without repulsing counterattack. The Messines attack, for example. The Germans were adept at selecting advantageous terrain and exploiting it to lethal effect. Untold thousands of French and British soldiers perished in so called routine warfare as they were enfiladed by German artillery fire from positions such as the Messines Wytschaete Ridge. The attritional exchange in the “ quiet periods” went very much in the Germans’ favour on account of their tenure of such positions on the Western Front, right through from Flanders, down through Artois, Picardy, Champagne, the Argonne, the Meuse and even in the Vosges. It was the forfeit they exacted for their retirement from the Marne. To wrest such places from the enemy in limited offensives that were properly supported by lavish artillery and by dint of combined arms approach was a vindication of bite and hold....but, if the Germans were induced to counter attack, then so much the better.

The Germans were always adapting and kept their tactics under review. Their counterattack methods changed accordingly. Nothing better illustrates this than their superb, large scale and all too successful counter attack at Cambrai in December 1917. Put together quickly, against an enemy that had achieved a huge tactical surprise with tanks and predicted artillery fire, it showed the reflexive skill of the German army.

Editing : might it be argued that the Allies were themselves victims of German bite and hold strategy after the front stabilised at the end of 1914 ?

What was Loos, if not a massive Entente counterattack ?



Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
MikeMeech

 UK
Posts: 470
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/12/2020 7:01:27 AM

Quote:
John,

There is a trope used by historians : there is nothing inevitable, except for German counterattack!

Sometimes a bite and hold operation was predicated on objectives that could be served without repulsing counterattack. The Messines attack, for example. The Germans were adept at selecting advantageous terrain and exploiting it to lethal effect. Untold thousands of French and British soldiers perished in so called routine warfare as they were enfiladed by German artillery fire from positions such as the Messines Wytschaete Ridge. The attritional exchange in the “ quiet periods” went very much in the Germans’ favour on account of their tenure of such positions on the Western Front, right through from Flanders, down through Artois, Picardy, Champagne, the Argonne, the Meuse and even in the Vosges. It was the forfeit they exacted for their retirement from the Marne. To wrest such places from the enemy in limited offensives that were properly supported by lavish artillery and by dint of combined arms approach was a vindication of bite and hold....but, if the Germans were induced to counter attack, then so much the better.

The Germans were always adapting and kept their tactics under review. Their counterattack methods changed accordingly. Nothing better illustrates this than their superb, large scale and all too successful counter attack at Cambrai in December 1917. Put together quickly, against an enemy that had achieved a huge tactical surprise with tanks and predicted artillery fire, it showed the reflexive skill of the German army.

Editing : might it be argued that the Allies were themselves victims of German bite and hold strategy after the front stabilised at the end of 1914 ?

What was Loos, if not a massive Entente counterattack ?



Regards, Phil


Hi

We should remember what Joffre said about this attack before it started. From his 'Note for the General Officers Commanding Army Groups', dated 14th September 1915:

"1. It is necessary for us to take the offensive in the French theatre of operations so as to drive the Germans out of France. We will thus release our compatriots, who have been enslaved for twelve months, and we will tear away from the enemy the valuable prize he possesses in our invaded territory. Besides, a brilliant victory over the Germans will induce neutral countries to declare themselves for us and will compel the enemy to slacken his operations against the Russians so as to oppose our attacks."

Forgetting that both France and Belgium had their civilians under occupation and suffering may be OK for us when discussing methods of attack, 'bite and hold' did have its uses but it was unlikely to release the "enslaved". Further on in the document he mentions:

"It will be necessary for all attacking troops not only to seize the first enemy trenches, but to push on without respite, day and night, beyond the 2nd and 3rd line positions to the open country. All the Cavalry will take part in these attacks so as to capture the hostile batteries and to exploit the success a long way in front of the infantry."

Mike
----------------------------------
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/12/2020 10:21:05 AM

Yes from the French point of view but was Loos the ideal place for this to occur?
Bite and hold would be a slower way but limit losses. Once an attack lost its artillery support, or at Loos have minimum support it felt under enemy artillery and as Phil put it "there is nothing inevitable, except for German counterattack!"
----------------------------------
"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/12/2020 12:39:30 PM

Quote:
I understand at some point during the fighting on the Western Front, the German High Command ordered that local counterattacks end due to the waste of life. If so then bite and hold would not work as well since it depended on the men capturing the trenches, turning them and establishing a defensive front to fight off the counterattack. With no counterattack coming then any success would be truly limited


I would think that Allied commanders would be just as satisfied with a successful "bite and hold" attack which did not result in a German counterattack. After all, even a repulsed counterattack was still going to be costly to the defenders. But the ultimate goal of most bite and hold attacks was to set the stage for further lateral exploitation along the front. Any success in a bite and hold operation was almost inherently going to be limited.
----------------------------------
Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/12/2020 1:41:39 PM

It troubles me that I make generalised comments without sufficient attention to the details of training and armament .

