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US Army artillery observer/spotter training

Discussion in 'Military Training, Doctrine, and Planning' started by Riter, Jan 26, 2021.

  1. Riter

    Riter Active Member

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    What sort of training did an artillery observer or spotter get? I suspect a lot of them were from the artillery units.

    What about those guys in the Piper Cubs?
     
  2. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    In Finland we have an army section that gets the needed education. Just like guerilla troops learn morse coding.
    Here is the Finnish artillery observer mark.

    upload_2021-1-26_22-8-31.png

    [​IMG]

    Wartime "watchers". Naturally they had a radio to inform the big guns where to shoot and when.

    If you mean reconnaissance planes the same is true as above. There is the Air force unit where they are taught to fly different planes from Hornets to Hawks and modern reconnaissance planes. Or just guarding the airfield.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2021
  3. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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  4. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    The basic procedures for calling for fire are straight forward and can even be learned by infantrymen and tankies. When I was serving it was an occasional FOO duty. Here is a Canadian aide memoir about the basics. http://cfars.ca/ACP_125/ACP125_CANSUPP-1(C)_Chapter_6_10.pdf

    There is a lot more to artillery to that indicating a target. Observation of fire is only one of the key skills needed by artillerymen. The OP end needs to know the fundamental principles of gunnery, what s going on at the gun end, the capabilities and limitations of equipment and ammunition, the exact meaning of the fire orders. OP Parties also need to know how to survive in forward battle zone and how to work with the infantry and armour to deliver firepower to the manouvre arms. They must be able to tell the difference between friend and foe. Far more than the infantry and armour they needed to have very good communications as they were only any use if they could communicate to the guns.

    The US manual for field artillery gunnery was FM 6-40
    Here is the manual published in 1939
    Obsolete Military Manuals
    Here is the 1945 version
    Obsolete Military Manuals

    I could not find the details of the training courses run by the US Army in WW2.

    The observation of fire course I attended at the British Royal School of Artillery (RSA) lasted for three weeks and took place in March 1982. I had joined the army as an officer in 1979. My basic training was based on commanding an infantry platoon, and I had attended two previous courses at the RSA which had involved observing artillery fire. Some of the soldiers on the same course were commissioned warrant officers who had spent their time at the gun end never served at the sharp end before or had to work with the other arms .

    The course consisted of lectures on theory of artillery observation, artillery in all arms tactics and the enemy threat - artillery observers were expected to be good at AFV recognition so we studied a lot of Warsaw pact equipment and tactics. We practiced fire orders in a class room with a simulator. In WW2 they might have used a miniature range - the British version was called a puff range as artillery fire was simulated by blowing cigarette smoke through a countryside painted on fabric. We also practiced for about a week with real guns from 88 Arakan Battery, both of whose FOOs were on the course. We fired at targets on Salisbury Plain, pretending old tank hulks were arrays of BMPs.

    A week after the course ended the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Isles and half the course took part in the fighting to recover the islands. 88 Battery was there, supporting 2 Para. One of my classmates went over the top with H Jones' in his fatal charge. Another jumped from a stricken ship into a burning sea. Another was an LO to the navy and had to abandon ship twice. I wasn't there until long after the fighting was over.

    OP work was a team effort and training an OP party only started with the OP Officer attending a course. I did not go to the Falklands but my party were designated as Battle Casualty Replacements and ended up as the garrison. Every member of the party had to be able to use the radios and take their turn observing the zone. We practiced infantry fieldcraft, patrolling and occupying positions by day and night, first aid. We weighed our kit and worked out each man's load. We marched for miles carrying our own bodyweight and did a lot of phys. I have never been as fit as then.

    I thought I was a well trained and knowledgeable FOO - but had only scratched the surface unaware of the depth of my ignorance. It was not until I attended the All Arms Tactics Course for company and squadron commanders that I started to understand how and where firepower could be applied in an all arms battle.in different phases of war.

    This is a bit of a meandering old soldier's tale, but I hope it illustrates the point that there is a difference between being able to bring down artillery fire on a target and applying technical and tactical expertise to apply firepower.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2021
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  5. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    In the Finnish movie "Tali-Ihantala" the observer obviously was in the far front of the battle area, he had one other person to replace him so that they could sleep little times while the other was guarding. Also a radio man. The areas that were possible targets were named separately or one name ordered to fire the whole target area. I understood the observer was like a sniper andwas wanted dead as soon as possible so a couple of messages to artillery and you had been pin pointed. Sorry if I repeated something you had mentioned Sheldrake.
     
