World War II Artillery: Types


Figure 1.--Both the Germans and the Soviets used rocket artillery. Here German officers as the Soviet Red Army and Western Allies were closing in on Germany are training boys to operate a multiple rocket gun. The Volksstrum was being formed. Youths as young as 16 years of age were required to join. Many younger boys in the Hitler Youth (HJ) also joined. Here we see a Pimpf, the junior division of the HJ, loading a rocket. He looks to be about 10-11 years of age. The caption of this wire service photiograoh read, "NAZI youth bred for cannon: This photo radioded to New York from Stockholm shows a group of German children, ages 9 to 15, being trained by Nazi officers in the proper handling of a multiple rocket gun. Military training for these children in Nazi-ruled Germany is now complulsory." The photograph is dated October 5, 1944. The referencs to 9 year olds is probably an error. Children joined the HJ at age 10 years.

Artillery became increasingly specialized during World War II. There were three types of artillery used during the War, not counting tanks which were essentially mobile artillery. The three major artillery types were: 1) field, 2) infantry, and 3) emplaced. Field artillery is what one usually thinks of when discussing artillery. Field artillery served both offensive and defensive funtions. It was use to prepare or soften up an area to be attacked or to help hold a defensive position. A major innovation here was the self propelled gun. American use of field artillery and its mobility at Bastoign helped save it during the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944). Field artillery fired various projectiles (high explosive and covering smoke to anti-aircraft and armour-piercing, anti-tank rounds). Unlike World War I, poison gas shells were not used. There were various types of guns including howitzers and mortars. Rocket artillery was also deployed as field artillery, primarily by the Germans and Soviets. While the U.S. Army made relatively little use of rockets, but the U.S. Navy used them in the Pacific as part of the pre-invasion bombardment of Japanese-held islands. Rockets were hardley new, but there use was limited until World War II. Field artillery could be employed in arange of tactical situations. This included direct, line-of-sight firing to howitzer lobs, which could deliver rounds behind obstacles, including buildings. 2) There was also infantry artillery. Infantry units were provided light mortars, giving them their own artillery coverage. This meant that they could immediately deliver artillery rounds when they were unable tio call in artillery support or air strikes. 3) Emplaced artillery was of less importance. Enplaced guns were used by the French on the Maginot Line. They were never tested as the Germans went around the Maginot Line. The Germans wasted enormous resources in building huge railway guns, most notably used in the seige of Sevasterpol (1942). Other resources were wasted in static batteries on the Atlantic Wall. The loss of air superiority significantlyreduced the effectiveness of German artillery.

Field Artillery

Field artillery is what one usually thinks of when discussing artillery. Field artillery served both offensive and defensive funtions. It was use to prepare or soften up an area to be attacked or to help hold a defensive position. There are different ways of catehorizing artillery. The two most obvious are howitzers and mortars, based on the trajectory. Most wguns were howitzers. Heavy mortars were less common. Light mortars were infantry weapons. A major innovation here was the self propelled gun. World War I artillery was moved by animals, mostly horses. And this was also the case og a good deal of German artillery in World war II. American use of field artillery and its mobility at Bastoign helped save it during the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944). Field artillery fired various projectiles (high explosive and covering smoke to anti-aircraft and armour-piercing, anti-tank rounds). There were specialized artillery pieces. Perhps the most important were anti-tank gun and anti-aircraft guns. Anti-tank guns were an innovation in World War II. It was the Germans who first developed an effective one, in fact using an anti-asircraft gun and mastered effective tactics. It was not just a matter of the shell used. The barrel had to generate high velocity. At first neithter the Allies or the Soviets had a gun to match the German 88. One option was to use a tank gun, but entirely new guns were developed. both the Allies and the Soviets had effective nti-tank guns by the latter phase of the war. A Red Army anti-tnk gunner writes, "The panzer pivoted and stated movinbg toward us. It was firing its machine guns and the bullets were striking the shield. It fired a round from its cannon, but missed--we were in a slight hollow and the shell flew overhead. After my second shot, because the spades hadn't been dug in, the gun's left wheel had pressed me against the wall of the barn. I had to step over the trail and aim the gun by its barrel. I fired a total of five rounds before I finally hit the tank at adistance of just 10 meters and it burst into flames." [Drabkin] By the end of the War, the Soviets were uing the 100mm long-barrel BS-3. Unlike World War I, poison gas shells were not used. There were various types of guns including howitzers and mortars. Rocket artillery was also deployed as field artillery, primarily by the Germans and Soviets. While the U.S. Army made relatively little use of rockets, but the U.S. Navy used them in the Pacific as part of the pre-invasion bombardment of Japanese-held islands. Rockets were hardley new, but there use was limited until World War II. Field artillery could be employed in arange of tactical situations. This included direct, line-of-sight firing to howitzer lobs, which could deliver rounds behind obstacles, including buildings.

Infantry Artillery

There was also infantry artillery in World War II. This was not entirely new. Grenadiers were infanty equipped with grenades which might be considered a type of artillery, although hand thrown. Through World War I, however, the infantfy had todepend on artillery that was heavy and difficult to move. Only with World War II did infantry units have access to artillerythat was light enough to be carried by infantry ino battle themselves. Infantry units were provided light mortars, giving them their own front-line artillery coverage. Mortars were not new, but light mortars infantry units could carry into battle were new. This meant that they could immediately deliver artillery rounds when they were unable to call in artillery support or air strikes which often took some time and not always availble or accurate. Radio communications made possible substantial improvements in this area. Here the Germans were early innovators. Also as the war progressed, anti-tank weaons became avilvle, includng bazooks and Panzerfausts, an early rocket-propelled grenade.