I don’t think that the British troops at Loos enjoyed the benefit of the Lewis Gun. That was to come into general service in early 1916. The impact on dispersal of increased automatic firepower is surely considerable, and I wonder if some Lewis Gun teams might have made a difference.

Then there’s the question of grenades. I don’t know what sort of grenades the British were using at Loos ; if they were up against Germans armed with potato mashers, then they were bound to be in trouble unless they had something like the Mills Bomb to hand.

Did rifle grenades come in later ? I expect so.

The other weapon is the Stokes Mortar......was that in use in September 1915 ?

I fear I’ve been too disparaging about the performance of the BEF in this battle. It took good soldiers to make that initial breakthrough.

It appears that, at that phase of the war, the Germans had a qualitative edge. Perhaps Loos marked the high point of this German superiority over the British : one year later, British ( and, of course, Dominion) troops were taking the enemy’s most strongly defended positions and were able, in Churchill’s memorable words , to seize the most formidable soldiery in Europe by the throat, slay them, and throw them unceasingly back . Apologies if I've made mistakes in citing that quote.

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/12/2020 3:45:59 PM

Stokes designed the 3 inch in January of 1915. I do not know the production schedule or when the first were delivered.

The British and the French had a shortage of mortars or none at all when the war began. The French did have some ancient Napoleonic mortars but the British had none.

Some time in 1915, Mills sent prototypes of his #5 to the troops.

However, the British did have a type of hand grenade that preceded the Mills bomb but it was designed to explode on contact. That was considered unsuitable for trench combat.

I think that you are correct though Phil in that it wasn't until 1916 that the Mills bomb was readily available. The following article suggests that some officers were wedded to the old style percussion grenades even after it was demonstrated that the Mills bomb with a time fuse was superior. Manufacturers continued to make percussion grenades throughout 1916, well after it was determined that the Mills bomb was the better weapon.

[Read More]



Cheers,

George

----------------------------------
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/12/2020 9:19:02 PM

The BEF officially adopted the Lewis gun in .303 British caliber for land and aircraft use in October 1915. The weapon was generally issued to the British Army's infantry battalions on the Western Front in early 1916 as a replacement for the heavier and less mobile Vickers machine gun. The Vickers was withdrawn from the infantry for use by specialist machine-gun companies. So it is unlikely that it was carried at Loos.

In 1907, Martin Hale developed the rod grenade. "A simple rod was attached to a specialized grenade, inserted into the barrel of a standard service rifle and launched using a blank cartridge." However, this idea was not immediately adopted and BEF entered World War I without any rifle grenades. As soon as trench warfare started, however, there was a sudden need for rifle grenades. The British government purchased a rodded variant of the No. 2 grenade as a temporary solution.

By 1915 Hales had developed the No. 3, which is commonly known as the Hales rifle grenade. The Hales grenade was improved throughout World War I to make it more reliable and easier to manufacture. However, production of the grenade was slow. In order to speed rod grenades to the front, the British also made rodded versions of the Mills bomb.

Although a simple approach, launching a rod grenade "...placed an extreme amount of stress on the rifle barrel and the rifle itself, resulting in the need to dedicate specific rifles to the grenade launching role, as they quickly became useless as an accurate firearm. This led to the search for an alternative and resulted in the reappearance of the cup launcher during the latter years of World War I."

The Lee-Enfield used required a wire wound reinforcement around the barrel to help strengthen it.
----------------------------------
"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/13/2020 8:32:03 AM

The essential demonstration of British failure at Loos is surely the story of the second day, the 26th September 1915.

The two ill fated British divisions - the 21st and the 24th, both of them New Army formations - were handled so badly that the fate they suffered could be seen as one of the great low points of the BEF’s war.

These were the reserve formations that had been held too far back, that went up the line hungry and exhausted, and were repulsed in a manner so severe that, honestly, it makes Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg seem like a venture tinged with success.

Each of the two divisions suffered around four thousand casualties : nothing exceptional there....other British divisions at Loos suffered significantly heavier loss. It was the suddenness of it, the very short time period of the action, and the total, unredeemed defeat, that sets it apart as something almost grotesque .

Among the great numbers of dead were too many officers of high rank : several Battalion commanders were killed, and some senior officers captured. The striking feature here was the ages of these men : in their fifties and sixties ; unfit, literally for their role and , despite their undoubted courage, culpable for the disaster.

