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M1 / M2 155mm "Long Tom" Towed Gun - Italy

The invasion of Sicily began 10 July 1943. By the afternoon of D-day the beach below Gela was piled for miles with boxes, bags, and crates of every shape and description. The very rapidity of Seventh Army's advance made Ordnance support difficult. The combat forces outran their Ordnance support. General Patton, dashing about in a command car decked with oversize stars and insignia or poring over maps in his office with, his G-3, planning the tactics of his Seventh Army, seemed to General Bradley to be "almost completely indifferent to its logistical needs."

The reason for many of these troubles was Seventh Army's supply system. When the ammunition began to move inland Ordnance officers began to worry. They observed that the Engineers considered it just so much tonnage, moving small arms ammunition first, because it was the easiest to handle, disregarding tactical requirements and the recommendations of their Ordnance liaison officer. Three out of four ammunition dumps established by Seventh Army were overstocked with small arms ammunition and never had enough 105-mm. and 155-mm. artillery ammunition, which was what II Corps wanted most.

It took heavy artillery to blast the enemy out of his Etna position on the Messina neck. The Germans had begun to dread the Americans' "mad artillery barrages," which they nicknamed Feuerzauber or "fire magic."45 Keeping the guns operating was the most serious Ordnance maintenance problem of the last two weeks of the campaign. The problem began about 24 July when several field artillery units were transferred from Provisional Corps to II Corps, bringing II Corps artillery to 60 155-mm. howitzers, 25 155-mm. guns, and 54 105-mm. howitzers. Most of the 155-mm. howitzers were of the M1917 or M1918 type and some of these, Ordnance officers surmised, had been used ever since World War I. Many were already worn out, a few actually condemned, before they arrived in the theater. Others had had hard service in the Tunisia Campaign and afterward not enough assemblies or parts had been available in North Africa to do more than patch them up. They began to fail the first day they were fired in Sicily, and soon 18 were out of action. The new 155-mm. M1 howitzers functioned much better, but had all the idiosyncracies of a new weapon; they also often arrived without spare parts and such accessories as telescopes.

To repair the guns and howitzers at the Etna position there was only the 18-man artillery section of his 83d Heavy Maintenance Tank Company. None of the men had ever worked on either the 155-mm. howitzer or the 155-mm. gun, and had no tools for either. Operating near Nicosia, so close to the front that they could plainly hear small arms fire, the men manufactured tools and reshuffled serviceable assemblies. They sent out contact parties to work at the gun positions at considerable risk. On 16 August a battery of 155-mm. howitzers was wheeled into position on the coast road and fired a hundred rounds on the Italian mainland—the first U.S. ground attack on the continent of Europe.

For most of the Italian campaign, the brunt of the long-range heavy artillery duels was borne by the 155-mm. Long Toms. Massed close behind the front lines and fired for 90 percent of the time (instead of the conventional 20 percent) at maximum range with supercharge ammunition, they performed nobly. This unorthodox use, which had begun in Tunisia, soon wore out the tubes.

A correspondent who visited an Ordnance heavy maintenance company near the Volturno River has left a vivid description of the tube-changing operation, which "looked like a meeting of dinosaurs. Heavy wreckers with long-necked cranes sparred and maneuvered through the mud. One eight-wheeled wrecker with an enormous boom backed up to the gun and the boom was hooked to the worn-out gun barrel. A second wrecker edged its way up, until its winch was in position to ease the great gun carriage forward. When the old tube had been extracted, the new one, as long as a telephone pole, and weighing 9,500 pounds, was lifted into the air. To act as counterbalance for the heavy breech end while the tube was being lowered into place, a group of men jumped up and sat astride the muzzle end of the gun like a row of schoolboys on a seesaw."

Tubes and other gun parts wore out so fast that the criteria of supply — the time factor and the number of guns — were meaningless. When this became apparent in the fall of 1943, Colonel Urban Niblo, Ordnance officer of Fifth Army, came forward with a suggestion that the time factor be ignored and that the supply of gun tubes, gas check pads, and other items be based on the only factor that really counted—the number of rounds fired. Aware that tubes began to wear out after about 1,200 rounds, causing thrown rotating bands and short bursts, he suggested that with every 1,200 rounds of 155-mm. M1 gun ammunition requisitioned, one gun tube and three gas check pads be authorized.

Colonel David J. Crawford at AFHQ followed up with an official recommendation that spare guns or gun tubes and spare gas check pads be provided on the basis of the amount of ammunition manufactured for the weapons, and General Wells, chief of Ordnance's Artillery Division, backed him up. Unfortunately, the policy could not be put into effect because there were not enough of the items, especially the tubes, in the United States. The stalemate at Anzio and the increased effort on both fronts brought alarming demands for tubes.

Allied (Expeditionary) Force of the North African Theater of Operations (NATOUSA) asked for 192 in February 1944—96 for immediate replacement and 96 to be shipped not later than 15 March. That many were not available. By robbing the Navy, the European theater, the British, and troops in training in the United States, 144 could be made available, but only 48 replacements could be provided by 15 March. Colonel Niblo therefore had to inform the Fifth Army Artillery officer that for two or three months restrictions would have to be placed on firing the Long Toms.

This experience confirmed Niblo in the belief that firepower was the sum of five factors: first, a complete round of ammunition; second, a gun tube that had not reached the limit of its serviceability; third, equilibrators (if applicable) to elevate the muzzle properly; fourth, a recoil system that met certain standard pressure tests; and fifth, a serviceable gas check pad.

He was convinced that gun tube, equilibrators, recoil system, and gas check pad must be arranged for, beginning with the manufacturing program and ending with the distribution over the zone of combat, in proper proportion to the amount of ammunition supplied. He called this concept "balanced artillery firepower," and it was the subject of considerable discussion in Ordnance supply circles in May 1944.50 As yet it was only theory. As the battle for Rome began, a battle in which artillery was to play a great role, Niblo was forced to confess that "we are keeping just one jump in front of the sheriff in trying to make our ammunition, tubes and recoils balance out and still meet tactical demands."

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Page last modified: 29-05-2019 19:05:27 ZULU