Doctrine Chapter 3
COMBAT AND LESSON LEARNED 1942-44
In November 1942, US forces participated in their first major campaign against the German Army in World War II, Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. The early battles in North Africa were the Army's first combat experience in mechanized warfare, and tested leaders, troops, equipment, organization, and doctrine. This was particularly true for the reconnaissance elements of the Army. Actions in North Africa demonstrated that the mechanized cavalry's tactical doctrine of reconnaissance did not address many of a commander's requirements on the battlefield.
North Africa saw all types of cavalry and reconnaissance forces engaged in a variety of combat missions, some of which were anticipated and some of which were not. These units included a corps separate cavalry reconnaissance squadron (CRS), an armored division armored reconnaissance battalion (ARB), and the separate cavalry reconnaissance troops (CRT) of infantry divisions. The only units which were not deployed to the theater were corps cavalry groups. The combination of the battle experiences of all these units provided a valid and comprehensive early battlefield test of the doctrine, organization, and equipment of the US Army's reconnaissance forces.
By the time of commitment to combat in late 1942 and early 1943, some changes had already occurred in the equipment and organization of the reconnaissance units. The most significant change was the reorganization of the troops, companies and platoons. The total number of motorcycles within the troop was vastly reduced, since the function of the motorcycle was assumed by the 1/4-ton scout car or "jeep" (see figure 12).(1) The organization of the separate cavalry reconnaissance troop's platoon had not changed, except to introduce the jeeps as indicated in figure 10.
Figure 12. Cavalry Reconnaissance Platoon, 1942.
Another significant platoon level change was addition of indirect fire assets to the platoon. The reconnaissance platoon included two 60-mm mortars (in jeeps).(2) In addition, the reconnaissance platoon of the armored reconnaissance battalion included one 75-mm assault gun (self-propelled on a half-track vehicle)(see figure 13). These systems were intended to provide the reconnaissance platoon with its own organic fire support to facilitate independent operations.
Figure 13. Reconnaissance Platoon (Armored Reconnaissance Battalion), 1942
Doctrine for the employment of cavalry and armored reconnaissance units had not changed since the publication of the FM 2-10 in April of 1941. Thus doctrine emphasized reconnaissance conducted at the platoon level by the application of stealthy mounted and dismounted maneuver. It further advocated avoiding combat whenever possible, and when contact was made, by-passing it. Attack and defend, according to doctrine, were secondary missions, and were only conducted for limited purposes under special conditions. This doctrine was clearly understood when the 81st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (ARB) was committed to combat for the first time on 31 January 1943. This first large scale test of the US reconnaissance forces challenged the soundness of reconnaissance doctrine.
Figure 14. M3, Light Tank, 1st Armored Division, Tunisia, 1943. Source: Bundesachriv Photo reproduced in Steven Zaloga, Stuart, U.S. Light Tanks in Action (Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1979), 16.
The 81st ARB, was under division control and organized with 3 reconnaissance companies and a tank company. It was given the mission of reconnaissance and seizing high ground to the north and south of the objective of Combat Command D (CCD), 1st Armored Division: Station de Sened (see figure 15).(3) The plan was to conduct the mission with two reconnaissance companies; one to the north and one to the south of the axis of advance.(4)
The reconnaissance elements executed their missions beginning at 0730, 31 January 1943.(5) Company C, moving on the northern shoulder of the axis was stopped by anti-tank fire, but was able to put dismounted observation posts on the high ground north of the objective.(6) Company A was stopped by a combination of machine gun fire and artillery. It was unable to attain the high ground on the south side of the objective). At 1300 the attack was called off. Company A was in an untenable position, taking losses from artillery, and was forced to withdraw under the protective fire of the tank company and assault guns.(7) The following day the attack by CCD was resumed. The primary contribution of the 81st ARB was direction of artillery and assault gun fire from observation posts (OPs) established the previous day and during the night.
Figure 15. Reconnaissance to Station de Sened.
The execution of the US Army's first battalion level mechanized reconnaissance mission of the war had some obvious doctrinal implications. First, the engagement demonstrated that the reconnaissance battalion was unable to infiltrate or by-pass a well positioned enemy. Doctrine specifically stated that this was the primary method of achieving reconnaissance objectives. Second, the vehicles of the reconnaissance troops (jeeps and M3 armored cars) were very vulnerable to machine guns, mortars, and artillery. Speed and stealth were not sufficient to protect the vehicles from the most common enemy weapon systems (machine guns and artillery). Finally, once in position, the reconnaissance troops did not have the combat power or armor protection to remain in position in the face of enemy direct and indirect fire. Doctrine assumed that the OP would be hidden from the enemy and therefore not subject to enemy fire. Clearly, the 81st ARB experience proved the error of this.
