There are many books that look at the artillery of the Second World War, but the majority of them focus almost entirely on the physical weapons. This book is an exception to that rule, instead looking in great detail at the way in which the guns were organised and used in battle. This is a surprisingly complex topic, covering a range of technical, organisation, command and control topics.
The book is split into three sections. Part one looks at the history of the artillery, the period of rearmament, the range of guns in use with the Royal Artillery, the technology needed to locate targets, and the organisation of the Royal Artillery. This is perhaps the closest to the traditional artillery book, at least in the section looking at the guns, but even here covers a much wider range of topics. The part that most interested me was the section on locating targets (Looking Far into the Battlefield). I had no idea that such effort went into this, including the production of some very complex systems for locating enemy guns. Perhaps the most impressive were the various sound location system, which used an array of listing posts lined up over miles, and which in skilled hands could be used to triangulate the location of enemy guns by measuring the different amount of time it took the sound of their firing to reach each position in the line! This system was also supported by aerial reconnaissance and flash spotting to build up a map of the enemy positions.
Part two is the heart of the book, looking at the technical challenges that needed to be met to produce accurate fire, starting with an understanding of how each type of gun in the arsenal actually operated, the geometry of artillery fire, and how those were combined to produce accurate shooting. This is followed by a look at the way in which individual guns were combined to produce a useful fire plan. This was the heart of the success of the British artillery during the Second World War, and saw a series of systems developed that allowed front line artillery observers to direct the fire of anything from an individual gun up to the artillery of an entire corps, without having to go through too many layers of senior commanders. It was this system that made the Royal Artillery so flexible in battle, gaining it a reputation as the most effective part of the British Army during the Second World War.
Part three looks at how all of these techniques were actually used in battle, from the early disasters in France, Belgium and Norway, ever improving during the campaign in North Africa, and on to Normandy, Arnhem and the Rhine. There is also a look at the very different environment of Burma, where many new techniques had to be developed. This section shows that the ideals weren’t always achieved, but also that the Royal Artillery at its best was a battle winning weapon.
This is a splendid book, providing a detailed study of a key part of the British Army of the Second World War, and filling quite a gap in the study of the artillery.
1 - The Period Before the First World War
2 - The Period up to the Second World War
3 - Twilight - War and Mobilisation
4 - A Decisive Rearmament
5 - Artillery Grouping: Organisation and Equipment
6 - Looking Far into the Battlefield
7 - Airborne Artillery
8 - How to Hit the Target - Technical Gun Characteristics
9 - How to Hit the Target - Geodetic Requirements
10 - How to Hit the Target - Gun Laying
11 - Preparations for Opening of Gunfire
12 - Artillery Battle Techniques and Tactics
13 - Train, Train, Exercise, Exercise…!
14 - Success Requires Efficient Staff Work
15 - Introduction
16 - Artillery to the Field - Across the Channel
17 - Failed Intervention in Norway
18 - From Imminent Invasion Threat to Offensive Training
19 - ‘It will be a killing match’ - El Alamein
20 - A New Front is Opened - Normandy
21 - ‘BERLIN Tonight’ - Arnhem
22 - The Final Onslaught - The Rhine Crossing
23 - From Defeat to Success - Burma
24 - Gunners We Have Met
Author: Stig H. Moberg