A Better Rifle at Halloween


German intelligence had indicated that Britain was being steadily drained of any bodies of trained men. The territorial divisions were being steadily transferred to France, these men lacked the training that made the British Regulars so effective, likewise their equipment was older and often obsolescent, they had performed surprisingly well so far confounding intelligence assessments, assessments that were often drawn directly from the comments of regular British officers. Von Kluck remembered that Kitchener had been damning of the territorials, referring to them as mere amateurs playing at soldiers and a waste of money. There was nothing to do now but wait, hope still played at von Klucks breast but he also had a nagging worry, he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Oh Man! He is in for a a surprise...

Asian Jumbo

Monthly Donor
I would click on ‘like’ (as your storyline & writing most certainly deserves it!) but the carnage described is just so horrific…
Yeah its hard to 'like' such butchery. But dear lord that was superbly written. The concentration of 4 MG's would probably be copied and I assume very soon at the office of Farquar-Hill they'll get a phone call.

"Mr Hill...its the Army, they say they want to buy more rifles."
"Oh? What Regiment is after them now?"
"Um...all of them. Its the War Office on the phone right now...something about 'just tell him to shut up and take our money.'"
IV Corps goes into action.
20th September 1914,

The negotiations between General Humbert of the Moroccan Division and General Friedrich Sixt von Armin, commanding IV Corps had resulted in the German army delaying its attack on Leuze-en-Hainaut whilst the wounded were evacuated. The French general had promised that he would allow the repatriation of any of the severely wounded along with the doctors and nurses once they had been evacuated. Von Armin was happy to comply, his own Corps was able to use the time to reposition its forces after the victory at the Battle of Rumes previously. He had destroyed the bridges of the Scheldt and placed blocking forces at any of the likely crossing points. The delay was agreed until midnight on the 19th of September, by this stage von Armin had also received the orders from von Kluck that he was to attack at dawn on the 20th. As well as repositioning his infantry and artillery von Armin had gathered up every spare soldier that could be found, landswehr garrisons, transport drivers, military policemen, they were formed into three ersatz battalions ready as reserves for the big push.

The French had managed to bring up their 75mm guns along with the 65mm mountain guns, the French artillery men had been learning the hard lessons of the siege of Namur and the blood-letting in Lille and they had dug their guns in well, they would not expose the guns to counter battery fire until the last minute.

The captured 15cm guns were being moved back down the line. General Humbert having telegraphed for some heavy tractors to help with the evacuation of these guns whilst he was negotiating over the issue of the hospital train. Of the 8 15cm guns captured 4 were successfully evacuated when the truce ended along with samples of ammunition. None of the gunners had been captured when the town fell, they had retreated along with the surviving landwehr.

The 7.7cm guns were moved into reserve positions to support the defences these guns were given scratch crews made up of a leavening of the divisions gunners and anyone else detailed to the task including a number of Belgian men who claimed to have received artillery training in the past.

General Humbert had made an attempt to evacuate the civilians from the town, many had tried to resist but they had been prevailed upon to leave, Humbert knew what was coming and he didn’t want any more dead Belgians than could be helped. That said he did compel the assistance of many of the men of the town, those that had received military training in the past and with the Kings proclamation of a Levee En Masse were subject to military conscription anyway. Their weapon was the shovel, trenches were being dug everywhere, breastworks and roadblocks were prepared, and the engineers checked that their demolition charges were ready. The towns medical personnel were also compelled to remain, casualties would be heavy and the extra doctors would prove invaluable. The local priest remained along with several nuns and monks, they would give comfort and aid to the wounded.

General von Armin had used his machine guns and artillery effective to break the assaults of 6th army at Rumes, he new that the French force he was facing would have their highly effective 75mm gun with them and those guns and their machine guns would devastate his assault regiments unless they were supressed. The days pause had given his troop enough time to get a single spotting ballon aloft, they had dragged the thing backward and forward through France and Belgium but finally it had paid for all the trouble it had caused. It was connected directly to the heavy batteries attached to his Corps and his artillery observers had used it to identify suitable targets, nothing had been done at the time given the truce but that peace was about to end. The French were aware of the impact of observation ballons having a long history of them within their own armed forces and they had made serious efforts to avoid exposing anything of military value to the pitiless eyes in the sky. This contest was an unequal one between the unhurried observer looking down from above and the scurrying ant below knowing that he would soon be stomped by a furious weight of metal.

