US Army WWII Artillery I

During the late 1930s, the power of the chiefs of the combat arms declined as the Chief of Staff became more convinced that the branch chiefs were the cause of much of the factionalism within the Army. In March 1942, during a massive reorganization of the War Department, these positions, including that of the Chief of Field Artillery, were eliminated. General Danford was the only one of the branch chiefs to place his objections in writing. He recounted the marked advances in the organization, weapons, tactics, and techniques of field artillery, all of which he attributed to the centralized direction and leadership of the branch chief. The Chief of Field Artillery had been responsible for all doctrinal matters pertaining to the branch, but these responsibilities now passed on to special branches within the newly created Army Ground Forces (AGF). Included in the transferred functions were the preparation of tables of organization and equipment. Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, who had served with the test triangular division in the late 1930s, took command of the new organization.

General McNair, like General Pershing before him, believed that the division should be kept lean and that, based on operational requirements, units and equipment could be drawn from pools maintained at the next higher level. By keeping organic elements of the division at a minimum, greater flexibility could be realized through the use of attached units as needed. In April 1942, a general revision of tables of organization occurred, reflecting some of General McNair’s concepts. The division artillery was reduced by about 200 personnel, largely through the elimination of the antitank battery of 75-mm. guns in the 155-mm. howitzer battalion. More success in streamlining the division artillery appeared in tables prepared in 1943 by the AGF Reduction Board established in 1942 to cut the existing tables because of shortages in shipping space. McNair pronounced the new tables “a monumental advance in de-fatting.” Most of the cuts were made in headquarters and maintenance personnel and did not adversely affect the actual weapons crews. For example, the firing batteries in the 105-mm. howitzer battalion were each reduced from 111 to 93, but each howitzer crew lost only one man. The greatest savings were accomplished by consolidating the headquarters battery and service battery of each battalion into a single unit and by eliminating the antitank and antiaircraft sections within the headquarters batteries. The primary armament of the division artillery remained the same—thirty-six 105-mm. howitzers and twelve 155-mm. howitzers. An increased number of .50-caliber machine guns and 2.36-inch rocket launchers (bazookas) replaced the 37-mm. antitank guns. Personnel were cut from 2,479 to 1,949, a reduction of over 20 percent. To attain these savings, artillerymen were expected to perform basic tasks common to all branches (although each battalion did include a medical detachment in its table of organization). Artillerists operated their own telephones and radios, managed their own trucks and supply systems, engaged in rudimentary engineering functions, and provided first- and second-echelon maintenance for their weapons and vehicles without the aid of personnel from other branches.

These severely reduced tables were short-lived, however, and the only units organized under them were the field artillery battalions serving with the Americal Division on Guadalcanal. Because of sharp reactions from the field against the reductions and because the number of divisions to be mobilized was lowered, the tables of organization published on 15 July 1943 were a compromise between the old ones and those of 1 March. The division artillery as a whole grew by 211 officers and men to 2,160, which was still 319 fewer than it had been in the 1942 tables. The service batteries were also restored to the battalions. Antiaircraft and antitank functions remained, for the most part, with the infantry, and the .50-caliber machine guns and bazookas from the March tables were retained

A chief feature of the new division artillery was the addition of ten light slow-speed airplanes, two in each headquarters battery, for observation. The concept was tested in 1942, and aerial observers first saw action in the invasion of North Africa in November of that year. Except for minor reductions, the infantry division artillery remained essentially the same throughout the remainder of the war.

The functions of the division artillery batteries also remained essentially as they had in previous years. The headquarters batteries furnished communications, fire direction, survey, and administrative support. The headquarters batteries of both the 105-mm. and 155-mm. howitzer battalions each had an operations platoon and a communications platoon, the former having an operations and fire direction section and an instrument and survey section and the latter having wire and radio sections. Battalion personnel and battery maintenance sections, along with headquarters personnel, completed the headquarters batteries. The howitzer batteries each contained a headquarters, battery detail, a firing battery of four howitzer sections, a fifth (ammunition) section, and a maintenance platoon. The service batteries, each consisting of a headquarters, a service platoon (with supply and motor maintenance sections), an ammunition train (with a headquarters and three ammunition sections), and a battery maintenance section, furnished ammunition and other supplies and services not only to the firing and headquarters batteries but also to the battalion as a whole.

