The Leader’s Recon

Craig has a nifty little post on a critical element of the planning process, the leader’s reconnaissance.

“Did you conduct a leader’s recon?”

That’s a question often asked during post-exercise assessments in today’s Army.  The leader’s reconnaissance holds a key position in the troop leading procedures and mission planning.  That holds true from squad to battalion level (though the scope of operations from brigade higher tend to make a leader’s reconnaissance impractical).  The Ranger Handbook explains the importance of the leader’s reconnaissance:

The plan must include a leader’s reconnaissance of the objective…. During his reconnaissance, the leader pinpoints the objective, selects reconnaissance, security, support, and assault positions for his elements, and adjusts his plan based on his observation of the objective.

Now in context, the Bible… er… Ranger Handbook focuses on small unit patrol operations.  But considering a modern day infantry company might hold a position assigned to a Civil War-era corps, the fundamentals translate well to historical situations. And, the leader’s reconnaissance concept applies to any mission. Particularly a river crossing.

Entirely true.

The old saying that in combat plans are useless, but planning is everything is a bit of an oversimplification.

One of the frustrations I used to have in some units was that the way graded evaluations of collective unit training was set up lead units to emphasis those preparatory efforts prior to battle, such as occupying an assembly area and how units employ the Troop Leading Procedures.

We’d spend so much time working on those parts of the evaluation that inevitably the actual training for the actions on the objective were slighted. And inevitably, we’d pay a penalty when the actual simulated battle took place.

Here’s the perverse part- so much of an evaluation was against a checklist of standards that doing well on the non-fighting part and checking the blocks of the fighting part, even if your unit fared poorly, led to an overall evaluation that your unit was doing well. That style of evaluation glossed over the fact that the actions prior to battle only had value in that they increased your chances of actual victory in battle.

FM 3-21.71 MECHANIZED INFANTRY PLATOON AND SQUAD (BRADLEY) says that at a minimum a Leader’s Recon must include a map reconnaissance.  That might be minimally acceptable if enemy observation and security would compromise a physical reconnaissance. But far too often, I saw junior officers too consumed in the minutia of the TLP would run out of time to actually perform a physical reconnaissance (let alone take the squad leaders along), and substitute instead a brief glance at the map and graphics for an operation.  That’s almost understandable on some attack missions, but it’s incredible that often in the defense the leadership would fail to go forward of the defensive position and simply look at the terrain from the enemy’s point of view. Far too often leaders would formulate the plan, publish it, and only then conduct any sort of leader’s recon.

Craig’s post shows a leader’s recon of a river crossing site by BG Hazen (go ahead and read the whole thing, it’s quite short). Note that BG Hazen’s recon of the objective not only informs him, but helps shape the plan itself.

There was an old German saying- time spent on reconnaissance is never time wasted.

A walk through the history of coast defense – Fort Moultrie

XBrad and I have brought up the topic of coastal artillery a number of times.  Certainly with respect to the topic, most of my focus is towards the Civil War era.  But in the larger context, the “coast defense” role for many decades – or I should say for the first century and a half – was the most important mission for the US Army.  That is reflected in War Department expenditures all the way back to George Washington’s presidency.  The priority also influenced the posting of officers and their career paths in the 19th century.

Given this long association with coastal defense, the Army’s efforts are historically divided into periods – defined partly by the technology but more so on the political initiatives which brought funding to the projects.    The eight major periods are:  First System, Second System, Third System, Civil War era, Endicott, Taft, World War I/Interwar, and World War II.  By the end of World War II, technology and international realities rendered “coast defense” a secondary role for the Army.  Regardless of obsolescence, the forts, batteries, and guns left after 160 some odd years of activity speak to the history of the US Army and the United States.

There are few places where a visitor might appreciate the long history of US coastal defenses.  One of them is Fort Moultrie, South Carolina.

