Artillery Lessons from Normandy

Artillery lessons from Normandy published by the U.S. Eighth Army in the “Artillery Information Bulletin,” October 1944.


a. OPERATIONS IN NORMANDY (Comments of various commanders to AGF Observer).

Be prepared to send out more LNO’s and FO’s than the T/O provides. Your LNO’s should be fine officers or you will find them valueless. His job is of primary importance and you will find that the training system of placing a weak officer on the LNO job will hurt you very much when you enter combat.

In wire laying there is no formality about senior units laying to junior. We usually lay to each other simultaneously by different routes. Lateral lines are put in whenever possible and they are most helpful and comforting when the going gets rough.

A 155 How battalion must be able to displace just as rapidly as a light battalion. We frequently displace twice a day. The battalion commander’s main job is position area reconnaissance. In a fast moving situation you must reconnoiter right up behind the infantry — otherwise the position you select will be too far to the rear when you receive the order to displace. Take your BC’s with you when you go forward if it is at all possible. You won’t be able to make a reconnaissance and then send back for the BC’s and make a trip through the area with them. You can’t wait until a displacement is expected and then go forward on reconnaissance. I was caught flat-footed in that respect once and will never let it happen again.

We usually chock our registration by firing one gun from each battery at the base point.

In a rapidly moving situation if you dig your pieces in too thoroughly you won’t be able to make the wide shifts required. My 155 How battalion is firing on a 1600 mil sector right now. Of course the men have slit trenches dug — you never have to urge them in that respect.

Our 155 guns could be a great help to the infantry if they would allow us to fire closer to their front lines, particularly against organized strong points where they are well dug in. Some divisions are better than others in this respect, usually after you have gained their confidence. A few days ago I was forward on reconnaissance and ran across some men of the 82 A/B Division who were hold up by some determined Germans in a thick walled masonry farm house. They had some cannon and some automatic weapons. I hit the base of the house on the first round at 11,500 (a K transfer on a fine map) and as I left I gave them a carton of C rations I had in my C&R. Naturally we are “in” with those people.

In this 155 gun battalion we compute our ranges and deflection from coordinates as the long fan is not accurate.

Although the maps are perfect we don’t use them as a firing chart but read the coordinates of the target and plot them on a grid sheet which we fire from. The errors caused by pasting the maps together and by shrinkage can be eliminated by this procedure. (105 Bn.)

Higher commanders have a tendency to restrict, us too much when they assign us a position area goose-egg. (155G – also 8″ How.) Considerable leeway must be given us. Routes into the position are a major consideration. (Remainder of this paragraph applies only to a 155G battalion.) The trees in these hedgerows give us a very tough minimum range problem. The smallest I have ever had is 10,000 yards. We carry 400 pounds of TNT per battery to blow our way into hedgerows. (Note: Contrary to definition the normal hedgerow is an earthen wall about 3 to 5 feet high and about 3 to 5 feet wide. On each side of the wall a sizable ditch exists from which the earth has been excavated to construct the wall. Dense hedges and tall trees grow out of many of these walls). We frequently had to get help from engineer bulldozers to break through the walls.

I think that we have a tendency to overshoot. We have invariably been able to neutralize single German guns with from four to twelve rounds and yet I have seen division concentrations placed on one machine pistol and also on movement in a hedgerow.

It is dangerous for FO’s to climb trees as our own troops will fire at them. Likewise it is almost suicide to fire a captured machine pistol. All questions are asked later.

You have heard the old story about being two or three deep in each position. It is an absolute necessity. Don’t let your key personnel travel around together. The executive, the S-3 and I always travel separately.

The only difficulties we have had with our 155 guns have been shortage of gas chock pads, scored obturator spindle plugs, and short firing pins which the ordnance lengthened 1/16th of an inch for us. Our camouflage nets are 48×60, and they should be at least 60×60. We fire with the net over the tube and when we are not firing we cover the gun completely and keep the tube horizontal.

Your AA machine gun operators must be thoroughly trained to fire only at planes which are making a specific and personal attack on your position. Frequently the German fighters will fly low at dusk apparently waiting for our troops to disclose a position by their tracers. One of our batteries was strafed and bombed thoroughly by both fighters and bombers. It was the only 155 gun battery ashore and the Germans were apparently aware of its general location because they methodically strafed and bombed all the hedgerows in the immediate vicinity of the battery. Then one of our machine guns opened up disclosing our exact position and the battery took a thorough going over. We were well dug in and fortunately only two men were wounded.

Don’t let your men go off on sniper hunts. There is a tendency for reconnaissance parties to do this.

Each battery in this 155 gun battalion has its own fire direction center which can handle the whole battalion, if necessary. When we displace by battery, I take two batteries and the FDC forward with me and send the executive, to the rear battery where all missions are handled by the battery FDC. The executive then brings the battery forward.

