Private War Diary of Captain L.Twomey, of 58th Medium Regt. Royal Artillery B.E.F.
6 May 1940
Notes on attachment to French Arty. Groupement supporting the British SAAR Force
Contents of the Diary
March 2-12 1940 at Waldwiesstroff
A: French 75 mm Gun Pit
B: French 75 mm Gun Pit
C: French 75 mm Breech and Firing Mechanisms
D: Organisation and Establishment of a French Field Artillery Regiment
E: General notes on French Gunnery methods
F: Notes on French survey and CPO's drill
G: Notes on French angular Measurement
H: Notes on Air-Burst ranging ("S.O.M".)
X: Signal lay-out for Waldwiesstroff Groupment
Y: Tracing of 1/50,000 map METZ to frontier
Z: 1/20,000 map showing dispositions &c of British Inf. and French Artillery in the forward area (Note there is now a link here for Modern Photos of the area)
(Note: Please click on any image on this page for a larger view)
SATURDAY 2ND MARCH.
After a false start of 50 miles – because my batman has left my bedding behind – I met the other 3 officers and their trucks, turned back, collected my bedding from POZIERS and joined them again at the HOTEL DU LION D’OR in RHIEMS. We had a look at the cathedral, a hot bath, and a night between sheets on a good bed.
SUNDAY 3RD MARCH.
After some difficulty about getting breakfast out of a French Hotel, we got off about 9 a.m. in a sort of convoy. We passed through some really beautiful country today, between RHEIMS and METZ which made me realise for the first time some justification for the phrase :La Belle France. We arrived at METZ at about lunch time and having reported to the Area Commander, took rooms at the Hotel Royal et Regina, a poor sort of pub compared with the one in Rheims. There seems to be a great shortage of coal in METZ – it all comes by barge and the canals have been frozen over – so the bath and shaving water was cold and the central heating not functioning too well. Lunch cost us 50fr. Each and everything was much more expensive than in RHEIMS so I went out for a drink in a café and an evening meal with the interpreter Dumas. METZ was choc full of soldiers chiefly French but a few English – A.A.Gunners, R.A.S.C. and R.A.F. and very little else.
MONDAY 4TH MARCH
We left METZ at about 8 a.m. and got to KEDANGE the H.Q. of the 10th Inf.Bde. at about 9.30 and were sent on to WALDEWEISTROFF and got there at about 10 o’clock. At WALDWIESTROFF the party of R.A. officers Major G.M.L Bartlett, Captain Davies and Captain Johnson who had been waiting on the same attachment for the previous week were waiting to hand over to us. The handing over consisted of an empty house in an appallingly dirty condition and a petrol lamp we bought off them to light our sitting room with. They also introduced us to the Commandant and officers of the Groupment H.Q. in whose Mess we were to live.
WALDWIESSTROFF like all the villages hereabouts is completely empty of civilians and has been since the war started, the houses are all in great disrepair, there is debris and scrap iron, refuse and untidiness everywhere. It is some four miles in front of the Maginot Line through which we passed on our way here. The village is occupied by the Groupement H.Q. and one Battery (troop), by the Battalion H.Q (British) and a few soldiers of the Battalion, and by about a company of French Infantry.
The battery living in the village has its battle position in an orchard on the edge of the village. It is a tiny village but there is plenty of room for everyone on account of its emptiness.
The battery (75mm field guns) only shoot from their battle positions at night. All their shooting by day from “Nomad positions” for which they hook a section out with farm tractors. They generally stay in the nomad position all day in case there is any shooting to be done at any time, There seems to be no fear of any Counter Battery fire and no fear of the village being shelled. At this stage everyone is afraid of ‘starting it’ and there is a tacit agreement that villages are not shelled. A few days previously the Bosche put a stray round into a house in this village next door to the Groupment H.Q; the Commandant got furious, rushed to the telephone and said”je lui donnerai un cadeau”. He then shot up every Bosche village within range, firing 600 rounds. TheBosche has not repeated his misdemeanor. There is a general fear of reprisals in this curious stage of the war.
Our sector is held by one forward battalion, with a front of about 2500 yds – much too big a front considering they have no protection but their own diggings and that is not much as I shall mention later – whenever the French gunners hot the Bosche up they put some stuff over onto our F.D.Ws. and the Infantry hatethe gunners doing anything as they pretend to want to have a chance to dig. In point of fact the Bosche always retaliates in exactly the same point, the forward edge of the Grossenwald wood, which he thinks is the OP of the battery but there is no OP there at all and the Bosche shelling does no one any harm also he seems to be saving his ammunition very much.
Lunch with the French gunners at 23.30 there are 5 of them and 5 of us, Col.Lambert, Major Williams, Capt. Wright, Dumas and myself. The language problem is a little difficult!
After lunch Col. Lambert and Major Williams went up to the main Battery OP. and saw a lot of Bosches and some shooting for their express benefit. Wright and I went to a subsidiary flank OP which is rather farther back and overlooks the French sector to our right. There was a good view from it but it was too far back to see anything interesting We got a good idea of the lay of the land, spent the afternoon reading our maps, saw their machine gun emplacements, and also saw an air battle very high up. There were about 12 or 14 planes involved but no one knew whose planes were which or whose A.A. guns it was that put up the bursts – of which there were a great number. It went on here and there and on and off for about 20minutes and was quite exciting, the planes were swooping and turning about each other in and out of formation like flies.
