Direct artillery fire 1914

Jack Sheldon (in his recent book "The German Army on Vimy Ridge 1914-17" (ISBN: 9781844156801)), provides an interesting description of the use of artillery in direct fire roles in the early phases of the war

The book can be purchased from Pen and Sword Publishing This company produces some fantastic material, much of it otherwise difficult to obtain. I'd thoroughly recommend support for their publications.

The 1914 period of his book covers the attacks made by the German Army towards Arras during the Race to the Sea.

The following quote comes from Hauptmann Freiherr von Guttenberg of the Bavarian Reserve Field Artillery Regiment 5:

'As dawn broke on 9 October [1914], the enemy launched a strong counter-attack from Bouvigny Wood. Because of the wide frontage of the division, the [Lorette] Spur was only held by a weak force of friendly infantry, mostly comprising one company of the Marburg Jger Battalion 7... From our own regiment 1st and 3rd Batteries were occupying fire positions in a dip on the southern slope of the Spur, just on the northern edge of Ablain. The enemy infantry had established themselves in a hedgerow about 100-200 metres to the front of the thin line of Jger. Only from their muzzle flashes could they be located.

Racing down the hill as fast as he could, Gudden passed on his report and Hauptmann Prunner directed two guns of 3rd Battery to engage at maximum elevation. The distance as the crow flew was 350 metres, but the guns opened with shrapnel at 800 metres, because the friendly infantry (invisible from below) was located 100 metres forward of the crest and the enemy a further 200 metres away. Once more Gudden rushed up the steep slope, equipped with a yellow signal flag, which he used to direct fire, by means of hastily agreed signals, onto the hedgerow. Naturally all the flag waving attracted a hail of small arms fire...

In the meantime long tow ropes had been fastened to two guns of 1st Battery and, by dint of extreme exertion, they were hauled up the steep slope. The enemy's heads were still being kept down by the fire of 3rd Battery, so they did not notice the [first] gun until it was already in a firing position. It immediately attracted a great concentration of small arms fire, but the daring crew ignored it and the orders were given. "Load! Open sights! Rapid fire!" In no time shells were crashing into the hedgerow. The enemy was so busy engaging the first gun that they did not notice the second one taking up position beside the stack of straw and opening fire against a concentration of enemy located in undergrowth further to the right.

It was not long before the gunners gained the upper hand. The enemy small arms fire died away and then fell silent. All those who did not remain behind killed or wounded hared back into the protection of the wood. Oberleutnant von Spruner chased them all the way back with gunfire.

The enemy artillery, having observed the action of the guns on the summit, brought down a hail of fire from covered positions against them. Given fresh courage by their supporting artillery, the enemy infantry launched forward once more from Bouvigny Wood. There were casualties and, with the right hand gun crew reduced to one gunner, Oberleutnant von Spruner himself took over as gunlayer. Whilst the infantry rushed ammunition forwards, he and the gunner fired round after round at point blank range, so rapidly that the enemy attack was halted between fifty and one hundred metres away.

However, by now the storm of enemy artillery fire was so intense that our own infantry could hold on no longer and was forced back to the extreme edge of the crest.'

At this point, the hay stack caught fire. Both guns on the ridge were abandoned but they were later recovered after dark.

Von Spruner was awarded the highest Bavarian military medal - the Military Max Joseph Order, one of only 237 recipients. He was later killed in action in May 1915.