Sunday, November 8, 2009

Japanese Addendum

This is an add on to the other post. Japan was the other country on the Allied side that had some input into the artillery fight in WWI, but not in the way you might think.

The Imperial Japanese Army had fought the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War in the early 20th Century. Despite the fact that they had older weapons than the Russians, the Japanese were actually one of the first countries to develop the concept of Indirect Fire. This is the idea of having your guns/howitzers firing from far enough away that you cannot see the target from the gun. Observers must be used to successfully determine if you are hitting the target and to make adjustments as needed. The Japanese didn't use range so much as they used terrain. They would position guns behind hills, folds of ground, in forests, anything that concealed the guns from the Russians seeing them. Often the guns were very close to the fight. But the Japanese used their Battery Commanders to go forward with phone/telegraphs and flags to signal back to the guns adjustments needed. The Japanese were able to maximize their guns and beat the Russian Army in artillery in just about every battle.

Now, this had two impacts. One was that the Japanese got a very poor opinion of European artillery. Even when the Japanese used guns in direct fire mode, the Russians were often unable to knock them out. The Japanese started using their guns in more direct fire modes as they could greatly assist the infantry against dug in Russian positions. In WWI, the Japanese fought limited actions against small German forces in China, and again were able to use guns in direct fire mode without issue (the Germans had very small forces and couldn't stand up to the Japanese attacks). Then when fighting the Chinese in the 1920's and 1930's the Japanese again had zero counterfire threat and pretty much moved to close in support of the infantry via having the guns close in. They never developed the concepts of massing guns or centralized control due to their experience.

The other impact: one country was highly impressed by the Japanese ability to use indirect fire effectively and going into WWI had this as their key concept for artillery deployment. This country would build on it and combine it with the centralized fire concepts of the French.

That would be the US Army.


  1. The Japanese Army also used indirect artillery fire during the seige of Port Arthur to destroy the Russian naval ships in the harbor.

  2. Yep, and then they threw it away. As wrong lessons go, they come in third for WWI. Second place goes to the French, as they had some winning ideas but switched them twice and only were half way complete when WWII started.

    Care to guess who won 1st?

  3. British artillery was pretty professional by the end of the First World War. Gunners really dominated the British Army after the war, demonstrating the regiment's importance. By the way, the Brits switched completely to indirect fire after Mons.

  4. Yes they did. But the sad thing is that if they had taken lessons from the Boer War they wouldn't have had the rather sharp curve at Mons. The biggest thing I have learned from WWI is that very few of the so called "Great Powers" really were as professional as they claimed to be. The biggest aspect of being a true professional (in my humble opinion anyway) is the ability to take a hard look at what you did and give yourself an honest appraisal on what you could have done better. The British Armed Forces were the worst at this of any force, the Germans were the best. The Russians, US, French fall inbetween. The British didn't even release their AAR of WWI for the Army until the mid 1930's and it had been so watered down (to avoid making the profession look bad) that it was worthless as a guide to officers seeking to make improvements.

    Artillery-wise the British and French learned a great amount. They started from further back than the Germans did and I think they ended up knowing more by the war's end. The sad part was that a lot of the good lessons learned were lost. Not so much branch pure lessons, but the lessons of combining everything. But that is another story which I will hit on later

  5. True enough. I think one should remember that the British Army up to 1914 was really small compared to other European powers and most of that tiny, supurbly trained force was dead or out of it by the end of 1915. The Brits had to create a mass army from scratch and left-overs and after a Somme or two, did a relatively good job.

  6. Yes, very true. The really sad thing was that the small unit tactics the British used in the Empire were actually brillant. If they had followed that line of thinking (infiltration, power down the responsibility, trust NCOs and junior officers) they would have been vastly more effective. But they instead chose to listen to the "experts" and go for mass. I am not going to say that these tactics would have won, but if they had tried to tie them into the modern weapons (they would have still faced the accurate indirect fire and control issue as an example), they could have come up with ideas like the Germans used in the Spring 1918 Offensives. SOmething like that tried in 1915 or 1916 might have actually gotten them the breakthrough they wanted without nearly the losses.