Home' Army News : February 9th 2017 Contents February 9, 2017
OUR seemingly disparate
aspects of firepower were
brought together at the fifth
of the Royal Australian
Artillery Historical Company’s
Firepower: Lessons from the Great
War Seminar Series held at ADFA
on December 1.
Host Brig John Cox (retd) said
attempts at manoeuvring and innova-
tion on the Western Front during 1914-
15 had foundered.
“By December 1916, there was a
depressingly dark view of the flow of
the war,” he said.
“The Allies and Central Powers
had resorted to concentration of force
as a means for a breakthrough of the
line by which they aspired to return to
“Germany sought to shatter the
resolve of France through concentra-
tion at Verdun, with dreadful results
for both sides.
“Also, the Somme Offensive did
not deliver a victory for the Allies,
despite its high cost.”
Brig Cox said the concentrations of
artillery fire to produce battle-winning
effects had become better understood.
“Concepts of lasting neutralisa-
tion and the effects of shellshock were
becoming well-known and employed,”
“Gargantuan offensives demanded
staggering levels of munitions, men
and materials, and the consumption of
each was unprecedented.
“Throughout this period, the desire
to outflank the enemy by any means
was pursued by both sides, including
the development of aerial warfare.
“However, each new foray was
met with counter-measures almost as
quickly as it had been introduced.”
Big guns dominate Great War
Artillery at the fore in Battle of Verdun
The Great War seminar series takes a look at four different aspects of firepower, Sgt Dave Morley reports.
IN A move away from AIF artillery,
former Director of the Australian
Army History Unit (AAHU) Roger
Lee analysed the French Army’s
artillery methods, tactics and coor-
dination during the fateful Verdun
offensives throughout 1916.
Dr Lee said French Général de
Corps d’Armée Paul Chrétien arrived
to take command of XXX Corps, part
of the garrison of the Fortified Region
of Verdun, on January 21.
“He was appalled by the state of
the defences on the 65km front; artil-
lery batteries were not dug in, tel-
ephone wires not buried and barbed
wire obstacles were flimsy to non-
existent,” Dr Lee said.
“Surprisingly, the forts that were
the principal defences of the entire
zone were not under his command:
perhaps just as well for his state of
mind as they were undermanned with
poor-quality reservists and had been
stripped of many of their guns.
“Chrétien took little comfort from,
and did not share, the views of his
Commander-in-Chief, Gen Joffre,
that the Verdun region was a strategic
backwater, unlikely to be the target of
a major German attack, as it was of
little strategic value to the Germans.”
Dr Lee said Gen Chrétien was
right to be worried as a German artil-
lery barrage of unprecedented volume
and intensity started at 7.15am on
February 21 and continued until 4pm,
heralding the attack by three German
corps against the single understrength
French XXX Corps, along the 12km
northern and eastern part of the front.
“Two corps attacked two under-
strength French divisions, the 51st
A FUNDAMENTAL question that confronted
medical officers at the beginning of WWI was
the issue of whether the inability to function in
battle was a moral or mental problem.
The Director of the Centre for Traumatic Stress
Studies at the University of Adelaide, Gp-Capt
Sandy McFarlane, said the wave of mental casu-
alties presented many challenges to the medical
corps, who were totally unprepared.
“Was the medical officer’s role to maintain the
fighting force, or was his primary ethical and pro-
fessional responsibility to the individual soldier?”
“Given the overwhelming demand in maintain-
ing a fighting force, the question of individual
welfare was subsidiary to the question of national
Gp-Capt McFarlane said the absence of
a diagnostic framework was fertile ground
for the acceptance of the emerging concept of
‘shellshock’, more driven by sentiment among the
soldiers than medical knowledge.
“The medical officers were faced with a dilem-
ma of how to deal with men who had fought with
bravery, but then had been progressively unable to
continue to function in the face of battle,” he said.
“The name ‘shellshock’ attributed the various
symptoms to the concussive effects of exploding
shells, and hence an external agent was the cause
rather than vulnerability, an attractive idea for the
“Despite the public appeal of shellshock, the
medical establishment was concerned it provided
an honourable escape from combat into illness.”
Gp-Capt McFarlane said history demonstrated
the slowness of the understanding of the long-term
consequences of combat.
“It remains the case that the period following
deployment remains a critical period of vulner-
ability,” he said.
“Issues of secondary gain and suggestibility
must not be over emphasised at the risks of stig-
matising those who are unwell and ignoring the
reality of neurobiological underpinnings of PTSD.”
French Army members carrying out trench
mortar manoeuvres at Belleville during the Battle
of Verdun. It was the longest single battle of WWI,
lasting from February 21 to December 18 and was
one of the first in which Allied artillery made the
greatest contribution to the outcome.
Photos courtesy of the Australian War Memorial
and 72nd,” he said. “The Germans had
amassed more than 900 heavy guns
and more than 600 field guns for the
“Given they were attacking a
known fortified position, the Germans
had included a number of ‘super
heavy’ guns, designed from the start
to eliminate fortresses: seventeen
305mm, thirteen 420mm howitzers
and three 380mm guns for long-range
counter-battery and interdiction work.”
Dr Lee said initially the German
attack was devastating.
“The rate of fire was so great it
added a new word to the military lexi-
con: trommelfeuer, meaning drumfire,
where the sounds of individual guns
and separate exploding shells were
lost in one overwhelming noise,” he
“Leading the attack were assault
pioneers, armed with flamethrowers in
addition to their usual weapons.
The French, faced with impending
disaster, quickly adapted new tech-
niques. Instead of occupying predict-
able defensive lines, they spread out
making them more difficult to kill or
neutralise by artillery alone.
Dr Lee said the defence gradually
thickened and, while France paid a
huge price for it, after six months on
the defensive, they began to drive the
“Eventually, in October, the sym-
bol of Verdun, Fort Douaumont, was
recaptured and by December, the
enemy was back to their February
start-line,” he said.
Although both sides made the
usual extravagant claims of success,
the battle could best be described as
Medical corps unprepared
for epidemic of shellshock
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