Category Archives: Artillery

LOVE Day, 1 April 1945

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marine artillery

Seventy years ago today was an Easter Sunday.  On 1 April 1945, elements of the United States 10th Army, under General Simon B. Buckner, landed on the island of Okinawa.  The landings were almost unopposed, but the 110,000 Japanese defenders soon resisted with the savagery and skill familiar to every US combat leader in the Pacific.  Half a million US troops would come ashore in Operation ICEBERG, beginning 82 days of brutal, unrelenting combat for the island.   When the battle was finished, General Buckner and one other US General were dead, along with nearly 100,000 of the island’s defenders, and 13,000 US soldiers, sailors, and Marines.  (Near the end of the battle, US Marine MajGen Roy Geiger would temporarily command US 10th Army after the death of General Buckner, until Joe Stillwell’s arrival.)

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The Japanese had fought furiously, employing in massive waves the kamikaze tactics against the invasion fleet that were first revealed off Leyte.  Among the US killed were 4,900 sailors, as the US Navy lost 36 ships sunk and 368 damaged by the suicide onslaught.   One in three Japanese civilians were killed or committed suicide in the fighting, nearly 150,000 in total.  The battle, which ended with the island being declared secure on 22 June, was a terrifying harbinger of what the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands would be.

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The “Saipan ratio” used to compute casualty estimates for the invasion of Japan, was proven a dramatic underestimation by US casualties on Okinawa, which were almost four times the earlier calculations.  In addition, Allied intelligence of Japanese air strength on Formosa (within range to help defend Okinawa) had pegged the number of operational aircraft at under one hundred.  There was, in fact, eight times that figure, as the US and British Naval forces would discover to their dismay.  Okinawa (and Iwo Jima) weighed heavily in the decision to employ atomic weapons against Japan as an alternative to invasion.  With what occupation forces found on the Home Islands, the men destined for the invasions Honshu and Kyushu likely breathed a great collective sigh of relief.

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60mm Mortar Live Fire

The M224 60mm mortar is the smallest crew served indirect fire weapon in the US arsenal. US Army light Infantry companies have a two mortar section, while each Marine Rifle company has a three mortar section.

When I was stationed in Hawaii, my company’s mortar section was critically short of people once and I was tapped to assist them for a few days during a field exercise. It was awful. That tube and the baseplate (and the associated equipment) is heavy!

Note that there are actually two baseplates. The mortar can be fired in a hand held, trigger fired mode with a small baseplate, and no bipod. The gunner aims by, essentially, Kentucky windage. The 60mm can also be fired from a more conventional baseplate and bipod configuration, in association with elevation and azimuth calculated by a fire direction center.

While a platoon patrol may often carry one mortar with them (usually without the big baseplate and bipod) in a defense, or in a deliberate attack, the full mount would be used, and normally both (or all three) tubes would fire on the same target, to achieve concentration of effects.

Also, this was almost certainly filmed at Twenty-Nine Palms, up the road a bit from me. Though legend has it, twenty-nine is something of a gross exaggeration of the number of palms around…

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Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb

Boeing, in developing the second generation of the Small Diameter Bomb, which adds a tri-mode seeker to the concept of the existing GPS/INS SDB, recognized that the hard part of designing a precision weapon is the guidance. The airframe and warhead are usually rather straightforward. And they also had the bright idea to strap a rocket booster to the back of the SDB II, and introduce a ground launched version.

Even better, they were able to use the existing booster from original style rockets of the long serving M270 MLRS. That keeps costs down. Plus, the MLRS system’s existing infrastructure reduces costs and training needed.

While the current GPS/INS guided unitary warhead GMLRS system is fine, it is also unable to accurately target moving targets.  The SDB II was designed to strike moving targets. That’s going to increase the ability to hold at risk enemy high value/high payoff targets such as air defense systems.

We also wonder how long it will be until someone discusses the potential for coastal defense, or even a ship launched variant as an anti-ship missile system.

