Fire And Ice: Preparation And Employment Of Marine Artillery In Cold Weather
AUTHOR Major Philip C. Rudder, USMC
SUBJECT AREA Artillery
TITLE: Fire and Ice: Preparation and Employment of Marine
Artillery in Cold Weather
I. PURPOSE: To explain how Marine artillery prepares for
cold weather warfare and to describe problems which must be
addressed in employing artillery in cold weather conditions.
II. THESIS: To provide effective fire support, Marine
artillery must be prepared to defeat the effects of cold
weather through detailed planning, preparation and execu-
III. ISSUE: Warfare in cold weather is harsh and de-
manding. The impact of extreme temperatures on men and
equipment can be devastating to military operations. Combat
forces which are unprepared for the effects of cold weather
will fail to accomplish their mission. Providing fire
support is particularly difficult due to the environment and
the diverse terrain of cold weather regions. Artillerymen
can prepare themselves for combat in cold weather regions
through detailed planning and preparation. Once properly
prepared, execution of fire support responsibilities can be
accomplished by using cold weather skills and techniques.
Issues of specific concern to artillerymen are positioning,
mobility, communications, gunnery and logistics.
IV. CONCLUSION: Artillerymen can provide uninterrupted
fire support in cold weather if they plan for the effects of
extreme temperatures. Through the study of warfare in cold
weather, artillerymen can prepare themselves by obtaining
the proper equipment and by training Marines in the neces-
sary skills to not only survive, but to effectively perform
FIRE AND ICE:
PREPARATION AND EMPLOYMENT OF MARINE ARTILLERY
IN COLD WEATHER
THESIS STATEMENT. To provide effective fire support, Marine
artillery must be prepared to defeat the effects of cold
weather through detailed planning, preparation and execu-
I. Cold Weather Conditions Described.
A. Types of Cold Weather.
B. Effects of Wind Chill.
II. Planning Considerations.
III. Preparing for Cold Weather Operations.
IV. Tactical Considerations.
FIRE AND ICE:
PREPARATION AND EMPLOYMENT OF MARINE ARTILLERY
IN COLD WEATHER
On the night of November 12, the first icy
blasts of winter swirled down from Manchuria. The
temperature dipped to -25 degrees, and the wind-
chill factor was indescribable. During the
interludes of cold weather that followed, the
effectiveness of our fire support decreased. The
combat effectiveness of the individual Marine, who
had to devote an increasing portion of his
energies to personal survival, also plummeted.
This account of conditions at the Chosin Reservoir in
Korea in 1951 by Colonel Francis Fox Parry, then a major
commanding 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, captures the
devastating effects of fighting in extremely cold condi-
tions. When men fight in a cold weather environment, they
fight more than each other. They also must fight the cold.
History has repeatedly shown us that General Winter is
a harsh, merciless adversary. (10:121) Napoleon's ill-fated
invasion of Russia in 1812 and Nazi Germany's attack on
Moscow in 1941 are good examples. Unable to achieve their
objectives before the Russian winter set in, these armies
were subjected to the rigors of extreme temperatures and
deep snowfalls.(4:89) Ultimately, both armies were in-
capable of effectively continuing the fight; beaten more by
the harsh winter conditions in which they found themselves
than by their human opponents. (2:212-223 & 1:64-68)
Warfare in cold weather or the arctic does not mean
business as usual. It requires innovation and adaptability.
Our own experience in Korea in 1951 provides a model to
study. We were not prepared to fight in the conditions in
which we found ourselves. (10:121) Ill-clothed and untrained
for the weather, Marines made heroic efforts to continue to
fight despite their lack of preparedness. (8:2-1 -- 2-4)
Marines were forced to change their techniques in battle to
achieve the same effects as when the weather was more
The character of warfare does not change in cold
weather. Units must still effectively perform their
missions. This is particularly true for Marine artillery.
