Thanks to the generous assistance of Craig Tucker, at the Provincial Archives Division, The Rooms Corporation of Newfoundland & Labrador, I have been able to add a fairly detailed original listing of larger war trophies allocated to the Dominion of Newfoundland by British authorities circa 1920! This is now available on the War Trophies Allocation Database, linked to here. With this act of Grand Union, the crack team of research professionals that put this site together is rejoicing in the streets! With info Craig has provided, and Harold Skaarup’s listing for Newfoundland, we can see that the key questions are: what was the fate of the Whippet tank (the Canadian one is now on display at the Worthington museum, CFB Borden)? What is the story on the 15cm howitzer in a landfill in St. John’s? Cool or super-cool: U-boat periscope, and an engine and gondola cab from a zeppelin! Also, having two 10cm Kanone 17s is pretty impressive, due to their rarity. Any help with photos of these trophies or any tips on whether the others in the original listing are still in existence would be appreciated!
Dubbed the “Queen of the Battlefield” or the Devil’s Paintbrush (because of the way it swept across a battlefield in strokes), the MG08 Heavy Machine gun is one of the iconic weapons of the First World War. The German Army was well-equipped with Spandau and DWM manufactured MG 08s when the war began. Both the British Vickers and the 08s were refinements of Sir Hiram Maxim’s basic design. An 08 could fire as much as 500 rounds a minute, and was fed by a cloth sewn belt of 250 rifle-caliber bullets. The crew was highly trained to be able to remedy every one of the guns frequent stoppages (jams, etc.) quickly. 08s were carefully placed to maximize their effectiveness on the battlefield, and overlapping fields of fire gave way to cleverly placed guns that fired at oblique angles, to avoid tell-tale muzzle-flashes or frontal exposure of the crew. The July 1916 opening of the Somme offensive proved to Commonwealth armies that the MG08’s defensive power could not be overcome by waves of massed infantry assaults. The same lesson was learned in similar casualty figures in botched French and Russian attacks. Allied armies eventually trained specialist snipers (again the Germans had been far ahead in this) to eliminate crews. The Germans adapted by protecting the gunners with body armour and fitting the MGs with special shields to protect the gunner. The snipers learned to target the water sleeve on the barrel, to disable the gun. As long as static war prevailed, the MG08 had a huge defensive advantage. Still, combined tactics of preparatory bombardment, rehearsals, barbed wire cutting raids, creeping barrages, sniping, accurate counter-battery fire, close support from mortars (and rifle grenades), and squad level tactics that avoided masses of men grouping together, all helped lessen the losses.
These guns had held up many an advance, and battalions were very proud of their destruction or capture. Many Canadian Victoria Crosses (some posthumously awarded) were also awarded for eliminating machine gun positions. Crews could face harsh treatment by CEF soldiers who had watched their pals gunned down. The regular soldier thought of artillery as almost an act of nature, like a hurricane to suffer through; If you were unlucky, your sector got pounded. If you were really unlucky, “a shell had your number on it.” In contrast, the machine gun was personal. It spewed malice, in the form of spitzer-tipped, full-metal-jacketted rounds cutting across “No Man’s Land.” Astonishingly, about 2,500 machine guns, mostly of this type, were brought back by the Canadian government as war trophies. These are difficult to locate, as many were scrapped, many were sold off to private collectors, some went missing, and some ended up in museums.
