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"U.S. and German Field Artillery in World War II: " Topic


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844 hits since 26 Oct 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP27 Oct 2018 8:05 p.m. PST

…A Comparison


"At first glance, there seems to be little difference between the artillery branches of the U.S. Army and German Wehrmacht in World War II. The American guns were a bit heavier than their German counterparts and generally had a longer range. The German 105mm was sufficiently similar to the American 105mm howitzer, and there were enough similarities overall between each army's guns to allow the U.S. Army to equip two of its field artillery battalions with captured German pieces to take advantage of the enemy ammunition stocks captured in France.

Nevertheless, evaluating an army's artillery requires a good deal more than looking at the standard guns that it deploys. To be fully effective, an artillery arm must be well supplied with suitable ammunition. There must be a sufficient supply of standard guns so that the units being supported can know what fires they can expect. It must have a good means of identifying and accurately locating a target and needs well-schooled forward observers who are in close contact not only with the batteries, but with the troops they are working with. Effective artillery requires fire direction centers that can accurately place fires and rapidly shift them from one target to another. Those fire direction centers must be able to co-ordinate with other artillery units to mass fires as needed. The guns must have effective prime movers or be mounted on tracked vehicles. There must be a sufficient supply of all of the above to meet the needs of the maneuver units or other forces the batteries are supporting. Finally, the guns must be protected from counter-battery fire or other interdiction…."
Main page
link

Amicalement
Armand

Lee49428 Oct 2018 4:54 a.m. PST

Actually aside from size and physical specs of the actual guns I don't think they were even close. The US had hands down the best logistics (ie more bullets), the best fire control ex Time on Target, ammunition such as Proximity Fuses, transport, i.e. trucks not horses, doctrine, training, quantity (esp in corps and army level assets). The Germans early on possessed an advantage in combat experience and optics/ranging to get on target faster but Hands Down the US had overall superiority. Over ANYONE in WWII or even today. IMO artillery was the star arm of US Ground Forces in WWII. Cheers!

Starfury Rider28 Oct 2018 6:30 a.m. PST

I think this same link has come up before;

TMP link

Gary

Fred Cartwright28 Oct 2018 7:01 a.m. PST

IMO artillery was the star arm of US Ground Forces in WWII.

Hmmm! I am not sure anyone could match the Russians for sheer weight of firepower for prepared bombardments. What they lacked was sophisticated fire control. The Brits could put down an impressive weight of fire in a very short space of time. Of course for the Germans early war it was the Luftwaffe that supplied the equivalent HE effect. While we tend to hear of the Stuka's disastrous time in the Battle of Britain against determined fighter opposition what we hear less about is its performance as a dive bomber. Eric "Winkle" Brown Britain's most experienced wartime Test pilot and who flew pretty well everything there was to fly said it was the only dive bomber you could truly dive vertically, making it much more accurate. As a dive bomber his opinion was it was in a class of its own. Late war the Germans didn't have the Stuka support or the shells for their artillery to match any of the allies for weight of fire.

Mark 128 Oct 2018 12:03 p.m. PST

Often overlooked in discussions like this is the simple fact that the US and the Germans even HAD 105mm howitzers.

These two armies were pretty much unique in choosing such a large caliber for their first level of field artillery piece.

Almost all other armies had first level pieces in the 75mm / 76.2mm range. The Brits were the one other exception, with their first level piece being the 3.45in (~88mm) 25-pdr. But for all of it's virtues, the "bang" of a 25-pdr shell was not much more than most nations' 75mm pieces, due to the particulars of British HE formulations and shell construction.

So yes, we can compare the US and German 105mm howitzers for the detailed differences, but we should perhaps start by mentioning they were both in a class of their own, substantially more capable than the artillery pieces of other nations in WW2.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Legion 428 Oct 2018 1:01 p.m. PST

IMO artillery was the star arm of US Ground Forces in WWII.

Armor seizes

Infantry holds

Artillery destroys

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP28 Oct 2018 2:11 p.m. PST

Training was equal…?