Maintaining your wire is a major problem. Wire personnel are fully aware of their difficulties but there is a general lack of appreciation of their difficulties by other troops. I have seen as many as 25 lines knocked out by a bulldozer carelessly operated. In such cases the linemen who discover the break repair all the lines. I believe that the senior commanders should take positive steps to make all personnel wire conscious. Obviously it is better to lay across country than beside the roads, but due to the nature of this hedgerow terrain and the rapidity of movement it has not been possible to do this.

Our main use of the W130 wire has been to pull booby traps.

The engineers trained us in the use of minesweepers. We sweep the initial route into the position, then sweep the gun locations, and then sweep the entire area. (Comment: There were a few casualties from mines in the VII corps artillery, but in general mine warfare did not develop to the extent expected. The threat of mines was sufficient to require all the necessary precautions and battalions were able to take care of themselves in this respect.)

In my opinion the most surprising tactical feature of the fight has been the manner in which heavy artillery displaces and occupies position during daylight. (Comment: Such displacements ceased after the fall of Cherbourg.)

The observation battalion has registered our 8 inch hows by sound four or five times. I would consider only one of those missions successful.

On a displacement when the entire battalion moves forward together (as was usually the case), you must be certain that your communications are in and that you have registered by a single gun taken forward with the reconnaissance personnel. We always attempt to have the set-up complete so that when the last gun drops its trail we can open fire with the entire battalion. It is pointless for the cannoneers to work like the devil preparing for action and then not be able to fire because the FDC is not ready, poor communication, etc.

When you are being annoyed by single roving guns, you must take them under fire quickly with very accurate data or you will never catch them. I feel that much of our CB fire has been wasted because the gun has displaced to another position by the time our fire arrives.

When we fire concentrations close to our own troops the Germans invariably shell our troops causing them to tell us to cease firing as our rounds are falling short. We found the best solution to this problem was to send an officer to examine the shell craters with the infantry and prove to them that it was a German shell. When once convinced the infantry has confidence in you.

A higher percentage of WP ammunition should be available. Time fire effectively neutralizes the Germans but WP will drive them right out of their fox holes.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to have one infantry unit pass through another and pick up the FO’s and the LNO’s on the way through. New FO’s and LNO’s have to be attached to the unit before it passes through.

The antiaircraft artillery automatic weapon battalion attached to the division has been most cooperative and helpful. Since their batteries are spread out with ours, their battalion headquarters is not too busy and they have provided us with personnel to help with the CP chores such as guards, KP’s, messengers, etc. We have, therefore, been able to augment the wire crews somewhat by the personnel released.

The use of the corps artillery battalion FO’s has been the subject of considerable discussion. When we are moving forward rapidly it is necessary to place the no fire line of the corps artillery pretty well in front of the infantry. As a consequence, the corps FO’s can see no targets to attack. Their presence in the front lines serves no useful purpose and yet they are up front risking their necks. Some corps battalions have ceased sending out FO’s unless there is a high OP available from which they can see in advance of the no fire line. (A rare occurrence in the Cherbourg terrain.) This problem should be well thought out by senior commanders. Some units feel that no corps FO’s are necessary and that the division artillery FO’s can adjust both their own and the corps battalion as dictated by the nature of the target. If this were the case, a no fire line would be unnecessary (except for air observers not intimately familiar with the front line situation).

The green and white bag powder situation necessitates constant shifting of powder between batteries. You have to keep a good NCO in each battery keeping track of the powder situation.

Don’t let your men discard their T/E small arms in favor of a type more to their liking as it complicates the ammunition supply.

A high burst base in the position area is most helpful, it being SOP for our battalion to put one in when the position area survey is put in. Forward OP’s are so poor it is not possible to use a short base up front.

We alternate FO’s about every two days. This hedgerow fighting is quite a strain on them and if you don’t give them a rest they become ineffective. We have found it necessary to use the 284 radio for the FO’s frequently. On occasions he uses a 609 relay to the 284.

Don’t let your staff officers heckle lower units. In most cases when you think things are going wrong investigation will disclose that everything is well in hand and people are going about their business in a normal, effective, Fort Sill manner.

You have to prod your observers to render intelligent reports. We receive frequent reports, more or less rumors on many occasions, and have a tough time tracking down the source. It is very annoying to hear a rumor that some air observer of some unit thought he saw a railway gun and then have to spend a couple of hours trying to track down the source. In the meantime higher commanders start calling you for the dope. Such incidents can upset a smooth running CP quite easily. This is particularly true when vague reports are made concerning enemy armor.

Close Liaison should be maintained between G-3, (for Air), the air support party, and the artillery. Frequently artillery can easily handle a mission for which fighter bombers have been requested. On a big air show you have to work up a counter-flak shoot to support the air.

When a battalion CO of a new unit reports for instructions, take time out to orient him on names of towns and the code names of units entirely now to him. Men you know the situation thoroughly it is easy to forget that he doesn’t and you will find that unless you give him time to digest it, he will take off on his mission in a very confused state of mind.


Related posts:

7 comments to Artillery Lessons from Normandy