Meaux Falls 1422 Part II

He was employing more cannon than ever before – bombards, culverins and serpentines – more guns of all shapes and sizes arrived every day. Some may be seen at the Musée Militaire in the Invalides at Paris. He also had ribaudequins which were battle carts mounting several small cannon side by side, fired simultaneously and intended for close-quarters fighting. It was not easy to transport the bigger guns, some of which were enormous; most came by boat from Rouen and were then brought up by ox-carts to the siege-lines to be mounted in specially constructed wooden firing frames. The rough tubes which formed their barrels were rarely, if ever, straight, so that accuracy was impossible. Gunpowder was crudely mixed and unreliable. Considerable skill was needed to load; gunners filled the firing chambers three-fifths full of powder, leaving a fifth as an air pocket and a final fifth for the elm-wood tampon on which the gunstone rested, with a ratio of one part powder to nine parts stone. Barrels had to be swabbed out meticulously after each discharge. It was difficult to calculate trajectories with such weapons. Even so, at short range a barrage of gunstones could do terrible damage, battering down ramparts and smashing through house walls and roofs inside a city, as well as demoralizing a beleaguered garrison. When such bombardments continued ceaselessly by day and by night, regardless of expense, as they did during all Henry V’s sieges, the effect was horrific. The king’s passion for artillery had never flagged since his first use of it against the Welsh at Aberystwyth.

As the siege dragged on, the garrison began to feel that they would have more hope of surviving if the defence was conducted by an unusually experienced and skilful commander. They sent to a famous dauphinist captain, Guy de Nesle, Sieur d’Offrémont, who agreed to come and take over. Early on 9 March, accompanied by an escort of 100 men-at-arms, he made his way in the darkness with great daring through the sleeping English lines to a pre-arranged spot below the ramparts. Here the garrison let down ladders to a plank over the moat. The man in front of Guy on the ladder dropped a box of salt herrings he was carrying which fell onto Guy, knocking him off the ladder into the moat; he clutched at two lances held down to him but, no doubt in full plate armour, was too heavy to pull out. His frenzied splashing aroused the English sentries and he was taken prisoner.

Guy’s failure dismayed the garrison of Meaux so much that they withdrew from the town the same day to the market which they thought would be easier to defend. They broke down the connecting bridge over the canal and took the remaining food with them; it would last longer if there were no non-combatants to feed. Henry rode in immediately and before evening his guns were firing from the town into the market. He then used a portable drawbridge, mounted on a siege tower on wheels, to straddle the gap made by the defenders in the bridge joining the town to the market. Next he bombarded the fortified mill-towers so that the Earl of Worcester’s men-at-arms could charge over the drawbridge and storm the towers. The assault was successful, though Warwick’s cousin, the Earl of Worcester, lost his life when a stone was dropped on his head from the battlements. Now the English had a foothold on the market island, while the garrison was no longer able to grind its corn into flour.

All this time Henry’s attitude to paperwork remained as Napoleonic as ever. A stream of edicts, ordinances and letters, including answers to petitions from England, went out from his headquarters beside Meaux during the siege, possibly the most gruelling experience of his life. Even during the worst months he was constantly sending orders and instructions dealing with a truly immense range of affairs. The supply of munitions naturally ranked high among these. On 18 March 1422 he wrote to his officials: ‘We will and charge you that, in all the haste ye may, ye send unto our cofferer to Rouen all the gunstones that been at our towns of Caen and Harfleur, with all the saltpetre, coal and brimstone that is at Harfleur.’ An order for iron is in the same letter, an order which occurs frequently in his correspondence. A special official, the King’s Clerk of Ordnance, was attached to his headquarters, having responsibility for communications with the artillery depot at Caen and the royal arsenal at Rouen; the Norman administration had been given military duties by Henry, the civilian vicomtes being charged with supplying garrisons with cannon. The king insisted on efficiency – his letters always end with a variant of ‘faileth not in no wise’.

He was obsessed by the problem of supplies. Buying arrows was just one aspect. He purchased 150,000 arrows in England in 1418, a figure which had risen to nearly half a million by 1421; in addition the arsenal at Rouen seems to have manufactured them and in 1420 his commissioners were instructed to press-gang fletchers (arrow makers) to work there without pay. Then there was the question of finding enough remounts, which he appears to have contemplated solving with a huge royal stud. (In April 1421 a commission was issued to a John Longe to travel through England looking for ‘destriers, coursers and other horses suitable for the king’s stud’ and purchasing their use. Weapons, transport, food, finance, military discipline, law and order, diplomacy, affairs in England, all received his meticulous attention.

Meanwhile at Meaux, English cannon had been mounted on a small island in the Marne, protected by earthworks and shelters of heavy timber, from where they battered the adjoining market relentlessly at close range. Warwick contrived to erect a ‘sow’ (a mobile leather shelter on wheels) on the tiny strip of land between its walls and the water, using it to capture an outwork where he mounted a forward battery. Hungerford used wooden bridges to bring guns nearer the wall at another side. Landing on the island, sappers started a mine. At Easter, Henry allowed a truce, launching a general assault shortly afterwards. It was beaten back. But the defenders were beginning to despair. What finally broke their spirit was the sight of a floating siege tower, higher than the market’s walls, carried on two barges and designed for men to attack the rampart tops from the Marne side over a drawbridge. (It was never used, though the king, nothing if not a professional, had it tested after the place had fallen.) At the end of April the garrison in the market sent envoys to negotiate a surrender.

On 10 May Meaux surrendered after a resistance of seven months. It had only fallen because of Henry’s brilliant siegecraft and sheer technical expertise, as a siege it was a genuine masterpiece, as has often been claimed. After the city had finally surrendered he observed the conventions of medieval warfare in leaving its defenders their lives – though nothing else – save for twelve who were specifically excluded from mercy by the articles of surrender. The Bastard of Vaurus and his cousin had their right hands stricken off, were dragged on hurdles through what was left of the streets of Meaux, then beheaded and hanged from their own infamous tree; the bastard’s head was displayed on a lance stuck in the ground beside it, his body at the foot, and his banner thrown over it – the ultimate heraldic symbol of derision. A trumpeter called Orace, ‘one that blew and sounded an horn during the siege’, was taken to Paris for an agonizing public execution in punishment for some unrecorded insult to the king. Louis de Gast was also taken to Paris for execution. Their heads were stuck on lances and put on show at Les Halles.

Almost at once Henry sent 100 particularly valuable prisoners to the Louvre, roped in fours, for shipment to Normandy and thence to England to await ransoming. A few days later he sent another 150. According to the Bourgeois of Paris, probably a spectator, these were chained in twos by the legs, and ‘piled up like pigs’; they were given only a little black bread and water.18 We learn from Jean Juvénal that they were incarcerated in prisons all over Paris, including the Châtelet – a place of ill omen and terrible memory for Armagnacs. There was no organization for feeding such large numbers of prisoners and, according to Jean Juvénal, many died of starvation – some tearing flesh from their comrades’ bodies with their teeth before their own death. Presumably they were not worth much money. The Bishop of Meaux received somewhat better treatment before being taken away to await ransom in England, where he was to die. In all, as many as 800 of those who had surrendered were shipped over the Channel; it is likely that the majority never returned to France, ending their days in semi-slavery as indentured servants. In addition, ‘All the bourgeois and anyone else in the market was forced to hand over any valuable goods they possessed,’ says Jean Juvénal. ‘Those who disobeyed were treated very savagely, and everything contributed to King Henry’s profit. There was more than this. After the bourgeois had lost all they had, several of them were made to buy back their own houses. Through such confiscation the king extorted and amassed large sums of money.’ Bullion, jewels and every conceivable sort of valuable – including an entire legal library – was stored for the time being in special depots at Meaux, together with armour, weapons and other munitions, to await the pleasure of a monarch who had made plunder a fine art.

One prisoner who was very lucky indeed to escape with his life was Dom Philippe de Gamaches, Abbot of St Faro, the nearby monastery which had been Henry’s headquarters throughout the siege. Dom Philippe, a former monk of St Denis, together with three other monks from that abbey, had put on armour and taken up swords to fight the English. The chronicler monk of St Denis – who presumably knew them – tells us that the Bishop of Beauvais had given them all permission ‘to fight for the country’ [‘pugnareque pro patria’]. The bishop was none other than Jean Juvénal des Ursins. Fortunately for Philippe, his brother was dauphinist captain of Compiègne; he purchased the abbot’s life by handing the town over to the English – Henry had intended to drown him.

Baugé was avenged. Moreover a whole string of dauphinist fortresses surrendered in consequence, including Grépy-en-Valois and Offremont – the castle of the Guy de Nesle who had fallen into the moat at Meaux. Henry rode through the countryside receiving the surrender of each stronghold in person, mopping up any local resistance.

Then he celebrated by going to Paris to meet his queen. Monstrelet says that he and his brothers greeted Catherine ‘as though she had been an angel from heaven’. The son and heir who was the cause of so much congratulation had been left behind in England. The reunion took place at the great castle of Bois-de-Vincennes just outside Paris.

Today Vincennes may seem gloomy, a soulless barrack of a place. It has unhappy memories; the Due d’Enghien was shot in the moat in 1804 as was Mata Hari in 1917, it was General Gamelin’s headquarters in June 1940 after which foreign troops occupied it again for four years. Yet Henry’s fondness for Vincennes is understandable. Originally a hunting lodge, being in the woods it was ideally situated for the king’s favourite relaxation – if ever he had time. Catherine’s grandfather, the great King Charles V, had completed the donjon during the 1370s and it was here that Henry lived; his bedroom may still be seen. There were three mighty gatehouses and six tall towers, all linked by curtain walls, and providing enviable accommodation for his high ranking-officers. A hunting scene in the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry shows the fortress-palace in the background, much as it must have looked at this time, and one can see why the Monk of St Denis calls it ‘the most delectable of all the castles of the king of France’. Moreover Vincennes was only three miles from Paris – close enough to overawe the capital if need be, and sufficiently far away to avoid any danger from the mob or dauphinist plots.

