|The Hammer of Hell |
Chapter 2 The Hammer is Formed:
The Antiaircraft Artillery Command
In May 1940, Major General Joseph A. Green (in photo at right) became the Chief Of Coast Artillery. Green was a bright, energetic man who believed that he had a mandate to overcome the inertia of the interwar years. Green's priorities were clear: he had to create more antiaircraft units quickly---another 20 regiments or so---for several war plan contingencies; he had to build the facilities, create the training programs, equip and train the hundreds of battalions that would be activated in 1942 and 1943; and he had to find the officers and noncommissioned officers to run the training centers and lead the activating units.33
General Green initiated an immense construction program. In the first 19 months of his tenure, the Coast Artillery built Camp Stewart, near Savannah, Georgia; Camp Hulen, 70 miles from Houston, Texas; and Camp Haan, near Riverside, California. Green also gained control of Fort Bliss, Texas, the tradition-rich cavalry post on the Rio Grande; Fort Sheridan, Illinois, which was the home of the 61st Coast Artillery Regiment; and , in early 1941, Camp Davis, North Carolina, 31 miles northeast of Wilmington, North Carolina.
In March, 1942, Camp Edwards, near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, became an Antiaircraft Artillery post. Mostly in remote areas, these Antiaircraft Artillery Training Centers (AATCs) had excellent aerial and ground fire ranges. By early 1942, the AATCs had 49 battalions in training, but the capacity to train 76 battalions simultaneously.34
In March 1942 the War Department activated the Army Ground Forces, commanded by General McNair, and charged him with formulating the doctrine and implementing the training programs for the United States Army. General Green headed the Antiaircraft Artillery Command under Army Ground Forces, commanded the seven AATCs, formulated the AAA doctrine, devised the unit training programs, and developed antiaircraft equipment and organizations. Green's headquarters was in Richmond, Virginia, and per Army Ground Forces order, Green opened an Antiaircraft Artillery School at Camp Davis. The Antiaircraft Artillery was formally separated from the Coast Artillery.35
The first occupants of the new training facilities were National Guard units that were converted to Antiaircraft Artillery in the fall of 1940.36 General Green created the first 10 separate automatic weapons battalions by converting National Guard cavalry, infantry, engineer, military police and Coast Artillery units to antiaircraft. One hundred and forty National Guard companies were reorganized to create 20 AAA regiments and 10 separate battalions. They suffered through the resource shortages that existed until mid-1942, but unlike the other units in the AATC system, the National Guardsmen came on active duty with experienced officers and noncommissioned officer cadre. Their training, especially in the skills common to any soldier, would meet acceptable standards far sooner than the other units in the Antiaircraft Artillery Command.37
The Antiaircraft Artillery Command trained battalions. A cadre of officers and noncommissioned officers for each battalion was identified two months in advance of unit activation. Each battalion had 97 cadre NCOs, most of whom came from the AATC's schools (a separate set of installations that trained specialists such as maintenance sergeants). Approximately one-third of the cadre came from tactical units, but these noncommissioned officers were intended to be the battalion's key NCO leaders: the sergeant major, the first sergeants, a smattering of platoon sergeants and gun sergeants.38 The intent was to have Regular Army Coast Artillery NCOs in as many units as possible because interwar Coast Artillery noncommissioned officers were experienced and professional soldiers. When Lieutenant Charles G. Patterson took command of a seacoast artillery battery in the Philippines in the mid-1930's, his first sergeant had been promoted to that rank the day Patterson was born. Unfortunately, the pool of Regular Army NCOs was small, and most cadre NCOs had joined the Army since 1940, giving them just a few months more experience than the soldiers they were to train.39
The junior officers came from the Antiaircraft Artillery school at Camp Davis, where almost all of them attended the Officer Candidate Course, regardless of any prior training such as the Reserve Officer Training Course. The 12-week Officer Candidate School (OCS) course was technical, with almost no tactical training. Until early 1943 the students were taught guns, automatic weapons, and searchlights. The combat theaters reported that the initial OCS graduates were not proficient on the equipment and recommended that officers specialize in one of the three systems at OCS so that they would have more time on the equipment. The AATC implemented this recommendation, and added a week to the length of the course.40
Unfortunately, the AATC s had already graduated more than 18,000 of the 25,000 junior officers they would train during the war. Most Antiaircraft Artillery lieutenants would learn the equipment and their tactics on the job.41
The captains, majors, and the battalion commanders for the activating Antiaircraft Artillery battalions came from the reserves or National Guard. Many were branch transferred into the Antiaircraft Artillery, and it was not uncommon for officers to command a battalion on their first duty assignment. Some battalions had a Regular Army officer, usually a newly commissioned West Pointer. The captains of the interwar Coast Artillery Corps had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and they were on high-level staffs, where their expertise would do the Army the most good. It would take time for the battalion leaders to learn the tools of their new trade.
