The employment of the field artillery in combat





In 1915 the Artillery Inspection published a new Наставление за употреблението на полската артилерия въ боя (Direction for the employment of the field artillery in combat), which replaced the Instructions introduced ten years before and stood in force even after the end of the World War. The text, written by the head of the Line-economic section of the Artillery Inspection, col. Vladimir Vazov, helped by the head of the newly established Artillery School, lt.col. Angel Angelov, reflected the lesson learned of the Balkan Wars, especially the experience of the siege of Odrin, when the Bulgarian artillery was employed en masse, concentrating its fire to clear the way for the attack of the infantry. In fact the direction emphasized the importance of the concentration of fire, the constant coordination with the infantry and the employment of the whole artillery – heavy and light – as a single body.


Composition. In 1915 field artillery included the light field artillery (light field guns, horse guns, mountain guns, and field and mountain howitzers) and the heavy field artillery (heavy field guns and howitzers). Light field guns fired time shrapnel against animated targets and percussion high explosive shells against animate and inanimate targets, while heavy field guns fired more powerful projectiles at greater ranges. Heavy howitzers could demolish armoured buildings and casemates. Field artillery dominated the battlefield with its fire at a range of 6 km, with adjusting gears and sights which enabled to fire from covered positions and shields which protected the crew against shrapnel, rifles and machine guns bullets.

Artillery division was regarded as the tactical unit in artillery and a rule it was indivisible. Exceptionally, when it was necessary to divide it by batteries or detach some sections or also single guns, if possible, they should be deployed so that at any rate the division commander could concentrate the fire of many guns on a one point.

Battery was regarded as the fighting unit in artillery. It could be divided only exceptionally, when a secondary task could be performed only by a little fraction of artillery.

If necessary, the commanders of some infantry divisions might use all or part of their artillery to form a great mass of artillery put under the command of the head of Army artillery.


Tactics. The tactical rules stated that artillery should occupy mainly covered firing positions, be ready to open fire quickly, to open fire according to necessity, to fire usually at covered targets, to be employed en masse, and to seek to prevail against the enemy through the concentration of its fire. Oblique fire was regarded as more effective. The rate of fire strictly depended upon the importance of the target. Opening fire at great ranges should be avoided: light field and mountain guns were more effective at a range of no more than 4000 m.

In route formation the artillery divisions moved in succession, one after the other, an infantry company being interposed between them, to protect the division moving behind. When artillery was moving separately a special cover force was appointed. In battle formation the protection of infantry was assigned only to the batteries whose flanks were uncovered. During the advance part of the artillery was attached to the advance guard to aid infantry to clear a hurdle that it was unable to clear by itself, and to support it if it was suddenly engaged by the enemy. The artillery of the main body occupied its firing position only under instruction of the head of the artillery, acting according with the order of the Army commander.


In combat artillery could be in awaiting position (в очаквателно положение), or in position (на позиция); in this case it could be in action (в действие) or in observation position (в наблюдателно положение). Artillery could occupy covered, masked or open positions, but in any case it should be deeply entrenched. Columns travelling through a mountainous ground should receive less artillery. At the beginning of the battle the artillery drew to itself the enemy fire, in order to make easier the quick approaching of the infantry to the points of attack, then with a powerful fire it reduced the most important forces of the enemy artillery to silence. In the meanwhile some detached batteries or divisions could achieve other temporary goals, supporting their infantry. The whole artillery or at least the most part of the batteries should be placed under the command of the high-ranker artillery officer. Both in attack and in defence, infantry should always stay at less than 500-600 paces before its artillery. In the event of a defeat, infantry units and machine guns placed near the artillery had the duty of fighting to the last man in order to prevent at any price the enemy to capture of the guns.


Attack. The tactics of the offensive combat was not greatly changed from the Instructions adopted in 1905. In attack the whole artillery of the Infantry Division involved in the action, or at least most of it, was put under the control of the head of the divisional artillery. To prepare the attack, the head of the artillery should concentrate the most powerful fire against the sector of the enemy line that was being attacked, taking care to supplement the frontal fire with the fire of the batteries deployed obliquely. The attack should be supported by the artillery till the last minute. When the bayonet charge begun, the artillery transferred the fire 200-300 m forward and prolonged firing to shell inside the enemy position. At the end of the attack a little part of the artillery – composed mainly mountain batteries – was sent forward to come closer to the advancing infantry and occupy the enemy positions, while the bulk of the artillery moved forward of some echelons. During the whole attack the artillery should stay at least 200 m far from the enemy, in order not to enter in its field of fire.


Defence. The tactics of the defensive combat, on the other hand, was greatly updated and developed, tacking account also of the defeats suffered during the Interallied war. The Direction reasserted that the key of the defence was the position of the artillery that therefore should be deployed, choosing its positions before infantry. In defence artillery occupied mainly covered positions and by all means should be carefully entrenched and masked. It was emplaced by groups of divisions, spread in depth along the front, in order to be protected against the fire of two enemy artillery divisions at the same time. If possibly some reserve trenches were prepared, where the guns would be placed when the enemy had exactly adjusted the fire against the emplacements occupied at the beginning of the combat. The bulk of the artillery, under the direction of the high-ranked artillery officer, was placed in the most important sectors of the defensive positions and against the most crucial avenues of approach.