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PGM and CAS

So, a friend linked this post on Facebook about the US Army’s Excalibur 155mm guided artillery shell being adapted to the US Navy’s 5” (127mm) Mk54 gun.

Raytheon’s 155mm M982 Excalibur extended-range guided artillery shell is being shrunk down to fit into the Mark 45 five inch deck guns that are deployed aboard the Navy’s Cruisers and Destroyers. This miniaturized sea-going Excalibur, known as the N5, could triple the range of current five inch shells and offer pinpoint ‘danger close’ fire support like never before.

Since my friend teased the link as another nail in the A-10 coffin, that sparked a bit of debate. I of course, chimed in:

1. The Marines operate their own fleet of CAS aircraft, that is, the AV-8B and the F/A-18 Hornets.
2. PGM is here to stay. Both Army and Marines now use, or very shortly will, guided MLRS, 155mm artillery, and 120mm mortars. That precision ability means less need to call on PGM equipped CAS. Not eliminate, but reduce. And the future of CAS has been shown to be PGM anyway.
3. We can reasonably expect to see similar PGM capability extended to 81mm mortars in the next few years.
4. The relatively short range of the N45 is really only a matter of importance for the first 48 hours or so of a landing- that is, until the landing force gets its own artillery ashore.
5. The Army (and thus the Marines) are also fielding PGM 155mm artillery that simply uses a guided fuze installed on conventional 155mm common shells. We can also expect to see that applied to the 5″ gun. These shells have a shorter range than Excalibur, or N45, but they are also a good bit cheaper, and offer virtually the same accuracy within their range capability as the more expensive rounds.
6. CAS isn’t dead, nor even dying. But CAS is a mission, not a platform. Sure, I’d like to see the A-10 kept around. But the Air Force isn’t out to kill the A-10 from some historical dislike of the CAS mission. They just don’t have the money. Further, while the A-10 is reasonably safe in the face of little or no air defense, it will fare very badly in the face of anything above 1st and 2nd generation MANPADS. The simple kinematics of missile defense means that a faster jet is less vulnerable to being hit.

I recently addressed PGM artillery in this post.

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So Let’s Let ‘Em Have Nukes!

…what a great idea.

After all, just because they conduct naval maneuvers to practice sinking US warships is no reason to think they are hostile toward the United States.

Just like threatening to wipe Israel off the map is no indicator of any latent dislike of our ally.  More diplomatic success for our anti-American President.

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Filed under Air Force, army, Around the web, Artillery, Defense, doctrine, guns, history, Iran, islam, israel, leadership, missiles, navy, nuclear weapons, obama, planes, Politics, ships, stupid, Uncategorized, war, weapons

Suribachi

Four days after the bloody struggle to come ashore on Iwo Jima’s fire-swept black volcanic sand beaches, a patrol from 28th Marines was ordered to the top of the sullen volcanic lump that dominated the six square miles of sulphur and rock.  The seven-man patrol under the Executive Officer of Easy Company, 28th Marines raised a small flag.  The flag, difficult to see from the beach, was replaced by a larger one retrieved from one of the LSTs offshore supporting the landing.  Five Marines and one Navy Corpsman labored under fire to plant the larger colors into the rocky ground. The raising of the second, larger flag was captured by Joe Rosenthal, and became the most iconic and reproduced image in the history of photography.

Iwo

Many commonly believe that the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi signaled the end of the fight for Iwo Jima.  In reality, twenty-two more days of relentless and ferocious savagery lay ahead.  It was not until 26 March 1945 that Iwo Jima was declared secured.  Of the six men who raised the flag on Suribachi, three, Sgt Mike Strank, Cpl Harlan Block, and PFC Franklin Sousley, would die on the island, along with more than 6,800 others, mostly Marines.  A fourth flag raiser, Second Class Hospital Corpsman John Bradley, was among the more than 19,000 wounded.   The man who took the motion picture footage from the same vantage as Rosenthal, Marine Combat Cameraman Bill Genaust, was later killed in one of Suribachi’s hundreds of caves.

