Excerpts from HQ North African Theater of Operations U.S. Army, 10 March 1944, by David G. Barr, BG

Mountain Warfare

The supply of isolated units by air was an innovation adopted in Italy because of necessity. Initially the dropping of supplies was undertaken by the use of A-36 combat planes [the ground-attack/dive bomber version of the North American P-51 Mustang]. Difficulties attending the use of these craft resulted in substituting the artillery air OP cub planes, which have been reported satisfactory for the work. Details of the methods employed were given in a report by the Division Quartermaster and Assistant G-4, 3rd Infantry Division: (p.27)

We have developed a method of dropping supplies, ammunition, and water to isolated units by cub planes because the method of dropping by combat planes is too complex and the results are not satisfactory… one cub plane can carry and drop about 100 pounds. Our cubs have been equipped with Air Force bomb releases for this work. So far we have six so equipped (January 7, 1944) and expect to have the other four equipped very soon. On these missions the cub does not carry an observer in order to stay within the allowable load limit. One plane can carry two 5-gallon water cans wired to a board, ammunition up to a weight of 100 pounds packed in boxes, or two bundles of rations containing 72 C rations per package. Whatever is slung under the plane must not be over 15 inches thick or over about 3 feet long, otherwise it is too dangerous for the plane to take off.

Camouflage Discipline

The standard of camouflage and camouflage discipline has not been maintained at the required level. Because of the friendly air superiority, troops have shown a tendency to become careless. The Commander of the 45th Division declared: (p.71)

Our camouflage discipline is very poor… The way to correct it is to put up a plane—a cub will do very well—and check the camouflage. If the plane can find bivouacs, trains, or OP’s, raise hell with the commanders. Put the commander of the faulty unit up in the plane and have him look at his own errors…

General Tactical Lessons in Summary

Forward observation still remains the primary method of directing fire. Coupled with the principle of flexibility of employment, the results of this method of fire direction have been outstanding. The mountainous terrain, affording numerous observation posts in the forward areas, has been a contributing factor. Infantry observers as well as the organic artillery forward observers have continually adjusted the fire of both direct support units and reinforcing battalions with a high degree of efficiency and success. The flexible organization and employment of both organic and reinforcing units have enabled forward observers at any point to utilize the fire power of all battalions within supporting range. (p.78)

The usefulness of air OP aircraft was again successfully demonstrated. Also, the limitations of this method of fire adjustment in high mountains, and the effects of weather and greater opposition from enemy fighter craft than heretofore experienced, were brought out in the Campaign. Air observation adjustment of long range guns by combat aircraft on a scale not before employed, has been conducted with satisfactory results on a number of occasions. (p.79)

Artillery Air OP

The utility of artillery observation aircraft in Italy has been outstanding. Although the high mountains have to some extent limited the operations of these craft, at the same time they have frequently been indispensable as the only means of obtaining observation. Despite the unfavorable weather conditions that have often prevailed, the results obtained over long periods have been exceptionally satisfactory.

Experience in Italy has shown that the best results especially for spotting enemy batteries, have been obtained during flights at dawn and at dusk. Observers have reported that gunflashes are more readily detected at these periods, and at the same time the uncertain light affords a greater measure of protection for the observing craft. It has been reported also that days during which ground haze prevails are better for observation of hostile battery positions than those which are bright and clear. Muzzle flashes show up more sharply in ground haze than in bright, unobscured sunlight. Artillery air officers have not recommended special training in night landing, but strongly advocate thorough instruction in landings in late dusk, since it is advisable to fly many missions at this time.

Another practice which has proved exceptionally effective has been the conduct of air adjustment at night in periods of bright moonlight. This method of operation has been productive of excellent results on a number of occasions. Such missions have been possible only where the landing fields have permitted reasonably safe take-off and landing at night. The scarcity of such fields has limited the possibilities of night adjustment, which could otherwise have been exploited more fully. (p.107)

The average number of missions flown by individual observers in one day has been two. Five missions in one day has been considered a high figure. Missions generally require slightly more than an hour, and one flight of five hours during which four missions were fired has been recorded. The principal targets adjusted on by air observation have been enemy batteries, although area targets, troop concentrations, and vehicles have also been attacked in this manner. Dependence on artillery observation aircraft for observed fire has varied with the terrain, weather, and the existing situation. Some commanders have declared that these aircraft have been positively indispensable, and during periods of favorable weather and good visibility, an exceptionally high percentage of observed missions have been conducted by air adjustment. In late November, 1943, the Air Officer, 18th Field Artillery Brigade, reported that… (p.108)

In the last three weeks more than 90% of all observed missions have been conducted by Cub observers, and of these a high percentage was also originally located by these same planes. In the course of one day, a single plane has spotted twenty guns…

[Thwarting] Enemy efforts to interrupt the operations of the artillery planes and destroy them by attack with fighter craft have been far greater than in any previous campaign. This effort has increased noticeably during the latter part of the Campaign, and may be taken as a clear indication of the effective results of our fire directed by these observation planes. One method of attack not previously encountered has been noted on several occasions. One fighter plane will attack the observer from above, while a cooperating fighter remains at a lower altitude to attack the observer as he descends to evade the first attacker. This system of enemy attack has been successfully used against our observers several times. The enemy’s determined effort to drive the artillery observers from the air was the subject of a report by a Brigade Air Officer in November, 1943:

Until recently we flew our cub planes well out over the German rifle lines with comparative safety and with unexpected immunity. However, since about the middle of October, the picture is somewhat changed. We have received word from the Fifth Army G-2 that the Luftwaffe has as a recent prime mission the knocking down of our cubs. Their actions have borne out this statement fully. I know of a number, at least five, who have been attacked successfully in the last month.

Standard evasive tactics and descent to low altitudes have been followed in avoiding these increasing attacks, and in addition, both VI and II Corps have established what are called “island[s] of safety” in forward areas for the protection of artillery observation planes. These consist of definitely located areas known to all air OP pilots, which are strongly protected by antiaircraft fire, including half-track antiaircraft weapons. The primary mission of the antiaircraft units defending these areas is to fire on enemy planes which are attacking artillery OP aircraft. All observer pilots have been instructed when attacked to proceed to the area over these “islands of safety.” It is reported that in the first two days of operation of these safety areas, observation planes have taken refuge over them some ten times, and that one ME 109 has been destroyed and another probably destroyed by the antiaircraft fire from units defending the areas.

It has been clearly shown throughout the Campaign that the extent of artillery air observation over the enemy lines, and the duration of flight missions that can be safely conducted, varies in exact ratio to the enemy air effort to destroy the observation planes. As the hostile attacks on the observers increase, conduct of flights over hostile positions must be accordingly restricted. Thus far, losses in observation planes have been acceptable in the light of results accomplished and the number of planes available. (p.109)

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