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Daveleic

Artillery damage: is this normal?

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Daveleic
Posted (edited)

I have been reading up on 46 (North Midland) Division's assault over the St Quentin Canal on 29 September 1918. It seems that 4th Army's artillery barrage which preceded the attack was the greatest (or most concentrated) of the entire war. Figures I've read vary, but it seems that approaching a million shells were fired. There were over 30,000 mustard gas shells and many shells with the 106 fuse to destroy wire. The barrage was especially heavy on the 46th Div. sector. The barrage kept the Germans in their bunkers and stopped them destroying Riqueval Bridge.

There is a photo taken a few days later:

 

The_Hundred_Days_Offensive,_August-novem

Shelters on the banks of the St Quentin Canal where it was crossed by the 46th Division on 29th September 1918. (Photo taken 4 October 1918).

 

 

What I find a little puzzling is how undamaged the canal bank seems to be, e.g. the flimsy-looking shelter entrances and steps. I wonder if this is really so and what might the explanation be. I wonder whether anyone knows if this would be how the shells specially fused to destroy wire without making too much of a mess of the ground would leave a target. Some historians suggest that 46th Division's assault was greatly aided by the barrage.

 

Dave

Edited by Daveleic
Expanded detail to clarify (hopefully!)

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AussiesInMelbourne

Hi Dave,

 

Others with more knowledge than I will surely provide detailed answers but I presume the lack of damage or artillery threat, would be due to the steep banks of the canal, along with the available trajectory of the artillery guns being employed.

 

The War at this stage was one of mobility and not siege/trench warfare.

 

As a past guide, I walked down the ramp to the tunnel entrance at Riqueval hundreds of times and it is, indeed both steep and, deep. Also, I always took my tour guests onto the Riqueval Bridge to give them some sort of understanding as to what sort of barrier it presented.

 

Peter

 

 

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brummell
Posted (edited)

I suspect that Peter has it.  The canal would have been an extremely difficult target - very narrow, deep and steep-sided.  The flat trajectory of field guns would have rendered them useless; this was a target for howitzers.  If the intended effect of the fire plan was to suppress the Germans and keep them in their dug-outs, howitzer shrapnel would have been the best ammunition to use.  With howitzer shrapnel, the shrapnel bullets are projected from the rear of the shell when it hits the ground - perfect for a target like the canal, where the bullets would have spread up the banks, suppressing infantry but causing very little damage to the ground.

 

High explosive shells would have been only partially effective, as the momentum of the shell would have carried fragments mostly forward, into the ground.  Large calibre HE shells would have had a blast effect against the dugouts, but as you note, there is little evidence of heavy cratering - at least on the banks.  But, as I say - a very difficult target to adjust, and even tiny variations in muzzle velocity would have sent the shells long or dropped them short of a very narrow target.

Edited by brummell

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MikeMeech
On ‎09‎/‎05‎/‎2017 at 09:50, Daveleic said:

I have been reading up on 46 (North Midland) Division's assault over the St Quentin Canal on 29 September 1918. It seems that 4th Army's artillery barrage which preceded the attack was the greatest (or most concentrated) of the entire war. Figures I've read vary, but it seems that approaching a million shells were fired. There were over 30,000 mustard gas shells and many shells with the 106 fuse to destroy wire. The barrage was especially heavy on the 46th Div. sector. The barrage kept the Germans in their bunkers and stopped them destroying Riqueval Bridge.

There is a photo taken a few days later:

 

The_Hundred_Days_Offensive,_August-novem

Shelters on the banks of the St Quentin Canal where it was crossed by the 46th Division on 29th September 1918. (Photo taken 4 October 1918).

 

 

What I find a little puzzling is how undamaged the canal bank seems to be, e.g. the flimsy-looking shelter entrances and steps. I wonder if this is really so and what might the explanation be. I wonder whether anyone knows if this would be how the shells specially fused to destroy wire without making too much of a mess of the ground would leave a target. Some historians suggest that 46th Division's assault was greatly aided by the barrage.

 

Dave

Hi

 

It may be the angle from which the photo was taken but the 'Canal' doesn't look as wide or as 'wet' as it appears in other images of where the 46th Division crossed?

 

Mike

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AussiesInMelbourne
3 hours ago, MikeMeech said:

Hi

 

It may be the angle from which the photo was taken but the 'Canal' doesn't look as wide or as 'wet' as it appears in other images of where the 46th Division crossed?

