|The Hammer of Hell |
Chapter 5 The First Antiaircraft Artillery Command: Fires Prepared, Not Adjusted
The man most responsible for molding the First Army Antiaircraft Artillery was Colonel Charles G. Patterson. In 1933, he graduated 117th in his class at West Point, but he was the first member of this class to be promoted to colonel. Ambitious, confident to the point of almost being cocky, Patterson was disliked by many but respected by those who worked with him or knew him well. "Pat" Patterson was the best man for the most demanding antiaircraft job in the American Army. When he joined Bradley's staff in late 1943, his intellectual baggage included years of service under General Sanford "Sandy" Jarman, who was the leading antiaircraft visionary in the United States Army. Jarman would impart to Patterson, and many others, a belief in the value of aimed fire, mobility and joint cooperation.117
Patterson served under Jarman at the Fort Bragg Joint Exercise in 1938. Lieutenant Patterson, who was the exercise statistician, felt the Coast Artillery units were padding their gunnery scores and so reported to Colonel Jarman, the deputy AAA Force commander. The Antiaircraft Artillery guns had trouble acquiring targets, placing an accurate first round on them, and adjusting fire.
When nothing was done to correct the results, Patterson, acting with Jarman's private approval, wrote an article for the Coast Artillery Journal questioning the exercise results and detailing several recommendations to improve gunnery. Instead of publishing the article, Major Aaron Bradshaw, the journal editor, wrote Patterson a letter of reprimand.
Shortly after the Bragg exercise terminated, Jarman became commanding general of the Panama Coast Artillery Command and took the depressed Patterson under his wing, appointing him as his adjutant. They left Fort Bragg, convinced of the validity of an accurate first round--"fires prepared, not adjusted." Their relationship matured in Panama. Patterson and Jarman thought alike. Both were men of action, whose measure of success was results, not compliance with a regulation. In Panama, Jarman did what made sense. Realizing the defense of the canal might require fighting in the nearby jungles, General Jarman had his men train there, which had never been done before because of the threat of malaria. Jarman's precautions for the jungle exercise resulted in a lower malaria rate than when the command was in garrison.
While serving with Jarman, Patterson often thought of Abraham Lincoln's conclusion to the Gettysburg Address: "the world will little note or long remember what we say here, but the world will never forget what they did here."
When Jarman was reassigned to Camp Stewart in 1941, he left Patterson behind to transfer the command to General William E. Shedd, whom Jarman despised. Leaving a new captain to transfer a large command to a major general was an indicator of Jarman's confidence in Patterson, but it put him in an uncomfortable position. Shedd, a typical seacoast artilleryman, questioned many of Jarman's decisions and vented his frustration on Patterson.
Captain Patterson wrangled his way out of Panama and joined Jarman at Camp Stewart. After Pearl Harbor, General Marshall picked Jarman to head the First Army's Antiaircraft Artillery Command, which was also the AAA component of the Eastern Defense Command. Patterson was assigned to Fort Totten as Jarman's special assistant, symbolic of their closeness.
Cooperation with the Army Air Force
The First Fighter Wing established the criteria for engaging aircraft and could order AAA units to hold fire, but General Jarman believed this agreement was productive, rather than restrictive. In practice, the First Air Force Sector Operations Center in New York never ordered an AAA unit to hold fire as the AAA Command and the Army Air Force shared the same information. All the Army Air Force and AAA units in the defense were in communication with the center, where duty officers sorted out the identity of targets provided by a civilian observer service. The location of the targets were tracked on an huge, elevated board, around which the unit liaison officers sat. The board was the center of interest because it painted a picture of the air battle, and beautiful chorus girls from the 1942 Broadway musical, "Stars & Garters," supported the war effort by walking on the board and moving the target markers around.
