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U.S. Army Regimental Cannon Company

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  • U.S. Army Regimental Cannon Company

    Standard U.S. Army Infantry Divisions in World War II had a Cannon Company as part of each infantry regiment.

    These companies had various structures through out the war. From mid war on it was standardized as six (6) guns in a three platoon company. Each platoon had two towed short barreled 105mm M3 infantry howitzers (not to be confused with the artillery's larger longer ranged M2 105mm howitzer which fired the same projectile).

    From what I've read it seems like the idea was to use these guns as a direct fire weapon to take out strong points such as bunkers.

    But it seems like they were more often used in the indirect fire mode.

    I wonder if it would be better if these were replaced by the 4.2" mortar? Although the 4.2" mortar has about 1/2 the range of the M3 infantry howitzer (4,400 vs 8,300 yards) it is much lighter and handier. (333 pounds versus 2,500 pounds). The Korean War era U.S. Army did just that.

    Here is a short history of the Cannon Company 304 Regiment U.S. 76th Infantry Division:

    http://76thdivision.com/304/history_304th_081.html

    The German Army had a similar company in their infantry regiments. It was armed with 6 small 75 mm guns and two 150mm guns.

    The German Army seemed to be impressed with these weapons. Even when they cut their infantry regiments back to two battalions they still kept the cannon company.
    "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" Beatrice Evelyn Hall
    Updated for the 21st century... except if you are criticizing islam, that scares the $hii+e out of me!

  • #2
    Earlier in the war these companies used self propelled 75mm and 105mm howitzers on half tracks. The T-12 was used in the Philippines as an antitank company as well in the Philippine Division.

    After the switch was made (not all regiments got the 105 'short'), the "extra" battery was sometimes placed with the Artillery battalion supporting the Regimental Combat Team.

    There were few 4.1" Mortar Battalions. They were considered a Chemical Warfare branch weapon as they fired White Phosphorous (smoke) and chemical munitions. Later trials of using high explosive worked so well they tried to activate enough of these battalions to equip each division with one! The First Special Services Force had such a battalion attached in Italy.

    Pruitt
    Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

    Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

    by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Pruitt View Post
      Earlier in the war these companies used self propelled 75mm and 105mm howitzers on half tracks. The T-12 was used in the Philippines as an antitank company as well in the Philippine Division.

      After the switch was made (not all regiments got the 105 'short'), the "extra" battery was sometimes placed with the Artillery battalion supporting the Regimental Combat Team.

      There were few 4.1" Mortar Battalions. They were considered a Chemical Warfare branch weapon as they fired White Phosphorous (smoke) and chemical munitions. Later trials of using high explosive worked so well they tried to activate enough of these battalions to equip each division with one! The First Special Services Force had such a battalion attached in Italy.

      Pruitt
      Pruitt beat me to it. The "Chemical" 4.2" mortars were originally intended to fire WP/smoke. Without looking it up I'd argue that with the Soviets using extensive use of the 120mm mortar then the Germans adapting it in their organization in '42-'43 on, the Americans probably started emphasizing use of heavier mortars. Therefore the 4.2" mortars never got their spotlight in WWII and were only adapted after WWII.

      But the use of the 105mm M3 short was based along the similar lines of the regimental infantry guns, but I believe the Americans intended their 105mm howitzers as indirect support, not direct support. They certainly added extra HE firepower to the regiment but perhaps because of lack of an extensive radio net like the dedicated artillery battalions they weren't as effective. Given the infantry shortage and artillery shell shortage in the Fall of 1944 (yeah, can you imagine the Americans running out of shells! They did!), some cannon companies were converted or temporarily assigned as infantry. There were numerous instances of cannon companies holding positions as infantry at the start of the Bulge.

      The direct fire use of the 105mm short was probably done but the gun really wasn't configured that way. Compare this to the German 75mm IG and the Soviet 76.2mm IG's, which could be manhandled and had gunshields to blast down walls. Hard to do that with a jeep or truck hauling a howitzer. Granted, there were instances in Aachen and Metz of Americans using guns to blast down walls, but the Americans didn't have that fortress wall mindset like the European Armies from WWI and before for the need to batter down walls.

