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Towed Artillery

Little David
M1 75mm
M1 155mm
M1 8-inch
M1 240mm
M2 75mm
M2A1 105mm
M2A2 155mm
M3 105mm
M65 280mm
M777 LW155

The mission of field artillery is to lob projectiles of high explosives or other munitions to places relatively far away and out of sight on the battlefield. Artillery crews are usually eight to ten people, working in sections of three to four crews. Two sections comprise a battery, the equivalent of an infantry or tank company.

The towed, tube artillery are wheeled guns (technically "howitzers") that can be air-transported to support light infantry and are towed behind their "prime movers" (relatively light-weight trucks). They provide minimal protection for their crews. Firing the large shells at a rapid rate is heavy physical work.

World War I raised artillery to a new level of importance on the battlefield. When the United States entered the war in 1917, the condition, the equipment, the training, and the discipline of the American field artillery were nothing short of chaotic. Unprecedented American production and ample Allied support provided the weapons with which the American artillery had to fight. Materiel used by the Americans was mostly French, and during the war only 100 American weapons saw action. The French alone contributed 3,834 field pieces and mortars, as well as 10 million rounds of ammunition. The old 3-inch gun--the Army possessed only 600 at the beginning of the war--was replaced by the French 75-mm gun. The French 75-mm gun was the best of its type. In a war of fixed positions, artillery guns grew larger, firing ever larger shells in concentrated barrages for days at a time. The siege mortar reached almost 42 inches in diameter, and railway guns fired 210 millimeter rounds 82 miles. Trench mortars reached 170 millimeter caliber. In World War II the tank called into existence the first antitank guns. The German Gerlich gun, for example, fired a 28 millimeter round of tungsten carbide at 4,000 feet per second, and was capable of penetrating any known tank armor. A later German invention, the "eighty-eight," was originally developed as an antitank weapon but doubled as both an antiaircraft and direct fire gun. It is generally adjudged the best weapon of its kind in World War II.

The common field artillery weapon in Vietnam was the 105-mm, howitzer used in World War II and Korea; however, several carriages were used -- a low profile lightweight carriage for airborne units, the standard carriage used during World War II and Korea for infantry divisions, and the improved self-propelled carriage for mechanized units.

American advisers regained a respect for lightweight towed artillery weapons in Vietnam. All but forgotten in scenarios pitting American forces against a sophisticated enemy in Europe, where the punch of heavier artillery was required, the 105-mm. howitzer again came to the forefront as the principal Army combat artillery piece. Although the 105-mm. projectile was much smaller and thus had less destructive power than the 155-mm. projectile, the 105-mm. howitzer was easy to manhandle, was helicopter transportable, and had a high rate of fire. It therefore proved to be the most desirable US artillery weapon in counter-guerrilla operations.

The Vietminh's defeat of the French colonial force at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 is the best known military operation of the French-Indochina War. Chinese-supplied artillery enabled the Viet Minh to crush the large French garrison at Dien Bien Phu. The battle was joined in late 1953 when French forces, who had been rapidly losing ground to the popularly supported Viet Minh, occupied the town of Dien Bien Phu in an attempt to cut the nationalist supply lines into Laos and to maintain a base for forays against enemy forces. Although the Vietnamese quickly cut all the roads into Dien Bien Phu, making it suppliable only by air, the French were confident of their position. They were thus taken by surprise when the Viet Minh Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap surrounded the base with 40,000 men and used heavy artillery to break the French lines. Despite heavy US aid, the base was overrun on May 7, 1954.

In Vietnam, artillery could not be responsive if it had to be moved into supporting distance after a hamlet was attacked. A majority of the enemy's attacks were of small scale and lasted for only a short time. They normally terminated before artillery could be positioned. The artillery had to be prepositioned throughout the countryside so that the maximum number of hamlets would be under the protective umbrella of one or more weapons. The amount of artillery available and the number of positions to be occupied dictated that only two or three weapons, rather than a full battery, could occupy a single position. This piecemeal application of artillery was contrary to everything US artillerymen had learned relative to the employment of field artillery; past wars had shown that artillery was most effective when the fires of entire battalions could be massed against the enemy.

The fire base concept surpassed the most optimistic expectations. A major innovation of the Vietnam War was the fire support base. Because there were no well-defined battle lines, fire support of maneuver units could not always be accomplished from secure, behind the line positions or from major base areas. By late 1966 the usual procedure was to establish fire support bases containing headquarters elements, medical facilities, and other support activities, as well as supporting light, medium, and sometimes heavy artillery. Fire bases throughout Vietnam sustained numerous attacks in this period of maximum US troop commitment. Occasionally the enemy was able to penetrate the defenses and take a heavy toll of personnel and equipment, but he never was able to take an American fire base. At the same time, lessons learned in countering enemy attacks during this period suggested further refinements of procedures for establishing and defending a fire base. If a fire base came under attack, usually a radar at another fire base would pick up the enemy rounds before the radar on the fire base under attack would. This flexibility greatly enhanced the ability of US Forces to deliver rapid counterbattery fire.

Eventually, because of the enemy's inclination to attack such installations, fire support bases were established for the express purpose of decoying the enemy. In these instances, sophisticated target detection means including radar, sensor devices, and infrared night sighting devices were used to give warning of the enemy's approach. This combination proved to be eminently successful, and large numbers of attacking enemy forces were destroyed in several such battles at little cost in friendly casualties. The decoy concept was further expanded to include the deployment of fire support bases to facilitate screening of suspected major enemy avenues of approach.

Later in the Vietnam conflict, another generation of fire support bases was developed. Fire Support Surveillance Base FLOYD was conceived in 1970 by the 173d Airborne Brigade as a total interdiction base covering an entire valley floor. The base properly integrated sensors, radar, and other target acquisition means with the system of direct and indirect fire support. Fire base facilities were organized to enable rapid reaction to confirmed targets and to provide adequate base defense. (Diagram 2) The nerve center of the base was the tactical operations center, in which radar and optical scopes and monitoring devices were located. Installing the target acquisition means nearby insured rapid comparison of readouts and confirmation of targets. The mortar fire direction centers were also located in the tactical operations center in order to disseminate target information more efficiently to the indirect fire weapons.

The M102 105mm howitzer is a lightweight weapon used by airmobile and airborne divisions. It fires a variety of conventional munitions and traverses rapidly through 360 degrees. M102s can be dropped by parachute or transported by utility helicopters for normal movement or air assault operations. CREW: 8; RATE OF FIRE: 10 rnd/min max; 3 rnd/min sustained. Range: 11,500 meters; 15,000 meters with rocket assist.

The M198 155mm howitzer is a medium-towed artillery piece. It can be dropped by parachute or transported by a CH-47 Chinook. It is deployed in separate corps- level field artillery units, as well as in artillery battalions of light and airborne divisions. CREW: 11; RATE of Fire: 4 rnd/min max; 1 rnd/min sustained; RANGE: 18,150 meters; 30,000 meters w/rocket assist.

The M777 Lightweight 155mm howitzer is the Army and Marine Corp's next generation 155mm towed howitzer The M77 will support the 21st century Army by increasing survivability, lethality and ground mobility. The LW155 is planned for fielding to the Interim Brigade Combat Teams. The LW155 will replace the current M198 towed howitzer, which has been in the field for the last 25 years. It weighs less than 9,200 pounds with iron sights versus the M198 at 16,000 pounds. It will be moved by a five-ton truck. It will have digital fire control eventually providing capabilities similar to the M109A6 Paladin, self-propelled howitzer.

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Page last modified: 08-09-2013 19:25:09 ZULU