Monday, October 15, 2012

Serving the 25-pounders

Illustration by Robert J. Stephenson
   "With every passing hour the expression 'human endurance' takes on new dimensions and meaning.  Each steel case of four shells weighs 117 pounds -- a weight of no great consequence to fresh, well-rested men under ideal conditions.  But these gunners -- already physically drained by the blistering heat and by the frequent, horrendous doses of shelling, aerial bombing, and strafing poured down on them for eight days in the previous position in front of Carpiquet--are now approaching total exhaustion from excavating tons of earth.  To form a gun pit (18 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep) requires the excavation of some 28 tons, and to dig an ammo pit (12 feet wide, 18 feet long and 3 feet deep) to receive the 250 cases of shells and 125 cases of propellant charges, representing 1,000 rounds per gun, calls for the excavation of another 24 tons of earth.  
    Each six-man gun crew, slogging back and forth through the mud and dark with 138 boxes of shells and 69 boxes of propellant charges, carries more than ten tons 300 yards."

Illustration and text from George G. Blackburn's fantastic autobiography of his experience with 4th Field RCA, The Guns of Normandy.  A Soldier's Eye View, France 1944 (Toronto:  McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1995).  If you want to know what it was like to serve in an artillery regiment during the battle of Normandy, this is the book to read.  War is hell.

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