Artillery Observation

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Pips
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Artillery Observation

Post by Pips » 30 Aug 2021 05:20

All the major armies made widespread use of small, light, single-engined aircraft for daytime artillery observation. The British used the Taylorcraft Auster, the Americans the L-4 Piper-Cub (Grasshopper), the Germans the Fi 156 Storch and the Soviets the Polikarpov Po-2 (I think). Unsure what the Japanese used, if anything.

Although these aircraft often faced severe ground fire from small arms and light flak, I've never come across any accounts of them being shot down by opposing fighters (in marked contrast to artillery spotter losses in The Great War).

I have read several autobiography's by these pilots:
Above the Battle, by Ronald Munro.
Above the Thunder, by Ray Kearns
Grasshopper Pilot, by Julian Cummings
All very interesting reads.

Anyone know of any instances where this may have occurred?

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 31 Aug 2021 18:12

Over Normandy in the summer of 1944 the rule for the L5 pilots was '1000 up & 1000' back'. That is if you were closer than 300 meters from the enemy ground troops or below 300 meters altitude you were at high risk to fire from German infantry & the light FLAK behind them.

We were trained to hang back and low, turning towards the target & popping up when we got "Shot" on the radio from the fire direction guys or battery. That indicated the rounds were in the air and would be impacting the target area in five to thirty second, depending on range. Usually time of flight would be calculated or guessed & given to the air observer to better time his observation.

To actually shoot down one of those you had to hit the pilot, or more rarely a critical component. Also these aircraft were designed to land on unpaved roads & fields, so a emergency landing was a option a lot more often that with a damaged Spitfire or P47.

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Sheldrake » 31 Aug 2021 22:41

One British semi official account is source is Unarmed into Combat by E M G Belfield and H J Parham,

The pop up technique was used in dangerous area - and described as the "classic" method evolved at Larkhill. I recall this method being practiced by some AAC unit on a shoot with me as the passenger helping the pilot practice the technique. The norm seems to have been to several thousand feet.

There was more fighter action over the British sector in Normandy. It was easier for the Germans to get at and get home. The Orne bridgehead was a particularly attractive target. In one operation by 51st Highland Division fifty seven sorties were flown, including forty-nine shoots, all over the Benouville Bridge area. More than twenty seven enemy aircraft tried to interfere. Captain Bawden and his rear observer Gunner Passmore were shot down by five Me109s. They made a safe landing although Passmore was wounded. These five Me109s patrolled the area and drove the AOPs away but they never pressed their attacks once the pilot had seen them and taken evasive action. Three Me109s were shot down by our flak and one by Spitfires.

By a co-incidence the commander of the Light AA Regiment in the 3th Infantry Division north fo Caen was Jack Bazely who had pioneered the Air OP concept. (Of course being a pioneer in air observation made him a natural candidate to command a light AA regiment, as clearly his work in air OPs was done...._) But id did help as Bazely organised a safe area for air OPs ringed with 40mm guns and with a light warning radar on the Air OP net to warn of inbound enemy aircraft.

Captain Ian Neilson wrote of his exploits in the 2008 RA Journal.
.....without prior arrangement, during three of the shoots he had escorts of four, eight and thirteen Spitfires. During one shoot, directed at about 2,700ft, his aircraft was surrounded by a dogfight between four Spitfires and three Fw 190s, who were much too busy shooting at each other to worry about shooting at his Auster.
Baldwin, Frank. Gunners in Normandy . The History Press. Kindle Edition.

Ten AOP pilots were killed out of an establishment of 119 pilots in the seven air OP squadrons. The five Tac/R Mustang squadrons, with an establishment of around 100 pilots, lost twenty dead between D-Day and 1 September 1944, around twice the proportion of fatalities suffered by the seven AOP squadrons.

German fighters found it very hard to engaged alerted light aircraft as they could turn far tighter than a 1940s fighter. In Tunisia Captain Macgrath was set upon by five Fw190. He took violent evasive action then flew into a hollow in the hills and made a series of steep turns which could not be followed by the Fw190. They eventually flew away. Two AOPs were shot down by fighters over Anzio. The germans may have sneaked up on one but the other was evading two Fw190 when the third got him.

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Pips » 03 Sep 2021 01:55

Thanks for the info guys, greatly appreciated.

