Somme 100: Weapons of the Somme

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One hundred years ago today one of the bloodiest battles in history began, with French, British and Commonwealth troops charging across No Man’s Land to attack the Germans. In this blog we look at some of the weapons used in the fierce fighting as the armies looked to break the bloody stalemate of the Somme.

The Rifle

German soldiers defending the Hindenburg Line in 1918 armed with Gew 98 rifles
Artwork by Peter Dennis, taken from WPN 39: Mauser Military Rifles

For infantrymen infantryman at the Somme the most common weapon was the rifle. For the British this would in all likelihood mean the .303in Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE), which the BEF fired with such speed and accuracy that one German commander reportedly thought they were armed with machine guns.

The majority of German infantry would be armed with the Gew 98 Mauser rifle, one of the most accurate target weapons of the day. For the French the rifle of choice would either be the 1886 Lebel or the 1907 Berthier.

To read more about British rifles in World War One pick up a copy of Weapon 17: The Lee-Enfield Rifle by Martin Pegler. For further information on German rifles, take a look at Weapon 39: Mauser Military Rifles by Neil Grant. Anyone interested in reading about French rifles should take a look at Warrior 134: French Poilu 1914-18 by Ian Sumner.

The Machine Gun

A Lewis gun in action at the third battle of Ypres in August 1917
Artwork by Peter Dennis, taken from WPN 34: The Lewis Gun

As British and French troops marched across No Man’s Land towards the German trenches, one of the weapons that caused the most devastation was the machine gun. The MG 08 and MG 08/15 were crucial in defending trenches and field works, and inflicted heavy casualties on the advancing French and British troops.

The British counterpart to this fearsome weapon was the Lewis Gun, arguably one of the best machine guns of World War I, whilst the French relied on the Chauchat LMG.

If you would like to read more about the Lewis gun then grab a copy of Weapon 34: The Lewis Gun by Neil Grant. The MG 08 and MG 08/15 are examined in Weapon 47: German Machine Guns of World War I by Stephen Turnbull, whilst French machine guns are covered in Warrior 134: French Poilu 1914-18 and Men-at-Arms 286: The French Army 1914-18. Another book that may be of interest is Weapon 25: The Vickers-Maxim Machine Gun by Martin Pegler.

The Hand Grenade

British infantry throwing grenades from their trenches at Flanders, 1916
Artwork by Johnny Shumate, taken from WPN 38: The Hand Grenade

British, French and German troops all had hand grenades at their disposal throughout World War I, as it was seen as an ideal weapon for trench warfare. Each nation pressed forward with their development of grenades, experimenting with fuse length, percussion detonation and different shapes. At the battle of the Somme grenades would have been used when assaulting trenches as well as when defending from the attackers.

To read more about the history of hand grenades take a look at Weapon 38: The Hand Grenade by Gordon L. Rottman.

The Flamethrower

A two-man German flamethrower team attacking a French trench at Verdun, February 1916
Artwork by Steve Noon, taken from WPN 41: The Flamethrower

One of the most terrifying weapons used in the battle of the Somme was the flamethrower. The weapon had proven successful for the Germans earlier in the war, and by 1916 it had become an integral part of the German arsenal.

However, at the Somme it was in the hands of the British that the flamethrower was most effective. The Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector was a static flamethrower used to spit fire onto German trenches at a ranges of nearly 100m, saturating long stretches of trench line which was subsequently occupied relatively easily by the British troops.

If you would like to read more about the flamethrower take a look at Chris McNab’s Weapon 41: The Flamethrower.

Artillery

The attack on La Boiselle, with German artillery landing in No Man’s Land
Artwork by Peter Dennis, taken from CAM 169: Somme 1 July 1916

The build up to the battle of the Somme saw the German trenches endure a week-long bombardment, with French and British guns hoping to destroy German defences and shatter their morale.  On 1 July when the assault was launched creeping barrages were used to support the British and French troops, whilst the Germans sent shells crashing into No Man’s Land to inflict as many casualties as possible.

For a better understanding of the role of artillery in World War I pick up a copy of Elite 199: World War I Battlefield Artillery Tactics by Dale Clarke.

Lyminge Project news: what’s been happening since LYM15?

Original source

A view across Tayne Field as the last of the dig infrastructure was packed up at the end of the 2015 dig

A view across Tayne Field as the last of the dig infrastructure was packed up at the end of the 2015 dig

It’s been quite a while since our last updates on the Lyminge Project, but we have some lovely ‘Lyminge News’ to share with you all from this ‘behind-the-excavation’ period of research.