Inclement weather conditions may preclude air operations,
making artillery the primary means of fire support. (8:2-4)
Artillerymen must stand ready to deliver fires to support
the infantry under all conditions. Through detailed
planning, preparation and execution, artillerymen can defeat
the effects of cold weather and provide timely and accurate
The Marine Corps divides cold weather into types of
cold weather. Four different distinctions are made: wet
cold, dry cold, intense cold and extreme cold. Wet cold is
characterized by varying temperatures that cause alternate
freezing and thawing. Dry cold conditions are temperatures
lower than 14 degrees F. Intense cold occurs when tempera-
tures are between -5 degrees and -25 degrees F. Extreme
cold conditions are those below -25 degrees F.(9:1-1 -- 1-2)
All cold weather conditions affect the way soldiers
fight. Most combat activity occurs in wet cold and dry cold
conditions. Intense cold slows down the level of combat
activity and extreme cold conditions inhibit full-scale
combat. (9:1-2) The level of training and access to special
clothing and equipment, or the lack thereof, will determine
the effectiveness of a fighting force. Equipment, too,
succumbs to the effects of the cold. These effects usually
occur in intense and extreme weather conditions. (9:1-1)
Wind chill further increases the effects of cold
weather. Winds make it much colder than the ambient
temperature suggests. The effects of wind chill can make
Marines numb and indifferent to events occurring around
them. (9:1-2) At extreme temperatures, wind chill accentu-
ates the cold. The battle for personal survival becomes
dominant. All other problems become insignificant to this
personal struggle to survive. (9:1-2)
In planning for cold weather operations, artillerymen
must look carefully at the effects of the cold on people and
equipment. Cold weather operations demand close attention
to logistical planning and training more than any other type
of military operation. (8:4-2) Severity of weather, lack of
roads and lack of mobility must be considered in all phases
of planning. (3:2-1) Development of logistics plans,
operational plans and training requirements from the pre-
deployment phase to in-theatre operations requires the close
personal attention of the commander. (3:4-1) Proper prepara-
tions for cold weather combat will give Marines an advantage
against General Winter and possibly over the enemy as well.
Historical study of warfare in cold weather regions
illustrates this last point. In 1939, the Finns and the
Russians fought the Winter War over territory along their
border. The Finns were well prepared for winter warfare
while the Russians were not. (7:45) Many Russians died that
winter because they were inadequately clothed and equipped
for cold weather. In 1941, the Germans experienced the same
fate in the same region because they did not study the
lessons that the Winter War offered to them. (5:2 & 8) More
recently, the British Royal Marines, who train extensively
in cold weather regions, wrest back the Falkland Islands
from Argentina. In contrast, the Argentinian conscripts,
who were suffering terribly from the Falkland's harsh
environment, were unable to muster the will to fight. (6:321)
Preparing for combat in cold weather requires attention
to detail. Resupply and communications between units may be
difficult. Provisions must be made for units to be largely
self-sufficient and to operate autonomously if required.
(3:2-1) Both Marines and their equipment must be prepared
for the difficulties of operating in a hostile environment.
The effects of the cold on the operational efficiency of
units can be minimized if planners concentrate on two key
areas; personal and special cold weather equipment for their
Marines and specific cold weather training.
Personal cold weather equipment has improved signi-
ficantly since the Corps fought in Korea. No longer do we
have bulky parkas and heavy under garments. A new system,
the Extended Cold Weather Clothing System, known as ECWCS,
has replaced the 1950's era clothing.
ECWCS is made of synthetic materials designed to wick
away moisture from a person's body. This is particulary
important in cold weather when sweat soaked clothing can
chill the wearer to the bone. This clothing system has
proven extremely effective in all types of cold weather.
Artillerymen benefit from this new clothing in several
ways. Moving heavy artillery pieces in snow or man-handling
ammunition requires a remarkable amount of physical exer-
tion. Clothing which wicks away the sweat from the can-
noneers will allow them to work the guns longer before they
must come out of the cold to warm themselves. Another
benefit is that ECWCS keeps less physically active Marines,
such as fire direction personnel or Marines on guard, warm
Artillerymen also must use special organizational
equipment to further increase their efficiency in cold
weather. Arctic tents, two hundred pound sleds, called
ahkios and yukon stoves are used to augment the normal
complement of organizational equipment. This additional
equipment is used at the lowest level in the battery, by gun
crews and communication sections, to protect Marines from
the cold when resting or sleeping.
Good equipment may protect us from the cold, but
training will make us effective cold weather fighters.
Special skills are required to fight in cold weather.
Practical training to teach these skills prepares Marines to
deal with the cold and overcome its effects.
Individual training must be conducted before Marines
deploy to cold weather regions. People need to know how to
live in cold weather and how to use the special cold weather
equipment that has been issued to them. Instruction on cold
weather skills must begin early in the pre-deployment phase.
Training must repeatedly reinforce the point that a person
can not only survive in the cold, but he can remain tacti-
cally and technically proficient in his duties as well.
