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"Artillery observation - The British procedure" Topic

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951 hits since 29 Oct 2020
©1994-2023 Bill Armintrout
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Bozkashi Jones30 Oct 2020 6:09 a.m. PST

I wouldn't normally cite a children's novel as being an authoritative source, but I've being re-reading Biggles books for ideas for a forthcoming Western Front campaign.

In one of the chapters of Biggles Learns to Fly, Cpt. W.E. Johns goes into such needless detail on artillery observation that my reading was very much that it was a passage written by someone who was fascinated by the process. I thought I'd share in case anyone might be interested and may either be able to confirm or correct.

* * *

Artillery Observation (A/O) was always done by 2 seater aircraft. It was the job of the pilot, contrary to what might be expected, to observe the battery firing and then spot the fall of shot, reporting to the battery by means of a wireless transmitter in Morse code.

The observer's role was to watch the sky for enemy planes and alert the pilot should any be encountered.

As the wireless transmitter could only send and not receive, the battery would communicate with the aircraft by laying out strips of white material, in the shape of letters, on the ground. The A/O aircraft would continue flying in a 'figure of eight' pattern.

The process was simple in theory, but maybe a little fraught in practice. One gun of the 4 gun battery would be ranged in at a time; once the first gun found its target, the second one would be, then the third and finally the fourth. Once all guns were ranged, they would continue firing independently and the A/O aircraft would be able to leave. This process could take a long time, and, of course, the recipient of the artillery fire would no doubt be telephoning their nearest jafgdstaffel to come along and deal with the spotter.

To range the first gun in, the pilot would have a spool to extend the aerial so that he could send messages. Once done, he would signal "B, B, B", which was the code for "are you receiving my signals?"

The battery's gunners would lay out cloth strips to form the letter "K"; the acknowledgement and recognition symbol.

The pilot would then signal "KQ, KQ, KQ": "Are you ready to fire?"

The strips of cloth on the ground would be rearranged to form the letter "L": "Ready"

The pilot would then message "G, G, G": "Fire"

The battery would then fire its first gun and the fall of shot would be observed. The pilot would have a transparent overlay for his map, marked like a clock face, with '12' at the top, and '6' at the bottom. In addition, there would be a series of rings, marked 'A' to 'F', showing distances of 50, 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500 yards respectively. If a shot fell 100 yards to the east, the pilot would relay "B3" to the battery, if it fell 400 yards to the south, "E6", etc. The battery would then correct their fire.

Once the gun hit its target, the pilot would tap out "OK", and the next gun would range in exactly the same way.

Once all four guns were ranged, the battery would fire all together. If mostly on target, the pilot would signal "G, D, O": "Commence firing in own time", then "C, H, I" for "I am going home".

Just thought I'd share, as it's an interesting insight into how technology was used in the Great War.

Best wishes,


Woollygooseuk30 Oct 2020 9:41 a.m. PST

Interesting that the individual guns needed to be ranged in. I would have thought by WW1 surveying techniques were sufficiently advanced for the battery to fire for effect once the first gun was ranged in. Perhaps an effect of barrel state and the variable quality of the ammo?

Martin Rapier01 Nov 2020 11:47 p.m. PST

Perhaps it depended if they are engaging a point target as opposed to an area target?

jdginaz02 Nov 2020 7:11 p.m. PST

You sank my Battleship!!!

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