We’ve written before about the excellent capabilities of the infantry/artillery team used by the Army in World War II to maximize our combat power while minimizing the numbers of troops fielded. But merely providing infantry troops with artillery support isn’t all it takes to get the most of this powerful team. Even before the US entered into the war, the challenges of properly training divisional commanders to employ their artillery in support of operations was evident. LTG Leslie McNair, head of GHQ, and responsible for training the divisions to be deployed despaired:
Another danger to unit integrity was the recent tendency to employ infantry-artillery combat teams as quasi-permanent tactical bodies instead of as temporary groupings for specific missions. This tendency threatened to disintegrate the division. General McNair protested that the division was itself the paramount combat team and chief fighting unit of the Army.1
The heart of the combat power of a World War II US infantry division was its three infantry regiments and the division artillery (DivArty) , consisting of three battalions of 105mm guns (a total of 36 guns) and a battalion of 155mm howitzers (12 guns).
When GEN Marshall, GEN McNair and the other intellectuals designed the triangular division, one of the key requirements was flexibility. The way they foresaw the division fighting, the division commander would be able to rapidly shift the fires of his artillery from target to target. Artillery was best employed en masse. Parceling out the battalions to the control of the regimental commanders was generally due to a lack of grasp of command. Managing both the maneuver of the three regiments and simultaneously coordinating the fires of the DivArty was a challenging task, and not all division commanders were up to the task.
When control of the artillery was subordinated to the regiments, those regiments tended to use them for direct support their maneuver in achieving their objectives. The problem was the artillery should have been used by the division commander to fire in support of the division commander’s main effort. The massed fires of DivArty, in support of the main effort, could prove decisive in achieving the division’s mission.
With experience gained during wartime, most of the divisions gained much greater proficiency at properly employing its artillery. For instance, an experienced DivArty commander could site the battalions so that they could mass their fires on a single objective, and yet still be available to fire in direct support of each of the regiments as needed. Indeed, in many circumstances, all four battalions could fire in support of any of the three infantry regiments. *
There were, however, instances when it was appropriate for a division commander to cede control of an artillery battalion to an infantry regiment commander. If a regiment was assigned a mission separate from the main body of the division, attaching an artillery battalion made sense. Likewise, in the first hours or days after an amphibious landing, or during a pursuit operation, when units might be widely dispersed, or communication links to division might be tenuous, forming Regimental Combat Teams of a regiment with an attached artillery battalion would be well within the limits of doctrine. But doctrine also demanded that as soon as practical, control of the artillery should revert to the division commander.
Interestingly, today the doctrine has shifted. Largely as a result of the much larger areas that a Brigade Combat Team covers, each BCT has its own organic artillery support, normally a battalion of either 105mm or 155mm guns per brigade. As needed, division commander can compel his subordinate brigades to mass their fires on divisional objectives, but that risks leaving the brigades uncovered if the artillery has to displace to range the divisional targets. Alternatively, the division commander can request support from corps level supporting artillery to engage his targets.
1. WWII History of the United States Army B-The Army Ground Forces- The Organization of Ground Combat Troops (“The Green Books”)
*Given a range of roughly 6 miles for the 105mm howitzer, that gives you a rough idea of just how much frontage a WWII infantry division might be expected to occupy.