Arguably, the evolution of American coastal defense reached its climax in terms of training, equipment and the development of sophisticated long-range gunnery techniques with the founding of the Coast Artillery Corps in 1907. Previously, both coast and field artillery were combined under the Artillery Corps. Brigadier General Arthur Murray, the Chief of the Artillery Corps, argued for a separate Coast Artillery branch on the grounds that its task of defending fixed areas was so distinct from the role of the mobile arms. As one senior officer observed, the strategic coastlines and adjacent ocean areas are mostly unchanging, allowing for, and demanding, a very high level of specialized study and preparation of a different sort than required for field service.42 Following the separation of the two artillery branches, the Coast Artillery Corps became the favored artillery arm of the Army in the context of benefiting from its own representation at the War Department, as well as receiving the most advanced weaponry of any of the Army branches, an array of very large guns and mortars, and sophisticated fire control equipment that grew more from the technological revolution in naval warfare than from developments in land forces. In the words of Colonel Garland H. Whistler, a senior coast artillery officer “In no other branch of the service have the improvements in guns and methods been so marked as in the coast artillery.”43
In 1915, the Army War College conducted a study on the role of Coast Artillery in the “modern” US Army. While war was raging across Europe, the study sought to define the purpose of two separate artillery branches.44 The report clearly defined the role of the Coast Artillery:
(a) To prevent naval occupation of important strategic and commercial harbors.
(b) To prevent naval bombardment of such cities and military and naval bases as are protected by seacoast fortifications.
(c) To furnish a strong, fortified base from which submarines and other vessels, acting on the offensive, may operate.
(d) To repel a fleet supporting a landing force within range of the guns of a fortified harbor. (e) To cooperate with the mobile troops in the landward defense of seacoast fortifications.45
Aside from what the report considered the more obvious role of coastal artillery, it argued for a mobile arm of the corps. It was physically and financially impossible to defend all parts of the country’s vast seaboards with permanent fortifications, and it would have been the height of military folly to attempt to do so. Mobile heavy guns, however, would offer valuable flexibility, for quick deployment should the enemy descend on an undefended section of the coast, or to reinforce in depth any fortified port that came under attack, and thereby ensure that the invader did not secure a beachhead.46 The report connected the role of Coast Artillery at home with the war in Europe by acknowledging that one of the most critical lessons of the conflict was that of the ever-increasing importance of heavy artillery in field operations.47
In response to reports of the greatly increasing role of heavy artillery in Europe, an Army War College study noted that the nature of American road transportation systems restricted the ability to move large equipments. Therefore, the report suggested that the United States should emphasize the deployment of large caliber weapons on railway mounts.48
The 30.5 centimeter (12-inch) Austrian Skoda mortar is practically our 12-inch seacoast mortar, with the 42 centimeter (16.5-inch) mortar (Krupp) is larger than any now emplaced in our fortifications; it fires a shell weighing about 1,800 pounds. Both of these types of mortars are readily transported by railroad, or over exceptionally good roads and bridges by motor tractors. From photographs and descriptions of these mortars and carriages it is apparent that heavy ordnance of this type can be effectually employed as an adjunct to our seacoast fortifications.49
In 1916, The War College Division of the General Staff Corps produced a report discussing the more recent events taking place between the warring European armies that highlighted the differing French, German, and Austrian perspectives. Initially the French preached the usage of a “low-power, rapid fire gun of about 3-inch caliber, and contended that with a reasonable supply of ammunition it was possible to render heavy field or siege artillery powerless with such a gun.”50 The Germans, however, contended that modern armies should field large caliber weaponry. Their role was to support the small guns, and to act as the first means of destroying fortified enemy positions.51 Another report by the War College Division, examined various sieges in order to further the argument for mobile heavy artillery. Defined by its series of intimidating fortifications, the city of Liege, Belgium would provide the world with the first test of the German artillery theory. In 1914, besieged by the advancing German armies, Liege found its guns severely outranged by the larger and more modern German heavy batteries.52 The German theory gained more validity with the additional sieges of the Belgian cities of Namur and Antwerp. It was not until the battle of Verdun, where the French employed a series of staggered artillery positions keeping the heavy German batteries out of range, did the Allies learn to counter the German artillery strategy.53 Nevertheless, the Germans consistently demonstrated both the effectiveness of their doctrine as well as their ability to deploy the largest heavy artillery pieces, and showed that large caliber guns are most effective whilst mobile.54