Amicalement
Armand

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP28 Oct 2018 5:02 p.m. PST

One thing that's often overlooked is that the American infantry's primary defense against enemy armor was not tanks or tank destroyers or bazooka or aircraft, it was artillery. Enemy tanks sighted? Call in artillery. And it was extremely effective, too. Tankers HATE artillery. Even though it rarely did much damage to tanks, the tankers would usually fall back rather than risk it.

Blutarski28 Oct 2018 6:29 p.m. PST

1 – Stukas (in vestigial numbers) were still operating over the Eastern front up until the final days of the war.

2 – "Armor seizes; Infantry holds; Artillery destroys." Interesting evolution of Petain's WW1 dictum – "Artillery conquers; infantry occupies."

3 – The book "Field Artillery and Firepower" by Maj. Gen. J B A Bailey is a good resource on this topic.

FWIW.

B

Keith Talent28 Oct 2018 10:56 p.m. PST

‘to get on target faster but Hands Down the US had overall superiority. Over ANYONE in WWII or even today.'

Royal Artillery response times were generally faster than American, weight of shell delivered in that time could be much higher (use of additional. Assets through Agra etc), and mass fires used far more guns/shells on a target. US artillery was indeed excellent, but not I'm afraid a patch on the British.

Lion in the Stars29 Oct 2018 1:54 a.m. PST

The British could definitely get more rounds on target, but by the time they were ranged in everyone under the beaten zone was under cover.

Time On Target fire missions were designed to get all the rounds landing within single-digit seconds of each other, so that everyone in the beaten zone was caught out of cover.

I know which one I'd rather have!

Fred Cartwright29 Oct 2018 2:12 a.m. PST

1 – Stukas (in vestigial numbers) were still operating over the Eastern front up until the final days of the war.

Primarily the AT G version with twin 37mm guns, IIRC. Early in the war it was Stuka dive bombing that proved key in allowing the Germans to push their offensives forward rapidly. It was Stukas that blasted the way for Guderian Panzers at Sedan, for example. There are many other examples. I am not sure the allied tac air had the same effect. They seemed to go round blowing up lots of things creating plies of rubble that were easier to defend, dropping ordnance on their own troops and destroying vital infrastructure like bridges and railways that might have been quite useful for the allied advance.

mkenny29 Oct 2018 2:49 a.m. PST

The British could definitely get more rounds on target, but by the time they were ranged in everyone under the beaten zone was under cover.

Time On Target fire missions were designed to get all the rounds landing within single-digit seconds of each other, so that everyone in the beaten zone was caught out of cover.

I know which one I'd rather have!

Only true if you ship the correct amount of ammunition into the battle-zone. However serious under-estimation of both ammo expenditure and tank losses meant the US struggled in both departments. So much that captured German guns and ammo were turned against their former owners and complete 25pdr batteries were 'loaned' to the US. That and some 350 Shermans transferred back from British reserves to help alleviate the shortages

Andy ONeill29 Oct 2018 3:31 a.m. PST

The British and US thinking was different.
My understanding:

The British reasoned that artillery was unlikely to totally destroy the enemy no matter what you did.
This was partly based on ww1 experience when they found light fast barrages and rolling barrages most effective.
This thinking was reinforced in ww2 when they found a fast response tended to pin the enemy better.
Maintaining that barrage and pinning meant lighter shells were good because crews handled them faster and with less fatigue. And you could deliver more of them to the guns in the same truck.

It was a carefully considered decision to prefer the 25pdr to the 4.5" ( 114mm ).

I can't imagine being the target of either 105s or 25pdr was a whole lot of fun.

Wolfhag29 Oct 2018 9:19 a.m. PST

The papers I've read about suppression in an artillery barrage is determined by the number of "bangs" per minute. That's why the 105 and 25lb were good because of good performance and sustained fire as Andy said.

If the assault followed the rolling barrage close enough you could catch the defenders attempting to arise from their underground protection and attempt to conduct an effective defense. The timing of the barrage was crucial. If it was lifted too soon the defenders could recover and mount an effective defense. If too late you get the attackers going into their own barrage. I think you needed 150mm+ with delayed action fuses to get into underground bunkers.