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      • #4
        Towards the end of this video (about minute 25) they show a M3 105mm Infantry howitzer crew in training. They are blasting a road block with H.E. and a tank with a H.E.A.T. projectile.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuSOecA864o

        This video is just the M3 105mm Infantry howitzer

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkXYvZmTRnM
        "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" Beatrice Evelyn Hall
        Updated for the 21st century... except if you are criticizing islam, that scares the $hii+e out of me!

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        • #5
          Buried in the pages of the US Field Artillery Journal area couple accounts written by officers in two of these cannon companies. the one I remember clearly served in combat from November 1942 to 1945. He made two points

          1. His cannon company performed about every possible mission" reconissance, AT fires, supply transport, medical evac, assualt artillery, counter battery fires as a substitute for infantry in the defense, as mobile fast exploitation force.

          2. The company records showed that well over 95% of the ammunition fired in three years was in pedestrian indirect fire missions supporting the rifle companies, the same as the other FA battalions in the division. The company nearly always had a comm link to the FA artillery HQ and usually was on common survey, so either the company or the FA batteries could mass fires on each others targets within a minute or less.

          I have no idea if this captains observations were characteristic of all the cannon companies.

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          • #6
            I have a question? I was in the F/A and we had a different set up we were in battery's with platoons of sections instead of squads when was this adopted and does it apply here. Sorry not really about the thread but it was interesting to me and I thought I'd ask.
            Dave

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Brumbear View Post
              I have a question? I was in the F/A and we had a different set up we were in battery's with platoons of sections instead of squads when was this adopted and does it apply here. Sorry not really about the thread but it was interesting to me and I thought I'd ask.
              Dave
              Dave,

              I was army artillery also!

              The regimental cannon companies of the U.S. Army were an odd duck.

              The were considered to be infantry. They wore the crossed rifles of the infantry, not the crossed cannons artillery.

              But in actual use they were light artillery. They could be used in direct fire mode, but were very vulnerable. From what I'm reading it was much more common for them to be used in direct fire mode just like the howitzers of in the batterys of the 4 artillery battalions of U.S. Army infantry division.

              In World War II the U.S. Army Artillery battalions usualy had 3 firing batteries with 4 howitzers or guns each.

              Since the cannon company was considered to be an infantry unit they were called companys not batterys as they would have if they were artillery.

              THe cannon company had three firing platoons. Each platoon had a two M3 105mm infantry howitzers, for a total of 6 per cannon company.

              Here again since the cannon company men where considered to be infantry they were broke down into platoons not sections.
              "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" Beatrice Evelyn Hall
              Updated for the 21st century... except if you are criticizing islam, that scares the $hii+e out of me!

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by 17thfabn View Post
                Dave,

                But in actual use they were light artillery. They could be used in direct fire mode, but were very vulnerable. From what I'm reading it was much more common for them to be used in direct fire mode just like the howitzers of in the batterys of the 4 artillery battalions of U.S. Army infantry division.
                Did you mean "in indirect fire for direct support"?

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                • #9
                  Accquired a book by a German "Heavy Weapons" company officer of the Germany army of WWII. He served from late 1939 to 1945. The Heavy Weapons company had a similar role to the US Army cannon company, it provided fire support for the multi battalion that was 'owned' by the regimental commander.

                  The description of operations provoeded by the German officers sounds a bit like the US cannon company accounts. There were some aggresive and spectacular stunts with direct fire or assualt missions. ...but, the vast majority of the ammunition fired was from concealed positions & shot indirectly over masking terrain under direction of a FO. There were many technical differences between the US & German regimental cannon companys but in general they provided the same sort of support to the rifle battalions.

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                  • #10
                    'At Lenningrads Gates' is the title. William Lubbeck is the name of the author & former artillery officer.

