Employment of AAA in Anti-tank Role

A report on the activities of antiaircraft gun battalions in the antitank role during the Battle of the Bulge reproduced from “Antiaircraft Artillery Notes,” HQ ETO, No. 15, January 1945:

Subject: Employment of AAA in Anti-tank Role
Source: AA Section, Headquarters Twelfth Army Group

During the recent German Ardennes offensive the 110th and 143rd AAA Gun Battalions, and Battery D, 639th AAA AW Battalion, were placed in anti-tank support of the 30th Infantry Division, in the Malmedy-Stavelot-Stoumont sector. The Division has submitted a report of the activities of these units, and made recommendations for future employment of AAA in an anti-tank role, (See ETOUSA AAA Notes No. 14 for a detailed account of the activities of the 143rd AAA Gun Bn during this action.)

Report of 30th Infantry Division

a. The above listed units were attached to the Division at 210030A December 1944. Prior to daylight of the 21st, liaison was established with the Division by the 11th AAA Group, and by each of the attached units. Upon the arrival of these representatives they were given maps of the area and were fully informed of the tactical situation. A map reconnaissance was made, and officers from the supporting tank destroyer battalion accompanied the antiaircraft officers on their ground reconnaissance, and assisted in the actual placing of their guns in firing positions.

b. The general method of employment was to place the guns so that they could effectively block by fire critical avenues of enemy tank approach within and into the Division’s sector. Guns were so sited along these avenues that if one gun was overrun or knocked out, enemy tanks would still have to confront another gun, and in some cases two guns, along the same road. The automatic weapons with each 90mm gun were so placed as to afford all-round protection to the gun crew from enemy infantry. The 40mm guns were placed to afford flanking fire, supplementing the fire of the 90mm guns against tanks. The gun crews were then dug in as infantry around the gun position for all-round protection, with a minimum crew to man the gun and the residue to fight as infantry, using individual weapons. In addition, an outpost was established along each avenue of approach to give warning of tank approach. This outpost was dug-in along the road and was provided with a “Daisy-Chain” of antitank mines to protect the road as necessary. Each gun crew was supplied with additional mines to place around the gun position for further protection. In addition each gun was provided with illuminating flares for night use. Due to the tactical situation the initial occupation of positions was extremely hurried. In some instances, antiaircraft officers made their reconnaissance for gun positions under enemy small arms fire, due to the fact that there was an enemy penetration which, although being contained, was still active in the sector assigned them. This hasty occupation of positions was done with speed and dispatch, all concerned doing a splendid job in a very short time, and even though guns were hurriedly placed the men dug in very rapidly. Due to the limited depression of the 90mm gun it was necessary in some cases to cant the base of the gun forward to effectively cover a downhill slope. As the enemy threat lessened, positions were continually improved and a number of guns were resited. Again, as the situation changed, better positions were found and guns were again moved. This necessitated a considerable amount of work on the part of all gun crews, but in all instances the work was expeditiously accomplished, (Later, with the detachment of the 143rd Battalion at 010300A January 1945, all but seven (7) guns of the 110th Battalion were forced to move to new positions to take over critical points vacated by the 143rd.)

c. The final picture found the antiaircraft guns so placed that they provided depth to the antitank defense within the Division sector, and were generally sited with the forward guns in the vicinity of the Regimental Reserve Line, with tke remaining weapons extending to the rear. This provided infantry protection to the guns, and also provided a pivot of maneuver for the employment of the self-propelled tank destroyers, two platoons of which were held in Division Reserve. Plans were made for the effective employment of the self-propelled tank destroyer platoons to supplement all forward 90mm gun positions,

d. The climatic conditions in this area necessitated the placing of the 90mm guns in numerous instances to cover roads for frontal fire instead of flanking. Visibility at times was reduced to less that fifty (50) yards by fog; however guns were placed in the majority of cases to effectively block by frontal fire, and in addition, in clear weather, to be used to cover a secondary target at great distance.

e. Some positions were exposed and it was necessary to occupy them at a time when they would not be under enemy observation. Dusk or early morning were found to be the best times.

f. Each gun crew made a plan for all-around defense against enemy infantry, tanks, and parachutists, each man knowing his position, field of fire, and what he would do in the event of an alarm.

g. In addition to the outpost a maximum crew of five (5) men was used to man the 90mm gun. At all times one (1) man was alert to give the alarm to the others in the vicinity of the gun positions.

h. Range cards were constructed showing key points and ranges and azimuths thereto so tanks could be effectively engaged when approaching from any direction. Overlays of all gun positions were made available to the Division War Room and to all infantry units. This aided the infantry in coordinating the antitank defense within their zones.

i. Recommendations.