In addition to the reconnaissance doctrine shortfalls, it is also clear that the battalion did not help itself in terms of closely coordinating and effectively utilizing the resources it had available. The tank company could have been used in much closer support of the reconnaissance companies than it was. The potential effectiveness of utilizing the tanks and assault guns in closer coordination was demonstrated by the manner in which they effectively suppressed enemy fires during the withdrawal of Company A.
Security missions was defined as "all measures taken by a command to protect itself against annoyance, surprise, observation, and interference by the enemy."(8) FM 2-15, Employment of Cavalry, 1941, stated specifically that security for other arms was one of the prime missions of cavalry,(9) however, FM 2-10, 1941, did not discuss security as a mission for mechanized cavalry at all. This lack of emphasis in FM 2-10, is in accordance FM 2-15 which discouraged the use of mechanized cavalry for this type of mission due to their "vulnerability to ambush and their unsuitability for sustained defense."(10) Only a single paragraph of the manual addresses security. FM 100-17, Field Regulations for Larger Units, dated April 1941, does not specifically mention cavalry in its chapter on security roles while it names cavalry, both mechanized and horse, as the primary means of ground reconnaissance.(11)
In contrast to the written doctrines lack of emphasis on security missions, the 81st ARB, during its initial month in combat, executed four battalion level security missions for the 1st Armored Division, while executing only one reconnaissance mission (described previously) during the same time period. This demonstrates a lack of appreciation of the relative importance of the reconnaissance and security missions in cavalry doctrine. In North Africa, the reconnaissance units were utilized much more for security purposes than doctrine foresaw.
On 14 February 1943 the 81st ARB was conducting a security mission as part of in the 1st Armored Division defense of Sidi-Bou-Zid. Specifically, the battalion was to observe key passes and routes entering the division area from the east and south. The division was defending as part of the II Corps, which was expecting a German attack. The allies, however, expected the German effort to fall north of II Corps, and that the II Corps and the 1st Armored Division would defend against a supporting attack. The Germans, however, planned their main effort directly against the 1st Armored Division.
The battle began as a German attempt to cut off or destroy the majority of the US 1st Armored Division in its defensive positions north and west of Sidi-Bou-Zid.(12) The 81st ARB was deployed as follows (see figure 16): Company A in position along the high ground overwatching the Matleg Pass; Company B under division control, watching the division north flank; Company C in position on the high ground between Company A and Bir El Hafey (with one platoon in position to overwatch the Meloussi Pass; and battalion headquarters (HQ) and the tank company located in the vicinity of Sidi-Bou-Zid.(13)
As the battle began both reconnaissance companies (A and C) provided early and accurate warning on the enemy's action.(14) This action successfully completed their doctrinal mission of security. Then the missions quickly changed from security to defending and delaying. Company A was attached to the infantry battalion defending the Ksaria hill mass to the company's rear. It mission was changed to defending the Ksaria pass, along with attached elements of Company C, 16th Engineers.(15) Company C, 81st ARB was told to delay the enemy between the Malossi Pass and Bir El Hafey.
Both reconnaissance companies fought hard against German mechanized units throughout the day of 14 February. The conclusion of the day's action found the remnants of Company A isolated in the Ksaira high ground area along with elements of the 16th Engineers and the 168th infantry regiment,(16) the bulk of the company with most of its vehicles had been cut off and captured in their positions east of Ksaria.(17) The company was last heard from on 16 February(18) and the majority of the force was captured after attempting to break out on 17 February.(19) Company C, mean while, delayed back to Bir El Hafey on the 14th, losing one complete platoon in the process.(20) At that point it moved west and occupied the Rakrmar high ground, west of the German axis of advance (see figure 16).
On the 15th of February, the battalion received Company B back from division control. The battalion was then deployed with the headquarters west of Sbiala, Company B north of Sbiala, and Company C west of Bir EL Hafey. It was in these positions when ordered to withdraw to Kasserine.
Figure 16. Dispositions of 81st ARB, 14-15 February, 1943.
Analysis of the mission indicates that the reconnaissance battalion was initially well positioned to conduct the security mission assigned. However there were problems with subsequent events. Positioning of the tank company was the most critical issue. The tank company was not committed from its positions with battalion headquarters to support the reconnaissance companies, leaving them to face German armor by themselves. Without tanks in close support the reconnaissance companies had virtually no tank killing capability, no mobile reserve, and were unable to establish any depth to their positions. In other words, they were incapable of effectively executing the assigned missions.
The most serious doctrinal mistake in the mission was the utilization of Company A. The unit was not designed to conduct a defense. Attaching it to a defending infantry regiment deprived it of the ability to maneuver. The company had the capability, along with their attached engineers, of driving out of the surrounded infantry position, or delaying back prior to encirclement, but its attachment to the infantry negated its mobility and made that impossible. The result was the complete loss of a valuable specialized unit with all of its equipment and experienced personnel.
