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Letters on Artillery.

[‘Spbctatob,’ Bth June ]

Anyone who wishes to understand why it was that in 1870 the German Army crushed the resistance of France in a few weeks will do well to study the very remarkable book bearing the above title by Prince Kraft zu Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen, which has been translated by Major Walforcl, E.A. The experience of Prince Kraft zu Hohenlohe as a commander of artillery in the field is probably unrivalled among living officers. In 186-1, 1866, and 1870 he was in command of a Prussian artillery force. In 1870 he was chief of the corps artillery of the guard. He has acquired in three campaigns a knowledge of his profession which confers the highest possible value upon his letters, viewed merely m the light of a technical manual for the use of gunners. If, however, the technical side of the work were the only or even the most important one, its examination might well bo left to purely professional journals. But Prince Kraft’s book has an importance and an interest far beyond that which any treatise on ballistics and trajectories, how ever ably written, can lay claim to. The work, from beginning to end, is a perfect illustration of the process by which the Prussian Army has obtained its matchless position in modern Europe. During the years which have passed since the battle of Jena the problem before the general staff in Berlin has been to create a machine on a purely scientific plan, theoretically complete in all its parts, but capable, at the same time, of bearing the rough test of actual war, and of adapting itself to every emergency of a campaign. The work has been done with characteristic thoroughness. The true secret of German military organisation consists in laying every source of strength under contribution, so as to obtain the highest possible value from the instruments employed. The circumstances under which Prince Kraft’s correspondence was commenced are in themselves typical of the spiiit in which military problems are approached in Berlin. In 1866, Prussia astonished the world by annihilating in six weeks the military power of Austria. The rest of Europe, amazed at the result, hastened to do practical homage to the victor in a course of servile but not always successful imitations of as much as it could understand of the system which had produced such results. The Prussian general staff, however, looked upon their owu achievements in quite a different light. The Austrians had hem defeated, it is true, but by the needle gun. The Austrian artillery had everywhere been as well handled and more effective than the Prussian. Success on such terms could hardly bo called succes o . There could be no rest until the Prussian artillery had learnt to understand Us faults and to remedy them. The four yearn of peace which followed KoniggrsPz were devot'd to an unremitting study of the scientific development of artillery. The result showed the value of the study and the perfection of the method. When 1870 came the Prussian gunners had not only learnt their lesson, but they knew how to put their theoretical instruction into practice. The following terrible account will give some idea of the value of piece practice when rightly conducted. The author is describing an action in the Franco-German War : I could never have believed that fhe instruction given in time of peace would have borne such excellent fruit in spite cf the excitement of action. How much the move agreeable was my surprise when, standing behind the captain of a bittoiy in action, I heard him quietly give the order: "Against; ii fantry in front, 1/JOO paces, from the right flank, ready ! Fire one gun ! ” tl hen ho waited, holding his field glass to his eye, until tin enemy approached the point on which the guns were laid, and gave the order "Rapid firing from tbs right flank!” 3 hen there was a hellish sight, for the advancing enemy disappeared from view in the clouds of smoke which tho shells threw up as they burst and toro their way through tho ranks. After one or two minutes the attacking enemy came out on ono eido of the smoke. It had passed tho point oa which the guns were hod, and, in spito of terrible loss, approached with undeniable bravery. Then tho captain gave tho command "Cense firing ! I.COJ paces—one gun—oeasa filing!'’ And when tho guns were now bid, he cried "At 1,600 paces, from the right flank, rapid firing! ” The effect was brilliant, horrible, overwhelming. Noattaok could have resisted it.

And this passage, which sets out with such cruel terseness the power of artillery, brings us directly to the consideration of some of the leading principles laid down by Prince Kraft for the guidance of his arm of the service.

It is still believed by some military authorities, whose experience of war stops short of 1870, that the effect of artillery is chiefly moral; that as a nun-killing weapon the field gun is not to be feared. Prince Kraft does not accept this view. Here is his account of the effect of the German guns at St. Privat When the head of the French o damn becamo visibie ever the hill, our trial shots reached it at a range of 1,990 paces, and my thirty guns opened a rapid lire. The enemy’s infmtry was enveloped in the thick urnko which the shells made as they burst, but after a very short time wo saw the red trousers of the mass.-s which were approaching us appear through the cloud. 1 stopped the fire. A trial shot was fired at 1 700 paces range. Q his was to show us the point up to which we should let them advance before reopening the rapid fire. We did the same for the ranges of 1,500,1,300,1,100, and 900 paces. In spite of the horrible devastation which the shells caused in their ranks, these bravo troops continued to advance ; but at 900 p;c-s the effect of our fire was too deadly for them ; they turned round and fled. Wo hurled shells after them as long as we could see them. Here was an infantry attack which was repulsed purely and simply by the fire of artillery. It is supposed by some that the fire of infantry armed with breechloaders is more than a match for artillery. Prince Kraft absolutely denies this. Over and over again he lays down the proposition that “a line of artillery cannot be broken by a frontal attack.” “Artillery cannot, generally speaking, over be driven back by infantry if it refuses to leave its ground.” This seems to be a hard saying, especially when we read that the guns should never refuse to expose themselves to infantry fire, and that on many occasions the proper place for the batteries is in the fighting line, and sometimes even with the skirmishers. But Prince Kraft certainly means what he says, nay, he goes further, and lays down as an absolute rule that, save in obedience to positive orders from the general commanding, a battery should never bo retired in action. The men and horses may bo shot down, but as long as there are two men to serve the gun, that is sufficient. Ammunition may run short. It is true that at such a time a battery is defenceless until a fresh supply arrives; but gunners without ammunition and exposed to fire will as a rule find ammunition ; if they do not they will he killed, no doubt; but then the remainder of the troops will not be discouraged by the withdrawal of the guns. Apropos of this Spartan instruction, Prince Kraft gives an example of the spirit which animates that iron machine—the German Army—and which doubles its force. It is a fine story, worth remembering. At the Battle of Chateaudun a battery found itself without ammunition under a heavy fire. What was to be done ? The officer commanding solved the question. He ordered the gunners to take their'placee on the limbers, ond sing the Wacht am Rhein, “in order,” as the writer, with a grim pleasantry, remarks, “ that they might piss the time agreeably while waiting for fresh cartridges.”

