Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

Counterbattery fire in WW2

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by Wolfy, Feb 23, 2009.

  1. Wolfy

    Wolfy Ace

    Dec 24, 2008
    Likes Received:
    How did it work (ie, how were enemy batteries located)? What were the requirements for supremacy?

    Could Counterbattery fire completely neutralize and wreak enemy artillery units?
  2. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

    Oct 12, 2008
    Likes Received:
    Good question! It'd seem that silencing enemy batteries for the time or to interrupt their fire efficiency seems to be the expectation there. Outright desctruction as aim of counterbatterie fire is rare in my reading. Cannoniers tend to fire their biggest guns in artillery duels. Huge stocks of ammo and some form of mobility would be very important considerations... But I'll leave that to the experts.
  3. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

    May 21, 2007
    Likes Received:

    Research "sound ranging". Armies developed units who's sole purpose was to locate enemy artillery, either by ranging on the sound of firing artillery, or at night, by the flash of the weapons.
    Wolfy likes this.
  4. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru WW2|ORG Editor

    Sep 10, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Festung Colorado
    I imagine incoming shell trajectory was also used to figure out, also the range of the guns and terrain where they could be set up.

    I know that today, it takes all of 3 seconds (computer assisted of course) to determine where mortar fire is coming from. There is a clip on youtube I believe where some Palestinians are filming their buddy firing a mortar. About 3 - 4 seconds after he fires the first round, he gets taken out by return fire - no blood or guts, the cameraman gets knocked over from the explosion - but you can tell it wasn't a malfunctioning mortar that exploded as the explosion was further back then the tube.

    Apparently the Israelis (and I am sure the US) has the technology to return fire in this manner. I can imagine that such technology started with the methods in WWII - like the sound ones.
  5. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter of a Canadian WWII Veteran

    Oct 14, 2007
    Likes Received:
    The Canadian Artillery and the British Artillery trained at Larkhill in Britain in the early years of the war and tended to operate quite similarly.

    Juno Beach Centre - Royal Canadian Artillery Organisation

    The heavy artillery was organized into Army Groups, Royal Artillery (AGRA) under the Commander, Corps Royal Artillery (CCRA) at army or corps headquarters. Each AGRA comprised, typically, one heavy regiment of 7.2- or 8-inch howitzers or 155-mm guns, three medium regiments of 4.5- or 5.5-inch guns, and one or two regiments of 25-pdrs. AGRAs were employed for additional support, and especially counter-battery fire against enemy guns. Techniques for detecting enemy guns included air observation, flash-spotting, in which special observers were trained to detect the flash of guns firing from concealed positions, and sound ranging, where a series of microphones were laid out at various ranges to pick up the noise produced by enemy guns firing. Analysis of the recordings allowed bearings to be plotted that were, on average, accurate to within 50 metres. Then-Lieutenant-Colonel A.G.L. McNaughton had influenced the development of the sound-ranging procedure as counter-battery officer for the Canadian Corps during the First World War, achieving effective results at Vimy Ridge and in later battles.

    Observation Post, "B" Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, in Potenza, Italy, 24 September 1943. From left to right, Gunner Chuck Drickerson (rangefinder), Signalman Jim Tully (telephone), Regimental Sergeant-Major George Gilpin (plotting board), Captain G.E. Baxter (field glasses), and Signalman Hugh Graham (radio). Photo by Alexander M. Stirton. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-177156.

    The chief principle of the Royal Artillery, and thus the Royal Canadian Artillery, was centralisation of control. Rather than allotting small groups of guns-"penny packets"-to individual units for support, command was to be "centralised under the highest commander who can exercise control" (Field Service Regulations Volume II, 1935, quoted in Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham, Fire-Power: British Army Weapons and Theories of War 1904-1945, 1982, p. 248). This principle, along with the practice of affiliation with the units being supported described above, allowed the RA to bring devastating concentrations of fire to bear within minutes when forward observation officers (FOOs) called for a "Mike", "Uncle", or "Victor" target-the concentration of all guns of the regiment, division, or all guns within range on a single target, respectively. One such impromptu request for support in Italy early in 1944 was answered by 600 guns within 35 minutes.

