home mail phone armyaviation.com
Logo mast phone
Logo mast
  • Bush Center
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Plight of the Gunners

Looking Back / By Mark Albertson: The best army in the world is bound to be annihilated unless it is backed up by a strong, well-organized Home Front.  Let every institution in the USSR treat the Army as a matter of priority. . .    —Vladimir Lenin(1)*

The L-4 was the backbone of Army Aviation in World War II.  Flown by Aviators during first part of the Korean War

Army Aviators opened the Korean conflict flying World War II holdovers; in a word, their mounts were long in the tooth.  L-4s and L-5s shouldered the load for the first part of the war. Between July 4, 1950 and December 31, 1951, some 90 percent of the aerial fire direction missions were flown by these aircraft.  Only 10 were lost, though, during combat operations; while non-combat accidents claimed another 122 aircraft.  During this same period, U.S Eighth Army L-4s and L-5s logged 186,372 hours during 140,792 missions; 64,541 of these missions were combat sorties.(2)

L-5: Army Air Forces liaison aircraft during World War II.  Utilized by Ground Forces in Korean conflict

By 1952, a new aircraft was flying the bulk of liaison sorties, the Cessna Model 305, or, the L-19, AKA, Bird Dog.  In fact, during 1952, Army Aviators logged 117,593 administrative missions, evacuated 7,654 sick and wounded soldiers, in exchange for ten pilots killed in action.(3)

But Army Aviators were not the only ones treated like red-haired, freckle-faced step children.  For they shared their dilemma with those on the ground they was working for, the gunners, who endured a calamitous shortage of ammunition and gun tubes.  Now for those weaned on the standard schoolbook history extolling ad nauseam the unimpeachable virtues of the Arsenal of Democracy saving the globe during World War II, writing about ordnance shortfalls in some “police action” in Asia might be construed as bordering on heresy.  Welcome to the real world of the historian, whose obligation is to shed light on the unsayable.

Built by Cessna, the L-19 replaced the L-4 and L-5 for use by the Ground Forces, beginning in Korea.

One man who fully grasped the predicament was General Lawton Collins, who when testifying before Congress in May 1952, stated, “If combat in Korea should continue, or if our troops in Europe were attacked, we would have no reserves of some of the most important types of ammunition and our frontline troops would have to limit their expenditures to what came off our production line.  Some of the types of ammunition most important to our frontline soldiers have been rationed in Korea because production still does not equal normal battle expenditures, and World War II stocks have either been exhausted or have approached exhaustion.(4)

The ordinance situation was reflective of the outlook on the home front.  Popular opinion held to the idea that after the Inchon landings, the boys would be home by Christmas, Christmas 1950 that is.  So interest in marginalizing the civilian end of the economy for conversion to a wartime footing ala World War II was lacking.  The result was a shortage of machine tools and other related equipment necessary to produce artillery rounds in mass quantities.  Take aluminum, needed for the production of fuses, was in short supply.(5)  Reality, though, set in with the Chinese intervention . . . Korea was going to be a long war. Congressional appropriations were then forthcoming.  But money does not guarantee an immediate conversion of a peacetime to a wartime economy.  Producers would need 18 to 24 months to convert.(6)

Defense of the Pusan Perimeter, Summer 1950.  Gun crew of the 64th F.A. Bn., 25th Infantry Division, 105 mm howitzer./ Public domain photo, U.S. Army, Wikipedia Commons. 

To accommodate the growing need for artillery in Korea, the Army abandoned the four-gun battery in favor of six.  This increased each division’s complement of division artillery from 48 guns to 72.  And as production ramped up, more guns were forthcoming.  In February 1951, 226 155 mm howitzers were on hand.  By September 1952, 452.  In February 1951, there were 610 105 mm howitzers available, surging to 912 by September 1952.(7)

Yet another problem arose, staffing the extra guns . . . lack of trained personnel, a problem that would dog the Army throughout the war.  “Although a liberal rotation policy adopted in early 1951 did much to raise morale among the troops, it adversely affected the performance of artillery units.  Each month following initiation of the policy, there was an approximate 7.5 percent turnover of personnel in the field artillery units.  Between October 1951 and July 1953, artillery personnel in the Eighth Army was completely replaced almost three times.  Cuts in the Army budget for the fiscal year 1952 exacerbated the problem by reducing Army strength ceilings.  That same year, terms of service of those who had been called up for the war in 1950 were also ending, making about 750,000 soldiers eligible for discharge. Proficiency was hard to maintain as a result, especially in the artillery.  General James A. Van Fleet, who commanded the Eighth Army between April 1951 and January 1953, complained that the artillery had lost its ability to shoot quickly and accurately because of the rotation program had depleted the units of their veteran gunners.  The replacement system was unable to supply enough trained specialists to fill the requirements, and the replacements that were furnished needed further training.  Fortunately, because of the static nature of the war during the last two years, the replacement system was not as severe as it might have been.”(8)

U.S. artillerymen in action, Korea."  U.S. Army public domain photo. / Wikipedia Commons.