We made our way back through the stickiest mud about 4.30 and
came through the battery position, so stopped to give it a look over, It is about 2500 yds behind our FDs and almost in the village. In spite of the fact that they do not for a moment intend to give battle in this position they have taken a great deal of trouble over it and the gun pits are better than any British gun pits I have ever seen.
The gun pits are made mostly above ground level, as there is a lot of water about, and they are built up of chopped boughs of trees of diameters varying from 2-10 inches with roofs and mud piled up around and on them. Inside they are beautifully made with home made wooden platforms of well sawn planks in which they have either cut circular runways for the wheels or nailed curved guides so that the gun when man handled by the trail must turn about its central axis with one wheel moving back and the other forward.
Behind the platform the ground is dug away about 18inches depth as the 75mm can only elevate enough normally to shoot up to 5500 but its extreme range with the trail dug in is 9500. The arc for the trail is made by driving in stakes of about 2inches diameter in a circle all touching each other and forming the ledge of a step.
The gun pits are all connected up by tunnels and the interval is only about 15yds.
The French 75 was designed and first manufactured in 1897 and has only been altered in minor details since. It is probably the most famous gun in the world. The shell only weighs 12lbs, but they fire so fast that they probably put over the same weight as we do with our 18 pounders. The gun weighs only a ton and a quarter and can be manhandled by a detachment over any sort of ground and even in this
sticky French mud. This and many of their regiments are what they call “portee” i.e. they run the whole gun up into a lorry and off they go in spite of iron tyres, as fast as you like.
What impressed me most about it was it’s great simplicity in sights, elevating, and traversing gears and particularly the breech and firing mechanism. It has an independent line of sight and a racking bar sight. The breech mechanism is roughly as follows:- The breech ring is circular and about twice the diameter of the gun at the breech end, but fixed eccentrically so that it’s top is flush with the top of the piece. Inside the breech ring is the circular breech block with a hole in it which in one position comes opposite the chamber and through which the round is loaded. The breech is closed by revolving the breech block inside the breech ring until the solid part of it is opposite the chamber. Obturation is of course through the brass cartridge case. The breech locks itself in the firing position and this lock is released on firing by a hangfire latch which sets back on recoil on the same principle as our guns. The extractor is of the curved lever type and is operated by a ramp on the breech block as it turns to open.
The stricker consists merely of a tommy like piece of metal which is held quite loosely in its hole in its position in the breech block. It is thus more or less floating and is withdrawn in the motion of turning the breech to close it. It is pushed forward onto the cap of the primer to fire the gun by the very simple firing mechanism which consists of a sort of hammer pulled back against a spring and released by hand without even a tripping mechanism
The breech block itself is held in the breech bush by a large screw thread and when screwed in it is locked so that it has only sufficient play to enable it to be turned enough to open and close the breech.
The recuperator is almost exactly the same as the 18 and 13 pdrs..
On our way down from the OP we picked up pamphlets in French dropped by the Germans, and pamphlets in German dropped by our chaps and blown back here by the wind.
Sanitation in this village just isn’t. Col. Lambert put me in charge of the batmen and drivers and we designed some. The result achieved would warm the M.O’s heart!! We already have a fine palace made of elephant shelters packing cases barrels etc .and inside is a chair with its legs cut down and its seat taken out over a deep trench, the legs stand on some good firm boards, and beside it is a bottle of cresole.
We also have a fine trench latrine and we hope it will be a good lesson in sanitation for the whole village!! They all, including the British seem to do what they like where they like.
TUESDAY 5th MARCH.
No need to be called this morning. The gun in the village fired three minutes intense at 6.45a.m. and a few desultory rounds after that. We started to count and got as far as sixty but it was too fast. They must have fired over 100 rounds. Later we heard the reason. One of our forward infantry posts on the edge of a wood was wiped right out. The Bosche started it off with some H.E. in the branches over their heads, from a six inch mortar battery and a battery of smaller guns (this information is from the fragments picked up). Then the concentration lifted 100 yds.and a Bosche patrol who had been cutting the wire in front of the post during the first concentration rushed the post and apparently took them all prisoner. When our people got to the post they found two British dead, one wounded, and one dead Bosche. Sixteen had been taken prisoner. The French batteries had put down their S.O.S. concentrations in a very few seconds in answer to a telephone call from the neighbouring international post, but there was some mistake about the actual lines they fired owing to a new line they had laid from that post to the Battery Cd. Post the previous day and a mix up of code words so the S.O.S. was not very effective.
The French officers of this Groupment are a first rate lot. They seem to know their job well, are a very good type, and have a great sense of humour. Monsieur le Commandant has perhaps not quite such a sense of humour but is a very nice old boy and is very courteous. I can’t think how his patience lasts out with a different set of British officers every week hanging around his Groupe and making a nuisance of themselves.
The Groupe is more properly called a Groupement because it consists of a mixture of batteries. A Groupe normally has three Batteries of one type of gun. This Groupement is made up now of three batteries all from different regiments – two are 75s and one is 155mm(about 6 inch) How.
This morning the Commandant arranged for us to go backto a position more or less between two forts of the Maginot Line to see another of the batteries of his own Groupe and Regiment where they have been preparing and digging this rear position for some months. They are justly proud of it and call it “Le Petit Maginot”. It has all been done by the gunners with no help but of course a lot of material from the Engineers. The OP is on the same ridge as the Maginot Line and is very like a splinter proof on Salisbury Plain but not so broad and baulks of timber take the place of the concrete. It is the only OP for the Groupement.
