A Better Rifle at Halloween

Smith-Dorien and Wilson plan
12th September, 1914

General Smith-Dorien was sitting with his Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Wilson, they were reviewing the photographs taken that morning by Wing Commander Samson. The BEF maps were being updated and four RFC aircraft had taken off within 30 minutes to undertake even more scouting.
The BEF’ front was quiet, the Germans facing them had kept up the pressure on the British troops but had not attacked with any vigour, intermittent shelling and raiding being used to fix the British in place. This was in marked contrast to the savage fighting taking place over Namur and Lille.
The Germans in front of the 3rd Army were even more torpid, they seemed content to respond to British patrols but didn’t shell the British or send their own patrols out. The RNAS armoured cars were still ranging in front of the British lines finding gaps in the German positions. They had lost several cars now, when they had stumbled into ambushes or been taken under fire by artillery, the cost had been worth it with aircrew rescued and German defences probed. More armoured cars were being built back in Britain ready for deployment on a larger scale.
Smith-Dorien was of two minds, his French ally was being pushed hard in Namur and Lille was under increasingly effective siege, whilst the German cavalry and it appears at least one additional corps of infantry following in their wake were close to reaching the North Sea coast splitting the BEF in two. Should Namur fall within the next few days there was every risk that the Germans would get into his rear and if bold enough they could envelope his army, likewise if Lille fell the German First army could perform the envelopment the other way.
But the German army was in an equally perilous position, if Namur and Lille held they would be in a giant salient which could be pinched shut pocketing the best part of an entire army.
Smith-Dorien had spoken to General Joffre, the General was busily assembling his reserves to plug the gap before Lille. They both agreed that this was the crisis point of the war and that the defence of Namur had to hold. They had also covered the rest of the war along the frontier and the positions of the German 3rd, 4th and 5th armies, Joffre voiced a concern that those armies seemed disengaged, as if waiting to attack when he had weakened the frontier defences. Joffre expressed his frequent complaint that the lack of conscription in Britain had meant France was carrying on the fight with little support. He again demanded more men from Britain, he was only partially mollified by the knowledge that another two divisions of the Territorial Army would be deploying to France to secure Hazebrouck and that the Royal Marine Light Infantry would be landing to secure Nieuwpoort.
Aerial reconnaissance and aggressive patrolling had already borne fruit, the BEF knew that they faced 3 Germans corps along their front, the little patrols often lead by junior subalterns probed the German positions. Not all patrols returned, the night split by a burst of gunfire, sometimes they would meet the enemy in the ill-defined space between the lines, then deadly combat would ensue with prisoners taken and returned for interrogation. The small unit tactics which the British had honed, in South Africa and the Empire worked well here and the Territorial units applied them as well, with less expertise but equal enthusiasm.
General Smith-Dorien and Lt General Wilson had extensively reviewed the success of the attack on the German position before Condee by the Manchester Brigade, it had significantly disrupted the Germans from their apparent plans to attack the dug in British troops. A reporter from the Manchester Guardian had joined the Brigade 3 days ago and had already sent home a number of hagiographic articles, spurring recruitment in that teeming city. The failure of the smaller attack conducted by the regulars showed the value of mass, General Smith-Dorien did not want to pile up thousands of dead to achieve limited gains but he had an opportunity to disrupt the Germans before Lille and Namur.
Several options existed, an attack towards Nivelles or Soignies by the 2nd Army, with further attacks to push towards Waterloo and Brussels, this attack would require some co-operation with the French and so likely take longer to organise as more and more units of the French First Army were sucked into the maelstrom before Namur. Wilson had argued successfully for a more limited attack, a push from Mons towards Ath, the steeply sloping ground on the far side of the canal was weakly defended by scattered outposts with the main German defences on the high ground. The initial attack would be by II corps which would cross the Mons Canal and advance on the village of Bruyeres with that objective captured, 3rd division would advance on Basse-Gage and hold a defensive line back to the IV corps boundary. Whilst 5thdivision assisted with the capture of the rest of the high ground before Mons with the final objective the Mont Garni which sitting more than 150 feet above the surround terrain would give artillery observers a dominating position.
Once the the Pave d’ Ath was secured I Corps would advance on Jurbise and then Ath. The plan was complex but with only one German Corps facing two relatively rested British Regular Corps it was felt that it was the best chance for success. If the Attack succeeded in reaching Jurbise, the other two corps consisting of the Territorial force divisions would conduct limited attacks to thicken the shoulders of the penetration. Given that the attack was to be conducted by regulars it was planned that the initial attack by II corps to capture the high ground would commence with the troops advancing to their jumping off position during the night with the attack to commence at 0520 am just before dawn.
Limited artillery would be used, this was one of the lessons of both the fighting before Liege and Namur where crushing amounts of gunnery had been required to ensure complete destruction of defensive works. The aerial reconnaissance had revealed the weakness of the German lines, with few obvious strong points or troop concentrations. The German Artillery whilst present was almost entirely the lighter guns and howitzers with all of the heavier pieces assembled in front of Namur or being deployed towards Lille.
The 3rd Army was also to conduct an attack, their attack would commence 24 hours after the attack by I and II corps, with an objective of Sottegem, this attack would be on a slightly smaller scale due to the longer defensive lines being held, but 2nd London Division of V Corps would conduct the attack, 6th Division was holding the line back to the Corps boundary with the Belgians and so was not in position to conduct the attack.
With the basic plan determined Smith-Dorien and Wilson gathered their staff officers and prepared to issue the orders that would in 48 hours launch the British army on the attack.
So when are the new rifles going to come into play? IIRC the unit with them is in the 2nd London Division...