Artillerymen receive essentially the same cold weather
training as that received by infantrymen. Physical con-
ditioning is very important. Marines will expend a greater
amount of energy keeping warm and walking through snow than
they expend in temperate climates. (9:1-4) They must learn
to recognize the symptoms of cold weather illnesses and how
to prevent them. How to correctly wear their cold weather
clothing and how to use their cold weather equipment are
basic to this course of instruction. Classes on survival
techniques must be taught and reinforced through practice.
The basic thrust of individual training is to create a
sense of confidence in each Marine that his equipment is
reliable and that he can survive and operate in this harsh
environment. Once his personal fears of living in cold
weather are eased, a Marine can be counted on to accomplish
his mission effectively.
More important than individual training of Marines is
the training of small unit leaders. It will be the crew
chiefs and section leaders who motive an artillery battery
to operate smoothly in cold weather. NCO's are the tent
leaders who supervise the buddy system used in cold weather
operations. They enforce the regimen for bivouac routine,
personal hygiene and field sanitation. (9:6-1)
Small unit leaders must learn many things before they
can effectively lead their Marines in cold weather. They
must learn to recognize and counter depression brought on by
an over-concern for personal safety. They must learn to
recognize and cure the "cocoon" syndrome, where people
bundle up in successive layers of clothing, cover their
heads and assume an inward focus. (9:1-4) They must learn
how to maintain their equipment and weapons. Each leader
must understand that to lead people in cold weather requires
increased activity and vigilance on his part if his unit is
to be successful in combat. (9:1-5)
Unit training before deployment presents a problem.
Using cold weather equipment in a temperate climate where
there isn't any snow may ruin it. Marines may not fully
understand how this equipment works without having snow in
which to use it. Nevertheless, units must practice the
additional tasks and techniques required to operate in cold
weather regions. It is imperative that individual skills,
survival techniques and bivouac routines are practiced once
deployed to a cold weather environment.
Commanders must learn that time to execute tasks is
increased when operating in cold weather. (9:1-4) Tasks that
are done quickly in warmer climates take much longer to
execute in the cold, as cold Marines fighting fatigue
grapple with equipment. This is especially true of artil-
lery units where emplacement of howitzers, fire direction
centers and communications sites require increased man-
handling of equipment. (11:179)
The time it takes to move from one position to another
position increases, too. Cold weather and snow prevent
rapid movement by units that are dependent on wheeled
vehicles. Warming vehicles, driving over icy roads and
moving through snow cause units to take longer to displace
than they would in a more temperate climate.
Maintenance and operation of equipment in cold weather
regions must be taught. Equipment will require special
maintenance and starting procedures in the cold. Drivers
must learn to drive on ice and snow covered roads. Pulling
artillery pieces of any size or driving heavily ladened
vehicles demands concentration and quick judgement when
brakes fail. The operation of bulldozers and front scoop
loaders requires different techniques in snow covered areas.
Vehicle operators must be aware of the hazards of working on
frozen ground and ice covered surfaces. If possible, they
should develop their skills before deployment or immediately
upon arrival in a cold weather climate.
Forward observer teams and liaison teams assigned to
the infantry must receive training different from that
received by the rest of the battalion. These Marines must
train with their assigned infantry units. They must fully
integrate themselves into the tent teams and bivouac
routines the infantry use. They must be as proficient at
snowshoeing and skiing as the infantrymen they support.
Once properly clothed, equipped and trained for cold
weather operations, artillerymen will find that their fire
support responsibilities in cold weather regions are the
same as in other areas. (3:3-5) Yet, the geography and
climate of cold weather regions cause unique problems for
artillerymen. Problems of positioning, mobility and
communications are increased with the ability of the
infantry to move rapidly over the snow. (3:3-5) Gunnery
solutions and logistics are also affected by cold weather
Positioning of artillery in cold weather regions
requires detailed preparation and a thorough study of the
terrain. Roads may be few and unsuited to heavy vehicle
movement. Traversing the terrain by cross-country movement
may be limited if operating in regions where the soil is
predominantly tundra. Tundra must freeze to a depth of
approximately 18 inches to hold vehicles. If it doesn't, it
will not hold wheeled vehicles much less howitzers. (3:3-6)
The rule of thumb is to position batteries in winter only in
places where you also would position them in summer.
Swift occupation of firing positions is critical to
effective artillery support. Time required for reconnais-
sance, selection and occupation of positions in cold weather
is significantly increased. Battery commanders may need
snow clearing equipment to prepare positions for occupation.