At the Louvre, says The First English Life, echoing Monstrelet’s chronicle, ‘on the proper day of Pentecost the King of England and his queen sat together at their table in the open hall at dinner, marvellously glorious, and pompously crowned with rich and precious diadems; dukes also, prelates of the church and other great estates of England and of France, were sat every man in his degree in the same hall where the king and queen kept their estate. The feast was marvellously rich and abundant in sumptuous delicate meats and drinks.’ Unfortunately the splendid effect was somewhat tarnished by no food or drink being offered to the crowds of spectators, as had always been the custom in former days under the Valois monarchs.

The Brut of England records with relish, ‘But as for the King of France he held none other estate nor rule but was almost left alone.’ Charles VI stayed forlornly at the Hôtel de St-Pol, deserted by his nobles since, so Monstrelet informs us, ‘he was managed as the King of England pleased . . . which caused much sorrow in the hearts of all loyal Frenchmen.’ Chastellain comments indignantly that Henry, this ‘tyrant king’, despite promising to honour his father-in-law of France as long as he lived, had made ‘a figurehead [un ydole] of him, a cipher who could do nothing’. Chastellain too says that the spectacle brought tears into the eyes of the Parisians.

Henry spent two days in early June at the Hôtel de Nesle, where he watched a cycle of mystery plays about the martyrdom of his patron, St George. These were staged by Parisians who hoped to ingratiate themselves with the heir and regent of France, their future sovereign. Shortly afterwards he and Catherine, taking with them King Charles and Queen Isabeau, left the capital for Senlis.

A week later a Parisian armourer, who had once been an armourer to Charles VI, together with his wife and their neighbour, a baker, were caught plotting to let the dauphinists into Paris. A strong force of the enemy were standing by in readiness near Compiègne. The civil authority beheaded the armourer and the baker, and drowned the woman.

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IMPERIAL RUSSIAN ARMY – RUSSO–JAPANESE WAR

On the eve of the Russo–Japanese War, Russian land forces were the biggest in the world, numbering 41,079 officers and 1,067,000 other ranks, and with full deployment of more than 3 million including the reserves. The sum of Russian troops stationed at that time east of Lake Baikal (the Priamur and Siberian Military Districts and the Kwantung Fortified Region) was about 95,000 infantry, some 3,000–5,000 cavalry, and between 120 to just under 200 guns. These were concentrated at Port Arthur, under the command of Lieutenant General Anatolii Stoessel, and around Vladivostok, under the command of General Nikolai Linievich. These forces were arranged in 68 infantry battalions, 35 squadrons of cavalry (mainly Cossacks), 13 engineer companies, five fortress engineer companies, and four and a half battalions of fortress artillery.

While it had often been regarded as conservative and unpolished, the Imperial Russian Army of 1904 was very different from what it had been four decades earlier. The defeat suffered by Russia in the Crimean War hastened the abolition of serfdom and stimulated the reorganization of the Imperial Russian Army. During the 1860s, War Minister D. A. Miliutin carried out several reforms that created a sufficient number of trained reservists to deploy a massive army in the event of war. The reform also resolved the problem of improving the organization of the military administration and the rearmament of the army. From 1874 military service was compulsory for every male who reached the age of 21. The length of active military service was set at up to six years, with nine years in the reserves. The law of 1874 did not extend to the Cossacks, or to the people of the Trans-Caucasus region, Central Asia, and Siberia. The benefits of the military reforms became clear during the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–1878. But despite the ultimate victory, the war also revealed disorganization, deficiencies in armaments, and weakness in the high command. Further reforms in the aftermath of the war made the Imperial Russian Army an awesome force, yet its true abilities were not tested for more than two decades.

On the eve of the Russo–Japanese War, the Russian national service consisted of four years of active service and 14 years in the reserves, with two training periods of six weeks each, for soldiers from the age of 21 to 43. There were few exemptions from service, though several groups, such as the Cossacks and Finns, were entitled to different conditions of service. The army had 12 military districts: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Finland, Vilno, Warsaw, Kiev, Odessa, Kazan, the Caucasus, Turkestan, Siberia and the Amur region, and the Oblast of the Don Host. Despite the improved deployment, the army suffered from outdated tactics and old, inflexible, high-ranking officers, who were often unfamiliar with new advances in technology. The lower-ranking officers and non-commissioned officers suffered from long periods of being given unchallenging assignments and a lack of training. The land forces were divided into regular units and Cossacks. In peacetime, field troops made up 73.4 percent of the entire regular forces, whereas fortress troops were 6.6 percent, reserve forces 9.5 percent, rear forces 0.7 percent, local troops 2.3 percent, and auxiliary detachments 7.5 percent. In 1898 the infantry accounted for 74.8 percent of the entire army; cavalry were 8.5 percent (excluding the Cossack cavalry units), artillery 13.7 percent, and engineering 3.0 percent. Infantry divisions, consisting of about 18,000 men each, were assembled into corps, and corps were joined in wartime into armies.

On the eve of the Russo–Japanese War, the forces of the Imperial Russian Army in Manchuria were organized within the Manchurian Army, under the command of General Nikolai Linievich. This army consisted of two corps: the First Siberian Army Corps and the Third Siberian Army Corps. The rank and file were mainly loyal peasants from eastern Russia, who were regarded as resilient and accustomed to the harsh conditions of the region, but uneducated and unused to fighting without a commanding officer to direct them. Initially the two corps were smaller and less well organized than parallel European corps. The former, for example, had 32 guns, whereas the latter had 48 or 64 guns. Each corps consisted of two divisions, which in turn comprised two brigades. The typical Siberian brigade consisted of 3,400 men and 12 artillery guns in two batteries. A battery consisted of eight Putilov M-1903 76.2-millimeter [3-inch] field guns, as well as a small unspecified number of 117-millimeter [4.6-inch] howitzers and no more than eight Maxim machine guns. The Siberian infantry brigades grew slowly and eventually evolved into the Siberian infantry divisions, which did not exist prior to the war.

The Siberian corps had no divisional cavalry and their infantry soldiers were equipped with the Mosin M-1891 rifle while their commissioned and non-commissioned officers were equipped also with the Nagant M-95 revolver. At the outbreak of the war the Russian units of the Manchurian Army were widely dispersed and disorganized, but as the war progressed their organization and efficiency increased. During 1904 the Manchurian Army was gradually reinforced by the First, Fourth, Eighth, Tenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth European Army Corps, consisting of 28,000 rifles and 112 guns each. Thus army corps, rather than divisions, were the main fighting unit used by the Russians during this war. Their troops were transferred eastward by the Trans-Siberian Railway, which could deliver 40,000 men (one and a half corps) a month. In September 1904 the Manchurian Army was divided into the First Manchurian Army and the Second Manchurian Army, and in December 1904 the Third Manchurian Army was also formed.

In the aftermath of the Russo–Japanese War, the Imperial Russian Army was forced to undertake a series of reforms to strengthen its forces, and thus initiated the “great military program.” In 1913 it envisaged an increase in the army’s size by almost 40 percent by 1917, and a large-scale augmentation of the armaments used by the artillery and the rifle forces. Changes were made also in the readiness of the army to mobilize and the way it was staffed. The overall length of service was set at 18 years, of which three to four years were on active service. On the eve of World War I, Russia’s land forces were regarded as a potentially unbeatable army, although in reality the army was still in the midst of a process of reorganizing and developing its capabilities. In the first months of the war, the Imperial Russian Army mobilized 3.5 million men. However, at the end of 1917 and early in 1918 it was demobilized, and the Red Army was created instead.

Infantry

Russian infantry corps in Manchuria numbered by most estimates about 95,000 men and consisted mainly of peasants, considered hardy, obedient, brave, and used to the extreme conditions of the region. They won the admiration of military observers though they were still trained in outdated tactics. They were conditioned to volley fire on command and used the bayonet more often than required. These practices largely constricted their individual marksmanship abilities. They also often suffered from lack of motivation; during the conflict in Manchuria most of the second-line reservists resented being called up for duty in this remote area. The main weapon used by the Russian infantry was the Mosin M-1891 rifle, and infantry units also increasingly used Maxim machine guns as close fire support for the troops. The individual’s personal kit weighed about 32 kilograms [70 pounds] and consisted of two and a half days’ worth of rations in a watertight kitbag, a greatcoat, a tent sheet, and a shovel. The infantryman carried between 120 and 300 rounds of ammunition in clips of five.

Maxim Machine Gun.

Main machine gun used by the Imperial Russian Army during the Russo–Japanese War. It was designed in 1883 by Hiram Maxim, an American living in Great Britain, and during the following years came into widespread use. In 1895 the Imperial Japanese Army purchased a number of Maxims but eventually preferred the Hotchkiss machine gun. The Imperial Russian Army, however, purchased 58 Maxim machine guns in 1899 and made it its main machine gun. In 1902 the army concluded a contract with the British firm Vickers to manufacture the Maxim in Russia, thereby cutting costs by two-thirds. Manufacture of the Russian version of the Maxim started only in 1910; the machine gun was designated Pulemiot Maxima. At the outbreak of the Russo–Japanese War, the Russian war ministry placed a rush order abroad for a total of 450 machine guns for the troops at the front, which were mostly supplied toward the end of the war. The Maxim’s design was simple though ingenious: it was water cooled, recoil operated, and fully automatic. Its recoil, caused by the explosion of the powder, operated to eject the spent cartridge and load the next round. The Maxim was fabric belt-fed, and it fired the same 7.62-millimeter [.30-inch] ammunition used by the Russian-made Mosin M-1891 rifle.

