United States Field Artillery History

 

The United States Field Artillery traces its origins to 17 November 1775 when the Continental Congress, unanimously elected Henry Knox "Colonel of the Regiment of Artillery". From that historic event until now, the United States Field Artillery has had a glorious history and is recognized as the most lethal of all the combat arms branches, earning the title “King of Battle”.  The United States Field Artillery Association has commissioned a series of prints and a video that highlight our branch’s proud and distinguished service as the greatest killer on the battlefield.  Please take the time to review the following content. As professional Redlegs, we should be grounded in our branch history and ensure we understand the lessons learned from these artillerymen in training and battle. 

America's First Field ArtilleryAmerica's First Field Artillery - Revolutionary War Era

Redlegs of the Revolutionary War

True American artillery came into being with the American Revolution. With the birth of the Continental Army in June 1775, a national Artillery arm became necessary. It started slowly and inefficiently, but after Henry Knox received an appointment as Colonel of the Continental Regiment of Artillery in November 1775, things began to improve. A master of organization and training, Knox, with the help of General George Washington, eventually built a Continental Artillery of four regiments. These first Redleg units were composed of field, siege, and coast batteries. With these weapons, Knox trained American Artillerists to take their place as equals to any Artillerymen in the world. American Artillery was comprised of a mixed assortment of calibers and types representative of standard black-powder bronze and iron smoothbore direct fire pieces of the day. Some pieces were cast for the Continental Army in the colonies and the rest were acquired from the French, captured from the enemy, or taken from colonial arsenals and from ships. The Continental Army relied mainly on 3-pounder and 6-pounder guns and 5.5-inch howitzers for Field Artillery because they offered greater mobility and rates of fire than most of the larger pieces available. Also, varied terrain, forests, and poor roads limited the sizes of field pieces that could travel with the Continental Army. The artist depicts a typical scene of a bronze 6-pounder being transported on a backwoods road. The gun's officer is mounted; its crew walks resolutely by its side. A hired civilian teamster (a common practice in all armies until the Napoleonic era) will pull it as far as the battlefield. At that point, the gun crew will man "drag ropes" to maneuver its piece into position. Amidst the smoke, noise, and pressure of battle, these brave Redlegs will manhandle their piece back into battery after firing, ready to continue their mission. - Dr. L. Martin Kaplan

Mr. John J. McMahon, a longtime benefactor of the United States FieldArtillery Association, commissioned the painting and donated it to the Association. Mr. McMahon served in the 112th Field Artillery Regiment (National Guard) just before World War II. His unit was the last horse-drawn artillery in the Army. Later, he was assigned to a forward observer section in the 696th Armored Field Artillery Regiment in Patton's Third Army.  "America's First Field Artillery" is Artist, Ms. Joyce Kreafle's, sixth painting in a series of works on American artillery. 

Field ArtillerymenField Artillerymen - Civil War Era

A Battery, 2nd United States Artillery

The second year of the American Civil War had just begun, the battle, called Fair Oaks in the North and Seven Pines in the South, had been a particularly bloody affair that brought neither fame nor praise to the commanders on either side of the fight. Only soldiers could claim the inner grace and mutual respect that come from doing their duty in a desperate battle. Both armies rested now, dreading the time when the killing would begin again. Unfortunately, it would take nearly three more years and hundreds of thousands of dead Americans before the slaughter would finally stop. As the soldiers cleaned their equipment, groomed their battery horses, and comforted wounded comrades, a civilian in a strangely configured wagon drove among them. As he drove closer, they could see he was a photographer; the wagon was his portable darkroom and studio. He had come to capture the face of war and bring it back to a public eager for any glimpse of the conflict. In those early days of the war, the fashion remained the formal, posed photograph. The photographer this day, however, departed from traditional subject matter and asked the battery officers to pose informally around one of their cannons - a three-inch Ordnance Riffe standing near the unit's picket line. The four officers obediently took their places around the gun, each one leaning on the carriage or barrel in an attempt to look nonchalant and remove some of the stiffness associated with a posed photograph. Second Lieutenant Robert Clarke, fully regulation in his frock coat, kepi, and saber, leaned against the gun's right wheel. First Lieutenant William H. Dennison, sporting a slouch hat pulled rakishly over his right eye and a magnificent pair of knee-high boots, stood to the rear of the left wheel with his hands on his hips. Captain Alex C.M. Pennington lounged against the left trunnion, his uniform coat unbuttoned and thrown back to reveal his best shirt and handsome plaid tie. And leaning against the breech, his steady gaze leaving no doubt as to who was in command, stood a full-bearded Captain John Caldwell Tidball, Commanding Officer of Battery A, 2nd United States Artillery. The photograph taken that hot June day in 1862 has become one of the most well-known and frequently copied images to come out of the Civil War. Most observers do not recognize the men behind the logo, which is unfortunate for they were men of honor and character whose lives have much to teach us. How appropriate that the Field Artillery Journal chose these men to represent the Corps of Artillery. They stand there, frozen in time, looking to us to carry on the traditions of the branch they so nobly served, and their Commander stands in the center, looking confident we will do so.