In June 1942 the Antiaircraft Artillery Command established inspection teams to monitor the progress of the unit training. The inspections followed a detailed checklist that included both individual and collective unit tasks. All the training centers reproduced the checklist and a copy was published in theCoast Artillery Journal, which was read by most coast artillerymen. Based on the lessons learned in North Africa, all the essential training tasks were included in the mission training plan. It took time, however, to explain the standards and to produce the intensity necessary to meet them.43
The AATC inspection teams identified a number of problems, the most immediate of which was time. In the rush to war in mid-1942, Green needed units for the Pacific and for the invasion of North Africa. The Army Ground Forces activated units with only 50 percent of their authorized personnel.44 Recruits continued to join the battalion well into the training cycle, but no time was allotted to train the new men in the training segments they had missed. Compounding the situation, equipment was critically short. The National Guard units that mobilized in the fall of 1940 had one 37mm gun per battalion; the 40mm Bofors guns were not available in sufficient unit sets until early 1943.45
These were critical shortages in a branch that operated tactically as squads. The antiaircraft train was chugging forward, but many units did not have enough time in the wheelhouse to learn to drive. General Green was aware of these problems, and he took action to rectify as many of them as possible. Units that were identified for early deployment were prioritized and issued limited equipment. Believing that many of the personnel problems could be solved at the installation level, Green challenged AATC commanders to become involved in unit training and to handle more problems at their own level.46 Early in 1943 he also recommended a longer training cycle, one that would allow more time for individual training and inspections.47
Some problems could not be solved. Due to limited availability, the units that invaded North Africa would not be issued the directors for their 40mm guns until they reached England. Antiaircraft training ammunition would not be plentiful until mid-1943, and suitable aerial targets until the end of the year. Despite the problems, the train rumbled on. By the end of 1942, the Antiaircraft Artillery Command had trained 154 battalions.48
North Africa, February, 1043--The AATC's First Report Card
Although there were exceptions, Croker believed the training in the 10 separate AW battalions and the five AAA regiments in country was poor. Antiaircraft artillerymen were learning their equipment in combat. They hadn't fired enough to gain the necessary proficiency, and their accuracy was diminished because they had trouble aligning their directors. The officers did little to rectify the situation because their training had been too "theoretical" and had not focused on the techniques to teach the men the equipment. The training in the United States needed more stress on the basics: field fortifications, site security and field sanitation. Antiaircraft artillerymen needed more field time, their unit training cycle needed to be longer, the standards harder, and the soldiers tougher.50
The other training tasks---the items not required when fighting from a permanent coastal bastion like Fort Monroe---deserved the same priority as the technical orientations for which the Coast Artillery was famous. In addition to the technical training, Croker recommended AAA officers learn more about combined arms tactics. Antiaircraft units were fighting as platoons and batteries in North Africa, and the battery officers had no idea what to expect when supporting an armored or infantry unit. AATC units had the requirement to undergo combined training--maneuvers with a infantry, armor or field artillery unit---but few battalions did so until mid-1943. The 105th Coast Artillery Battalion, one of the first separate AW battalions, trained at Camp Young, California, in May, 1942. The 2d Armored Division was at Young at the same time, but the Antiaircraft artillerymen went to the field by themselves and practiced the defense of point targets---road intersections in the desert. The 105th Coast Artillery Battalion supported a division for the first time during the Kasserine Pass battle, and after the Field Artillery units they protected moved twice without telling them, the antiaircraft artillerymen appreciated that working with a combined arms team took practice.51 The standard was there, but no one in the AATC had the experience to grasp its significance and insist upon its realistic implementation.
Croker also reported the 40mm guns had trouble keeping up with their supported units. It seemed as soon as the AAA units got their directors emplaced and aligned, they were alerted to move. Croker recommended the Americans adopt the British "Stiff Key Stick," an on-board fire control device for the Bofors. Croker believed in aimed fires.52 He recommended all targets be tracked until identified and that antiaircraft units should open fire at the maximum range to kill, not drive off, the enemy aircraft.
Operating in a combined arms team, the requirement was for first-round accuracy combined with the ability to displace rapidly.53 Major Croker was impressed with the 443d Coast Artillery Battalion, which was equipped with 80 prototypes of the new self-propelled AAA systems the Antiaircraft Command had designed for use with the armored divisions. The battalion had two different systems: 28 M15 prototypes with 37mm/dual .50 caliber machine guns turret-mounted on halftracks and 52 M13 halftrack prototypes with dual .50-caliber machine guns turret-mounted on halftracks.54 The Antiaircraft Artillery Command had just standardized a quadruple .50 caliber machine gun turret on a halftrack, the M16. It would replace the M13, which the AATC believed lacked the requisite volume of fire.
