A Better Rifle at Halloween

Five Armoured Cruisers
13th September 1914, Off Nieuwpoort.

HMS Cressy was steaming at 6 knots in company with her sisters of 7th Cruiser Squadron HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue, HMS Euryalus and HMS Bacchante, the latter two ships having joined the squadron on completion of coaling and some vital maintenance on worn out boilers. The ships were old before their time, and they had failed to play any effective role in the recent naval battle off Thornton Bank, but they were all that was available, and they and their generally green crews would have to do until more modern ships became available.

The advance of the German cavalry had been being communicated back to the ships both by semaphore and radio from the harbour master’s office. In addition, one of the ports lighthouses was also being used as a backup if communications with the main mast was lost, this lighthouse had flags and lights with which to signal.

Each of the five cruisers were equipped with 2 9.2” guns in single gun turrets fore and aft with a nominal range of 15500 yards. Additionally, they had 12 6” guns apiece, casement mounted along the hull, their firing arcs were necessarily limited and likewise they were virtually unusable in bad weather. But thanks to the efforts of Scott and Field Marshal Lord Roberts some shrapnel shells were available for the 6” guns, the 9.2” guns had high explosive common shells which could be used although of limited value and armour piercing rounds which would be even less useful.

The commander of 7th Cruiser Squadron Rear Admiral Henry Campbell had been ashore that morning and had met with Major General Aston, they had agreed that the Squadron would undertake to provide gunfire support. The 9.2” guns outranged the 6” guns by a mere 900 yards and so it was decided that both the 9.2” and the 6” guns would fire on each target, in addition it was decided to only bring fire onto targets within 10,000 yards of the coast, this would allow the ships to stand further off and reduce any risk of grounding.

As such the squadron was slowly steaming in an oval pattern 2000 yards off Nieuwpoort, the forward observers were reporting the position of a German Artillery Battery that was firing on Ramskapelle, the battery had done little damage, but they were a good target that was in range of the ships.

The crews were already at action stations with the guns loaded and trained out over Neiuwpoort, the gunnery officers each had a map of the port and its approaches and they quickly calculated the bearing and elevation required, as none of the ships were equipped for director firing it was not a stunning broadside when they fired but rather a swelling roar as a total of 10 9.2” guns and 30 6” guns spread across 5 ships sailing in line astern spoke.

The shells ripped over the town and began to fall on the target area. The majority of the 9.2” shells were useless missing the artillery battery by upwards of 1200 yards, most short and all bar two burying themselves in the heavy Belgian soil before expoloding with most of their explosive effort limited to fountaining soil into the air. The two that did damage were devastating to whatever they struck, one shell struck on a maxim gun belonging to a cavalry machine gun section obliterating the gun and its crew, one other shell struck a farmhouse which was being used by a regimental commander as his headquarters, killing the commander and five other men, wounding another twelve.

The more numerous 6” guns were more devastating, individually nothing like as heavy as a 9.2” shell the 6” rounds being fired were shrapnel fused to explode above the German Artillery position. More tightly clustered they were centred on the guns, devastating the battery killing or wounding many man and more importantly killing a third of the battery’s horses which had been positioned only 100 yards to the rear of the batteries firing position. One shell exploded almost directly in line with a Troop of Cavalry moving up on foot, most of the 453 balls were wasted merely chewing up the ground, but 38 found human flesh leaving 27 men dead or wounded. The firing continued for another 2 not quite salvos, the observers aloft in the signal masts could make out the scatter of the 9.2” shells no ship could tell who was firing where and in the confusion any attempt at accuracy was futile.

Admiral Campbell ordered the signal flags hoisted to cease fire and following a discussion with his Flag Captain, the signal for HMS Cressy to fire her only her 9.2” guns on the Artillery Battery was hoisted. She complied firing her shell landing 400 yards short of the target, the gunnery officer who was aloft looking at the target with one of the ships best telescopes gave the range correction and she fired again, missing 100 yards long but adding considerably to the misery of the battery horse handlers when the two rounds impacted.

The third salvo utterly demolished the battery, one round hit a gun on the breach exploding into a pattern of razer sharp splinters with the other overturning a caisson. Another two salvos were fired before the ship had moved out of range and the next ship in the racetrack was to fire, but again from the flag ship came the order to cease fire in response to signals from shore.