Interior of Fort Moultrie Today

The fort stands on Sullivan’s Island at the entrance to Charleston harbor.  Military activity at the site dates back to colonial times.  But Americans first built a fort there in 1776, using a mixture of sand and palmetto logs.  In June of that year, the fort repelled a British invasion fleet.  Although four years later the British would return and capture Charleston, this early victory cemented the southern colonies to the revolutionary cause.  Later the patriots renamed the fort in honor of the commander, William Moultrie.  And recalling the wood used in the fort, they also put the palmetto tree on the South Carolina flag!

Sgt. Jasper raising the Flag at Fort Moultrie

Today the fort represents that fort, and the “First System” fortifications with a standing battery in front of the main fort.

After the Revolution the old fort, like many along the coast, fell into decay.  The poor state of defense alarmed some, but only meager funding for repairs.  But in 1802, Congress authorized the creation of separate engineer and artillery corps.  These newly minted military professionals ushered the “Second System” with improvements to include masonry walls.  With limited funding, few forts along the coast were ready for the next test during the War of 1812.  But even incomplete forts such as Fort Moultrie served as effective deterrents to the British.

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Exterior Walls of Fort Moultrie

After the War of 1812, coast defense received a boost with additional funding.  Some of that went towards research to perfect the forts and weapons. As result, the Army’s ordnance officers perfected a mounting system that offered longer range for coastal guns.

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Seacost gun on wooden barbette carriage at Fort Moultrie

These top-tier “barbette carriages” became a feature of “Third System” forts.  Across the channel of Charleston’s entrance, Fort Sumter received the full Third System design, while Fort Moultrie received bastions and guns in barbette.   But from 1840 onwards, funding came and went depending on the political favor at the time.

The next great test of American coast defenses, the Civil War, started AT Fort Moultrie on April 12, 1861.

Fort Moultrie seen from Fort Sumter in February 1861

To cope with improved cannons and ironclad ships, during the lengthy operations in defense of Charleston the Confederates further improved Fort Moultrie’s defenses.  Confederate engineers placed earth traverses between the guns and introduced heavier, often rifled, guns.

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10-inch Rifled Columbiad at Fort Moultrie on a wooden carriage

After the Civil War, the US Army returned to assume the role of defending against external foes.  Funding again ebbed and little improvements were made.  After cleaning up and improving some of the wartime works, the Army brought massive Rodman guns on wrought iron carriages.  Furthermore, the Army and Navy cooperated on the coast defense mission, with monitors allocated to protect harbor approaches.

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15-inch Rodman Gun on iron carriage

These smoothbore, muzzle-loading guns remained at many points along the coast, including Fort Moultrie, into the 1890s (some were manned in the Spanish-American War).  But the era of black powder muzzle-loaders was over with the appearance of dreadnaughts and submarines.  Responding to technical advances, in 1886 then Secretary of War William Endicott declared the coast defenses obsolete and called for a complete overhaul to include concrete structures, large-caliber breechloading rifles, disappearing mountings, and minefields.  The Army built a  concrete battery with 10-inch rifles on disappearing mounts just outside the brick Fort Moultrie.

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Endicott-era Battery Jasper at Fort Moultrie

It was named Battery Jasper in honor of Sgt. Jasper of the Revolutionary War.  (More details on the battery construction on the Fort Wiki entry page.)

Battery Jasper

The Army placed other batteries, with smaller guns, inside the old brick fort.

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4.7-inch Gun at Battery Bingham

Nearby Battery McCorkle had two 3-inch guns.  Both batteries covered the mine fields in the channel.

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Bouyant Mine

Shortly after the Spanish-American War, Secretary of War William H. Taft (yes later president) announced another round of improvements for the forts.  The Taft board introduced electrical powered machinery, strong searchlights, and more light-caliber anti-torpedo boat guns.  A power generation shop stands behind Battery Jasper as a legacy of the Taft Board.