With timely information available from all the participants in the air defense of New York thus centralized, target identities could quickly be ascertained. The system was so effective, civilian aircraft were diverted from certain key areas that were free fire zones for the Antiaircraft Artillery, especially at night. Jarman was convinced the system maximized the contributions of all the participants. Lieutenant Colonel Patterson supervised the operations center for General Jarman and noted its tactical advantages. He would adopt a similar arrangement in First Army. While the cooperation and collocation of the major players insured the success of the operations room, there were problems. It took Patterson a long time to convince the Star and Garter girls to wear slacks, instead of skirts, when working on the situation board.118
Patterson, most of the members of his staff, and the future commander of the First Army's Antiaircraft Artillery brigade, General E.W. "Big Ed" Timberlake, all served under Jarman in the Eastern Defense Command. From May, 1941, until he took command of the 49th Brigade in mid-1943, Timberlake commanded the 71st Coast Artillery Regiment (AAA), which defended Washington D.C. The defense of the nation's capitol was a visible and important mission, and the gung-ho, enthusiastic Timberlake did the job well.119
The 71st Coast Artillery made its defensive positions around Washington into show places, even planting flowers and trees around their gun sites. Timberlake ensured the year in Washington did not lead to a static mentality in his unit. He and Jarman often talked about the requirement for the Antiaircraft Artillery to be mobile. Jarman envisioned a fluid battlefield and he saw the necessity for AAA to keep up with combat units and to relocate to alternate positions after engagements. Timberlake already thought the same way and trained his units to move whenever the opportunity arose. Rather than firing their annual service practice with the equipment already located at the range in Delaware, Timberlake road marched the 71st north for the training. The regiment also participated in several Army maneuvers and in air defense exercises in New York. The 71st Coast Artillery was nicknamed the "Rollin' Seventy-First." These attitudes were important. Colonel Patterson would plan the employment of AAA units in the European Theater, but General Timberlake would train them.120
In October, 1943, General Bradley returned to the United States to form the First U.S. Army for the invasion of Europe. Lieutenant Colonel Patterson was his escort officer and was pleasantly surprised when Bradley offered him the job of the First Army AAA officer. Bradley's staff was almost entirely II Corps veterans from Tunisia. He needed an antiaircraft officer because Colonel Harriman had returned to the States just before the invasion of Sicily and had been promoted to brigadier general. His replacement was ineffective, and Bradley asked General Drum, the commander of the First Army, for a recommendation. Drum suggested Patterson. After resolving a mild protest from General Jarman, Patterson hand-picked his staff and prepared to depart for England. He selected soldiers who were leaders first and technicians second. 121
Operations in England
The units arriving from the Antiaircraft Artillery Command were in far better shape than those which invaded North Africa. The unit training cycle had increased from 12 to 22 weeks, plenty of ammunition and equipment were available in the States for training, most AAA units had participated in the Tennessee or Louisiana maneuvers, and the AAA soldiers were reported to be in excellent physical condition and good at aircraft recognition.122
Fundamentally, the availability of resources meant the soldiers understood their equipment. They shot well with their directors, the method of fire control still advocated by the Antiaircraft Artillery Command. The Antiaircraft Artillery Board had a better forward area sight under development called the Weiss Sight, after its inventor, Doctor Carl Weiss, but it would never be produced in any numbers, and was unavailable for training.123
General Thiele intended the automatic weapons units to practice in England with their directors, but Colonel Patterson had different ideas. He sent his staff to scrounge Stiff Key Sticks, a proven British onboard fire control device, for use on First Army Bofors guns. When there weren't enough, he instructed Colonel Peter Peca, the commander of the 115th AAA Group in V Corps, to fabricate the onboard sight he invented in North Africa for his units. The firings in England were used to train the crews to use these on board fire control devices. The Stiff Key Stick and Peca sights were not quite as accurate as the directors, but they were better than the ring sites. When he equipped his AW battalions with accurate, on board fire control, Patterson resolved the mobility and accuracy dilemma. When the First Army Antiaircraft Artillery invaded Europe, their directors remained in England.124
General Thiele, who "wore the Coast Artillery tie," objected to Patterson's initiative, threatening to court martial him. He became even more enraged when the First Army modified the Table of Organization and Equipment for the automatic weapons battalions.