Whilst the five armoured cruisers continued to sail in circles of Nieuwpoort it appeared that the initial German attack had failed. The German Cavalry commander would have to either push much harder into the town accepting casualties from the Marines ashore and the ships offshore or screen the town and attempt to reach the coast closer to the French border. His objective to cut direct communications between the the forces in Belgium defending Antwerp and Ghent and the forces defending Namur and the Franco Belgian frontier.
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Trying to bypass this strong point could lead to getting cut off, especially if more troops are landed.
I will put together another map of this area, Nieuwpoort never fell in WW1 and it and the Yser canal formed the line which the Belgian Army defended over the course of the war. The challenge in this scenario is that the germans are already over the Ijzerdijk, however it is only one Cavalry corps at this time.
Cavalry Planning
13th September 1914, Pervijze.

The commander of II Cavalry Corps had his forward headquarters in a substantial farmhouse on the outskirts of Pervijse, the village was centered on a crossroads which connected it to both Nieuwpoort and Veurne. As such it was well placed for General von der Marwitz, facilitating his communications back to 1st Army headquarters and General von Kluck. Similarly it was down this road that the supporting infantry of IX corps would come, those troops would keep open the gap that his men would force.

Von der Marwitz had already seen the impact that dug in troops could have on cavalry but if the British held Nieuwpoort then would be able to use its canals and the narrow-gauge railway to connect the French Army and the Belgian Armies, this insignificant town was to be a lynch pin and its capture was worth the blood his men would pay.

Thus far his cavalry units had not suffered heavily some 750 men had fallen killed and wounded before Dienst, the losses before Nieuwpoort already amounted to 3 guns, 150men and another 140 horses not crippling but certainly painful.

Von Der Marwitz had signalled to Von Kluck that he had encountered British forces and that he had taken casualties both from the forces dug in before Nieuwport and worse from the cruisers steaming just offshore.

His attack plan was a simple one, he had 6 jäger battalions, one regular and five reservists as well as a guards infantry battalion. These infantry units would lead the attack as the first wave. The second wave would be made up of one brigade taken from each cavalry division who would attack as unmounted infantry, once they had overwhelmed the defensive line the remaining brigades would push through the defensive line to capture the port itself and then thrust north and south securing a defensive line and splitting the entente forces in two. If the jägers and the

first cavalry brigade failed in their attack a second brigade would advance overwhelming the defenders and allowing the remaining 3 brigades to occupy the town.

General Marwitz decided that the attack would go in at dawn the following morning, his artillery units would use the next few hours to move up to a position from which they could fire onto the British line and they would commence shelling the defenders after dark, the hope being that darkness would prevent the ships offshore from being able to target the guns. With only a few batteries of howitzers his artillery would have to be in direct line of site to fire on the British forces, he expected casualties to be heavy, he had already had one battery wiped out by naval gun fire and expected to lose more.

Likewise the infantry and dismounted brigades would be able to use the dark to move up into position, shortening the time they would be under fire once the attack commenced. Each battalion of infantry would detach a company who would conduct reconnaissance patrols to determine the extent of the British front line whilst also acting as guides for the attacking units.

Marwitz issued his orders to his staff and they swiftly radiated out to the rest of the II Cavalry Corps. He also sent General von Quast a copy of his plans by dispatch rider, with a request that could be read as an order, that he was to march his troops in support as quickly as possible.
Am guessing that dispatch rider is going to meet a dark fate...
Nope don’t think so, I did consider it but I don’t want to stack the deck completely. I am still not sure how the battle will turn out as The marines are outnumbered but have access to massive amounts of gunfire support.
Nope don’t think so, I did consider it but I don’t want to stack the deck completely. I am still not sure how the battle will turn out as The marines are outnumbered but have access to massive amounts of gunfire support.
Well artillery was the big killer in WW1. So...
13th September 1914, Pervijze.

Marwitz issued his orders to his staff and they swiftly radiated out to the rest of the II Cavalry Corps. He also sent General von Quast a copy of his plans by dispatch rider, with a request that could be read as an order, that he was to march his troops in support as quickly as possible.
I think the phrase "with a request that could be read as an order..." is going to be an interesting hook. As COULD instead of SHOULD introduces friction and discretion
Initial Attack
14th September 1914, Nieupoort.

