Artillery: Shrapnel 3

However effective shrapnel was against living bodies, human and animal, it had its disadvantages. If those bodies were protected behind trench walls, in folds of the landscape or even shell holes, shrapnel flew over them almost harmlessly, as the shell spewed its contents forward on detonation.

barbed wire beaumont hamel NL archives

Barbed wire at Beaumont Hamel, France July 1916 (3)

It had some effectiveness in cutting barbed wire, assuming that its fuse detonated above ground, instead of allowing the shell to bury itself in the ground.  (1) In 1916, fuses were still a problem. At the Somme, a week-long preliminary bombardment of the German lines neither cut the tangles of wire and nor destroyed the enemy in his trenches, as the plan called for. As a result, when the bombardment ceased and British soldiers advanced, they were mown down by machine-gun fire, and if they got that far, trapped in the wire. (2)

Then German shrapnel did what shrapnel does best: it shredded the living and “churned up” the dead.  (2)

(1) Radley, Kenneth. We Lead, Others Follow. First Canadian Division 1914-1918. 2006. 129.
(2) Cook, Tim. At the Sharp End. Canadians Fighting the Great War Vol. 1 1914-1916. 2007.412 -414.
(3) The image is from the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”

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