It seems like it was only a little while ago that we were unearthing the flints and finds in the bottom of our ‘blob’, but the months have in reality flown past. It might seem like the project has been hibernating, and certainly the blog has been rather quiet in the months following the completion of our final excavation in summer 2015, but we wanted to reassure you that there is still plenty of work going on behind the scenes. The project Director, Gabor Thomas, is currently fully absorbed in completing funding applications for the large and complex programme of post-excavation analysis required to bring the excavations to publication. As promised, we will keep you posted on progress on the results of these applications over the coming months.

We are pleased to report that some of the star finds made in last summer’s excavation have been conserved by Dana Goodburn-Brown and we wanted to share the fantastic results with you. Remember these lovely finds as they came up?

Pre-conservation finds from 'the blob'

Pre-conservation finds from ‘the blob’

They have now been stunningly conserved. The shot below recently taken at Dana’s Sittingbourne Lab contains items you will recognise from previous blog posts, and is a wonderful example of what happens to the artefacts after the excitement of excavation:

Finds excavated in the summer of 2015 and beautifully conserved by Dana Goodburn-Brown (C) D. Goodburn-Brown

Finds excavated in the summer of 2015 and beautifully conserved by Dana Goodburn-Brown (c) D. Goodburn-Brown

Here you can see a selection of gilded Anglo-Saxon brooches – a garnet-inlaid disc brooch (top left), a pair of button brooches (top and centre right) and a Frankish bird brooch (top centre) – alongside the fragment of a buckle (centre), the collar (centre left) from a decorative setting, and, at the bottom, a lovely iron spearhead. All of these objects were recovered from the midden deposits excavated from ‘The Blob’ and date to the sixth-century AD, contemporary with the use of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery located at the north of the village.

The latest project publication in Antiquity

The latest project publication in Antiquity

Not only do we have news of the objects, but we would also like to share news of recent and forthcoming publications based on the excavations at Lyminge. A paper on the remarkable Anglo-Saxon plough coulter recovered from the 2010 excavations has just been published in the prestigious journal, Antiquity. The article is available to view or download Open Access from the journal’s website.

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The Lyminge Plough Coulter on display in Maidstone Museum in 2015

We are also pleased to announce that the proceedings of the Lyminge Project Conference held in Canterbury in April 2015 will be published by the end of the year.

The volume will be published in the series Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology & History under the title:

Early Medieval Monasticism in The North Sea Zone – Recent Research and New Perspectives: Proceedings of an international conference held to celebrate the conclusion of the Lyminge Project excavations, University of Kent, 24-26th April 2015’.

We will circulate a post as soon as the volume rolls off the press.

I have saved what I consider to be my favourite piece of Lyminge Archaeology news until last. Our focus over these last few years of digging in the village has been the wonderful archaeology, but just as important has been our impact on the community and the village,

The talented group of sewers behind the Lyminge Tapestry

The talented group of sewers behind the Lyminge Tapestry

and our fantastic team of local volunteers and visitors, some of whom have been finds washing with us since the first test pits in 2007 and the first large excavations in 2008. We were particularly thrilled, therefore, when a group of our volunteers  asked if we would mind if they designed a tapestry to commemorate the excavations – of course we were thrilled!

As you can see from the below masterpiece, they recently finished. It contains images of the halls and sunken-featured buildings that were excavated on Tayne Field since 2012, as well as incredibly accurate renditions of some of the artefacts, animals, and the activities that would have taken place we uncovered with the help of all our volunteers. The tapestry is proudly on display in the Tayne Centre across from the excavation site. Huge congratulations to the sewers of an incredibly beautiful piece of work: Maureen Cox, Niki Hunnisett, Eileen Jennings, Margaret Keeble, Janet Reynolds , Rosemary Selman, Pam Sidders, Andree Sladden, Pauleen Stewart, Gill Wren and Katharine Barber with local artist Nikki Barratt who designed the tapestry and Angela Camplin who provided calligraphy in the framing. work!

The stunning Lyminge Tapestry commemorating the excavation and the archaeology of Lyminge

The stunning Lyminge Tapestry commemorating the excavation and the archaeology of Lyminge

You might be able to spot objects that have been in the blog, and we have been told that the Director and his family have even been inserted – can you spot them?

We wanted to go to Lyminge and have a tangiable impact as well as do some important research. Not only has the team made friends for life, the beautiful tapestry is proof of the positive impact archaeology and history can have on a community.

We’ll be back soon to update you on whats happening with the project, and of course let you know when the conference proceedings are published.