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18 September 2014
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From the Field Gun to the Tank

By Professor Richard Holmes
The age of industrialised war

Image of captured German officers outside their concrete bunker, near Langemarck, October 1917
Captured German officers outside their concrete bunker, near Langemarck, October 1917 ©
During the Napoleonic Wars most soldiers had been musket-carrying infantry. In World War One, an increasing number were artillerymen, servants of machinery in the age of industrialised war.

Aubrey Wade went to war as a signaller in a Territorial horse artillery unit. In the summer of 1917 he was near the Belgian town of Ypres, where his battery was supporting infantry trying to break through robust German defences.

Officially this was the Third Battle of Ypres, but it is often known by the name of one of its component battles – Passchendaele:

A few yards away the guns were monotonously firing, their barrels red-hot, their breechblocks jamming and having to be opened by pickaxes for the next round; the gunners, faces blackened with oil-splashes and smoke, mechanically slamming home the shells and staring sore-eyed through the sights. Midday found us still at it. The infantry had evidently failed again in their attack on Poelcapelle, although some slight advance had been made.
Those terrible pill-boxes were holding them up. Shelling had practically no effect on these six-foot-thick blocks of concrete, and the murderous machine guns caused havoc in the ranks of the attackers. Urgent messages kept coming through asking us to concentrate on certain spots where wave after wave of infantry had been hurled back by the storm of bullets. The Fritzes must be fighting like the very demons of hell.
Aubrey Wade, The War of the Guns

Published: 2005-03-01

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