LONG LIVE THE KING OF BATTLE! in this thread I’m talking BIG GUNS, artillery and its use in the world wars, and the underlying doctrine and theory that dictated how modern militaries learned to reach out and touch somebody!

the rise of the cannon saw its golden age in the wars of napoleon, himself a young artillery officer, and reached its zenith in the first world war. in a war to end all wars, the use of artillery turned the earth into a barren landscape and killed more men than any other weapon.

the third arm of the army, along infantry and cavalry, artillery embodies the destructive principle of fire. it can’t maneuver, it can’t fight in close order, but it can obliterate all that it is aimed at. it evolved from mere support into the primary means of violence.

technologic advancements had rendered calvary almost useless, and in the first world war armies were deprived of mobility. men could do little more than charge hopelessly against enemy fortifications, or sit in their own and wait for the errant shell to land in their trench.

this development begins in the theories of clausewitz, writing: “that artillery being the strongest arm… and cavalry the weakest… the question must in general arise, how much artillery can we have without inconvenience, and what is the least proportion of cavalry we require?”

further he writes about both the decisive nature of artillery, and its efficiency at annihilation. long before the advent of the bolt action and the machine gun, the primacy of artillery had been decided. the battles that defined the western front can be foreseen in his work.

yet time marches on! the advent of the tank reintroduced the principle of mobility, which the germans used to great effect in the second war. artillery no longer had the luxury of fixed positions and preset targets. they too were forced to evolve to again be effective.

further, the birth of the air force, close air support and strategic destruction, seemed to threaten the relevancy of artillery on the modern battlefield. thanks to doctrinal developments and their results through world war II, artillery’s place in the arsenal would be secured.

artillery, even with its domain encroached on by air power and its effectiveness threatened by motorized mobility, was still responsible for 65% of all casualties in the the european theater. the big gun was here to stay.

enterprising officers developed a more robust system, integrating forward observers with front line units and capitalizing the ability to spot targets from air. thanks also to the radio, artillery was now able to adjust fire on the fly as needed.

the british specifically perfected the technique of time-on-target; through the power of pen, paper, and wristwatch, they enabled shells fired from batteries at different locations and different elevations to impact at the same time, to devastating effect.

the americans capitalized on two technical developments, first having a more motorized and mobile artillery branch that could keep pace with advancing armor and infantry, and more significantly, the invention of the proximity fuse. these broke the german lines wide open.

the proximity fuse is a story in itself. written off as impossible by most powers in the war, the americans created a true engineering miracle, a means in which shells could “detect” when they were near target and detonate in-air, vastly increasing their destructive potential.

the russians took a more traditional approach, the power of mass. the artillery bombardments that preceded the german reversal in the east are legendary. by sheer number, their cannons and infamous katushka rocket batteries shook the earth and paved the way for thousands of T34s.

the germans mastered a whole other skill: improvisation. using captured guns and converted anti-air weapons, they harnessed artillery effectively when other nations would have been left guessing. in a craft dominated by preparation and steady supply, they made it work regardless.

through the lens of artillery, a broader lesson is learned. technology changes war, but nothing is ever truly obsolete. a tool built for one purpose can be used for another, and sometimes the radical reapplication of the old ways is just as revolutionary as the brand new.

in a world of drones and insurgencies, satellites and IEDs, any doctrine that wholly dismisses the past in favor of some new “paradigm shift” will see itself defeated by a more holistic understanding. time and time again, you just can’t beat a big gun, a big shell, a big boom.

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