A Muse of Fire – British Trench Warfare Munitions, their Invention, Manufacture and Tactical Employment on the Western Front, 1914–18
Saunders, Anthony James
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
The emergence of static warfare on the Western Front in late 1914, encouraged the reinvention of devices associated with siege warfare and the invention of hitherto unknown munitions. These munitions included hand and rifle grenades and trench mortars and their ammunition. At the outbreak of war, the British effectively possessed none of these devices and lacked an infrastructure by which they could be quickly designed, manufactured and supplied to the BEF. The British met this challenge with considerable success and the subsequent proliferation of trench warfare munitions had profound consequences for the evolution of British tactics on the Western Front. This thesis examines the processes by which these devices were invented, developed into manufacturable devices and supplied to the BEF. It considers their novelty in respect to similar devices from the American Civil War and the Russo-Japanese War. It looks at how their technical evolution affected tactical developments. The thesis discusses the relationship between the technical characteristics of these devices and the evolution of their tactical employment on the Western Front. It also considers how the characteristics of certain munitions, such as the Stokes mortar and the Mills grenade, directly effected tactics. It argues that the tactical employment of these munitions was dependent upon their functionality, utility and reliability. The present thesis provides a different model of trench warfare conducted by the British during the First World War and thereby demonstrates the significance of the novel munitions under discussion and the role they played in changing infantry warfare. This thesis also provides a different view of the Ministry of Munitions from that usually offered and argues that certain aspects of the Ministry’s role in providing the BEF with munitions has been overstated by virtue of its having underplayed the work of the War Office, while overlooking that conducted by the Royal Engineers in France.
PhD in History