In 1918 the AEF General Headquarters staff reported to Major General Herr, Inspector General of Artillery and Commanding General Artillery Reserve, on combat experience and emphasized the need to increase the range of American heavy artillery in order to match the German guns. General Herr agreed with the main findings of the headquarters report, and provided further analysis to support those conclusions.55 Both the report and Herr’s assessment emphasized the Germans’ shift from the rapid firing 77-milli-metre field gun to large caliber weapons. The first report noted the lessons emerging from the AEF battles were “while confirming the information already known concerning the development of German artillery, has shown in a striking manner a tendency to increase the range of all calibers, from the 77 to the guns firing on Paris. At the present time it may be considered that this evolution is an accomplished fact.”56 Herr’s
assessment singled out the immediate objectives of both the field artillery and the heavy artillery. For the heavy artillery, he surmised that no major changes were necessary. Rather, the most crucial need involved the development of better projectiles. Ordnance capable of longer ranges, argued the report, would close the gap between American heavy artillery and those possessed by European formations.57
Aside from range and projectile development, mobility was the other issue stemming from Herr’s assessment. While noting that road movement had met expectations the transportation over open terrain demanded further improvement. The usage of “caterpillar tractors (type GD), with which the tractor sections of tractor regiments are now partially provided; the others should be furnished as rapidly as possible.”58 Envisioned by the AEF were forty tractor sections, but by 1917 numbers reached only sixteen sections of five tractors.59 Improvements in tractor longevity in the field were under development, but the report suggests that, “automobile artillery, developed along present lines, will permit the fullest possible use of heavy artillery in open warfare.”60 The report also noted that the resource levels of 1917 be maximized in order to develop a better automobile based artillery system. The success of caterpillar based artillery was sufficient evidence for expecting positive results from automobile mounted artillery research.61
The railway was the best, and sometimes sole, means of wielding the heaviest and greatest of heavy artillery pieces. Nevertheless, the assessment signaled out the inability of railway mounted weaponry to keep up with advancing units. Rather, it was able to go only where the rail lines went. A fair amount of time was necessary to lay new track and prepare the gun for firing. The construction of new rail lines never went unnoticed by the Germans, and therefore the deployment of railway weapons was plagued both by
positioning and time.62 Furthermore, the AEF had only a few railway artillery pieces. Coupled with the prolonged vulnerability, these large pieces had to be able to be withdrawn out of enemy gun range when possible. As a result, the firing range of these pieces had to reach a distance of at least twenty-four kilometers. Regardless of the exposure and unwieldy nature of railway artillery, they provided the biggest punch for any army.63 Without question, the assessment favored the caterpillar drawn artillery over the more cumbersome railway mounts. Coincidently, the assessment named the more mobile artillery pieces for continued production, citing their proven capabilities in battle.64
In discussing the developments in heavy artillery transportation, the assessment named the type of guns employed by the AEF that had proven themselves on the battlefields. While the projectiles required improvements, the report noted that the French 155-millimeter GPF (Grande Porteau Filloux), along with its variants, the 155 Model 1917 and the 145 were to thank for the good capability of the heavy artillery.65
Additionally, the report suggested that the military go through with the production of the 155 Model 1914, but with an enhanced range of an extra kilometer.66
Heavy artillery, according to the report, had large roles to play in frontline engagements, and in disrupting the enemy’s rear areas with long-range fire.
A. – In the zone of battle.
(1). – Long range interdiction, to a depth of 36 to 40 kilometers.
(2). – Fire of precision, either on[l] long range batteries or stations, or important crossroads.
(3). – Fire on objectives of large area, such as important railway stations, parks, or ammunition dumps.67
Roles “[I]n the rear of the Zone of Battle,” included the firing on “industrial centres, large sections, storage yards, etc.”68 Based on conclusions reached by the Germans, the assessment stated that the physical effect of firing on such targets “must not be exaggerated.”69 Rather the main effect might be moral in spreading confusion among the enemy, and demonstrating that even his rear areas were not secure.
