|The Hammer of Hell |
Chapter 7 Thoughts for Today:
Historical Lessons Learned
(Colonel E. Paul Semmens completed final revisions for The Hammer of Hell before the 1991 Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Students should ask themselves how Colonel Semmens might amend the following paragraphs in light of the Gulf War, the re-emergence of the theater ballistic missile threat, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, air threat diversification and increased situational awareness made possible by today's informational technologies and battlefield digitization.)
General J. F. C. Fuller once wrote that doctrine is nothing more than common sense adapted to circumstance. That definition certainly applied to the Antiaircraft Artillery defense of the division during World War II. Constrained by senior Army leaders' prejudices and by public perceptions, the Coast Artillery was unable to define a doctrinal philosophy and produce suitable equipment and training programs until after the Battle of Kasserine Pass. Two years later, at the Remagen Bridge, given sufficient resources and a fresh outlook, First Army antiaircraft artillerymen wrote an important new page in history.
The Changing Mission
Studies that attempted to translate the same antiaircraft organizations and technology used in the continental defense to the defense of the field army found that the Coast Artillery regiments' usefulness was restricted to the corps rear area and neglected the defense of forward combat elements.
In 1939, the War Department rejected the idea that the infantry could defend itself against air attack and directed the Coast Artillery to create separate battalions for potential use in the combat zone. The Coast Artillery Corps adopted the 40mm gun, a smaller version of their larger guns, for the automatic weapons battalions. This suggested that their mission was the defense of static points in the corps and division areas.
The antiaircraft lessons learned from the Battle of Kasserine Pass shocked Army leaders. They realized that although antiaircraft artillery protection was needed throughout the corps area, gun and automatic weapons coverage also was needed in the forward combat zone. The battle confirmed the point defense tactic, but the points moved often and mobility became an important factor. Antiaircraft Artillery units abandoned their directors because they slowed them down so much that they could not keep up with the field artillery battalions that they defended.
It was necessary to modify the Bofors guns to make them both accurate and mobile. More importantly, training programs had to be modified to teach AAA units to relocate rapidly, day or night, anywhere on the battlefield. Antiaircraft Artillery soldiers had to be just as tough as the infantry because they were operating along the line of contact and enduring the same Germany artillery fire, enemy probes, and physical and mental hardships.
Kasserine Pass demonstrated that Antiaircraft Artillery junior officers had to understand the situation on the battlefield. To provide effective support, Antiaircraft Artillery soldiers had to understand combined arms tactics, and they had to be in touch with higher AAA headquarters to integrate their operations with those of the Antiaircraft Artillery Command. Early warning of enemy and friendly air attacks became a necessity in North Africa because without it fratricide was rampant. Methods of identifying friendly aircraft, such as identification, friend or foe, were believed to be the key to integrating Antiaircraft Artillery and Air Force operations. This turned out not to be the case; those methods did not work during World War II, and they still do not work today.
When the Americans invaded Sicily, the most pressing question was: "How do we deny the Luftwaffe its objectives from the line of contact to the corps rear area?"
The antiaircraft artillerymen who prepared for the European invasion trained and equipped their units for a doctrine of mass through mobility. Automatic weapons battalions were issued quad caliber .50 machine guns turret-mounted on halftracks. Each Bofors gun had a Stiff Key Stick or a Peca sight, and soldiers had the ammunition and time to train to use them. The Antiaircraft Artillery battalion rotated through Blandford, where they were taught simultaneous reconnaissance and movement. They also were motivated to adopt a new aggressiveness by General Timberlake.
The victory at the Remagen Bridge was the culmination of this evolutionary process and one of the greatest antiaircraft battles in American history. Colonel Patterson fought the campaign like a football coach. The automatic weapons battalions--placed to minimize the damage to the forward area--were his defensive linemen. The corps antiaircraft groups--who piled on an enemy incursion with massed gun and automatic weapons fire--were his linebackers. Their triumph was the product of anticipation on the part of senior officers like Patterson and Madison and competence and courage on the part of junior officers such as Higgins and Deems.
Command and Control
Senior Antiaircraft Artillery officers commanded their units by tracking the maneuver situation and anticipating where corps Antiaircraft Artillery might be needed, and planning accordingly. The air defense battle was directed from the corps level, where antiaircraft artillerymen had access to the larger tactical picture, including the air threat. Antiaircraft Artillery brigade commanders had a relationship with the divisional air defenders so they could provide early warning and reinforce the antiaircraft defense of a portion of the divisional area if it became necessary.
Today, American corps fight Soviet fronts. The Soviets control the majority of their air assets at the army and front levels. The American Army must organize to counter the air threat at the appropriate level, the corps. If the enemy ties his air operations to his ground maneuver, then air defenders can anticipate and arrange mass coverage and command and control at that spot on the battlefield.
