Machine guns | 07 Mar 1915

Time for the fleet in the Dardanelles to try something different again. Arthur Agius and his men arrive at Neuve Chapelle.

Forcing of the Dardanelles

The latest wheeze for the fleet is to send in Agamemnon and Lord Nelson against the forts at the Narrows. Meanwhile, the four French ships will go in with them and make a concerted effort to suppress some of the more troublesome field guns. A cynic might suggest that this sounds suspiciously like many of the other plans that have already been tried.

The ships go in, and both sides manage to score some hits. Agamemnon and Lord Nelson fire several broadsides, turning away and through Erenkeui Bay each time. Before long the forts have their range and they score about fifteen hits over the course of the day, one of which holes Lord Nelson and causes some flooding in her coal bunkers.

In the night it’s the turn of some French minesweepers to have a go in the Narrows, but the current is too strong for their engines. They’re forced to turn back before reaching any of the minefields.

The Brains Trust has noticed that, although they seem to be scoring quite a few hits against the forts, they’re still firing back every day without any appreciable reduction in their fire. Sometimes a particular gun falls silent for a while, but never for too long. Something’s going to have to be done about this. Tomorrow, Admiral Carden will throw caution to the wind, and take Queen Elizabeth, pride of the entire Navy, inside to get shot at. It’s a calculated risk.

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Machine guns

Machine guns are unquestionably a major part of the popular conception of the First World War. Most of the time, the focus is on their defensive role, mowing down lines of helpless blokes before they can get anywhere near the barbed wire. (We’ll see how accurate that perception is as battles go by that I can look at in more detail than “Sod-all happened today”, and work out why sod-all is happening.)

However, what’s less widely known is that they were also very effective when used for short-range indirect fire. (In this role, their value is far more in suppressing the enemy and forcing them to stay under cover rather than directly causing casualties.) That’s the role they’re going to play at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, covering the men as they go over the top and advance towards the German defenders. Arthur Agius is in charge of some of the machine guns. He’s in the trenches now at Pont Logy. During the nights, he and his men are in the trenches, working flat out to construct emplacements for their machine guns. By day, they sleep wherever they can.

Further back, the artillery positions are a hive of activity. Their observation officers have all had the same idea at once. There’s a ruined house near Pont Logy that is gratifyingly hard for the German artillery to hit, and the upper floor provides invaluable height to see towards the German trenches. At times, more than thirty different officers will crowd into it, elbowing each other as they scan Neuve Chapelle with their binoculars. Elsewhere, the men are secretly hollowing out haystacks to use as observation posts and Battalion Headquarters.

A particularly important job is to construct gun emplacements for the heaviest siege artillery. It’s these guns that will be particularly relied upon to fire shrapnel onto the German barbed-wire in order to cut it for the men. There’s a flaw that’s holding things up, though. The batteries are only just arriving in the sector. Many of them aren’t even there yet. And Bombardier W. Kemp’s garrison artillery has only just received orders to leave England.

The battle was originally scheduled to begin today, but zero hour has been pushed back to the 10th, and it seems a good thing too.

Mining

Mining warfare continues in earnest at Carency. Due to having to work around a vast and inexplicable block of sandstone, some of the French sappers have found a German gallery. Carefully removing the timbers, they discover a primed explosive. The Germans had apparently been waiting for them to dig past the mine before exploding it, but the change of direction has led them to the tunnel. A volunteer goes in to disarm the mine, and as he does so one of the detonators explodes in his face, killing him.

Plans are quickly laid by the French to install their own charge to destroy the German tunnel. The digging continues…

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Battle of Champagne (First Champagne)
Forcing of the Dardanelles

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

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

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