Since North Africa, the AW battalion TOEs had been improved. Each battalion was now authorized eight observers, gun crews had binoculars, and the number of radios had been increased.125Significantly, many M55s, quadruple .50-caliber machine guns on a trailer, were available to replace the single-barreled AAA machine guns. Each AW battery was authorized eight 40mm Bofors guns and eight M55s. Colonel Patterson and his automatic weapons staff officer, Major Fred Jacks, did not think the M55 trailer had the requisite mobility. Through an arrangement with the First Army Ordnance officer, Patterson obtained 700 excess halftracks, took the quad mounts off the M55s and bolted them to the halftracks. There were only enough M16Bs, as they were termed, for 16 per AW battalion, one-half the authorized number. Patterson felt the mobility gained would offset the reduction in firepower.126
A few days after arriving in England, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Mahoney, General Timberlake's executive officer, met with British officers from the 11th Antiaircraft Artillery Brigade to review their movement procedures. The British had a system of simultaneous movement and reconnaissance. Battery officers would depart to select positions upon receipt of a new mission. The unit executive officer moved the fire units forward almost immediately, their route identified in general terms before the recon party left, and specifically by markers the recon party would leave behind. Upon arriving at the objective, the unit occupied their positions immediately, guided into the final locations by the members of the recon party.
The new procedure had several advantages over established procedures. First, unit movement times were significantly reduced as the main body moved shortly after receiving the new mission, rather than waiting for the reconnaissance party to return as was practiced in the AAC. Second, the use of the coded cans and the proximity of the main body to the reconnaissance element meant the main body took the most timely route to the objective. The adoption of the movement technique also forced units had to standardize other tactical procedures. For example, since the reconnaissance party left after a hasty session with the unit executive officer, the battery order of march had to be standardized, so the advanced elements would knbow which platoon and which gun would be the first to arrive. Furthermore, to move and occupy a position in a hurry, junior officers had to be versed in AAA tactics and have an appreciation for the asset they were defending so the most effective defense could be established in the shortest period of time.127
Colonel Mahoney translated the British SOP into "American," and the 49th Brigade opened a training camp in Blandford, England. Under brigade supervision, six AAA groups and 25 AAA gun and AW battalions stayed a month each at Blandford, moving constantly. Two of the first three battalions that would reach the Remagen Bridge in 1945 were graduates of the Blandford training. The camp closed when the 49th Brigade was assigned to the First Army on March 25, 1944.128
The First Army provided the onboard fire control, Jarman's disciples the inmagination, and the British the methodology that made First Army Antiaircraft Artillery units mobile on the battlefield. Colonel Patterson assigned an AAA Group to each Corps and unlike the practice in North Africa, kept the same AW battalion with each division. Additional AAA battalions and groups were held at Army level under 49th Brigade control and sometimes under direct Army control. When a priority such as the Remagen Bridge arose, the closest AAA group would immediately reinforce the defense with its own battalions, and Army would attach additional battalions to the corps for use as the AAA group commander deemed necessary.129
The automatic weapons battalions in the divisions would not be stretched to defend a sudden priority like Remagen. Normally, they defended the field artillery or the combat commands in the self-propelled units, as manuals dictated. 130 The doctrine was a point defense, not an area defense. If more points needed defending, it took more units.
