Artillery and artillerymen in the battle of the Chemin des Dames

Artillery and artillerymen in the battle of the Chemin des Dames

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Title: Departure of a heavy heavy artillery projectile of 320 mm.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1917

Date shown: April 16, 1917

Dimensions: Height 10.3 - Width 7.6

Technique and other indications: Silver print.

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

Picture reference: 06-505893 / 16021.54

Departure of a heavy heavy artillery projectile of 320 mm.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

Publication date: October 2007

Historical context

April 16, 1917: the Nivelle offensive

The location chosen by General Nivelle for his attempt to break up the front in the spring of 1917 is, so to speak, familiar with wars down through the centuries. The latter set up defensive positions on the wooded slopes and fortified the underground galleries ("creutes"): the position appears impregnable. But things did not go as the High Command had discounted: “the poor infantrymen had the mission in a few hours to cross the Aisne, to climb the wooded slope of the Chemin des Dames, to cross the few kilometers of the plateau (... ) in the evening, we expected their arrival near Laon! […] At the end of the day, we had advanced five hundred meters instead of the ten kilometers planned ”(J.-B. Duroselle, The Great French War, p. These events are part of the outbreak of mutinies, strikes and the morale crisis in the rear.

Image Analysis

Bomb the enemy: material and human resources

Prior to the entry of ground troops, the German lines on the Chemin des Dames were the target of an eight-day artillery preparation aimed at annihilating the opposing defenses. 5,310 guns of all types were then employed over forty kilometers of front, requiring the equivalent of more than 800 rail convoys for their supply. The part pictured here is a 320mm Schneider-made, weighing 160 tonnes, built in 1870 for coastal defense. They were reconverted in 1916 into howitzers installed on chassis for railways ("carriages-trucks"). This technical option is necessitated by the weight of these mastodons and their recoil when firing. A piece of such caliber, capable of firing at a rate of one shot-minute, is served by several men, whose tasks are diverse: handling, mechanics, transmissions and, of course, sighting and aiming. Such guns enabled France to partially catch up with Germany in terms of heavy trucks. Until now, French military leaders, obsessed with the virtues of the offensive, believed that the small 75mm guns would be enough to win the decision. Realizing a little late his aggiornamento, France considerably increases its capacities in heavy parts: if 308 units are available at the beginning of the war, it is a total of 6,700 which is produced between 1914 and 1918, without never equaling the gigantism in the matter of the steel industry across the Rhine, symbolized by the “Grosse Bertha” and its 35-meter tube. Some guns of the type 320 presented will be requisitioned by the Nazis in 1940 to equip the Atlantic Wall, thus providing them with exceptional longevity for a weapon of this category.


At the heart of modern and industrial warfare

During the conflicts preceding 1914-1918, two-thirds of the losses were attributable to carried firearms. The First World War saw a shift in effect, since it was then the artillery that became the cause of the same proportion of deaths. The infantry therefore dreaded enemy fire, now suffered in conditions of unprecedented violence, duration and concentration. But the same people also curse their own guns, guilty of ill-firing, sometimes ill-fitting and deadly shots. The artillerymen are also viewed with a dim view, as they are suspected of being "ambushers". While it is true that the overall losses are indeed higher in the infantry, the risks for combatants such as those visible in the document are not zero: noticeable by plane, their battery can itself be bombed, leaving them with little chance of survival in the event of a hit. The rise of this form of combat also had repercussions on the economic and social life of the rear, where bus-turning factories flourished, productions in which women played a significant part. The connection can be made, and the bitterness of the veterans will not be deprived of it, between the images of the artillery parks filled with brand new ammunition, and the fields of crosses which are the direct consequence. Likewise, the enrichments achieved through this activity have given rise to recriminations within public opinion, often outraged at the good fortune of "war profiteers" and "gun dealers".

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Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004. Jean-Baptiste DUROSELLEThe Great French WarParis, Perrin, 1998.Thierry HARDIER "" Flood of fire and iron ". The bombardments on the Chemin des dames between 1914 and 1918", in Nicolas OFFENSTADT, The Ladies' Way: From event to memoryParis, Stock, 2006, pp.65-76.Thierry HARDIER and Jean-François JAGIELSKIFight and die during the Great War (1914-1925)Paris, Imago, 2001 Remy PORTEIndustrial mobilization. "First front" of the Great WarParis, 14-18 editions, 2005.

To cite this article

François BOULOC, "Artillery and artillerymen in the battle of the Chemin des Dames"

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