                    Interesting stuff. Lubbeck spent about half his time on the eastern front as a forward observer for the heavy company. A lot of detailed descriptions of conditions and combat in Army Group Norths are in the east. Also he was in the brief 1940 campaign in the west.

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                    • #11
                      The Regimental Cannon Company was a result of experience from World War I. They came about because of the lack of a quick reaction to events on the field due to communication problems of the time. It took too long to get requests through the net to the divisional artillery, so to solve this issue the concept was born that would place some guns at the direct control of an Infantry Regiment. These guns would travel and act in support of the regiment assigned.

                      During the early involvement of the US in World War II, the cannon company, on paper, was equipped with self-propelled half-track mounted pieces. Each company had three platoons of 75mm SP howitzers for a total of six, and they had a fourth platoon armed with two 105mm SP howitzers. This gave the regiment its own organic artillery. As pointed out already these guns were manned by infantrymen, and not artillerymen, but the guns were tied into the divisions Fire Direction Center. This made them useful in indirect fire as well as direct fire missions at the discretion of the regimental commander.

                      In reality though, this gave the division an extra firepower equivalent to another battalion of guns.

                      Ather the reorganization for 1944, the Cannon Company was reorganized with three platoons of towed M3 105mm howitzers tor a total of six tubes. Again these guns were usually used as a “light artillery” reserve under the control of a regimental commander, but usually directed by the divisions FDC.

                      Of course like most things in the US Army there were variations on the standard. Two examples come to mind. First the 442nd RCT’s Cannon Company was issued six half-track mounted 105mm howitzers in place of the towed 105s. The second is the three regimental cannon companies found in the 4th ID, were equipped with self-propelled M7 Priest 105mm howitzers. This was a result of the experiment prototype motorized division.

                      These companies were opposed by the artillery and by McNair, but even over these protests these units remained in the division and under control of regiments, because the infantry did not want to give up control of this firepower.

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                      • #12
                        It should be pointed out that the shorter barrel of the M3 meant that the propellant cartridges of the M2 howitzer could not be fired in the M3. The M3 required a faster burning powder.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Cowboy31a View Post
                          The Regimental Cannon Company was a result of experience from World War I. They came about because of the lack of a quick reaction to events on the field due to communication problems of the time. It took too long to get requests through the net to the divisional artillery, so to solve this issue the concept was born that would place some guns at the direct control of an Infantry Regiment. These guns would travel and act in support of the regiment assigned.
                          There seems to have been a group who thought the 37mm guns in the infantry regiment could serve as the quick fire support. The problem is fairly clear to most people that the weapon was to light in effect on target and too limited as a IF weapon. I've not sifted through the pages of the Infantry Journal for what it has on the story, tho there are some hints the 'discussion, of fire support within the infantry regiment/brigade was under way as early as 1918. There are a few more hints in the Field Artillery Journal as well.

                          Ironically when the cannon company was created within the infantry regiment the field artillery was well along in solving the response problem.

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                          • #14
                            Even during the reoganization of the infantry division in the 1948 tables, the cannon company was debate. The regiments did not want to get rid of their ability to have its own organic artillery firepower. Yes the regiments were more then willing to give up the anti tank platoon and its obsolete 57mm guns, but the cannon company was another story.

                            In the end the compromise was to allow the formation of a Regimental Tank Company that would have 17 tanks tanks. This kept both the regiments ability to provide anti-tank capability while also retaining the direct and indirect fire support that the old cannon company had.

                            Another solution was to spread a lot of 57mm and 75mm recoilless rifles throughout the regiments weapons company and the weapons platoons of the rifle companies, while also holding some in the regimental weapons pool at HQ.

                            It is no doubt that the infantry would have held on to those guns if the tank company wouldn't have been created in its place in the 1948 tables...

                            So even though the artillery had solved the problem of response time to the infantry needs, the infantry wasn't about to give up its own support.

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                            • #15
                              Few commanders are willing to give up firepower. It is a sign of a weak minded commander or a weak weapon when fire power is discarded.

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