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Field Guns in the Balkan Wars
Techniques of employment (1912-1913)
Except for Montenegro, all of the states that fought in the Balkan Wars provided the field batteries of their first line divisions with quickfiring field guns of recent types. This was remarkable, not merely because such weapons were expensive, but also because many richer states had yet to achieve the same degree of modernization. Italy, for example, had waited until 1911 to begin the replacement of its obsolete field guns with pieces provided with on-carriage recoil mechanisms.
Quickfiring field guns offered three great advantages over their predecessors. First, they enjoyed much higher rates of fire. (A gun with an on-carriage recoil mechanism fired twice as many shells per minute as an otherwise identical weapon that was mounted on a rigid carriage.) Second, because each piece remained in place during the complete cycle of loading, aiming, and firing, quickfiring guns could be fitted with steel shields. Third, quickfiring guns were well suited to the use of a powerful technique called “indirect laying.”
Until the introduction of on-carriage recoil mechanisms, gunners usually aimed field guns in much the same way as a contemporary foot soldier aimed his rifle. That is, they laid their weapons directly upon the target. Once, however, quickfiring artillery pieces became available, a growing number of artillerists began to replace “indirect laying” with a more complicated method. This involved many more steps than the old method, and thus a greater degree of skill on the part of both the men aiming the guns and the officers doing the math. At the same time, however, it allowed batteries to take up positions behind hills, ridges, and other pieces of high ground.
In the years leading up to 1912, Bulgarian, Greek, and Serbian artillery officers had embraced indirect laying with great enthusiasm. Their Ottoman counterparts, however, preferred a somewhat different technique. Rather than hiding their field guns in “full defilade,” Ottoman artillery officers were much more likely to deploy them as “masked batteries.” That is, they placed their pieces in ground that, while offering a degree of protection, allowed Ottoman gunners to aim directly at their intended victims.
Three factors fostered Ottoman fondness for partially defiladed positions. The first was the fact that the vast majority of quick-firing guns that the German firm of Krupp sold to the Ottoman Empire lacked a feature (known as “independent line of sight”) that facilitated indirect laying. The second was the relatively low level of technical skill on the part of both officers who did the calculations and the enlisted men who aimed the guns. The third was the desire of Ottoman artillery officers to remain in close contact with the infantry units with which they were cooperating.
On the battlefields of Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace, and Gallipoli, batteries that employed indirect laying usually got the better of their “masked” counterparts. As a result, it did not take long for Bulgarian, Greek, and Serbian gunners to silence the Ottoman field guns they encountered. This led to many situations in which the infantrymen of the armies of the Balkan League enjoyed the support of friendly artillery while Ottoman foot soldiers found themselves fighting alone.
A. Trapmann “The Greek Operations in Epirus” Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, April 1913, pages 201-217
G. Bellenger “Notes sur l’Emploi de l’Artillerie dans la Campagne des Balkans” Revue d’Artillerie, November 1913, pages 85-100.
Ludwig “Die Artillerie im Balkan-Kriege” Vierteljahreshefte für Truppenführung und Heereskunde, 2/1914, pages 270-286