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Power House behind Battery Jasper

World War I brought significant changes to Fort Moultrie.   The concrete remained, but some of the guns were shipped out for World War I service.  Many of the remainder were scrapped in the inter-war period.  This decline changed with the start of World War II.  Initially the response was to bring in heavy caliber guns.  The Army built a new casemate (as opposed to disappearing mount) battery down the beach from Battery Jasper, giving it the inglorious name Battery 520, mounting two 12-inch guns. But plans to place 16-guns were put on hold.  The old 12-inch battery makes for a good beach-house today.

Battery 520 Today

But the really important addition to Fort Moultrie was the Harbor Entrance Control Post (HECP) placed in the fort’s old east bastion.

Sullivan's Island, Fort Moultrie
HECP at Fort Moultrie

From this point, the coast defenders coordinated with Coast Guard and Navy patrols, aircraft, minefield operators, and gunners to protect the harbor.  Several mobile 90-mm anti-aircraft guns provided defense against any enemy submarines and aircraft.

Although the Army left Fort Moultrie in the late 1940s, arguably the work of coastal defense at Sullivan’s Island continues with Coast Guard activity controlling harbor entry.  The threats have changed but there is still a need to defend the coast.

Heavy Howitzers: Around Full Circle

Craig here.  XBrad opened the door (and threatened to push me through it) with regard to heavy howitzers noting the Republic of China use of what is basically the US M-1 240mm howitzer of World War II vintage.  There’s a bit of irony finding those howitzers defending the shores of Taiwan.  To appreciate such, let me discuss the background of those big old howitzers.

By the close of the American Civil War, heavy howitzers faded from the seacoast batteries of most nations.  The United States retained a rather effective seacoast defense weapon known as the Columbiad which combined the ballistics of guns and howitzers.  But most nations turned to higher velocity, direct fire rifled breechloading guns.  Almost alone among major powers, the Americans produced several large-caliber mortars for coast defense.

During the “First War of the Twentieth Century,” the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, the Japanese laid siege to Port Aurthur (now in Manchuria, mainland China).  Firing on the Russian far east stronghold were batteries of relatively new breech-loading rifled artillery, to include some of these big boys:

Japanese 28cm Howitzers at Port Arthur

These large siege guns not only caused great damage to the Russian defenses, but also worked over ships in the port.  The 28cm (11-inch) howitzers were products of the great German armaments manufacturer, Krupp.  Designed for use in the defenses of Tokyo, the Japanese reallocated the howitzers when the Russian fleet ceased to be a threat after the battle of Tsushima.  And these big howitzers did a job on the Russian fleet in Port Arthur.

Remains of Russian Fleet at Port Arthur

European observers watched this development with great interest.  In the years before World War I, all the great powers produced their own heavy siege howitzers.  Although these could pull double duty as seacoast weapons, most of the continental powers looked for something to reduce the reinforced concrete fortifications on land.   Of this “generation” of heavy guns Schneider, the French armaments manufacturer, produced a 280mm howitzer marketed for the Russians who were then re-arming.   A few of these weapons ended up in French service during World War I.

When the US entered World War I, planners saw the need for a heavy howitzer to work over the German defenses on the western front.  Furthermore, the Ordnance Department saw a need, beyond the wartime requirement, for a new heavy howitzer for mobile coast defense batteries.  After some negotiation, the Army struck a deal with Schneider for license production of a 240mm version of their howitzer.  Schneider built one example in France and shipped it to the US.  And the French also sent engineers to the US to help start the production.  Yet the project never picked up momentum.  Only the original French gun was on hand at the time of the Armistice.

But with the mobile coast defense requirement in mind, the M1918 9.5-inch (240mm) howitzer project continued after the end of hostilities.  Eventually a few rolled out of the factory.  And only with a wink and a nod, we might call this “mobile.”

And I’ll start the unsubstantiated rumor the entire outfit was cleared for air-drop….

Only took six hours for the crew to set up this beast.  And in action she looked intimidating.

