Artillery Killed 50% of soldiers in World One and Two

 

British Artillery in action at Gallipoli

 

60_pounder_Cape_Helles_June_1915

A British 60 pounder Mk I battery in action on a cliff top at Cape Helles, Gallipoli, possibly in June 1915. The unit might be the 90th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, located forward of Hill 114. The gun has the inscription “Annie” painted on the barrel.

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

 

The industrial age gave generals the ability to pound their enemies with greater and greater artillery barrages. In both World War One and World War Two, over 50% of casualties were caused by artillery. I was reminded of this anew last night when I was reading The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich by Robert M. Citrano. These statistics from his book will give you a sense of the pace of escalation of shells fired in just a brief time frame:

…during the Russo-Japanese War (1904 to 1905), the Russian artillery expended an average of 87,000 rounds a month, seen then as an incredible figure. Less than a decade later, in the First Balkan War, the Bulgarian Army’s monthly rate had grown to 254,000 shells. By 1916, the French were averaging 4,500,000 rounds a month. During the week long battle for Messines Ridge (June 3—10, 1917), British guns fired 3,258,000 rounds.

[Source: The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich by Robert M. Citrano.]

In preparation for the First Battle of the Somme, Allied artillery pounded German lines for a week before the attack, firing 1.6 million shells. This barrage had almost no effect on the German troops who were waiting out the massive artillery fire in very deep shelters.

On 1 July 1916, the young officers leading the troops blew their whistles at 0730 and the British troops “went over the top,” that is over the top of the trench. German troops, almost untouched by the artillery barrage, emerged from their dugouts, brought up the machine guns and mowed down the British soldiers. By the end of the day, British and Imperial troops had taken 60,000 casualties with 20,000 killed. (source BBC)

While the BBC website says 60 per cent of all officers in the attacking divisions were killed, I’m not sure that figure is correct since I have read in numerous academic histories that “only” 40% of officers were killed.

 Artillery on somme

Mark V 8 inch howitzers in action on the Somme, 1916. During the preliminary bombardment leading up to 1st July the British artillery fired more shells at the 16 mile length of trenches to be assualted than on the entire Western Front over the preceding 12 months.

(Photo courtesy of the 6th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment)

http://www.6throyalberks.co.uk/index.html

 

 

 

 

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/