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M2A1 105mm Howitzer

It was not until after the fall of France in June 1940 that the War Department made a concerted effort to replace the obsolete 75-mm. gun with the 105-mm. howitzer, the weapon that was to become the backbone of the divisional artillery in World War II. Because of conflicting views within the Army as to the proper role of the 105-mm. howitzer, its adoption as a replacement for the 75-mm. gun was delayed until after World War II began in Europe. In the years immediately after the Great War, most artillerists had seen the 105-mm. howitzer as a replacement for the 155-mm. howitzer, the divisional general support weapon. But as the years passed and the 75-mm. gun became more obsolete, many artillerymen wanted to adopt the 105-mm. howitzer as a replacement for the 75-mm. gun instead.

In 1930 Chief of Field Artillery, Major General Harry G. Bishop (1930-1934), reported that ten altered M! howitzers, redesignated the M2 105-mm. howitzer, were being manufactured. The following year, the War Department sent four M2 howitzers to Battery F, 1st Field Artillery Regiment, The Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, for testing. At the conclusion of the trials, the school reported in 1931 that the M2 howitzer tube was satisfactory but that the carriage could not be towed at a high-speed by a motor vehicle and required a recoil pit for highangle fire missions. Even though the school found the M2 howitzer to be inadequate, it still expressed faith in motor-drawn field artillery. 37 Limited funds, however, forced the War Department to stop the manufacture of the M2 howitzer in 1934 and the development of a carriage, left the division without a light howitzer for general support, and compelled keeping the M1918 155-mm. howitzer in the division.

Pushed by General Bishop, the Army War College, and the existence of obsolescent guns, howitzers, organization, and technique, the War Department stepped up the pace of modernizing its field artillery in the 1930s. Because of the decline in the horse population in the United States and a modernization program initiated in 1933 by Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacAtthur (1930-1935), the War Department decided to motorize fifty percent of its light field artillery. Although they expressed faith in the basic idea of the weapon, the Field Artillery School staff found the M2 unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. Nevertheless, after extended testing and some modifications, the M2 model of the 105-mm. howitzer was approved as a standard on 23 May 1934. Because of reductions in allotments, however, its manufacture had to be eliminated from the program for fiscal year 1934. Again in 1935 redesign of the 105-mm. howitzer's carriage was postponed to enable the modernization of the 75-mm. gun, the weapon that was fast becoming the Army's idea of an all-purpose gun.

While resistance from conservative field artillery officers hindered adopting towed light artillery, the War Department motorized fifty-six of its eighty-one 75-mm. gun batteries by 1940 and had even developed an experimental motor-drawn M2 105-mm. howitzer.

In June 1938 Chief of Field Artillery, Major General Robert M. Danford (1938-1942), directed the Field Artillery School to determine the best combination of weapons for division artillery. Specifically, he wanted to know whether the 105-mm. howitzer should be used with the 75-mm. gun in the division or whether it should be the sole weapon. The school categorically rejected replacing the 155-mm. howitzer with the 105-mm. howitzer as a companion piece for the 75-mm. gun because it only offered mobility.

At the same time, employing the 105-mm. howitzer as the sole weapon had merit. Such an arrangement would simplify supply, maintenance, training, in some instances organization, and increase firepower, but it would reduce mobility unless a larger truck was used to pull the piece. Assaulting the orthodox position of a 75-rmm. gun and 105-mm. howitzer combination for the division and realizing that motorization had improved mobility the Field Artillery School wanted 105-mm. and 155-mm. howitzers as division artillery.

The triangular division consisted of combat infantry and supporting arms and services. The division had three infantry regim.nts, a reconnaissance troop, engineer battalion, medical battalion, quartermaster company, ordnance company, signal company, military police platoon, a band, and division artillery. Commanded by a brigadier general, division artillery had 144 officers and 2,439 enlisted personnel and was composed of three 75-mm. gun battalions (thirty-six guns) for direct support and one 155-mm. howitzer battalion (twelve howitzers) for general support because sufficient quantities of 105-mm. howitzers were unavailable.

The War Department saw the 75-mm. gun as an all purpose weapon and noted in 1939-40 that the M2 105-mm. howitzer's range was shorter than the M2 75-mm. gun's, that it took longer for the howitzer to go into action, that the howitzer had still not been proven in battle, that there was a surplus of 75-mm. guns and al. munition, and that replacing the 75-mm. gun with the 105-mm. howitzer would be expensive.

Events in 1940 finally forced the War Department to recast its division artillery. Reports prepared by field artillery officers during maneuvers in April and May reaffirmed the necessity of supplanting the 75-mm. gun with the 105-mm. howitzer. Moreover, the Germans' success with pieces heavier than the 75-mm. gun in its division artillery convinced the War Department to reevaluate keeping the 75-mm. gun. In June 1940 after Germany had signed an armistice with France, the Organization and Training Division (G-3) of the General Staff sent General Danford a memorandum announcing its decision to arm division artillery with 105-mm. and 155-mm. howitzers. Nevertheless, many divisions continued equipping their field artillery with 75-mm. guns until 1943 when 105-mm. howitzers became available in large numbers.

The M2 105mm howitzers was later to be known as the M101A1.

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Page last modified: 29-05-2019 19:05:25 ZULU