Let the words of Brigadier General R. Ford serve as a fair analysis :

On the morning after the debacle, while in bed, ( Ramsay GOC 24th Division) tendered me his resignation , which the Corps Commander readily accepted. He ( Ramsay) was entirely unfitted to command a division, and knew it, and it is a pity that those who put him in that position did not take the trouble to find out .

The great reason for the discomfort of the men, first line transport among the fighting troops, loss of touch by the cookers etc, with the units, was due to the total inefficiency of the two AA and QMG of 21st and 24th divisions. Both elderly, and with Indian experience only, knew nothing of their job, and I was instrumental in having both instantly removed together with the GOC Division.


Talk about “ systemic failure” !

The details of this repulse are quite harrowing. The poor troops were deployed in a way that got them caught in fire from three sides, with battalions misaligned and jumbled up, too many men crammed into a small area.
The Official History puts lipstick on it and claims that they retired in decent order. No. They were routed, and fled the field, in a manner that British military folklore prefers to avoid countenancing.

An eye witness recorded in the Battalion Diary :

The men threw away their rifles and equipment and ran back across the valley and disappeared over the crest of the hill over which they had advanced so magnificently. In this rout they all bunched together and so made a good mark for the German shrapnel and machine guns....and consequently lost twice as many as they did advancing.

That last remark is a good example of the old military trope that flight is more dangerous than fight.

George, you will be all too aware of the terrible Canadian experience at Dieppe, which is surely - apart from the sinking of the Liner Lancastria - the worst episode of massacre of Commonwealth troops in WW2, costing the Canadians 3,369 casualties, including 907 men killed or died of wounds. In this affair at Loos, each of those two British divisions lost more men than the Canadians at Dieppe.

Please let me say that I admire the way you have raised the profile of Canada on this forum, and I want to say how much you and your countrymen are in my thoughts at the moment, as we reflect on the shooting down of that aircraft near Tehran.

Regards, Phil



----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/13/2020 10:49:43 AM

Thank you Phil. We have lost some excellent people. So have Iran and Sweden and others. The PM has been crisscrossing this large country to attend vigils and commemorative events wherever our Persian-Canadians have chosen to live. He has promised that he will seek justice from Iran.

Those casualty statistics from Loos in comparison to Dieppe in WW2 highlight the differences in the types of combat experienced. There are so many examples of high casualty rates in the Great War. Even some of the great victories of the war by British and Commonwealth troops had significant casualties but were accepted as the price of victory in that war.

George
----------------------------------
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/13/2020 9:29:13 PM

Forgive for not knowing this but wasn't Newfoundland battalion virtually wiped out in one assault on the Western Front?
----------------------------------
"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/14/2020 3:29:04 AM

Yes ; and that Newfoundland battalion was not alone that day. More British soldiers died on 1 July 1916 than in three weeks at Loos. Stupefying.

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/14/2020 7:19:41 AM

Quote:
Forgive for not knowing this but wasn't Newfoundland battalion virtually wiped out in one assault on the Western Front?


Yes, Newfoundland was a colony during the war. Now they are a province of Canada as you know.

July 1 is also Canada's birthday and on that date, Newfoundland holds services for Memorial Day in the morning, and celebrates Canada Day in the afternoon. As you may imagine, the island with such a small population was devastated by the losses. They mourn to this day.

But we are talking about Loos here so I have provided a link to a summary of events of the day and please note the references to all of the British regiments that were cut to pieces on that day. The three brigades of the British 29th Division were assigned the area near Beaumont-Hamel. It was disastrous.

[Read More]

Of the approximately 800 men from Newfoundland who went forward only about 110 survived unscathed, of whom only sixty eight were available for roll call the following day. There were still many men lying wounded out on the battle field who could not get back. Some waited for nightfall and began crawling. Men were wearing a shiny metal triangle on their backs and in the sunlight, the glint brought fire when they moved. The triangle was supposed to allow for identification by aerial and artillery spotters on the ground. For a wounded man, it was a target.



There was a British regiment that suffered greater losses that day but the Newfoundland disaster is noted because this was Newfoundland's "army" if you like. They proudly represented their people and died in droves at the Somme.

However, one other battalion (the 10th West Yorks at Fricourt) suffered more heavily on July 1, 1916 and we do not hear as much of those imperial troops. The carnage occurred up and down the line with few successes to be had.

Quote:
"It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault failed of success because dead men can advance no further."
. Divisional commander commenting on the bravery of the Newfoundland Regiment.

Note that there is a memorial to the Newfoundland Regiment and all Newfoundlanders that lost their lives in all services, at Beaumont-Hamel. The battlefield has been preserved. I have been there and it is a place that brings tears to one's eyes. I am not a soldier but my thought was, "Why would you send men to walk toward enfilading MG fire on an open field with but a single tree standing in the middle?"