The M1918 could throw a 346 pound shell over 17,000 yards.  State of the art for that day.  Only one problem… when the first M1918 went to the range for proofing, the cannon blew up!  And follow-up corrections failed to resolve many of the gun’s problems.  Only after a long gestation were 330 examples produced.  Some of these guns went to Hawaii where concrete pads allowed wide traverse and coverage of potential enemy approaches.

M1918 on Coast Defense Mount

But for the most part, the Army shunted these howitzers to the storage yards.  I’m not certain, but don’t think any were even offered up as Lend-Lease in 1940.

With America’s entry into the next world war, clearly the M1918 was a dated design.  So back to the drawing boards went the Ordnance Department.  The main drawback to the M1918 was (duh!) mobility.  In the inter-war period, experiments to match the M1918 to high-speed towed carriages and  even self-propelled platforms failed.  But lessons learned projected into a new design, as XBrad highlighted – the M1 240mm howitzer.

T33 Prime Mover pulling a M1 240mm Howitzer

Regardless of what you downsize, big cannons are just… well big.  The Army tried several different carriages, but finally settled on a two load arrangement.  In the picture above the barrel, with recoil system, is on a six wheel trailer.  A similar trailer transported the carriage.   The concurrently developed M1 8-inch gun used the same carriage and transport.  The M1 240mm howitzer weighed 64,700 pounds in action and fired a 360 pound shell to over 25,000 yards.  The M1 8-inch gun weighed 69,300 pounds and pushed a 240 pound shell to 35,600 yards (with a 90 pound super charge).

M1 8-inch gun
M1 8-inch Gun at Aberdeen

These battery mates saw heavy action in the Anzio beachhead in 1944, firing counter-battery against the German railway guns.

240mm howitzer of Battery `B', 697th Field Artillery Battalion, just before firing into German held territory. Mignano area, Italy. January 30, 1944

These big guns followed the allied advance through Europe and also served in the Pacific.

240mm Howitzer in the Philippines

But the “system” was not mobile enough for the desires of US planners.  Once again, someone figured to put the big cannons on tracked carriers.  Based on the M26 Pershing Medium (originally Heavy) tank chassis, the T92 240mm Howitzer Motor Carriage and the T93 8inch Gun Motor Carriage made an appearance in 1945.  Despite orders for several hundred, and designation of “limited standard,” only a handful rolled out before the end of the war.

Even in the face of air power lessons-learned during World War II, the Army still figured super-heavy artillery had some place in 1946.  In particular, the Ordnance Department considered the newest technology in regard to counter-battery, interdiction, and coast defense.  After all, everyone was giddy about the “atom” in those days.  So out came the T1 240mm Gun.

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240mm T1 Gun

And not quite so happy with that caliber, the Army turned to the T71 280mm which eventually became the M65 280mm Atomic Cannon.

Nuclear Test using 280mm M65

Or for those who like the ‘splodie fast forward to the 9 minute mark:


While the new carriages (based off some German heavy gun and railway carriages) were more mobile than the World War II types, the mushroom cloud effect sort of made that irrelevant.   A few dozen of these entered service, but soon the Army turned to rockets and missiles that offered a little better range (well with the exception of that Davy Crockett thing).  So by the 1960s the “big guns” of the field artillery were 8-inch howitzers and 175mm guns.

But consider the turn about here.  The Armies and the cannons change, but from one century to another there are still those big howitzers placed to defend a Chinese coastline.

Make Fort Monroe a National Monument

Craig here.  I ran a post talking about the disposition of Fort Monroe last month on my blog.   The Army finally leaves Fort Monroe in September of this year.  That’s BRAC in action.  At that time, ownership reverts to the state of Virginia.  While Virginia has the option to develop the site as a state park or recreation area, the simple fact is the state does not have the money (and is short on the manpower) to maintain the facilities.