Snow clearing equipment does not travel as fast as HMMWVs or
trucks, so the rate of march will be much slower. Clearing
snow from positions will take time, especially if the snow
is deep (18 inches or greater). Positions may require one
or two days of preparation before they are ready for
Snow clearing equipment can be a scarce commodity, as
all elements of the force will require its use. Therefore,
battalion commanders must carefully plan new battery loca-
tions in anticipation of the infantry's movement. Close
coordination with snow clearing platoons is critical to
success. In the offense, once a position is secured by the
infantry, no time must be lost in preparing it for occupa-
Organization for combat will play an important part in
positioning artillery. Because of the compartmented nature
of terrain in most cold weather regions, the ground com-
mander may operate in regimental combat teams vice a
division. (3:3-1) If this occurs, the direct support
artillery battalions must take on the added task of counter-
fire. (3:3-6) Additionally, the regimental commander may
further task organize into battalion size task forces, which
may require a battery in a dedicated battery role to an
infantry battalion. (7:42) This will greatly reduce the
artillery battalion's ability to mass fires. Careful
discussion must precede such a decision to emphasize that
fire support may be degraded to the force as a whole and
that logistical burdens will increase.
Mobility of artillery units must be considered by the
ground commander. By its very nature, artillery must deploy
with heavy vehicles and equipment to perform its mission.
Movement will be slower than that in a temperate climate.
In cold weather regions, this lack of mobility may hinder
the ability of the infantry to advance as quickly as they
are able. Positions must be planned so that batteries can
range the zone of action by fire and communicate with
forward observers and supported infantry units.
With our current inventory of M198 155mm howitzers,
artillery battalions are completely road bound. Dis-
placement by helicopter will only be possible if CH-53E
helicopters are also deployed with the force. Cross-country
mobility will be dependent upon the depth of the perma-frost
and the depth of the snow. The venerable M101A1 105mm
howitzer, or its replacement, would solve a few of the
artillery's mobility problems, but not all of them. (7:45)
Trucks pulling guns and hauling ammunition will be the major
factor to overcome in all movement schemes.
Communication is the deciding factor in how successful
artillery units are in accomplishing their mission. Cold
weather makes great demands on communications systems.
Northern regions are subject to magnetic storms, aurora
borealis and ionospheric disturbances. (3:5-1) The cumula-
tive effects of terrain, cold, dampness and ice on communi-
cations equipment increases maintenance and supply problems.
Transmission and reception of radio signals are dependent
upon the full effort of operators and repairmen in the
installation and operation of communications equipment. (3:5)
Siting of antenna farms is perhaps the most critical
element for good communications in cold weather. Antenna
farms should be sited up high to maintain line of sight with
maneuvering infantry units. If Marine artillery units are
using over the snow vehicles, such as the Norwegian BV-206,
the communications section must have priority for their use.
These vehicles can get personnel and equipment up on ridges
to choice locations.
Radio relay sites also must be planned into the artil-
lery's movement plan. Because of the lack of roads in cold
weather regions and the inherent lack of mobility in
artillery units, the infantry may move away faster than
artillery batteries can displace. Relay sites allow the
artillery battalion commander to remain in contact with the
supported infantry units. Communications are normally lost
with our infantry brethren long before they move out from
under artillery protection. Proper planning can preclude
lost communications and subsequent lack of artillery fire
Laying wire for communications will be an exacting task
in cold weather, but no less important. A more secure means
by which to communicate, wire is less affected by magnetic
and other natural disturbances. However, the wire section
will have problems running wire over extended distances
through deep snow. Wire operations may be relegated to
defensive operations more than offensive operations.
Nevertheless, if the occasion to run wire presents itself,
artillery units should wire in. The use of snowmobiles to
lay wire should be seriously considered.
Solution of the artillery gunnery problem takes on
added dimensions in cold weather warfare. Cold weather
regions have a variety of geographic features. High
mountains, deep forests and vast stretches of plains are all
found in cold weather regions. These terrain features can
affect the accuracy of fires and alter how fire direction
officers attack targets.
Forward observers may have trouble making accurate
target locations due to the difficult terrain. Target
location errors may be exacerbated by inaccurate maps and
the inability to gauge distances or use lasers in the snow.
