Excerpted from The Field Artillery Journal, July, 1942

By Lieutenant Colonel Lowell M. Riley, FA [- Commentary #1]

The six-week tests which have been conducted at Fort Bragg, Camp Blanding, and Fort Sam Houston with the light Piper Cub plane, L-57 [L-4, 57 H marking], have now been completed. The crews of these airplanes were trained at Fort Sill during February and March. Pilots were selected among commissioned and enlisted flyers who had civilian ratings and most of whom were already accomplished flyers of light planes. At the close of the training period the group was divided into two detachments, one of which was sent to Fort Sam Houston to conduct its tests with the artillery of the 2d Division, the other going to Fort Bragg to work with the 13th FA Brigade and carry on the tests with corps artillery. The writer had the good fortune to be present during the latter tests, which included three weeks of observation work at Fort Bragg, two weeks at Camp Blanding, and some work with marching organizations between Fort Bragg and Camp Blanding.

A new conception of the conduct of air observation for Field Artillery has been compelled by the increased threat of combat aviation against slower observation planes comparatively weak in fire power and subject to attack by enemy pursuit at almost any time. It is no longer possible for an observation plane to fly a circle above the target at 2,000 feet, or to fly the gun-target line for the periods which have hitherto been necessary to conduct an air observed problem during service practice. The only feasible method involves landing fields close to artillery positions, very brief periods in the air when enemy pursuit is not present, prompt return to improvised landing fields, and careful camouflage of planes to hide them from hostile combat aviation. All of the flying will have to be done over our own lines at low altitudes, probably not exceeding 600 feet, to make it difficult for hostile aviation to discover and shoot down planes which are observing for the artillery.

The brief time allowable for an observation mission makes necessary careful prearrangement between the air observer and the battalion or battery commander and a greatly reduced and simplified radio procedure, including check-in before the plane leaves the ground. In this new procedure, the airplane flies approximately 1,000 yards in rear of our front lines, somewhere over the gun positions, back and forth on a line perpendicular to the gun-target line. The War Department directive for the tests described such a procedure, and it is believed it will shortly be prescribed by a Training Manual on the subject.

The tests were most successful. Approximately 100 mission were observed at Fort Bragg and Camp Blanding, which demonstrated an increasingly successful conduct of these missions due to the practice obtained and increasing improvement of procedure. The pilot-mechanics of the light airplanes demonstrated conclusively their ability to maintain and operate this type of plane successfully and regularly, often in spite of unfavorable weather conditions. Over 1,000 landings and take-offs were made, none of which were on improved flying fields except en route from Fort Bragg to Camp Blanding. Improved and unimproved roads, and small fields which were often not entirely cleared, were used, in all cases from one to two miles from battaIion positions with telephone connection between the airfield and gun positions.

On the march, the airplanes left at half-hour intervals, checked in with the radio cars of commanders of the marching troops, and the observers were able at all times to report to troop commanders up-to-the-minute information upon the state and progress of their columns. Furthermore, assuming air parity or advantage on our side they could have kept the column commander informed of any enemy threat over a wide area.

One of the experiments was the vertical and oblique photographing of target areas and the terrain inside the enemy lines, using an ordinary Signal Corps camera.

Some advantages clearly demonstrated by the tests were:

a. The simplicity of operation and maintenance of the light planes used.
b. The ability of field artillery personnel to operate the planes.
c. The desirability of having the plane and their crews a basic part of field artillery organizations.
d. The possibility of dismantling these light planes, loading each on a 2 1⁄2-ton truck, and thus transporting them from place to place in case of need.
e. The pilot-mechanic principle; that is, having the man who files the plane repair and service it himself.

The work of the pilots and mechanics of this detachment was admirable, indeed. They flew observing missions hour after hour from and over all sorts of difficult terrain, landing and taking off from difficult fields and roads. They are blessed with no flying pay, no parachutes (very little opportunity of using one at 600 feet), and never declined for any reason to fly a requested mission. They are in it for the love of the game and the satisfaction derived from a good job well done. They deserve great credit for their work.