Of the issues facing the Field Artillery, none garnered as much attention as that of ammunition shortages.  And to better understand this issue, it behooves the reader to have a rudimentary knowledge of the calibers involved.  Three calibers actually formed the basis of United Nations’ forces:  105 mm, 155 mm and 8-inch.  “However artillery rounds did not come assembled.  The 155 mm and 8-inch howitzers fired separate-loading ammunition, which was composed of four separate components:  primer, propellant, projectile and fuse.  Components were issued and delivered separately, which created a logistics nightmare. The 105 mm howitzers in the UN inventory fired semi-fixed ammunition; propellant was divided into increments, or charges, and the charges were tied together and stored in cartridge cases.  Each howitzer crew adjusted the charge by lifting the projectile from its case.”(9)

Three calibers denoted simplicity; but, each caliber necessitated a variety of shell type—high-explosive, smoke, illumination, each with a different shell-fuse combination.  105 mm rounds weighed 45-50 pounds; 155 mm weighed nearly 100 pounds and 8-inch shells weighed some 198 pounds.

M115 8-inch howitzer, in action. May 27, 1952, near Yonchon, Korea.  Battery A, 17th F.A. Bn., 45th U.S. Infantry Division. / Public domain photo, U.S. Army.  Wikipedia Commons.

Per Lieutenant Colonel John E. Herbert, 314th Ordnance Ammunition Group: “Commanders of tactical units have repeatedly emphasized the fact that the Korean conflict has been essentially a contest between enemy manpower and U.S. firepower.  Communist forces in Korea have been employed against us in an 8-to-1 ratio.  We have countered with a ratio of more than 100-to-1 in firepower.  The pitting of firepower against manpower has led to unprecedented logistical problems.

“During a sixty day period (19 August to 18 October 1951), 158,303 tons of ammunition were delivered to regiments and battalions of U.S. I, IX and X Corps from 17 forward ammunition points operated by the 314th Ordnance Ammunition Group.  This represents 27 Liberty Ship loads, or 3,332 rail-car loads, or 39,527 2.5 ton truck loads (100 percent overloaded).  The 314th has had over 900 rail cars of ammunition moving forward from Pusan to Inchon at one time.

“Paradoxically, the enemy’s ‘human wave’ tactics and the mountainous terrain made Korea a battleground of artillery and hand grenades.  As a result, in this sixty-day period, we delivered across the front 3,092 rounds to each 105 mm howitzer; 2,579 rounds to each 155 mm howitzer; 1,830 rounds to each 155 mm howitzer—but only 391 rounds to each 60 mm mortar and 546 rounds to each M-1 rifle.  Over 400,000 hand grenades were used by the Eighth Army.  One infantry regiment used 900 in one night.”(10)

U.S. artillery checking their equipment, Kum River, South Korea, July 1950. / U.S. Army public domain image, Wikipedia Commons

Each war produces a battle which stands out as representative of the conflict; such as Verdun and the Somme in World War I; Stalingrad in World War II.  For the Field Artillery in Korea, perhaps it is the battle of the Soyang River.  “During the defensive Battle of the Soyang River (10 May to 7 June 1951), X Corps exceeded all previous ammunition expenditures.  The fighting was close and the divisions used ‘Walls of Steel’ to halt the Communist drive The artillery made the greatest demand on ammunition because of the weight and bulk of their rounds.  In this engagement the artillery fired often and for long periods at five times the normal rate. On May 22 the artillery fired 49,986 rounds on the corps front.  Artillerymen firing at a rate of 250 rounds per gun per day, came to speak of ‘The Van Fleet Rate of fire.’”(11)