Technical data: Water-cooled 4 liters; Caliber: 7.62mm; Gun length: 1.107m, barrel length: 0.72m; Grooves: 4; Wheeled mount weight: 36kg; Tripod mount weight: 27.6kg, empty fabric belt weight: 1.1kg, loaded fabric belt weight: 6.1kg (250 rounds); Effective rate of fire: 250r/min.

Mosin M-1891 Rifle.

Russian main rifle during the Russo–Japanese War. It was first produced following an order of Tsar Nicholas II, and thereafter it was manufactured in Russia, the Soviet Union, and Belgium from 1891 to 1944 in several models. It originated as a design of Captain S. M. Mosin and was favored over a Belgian design by Leon Nagant for its ruggedness and lighter weight. The Mosin M-1891 replaced the older, heavier, and longer Karle and Berdan No. 2 rifles. By 1903 the two-phase introduction of the Mosin M-1891 to the ranks was complete, and both the regular army and the reserves were armed with the new rifle. The Russian infantry had a bayonet permanently fixed to the rifle, which hindered accurate shooting to some extent. Versions of the Mosin were used as frontline rifles until World War II and as practice rifles until the late 1970s.

Technical data: Caliber: 7.62mm [0.3in.]; Weight: 4.33kg [9.61bs], with bayonet and sling 4.78kg [10.61bs]; Length: 131cm [51.4in.], with bayonet: 173cm [68.2in.], barrel length: 80.3cm [31.6in.]; Magazine capacity: 5 rounds; Rate of fire: 8–10r/min; Maximum sighting range (iron sights): 2,200m.

Cavalry.

 Combat troops mounted on horses. Their importance in the Russo–Japanese War was limited and often marginal. After a millennium in which mounted troops were considered the masters of offensive warfare, the Russo–Japanese War marks a turning point in the history of cavalry; thereafter this type of warfare was to disappear rapidly from the modern battlefield. In many respects the limited contribution of cavalry during the Russo–Japanese War presaged its demise during World War I. The European armies, however, did not learn this particular lesson, nor the general lesson regarding the leading role of defense in modern warfare. Consequently they started World War I with huge cavalry forces without any effective alternative until the invention of the tank. While both belligerents in the Russo–Japanese War used cavalry forces, the Imperial Russian Army employed about three times more cavalry units than the Imperial Japanese Army.

On the eve of war the Russian cavalry numbered more than 80,000 and comprised 25 cavalry divisions, including two Guards, 17 Army, and six Cossack cavalry detachments. The Russian cavalry in East Asia consisted mostly of Cossacks, with each cavalry division consisting of 3,400 dragoons trained in mounted and dismounted combat. Some divisions had their own artillery support, usually 12 horse-drawn artillery guns. The Russian cavalry forces in Manchuria were organized in December 1904 in one huge Cavalier Corps. They were commanded initially by Lieutenant General Pavel Mishchenko until February 1905, then briefly by Lieutenant General Pavel Rennenkampf during February, by Lieutenant General Vladimir Grekov until March, and then again by Mishchenko until September 1905. The tactics of the Russian cavalry were revised several times during the 50 years prior to the war, their equipment was modernized, switching from lances to rifles and bayonets, and dragoon training was instituted combining infantry training with cavalry tactics. Nevertheless, at the outbreak of the Russo–Japanese War, they were still guided by outdated notions of attack, with scant regard for the technological and tactical advances achieved during the 19th century. Foremost among these advances was the widespread implementation of machine guns in the battlefield, the much more extensive use of artillery as support during battle, and the change from close to dispersed infantry formations, which made the infantry an unsuitable target for formation cavalry attacks.

In the evolution of cavalry warfare, the Russo–Japanese War is noted for the absence of the lance and sword, which were replaced by the rifle. The few achievements of the Russian cavalry were made through the effect of firearms. However, the cavalry units of both armies had little significance for the overall outcome of the Russo–Japanese War, and their basic weaknesses were quickly demonstrated. The Russian cavalry often lacked fighting spirit, as recorded by General Aleksei Kuropatkin in his memoirs: “Until cavalry is educated to feel that it should fight as obstinately as infantry, the money expended on our mounted arm is wasted.” Still, spirit was not the only cause. Horses were costly to maintain and the transport and effectiveness of cavalry was insignificant in siege warfare, such as in the siege of Port Arthur, or trench warfare, like that which developed before the battle of Mukden.

Artillery.

The Russo–Japanese War witnessed a massive use of artillery, but it was not a revolutionary step in the development of this branch. While the amount of usage and the centralization of control during the war were without precedent, field artillery reached maturity only during World War I. The use of goniometers for measuring angles, panoramic sights, field telephones (especially by the Japanese), and even aerial observation by balloons allowed the commanding officers in the field to use their artillery firepower against targets outside the line of sight of the batteries used. These technological advances, together with the increase in the range and effectiveness of the guns, made it possible to concentrate the fire of a whole army corps on a single target. At the battle of Liaoyang, for example, medium and heavy artillery were massively employed. On the Japanese side alone there were 56 heavy guns and mortars and a total of 470 guns. During the battle of Sha-ho, 48 Russian guns fired 8,000 rounds in 40 minutes; at the battle of Tashihchiao, a battery fired 500 rounds per gun.

The battle of Sha-ho may furnish a further instance of successful concentration of the fire of dispersed batteries. The concealment of batteries in action began to be more fully realized and the impracticability of close support by guns pushed forward into the infantry firing line under the enemy’s small-arms fire was demonstrated on many occasions. The advances of technology, achieved already in the 19th century, made the use of artillery and indirect fire in the battlefield safer and simpler, and during this war indirect fire at last became the norm. All in all, the two armies used unprecedented quantities of artillery ammunition. The Imperial Russian Army, for example, spent about 900,000 artillery rounds during the entire war, a tiny proportion of the 65.3 million manufactured and imported by Russia during World War I, and a fraction of the 360 millions shells and bombs Russia alone manufactured during World War II.

Still, the Imperial Japanese Army appeared to be more adapted to the modern use of artillery during the Russo–Japanese War. It used screens of artillery shelling to cover the advance of its infantry with very accurate and close support, through the extensive employment of field telephones and flag signaling. The tactics of advancing, positioning, and deploying the artillery forces evolved as well. The Japanese used camouflage and batteries to conceal the positioning of their guns from the Russian troops, and they watered the roads on which they moved them to prevent dust clouds that would have given away their position and movements. Until the Russo–Japanese War, shelling would stop when the attacking troops were still far from their target to prevent their being harmed, but now Japanese artillery officers often continued shelling almost up to the Russian trenches and ceased only moments before the assault began. During the war the Russians displayed improved gunnery performance and innovation as well. In the fortification of Port Arthur, for example, they placed most of their guns in batteries outside the forts of the main perimeter, contrary to common practice, thus eliminating “dead” ground and forcing the attacker to disperse his fire. Altogether, the use of artillery in the Russo–Japanese War inaugurated the era of mass bombardment and close support for the advancing troops, a fact that did not attract much attention of military observers.

During the Russo–Japanese War the distinction between guns and howitzers gradually disappeared and both sides employed successfully a small number of howitzers. Both sides used an increasingly large number of 120-millimeter [4.7-inch] Krupp-design howitzers purchased before the turn of the century, as well as a small number of 150-millimeter [5.9-inch] Model 38 howitzers (only in Japan). Only the Japanese, however, made full use of this type of gun by mobilizing 18 gigantic Krupp-made 280-millimeter [11-inch] howitzers at Port Arthur. Their firepower was exploited to the utmost during the siege of the fort and was instrumental in razing the Russian defenses. The Russian artillery corps were equipped with superb quick-firing Putilov M-1903 76.2-millimeter [3-inch] field guns, which replaced the older M-1900. Even though these guns were most up-to-date, they were still heavier and less maneuverable than the Japanese guns. In addition, both sides made use of various older guns of 90 to 120 millimeters, and the Russians also employed during the siege of Port Arthur naval guns, mainly of 152 millimeters [6 inches] and smaller, which were removed from the warships of the Pacific Fleet. Both sides made some limited use of heavy mortars, especially in mountain engagements and around Port Arthur against nearby targets protected by hills or other obstacles. They were of 90–150 millimeter caliber and could fire up to 30-kilogram [66-pound] shells a short distance.

152mm Gun 2A36 M1976

During the 1970s the Soviets developed a new towed 152mm gun. It was first seen by NATO Intelligence sources in 1976, and so was dubbed the M1976. However, it did not enter service until 1981, when it replaced the M-46 130mm field gun. It was another four years before the M1976 was seen in a Moscow May Day parade, towed by a 6×6 KrAZ-260 truck. Its Soviet industrial number was 2A36 but it was called the Giatsint (‘hyacinth’) by the Soviet Army and was the same as that used in the 2S5 tracked self-propelled artillery system. The M1986 was deployed in batteries of six or eight guns, with three batteries per battalion. Production ceased during the 1980s.

Entering service in 1981, the 152mm Gun 2A36 (M1976) Giatsint (“Hyacinth”) replaced the 130mm M-46 in Soviet service and was also provided to Finland and Iraq. It is mounted on a split-trail carriage with large rear spades and a forward- mounted retractable firing base. The M1976 is served by a crew of eight and fires a 101-pound high-explosive shell up to 29,528 yards. With rocket-assisted projectiles, it attains a range of 43,745 yards.

The 152mm Self-Propelled Gun (2S5) Giatsint (“Hyacinth”) was designed and manufactured by the Uraltransmash Works and entered Soviet service in 1976. It saw service with Soviet forces in Afghanistan and was also adopted by Finland and Iraq. The 2S5 is equipped with a front mounted dozer blade to prepare firing positions and a rear stabilizing spade. It is served by between five and seven crewmen and, aided by a partially automated loading system, achieves a firing rate of up to 6 rounds per minute. The 2S5 utilizes a separate powder charge and projectile and accepts conventional, chemical, concrete-piercing, laser-guided, and tactical nuclear warheads. It fires a conventional 101-pound HE round up to 31,059 yards and a rocket-assisted projectile to a maximum of 43,745 yards.