    Wolfy, in my research regarding the experiences of my father's light anti-aircraft regiment in WWII, I've also read that one of the challenges the Allied Armies often had was that they were moving into positions already vacated by the Germans. While they were vacating the German artillery would have the most likely artillery locations ranged, which meant tactically for the Germans they would not take as long to react once the Allied Artillery began shelling them. My primary resources have been the regimental history of 3LAA (transcribed on the Forum) and the Gunners of Canada: Vol II

    Notes on German Divisional Artillery, WWII Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 6, August 27, 1942 (Lone Sentry) gives a description of German tactics.

    British tactics are discussed on this page Royal Artillery Methods in World War 2

    "Corps became the primary level of artillery control for counter-battery action (as it was in WW1) and in the final year of the war for major offensive fireplans. Control was usually centralised for defensive and major attack operations and decentralised for an advance. However it was rare for command to be decentralised below divisional level and decentralisation mostly applied to the army artillery being assigned to corps or division level. For more information see 'Command & Control'."



    Targets were attacked with either programmed or impromptu shoots. Programmed shoots generally meant a fire plan coordinated with the supported troops, although some types of fire such as Harassing or Counter-Battery may have coordinated only with a formation HQ. Programmed shoots supporting a major operation could involve a large number of regiments. Programmed fire against a target was either scheduled or on-call, but scheduled followed by on-call if necessary was possible. Impromptu fire was used when a target unexpectedly presented itself, it could be a concentration of many regiments, and impromptu targets could be previously registered (ranged and recorded) or planned.
    Application of Fire

    Doctrinally, artillery fulfilled its supporting role by:
    • Causing casualties to the enemy and shaking their morale.
    • Preventing the enemy using their weapons effectively.
    • Destroying structures and material.
    Doing this caused:
    • Interference by inflicting losses.
    • Neutralization of enemy weapons though casualties, demoralisation, preventing observation, disorganising command and control and damaging equipment.
    • Destruction of structures and material.
    The principles governing the application of fire were:
    • Cooperation with the supported arm.
    • Concentration of firepower.
    • Surprise.
    • Economy of force, which followed from concentration.
    British doctrine for the planned use of artillery in the all-arms battle was, in summary, as follows:

    In attack:
    • Artillery preparation – to cause casualties and damage before assault.
    • Covering fire (CF) – to neutralize the enemy during the assault using barrages, concentrations or smoke.
    • Counter-battery (CB) – to neutralize or destroy enemy artillery.
    • Harassing fire (HF) – hampering movement to the front, hindering the conduct of operations and reducing morale.
    In defence:
    • Counter preparation (CP) – to cause casualties and damage to enemy forces and to disorganise and break up imminent attacks. It was dropped from British doctrine in 1941 because it was considered, practically, to be no different to DF.
    • Defensive fire (DF)- to cause casualties and damage to enemy attacks.
    • Counter-battery (CB) – to neutralize or destroy enemy artillery.
    • Harassing fire (HF) – hampering movement to the front, hindering the conduct of operations, and reducing morale.
    The British recognised five different categories of impromptu shoot outside fire plans, with a sixth added in 1943. These were:
    • Immediate neutralisation (IN) – the ‘standard’ type of shoot, section ranging. Although called neutralisation, the aim could be to cause casualties and damage.
    • Fleeting opportunities – moving targets or targets likely to move, could be ranged with gunfire (without bracketing) or section ranging with the guns firing at different ranges, the purpose was often to cause damage and casualties.
    • Close to own troops – special rules about maximum corrections.
    • Pin-point – normally a single gun target with the aim of destroying a 'point' target. The CPO selected the least worn gun and ordered angular elevations, with the gun laying using its field clinometer not the gun rule.
    • Registration – to record for future engagement. It could be recorded 'corrected' or 'uncorrected', the latter meant that it had to be used within the current meteor period because its registered location was not adjusted for correction of the moment.
    • Quick smoke – an abbreviated smoke screen procedure where guns’ aim-points were not laid out in an optimum line. The observer calculated where to place it and how much to fire. Smoke was considered a form of neutralisation because it ‘neutralized’ observation by the enemy.
    Table 2 - Ammunition Use Policy
    HE shell with Direct Action fuze
    Against troops and guns in the open or under light cover, for offensive and protective covering fire, harassing fire and wire cutting. For concussion effect against works constructed of concrete or masonry. Against tanks for damaging the tracks.

