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Looking Back, January 2022

80th Anniversary of Army Aviation I.

         Eighty years ago, June 6, 1942, the Air Observation Post was formed. The background to this use of light planes for the direction of artillery fire, is the result of a fascinating period of history, the 1930s to 1942. Airpower and aircraft technology were quickly gaining converts. Even today, new technologies breeds interest, since Man likes the new toys he creates.

         Old-line methods of war, then, were becoming susceptible to change—Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry. . .   With the latter, the horse was being displaced by the iron horse, the tank. Motorized infantry was further developing since the Western Front, 1914-1918. Self-propelled artillery followed by the assault gun, was joining with the development of the tank. In turn, such mobility required new methods of observation in lieu of hills and church steeples. Again, we are back to that new technology known as the airplane. And, not to be overlooked, starting on September 1, 1939, the German Army was providing real life examples of modern war on the European continent, in the second chapter of The Great War, Man’s greatest Industrialized conflict or Total War, which began in 1914.

         The June 6, 1942 memorandum for “Organic Air Observation for the Field Artillery,”[1] will progress into something more than directing artillery fire: aerial observation and reconnaissance; evacuation of wounded; light transport; route column control (same was championed by Brigadier General Adna R. Chaffee, so as to lend aerial assistance to the movement of armor); wire laying. . .   And so the ground was being prepared to make the transition from the Air Observation Post to Army Aviation.

          Below is a literary effort published in the periodical, The Field Artillery Journal, the publication of the Office of the Chief of the Field Artillery. The chief was Major General Robert M. Danford, and here the reality of what was required for his branch to properly perform their function of support for the other Army branches in prosecuting ground warfare was explained. In addition, the lack of support by the Army Air Corps and why such support was lacking appears on the pages of this editorial, reinforcing the difference of opinion between elements of the Ground Forces and Air Corps as to the tactical requirements of the breech-loaders.

          Source: The Field Artillery Journal, page 195, Vol. 29, No. 3, The United States Field Artillery Association, Washington, D.C., May-June 1939.

Robert M. Danford US Army Major General

"Robert M. Danford, January 1920. In 1938, Major General Danford would be Chief of the Field Artillery until his retirement in 1942. He died on September 12, 1974, in Stamford, Connecticut at age 95. He is buried at West Point, Section II, Row A, Site 17."

Editorial

Blind Firing

         Over the past few years our consciousness has been thoroughly awakened to the import of “blind firing,” but during the same period little or nothing has been said or done about “blind firing” in the Field Artillery.

         Parenthetically, it should be stated that the Field Artillery has no complaint whatsoever to make of the Air Corps. In every instance where the two arms have worked together, cooperation has been cordial, sincere, and conscientious. The only fly in the ointment is that we are getting nowhere; progress has not been made.

         With suitable observation, the Field Artillery can obtain a certain effect, in so many minutes, with so many rounds, carried in so many trucks, requiring so much road space, and the labor of so many men.

         Without reservation, and by adopting expedients in diminishing order of their effectiveness, based on their availability, the same results can be obtained, if at all, only with greatly increased expenditures in time and ammunition.

        Since the mission of the Field Artillery is to support the Infantry and the Cavalry by fire, artillerymen have long desired the liberty of placing their OPs either on the ground or in the air where they could most efficiently do that very thing. In the meantime they have trained and practiced sporadically with observers detailed through the courtesy of the Air Corps. It has not worked.

         There are good reasons why it shouldn’t work, and these reasons get better every day. Airmen have too much to do, too much to learn, do not live and work with the guns and the gunners, and do not stay long enough at the detail to learn the field artillery technique. They are constantly increasing the speed of their machines, and their principal mission demands that they do so. The field artilleryman, on the other hand, is not so concerned with traveling through the air as he is with coming as near as possible to a full halt while he observes the effect of his fire.

         There is plenty of money and ingenuity being expended on fast planes. Who is interested in slow ones?

         It is doubtful if anyone but a trained field artilleryman can adjust fire which is not observable from the gun position. Granted that certain air-corps personnel deserve praise for a considerable degree of success in becoming technical field artillerymen in addition to their other duties, where are they now, and where will they be on M-day?

         The trend in foreign countries is toward giving field artillery battalions their own air OPs in the form of small, inexpensive, slow-flying, and fool-proof airplanes. This matter is a field artillery problem, and the Field Artillery, with such help as the Air Corps may be able to give it, must solve the problem of “blind firing” itself.

Endnotes

[1] WAR DEPARTMENT MEMORANDUM (WDCGT 320.02), June 6, 1942. Otherwise known as, The Birth Certificate of Army Aviation.