In addition to the howitzers under the tactical control of the division artillery commander, the infantry division also had light field artillery weapons assigned to each infantry regiment. In 1920, a so-called howitzer company had been added to the infantry regiment anticipating that an accompanying howitzer would be developed for it. When initially organized, the company used Stokes mortars and one-pounder cannon. Because of shortages in personnel, the Regular Army howitzer companies were soon reduced to platoons, although the National Guard continued to support full companies. Various weapons were used in the interwar years—mortars, 37-mm. guns, and .50-caliber machine guns among others. Because no adequate accompanying howitzer was developed, the howitzer company was eliminated in the 1939 triangular reorganization and 37-mm. guns were placed in the new antitank company within each regiment. In the spring of 1942, the infantry was to receive its long-awaited accompanying howitzer with the addition of a cannon company to each regiment that was to be equipped with six 75-mm. howitzers and two 105-mm. howitzers, all self-propelled. But the AGF Reduction Board eliminated the cannon company in its revisions of early 1943. Restored in July, the company was now authorized six 105-mm. towed howitzers. The M3 model howitzer was standard for the infantry cannon company during World War II, as it was for some of the airborne division artillery. This model differed slightly from the M2A1 model used in the infantry division artillery, and because it was twenty-seven inches shorter, artillerymen often called it the “snub-nosed” or “sawed-off” 105. The cannon company was not an unqualified success, primarily because of its lack of mobility and because in many situations it was tied in with the fire direction center of the supporting division artillery in mass fire missions. Most division commanders felt that many problems would have been solved by using self-propelled howitzers (as those in the armored division artillery) instead of towed ones.

Other Division Artillery

The field artillery battalions organized for motorized, light, and mountain divisions were similar to those in the infantry division. The battalions authorized for the motorized division (deleted from the force structure in 1943) were the same as those authorized for the standard infantry division. The light division artillery organizations (for use in mountain, jungle, and amphibious operations) were each authorized a headquarters and headquarters detachment, three 75-mm. pack howitzer battalions, an antiaircraft artillery machine-gun battalion, and an antitank battery. Each howitzer battalion had a headquarters and service battery and three four-piece firing batteries, for an aggregate personnel strength of 469. The antiaircraft artillery battalion of 292 officers and enlisted men was armed with .50-caliber machine guns, and the antitank battery, with an authorized aggregate strength of 133, was equipped with an additional twelve pack howitzers and eight 2.36-inch bazookas. Eight airplanes for observation were also included in the light division’s artillery. One division (the 89th) was authorized trucks instead of animals for the artillery, and the tables were adjusted accordingly. The organization of the light division was approved in the summer of 1943, but experience gained in maneuvers and in the Pacific proved that such forces had to be reinforced immediately and that they needed artillery heavier than the 75-mm. pack howitzer. Two of the three light divisions were reorganized as standard infantry divisions by 1944, while one remained in the force structure as a mountain division having a total strength of 13,459.

The 1944 tables called for the mountain division artillery to be organized with an aggregate strength of 1,783 in a headquarters and headquarters battery and three 75-mm. pack howitzer battalions (twelve howitzers in each battalion). The antiaircraft artillery battalion was converted to an infantry antitank battalion, and the antitank battery was deleted. For transport, the artillery was authorized 1,266 animals (209 horses and 1,057 pack mules). Animal transport often proved useful in the Italian campaigns.

Initially an experimental division like the light and mountain units, the airborne division proved to be a more lasting organization. The 1942 airborne division had an aggregate authorized strength of 8,203, of which 1,424 were in the division artillery. The division artillery contained two glider battalions and one parachute battalion, each with twelve 75-mm. pack howitzers, and a headquarters and headquarters battery. The entire division fielded thirty-six howitzers in nine firing batteries. The headquarters and service functions were formed into a single headquarters, headquarters and service battery, and each parachute battalion included an antiaircraft and antitank battery.

