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"Russian Artillery vs Enemy Airplanes" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A translated Russian article on the use of field artillery against aircraft in WWII, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 37, November 4, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


As the present war has progressed it has been effectively demonstrated that not only has the function of artillery not been displaced by the early spectacular performances of the dive-bomber (see Tactical and Technical Trends No. 36, p. 9) but that field artillery can in many instances successfully cope with the attacking airplane. The methods which the Russians have used in employing field artillery against airplanes is described in the following article from a Russian publication.

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Field artillery may easily defend itself from enemy aircraft by using 76-mm field guns of all types and 122-mm howitzers (1938 model). The rate of fire of the latter is less than that of the guns, but their fire is more powerful.

Since field artillery does not have a large quadrant angle of elevation necessary for firing at aerial targets, it becomes necessary to make special fire positions for the artillery. In the ordinary gun pit a tunnel for the spades is made with a gradual slant from the center to the edge of the pit. It is made from 16 to 20 inches deep, which permits the quadrant angle of elevation to be increased 10 or 15 degrees, thus raising the limit of vertical angle from 40-50 degrees to 55-60. This makes it possible to fire at aircraft.

Depending upon the situation and the missions of the artillery, 1 or 2 guns of each battery can be used against airplanes. There have been times, however, when it became necessary to use all batteries. The guns of these batteries should of course be prepared beforehand, i.e., all pits should be dug out, necessary ammunition should be at hand, and firing data should be checked.

Since enemy planes may appear suddenly from any direction, orienting points in various directions (at a distance of from 3/4 to 1 1/4 miles) should be selected beforehand; likewise the distances should be ascertained and the range elevation determined. On the basis of these data, a card is made of the antiaircraft defense for each gun. Orienting points common to all the guns makes it much easier for the commander to control the fire when repulsing raids. It gives him the opportunity of concentrating all his fire in one direction.

When enemy planes appear it is very important to open fire as soon as possible and with a certain lead, i.e., before the planes arrive at the orientation mark. In this way the shell-bursts break up the enemy combat formations and compel them to drop their bombs before reaching the target. Since the moment of fire is exceedingly important, it is necessary to keep a constant observation of the sky. In order to increase the rate of fire, the shells are prepared with the fuse ranges adjusted according to the distances to the orienting points. It is also useful to sort out the shells to be used for each given direction.

The firing is carried out in the following order. On the appearance of enemy planes the commander of the battery orders: "West (or south, east, or north, according to the direction in which the planes appear), target height 600, platoon (battery) fire." And in his turn, the commander of each gun commands: "Orienting point 5, height 600, fire!" With the help of the panoramic sight and a lever mechanism the gunner lays the piece on the given elevation. The azimuth circle should always be set at 30-00, while the extractor should be on a 0-00 setting. The gunner fires independently when the target appears at the point on the objective where the two lines meet.

A special experimental table was compiled with which, if given the height of the plane and its speed, the commander could easily adjust the sight tube, and also determine the average time of flight of the shell to the target. This table excludes complicated calculations during the battle, thus relieving the gunner who can then increase the rate of fire. A high rate of fire requires well-trained gun crews. Frequent trainings of the crews perfect them in quickly traversing the gun, in laying the piece on the given elevation, and in making corrections quickly and accurately.

Certain commanders gauge the effectiveness of field artillery against aircraft by the number of planes shot down. This point of view is entirely wrong. Since field artillery does not have special antiaircraft devices, it is extremely difficult to achieve a direct hit. On the other hand, the effectiveness of field artillery used against airplanes may be seen from the fact that in the course of 15 days of fighting at Velikie Luki the Germans attempted to bomb Russian combat formations and did not once succeed. The field guns threw up such a barrage of fire that the Germans did not risk penetrating it and dropped their bombs before reaching the objective.

Practice has shown that the command should not depend wholly upon antiaircraft fire, but should take care to use field artillery in protecting its combat formations. In this way the effectiveness of enemy air raids is greatly reduced.


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