German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

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German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by woneil » 09 Dec 2013 20:33

I'm trying to get clear in my mind just what artillery forces were employed by the German Second Army in its attacks on the Liége forts.

The principal books I've consulted so far have been
—Cron, Hermann, Imperial German Army, 1914: Organisation, Structure, Orders of Battle, trans. C.F. Colton (Helion, 2002) [Geschichte des Deutschen Heeres im Weltkriege 1914-1918 (Berlin: Militarverlag Karl Siegismund, 1937)].
—Donnell, Clayton, The Forts of the Meuse in World War I (Osprey, 2007).
—Humphries, Mark Osborne and John Maker, eds., Germany's Western Front: Translations from the German Official History of the Great War, 1914: Part 1, The Battle of the Frontiers and the Pursuit to the Marne (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2013). [Referenced her as DW trans.]
—Jäger, Herbert, German Artillery of World War One (Marlborough, Wiltshire: Crowood Press, 2001).

Operations against Liége commenced with an attempt to "bounce" the forts on the night of 5-6 Aug. The defending forces were much stronger and more determined than had been allowed for and as a result little of substance was accomplished while heavy casualties were sustained. The town itself was taken, but this was not of much value while the forts held out.

According to DW trans. (Kindle Locations 2106-2108), "On the afternoon of 8 August, the first fort fell. Oberst von Massow had ordered Fort Barchon be brought under fire by his two mortar batteries during his brigade’s advance. As a result, the commander of Fort Barchon surrendered when Infantry Regiment 16 advanced against the gorge from the town." From the map on p. 43 of Donnell, it appears that this would have been 27th Brigade. According to Donnell, p. 45, Barchon had been bombarded with 21cm guns. Presumably these were 21cm Mörser M10, of which Jäger says only a couple of sentences.

The Liége forts had been designed to withstand 21cm fire, but of course in 1914 21cm weapons were more powerful than they had been 25 years earlier, when the forts were planned. Donnell describes the damage the bombardment had done to the fort on pp. 45-46—the decision to surrender seems somewhat questionable in light of what he says.

Next according to DW trans. (Kindle Locations 2122-2123) "[O]n the evening of 11 August, the troops that General von Emmich had allotted to the eastern front [forts?] ... had forced Fort Evegnée to surrender by applying concentrated artillery fire." Donnell says (p. 47), "The 28cm barrels of the 9th and 4th Artillery Regiments opened fire on Fort d'Evegnée at 0900 hours on 10 August and continued all day long, finally stopping at 0450hrs on the 11th. Shells fell at the rate of 250-75 projectiles per hour." This would imply that something like 4,900 projectiles struck the fort.

Jäger has some often-reproduced images of 28cm L/12 and L/14 Küstenmörser (on box-trail wheeled carriages) on pp. 43-44, but in the notes for the table on p. 68 he identifies these as one-off experimental weapons. (There were also 28cm Küstenmörser that were actually for coastal defense, although they would not have been very effective in that role.) So the identity of the "28cm barrels of the 9th and 4th Artillery" is a mystery.

DW trans. goes on to say (Kindle Locations 2123-2130), "The IX Corps isolated Fort Pontisse with parts of 17th Infantry Division and drew the 18th after it into the line Saive–Evegnée–Soumagne. On the afternoon of 12 August, its heavy (and heaviest) artillery—including heavy coastal mortar (38 cm) [30.5cm? 28cm?] and shorter naval gun (42 cm) batteries—came into action against Forts Pontisse and Fléron. On VII Corps’ front, 13th Infantry Division’s heavy artillery opened fire on Fort Chaudfontaine on 12 August. The first result of this artillery barrage—which included 42 cm guns—was the fall of Fort Pontisse.... The fighting for Fléron lasted until the afternoon of 14 August despite a simultaneous Minenwerfer attack."

Donnell (p. 48) elaborates that under intense covering fire a company of 24th Pioneers was able to approach Fort de Fléron in the darkness and emplace a heavy trench mortar to pound the fort.

By that point the 42cm M-gerät howitzers had been brought into action. It's clear from what is said both in DW trans. and Donnell that other arty. continued to play a role, but no specifics are given.

