Innovation in weaponry by soldiers

Innovation in weaponry by soldiers

  • Soldiers throwing grenades from a trench in Woëvre.

    ANONYMOUS

  • Two soldiers in a trench in the Meuse, around the Bois d'Ailly, around April 1915.

    PELISSARD Louis Paul (1878 - 1934)

  • Loading a crapouillot.

    TERRIER Henri (1887 - 1918)

  • Lebel rifle prototype for trenches.

To close

Title: Soldiers throwing grenades from a trench in Woëvre.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1915

Date shown: 1915

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrettes website

Picture reference: 06-506111 / 2002.60.64

Soldiers throwing grenades from a trench in Woëvre.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

To close

Title: Two soldiers in a trench in the Meuse, around the Bois d'Ailly, around April 1915.

Author : PELISSARD Louis Paul (1878 - 1934)

Creation date : 1915

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 8,2 - Width 5,6

Technique and other indications: Silver print on paper.

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

Picture reference: 06-505950 / 2002.47.1.23

Two soldiers in a trench in the Meuse, around the Bois d'Ailly, around April 1915.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

To close

Title: Loading a crapouillot.

Author : TERRIER Henri (1887 - 1918)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 5.6 - Width 8.2

Technique and other indications: Silver print.

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

Picture reference: 06-509654 / 2004.33.1.539

Loading a crapouillot.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

To close

Title: Lebel rifle prototype for trenches.

Author :

Creation date : 1915

Date shown: 1915

Dimensions: Height 55 - Width 157

Technique and other indications: Prototype, caliber 8 mm, produced by the Châtellerault arms factory. Steel, wood, bronze

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrettes website

Picture reference: 06-519682 / 999.462

Lebel rifle prototype for trenches.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

Publication date: November 2008

Historical context

Fight in the trenches

The French army was particularly unprepared for the war of position which set in at the end of 1914 and was then characterized by the digging of trenches. The infantrymen are equipped with Lebel rifles, developed between 1886 and 1893; trench artillery is non-existent. The military uniform itself is too flashy for new combat strategies: blue and red, it does not go unnoticed. The existing military equipment quickly turned out to be unsuitable: the guns could not fire from a buried position; the mortars, which are too large, do not fit into the narrow trenches dug to shelter the troops; the bayonets are too long to fight hand-to-hand in the galleries; it is impossible to aim with rifles without being exposed ...

Image Analysis

DIY weapons

Photography Soldiers throwing grenades from a Woëvre trench shows how the smallness of the gallery hinders the soldiers: they must position themselves in profile to have room to perform the pendulum movement necessary for the projection of the grenade - as they are below and do not see where they launch, they have to gain momentum. The use of rifles is similarly restricted: the width of the trench is equivalent to the length of the rifle that the soldier in the foreground carries on his back.

Initially, faced with the lack of equipment, the soldiers will resort to the “D system” to improve their equipment themselves. They tinker with hand grenades, poke holes in shovels in order to be able to spy on the battlefield while protecting their heads, making trench knives from bayonet handles… The cliché of Louis Paul Pelissard, Two soldiers in a trench in the Meuse, around the Ailly woods, shows a rifle thus "improved" to fire without being exposed: placed on one foot, its barrel now has a lowered butt and connected to a sight and a remote trigger. The Cellerier mortar, named after the artillery captain who invented it, is particularly representative of the inventiveness displayed by the hairy. Made from recycled parts, it borrows its shape from the crapouillot, a small, stocky and massive bronze mortar with the look of a toad visible in the photograph of Henri Terrier, Loading a crapouillot. The launcher tube uses the intact bodies of German 77 shells. The empty case, pierced at its base to place the firing wick, is fixed on a wooden support cut at 45 °. The projectile consists either of cartridges of a slightly smaller diameter filled with shot and explosive and fitted with fins, or of shells intended for other guns. The firing distance depends on the amount of powder placed at the bottom of the launcher tube. Small in size, it is easily transportable and allows shooting at the enemy from the bottom of the trench.

Interpretation

From one craft to another

The press quickly took an interest in these cobbled together weapons, born out of the need to adapt traditional equipment to the new conditions of a war of position. They prove the inventiveness of French soldiers and the morale of the troops. Thanks to this immediate recognition, certain inventions are taken up and developed by the military industry. The projectile of the Cellerier mortar thus prefigures that of the 58 mortar, also equipped with fins, and a version for trenches of the Lebel rifle, close to the one improvised by the soldiers in Louis Paul Pelissard's photograph, was developed in 1915. (Lebel rifle prototype for trenches).

The arrival of new equipment marks the decline of this first trench craft. The soldiers then begin to create other objects. Between two attacks, in the camps in the back, the hairy people occupy the waiting time for the manufacture of rings, lighters, frames, writing cases, vases, recycling the materials immediately available in their environment: pieces of wood, rifle bullets, shell casings, German insignia taken from prisoners. This new craft reveals other facets of the First World War, that of life in the trenches and in second-line posts, but also, through the iconography deployed for these artefacts, that of collective representations or beliefs and individual desires which animated the soldiers.

  • War of 14-18
  • hairy
  • trenches

Bibliography

Stéphane AUDOIN-ROUZEAU, Annette BECKER, 14-18, rediscovering the war, Paris, Gallimard, 2000 Stéphane AUDOIN ROUZEAU, Combattre.Une historical anthropology of modern warfare (19th-21st century), Paris, Seuil, 2008.Stéphane AUDOIN ROUZEAU, "Practices and objects of cruelty on the battlefield", 14/18 Today-Today-Heute, n ° 2, 1998, p.104-115 [file: "Archeology and the Great War" ]. Antonio GIBELLI, "The experience of combatants", 14/18 Today-Today-Heute, n ° 3, November 1999, p.88-99. [File: "Traumatic shock and cultural history"]. WARIN, Trench crafts and lighters from Poilus de la guerre 14-18, Louviers, YSEC Editions, 2001, 208p. Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004.

To cite this article

Claire LE THOMAS, "Innovation in weaponry by soldiers"


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