Shelling requires finding the target, or ranging, and in the earlier years of the war, that required firing, observation of where the shell landed, a report to the gunners of the discrepancy, an adjustment, another shell, another report, another adjustment … Hence the observer and the signaller in the boat. Let us hope that when Percy’s battery undertook this exercise in April 1916 that it was a little less difficult than our intrepid reporter told us in February 1915.
Owing to the heavy swell and a cockle-shell boat, the signaller could see nothing on shore, despite the aid of [field] glasses, though he sent the signal to fire ashore. Nothing but the swish of water was noticed for several minutes, every man in the boat keeping his eyes on the targets. Then suddenly, a curious whirring, buzzing sound was heard, giving the impression of appalling speed, though nothing could be seen: and a spurt of water dashed up some three hundred yards beyond the targets. The shell had hit the water without bursting. Immediately after the boom of the gun was heard, the sound travelling much less swiftly than the shell. And again, the weird z-z-ing sound was heard, and the shell burst well beyond the targets, but above the water.
The signaller sent reports back to shore about the misses. Though he could see no acknowledgement from his position in a bobbing boat 2500 yards (1.4 miles, 2.4 km) off shore, they must have been received.
Shot by shot, the shells came nearer the targets, until two burst at exact range and well above the water. The range was found, and the area round the targets was peppered with a hail of bullets [shrapnel pieces]. Thereafter the shooting was very accurate and successful.
That assessment might have been optimistic. When it was over, “the little boat shot over to examine the targets. One had but two bullet holes; the other had its top section riddled and a cross-bar smashed.”
The officers pronounced the marksmanship excellent “as a whole, and seeing that it was a first practice.”
The anonymous correspondent’s report appeared in the Globe (1844-1936). Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers. February 22, 1915. 6.
The images are from John Boyd’s First World War Photographs, City of Toronto Archives.
Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”