152mm Gun 2A36 (M1976)

Adoption date: 1981

Caliber: 152mm

Weight: 21,517 pounds

Breech: semiautomatic horizontal sliding block

Barrel length: 323 inches

Elevation: 57°

Traversal: 25°

Projectile weight: 101 pounds

Muzzle velocity: 2,625 fps

Maximum range: 43,745 yards

SOVIET MLRS 1950–1960

RZSO BM-14 on the base truck ZIS-151. (BM for Boyevaya Mashina, ‘combat vehicle’) BM-14 (8U32) – 16-round model (two rows of 8), launcher mounted on the ZiS-151 truck. Entered service in 1952. Also known as BM-14-16.

140 mm turbojet high-explosive fragmentation projectile RTS-140 (M-14-RP):

1 – rocket chamber; 2 – powder charge; 3 – igniter; 4 – charge base; 5 – internal casing; 6 – bursting charge; 7 – detonator; 8 – detonator cap

RZSO BM-24 on the chassis of the ZIS-151 truck. The BM-24 (8U31) is a multiple rocket launcher designed in the Soviet Union. It is capable of launching 240mm rockets from 12 launch tubes. Versions of the BM-24 have been mounted on the ZIL-151 6×6 Truck chassis and the AT-S tracked artillery tractor, forming the BM-24T from the latter. Production began out of Automotive Factory no. 2 in 1947 Moscow.

240mm reactive projectile TRS-24F (M-24F):

1 – fuse; 2 – case; 3 – combat charge; 4 – solid fuel; 5 – engine

RZSO BMD-20F on the ZIS-151 chassis

BM-21 122mm multiple rocket launchers fitted with forty launch tubes came into service in 1987.

BM-21 122mm Multiple Rocket Launcher

The BM-21 was by far the best known and most widely deployed Soviet rocket launcher. Known as the Grad or Hail, the BM-21 could be fitted with twelve (Grad V), thirty-six (Grad 1) or standard forty (Grad) round launchers. Its job was to saturate enemy positions and weapons systems with a deluge of rockets.

The BM-21 was the natural successor to the Red Army’s wartime Katyusha rocket launchers known as boyevaya mashina (‘combat vehicle’), utilising the same system of firing a cluster of solid-fuel rockets from a 6×6 truck. However, the BM-21 dispensed with the open rack configuration used on the wartime BM-13 and BM-31 and the post-war BM-24 and BM-25 in favour of closed tubes.

Developed in the 1950s and mounted on the Ural-375 truck, this multiple 122mm rocket launcher first appeared publicly in November 1964. The truck was selected for its cross-country capabilities, and as with most Soviet wheeled vehicles it had a central tyre pressure control system to enhance its performance. For firing purposes the vehicle had to be parked obliquely so that the blast does not damage the unarmoured truck cab.

As it used a smaller calibre fin-stabilised rocket than any other system, the enclosed tube launcher could take forty rounds. Each rocket weighed around 46kg, and they could be fired in salvo, rippled or individually. Understandably, the effect on the target was devastating: with the warhead containing 19kg of high explosive, a battery target could be saturated with almost a ton of HE in around 30 seconds out to a range of 15km.

The only real drawback with the BM-21 was that it could take up to 15 minutes to reload. The Czechoslovak Army came up with a solution to this by developing a reload rack that could conduct reloading in less than two minutes. It consisted of a BM-21 launcher mounted on a Tatra 813 8×8 truck with the palletised reload behind the cab.

The subsequent Grad 1 and Grad V rockets become operational in the mid-1970s. The BM-21 first saw action in the 1969 Sino–Soviet border war, and subsequently was fired in anger during numerous wars around the world. Well over half a dozen countries have produced their own versions. Soviet motor rifle and tank divisions fielded rocket launcher battalions consisting of three battalions, each with twelve launchers. During the Soviet–Afghan War the Kabul regime employed the ancient 132mm BM-13, while the Soviets fielded the BM-21a forty tube and BM-21b twenty-six tube 122mm and the BM-22 220mm multiple rocket launchers.

BM-24 240mm Multiple Rocket Launcher

The BM-21’s predecessor, the 240mm BM-24, entered service in the early 1950s. The large 112kg rocket was spin-stabilised and, although packing a punch, had a shorter range at 11km. The open frame welded steel tube launcher had two rows of six rounds mounted on the ZIL-157 truck, which replaced the Zil-131 in 1966. A twelve-round tube launcher was also installed on the AT-S tracked artillery tractor. The BM-24 was used to support the motorised rifle divisions of the Soviet Army, but was eventually replaced by the BM-21. Most were sold off to the Arab states, while Israel captured enough from Egypt in 1967 to equip a battalion that saw action in the Yom Kippur War and the 1982 Lebanon War.

BM-25 250mm Multiple Rocket Launcher

During the 1960s the 250mm BM-25 was the largest multiple rocket system in service with the Soviet Army. The launcher had six rails and was carried either on a ZIL-157 truck or on the KrAZ-214 chassis. It came into service in the late 1950s and had a greater reach than the other systems, with a range of 30km. The BM-25 rocket launcher battalions were made up of three batteries, each deploying six launchers. Like the earlier BM-24, it was phased out in favour of the BM-21.

The BM-27 220mm rocket launcher first saw action against rebel guerrillas in Afghanistan in the mid-1980s.

BM-22/BM-27 220mm Uragan (BM 9P140) Multiple Rocket System

Known as the M1977 by NATO, the fifteen-round Uragan (‘hurricane’) went into service with the Soviet Army in 1975. Until the introduction of the Smerch, the Uragan was the largest system of its type in service. (The BM-24 240mm and BMD-20 200mm truck-mounted rocket systems had been retired many years before.) In some units it was also used to replace the shorter-range BM-21. The BM-27 first saw action against the Mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1984, but as American-supplied surface-to-air missiles began to curtail Soviet helicopter gunship operations from 1986–87, numbers were greatly enhanced. The Afghans dubbed it the BM-40, as they believed it had a 40km range.

The BM 9P 140 was mounted on a ZIL-135LM 8×8 chassis, which was also used with the FROG-7, greatly enhancing the launcher’s mobility. The launcher pod comprised an upper layer of four tubes, with two lower layers of six tubes each. Two engines were to the rear, while the unarmoured crew compartment was at the front. When firing, two stabilisers were lowered at the rear and steel shutters raised over the windscreen. A full salvo took just 20 seconds to fire. The launcher had to be traversed to the side and horizontal for reloading, which could take up to 30 minutes.

BM-21 122mm Prima (BM 9A 51) Multiple Rocket System

Like the Smerch, the Prima entered operational service in the late 1980s. It consisted of a 122mm launcher based on a 6×6 Ural-4320 truck chassis and was essentially an updated BM-21. The launcher comprised five layers, each of ten tubes, inside a rectangular box frame. It could fire all the standard BM-21 rockets.

The powerful BM-30 Smerch (‘tornado’) fires twelve 300mm rockets from a modified MAZ-543 truck chassis.

BM-30 300mm Smerch (BM 9A 52) Multiple Rocket System

The twelve-round 300mm Smerch (‘tornado’) multiple rocket system entered service in 1987. Its NATO reporting name was the M1983. The elevating launcher was mounted on a modified 8×8 MAZ-543M cross-country truck chassis. The slightly unusual rocket tube arrangement consisted of two separate banks of four, with four further tubes in a single row over the top. For stability before firing, two stabilisers positioned on either side between the rear two road wheels were lowered. The system could conduct either single round or salvo firing. The launcher was supported by a reload vehicle carrying twelve rockets and a crane. It was designed to destroy enemy artillery, missile and mortar batteries, as well as enemy strongpoints. The minimum range of the rocket was 20km, and its maximum range was 70km. Each brigade had four battalions, each with twelve launchers.

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.

US Army WWII Artillery II

The development of rockets led to the organization of another type of artillery battalion for the field army. The 4.5-inch rockets, originally produced for use on aircraft, were tested as artillery in the Pacific in 1943 and in Europe a year later. Artillerymen in the Pacific rejected them, but when the First Army reorganized a 105-mm. howitzer battalion with the 4.5-inch rockets in November 1944 and employed them a few times in the Hurtgen Forest, First Army commander Lt. Gen. Courtney H. Hodges reported “excellent results.” Artillerymen, however, disliked the rocket’s inaccuracies and the smoke and flash that gave away its position. A shortage in artillery ammunition, however, spurred increased use of rockets. A tank battalion in the Third Army also employed the rockets briefly and reported that the morale effect was good.

In 1944, a table of organization and equipment (TOE) for the rocket battalion was developed, authorizing the unit thirty-six multiple rocket launchers in three batteries (twelve per battery). Each battery had three rocket platoons, and each platoon four rocket sections. This organization was later changed to two rocket platoons, each platoon having six rocket sections. The tables authorized the battalion to be truck-drawn. In practice, rocket field artillery battalions were to be used as War Department reserve units and attached to an army or task force as necessary. Rockets were most effective in attacking area targets, relieving the artillery of massing battalions.

Because of large probable errors, rockets could not be used on pinpoint targets or in close support of ground troops. Of the six battalions organized under the TOEs during the war, only two served overseas but neither saw combat.