The battery positions are on the forward slope of the next ridge behind the Maginot Line about 2000yds behind it.
We saw two of the battery positions at a distance and went all over the star one. It was quite invisible from the air in the edge of a wood. The actual gun pits were similar to the forward ones but much better built. The connecting tunnels had excellent storage places for ammunition and were much deeper and were encased in solid baulks of timber about 9inches to a foot square. The entrances to them are very small but they are spacious inside.
The gun pits were not yet connected up to the main Command Post, funk hole, dormitory etc. which itself is only half finished. It was mostly 36 feet deep and all lined with these fine baulks of timber (all imported from Spain they said).
They had got hold of an old donkey engine from one of the evacuated villages and were using it for hauling up barrels full of what they dug out of the mine. They had a little overhead rail in the gallery in the mine and the barrel was run along this hung from a little wheel.
Altogether it was a most impressive piece of amateur enterprise and most instructive. They will be as snug as bugs in rugs when it is finished and as safe as anyone in the Maginot Line. All this and the gunpits and camouflage and the use of ground etc. gave one a very good idea of what can be done if one only keeps busily at it and doesn’t just sit on one’s bottom and do nothing as the British soldier will if given a chance. But the Frenchman is naturally more industrious than we aee and it is not merely that he values his life more!
In the afternoon Wright and I took a truck as far as BIZING railway bridge and walked up to the main OP. in the front edge of GRINWALD wood. The system in all French Groupes is to have one main OP which is in communication with the Poste Centrale de Tir or Command Post of the Groupe and not directly in communication with any battery. It can of course be put through by line on the exchange to any troop and so any battery can be ranged quickly and can be control battery. In addition if the zone cannot be covered from one OP and also for information purposes subsidiary Ops and rear Ops may be provided by the Batteries. This Groupement has the GRINWALD OP as its main OP provided and manned by the GROUPE HQ. And one rear and subsidiary OP in the South end of the L’OBSTERWALD which Wright and I visited yesterday. The main Op is manned by the observer subaltern of Groupe hq or by some officer who can relieve him, all day; and there is a roster of three Sous Oficers who do it by night, they have a telephonist there too and they take their telephone in to the British Post for the night. There is always s Sous Officer at the OP in the day time too. They use the phone normally and check up on the line every half hour and if the line is found to be diss they go at once on to radio but they only buzz on it.
On our way up to the OP we passed two British posts and had a chat to them. We were struck by the ineffectiveness of their defences; both the lack of digging and protection they have provided for themselves and the imbecile way the posts had been sited. A few miles back in the Maginot Line is a perfect example of the ABD of defence laid out in a system of mutually supporting posts with cross fire – no post firing to its immediate front but firing across the fronts of the posts on either flank. Most of our posts are sited so that they see very little and that to the front only and no post can support another. Most of them are sited in woods where shells bursting in the branches do ten times the damage. They seem to be afraid of going and digging themselves in properly on reverse slopes. They are too lazy to dig and they get a sense of false security like ostriches in woods. Half the fault lies in the system of each battallion only getting 6 days in the line. They only want to keep quiet for that time and hope they will get away with it for that time and then get relieved, and they are dammed if they are going to do all that digging for another Regiment. The French in contrast never sit down on their bottoms, they are continually going on and on improving their positions. I said to one of the soldiers in the posts words to the effect that their protection seemed very inadequate and that if I had to spend nights there I would spend every minute of my spare time shovelling muck up against it - but there is no persuading chaps of that mentality. However the disaster of this morning has taught them something and there is some talk amongst them of reorganizing their posts and while we were at the OP an Infantry Officer came round and had a go at them and when we left we noticed a new work going up, or the beginnings of it.
The Infantry Officers of the Bn HQ live in the next house to us but they never make any advances to us, ask us in for a drink, or even pass the time of day, I don’t think they see a yard beyond their noses and would probably not know we are here except for the fact that Col. Lambert and the Commandant go in there every evening at 6p.m. for a so called conference but nothing very illuminating seems to transpire and the Commandant gets a bit browned off when they wont take his advise, then something like this morning happens.
There is a magnificent view from the OP, right up to OBERESCH and covering an arc of about 120degrees with very little dead ground within 2000yds to the front and left. We saw an H>E> shoot on an area where there are a lot of workings on the for horizon but saw no Bosches there it was quite a good shoot.
Then we saw some Bosches digging under some apple trees – 2 rows of trees running towards us about 2000 yds in front of the OP-
The zone was of course well shot over and registered for the past weeks and one would have thought he could have gone to fire for effect at once but he had several ranging rounds without much apparent method and got a gun fairly well on to each row of trees but I thought he was a bit short the whole shoot. We saw the Bosches duck down as soon as he had started and they must have crept off as we never saw them any more. We spent about two hours at the OP watching and looking through glasses and various instruments it was all very interesting. We saw five more Bosches walking very leisurely along a far horizon to the left well out of range but plum on the skyline they were very clear. Then we saw some more digging and carrying for a long time also well out of range. Finally the Lieutenant Observateur got fed up and I think wanted to show off to us – he executed a most appalling shoot. He forgot to give any switch and gave 4000 when he had measured the range as 5000.