It was the corps mission to thicken the battlefield. Group commanders maintained contact with divisional AW battalion commanders, though they had no control over them, and monitored the tactical situation forward. Additionally, the same communications nets enabled group commanders to coordinate early warning in the corps area, and they integrated the reports from the observers in the AW battalions with the radars in the gun battalions with some success.131
First Army procedures called for anticipation from senior AAA commanders and aggressiveness and combativeness from junior leaders. General Timberlake did his part to instill a new mindset on the Antiaircraft Artillerymen in England. Just before the invasion, he invited all the AAA officers in country to his headquarters. He gave a motivational speech, concluding: "We'll write our history in the skies."132
Many of the officers who heard Timberlake did not need much motivation. Major Jacks of the First Army staff thought participating in D-Day was worth a man's life. Major Bill Corley, the S-3 of the VII Corp's 109th AAA Group, had been offered a job as the executive officer of the 52d AAA Brigade, which was due to come ashore at D+90. The brigade exec's job was a full colonel's position, and if he accepted, Corley would have been promoted to full colonel just over two years after graduating from West Point. He declined the offer and went ashore on D+1. Colonel James Madison commanded the 16th AAA Group, the first antiaircraft unit on Omaha Beach. He lived to be a soldier, and it was common knowledge that not being at D-Day would have been a major disappointment to him.133
Most of the officers who heard the speech knew Timberlake from their West Point days. The general was an impressive man, six-feet-four inches tall with pure white hair, and before every Army-Navy game, he would address the corps of cadets, whipping them into a frenzy. His speech in England was so eloquent and his challenge so lofty, the attendees walked away shaking their heads in admiration and disbelief. Corley remembered thinking we will see how he does on D-Day."134
The Antiaircraft Artillery brigade commander at the Leyte landings in the Pacific came ashore around D+8 days. By contrast,Timberlake ordered the captain of the small boat he was on to land at Omaha Beach at 1500 hours on D-Day. He sauntered off the ramp, wearing a helmet with an oversized white star that he had been told to cover. The infantrymen pinned on the beach pleaded with the general to take cover, but he walked up and down the beach, encouraging units to move out and "Go get the bastards!" In several instances the general drew his pistol to provide the necessary motivation. Ed Timberlake set the example; his combativeness made him one of the heroes of D-Day. More importantly, he taught a number of antiaircraft artillerymen to think the same way.135
With two strong personalities like Patterson and Timberlake in the same organization, conflicts were bound to arise. Complicating the issue was General Bradley's policy that his special staff officers commanded their units in the Army. Patterson was a colonel, too young to be a general, and he had authority over General Timberlake. A continued point of contention between the two men was the command of the 149th Operations Detachment, which liaisoned with the IX Tactical Air Force, which supported First Army. The real issue was who would integrate the Army Air Force into the First Army operations.136 The commander of the Ninth Tactical Air Force was Brigadier General Pete Quesada. Quesada was a veteran of North Africa and had been a member of the Antiaircraft Artillery and Coast Defense Committee. He and Patterson struck up a warm friendship and Patterson agreed to accept the same interpretation of operational control that had been formalized in North Africa. The First Army Antiaircraft Section provided a duty officer to Quesada's operations room, and he passed any changes to the IX Air Force hostile criteria and rules for engagement. Quesada's representative had the authority to order a hold fire. The AAA duty officer shared the location of antiaircraft free fire zones, called Inner Artillery Zones, with the Army Air Force.
The relationship between the IX TAC and the First Army was exceptional. The IX TAC used a microwave radar, the MEW 10, for flight following and kept accountability of their high-altitude flights. Because of this, the last-minute decision to paint invasion stripes on allied aircraft, and the opportunity to see both friendly and enemy aircraft fratricide was dramatically reduced in the European Theater of Operations. Unfortunately, the Army Air Force continued to attack friendlies, despite the standardization of recognition symbols, such as yellow smoke. The situation got so bad that, shortly after D-Day, the commander of the 30th Division ordered his AW battalion commander to fire at "all" airplanes, especially friendlies.137
The Antiaircraft Artillery soldiers in the First Army overcame many of the doctrinal, resource and training problems that plagued the North African campaign. They built and trained their units to fight a mobile war and admitted while fire control improvements had improved accuracy, an area defense could be obtained only through a massing of units. The command structure was implemented to achieve a massing of units when necessary. With plenty of equipment, munitions, training areas and time, the D-Day units were "superior" in training, in one participant's opinion, on the 6th of June. Operations with the Army Air Force were entered with a spirit of cooperation and significant improvements made, but problems still existed near the forward line of troops which would never be resolved.
