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71st Armored Field Artillery Battalion WWII

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FORWARD OBSERVATION

             An excerpt from Field Artillery Journal APR ’45 titled "Armored FA Across France" explains the difficulty of aggressive observation and liaison:
                                                                                                OBSERVATION

     Constant and aggressive observation and liaison are absolutely necessary. At no time has this unit found it possible to operate with less than 3 liaison officers: one with each supported battalion9 and one with the combat command. Normally 3 forward observers are out, one with each tank company together with its associated infantry company; but many times the exigencies of the situation have made it necessary to place observers with infantry companies as well and even with platoons with separate missions, so that as high as 9 observers have been out at one time! Added to this demand on officer personnel is the necessity of relieving observers.

     We have found it almost mandatory to relieve forward observers after from three to four days in line. From an already insufficient T/O it has been extremely difficult to meet these requirements. It has made it necessary for the battalion to operate without an S-1 and without one or more battery commanders for long periods of time. The battalion AOP (Air Observation Post) made a further demand for officers not provided for: it is necessary to furnish an observer for each pilot, as in combat it has been found impossible for the pilot to fly and to observe both ground and air.     

              by   Lt. Col. I. B. Washburn, Battalion Commander of the 71st AFA Bn.

    L-4 Pilots                                         *Click on these four pics below to enlarge

                                    
   Lt. Duane Francies                      Lt. Francies & Lt. Martin with G-54   German Storch shot down by them.
                                         
   Lt. Robert Nicol                                                 Lt. Nicol  with  H-54                   Lt. McWain with H-54          
 Forward Observers  
                                                                                          
Lt. Donald Barry  (Tank A22)                            Lt. Alan Davies
                                                                        (injured & evacuated Xmas’44)10
                                                                                                     
Lt. DeSales Harrison(Tank B22)1,7                Lt. William Henry  (A Battery  
                                                                    replacement Off. 8Nov44) (Tank A22)1
                                                                                                            
Lt. William Hentschell11                                    Lt. William Martin(C Batt. R.O.) 1
(A Batt. R.O.)                                                     (Tank B22)7,3  (L-4 plane G-54)  
                                                                      
Lt. Paul McWain (Tank C22)7                          Lt. Neil Sorensen ( L-4 plane H-54)5 
(L-4 plane  H-54)3

 *Note:   R.O. stands for Reconnaissance Officer

                     

                The Forward Observers would generally be assigned to one of the (3) M4 tanks or (2) L4 planes of  the 71st Armored Field Artillery Battalion, observing enemy movements and calling in artillery support from the (3) 105mm Howitzer batterys that the 71st had, when needed. They could also be in a Jeep at a forward position or observation post11, doing the same task.

          The tank crews generally stayed together and in the same tank, while assignments for the Forward Observers varied somewhat depending on the situation. Below are examples of crew compositions taken from various sources as noted.  I’m sure there were other combinations as battlefield conditions dictated.  Lt. McWain explained to me that the 22 designation on his tank stood for Forward Observer. The 71st tank would be the same type and look the same as the supported tank platoon, so as not to stand out and become a higher priority target to the enemy. A Forward Observer tank would go on patrol with a platoon of (5) other tanks from, usually the  81st Tank Battalion. That platoon's officer would also be in contact with the 71st  tank, in case he needed their guns for a particular situation. Lt. McWain told of one occasion in a Forward Observer tank on patrol, "We were surrounded by the Germans and were firing our 75mm cannon and 30cal machine guns at direct targets while I was calling in artillery fire at the same time." 

 *Note: Even though the Lt. (Forward Observer) was in charge of the tank, when he was riding in it, the Sgt. carried the title of Tank Commander and was in charge at times when the Lt. was not in the tank, as an example, for perimeter security.13      G.B.

 

                 

     Tank Crew      A22   *This tank crew put together from individual references and pictures.
         Lt. Donald R. Barry – Forward Observer (paired with McNair )8 (Injured & evacuated Xmas ‘45)7
         Sgt. Marion McNair – gunner7 / Tank Commander
         T5 Fred Bucci – tanker7
         T5 James Burrill – driver7
             ?   Le Penski ? – bow machinegunner / Assistant driver
 Also mentioned with A22
   Lt. William Henry – Forward Observer (Tank A22 )2 (Possibly replaced  Barry after he was injured)GB

 

   

                    

    Tank Crew    B22   *This tank crew referenced together in “Fire Mission”pg.30-31
       Lt. William Martin – Forward Observer7 (Tank B22 )
          Sgt. Carl McGlamery – bow machinegun / Asst. driver7 - Tank Commander
       Cpl. Wallace Weeks – gunner7
        T5   Sam Smith – driver7
        Pfc. (later T5) William Essary – loader7                         
Also mentioned with B22:                                                     
       Lt.  DeSales Harrison – Forward Observer (Tank B22 with 10th Tank Battalion )12   (paired with Dicky)7
        Sgt. Michael Dicky – Tank Commander 7 (Tank B22 ) 1,7   (KIA 14Aug44)
   

  

                                                   

    Tank Crew      C22   *This tank crew confirmed by Paul McWain and ref. in “Fire Mission” pg.47
       Lt. Paul McWain – Forward Observer 3
       Sgt.Walter “Frank” Bullard - gunner 3,7 / Tank Commander
       Cpl. (later Sgt)4 Roland Loveless – loader3,7 (Later: gunner / Tank Commander)4
       T5 Cecil "Red" Martin – bow machinegun / Asst. driver 3,7
       T5 Earl Hopkins – driver 3,7

 

FOOTNOTES      
1 Herman Smith Journal
 2 Herman Smith letter
3 Paul McWain
Ralph Loveless
5 Jim Sorensen
Everett Wilcox
7 “Fire Mission”
David McNair
9 EXCERPT from Fire Mission:…… The entire battalion  had  withdrawn  with the exception of liaison and forward observers, who were still with the tank and infantry units. Lt. Fraser and Sgt. Wisnower were towed in with two tires and the motor shot out of their jeep.
10  EXCERPT from Fire Mission:….. While directing "B" battery's displacement Lt. Davies was seriously  wounded by the flying shrapnel.(12 Aug 44)
11  EXCERPT from Fire Mission:…..  Lt. Hentschell established a unique Observation Post in a steel tower of a high tension line.
12  EXCERPT from Herman Smith Journal:…..   The 10th Tank Bn. established a road-block at this CR with our B22, Lt Harrison (our forward observer).
13   EXCERPT from Fire Mission:…. we established an outpost of one tank and some men with bazookas on our flank. They were to report the approach of unfriendly elements. Some fire fell on this listening post. Pfc. Stinger was evacuated with a leg wound and Sgt. McNair was hit in the back with shrapnel
 
 
 
          
 
 
 
 
 
 
Last Updated on Monday, 19 December 2011 12:47  

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