Mr. John J. McMahon, of McLoud, Oklahoma, commissioned this oil painting from Artist, Joyce Kreafle and donated it to the United States Field Artillery Association in 1987. On loan to the Field Artillery School, it now hangs by the entrance to the Show Hall auditorium.

Marines ad Vera CruzeMarines at Vera Cruz - Mexican War Era

April 21, 1914

The potential of artillery in amphibious landings was recognized by Marine Corps Comman­dant Archibald Henderson in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy on November 17, 1853. He wrote, "The Artillery Drill, especially that of light artillery, would be highly beneficial in case of landing a force in a foreign country." General Henderson's words were brought to life during the landing at Veracruz, Mexico, a landing that marked the advent of the first Marine artillery battalion used in a combat operation. In February 1913, General Victoriano Huerta overthrew President Francisco Madero and plunged Mexico into a civil war. President Woodrow Wilson, refusing to recognize a govern­ment that didn't come to power by constitutional means, responded by backing the opposition forces of Venustiano Carranza, Emiliano Zapata and Francisco "Pancho" Villa. By early 1914, however, Huerta's forces held the opposition in check. As relations between Huerta and Wilson deteriorated and American intervention appeared unavoidable, Wilson ordered the occupation and blockade of Veracruz as one of two valuable ports (Tampico was the other) that would deprive Huerta of needed arms, supplies and income. The occupation of Veracruz began on April 21, 1914, after Rear Admiral Frank F. Fletcher was ordered to land a force of sailors and Marines to "take the Customs House and prevent the delivery of German arms and ammunition." In compliance with Colonel John A. Lejeune's Brigade Order Number 13, an artillery battalion was formed consisting of the 1st, 9th and 13th companies--12 officers and 406 enlisted Marines armed with 3-inch field guns. The artillery pieces used were both the Mark I 3-inch Rapid Fire Field Gun and Mark VII 3-inch Rapid Fire Landing Gun. Depicted here is the Mark I gun surrounded by a Marine gun crew wearing the uniforms of the period. With a muzzle velocity of 1,150 f/s and a range of 4,500 yards, the gun was suited for the direct support role. The cannon was mounted on a Mark I carriage. The weapon had a screw-type elevating mechanism and Archibald-patterned iron-tired wooden wheels. With 32 rounds of ammunition, the gun weighed a total of 1,830 pounds. The landing of guns at Veracruz emphasized the need for a landing force to include readily available fire support--the first chapter of the doctrine of fire support in amphibious operations --leading the way to the future successes in World Wars I and II. The landing at Veracruz also marked the origin of the 10th Marine Regiment. - Colonel Kent O.W. Steen, USMC

Mr. John J. McMahon commissioned the painting from Ms. Joyce Kreafle. It is the seventh painting on American Artillery. 