Regarding the relevant orders of battle, Cron (Appendix I, The Field Army, 17 August 1914) has the following:

At the disposal of OHL:
General of Foot Artillery A.O.K. No 2, Foot Artillery Brigades 2-5 & 7. The Foot Artillery Regiments and Battalions of the Reserve – excepting II/ Res. Foot Art. Rgt. 9 Heavy Coastal Mortar Batteries 3 & 4 (30.5cm). Kurze (Short) Naval Gun Battery 2 (42cm). Pioneer Experimental Company; Heavy Minenwerfers. — Cron (Kindle Locations 6953-6956). Casemate Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Army troops, Second Army:
General of Foot Artillery 3, Staff Foot Artillery Rgts. 4, 9 & 20, II & III Btns. Foot Artillery Rgt. 4 (with 4 Minenwerfer Batts.) with 2 I Munition Columns and 2 Munition Column Sections, I & II Btns. Foot Artillery Rgt. 9 (with 4 Minenwerfer Batts.) with 2 I Munition Columns and 2 Munition Column Sections, II Btn. Reserve Foot Artillery Rgt. 9 (10cm) with I Munition Column and Park Coy., 1st and 5th Heavy Coastal Minenwerfer Batts. (30.5cm), Steam Locomotive Park 1, Park Btns. Staff 4 with Park Coys. of the II & III Btns. Reserve Foot Artillery Rgt. 7, Workshop for Siege Artillery Rgt. 4, Requisition Railway Units 26-28, Pioneer General 2, Pioneer Rgt. 24 with Pioneer Siege Train and 2 Park Coys., Pioneer Rgt. 25 with Pioneer Siege Train and 2 Park Coys. —Ibid. (Kindle Locations 7118-7123).

The corps are shown as having foot artillery battalions with heavy field howitzers, presumably 15cm.

It's a bit hard to know what to make of the reference to the battalions of Foot Arty. Rgts. 4 and 9 each having "Minenwerfer Batts." It seems a lot more likely that these were 21cm Mörser batteries. If there were in fact any 28cm howitzer/mortars, it's possible that there would have been a mix of battalions. There's also the strange reference to "Heavy Coastal Minenwerfer Batts. (30.5cm)"—presumably referring to either the borrowed Austro-Hungarian Škoda 30.5cm Mörser M 11s or to the two batteries of Krupp 30.5cm Beta-Gerät mentioned by Jäger on pp. 40-41.

Any comments, corrections, or additions would be welcome.

Will O'Neil

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by joerookery » 10 Dec 2013 15:01

Will,

You might find some information here: "Luttich-Namur: unter Benutzung Amtlicher Quellen" by Ferdinand Rolf v. Bieberstein and is available through the Hathi Trust here - http://babel.hathitr...view=1up;seq=14


My interest is the same timeframe but a different location. I find it German official history of that time frame to be lacking. They seem to put a happy face on everything and ignore some pretty important actions. Seems like there was a lot of blame to go around. I think the entire Liège situation would make a great doctoral dissertation!

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by MLW » 11 Dec 2013 00:22

While I am not well-versed on the foot artillery (15 or 21cm guns), I can help you with the 28cm, 30.5cm, and 42cm guns at Liege. The first part - the 28cm guns - is easy. There were none at Liege despite what many sources may state. The German Army's two 28cm howitzers were not assigned to batteries until after the battle for Liege had ended. There were two 42cm M-Gerät howitzers from KMK3 which began firing on 12 August and two 30.5cm Beta-Gerät mortars of SKM 1 that arrived very late to the siege and may have fired ranging shots on either Fort Hollogne or Flémalle. This is a controversial topic. No 42cm Gamma howitzers were at Liege having been delayed by sabotaged railroads. I studied the battle for almost a year and learned that counting the number of 15 and 21cm howitzers is maddening because the number of guns per battery varied and the foot artillery batteries arrived at Liege over time, building up numbers as more units arrived for the fight. Last thought based on your post - there were also no 38cm caliber guns at Liege.

In terms of full disclosure, I am the co-author of the upcoming Osprey book titled "42cm "Big Bertha" and German Siege Artillery of WWI."

Regards, Marc

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by woneil » 11 Dec 2013 03:02

MLW wrote:I am the co-author of the upcoming Osprey book titled "42cm "Big Bertha" and German Siege Artillery of WWI."
Eagerly awaited—please let us know when it comes out!

Will it also include the Škoda 30.5cm mortars? When did the first of them arrive?

Thanks for the information.

Will O'Neil

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by MLW » 11 Dec 2013 03:20

The book will be available end of January 2014. The Skoda mortars are only briefly mentioned. After all, they were not German! The Skodas arrived on the Western Front in time for the attack on Namur and stayed through the end of the winter of 1915.