Sometimes you go about as far as you can researching something, and you still don’t have the answers you crave. This happens surprisingly often with museum artifacts, as the chain of provenance and the wealth of detail that might have accompanied the artifact breaks down, and what you are left with is partial documentation, rumour, enigma, and frustration! Such is the case for me when I consider the German Ubts naval gun, 8.8cm, 30 caliber, serial no. 1972, produced in 1916 by Krupp, in their Essen works. Today this piece is on display in LeBreton Gallery, at the Canadian War Museum. This is a breech-loading, quick-firing gun that used a vertical sliding breech block. It was likely an adaptation of a design for torpedo boats and other small craft, and could stand long periods of immersion in salt water. I have now researched this streamlined submarine deck gun 2 times professionally and now lately, because it has become a grudge match. This gun is unique, and important, simply by its rarity. There are no others in Canada like it, and indeed, there is not even what you would expect would be more common, a deck gun from a Second World War U-boat.* There are very few of these in existence, and most were recovered from wrecks. It may be the only WW1 Krupp gun of its exact type in near perfect condition. The submarine campaign featured periods of restricted and unrestricted submarine warfare, where the imperial German navy tried to cut the supply lifelines to Great Britain and hamper the Allied war effort in Europe. Deck guns were used for shelling ships when the sub was on the surface, to save torpedos, or to allow the crews to evacuate. This gun might have sunk merchant ships and killed their crew members.
There are two origin myths connected with this gun: One note in the file gave some fairly recent information that it had been linked to U-91. In the First World War, there were German subs named U-91, UB-91 (a smaller coastal boat) and UC-91 (a mine-laying boat). UB-91s gun has actually survived and is on display in Chestow, England. It is the larger 10.5 cm deck gun. UC-91 was sunk in the North Sea after the war. That leaves U-91, which is described in January 1918 as having been armed with the more potent mix of both a 10.5cm and an 8.8 cm gun.** The second potential provenance is more strange, and features an army unit capturing (or at least laying claim to) the naval gun. In an inventory of war trophy artillery in Ottawa in the interwar era, this Krupp is clearly IDed, but is listed as having been claimed by the 72nd Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (a Vancouver unit, today perpetuated by the Seaforth highlanders of Canada). This unit’s involvement with the gun is a key mystery. There are several possibilities, but they all seem a bit unlikely. Could the 72nd have picked it up somehow after the war from one of the boats being scrapped along the French coast or in England? Could both these provenance details be linked? For example, did the 72nd organize to have the gun brought back to Canada from where U-91 was being disassembled on the French coast? The search continues.
*The closest thing to another submarine deck gun is a 76mm Japanese gun captured during the Kiska landings in the Second World War and today on display in Vernon, BC. This gun was of the right type to have been used on a sub, but was in fact part of a coastal battery when it was found.
**Michael Lowrey, from Uboat.net, contributed many helpful details about this gun, KTB u-boat war diaries, German First World war submarine armament generally, similar survivors, and possible provenance.
- This Australian War Memorial image of an Albrecht likely depicts the larger (35 or 45 cm bore) type of this odd weapon. (AWM E 02902)
- Though they would seem to be the product of a deranged cooper, not a highly industrialized nation that produced Krupp super guns and mortars on mass scale, these were terrifying weapons in the trenches. They lobbed a massive explosive tin dubbed a “coal scuttle” by allied troops. It was a very simple cylindrical tin packed with explosives and iron bits. The weapon normally had a maximum range of about 600m. These came in 25cm, 35cm, and 45cm barrel sizes. The bottom photo shows an erdmorser (buried trench mortar), which was usually buried in the ground with the rails propped against an embankment or trench wall to roughly aim it at an enemy trench. The other photos are Albrecht mortars, whose barrels are constructed of wooden staves and reinforced by wire wound round them.
Trench mortars offered artillery support to troops near the front lines, and they were sited close to the firing line, making rapid communication and fire tasking possible (unlike fixed artillery located in the rear). At the outbreak of war, the Germans could draw on many more well-designed mortars than Allied powers, which scrambled to adapt and improvise close-support weapons. Still, the Germans felt the need to produce these unusual wooden mortars. In Canada today at least two of these rare and strange mortars exist: The Canadian War Museum had a nice example, and the Brome County Historical Society has an un-mounted barrel in the corner of its displays. Both these are the 25cm varieties.