The first round was unobserved and he went to 4100 – this was also OU so he went to 4300 – also OU. I said I thought it was for to the right by the sound and the Sous Officer backed me up – no one had noticed he had forgotten the switch!! Then he gave “Augmentez quiinze milliemmes” which is a switch of about 45’left.He forgot to give the elevation and the elevation is the order to fire with them as it is with us, so there was a long pause while we chatted amiably. Then he began to wonder and say what are they doing at the battery? And went over the phone and talked to them and said “same elevation of course” Eventually we got “Coup parti” over the phone but it was still OU. He then gave the same small switch again and we managed to see the next round. Then a Bosche battery opened up with a crack on the GROSSENWALD the wood next door and he turned to us and said I must have done some good – Voila le response – every time we hit them anywhere they always retaliate on the GROSSENWALD!! And with that the shoot came to a most satisfactory close!
He was a very nice lad but we were not impressed with his shooting – he was very young – the zone must have been well registered – there were two Sous Officers to keep him on the rails – I don’t know!!
They make the most wonderful panoramas from their Ops which anyone could understand, they are really clever artistic and practical. On the panoramas they put data as measured from the OP and they have a tracing for each battery’s data which they can place over it and read off, as they shoot all and any battery from the main OP.
They also make ‘perspective sketches’ like obliques from an aeroplane a lot of the data on which is taken from the map and marked in like conventional signs.
Another thing they take great pains over and which is very useful is a dead ground diagram.
When we were at the OP the infantry sent up to ask if the OP has seen any movement during the day near a certain railway bridge, as they thought they had. The answer was in the negative, but the Commandant thought it might be a place on which the Bosche were working at night and arranged to put down a concentration of all three batteries there after dark at 7.45p.m.
We usually had supper at 7.30 but we waited outside the door of the mess to see this concentration fired and it was a magnificent sight in the dark as these little 75s fairly spit out the shells and they light up the whole sky.
One thing that I have learnt at Ops is that I, for one, can’t tell within 20 degrees what direction enemy shelling is coming from, I haven’t as yet had them nearer than 2000yds I am glad to say, but I have heard a lot of Bosche batteries firing and the direction of the guns is in such a case very difficult to tell.
WEDNESDAY 6th MARCH
We spent the morning with the Capitaine Adjointe of the Groupe and pumped him with questions, the result of which I have put together at Appendix, all about the organisation and establishment of French Field Artillery.
In the afternoon we went back to MONEREN with the Commandant to choose a position and an O.P. for one Battery for the time when they will draw behind the Maginot Line. Actually the reconnaissance had been previously done by the Lieutenant Officer Orienteur who accompanied us. The whole thing seemed the least bit laid on for our benefit – the motions of doing a reconnaissance were gone through!!
The idea is that the Battery in WALDWIESSTROFF will go back first and get into action then the other two will withdraw straight back behind the Maginot to somewhere in the neighbourhood of KLANG – leapfrogging in fact. I have an idea that it is to happen in the not too distant future. The French are itching to lure the Bosche on under the guns of the Maginot.
The battery position chosen by the Subaltern was approved, it was about 300yds from the edge of the village of MONEREN, on a track slightly banked up so that no digging was practicable, leading off the road which formed the main axia of withdrawal.
While in MONEREN we looked over the position of a 155mm(6inch) gun section in action in the edge of the village. It is a most impressive gun with a split trail. The trails were well straddled and the spades well dug in and pegged down. The legs of the trail are about 18inches across vertically and with a large pit dug between them to allow the breech to come down at extreme elevation an admirable gun pit with the maximum of protection is formed and the gun recoils into it. It shoots up to 25000 meters and has a traverse of 30 degres each way. This means that at extreme range it covers 25 Kilometers (about 15 miles) in breadth of the enemy country, which makes you think. The shell is about 43 Kilos. Date of manufacture 1936.
We had a walk of about a mile and a half up to the OP in the stickiest mud, which we are getting used to – we get plenty of good solid exercise here and incidentally very good food too in the Groupe HQ Mess, they charge us 25fr. A day and we give them our rations to cook, this includes drinks which are French lager beer at all meals (the water is not fit to drink) and a glass of brandy after dinner as a rule. The OP was interesting, it was an excellent one and had been used obviously as one in the September advance. It was on a bare crest which was actually a slight saddle and from under cover behind it a Zig-Zag trench had been dug. The last 15yds of this trench was covered with wattle and mud and led up to a small compartment, out of which one looked through a four inch slit on (outside) ground level. Seen from outside there was nothing but a little ridge a few inches high. The Commandant groused a bit at the length of cable necessary to this OP but did not seem to do anything about it or to do any further reconnaissance. I though there seemed a sporting chance of getting almost as good a view from another ridge echeloned back slightly from this position and set off to reconnoitre it. The Commandant and the Subaltern were tolerantly amused but not prepared to accompany me – which made me think even more that it was all rather a laid on show. However off I set at a good walk in the sticky mud and found that it would make a fair OP but not as good as the other as there was a fair stretch of dead ground behind a village further down the same spur. It would nevertheless save about a kilometre of wire and I should have thought have been worth reconnoitring before discarding altogether. NOTE:- The position and OP reconnoitred are for the Ligne de Receuil – see below
The 10th Infantry Bde holding this sector disposed in depth:-
One Bn. Forward in the “Ligne de Contact”
One Bn. In support in the “Ligne de Receuil” this is line for support, counter attack, or delaying action, and runs through FRANCOIS LA CROIX.