Experiences in combat influenced the War Department to increase the strength of the airborne division for sustained fighting. The size of the division grew to 12,979, while its artillery increased to 1,977, chiefly through the addition of another parachute field artillery battalion. The number of howitzers expanded from thirty-six to forty-eight (plus twelve spares), but few changes were made in the internal organization of the division artillery, except that the three four-piece batteries in the glider battalion were reorganized into two six-piece batteries. One of the glider units was authorized 105-mm. howitzers, based on the practice in Europe and the Pacific. The 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific organized both its glider battalions with 105-mm. howitzers instead of the 75-mm. pack howitzer.

While the Army was reorganizing the infantry division under the triangular structure in 1940, armored force developments in Europe and German successes with tank warfare increased the Army’s awareness that an effective armored force was needed. A few days after the fall of France, the War Department created the Armored Force, with Brig. Gen. Adna R. Chaffee, Jr., as its chief. At the heart of the force were the 1st and 2d Armored Divisions, each organized with a 75-mm. howitzer regiment within its armored brigade and a 105-mm. howitzer battalion in its support echelon. As in the infantry division, 105-mm. howitzers soon replaced the 75-mm. howitzers in the armored brigade’s artillery regiment. A division artillery officer with a small staff was authorized in the division headquarters as an adviser and special staff officer, but he had no command function. The 105-mm. howitzer regiment in the armored brigade contained twenty-four howitzers (four batteries, each with six pieces), and the 105-mm. howitzer battalion in the support echelon contained twelve howitzers (three batteries, each with four pieces), thus giving the division as a whole thirty-six field artillery weapons. In addition to the howitzers, the antitank battery in the field artillery battalion was armed with eight 75-mm. guns.

In practice, having the field artillery regiment under the armored brigade and the field artillery battalion under the division commander was not effective since it resulted in a divided command. The need for centralized control was severely felt in maneuvers conducted in 1941. The exercises also demonstrated that there would be times when three or four field artillery battalions would be needed, much the same as in the triangular infantry divisions. In addition, although the half-track prime movers worked reasonably well, artillerymen believed that an artillery piece on a self-propelled mount was desirable. In 1942, the Army thus reorganized the armored division, and the artillery was restructured into three self-contained battalions under the tactical command of an artillery section, still within the division headquarters. Each battalion had three six-howitzer firing batteries, making a total of fifty-four 105-mm. self-propelled howitzers in the division. The M2A1 howitzer was the same as that used in the infantry division but was mounted on an M4 mount (105-mm. howitzer motor carriage M7), which the British nicknamed the “Priest” because of the pulpit-like appearance of its machine-gun compartment. As in the supporting field artillery battalion of the infantry division, the antitank battery was deleted.

Around the same time the 1942 tables appeared, the Armored Force became a component of the Army Ground Forces. General McNair decided to postpone any reorganization (and reduction) of the armored division until after some combat experience had been gained. New tables were published in September 1943, and all but two of the armored divisions were reorganized; the 2d and 3d Armored Divisions remained under the 1942 (heavy) tables with modifications. Although the reorganization did little to change the basic structure of the armored division artillery (except to separate its headquarters from the division headquarters), personnel were cut about 25 percent through a severe reduction of headquarters and service batteries. Nevertheless, the division’s firepower remained unchanged. Elimination of the tank and infantry regiments and the creation of self-contained tank and infantry battalions allowed the artillery battalions to function with the tank and infantry battalions as combat teams, similar to the manner in which they operated in the triangularized infantry division. Also, as in the 1943 reorganization of the infantry division, two liaison airplanes for observation were authorized within each artillery headquarters battery, making a total of six airplanes in the armored division artillery. Except for minor modifications, the armored division continued under this organization for the remainder of the war.