The truce expired at midnight, at one minute past midnight the German Artillery opened fire, most of the artillery strength of IV corps was available saving those 7.7cm guns that were overwatching the Scheldt. Every 10.5cm howitzer and all seven of the surviving 15cm guns were dedicated to reducing the French defences to rubble. The German gunners had more ammunition available than their comrades facing the north and they decided not on a hurricane of fire before the initial infantry assault but rather on a steady and methodical bombardment. Each gun was to fire at a steady 2 rounds per hour from midnight, a total of over 200 rounds aimed at the town and the outer defensive line. This steady drumbeat of fire was enough to disrupt the sleep of the French defenders, to knock down houses and render any movement above ground hazardous.

Whether by chance or good shooting the train carrying the German Artillery was hit by a 15cm shell from the heavy battery, the resulting chain of detonations was cataclysmic as over 10 tonnes of ammunition and propellant exploded. The blast stunned many of the defenders, however less were wounded or killed than perhaps a blast of that magnitude should have warranted as the French had recognised the risk of the train being hit and exploding and had ensured that as far as practical the area was unmanned. Little remained of the train and its cargo but twisted metal and a shallow crater blasted in the roadbed. Even if the Germans recaptured the town their own handy work had crippled the railway line for days until it could be repaired.

In the hour before dawn the gunners changed tempo. What had been a leisurely rate of fire was picking up, like the conductor of an Orchestra going from larghetto to allegretto to presto, so the guns went from 2 rounds per hour to 4 rounds per minute to 15 rounds per minute for the last five minutes.

As dawn broke on Leuze-en-Hainaut it was shattered, there was not a house left standing, the church was in ruins, the school and town hall both demolished and the ruins on fire. The French soldiers whose training before the war had emphasised the offense were still learning the value of the shovel. Recently published Staff notes and training had emphasised the value of hasty entrenchments but the regulars of the Moroccan division had not learnt all there was to know. Despite the weight of fire, the majority of men emerged, many lightly wounded, others nursing more grievous hurts but recognising the need to stand up and fight. Fight they would as the German infantry formed up for the first assault, von Armin had learnt much from his battle with the 6th army. His men did not form up in neatly dressed lines for the assault, the formation his men adopted was looser than that used recently. The reduced density reduced the impact of the 75’s and the machine guns but would also lessen the shock value of the charge. The French guns fired as his men emerged from the front line positions, the machine guns chattered and men fell. Von Armin had moved up to the front line, he needed to see the battle to control the battle and he could not rely on runners, messengers and the field telegraph it, instead it would be as in days of old by the sound of his voice.

His view from the start line was rewarded with horror, a section of infantry was moving forward under the hoarsely shouted commands of a feldwebel. When a 75mm high explosive shell bounced once and exploded, the section slightly bunched by fear and a desire to be close to their trusted leader was blown into bloody gobbets of flesh, nothing left of one man but a single boot and lower leg which incongruously remained upright stuck in a patch of mud. Despite the murderous fire of the French Artillery, clearly unsuppressed by his own gun’s efforts, the infantry moved forward, hunched slightly as though walking into rain. As well as the blast of high explosive and the sibilant hiss of shrapnel, to the cacophony of battle was soon added the stutter of machine guns and then the steady crack of rifle fire. His brigades were being slaughtered, but there was no option but to continue, he commanded the second brigade out of the line and into the attack, it to evaporated like a drop of water on a frying pan, but by now the first line was almost at the wire. The hung up on the wire, young men braying as they died, but their deaths allowed the second line to push forward, great rents blasted by the 65mm mountain guns that had now joined the battle. The French infrantry were out of their trenches now, maddened by their own fear and the cult of the bayonet they plunged forward into a melee, neither side giving or receiving quarter. Both sides had taken heavy casualties, artillery falling in the town trying to silence the French guns and prevent reinforcements from moving forward French 75’s firing as fast as they could cutting down the flower of German youth. General von Armin longed to fling himself into the fray, two of his three brigades had already been gutted and still the line held, he ordered the ersatz brigade into the attack next. This unit would have to soak up fire to enable the final infantry brigade to capture the town, it was a wasteful order, many of the men condemned by it were trained specialists from the Corps support echelon but they were German soldiers and they were just as proud and disciplined as their infantry comrades. The advance of the ersatz brigade seemed to tip the battle, French infantry seemed to flow out of their own defensive lines back into the town, they were not routed, they kept their arms but they no longer seemed will to stand in the maelstrom. With a great roar the remnants of the first two attacking waves and the triumphant third advanced. They had secured the trench before Leuze-en-Hainaut, the town beckoned. It was at this point that General Humbert played his last card.

