Clash of the Gods of War
Australian Artillery and
the Firepower Lessons of the Great War
William Westerman & Nicholas Floyd (Eds)
Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2020
Hardback ix, 480pp. RRP $34.99
Reviewer: Michael O’Brien, June 2020
The science of gunnery made great advances in the First World War, moving from firing directly over open sights to predicted fire that took into account a host of factors like muzzle velocity, barrel wear and meteorology. By the end of that war it was acknowledged that some 56% of casualties were caused by artillery. Too few of the recent accounts of the Great War place gunnery in its correct perspective. This book redresses this imbalance and traces the increasing power and importance of artillery development well.
This book results from a lingering dissatisfaction with the history of Australian artillery, especially in the First World War (or perhaps a lack of understanding of it by recent generations of soldiers). It led to a seminar series (Firepower: Lessons from the Great War, available in full at: https://cove.army.gov.au/article/firepower-lessons-the-great-war) and to the consolidated papers in this volume. The authors are a satisfying mix of professional gunners and historians.
A compendium of chapters with different authors could be imbalanced but this collection avoids that problem. The key gunnery issues of both the Gallipoli campaign and the Western Front are well tackled. There is a valuable discussion of Ottoman artillery at Gallipoli, of the French on the Western Front and a taste of the British throughout. The lack of a chapter on the German artillery is a pity.
Though there are good (but sometimes inconsistent) bibliographical references. I regret that the volume does not have a bibliography – its usefulness includes informing the reader not only of the references consulted but also those not consulted. The excellent photographs that are included have many from the Artillery Historical Company’s collection - a great resource. It would have been better for the authorship of the chapters to have been listed in the contents.
These are minor quibbles. Every gunner officer and all those interested in the role of Australian artillery in this conflict should find this book of singular importance.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.