The Gunners on the Western Front
The Great War 1914-18
The line of trenches stretching from the Belgian coast all the way to the Swiss border formed the Western Front during the First World War. For four years, the opposing armies faced one another across an almost-static front line with the 'no-man's land' in between the trenches. Troops would be ordered to attack during the great offensives, crossing this area which had been churned into a sea of mud by the great artillery bombardments which preceded these attacks.
Guns with great destructive power would fire for days on end to break up the enemy's barbed wire defences and destroy the trenches, killing the troops holding the lines in the process. The bombardment would also churn up the ground, across which the infantry had to cross, turning it into a sea of mud and it is this image which most of us today have of the Western Front. The artillery in all armies grew ever-more powerful with every passing year of the war. Things had not been so well organised at the beginning of the war, in 1914 only the German army had sufficient artillery whilst the British army, despite being well equipped in other ways, was wholly unprepared in terms of artillery for the war which lay ahead. It had not been involved in a European war for 99 years, since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, having only been engaged in fighting small colonial wars since and the result was an artillery which was lacking in guns and short of ammunition. In 1915, the British Royal Artillery was beset by a severe shortage of shells because the guns were firing more ammunition than could be supplied and a crisis arose. David Lloyd George was appointed Minister for Munitions and it was he who successfully reorganised production methods. These improved methods of production meant that by 1916 the guns of the Royal Artillery could fire the great barrage preceding the Battle of Somme. This and other demonstrations when the guns fired millions of shells in preparation for other battles, including Vimy Ridge, Messines Ridge and Passchendaele, proved the power of the guns.