But you do not have to walk very far to find monuments dedicated to the imperial regiments on either side of the Newfoundlanders. The military cemeteries nearby gave me a shock as nearly every headstone has the same date etched, July 1, 1916. Profligate waste.

Sorry, but I get emotional about this one. My maternal grandmother was a Newfy.

Cheers,

George

----------------------------------
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/14/2020 10:10:45 AM

The scars of the first day of the Somme are still livid in the folklore : not just in Newfoundland , but also in Northern Ireland. The 36th ( Ulster) Division made its attack at the Thiepval Ridge stronghold known as the Schwaben Redoubt. It was initially successful, but the Ulstermen were left twisting in the wind, were hit by friendly fire and also by German counterattack. There were more than five thousand casualties in the division.....an appalling number from one division, in one day, from a small population . Imagine the impact in Belfast.

Right now, there is a political crisis in Northern Ireland, and the issue of identity is paramount. By identifying, I mean the visceral wish of one part of the population to retain its Protestant tradition and to adhere closely to the UK, and the rivalling Sinn Fein party that seeks to consolidate the Gallic Catholic culture.

The Somme is still alive, and cited in billboards as the rallying cry for those who seek to perpetuate the UK tradition.

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
MikeMeech

 UK
Posts: 470
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/14/2020 11:35:19 AM

Quote:
Stokes designed the 3 inch in January of 1915. I do not know the production schedule or when the first were delivered.

The British and the French had a shortage of mortars or none at all when the war began. The French did have some ancient Napoleonic mortars but the British had none.

Some time in 1915, Mills sent prototypes of his #5 to the troops.

However, the British did have a type of hand grenade that preceded the Mills bomb but it was designed to explode on contact. That was considered unsuitable for trench combat.

I think that you are correct though Phil in that it wasn't until 1916 that the Mills bomb was readily available. The following article suggests that some officers were wedded to the old style percussion grenades even after it was demonstrated that the Mills bomb with a time fuse was superior. Manufacturers continued to make percussion grenades throughout 1916, well after it was determined that the Mills bomb was the better weapon.

[Read More]



Cheers,

George


Hi

From Ministry of Munitions records; by the third quarter of 1915 a total of 2,208,676 Hand Grenades had been produced (I don't think this includes those manufactured by troops in the trenches). These appear to be of five types:
No. 1 Percussion - 113,324, Pitcher - 121,624, Ball - 1,670,332, Oval - 11,000, No. 5 (Mills) - 292,396.
Rifle Grenades Nos. 3, 20, 24 and 35 - 29,600.
Trench Mortars:
4th Quarter 1914; 4 in. ML Trench Howitzer - 12.
1st Quarter 1915; 4 in. ML - 6, 3.7 in ML - 51, 1.57 in Trench Howitzer - 16, 2 in. Trench Howitzer - 2.
2nd Quarter 1915; 4 in. ML - 22, 3.7 in. ML - 69, 1.57 in. - 111, 2 in. - 23.
3rd Quarter 1915; 4 in. - 22, 3.7 in. - 40, 1.57 in. - 23, 2 in. - 36.

The 3 in. Stokes appears in the 4th Quarter 1915 when there is 304 produced, as at November 1915 Training Centres had been issued with 200 of them.

There had been many grenade types introduced and this had caused problems, troops trained in 'bombing' on one type ended up being issued in battle with another type. Sir John French on the 20 May 1915 asked that future manufacture should be limited, so far as was possible, to one class of rifle grenade, the Hale (No. 3), one percussion grenade, preferably RL No. 1, and one time-fused grenade, the Mills. Percussion hand grenades production was abandoned in May 1916.

At Loos large quantities of an early form of the Ball grenade had been issued, this had a Bickford fuse and portfire which fired the detonator, but this method failed completely in the wet weather.

Mike

----------------------------------
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/14/2020 11:49:30 AM

Thank you Mike. Interesting information.

You mentioned that the troops made their own grenades. What did they look like? Were they dangerous to the men who made them? I am thinking of accidents.

Cheers,

George
----------------------------------
MikeMeech

 UK
Posts: 470
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/14/2020 2:02:28 PM

Quote:
Thank you Mike. Interesting information.

You mentioned that the troops made their own grenades. What did they look like? Were they dangerous to the men who made them? I am thinking of accidents.

Cheers,

George


Hi

Basically the ones in France were generally produced by the Royal Engineers. They could be dangerous, as were many of those produced in factories, they all gradually got 'safer'. Even the Mills had 'safety issues' and was redesigned in mid-1917 becoming the No. 23 Mk III and No. 36, having a redesigned firing mechanism which made it 'safer'. Training was also important to reduce accidents, during the war at the Home Training Schools it is alleged that 11,863,012 Mills grenades were thrown or fired from a rifle during training.

