This 120cm Siemens-Schuckert German Searchlight, captured by Australian units near Roy, Belgium was on display at the Canadian War Museum under the Voodoo jet, in Lebreton Gallery through late 2014. I previously posted about its history. It had been stored on a rack in the Transportation and Artillery vault, with the rear facing out. It is nice to see how intact it is, and that staff did a great job of reassembling the lens and components. No other similar unit has been found amongst the trophies brought back to Canada. I hope this impressive artifact finds a permanent home on display to visitors to the museum!
2014 in review: The Advance rolls on! Cannon found, Cannon lost, Cannon yet to be found!
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2014. If every visitor to this blog found themselves in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, we would have about enough fighting strength for one infantry brigade.
Brome County Historical Society’s top collection of War Trophies
Today, the Brome County Historical Society, in Knowlton, Quebec, has one of the strongest collections of First World War military artifacts in Canada. This is largely due to the efforts of Senator George Foster, who petitioned the Dominion Archivist and Comptroller of War Trophies Arthur Doughty for a quality collection. In addition to the spectacular Fokker DVII German biplane with original fabric covering including camouflage (with a good write up about it by a BCHS member here), the BCHS has a diverse collection of German trench mortars and a range of German machine-guns. Since Sep. 2013, work with Ross Jones, the museum’s militaria specialist, has established the battlefield provenance of many of these items using the War Trophies Commission records at Library and Archives Canada. We have poked around pieces, trying to discern key numbers, and any matches have added to the number of surviving pieces in my database. Some of the trophies also have capture info painted on by hand. The range of items, from machine-gun belt fillers (which look like a pasta grinder) to trench periscopes, to aerial bombs, gives a good idea of the variety of small trophies that once accompanied many of the larger artifacts out to sites across Canada. A very significant find was had when Ross managed to man-handle the destroyed barrel of a 25cm heavy Minenwerfer trench mortar around to discover the serial number. The 102nd Canadian Infantry Battalion captured mortar no. 1524 (along with 119 German prisoners) on Vimy Ridge, April 9th, 1917. The barrel, bearing heavy shrapnel pitting and shell damage, is a powerful relic of the Vimy victory. This is only a small sample of the varied collection of the BCHS, a small museum worth a visit!
Help restore an important trophy gun today!
When your grandchildren ask you what you did during the 4+ years of the centenary of the First World War, you can tell them that you helped restore a century-old artifact captured by Canadian troops at the Battle of Vimy Ridge!
The town of Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick, has some rare war trophies that I recently visited. The Albert County Museum is raising funds to help restore these cannon. They also hope to repaint them in German disruptive camouflage…which should make them real eye-catchers (FWW camo-was often not exactly inconspicuous!). They also plan to replace the rotted wheels, and enhance other aspects of the site and interpretation. Unlike many cannon, these trophies were not forgotten, and indeed the history of the 10.5 cm Kanone 14 no. 590 is well-researched by museum members and detailed at their website here. This gun was a unique capture, with a phenomenal story, and the relevant war diary report on operations during Vimy has a section on it. The exact position it was captured is even indicated by map coordinates! Today, the gun appears to have battle damage, likely from its capture near Thelus, during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, by the 27th Battalion (City of Winnipeg).
According to the Report for April 9th, 1917, as extracted on the Museum’s website “On the right, the German gunners of one company of heavy guns opened fire at point-blank range with muzzle bursts. The battalion charged the last 50 yards with a cheer and leaped into the gun pits, where the gunners put up a stout fight. Our line led by Captain Lane seized the guns, put out of action those of the crew who resisted and took the remainder prisoners, and prevented the guns from being dismantled.” According to the War Diary entry of the 27th, at Library and Archives Canada, Lane and Sgt. Hodgson, of “A” company, prevented the Germans from disabling the guns, which allowed them to be used against the retreating enemy, two days later, by the 6th Canadian Artillery Brigade. LAC also digitized the handwritten account of this action by Major Taunton, Officer Commanding “A” co., here. This artifact was later awarded to the people of Albert County, NB, for raising significantly more money than expected in the 1919 Victory Loans competition. Today, the museum also displays the very rare Prince of Wales Honour Flag that the selected communities received along with the trophy gun.
The museum has done a nice job researching its history, but they need our help to fund the restoration project. Please visit their site to find out more about the guns, what the money will be used for, and how to easily click to donate to the campaign.
Quebec City heavies!
Two of Canada’s trio of captured First World War German 21cm Mörser siege howitzers are both located in historic Quebec City, on display in the Citadel, and under some trees in the Plains of Abraham battlefield park. These, along with one in Ottawa (featured elsewhere on this site along with an in depth analysis of this type of canon), are all that is left of the more than two dozen of these monsters that were brought back by the Canadian government. Quebec also boasts a nice sample of lighter German FWW canon, amongst the hundred or so British and French canon, mortars, and carronades. Both pieces have nice provenance from “Canada’s hundred days” advances of 1918.
Large German First World War Trench Mortar in Finch, Ontario
A nice discovery close to Ottawa!
