The employment of quick-firing field artillery in combat
With the introduction of the 75mm Mle 1897 quick-firing field gun, the French Artillery adopted a new system of fire-discipline intended to utilise the power of the new gun in the fullest possible manner. This system was adopted, in principle, by most of the Armies, which had rearmed with quick-firing guns, and exerted a marked influence even upon the regulations of those nations that did not adopt it, such as Germany, Russia, Austria and Great Britain. The Bulgarian Инструкция за употреблението на полската скорострелна артилерия въ боя (Instructions for the employment of the field artillery in combat) published in 1905 was basically a translation of the corresponding section (Titre V. L’artillerie dans le combat) of the French Règlement de manoeuvre de l’artillerie de campagne published on 8 June 1903.
Compared with the texts published previously, the main novelty of these Instructions was the abolition of the artillery duel that until then was regarded as a distinct phase of the combat. The expression itself артилерийски двубой was replaced by a more generic one, артилерийски борба/бой, i.e. artillery combat. Previously the first concern of artillery was to silence or at least to weaken the fire of the enemy artillery in order to make possible the infantry attack. Now it should only ease the movement of its infantry and support the decisive assault with its fire, engaging several artillery combats against the enemy artillery.
Characteristics of the artillery. The main trait of the quick-firing field artillery was its rapidity of action, resulting from the high speed and the power of its fire and from the possibility of opening fire suddenly. The power and the rapidity of its fire was able to produce a crushing effect on the enemy troops, making very difficult to move the units in close order in open field. On the other hand, field artillery in a short time could destroy common obstacles like walls, buildings or trenches, making impossible for the defender to stay behind them. Clearly defined targets should be chosen, prioritising the most dangerous ones and those that hindered the advance of the infantry.
Basic principles about the employment of the artillery in general. During the battle, the task of the artillery depended entirely on the tasks assigned to the infantry. It never should leave infantry without support. It started the combat, prepared secondary and decisive attacks, and supported them with its fire. Therefore, the heads of the artillery should know the principles of the employment of infantry.
From the beginning of the combat, the
artillery should make every effort and employ every means to overwhelm the
fire of the enemy artillery. The elements for its
success were: the number of the batteries ready to
open the fire; opening fire simultaneously and suddenly; the possibility of concentrating the fire and the unity of command. Opening
fire at great ranges should be avoided; the correct
range was 2 to
In combat artillery could be deployed :
– in fighting position (война позиция), with guns unlimbered and ready to open fire as promptly as possible upon the indicated targets – the position could be open, masked or covered;
– in observation position (наблюдателна позиция), with guns unlimbered and all preparations made for opening fire at the desired moment upon the existing or expected targets – this position should be covered from the sight of the enemy;
– in awaiting position (очаквателна позиция), with gun not unlimbered and the riders dismounted, held under cover near a position for possible immediate action, but so that they could be moved quickly to another place if the development of the tactical situation so required.
As a rule, the whole artillery should be ready to open fire, but at the beginning of the combat only the number of batteries necessary to assure the prompt and effective accomplishment of the task assigned to the artillery should occupy the position. The others should remain in observation or in awaiting positions, ready to fire against new targets, as soon as they were discovered, or to intensify the fire. When the enemy situation was not clear, a greater number of batteries was left in awaiting position. If possible, changing target should be avoided; a distinct part of the artillery should be set for firing to each target, or every artillery division should have assigned a sector, where it had to fire at all the targets. To fire at a front every 300 m one quick-firing field battery was required, while against the artillery it should be employed at least as many batteries as the enemy had in firing line.
Usually at the beginning of the battle the artillery shoot to the enemy artillery, firing at first at the batteries whose fire was more bothering or at those that could be destroyed easily. The fire was distributed uniformly throughout the front or concentrated in succession on different areas. If the situation of the fighting allowed it, part of the artillery fire could be directed also against the enemy infantry. As a rule, it should fire at the most vulnerable units, so at great and medium ranges it usually fired at units in close order, while at short range it fired at the shooting troops, and only after having made them inoffensive, to the reserve or supporting troops. Against cavalry at great ranges artillery fired only at great masses of troops, while to repel a cavalry attack it opened a rapid fire, shelling the whole attacking line and paying close attention to its flanks. If possible, artillery should fire also at the high enemy headquarters or at observation balloons.
A battery could be sent to occupy detached positions with a view of drawing the enemy’s fire and leading him to disclose his positions and strength. On a wide front, this battery fired from a concealed emplacement at the probable position of the enemy, while the remaining batteries stood in observation or in awaiting position, ready to fire as soon as the enemy came out. However, this device could be only a fruitless waste of ammunition. The best way to provoke the enemy fire was the advance of the infantry.
In action, when many batteries were assembled in order to operate en masse, the senior heads of the artillery took the direction of them jointly. When the artillery was subdivided among the fighting units, the unification was not carried out. During the combat, the highest-ranking artillery officer assumed the command.
Every head of infantry and cavalry, from battalion and squadron commander upwards, should fulfil the requests of the artillery commander concerning the protection of the artillery units. As a rule, a battalion was required to cover an artillery brigade, 2 companies for an artillery division and a company for a battery. The covering troops stood 300-800 m in front of the artillery and at its sides.