These systems had no on-board fire control, and their doctrine was point defense, but Croker believed their mobility and their quick reaction time made them effective.55 The crews were unprotected and exposed to enemy fire, but the systems could move and provide responsive fire support. Croker was suggesting that mobility was an essential characteristic in the design of AAA fire units.56
Croker's report also addressed the fratricide which was rampant in North Africa. American antiaircraft and combat units were shooting down friendly planes at an alarming rate. The Army Air Force attributed the problem to the failure to establish an Air Defense Command in North Africa. Field Manual 1-25, Air Defense, published in December, 1942, gave the Army Air Force command of the antiaircraft forces operating with fighters in the defense of the same area. Since the Army Air Force used fighters only in the defense of rear areas, such as the ports of Oran, Casablanca, and Algiers in North Africa, the Air Force control of the Antiaircraft Artillery did not apply to the field army area, where the fratricide was occurring.57 There was no doctrine for integrating close air support, interdiction and air superiority operation, and Antiaircraft Artillery fires near the line of contact.58
Nevertheless, the Army Air Force insisted the solution to the fratricide was its control of the AAA, and General Henry Arnold recommended that the AAA be transferred to the Air Force in early 1943. Antiaircraft artillerymen understood the joint aspect of their mission. In the interwar years, the Coast Artillery School at Fort Monroe and the Air Corps Tactical School, a few miles down the road at Langley Field, exchanged ideas and used each other as sounding boards to assess their capabilities. The failure to establish procedures to coordinate operations in the forward area was the product of the vague doctrine on divisional antiaircraft defense and the Army Air Force's conviction of the need to centralize air operations. Army Air Force doctrine called for close air support to be coordinated no lower than corps level, and air-support sorties were assigned infrequently below that level. Requests for air support were sent up through maneuver command channels to corps, approved there, and dispatched to the aircraft squadrons. Once the aircraft were airborne, they could not communicate with the ground units. American aircraft attacked targets that were hours old and arrived over the battlefield with no advance notification, often greeted by friendly fire.59
Several observers attributed the problem to poor aircraft identification training, which was true in many units. The principle cause for the situation originated in 1942, when the Army Air Force deactivated several Air Support Squadrons which supported Army Ground Forces training exercises, to send the aircraft overseas. American fighting men arrived in North Africa having never seen friendly aircraft in the air, the best kind of identification training. Additionally, the almost total absence of joint operations meant there had been no opportunity to establish recognition symbols---identification double checks---that could immediately identify the party being attacked. During the Battle of Kasserine Pass, American aircraft began to rock their wings when over flying friendly units, and maneuver units had yellow smoke for use if attacked by friendly air.60
The antiaircraft artillerymen in North Africa had been trained to identify and distinguish between American and German aircraft. By late 1941, the Antiaircraft Command had published picture cards, which deploying units studied diligently. 61
The distribution of antiaircraft units was another problem as the American and German armies closed on Kasserine Pass. In February 1943, there were five AAA regiments and 10 separate AW battalions, more than enough to provide effective support to the American II Corps, the primary American fighting unit in theater. However, until the 18th of February, 1943, the corps had only one and one-half automatic weapons battalions and one gun battalion to cover a front of over 50 miles and several vital logistical facilities and airfields in the corps rear.63
Additionally, Major Croker was concerned the units assigned to II Corps were not the best. The 62d and 68th Coast Artillery Regiments, two Regular Army AAA units, were in Oran and Algiers. But the inexperienced 213th Coast Artillery Regiment was assigned to II Corps.64
This situation existed because General Eisenhower directed that most of the Antiaircraft Artillery would be in the theater rear. In December, 1942, Eisenhower was livid when the Luftwaffe bombed Algiers and the antiaircraft and Allied night fighters seemed incapable of countering them. He established the Antiaircraft Artillery and Coast Defense Committee to allocate antiaircraft assets. The committee, which included members from the 12th Air Force, the Navy and
General Eisenhower, shown at left with Major General George S. Patton Jr., was not insensitive to the fact his combat units needed antiaircraft protection. On 19 December 1942, he recommended that an Antiaircraft Artillery unit be made organic to every division, corps and army.67 But McNair stood by his pooling argument; he asserted there were sufficient AAA units in theater to meet every contingency. Eisenhower did not insist and additional units were not assigned until after the Battle of Kasserine Pass.68
The Antiaircraft Command's report card just before Kasserine had mixed grades. The fielding of over 150 battalions by the end of 1942, with all new equipment, had been a magnificent accomplishment. But early reports indicated the training needed to be more practical, especially for junior officers, with more emphasis on common soldier skills. The Antiaircraft Artillery guns needed to be more mobile, while retaining the accuracy provided by the director. The major deficiency was the lack of combined, joint training.
Antiaircraft artillerymen needed to train for employment in the combined arms team and routinely work with the Army Air Force to refine recognition symbols and early warning procedures. At Kasserine, there would not be enough antiaircraft units in the North African combat zone, but that was a local decision prompted by inter-service politics. The antiaircraft artillerymen had come a long way from the parapets of Fort Monroe, but the Battle at Kasserine would tell them, and the rest of the Army, how much further they needed to go.
|Chapter Three: The Tunisian Campaign|