Sunday, November 27, 2011

British Aerial Photography and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front - Pt 22

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Establishment of the Counter Battery Office at Corps Level

This shift came during the winter of 1916/1917 when as a result of the lessons from the Somme a Counter Battery Office (CBO) commanded by a Counter Battery Staff Officer (CBSO), a Lieutenant Colonel, was formally established by GHQ at each Corps.  November 1916 had witnessed the appearance of the first unofficial CBSO in Three Corps.  Each CBO contained intelligence and operations elements with responsibilities that included; collecting, compiling and disseminating counter-battery intelligence and providing detailed arrangements and issuing orders for counter-battery work (Albert P. Palazzo, ‘The British Army's Counter-Battery Staff Office and Control of the Enemy in World War I’, Journal of Military History, 63:1 (1999:Jan.) p.64.).  Manning levels were modest totalling approximately 12 personnel.  As well as the CBSO there was a Staff Captain, an Intelligence officer and one or two Lieutenants.  The other ranks comprised; two NCO’s, four clerks, three telephone operators and a draughtsman (Palazzo, ‘The British Army's Counter-Battery Staff Office and Control of the Enemy in World War I’. p.64, and Uniacke Papers, Remarks on "Notes on the work of a Counter Battery Office," c. late 1917 (XV Corps), Royal Artillery Institute, U/VIII/9, contained within: Saunders Marble, “The Infantry cannot do with a gun less”: The Place of Artillery in the BEF, 1914-1918, (Columbia University Press – Gutenberg-e)).  The Intelligence officer was one of the new War Office sanctioned Royal Artillery Reconnaissance Officers (RARO) also newly established, at Army, Corps, and Corps Heavy Artillery Headquarters, during the winter of 1916/1917.  The role of the RARO was clearly stated:

‘. . . to carry out special artillery reconnaissance, to study and collate the information derived from aeroplane photographs and maps so far as it affects the artillery, and to keep in close touch with the Royal Flying Corps.  Chasseaud, Artillery’s Astrologers. p. 233.

There was a clear separation in the responsibilities of the Compilation section run by the FSC’s at army level and the compilation conducted by the CBO at corps when it came to aerial photograph interpretation.  The CBO had primacy on determining the ‘fact of’ and activity status of any German artillery identified.  The FSC were responsible for determining the precise location of any identified artillery (Winterbotham, Survey on the Western Front. p. 46.).

For the first time there was an intelligence/operations interface which enabled the results of the intelligence fusion to be acted on immediately.  The success of the CBO initiative was clearly evident at Vimy Ridge in 1917.  Lieutenant Colonel A. G. L. McNaughton the Canadian Corps’ first CBSO attributed the success to the fact that:

‘Each CBO kept detailed scheme diagrams for all systems.  They ensured that Canadian guns were on a common survey scheme to Canadian locating assets.  They had guns for counter-battery tasked to them for extensive periods of time, and kept extremely accurate logs and diaries that permitted the effective engagement of targets by minimising the knowledge gap of the enemy.  In other words, by being highly organised and influential, the CBO was able to take the lead in the fight, which led to such impressive results.’.  A.G.L. McNaughton referenced in: Richard Little, A Short History of Surveillance and Target Acquisition Artillery, Canadian Army Journal, Vol. 11.3 Fall 2008.

The Canadian CBO had correctly identified 173 of the estimated 212 guns that the Germans had available to defend Vimy Ridge, an impressive 83 percent success rate (Bill Rawling, Surviving Trench Warfare, (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1992) p. 111.).  Much of the identification success was attributed to aerial photography (Chasseaud, Artillery’s Astrologers. p. 236.).

Next: Part 23 ‘Conclusion

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