He had kept one regiment of his division out of Leuze-en-Hainaut, they had been dug in to the south of the town in a wood, they had waited out the artillery fire and remained silent during the attack on the town but now with the division pushed back into the town three red flares blossomed overhead. The brigade surged forward, the men of the 2nd Mixed Colonial Regiment were from French North Africa caught the surging German troops off guard, their wholly unexpected attack into the flank turned triumph into terror. The adhoc artillery battery they had gained with the capture of the German 7.7cm guns merely added to the chaos, their shells fired perpendicular to the German attack proved highly effective.

General von Armin recognised the battle was at a critical point, he threw the last of his reserves into the fight for Leuze-en-Hainaut, the last infantry brigade was ordered forward, he and his staff joined it, perhaps it was not the place for a 63year old man but surrounded by his troops von Armin could do no less.

They slogged forward, taking fire from both the remaining defenders in the town and the force on the southern flank but compelled forward by discipline and pride. Their officers had let the men know of the likely outcome if Germany was defeated, Russian forces already occupying parts of East Prussia would seize even more driving their people from their ancestral lands whilst France and Belgium would grab all of Germany up to the Rhine in revenge for what had passed. The British, those schemers would carve up the empire overseas and soon Germany would be nothing but a series of petty states struggling to survive in a Europe dominated by France and Russia.

But fine words and courage are nothing compared to an 8mm bullet from a Lebel rifle, nor a bayonet in the guts, when the fine sentiments of the officers met the brutal reality of the Moroccan Division reality was the winner. The fighting raged back and forward but slowly the Moroccans fighting from the rubble that was all that remained of Leuze-en-Hainaut gained an edge, the colonial regiment whose lines had never been shelled provided a secure base of fire with which to lash the invader. As the remainder of the IV corps recoiled from Leuze-en-Hainaut, the broken body of their General was pressed into the mud by the boots of fearful men, the body would be discovered 50 years later by a Belgian farmer, another unknown soldier in a field where he harvested a few every year.
For an occasion so horrific that is really good writing, I would press like except it does seem a bit off to do so for a description of such slaughter.
So the Germans have basically lost an entire division in a morning! The French maybe a brigade? Neither side and sustain that level of loss surely.
At Ath
20th September1914, Ath

General von Lochow commander of III Corps had taken operational control of the remnant of VII Corps, 14th Infantry Division had spent the past two days retreating from the Ath Leuze-en-Hainaut salient, reconstituting and absorbing the survivors of 13th Infantry Division, the 14th was to be slotted into the command structure of III Corps and would be the reserve for the upcoming attack.

