The Guns Fall Silent

On the pleasant summer evening of 15 August 1945 Americans were still fighting in the mountains of northern Luzon. In the 32d Division sector, a walkie-talkie said "The war's over," and a grimy sergeant replied, "Yeah, all over these damned mountains." Japanese sniping and banzai attacks continued until General Yamashita surrendered to the 32d Division on the morning of 2 September. But for most of the men the war was really over. In the area where the 37th Division was mopping up, a combat team at Cabagan got the news from the loud triumphant ringing of the village church bells. A platoon out on patrol came marching back to its company perimeter in formation at right shoulder arms, to the cheers of the entire company. Rifle volleys were fired into the evening sky. Far up on the banks of the Cagayan River in the tents of the 737th Ordnance Light Maintenance Company, the men were writing letters home and preparing to go to bed when they heard the news over the radio. Luckily for the celebration that followed, Sergeant Nussbaum had just broken out a beer ration.1

On Zamboanga, where the 41st Division was training for the invasion of Japan, the men got the first news of peace from the firing of guns and flares aboard ships in the harbor. As the news spread there was more firing of weapons and "a feeling of relief and thankfulness that the whole bloody mess had come to an end."2 On Okinawa, where the fighting had been most bloody, there was a glorious celebration. Guns boomed, tracer bullets streaked through the night in every direction, sirens screeched, and searchlights fingered the sky. One group of the 96th Division had a ringside seat in Buckner Bay aboard ships that were about to take them to the Philippines for rest and rehabilitation before they went on to Japan. The men of another group of the same division who had just arrived off Luzon were deeply moved as they gazed at Corregidor and Bataan.3

The guns fell silent. The task of assessment became foremost—assessment, in the case of the Ordnance Department, of the weapons and vehicles, and the Ordnance doctrine and organization that had been employed in the two-ocean war. In Europe such discussions had been going on for several months. Indeed, by V-E Day little on the subject of weapons could be


added to the findings of General Barnes's zebra Mission of February 1945.4 The Ordnance item that came under the sharpest fire from combat commanders was the Sherman tank with the 75-mm. gun. Most commanders liked the design of the new Pershing tank with the 90-mm. gun, but few had received it in time to determine how well it performed in combat. The only really revolutionary new American weapon that got overseas in time for widespread combat use was the 2.36-inch rocket and launcher known as the bazooka and first used in the Tunisia Campaign in the spring of 1943. Experience had proved that it was valuable in many ways but that it was not powerful enough to disable a German Panther or Tiger tank at practicable ranges. The German hand-carried weapon of this type, the Panzerfaust, was considerably more powerful.

Comparing American with German weapons in the spring of 1945, General Eisenhower reported to General Marshall that, with the exception of German tanks, "only the German bazooka may be considered superior to an item of ours."5 American pistols, rifles, and machine guns were well liked. American artillery came off well in the assessment. Even so dedicated a tanker as General Patton admitted that the war "was largely won by the artillery."6 Star performers were the 155-mm. gun and the 105-mm., 8-inch, and 240-mm. howitzers. The 90-mm. antiaircraft gun did well in its antitank role, though many experts placed it second to its German counterpart, the famous 88-mm. Effective artillery techniques and the good quality of American ammunition compensated in many cases for the more advanced design of some of the German guns. Rockets used as artillery had little chance to prove themselves. Artillerymen disliked the fin-stabilized 4.5-inch rocket mainly because it was inaccurate. The more accurate spin-stabilized model with a suitable mount did not arrive in the European theater in time to make a significant contribution to victory. Artillerymen of World War II concluded that "the surface has only been scratched in the development of rockets."7

Experience had shown that mobility was almost as greatly to be desired as firepower. Commanders had been converted to self-propelled artillery by the success of the M12 155-mm. gun on its gun motor carriage and wanted all artillery ultimately to be self-propelled. In the motor transport field, 2½-ton trucks and jeeps had been plentiful and durable; the trucks withstood an unbelievable amount of punishment from careless or unskilled drivers. One real innovation on the American side was the DUKW, which made an invaluable contribution to amphibious warfare both in Europe and in the Pacific.

In the Pacific, commanders had been satisfied with the Sherman tank, which was better than anything the Japanese could bring against it; indeed they considered standard American Ordnance matériel of all types generally superior to Japanese counterparts. No new items such as the


Pershing tank and self-propelled artillery were in great demand in the Pacific until the large-scale cave warfare on Okinawa. This was fortunate, because none were available until after V-E Day; until then, Europe had come first. Lacking such weapons, the flame thrower Sherman tank —a field improvisation by the Chemical Warfare Service—carried the main burden of cave warfare. There was only limited use of the bazooka in the Pacific. Nor were the commanders impressed by tests of the few experimental 4.5-inch artillery rockets sent to the theater. The main role of the artillery rocket in the Pacific was to serve as armament for landing craft, and for this purpose the Navy's 4.5-inch rocket was preferred. American ammunition in most calibers was dependable and effective in the Pacific as in Europe. The only type seriously lacking was the illuminating shell, useful because of Japanese night infiltration tactics.8