One Bn. In reserve at Bde. HQ at KEDANGE – “Ligne de Resistance” or rather well behind it because the Maginot is the Ligne de resistance.
The main axis of withdrawal for this sector is the road HALSTROFF – HARGARTEN – MONEREN – KEMPLICH – KLANG – KEDANGE. The Maginot Line crosses it at KEMPLICHE.
TUESDAY 7th MARCH
We spent the morning pumping the Captain commanding the battery in this village about Lines if Fire etc and I have put down what I gleaned at Appendix. We also had a look round his cookhouse and one of the houses his men are living in. It was all very well kept and the food seemed excellent. The men all look very fit. All the officers of this Groupment are reservists, they have all spent many years in ‘civvy street’ but have kept up their military knowledge by constant study, they seem to know their job well and altogether it is most impressive. The battery commander is as keen as mustard, looks after his men like children as all of them do, and it seems like the whole groupe to be a very happy family.
In the afternoon Major Williams, Wright, and I went up to look at more infantry posts in the GRINDORF wood and the HARTBUSCH. We saw the post that was scuppared on Tuesday morning, and meant to go on to the international post in the HARTSBUSCH but time got short and we had to give it a miss.
The posts are one and all sited very poorly. I don’t think a single one can see another to give it support. All we saw are in the forward edge of the wood sited to fire directly to their front – they can’t see to the flanks to fire because of the treet – and they can see no further to their front than their barbed wire entanglements because of the convex slope of the ground. Raids like that of the Germans on Tuesday is simplified with the posts so isolated and with the chance given to them to get right up to the wire and under coverof the supporting artillery fire to cut it. This is what they did on Tuesday and when the fire lifted they rushed in and found the platoon still taking cover because they were thoroughly frightened – and one can’t blame them – by the effectiveness of the bursts in the branches over their heads. The trees were well knocked about by the shell and behind the wood where the rounds burst on the second lift there were dozens of shell holes amongst some apple trees which also had had a good knocking about.
The shell holes were pretty bunched which shows that the concentration was pretty accurate, and they were no mean holes – about 6 or 7 feet across and about 2 or 3 feet deep.
The British Infantry tie tin cans on all their barbed wire and on the trip wires in the vicinity of their posts. These shine well in the sunlight and can be seen a long way off, they were quite glad to be told about it but hadn’t noticed it. The Germans probably know every one of our posts by this and other means; they are very enterprising and clever with their night patrolling and use dogs trained for police work.
This battalion gets relieved tomorrow night and will be glad to get out of it, they have had a good fright, so has the Infantry Brigadier. There are signs of feverish digging now and sandbags being taken up there, but the posts are still sited chiefly in the trees and not in mutually supporting pairs.
I might have mentioned earlier that the British Saar Force consists of just three Infantry Bns i.e. a Brigade. They change round from Reserve to Support to Front Line getting only about 6 days in each before another Brigade comes to relieve them. In this clever way we get value out of the sector the French have let us hold by training the maximum number of troops in a short time, but the training is hazardous and by bitter experience as no one gets a chance to really get to know their bit of front and the peculiar method of warfare before they are whisked out of it.
While up at one section post we spent quite a long time looking through glasses all over the enemy country and saw a lot of them in various places sitting on the edge of trenches, digging, walking about etc quite unconcernedly.
FRIDAY 8th MARCH
I went back to KEDANGE to the Cashier to get some money for the return journey. I saw a couple of women, and after the deserted villages in the line they looked like creatures from another world!
We spent the afternoon with the Officer Orienteur of the Groupe HQ(CPO) finding out about their Survey Methods and how they run their Poste Central de Tir – Groupe Command Post. My notes on this are at Appendix F.
Just before tea we went and had a look round a sort of mixed position just behind the village run by the French Infantry. There was one Anti-Tank Gun (three others of the same battery being scattered about the surrounding hills) two anti-aircraft machine guns some ordinary machine guns and a Mortar.
The anti-tank Gun had rubber tyres, a split trail, a telescope sight, and very light and quick gears, and it seemed that you couldn’t miss with it. I thought it much better than the one we saw in the Maginot which you aim from the shoulder, It was 25mm calibre. They said that you could fire 17 r.p.m. The rounds are solid steel for armour-piercing. It was sighted to fire down the FLASTROFF road with an open U-shaped valley on either side of the road. The little brook in the valley had been dammed every 100yds and the bridge mined.
The Mortar was most interesting, it was no bigger with it’s legs folded in to itself, than a couple of dozen maps rolled up together. It’s calibre was 60mm. It fired a 5lb bomb with a vane at the base to keep it straight, as there was no rifling. A charge very like a 12 bore cartridge fitted into the tail of the vane and all you had to do was to drop it own the spout and the cap of the charge hit a striker fixed at the bottom and off she went. It can shoot up to a kilometre and I forget how many rounds per minute but at that range you can get 7 rounds in the air at the same time. It had a very fine compact little sight something like a miniature no.6 director to look at and you stick your own aiming post in a few yards away.
