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Advances in Artillery Technology and Tactics for World War II

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Published on Jul 7, 2014

Nearly all US artillery battalions were organized with three firing batteries and a total of twelve tubes. The exception was the eighteen-tube armored field artillery battalion and the six-tube 8" gun and 240mm howitzer battalions. A major advantage for the American artillery was that it was fully motorized and highly mobile. All 105mm and 155mm howitzer battalions in the ETO were truck-drawn, although a Table of Equipment (TE) for a tractor-drawn 155mm battalion existed. The 155mm gun battalions were almost all tractor-drawn, although a few evidently were also truck-drawn. The 4.5" gun, 8" gun, 8" howitzer, and 240mm howitzer battalions were all tractor-drawn, although, again, a TE for truck drawn battalions existed. The standard prime mover was a two-and-one-half ton truck for the 105mm and a 4-ton Diamond T truck for the 155mm howitzers. Tractors included the M5 thirteen-ton prime movers, which were utilized for the 105mm M2 howitzer, the 4.5" gun, and 155mm M1 howitzer, and the M4 eighteen-ton hi-speed, full-track, heavy prime mover, which was utilized for the 3" AA gun, the 90mm AA gun, the 155mm Long Tom gun, 8" howitzer, 8" gun, and 240mm howitzer. Redundant M3 medium tank chassis, without armament, and M31 and M32 armored recovery vehicles were also utilized as prime movers for the heavier artillery pieces.

Non-divisional artillery battalions were normally subordinated to field artillery groups. The groups were formed in 1943 from the headquarters battery of the broken up field artillery regiments. The field artillery group consisted of an H&H Battery, with a command element and a fire-direction center element, and a Service Battery. A group was usually assigned from two to six battalions, although one or more of the battalions might be attached for direct support of an individual division. Usually, the groups were assigned howitzer and gun battalions of companion caliber, that is, 155mm howitzers were grouped with 4.5" guns, 8" howitzers with 155mm guns, and 8" guns with 240mm howitzers. The normal ratio was one gun battalion for every two howitzer battalions, although this was not always firmly adhered to. Separate 105mm howitzer battalions were normally grouped together, but were almost always assigned to direct support of divisions. The 155mm SP gun battalions were assigned to groups as the tactical situation warranted, or were frequently attached, by battery or battalion, to armored or infantry divisions.

Field artillery brigades were also created, originally to command the separate field artillery regiments and later, to command the field artillery groups. However, the brigade eventually was seen as a redundant and unnecessary additional layer of command. Most of the brigades were inactivated or were redesignated as H&H batteries and assigned to different corps and divisions. A few artillery brigades were retained and served as such, the 13th in the MTO and the 32nd, 33rd, 34th, and 61st in the ETO. In the First Army in the ETO, two field artillery groups were attached to the 32nd Field Artillery Brigade. The brigade controlled all 8" gun and 240mm howitzer battalions of the army, making it, in effect, a heavy artillery brigade. A similar, but less centralized system was followed by Third, Seventh, and Ninth armies for control of their heavy battalions.

All in all, the U.S. artillery was equipped with armament that was at least as well designed as, if not better than, any other in the world. The U.S. artillery further benefited from communications equipment and a fire control system that was equaled only by that of the Royal Artillery. Individual forward observers operated close to the front lines and had access, via powerful radios and extensive telephone landlines, to a formidable array of weapons. The highly redundant signals system meant that, even when all other contact with front-line units and their headquarters was lost, the artillery communications net usually remained open.

Perhaps more important, and making the U.S. artillery the best in the world, was a fire-direction system that had been develop at the U.S. Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, between the wars. This was a highly refined development of the crude system Summerall had pioneered in World War I. This system permitted rapid engagements of targets, and allowed the coordination of fires of many units from many widely separated firing positions. One of the most deadly tactics employed was the time-on-target (TOT) concentration. A TOT massed fires from several battalions onto a selected target and calculated the times of flight for the shells from each battery so that they all arrived on target at nearly the same instant (a similar tactic, called a "Stonk", had been developed independently by the Royal Artillery in North Africa).

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