 

Mike

Mike,

 

I agree as I had the same feelings but, the image is from the IWM and I am not one to argue with them.

 

Peter

 

 

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MikeMeech
1 hour ago, AussiesInMelbourne said:

Mike,

 

I agree as I had the same feelings but, the image is from the IWM and I am not one to argue with them.

 

Peter

 

 

Hi

Yes I agree, however, the IWM has also attached basically the same 'location' caption, the place where 137 Infantry Brigade (46th Div.) crossed on 29th September 1918 to the image below.  They don't look as though they are 'near' each other?

 

StQuentinCanal02.jpg.e38a7861be5ea969f139846d1878433d.jpg

 

Mike

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Daveleic

Thanks for your replies. I had not realised that shrapnel shells work as they do. I presume that in this sector of the battle front the wire-destroying shells would have been used against the wire belts further behind the canal. As far as the canal itself is concerned, I seem to recall reading somewhere that the canal water was of variable depth and even actual mud in places. Oddly, though, the bottom of the cutting  looks more like the surface of a railway cutting, and as far as I can tell, other shots of the canal banks don't seem to have the multiplicity of entrance structures visible in this shot.  As far as the width of the canal is concerned, I suppose that the viewpoint conceals quite a lot of the bottom.

 

Dave

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tootrock

Was there really a design of shrapnel shell that projected the bullets from the rear when it hit the ground? (Post #3)

I can find no references to this on-line, but I am happy to be proved wrong.

 

Martin

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Old Tom

I too have only just noticed post 3. Such a shell could be useful in the manner described but other uses would seem unlikely. 

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Garwood

If you compare the two photos,it may be that the waterway is just out of shot in the first, and what you can see is the rough bank/towpath area clearly visible in the second.

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Stoppage Drill
6 hours ago, tootrock said:

Was there really a design of shrapnel shell that projected the bullets from the rear when it hit the ground? (Post #3)

I can find no references to this on-line, but I am happy to be proved wrong.

 

Martin

 

Some shrapnel shells were designed with the bursting charge in the head, which blew off the base plug and discharged the shrapnel bullets rearwards.

I do not believe this haappened on contact with the ground: the shell was timed to burst in the air in normal shrapnel fashion.

 

Can't post a link at the moment, but if you google '1915 Treatise on Ammunition' you will get a wonderfully informative .pdf file

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brummell

Ref. the function of shrapnel shells, I have talked this over with the chap who mentioned it to me a while back.  It is, as Mr Drill suggests, a misunderstanding of the function of shells with the bursting charge in the head.  I'm sorry causing the confusion!

 

An aside, such shells did not function quite as Mr Drill mentions.  Most shrapnel shells had a bursting charge at the base, which increased the velocity of the bullets relative to their carrier shells and pushed them out of the front of the shell.  Conversely, a few shrapnel shells had the bursting charge at the head, which reduced the velocity of the carrier shell relative to the bullets, causing them to be ejected from the front of the shell.  In other words, in one case the bullets were pushed forwards relative to the shell, in the other the carrier shell was pushed backwards relative to the bullets.  In both cases, the bullets were ejected from the front of the shell.

 

On reflection, it would have to be quite a charge not only to 'kill' the forward velocity of the bullets, but also to then impart a lethal velocity in the opposite direction!

 

In any case, the fact remains that a target like the canal could only be effectively engaged by howitzers and would be a very tricky target to hit, perhaps explaining the relatively unscathed appearance in the photograph.  In the famous picture of J V Campbell addressing 46 Div troops from the Ricqueval Bridge, however, both the bridge and the bank appear quite cut-up.

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brummell
Posted (edited)

Indeed it was - I do apologise.

 

Interesting that it was possible to produce a shell, even then, whose base could withstand the tremendous force of firing and yet could be popped off by a relatively weak bursting charge, acting through the bullets.

 

 

- brummell

Edited by brummell

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Stoppage Drill

No apology necessary, I'm pleased to have been of assistance. 

 

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tootrock

Thanks for giving the link to the "Treatise on Ammunition". All is now explained and understood.

 

Martin

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Daveleic

Looking at the first shot again, I think I can see the water (a nearer lighter strip) and the brick bank of the canal (rather strip darker below the rough towpath) visible through the stakes which run left of the nose of the nearest horse.