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Urmel » 04 Sep 2021 08:12

Sheldrake wrote:
31 Aug 2021 22:41
By a co-incidence the commander of the Light AA Regiment in the 3th Infantry Division north fo Caen was Jack Bazely who had pioneered the Air OP concept. (Of course being a pioneer in air observation made him a natural candidate to command a light AA regiment, as clearly his work in air OPs was done...._) But id did help as Bazely organised a safe area for air OPs ringed with 40mm guns and with a light warning radar on the Air OP net to warn of inbound enemy aircraft.
He must have been getting on as a Lieutenant Colonel if he pioneered airborne observation for shooting guns, which is a WW1 concept.

Also used from early on in WW2. (Please note the article needs to be rewritten as it wasn't that innovative as a principle, as noted above):

https://rommelsriposte.com/2019/12/30/i ... -spotting/
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Sheldrake » 04 Sep 2021 09:12

Urmel wrote:
04 Sep 2021 08:12
Sheldrake wrote:
31 Aug 2021 22:41
By a co-incidence the commander of the Light AA Regiment in the 3th Infantry Division north fo Caen was Jack Bazely who had pioneered the Air OP concept. (Of course being a pioneer in air observation made him a natural candidate to command a light AA regiment, as clearly his work in air OPs was done...._) But id did help as Bazely organised a safe area for air OPs ringed with 40mm guns and with a light warning radar on the Air OP net to warn of inbound enemy aircraft.
He must have been getting on as a Lieutenant Colonel if he pioneered airborne observation for shooting guns, which is a WW1 concept.

Also used from early on in WW2. (Please note the article needs to be rewritten as it wasn't that innovative as a principle, as noted above):

https://rommelsriposte.com/2019/12/30/i ... -spotting/
You are right that artillery spotting dates from 1914-15.


After 1918, when the RAF became the worlds first independent airforce, air force strategy was focused on the unique roles of the air force - straegic bombing and the air defence of Great Britian. Army co-operation was a cinderella arm. The Army co-operation squadrons deployed with the BEF suffered heavy losses. By 1944 the duty of artillery recconaisance (which included spotting ) was with the RAF Tactical recce squadrons equipped with the P51 Mustang.

In the mean time air minded Royal Artillery officers from the RA Flying club reckoned that they could do the job themselves. These including H J Parham an autogyro pilot, a Lieutenant colonel in 1940 and Brigadier in 1942. He also devised the fire control teschniques that allowed hundreds of field guns to be fired as one big battery. He would be the senior RA officer in First Army in Tunisia and Second Army in Normandy. (He also flew in the prototype sikorsky heicopter. His campaign to have the prototype deployed on D Day gets a mention in my book, Gunners in Normandy) Parham was convinced that it was easier to train an artillery officer to fly than train a pilot to understand what was happening on a battlefield and that it was almostb impossible for someone flying at 300 kts to see or spot as well as someone flying at 80 kts. Light aircraft could operate far closer to the front with a faster turnround and closer co-ordination with the formations they would support, than the cumbersom liaison with the RAF.

Bazeley pioneered the concept of Artillery officers flying their own light aircraft in an experimental flight in 1940 and in Tunisia in 1942. There was strong opposition from the RAF who claimed the right to operate all aircraft and their insistence that light aircraft could not survive over a 1940s battlefield. The words Army -Co-operation were a bit of a misnomer at a n interservice level. Howeverr the Tacc R and AOP squadrons worked well together in Normandy. (There is a chunk about this in Gunners in Normandy_)

These chaps are why the British Army has its own Army Air Corps

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Pips » 05 Sep 2021 06:47

Sheldrake wrote:
04 Sep 2021 09:12

The Army co-operation squadrons deployed with the BEF suffered heavy losses.
That's an interesting comment. Do you have details as to why and how they suffered their losses? Was it due to having to retreat often, so accidents were the cause? or ws it due to flak or enemy air action?. And would you perchance have numbers?
Sheldrake wrote:
04 Sep 2021 09:12

By 1944 the duty of artillery reconnaissance (which included spotting ) was with the RAF Tactical recce squadrons equipped with the P51 Mustang.
Really? P-51 Mustang? Surely it would be travelling far to fast to observe close action on the ground. Or did they rely on photographic evidence? If so one would think that by the time photo's had been developed and information passed, they could quite possibly out of date.