Yesterday had been the only easy day, clashes with German patrols had mostly gone the way of the professionals of the RMLI although some losses had been experienced. The gunfire support from the live bait squadron had been spectacular if somewhat haphazard. The remaining troops and armed blue jackets had been digging, in preparing defences including a limited amount of barbed wire and moving up supplies and ammunition. Few casualties had been taken and those had been moved back to a field hospital set up in a hotel near the port.

The prisoners captured by the fighting patrols sent out by the marine battalions, were largely reservist jägers attached to the cavalry corps. The brigade intelligence officer had attempted to find out more information, he had been assisted by an unsmiling Belgian captain who had been highly effective in his questioning. An arrogant young officer who had been slightly wounded had blurted out that that the marines were doomed and would be wiped out in the morning. He realised his error and ceased speaking, an older corporal had given more away, he was plainly sick of the war and dammed the young officer as a thick headed junker. It was obvious that an attack would come in the morning.

The sudden German shelling which had commenced at 11pm was not completely unexpected but it had been heavy for all that it had come from Horse Artillery units clearly, they were under orders to shoot every round they had and worry about replenishment another day. The most recent aerial reconnaissance had indicated that reinforcements were following the cavalry so if the first attack failed it was more than likely that German Infantry would follow up.

The defensive position his men occupied was as good as two days of heavy labour could achieve, with trenches prepared and strong points identified. The layout of Nieuwpoort and its surrounds helped, flat like so much of Flanders and criss crossed by canals and drainage ditches the main avenues for a German attack would be down the roads and the railway line. Attacking across the fields would require the crossing of fences, ditches, and hedges all of which was calculated to throw any attack into confusion.

One other major challenge for the attackers was the so-called goose’s foot the Ganzepoot, this was a series of lochs spillways and quays which controlled access to the inner port of Nieuwpoort, the Ganzepoort had been built over the previous half century and was a defensive dream, with a warren of well-built warehouses well suited to defensive positions, narrow roads with canals and drains hemming in the attacker and wide canals and basins providing excellent fields of fire.

As well as the support of the armoured cruisers several older pre dreadnaughts attached to the 7th Battle Squadron would be joining the armoured cruisers off Nieuwpoort. They would not arrive until later in the day, it would take them 20 hours to cover the 275 nautical miles from Devonport to Nieuwpoort. The Marines would have to weather this first attack without their support.

General Aston also had two regiments of Artillery, one with 4.7” guns and the other with 12 pounder guns. They had not been in action yet, nor had they been shelled by the German horse artillery which had been firing on Ramskapelle and the other defences which they had been able to identify. The 12 pounders and 4.7” guns had plenty of shrapnel shells and so would be able to contribute to the defence of the port. Likewise the various maxim guns crewed by the blue jackets had been positioned to take advantage of their rates of fire and their range.

The disillusioned corporal had indicated that the attack was due to go in at dawn, in response Major General Aston had requested that the 5 cruisers shell the presumed forming up areas, these having been suggested by the battalion commanders and confirmed by marine reconnaissance patrols. The shell fire a mixture of shrapnel and common high explosive rounds had been timed to start 3 minutes before the jump off time for the attack.

Major General Aston looked down at his watch it was 7:20 dawn was in 4 minutes already the German troops would be stirring from their jumping off points. With a sudden roar the 5 cruisers opened fire on the fields before Nieuwpoort, a steady 2 rounds per gun per minute 4 9.2” rounds and 10 6” rounds per ship screaming overhead the shrapnel bursting and the explosive rounds blasting great clods of earth into the sky. Moments later the artillery opened fire targeting the same areas, the fire plan for the guns was to switch fire onto the horse artillery positions once the infantry attack had been disrupted.

A runner came with a signal from the commander of the unit holding Ramskapelle, his men had engaged the enemy, thought to be in at least brigade strength. His machine guns were proving highly effective. as was the naval artillery. Aston mentally reviewed his reserves and felt a renewed confidence that he would be able to hold unless the weight of attack grew significantly heavier.
Three minutes before the attack? The German troops are going to melt under that sort of artillery fire if they're out in the open.
The brigade intelligence officer had attempted to find out more information, he had been assisted by an unsmiling Belgian captain who had been highly effective in his questioning.
He wouldn't move to Britain later and work as a detective along with his pal Captain Hastings would he?
About the equivalent of two batteries of Siege Artillery and five batteries of Heavy Artillery. The BEF had six batteries of Siege Artillery in France in 1914, one per Division so essentially the heavy artillery equivalent of a full Infantry Corps.