The Infantry had a great idea for tonight: Apparently the Bosche patrol round all out posts in the HARTBUSCH every night, the idea is to withdraw all our soldiers to the hill behind BIZING and leave only one small patrol there to watch; when this patrol hears or sees the Germans in the HARTBUSCH they are to come running out of it to tell the Company Commander who will fire a red Very light and the French Gunners will put down a concentration of the 75mm battery in WALDWIESSTROFF and the 165mm battery all on the HARTBUSCH. But the Bosche isn’t such a fool as that, the Gunners sat up all night but there was no Very light signal. The Bosche probably sneaked up and all around the posts very quietly and instead of hearing the usual buzz of conversation and swearing heard nothing, smelt a rat and went home.
SATURDAY 9th MARCH.
In the morning we walked out to the HALSTROFF road and had a look round the 165mm How position(6”). They are in a big clearing in the woods, the ground is very water-logged and they have done very little digging, but have built sort of log cabins round their guns, with timber cut from the surrounding woods. Some of the guns are fairly well protected, but one had hardly any protection at all, and the position must hit one in the eye from the air.
The Gun is a very inferior article to our 6”How. To which it corresponds pretty exactly for range and weight of shell. It is rather more lightly built in the carriage, the wheels particularly are very light. The piece is a shade shorter and the trail a bit longer. It has a very long cradle with slides that come right back to the end of the elongated opening in the box trail. The result of this is that the shock of recoil is more gradually taken up – hence the lighter carriage. There is no quick loading gear and it must be a job loading at extreme elevation. The rammer is a short thing which you push forward with a handle like that of a lawn mower. The breech mechanism is the same as that of the 165mm. Gun an interrupted screw – not the stepped down screw of the Welwyn type. Obturation by mushroom pad. Beside the guns there were little boxes of linen bags (rather like our anti-lice sulphur bags) these were a composition which eliminates the flash when firing at night, it is inserted in the chamber with the charge. The Guns were manufactured in 1917.
In the afternoon we had a conducted tour of the HAKENBERG fort in the whole line and is just beside VEKRING. Actually there are other forts with a greater number of guns but there are a lot of Infantry and machine guns in the HAKENBERG. It has 16 guns of 75mm. And 60mm and two cupulas mounting a pair of 80mm Hows. Each. The fort cost as much as the Battleship Queen Elizabeth. The B.B.C. and every journalist in the world have tried to describe the Maginot Forts, and I can’t hope to improve on their efforts. The things which fascinated me most were the mechanisms of the cupulas, the way rate of fire can be speeded up when in a fixed emplacement so that one gun equals almost two, the arrangement for machine guns with all round traverse to be traversed at night with an adjustment of elevate and depress them in conformity with the slopes of the ground, the arrangements for anti-tank gun shooting over open sights with photographic panoramas with ranges marked on them, and above all the system of mutual support of the forts and a perfectly worked out fire plan which of course we did not see in entirety – it would take a week to grasp.
There are twelve kilometres of tunnel in the HAKENBERG we did not walk all that but we were all quite tired when we got home and felt well exercised.
SUNDAY 10th MARCH.
In the morning we went to the Regimental H.Q. at KLANG and had a lecture from the S.O.M. Officer on his job – Ranging by Cross Observation of High Air Bursts. I have put a few brief notes about it at Appendix H.
Both the French and Germans are going flat out at this procedure and as shown in the Appendix on the Organisation of a French Regiment of Artillery, they have an officer and a section of specialists on RHQ specially for it.
Col. Lambert left in the afternoon to go back to LILLE and we took a truck out to HALSTROFF railway bridge and spent the afternoon at the main OP. There was not much activity on the other side. At 4p.m. the 155mm battery did a rather long and laborious shoot on a new German post just to the S>W> of BIRINGEN. The ground was very difficult but the shoot was done fairly well.
The shoot ended about 4.45 and we started off down the reverse slope to go back to our truck under the railway bridge. We crossed the railway line at the station and a minute later we heard a German battery open fire, the shells came nearer and nearer whizzing over our heads in the direction of the 155mm. Bty and we realised that the Bosche was countering them. Then a couple of badly laid rounds (or badly rammed) fell two hundred yards short of us. We dived into the station and waited until it was over and then drove our truck back via the 1155mm Bty. They had had it all round them but no damage had been done. The Bosche guns were about 4.5”.
When we got back to WALDWIESTROFF we saw two of the 75s out at a roving position take post and they let the Bosche battery have it “response” only they fired twice as many rounds! The 155s had been shooting from their battle position.
Col. Lambert has been going off a good deal to the French Corps and Army H.Q. to learn about their counter battery, and I only realised today what a lot of Bosche Btys they have got taped. They sound range on a lot of German rover positions and then take an air photo of the area and spot the battle position somewhere in the middle of it.
We sent a report in through our infantry of the bearing of the German Bty. Obtained by joining up the two short rounds and the MPI of the remainder on a map.
MONDAY 11th MARCH.
We presented our friends of the 306 Gp.HQ a parcel of cigarettes and whiskey, suitably inscribed, they were tickled to death. We took leave of them at 9.30. They were an excellent lot, their names were Commandant St. Sevrain, Capitaine Passcrat, Lt. Gailliard, Chollet, and Courtrice. Major Williams had to stay on to hand over to the next lot of British Officers who do not arrive until tomorrow.
Wright and I went back via VERDUN, we had lunch there and did a bit of rubber necking, and got to RHIEMS about tea time. We got into conversation with some more French Gunner Officers at dinner, they were in a 75mm. Regiment and though they had the S.O.M. apparatus they said they did not use ie much and were not very keen on it, as they said that the sound rangers got you through it very easily – one man’s meat is another mans poison. They showed us round the night life of RHIEMS.