Bradley received a Navy Cross for his actions in combat on 21 February, and Strank a Bronze Star.  Bill Genaust also received a Bronze Star.

The above movie is the approximately 20 minute production called “To the Shores of Iwo Jima”.  Well worth the time, as it is a grim and unvarnished look at the titanic struggle for Iwo.  Seldom have the words of a senior officer been so accurate, or heartfelt, as when Admiral Chester Nimitz described the fight for the island.

Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue

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Vice Admiral Rowden’s Message

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You can read the text of it over at Salamander’s place.  Micromanagement?  Possibly.  Necessary?  Some folks, among which is a guy named Greenert, seem to think so.  From where I sit, it seems there is some serious concern (finally) on the part of Navy leadership from the CNO on down, including SURFPAC, that our numbered Fleet Commanders don’t know how to fight their fleets, that Task Force Commanders do not know how to fight their task forces, nor Battle Group Commanders their Battle Groups, or individual COs and Officers, their warships.   There is, it is suspected, a lack of understanding of warfighting at all levels.  From the Operational Arts, to doctrine and tactics, down to techniques, and procedures, there is an alarming lack of understanding in areas for which we should strive for mastery.  In addition, it is likely that there is serious question about the true state of readiness of our fleet and the ships and aircraft (and Sailors) which comprise it.  Maintenance, training, proficiency, mindset, all these are suspect.

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I think SURFPAC’s message is a very good step in the right direction.  It may also shake out the most egregious impediments to training for war, both self-inflicted and externally imposed.  This includes peripheral tasks that take up inordinate time and attention, maintenance and manpower shortcomings that render weapons and engineering systems non-mission capable, and jumping through burdensome administrative hoops required to perform the most basic of combat training.

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I cannot say whether or not VADM Rowden dislikes Mission Command.  I hope that he does not, because the ability of junior commanders to take the initiative and act boldly across widely-flung battlefields in the absence of orders has been the critical element of success for many centuries.  But Mission Command requires junior leaders who are positively imbued in their craft, and senior leaders who understand what must be done and can clearly express their intent (and then have the courage to trust their subordinates).   The entirety of the US Navy, more so perhaps than the other services, must rely on such leadership for its survival in combat with an enemy.  Unfortunately, the Navy may be the service that has become the most over-supervised and zero-defect-laden bastion of micromanagement in all of DoD.

Gunnery training aboard U.S.S. Astoria (CA-34), spring 1942.

Vice Admiral Rowden’s message has an almost desperate tone to it.   As if, to quote Service, Navy leadership realizes that it is later than you think.  One cannot help but be reminded of the myriad comments from US cruiser sailors in 1942.  Following initial and deadly encounters with a skilled and fearsome Japanese Navy in the waters off the Solomons, many deckplate sailors swore they would never again bitch about the seemingly incessant gunnery and damage control drills that interrupted their shipboard lives.    Like 1942, a Naval clash against a near-peer who can muster temporary advantage will be a costly affair where even the winner is badly bloodied.  Unlike 1942, there is no flood of new warships on the slips which can make good such losses.

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Words from an earlier post of USS Hugh W. Hadley, on the picket line off Okinawa, reinforce the importance of what VADM Rowden wants:

LESSONS LEARNED, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:

                      1.  It must be impressed that constant daily drills in damage control using all personnel on the ship and especially those who are not in the regular damage control parties will prove of  value when emergencies occur.  The various emergency pumps which were on board were used effectively to put out fires.  Damage control schools proved their great value and every member of the crew is now praising this training.

                      2.  I was amazed at the performance of the 40 and 20 guns.  Contrary to my expectation, those smaller guns shot down the bulk of the enemy planes. Daily the crews had dinned into their minds the following order “LEAD THAT  PLANE”.  Signs were painted at the gun stations as follows “LEAD THAT PLANE”.  It worked, they led and the planes flew right through our projectiles.

Not the things of (fill in the blank) History Month or of SAPR or “diversity” training….

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