Another option is to sell off the fort for commercial development.  Such has already happened to the Chamberlin Hotel along the waterfront.  And certainly a number of developers have their eye on the beachfront.

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Chamberlin Hotel

However, after nearly two centuries of Army activities, there’s a lot of… well… stuff… left behind.  And I’m not just talking about buildings – debris and waste.  Although cleanup began years ago, likely the job won’t be complete for some time.  Generally, since the “flower-power” days, as at most installations, the Army has been a good steward of the land.  But regardless of the century in which the chemicals were originally spilled, the US Army gets the bill.  That cost was estimated around $200 million in 2008.

Since Fort Monroe served, from the 1830s onward, as a testing ground for all sorts of weapons, the debris left behind is substantial.  Recently crews located this large siege rifle dating to the Civil War era.

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Burst 4.5inch Siege Rifle from the Civil War Era

And that’s not all.  Survey teams have located unexploded ordnance to include cannon shells.  But all that debris is an indicator of activity.  And much of that activity is associated with historical events.   Fort Monroe offers history at every step.

With that in mind, the National Trust for Historic Preservation recently opened discussions about the disposition of Fort Monroe. Last month the trust’s president urged President Obama to use the Antiquities Act and make Fort Monroe a national monument.  The trust continues to lobby in that direction, and has placed emphasis on the fort’s role in emancipation during the Civil War.

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Freedom's Fortress and "Contraband of War"

Rightfully so.  That aspect of the fort’s past is certainly more important in the broader context of our nation’s history.  But as an “Army” guy, I’d also mention the role the fort has played in the history of the service.  Fort Monroe was THE training base for a number of decades.  And I’m not just talking about TRADOC (headquartered there from 1973 onward).  Prior to the Civil War artillerists trained at Fort Monroe.  That continued well into the 20th century.  Arguably Fort Monroe is a better place to showcase the Army’s history than the museum planned near Fort Belvoir (although I must concede, the later will attract more tourists).

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Walls and Moat of Old Fort Monroe

While I’m certainly the first to step forward and oppose expanding the government where it ought not be, I am very much in favor of bringing in the government were it ought to be.  In my opinion, this is a case of the later.  Fort Monroe should be part of the National Park system.

The Non-Civil War Enthusiast's Guide to the Civil War's 150th Anniversary

Craig again.  Let me start out, as “staff historian” of the blog, by noting today is the 150th anniversary (a.k.a. the sesquicentennial) of the bombardment of Fort Sumter, generally considered the “start” of the American Civil War.  Today in Charleston Harbor dignitaries will hold a commemoration observing the anniversary.   This is first of a series of similar events, spanning the next four years, as the nation recalls one of the defining episodes in American history.  I promised XBrad I wouldn’t trash up his blog with a bunch of Civil War stuff.  But I’ve asked him to make an exception here with regard to the 150th observance today.

Without opening up some debate over the causes of the Civil War, let me point out the consequences or results of the war as a way to relate its importance in American history.  A few undeniable results lead the way – three amendments to the US Constitution, 3.5 million people freed with the end of slavery, the American union of states confirmed, and, not the least of which, over 600,000 soldiers killed in the country’s most destructive war to date.  Beyond those somewhat measurable results, let me offer that the Civil War helped to shape America in the later half of the 19th century into the economic powerhouse of the 20th.  The nation that succeeded in World War I, survived the Great Depression, and triumphed in World War II did so with the experience gained (and arguably directly because of the experience) during the Civil War.  That is true from aspects ranging from civil rights to military doctrine.  The Civil War is/was one of the great turning points in American history, without doubt.  (And makes for an even break between first and second semesters of American history…. just saying.)

Most of the Civil War Wonks (which you might call Buffs, although we prefer the refined term “enthusiasts”) who read my blog already have their checklists of events to attend, web sites to RSS, and bookshelves full of reference materials.  On the other hand, there are a few BTH readers who are asking “did we win or lose that one?”  Um…. addressing that, let me offer up some links and resources for those who might have an interest, but don’t want to end up owning a library full of books (as I have!).