The results emerging from the studies conducted by the 1915 War College and the 1918 GHQ Staff report, as well as Herr’s findings reached the same basic conclusion; mobile artillery was an indispensable arm of any army fighting in Europe. Arguably, railroad based artillery, while capable of superior firepower, was too complex for an effective heavy artillery arm. The great need was to improve the road and off-road mobility of heavy armament and enhance the performance of guns capable of this mobility. An important distinction must be made between the findings of the various studies and their actual implementation. Contrary to the developments in artillery warfare on the battlefields of Europe, the United States military establishment still believed that the infantry dominated modern warfare. US Army hierarchy maintained the romanticized notion of the bayonet charge as the defining action for obtaining victory on the battlefield. In 1914, one Canadian newspaper wrote that the American military believed “cold steel is still the final arbiter, the bayonet the weapon by which battles are decided.”70 Furthermore,
…the artillery roars…the long thin ranks of the infantry, the backbone of the army…the final move has not been made until those ranks, coming ever near, flashes the sparkle of bayonets and the brown wave heaves forward in the charge, to deliver the final, crushing blow. Everything that went before is but to prepare the way for that last coup de grace.71
The “brown wave” was the infantry, which seemed better prepared for American frontier actions than the pockmarked fields of France. Such notions, one would wrongly suspect, should have been dashed during America’s Civil War where volleys of rifle and direct artillery fire killed countless Union and Confederate soldiers. Nevertheless, the Great War found the US Army’s leadership reliant on a style of warfare where artillery was used only as a means of supporting the infantrymen as he spearheaded the attack and overcame entrenched enemy positions.
Conversely, the British and French military commands understood the fundamental necessity of heavy artillery fire, with the task of the infantry being relegated to occupying the enemy’s trenches by whatever means immediately possible.72 As a result, heavy artillery bombardments outweighed the role of the infantry. Poignantly, both Britain and France realized the importance of heavy artillery only after 1915. It was realized that direct fire, the firing of a gun based on a direct line of sight, was effective against infantry attacks but not at destroying fortified enemy positions. To eliminate the machine gun nests, pillboxes, and extensive barbwire and trench systems, in-direct fire proved essential. Heavy artillery was based upon in-direct fire, which required forward observers relaying targets, as well as the spotting and plotting of the shells. The Coast Artillery Corps long before the Great War had practiced this more complex, yet extremely effective technique. The task of hitting warships at great distances, and from fortified positions, coupled with the lack of a sufficient view of the target, a system of observation posts assisted the batteries. Additionally, the CAC was a major developmental body for the scientific method of fire. Because of long distances and that the rifling of a gun barrel changes with each shot, the accuracy of the weapon would vary ever so slightly. Furthermore, weather affected the outcome of each firing. Low-pressure systems might decrease the guns effective firing range by forcing the shell to drop more rapidly than usual. High winds might push the projectile off its target, which was yet another issue to be dealt with. Consequently, artillerymen needed to calculate the affects of ware and weather in order to calibrate the gun to counter those factors.
Regardless of these developments, General John J. Pershing, Command and Chief of the AEF, was slow to heed the advice of his European counterparts, as well as learning from the CAC, and continued to advocate that infantry won battles and not artillery. Once noting,
…the French doctrine, as well as the British, was based upon the cautious advance of infantry with prescribed objectives, where obstacles had been destroyed and resistance largely broken by artillery. The French infantryman, as has been already stated, did not rely upon his rifle and made little use of its great power. The infantry of both the French and British were poor skirmishers as a result of extending service in the trenches. Our mission required an aggressive offensive based on self-reliant infantry.73
The open warfare ideal championed by Pershing had been dubbed by the European powers as unrealistic because of the events unfolding along the Western Front.74 Even so, the US War Department completely agreed with Pershing, even to the extent the Chief of Staff granted Pershing’s wish to remove all Entente instructors from US based training centers so that the nation could implement its own doctrines.75 By 1918, upon relieving the French of command over the St. Mihiel area, Pershing discussed the forthcoming