The main task of the artillery was to crush the enemy offensive, acting in concert with its infantry. It should concentrate its fire against the targets that time by time proved to be most dangerous and supported more effectively the assault, but it should avoid to fire at great ranges, unless the target was wide and deep. If necessary, the artillery pulled back by echelons, withdrawing at first the batteries placed forward, screened by the rearward batteries or by the fire of the nearby sectors. In some cases the artillery should keep its position, continuing to fight to the end without being able to withdraw its guns. This exceptional instance should be fixed by the head of the troops with an express order. In such circumstances the loss of the guns was not regarded as dishonour or a crime.


Command. The commander of the larger artillery unit attached to a main body of troops, such as an Army or a Detachment, was the head of the whole artillery assigned, permanently or even temporarily, to it, independently of the kind of artillery (field, mountain, howitzers and so on). So the commander of the artillery brigade was the head of the whole divisional artillery, while every army had a special head of the artillery. In lesser temporary detachments the head of the artillery was the commander of the artillery regiment or division.

The Army commander could take part of the divisional batteries and form with them a large mass of artillery, put under the direction of his head of the artillery, in order to achieve the common goal of the Army. The direction specified that it was not necessary that all the massed batteries were placed in the same place, it was enough that the Army commander fixed which units should be put under the direction of the head of the artillery.

The head of the artillery was regarded as guilty of a wrong allocation or an incorrect direction of the artillery along with the head of the troops, if he had not reported his motivated opinion on the question in good time. After having been fully informed about the plans of the head of the troops and having received his orders and instructions, the head of the artillery left the headquarters and took up the direction of the artillery. During the battle he should not left his observatory and the artillery position, staying constantly in contact with the head of the troops by telephone or through orderlies.


Reconnaissance. As for the different kind of reconnaissance (remote, close, direct) the direction basically repeated what had been written previously. All the artillery commanders should constantly observe the battlefield with field glasses, battery telescopes, rangefinders and so on. The head of the artillery reconnoitred the battlefield along with the head of the troops in order to choose where the guns should be placed. The artillery positions were personally reconnoitred by the head of the artillery with his subordinates (division and battery commanders). The head of the troops was in charge of the security of the artillery permanently or temporarily put under his command. The head of the artillery should provide with scouts and guards only when this protection was lacking.


Liaison. The liaison between the commanders was provided by means of all the available technical devices (telephone, telegraph, heliograph, airplanes, flaying post), while between the lesser artillery units even by means of flags (by day) or lamps (at night), through written messages sent by the commander or by word of mouth.

As a rule the liaison was established :

    in general, from the lower-ranking to higher-ranking commanders,

    between different branches of the army, from the artillery to the infantry;

    between nearby artillery units, from right to left;

    between different artillery echelons, backwards.

To establish communications with the infantry, the artillery units sent to the infantry commander a liaison officer or non commissioned officer with some orderlies, equipped with telephones and perspective sketches of the countryside prepared by the artillery units. In order not to suffer losses from its own artillery, infantry should warn this danger with a sign fixed in advance (flag, rocket, bangers or bonfire) or in another way.


Conduct of fire. The direction emphasized that the success of the action of the artillery depended entirely on a good direction of the fire. Artillery fire should be chiefly conducted with “powerful, brief whirlwinds or hurricanes” (вихрове или ураганени), firing the fixed number of rounds as quickly as possible. This kind of fire aimed to break up the spirit and destroy the force of the enemy. The “hurricanes of destruction” (урагани на поражение) should be fired only after an accurate adjustment, since incorrect firing data could not be compensated increasing the number of the rounds fired or lengthening the duration of the bombardment. During the pause between two “hurricanes” artillery could carry out a “slow fire” (бавен огън), in order to frighten the enemy or obtain new and more complete firing data.

The artillery fire could be really timely and effective only by means of a constant observation of the battlefield, a strict liaison between the artillery units and between the artillery and the other branches of the army with the exchange of observers, and a careful preparation of the fire, both technically and tactically, thanks to an adjustment that should be as full as possible.

A great dispersion of the fire should be avoided, since it did not permit to achieve a decisive success promptly and rapidly. The best way to obtain a rapid defeat of the enemy was the concentration of the fire of several batteries, combining frontal and oblique fire. The concentration of fire by a great mass of artillery (many divisions) appeared in the co-ordination, aiming and production of a powerful fire under the direction of a single head in order to achieve one common goal. Concentrated fire was considerably more effective, when it was mixed, namely when the same target was bombed at the same time by heavy and light field artillery with percussion and time fire.

Artillery should open fire suddenly in order to take the enemy by surprise. The fire at a given target lasted until the task assigned to the batteries was performed, after that it ceased or was transferred on a new target. The change of the target entailed a waste of time, since it usually needed a new adjustment. Therefore it should be avoided as much as possible. Firing to destroy fortified buildings or local objects was useful only when it could facilitate the action of the infantry. Important targets were also observatories, headquarters, scouts, balloon and aeroplanes.

As a rule the head of the artillery and the division commanders took charge of the tactical fire control, while the battery commanders of the technical conduct of the fire. To shoot without fearing to damage the troops placed on its trajectory, artillery should keep the safety distance : on smooth ground 200 m with shrapnel and 100 m with percussion fire. To assure a continuous liaison with the front infantry and to direct the fire at a greater range without injuries, some artillery scout should be dispatched to the ranks of the infantry. If possible, the location of the enemy artillery and the effect of the fire were observed by aeroplanes and balloons that sometimes could also take photographs of the enemy positions.


Supplying. In this connection the direction repeated what the Additional instructions published in 1913 stated about the need of reduce as much as possible the waste of ammunition.