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Artillery in the First World War - A series of articles




Sources vary and exact figures are difficult to achieve; however, consensus is that artillery caused the majority (something close to 60 percent) of combat casualties in the First World War. Add in the effects of constant harassing fire, reaching far behind the lines with large caliber weapons, as well as those of artillery-delivered gas attacks, and there can be no doubt that artillery was an effective killer. German production of artillery shells went from 1.36 million in 1914 to 36 million in 1916. Certainly, many (if not most) of those were fired across no-man’s land into allied positions. On the other side, Britain’s Royal Artillery fired 170 million shells by the war’s end, sometimes in barrages that would last for days. The sheer volume of artillery ammunition expended during the First World War certainly made life on the battlefield very dangerous.

Given the importance of artillery to the First World War and the centenary of the war, a broad survey of the topic seems in order. Ideally, over the course of the centenary, I will periodically add installments to this space. While I spent over 10 years as a professional artilleryman, I am only an amateur historian; therefore, I do not presume I will add anything new to the wealth of information already written about artillery in the multitude of volumes on the First World War, including several texts dealing exclusively with the subject. There are also some very detailed and worthwhile websites on the topic. However, I have noted that this wealth of information is a lot like disconnected pockets of gold in a mine. By bringing together some basic facts and interesting information from both the printed works and these websites, my goal is to provide a useful starting point for discussion and further research for those with an interest in artillery during the First World War. I also will try to bring the topic to the soldier’s level by tying in post cards, documents, and other items related to artillery in the First World War that I have collected over the years. This also will allow me to try and focus the discussion more on the tactical level of regiment and below rather than on the strategic and operational levels above divisions.

The series started with two articles introducing Germany and France's artillery. These have already been published in GMIC Articles. (The above paragraphs are copied from the introduction of the "The Kaiser's Guns," the first in the series.) They are survey articles looking at the topic from a pre-war and macro level.

Artillery in the First World War: The Kaiser’s Guns

Artillery in the First World War: France - Vive la Soixante-Quinze

The next article in the series will be "Artillery in the First World War: Russia – The Tsar’s Cannons" This article will not only be a survey of Russian artillery from a pre-war and macro level, but will also delve into Russian artillery at the Battle of Tannenberg. This should be published to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the battle, 26-30 August. Hopefully, an article delving into both French and German artillery at the First Battle of the Marne, 5-12 September, will quickly follow. The series will then pick back up with survey articles on British, Austro-Hungarian, and Turkish artillery, as well as on the artillery of the smaller combatant nations.

In the meantime, enjoy this video I found while researching the Russian artillery article:


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The Russia article might be delayed due to work on Artillery in the First World War: Special Issue – Belgium’s Artillery and the Battle of Liege, 1914

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