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M2 75-mm gun

Although the War Department retained the other 75-mm. guns, it announced a plan to arm its field batteries with the M1 after sufficient numbers had been manufactured. Yet, only a few M1 75-mm. guns were purchased. A surplus of 75-mm. guns from the war and devotion to economy in government prevented Congress from authorizing procuring the M1. Consequently, the War Department continued using the M1916, the M1917, and the M1897 into the thirties. However, the introduction of light field howitzers with greater power, longer ranges, and equal mobility made these 75-mm. guns obsolete.

The high cost of manufacturing the M1 75-mm. gun to meet mobilization requirements along the lines of the Great War eventually stimulated finding a less expensive way of equipping the division with a modem 75-mm. gun. Because of the large stock of M1897 75-mm. guns on hand, the War Department decided early in the 1930s to improve the field gun's range and mount the weapon on a modem carriage. In 1930-31 the Ordnance Department developed a high-explosive shell that used trinitrotoluene, commonly called TNT, amatol, and explosive D as propelling and bursting charges for the M1897 to give the piece a range of 13,600 yards. Subsequently, the Field Artillery Board tested the gun in 1932-34 and found it to be acceptable. In view of this, the War Department designated the gun the M2 75-mm. and put it into limited production in 1936. Meanwhile, the War Department started work on a carriage for towing at high speeds behind a motor vehicle.

The inability to produce enough M1 105-mm howitzers because of limited funds forced the War Department to revamp division artillery. In 1929 the War Department reinstated the M1918 155-mm. howitzer in the division. This gave the division a field artillery brigade of one regiment of tractor-drawn 155-mm. howitzers and two regiments of horse-drawn 75-mm. guns commanded by a brigadier general. Each 75-mm. gun regiment had two battalions, six batteries, and twentyfour pieces, and the 155-mm. howitzer regiment had three battalions, six batteries, and twenty-four howitzers.

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. In fact, Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall (1939-1945), opposed abandoning the 75-mm. gun and ammunition. Like many of his predecessors, Marshall was reluctant to spend money on new weapons in peacetime when a surplus from the Great War existed.

The attempt to realize the ideals of the Westervelt Board had resulted in the production and modernization of the 75-mm. gun as an "all-purpose" weapon. The gun was a remarkable accomplishment in design, but in reality it was inadequate for either of its primary purposes. It did not have the necessary characteristics of a first-class antiaircraft gun, and it was too heavy and complicated for division-supporting missions. Its range had been improved by the modifications in its carriage, but its trajectory was still flat and its projectile was not as powerful as that of weapons with higher calibers.

In the early months of 1939 Congress was planning its military appropriations for 1940. Noting threatening conditions in Europe, it was anxious to be prepared for a possible war. After the Bureau of the Budget had approved the authorization for modernizing the 75-mm. gun, Congress tried to eliminate it.

The report of the Senate subcommittee on appropriations contained the following statement: "The 75-millimeter gun is being supplanted in foreign armies with the 105-millimeter weapon, which has greater range and fires a heavier missile. Our Ordnance Department is developing such a gun and, undoubtedly, will be ready to go into production. If that is to be the weapon of the future, the committee questions the wisdom of continuing to spend large sums on the old 75's."

The War Department objected strenuously, stating that the range of the 105-mm. howitzer was somewhat less than that of the 75-mm. gun, that the 105 required a longer time to go into action, that the 105 had not been proven in battle, and that there were still about 3,500 French 75-mm. guns with ammunition left over from World War I. Chief of Field Artillery Danford pointed out that replacing the 75-mm. gun with the 105-mm. howitzer would cost $87,500,000. This figure did not include manufacture of the 105's ammunition, of which there was none on hand. The modernization program was reinstated in the Appropriations Bill for 1940.

In February 1940 Chief of Staff George C. Marshall reported that progress had been made "in the important program for modernizing our field-artillery weapons." Appropriations permitted 1,439 of the 75-mm. guns to be modernized, and Marshall thought the modified piece especially suitable for fire against mechanized targets and unsheltered personnel. Still thinking in terms of a defensive war on this continent, Marshall noted that "concrete fortifications and masonry villages of European battlefields may dictate a need for a weapon firing a heavier projectile thanthe 75-mm. gun, but our forces would rarely be confronted with such targets in this hemisphere." 2 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.

By June 1940 it became obvious that massive rearmament would be necessary. Manufacturing more 75-mm. guns, weapons that had been in use for over forty years and were only being modernized as an economy measure, was not the answer to the rearmament problem. In addition, the real need for heavier artillery weapons in the infantry division became clearly evident when reports prepared by field artillery officers during the maneuvers held in April and May became available for study. Almost unanimously, the officers recommended removing the 75-mm. gun from the division artillery and substituting the 105-mm. howitzer.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 29-05-2019 19:05:26 ZULU