TUESDAY 12th MARCH.
RHIEMS to POZIERS. We had lunch at St. QUENTIN and parted company there, and I got back about tea time.
A: French 75 mm Gun Pit
B: French 75 mm Gun Pit
C: French 75 mm Breech and Firing Mechanisms
D: SUMMARY OF ESTABLISHMENT FRENCH FIELD REGIMENT
SOME FURTHER POINTS TO NOTE IN FRENCH ORGANISATION.
All the personnel in Artillery Regiments are Gunners, except the Doctor,they have their own Signallers, L.A.D., Supply Echelon, Signallers for communication to the air.
The Group is a very self contained unit, it has all those things mentioned above.
The Supply Column takes practically all the office work, pay, Q for rations clothing and petrol off the hands of those who have to concentrate on being gunners. All take a turn at this unpopular job.
Of the officers in the Supply Col. All are at the Column position when in action except the W.L.O. who is at the W.L. and the Doctor who is in the Gun line.
A Groupe in action has three areas:-
1. The Bty. Position Area.
2. The Wagon Line (they call it l’echelon)
3. The Colonne de Revitaillement further back (this corresponds to our B Echelon)
Normally and usually Wagon Lines and Column are sited independent of R.H.Q. by Groupes behind their own Group’s Bty. Posn. Area.
The situation here at present with three Batteries all from different Regiments under one Groupe Comdr. Is quite abnormal. Mixing up Groupes is often done but not mixing up Batteries.
In addition to a Groupe being a very self contained unit, the battery (our troop) is also to a lesser degree of course, but much more so than ours. From the outbreak of war the batteries and Groupe HQ have run independent messes both for officers and for men. This must surely be essential in the field and there is no doubt that we should lose no time in doing the same. In this village there is the Groupe HQ and a battery; the battery will be the first to withdraw to cover, the withdrawal of the other batteries when we all fall back behind the Maginot Line. The Groupe HQ will then be left alone in the village, and the other two batteries are in this case – because a very large front is being covered – over 1000yds away.
The Colonne de Revitaillement cuts out the RASC and fetches supplies of rations, ammunition etc straight from Div. Dumps or depots.
Notes on French ranks:-
Soldat 2me classe Equivalent to Gunner Soldat Ire classe Equivalent to L/Bdr. Brigadier Equivalent to Bdr Brigadier Chef Equivalent to Bdr Marechal de Logis Equivalent to Sjt. & L/Sjt. Marechal de Logis chef Equivalent to W.O.111 Adjutant Equivalent to W.O.11 Adjutant Chef Equivalent to W.O.1.
In the establishments I have given, I have called allthe last four ranks (which includes Sjts) Sous Officers because that is what the French call them, and in what I have called O.Rs, the Sjts. Are therefore excluded as are also the Wos. This might be misleading if not explained.
In the Infantry, Brigadier is called Caporal and Marechal de Logis is called Sergeant, B. and M.de L. are purely Gunner ranks like our Bombadier.
E: FRENCH GUNNERY METHODS, LINES OF FIRE Etc.
1. Their methods do not differ in anything but minor details from ours. They use a 1/20,000 map and do not even print 1/25,000. They place implicit trust in their readings off this map and once they have fixed themselves on it even if only to the accuracy of a sort of stage 1 fixation they prefer to measure off the map to hit a target rather than use the rapporteur, on which they are not very keen for some reason or other.
2. When I say they measure off a map I mean a board of same scale. They plot their position (given to them by the Officer Orienteur) on the board and then spot targets on their map which is usually a rather crumpled piece of paper but good enough to read co-ordinates or something better than a map reference off. This they pass to the battery or all the batteries whose GPOs plot them on their boards and measure their own batteries which switch A/S and range apply meteor and boost off. This is their normal method of shooting. When greater or guaranteed accuracy is required and the time permits, they check this up by calculation of bearing and distance by logs. – the data coming from the Officer Orienteur.
3. They get a meteor regularly every 4 hours, they value it greatly, work it out scroupulously and make a graph, and never fail to apply it, you see them working out meteors at all times – a Marechal de Logis Chef does it usually – and one is always at it as we go into breakfast. They get very experienced at it and they say that as it made out at Nancy and takes some time to arrive it is a bit stale towards the end of 4 hours, so they wet their finger, hold it up, guess the wind, look at their barometer and work out their own correction. They say they get very good results this way. All the same they trust the map and their use of it more than the meteor. If they measure the range to a target as 6000 and cock on 400 for meteor and finally adjust the MPI on it at 6200 they do not dream of knocking off the 400 for meteor and replotting at 5800.
4. Their system of numbering targets is haphazard and hardly a system at all. Ours is of course ridiculously complicated and leads to too much changing of numbers and letters, something in between the two is required. They do not record or even leave plotted on the board any but targets to be used and plotted by all the batteries of the Groupe.
5. When making out Gun Programmes for Barrages they make the GPO do the whole job. The Nos.1 do not do the interpolating between the key lines on their own programmes but get a completed programme dished out to them.
6. They have a system in direct contravention to our teaching whereby they slow up or speed up a barrage in answer to Very light signals fired by the infantry.