Twenty years after V-J Day, arguments on the relative effectiveness of the weapons of World War II seem almost as bootless as the heated controversy raging in England during the first decade of the twentieth century on whether the lance should replace the sword as the cavalryman's principal weapon. More instructive is a study of the reasons offered for the ineffectiveness of some of the American weapons when compared with their German counterparts. The report of the Army Ground Forces Equipment Review Board in June of 1945 was critical of the Ordnance Department; on the other hand, General Barnes, chief of Ordnance's research and development organization, blamed the using services for acting as a brake on the efforts of the Ordnance Department to arm the U.S. troops adequately. Between these two points of view was the position of the Ordnance Section of Army Ground Forces, of which the executive officer, Lt. Col. George T. Petersen, had had long service overseas in Tunisia and Italy. Colonel Petersen and Col. Edwin P. Mechling, Ordnance officer of Army Ground Forces, pointed out, "The policy of our development has too often been a mere copying of revolutionary enemy equipment," and asked, "Why can't we be first with the revolutionary development?" They concluded that the using arms by being too specific and too rigid in the characteristics they required in new weapons had not encouraged revolutionary improvements. Army Ground Forces had lacked foresight. On the other hand, the Ordnance Department had not sufficiently consulted Army Ground Forces during the design stages of new equipment. Better understanding between the technician and the combat officer was essential; one way of achieving it would be the assignment of Ordnance officers experienced in development and design to duty with troops, another would be to detail combat officers to Ordnance9

Along with evaluating weapons development, the Ordnance officers who had served in the field with the combat forces evaluated the Ordnance doctrine that had


been published and taught in the schools between World War I and World War II. Most considered it antiquated. Conceived largely in terms of the fixed position warfare of World War I, it had provided a system too rigid and too formal, with complex administrative arrangements that would have made it impossible for Ordnance support to keep up with fast-moving tactical troops—if the system had been followed. Of necessity, Ordnance officers at army level had simply discarded it and evolved their own individual systems. No two were exactly alike, and this had complicated the training problem and introduced other problems, but success in devising workable systems in the field produced in most theaters, in the opinion of postwar Army Ground Forces Ordnance officers, "at least an approximation of good effective Ordnance service."10

The initiative of Ordnance officers overseas had brought about better organization in the field at an early date in the war. The Provisional Ordnance Group established in Oran in November 1942 antedated considerably the first Ordnance group authorized in the United States in April 1944, and was the pattern for the Ordnance support system in all the armies in the European theater. Ordnance officers overseas also had to devote considerable thought and effort to making the best use of certain types of Ordnance companies. Several companies were overspecialized; for example, the tank maintenance company that supported tank and tank destroyer battalions only, wherever located, and the antiaircraft maintenance company that supported all antiaircraft combat units no matter how widely scattered. The use of such companies caused much confusion, unnecessary travel, and congestion of the road net. Some companies—such as the evacuation company for moving armor from collecting points to the rear—had no place in the army area. On the other hand, certain Ordnance missions developed in every army area for which no suitable company existed.11 One such mission was that of bringing back all types of Ordnance material from the battlefield This problem the Ordnance officer of First Army solved in England by converting the evacuation company into a collecting company and using the men left over to man his radio net. Setting up a radio net to control Ordnance operations was one of the most valuable of all field expedients.

The need for better communications with Ordnance officers at corps, group, and battalion level, who were usually widely dispersed, was only one of many problems arising from the size and complexity of the Ordnance organization that was essential if the modern field army was to be adequately supported. Many Ordnance officers at army level, faced with the task of directing their large organization, felt that they had not been adequately prepared for the job. Usually well trained in technical subjects, they learned that they would have benefited from training in business administration or management. Furthermore, the field army Ordnance officer was obliged not only to administer


his own organization but also in nearly all the armies had to engage in manufacturing, using indigenous labor, materials, and facilities on a scale unheard of in the past.12

Because of the ever-present need for field improvisation to meet unpredictable situations, many participants in World War II, looking back, felt that the prime Ordnance lesson was that good Ordnance service to the combat troops depended largely on the intelligence, resourcefulness, and good judgment of the Ordnance officer sent overseas. Of him might be demanded the one characteristic Field Marshal von Runstedt demanded in an infantryman: "To learn quickly."13 General Campbell, wartime Chief of Ordnance, regarded the selection of capable officers for the field as one of his primary duties, having been profoundly influenced by a remark made to him just after World War I by Brig. Gen. John H. Rice, chief Ordnance officer of the American Expeditionary Force, "that if he had to go through the war again he would spend 95% of his time selecting men for particular jobs, and the other 5% he would spend in reading the newspapers!"14

In World Wars I and II there had been a considerable number of capable men to choose from. The Ordnance Department had attracted them. A man's desire to belong to a respected organization, one to be proud of, seemed to officers with wide experience in World War II to be very strong—perhaps the strongest of all motivations.15 The importance of esprit de corps increased rather than lessened as warfare became more and more mechanized. In the words of a British military critic, "the mechanical impersonality of war requires to be counteracted by the greatest moral stimulus."16 Whether large impersonal logistical organizations such as those established in the early 1960's at the time of the abolition of the Office, Chief of Ordnance, would be able to recruit the best men remained to be seen.

Planning the future organization of Ordnance service to field forces in the immediate postwar years, the seasoned veterans of overseas service in World War II were determined not to fall into the common error of "fighting the last war." Believing that push-button warfare was at least ten years away, they planned for an interim period in which they envisioned increased requirements for dispersion, as compared with World War II, and a very high requirement for mobility. Beyond the ten-year period the planners refused to go, because at that time "we might have to fight a wholly new type of war, the general shape of which is only dimly seen at present."17


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Last updated 11 January 2007