operations in the St. Mihiel salient in two spheres, the French defensive parameters and the offensive plans. In sum, the defensive preparations were compiled into eight pages, whilst the offensive orders consisted of six pages. This was of great consequence to Pershing, for he took the page difference as a symbol of the French favoring of trench warfare, and not the open warfare he was planning to implement.76
It would be the French who finally helped the AEF adopt European tactics. To remedy their defunct strategy, French instructors taught AEF artillerymen the scientific method of fire, or scientific gunnery, a technique long practiced by the Coast Artillery, which was a major shift from the US Army’s attachment to open warfare.77 The high number of AEF casualties played a major part in converting the US Army towards accepting the pre-war studies and the advice of the French and British. The St. Mihiel Offensive saw the AEF employ a massive artillery bombardment of German trenches, thanks to the pressure applied by the French, thereby signaling the first step towards the acceptance of modern European artillery doctrine.78
CAC Firepower: Training and Equipment
The American Expeditionary Force defined the role of large caliber weaponry in “Instructions On The Offensive Action Of Large Units In Battle,” which was essentially a translation of the French army’s manual.79 The publication emphasized that the duty of the heavy artillery was to provide counter-battery fire against the enemy’s large caliber cannons: “the destruction of batteries is one of the certain guarantees of success: it must be among the principal cares of the command.”80 It was a never ending task: “counterbattery fires are insured at all times by the heavy long guns,”81 It was also a specialist task, reserved for non-divisional artillery, that is for the big-gun units at the corps and army level whose expertise, unlike the divisional artillery, was indirect fire at very distant targets.82 Destruction of the enemy’s batteries, however, often might not be possible, at long ranges against targets that were likely to be well hidden and protected. In that case, the objective was “neutralization” of the enemy’s battery emplacements either through damage from splinters from shells that made near misses, or by fires from buildings or vegetation in the area that had been set alight by the counter-battery fire. Special shells were to be used to complete this task.83 Coast Artillery units would put these guidelines into practice with maximum results.
The training of CAC artillerymen occurred both in the US and in Europe. The French, in addition to providing most of the heavy artillery armament, also played a large role in training. The French instructors conveyed to the AEF the importance of mass artillery fire to support frontal infantry attacks.84 In the US, training facilities for new recruits were established at Fort Monroe, Virginia and Fort Winfield Scott, California during 1917. More importantly, during 1917 schools for enlisted specialists were founded
at Fort Monroe; Fort Winfield Scott; Fort Grant, Canal Zone; Fort Kamehameha, Hawaii; and Fort Mills, Philippines. The “home station” of the coast artillery, in many respects, was Fort Monroe, the enormous moated and bastioned stone fortress built in the early nineteenth century at Hampton Roads, Virginia that in the twentieth century still served as the headquarters for the large and far-flung modern fortifications of the Coast Defenses of Chesapeake Bay. In September 1918 the various new and expanded training facilities in the Chesapeake area were organized as the Caost Artillery Training Center, with headquarters at Fort Monroe. They included the Coast Artillery School at Fort Monroe, which appears to have run advanced courses, the Coast Artillery Concentration and Training Camp at Camp Eustis, close to Fort Monroe, where drafts of personnel for overseas service were organized, and the modern forts of the Chesapeake that were used for training..85 All of these facilities were within a few miles of one another, which facilitated effective coordination.
Upon arriving in France, the CAC units made their way to the training centers associated with armaments assigned to them. Railway units, for example, proceeded to centers such as Haussimont and Mailly, where CAC men were trained on the massive railway guns. The selection of Haussimont was based upon its proximity to the active sectors near the front. Construction of the facility included extensive railway lines and buildings to house the troops and maintain the armaments. Haussimont, according to an AEF report, “fulfills the requirements for railway artillery as a base, center of instruction for railway artillery units, location of repair shops and place for storage of accessories and railway material when held in reserve.”86 A later report by Lt. Col. H.C. Miller noted that the Haussimont facility had been approved by AEF General Headquarters as being fit to accommodate three brigades, with adequate stocks of material and supplies, an ordnance repair shop, and approximately 25 to 30-miles of track spurs and large buildings to garage railway artillery. The supply depot was nowhere near completion, but the laying of track for the railway artillery mounts was satisfactory as well as the building of the ordnance repair center. The similar facility at Mailly was about seven miles away from Haussimont.87 Miller’s report stated that most of the surrounding region was densely populated with American and French military forces. Because of Haussimont’s large facilities and the surrounding military encampments, Miller warned that the area was exceedingly vulnerable to German airplane attack; he also believed that the progress of some construction projects was moving too slowly.88