  6. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    In the U.S. Army the artillery observer was supposed to be a Field Artillery battery officer, leading a team usually composed of a EM driver, NCO signalman, and an officer observer. They reported to the Field Artillery liaison officer of the supported unit. However, typically officers of the supported units also picked up some of the basic methods of observing and correcting fires, although their role in observing fire was limited by communications since infantry and armor radio sets operated at different frequencies and on a different radio net from the artillery.

    Training in observation for Field Artillery officers was during the 12-week (Basic) Battery Officers course for new officers, which was refreshed and more practiced in the following 12-week Advanced (later Officers Advanced) course. The final "practicum" was during the unit tests and AGF maneuvers before the unit deployed.

    They were assigned to division artillery headquarters or to battalion headquarters in separate battalions. The pilot observers were FA officers who were selected and completed a Field Artillery Pilots course, which varied in length from 7 to 14 weeks during the course of the war.
     
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  7. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    The Finnish method to make all the units fire so that the firing hit the target at the same time wherever the different units were. We did not have separate firing units waiting for firing order since 1944. This would give locally a massive simultaneous hitting power even if the mortars, different size of artillery fired at different times, the firing hit the target at the same time.

    Fire Correction Circle
    Fire Correction Circle - Wikipedia

    In a military context, especially by the Finnish Non-Linear Artillery of the Continuation War, the Fire Correction Circle (Finnish: korjausympyrä) or (Fire) Correction Converter Dial (Finnish: korjausmuunnin) is a fully mechanical auxiliary device which was constructed of plywood and transparent plastic and which used to be used to calculate targeting values for non-linear artillery and mortars. By using a Correction Circle the artillery observer is able to report the necessary fire corrections to the unit firing without knowing exactly where the unit is firing from. This is achieved by having the artillery observer report targets' coordinates and azimuth (from his or her own position) to the firing units, then report corrections (both lateral and distance-) in meters after a salvo. Each firing unit would make their own calculations for correction based on their own position, target's position, artillery observer's azimuth as well as lateral- and distance corrections in meters provided by said observer, in theory allowing for an unlimited number of firing units to fire on a single target using the same target coordinates and corrections reported by a single artillery observer. The system can and is also used to quickly switch between targets within the artillery observer's vision by simply reporting sufficiently big corrections.

    As an example of this in use, during the Battle of Tali-Ihantala Finnish Army had 21 artillery battalions and one heavy battery, a total of 250 guns and mortars, focusing their fire on targets inside an area of 7 square kilometers, considered to be a world record at the time.

    Fire Correction Circle - Wikipedia
     
  8. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    This isn't far off the twelve weeks training I received on my Young Officer's course in autumn 1979 and the follow up six weeks Gun Position Officer's course I attended in 1980. But I spent the bulk of my time as an FOO after three years service. This reflects the difference between British and US practice. Maybe this was an intra service edge with the RA obtaining captain's pay for the FOO or maybe there was an advantage to having the most experienced artillery officers where they could order rather than request fire. In the first world war FOO was a subaltern's job. In WW2 the British decided it was a job for captains and majors entrusted with the firepower of a divisional or corps artillery.
     
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  9. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    I tried to find the part of the Tali-Ihantala battle where all the Finnish guns were during the same time shooing the same target area. There were some 2,000 ammo shot in 10 minutes to the same place. Unfortunately I can give you only this short footage about Finnish action starting 5 minutes before the Red Army attack.And in Finnish, sorry.

     
  10. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, we've talked about this before. I think we decided the other real problem for the U.S. Army is there simply weren't enough officers of any kind in the FA Battalion to organize a really robust FO group. There were really only the 3 Liaison Section captains at Battalion HQ and the four 1st and 2d lieutenants with each battery, so just 15 officers in total as liaison/observation. I forget what the total was for the RA Field Regiment, something like two dozen wasn't it? IIRC, one of the postwar changes in the FA was to increase the number of personnel dedicated and trained in operating a FO post.

    OTOH, each U.S. FA Battalion, with a few exceptions, did have its very own two-aircraft aerial liaison/observation section, whereas the British had to rely on support from the corps AOP squadron, so a bit of a leg up for the Yanks on that one.
     