North Africa taught the American Army that air defense is an important member of the combined arms tea. The campaign also established the requirement for mobile Antiaircraft Artillery fire units with an accurate first-round capability and the capacity to kill enemy infantry and lightly armored vehicle during lulls in the air battle or in tactical emergencies.
And lastly, perhaps the greatest lesson of World War II is that air defenders must be realistic about their capabilities in the forward area. In a branch of the Army that, by necessity, remains highly technical, there is a temptation to equate the template of a missile engagement zone with reality. History has proven that this approach does not work. Air defenders need to be tactically conservative, and they need to concentrate command and control while remaining flexible in combat. Defeating an enemy air threat from the ground requires special soldiers--and the antiaircraft artillerymen of World War II were certainly extraordinary. Their legacy is an inspiration to their successors.
The U.S. Army still does not believe its front-line troops are vulnerable to air attack, despite the enormous threat the Soviet Union presents today. Just like World War II, there is only one air defense battalion organic to the division, despite the air threat to the division rear and the forward combat forces posed by the attack helicopter and the fighter bomber. The Army is investing heavily in the Forward Area Air Defense (FAAD) system, and its fielding would represent the most significant improvement to the defense of field army since the activation of the Chaparral-Vulcan battalions in the late 1960s. While the FAAD battalion will have the ability to cover more forces thanthe ever before, recognizing the shortcoming, the Army is developing a series of antiaircraft artillery enhancements for its main battle tank. This solution may be technically feasible during a break in the tank battle that gives the tanker time to find and engage an aerial target, but it is an admission that the Army does not have enough air defense.
Furthermore, the flexibility of the divisional air defense commander is restricted by attitudes that were prevalent in 1942. Every brigade commander wants his "slice" of the air defense battalion, and a defense is considered incomplete unless the ADA battalion is spread across the battlefield. Command and control becomes difficult for the air defense battery commanders who must liaison two levels up while simultaneously supervising their units. Present doctrine calls for the corps air defense brigade to reinforce the divisional battalion, if necessary. There are, however, no specific tenets to help formulate the relationship between the divisional battalion and the corps air defense brigade. Consequently, the corps brigade defends establishments in the corps rear area, and the divisional battalion spreads out to defend the brigades on line. A significant command and control and coverage gap exists between the two.
The attitude and judgments created in this situation are similar to those General McNair held in 1941. Air defenders are still considered passive; they defend things. The need for some capability is recognized almost universally, and thus the insistence on the "slice," but the idea of an air defense battalion or brigade conducting an independent operation to mass protection at the critical time and place on the battlefield cannot be fathomed.
Every soldier understands the advantages of the attacker. Why not let air defenders attack? History proves it is one way to fight outnumbered and win. It should not be forgotten that AirLand Battle Doctrine calls for anticipation, risk and synchronization of the battle. World War II produced four principles of air defense: mass, mix, mobility and integration. Mass implies an insufficiency of air defense and the decision to weight one's coverage at the critical time and place on the battlefield. Certainly the United States does not have enough air defense--Kuwait allocates more air defense to its divisions. Despite this, there is no doctrinal consideration of mass. During World War II, coast artillerymen would not consider a defense complete unless it had mix--complementary weapons defending the same asset.
The failure at Kasserine Pass was primarily an organizational failure; Harriman did not have enough 90mm gun battalions to put guns in the Bled Foussana to counter the Luftwaffe's reconnaissance efforts. With a battery handcuffed to each maneuver brigade, mobility becomes tactical mobility--the movement to alternate positions and the like. Changes of mission to mass coverage at the critical time and place seems to be a forgotten tenet. Air defenders today are expected to be defensive linemen and charge straight ahead. Any thought of developing linebackers is an alien concept. And lastly, the integration of the air defense battle between corps and division and with the Air Force is in the same shape it was 45 years ago. The failure of today's doctrine to define the relationship between the divisional and air defense battalions has already been discussed. The identification problem with the advent of the jet aircraft and no meaningful improvement in the identification process will result in a fratricide of unequaled magnitude, given the lethality of today's air defense weapons.
Based on these lessons from World War II and a clearer image of common perceptions, Air Defense Artillery needs to reevaluate its portion of the AirLand Battle Doctrine and adopt a more aggressive posture. The victory at Remagen occurred because antiaircraft artillerymen anticipated requirements and then poured forces into the critical spot on the battlefield at the right time. Today, the most unemployed soldier on the modern battlefield is an air defender above the rank of major. It is their charge to synchronize the battle, just as it was the responsibility of field grade coast artillerymen in 1941. The difference is that in 1941 America had time to learn from a Kasserine Pass, today we do not.