CAC units assigned anti-aircraft duties proceeded to the French air defense training facility at Arnouville, France.89 The fundamental objective of any nation’s coast artillery was to hit moving ships, and higher echelons of the US military believed that hitting moving airplanes should prove no different. Therefore, the Coast Artillery was tasked with developing and ultimately providing anti-aircraft cover for the AEF. As remarked in Liaison, “[W]ho in his wildest dreams, before the war, would imagine that the Coast Artillery would shoot at aeroplanes?”90 Having no prior experience in the realm of anti-aircraft artillery, in 1917, the CAC asked officers to volunteer for training in France. Twenty-five CAC officers where immediately sent to Arnouville, France, where under the instruction of the French Captain Gassier, they undertook a six week course covering every facet of the complexities of shooting down aircraft. Challenging many of
the officers were language barriers and the lack prior experience in necessary forms of mathematics by some of the men.91 In order to gain practical experience, the officers were dispersed to French anti-aircraft batteries along the Front between Verdun and Luneville. Shortly upon their arrival, some of the officers witnessed German air raids and were impressed by the French anti-aircraft fire.92 During their time at the Front, the officers would become the first members of the AEF to set foot in the French sector and would experience life in the trenches for the first time. Upon the completion of their tour at the Front, some officers were sent to British schools to receive additional training for on-the-job training with British units. Others returned to Arnouville to educate newly arriving CAC officers, while some trained enlisted CAC artillerymen on the guns.93 Later, selected officers would return to the United States in order to instruct anti-aircraft courses at the Coast Artillery School at Fort Monroe, Virginia.94
The armament for CAC units was subject to availability of equipment. In 1917 and 1918, the AEF was severely handicapped by what proved to be the utterly inadequate preparations that had been made prior to the United States’ entry into the war because of the great constraints imposed by the strength of political opposition to participation. Quite aside from the problem of quickly raising trained and organized manpower from the base of the tiny peacetime armed forces, the United States lacked an industrial based geared towards mass production of armaments. While some American factories were producing guns for the Entente Powers, such as the British 9.2-inch howitzer, the demands of the US Army upon entering the war far outweighed the manufacturing capabilities of American industry.
It was, as we have seen, the large scale of British, and German, artillery operations in the battle of the Somme in the summer and fall of 1916 that had alerted US artillery officers to the US Army’s inadequacies. Armament fabrication was geared towards field artillery production of types not fully adequate for modern conditions as revealed on the Western Front, and was not prepared at all for large-scale manufacturing of heavy mobile artillery. The Somme battles, as it turned out, occurred only a few short months before the United States’ entry into the war, leaving no time for significant changes in the US Army program. Early in 1918 a report by the staff of the AEF in France remarked that the lessons of 1916 had yet to be properly applied: [T]he absolute necessity of meeting the new situation, while considering the strict economy imposed upon us in the use of raw material, labor and fighting personne[l], make it necessary to review our entire manufacturing program and to regain the advantage that we have lost in field artillery as well as in the ALGP.95 The report concluded that, “our efforts depend on our available resources and we must assume the responsibility of abandoning all material which no longer meets the conditions of present day warfare.”96
In the particular case of the Coast Artillery Corps, historian Ian V. Hogg noted that on the eve of war the corps was “liberally provided with weapons of every conceivable caliber, from 1.5-inch 3-pounders to 14-inch monsters firing three-quarter ton shells.”97 However, “it was unlikely any belligerent would try an assault on the USA, and nobody was suggesting that Fort Monroe should be dug out and sailed across to Europe.”98 Therefore, the CAC was only able to deploy a lackluster collection of mobile guns, 3.8-inch, 4.7-inch, and 6-inch howitzers. All of these lacked sufficient stockpiles of shells to be of any prolonged threat on the Western Front.99 In some instances, more capable American seacoast guns were removed from various coastal fortifications so that the Coast Artillery Corps contingents assigned to France possessed some type of heavy artillery. Such stopgap armament measures, however, did not solve the long-term needs of the Corps.
