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Fire Direction, old school

tft_and_plotting_board1.jpg
The one thing after airpower the Germans feared was US artillery. Quality, quantity, technical superiority (the VT fuze), mobility, and above all else, flexibility. Modern fire planning for barrages and set-piece artillery attacks, etc, can be traced back to Oberst Bruechmueller of the German Army in WWI. There is no doubt that for fixed planning of fires the Germans were at the top of their game. So were we. So were the Russians. Where we kicked *everybody* else was in our ability to mass fires on the fly, and to bring every tube in range to bear on a target – especially in the “TOT” manner. Add vehicular mobility and the VT fuze to that mix, and US artillery dominated any fight it was in.

Everybody with the basic technical skills can do that, execute preplanned fires – give me the time you want the rounds to land, I calculate firing data, note the time of flight, back TOF from the TOT, and then shoot. Lather, rinse, repeat with the next target. With a published fire plan and target list, everybody can do that. The Germans, to get some flexibility in the defense, especially, would plan “fire boxes” with pre-computed data, so that anyone who knew the plan or had the graphics could say “Execute Fire Box Brunnhilde!” and the guns would know what to do. We had the same thing. We just called them “groups.”

But after everything starts moving, the ability to do so “on the fly” degrades rapidly. Our system of distributing forward observers (whose only job was to find targets and adjust fire onto them, and do local fire planning – vice data calculation) who sent their requests, via wire or radio, to fire direction centers back by the guns. Those fire direction centers in turn were wired together laterally and hierarchically, with radio back-up, allowing a higher headquarters to intervene and direct other artillery units to engage a target, whether at will or via a TOT.

The Germans, Brits, Russians, all had their battery commanders forward, acting as observers, who would compute data at their end and send it to the guns – they didn’t have the networked fire direction centers. There are those who thus argue the German system is superior – the guns are allegedly more responsive to the ground commander, and the observer is the data computer. The problem with that lies in that the Lieutenant in a hole with a company commander, if he had a juicy enough target, could get a division’s worth of fire on that target very quickly, and shift those fires quickly. And if the Lieutenant got snuffed, the FDC was still intact, so anyone who could read a map and operate a telephone/radio could still get access to fires.

I’ll take our approach. But the true strength of our artillery was the system – from the organization, to the guns, the ammunition, and the motorization. That’s what made our guns so dominant, and survivable – especially in the mobile phase of a battle.

5 Comments

The Engineer in me likes and approves that picture.
 
Grid reader - check, range hatchet - check.  Do you have the nearest finance office plotted so you can send them some mail when they screw up your pay?
 
Who cares about all that plotter stuff.    Math is hard.

Look at the COOL TENT POLE RIFLE RACK at the right!
 
 MGen 'Dinty" Morrison, CRA, sez,"You're welcome".

Cheers
 
 Looks like the old gang is slowly reassembling as the word gets around. It's so good to have you back John!