By Captain Angus Rutledge, FA [- Commentary #2]

Perhaps the greatest single advance in recent field artillery history is now in rapid progress. The “Flying Jeep,” the “Grasshopper Plane,” the “Flying OP”—a low-powered Piper Cup [Cub]—is supplanting Knob Hill, Signal Mountain, and Medicine Bluff as vantage points. Field artillery personnel fly the things, field artillerymen do the servicing, make the light repairs, do the observing, handle the whole shebang.

Orders activating the groups and assigning them to units followed shortly upon the completion of tests conducted at widely separated army posts.

Although the idea is not new to field artillery, it has had little official action until recently. Reports from observers and items from the European campaigns brought ORGANIC AIR OBSERVATION for field artillery to the fore. A few experiments were concluded by interested people both in and out of the service. Down at Arkansas State College a field artillery PMS&T [Professor of Military Science & Tactics] arranged a little problem involving some of his ROTC officers who were also CAA pilots in the school. They used a battery of 75’s [PRC-75], TD [Chest Set TD-4], with SCR-194’s for communication, and successfully completed various problems.

On that same basis, field artillery officers and enlisted personnel fly and observe, fly and maintain for their own units. Field artillerymen perform all 1st and 2d echelon maintenance just as with trucks. The Air Force takes over to perform duties for the “Flying Jeep” that the Quartermaster handles for major repairs on trucks.

The Air Force is also charged with training and providing pilots for field artillery planes, and obtaining planes for the pilots, who do not require combat training. Their job will be to take a low-power plane from an embryo flying field, remain aloft at not more than 600 feet for a few minutes, then duck for cover among the trees. Those men who fly for the artillery will have to depend on skill and good fortune for protection; there will be no armor, there is no armament.

In and out among the trees and hills, over friendly territory, if possible, while observing, away from enemy small arms fire, but always susceptible to fast enemy ships, every pilot is a handyman. He must know how to fly of course, but that is not nearly enough. He helps with maintenance and repairs, does his own servicing, learns a little radio, has to shoot a picture occasionally. Even that is not enough, for there is camouflage to concern him. When he’s in the air and hostile craft approach, like the prairie dog, he dives for a hole. On the ground he bumps along to a hiding place beneath the trees. It is part of his job to know how to hide his plane from enemy air eyes. He uses not only natural cover, but also camouflage paint, and will stretch a net if the problem necessitates it. Obviously, the machine guns of hostile planes will readily riddle the unarmored “Grasshopper.” Its only hope is flight and hiding. This is being developed into a master art.

It’s true, the pilot hides; but he cannot remain there. When there are problems to shoot, he must be out of his den and into the air. It is there his value lies—his eyes are sights and directors for artillery, he is an artilleryman with wings. So long as there’s light for seein’ and targets for shootin’, his job is to hit the air for every mission.

No longer will it always be like Bataan (where 21 successive forward observers were reported lost). When observation is needed the battalion commander sends out an observer, not crawling through the vines with a jingling telephone in his grasp, but above the trees, like an eagle, searching for the enemy from a vantage point that cannot be easily improved. With two planes per light or medium artillery battalion, there will be one pilot officer, one pilot enlisted man (staff sergeant) and one mechanic. Similarly Division Artillery HQ will get two planes and three pilots. Having a set-up like that should give the Division Artillery Commander almost unheard possibilities with which to work. Under no circumstances should he have to rely at any time solely on ground observation, maps, and ground reconnaissance. A few minutes in a plane will enable him to plan with a facility and design not heretofore approached.

The battalion commander does not have to be an airman to recognize the potent advantage his two planes will provide. They can reconnoiter his position, they can test his battalion for cover and camouflage. On the march into position a few minutes in the air will show much that is not apparent on the map. In actual combat reliable reports might be had regularly on the location and disposition of supported troops. Too, information concerning flank units might be had. These are not the avowed purposes of the “Flying Jeep”; however, they are latent possibilities that open to the field artillery great fields of almost unexplored opportunity. There is vast room for the innovation of methods, the conception of ideas, the individual experimentation that will make field artillery support more accurate, more reliable, more devastating.

Truly, the field is so new, so large, so undeveloped that it will be difficult for a time to appreciate fully the enormity of the advantages it offers the arm.

Organic Air Observation for Field Artillery Is One of Our Most Vital Interests

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