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  11. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    I suspect both were the result of intra service politics and a bit of serendipity.

    You are right. Like the US Field artillery in WW2, the Royal Artillery expanded so rapidly in WW1 that almost any regular or territorial pre war officer ended up as a major battery commander with a five brand new officers one of which might have been a commissioned NCO. Batteries had between four and six guns during WW1 and battery commanders were majors rather than the captains who commanded infantry companies. The extra rank was justified historically because an artillery battery was a bigger command 200 men and 200 horses, and semi independent as batteries were brigaded rather than mere sub units. Within the battery guns were grouped in pairs as a section commanded by a Lieutenant. (The Infantry and Cavalry leveled up after the war so British Companies were commanded by Majors while German and US were commanded by captains).

    After WW1 batteries comprised four guns. In the late 1930s the RA re-organised to 12 gun batteries, mimicking the 12 gun battalions in other armies, and considered at the time to be the ideal fire unit. Batteries were then organised into three troops of four guns commanded by captains. This allowed the RA to spread the expertise of experienced gunners who could be trusted as battery commanders while the British Army tripled in size. This is the organisation that deployed fought and was found wanting in 1940. Within 15 months the RA re-organised to three batteries of eight, allowing enough LO teams (1x Major 2 x captain FOO) to assign one to each infantry battalion - in theory. However the stroke of a pen did not create trained soldiers extra radio sets or vehicles across the globe. Between Dunkirk and Op Torch the British only had a limited involement on land which allowed for officers recruited in 1939 to acquire the training to function in 1943-44. Richard Hughes , the author of "Sheldrake" (No relation) was a brand new 2Lt in 1940 but returned to the continent as a major battery commander in Normandy. So British smugness about the British/commonwealth fire discipline is the result of a series of botched re-organisations and the hazards of war rather than any forethought!

    The US spotter aircraft logically belonged to the artillery and was a sensible and practical. The story of the Royal ArtilleryAir OPs illustrates the baleful influence of organisational politics on military efficiency. Aerial Observation and artillery spotting had demonstrated its value on land battles since 1916. It was a major function of the RFC. RAF, the worlds first Independent Air force controlled and operated all British aircraft. It pursued pollicies that rewarded the service with funding - the strategic bomber arm and then the air defence of the UK. This was to the detriment of any activities involving the other services. Army co-operation was neglected and the experience of the army co-operation squadrons shot out of the sky in 1940 was used to replace any spotter aircaft with faster single seat fighters such as the P40 and P51.
    In the meantime a number of artillery officers had become pilots of light aircraft and convinced themselves that 1) it was easier to teach an artilleryman to fly than teach a pilot to interpret land warfare. 2) It was far easier to carry out effective aerial observation from a slow flying light aircraft than a high performance fighter. HJ (Hatchet Jack) Parham was an autogyro pilot and Jack Bazely was a member of the RA Flying Club. They pressed for the Gunners to be allowed to try these ideas out. The RAF identified this as a threat to fundamental principles of the RAF, that they owned everything that flew and did the flying.

    Parham commanded a regiment in 1940 and is credited with developing multi battery fire techniques as a CO and selling them across the artillery as CRA 38 Division and became the Brigadier RA for 1st Army in Tunisia and 2nd Army in NW Eirope. He was a forceful personality and waged a bureaucratic war with the RAF over 1) using grid references rather than the WW1 clock code. 2) RA Air OPs.

    Bazely commanded the experimental flight that proved the concept in Tunisia. Paradoxically Bazely was then promoted, with typical army logic to command an anti aircraft regiment, 92 Light AA of the 3rd British division. As it happened this was quite a happy result. 3rd British Division were in the south eastern sector of the Normandy beachhead and host to frequent visits by the Luftwaffe, some of whose fighters were keen to remove the "Iron tommy" from the skies. Bazely worked with the 1 Corps AOP squadron using the AA radars to provide early warning of German aircraft and 40mm flak traps which AOPs could withdraw to if under attack. When this tactic is used by current day multi player combat flight simulation players, the perpetrators are accused of ack starring and regarded as cheats...