Also a map for reference; several named locations highlighted in blue.
ANR front.jpg
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So when are the new rifles going to come into play? IIRC the unit with them is in the 2nd London Division...
The London Scottish have been transferred to the Seaforth and Cameron highlanders Brigade all of which will receive the FH Rifle. I have not deployed them yet as the historical measles epidemic has broken out. IOTL that killed 15 men in the Camerons alone and hospitalised many more, the Highland Division has not yet been deployed to France.
Good update as always, question though, is this an OTL advance or one from the story? I don't know as much about the early period of the land war in WW1 as I should.
12th September, 1914

General Smith-Dorien was sitting with his Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Wilson, they were reviewing the photographs taken that morning by Wing Commander Samson.
The Royal Flying Corps used Army ranks. The distinctive rank titles were not adopted until 1919. Say, "the photographs taken that morning by Lieutenant-Colonel Samson. RFC."


Monthly Donor
Will Roland Boys Bradford appear in this story? Mrs. Amy Bradford is the only person to have worn two VCs, poor woman. Henry Tandey got every medal and mentioned in dispatches five times as a private soldier (maybe shoot Hitler this time). Jack Williams got every gong going as an NCO. William George Barker must the most decorated officer of that war.
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Before Nieuwpoort.
13th September 1914, Nieuwpoort.

The advance of the German Cavalry was cautious, they remained mounted, but they exhibited a wariness which had been absent at the start of the war. The horses and men were weary, they had advanced across Belgium, generally there had been little fighting. There had been the odd bloody skirmish when they had encountered Belgian Cavalry or Garde Civique units, those units often taking advantage of a wood or a well-built farmhouse to snipe or ambush. They had also had to glean the countryside, seizing livestock, food and fodder for themselves and the 1st Army at large. This had been an ungentle process, seizing food from the peasants had been unpleasant and had sometimes come to blood, as some desperate farmer struggled to save a pig or some poultry. Horses went for remounts, cattle for draught animals or meat and motorcars and motorcycles were likewise seized. This rough duty, coupled with the fact that most of the cavalry were country boys, had hardened them. A lot of their glamour had been discarded, there was less brightwork and the columns were better spaced out, machine guns and artillery loved tightly packed lines. But they clung to their lances, their carbines were better used than before but still they would face their enemy on horseback not on foot.

