CHAPTER XV. ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUNS. IMMOBILE WEAPONS

The Krupp company fully reahsed the difficulties pertaining to the projectile problem in attacks upon aerial craft. So far as dirigibles are concerned shrapnel is practically useless, inasmuch as even should the bag be riddled by the flying fragments, little effective damage would be wrought - the craft would be able to regain its haven. Accordingly efforts were concentrated upon the perfection of two new types of projectiles, both of which were directed more particularly against the dirigible. The one is the incendiary shell - obus fumigene - while the other is a shell, the contents of which, upon coming into contact with the gas contained within the gas-bag, set up certain chemical reactions which precipitate an explosion and fire.

The incendiary shells are charged with a certain compound which is ignited by means of a fuse during its flight. This fuse arrangement coincides very closely with that attached to ordinary shrapnel, inasmuch as the timing may be set to induce ignition at different periods, such as either at the moment it leaves the gun, before, or when it strikes the envelope of the dirigible. The shell is fitted with a "tracer," that is to say, upon becoming ignited it leaves a trail of smoke, corresponding with the trail of a rocket, so that its passage through the air may be followed with facility. This shell, however, was designed to fulfil a dual. Not only will it fire the gaseous contents out of the dirigible, but it has an explosive effect upon striking an incombustible portion of the aircraft, such as the machinery, propellers or car, when it will cause sufficient damage to throw the craft out of action.

The elaborate trials which were carried out with the obus fumigene certainly were spectacular so as they went. Two small spherical balloons, 10 feet in diameter, and attached to 1,000 feet of cable, were sent aloft. The anti-aircraft guns themselves were placed about 5,1OO feet distant. Owing to the inclement weather the balloons were unable to attain a height of more than 200 feet in a direct vertical line above the ground. The guns were trained and fired, but the one balloon was not hit until the second round, while the third escaped injury until the fifth round. When struck they collapsed instantly. Though the test was not particularly conclusive, and afforded no reliable data, one point was ascertained - the trail of smoke emitted by the shell enabled its trajectory to be followed with ease. Upon the conclusion of these trials, which were the most successful recorded, quick-firing tests in the horizontal plane were carried out. The best performance in this instance was the discharge of five rounds in eight seconds. In this instance the paths of the projectiles were simple and easy to follow, the flight of the shell being observed until it fell some 18,670 feet away. But the Krupp firmhave found that trials upon the testing ground with a captive balloon differ very materially from sterntests in the field of actual warfare. Practically nothing has been heard of the two projectiles during this war, as they have proved an absolute failure.

Some months ago the world was startled by the announcement that the leading German armament firm had acquired the whole of the interest in an aerial torpedo which had been evolved by the Swedish artillerist, Gustave Unge, and it was predicted that in the next war widespread havoc would be wrought therewith. Remarkable claims were advanced for this projectile, the foremost being that it would travel for a considerable distance through the air and alight upon the objective with infallible accuracy. The torpedo in question was subjected to exacting tests in Great Britain, which failed to substantiate all the claims which were advanced, and it is significant to observe that little has been heard of it during the present conflict. It is urged in certain technical quarters, however, that the aerial torpedo will prove to be the most successful projectile that can be used against aircraft. I shall deal with this question in a later chapter.

During the early days of the war anti-aircraft artillery appeared to be a much overrated arm. The successes placed to its credit were insignificant. This was due to the artillerymen being unfamiliar with the new arm, and the conditions which prevail when firing into space. Since actual practice became possible great advances in marksmanship have been recorded, and the accuracy of such fire to-day is striking. Fortunately the airman possesses the advantage. He can manoeuvre beyond the range of the hostile weapons. At the moment 10,000 feet represents the extreme altitude to which projectiles can be hurled from the arms of this character which are now in use, and they lack destructiveness at that range, for their velocity is virtually expended.

Picking up the range is still as difficult as ever. The practice followed by the Germans serves to indicate the Teuton thoroughness of method in attacking such problems even if success does not ensue. The favourite German principle of disposing anti-aircraft artillery is to divide the territory to be protected into equilateral triangles, the sides of which have a length of about six miles or less, according to the maximum effective range of the pieces at an elevation of 23 1/2 degrees.