When the Army adopted the triangular division, it eliminated the fixed field artillery brigade with its organic elements. The new arrangement of four self-contained battalions proved more responsive in providing artillery support to the division’s maneuver elements. Corps artillery, however, retained the fixed brigade organization. The corps artillery brigade in 1940 consisted of a headquarters and headquarters battery, two 155-mm. howitzer regiments, one 155-mm. gun regiment, and an observation battalion. The number of field artillery weapons in the brigade was seventy-two. No action to correct the deficiencies of the fixed organization occurred until 1942, when General McNair reviewed the structure of the nondivisional units and recommended that artillery be organized into self-contained battalions that could be allocated to an army and then further attached to corps as necessary. The corps could then vary the number and types of units attached to the divisions to meet the requirements of the situation. The units were also to be capable of being combined into task forces to carry out specific missions.

In place of the regiment, McNair recommended the artillery group—a tactical headquarters with limited administrative capabilities and a variable number of administratively self-contained attached battalions. This concept had already been used to a certain degree in the organization of nondivisional armor units. Artillery officers also had previously advocated grouping two or more batteries, battalions, or regiments to perform a common mission. Temporary grouping of units for counterbattery fire, long-range fire, or reinforcement of division artillery had been routine.

In December 1942, the War Department authorized the separate battalion arrangement for nondivisional field artillery units and a group headquarters and headquarters battery for every three to four battalions. The fixed field artillery brigade disappeared, and the new brigade (only a headquarters and headquarters battery) was authorized for the control of three to four groups. Except for a few brigades of heavy artillery at the field army level, however, field artillery brigades were seldom seen. Groups instead were usually attached directly to the headquarters and headquarters battery of the corps artillery, as it was not generally considered necessary for an army to maintain tactical control of field artillery units. The principal missions of nondivisional artillery were the neutralization or destruction of hostile artillery (counterbattery fire), destruction of hostile defenses, long-range interdiction fire, and reinforcement of division artillery fires. Instead of the fixed corps brigade, the new headquarters, corps artillery, commanded by a brigadier general, had only a headquarters battery and an observation battalion assigned to it. Flexible groups with varying numbers of battalions were attached as needed.

The transition from regiments to groups was slow because considerable time was required to structure the battalions into administratively self-sufficient units and because the reorganization of units already in combat was difficult. Except for the units in combat, however, the reorganization was accomplished in 1943, and the first TOE for the group headquarters and headquarters battery appeared in April of that year. The TOE authorized the unit eleven officers and seventy-eight enlisted men, provided the bare essentials for exercising tactical control of its attached battalions, and gave the group two liaison airplanes for observation. The TOE for the headquarters and headquarters battery, field artillery brigade, authorizing it an aggregate strength of 103 in 1944, was similar to that of the group. The groups and brigades were not originally designed to function administratively, but combat experience showed the necessity of their doing so, and they were later augmented by supply and administrative personnel.

Because the War Department delayed implementation of the group organization for those units already in combat, the new field artillery groups that deployed from the United States to North Africa fought alongside the fixed brigades already serving there. The divisions had already been streamlined under the triangular structure, and any additional support had to come from corps level. Because the corps artillery in the theater was limited in flexibility under the fixed brigade structure, the new groups and their battalions were used almost exclusively as a pool from which the divisions drew additional field artillery support. When the battle area shifted to Italy, the use of the field artillery group changed little. Its capabilities were not fully met or tested even though it was performing its limited functions well. The fixed field artillery brigade continued to function as corps artillery, but all newly arriving nondivisional field artillery units were organized under the new concept. By March 1944, all the regiments of the fixed corps artillery brigade in Italy were reorganized under the new system. Although the reorganization provided a uniform structure for the artillery for the first time in combat, in actuality, the intent of greater flexibility was not immediately realized.

By the time the nondivisional field artillery units were fighting in western Europe, their organization was standardized and their role more defined. One reason for the field artillery group’s success was that, unlike its earlier service in North Africa and Italy, the units had ample time to train together. The centralized employment of nondivisional artillery gave way to decentralization, although in some instances the former was preferred. Such flexibility would not have been possible under the old fixed corps artillery brigade structure. For example, in July 1944, when the First Army launched an attack to break out of Normandy, the VIII Corps Artillery was centralized in order to act as a “direct pressure force” in the early phases of the corps effort. But on 1 August, the four groups of the VIII Corps Artillery were decentralized by attaching them to divisions in order to render the divisions the most effective support.

The group headquarters was the organization that provided the corps artillery commander the capability of employing his resources in the most effective and flexible manner. It could perform as a second corps artillery fire direction center, as a control headquarters for field artillery attached or in direct support of a task force, as a subordinate tactical headquarters of the corps in controlling battalions with similar missions, and as a tactical headquarters to assist the division artillery headquarters when several nondivisional artillery battalions were attached to the division. The group’s flexibility, both in tactics and in organization, enabled the artillery commander to meet his requirements.

One defect in the group structure was the lack of continuity of command. Mindful of the problem, the War Department in 1944 issued Circular 439, advocating that battalions serve with specific groups, if feasible, to enhance the continuity of command and to improve morale; however, by the time the circular reached the theaters, the commanders had become too accustomed to enjoying the group’s flexibility and in most instances opted not to make any substantive changes in their routine.

The group organizational concept had limited use in the Pacific, where divisions played a more important role than corps. As a whole, the nature of jungle warfare, the limited size of island operations, and the policy of defeating Germany first restricted employment of field artillery there. Army nondivisional field artillery units within the Pacific area were almost nonexistent until 1944. When the 32d Infantry Division participated in the Buna operation on New Guinea, the division artillery remained in Australia on the premise that artillery other than pack howitzers could not be used and that Buna could be taken without field artillery support by using air support and infantry mortars. The assumption was an error, and support had to be obtained by borrowing artillery from the Australian 7th Division. Although nondivisional Army field artillery units were not used on Guadalcanal, the XIV Corps Artillery commander coordinated the artillery battalions of the Americal, 25th Infantry, and 2d Marine Divisions to maximize field artillery support. From this point on, field artillery played a more important role in the Pacific. While the groups were few in number, they contributed significantly to the effective support of the maneuver units. In the campaign on Okinawa in 1945, the employment of nondivisional artillery was widespread because of the large number of such units available on a fairly large battle area with strongly organized defenses and because of the growing awareness of the value of artillery support. In the battle for Manila the same year, primarily Army field artillery, tanks, and tank destroyers cleared the city.

Triangularization of the divisions had led to the use of task-organized formations for flexibility, and this concept was subsequently extended to nondivisional units. By the end of the war, task forces or regimental combat teams (RCT), whereby combat and support units were grouped temporarily around an infantry unit to perform a particular mission, were employed more and more. A typical one might include an infantry regiment, a 105-mm. howitzer battalion, a combat engineer company, a medical collecting company, and a signal detachment. Other units could be attached or detached as necessary. The flexible nature of the RCT in adapting to terrain and combat conditions made it particularly useful, and the grouping could be discontinued when the mission was over.

On the Battlefield

Advancements made during World War II in target location played an important role in the success of field artillery employment. Methods for locating targets included sound and flash ranging; ground and aerial observation; photo interpretation; prisoner of war, military intelligence, and “shell rep” (report on enemy shells fired on Allied positions) analyses; radar sightings; and other intelligence means. Except for radar, all had been used in World War I.

The tables of organization authorized the field artillery observation battalion in the corps artillery two sound and flash batteries in addition to its headquarters and headquarters battery. In September 1944, the War Department authorized additional observation battalions at the army level in Europe, where they were normally deployed by battery to support divisions. Of the twenty-six observation battalions active on 30 June 1945, nineteen were in Europe, four in the United States, and three in the Pacific. When a corps operated as a unit, the observation battalion was to maintain centralized control of its batteries. When the divisions in the corps acted independently, the observation batteries were to be detached from the corps to support the divisions. Additional support in 1944 in Europe came from the field army observation battalions. More success was achieved with centralized control in stabilized conditions than with decentralized control during periods of rapid movement. The observation battalions were supposed to provide their own position and target area survey and to tie into a general control survey net provided by topographical engineers. Artillery survey requirements were underestimated, however, and the observation battalions had to improvise to achieve higher order survey control in the field. After the war, the tables added separate survey platoons to each battery. In the latter stages of the war in Europe, some antiaircraft radars were made available to observation units. The radars were used for obtaining better weather data and for battlefield surveillance at night. Flash ranging was only about one-tenth as successful as sound ranging in Europe because of adverse terrain and weather conditions and inadequate flash-ranging equipment. Observation battalion commanders reported that German use of flashless powder neutralized the value of flash ranging and that the Germans used flares as camouflage for their artillery. Civilian experts also considered the Army’s sound-ranging equipment about ten years behind commercial equipment used by oil companies, and newer sets were developed during the war. Sound ranging, however, was often the best source for counterbattery intelligence, and target locations by sound were invaluable in confirming locations determined by other means.

Ground observers included forward observers, those in the observation battalions, and those in teams manning surveyed observation posts. In Europe, most targets were located by map coordinates, and forward observers adjusted the majority of the artillery fire missions. Men in static observation posts conducted only a limited number of fire missions because many of the observers had insufficient training and little experience in the conduct of observed fires.

Artillery commanders were insistent that the number of forward observers not be less than one per tank or rifle company, including those in reserve, about forty per division. Maintaining enough forward observers was a difficult problem. When they were furnished on the basis of one per infantry or tank company, the direct-support artillery battalion sometimes found it necessary to send as many as twelve observers. But forward observer sections were not included in the infantry division TOEs until after the Normandy invasion (three forward observers in each direct-support battalion). The Army had authorized them for some time in the armored division, although not in the quantity needed, and other personnel in the artillery battalions had to perform the function. In addition to the forward observer himself, an officer, the tables authorized each forward observer section one wireman and one radioman for communications. Two forward observer sections were needed per battery, but the tables only authorized three per battalion. The medium battalions needed between four and six forward observers, but were only authorized one per battalion. Some units maintained a forward observer pool, made up of the younger battalion officers and run by roster to ensure coverage. The physical strain on these officers was great because their casualties were high. Most battlefield promotions in field artillery units serving in Europe were awarded to enlisted men serving as forward observers. It was reported that personnel using forward observation methods, usually by map coordinates, adjusted up to 95 percent of observed fires during the war.