Mike
----------------------------------
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/14/2020 3:24:33 PM

Thank you Mike.

George
----------------------------------
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/15/2020 8:39:39 AM

I found this Masters thesis in the Collections Canada Archive. The author is David Leeson who is now a professor of history at Laurentian University in Sudbury. He went on to get his PHD.



The title is, "An Ecstasy of Fumbling: A Reassessment of British Offensives on the Western Front".

He claims that the historians who have studied the four major offensives by the British in 1915 offer two conflicting explanations for the failures. One school of thought, he says, explains that pre-war unpreparedness deprived the army of the weapons and personnel that it needed to win. The other school argues that British generals were incompetent butchers who sacrificed the soldiers' lives for nothing.

The author's thesis is that the First Army's failures should rather be attributed to two technical factors:

1. British weapons were effective when on the defensive but inadequate for offensive initiatives forcing a reliance on artillery

2. The inefficiency of the signal system.

He defended this thesis in 1998.

I found chapter 3, The Decadent Arsenal, to be very interesting and I would be interested to see whether those better in the know than I, concur with his findings.

Quote:
In fact, an attacking British rifleman in 1915 was little better armed than a Dervish spearman in 1898, and the results of a British attack were often as gruesome as those at Obdurman. For example, on 26 September 1915 the British 72nd Brigade suffered 57% casualties, losing 2054 of its 3600 officers and men, in its unsuccessful assault on the German second line at the battle of Loos


Using the examples of British weapons at Loos, he goes on to describe something like the SMLE with attached Sword Bayonet Pattern (1907) and explains why it was a superior defensive weapon but inferior when on the attack especially in close quarters in trenches.

If you head to page 34, you will see his assessment of the SMLE and the long bayonet as an attacking weapon. He is also notes that the heavy Vickers MG was a great defensive weapon but not of much help to attacking infantry.

He seems to suggest that offensive success in 1915 meant amassing relatively large numbers of men in a small area to take advantage of volume of fire. This exposed the men to artillery and small arms fire.

He does note that the British heavy machine gunners at Loos were experimenting with indirect supporting fire for the troops when they realized that they could not keep up with the advances. The author says that this indirect MG fire was improvisational at first and that supporting artillery was the main weapon available to support an offensive attack in 1915.

And he was critical of the 1915 artillery weapons as effective in support of an infantry attack.

He assesses the effectiveness of grenades in 1915 as well.

I found the instructions to the troops on the use of the #1 or "GS" hand grenade to be rather ominous. Apparently, men would swing the grenade into position and sometimes clip the man behind and blow everyone up. And so, this memo was given to instructors:

Quote:
When throwing in trenches, Grenadiers must be reminded of the great danger in swinging percussion grenades. A hit or a graze on some part of the trench may easily be fatal to the thrower. No preliminary swinging will be allowed.


There are descriptions of other 1915 trench bombs made in the trenches or supplied that were extremely unreliable like the "Jam tin bomb."

Quote:
Take an old tin jam pot, fill it with shredded gun cotton and tenpenny nails, mixed according to taste. Insert a #8 detonator and a short length of Bickford's fuze. Light with a match, pipe, cigar or cigarette and throw it for all you are worth
. official history



Anyway, I found his analysis of the failure of offensive initiatives, to be interesting. Others may want to poke holes in it. There is a lot more to the paper than what I have briefly described.

[Read More]

Cheers,

George
----------------------------------
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/15/2020 10:25:08 AM

Another superb contribution, George : thanks.

I’ve just browsed through it very quickly, and will try and do it proper justice later.

I was gratified to see allusions to the need for Lewis Guns and Stoke Mortars : things that I had mentioned.

There has been some atrocious hyperbole in the historiography : Alan Clark’s The Donkeys being the principal example.

Looking forward to some reading.

Regards, Phil

----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
MikeMeech

 UK
Posts: 470
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/17/2020 8:14:06 AM

Quote:
I found this Masters thesis in the Collections Canada Archive. The author is David Leeson who is now a professor of history at Laurentian University in Sudbury. He went on to get his PHD.



The title is, "An Ecstasy of Fumbling: A Reassessment of British Offensives on the Western Front".

He claims that the historians who have studied the four major offensives by the British in 1915 offer two conflicting explanations for the failures. One school of thought, he says, explains that pre-war unpreparedness deprived the army of the weapons and personnel that it needed to win. The other school argues that British generals were incompetent butchers who sacrificed the soldiers' lives for nothing.

The author's thesis is that the First Army's failures should rather be attributed to two technical factors:

1. British weapons were effective when on the defensive but inadequate for offensive initiatives forcing a reliance on artillery

2. The inefficiency of the signal system.

He defended this thesis in 1998.