“Expenditures of artillery ammunition during the battle of Soyang approached unheard of proportions. In seven days from 17 May to 23 May 1951, the twenty-one battalions (including four Marine and two Republic of Korea battalions) supporting X Corps, fired 309,958 rounds, or more than 8,730 tons.  The magnitude of this affect becomes even more striking when compared to the 94,230 rounds that thirty-five battalions fired in support of the Third Army’s attack toward Bastogne during the ten days from 22 to 31 December 1944.  During the assault on Metz in 1944, XX Corps expended 10,000 tons of artillery ammunition in ten days. At Soyang, daily expenditures were 50,102 rounds, representing 1,378 tons, on May 20, and 49,586 rounds representing 1,456 tons on 22 May.  On 17 May the 38th Field Artillery Battalion alone fired 11,981 rounds—an average of almost one round per gun every two minutes for the whole twenty-four hour period.  Total expenditures for the period 10 May-7 June amounted to over 644,000 rounds, or some 18,000 tons of artillery ammunition.(12)  The tonnage of ammunition used by the X Corps during this period was nearly double the tonnage of all other supplies consumed.  Between 15 and 22 May the daily expenditure of ammunition averaged 73 percent of the tonnage of all other supplies expended, and it reached as high as 82.6 percent.”(13)

* * * * *

Artillery has been and remains the great killer of communists.  It remains the great saver of soldiers, American and Allied.  There is a direct correlation between piles of shells and piles of corpses.  The bigger the former, the smaller the latter.—General Matthew B. Ridgway(14)

* * * * *

But again, production in America was the problem, which necessitated the use of holdover World War II ordnance stocks.  From July 1, 1950 to June 30, 1951, ammunition deliveries amounted to $62,300,000.  Keep in mind how anemic this is, when 2nd Division artillery loosed $33,000,000 worth of ordnance in just 15 days.  However from July 1, 1951 to June 30, 1952, ordnance deliveries amounted to $892,900,000.  Yet it was not until the latter months of 1952 that the dilemma was finally addressed.(15)  But even here wrinkles did occur:

“U.S. production lines turned out 100,000 rounds 155 mm rounds in July 1952.  The authorized daily supply rate was 40 rounds-per-gun.  To provide those 40 rounds-per-gun for each of the 486 artillery pieces in the Korean theater required the manufacture of 583,200 rounds per month.  Production was slowed when forgers of the Christie Park Plant in Pittsburgh went on strike in June 1952.  The strike lasted 54 days, but it had a ripple effect on ammunition supply that in October 1952 caused Van Fleet to limit his guns to 6 rounds-per-day.”(16)

The first part of the war, Army Aviators were flying missions in obsolete L-4s and L-5s; while at the same time, their brothers working and sweating at breeches below were contending with shortages of gun tubes, trained personnel and ammunition.  Unlike World War II, which the Grand Republic addressed in an magnanimous effort of community, where everyone flocked to be on the same page, Korea was that harbinger of the coming times; from the apathy of the American public to the self-indulgent agendas of political and business interests, all of which reflect that propensity to want guns and butter as opposed to the diligence required for conducting a war by cutting back on the civilian side of the economy. In this, the unsung veterans of Korea—like their later comrades-in-arms from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan—were denied that cherished ingredient the American fighting man requires to propel him to victory . . . that of the shared sacrifice emblematic from December 7, 1941 to September 2, 1945.(17)