Each of the two heavy armored divisions (2d and 3d) normally had an additional armored field artillery battalion (105-mm. self-propelled howitzers) attached during combat operations. Medium artillery was added in varying amounts, but at least one battalion of howitzers or guns usually was attached during combat. Both divisions operated with three combat commands—A, B, and R (Reserve). Although improvised, the Combat Command R was actually a third fighting combat unit and was used in the same manner as Combat Commands A and B. Each combat command normally consisted of two tank battalions, one organic armored infantry battalion, one infantry battalion (whenever an infantry regiment was attached to the division), and tank destroyer, engineer, and antiaircraft artillery elements. Usually two combat commands were committed to action and the third held in reserve. An armored field artillery battalion normally directly supported each of the two forward commands, while the medium artillery battalion was used for general support. The remaining armored divisions also operated with three combat commands, and most commanders used the reserve command as a third fighting combat command. As in the heavy armored divisions, combat commands of light armored divisions usually operated with two task forces, one consisting of a tank battalion (less one medium tank company), an armored infantry company, and tank destroyer and engineer platoons. The other task force usually consisted of an armored infantry battalion (less one rifle company), one medium tank company, and tank destroyer and engineer platoons. Armored artillery was either attached to or in direct support of each combat command.

A major exception to the standardization of divisions was the 1st Cavalry Division. The 1st remained a square division, organized as infantry, but its artillery was authorized a structure similar to that of the triangularized infantry division. In 1940, it had one field artillery regiment of two battalions, armed with horse-drawn 75-mm. pack howitzers. In 1941, the regiment was broken up into two separate self-contained battalions, and another battalion of truck-drawn 105-mm. howitzers was authorized. The division artillery then consisted of the three battalions plus a headquarters and headquarters battery. Because horses and their forage required so much shipping space and because the animals were difficult to keep it for service, no plans were made to ship any horses with the cavalry units. Just before deploying to Australia, the two horse-drawn artillery battalions traded in their horses for jeeps. The division still had one 75-mm. howitzer battalion directly supporting each cavalry brigade (two cavalry regiments) and one 105-mm. howitzer battalion for general support.

Because excess personnel were available in Australia and because additional artillery was needed, another 105-mm. howitzer battalion was organized for the division in October 1943. Campaigns in the Admiralty Islands showed that the 75-mm. howitzers were too light and that heavier general-support artillery was critical. With only four battalions to support four cavalry regiments, the division was hard-pressed to find enough artillery without withdrawing some of the direct-support artillery. The division requested the Sixth Army to reorganize all four field artillery battalions as 105-mm. howitzer units and to provide a 155-mm. howitzer battalion for general support. In October 1944, three days before loading for the Leyte operation, one 75-mm. howitzer battalion was reorganized with 105-mm. howitzers; the other received its 105 -mm. howitzers toward the end of the Luzon campaign. By the end of the war, all four battalions were tractor-drawn. Several times during the Leyte campaign, the 947th Field Artillery Battalion, a 155-mm. howitzer unit, was attached to the division for specific operations. During the Luzon campaign, the battalion accompanied the division and remained attached to it throughout the fighting there.

Nondivisional Field Artillery

Because of the desire for mobility and maneuverability and because of the belief that the newly developing Army Air Corps would provide much of the support formerly furnished by the field artillery, the War Department did not place a very high priority on heavy artillery. In September 1942, the AGF recommended one hundred one battalions of heavy artillery (155-mm. and 8-inch guns and 240-mm. howitzers) and one hundred forty battalions of medium artillery (155-mm. howitzers and 4.5-inch guns) to be organized in addition to the division artillery units, but the following year, the War Department drastically reduced this number to fifty-four heavy and eighty-one medium battalions. The low number of authorized battalions made impossible the planning figure of 3.93 nondivisional field artillery battalions for each division as devised by the AGF. At no time during the war did the nondivisional field artillery battalions ever exceed the ratio of 2.89 battalions per division. From one hundred forty-two nondivisional field artillery battalions (thirty-two heavy, fifty-three medium, and fifty-seven light) active on 31 December 1942, the number expanded to three hundred twenty-six by 31 March 1945, of which one hundred thirty-seven were heavy, one hundred thirteen medium, and seventy-six light. The AGF had proposed considerable increases in heavy and medium artillery that the War Department did not accept in 1942. After combat experiences in Italy (especially Cassino in early 1944) proved that air support could not altogether replace heavy artillery, the department authorized more heavy and medium artillery than the AGF had originally requested.