The newly expanded III Corps would consist of three divisions 5th and 6th Infantry Divisions and the aforementioned 14th, was therefore overstrength, it had taken some losses in the advance across Belgium and in the fighting for Lille but it was at 75% strength in Infantry and battle hardened. Its greatest weakness was artillery, the majority of its 7.7cm guns and 10.5cm howitzers had been transported back across Belgium, but for the heavy guns the same was not true, only one battery of 15cm guns had made forward to take part in the attack on Ath. Ammunition shortages were part of the reason for this, the siege of Lille had cost much of the ready stocks of ammunition and with only limited supplies available the heavy guns would only take up space on the crowded roads. The other challenge facing the army was fodder, little was available, the Belgian countryside was in a state of incipient revolt and rick burning was becoming common. Without fodder the horses could not work and the already sclerotic supply chain would freeze up completely.

Byng’s VI Corps, consisting of the 1st London Division and the East Lancashire Division was strongly entrenched in Ath itself using the canal as the anchor for their lines, they had managed to gather sufficient barbed wire to create a proper entanglement. The outer picket line was much more weakly held, with individual platoon strong points usually centred on a well-built farmhouse or similar structure. These platoons were not intended to stop the anticipated attack but merely to break it up and channel it. Casualties in these forward outposts would be high, but the flat ground around Ath necessitated a forward defence.

General von Lochow, had learnt from the fighting around Lille, he had sent his men against the French guns in heavy attacks and lost heavily, like von Armin he had combed his rear area’s for men, he had not tried to create ersatz battalions with them instead they had been added to existing units and individual reinforcements. He would not do the same here, nor would he engage in a prolonged artillery barrage to try and blast his way through the British lines, he lacked the guns and supplies for that. Instead he would order a single heavy barrage at the maximum rate his guns could sustain for 10 minutes, 15 rounds a minute for two minutes, 10 rounds a minute for six minutes, then 15 rounds a minute for two minutes. The 7.7cm guns fired a mixture of shrapnel and high explosive rounds, every location which had been identified as a potential strong point was plastered with high explosives. The 10.5cm howitzers were set to work over the town itself, the 15cm guns would target the British Artillery positions, once again the British had failed to ensure that their artillery was properly concealed, it was more widely dispersed than at Sottegem which would make the job of the 15cm guns harder.

The artillery broke on Ath in a storm, General von Lochow had elected to wait until 30 minutes after dawn before the artillery barrage commenced. Dawn was at 7:27 that morning, the British who had stood to in anticipation of attack had just begun to relax slightly as the sun rose over the Belgian countryside, when the rushing roar of artillery shattered the peace of the morning. The effect of the artillery was devastating, hundreds of shells were falling on the British positions, von Lochow waited another 30 minutes, the impact would have been even greater with working parties dispersed to bring up food, supplies and ammunition.
As it was the shells did not catch many soldiers out in the open, the shrapnel was therefore mostly but not entirely wasted. The high explosive rounds on the other hand did prove to be highly effective, the strongpoints on the north-western side of Ath were well targeted, the majority were hit with resulting destruction. The 1st (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers), provided the men for the strong points, the rest of its parent brigade was dug in before the bridges over the canal.

