Colour Photos of World War One

British artillery pounds the enemy


This photograph and caption appeared in the Daily Mail Weekend magazine in 2007

World War I was an artillery war. Most (75 per cent} of the ten million soldiers who died on all sides in the conflict were killed by shells, and a direct hit from a big gun could literally blow a man to smithereens: this accounts for many dead soldiers still being officially listed as `missing'. In this picture, an officer (with arms behind back} is supervising a team readying a six-inch howitzer, which fired 26 hundredweight shells to a distance of up to six miles. The men on the left are unpacking and `priming' the shells - setting the fuse in the nosecap for the range required. This howitzer was one of the most successful and widely used guns of the war and more than 4,000 were built. So efficient was it that it remained in service until the end of World War II in 1945. Weighing 4.2 tonnes, the guns needed a team of ten men to operate them. By the end of the war, Britain's artillery had developed a tactic called `the creeping barrage', which involved laying down a curtain of shellfire just in front of advancing infantry, which moved forward in line with their progress. Although this reduced casualties, it could mean that shells falling short killed soldiers by `friendly fire'.