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Saturday, 17 August 2013


Thursday, August 17th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

Yesterday I cycled to Frinton to see the shooting of the R.F.A. The target was the Frinton lifeboat, about 300 yards out. The guns were at Coldharbour, north of Frinton, range about 2,500 yards. On suggestion of R.G.A.'s we moved - twice, further north. L. seems to know nothing about artillery (yet he was in H.A.C.) and he was made observation officer to save him having to shoot. He could not observe. He had no notion of observing, beyond marking a plus or a minus. The R.G.A. subalterns explained things, and were useful, at any rate to me. Half the shooting being over, a policeman was clearing people off the beach because of the danger!

The Royal Field Artillery (RFA) provided artillery support for the British Army. It came into being when the Royal Artillery was divided on 1 July 1899. It was reamalgamated back into the Royal Artillery in 1924. The Royal Field Artillery was the largest arm of the artillery. It was responsible for the medium calibre guns and howitzers deployed close to the front line and was reasonably mobile. It was organised into brigades, attached to divisions or higher formations. The Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) was an arm of the Royal Artillery that was originally tasked with manning the guns of the British Empire's forts and fortresses, including coastal artillery batteries, the heavy gun batteries attached to each infantry division, and the guns of the siege artillery.

Last night at dinner I had the account of the shooting itself from one who had had to do some of it. He said the observation officer was supposed always to be a first class gunner, as everything depended on him, but that an observation officer was not really necessary in this case (direct fire etc.). The generals were kidded accordingly. There were three generals. One of them knew nothing or little about gunnery. He made a great noise, and wanted a great noise made - explosions, and to see shells dropping in the sea. He told the gunners to fire quickly, and to remember that this was not manoeuvres but war (which happily it was not). He constantly deranged General Y.X., but General Y.X. being a thorough expert and not to be ruffled, went ahead and gave quiet orders to the gunners, ignoring Gen. Z's notions. Z. wanted rapid firing. Y.X. said: "What is the use of your firing the next shot until you know exactly what was wrong with the last and why?" Y.X. was evidently the bright spot in the proceedings. A. is a pretty good gunner and he said he learnt a lot. So did the O.C. of the battery. He had nothing but scorn for W. and practically the same for Z.

What strikes me is the inability of all these generals to control themselves. They behave like kids with autocratic power. People like French merely dashed round, stayed two minutes, and said 'Excellent, excellent'. The whole body of subs is against the plan of defence and calls it silly.

Speaking with Mason as to this, I said that it seemed improbable that the staff should be all wrong and the subs and captains right (though I agreed with the latter), and Mason said it was not improbable because the subs had had experience and the others hadn't. I think I have forgotten to mention that the observing officer was not informed that the lifeboat was not the target and that the target was an imaginary point beyond it.

See also, 'Lost in Venice' - September 4th., http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/lost-in-venice.html

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