A key link between the forward observer sections and fire-support resources was the liaison officer. Each direct-support battalion maintained one liaison officer with each battalion in its supported infantry regiment. The liaison officer’s primary functions were to plan fires in support of infantry operations and coordinate target information. A large number of direct-support battalion fire missions resulted from communications through fire-support channels. Forward observers would funnel target information through the liaison officer to the battalion fire direction center (FDC), which, when supplementary fires were needed, could request additional fire support from higher echelons. Corps and division artillery, as well, passed missions down to the direct-support battalion FDCs. When the supported infantry regiment went into reserve, the direct-support artillery battalion usually stayed on line to furnish supplementary fire for other direct-support artillery battalions as necessary.

Aerial observers supplemented the ground observers in locating targets and adjusting artillery fire. The Hero board had recommended aerial observers as an integral part of the artillery, but airplanes did not become organic equipment until 1942. With the virtual separation of the air arm from the ground forces in that year, the need became more acute. In late 1941, the War Department, influenced by reports from observers and by news items about the war in Europe, had authorized field testing of aircraft for artillery observation and approved the addition of aerial observers in field artillery TOEs published the following year. Each field artillery headquarters, from battalion through corps artillery, included an air observer section, with two aircraft and their pilots, along with maintenance personnel, vehicles, supplies, and equipment. No observers were authorized, but were obtained by using other officers and sometimes enlisted men in the organizations. An artillery air officer was later added to the artillery staff of each group, brigade, division, corps, and army to advise the respective commanders in all matters pertaining to aerial observation. In Europe, infantry and airborne division air observers usually operated from a common airfield, resulting in centralized control of air observation at the division. Most individual battalion requirements were met by closely coordinating and scheduling flights. Nondivisional battalions attached to field artillery groups operated in a similar manner. Centralization resulted in more efficient coverage, facilitated economical use of aircraft and personnel, and was more suitable for proper maintenance and service of the aircraft. Armored divisions, on the other hand, operated air observation sections at the battalion level because of the rapid movement of the divisions during combat. Their air sections did operate on a common channel, however, so that any unit was free to obtain information from any aircraft. Air superiority and the fact that the U.S. Army field artillery had organic air observation were key reasons why the U.S. field artillery dominated the European battlefield.

Aerial observation for adjusting artillery fire, as well as for other missions, also proved invaluable in the Pacific. Lush vegetation and mountainous terrain at times hindered the ground and air observers’ view, but generally much of the fighting occurred along the shore and in other relatively open areas. As in Europe, the sections usually operated under centralized control. Navy bombers provided assistance, although their relatively high speeds often made observation difficult. The Army Air Forces also provided artillery adjustment and observation in both theaters with high-performance aircraft for medium and heavy battalions. Difficulties in communications and a lack of knowledge of field artillery gunnery on the part of the observers caused most of the problems in the inability of high-performance aircraft to complete artillery adjustments.

The use of aerial reconnaissance photographs in conjunction with maps and firing charts were of tremendous value and provided a high percentage of artillery targets. Field artillerymen began taking an interest in aerial photography with the development of cameras that could capture large areas without undue distortion. While recognizing the usefulness of such pictures for reconnaissance purposes, field artillerymen were more interested in producing photo maps to use for firing charts. In the North African campaign of 1942, it became apparent that American facilities for producing aerial photographs were inadequate, even though the British in the same theater were making excellent use of such pictures in intelligence work. But American expertise in this area steadily increased, and by 1943 in Sicily the Army Air Forces were providing aerial photography support at the army level. At the corps artillery fire direction centers, photo interpretation teams confirmed sound and flash locations and targets reported from other sources. Army air observers also took some aerial photographs, which were especially useful when inclement weather grounded Army Air Forces planes. Most commanders, however, believed that they could not replace the Army Air Forces photographs, which covered areas deep into enemy territory. Poor visibility over jungle areas, a lack of wide-area photographs (making it necessary to piece a useful picture together from many photographs), and poor reproduction facilities often limited the use of aerial reconnaissance photographs in the Pacific. But when these problems did not exist, aerial photography was even more valuable in the Pacific than elsewhere as suitable maps were unlikely to be available.

Radar, which was still in its infancy, was tested in Europe from late 1944 through the end of the war. The results were limited partly because the sets, not designed for the purpose of spotting field artillery targets, were extremely heavy and partly because of wet weather. The XV Corps found them extremely useful, and by February 1945, 9 percent of the corps artillery missions were based upon radar findings. Most commanders felt that the possibilities of using radars would be increased through the development of small portable sets.

The study of shell craters to determine the direction and range of enemy artillery had fallen into disuse before the war. In December 1942 in Tunisia, Capt. George Morgan of the 32d Field Artillery Battalion became interested in the subject and compiled a personal reference manual. Later, while serving as the assistant counterbattery officer in II Corps, he combined the results of his research with those of two British armies and subsequently produced a manual that influenced the use of “shellreps” in the entire theater. These reports usually contained pertinent information on impact areas as well as the time and direction of the shelling; when possible, they also included the number of shells and any duds, the type of target, and the amount of damage. They were extremely useful in confirming locations made by sound, photographs, and other means.

Other means of locating targets were coordinated at corps level. Reports from prisoner-of-war interrogation teams, spies, friendly civilians, and other sources were compared with photographs and sound, radar, and shelling reports to give accurate target locations.

The development of improved gunnery techniques and standardized training for all field artillery units, including those of the Marine Corps, contributed to the ability of field artillery to deliver effective massed fire support. The evolution of centralized fire control was one of the most significant improvements in the branch. The policies and procedures in fire direction developed at the Field Artillery School during the interwar years proved basically sound and were generally followed by all Army and Marine field artillery units in Europe and the Pacific.

The high degree of centralized control reached during the war permitted maximum use of prearranged fire. Division artillery was most effective against enemy infantry in the open, and secondly in blinding enemy observation, preventing the movement of reserve troops, and assisting in counterbattery fire. Continuous fire was always possible by moving only part of the artillery, keeping the rest firing in positions until the displacing batteries were ready to resume action. The heavier corps and army artillery reinforced the divisions and provided their conventional roles of counterbattery fire, interdiction missions, destruction of hostile defenses, and fire on rear areas. As General Hodges later remarked, “Of the principal arms that could be brought to bear directly on the enemy, infantry, armor, and air were seriously handicapped by the weather and terrain. Through all, however—day and night, good weather and bad—the flexibility and power of our modern artillery were applied unceasingly.”

When lack of time precluded use of prearranged fire, it was necessary to develop a rapid means of massing all available firepower. While there were several procedures, the most common was the “serenade.” Only corps, division, or group artillery commanders could authorize serenades, which were controlled entirely by radio. Commanders had to ensure that the target warranted the expenditure of ammunition and that the map location of the target was accurate enough to achieve the desired result. Missions were fired “when ready,” or a time was designated for all battalions to fire on a target simultaneously. A better known method was “time on target” (TOT). Procedures were similar to those of the serenade, but the missions were controlled chiefly by telephone, and the rounds for all units were to land on the target at the same time. The TOT required frequent synchronization of time and the determination of flight time for all projectiles.

The introduction of the proximity fuze, commonly referred to as the pozit or VT (variable time) fuze, during the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes in December 1944 greatly increased the effectiveness of artillery fire. Unlike a time fuze, it required no setting and contained a tiny electronic device that caused the shell to explode when it came near the target. Although employed more extensively by antiaircraft artillery, it was used by field artillery to burst shells at an ideal height over enemy trenches and foxholes. Considerable concern was expressed because of the danger to air observation posts, and its use was restricted to daylight hours.

After nearly six years of warfare, the Germans surrendered in May 1945, and the War Department redirected its efforts toward winning in the Pacific. But World War II ended abruptly in August after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ushering in a new era of warfare. Field artillery had been a decisive factor in the Allied victory, prompting Third Army commander General George S. Patton, Jr., to later remark: “I do not have to tell you who won the war. You know our artillery did.”

Using the “Eighty-Eight”

In the shimmering morning heat on 15 June 1941, the slow-moving British Matilda “infantry” tanks were waved forward towards the Halfaya Pass, which guarded the Libyan border from British attack. Soldiers of the 11th Indian Brigade were walking behind the Matildas, confident the heavily armoured tanks would provide protection from anything the Germans could throw at them. The British Operation Battleaxe appeared to be going to plan.

Waiting for the 11th Indian Brigade and Matildas were 13 88mm flak guns dug into undulating desert terrain and camouflaged with netting. When the first Matildas hit a hidden minefield and started to have their tracks blown off, the time was ripe for the German gunners to open fire. One squadron of the 5th Royal Tank Regiment was destroyed in the first salvo and the rest of the regiment was soon in retreat. Further attacks by the British 4th Armoured Brigade fared little better. The Matilda’s 2-pounder cannons did not have the range to reach the German guns, which were easily picking targets off at more than 1500m (1640yd) range. Even if they could have closed on the German position, the British tanks lacked high-explosive shells because their primary task was to deal with enemy anti-tank gunners by using their machine guns.

In the space of four days the British lost 123 out of 238 of their tanks and failed to budge the Germans from Halfaya Pass. The battle forever destroyed the Matilda’s reputation for invulnerability, and soon Allied tank crews came to fear the weapon they called the “Eighty-Eight”. To their German crews, they were nicknamed the “Acht-Acht” and their presence on the battlefield was a great morale booster. Not only did they keep Allied aircraft at bay, but it was very reassuring for German soldiers to know that they were protected by a weapon that could also defeat any Allied tank. For a gun that was supposed to be an anti-aircraft weapon, the fact that the “Eighty-Eight” should achieve fame as an anti-tank gun was no surprise to its designers.