    The inter service war continues between the Army and Air Force over who owns what. At the end of WW2 the Air OPs and Glider pilot regiment became the Army Air Corps. It is questionable whether the British Army or the RAF fly more airfcraft and drones. Note that the RAF's Harriers were replaced as close air support by Apache Helicopters operated by the Army Air Corps. The RAF fly Raptors, but the Royal Artillery has lots more of the observation drones...
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2021
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  12. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Do you mean you had to be a captain or colonel to run the artillery show? I might be wong here but had officers indeed to give orders to our artillery but usually leutenants who gave the order of the area that would be shot by artillery. The observer was the decider and need not be a captain or colonel in the Finnish army. Maybe I have understood wrong what tou said but the radio order was decisive where all the ammo went.
     
  13. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    You don't need to be an officer to adjust fire onto a target. Indeed when we were fire-planning my Ack (assistant) a Bombardier (corporal) would adjust the targets while I would be making the plan. The Officer's job is/was to advise the supported arm about the best way to apply firepower and as part of the artillery command structure.

    Both the British and US armies had techniques, communications and ammunition to concentrate artillery lots of artillery fire and switch it around the battlefield. Under the US system the observer requests fire and the Fire Direction Centre approves /denies that request. The British and commonwealth armies claim that by putting the officers at the front provides a faster and more effective response to the uncertainties and chaos of battle. E.g. an artillery observer sees enemy activity in an unexpected location. There is a difference between a sergeant observer telling a captain at the FDC that his understanding of the battle is wrong and a major saying the same thing. LIeutenants did get to serve as FOOs. The stress of combat in Normandy was such that the FOOs needed relief after 48 hours and the casualty rates such that promotion could be swift.
     
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  14. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    If you mean the bocage the Germans had previously marked the positions for mortars and artillery and once the Allied got to a new position the Germans phoned their guns and the shooting would hit the pre-known co-ordinates immediately.
     
  15. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    The Germans had real problems in Normandy. Sure they picked potential targets which were often well chosen based on likely enemy (allied) actions. .

    However, German mortars were far more of a problem than artillery. German artillery logistics were a shambles, hampered by by the fourteen different types of field artillery pieces in Seventh Army. The debate before D Day about where to put the armoured reserves resulted in no contingency plans for the artillery of the armoured reserves so 1st SS Panzer Corps deployed without 1:25,000 maps of the inland areas, no pre surveyed gun positions. The Germans relied on wire because they had a DF psychosis that the Allies had tactical direction finding that could hit any artillery observer in a minute. (The US may have had a capability, but British did not have this at a tactical level.)

    Can I refer you to my book on artillery in Normandy for more ;) ?
     
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  16. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    The British preference for artillery to be observed by relatively high ranking officers may go back to WW1. Here is an extract from Field Guns in France by Major Neil Fraser Tytler published in 1922 and based on his letters to his father. He was a hunter who writes at one point that he does not mind missing the deer stalking season as he is having so much fun in France. At the back of his book he included his game book - his personal score of Germans he had killed, swapping his hunting rifle for a howitzer battery. He spent WW1 stalking Germans from no mans land looking for the best place to observe fire.

    He may have been exceptional, but by and large officers are selected for their initiative and tactical skill. NCOs with the same levels of tactical skill and initiative tend to become officers.
    20210131_234931_resized.jpg

    Fraser Tytler comes from an interesting family. His is a Fraser. The Lovat Scouts were formed by his relatives at his family home. One of his relatives was Simon Fraser AKA Lord Lovat who commanded 1st Special Service (Commando) Brigade on D Day

    Neil died before WW2 of long term lung damage from WW1, but his wife became a senior officer in Britain's AA Command.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2021
  17. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Yes, if something read before can be used again. Unfortunaly that was 15 years ago. I don't recall the source.
     
  18. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    FMS B832 Debriefing with Staudinger I SS Artillery in Normandy
     
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  19. bronk7

    bronk7 Well-Known Member

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    ..I was a mortarman.....mortars set up fast....man portable ....high angle of fire.....can disperse fast...etc
    ..my Uncle was in WW2...he never said much, at all, about the war.......the one thing --of the very little he said---I remember him saying was that the Germans were accurate/good with their mortars---a very telling ''quote''
    ..I don't remember the exact quote, as this was over 40 years ago, but it was like ''''they could put their mortars in a trash can they were so accurate'''
    ....I wish I could've ''interviewed'' him about the war, but I never saw him much after I was about 13 ,,,,
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2021
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