Learning Curve, The Great War
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Useful notes: Source8
Artillery in action, 1916
(The Battle of the Somme, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)
  • This clip shows howitzers shelling enemy dugouts in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. It is often claimed that most footage of the fighting in the Great War is fake, but historians now dispute this. There is little doubt that this film does show British heavy guns in action during the battle.
  • Artillery was already the key weapon in modern warfare before the Great War. It had shown its power in the American Civil War of the 1860s and the wars in the Balkans, which took place in 1912-13.
  • As the Great War went on, British industry threw itself into the production of guns and shells. Many different types of artillery were needed for different jobs.
  • Howitzers were heavy weapons designed to destroy trenches and other defences (see source 1).
  • The other main types of guns were field guns. These were smaller and easier to move around. They were used at closer ranges than the big guns to fire high explosive but also shrapnel shells (which exploded in the air sending out a lethal spray of tiny metal bullets). Field guns also fired smoke and gas shells. Smoke and gas were generally used to help cover an attack by the infantry.
  • Artillery became increasingly powerful and reliable. By 1917, many of the early problems had been solved and British artillery was accurate and effective. Gunners could give maximum protection to advancing troops as well as accurately smashing enemy defences. They used smoke and gas effectively. They also used split second timing and information from aircraft to cover troops and attack defensive positions. British artillery became more than a match for German artillery in terms of numbers of guns, accuracy and power.
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