The battle for control of the RFC continues. Following Sir Henry Rawlinson’s letter to Army headquarters on 29 October, General Sir Henry Sinclair Horne, Commander of the First Army sent an identical proposal to HQ. Essentially this suggested that Corps Squadrons, who carried out the work of artillery spotting, should be transferred to the control of the relevant Army Commander. He noted that the recent offensive “had proved that tactical success is largely dependent on superiority in artillery and supremacy in the air” and that “until the direction and control of artillery fire from the air is placed in the hands of the artillery we shall not gain full advantage from our superiority in guns and ammunition.”
There followed much discussion at Headquarters about the merits of this approach but in the end Douglas Haig, the Commander in Chief, decided to leave things as they were. Likely, the close relationship he shared with Hugh Trenchard, the CO of the RFC played a part in this decision. Trenchard had written to him on 1 November, following Rawlinson’s original letter, setting out his objections to the change:
“Artillery work is not the entire duty of the Corps Squadron, which is also charged with contact patrol work, trench reconnaissance, and trench photography.
Nor are Corps Squadrons at present equipped with machines of a suitable type to do all the work required by the artillery, such as photography at a distance behind the lines which must be done by fighting machines. If machines working with them were to be handed over to the artillery, smaller squadrons consisting of artillery machines and those doing other work respectively would be necessary, and small squadrons are extravagant both of personnel and material.
Again, technical matters cannot be divorced from tactical employment. A large part of the artillery work is technical, e.g. wireless, use of machine-gun, etc. …
The batteries detailed to work with aerial observation change even more often than do the observers, and it is this which has often prevented the best results in the past. A more detailed knowledge of each other’s work and methods, especially among the higher Commanders, would effect great improvement.
The Fourth Army appear to be under a misapprehension. By far the largest part of the work of ranging batteries is and must be done by the pilot and not by the observer, since the pilot only is able to place his machine exactly as he requires it at any moment to give him the view he desires. The observer s principal duty is watching for, and reporting, other hostile batteries which open fire, and keeping a look-out for hostile aircraft. …More artillery officers would be welcome, but they must form part of, and live with, the squadron, and must be trained as pilots, or they will lose most of their value. The actual observation of the fall of rounds is the easiest part of artillery work, and can be quickly learnt by any one with good eyesight. Skill in the technical work, knowledge of methods employed, careful recording of results and their use are the essentials of good artillery work, and these can be learnt nowhere else but in the squadron.
The number of machines which can work on any length of front at the same time is limited by technical difficulties of observation and com- munication, but it is seldom that the resources of a Corps Squadron as at present constituted are fully employed. The relations between squadron commanders, pilots and observers, and the batteries with which they work, are generally speaking intimate under present conditions, provided batteries are not constantly changed. It is in the higher ranks that more intimate relations and mutual knowledge are required.”