    HE shell with Graze fuze
    For destruction of buildings and strong cover, other than concrete. For destruction of trenches by the crater effect produced, and against tanks. And in the case of heavy howitzers, against very strong cover including concrete.

    HE shell with Time fuze
    For airburst ranging.

    Smoke shell
    To increase the screening effect of covering fire, to mask hostile fire, and to deny observation to the enemy, in certain circumstances as a signal of pre-arranged meaning. Often useful for ranging field guns, especially with air observation.

    Target Acquisition

    A characteristic of 20th Century warfare was the ‘empty battlefield’. Forward troops and OPs are not presented with a continuous array of targets to attack, the enemy remained concealed. However, WW2 was unlike WW1 in that generally the opposing forces were some distance from each other unless they were attacking. The enemy only appeared when attacking or because of a tactical misjudgment, perhaps when an OP had visibility some distance into enemy held territory. For the FOO, targets may ‘announce’ themselves, often unpleasantly. However, finding their size and layout can be a challenge. Behind the forward area matters become easier, although the enemy quickly learns what can be seen from where and behaves accordingly.

    As in WW1 air observation was a key means of observed fire against hostile batteries (HB) and other targets beyond the view of ground observers. AOPs, particularly in Burma, played the vital role once they became available, and were later able to take useful photographs as well. Air photo reconnaissance was also a major asset and other RAF aircraft could report and engage ground targets using the Arty/R procedure.

    Airborne formations had their Forward Observer Unit (FOU (Airborne)) that provided communications to other artillery in range and provided additional observers to supplement the single air landing artillery regiment in the division.

    There was at least one instance of 'special OPs' being used. In Italy in late 1944 1st Cdn AGRA created two volunteer OP parties who, with partisan help, landed behind German lines on the Adriatic coast and deployed in the German gun area. They spent two weeks attacking hostile batteries using the firepower of Canadian and British medium and heavy batteries.

    The corps survey regiment was the source of more technical target acquisition resources particularly for CB purposes and provided sound ranging and flash spotting capabilities. Locating HBs and mortars was not enough, as WW1 had shown a CB organisation was required and each corps had a Counter Battery Officer and staff. Late in 1944 divisional counter-mortar staffs were authorised as well as other specialised batteries. More details about target acquisition are in 'Target Acquisition and Counter-Battery'.

    Air-burst ranging, using cross-observation, was first recognised in 1941 and adopted as air-burst fuzes became available. It could be used for three purposes, to range targets of known co-ordinates but out of sight on the ground, as a datum point procedure to produce corrections for non-standard conditions, and for calibration of guns in their battle positions. The corps survey regiment had a troop for this purpose.


    Table 4 – Weights of Fire
    25-pdr Equivalent Effects

    0.02 - 0.08 lb/sq yd/hr
    0.25 lb/sq yd/min for 15 mins (*note)
    0.1 lb/sq yd gives
    2% casualties to troops in weapon pits,
    20% casualties to troops in open
    0.1 lb/sq yd gives
    1.5% damage to infantry weapons in weapon pits & guns in gun pits,
    20% damage to soft skinned vehicles

    Note - the 15 minutes for demoralisation is suspect, it was based on one attack, at Wesel in 1945, before this it was considered that at least 4 hours of fire was needed.

    Lastly, it's useful to note how vulnerability changes with posture because it suggests the relative amounts of fire needed in different circumstances. The following estimates the relative risks of becoming a casualty to ground-burst shells on ‘average’ ground:

    Firing from open fire trenches
    1/15 – 1/50
    Crouching in open fire trenches
    1/25 – 1/100


    There does not appear to be any study of British artillery casualties in WW2. Apart from a detailed study of statistical sources this means relying on the anecdotal accounts in unit histories. Since most men were in the gun areas then its worth considering them first. The total RA losses, according to the 'Roll of Honour', were about 31,200 for all parts of the Regiment, this is about 22% of British Army's killed and still missing in action in 1946.

