You are here

Lieutenant James A. McGuire in Shell Hole, World War I, France, 1918

Lt. James A. McGuire in Shell Hole
New York State Archives, NYSA_A3166-78_B1_F18_McGuire_crater
 
Document Description
Lieutenant James A. McGuire resting in a shell hole near Hannescamp, France after strenuous battle in rear guard action during the German Somme offensive, April 1918.
 
Questions
What is artillery?
What is a shell?
What made artillery in World War I potentially more dangerous than in past wars?
What was one of the roles of artillery on the battlefield in World War I?
 
Historical Challenges
Advancements in artillery made possible the large-scale use of poison gas on the Western Front. Even if gas did not kill a person, its horrible effects could leave soldiers physically scarred and damaged, sometimes for life. Like many aspects of World War I, gas caused people to think about what practices should or should not be acceptable in a time of war. Has gas been approved for use by major powers in wars since World War I? Why or why not?
 
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: The British fired 1.5 million shells during the week before the Battle of the Somme. If they fired the same quantity of shells each day, how many shells were fired each day? Round your answer to the nearest thousand.
Science: A heavy artillery piece is about to fire a 650 kilogram shell. The velocity of the shell when the cannon is fired is 340 m/s. What is the shell’s kinetic energy?
 
Resources
Folco, Jon di. “Terrain, Landscapes of the Great War.” History of Photography, 28:3 (September, 2004): 261-264.
 

Historical Context
World War I marked the introduction of many new advances in military technology.  One type of deadly weapon that was heavily used in the war was artillery.  Artillery pieces are cannons that can shoot a variety of heavy projectiles for great distances, often up to several miles.  Although artillery had been used in various forms for hundreds of years, improvements in science and technology allowed the cannons of World War I to shoot faster and more accurately than in previous wars.

Even though trenches could protect soldiers on the Western Front from enemy rifle fire, the trenches offered little protection from artillery.  While some cannons shoot straight at their targets, others arc or lob their projectiles to negate the protection of cover.  So, although a soldier in a trench may be relatively safe from soldiers in the opposite trench, he was still at risk of being hit from an artillery shell (projectile) from above.

The danger of artillery was magnified by the fact that different kinds of shells could be fired from the cannons.  While the most common type of shell would explode when they hit the target, cannons could also fire canisters of poison gas.  One function of artillery was to destroy enemy soldiers, weapons, and defenses so that friendly soldiers could advance and capture territory more easily and with less loss of life.  In an attempt to weaken and destroy German forces before the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the British fired over 100,000 shells each day for a week.  Before the main battle began, the British artillery had fired over 1.5 million shells.   In this photograph, Lieutenant James McGuire is sitting inside of a crater formed by an exploded German artillery shell.  The hole looks to be at least eight feet deep.
Lieutenant James A. McGuire resting in a shell hole near Hannescamp, France after strenuous battling in rear guard action during the German Somme offensive, April, 1918.

 
Essential Question
How does technology influence the outcome of a war?
 
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and discuss the impact of the technology on the outcome of the war.