Fire MissionFire Mission - WWI Era

The Union of Soldier and Weapon, France, 1917

The Great War, begun in 1914, had so far taken a horrible toll of lives. The fighting continued to rage back and forth over the same few kilometers of ground; the front lines in this stalemated conflict had not changed appreciably since 1914. The United States had been a neutral observer during the first years of the war, but Germany's decision to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare had changed all that. Suddenly, we were "over there." The backbone of the light artillery during this war was the Ml 897 (75-mm) Field Gun--the "French 75" shown in this print. The Army had adopted the French 75, rather than the United States-made M1902 (3-inch) gun, because the "75" had a higher rate of fire, greater accuracy and a recoil system that was one of the most important technological advancements in Field Artillery history. This recoil system, consisting of two hydraulic reservoirs, a floating piston, a connected piston, a head of gas and a reservoir of oil, has influenced the design of every Field Artillery weapon produced in this century. Each infantry division in the American Expeditionary Force had one Field Artillery brigade organized into three regiments. The two 75-mm regiments in the brigade consisted of six four­gun batteries. Artist Joyce Kreafle has captured a 75-mm gun crew in the midst of a fire mission. The section chief, in the left foreground, is responsible for both the gun and the ammunition crews and caisson. The gunner corporal, standing to the left of the breech, directly supervises the cannoneers in the gun crew. The three cannoneers shown here are preparing the gun for firing. The act of inserting the shell into the breech is symbolic of the wartime union of soldier and weapon in the production of bone-shattering, mind-numbing firepower.

Mr. John J. McMahon, a retired soldier, never lost his love of the Field Artillery. "Fire Mission" is Ms. Joyce Kreafle's second painting in a series of works on American artillery.

Armored Field ArtilleryArmored Field Artillery - WWII Era

Epitome of the Offensive Spirit

Our Army's first armored force was formed during World War I and came from elements of the 65th Engineers. In March 1918, it became the Tank Corps by order of the Secretary of War. By Armistice Day it numbered more than 20,000 soldiers. In 1920, it was disbanded and its remnants were given to the Infantry, where they languished until mechanization began in 1932. Then the mechanized cavalry began employing "combat cars" and light tanks. As a result of Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia and the Spanish Civil War, the United States started to take a serious look at developments in mechanized warfare. On July 10, 1940, the "Armored Force" was established at Fort Knox with 7,000 soldiers and 393 light tanks. By the end of World War II, we had 16 armored divisions. To support the Armored Force, Field Artillery had to keep pace with the mechanization effort. Horse-drawn artillery of World War I gave way to either truck-drawn (towed) or truck­carried (portee) artillery. As World War II came closer, the artillery tried several ways to keep pace with the maneuver forces. Cannons were mounted on half-track vehicles with tubes pointed to the rear or front. When the cannons pointed over the cab of the half-tracks, they were used in indirect, direct and assault fire modes. By 1942, BG Williston Palmer became the Chief of Artillery for the Armored Force. MG (then COL) Edward H. Brooks designed and guided the development of the howitzer pictured in the painting, "Armored Field Artillery." The M-7, 105-mm howitzer, motor carriage, was a variant of the M-3 tank chassis. It was nicknamed "The Priest" because of its pulpit-like .50 caliber machinegun ring mount and was one of the most popular weapons of the War. It threw a 33-pound shell 12,000 yards and provided mobility for the artillery equal to that of the forces it supported. It also deployed in a hexagonal or circular firing formation, rather than a linear one. This allowed the battery to go into action faster and defend itself better (like settlers circling their wagons). One of the most important aspects of the armored artillery forces was its fighting spirit. Even in the written doctrine you will find the statement, "In the defense, Armored Artillery is best used in an offensive posture." Armored Artillery traveled with the maneuver forces, many times finding itself in the direct-assault role-taking out enemy bunkers and strong points. The spirit of the Armored Artillery was like that of the old "Flying Batteries" of horse-artillery days, a spirit they preserved--one that lives on m today's Field Artillerymen.

This oil painting, which hangs by the entrance to the Snow Hall auditorium along with her other works of the Artillery History Series, sports a background mist characteristic of German forests in the early morning. Commissioned by Mr. JohnJ. McMahon, painted by Mrs. Joyce Kreafle.