The US would try to have 25% of the artillery beaten zone in front of the enemy defenses to create a smoke/debris screen and to create shell depressions for the assaulting infantry to take cover.

Those sneaky Russians would at the height of a heavy barrage, cease-fire of some batteries to create a corridor about 200m wide for tank and infantry units to shoot through while the flanks continue under the barrage. The idea was to bypass defenders and penetrate into the rear areas.

A German FW190 pilot explains how low-altitude attacks against tanks were performed:

"Against the enemy tanks and armored vehicles, we usually made skip-bombing attacks, running at speeds of around 485km/h at between 4 and 10 meters above the ground and releasing the bomb just as the tank disappeared beneath our engine cowling. The 250kg bombs used during these attacks would either skip off the ground and into the tank or else smash straight into the tank.

The bombs were fused with a one-second delay to give us time to get clear before they went off. It was a very accurate form of attack and we used it often against tanks caught in open country."

Wolfhag

Thomas Thomas29 Oct 2018 10:37 a.m. PST

I believe it was Pershing who recommended the US adopt 10.5s instead of the French 7.5 (of which we had a large supply). Despite its reputation Pershing felt it was not "heavy" enough to deal with trench systems. Not sure how Germans came to same conclusion but they seem to have been the only armies to grasp this lesson. (UK somewhat in the "middle" ground on this issue.)

TomT

Fred Cartwright29 Oct 2018 11:08 a.m. PST

"Against the enemy tanks and armored vehicles, we usually made skip-bombing attacks, running at speeds of around 485km/h at between 4 and 10 meters above the ground and releasing the bomb just as the tank disappeared beneath our engine cowling.

That is low. 4m is 15'. I had a friend who flew Buccaneers for the RN and they went down to 100' which he said was pretty exciting. Mind you they were doing 600mph. 485km/h is about 300mph. Still bl**dy fast when only 15' is separating you from splattering yourself all over the landscape.

Wolfhag29 Oct 2018 11:19 a.m. PST

Fred,
Yes, and then have to worry about getting out of the blast radius of the 250kg bomb along with AAA fire!

Wolfhag

emckinney29 Oct 2018 9:13 p.m. PST

"That is low. 4m is 15'. … 485km/h is about 300mph. Still bl**dy fast when only 15' is separating you from splattering yourself all over the landscape."

The Breguet 693 was designed for ultra-low level attacks as well, although not specifically in an anti-tank role. It had an internal bomb bay for eight 50kg bombs with 8-11 second delay fuses to give the "Assault Bombers" time to get clear.

Did the German bombs have some aerodynamic retardation or a nose design to slow them down? Otherwise, I can't see how a 190 could get clear of the fragment zone in time.

UshCha30 Oct 2018 12:52 a.m. PST

My reading though not as extensive and perhaps a bit modern is that the Artiilerys job on the battlefield is to Suppress and fix in place. Now as mentioned by Wolfhag suppression is about the number of bangs and so smaller calibers have some advantage.

As to destruction of trench systems, this typicaly requires enourmouse amomouts of ammunition and so is not generally practical. It did happen on occation but it was rare.
The current manual on US artillery notes that full barrages even of todays size and quality do not have over much impact on fully emplaced troops.
In many cases long range large calibre guns are used to target soft targets in the rear like assembly points and suppy depots.

Wolfhag30 Oct 2018 9:11 a.m. PST

emckinney,
From my past reading, a long time ago (Rudel's book?), there was nothing special about the bomb. I looked at the angle from the pilot's eye and the top of the engine and it is about 3-5 degrees. This means the release point was from about 200m-300m away from the target. That's pretty insane if you ask me. I've heard of 500lb bomb near-miss flipping a Tiger I upside down so you don't need a direct hit.

One factor to consider is the blast pattern of a bomb that is horizontal to the ground (not perpendicular like one dropped from altitude), it's in a mostly butterfly pattern with fragmentation going mostly perpendicular to the plane. Only a fraction of the fragmentation goes in the direction of the nose or tail of the bomb.

