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March 1945: crossing the Rhine in a DUKW, a lieutenant from an amphibious unit glances back at GIs of the 89th Division. Many seem to be wearing the new two-part M1944 pack system (see Plate G2).

105mm howitzer

The war began with the Army using both the old French 75mm howitzer and the newer M5 Sin (75mm) gun. By 1943 the 75mm was rapidly disappearing from all but anti-tank work. The M2 105mm howitzer soon became the most common US artillery piece of the war. It had a range of 12,200 yards (11km, 7 miles) and used high explosive (HE), white phosphorus (WP) and smoke ammunition. The towed gun with shield weighed about 2.5 tons; the 75mm and 105mm shared the same carriage. The 105mm was also mounted as the M7 Priest self-propelled gun, based on an M3 Grant tank hull and weighing about 25 tons. The M7 had a seven-man crew and was also armed with a .50cal machine gun in a kind of forward 'pulpit' - thus its name. It was first issued in 1942 and over 3,000 were ultimately built.

Luxembourg, February 1945: a gunner checks the angle on the barrel of his M12 155mm self-propelled howitzer. These guns were sometimes used, as here, in the direct fire role during serious street and fortress fighting; the effect was devastating.

Pack howitzers

The 75mm pack howitzer was developed after World War I as a light field piece that could be broken down and 'packed' by six mules in rough terrain; it was also modified as a horse-drawn weapon. By Work! War II the 1.1-ton M3 pack howitzer was issued to infantry units to fill out their cannon companies, in which role it was commonly used in the Pacific. An airborne M8 version weighing 1,300lbs (590kg) was parachuted or glidered in for use by the artillery units of the airborne divisions; A larger 105mm pack howitzer weighing 1.3 tons was available by 1944; its accuracy left something to be desired and at 8,300 yards (7.6km, 4.7 miles) its range fell about 1,000 yards short of that of the 75mm. Used in the Pacific, Italy and in airborne operations, the little pack guns did yeoman service.

Heavy artillery

Based on the French 155mm GPF gun, the 155mm gun/howitzer also proved a very successful weapon system. (Note that both the 155mm and 8in artillery pieces came in different 'howitzer' and longer-barrelled, longer-ranging 'gun' versions.) The new M1 155mm howitzer weighed 6.4 tons and its HE, WP and smoke shells had a range of 16,300 yards (14.9km, 9.2 miles). The longer-barrelled M1 155mm gun weighed 15 tons and could fire HE and AP shells over 25,000 yards (22.8km, 14.2 miles). Some of the older M1918A1 155mm guns were mounted on M3 Grant hulls as M12 self-propelled artillery. After limited use in North Africa, six battalions were belatedly fielded in Normandy. It was guessed that the guns would be useful for direct fire operations against fortifications, and indeed they made short work of all but the stoutest, as well as providing general indirect fire support.

Due to availability of British ammunition a 4.5in gun was also built to supplement the 155mm; this was slightly heavier than the 155mm howitzer at 6.6 tons, and its 551b ammunition did not have the hitting power of the 155mm's 951b shell. The heavy 8in howitzer shared the 155mm's gun carriage, weighed about 15 tons and had a range of 18,500 yards (16.8km, 10.5 miles). Independed corps artillery battalions were usually armed with 155mm ('Long Tom'), 4.5in and 8in pieces.

Under camouflage netting, gunners of an African-American artillery unit man the standard M2 105mm howitzer during a fire mission; note the locally-cut timber under the wheels. Nine independent black artillery units served in France and Germany, of which the 969th FA Bn (Colored), an VIII Corps outfit equipped with M1A1 155mm howitzers, won a Distinguished Unit Citation for its defence of Bastogne.

Super-heavy artillery

The 'siege gun' version of the 8in gun weighed 35 tons; used by both the US Navy and Army, it fired shells weighing over 2001bs (90.7kg) to ranges of up to 35,000 yards (32km, 19.8 miles). The GIs learned that if they drilled a small hole through the shell fuze it caused a satisfying screaming sound as the round went down range. The 240mm howitzer weighed 32 tons and could fire its 3601b (163kg) HE round 25,200 yards (22.8km, 14 miles). Both the 240mm howitzer and the 8in gun used a wheelless split trail carriage. They were employed for the first time in the defence of Anzio; these weapons were later transferred to France for use against the fortified port cities.


Mindful of the success of the Russians and Germans in deploying rocket-propelled artillery', the US also fielded rockets in late 1944. The 4.5in finned rocket was used with limited success in saturation bombardment missions. The rockets were mounted on truck beds or on the turrets of some unhappy Sherman tanks (model T34). As the rockets had a large launch signature, it was expedient for rocket units to 'shoot and scoot'.

La Haye du Puits, Normandy, summer 1944: a heavy weapons team from the 79th Division bring up their 81mm mortar. The tube and the baseplate each weighed 45lbs (20kg), and the GIs use shoulder pads to cushion the load. In the left background one man wears the pannier-like ammo vest to carry rounds.

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