Sunday, 13 May 2012

ARTILLERY'S ASTROLOGERS: Maps, Survey, Sound Ranging, Flash Spotting in WW1

Artillery's Astrologers - A History of British Survey and Mapping on the Western Front 1914-1918


Peter Chasseaud

This book, which took Dr Chasseaud over twenty years to research and write, is the definitive operational history of British field survey organisation, units and personnel on the Western Front. It covers Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery Survey, and also the aerial photography for survey and intelligence purposes by the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force. It examines all aspects of map production for the British Expeditionary Force, the use of maps, and technological progress in cartography and artillery survey in 1914-1918. It also includes comparisons with French, German and American military survey and mapping.

It is available from Mapbooks, c/o The Tom Paine Printing Press, 151 High Street, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 1XU, UK. Price £50 plus £5 post & packing in UK. Please enquire about postal charges to overseas destinations.

The book is a large hardback quarto (A4) format, comprising 558 pages of text and illustrations. It includes coverage of the following :

Pre-war military maps and survey (engineer survey, artillery survey, air survey)
Geographical Section of the General Staff
Ordnance Survey
1st Printing Company RE
The growth of the wartime military mapping and survey organisation on the Western Front
1st Ranging Section RE
1st Ranging & Survey Section RE
Trench Maps, Intelligence Maps, Hostile Battery Maps, etc.
1st Topographical Section
2nd Topographical Section
3rd Topographical Section
1st Field Survey Company/Battalion
2nd Field Survey Company/Battalion
3rd Field Survey Company/Battalion
4th Field Survey Company/Battalion
5th Field Survey Company/Battalion
Depot Field Survey Company/Battalion
Overseas Branch of the Ordnance Survey (OBOS)
Artillery Survey: fixing British battery positions
Indirect fire
Enemy battery location (sound ranging, flash spotting, air photos)
Observation Groups (Flash Spotting)
Sound Ranging Sections; Experimental Sound Ranging Sections; Wind Sections
Calibration Sections
Aerial Photography and Air Survey; Mapping from Aerial Photographs
Compilation Sections (enemy battery location results)
Corps Topographical Sections
Map Printing Technology

The treatment of all the above is primarily in terms of the chronological and operational development of the survey organisation and units, but personnel and scientific developments (e.g. sound ranging theory and apparatus) are also regarded as important.

British survey work in the First World War was mainly carried out by the sappers, though with a significant gunner contribution; this made possible the remarkable British triumphs of Cambrai in 1917 and the Battles of the Hundred Days in 1918. Far-sighted sappers like Winterbotham, and gunners like Tudor and Lecky, understood the principles of war and the necessity of using the latest technology to achieve surprise. They knew that their task was to destroy or neutralise the enemy machine guns and artillery while the infantry and tanks crossed no man's land and captured and consolidated the enmey position, or fought through to exploit success and manoeuvre to threaten the enemy's flanks and rear organisation.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Third Battle of the Somme. Australian Corps, 1918

The album below is not a manual as such, but contains a large number of aerial photographs of the terrain fought over by the Australian Corps in 1918:

The Third Battle of the Somme. Australian Corps (Intelligence) [Nov-Dec 1918]. AP&SS. Press “A”. Large landscape-format album containing about 90 vertical and oblique air photos covering the operations of the Australian Corps from April 1918 (Villers-Bretonneux), through Hamel and Amiens in July and August, the Hindenburg Line and subsequent operations. No explanatory text except for brief captions. Possible printed as a matter of record, but with distinct emphasis on interpretation, as for example wire, artillery positions, ammunition dumps, railways, hospitals, etc. However, an accompanying printed insert in one copy gives a commemorative/propaganda context:

Herewith a Pictorial History of the Australian Corps in the 3rd Battle of the Somme, from March 27th to October 6th, 1918.

The Photographs studied with a map are in themselves an index to the extent and character of the series of brilliant operations carried out by the troops of the [Australian] Corps. During the period under review a total of 29,144 prisoners and 388 guns, thousands of machine guns, and a large number of trench mortars were captured, beside much R.E. material and other booty.

The advance of the Corps was pursued for a total distance of over 40 miles. Over 120 towns and villages besides a large number of farms, mills, woods and copses were captured, and during the latter stages of the operations many French inhabitants were released from captivity.

39 enemy divisions were engaged and defeated, of which 12 were engaged twice, 6 – 3 times, 1 – 4 times, and 6 have been since disbanded.

The Book is forwarded with best wishes for Xmas and the New Year.

General Staff (Intelligence), Australian Corps.

I am indebted to the Australian War Memorial for the information about this printed insert, which contextualises the publication.

Das Taktische Lichtbilderbuch. Juni 1917. II Teil.

This German aerial photography handbook from the First World War contains many aerial photographs of tactical features, with captions relating to camouflage and concealment. It is particularly informative about trench mortar and machine gun emplacements, and battery positions. Many of the illustrations are from the Russian front.

