Field Artillery and Firepower

By J. B. A. Bailey | Go to book overview

Chapter 13:

BEFORE 1914

In the 300 years before 1914, all artillery except siege guns was engaged in close support of infantry or cavalry. During that time artillery endeavoured to match the mobility of the supported arms and to make its firepower more effective.

There were continual improvements in artillery mobility: the French invented the limber during the Thirty Year's War, and Gustavus Adolphus provided his infantry with mobile battalion guns. Heavier, less mobile, siege guns seldom appeared in field operations; but mobility was sacrificed on occasions as a matter of policy (1).

In field armies emphasis was given more to mobility and to the availability of guns rather than the weight of firepower. Frederick the Great neglected his artillery for many years, but at Leuthen in 1757 it was to display the most devastating example of mobility andfirepowerofthe 18th century (2). Two years later, Frederick introduced horse artillery to ensure close fire support for his cavalry, and undertook reforms which reorganized field artillery into batteries, setting the style for the next 150 years (3).

Firepower was limited by the weight restrictions required for mobility, and so other means were sought to increase it. Concentrating fire of light guns was one of these, but given their short range, this could only be achieved by massing the guns themselves. But massing guns did not always create accurate concentrations (4).

The first effective use of massed guns was seen in the destruction of Augereau' s corps at Eylau on 8 February 1807 by the fire of 70 guns (5), an example often to be repeated in the Napoleonic period (6). Napoleon himself was the great champion of artillery at this time. The greatest skill lay in deploying this firepower at the decisive point. One method of doing this was demonstrated on 14 June 1807 at the Battle of Friedland (7) Artillery was placed under the central command of Senamont and moved forward ahead of the assaulting infantry corps to within 120 metres of the Russian lines. Marshal Foch spoke of this operation as the forerunner

(1) During the Silesian Wars of Frederick the Great, when operations became entrenched, heavier weapons were needed to prepare a way for infantry against extensive field defences.

(2) Duffy (1974), p. 120.

(3) May (1894), p. 2. Other armies followed, but it was not until 1793 that the British, and 1794 that the Russians, adopted horse artillery, the 18th-century equivalent of the SP gun of the Second World War. In 1802 the the British adopted the 6-gun battery.

(4) At Zorndorf, on 25 August 1758, the Russians massed over 60 guns, but their fire was dispersed; and at Austerlitz, on 2 December 1805, Liechtenstein made little impact with a battery of 40 guns on the advance of Lanne's corps: Manceron (1963), pp. 245-253.

(5) Chandler (1967), pp. 541-542.

(6) At Wagram, on 6 July 1809, 112 French guns were used in a single battery against the Austrians: Chandler (1967), p. 725; and at Borodino on 7 September 1812, 200 French guns massed on the Semenoffski ravine devastated the Russian infantry: ibid, p. 801. Similar massing of guns was seen at Lutzen, Leipzig and Waterloo, but concentration of fire was not enough-accuracy and timing were also important.

(7) Ibid, p. 579.

-115-

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