In the end, the British and French agreed to furnish the majority of AEF equipment for immediate needs in 1918, and US industry, for the sake of efficiency, focused on retooling for mass production of mainly French and some British types of equipment.100 In the case of the heavy artillery, the principal armaments were 155-millimeter guns from French sources, and 8-inch and 9.2-inch howitzers from British
sources.101 Guns of additional types, though not used on the same large scale as the above three, were also used, an example of which were the French built 240-millimeter railway guns. In the interests of efficiency in ammunition production, the US Army did not bring its existing 6-inch howitzer into the field. As well, early orders for British 9.5-inch howitzers were trimmed back.102
In a memo from General Pershing’s staff to Major General Payton C. March dated November 26, 1917, the ordering of fifty-two British built 8-inch and 9.2-inch howitzers highlights the AEF’s dependency on Allied weapon production. The memo noted that the order for the fifty-two guns included their delivery to the Heavy Artillery Reserve based out of Mailly, France. Four of the 8-inch howitzers were marked for expedited delivery, with the hopes that Major General March would assure that artillerymen be assigned to those guns upon their arrival in order to “provide a nucleus of trained personnel for further training in this arm.”103
The workhorse of the AEF’s heavy artillery units was the 155-millimeter Grande Porteau Filloux (GPF). The production of this gun in American provided a daunting task since the complex recoil system was beyond current US manufacturing capabilities. Once the American factories produced an adequate recoil system, 800 guns were built but the war ended before any reached frontline units.104 Because of American manufacturing issues, the CAC was equipped with French built GPFs. Statistics for the GPF included:
Length of gun, ins. - 225.4 in.
Weight of gun, lbs. – 8520.
Weight of carriage, lbs. – 1400.
Capacity of powder chamber, cu. In – 1329.
Type of ammunition – Bag.
Powder charge, propelling, (shell) – 26 lbs.
Powder charge, bursting (shell) – 9 ½ lbs.
Travel of projectile in gun – 185 in.
Maximum pressure, (lbs to Sq. in.) – 31500.
Muzzle velocity, feet per second – 2322.
Weight of shell, lbs. – 95.
Loading elevation, - any.
Maximum range, yards, - 18300
Weight of gun (firing position) 11 ½ tons.
Weight of gun (road positions) 13 ½ tons. 105
Benedict Crowell, the Assistant Secretary of War and Director of Munitions, noted that the GPF had “a glorious record in the war.”106 The widespread use of the gun by the CAC can be partially attributed to the versatility of the 155 GPF. The GPF functioned well as tractor-drawn artillery, and was well suited for immobile, or static, artillery positions.107
The British 8-inch howitzer was under contract for manufacture in the US, but ten months passed before the first gun was battle ready.108 The delay occurred because British orders for the gun had to be completed before production for the US orders could commence. The CAC used two variations of this gun, first the Mark VI, and then the Mark VIII. The difference between the two variants was that the Mark VI had a firing range of 11,000-yds, while the Mark VIII could fire a projectile 13,000-yds. Out of a total order of 190, 146 were built, and 96 reached France.109 The 9.2 howitzer, also of British origins, was capable of firing a 290-lb projectile approximately six miles. Both American and British factories produced the gun. While the American Bethlehem Steel Company was able to meet the British gun orders, the company was unable to meet the US Army’s requests. Instead, some CAC units were outfitted with British built 9.2s, since Britain was better geared for massed weapon production.110 The duty of hauling the GPF and British 8-inch howitzer pieces was placed upon the Holt caterpillar tractors assigned to each battery. The Holt caterpillar tractors available were the 75-hp and the 120-hp. The 120-hp was configured with a front wheel for better steering and had a roof; the 75-ph on the other hand was comprised of just two tracks with no overhead protection.111
The CAC was tasked with operating a selection of railway artillery, including 8-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch, and 14-inch guns. Some of there were of seacoast origin, having been removed from American fortifications. Crowell remarked that these guns were so massive that the railway mounts required between sixteen and twenty-four axels.112 The Coast Artillery training manual on the 8-inch gun cited the length of the barrel at 32 calibers, and the weight of the gun and mount at approximately 33,700 pounds.113 AEF correspondence reveals that the Ordnance Department placed an order of seventy-five mounts for their 8-inch guns; initial confusion lead AEF Headquarters to believe only sixty-two guns had been requested.114 This was actually a change in the program first developed by the Ordnance Department. The department had envisioned the production of fourteen 