Observation also may be limited during periods of fog,
snowstorms, or blowing snow. (3:3-7)
Survey operations to accurately locate positions may be
difficult in cold weather. Some places where Marines may
fight will have excellent survey control points already in
place. Norway is a good example. However, other areas may
be devoid of survey. In these areas, surveying battery
positions will be difficult. The Position Azimuth Deter-
mining System, PADS, will aid to a large degree. However,
once surveying parties go off the beaten path, problems will
arise. Traverse surveying techniques may prove impractical
over large distances in the snow. (3:3-7) Instrument fog-up
and other mechanical failures will be experienced. (3:3-7)
Triangulation surveying techniques will become more practi-
cal than traverse techniques. (3:3-7) The newly installed
Global Positioning System may be the best way to determine
position. This system, based upon the use of satellites,
may prove extremely helpful to all units in regions where
survey control and maps are inadequate.
Loss of range is yet another gunnery concern. A reduc-
tion as great as 100 meters per every 1,000 meters of range
can be expected in extremely cold temperatures. (3:3-8)
Great care must be taken in firing near friendly troops or
over intervening crests. Registration of batteries should
account for the decrease in range. However, the terrain may
hinder the artillery's ability to register. Rounds may be
lost in snow or tundra, or unobserved in deep forests or
dense brush. (3:3-7) High burst registrations will be the
most accurate way to register. Meterological data and
muzzle velocity error methods of increasing accuracy, known
as Met + VE, should be used vice registering.
The selection of shell/fuze combinations to attack
targets will be dictated by the terrain and cold tempera-
tures. Snow and unfrozen tundra reduce the effects of high
explosive rounds, improved conventional munitions and
scatterable mine munitions. Variable time fuzes and
illumination rounds may malfunction in extremely low
temperatures. (3:3-8) Rounds may skip when the ground is
frozen and there is little snow cover. High explosive air
bursts will produce the best effects on the target.
Experimentation must occur to find the most effective
shell/fuze combinations for the conditions.
Logistical support by combat service support units will
be critical to the success of artillery units. Fuel,
ammunition and equipment repair are of utmost importance to
artillery units operating in the cold.
Artillery units use greater amounts of fuel as the
weather becomes colder. Once the temperature reaches 14
degrees, vehicles must run constantly or be started every
hour to prevent cold soaking of engines and drive trains.
Failure to keep vehicles up and running could mean the
difference in moving forward to provide timely fire support
or becoming ranged. Unit refuelers take on even greater
importance in cold weather operations.
Ammunition resupply takes longer in cold weather.
Artillery ammunition of any size and amount will be cumber-
some to deliver over frozen ground or deep snows. The few
routes available for resupply may be blocked by traffic,
enemy activity or ice and snow. Resupply by helicopter is
an attractive alternative. However, its use is dependent
upon good weather. Commanders must constantly monitor their
ammunition count and plan well ahead for resupply.
Cold weather greatly increases the maintenance problems
of artillery units. Batteries, starters and seals are the
first casualties of cold weather. Vehicles may become
disabled due to cold soaking. When this happens, they must
be warmed in a shelter for several hours before they can be
restarted. Howitzers will react to the cold by losing
nitrogen pressure as the cold compresses gases. Frequent
checks of howitzer recoil systems and equilibrators will
detect these problems before they become serious.
Repairs to equipment will be harder to make in cold
weather. Replacing parts on vehicles will take longer.
Mechanics will be exposed to fuels and lubricants, in-
creasing the chance of frostbite. Commanders must allot
extra time for performing maintenance. Lack of proper
maintenance of equipment will eventually decrease operation-
al effectiveness. Finally, a shortage of repair parts may
require the MAGTF commander to authorize cannibalization of
Cold weather operations are difficult and rigorous.
They present artillerymen many challenges in providing
timely and accurate fire support. Planning and preparing
for cold weather combat requires study of the effects of the
cold on men and equipment. Cold weather operations demand
meticulous planning and the commander's close personal
attention. Properly clothed, equipped and trained Marines
will have the skills and confidence to execute their duties
Fire support responsibilities remain unchanged, yet
different ways in positioning units, achieving gunnery
solutions and maintaining communications are required.
Renewed emphasis on maintenance of equipment is essential
lest a battalion degrade its ability to move or fire.
History has shown us that those unprepared to fight in
the cold will perish in the icy grip of General Winter. In
today's Marine Corps, the experiences of the Marines who
fought their way back from the Chosin Reservoir have not
been forgotten. We train hard in places like Bridgeport,
CA, Fort Mc Coy, WI and northern Norway to prepare ourselves
for combat in cold weather regions. Now, if General Winter
chances again to put us to the test, he will find us ready
and able to do battle.
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