CannoneersCannoneers - Korean War Era

Artillery Led the Way, Korea, 1950 - 1953

During the initial retreat of United Nations forces in 1950 and throughout the defense of the Pusan Perimeter, the Field Artillery, with its continuous delivery of accurate defensive fires, "bought time" for our maneuver forces to reorganize, resupply and reinforce before they could attack. The 155-mm howitzer in the lithograph, with its capability to launch a 95-pound projectile more than six miles, was instrumental in extending the battlefield during defensive and, later, offensive operations. The artillery units in 1950 were shadows of those that slugged their way across Europe and the Pacific in World War II. Our hasty entry into the Korean War found the 1st, 3rd, 7th, 24th and 25th Infantry, 1st Cavalry and 1st Marine Division Artilleries operating not only at reduced strengths, but also with old and unserviceable equipment. In fact, most battalions had only two of three firing batteries. They were brought to full strength only after arriving in the Theatre. Thus, artillery battalions were at a premium. Even after the breakout of the Pusan Perimeter in late 1950, units such as the 3rd Infantry Division entered combat with too few battalions to conduct an attack. Its Division Artillery had only two self-propelled and two towed artillery battalions. And one of these self-propelled battalions served in general support of the Division. Ingenuity and flexibility had to be their watchwords. Artillery units from small allied countries participating in the Theatre--Thailand and the Philippines--helped provide increased strength. They were given a mission of reinforcing the divisional direct-support battalions. Most allied commanders were Fort Sill-trained (US Army Field Artillery School), which made the assimilation workable. Their delivery of fires was a welcome addition. Artillery commanders demonstrated their flexibility by responding to the various missions required of them. It was not unusual to provide direct support to one regiment on a given day and to another a day later. Providing direct support for Allies such as the 29th British Infantry Brigade was just another assignment for a battalion commander in the 3rd Infantry Division Artillery. Throughout the first two years of the War, units of the maneuver forces were hurriedly assembled and, in some instances, augmented with native personnel who had little field training. The Field Artillery had to make it possible for maneuver forces to take assigned objectives and, when necessary, defend them with accurate protective fires. Many artillery battalions recorded unprecedented numbers of rounds fired in attacking targets to ensure the success of our forces. Truly, the King of Battle led the way in sweeping the enemy north of the Yalu River.

"Cannoneers" is Ms. Joyce Kreafle's fourth painting in a series on American artillery that was commissioned by Mr. John J. McMahon.

FireBaseFire Base Vietnam - Vietnam War Era

Fortresses of Firepower For Artillerymen

Vietnam was a fire base war. In the northern highlands, bulldozers cropped crowns off isolated mountaintops to allow Cannoneers to build enormous sandbag castles to shelter their guns. In the southern lowlands, fire bases appeared in checkerboard fashion to protect the heavily peopled regions surrounding Saigon and other cities. These sandbag and timber fortresses often sprouted geometric shapes with guns forming a star-like pattern surrounded by a ring of bunkers. Batteries were scattered about the countryside to ensure that as much territory as possible lay under the protective arcs of the guns. The price paid for dispersing batteries was a corresponding reduction in the ability of the artillery to mass its fires. But most fire fights in Vietnam were quick, sharp, often unexpected and rarely initiated by an enemy force larger than a platoon. The secret to effective fire support, therefore, was speed, and speed could only be obtained if guns were laid, in position, ready to fire within seconds of receiving the familiar command "Fire Mission!" Early in the War, fire bases were temporary affairs; a low parapet constructed from empty ammunition boxes or a few shallow trenches. Later in the War as the enemy began to focus his attack on fixed installations, fire bases increasingly became a favorite target for sapper, rocket and mortar attacks. To survive, Cannoneers increasingly had to entrench and bunker themselves more deeply until fire bases became elaborate defensive complexes. A light battery moving into position was expected to have every gun parapetted and every fighting position protected underneath two layers of sandbags--for a light battery this meant 25,000 sandbags filled in a single day. Should a battery stay longer, the fire base took on the appearance of a medieval fortress. Soldiers fortified themselves with bunkers covered with steel planking and buttressed with thick wooden timbers. Cannoneers ringed the perimeters with fighting positions, often constructed using prefabricated concrete forms or metal culvert halves. Barbed wire perimeters quickly appeared and were soon decorated with trip flares, claymore mines and barrels filled with jellied gasoline that, in the event of an attack, could be ignited from fighting positions. Fire bases containing heavier guns, like the 8-inch self-propelled howitzer featured in the print, required considerable engineering effort to build a firing, platform sturdy enough to stand up under repeated firings and direction changes, particularly during the soggy monsoon season. The fire base war was a lonely affair for a battery's worth of Cannoneers often left alone miles from other friendly units. The only contact with the outside world was the daily arrival of heavy­lift Chinook helicopters to deliver ammunition, mail, supplies, replacements, soda pop and food. Commanding the fire base was a young, relatively inexperienced captain who was obliged to compute his own firing data and aim his guns at distant targets safely without the reassurance of outside checks. When the Infantry got into a fire fight, his task was to sort out where the friendlies were and exactly what type and quantity of firepower were needed from this confusion and panic coming through the radio. Lives depended on his split-second decisions. More often than not, he made decisions alone. During lonely weeks on the fire base, Cannoneers constantly braced themselves for ground attacks. Fire bases were lucrative targets for the Viet Cong. With surprise and careful planning executed precisely, the enemy could cause great harm to American Artillerymen at little cost. But if the fire base could be forewarned, the artillery inevitably gained the upper hand. Excited Cannoneers lowered their tubes just above parapet level and opened up on a startled enemy with devastating volleys of beehive fleshettes and hot steel fragments from "killer junior." - Colonel Robert H. Scales, Jr.

