Jam-tin bombs | Landships | 1 Dec 1914

The Eastern Front is about to boil over again; both Russia and Austria-Hungary are shuffling men around near Krakow and the Carpathians. There’s also some innovation going on among the Allies, but first…

Battle of Kolubara

Austro-Hungarian troops enter Belgrade unopposed. With this achieved, a pause in operations is ordered to resupply and consolidate the supply lines. This allows the Serbian army to continue their retreat towards Nis without being harassed. They’ve been mostly discounted by their opponents; with Belgrade taken, all that should be left is a large mopping-up operation.

Landships

It’s probably unfair to say that tanks would never have been invented without the First World War, or a war like it. Before the war, experiments had already begun with various forms of armoured car, and innovators were already beginning to think in the appropriate directions. Putting a large gun on an armoured car would have been a natural next step. Whether they would have evolved more along the lines of being self-propelled artillery than infantry assault vehicles is an open question. It is fair to say that their development was strongly influenced towards being landships by conditions on the Western Front.

Today, a French engineer called Paul Frot sends a proposal to the French war ministry for an armoured vehicle, designed to negate the effects of enemy machine-gun fire and trenches. Many Frenchmen are thinking along similar lines, and contrary to the popular conception, there are plenty of senior French generals who would be ready to support concrete proposals for a landship. Frot’s design is taken forward, and building of a prototype will soon begin.

Meanwhile, the artilleryman Colonel Estienne is working on his own idea for a gun-armed landship, which will take a month or more to come to fruition. The War Ministry also gives its patronage to something called a Boirault machine, a frankly bizarre concept that resembles a gigantic, unarmed, hollowed-out British Mark I tank. It’s designed solely to deal with barbed-wire and trenches, and to a modern eye it looks like nothing so much as a giant motorised fascine. (The British War Office will later test a similar, self-propelled girder-carrying machine.) The French arms manufacturer Schneider is also working on their own design, as are various Britons. British eyes have been caught by a new American tractor design from Holt & Co. The machines all run on caterpillar tracks. The Royal Engineers officer Colonel Swinton is particularly active in this regard.

Our Advertising Feature

Advert in the Daily Telegraph for a flag-cleaning service, 1st December 1914
Heaven forfend that our flags should get dirty!

Jam-tin bombs

Meanwhile, over at the sharp end, Captain Phillip Neame of the Engineers is applying himself to a more pressing problem. The Army has suffered from a terminal shortage of grenades almost since Mons, and when he gets a moment of spare time from digging trenches, he’s applying himself to a solution. He’s fallen in with an artillery officer, Captain Reginald Thomas.

They’ve both been collecting discarded jam tins. Captain Thomas is kept busy scrounging up detonators, gun-cotton and any kind of metal odds and sods. Captain Neame has designed a rudimentary fuse and a detonator system. The jam tins are filled with metal, ignited, and then thrown into German-held trenches. Considering how much of a bodge job they were, they were an immediate and roaring success. Captain Neame explains why.

Trenches are all designed [in a zig-zag pattern] to prevent the enemy, should they capture a length of trench, from enfilading the whole thing. You can’t shoot at the enemy in the next fire bay, so the only way of getting at him is by lobbing a hand grenade up over the traverse. The grenade goes off with a terrific explosion, and will probably kill or wound all the soldiers in that length of trench. That’s why they were so useful.

His design quickly spreads, and now the terminally overworked sappers have one more job on their plate.

Gone Fishing

British fishermen operating off the Dutch coast have just hauled in a truly remarkable find. I’ll leave it to the excellent Tumblr Today in WWI to tell you all about it. Suffice to say that this is no trifling load of pollocks.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Battle of Kolubara

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: a fight in Victoria Station over a luncheon-basket (page 3), the story of an Englishman in the French Foreign Legion (page 4), Page 5 has the tragic death of Fanny, and Page 12 has a charming ad for the Royal Earlswood Home for Mental Defectives.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to read, have a look at this reading guide.)

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