I found chapter 3, The Decadent Arsenal, to be very interesting and I would be interested to see whether those better in the know than I, concur with his findings.

Quote:
In fact, an attacking British rifleman in 1915 was little better armed than a Dervish spearman in 1898, and the results of a British attack were often as gruesome as those at Obdurman. For example, on 26 September 1915 the British 72nd Brigade suffered 57% casualties, losing 2054 of its 3600 officers and men, in its unsuccessful assault on the German second line at the battle of Loos


Using the examples of British weapons at Loos, he goes on to describe something like the SMLE with attached Sword Bayonet Pattern (1907) and explains why it was a superior defensive weapon but inferior when on the attack especially in close quarters in trenches.

If you head to page 34, you will see his assessment of the SMLE and the long bayonet as an attacking weapon. He is also notes that the heavy Vickers MG was a great defensive weapon but not of much help to attacking infantry.

He seems to suggest that offensive success in 1915 meant amassing relatively large numbers of men in a small area to take advantage of volume of fire. This exposed the men to artillery and small arms fire.

He does note that the British heavy machine gunners at Loos were experimenting with indirect supporting fire for the troops when they realized that they could not keep up with the advances. The author says that this indirect MG fire was improvisational at first and that supporting artillery was the main weapon available to support an offensive attack in 1915.

And he was critical of the 1915 artillery weapons as effective in support of an infantry attack.

He assesses the effectiveness of grenades in 1915 as well.

I found the instructions to the troops on the use of the #1 or "GS" hand grenade to be rather ominous. Apparently, men would swing the grenade into position and sometimes clip the man behind and blow everyone up. And so, this memo was given to instructors:

Quote:
When throwing in trenches, Grenadiers must be reminded of the great danger in swinging percussion grenades. A hit or a graze on some part of the trench may easily be fatal to the thrower. No preliminary swinging will be allowed.


There are descriptions of other 1915 trench bombs made in the trenches or supplied that were extremely unreliable like the "Jam tin bomb."

Quote:
Take an old tin jam pot, fill it with shredded gun cotton and tenpenny nails, mixed according to taste. Insert a #8 detonator and a short length of Bickford's fuze. Light with a match, pipe, cigar or cigarette and throw it for all you are worth
. official history



Anyway, I found his analysis of the failure of offensive initiatives, to be interesting. Others may want to poke holes in it. There is a lot more to the paper than what I have briefly described.

[Read More]

Cheers,

George


Hi George

Thanks for that link. I have read through it, the main theme of 'defence' being stronger than 'attack' I could not see as a surprise as this was the case through most (maybe all) of the war. That the SMLE was not effective when advancing is true, but the same would apply to the German and French rifles, they were better in defence when firing from cover. The Vickers was not mobile in a light MG sense, however, the German equivalent MG was actually heavier, so presumably even less suitable in the attack. Light MG or at least lighter came later in the war. The British were short of all sorts of weapons at this time, Vickers had not delivered on the MG orders they had from the British army, mainly due to lack of factory space (they were building more) and skilled labour (they were training more) the same applies to artillery, especially heavier guns. The Germans had rather more heavy guns as these were needed to attack French and Belgian fortresses in the pre-war planning, this was not on the British planning pre-war. Mortars and grenades were also useful for use against fortresses, they became useful in trench warfare but the Germans were not planning for trench warfare, so slightly 'accidental'. The French had heavier artillery than the British because they stripped their fortresses of heavy guns (this did mean that the fortresses around Verdun in 1916 had less armament then they should have had) , so used many of different age and capability, their production of new guns was to cut down on the number of types of guns and be more effective. The British did not have fortresses to strip, and had to build up an industry to build them.

The communication problem was well known at the time (and applied to all nations), Sir William Robertson (then CGS of the BEF) stated in a memorandum on Neuve Chapelle, dated 14 March 1915, that:

"The complicated modern system of communication sometimes leaves Commanders completely at a loss when it fails. It must be recognised that telephone and telegraph line are almost certain to fail during a successful advance."

During 1915 various communication experiments were being undertaken on the battlefield. For example the BEF ground forces (V Corps) from 25 to 17 June 1915 borrowed 4 Stirling sets (transmitters) to try out for battlefield communication. At Loos two members of No. 3 Sqn. RFC went forward with the troops to signal by signalling lamp to lamp equipped aircraft so as to communicate information and try to overcome the problems of communication on the battlefield. The author mention cloth ground signals, these were used for various signalling throughout the war (and WW2) by all armies, they were not consider backward in anyway at the time, but no signalling method worked in all conditions all the time during WW1 (or WW2 come to that).

The problems of production and the reliability of available technology of the period in question should not be underestimated.

