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The Organizational History of Field Artillery

The Organizational History of Field Artillery

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Published by Bob Andrepont

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Feb 11, 2011
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The purpose of feld artillery, supporting the maneuver arms in combat, has
not changed since 1775, when Henry Knox organized the frst Continental artillery
organizations. From then on, however, feld artillery in the U.S. Army has been
transformed from an arm having a relatively minor impact on the battlefeld to
one of dominant force. Technology played a major role in changing the clumsy,
dangerous, and none-too-accurate direct-fre guns of the eighteenth century into

the precision weapons of today. Improvements in technology provided weapons

with the means to make more accurate and longer-ranging fre possible—advanced

sighting and recoil mechanisms, communications systems that resulted in successful

fre direction, positioning systems that reduced emplacement times, motorization
and mechanization that provided more rapid means of transport and rate of fre, and

munitions that improved range, precision, and lethality.
Methods of employment have also changed since 1775. During the Revolution-

ary War, artillery pieces were attached to infantry brigades for close support; by
the end of the Civil War they were grouped into brigades or battalions assigned to
divisions and corps. Employment of feld artillery gradually became centralized,
but at the dawn of the twenty-frst century, decentralization is again in favor. With
a more lethal battlefeld and sophisticated electronics, artillery pieces were designed
to be mobile with modern positioning, communications, and fre control systems
that allow them to be widely dispersed yet deliver mass fre.
The debate over mobility versus frepower has also been a consistent theme in the
history of feld artillery. To displace, emplace, and move quickly, guns needed to be
light, but light guns do not have the frepower and range of heavier weapons. Early
guns, howitzers, and mortars often had to be moved by hand and largely depended on
hired transport, and the weight that could be drawn by animals limited their size and

force. During World War I, motorization was introduced, not necessarily to improve


Janosko and Cheatham, “Sound of Thunder,” p. 38; Robert F. Barry II, “Why Organic Fires,”

Field Artillery, March-June 2004, pp. 16–17; Bailey, Field Artillery and Firepower, pp. 441-42.


Janosko and Cheatham, “Sound of Thunder,” pp. 36–38; Fontenot, Degen, and Tohn, On

Point, pp. 250, 417.


Fontenot, Degen, and Tohn, On Point, pp. 398–99.


TOward a new cenTUry

mobility but to make better use of the valuable shipping space originally allotted to

horses and their forage. Mechanization added more rapid movement, a higher rate of

fre, and increased frepower, but the extra weight hindered transport overseas. The
situation with the 155-mm. Crusader howitzer, planned for felding around 2008,
is illustrative of the problem. Although designed with its own automated resupply
vehicle, crew protection, on-board navigation and fre control systems, and increased
mobility and frepower, and although fewer were needed than the howitzers then in
use, thus reducing lift requirements, the Crusader presented enough diffculties in

overseas transport to precipitate its cancellation in 2002. Organic artillery pieces

in light divisions were easily transported, but the disadvantage was their reduced
frepower and lack of crew protection.
Funding also played a critical role in the development of feld artillery, which
is expensive both in armament and manpower. Prior to the twentieth century, feld

artillery as an offensive arm received little attention during peacetime. Defense of
the continental United States was paramount in the minds of Army leaders, giving
more prominence to coastal defenses. As a result, during World War I, the Army

had to depend upon foreign armies for feld artillery weapons; arming troops had
to be accomplished more rapidly than was possible for the United States alone.

Monetary concerns after the war, as well as isolationism, resulted in drastic reduc-

tions, even though Army planners accomplished some of their best theoretical work

during the seemingly stagnant interwar years. Half a century later, with the end of

the Cold War, the lack of a well-defned enemy is again affecting feld artillery, as

the U.S. Army undertakes wide-scale reductions while attempting to reorient itself
toward an uncertain future.

Given limited defense resources, the defense budget is seen by many as favoring

the Navy and Air Force. These services invest more heavily in technology, their

larger and more expensive weapons systems providing greater civilian employment.

They also are less manpower-intensive than the Army, an important consideration
in an era without the draft and with a dwindling percentage of youth in the U.S.
population. The destructive air wars over Bosnia and Kosovo provided further

arguments for those in favor of reducing the nation’s ground forces; the close fght
appeared to many an anachronism. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq reversed

that impression somewhat, when the Air Force proved ineffectual without ground

cooperation and when the burden of close-in fghting by necessity fell to the infantry.

And if the ground soldier remains a critical element of warfare, so the services of

the feld artillery—the King of Battle—will remain critical as well.


From 1918 to 1942, the Chief of Field Artillery was located at the War Department in Wash-

ington, D.C. On 4 June 1920, the position was made permanent by statute.


During the frst half of 1919, Brig. Gen. Edward H. De Armond served as the acting chief on

three occasions—22 to 31 January, 7 April to 22 May, and 17 to 20 June.


With the implementation of the War Department Reorganization Plan on 9 March 1942, the

staff position for the Chief of Field Artillery disappeared. At this time, the branch chief’s authority
was vested in the commanding general of the Army Ground Forces and subordinate elements were
integrated with those of the newly created command. See Kent Roberts Greenfeld, Robert R. Palmer,

and Bell I. Wiley, The Organization of Ground Combat Troops, United States Army in World War II
(Washington, D.C.: Historical Division, Department of the Army, 1947), pp. 148–55.


In October 1983, as part of the Army-wide transfer of branch proponency to the U.S. Army

Training and Doctrine Command service schools under School Model 83, the Field Artillery School

commandant became dual-hatted as the reconstituted Chief of Field Artillery. Although not a mandated
staff position as held by the former chiefs, the proponent branch chief had “responsibility for the devel-
opment, documentation and integration of doctrine, organizations, equipment, training and personnel
into the Total Army.” See USATRADOC Annual Command History, 1 October 1982 to 30 September

1983, pp. 61, 308–09, plus Ltr, Gen William R. Richardson, CG, HQ, USATRADOC, to Comdrs,

TRADOC Integrating Centers, and Comdts, TRADOC Service Schools, 26 Aug 83, sub: Proponency,
in backup materials of ibid., Command Historian fles, USATRADOC, Fort Monroe, Va.

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