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BRACKETING THE ENEMY: FORWARD OBSERVERS AND COMBINED ARMS EFFECTIVENESS DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR

A dissertation submitted
to Kent State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

by
John R. Walker August 2009


https://etd.ohiolink.edu/rws_etd/document/get/kent1248041184/inline 

The review committee, however august, should be taken out and shot, since this thing is rife with military-technical howlers which would never fly in professional military and military history circles, but it is a very meaty and long read covering the history, development and use of forward observers from the earliest beginnings through the baptism of fire in the Pacific at New Georgia and ending with Luzon and Manila. In Europe, he starts with the Saar Basin, then covers the Battle of the Bulge and continues into crossing the Rhine and beyond. Nevertheless, it is a pioneering study which has unearthed a great deal of material on this little-known and oft poorly documented subject. For example, there is no real overall casualty figure for US FOs in WW II, since such specific records weren't kept and in many cases, no names were provided in combat accounts. Such figures as do exist have had to be painstakingly dug out of various combat award citations and unit records. Nor were the artillerymen officially eligible for the CIB. Despite this, one officer did award two. In case you're wondering why your CM FOs and FOOs attract fire like a magnet, the historical accounts clearly show the tall radio antenna was quite visible--to the point where a FOs who jumped into a foxhole was ordered out by the terrified occupant! 

This dissertation is not just about the development, difficult acceptance and growth of FOs, ultimately focusing on the US, but also devotes an entire chapter  to looking at how the Germans Japanese handled combined arms tactics and how they organized, equipped and  ran their artillery and observation, complete with an assessment of their performance vs ours. I've read this chapter and found it good in some aspects and terrible in others, especially the dearth of info on how our foes actually ran their shoots.

The combat accounts are juicy and detailed, and time and again you'll find T4s and even PFCs running the shoots. Seems lots of officers normally assigned got whacked, forcing substantial changes from the standard TO&E. There are cases in which untrained PFCs and corporals in FO teams brought down deadly fires, under the grimmest of circumstances, too. What you'll also see is that there were quite a few instances in which officer FOs with the line companies had to step in and take command when the leaders got severely wounded or killed. You will further read of FOs doing CASEVAC under fire and even, on occasion, attacking Siegfried pillboxes when things got hairy! There is a useful discussion of fire direction via sound, which was especially valuable in the Pacific jungles. There may also be an outcry when CMers learn that at New Georgia, high angle artillery fire was being delivered as close as 500 yards from the beach gun positions of the newly landed US force! Believe we'd all agree that 500 (presumably, 105s) yards qualifies as being doable on a typical CM map, right?  For the larger stuff (155 howitzers), it was 1500 yards. FO teams should probably also be treated for Fatigue purposes as HMG and similar because of the heaviness of the radios used. The US radio used was such a load that it had to be dismantled and moved as two parts, then reassembled when a halt was called. No radioing for fire while on the move! The similarities of this to heavy weapon deployment time is obvious and could well be longer than for such. 

I've read about 20 pages consecutively so far, with additional spot reading on the Bulge and later to the tune of another 5 or so. This dissertation is well worth your time, but be wary of some of the "facts," and "explanations" given in the coverage of the early years. Can't speak to the rest of the story of how the US Army got FOs.

Regards,

John Kettler

 

Edited by John Kettler
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