Under the terms of the 1919 Versailles Treaty that ended World War I, Germany was denied the right to possess anti-aircraft artillery. The army of the new Weimar Republic, the Reichswehr, was not going to let such legal niceties get in the way of its plans to develop new weapons. It started to fund the famous armaments firm, Krupp, to set up a secret research base in Sweden in cooperation with the Bofors company. In return, Bofors was invited to set up a branch office in Berlin that was manned solely by Germans. Throughout the 1920s the German designers worked away, preparing for the day when they could openly return to business as usual. Krupp and Rheinmetall were asked towards the end of the decade to design a new anti-aircraft gun, but it was not until 1931 that a satisfactory product was ready. This experimental 88mm gun featured many of the characteristics of the weapon that would be famous in World War II: it had a cruciform wheeled carriage and an 85-degree elevation to fire at aircraft. To fire, the cruciform carriage was lowered to the ground and two elevating side legs dropped to form a firm base. The gun also had a 360-degree rapid traverse. After the rise of Hitler in 1933, Germany reneged on the Versailles armaments restrictions and Krupp was ordered to begin production of its weapon, designated the 88mm Flak 18.

The Flak 18

The Flak 18 was a hardy design. It was transported on the Sonderanhänger 201 limbers (two two-wheeled sets), and when deployed for firing stood on a cruciform platform comprised of four legs horizontal legs meeting at the central gun pedestal. This design gave the gun a 720-degree traverse; elevation was from minus 3 degrees up to 85 degrees. The gun itself had a single barrel held within a jacket, and also a novel “semi-automatic” breech system that automatically ejected spent shell cases. This latter features, along with the unitary cartridge design of the 88mm’s shells, meant that over 15 rounds a minute could be fired by an experienced crew in action – heavy firepower indeed.

The Flak 18 fired armour-piercing or high-explosive shells at a muzzle velocity of 820mps (2690fps) to a maximum ceiling of 9900m (32482ft). However, it didn’t take long for artillery officers to realise that tha gun could also perform well in an anti-tank role, with a maximum ground range of 14.8km (9.25 miles). Operational experience in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) bore this out, and the Flak 18 began its career as an anti-tank weapon.

Improvements were soon made to the Flak 18 and its carriage, resulting in the Sonderanhänger 202. This received identical front and rear limber sections, each axle having four tyres set in double-wheel arrangements. A barrel support was added to each end of the limber (the Sonderanhänger 201 had only one barrel support) so the gun could be towed facing either direction. Performance was unchanged, but a new three-section barrel was designed. This allowed worn out parts of the barrel to be replaced, rather than the entire barrel itself, hence saving time and materials (rear rifled sections tended to wear out more quickly than muzzles, for example). This design modification also made it possible for units to replace barrels in the field; Flak 18s had to be shipped back to workshops behind the lines to have their heavy one-piece barrels replaced. There were various other changes affecting the sighting systems and other parts of the gun. The new gun and its mount was called the Flak 36. However, it should be noted that Flak 18 barrels often ended up on Flak 36 guns and vice-versa.

It was not long before further refinements were introduced to produce the Flak 37. The changes were mainly concentrated on the fire-control system, and allowed the gunlayer to more easily follow instructions supplied to him from a battery fire direction post. The barrel liner was also replaced with a two-piece unit, rather than the Flak 36’s three-piece barrel.

The Flak 18, 36 and 37 were the bulk of the 88mm gun variants deployed by the Wehrmacht in World War II, though there were a number of attempts to improve on this tried and tested design. Rheinmetall, the designers of the original Flak 18, developed the Flak 41; a version with a longer, five-part barrel. A few hundred were built, but technical problems and production delays meant they never replaced the older models in widespread use. It is thought that few, if any, Flak 41s were ever deployed outside of Germany. The Krupp design bureau also attempted to improve on Rheinmetall’s original design in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Krupp’s engineers drifted from their original brief and ended up effectively redesigning the entire weapon from scratch, though their final product – called the 8.8cm Gërat – was by most practical criteria identical to the Flak 37.

The success of the 88mm in the anti-tank role in North Africa and Russia, and the appearance of heavily armoured Soviet T-34s and KV-1s, made the Weapons Office look to producing a specialist anti-tank version. This was a pressing requirement because the existing 50mm and 75mm anti-tank guns were unable to deal with the new Soviet tanks. An important requirement was to reduce the silhouette of the weapon to make it easier for their crews to camouflage and conceal them. Krupp modified their design for the 8.8cm Gërat, adapting it for a purely anti-armour role and reducing the size of its recoil mechanism. The result was the PaK-43, which retained the cruciform carriage of the old 88mm, though this was soon superseded by the PaK-43/41 which was mounted on a single axis carriage, like a traditional artillery piece. While crews liked the killing power of the new anti-tank gun, they were less impressed by its size and weight – more than 6 tonnes (5.9 tons) – and soon nicknamed it the “barn door”.

The basic 88mm Flak 18 weapon weighed 7.1 tonnes (7 tons), which meant it was not easily manhandled once the crew had lowered it from its wheels. Just as famous as the weapon itself was its Kraus-Maffei SdKfz 7 halftrack prime mover, which could carry the gun’s crew and a basic load of ammunition.

Operating the weapon was a very labour-intensive process. A single gun was served by a crew of nine, which included a commander, layer to elevate the gun, layer to traverse the gun, a loader, four ammunition handlers, two fuse setters and a tractor driver.

Some of the first guns were sent to Spain with the German Condor Legion to protect the airfields used by General Franco’s fascist forces. When they ended up being used against ground targets, the Luftwaffe High Command realized that it needed to order armour-piercing rounds for the weapon and armoured shields to protect their crews from shell fire. These improvements were in hand when war broke out in 1939.

The weapon’s high velocity – 820m (2690ft) per second – was the key to its success in both the anti-aircraft and anti-tank roles when supplied with the correct ammunition. For anti-aircraft work, it was provided with time- and pressure-fused high-explosive shells to allow the crew to set the altitude at which the shells exploded. In the ground role, three main types of round were available. The Pzgr 39 armour-piercing, capped, ballistic cap (APCBC) round was the first round used and was later supplemented by the Gr 38HI high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round, and Pzgr 40 armoured-piercing, composite rigid round, which had a tungsten core. With this ammunition an “Acht-Acht” could punch through 99mm (3.8in) of armour at 2011m (2200yd), which meant no type of Allied tank was safe until the arrival of the Soviet Josef Stalin tank in early 1944. Poorly armoured tanks, such as the Sherman and T-34, which had only 51mm (2in) and 47mm (1.8in) frontal armour respectively, were easy prey for the 88mm at ranges in excess of 3000m (3282yd).

Although a large number of “Flieger-Abwehr-Kanone” or flak units had been formed in World War I, Germany was banned from possessing air defence artillery by the Versailles Treaty. In secret the Reichswehr reformed its flak units in 1928, and disguised them as transport detachments and elements of the German Air Sports Union. Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 was quickly followed by the establishment of the German Air Ministry, which was a cover for the secret formation of the Luftwaffe. Responsibility for flak units was soon passed from the army to the Luftwaffe, because of the need to integrate anti-aircraft artillery with fighter defences. In only four years the flak branch was expanded to some 115 units, which had the job of defending airfields, key strategic locations and the field army. Two years into the war this number had expanded to 841 units. The flak artillery were divided into static units committed to the defence of the Reich and self-propelled units that accompanied the army into battle. The battalions of self-propelled flak artillery were the elite of the branch and were in the thick of the action throughout the war.

The Army High Command had never been happy with the Luftwaffe having total control of the flak branch, and in 1941 both the Army and Waffen-SS were allowed to form their own flak battalions to be assigned to infantry, panzer, motorized and panzergrenadier divisions. These units had a mixture of 88mm and 20mm or 37mm light flak weapons to protect their divisions from enemy aircraft. However, all matters relating to flak weapons, ammunition and equipment, as well as tactics, doctrine, training and organization, still remained the responsibility of the Luftwaffe flak branch.

While fighter pilots and paratroopers received public adulation as the Luftwaffe’s war heroes, the flak gunners were elite non-flying units of the German air force. Operating weapons, such as the “Acht-Acht”, in the anti-aircraft role, was very demanding because crews had to be able to understand the complex fire solutions needed to set fuses to explode at high altitude. They also had to work as part of a complex air defence organization so friendly aircraft were not mistakenly engaged. The firing crews had to be fit and determined, firstly, to manhandle their guns into position, dig firing pits and maintain the supply of shells to the gun. Each shell weighed in at more 9kg (20lb) so this was no mean feat.

Gun and battery commanders were highly trained to get the most out of their weapons in the anti-tank role. Once committed to battle the “Acht-Acht” were virtually immobile, so the difference between success or failure depended on the siting of the guns and their concealment until the time came to engage the enemy. Once battle was joined with enemy tanks, flak commanders required strong nerves and faith in the capabilities of the guns and their crews. Outside the cockpit of a fighter or combat as a paratrooper, being a flak gun commander was the quickest way in the Luftwaffe to die for the Führer.

In the first two years of the war, Luftwaffe fighters ruled the skies over Europe’s battlefields, relegating flak gunners to relatively straightforward point defence tasks. The brunt of these tasks fell to divisional or corps flak battalions or regiments, which travelled close behind the panzer spearheads. During the Blitzkrieg in France, the Balkans and Russia, divisional “Acht-Acht” batteries were often called upon to engage pockets of enemy tanks that could not be dealt with by the panzer regiment. These were small-scale engagements, involving one or two flak guns being called upon to knock out handfuls of British, French or Soviet heavy tanks that had broken through the German front.