At 485kph he's traveling at about 135m/s so even if the bomb and he arrive at the target at the same time the one-second delay would put him at about 135m away which should be far enough to be safe from the blast and fragmentation. Now, what happens if the bomb bounces OVER the target and continues to follow the plane if it moves straight? This has some interesting potential in a game.

Probably the best course of action for the pilot is to stay low, straight and level after dropping. He'll be by the tank before the bomb hits and should be safe and the tank should help shield him from fragments and blast. I don't see how taking evasive action at that height and climbing will only make him a better target.

Wolfhag

Lion in the Stars30 Oct 2018 5:32 p.m. PST

Did the German bombs have some aerodynamic retardation or a nose design to slow them down? Otherwise, I can't see how a 190 could get clear of the fragment zone in time.

As Wolfhag said, that bomb is going off about 135m behind him. Multiply by most of the fragments going perpendicular to the bomb casing (since the bomb is designed to hit nose-first), it's relatively safe and very accurate.

Not sure I'd want to be 15-30 feet off the ground at 260 knots, though!

William Ulsterman01 Nov 2018 7:39 p.m. PST

Every nation in WWII used a TOT bombardment, or a variant upon it – it wasn't an exclusively US artillery tactic. The article is quite wrong about this. You could argue that the German artillery was actually equipped by 1943 with whole brigades of artillery specifically designed to deliver TOT bombardments – the Nebelwerfer brigades. In almost every first hand front line account allied soldiers basically fear: 1. The Tiger tank, 2. The "88" and 3. The moaning minnie, screaming meemie, or the donkey. That article makes not one mention of the nebelwerfer. It isn't so much a comparison of two rival artillery schools as a repeating of WW2 cliches and anecdotes.

Wolfhag01 Nov 2018 9:10 p.m. PST

Ulsterman,
I think what made the US ToT unique was the calculations the batteries made when they set up and the ability to coordinate the timing and firing of many different batteries from many different locations, sometimes 9+ battalions coordinating their fire. These thousands of calculations were made without computers and needed good current photo recon pictures.

In the Bulge, American divisions had no problem massing the fires of their 48 organic pieces of artillery. Although the massing of fires was normally limited to the fires of one division, at Elsenborn, by 20 Dec. there were four divisions defending the critical hinge of the northern shoulder. The V Corps Artillery Commander, Brig. Gen. Helmick, seized the moment and authorize the 2nd Division Artillery to coordinate the fires of all four divisions. On 22 Dec., the fires of three divisions (129 available guns) were massed by the 2nd Infantry Division on a single target. (It never became necessary during the battle to mass the fires of all four divisions.) On the 22nd, the 2nd Division fired 63 TOTs — mostly with 44 guns permission.

I don't think the Germans did this on the Eastern Front because of lack of accurate maps, communication, ammo, no spotter planes and no photo recon. There may have been examples in W Europe of coordinating Neberwerfers with 105, 155 and 175mm guns but I'm not aware of it nor of divisions coordinating a shoot.

This describes other details and the British "ToT" the Stonk:
link

Wolfhag

William Ulsterman01 Nov 2018 9:41 p.m. PST

Yes Wolfhag, I know that – but the article claims that the ToT was an exclusively US artillery innovation which it was not. The article purports to be a comparison of US and German artillery, which it is not.

The Germans most certainly DID fire coordinated bombardments, doing so on the very first day of Operation Barbarossa and continuing to do so at Leningrad, Sevastopol, Stalingrad. The point is that with the nebelwerfer the Germans didn't need to co-ordinate it with other artillery units – in Normandy allied troops were caught time and again by ToTs fired by Nebelwerfers, who didn't need a mass of calculations and FDCs. My point is that the German artillery developed a weapon that just fired ToTs all the time. This was the only thing a nebelwerfer battery could really do (aside from lay a smoke screen). You couldn't do anything else with it. And this article just completely ignores that, which renders the article rather hopeless, in my view.

Wolfhag01 Nov 2018 10:57 p.m. PST

The article leaves a lot to be desired.