End Notes

  1. See page 19, chapter 1, “The Imperial Heritage,” by Lieutenant Colonel Serge Andolenko, The Red Army, edited by B.H. Liddell Hart.
  2. See page 75, chapter fifteen, “Postwar Liaison and Korea,” L-Birds:  American Combat Liaison Aircraft of World War II, by Terry M. Love.
  3. See page 51, Love.
  4. See page 12, chapter 2, “Causes of the Ammunition Shortage,” Steel for Bodies:  Ammunition Readiness During the Korean War, by Major Peter J. Lane, U.S.A.
  5. See page 633, chapter XXXIV, “The Korean War,” The Sinews of War, 1775-1993, Army Historical Series, by James A. Huston.
  6. See page 2, “Artillery Ammunition in the Korean War,” by Captain David A. Martin.
  7. See page 36, chapter 2, “Causes of the Ammunition Shortage,” Steel for Bodies:  Ammunition Readiness During the Korean War, by Major Peter J. Lane, U.S.A.
  8. See page 201, chapter 8, “Postwar Organization,” The Organizational History of the Field Artillery, 1775-2003, by Janice McKenney.
  9. See page 1, “Artillery Ammunition in the Korean War,” by Captain David A. Martin.
  10. See page 125, Part IV, Ordnance Corps, 2. Artillery and Hand Grenades, Combat Support in Korea, by John G. Westover.
  11. See page 126, Westover.
  12. With pursuing the comparison of Korea to World War I as a stalemate and the heavy use of artillery, a reference to Verdun is in order here.  On the first day of the epic battle, February 21, 1916, at 0715 hours, the Germans opened the struggle with what was at that time, the greatest bombardment in the history of war.  In more than nine hours, 1,000,000 rounds of ordnance fell on the French lines.  The bombardment was of such virulence, that Poilus were interred, disinterred and then reinterred in the churned up French landscape.  In ten months, some 1,350,000 tons of steel became part of the earth around Verdun.  Nine French villages which existed on February 20, had been wiped off the map by November.  See pages 45 and 185, Verdun, by David Mason.
    Honorable mention, for purposes of this discussion, goes to the American Expeditionary Forces committed to the battle of the Meuse-Argonne, September 26-November 11, 1918; a 47 day slogging match which goes down in history as this Nation’s costliest battle, American gunners loosed 4,214,000 rounds of artillery ammunition.  See Table 8, chapter VIII, “Two Hundred Days of Battle,” The War With Germany, A Statistical Summary, Colonel Leonard P. Ayres.  
  13. See pages 631 and 632, chapter XXXIV, “The Korean War,” The Sinews of War, 1775-1993, Army Historical Series, by James A. Huston.
  14. See page 15, Korean War Anthology:  Artillery in Korea:  Massing Fires and Reinventing the Wheel, by D.M. Giangreco.
  15. See page 633, Huston.
  16. See pages 4 and 5, “Artillery Ammunition in the Korean War,” by Captain David A. Martin.
  17. Moving beyond the dictum of Lenin, there is Carl von Clausewitz, who stresses the equilibrium between the People, Army and Government.  See page 122, chapter 1, “The Nature of War,” Book One, “On the Nature of War,” On War, by Carl von Clausewitz.  “A theory which would leave any one of them out of account, or set up any arbitrary relation between them, would immediately become involved in such a contradiction with the reality, that it might be regarded as destroyed at once by that alone.”  Translation:  If the People, Army and Government are not in equilibrium, the prospect of defeat grows accordingly.

Bibliography

  • Albertson, Mark, chapter 9, “New Lease on Life, Sky Soldiers:  The Saga of Army Aviation, Vol. 1, 2016.
  • Ayres, Colonel Leonard P., Chief of the Statistics Branch of the General Staff, The War With Germany, A Statistical Summary, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1919.
  • Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1968.  Originally published as Vom Kriege, 1832.
  • Giangreco, D.M., Korean War Anthology:  Artillery in Korea:  Massing Fires and Reinventing the Wheel, Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS., 2003.
  • Hart, B.H. Liddell, The Red Army, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1956.
  • Hermes, Walter G., Truce tent and Fighting Front, United States Army in the Korean War, Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1992.
  • Huston, James A., The Sinews of War, 1775-1993, Army Historical Series, Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1997.
  • Lane, Major Peter J., U.S.A., Steel for Bodies:  Ammunition Readiness During the Korean War, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS., 2003.
  • Love, Terry M., L-Birds:  American Combat Liaison Aircraft of World War II, Flying Books International, New Brighton, Minn., 2001.
  • Martin, Captain David A., “Artillery Ammunition in the Korean War,” www.almc.army.mil/alog/issues/SepOct98.MS297.htm
  • McKenney, Janice E., The Organizational History of Field Artillery, 1775-2003, Center of Military History, United States Army, Army Lineage Series, Washington, D.C., 2007.
  • Westover, John G., Combat Support in Korea, U.S. Army in Action Series, Publication 22-1, Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1990.

 

L-4.  "Backbone of Army Aviation in World War II.  Flown by Aviators during first part of the Korean War."

L-5.  "Army Air Forces liaison aircraft during World War II.  Utilized by Ground Forces in Korean conflict.

L-19.  "Built by Cessna, the L-19 replaced the L-4 and L-5 for use by the Ground Forces, beginning in Korea."

There you are, Trudy.  Have more photos coming, pertaining to artillery in action.

Public domain photo, U.S. Army, Wikipedia Commons.  "Defense of the Pusan Perimeter, Summer 1950.  Gun crew of the 64th F.A. Bn., 25th Infantry Division, 105 mm howitzer."

"U.S. artillerymen in action, Korea."  U.S. Army public domain photo.  Wikipedia Commons.
Public domain photo, U.S. Army.  Wikipedia Commons.  "M115 8-inch howitzer, in action. May 27, 1952, near Yonchon, Korea.  Battery A, 17th F.A. Bn., 45th U.S. Infantry Division."

U.S. Army public domain image, "U.S. artillery checking their equipment, Kum River, South Korea, July 1950."  From Wikipedia Commons.