First off, if you are indeed asking “who won,” then you may want to start out with a premier on the Civil War.  There are several good “staple” reference books out there.  The most popular are James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, although for those with more time Shelby Foote’s Civil War Trilogy always ranks high.  For those who prefer to watch instead of read, the PBS documentary “The Civil War” remains a classic in many regards.  While us wonks will chide some of the oft cited myths perpetuated in the multi-part series, Ken Burns did a good job bringing the war to the small screen and thus to a broader audience.  And for those who just can’t get away from the computer, I’d also suggest the overview offered at “The American Civil War Home Page” affectionately known as “Shotgun’s website.”  You’ll note many essays and resources within the web site.  Although not updated in a few years, Shotgun’s was among the first web sites to present a broad compilation of content – to include battle reports.

Now let me assume you get the general background about the Civil War and now figure to “participate” in this Sesquicentennial silliness.  Where do you jump in?  Well there are activities to include memorial observations, seminars, battlefield walks, lectures, film showings, and full up reenactments.  Usually the first place I recommend for event listings is the Civil War Travel web site.  Closely associated with organizations placing historical markers, the CW Travel site posts details about what there is to see and do.  The event list is color coded to allow quick browsing when planning weekend trips and such. CW Travel also hosts podcasts that you can use on self-guided tours of selected battlefields.  I know many of those who have contributed podcasts there, and these are TOP SHELF stuff.

Some might wish to “follow along” with the sesquicentennial with perhaps daily or weekly bits on the history.  Civil War Daily Gazette, a well researched and written blog site, posts daily summaries of the wartime activities – works best as an RSS feed.  Professors at Longwood University, in Farmville, Virginia, post weekly podcasts detailing the major subjects of the war, synchronized to the 150th anniversaries, on the That a Nation Might Live website.

If you are preparing to visit one of the battlefields within the National Park system, another “prep” website to check is that of the particular park you plan to visit.  Most parks have a cycle of tours lead by some outstanding park rangers and historians (yes, outstanding!). For instance Gettysburg’s summer schedule is posted on their web site.  Usually these are free, with park admission if applicable.  At most you are talking a few bucks for what some people would pay $100 or more for – a guided tour.  And I would add that Gettysburg is somewhat special with regard to tours having licensed battlefield guides to escort visitors on “personalized” tours of the battlefield (Antietam has a similar program).

So lets say you visit a battlefield and get “bit by the bug.”   Many people start inquiring about their own family’s ties to the war.  I won’t go into the great number of genealogy web-based companies out there, as you see them advertised all the time.  But perhaps an initial check might be the Civil War Soldiers and Sailor system.   This site, run by the National Park Service, is great if you know the name of your ancestor, but only returns the unit and rank information (although the microfilm reference number is handy for follow-on research).

Another “bit by the bug” symptom might be the urge to visit more battlefields.  So let me make a not-too-subtle-pitch here.  Civil War battlefields are a diminishing resource, what with all the progress and what not.  There is an organization out there dedicated to the preservation of these battlefields and sites across the nation – the Civil War Trust.  Now not only do I call your attention to considering helping out with preservation efforts, I’d also suggest reviewing their excellent battle resource pages.  For example the page for Fort Sumter provides more information than most of us “wonks” would ever need.

And… I’ve actually carried on a bit more than I should here.  As you can see there are a wide array of resources out there, and I’m really only scratching the surface.  The study of the American Civil War has more twists and turns, facets, and angles than most are able to fully digest even given a lifetime.  If you have a specific topic area you’d like to explore, drop a comment and I’ll try to help out.  If I can’t I’ll call upon one of many subject matter experts of even the most trivial of topics that I’ve met during my studies.  I will say that if you have a question about artillery, you should first check this site ->  To the Sound of the Guns.