NOTE;- French Gunner Officers in the Batteries and Groupe HQ can give their whole attention to Gunnery. As already pointed out they do no accounts etc. and very little office work. They do no censoring of letters- it is all done by the censors department and only a very few letters are opened at all.
F: NOTES ON FRENCH SURVEY AND COMMAND POST WORK.
In the deployment the Groupe Commandant with the Officer Orienteur (CPO) chooses the three battery positions just as our Capt. does. The Capt. at this stage is with the Col. De Revitaillement. The Commandant chooses the OP too if time permits but he generally delegates this to the Officier Observateur.
As far as giving the line to the battery (tp) directors and to the Guns there is practically no difference of note, BUT the great point is that they either come into action n a hurry and fo a sort of stage 1 OR if they have a matter of half an hour or an hour to spare, THEY GET STRAIGHT ONTO THE PERMANENT GRID cutting out Stages 11, 111, and IV. This hey can do in a very short time and very simply as it is made easy for them by the simple expedient of having a complete Trig List for every CPO:-
The Trig Lists are booklets about the size of a Military Training Pamphlet and there is a booklet for each sheet of the 1/50,000 map – it is marked secret.
The list is in three parts:-
(i) Points on the Primary Triangulation (dead Accurate)
(ii) Points on the secondary triangulation ( accurate to a metre)
(iii) Points obtained by traverses etc (accurate to 5 metres)
The first are chiefly Church Steeples of which there are a lot.
The second are other church steeples and boundary stones, mile stones etc.
The third which is the longest list consists of Cross Roads, corners of woods, etc All have in addition to E.N. and Ht. A small diagram – in the case of a steeple this would bean elevation and in the case of a cross roads a plan with a dot in the middle to show the point referred to.
There are so many of these points that it works out in practice that you are almost sure to have a point in the immediate vicinity of your Groupe director if not also of your battery (Tp) directors too.
These lists (and presumably the mps) have been prepared for the whole of France by the French Army.
THERE ARE NO SURVEY BATTERIES IN THE FRENCH ARMY AND OBVIOUSLY NO NEED FOR THEM. There is of course no such thing with them as the nonsense we go in for of the Survey being brought forward and catching up the battle, together with our constant change of grid reorientation. These lists MUST be in existence for Northern France and Belgium, and if they are we ought to be given them and the Survey Batteries can go to Egypt or Roumania.
G: NOTES ON FRENCH ANGULAR MEASUREMENT
They are in a bit of a pickle about this – there are three systems in use:-
1. Degrees and minutes are used only for pure topography and map making. No instruments for use by Gunners are marked off in them.
2. The Millieme is the old fashioned unit invented about the same time as the 75mm. Gun, and only kept up only because all the sights etc. of this gun are marked up in them. It is a true subtense measure and does not fit exactly into a circle:- One metre subtends a milliemme at a Kilometre, it happens that the’re as near as don’t matter – 6400 milliemmes in a circle , therefore 1600 milliemmes in a quadrant, therefore one milliemme equals about 3 mins.
3. With all Guns other than the 75mm. The Grad and Decigrad are used and this is to be (when the 75 dies of old age) the Gunner standard of angular measurement:- 90 degrees equals l00 grads, 5mins roughly equals a decigrad.
4. Para 1 above is not quite true – Field Clinometers are marked off in degrees and minutes. So they certainly are in a pickle over it all, and the 155mm How puts its Range in degrees and mins.
H: Notes on Air-Burst ranging ("S.O.M".)
( The French expression for – Ranging by the Cross Observation of High Air Bursts).
1. The French attach tremendous importance to this as they intend it to replace shooting with aeroplane observation, which will probably be quite impossible.
2. The principle and method is precisely that which we use and which is described in A.T. Vol.II page 228 but they have elaborated it and reduced it to a drill of team work; and they make a much greater success of it than we ever did for the following reasons:-
(i) The fixation of the base and so also of course the MPB is carried out with extreme accuracy. The co-ordinates of the two stations are obtained from Trig.List data but the calculation of the distance between them (the base) from those co-ordinates is only used as a check. The base is measured by a very careful sub-base, so carefully measured that the sub-base itself is laid out with a metal 25m. tape with spring balance attached and held above ground at a fixed tension for sag.
(ii) The position of the MPB is measured by the special and very costly instruments very similar to a theodolite. One for line at each end of the base and one at one end for height.
(iii) French time fuzes are not set like ours by twisting a time ring to a setting by hand, but are inserted in a small machine which punches a connecting hole between the two time rings and so gives the fuze it’s setting. The human error is thus eliminated and there is only the zone due to the variation in manufacture of the fuze. I am sure that they get a smaller fuze zone than we do.
3. They stick to the metric system whole heartedly and fire ten rounds instead of our five. This is another reason for their greater accuracy of fixation of the MPB. It also simplifies dividing at the end for the mean. It is not extravagant in the number of rounds if one can guarantee hitting a target after it – even for 6inch.
4. Every nature of French Artillery have time fuzes.
5. The work on the base etc is all preliminary and when all is ready they reckon to bring effective fire to bear on the target under 20 minutes after the first round.
6. The name S.O.M. is from the “Societie Optique Mechanique” the name of the firm who produce the instruments.
Y: Tracing of 1/50,000 map METZ to frontier
Z: 1/20,000 map showing dispositions &c of British Inf. and French Artillery in the forward area
Please click here for Photos taken in October 2004 of this Map area