The medium and heavy battalions were organized along lines similar to the division artillery battalions. Each had a headquarters and headquarters battery, a service battery, and three firing batteries. Each battalion was authorized two liaison airplanes for observation. With the exception of those in the 8-inch gun and 240-mm. howitzer battalions, each firing battery had four field artillery weapons, giving the battalion a total of twelve guns or howitzers. The 240-mm. howitzer and 8-inch gun battalions all had three firing batteries each, but the batteries had only two guns or howitzers each, for a total of six howitzers or guns in each battalion.

Nondivisional medium artillery usually served with divisions and corps in reinforcing and general-support missions. The 155-mm. howitzers were the same as those used in the division artillery, while the 4.5-inch field gun, capable of firing a 55-pound projectile over 11 miles (17.7 kilometers), was based on the British gun of the same caliber. Almost all artillerymen agreed that the howitzer was a splendid weapon suitable for its tasks, but few considered the 4.5-inch gun of much value except in long-range harassing missions.

In the heavy artillery category, the 155-mm. gun (“Long Tom”) was used for interdiction and counterbattery fire in the same manner as the 155-mm. howitzer, the gun permitting the attack of targets beyond the howitzer’s range. The weapon was also used for missions requiring greater velocity than the howitzers were capable of producing. Caterpillar tractors eventually replaced trucks as prime movers of all heavy artillery weapons. A self-propelled version of the 155-mm. gun was used effectively in support of armor. The 8-inch howitzer, slightly heavier than the 155-mm. gun, fired a heavier projectile at a shorter range. Considered by some to be one of the most accurate field artillery weapons in the inventory, its destructive and concussive effect was significant. The weapon was used effectively in operations against cities, heavy fortifications, communications lines, gun emplacements, and bridges behind enemy lines. The 8-inch gun was primarily used for long-range destruction of enemy communications lines and fortifications, but care had to be exercised in selecting targets because of its inaccuracy at long ranges. The 240-mm. howitzer, which fired the heaviest projectile then available, was used for all types of missions except close support.

The light nondivisional artillery battalions were organized under the same tables as their counterparts in the division artillery with minor differences. For example, nondivisional units were not authorized forward observer sections, which had been added to the divisional units in 1944 in response to numerous requests from field commanders for increased liaison and coordination between the divisional field artillery units and their supported infantry.

An additional source of nondivisional field artillery came from the armor. The American answer to the urgent need for a weapon to stop the German tank was a high-velocity gun (3-inch, 76-mm., or 90-mm.), either towed or self-propelled, called a tank destroyer. Having an authorized strength in 1944 of almost 800 men, the tank destroyer battalion was intended as a direct-support weapon to knock out enemy tanks. Nevertheless, the battalions were frequently employed in a general-support artillery role. Although use of the tank destroyers as general-support artillery was not stated as a secondary role in the field manual, artillerymen assigned to tank destroyer units realized that no commander would allow a battalion of thirty-six artillery-type weapons to remain in reserve. When using indirect fire, individual officers first devised crude methods of laying the guns, which were equipped with direct-laying sights. Units tested the techniques and improved upon them, and finally panoramic sights were added to some tank destroyers. Eventually, the azimuth indicator method of laying the self-propelled gun was adopted, while the towed weapons were equipped with panoramic sights. In the spring of 1943, the Tank Destroyer Training Center at Camp Hood, Texas, conducted indirect fire tests, and a demonstration of indirect fire was included in the curriculum of the school. The field manual was changed that year to include indirect fire as a secondary mission.

Actual employment of tank destroyer units varied in Europe according to the degree of proficiency attained by the individual unit. Initially, it was customary for a tank destroyer company to be attached to a field artillery battalion. The field artillery provided the target area survey, and the tank destroyer unit executed the position area survey. Until the artillery was satisfied that the tank destroyers could deliver fire accurately, an officer was usually sent to the tank destroyer fire direction center to assist and supervise. The range and flat trajectory of the tank destroyer guns made their employment as corps artillery more suitable than as division artillery. Tank destroyers played an indirect fire role as general-support artillery several times during the war, one of their more notable successes occurring during the Roer River crossing in western Germany by the XIX Corps in February 1945. Tanks, too, sometimes functioned as auxiliary artillery when the need arose.


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