Despite being three years into the war, there has yet to emerge a standardised means of artillery cooperation. Each Squadron has evolved its own methods which vary greatly depending on the experience and training of the squadron’s officers and the methods of the battery commanders they worked with. This is now proving a stumbling block to efficiency as battery commanders are moved around they have to start from scratch with each new squadron. It also has the effect of limiting training for observers who can only learn the basics before reaching the front.
In response to the criticism, Lieutenant-Colonel Edgar Rainey Ludlow-Hewitt, commanding the Third (Corps) Wing, put forward a memorandum which outlined the case for standardization of the methods of ranging for the artillery.
“In the early days of co-operation between aeroplanes and Royal Artillery batteries every observer and every battery commander had his own pet theories and methods. This fact necessitated elaborate arrangements between the observer and the battery commander before each shoot could be carried out. At that time, these arrangements presented no great difficulty because limited time and pressure of work were scarcely serious considerations. The observer was able to visit the battery commander before a shoot, and discuss with him, or was able to ring him up and arrange things on telephone lines which were not over-congested with traffic. They were further simplified by the comparatively small number of batteries which worked with aeroplane observation, which allowed one observer in the squadron to observe permanently for one battery. It was, in fact, almost impossible for him to observe for more than one battery, unless he was an expert and familiar with all the different methods in use. The result of this lack of system was that shoots were, for the most part, very slow, and it was considered a good flight when some 20 rounds had been fired and observed. Further, the number of methods in use rendered it quite impossible to teach a new observer all of them, and, if he was trained in only one, the chances were that he would be asked to work on another when he came to carry out his first shoot. Consequently, artillery work was confined to quite a few expert observers in each squadron. As work increased the three or four experts in the squadron found it impossible to compete with it all, and it became more and more necessary to train every available observer in artillery work. Increase in work, too, began to interfere with liaison between individual observers and battery commanders. These considerations, combined with the desirability of simplifying and improving co-operation, called for the introduction of simple standard methods by squadrons within the Corps with whom they worked.
Later again, active operations on a larger scale involving complete armies soon showed that standardization within armies was both desirable and necessary, not only to facilitate the training of observers in a Wing and to eliminate methods which experience and comparison between Corps began to prove to be faulty, but also to avoid a large number of failures which occurred through the transfer of batteries or groups from Corps to Corps within the Army, due to slight readjustments of the front or to the requirements of special operations. Standardization of methods of ranging within an Army soon began to show the best results in increased efficiency of observers and batteries, and a corresponding improvement in the speed and effect of the shooting. These improvements were at least very clearly demonstrated on the front of the Fourth Army during last winter and spring, when the observation of upwards of 200 rounds in the course of a single flight became as common as the so-called successful shoot of 70 or 80 observed rounds of a few months earlier. The advantages of working on a standard method did not only show themselves in the increased speed and destructive effect of bombardment with aerial observation, but also allowed each squadron to double the amount of work they had previously been capable of. This was the natural outcome of simplifying and reducing the number of methods to be taught, so that observers could be made use of much earlier than heretofore. The time has now arrived when by natural development standardization should extend beyond the confines of individual Armies, and one system should become general for the whole of the British Armies in the field. The desirability of further standardization is shown in recent operations on the Fourth Army front when a concentration of batteries collected from all parts of the fighting line introduced, as far as the artillery were concerned, a large number of different systems, all of which had to be unlearned before serious and successful work could commence. The case would, of course, have been exactly the same had the concentration been of Flying Corps squadrons instead of batteries. It is not intended to suggest that the standard system used during the past winter in Fourth Army is by any means the best system, but the contention is that the introduction of any standard system will necessarily result, and has resulted, in reducing complications, preventing frequent changes, and making co-operation very much easier for all concerned. An aerial observer should not be considered as being in a similar position to a ground observer in an observation post. In the air, the observer is surrounded with distractions and confused with uncertainties. He is thinking how he can best avoid the shells bursting around him, wondering whether yonder hostile machine is going to take an interest in him, dodging clouds and other machines, and is the victim of a dozen other preoccupations.
He feels very remote and cut off from the ground to which, indeed, he is only connected by the delicate thread of his wireless signals. As soon as any check or difficulty arises in the even course of his shoot he becomes a prey to doubt and uncertainty. Is the battery receiving his signals—is there some misunderstanding, or why have they stopped? He can only succeed in the face of these distractions if he is in the first place familiar with his wireless key, and if the methods employed are well understood and so simple that he can carry on almost instinctively with a minimum of thought and concentration. Secondly, stoppages and checks in shoots must be avoided, and if they occur the answer to his appeal for information must be prompt and clear. Rhythm enters into it. One should avoid introducing intervals and pauses of unequal length. The study of the record of any good shoot will show with what remarkable regularity the signals follow each other until the steady pulse of the shoot is brought up with a jerk by some temporary stoppage which throws the whole machinery out of gear and upsets the rhythmical speed for some little time…
The far-reaching effects which standardization of ranging methods may have is best shown in the consideration of its influence on the instruction and turning out of observers. The amount of aerial observation work required by a Corps during and previous to active operations is often beyond the powers of a Corps squadron on the present establishment. The difficulties of organization and supply of personnel and material limit the size and number of squadrons which can be attached to each Corps, and, therefore, any increase in the working value of a squadron must depend on extracting the full measure of work out of each observer. There is no room in a modern squadron for untrained observers, and no time to train them. Casualties and the strain of war flying render continual replacement necessary, and, although each casualty is immediately replaced, the working value of the squadron still suffers a dead loss temporarily while the new man is learning methods of work which he cannot at present learn at home. This means that a squadron at present can never be working at full strength. There are in England several schools of instruction in observation for pilots and observers, but they are heavily handicapped by being unable to teach more than the elements and first principles of observation duties owing to: (a) the number of systems in use out here, and (b) the frequent changes in systems which make it impossible for them to keep up to date. Standardization, besides increasing the confidence of instructors, will render it possible to turn out observers of such efficiency that they can commence useful work immediately on posting to a squadron… As the strength of the artillery and the Flying Corps increases, liaison must continue to weaken, and the only substitute for the old understanding obtained by personal contact is the mechanical understanding induced by observer and battery commander working on the same formula and controlled by the same hand. The high-water mark of mutual understanding can now only be reached by perfect drill, whereby the battery and the aeroplane will work in one piece…. The introduction of one method only to all parts of the front will result in a reduction of signals and a general clean up of unnecessary litter….”
As a result of this memorandum a circular letter was sent to all Corps wing commanders asking for a full statement of the methods of co-operation in use. The answers received will form the basis of discussion with the artillery authorities at General Headquarters, and the creation of new guidelines for artillery cooperation.