It is characteristic of the German system, which, with all its science and elaboration, is in military matters essentially practical, that the effect of every reform has been to simplify drill and tactics of artillery. Everything has been given up which did not tend to further the main objects of the arm. To be on the field early and in force, and to shoot straight and effectively when there, these are the first and last requirements. Drill movements, therefore, have been practically reduced to two—advancing in column of route and advancing in Hue. We have already spoken of the extraordinary accuracy of the German batteries in action. Prince Kraft gives us also some marvellous examples of the rapidity of movement of which the field batteries showed themselves capable. In 1866 a brigade trotted fourteen miles in a hilly country. The Horse Artillery Brigade of the Guard marched thirtyone miles to come into action at Beaume la Rohade. To reach the field of Sedan the Corps Artillery trotted nine miles at one spell; and as a primary duty, Ptinoe Kraft lays it down that in peace time the artillery mast practise trotting at least four and a-

half miles without; exhausting the horses. "Wo should also practise forced marches of at least thirty miles in the day, so that all may learn how this is to be done without injuring the horses.” “We shall then be able in war to get over sixty miles when we are ordered to do so, at whatever cost." One more word remains to be said with respect to the training of the German Army illustrated in Prince Krafi’s letters. That the ordinary run of mankind should ever stand up for a moment against the fire oi modern arms of precision is a perpetual miracle. In 90 per cent, of the conscripts of a modern army physical courage is certainly not the faculty which keeps men in tho ranks, or which nerves thorn in an advance. Education, discipline, and the fear of public opinion are the forces which hold men together at the present day. The more strongly those forces are developed the greater will be the cohesion. “I have | directed your attention,” says Prince Kraft in a pregnant sentence, " to the fact that the instinct of self-preservation which is innate in human nature never directly influences educated men and the German system takes care that educated men shall predominate in their lines. It is somewhat mournful to reflect upon our own position, considered in the light of Prince Kraft’s book. It is probable that not one Englishman in 10,000 realises what is the position of this country in respect of artillery. As to our regular batteries of horse and field guns, it may at once be said that they are unsurpassed. There is nothing which tho gunners of the Prussian Guard can do which our own men are rot able to perform. It is not their fault that they have been unable to develop in practice the great tactical principle of the employment of artillery. At Sedan no less than 540 guns were massed in one spot, their fire converging on one target. On a grand field day at Aldershot, two batteries are a liberal provision for either side, and over and over again a couple of guns may bo seen occupying a position under the supposition that they represent half a dozen batteries, But it is not the fault of our gunners that there are not more of them. What they can do they do to perfection. It is, however, the fault of the War Office that we have at this moment barely sufficient artillery to supply the needs of 00,000 men, Mr Stanhope himself has stated that for the needs of the whole of the British Empire we have, after supplying two army corps, no field batteries available. In the United Kingdom alone we have 300,000 infantry absolutely unprovided with field guns; in other words, utterly unable to go into action against a civilised army. On this point Prince Kraft is perfectly clear: “ The effect of shrapnel begins at about 3,Booyds, and at from 2,000 to I,sooyds is decisive; while at from 1,100 to I,oooyds the effect of artillery is absolutely annihilating.” And again : “ Shrapnel and double-walled shell produce such a murderous effect that the fight maybe considered as decided in favor of that side whose artillery has overcome’ that of the enemy, end esn now turn the full weight of those projectiles on the other arms of the enemy.” What is likely to be the fate of a force which, like our volunteers, would begin the action practically without any field artillery at all ? And the experience of Prince Kraft is that of every officer, whether in this country or abroad, who has any practical experience with the art of war.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890824.2.38.18

Bibliographic details

Letters on Artillery., Evening Star, Issue 7994, 24 August 1889, Supplement

Word Count
2,177

Letters on Artillery. Evening Star, Issue 7994, 24 August 1889, Supplement

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