(1) In all cases an outpost must be established; in some cases the “Quad 50” was used as this outpost. To obtain the element of surprise when there are no enemy infantry with their tanks, it is recommended that the “Quad 50” hold fire until the 90mm guns have fired their first round. After the tank is fired upon by the 90mm gun all weapons should fire at the tank to cause it to “button up,” or to destroy the crew as they emerge from the tank after it is hit. When enemy infantry accompanies the tank, which is usual, all weapons should hold their fire as long as possible. This allows the tank to come within sight of the 90mm guns.

(2) Care should be taken to retain the integrity of each battery by placing its guns in the same general locality. This facilitates supervision on the part of the battery commander and aids communication, which is a difficult problem.

(3) When 90mm guns are employed in an antitank role, some provisions should be made to provide each gun with a radio. It was impossible in this case to do that, so wire was laid to each gun position. This is feasible when a division zone is not too wide, but is extremely difficult when a division zone covers a wide frontage and guns are greatly dispersed. An addition of a SCR 610 radio to each gun would solve this problem. Communication is vital to warn guns of the approach of tanks.

(4) Placing the 90mm guns generally from the Regimental Reserve Line backward permits utilization of some of the Regimental antitank guns to further supplement the strong point established by the 90mm guns. These 57mm guns should be placed to provide flanking fire on the main avenues of approach.

(5) Extensive use of mines should be made by the infantry to canalize the penetration of enemy tanks, and to protect routes not effectively covered by the 90mm guns.

(6) Assistance should be given by tank destroyer officers to antiaircraft units in placing their guns. This was done in the situation described above. This familiarizes the tank destroyer unit with the location of the 90mm guns, and facilitates the employment of the antiaircraft guns in this role, causing better integration of the antitank defense.

(7) Due to the limited depression of the 90mm gun it may be necessary in some instances to cant the base of the gun forward to effectively cover a down hill slope.

(8) The antiaircraft commander should be given up-to-date picture of the tactical situation so that he can keep all batteries fully acquainted with the possibility of approach of enemy tanks. This was accomplished in this division by having the AA officer work in close coordination with the Division Antitank Officer and the War Room.

(9) Liaison should be maintained with adjacent units.

(10) One officer should be with each gun at all times if possible.

(11) At least one-hundred (100) rounds of ammunition should be kept at each gun position, the amount being equally divided between HE and APC.

(12) If friendly tanks are operating in the vicinity use should be made of the tank and tank destroyer officers for positive identification of enemy tanks. This was done by the 143rd Battalion at Roanne, where, as a result of positive identification, three (3) enemy tanks were knocked out at a great distance, even though the tactical situation was at that time obscure.

(13) Battery commanders within regimental zones should check with the regimental S-3 for coordination of 57mm and 90mm guns.

(14) Reconnaissance for better positions should be continuous, and improvement of positions should constantly be exercised.

(15) Guns should be sited, generally, to prevent enemy tanks from approaching artillery positions.

(16) All gun crews should be imbued with the idea of standing off enemy infantry at all costs, as it is impossible to move the 90mm gun while it is under enemy small arms fire. For this reason care should be taken to place the 90mm guns so that they will not be readily overrun by a small local enemy penetration.

(17) Where relief of guns must be made, care should be taken to accomplish this “piece-meal” so that the entire defense is not thrown out of gear at any time.

(18) Positions on roads should be avoided where possible. In some cases it is necessary to place guns on roads due to the haste engendered by the tactical situation; however, later readjustment should be made. It has been found in all cases that the road could be effectively covered from a position usually at a road turn and well off the pavement and out of sight from anyone approaching along the road.

(19) Camouflage is extremely important for the 90mm gun. It is rather difficult to obtain this due to the size of the equipment. A “tree-planting” campaign was carried on which aided in properly concealing the guns. Care was taken to place prime movers away from the gun positions. Bull-dozers were used to aid in digging in the guns, thus reducing the silhouette. Care was taken when guns were moved after snow had fallen to minimize tracks.

(20) When an antiaircraft unit is reporting on an antitank mission, advance liaison should be established early, as it was in this case, to expedite dissemination of necessary information, procurement of maps, and advance reconnaissance of positions,

(21) Divisions should make available to antiaircraft units such equipment as mines, flares, bull-dozers, and communication facilities, such as wire crews and wire.


Related posts:

Comments are closed.