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Sheldrake » 05 Sep 2021 20:20

Pips wrote:
05 Sep 2021 06:47
Sheldrake wrote:
04 Sep 2021 09:12

The Army co-operation squadrons deployed with the BEF suffered heavy losses.
That's an interesting comment. Do you have details as to why and how they suffered their losses? Was it due to having to retreat often, so accidents were the cause? or ws it due to flak or enemy air action?. And would you perchance have numbers? (1)
Sheldrake wrote:
04 Sep 2021 09:12

By 1944 the duty of artillery reconnaissance (which included spotting ) was with the RAF Tactical recce squadrons equipped with the P51 Mustang.
Really? P-51 Mustang? Surely it would be travelling far to fast to observe close action on the ground. Or did they rely on photographic evidence? If so one would think that by the time photo's had been developed and information passed, they could quite possibly out of date. (2)
Re 1 Of the 174 Lysanders sent to France and Belgium, Eighty-eight were lost in air combat, another 30 destroyed on the ground, and a loss of 120 crew members between September 1939 and May 1940. http://www.pilotfriend.com/photo_albums ... sander.htm

But hoiw did this compare with hurricane or Battle Losses?

RE2 The Mustangs of the Tac Recce aquadrons did carry out some shoots. It took more organising than an AOP shoot. IThere is a descrition of one mission in Gunners in nNOIrmandy taken from the memoir by Groiup Captain Romer RCAF.

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Richard Anderson » 05 Sep 2021 23:02

Sheldrake wrote:
05 Sep 2021 20:20
Of the 174 Lysanders sent to France and Belgium, Eighty-eight were lost in air combat, another 30 destroyed on the ground, and a loss of 120 crew members between September 1939 and May 1940. http://www.pilotfriend.com/photo_albums ... sander.htm
I'm not sure where those numbers came from? The RAF sent five ACU squadrons (4, 13, and 16 with 50 Wing and 2 and 26 with 51 Wing) as part of the Air Component BEF. On 10 May 1940 they had a combined total of 99 Lysanders. AIR 22/261 recorded a total of 34 Lysanders lost in the campaign through 23 June. Most peculiar is the story of the loss of "14 of 16 Lysanders" in the attempts to resupply Calais, while the RAF only recorded the loss of 2 on 22 May, 1 on 26 May, and 2 on unspecified date 10-23 May. The recorded losses included those "in action", "on ground", "result of action", and "not by action", so all bases were covered insofar as I can tell.

All in all a bit odd.

They also recorded the loss of 34 Blenheims and 200 Hurricanes, while the Advanced Air Striking Force lost 114 Battles, 22 Blenheims, and 43 Hurricanes.
"Is all this pretentious pseudo intellectual citing of sources REALLY necessary? It gets in the way of a good, spirited debate, destroys the cadence." POD, 6 October 2018

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 06 Sep 2021 01:25

Just for the amusement factor: Heres a description of a technique for air control of artillery fires, without a radio. From the Field Artillery Journal back in the 1980s. IIRC the technique was experimented with in the 1920s.

First the observation aircraft flys over the battery & on a straight line course to the target. The battery officer tracks and records the azimuth the aircraft provides to the target.

2. When directly over the target the pilot abruptly climbs. When this happens the battery officer measures the subtense of the aircraft wingspan, which allows calculation of range to target.

3. The air observer circles back around and follows the gun-target azimuth as the first ranging shot is fired. It it is short he dives, if long climbs, deflection right-bank right, deflection left-bank left. The battery officer estimates adjustment from those signals.

4. Rinse & repeat.

5. Signal flags, smoke grenades, flashing mirrors or lamps can be used for simple signals like 'ready to fire'...

For rifle companies to signal support aircraft cloth panels were spread on the ground. Their pattern indicated direction and range to the target. The Marines used this technique in Nicaragua during the latter 1920s. Panel patterns could also indicate the need to evacuate wounded, land for a planning conference, type of ammunition to bring, ect... In the 1980s my artillery battery had these signal panels on hand. We never used them, but the radio & wire operators did still have school training in their use.

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Pips » 06 Sep 2021 01:45

Thanks Sheldrake and Richard. Whatever the cause, the loss numbers are quite high. Appreciably more so than that mentioned in the books in my first post.

Carl. The technique you describe is surprisingly similar to that originally employed by French and German aerial observation airmen in 1914. Much use was made of flags and smoke bombs back then.
The RFC was well behind in their tactics back then, as little co-operation had been practiced between them and the Artillery. It wasn't until the Battle of the Aisne 1914 that the RFC adopted French techniques.