This oil painting, which hangs by the entrance to Snow Hall Auditorium, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, along with artist, Joyce Kreafle's, other works of the Artillery History Series, is one of few serious works that treats the contemporary conflict in Vietnam. Her attention to technical detail and artistic sensitivity combine to create an unparalleled sense of realism. Commissioned by Mr. John J. McMahon.

Desert ThunderDesert Thunder - Modern Era

Rocket Artillery Comes of Age

At 0042 hours 18 January 1991, an Army Tactical Missile System (Army TACMS) missile from Battery A, 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery (Multiple Launch Rocket System, or MLRS), lit the night sky above the 1st Infantry Divisions assembly area east of Hafar alBatin. As the missile streaked across northern Saudi Arabia and deep into Kuwait, it both opened the Field Artillery's participation in Operation Desert Storm and ushered in a new age of missile and rocket artillery. The accuracy and lethality with which the target was destroyed was but a prelude to the devastation that would be inflicted upon Iraqi Forces by many other Army, Marine and coalition artillery units before the air campaign and 100-hour ground offensive concluded. Five MLRS Battalions-the First, Third, Fourth and Sixth Battalions of the 27th Field Artillery Regiment and the 1st Battalion, 158th Field Artillery from the Oklahoma National Guard-participated in Desert Storm. An additional six separate batteries accompanied Division Artilleries. That launcher array, having the one-time throw-weight of more than 750 155-mm battalion volleys, represented one of the most awesome concentrations of firepower ever fielded. This tremendous area coverage capability complemented more precise close fires provided by cannon artillery. United States cannon units deployed 108Ml02 (105-mm towed) howitzers, 642M198 and Ml09 -series howitzers (155-mm towed and self-propelled) and 96M110 (203-mm) howitzers. This powerful force of launchers and howitzers was organized into seven Division artilleries, two Corps Artilleries and seven Field Artillery Brigades. Beginning in mid-February, MLRS units and cannon battalions conducted a series of cross­border artillery raids to destroy critical targets, fix Iraqi troops and deceive the enemy about the actual point of the pending assault. By the morning of the actual attack, the United States Artillery was well on its way to controlling the enemy and earning the Iraqi sobriquet "Steel Rain." The pace of the ground offensive soon proved the MLRS was the weapon of choice. As rockets and cannons pounded artillery, command and control, and logistics sites, the Army TACMS missiles continued to strike deep in the enemy rear. During Desert Storm, the Field Artillery fully contributed its weight to the "Thunder" of the desert offensive. Twenty-four hours a day, in all weather, cannons and rocket launchers provided essential fire support whenever it was required. No weapon had greater effect on the battlefield than did MLRS. Staking a firm claim on the technologies of the future, Redlegs lead the way into the Army's next century.

The artist, Ms. Joyce Kreafle, has established a nation-wide reputation for the quality and accuracy she brings to studies of military history. Her critically acclaimed series of paintings on the Field Artillery have complimented a professional talent developed through more than 20 years of service to the arts. "Desert Thunder" is the eighth painting in a series she began in 1988 with Field Artillerymen", all of which were commissioned by the benefactor, Mr. John J. McMahon.