The strength of two attacking divisons being focused on the shattered remnant of a single battalion proving to much for many of the territorials, some men fled back towards the main British line, others cowered in the bottom of the trench’s, others cursed and sobbed, driven mad by the thunderous brutality of the king of battle. Most men endured the lashing of fire, standing to and waiting for enemy, their subalterns; lawyers, accountants and managers by day and soldiers on the weekend gave the order to fix bayonets. Two poor unfortunates were arrested as they fled from the battle, discarded rifles and packs seen as evidence of cowardly intent.
The attacking infantry units emerged cautiously from the start line, they lavished the strong points with machine gun and rifle fire doing all that they could to suppress the survivors, this solution was effective in many places, with such a preponderance of fire. Men fell back into the trenches to lie still in death or in other cases to twitch and quiver as life left them.
The traffic was not one way, whilst the defending battalion only had two machine guns they had been thoughtfully positioned and they began to play on the advancing grey clad horde. But musketry was the crowning glory of the British infantryman and these men were fusiliers long known for their skills, they carried the Magazine Lee Enfield like most Territorials, obsolescent it might have been it was still highly effective and these men had all passed the mad minute in training and shot many more since war had been declared. The steady crackle of rifle fire spread along the front, the tat-tat-tat of machine guns, the blast of more high explosive shells as the german gunners fired over open sights.
The advancing infantry pushed forward, the strongpoint line held, wavered, buckled, and then fractured. Some strong points holding out in a sea of German infantry, others fell quickly to German bayonets and rifles or in one case hand grenades, in other locations an officer or NCO or even in one case private would gather up the survivors and retire back to the main line of resistance.
The distance from the strong point line to the main line of resistance was 300 yards, a soldier carrying rifle ammunition water and food should be able to cover the distance in no more than 2 minutes. For many of the German soldiers attacking Ath this was an insurmountable gap, they had fought past the strong point line taking casualties as they did so but now they were faced by 300yards of open ground, criss-crossed by ditches and wet with autumn rain. Whistles blew and trumpets sounded as orders to press on flowed down corps to division to brigade to regiment to battalion to company and finally down to the platoons. The maschinengewehr 08 of the machine gun companies now had to be laboriously dragged forward to support the attack.
This pause in the attack gave the British in Ath a chance to recover, stunned by the artillery and then surprised by the swift collapse of the strongpoint line they had not had a chance to think. Fortunately enough officers and men had seen action in the past that they knew what to do. One old major who had last seen action at Omdurman seemed to have flashed back there, his order was “D Company firing by platoons volley fire”, the company sergeant major who had been with him on that day 20 years earlier began giving the firing commands, each platoon firing in its turn. The major returned from whence he had been and gave a more modern order “D Company individual firing 10 rounds rapid” with that the musketry resumed a pace better suited to modern war. The Germans faced the exact same problem that the Mahdi’s men had in 1895, they could not advance into ground dominated by rifles and machine guns.
Both sides tusseled back and forth, the artillery firing whenever it was clear, shrapnel howling overhead to smash through concentrations of men. High explosive shells fired to try and wipe out the other sides guns, dead men, wounded horses, burning buildings.It ended with exhaustion, the tide of German dead had lapped up to Ath, but living did not over run it, instead they settled in place, III Corps unable to push the British back but still strong enough to stop them advancing on to Sottegem.
Yeah its hard to 'like' such butchery. But dear lord that was superbly written. The concentration of 4 MG's would probably be copied and I assume very soon at the office of Farquar-Hill they'll get a phone call.

"Mr Hill...its the Army, they say they want to buy more rifles."
"Oh? What Regiment is after them now?"
"Um...all of them. Its the War Office on the phone right now...something about 'just tell him to shut up and take our money.'"
Shortly after some German officer picks up a F-H SLR Mauser gets a special delivery and very firmly expressed command to do this but better, and we want 10,000 by Christmas.
You know the French are going to a bit annoyed when they find out about the Farquhar-Hill rifle because they were waiting to replace the Lebel Model 1886 rifle with a semi-automatic rifle.
First class writing.
Trivia but there was no mad minute in the training.
Actually there was. Practice number 22, Rapid Fire, The Musketry Regulations, Part I, 1909. It required 15 rounds at a second class figure target at 300 yards. Lying with 4 rounds in magazine and one in the chamber, one minute allowed. It was part of the annual classification exam.
Actually there was. Practice number 22, Rapid Fire, The Musketry Regulations, Part I, 1909. It required 15 rounds at a second class figure target at 300 yards. Lying with 4 rounds in magazine and one in the chamber, one minute allowed. It was part of the annual classification exam.
Indeed so but 15 aimed rounds in one minute with two reloads is very rapid work and very creditable but not the classic ‘how many rounds can you get off and hit the (variously specified) target in one minute ‘mad minute’ meme’.

FWIW my grandfather qualified on the Practice Number 22 and used his skills in 1914 onwards. I have failed miserably to equal this but fumble every charger reload. Now standing with my Martini Henry at 100 metres I could do 12 aimed rounds. Rather shows my my limits and the old boy would have gone a funny colour and shouted rude things at me very loudly had I the misfortune to be one of his soldiers. But then he learned his skills the hard way in South Africa.
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