Regards, Marc

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by woneil » 11 Dec 2013 05:08

joerookery wrote:I find it German official history of that time frame to be lacking. They seem to put a happy face on everything and ignore some pretty important actions. Seems like there was a lot of blame to go around. I think the entire Liège situation would make a great doctoral dissertation!
My time for doctoral diss. is long past, I'm afraid, and anyway all my academic work was highly technical and mathematical.

But I am writing a book entitled, The Plan That Broke the World: The "Schlieffen Plan" and World War I which will not be complimentary of the Großer Generalstab with respect to the Liége operation. I agree that Der Weltkrieg makes it (and some of the other actions of the Battle of the Frontiers) look better than is warranted.

Will O'Neil

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by woneil » 11 Dec 2013 05:11

MLW wrote:The book will be available end of January 2014.
Hopefully soon enough that I can cite it in my book.

Will O'Neil

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by joerookery » 11 Dec 2013 15:07

Will,

Who is your publisher? I would be interested in this. When you think it will be available? Our latest
The Great War Dawning - Imperial Germany and its Army at the Start of World War One- Is currently available from Verlag-Militaria and certainly discusses the plan and our take on serious cracks and fissures. Verlag-Militaria USA is in the formation stage but it is imminent for American customers. In the meantime you have to get it from Austria even though it is in the English language.

I am not an artillery guy however chapter 14 of That book is about the artillery. Here are a couple of paragraphs about the super heavies. This was written by my co-author, and gone over by Dr. Sanders Marble and Dr. Jack Sheldon. Unfortunately I don't know enough to comment on it.
This new development came as a complete surprise to the allies. The 42 cm super heavy howitzers appeared on the battlefields around the fortresses of Liège, Namur, Fort Manonviller, and Antwerp in August and September 1914. Developed under perfect secrecy and based upon specifications from the General Staff—most probably from Ludendorff and Bauer—these Krupp mortars were fielded under the camouflage of being Navy-owned, “short-cannon batteries” (kurze Marine-Kanonen Batterien). They were operated by Krupp personnel and men of the Artillerie-Prüfungskommission in navy and, later, army uniforms. Initially, the 2nd (ϒ -Gerät) and 3rd (M-Gerät) 42cm batteries were deployed under control of the OHL; whereas, the 3rd (ϒ –Gerät) battery was subordinated to Sixth Army. The super-heavies smashed the forts at Liège and paved the way for the infantry to take the city. On 12 August, the bombardment of Fort Pontisse started and soon after Fort Loncin exploded after a direct hit into its ammunition magazine.

At Liège, the Germans also employed super-heavy 30.5 cm howitzers type β-Gerät as well as Austrian made model 1911 30.5 cm mortars manufactured at the Skoda plant in Bohemia and borrowed at mobilization from their Austrian ally. The German army had its own 30.5 cm mortars introduced in 1898 and reworked in 1909 to extend their range from 8,700 to 11,900 meters. The β-Gerät mortars also operated under the camouflage of being Navy operated “heavy coastal mortars” (schwere Küstenmörser). In 1914, twelve of these mortars were available, but since most of them could only be operated on a railroad, the more mobile Austrian models were preferred. Crews in Austrian uniforms operated the Austrian mortars openly. Based upon the mobilization plan, the 3rd and 4th (β-Gerät) batteries were under direct control of OHL, to be used against fortresses in the main thrust. Deployment against Liége was not intended since the General Staff believed that that place would be taken by a coup de main. The 2nd (β-Gerät) battery was with the Sixth Army in Lorraine. As soon as the advance was checked at Liége, the 3rd and 4th batteries were employed to join the 42cm mortars in smashing the fortifications at the Eastern end of the fortress. The 2nd battery followed on 16 and 17 August.

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by woneil » 11 Dec 2013 19:10

joerookery wrote:Who is your publisher? I would be interested in this. When you think it will be available?
Joe,

I'm publishing it myself directly on Amazon, in both paper (CreateSpace) and electronic (Kindle) editions. They're identical in content but each is formatted to optimize it for its own medium. I expect them to be available in January.

Here's the beta Web site: http://whatweretheythinking.williamdone ... /index.htm.

I have the background to do my own publishing, and by going this route I can offer the book at a significantly lower price, as well as exercising more fine-grain control over content and format. I think that the quality of the paper edition will blow people away—definitely better image reproduction than most paper books.