Das Taktische Lichtbilderbuch. Der Kommandierende General der Luftstreitkräfte. Nr. 2500/17 Lb. Juni 1917. Nur für Dienstgebrauch. II Teil. Die Deckung gegen Fliegersicht. Hergestellt in der Tiefdruckanstalt Charleville. 67pp, 32.5 x 21.5 cm, portrait format. Many aerial photographs of tactical features, with captions relating to camouflage and concealment, reproduced by photogravure.

I will post some of the images shortly, once I have scanned them.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Unidentified airfield - Western Front?

Can anyone identify the town and airfield shown in these two air photos of the First World War period which I've just found in a local flea-market? Look to me like they might be German photos, possibly of a German airfield in northern France or Belgium. Both photos show fiducial marks, which is not normally the case for RFC/RAF photos (though RNAS photos do sometimes show them). The top one is approx. 163 x 217 mm (about 6.5 x 8.5 inches), while the bottom one is approx. 163 x 188 mm (about 6.5 x 7.5 inches).

Added 23 Dec 2010: Ha! I've beaten you to it. I have identified the village and airfield as Abscon, just to the west of Denain (SSW of Valenciennes) in northern France. I thought I'd look at some First World War maps (British 1:40,000 series) to seee if I could spot the street plan with the distinctive feature of the church on the road-bend. I lloked at Sheets 51 and 51A, and sure enough, within a minute or two I found the village of Abscon. Google Earth seemed to confirm it, and when I searched Google images for Abscon I found photos of the church and the Mairie next to it.

So there we are; they're German photos of a German airfield. It now remains to pin down the year. It's clearly the summer, and, given the type of German aeroplanes shown (Steve Suddaby gives his opinion that 'it might be a Hannover CL II or III. It looks to be the size of a two-seater based on comparing it with the wagon and team of oxen/horses pulling it. If my eyes are not deceiving me, it seems to have a double horizontal stabilizer which greatly narrows the number of aircraft types of any country that it might be. The wing configuration seems to match a Hannover. If I'm right about the aircraft type, it would date the photo to late 1917 or later'), may be 1917-1918.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Notes on the Interpretation of Air Photographs, 1924

The following volume is a fascinating link between the air photo (AP) interpretation manuals produced during the First World War and the later developments in the inter-war period and the Second World War. I believe there is a copy in The National Archives at Kew. I'll post some images in due course.

Notes on the Interpretation of Air Photographs, War Office, May 1924. For Official Use Only. Air Min. 2235. ((40/Misc./2235). [HMSO] Print code: (C4357) Wt.W1149/PP2982 6/24 250 Harrow. 1 page Contents. 1 page List of Plates. Text pages 5-15. 143 plates: Photographs Reproduced by Advanced Photographic Section, AP&SS, British Army of the Rhine, covering Western Front, Rhine, Italy, Palestine, Macedonia and Gallipoli fronts. ‘This manual embodies the experience gained in the interpretation of air photographs during the stabilised periods of warfare on the various fronts between 1915 and 1918. The photographs reproduced in the plates exemplify types of work which may, or may not, be met with in the future.’ Large portrait-format album, 14” x 12”, thick buff covers, with black cloth spine. All plates are real photographs, not half-tone reproductions, except for one for guidance in interpretation of certain features (gunpits, trench mortar emplacements, etc.) which is based on wartime drawings.

I'm currently working on a book exploring the relationship between air photos and tactical maps such as artillery maps and trench maps. This will examine the developing sophistication of interpretation, and the exploitation of its fruits in the proliferation of tactical (and topographical) signs on the maps.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Willows Poems

Here are some poems I wrote while writing my book Willow / Wilg / Weide / Saule (Ypres Willows):

Willows Poems

Shock of Recognition, Pilckem Ridge

Blood-dark, stark against the sky
are war’s images we carry from photograph’s still grain,
the film’s foolery of the eye, a painting’s pigment,
the landscape sweep of panoramas . . .
Their shapes jolt vision, shake sense, dislocate;
these fields were, are.

Tree-fans of high explosive smoke erupt from fields
where willow rods now claim the sky.
Spring’s lanyard jerks at the breech,
a green fuze triggers spurting sap’s gaine;
willow fingers start their splaying trajectory.

We are in the killing zone, once quick with death’s dawn timetable,
its tide marks of cartographic plots:
the field guns’ creeping and standing barrages,
the machine gun barrage,
the bombardment by trench mortars,
by medium and heavy artillery.

Here men flounder over fractured earth,
through nets of wire,
through air roaringly reticulated;
flayed by a burning sleet of lead,
scouring shrapnel balls’ fiery hail,
a steel scourge of splinters.

Napoleon’s Fifth Element, Passchendaele

Earth, rooted;
Air, breathing and dancing;
Fire, all around;
Water, the life blood;

The Line of March, Messines

Static sentinels,
or stalking figures, up the track, along the hedge;
then in open order,
shaking out into line
or artillery formation.

their rods
explode into the sky.

Ancient Pollards, Ploegsteert
(‘Old willow boles, rarely sound and falling about untidily,
continue to shoot vigorously’)

Spiky, hoary polls -
the old sweats, who once fired
fifteen rounds rapid.