Wolfhag

Andy ONeill02 Nov 2018 4:16 a.m. PST

Largely academic but…

The multi barrel nebelwerfers couldn't fire all rockets at once.
There's a 1 second delay between each.
Where you see the bloke turning the gizmo, each is a rocket. From one or more launchers.
Each volley from several nbw would usually be ToT.

YouTube link

Starfury Rider02 Nov 2018 8:33 a.m. PST

I must admit reading back on that article I find it quite irksome in parts. I couldn't see a bio of the author, so don't know if he's got 30 years gunnery service under his belt or is an author and historian of note. Whatever the case is the article doesn't evaluate the two artilleries equally and ignores outright the gunners of every other army, as this is seemingly a two-horse race.

It's an undeniable fact that the US Field Artillery went from a standing start to a highly efficient arm of service within a very short period of time between 1939 and 1942. Unit organisation was extensively overhauled and new 105-mm and 155-mm pieces were introduced before the US Army was committed to action against German ground forces in North Africa. The FA units that fought in North Africa and Europe proved themselves professional and proficient in their trade. They could not however perform magical like acts that no other artillery could.

"The Trüppenführung, the basic statement of Germany's war fighting doctrine, stated that the "Artillery must be used with great mobility to achieve its full effect." The U.S. Army's artillery achieved that goal far better than the Wehrmacht or any other army during World War II."

The article is written as a direct comparison between US Army and German Army artillery. It barely references the presence of British (ahem, Royal) Artillery and the only mention the Red Army gets is when they were towed by US trucks. If you are really going to use an absolute to write-off the mobility of every other artillery in WW2 (and there were a lot of them involved, that's partly what all the noise was) at least offer a smidgeon of evidence to back up a rather grand claim (especially as the RA was fully mechanised in 1939). And if your piece is pitched as a death match between US and Nazi gunners only, why bother mentioning anyone else at all? It's not polite to talk about them when they're not invited to the party.

"America added another element to forward observation: the light airplanes previously referred to by Rommel."

Yes, they did, ten light aircraft per Inf Div and eight per Armd Div. RA and RCA units did not have any organic Air OP at Div level. They did have Air OP Sqns with 12 aircraft each that worked with Div Arty and AGRAs as required, and had had them for a while, normally on the basis of one per Corps HQ.

Already covered in part by earlier posts, the TOT reference;

"(A German Officer)…was captured and in his possession was a map showing all of the German artillery positions in the area. It was turned over to the division artillery which conducted a simultaneous TOT shoot on all of the German positions. No other artillery in the world could have done that at that time."

Another absolutism, ironically absolutely unsupported. Also no context, no date (presumably early 1945?) and just how many German Artillery positions were 'in the area'? If you don't know how many targets they're engaging, how impressed do you know to be?

"In Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign for France and Germany, 1944-1945, American military historian Russell Weigley makes much of ammunition shortages, arising largely out of the difficulties in getting ammunition from Normandy to the fighting fronts. According to Weigley, this limited the effectiveness of U.S. artillery. This seems overblown. He is correct that the American forces did not always have as much ammunition as it might wish because they preferred to use their guns to pound German positions. In the fighting for Hill 192 outside of St. Lô, the 2d Infantry alone fired up to twenty TOTs a night to keep the defenders off balance. During interrogations, German prisoners of war (POWs) in France frequently remarked on the heavy volume of American fire they had experienced."

The ammunition shortage experienced by US artillery units in late 1944 into early 1945 has already been mentioned earlier. It is not referenced in the article that I can see. Plenty of debate on how acute it was and who's fault it was, but real enough for some US units to convert to foreign equipment for a while at least.

"Part of the reason American artillery was so effective was good forward observation." (Comment – does the way this sentence reads suggest to the uninformed reader that ONLY the US FA had FOOs, because that was certainly not the case).