Break, break...

I wonder about what you say regarding the crews for the M-Geräte. Have you read Captain Becker, “The 42-cm. Mortar: Fact and Fancy,” Field Artillery Journal 12, No. 3 (May-Jun 1922): 224-231, trans. by O. L. Spaulding, Jr. from Artilleristische Monatshefte, Jul-Aug 1921, http://sill-www.army.mil/firesbulletin/ ... DITION.pdf? Becker commanded an M-Gerät battery in Belgium and Russia and has quite a different take on the crewing.

He appears also to have previously commanded a Beta-Gerät battery. I'm pretty sure that the Beta-Geräte never got into action. It took a long time to emplace them, and things simply moved too fast. Becker speaks well of the mobility of the Škoda 30.5cm Mörser M11—definitely its outstanding characteristic in his view. He sniffs at the terminal effects of the 30.5cm shell.

Will O'Neil

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by joerookery » 11 Dec 2013 22:38

Will I am quite interested in your book. I understand Zuber is putting one out in April about the Second Army.
I wonder about what you say regarding the crews for the M-Geräte. Have you read Captain Becker, “The 42-cm. Mortar: Fact and Fancy,” Field Artillery Journal 12, No. 3 (May-Jun 1922): 224-231, trans. by O. L. Spaulding, Jr. from Artilleristische Monatshefte, Jul-Aug 1921, http://sill-www.army.mil/firesbulletin/ ... DITION.pdf? Becker commanded an M-Gerät battery in Belgium and Russia and has quite a different take on the crewing.
Frankly I'm not smart enough to know if that was even consulted. Possibly. I know that Buchholz and Paul Herderer exchanged a great deal of information on the super heavies along with information from the Friedberg archives. However, I am more operational in nature and don't know – sorry.

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by Orwell1984 » 12 Dec 2013 06:12

I noticed the following recent title from Pen & Sword
Breaking the Fortress Line 1914 by Clayton Donnell
http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Breaking ... 14/p/4158/
which looks like it examines the same subject
and wonder if anyone has any feedback on it?

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by Ruhrpottpreusse » 24 Dec 2013 11:53

Hello!
I´d like to add the best book about Liège (Lüttich in german language):
"Der Handstreich gegen Lüttich vom 3. bis 7. August 1914" (published by the general staff of the army, 7th. detachment, 1939). 80 pages.
I attached the both oob.
Note, that Lüttich was occupied at 7th august, but the forteress-ring was not destroyed yet. That was the time of the german heavy artillery. We divided the ring into a few parts.
Northeast front (IX.army corps) against Fort de Liers de Pontisse and de Fléron with "kurze-Marine-Kanonen-Batterie N°3 (42cm Berta), schwere Küstenmörser-Batterie N°5 (30,5cm)
East-Southeast Front (VII.army corps) against Fort de Chaudefontaine and d´Embourg with schwere Küstenmörser Batterie 1 (30,5cm)
I only mentioned the calibres more than 30cm. We see, the Berta only shot at Pontisse and Fléron at 12th august.
Another recommendable books are:
a) Das Ehrenbuch der deutschen schweren Artillerie (Berlin 1931)
b) Major a.D. Solf: Zwei Kriegsjahre einer 42cm Batterie (Stuttgart 1920)
c) Karl Justrow: Die dicke Berta und der Krieg (Berlin 1935)
d) R. Schindler: Eine 42cm Mörser-Batterie im Welt-Krieg (Breslau 1934)
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Last edited by Ruhrpottpreusse on 24 Dec 2013 12:17, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by MLW » 24 Dec 2013 12:02

If I am not mistaken, the book ends before the siege guns arrive at Liege on 11 August.

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by Ruhrpottpreusse » 24 Dec 2013 12:14

Yes, you are right. I mentioned it later (have a look at the "new" post again, please...

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Re: German Arty. vs. Liége Forts

Post by MLW » 24 Dec 2013 16:43

OK. As I understand it, KMK 3 (2 x 42cm M-Gerät) fired on Forts Pontisse and Loncin. It emplaced to fire on Fort Liers, but the garrison surrendered before the battery could fire a round. SKM 1 (2 x 30.5cm Beta-Gerät) was delayed in route to Liege and arrived in time to only fire a few ranging shots at either Fort Hollogne and Flémalle. SKM Battery 5 ( 2 x 30.5cm Beta 09) was not at Liege. It's first action was at Maubeuge.

Regards,
Marc

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