They knew from their own patrolling that the British held a strong line to the North around Ghent and Ostend, they had fought the Yeomanry and the British regulars to confirm that those positions. The latest aerial reconnaissance had shown little holding Nieuwpoort, three elderly British cruisers were anchored nearby so it was thought that the garrison of the town would be sailors and a few marines from the ships.

The German cavalry had encountered the small number of armoured cars which had been deployed by the RNAS, the cars had struck several times during the night. Quick darting attacks, taking advantage of the mobility of the vehicles by driving towards the German lines then opening fire with their machine guns, when the return fire intensified, they would pull back out of position before moving to a different location and doing it again. The goal was to cut up the pickets and possibly find a gap through which a stronger attack could be made.

From the British lines before Nieuwpoort the advance of the cavalry was as expected, RNAS scouting in the air and on the ground, had been keeping everyone aware of the threat. There were RMLI battalions drawn from Naval bases and training facilities across the south of England, the battalions themselves were somewhat ad-hoc but the men were all regulars and well used to disembarking on some foreign shore to fight. Some were veterans of the Boer war, others the Relief of Peking, their officers were seasoned professionals and they had access to the guns of HMS Cressy, HMS Aboukir and HMS Hogue as well as the composite artillery regiment. The ships could be communicated with via the semaphore tower adjacent the harbour master’s office and by a wireless set brought ashore with the marines.

The RMLI brigade commander was based in the Harbour Masters office, he had one battalion held in reserve nearby, the other three battalions occupied the outskirts of the town, each battalion had a detachment of blue jackets ashore with them, the detachments were drawn from the three armoured cruisers and gave each battalions additional strength, almost 600 men came off the cruisers and other light ships before Nieuwpoort. The blue jackets were not strangers to shore duty, many having performed it in one place or another during their service in the Royal Navy.

Admiral Meux had dispatched another 400 additional blue jackets from Portsmouth to support the Royal Marine Brigade. The armed sailors were equipped with another twelve Maxim Guns and six 1 ½ pounder Pom Pom guns. Their arrival had not been properly communicated to the commander of the RMLI Brigade Major General Aston, he was pleased to have them but concerned about the disorganisation which was revealed.

With a total of almost 4500 Marines and Sailors available, Aston had pushed the three RMLI battalions out as quickly as they had landed, their orders were to dig in and do everything they could do to prepare to receive an attack by cavalry. As the sailors and additional guns arrived, he moved them forward, the machine guns would be incorporated directly in the defence, but the pom pom guns whilst devastating on attacking troops were much more unwieldy and needed to be placed where they could be moved if required.

As the morning wore on it became clear that the battle would commence later in the day, aircraft had reported that the German Artillery was moving towards the coast, clearly, they expected the port to be defended. The RMLI continued improving their positions entrenchments were dug and what barbed wire was still available had been strung in thin lines before the British defences.
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Monthly Donor
This needs paragraphing as it is hard to assimilate in this format. Post edit: Super! Much better.

The Ungentle of Belgium continues.
The RMLI Brigade is heavily reinforced. Almost double size.
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The Bootnecks are ashore in good numbers, and seem to have a fair amount of sort, especially if they can call in for from the cruisers, though that might be tricky. I am a bit worried about them being stress-tested, as they're in ad hoc formations, with limited time to strengthen their positions.

If the Germans press after the initial rebuff, I expect it to be bloody, whoever wins.
Looks like the Live Bait Squadron might actually achieve something this time, though some other poor sods will end up providing the RN with the lesson that Uboats are deadly.
A Maxim Gun in Action
13th September 1914, Nieuwpoort.

The machine gun swung easily covering it target, it was the first time the gunner had prepared to fire the weapon at another human being. The machine gun officer had a Barr and Stroud range finder and had set the elevation for the pair of guns at 1100 yards. The cavalry unit was unaware that they were soon to be the target of aimed fire, advancing in line abreast, they looked to be in troop strength.