Mike
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Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/17/2020 1:08:05 PM

Basically all the rifles in use by the various combatants were designed well before the war, and reflected an era when troops fired under command of their officers. The officer would specify the target (infantry in the open), range (600 meters), and number of rounds to be fired. If the rifles had magazine cutoffs, whether single shot or magazine fire. They might even specify the aiming point (head, chest, waist). All this tended to favor defensive fires. Advancing against troops under cover meant that for all practical purposes, a rifleman had no targets to engage. Yet there he was, with a rifle with more range and power than most men could use effectively. But that was all there was.

One alternative to the over powered infantry rifle was the hand grenade, once practical designs were developed. Troops would carry literally sacks of them, and massive quantities were on hand in the trenches. But as effective as grenades were in the trenches, both defensively and offensively, after the Somme the Germans at least came to the conclusion that close quarter hand grenade fights were a costly way of doing business. They began to reemphasize long range rifle fire to break up enemy attacks before they closed to grenade ranges.
----------------------------------
Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
MikeMeech

 UK
Posts: 470
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/17/2020 3:11:13 PM

Quote:


But as effective as grenades were in the trenches, both defensively and offensively, after the Somme the Germans at least came to the conclusion that close quarter hand grenade fights were a costly way of doing business. They began to reemphasize long range rifle fire to break up enemy attacks before they closed to grenade ranges.


Hi

Many of the BEF's commanders were coming to the same conclusion during the second half of 1916 and were against the 'bomb culture' and were trying to return to emphasis on the rifle, although though there were objections from the ranks over this (it appears they had become quite comfortable with 'grenades' by this time despite their initial problems). GHQ even had an 'instructional war poem, dated 5 June 1917, to emphasise rifle use:

" 'Bombs,' says Alf, 'are good for a change But it's the rifle will pull you through....' "

However, during 1917 and 1918 the rifle did return to a great extent, the grenade was still important for various tasks but not as much as it had been during 1915/16. Experience of battle and the problems encountered appear very similar in all armies and similar solutions were found.

Mike

----------------------------------
Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/17/2020 7:21:20 PM

I suspect that the perception that nobody used rifles anymore once trench warfare started is just as overstated as the early war "every man seemed to have a machine gun."
----------------------------------
Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
MikeMeech

 UK
Posts: 470
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/18/2020 5:42:00 AM

Hi

On grenades (bombs), British training manuals during late 1916/early 1917 show the 'push-back' against the over 'reliance' on bombs.
SS 126 'The Training and Employment of Bombers' of Sept. 1916 has:

"Men employed as bombers must not be allowed to lose their efficiency in the use of the rifle and bayonet, or in the ordinary duties of the infantry soldier."

SS 135 'Instructions for the Training of Divisions for Offensive Action' of Dec. 1916, Section XXII - 'Action of Bombers', has:

"Attacks over the open with the rifle and bayonet, if vigorously pushed home, will always succeed in making progress when the co-operation between Infantry and Artillery is good; bombing attacks along trenches, however vigorous and however well supported by Artillery, will never succeed in making real progress. it may be taken for granted that once an attack has come down to the bombing stage, the operation has come to a standstill."

and

"Where a bombing attack has to be resorted to, it must always be supported by Lewis guns, Stokes mortars and riflemen, and the most careful and detailed arrangements made for their co-operation."

SS 143 'Training of Platoons for Offensive Action' of Feb. 1917, mentions that:

"The bomb is the second weapon of every NCO and man, and is used either for dislodging the enemy from behind cover or killing him below ground."

On the rifle bomb it states:

"The rifle bomb is the "howitzer" of the infantry and used to dislodge the enemy from behind cover and to obtain superiority of fire by driving him underground."

The move is towards multiple weapon use in the attack and not have an over reliance on any single weapon. This is in stark contrast to Loos where the main weapon in attack was the rifle with a few unreliable grenades, as related in the MA paper. However, this could only happen with the increased production of the weapons needed and the training system (and experience) to use them effectively.

Mike
----------------------------------
MikeMeech

 UK
Posts: 470
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/21/2020 10:41:07 AM

Hi

In the previously attached MA, it mentions in footnote 54 pages 80-81 that:

"Coloured flags were issued to infantry units to be waved above the parapets of captured trenches as an indication of their progress."

The use of this method remained the case to the end of the war as one of the methods to indicate location and reduce 'friendly fire' incidents. The December 1916 edition of SS 135 'Instructions for the Training of Divisions for Offensive Action', Section III, page 15, has the following:

"Coloured Flags carried by one or two men in each platoon can be used to indicate to the Artillery the line gained by the leading Infantry.
These flags must not be stuck in the ground and will mean nothing unless they are waved; the poles should be short and blunted at the end.
A combination of black and yellow on a flag about 18 inches square is the easiest to observe."