The major problem remained defining the antiaircraft artillery role in the division. In England, the requirement to issue and retrofit equipment, conduct unit firings, movement and amphibious training, left no time to train with the combat units. Despite the presence of many outstanding antiaircraft artillerymen, most maneuver commanders thought the AAA was simply "there," to be used only in the event of air attack. Because the quadruple .50-caliber machine guns were just being fielded, many corps and division commanders had never seen one fire. Stateside, all the Antiaircraft Artillery units had participated in the Tennessee or Louisiana maneuvers, but the AAA routinely defended rear area static assets, and few attempts were made to discuss or define a better antiaircraft employment in divisional operations.138
The task of selling antiaircraft in the divisions fell on the shoulders of the AW battalion commanders. Colonel Patterson and the group commanders tried to help. Being new to the First Army team, Patterson was not accepted in the First Army until after the Battle of the Bulge. Many group commanders, like Colonel Peca, were close to their corps commanders, but the divisional AAA battalions were not officially under them, and they were busy commanding their own units. Even massive firepower demonstrations,like the one conducted by the 49th Brigade shortly after D-Day, failed to spark the imaginations of the senior First Army officers.139
The antiaircraft battalion commanders were generally better than those in North Africa. Since 1942, the Antiaircraft Artillery Command did nothing to improve the technical or tactical competency of the lieutenant colonels. By late 1943, however, General Green insured the AATCs were inspecting units before their combined training, and some battalion commanders were replaced before they went on maneuvers. More importantly, the Tennessee and Louisiana exercises were attended by senior officers, and between their observations, the opinions of senior participants and Army Ground Forces observers, many AW battalion commanders were relieved just before their unit deployed overseas. The commander of the first 90mm gun battalion at the Remagen Bridge, Lieutenant Colonel Donald "Sandy" MacGrain, took command of the 413th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion as the unit boarded its transports.140
After D-Day, the sporadic nature of the German air threat and the uneven need for antiaircraft resulted in a feeling of isolation in the AW battalions attached to the divisions. Some battalion commanders, like Lieutenant Colonel George Fisher of the 377th AW Battalion, worked hard to earn their unit's place in the famous 4th Armored Division. Fisher, who was a National Guardsman from California, used his connections in Washington to gain command of a battalion scheduled for D-Day. When the original 377th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion commander was relieved in Tennessee, Fisher leaped at the opportunity. In Europe, he was renowned for his personal courage, visiting the front lines daily and personally directing his 40mm crews that fired in direct support of the infantry.141
Most AW battalion commanders adopted a safer approach and ordered their batteries to defend the field artillery, ammunition dumps or command posts. The aggressiveness, ingenuity and mobility that Colonel Patterson and General Timberlake sold in England were mitigated by some division commander's indifference and the insecurity some AW battalion commanders felt. Even so, the AW battalions in the First Army fought for acceptance in the divisions and corps. By the time of Remagen Bridge, the Antiaircraft Artillery had campaigned across Europe, protecting the breakout at St Lo and the crossings of the Seine River and participating in the liberation of Paris. But the Antiaircraft Artillery earned its place on the first team in the snow, confusion and blood of the Battle of the Bulge. The training in England took over, antiaircraft batteries led by junior officers and NCOs held their positions and fought while infantrymen withdrew around them. Antiaircraft Artillery reinforcements moved quickly onto the flanks of the incursion and denied the Germans access to valuable supplies that would have sustained the enemy offensive. The AAA participation in the Bulge proved the antiaircraft artillerymen had become soldiers.
They were tough, aggressive, and well trained, and they killed enemy tanks as well as anyone. At Remagen they would demonstrate the same skills but kill airplanes, not tanks.