The machine-gunner hated donkey wallopers at the best of times, that’s why he was a Marine, there being no horses on ships. As a lad he had been a groom, he had developed his hatred for horses and those fools who rode them over several years of bad pay, bad food and bad treatment. Thus, as soon as he was old enough he had left the estate he worked on bound for the Royal Navy. It was a chance encounter with a marine recruiting sergeant which shifted his course, but he had no cause to regret it and now he was going to get to kill donkey wallopers and their damned donkeys. Satisfied that all was ready the officer gave the command, “firing in short bursts, open fire” with that the gunner depressed the trigger and the gun stuttered out hot streaks of death.

Some of the rounds found targets as the gunner switched from one target to the next, men fell off horses and horses collapsed as the machine guns flailed them. The troop of cavalry which was his target stopped, wheeled around and galloped for cover, as their speed increased, he led them slightly, the voice of an elderly brigadier crying “you have to lead your bird man” in his head. By the time they had reached cover eight horse sized mounds lay before the guns, the rest of the troop had dismounted and were firing ineffectively at the machine guns. Both guns fired on the cover for a few moments more before falling silent. The officer resumed his watch with his binoculars.
An Artillery Problem
13th September 1914, Nieuwpoort.

The battery of 7.7cm guns belonged to the Horse Artillery, ordinarily numbering 4 guns they had shared the slog through Belgium with their Cavalry brethren. This had been rough on the guns and one gun and limber had been left for repair when the axle broke after the gun hung up on a guard rail of a damaged bridge it was trying to cross.

The battery commander had just received orders to support a unit of cavalry which had been pinned down by a British machine gun, saluting smartly he issued his orders and with a jingle of spurs and a creak of the limbers the guns set off.

They moved quickly towards the contact, the battery commander had been instructed that a guide from the cavalry unit under fire would join him on the road between Pervijze and Ramskapelle, just by the major drainage canal. The guide a young unteroffizier lead them along the road to a point 1000m behind the screen, here the Battery Commander issued orders for the battery to halt and carry out maintenance. With that being carried out, he along with the NCO moved forward to scout for a firing position.

They found a suitable location in a small orchard; it was on a very slight rise enabling it to look down on the village of Ramskapelle which was clearly being defended by a substantial force. Most of the artillery pieces in the Imperial German Army were howitzers and as such liked to be positioned behind terrain, firing over it without direct observation, relying instead on the forward observers to issue fire corrections to bring the rounds down on the target. Guns like the 7.7 cm FK 96 n.A. could only elevate to about 16° above the horizontal, this required them to fire directly onto the target. The orchard was ideal, the target village was in range and the position would enable the field guns of the battery to fire directly onto the target. Additionally, the trees gave some cover from observation whilst the neatly aligned trunks did not prevent effective movement by the battery into position or out of position at the end of the shoot.

The battery commander returned to his unit, they had completed what hasty maintenance he had ordered, it was not enough to return to their pre-war splendour, but it would have to do. As well as the losses of equipment, the advance through Belgium had been hard on the battery’s horses, some had been collected by the following Veterinary corps units for treatment but many had broken down, hard work and irregular feeding contributing to their loss of condition. One animal had been diagnosed with Glanders and was shot immediately lest that terrible malady devastate not just the battery but the entire division, fortunately no outbreak had occurred.

The battery quickly moved into position, laying the pieces as the battery commander worked on his firing orders. Having calculated the firing orders he issued them, the guns fired promptly as only well drilled gunners who had done enough firing to hone their skills but not enough to dull them could do. His orders were good, in line with the target and only 200m short, he rapidly calculated his correction and the guns fired again. This time the rounds fell around the target, the well-built farm house with its neat barn was rapidly destroyed, the gunnery paused, partially out of an understandable desire to preserve ammunition but also to judge the effect of their fire.

It was apparent that whilst they demolished the buildings they had not killed or disabled all the Britishers holding up the cavalry, a machine gun resumed fire from a copse of trees off to the west of the first target. The artillery officer sent a running to the supply column for more shells and resumed his calculations as the guns continued to speak.