One of the more unusual trophies brought back to Canada was this 120cm Siemens-Schuckert German Searchlight captured by Australians near Roy, Belgium (possibly the 14th battalion). It would have been used for anti-aircraft defence at night. This light was put on display in the war trophy exhibits, kept by the public archives in their trophies shed, and today is in the Canadian War Museum’s collection. It is in decent shape but won’t be lighting anyone up any time soon! Below is a photo of it in the Public Archives’ War Trophies Annex building along with a massive SN 1650 lb. British bomb (also now at the CWM) intended for bombing raids over Germany by heavy bombers such as the Handley Page 0/400. There was a similar or identical Siemens-Schukert large searchlight captured by the 31st Battalion (Alberta) during the Amiens Offensive, but this light was described as having not been brought in, and does not seem to have ever been recovered by a Canadian unit (from the War Diary report on Ops. here). The last postcard here also shows a very similar unit (from an Austrian searchlight unit) being towed by mechanical transport with its crew.
These bizarre pieces of equipment were sometimes called one-man tanks, or mobile personnel shields. They are described in the war trophies catalogs as German but the above model is French (despite the Mauser rifle). The inspiration for this came from Col. Jean Baptiste Eugène Estienne, The French “father of tanks” who was searching for solutions to overcome devastating German MG and rifle fire. Both types shown above and below are also found today in Les Invalides’ Army Museum collection in Paris. These were likely gifts to Canada from the French government (along with other material on this website). These artifacts, in the Public Archives’ Sussex annex building appear to have not survived. Operationally, they weren’t a great success. They were cumbersome, conspicuous, must have been nearly impossible to navigate through a wire-strewn, pockmarked landscape, and must have been hard to aim out of. It would also seem like there would be no real way to withdraw in the one-man tank without exposing the soldier to enemy fire.
Below there is a larger, up-gunned type that was like a mobile pillbox. It seems more likely that this may be German, as it appears to be armed with an MG08, and the rifles do not appear to be British or French.
This links to part 2 of a very interesting series about the four Canadian divisions at Vimy, April 1917. Watch out for the map as the Canadians attain their objectives…It becomes rather shocking with shell bursts and advancing dots!! At about 6:00, this reel starts into a series of war trophy captures, with grinning troops nearby 7.7cm field guns and infantry guns, some 17 or 25 cm minenwerfers (trench mortars), one sFH02 15cm Howitzer…a nice series! Enjoy: http://youtu.be/-SHuOLV5UUs!
Good luck with this! Serial numbers on cannon manufactured from the Victorian era until the present are important because they are the key coordinates for tracing actual details about that weapons’ history. Some cannon breeches I’ve seen have featured someone using solvent or abrasive to get through layers of paint, grime, and corrosion. While this may be officially undertaken by the local groups, I’m not sure they would appreciate me freelancing. I try to treat the guns like old gravestones, and do a charcoal rubbing on paper. When it works it is okay, but other times the corroded bumps make it useless. Another deeply-scientific technique is using your camera flash, a flashlight or app on your phone, or just the sunlight to look for different angles, raised ridges and indentations. Most Field Guns and Howitzers had serial no.s that read “Nr. _____” with anywhere from 1 to 5 digits. For other types see my note on serial numbers in the War Trophies database tab. Good searching and interpreting! My advice is, if you know what the gun’s number should be from the ledger or another source, don’t accept it uncritically and see that number. Plenty of these guns, machine guns, and mortars were shuffled around. It helps to go to the sources after examination. Using the rubbing shown below (And the War trophies database), we can determine that the gun no. 438, located in Mt. Stewart, PEI was captured by the 11th British Division, operating with Canadian units on the 27th Sep. 1918, during the first day of the Canal du Nord battle, and originally shipped to Charlottetown on June 21st, 1920 by CPR rail. Interestingly, the rail ferry service (using the SS Prince Island) between Cape Tormentine, NB, and Borden, PEI, was new at this time, and sections of the line on the PEI side had been built by prisoners of war.
More content is pending.