Massed Flak Batteries

As the Allies and Soviets started to boost their airpower and challenge the Luftwaffe, the Germans began to take air defence more seriously and major resources were put into building up flak batteries. Soviet offensives in the winter of 1942–43 also saw the massed employment of hundreds of T-34s along narrow fronts. In response, the Germans saw the need to field anti-tank defences capable of countering this threat. Massed flak guns were one answer to the growing tank and air threat. Rommel showed what was possible with his use of massed 88mm batteries in the North African desert, and the Germans looked to repeat this success in Russia.

By the summer of 1942, the bulk of 88mm guns in frontline areas had been concentrated in 10 Luftwaffe motorized flak divisions, which were raised to provide air defence for army groups. The divisional flak commander was responsible for the organization of all air defence activity – flak guns, radars, searchlights and fighters – in the army group area. A flak division possessed awesome firepower, usually between 12 to 30 heavy flak batteries, each of four 88mm guns, and a similar number of medium and light batteries, each with a dozen quad 20mm or 37mm cannons.

He, in turn, posted his motorized flak regiments and battalions to key sectors of the front to support a particular army or corps. In times of crisis, they could be concentrated to provide either blanket protection against enemy air forces or a powerful anti-tank emergency reserve against an armoured breakthrough. If necessary, they could also supplement army artillery battalions in general fire support tasks. Unlike the majority of army artillery units, which were still horse-drawn, the Luftwaffe generously ensured all its flak battalions were fully motorized. With a typical motorized flak regiment mustering more than 20 “Eighty-Eights”, in effect they were a highly mobile tank-killing force, available to rapidly concentrate firepower at a crucial point on the battlefield if the going got really desperate.

Flak regiments were not committed to the emergency anti-tank role without prior planning and reconnaissance. As a standard procedure, flak commanders would survey their sector of the front for possible firing positions in case enemy tanks broke through. Guns were to be sited to make maximum use of their long range, so clear fields of fire were a must. Overlapping fields of fire were also allocated to individual guns and batteries, so the whole of the front could be swept by fire, creating killing zones. The high silhouette of the 88mm flak gun meant weapons had either to be dug into pits, or hidden in woods and buildings to prevent them being spotted. Good concealment was essential to stop the attackers spotting the flak guns until they were well inside the kill zone and unable to escape. If the enemy spotted the flak guns too soon, then their artillery would fire on the flak batteries with deadly effect.

The pre-positioning of anti-tank ammunition near to the gun line was very important to ensure that a rapid rate of fire could be maintained for as long as necessary. Flak commanders also liked to have friendly infantry close at hand to protect their guns from enemy ground troops, who might try to infiltrate and destroy them.

Flak commanders identified key points to be defended and concentrated their guns there, to ensure that the defence line held whatever happened. They had to juggle their mission to provide air defence, with the need to counter breakthroughs of enemy armour. Often the requirements of both missions overlapped: for example, defending strategic bridges, railway lines or high ground. Movement to other key sectors on the battlefield was regularly rehearsed so flak units could rapidly move on receiving an accepted codeword.

In emergency situations, a flak commander was usually the first officer on the scene with battle-winning equipment, so they assumed command of the action against the rampaging enemy tanks. Any infantry or troops on the scene subordinated themselves to the flak commander as part of ad hoc battlegroups. No matter how much forward planning had occurred, this was when the flak commander got to show his mettle. They often had to bring order to a chaotic situation, ensuring their guns were in position and fire discipline was maintained until the vital moment. This was a time for iron nerves.

The Battle of the Meuse

The first decisive intervention by “Acht-Acht” guns occurred in May 1940. Heinz Guderian’s panzer corps raced to the River Meuse at Sedan to build the bridgehead needed to open a breach in French lines, allowing the panzers to race to the English Channel. Guderian, the father of the German panzers, had the Luftwaffe’s Flak Regiment 102 attached for this operation, and gave it a key mission. Colonel von Hippel’s regiment had been specially reinforced and trained for its part in an operation that was to turn the battle for France in Germany’s favour.

Once the panzers had reached the river, infantry were ordered across in rubber assault boats to seize a bridgehead. French troops and guns emplaced in concrete bunkers high on the far bank were turning the German assembly areas into killing zones. Guderian had already thought about dealing with the French defences, and he had sent his flak gunners to Poland to practice putting shells directly through the firing ports of abandoned Polish bunkers. Covered by panzers, the 88mm crews rolled their guns up to firing positions on the river bank opposite the bridgehead, and started to pick off the French bunkers. In some places the flak gunners were less than 100m (109yd) from their targets, and the 88mm proved to be superbly accurate.

This impressive display of firepower was just the morale boost the assault troops needed as they dropped their boats in the Meuse on 13 May. By the end of the afternoon Guderian had his bridgehead, and during the night the engineers had built the first of several pontoon bridges. The flak gunners moved two 88mms across the river just behind the first panzers and they were soon in action, knocking out French tanks sent to counterattack during the night.

When morning broke, the French and British realized the danger posed by the German bridgehead. Within hours, hundreds of bombers were on their way to put it out of action. Colonel von Hippel’s gunners were the only defence available to protect the key bridges. Luftwaffe fighters took on the covering RAF Spitfires, but the bombers pressed home their attacks on the bridges with fanatical bravery. The flak gunners elevated their 88mms and started to pick them off. Wave after wave of bombers were met by a wall of exploding shells. The aircraft that were not hit were forced to abort their bomb runs. By the end of the day, Guderian’s bridges were still intact and 112 Allied bombers had been shot from the sky. The panzer general commented that, “our anti-aircraft gunners proved themselves on this day, and shot superbly.” A grateful Führer awarded von Hippel with the Knight’s Cross.

Erwin Rommel already had experience of using his 88mm flak batteries as an emergency anti-tank force during the Battle of Arras in June 1940, knocking out eight Matildas. At Sidi Rezegh in November 1941, Rommel’s flak front stopped the British 7th Armoured Brigade in its tracks, after its commander had rashly ordered his tanks to charge headlong across the desert directly at the Germans. Only four 88mm guns were dug-in on the first day of the battle and they devastated the British brigade. For reasons best known to the British brigadier, he repeated the exercise over four successive days and some 300 British tanks were left destroyed by the “Acht-Acht” and a group of 50mm anti-tank guns sent to reinforce the flak battery.

Gun crews had to be ready for action at a moment’s notice, against unexpected threats. During the battle for the Gazala Line in June 1942 Rommel used his flak guns aggressively, placing batteries close behind the head of his panzer columns. If British tanks were encountered the panzers were to fall back and leave the “Acht-Acht” to deal with them at long range. On the opening day of the battle, the 21st Panzer Division found itself up against 40 of the new American-supplied Grant tanks for the first time. With their 75mm cannon, the Grants out-ranged the German Panzer IIIs and so the latter began a hasty withdrawal away from the new threat. Rommel was close at hand to direct Colonel Wolz’s 135th Flak Regiment to steady the German line. Four 88mm guns were quickly formed into an improvised gun line to protect the Afrika Korps’ supply trucks. As the Grants got to within 1500m (1640yd), the 88s roared into life. The British tanks started “brewing up”, forcing the rest to pull back. Rommel’s aggressive use of the 88mm in North Africa established its reputation as a “bogey weapon” in the eyes of British tank crews.

On the Russian Front, German flak units increasingly took on more anti-tank duties as the weight of Soviet offensives increased. The summer of 1943 saw a rejuvenated Soviet armoured force take the offensive after the German Kursk Offensive had been checked. Pre-positioned Soviet tank reserves were unleashed just as the German panzer spearheads had been worn down by anti-tank defences and minefields. With great skill, the Soviet High Command struck at the weak flanks of the German front and, within days, it had been shattered in several places north of Orel. Four Soviet tanks corps smashed through the German Second Panzer Army’s front and raced towards the key rail junction at Khotynets. Luftwaffe tank-busting planes and 88mm guns of the 12th Flak Division were the only things that could stop the hundreds of tanks surging southwards. Unless the rail junction was held, panzer reserves would be unable to reach the crisis zone.

Flak Against T-34s

Although the German fighter-bombers were able to shoot up an entire Soviet tank brigade, more T-34s continued the offensive. A battalion of 88mm guns, already on the move under the cover of darkness, was able to set up a gun line outside Khotynets. When the Soviets tried to stage a coup de main raid on the town they drove into a firestorm of 88mm shells and fell back. More attacks continued over a three-day period, but more “Acht-Acht” batteries arrived to bolster the German defence. Casualties were heavy among the flak gunners, who had to fight off the Soviets virtually unsupported by artillery or armour.

During this desperate battle the division claimed 229 tanks knocked out and ensured the safe arrival of panzer reinforcements, allowing the breaches in the front to be restored. The success of the 12th Flak Division validated the mass employment of the “Acht-Acht” as emergency anti-tank forces.

The next major test of the 88mm came in the summer 1944 on the Normandy Front. In late July the British massed almost 800 tanks around the city of Caen to punch a hole through I SS Panzer Corps’ front. A mix of Army, Waffen-SS and Luftwaffe 88mm flak and anti-tank battalions, with some 78 guns, were concentrated in this key sector. In spite of being on the receiving end of saturation bombing by 1000 Allied heavy bombers, the German defences were ready when the first wave of British tanks kicked off Operation Goodwood early on 18 July. The British 11th Armoured Division was sent forward through a 4.8km (3-mile) wide bridgehead. Backed by Tiger and Panther tanks of the Waffen-SS Leibstandarte Panzer Division, the surviving “Acht-Acht” gunners emerged from the ruins and started firing into the huge column of British Shermans. By the end of the day more than 300 British tanks were burning in front of the German lines, many of which fell to 88mm flak and PaK-43/41 guns. A renewed attack the following day only resulted in 100 more British tanks being destroyed.