16-inch howitzers, twelve 14-inch guns, sixty 12-inch mortars (model 1912), ninety 12-inch mortars (model 1890), eighteen 12-inch guns, fifty-four 10-inch guns, and the sixty-two 8-inch guns noted earlier.115 The 12-inch guns, mounted on railway platforms for a total weight of 275-tons, could deliver a shell weighing 700-lbs at a distance of about 45,000-yds.116 Even more impressive than the aforementioned guns was the 400-milimeter Railway Mount. The 53rd Artillery, CAC, who used a gun of that type of for the first time against the Germans by American forces, made this behemoth famous. Additional railway artillery, furnished by France, were two 34-centimeter guns, twelve 32-centimeter guns, twenty-four 24-centimeter guns, and twenty-four 19-centimeter guns. The US made five 14-inch guns available for railway use.117
In all the seriousness that engulfed the supply issues, there were instances of unintentional miscommunication that verged on ironic humor. An undated letter from an unidentified Field Artillery officer suggested that a final verdict be made on whether men in the Trench Mortar Batteries were to be equipped with rifles or pistols. A response came from a Coast Artillery Corps Lieutenant Colonel serving in the First Army. The CAC officer wrote that the men were to be armed with pistols, with the exception of instances where a pistol cannot be found. 118 This was not in the least helpful, as the Field Artillery officer had been seek a clear decision for pistols that would have freed scare supplies of rifles for infantrymen and other troops for whom the rifle was their primary weapon. Whether a resolution disallowing the issuing of rifles would have made much of a difference to the supply needs of the AEF, is impossible to confirm. Nevertheless, the inability to outfit the individual artillerymen with a single type of personal firearm was yet another facet of the supply issues confronting the First Army.
Existence within the AEF Armies
The unit history of the 58th Regiment, CAC nicely encapsulates the reasons for the mobilization of the coast gunners for overseas service. “[T]he United States was confronted with the problem of providing artillery of a type totally different from any the Army ever used.”119 As a result, “[t]he War Department decided that the nucleus for this branch of artillery must come from the Coast Artillery…with their thorough training and methods of fire, were well prepared for this service.”120 The many requests made by the French for the deployment of more Coast Artillery regiments, is a signpost of this expertise.121
The first French request came on April 10, 1917, a mere four days after the official American declaration of war. The French wanted not only the highly trained Coast Artillery soldiers but also equipment, heavy US coast guns and mortars that could be placed on railway mounts. In a communication with the Chief of Staff on June 27, 1917, the Office of the Chief of Coast Artillery noted that the French request remained to be fulfilled. The Chief of Ordnance, with backing from the Chief of Coast Artillery, advised that only a limited transfer of weaponry take place. Forty 10-inch seacoast guns, too be manned by CAC men, were advised by the Chief of Coast Artillery. Presented verbally to the Secretary of War on May 14, 1917, the position of the Chief of Coast Artillery gained the Secretary’s support. The War College also aligned itself with the Chief of Coast Artillery in a report, which was also approved by the Secretary of War.122 The proposed organization was for 36 batteries, each to crew one of the big 10-inch, with four guns being kept in reserve. The 36 batteries would be organized into nine battalions (of four batteries each), and these in turn into three regiments (each grouping three battalions). The intention was that this brigade of three regiments would initially serve with the French to gain experience, and then be included as a part of the heaviest artillery at army-level when the US was ready organize full field armies.123 Garrisons from the following fortifications were to be the sources of men and material for the special 10-inch gun brigade: Portland was to contribute six batteries, Boston five, Narragansett Bay three, Long Island Sound three, Eastern New York three, Southern New York five, Baltimore one, the Potomac two, Chesapeake Bay three, Cape Fear one, Charleston one, and Savannah one. Men were chosen from these locations because the National Guard Coast Artillery would be called into service around July 15, 1917, which would allow the existing garrisons to be replaced by National Guardsmen. Such a measure would allow the more experienced full-time personnel to serve on the battlefields.124 While men and material were to be sent overseas, garrisoning the American coast needed to remain a priority in case of enemy submarine and raider activity.125 Therefore, the National Guardsmen would play a critical role in freeing up the top artillerymen whilst safeguarding America in case a German naval attack occurred, however unlikely one might be at that stage of the war.