    At the end of 1944 British Army strength figures showed about 1000 officers and 14,000 other ranks from field artillery (including anti-tank) as prisoners in enemy hands. At the end of 1940 the total for all artillery had been 157 and 4,267. About 50% of the 1944 figure reflects the losses at Hong Kong and Singapore (and a substantially higher percentage for AA and Coast).

    Casualties in gun areas occur from ground attack, air attack or CB fire. The first seems to have been a feature of the early years of the North African Campaign and Burma, but overall figures are not recorded. Air attack was always a threat but does not seem to have been a significant one after 1943 and disappeared entirely in the final months of the war as photographs of guns wheel to wheel in open fields show. Effective CB by WW1 criteria also seems to have been rare, although it was sometimes heavy in N Africa, Italy, Normandy and the entry to Germany. The Wehrmarcht's artillery was but a shadow of its WW1 predecessor because the Luftwaffe had promised to provide all necessary firepower. By the time this was exposed as wishful thinking Germany no longer had the resources to re-create a powerful field artillery arm (resources went to AA artillery to counter the allied bomber offensive) and so concentrated on mortars, which posed a minimal CB threat. Although in Normandy some 70% of British infantry casualties came from mortar fire and counter-mortar became increasingly important. Japanese artillery seems to have been unable to deliver fire above battalion level and there do not seem to be any accounts of effective CB fire, at least against British or Australian forces.

    The most exposed elements of field artillery were the observers. Unit accounts suggest that they may have suffered high casualties in NW Europe 1944-5. For example one battery account records having 10 observers in the period. If all the losses were due to casualties then this is a loss rate of about 40% per month. It's not known if this was representative but it does tally with accounts from some other units. Losses in other theatres do not seem to have been this high.

    Although manpower shortages were a feature towards the end of the war, the war establishments of British units included their 'First Reinforcements'. This, together with cross-training meant that at least some casualties could be replaced very quickly.

    The whole point of counter-battery was to destroy the enemy's artillery. Of course, any collateral damage was a bonus. It was the principal used by the British and because by the time they were on the offensive they had a greater supply of reliable ammunition (not sabotaged at times by forced slave labor) they tended towards the attitude of speed and quantity on target rather than accuracy.
    Jaeger, DocCasualty and Wolfy like this.
  6. Wolfy

    Wolfy Ace

    Dec 24, 2008
    Likes Received:
    Thank you all for the excellent posts. I'm reading it all.
  7. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter of a Canadian WWII Veteran

    Oct 14, 2007
    Likes Received:
    WWII Artillery Notes - National Doctrines

    A condensed sound bite version of various tactics used by different countries.

    Please note that I concentrated on guns rather than mortars in my response. In the previous post I referred to counter battery as being primarily against the enemies artillery. I should have also noted that it was also used to hit beyond the guns to areas in which reinforcements might be gathered. The artillery most vulnerable to counter-battery fire was towed, versus self-propelled. Also affecting counter-battery fire would be meterological factors.

    The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia: Artillery Here is some information on Artillery in the Pacific.

    I'm glad you asked the question as it made me refresh my memory and had me looking at some new areas as I'd not looked at the American artillery aspect in the Pacific before.
  8. marc780

    marc780 Member

    Oct 16, 2008
    Likes Received:
    Old time counter battery fire was largely done by triangulation that is noting the impact of the rounds and guestimating where the guns were likely to be, and hoping they werent moved someplace else by the time you got your own batteries going against them . Most counter battery fire was done out by reconaisaince aircraft and infantry patrols.
    counter-mortar radar came into combat use during the Vietnam war. It was complex and took a minute or more to locate the source, then more time was wasted targetting your own mortars on them. Charlie knew this and had often grabbed his mortar tube and vanished long before retaliatory fire came back.
    Now counter mortar is even faster, more accurate and can even shoot mortar shells out of the sky when tied in to the special counter mortar system using a phalanx gatling gun.

Share This Page