This text is in the November 1918 edition of SS 135, now in its Appendix A 'Artillery in Attack', page 39, although the wording is the same.

We see the method laid down in battle instructions, an example is from the '2nd Canadian Division Instructions for the Offensive, No. 3, 24th March 1917' under 'Distinguishing Flags' (and refers to SS 135):

"Assaulting troops of the 2nd Canadian Division and the 13th Brigade will carry the Divisional Battle Flag, a yellow disc with a Black Maple Leaf centre; two discs per platoon being carried.
These discs and Flags must be waved and not stuck in the ground."

Many things seen during Loos turn up in future battles in one form or other, this was due to the limited devices and techniques actually available, we also see similar devices used by other armies.

Mike
----------------------------------
MikeMeech

 UK
Posts: 470
Loos 1915
Posted on: 3/18/2020 5:22:41 PM

Hi

In the Spring 2020 edition of the 'Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research' there is an article on the '28th Division and the Hohenzollern Redoubt, 1915' by Spencer Jones, which is quite interesting, however a footnote (35) on page 64 may also be of interest, this mentions:

"A survey of 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' (London; HMSO, 1922) reveals that, of the men of the 2nd Cheshires who were killed at Loos, 22% were pre-war Regulars and 25% were 1914 volunteers with at least nine months' service. Several factors explain the survival of these old soldiers despite the apparently devastating losses at Second Ypres. The 28th Division listed over 6,000 men "missing" at Second Ypres. This figure is more than double that of any other division engaged and suggests a collapse of administration amidst the chaos of battle. It seems probable that a significant proportion of these men were separated from units in combat and subsequently returned. Further, many of those listed as "wounded" were chlorine gas casualties who generally made a full recovery. I am grateful to Dr Alison Hine for sharing these statistics."

This comment on casualties may of be of interest to some forum members.

Mike
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 3/19/2020 6:20:39 AM

Mike,

That’s certainly something I want to investigate.

Six thousand in one division : and that’s in missing alone.

When I get back to London, before it’s locked down, I’ll get to grips with this.

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 3/19/2020 2:15:32 PM

Quote:
Hi

In the Spring 2020 edition of the 'Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research' there is an article on the '28th Division and the Hohenzollern Redoubt, 1915' by Spencer Jones, which is quite interesting, however a footnote (35) on page 64 may also be of interest, this mentions:

"A survey of 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' (London; HMSO, 1922) reveals that, of the men of the 2nd Cheshires who were killed at Loos, 22% were pre-war Regulars and 25% were 1914 volunteers with at least nine months' service. Several factors explain the survival of these old soldiers despite the apparently devastating losses at Second Ypres. The 28th Division listed over 6,000 men "missing" at Second Ypres. This figure is more than double that of any other division engaged and suggests a collapse of administration amidst the chaos of battle. It seems probable that a significant proportion of these men were separated from units in combat and subsequently returned. Further, many of those listed as "wounded" were chlorine gas casualties who generally made a full recovery. I am grateful to Dr Alison Hine for sharing these statistics."

This comment on casualties may of be of interest to some forum members.

Mike



Hi Mike,

The 28th Division casualties for Second Ypres , as officially complied :

Officers - 97 killed, 300 wounded, 98 missing : total 495

ORs - 3,177 killed, 5,548 wounded, 6,313 missing (!) : total 15,038

Soldiers died in the Great War cites exactly 4,000 ORs, which is an increase of only one quarter from the original return of 3,177. This implies, I think, that many of the missing did return to duty, although I would think that a significant proportion of them were wounded.

By comparison, the 27th Division returned 1,122 killed, 4,980 wounded and "only" 927 missing, but SDGW increases the number of ORs who died to 1,980, an increase of more than three quarters on the original return of killed, indicating that the great majority of the missing were dead.

Info. gleaned from John Dixon, MAGNIFICENT BUT NOT WAR, The Second Battle of Ypres 1915 .

A legitimate assumption, extrapolating from the above, is that only one tenth of the 28th Division's missing were dead, while nine tenths of the 27th's missing had been killed.

Tell Sparta !

Edit : There is an aspect here that I avoided : the crucial question of the died from wounds. I should have factored that in. Here again, it’s apparent in the chaotic predicament of the 28th Division that the killed and the died of wounds might have been conflated ; whereas in the 27th, there was proper segregation, with the killed alluding to those confirmed dead on the field, and the wounded including several hundred who would die after admission to medical facilities. In the 28th, this facility was denied by the circumstances of battle. We must not forget that the missing included POWs. I must prevent myself from delving further and further into this, because it becomes a fool’s errand. The interpretation is always so challenging.

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
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