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 06 Sep 2021 02:08

Sheldrake wrote:
04 Sep 2021 09:12

By 1944 the duty of artillery reconnaissance (which included spotting ) was with the RAF Tactical recce squadrons equipped with the P51 Mustang.
Pips wrote:
05 Sep 2021 06:47
Really? P-51 Mustang? Surely it would be travelling far to fast to observe close action on the ground. Or did they rely on photographic evidence? If so one would think that by the time photo's had been developed and information passed, they could quite possibly out of date.
Ironically the US Army had Army artillery observers flying Spitfires whilst observing Navy fire support @ Normandy.

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Sheldrake » 08 Sep 2021 19:18

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
06 Sep 2021 02:08
Sheldrake wrote:
04 Sep 2021 09:12

By 1944 the duty of artillery reconnaissance (which included spotting ) was with the RAF Tactical recce squadrons equipped with the P51 Mustang.
Pips wrote:
05 Sep 2021 06:47
Really? P-51 Mustang? Surely it would be travelling far to fast to observe close action on the ground. Or did they rely on photographic evidence? If so one would think that by the time photo's had been developed and information passed, they could quite possibly out of date.
Ironically the US Army had Army artillery observers flying Spitfires whilst observing Navy fire support @ Normandy.
According to this article spotting for USN ships was by the naval aviators from the USS cruisers and battleships's SOC Seagulls and OS2U Kingfishers retrained to fly Spitfire V https://www.history.navy.mil/content/da ... ww2-30.pdf I suspect they would have done just as well with their existign craft but a month playing with Spitfires as pursuite pilots must have been a lot of fun....

Spotting for naval guns on D Day was a bit different to typical Air OP Work. The procedures are rather different, at least fore the British The naval spotter, spots the fall of shot, while the FOO orders a correction. Navy pilots are used to navy procedures and their communicagtions shoudl work. The tasks for the cruisers and battlerships did not require any tactical knpowledge. The targets were known and already identified it was a matter of spotting the fall of shot.

British naval gunfire was directed by Fleet Air Arm pilots in Seafires.

Stop press. The question has already been answered on this forum
viewtopic.php?t=53230

Apparently all the RN and USN spotters operated from Lee on Solent and pooled the aircraft. My guess is that the Mess was run as RN (wet) rather than USN (dry) ....

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by MikeMeech » 09 Sep 2021 17:00

Hi
At the outbreak of WW2 the British used the Lysander for artillery spotting, the Germans used the similar concept in the Henschel Hs 126, the latter was still their main aircraft for this role at the start of the Russian campaign with, apparently, 48 army co-operation 'squadrons' (400 aircraft, 6-7 aircraft per sqn). These were only gradually replaced by the Focke-Wulf Fw 189 during 1942. I have yet to see any details on how the Storch was used in artillery spotting, indeed, many books only mention this aircraft use in flying around famous generals, liaison, CASEVAC missions and rescuing airmen and Mussolini. This might be because many authors find the subject of artillery spotting 'mundane', however, does anyone have any details of the Storch engaging in artillery spotting?
During the period up to 1942 the USAAC used the North American O-47 for artillery spotting, an aircraft that makes the Lysander appear sleak, modern and efficient.

Mike

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Re: Artillery Observation

Post by Sheldrake » 09 Sep 2021 17:47

MikeMeech wrote:
09 Sep 2021 17:00
Hi
At the outbreak of WW2 the British used the Lysander for artillery spotting, the Germans used the similar concept in the Henschel Hs 126, the latter was still their main aircraft for this role at the start of the Russian campaign with, apparently, 48 army co-operation 'squadrons' (400 aircraft, 6-7 aircraft per sqn). These were only gradually replaced by the Focke-Wulf Fw 189 during 1942. I have yet to see any details on how the Storch was used in artillery spotting, indeed, many books only mention this aircraft use in flying around famous generals, liaison, CASEVAC missions and rescuing airmen and Mussolini. This might be because many authors find the subject of artillery spotting 'mundane', however, does anyone have any details of the Storch engaging in artillery spotting?
During the period up to 1942 the USAAC used the North American O-47 for artillery spotting, an aircraft that makes the Lysander appear sleak, modern and efficient.

Mike
Hi Mike,

Long time no see.

Looking at the German air force in North Africa on the eve of El Alamein, there doesn't seem to be any army co-operation squadrons at all. There are Fi 156 in the courier flight (for generals0 and in the desert search and rescue. http://niehorster.org/011_germany/42-oo ... frika.html

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