Encyclopedia - Creeping Barrage
Although considered as a battlefield tactic as early as 1915 (and initially deployed by Bulgarian artillerists during the Adrianople siege of March 1913) the so-called 'creeping barrage' was not actually deployed until August 1916 by the British (Sir Henry Horne) during the Battle of the Somme on the Western Front.
Until this point artillery barrages preceded infantry attacks for periods ranging from hours to days. Once the infantry attack began in earnest supporting artillery would typically be promptly switched against pre-determined secondary targets.
A creeping barrage however was designed so as to place a curtain of artillery fire just ahead of advancing infantry, a barrage which would constantly shift - or creep - forward directly ahead of attacking troops. The innovation was successful, although chiefly against sharply defined and localised targets. Subsequently the combined use of artillery, infantry, tanks and aircraft would greatly assist the efficacy of larger-scale breakthrough attacks.
French Commander-in-Chief Robert Nivelle placed over-reliance upon the merits of the creeping barrage as a primary form of attack during his disastrous Second Battle of the Aisne in April 1917, the failure of which led to widespread mutiny in the French Army.
Such a method of artillery fire necessarily required very careful planning by both artillery and infantry commanders, particularly with regard to timing if an army's own troops were not to be caught (or held back) by their own artillery barrage. As a rough rule of thumb a creeping barrage would progress at the rate of approximately 50 metres per minute once an attack began.
Variations upon the creeping barrage included the so-called 'fire waltz' whereby a hail of artillery fire would ravage a position and move onwards, only to then reverse course in order to catch defensive forces rushing to the devastated line.
A howitzer is any short cannon that delivers its shells in a high trajectory. The word is derived from an old German word for "catapult".
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