It is important to note that the security and delay mission of the reconnaissance battalion was a key aspect of the armored division's scheme of maneuver. It permitted the division to take risk in order to concentrate combat power. This was a classic cavalry mission: cavalry performing an economy of force delay. This mission, however, was not one that received much doctrinal emphasis. It was barely referred to in the 1941 mechanized cavalry manual. Finally, it was not one for which the battalion or companies were doctrinally trained, or structured. The results varied from marginal effectiveness to disaster in the case of Company A.
Reconnaissance doctrine clearly indicated that combat was only authorized under special circumstances such as "rapid seizure of distant objectives, delaying and harassing actions, establishment of temporary bridge heads, and counterreconnaissance."(21) Doctrine also advised reconnaissance leaders that security missions were primarily focused on providing the main body with early warning and information on the enemy, not protection. These tenets became eroded after the units were committed to combat. Reconnaissance leaders came to regard themselves as combat forces. They engaged in offensive combat whenever the situation was favorable, even when the mission was security.
An example of the offensive attitude, and the opportunistic leadership that typified the reconnaissance and cavalry leaders in the early North African campaign is the actions of a detachment of Company C, 81st ARB in early March 43.
The action took place after the battle of Kasserine pass. The enemy had moved the bulk of his forces to Faid or further east. Gafsa remained in enemy hands. The mission of the 81st ARB was to "watch" the roads leading into Gafsa from the west.(22) While establishing observation in the vicinity of Gafsa one of the Company C detachments observed a company size German force which "appeared to be taking things easy."(23) The platoon leader in charge requested authorization to conduct an attack to destroy the enemy. The detachment had previously been reinforced with two additional assault guns and a platoon of tanks.(24) The detachment opened fire on the enemy and then "the tanks and scout cars charged the enemy position from a covered assembly point about 400 yards from the enemy. The Company C detachment killed several of the defenders, including the CO, captured 89 of them, seized 3 vehicles, and laid a small mine field in the pass. The assault guns and tanks were directed into positions from which they could cover this mine field." The Company C detachment successfully repelled an armored counter-attack the next day.(25)
The action of the detachment was clearly an attack. It was not "mission essential", unless the mission was much more than a security mission. The conclusion is that not only were the cavalry leaders much more aggressive than doctrine required or desired, but also that the commanders implied a much more aggressive posture than the word "watch" and security doctrine dictated. This example demonstrates the degree to which offensive combat, rather than being an action to be avoided, was engaged in at every favorable opportunity. This clearly is not the spirit expressed in the 1941 doctrinal rule: "[scout cars] avoid combat, except for self-protection or when accomplishment of the mission requires combat."(26) A significant aspect of the action is not that it was not within the letter or spirit of published reconnaissance doctrine, but that it was successful. That success questioned the fundamental soundness of the "sneak and peek" reconnaissance doctrine.
The actions of the cavalry and reconnaissance units in North Africa clearly demonstrated that attacking and defending where essential aspects of both reconnaissance and security missions. Combat had demonstrated that when the reconnaissance units were aggressive, anticipated combat, and organized to conduct it, they were successful. Towards this end, the 81st ARB temporarily disbanded its tank company after the Kasserine actions, and permanently attached a tank platoon to each of its reconnaissance companies for the duration of the North African Campaign.(27) The creation of combined arms teams at company level had the effect of significantly increasing the combat power of the reconnaissance companies, and provided them with a mobile anti-tank capability. This change also tended to centralize operations at the troop level, rather than in the platoon, as doctrine advocated.
Figure 17. Reconnaissance Patrol In North Africa. Source: US Army, Photo reproduced in Kent Roberts Greenfield, editor, US Army in World War II,Pictorial Record: The War Against Germany and Italy: Mediteranean and Adacent Areas (Washington DC.: Center for Military History, 1951), 53.
North Africa demonstrated that reconnaissance units required the capability to attack and defend as a natural extension of their reconnaissance and security missions. However, the attack and defend missions were not limited to situations associated with reconnaissance and security. From the very beginning of the campaign when a key amphibious assault objective was assigned to the dismounted 3d Reconnaissance Troop of the 3d Infantry Division,(28) higher commanders often and unhesitantly assigned reconnaissance units normal attack and defend missions alongside regular armor and infantry formations. Often in these roles the reconnaissance units operated as infantry, or armor, or both, depending on the situation.
An example of a reconnaissance unit attacking independent of any reconnaissance or security mission is the attack executed by the 91st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (CRS) on 23 April 1943.(29)
The 91st CRS was the only nondivisional cavalry reconnaissance unit deployed to North Africa. The unit, originally organized as the mechanized cavalry reconnaissance squadron of the 1st Cavalry Division, was the oldest and most experienced squadron size mechanized reconnaissance unit in the Army.(30) It, unlike most of the mechanized cavalry organizations, was relatively unaffected by the changes which occurred in cavalry in 1942, and therefore was ready for overseas deployment.