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28juni14

It is highly unlikely "shrapnel" was used to destroy enemy wire.  High explosive shells performed that task; categorically excluding shrapnel.   Even after the inventor has been dead all these years (Shrapnel died in 1840) the term "shrapnel" remains the term used by the media and others, to explain wounds caused by fragmentation. 

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brummell

On the contrary, the British used shrapnel extensively to cut wire as it was their only (barely) effective means of doing so until the L106 fuze entered service in early 1917.  Prior to this, all high explosive shells (less ricochets or those hitting a hard surface) would detonate underground - useless for cutting wire.

 

 

- brummell

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28juni14

Really ? With all due respect, would you have me to believe the BL 80 Pdr, BL 8 inch, and even the QF 4.5 howitzers were not firing HE, but rather shrapnel to pulverize approach terrain and enemy positions ??!!!  A most interesting.revelation.

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Stoppage Drill
5 hours ago, 28juni14 said:

Really ? With all due respect, would you have me to believe the BL 80 Pdr, BL 8 inch, and even the QF 4.5 howitzers were not firing HE, but rather shrapnel to pulverize approach terrain and enemy positions ??!!!  A most interesting.revelation.

 

Shrapnel was used for wire cutting.

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brummell
6 hours ago, 28juni14 said:

Really ? With all due respect, would you have me to believe the BL 80 Pdr, BL 8 inch, and even the QF 4.5 howitzers were not firing HE, but rather shrapnel to pulverize approach terrain and enemy positions ??!!!  A most interesting.revelation.

 

The discussion referred specifically to wire-cutting; nobody has so far suggested shrapnel was used to destroy fortifications.

 

The gun used most extensively for wire-cutting was the 18-pdr, firing shrapnel until the L106 came in.  Shrapnel was not very effective at this, so it took a lot of guns, ammunition, time and skill to get good results.  Occasionally, if wire-cutting was going slowly or the wire was beyond the range of the 18-pdr, heavier guns or howitzers were diverted from their bombardment tasks and used to reinforce the wire-cutting.  They would have used shrapnel or HE for this (not all the heavier guns had shrapnel ammunition), but as they lacked a point-detonating fuze, HE shells went into the ground before bursting.  Because most of the fragmentation was absorbed by the ground, very little went through the wire to cut it.

 

The L106 would function immediately on the slightest contact, even with wire, which finally made HE far more effective at wire-cutting than shrapnel.

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MikeMeech
8 hours ago, 28juni14 said:

Really ? With all due respect, would you have me to believe the BL 80 Pdr, BL 8 inch, and even the QF 4.5 howitzers were not firing HE, but rather shrapnel to pulverize approach terrain and enemy positions ??!!!  A most interesting.revelation.

Hi

 

The methods used for wire cutting are well covered in numerous books including:

'British Artillery on the Western Front in the First World War' by Sanders Marble.

'Battle tactics of the Western Front' by Paddy Griffith, Chapter 8 Artillery.

'History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery Western front 1914-18' by General Sir Martin Farndale.

 

The use of Shrapnel for wire-cutting was logical as it was found in experiments in January 1915 when British artillery was fired at replicas of German defensive positions that shrapnel performed better than HE (see page 72 of Marble).  It was far from perfect, artillery observers would go out to see how wire-cutting was progressing.  Shrapnel would also lost its effectiveness at long range (see page 133 of Marble)  the 18 pdr. also lost its effectiveness at long range which is why heavier guns were used on German second line wire.  At shorter ranges the 2 inch mortar was used from 1916 for wire-cutting (apparently it was not of much use at anything else).  Tanks were also used to crush and latter drag away wire entanglements.  The 106 fuze changed the game for HE but it was only gradually entering service from March 1916 but only in quantities from early 1917.

 

Mike

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28juni14

Thank you, gentlemen; I now consider myself enlightened.

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KennyD

I am extremely interested and excited to stumble across this thread...

My Great Uncle Gordon Maudsley Crane (my Mum's Mum's older brother) died on 23rd September 1918, the day that the last of his unit, the 12th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Forces, were relieved from the front line at the Hindenburg Line at St Quentin Canal near Jeancourt, France. On the morning of the 23rd September 1918 he was going along a trench about 9am when a shell burst close to him and killed him. He was buried in the trench overlooking St Quentin Canal between Bullecourt and St Quentin. Sadly, his burial spot was marked in the usual manner at the time and he now has no known grave.

I have only recently started trying to learn more about his military service.

Cheers, Ken.

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