On the matter of more experienced personnel, Coast Artillery commanders were to allow their noncommissioned officers the opportunity to volunteer for service in the brigade. It was noted, however, that only the “young and vigorous men shall be taken; and that, if practicable, at least 50% of the privates shall be provided from recruits.”126 Enthusiasm would abound among all CAC formations. Primary evidence giving details of the recruitment of a unit raised in 1918, the 68th Regiment, suggests that many of those in Coast Artillery regiments were excited about the prospect of going overseas to fight a war. While the lack of equipment was rather disheartening, many of the soldiers were simply happy “[s]o long as they were still booked for abroad…”127 In the case of the 68th Regiment, “only those men were taken who expressed a keen desire to go overseas. Each one was asked: ‘Did you want to go across?’ ‘Yes Sir’ was the only reply that put a man on the list.” 128 It would be reasonable to conclude that recruitment was similar in the case of the first overseas units raised in 1917, originally organized as the 6th, 7th and 8th Provisional Regiments (and ultimately renumbered as the 51st, 52nd and 53rd Regiments). Captain Ericson of the 6th Provisional Regiment remarked in the historical account he published shortly after the war that the members of the unit were delighted at the prospect of “issuing punishment to those who thought the world too small to live in. The ‘Spirit of ‘76’ was in us once again.”129 The personnel accepted for overseas service at the various coastal fortresses designated to provide batteries, gathered for mobilization at Fort Adams, Rhode Island, and then concentrated at Hoboken, from which they sailed toFrance in August 1917, under the collective designation as the 1st Expeditionary Brigade. A brigade headquarters unit had been mobilized at the same time as the provisional regiments.130
The 10-inch coast guns the brigade was intended to operate were enormous pieces, each barrel weighing over 30 tons, and firing a projectile of 600 pounds. Contracts were placed with US industry to produce French-designed railway mounts for the guns, with delivery scheduled for March 1919.131 During 1918 the 7th and 8th Provisional Regiments, re-designated the 52nd and 53rd Regiments, operated French railway guns, and the 6th Provisional Regiment, reorganized as the 51st Regiment, converted to road-mobile howitzers, French 240-millimeter and British 8-inch, and operated under one of the new US heavy artillery brigade headquarters. During what proved to be the US Army’s main offensive, on the Meuse-Argonne in fall of 1918, the 1st Expeditionary Brigade, reorganized as the 30th Separate Artillery Brigade (Railway) operated the 52nd and 53rd Regiments, and had under command two newly arrived additional railway artillery regiments (the 42nd and 43rd) that did not in fact become fully operational before the armistice.132
While the provisional regiments were being raised in response to the special French requests, General Pershing, as commander of the American Expeditionary Force, and the War Department drew up in detail the organization of units and formations for overseas service, a gargantuan task. On November 2, 1917, the Chief of Coast Artillery received instructions from the War Department to proceed to provide “trained personnel for heavy artillery in Europe.”133 The United States Army decided against the issuing of a general order, arguing that the information was too sensitive to risk failing into enemy hands. Therefore, the instructions to the Chief of Staff are in essence the official orders for the mobilization of Coast Artillery units.134 The instructions referenced the first and second sections of the Act of Congress, approved May 18, 1917, that gave the President the power to increase temporarily the size of the armed forces for service in the world war.135 The chief of Coast Artillery was, “as accommodation becomes available” to organize “Training Units, Coast Artillery Corps, National Army” with a total strength of 465 officer and 14,545 enlisted men.136 These units were to train personnel, to be drawn from the regular coast artillery, the National Guard Coast Artillery, and new wartime recuits (the “National Army”) to create the “provisional brigades, provisional regiments, provisional battlations[,] batteries, and companies for one [field] army, in accordance with tables of organization now being prepared based on General Pershing’s ‘Report on Organization,’ dated July 11, 1917.” The number of personnel required for one field army, as laid down in General Pershing’s report, was “approximately 70,721 officers and enlisted men,” and the provision of these personnel was “to begin immediately,” even as the “Training Units” were being organized.137
In the November 2, 1917 War Department instructions to the Chief of Coast Artillery, paragraph “f” outlined the duties of the CAC while in France. The CAC “will man all guns and mortars removed from the coast defenses; six-inch and larger guns (not horse-drawn); all howitzers above 6-inch; the anti-aircraft guns; the trench mortar battalions; the ammunition trains pertaining to the foregoing; the railroad artillery; and such 4.7-inch guns and 6-inch howitzers as conditions may require assignment thereto.”138