Rotting, raddled corpses,
And survivors, old wounds healed
around shell splinters, steel rods, concrete,
screw pickets, wire barbs.

White Willows, Cross Roads Farm

Some white willows are weeping,
their lashes stroking the moat’s breast,
dropping tears.

Bat and Ball; drawing a blank

The backs of the leaves flicker white in the wind
as a ghost, or an angel, passes;
the felled tree’s flesh glimmers with the pallor of a shroud.
Sawn straight from it, the undressed white willow slab, square cut,
like the round which will not kill
is called a blank (not ball).

Reading the Runes, St Yvon

How to read the brown hare,
lored with wicca and moon,
breaking in February’s sunshine over the plough,
along no man’s land, from the trees around the flooded mine crater,
from the wired brushwood by the concrete pillbox sherds?

Trees as text
or as signs, symbols;
conventional signs on the map –
the dots penning the flowing beke,
shoring the still dyke or pool?

Read their linearity, their punctuation,
their studding, their scatter in the landscape.
What information do they yield, these willow patterns?
Some deep, ancient pattern of cultivation, of mulch and tilth,
of gabion, wattle and revetment against the rushing water,
the drilling rain, crumbling bank.

That here Flemish farmers fought the rheumy clay
to work their root crops and pastures,
seed their land,
plant their rods, harvest the osier crop
along the ditch, around the teeming pool and moat.

They line the cultivation, mark the gutter,
form field boundaries, divide lush pasture from clay plough.

Or that here was a battle
leaving a hecatomb of corpses?

The Quick and the Dead
(with acknowledgements to Robert Graves)

A tree of enchantment,
the moon’s willow is the fifth tree,
one of the seven wise pillars, with their planets, days and letters,
one of the seven noble, sacred, trees of the grove.
Its branches waving at the fifth month
start May Day’s orgiastic revels, spring magic dew,
urge the season of the renewed sun.

Helicë, the willow sacred to poets,
names Helicon, home of the Nine Muses,
wanton priestesses of the Moon-goddess.
Mount Helicon’s willow fairy, Heliconian the Muse (the White Goddess),
waves her willow-wand,
starts the wind whispering inspiration in the willows,
puts poets’ minds under a strange and potent influence.
Mystically eloquent, Orpheus received his gift
by touching willows in Persephone’s grove;
outside the Dictean Cave the Orphic willow grew.

Water-loving willow, goddess of wells and springs;
witches went to sea in willow basket-sieves, sailed in riddles,
the liknos, used for winnowing corn, telling the future.
Poseidon, to whom a Helicean Grove was sacred,
led the Muses, guarded the Delphic Oracle, before Apollo.

Belili, Sumerian White Goddess, was a willow-goddess of wells and springs.
Beli, her divinatory son, a Sea-god, tutelary deity of Britain - his ‘honey-isle’.
A god must commands its waters –
the grey Narrow Seas, green Western Approaches, blue High Seas –
before he can rule an island.

Weep, willow, for your lost lover;
wear green willows in your hat as a sign;
and as a charm against the jealousy
of the Moon-goddess.

White Moon-wood, dove, barn owl;
Willow’s landscape is the terrain of death, of the White Goddess,
whose prime orgiastic bird – the wryneck, snake-bird, cuckoo’s mate,
spring migrant hissing like a snake,
nests in willows.

Europë on coins from Cretan Gortyna,
sits in a willow tree, osier basket in hand, made love to by an eagle;
is Eur-ope, of the broad face, the Full Moon,
and Eu-rope, of the flourishing withies, Helice, sister of Amalthea.

The ancient word for willow
yields witch, wicked, wicca, wicker;
at Fricourt, by no strange transposition,
Wicket Corner became Wicked Corner.

Druids offer human sacrifice
in wicker baskets
at the full moon.
Rods sprout from willows’ polls, make baskets ensnaring the moon.
Flints knapped to willow-leaves,
inscribed with crescent moons,
are funery.

Willow is sacred to Hecate, Circe, Hera and Persephone,
the Triple Moon-goddess’s witch-worshipped death faces;
so you haven’t got a chance, boys, in the willow landscape.

Willow service

Trussed with rust-barbed wire,
they stand
as fence posts,
supports for notice boards,
field boundaries;
revet the stream banks,
yield rods, poles, firewood,
nests for birds,
lashed cross-branches skied crows’ nests,
cross-trees for storks, kites;
hiding places for children in their crowns,
for owls in their hollow skulls,
a little shelter against rain’s lashing,
shade for picnics and lovers.

Secauspion Road

I'm posting this here because my web search for Secauspion Road turned up zero web pages - a most unusual event these days! Secauspion Road was a plank road constructed across the shell-wrecked swampland of the Ypres Salient during the Third Battle of Ypres (1917). I believe the name is a composite, derived from SECond AUStralian PIONeers. Does anyone have any confirmation, or any alternative ideas?

This was one of the fascinating trench and topographical names I discovered while scouring trench maps, divisional and regimental histories, war diaries and other sources, for my book Rats Alley - Trench Names of the Western Front (2006).