Finch Ontario was originally allocated this 24cm, Flügel Minenwerfer, and it was shipped there by Canadian Pacific Railways Dec. 20th, 1922. This is a very rare piece today, and there were only ever a handful of these shipped back to Canada. Regrettably, nothing is known about its capture. It is quite corroded and the mounting has been sunk into concrete. The builder’s plate is in good condition, though, and shows that this was produced in 1917. There is only one (known) other similar type of Trench Mortar in Canada, on display at the RCA Museum in Shilo, Manitoba. With thanks to Mike Calnan, Swords & Ploughshares Museum for mentioning that there was a trench mortar in Finch, and a nice lady at the local corner store, for telling me where the “big old cannon” was!
Junkers Trench Raider now on display at CASM!
As part of a First World War upgrade, the Junkers J1 Armoured aircraft (see earlier post below for more info) has been re-assembled and is on display in the main museum at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum! This shows the construction of the aircraft: metal tubing (usually covered by fabric), corrugated cladding, and the armoured section protecting the gunner/observer, pilot, and engine, with 1\4 inch armoured plate. You can still see some of the camouflage (like in the archival photo on the original post) on some of the surfaces.
War Trophies of Canada travels to the 2014 Archival Association of Ontario Conference
I am slated to present my site, database of war trophies, and the archival documents that can help restore provenance information to First World War artifacts all over Canada at the AAO’s annual conference, in Oshawa, ON, in late May! Also, keep posted for some new additions to the site!
The AEG G IV bomber was a twin-engine German biplane medium bomber. An improvement on earlier AEG G types, It entered service in late 1916 and served, mostly as a tactical and night bomber, for the rest of the war. The aircraft could carry almost 900 lbs. of bombs and had two parabellum machine gun positions for self-defence, with the rear-gunner able to crouch and also fire downward through a trap-door to defend against threats from below. Like the Junkers, it made revolutionary use of an all-metal skeleton. Today, the AEG in the Canada Aviation and Space Museum’s collection is the only intact twin-engine German First World War bomber in existence. Aircraft no. 574/18 was brought back as a war trophy, and early war trophies exhibit photos show that it did not have engines, and propellers were simply hung in about the right spot with nothing behind them! Since I already was featuring two 1920s era photos of this aircraft in various states, and also found an official photo of a similar type, outside of the Namur zeppelin sheds after the Armistice, including this was a must! In the interwar era it can be seen in pieces along the side wall of the Public Archives’ War Trophies Annex. Eventually, less powerful engines were acquired to fill the voids. This aircraft also is the only survivor showing the distinctive night-lozenge camouflage paint scheme.
“Flying Tank” up high!
War trophies were not all captured artillery. Quite a few German aircraft came to Canada: Several Fokker DVII fighters, an AEG bomber and this unusual and pioneering plane: the Junkers J1 armoured aircraft. Nicknamed the “flying tank,” this was a slow, low flying observation and ground attack aircraft with an armoured section (like an enormous tub with 5mm thick armour around the crew and engine), the basic structure of the airframe was early aluminum tubing (“duraluminium”), with corrugated aluminum sheets covering the wings and tail surfaces. This would influence later aircraft, and was quite the departure from the fabric-over-wood bracing on other aircraft. The J1 was armed with machine guns and bombs. Only a little over 220 of these were produced. The best photos of this aircraft, models of it showing the paint schemes, and parts of other J1s can be found at Wingnuts model-making site. Today, Junkers 586, produced in 1918, is the World’s only reasonably complete example. This J1 was exhibited at some of the War Trophies displays (see War Trophies exhibits for a relevant photo from Hamilton), the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in 1919, then in 1939 it was transferred from CFB Borden to the Aeronautical museum at the Rockcliffe Air Station, then on to storage at the Canadian War Museum. When air-related collections were consolidated in the 1960s, it moved to the Aviation Museum (Now Canada Aviation and Space Museum). Photos show it in various conditions. For an upcoming FWW-themed centenary exhibit at the CASM museum, it is rumoured that it will be out on display again in the main museum.The aircraft in the official photos from November 1918 could be this same aircraft. The guard near the aircraft would seem to indicate that military authorities had some purpose in mind for this.
The two Canadian War Records Office official photographs show a J1 near an enormous zeppelin shed (probably one of the sheds at Cognelée, near Namur, Belgium). Note the original camouflage evident on the wings.
THE TANK-MAN RETURNITH!! (And I made him angry!)
My first self-referential posting! The tank-man heard me make fun of him in the below posting “The tank-man bumbleth!” and now has returned! Stepping out of my house this morning this was the sight I was greeted with on my front lawn. Okay, well actually this is Canadian War Records Office Official photograph O-3041 (credited to photographer William Rider-Rider), whose caption indicates that I and Les Invalides, the French national Army museum in Paris both were wrong about this little guy being French. I guess his toothy Mauser 98 was the indicator. One came back to Canada as a trophy and was in evidence in several of the travelling trophy exhibits, 1919-1920. There is another one still in the Australian War Memorial’s collection, which is identified as British. If he was indeed trying to pass himself off as a mobile sniper’s shield, my opinion of him remains: a ridiculous and conspicuous bumbler! I have no relevant info about which Canadian battalion captured him, but I would guess some table scraps and a large sack were involved.
Newfoundland and Labrador trophies have been worked into “War Trophies of Canada”!
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!
MG 08 Machine Guns: Belt-fed Malice
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.
U-Boat deck gun, the research continues!
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.
Giant German Wooden Trench Mortars! Be Afraid…be very afraid.
- 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.