Oddly enough only a single FOO team was authorised for the 105-mm Bty in an Inf Div (Change No.4 of 16th June 1944 to T/O&E 6-26 of 15th July 1943). Someone in the Bty must have been performing this role previously but a dedicated FOO was a long while in coming. Study No.59, Organization and Equipment of FA Units produced in the immediate postwar period states that it was 'common practice' for one FOO and party to be supplied to each Rifle Coy of an Inf Regt, total nine, but there were only three authorised parties per 105-mm Bn, requiring six more to be formed from existing and committed resources, which placed 'great strain' on direct support Bns.

Also, if this is a contrast between US and German artillery means and methods, what exactly does it offer on German practice? They had radios, they had well developed telephone links (seemingly preferred it to radio but they used both), they had FOOs, they had Div and higher Arty units, they had SP atk guns, they had 12-cm mortars, and they had Nebelwerfers as mentioned above. I can't pretend to be terribly well versed in German artillery methods but after reading that I'm still no better informed. I can well believe that many people with relatively general knowledge of the war and the capabilities of the participants are disbelieving when told that German guns were heavily reliant on horses for movement. Still, I'd like to have seen a context, such as German Inf Divs were principally furnished with horse-drawn guns, while Mot and Pz Divs had motorised or SP guns. Not sure German SP equipment even gets a mention in there?

If this were one of the deluge of internet WW2 pieces with deliberately provocative, 'clicky' headlines (which is a topic in it's own right) I wouldn't care, but it's on the website of the National Museum of the US Army, which would suggest it's been reviewed?

The US Field Artillery was extremely good at its job; so was the RA, the RCA, the NZA, the RAA and so on. So too were USMC artillery units. None of them possessed superhuman abilities in terms of targeting and accuracy, including the US Army's FA, though a few experts and commentators seem to advance that proposal with relish.

Gary

wargamer602 Nov 2018 12:55 p.m. PST

The article written on artillery tactics makes a lot of unsubstantiated claims about US and British Artillery.
British artillery doctrine was evolved during 4 years of bitter wartime experience on the Western front and further improved in the first 4 years of WW2, making the Royal artillery the most professional branch in the British Army by 1944.
By comparison the US entered WW2 with French equipment consisting of hopelessly outdated 75mm field pieces that could not fire at high angles. Presumably the tactics they learnt at Fort Sill were based on the French systems of WW1 as the equipment was the same.
If it took the British 8 years of wartime experience to evolve a good system of artillery, then are we to suppose that the US entering the war with outdated French equipment achieved the same level of efficiency within one year without considering the methods used by their British allies and adapting them to suit their own forces needs.
What I see in these articles suggests that the US invented TOT, they invented proximity fuses and their British allies did not make compensations for weather and other climatic conditions, so their fire was less accurate than the US artillery.
Before we go any further with this let me state that the US artillery arm by 1944 was as effective as the British Royal Artillery and was in many respects better equipped but please let us give just a bit of grudging respect to our allies who learnt their craft through 8 years' experience of attritional warfare.

"A technique called Time on Target was developed by the British Army in North Africa at the end of 1941 and early 1942 particularly for counter-battery fire and other concentrations, it proved very popular. It relied on BBC time signals to enable officers to synchronize their watches to the second".

"British military researchers Sir Samuel Curran and W. A. S. Butement invented a proximity fuse in the early stages of World War II under the name VT."

During the WW1 the Royal Artillery considered variables like barrel wear, climatic conditions, Temperature and barometric pressure, are we to suppose that they dropped this practice in WW2.

Blutarski02 Nov 2018 6:49 p.m. PST

Interesting info on this site -
link

B

Wolfhag02 Nov 2018 9:15 p.m. PST

Blutarski,
I beat you to that link.

Great minds think alike!

Wolfhag

Lion in the Stars03 Nov 2018 1:44 p.m. PST

@Starfury Rider: As I understand the US artillery system, the US didn't use FOOs (as in, Forward Observer Officers). The US used various Forward Observers to request fire from the FDC, while the British FOO directly commanded fire.

The US FDCs could deny or reduce priority of a fire request, but the British batteries fired as soon as the FOO said so.

Blutarski03 Nov 2018 5:46 p.m. PST

Hi Wolfhag,
LOL! Totally missed your earlier link post. Great site, though.

B

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