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Tactical Level Wargames and WWII Artillery

by James Sulzen

In a tactical-level wargame one would expect each nation’s artillery to be governed by rather varied rules. The Germans get accurate artillery, but it’s somewhat slow to come. The British get the fire very promptly. Their fire is less likely to seriously damage the intended target, but the effect of the barrage is going to be spread over a much wider area than a similar German or American fire mission. Furthermore for the most part, for the British and Germans, only specially trained Forward Observers can call in artillery fires.

world-war-ii-artillery-3366x2863-wallpaper_www-miscellaneoushi-com_77The Americans of course get it all: Fast, deadly accurate (i.e., little or no drift), they get extra when they care (and even if they don’t care), and they get the additional potent weapon of Time on Target. I should also mention that proximity fuses were introduced (sometime during the Bulge, I believe) so that Americans then can start getting the benefit of the far more deadly airburst fires (deadly to infantry and especially to open-topped vehicles).

Note that when in any kind of prepared defensive position, I would expect the British and German artillery to start responding as quickly and accurately as American. However, I suspect that the British and Germans may still have been limited to only FOs calling the artillery, even when in defensive positions.

Lastly, depending upon the period of the war, probably get a ton of not tremendously accurate, but decent artillery (again the amount and quality of fires will vary enormously during the course of the war). In a mobile situation they are probably largely limited to line of sight firing (maybe this is one of the reasons why they liked relatively big mortars so much?).

Another effect I might expect is differences in relative setup times for deploying artillery into new positions. British and American artillery should be fairly quick to get setup, being only really limited by having to set up the equipment, connect up their communications links, and lay in ammo. The Germans should require more time (unless all survey prep was done prior to the move) because the new position has to be surveyed, and the survey results have to be tied into previous results. Also the German artillery seems to have been rather more dependent upon wire communiations than were the Western Allies, and so may be further delayed because of this. I cannot speak at this point to what the likely limits are which affect Soviet setup.

Now that I think of it, the utility of German and Soviet artillery “divisions” probably existed in the ready ability of such a division’s firing elements to share survey results and coordination within itself. Contrawise, the difficulty of tying survey results together across artillery organizations strikes me as an additional complication that enormously hinders quick massing of German and Soviet artilery battalions, such as occured with the Americans at Mortain. It’s not that the Germans and Russians could not as effectively mass their artillery fire, but that it would take a lot longer because essentially everybody’s map would have to be calibrated against each other. Again, I’m just speculating here.


2 comments on “Tactical Level Wargames and WWII Artillery

  1. Joe Clement
    August 2, 2015

    In your article “Artillery Practices by the Major Combatants of WWII” you mention a lecture you heard at Origins in San Jose. I believe I attended a lecture by the same person a few years later at Origins in Columbus. I, too, have lost my notes to the lecture but I think the man’s last name was ‘Armstrong’. He was trying to find a publisher for a book on the subject he had written but doesn’t appear to have any success. And yes, it was a terrific lecture with a lot of detail not found anywhere else. I would love to buy his book if it ever gets published.

  2. Alsadius
    March 5, 2018

    It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I have a Canadian artilleryman’s memoirs(The Guns of Normandy), and he talks about how the whole Allied front was tied together into a unified map all the time. There were cases of German prisoners asking to see the quick-firing artillery, and saying they understood it was super-secret when they were told it didn’t exist. But it didn’t exist – it was all coordination, on a scale the Germans couldn’t match.

    I don’t know if the book is a joke in the circles of serious historians or something, but I find it really interesting that it said basically the opposite of what this article says.

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This entry was posted on June 16, 2013 by in Articles.



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