Shooting Round Corners Great War Style – Defence of Communication Trenches

Hunting through archives and historical records, I often get distracted by things which I had no intention of looking for. One such document I recently stumbled across had the very underwhelming title of “Defence of Communication Trenches”, written by Major H F Whinney and dated to July 1915.

Lt Col Harold Fife Whinney D.S.O. O.B.E.
Harold Whinney was first commissioned into the 1st Volunteer Battalion, Middlesex Regiment in February 1900. Shortly afterwards, he was commissioned into the regular army, joining the Royal Fusiliers on the 5th May 1900.

Whilst acting as Adjutant to the 5th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in 1912, Capt Whinney had invented a mechanism and device to simulate a moving aircraft target for his troops to practice anti-aircraft fire. This same mechanism also provided a battery of horse artillery as targets!

With the outbreak of war in August 1914, Capt Whinney was serving with the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. By July 1915, he had been promoted to Major and appointed Commandant of the Central Training Camp at Harve.
Harold Whinney can been seen in a group photograph in this fantastic guide produced by the Royal Fusiliers Museum here.

After reading though the document, I was amazed to find the instructions on how to fire round trench corners. The concept itself would have been extremely beneficial to an army who had by now found itself confined largely to trench warfare. I think it’s safe to say the idea never took off, and whether it actually could have worked will remain a mystery to all of us without a machine gun and trench!

I have transcribed the document below, and added the original hand drawn illustrations.

“I beg to forward the following suggestions with reference to the defence of communication trenches.

Place the machine gun in communication trench and fire at a steel plate, which should be fixed against the wall of the trench, on the far side of the bend, and slightly sloping back, resting against the wall of the trench, at an angle of 135 degrees from the point of aim, and this will cause the cone of fire to ricochet off round the bend of the communication trench, and at the same time the machine gun will be fired from an inexposed position. A peg driven in the ground in front of plate is sufficient to keep the plate in its position.

Experiment

The above experiment was carried out by me with a rifle, as I was unable to obtain the use of a machine gun: – Firing from a kneeling position in the communication trench at 20 yards range, and hitting the steel plate about 2 feet from the ground caused the bullet to ricochet off and round the corner, rising to a height of about 2 feet 6 inchesin five yards, and making a hole in a canvas target 4 inches in diameter, besides scattering splinters in all directions. The steel plate used was 3/8ths of an inch thick, made of mild steel plate, and it is interesting to note that when the same experiment was carried out, firing with the German bullet from a Mauser, the bullet went through the plate like butter, although the plate was placed at angle referred to.

It appears to me that a machine gun used in this way would be of great value, and there would be no difficulty in obtaining steel loop-holes to use for this purpose, if nothing better were obtainable at the front.

I have mentioned the above to several officers at the Front, but have not heard of any results, or whether the suggestion has been adopted.

Sketch attached herewith, showing steel plate fixed in communication trench.

(Sd) H.F.WHINNEY, Major, Commandant Central Training Camp, HARVE

27/7/1915.”

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