Heavy Emplaced Guns

Emplaced artillery was of less importance in World War II than field or infantry artillery. The most impotant use of emplaced artillery was heavy long range guns used by the various navies. Heavy artillery on land had to be emplaced because they were so diificult to move. Enplaced guns were used by the French on the Maginot Line. They were never tested as part of the Maginot Line because the Germans simply went around it Maginot Line. After the sinking f Bismarck, Hitler ordered that heavy fleet units be decommsioned and their artillery installed in fxed emplcements as part of the Atlantic Wall. This was largely wasted as the Allies quickly penetrated the atantic wall on D-Day in Normndy where there were no major navl artilley emplaced. The loss of air superiority and high mobility of the Allies significantly reduced the effectiveness of German artillery. The largest artillery piece ever conceived was the German V-3 weapn. Allied bombing, however, meant that it was never completed.

Rail Guns

The Germans wasted enormous resources in building huge railway guns. This was a repeat of World war I when Germany as well as America and France deployed rail guns. The most famous was the German Big Bertha. The gun was named after Berth Krup had was used to bombard Paris. World war II saw both the British and Germans deploy rail guns along the Channel. They were, however not extensively use. The most important rail gun during the War was the enormous German Dora Gun. It was a massive 80 cm (31 in) Schwerer Gustav gun, the largest artillery piece ever to be used in combat. In contast the largest American artillery was the 16 in gun used on battleships. The Japanese used 18 in guns in their superbattleships, Yanato and Musahi. The enormity of the Dora gun can thus be appreciated. Dora Gun was only used on the Eastern Front. It was most notably used in the seige of Sevasterpol in the final stage in the ballte for the Crimean Peninsulka (1942). Rail guns were not emplaced, but were basically similar to other smaller emplaced weapons because moving them was so difficult. Even so, the Dora Gun was one of Hitler's favorite weaons. Hitler loved giantism regardless of effectiveness. There were several examples of this in addition to the Dora Gun, including the Tiger Tank, battleships like Bismarck, and the V-3 Atlantic Wall gun, a type of emplaced artillery. The Dora Gun was never used in the west, beause by 1942 with the entry of America into the War, the Western Allies began gaining air superiority over the Channel and France. The Dora Gun could not be deployed in such circumstances. The Allies had no similare weapon. The Dora Gun was the final use of the rail gun in history. Like battleships in naval warfare, they were massive, expensive, and vulnerable to air attack. The Dora Gun was, however, not an effective use of resources. It required enormous resources and was difficult to move. After Germany lost air supperiority, te Dora gun was essentially a huge sitting duck.

Anti-Aircraft Artillery

The second type of guns associated with the airwar was anti-aircraft guns. This also included both machine guns and cannons. While missles and rockets appeared during the War, mone were devloped for anti-aircraft use. Just as there was a rapid evolution of aircraft during the War so did anti-aircraft weapons rapidly evolve. The two most imprtant chracteristic was rate of fire and range. Given the speed of aircraft, rapid fire became a vital characteristic of an effective AA guns. Range was also important given the alditude which bombers could fly. Unlike others forms of artillery, accuracy was of more limited value. The idea was to put up an emormous volume of fire. An here the rate of fire is all important. The finest anti-aircraft weapon for much of the War against bombers was the German 88mm which interestingly appeared very early in the War. The finest weapn against fighters and nval attack aircraft was the Swedish Bofors gun. The Germans because of the strength of the Luftwaffe at first found they had little need for anti-aircaft weaopons in the first years of the War. They soon found that the 88mm was a very effective tank killer and was widely used for this purpose in both the East and the West. It was the Germans who first worked out how important anti-tank artillery was in mobil tank warfare. As the War progressed and the Allies strategic bombing campaign began, the Germans were forced to divert more and more of their artillery to anti-aircraft gun prduction and and defenses. The Germans who began the War with the most world's powerful world's most poweful would up having to build the world's most massive anti-aircraft effort. And most of the anti-aircraft gunners would be Hitlrt Youth boys. The Germans has to deploy huge numbers of anti-aircraft guns in massive FLAK belts around the country's major cities. And importantly, vast quantities of amunition had to be diverted for this purpose. On the Allied side there was less need for anti-aircraft guns in the later phase of the War although the guns along the coast managed to shoot down a number of V-1s (June-July 1944). In the first few years of the war the German 88mm was probably the best anti-aircraft gun on land, but that was all changed with the American 90mm radar controlled anti-aircraft gun, especially when microwave radar was perfected (1944). Also critical for the Americans was the Bofor anti-aircraft guns deployed as a naval weapon in the Pacific (1943). The Bofors and proximnity fuses played an important role in carrier warfare and beating back the Kamikazees in the final year of the War. The Bofors gun was Swedish technology, the one important World War II weapn not developed by one of the major belligerant powers.

Sources

Drabkin, Artem. Stuart Britton, trans. Panzer Killers:Anti-tank Warfare on the Eastern Front (2013), 224p.







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Created: 8:18 PM 7/26/2013
Last updated: 7:38 PM 1/26/2017