Apr

18

 "Steel rain" was the tactic developed by both the British and Germans in WW I (it was eventually copied by the French and Americans after they surrendered their illusions that elan could have much effect against enemies who kept their heads down). It was–literally–the idea that exploded artillery shell fragments and bullets would fall from the sky directly on top of the enemy's trenches. The British developed their techniques of indirect fire to the point that Lewis guns were aimed not like rifles but like mortars so that the bullets would arc up into the air and then come down on the Germans.

In his memoir "Storm of Steel" Ernst Junger writes about how he found comrades being killed by bullets striking the tops of their skulls. Trench mortars were even more effective; they could be fused so that they exploded just before hitting the ground, turning the enemy's own defensive wire into shrapnel.

Hollywood shows wars with rifles and gas bombs (those fireball explosions that never happen when artillery shells and rockets strike home); but, going back to Napoleon, most of the killing and maiming of the other guys in uniform got done not by individual firearms but by the explosions delivered from large tubes. (Aerial bombardment was spectacular but woefully inaccurate.)

There is a good argument to be made that the Allied Air Forces helped defeat the German Armies not by their actual bombardments which killed mostly civilians (more French civilians died from Allied bombardments in the weeks up to and immediately after D-Day than Allied soldiers on the beaches at Normandy.) Where the Allied Air Forces succeeded was in diverting so much of the German artillery from the Eastern front to anti-aircraft duty defending Berlin and other cities of the Reich.

Steel rain is not going away; but the large tubes are. It is difficult to fit GPS guidance onto shells that have to withstand the heat and pressure of being shot out of an artillery piece; but with rockets there is no problem. Two hundred years after Congreve's rockets were a miserable failure, his idea has become THE ANSWER.


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