The beginning of April 1943 found the 91st CRS entering combat for the first time as a corps separate cavalry squadron attached to the 9th Infantry Division. The squadron was organized as follows: headquarters and headquarters troop, 3 reconnaissance troops, and 1 support troop (light tanks). The headquarters troop comprised 5 platoons as follows: headquarters, communications, pioneer and demolition, antitank, and maintenance and supply. Each reconnaissance troop had a headquarters and 3 reconnaissance platoons; the support troop, a headquarters, 3 light tank platoons (5 tanks each)."(31) On 23 April 43 "the 91st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron was directed to push aggressive reconnaissance to the east within its assigned zone."(32) The squadron order for the "aggressive reconnaissance" follows:
Troop A push vigorous mounted reconnaissance to the east; Troop B establish observation posts on Hills 545, 562, and 445, and continue previous mission; Troop C leave vehicles (with drivers only) in the vicinity of bridge and attack dismounted in its zone, seizing and holding the forward end of the high ridge generally along the 33 grid.(33)
This operation was not intended to gather information, rather it was an attack to seize terrain. The initial outcome of the attack was success by Troops B and C, but Troop A was unable to "push through the German position."(34) At the conclusion of the day the commander of the squadron reported to division the mixed success of the day's attack. He was then informed of an impending German counterattack and received new orders. "The 91st was ordered to hold the line to which it had advanced at all costs."(35) Thus in the course of one day the squadron executed two missions, one a partially successful attack, and the second a defense to hold terrain gained. Neither mission was one for which the squadron was organized, trained, or equipped.
The 91st CRS's actions on 18 April were not isolated incidents resulting from attachment to an infantry division. Rather they were typical of the diverse offensive and defensive requirements commanders of all types placed on cavalry. This was reiterated on 6 May 1943, when the 91st CRS was again assigned an offensive mission. At this time the squadron was attached to the 1st Armored Division. The Division was attempting to seize the town of Mateur, which was dominated by the Djebel Ichkeul hill mass. This position was defended by several hundred men of the Reconnaissance Battalion of the Herman Goering Division.(36) The squadron was given the mission of securing this high ground for use by division artillery observers. This ground was protected by an extensive swamp to the south, and steep slopes. Reconnaissance preceding the attack indicated that the terrain would not support mounted movement.(37)
Figure 18. Attack on Djebel Ichkeul.
The squadron organized for the attack by dismounting all of its reconnaissance troops.(38) The tank company was detached. The attack commenced at 0700 with an artillery preparation followed by a dismounted attack by two reconnaissance troops, C on the left and B on the right. Troop A was held in reserve. The attack was supported by fire from the organic troop mortars, the squadron 37-mm anti-tank platoon, and a division artillery battery (see figure 18). The attack ultimately required the commitment of all three troops dismounted (minus one platoon) in order to achieve success. During the attack the bulk of the squadron's vehicles sat idle, as not even the jeeps could traverse the ground. The following morning the hill was secure with the exception of snipers and the squadron received new orders. The squadron withdrew from the position, leaving one troop in place to continue to clear the snipers.
This action demonstrates the extent to which the cavalry squadron could be required to execute missions other than that of reconnaissance. The assault on Ichkeul was a mission for an infantry battalion, but was assigned to a cavalry squadron. The extent to which mechanized cavalry was ill equipped to execute infantry type missions is illustrated by the fact that the troopers were not authorized individual entrenching tools as part of their equipment.(40) To dig fox holes in a situation as described above the troops had to carry their vehicle picks and shovels with them in the attack. Nonetheless, the actions of the 91st on 6 May 1943 were typical of the type of missions routinely assigned to reconnaissance elements of all sizes throughout the North African campaign.
Cavalry doctrine placed great emphasis on the platoon as the basic maneuver element. In fact, doctrine specifically stated that the troop commander might rarely see his platoons in the execution of their mission. Towards this end the platoon was designed as a semi-autonomous unit. Doctrine indicated that the typical manner of employment was as platoon and smaller elements, executing individual, separate but coordinated reconnaissance, over large areas of ground. In actions in North Africa, this in fact occurred occasionally, though rarely with all of the reconnaissance assets of a particular battalion, squadron, or separate troop operating decentralized. However, from the examples discussed thus far, it is apparent that the reconnaissance elements often operated as troop and company entities, and frequently the majority of an entire squadron or battalion was committed in a coordinated manner toward a single objective (often not a reconnaissance objective). Thus, North Africa indicated that the scope of employment of reconnaissance units was not exclusively focused at the platoon and section level, but was often focused at the troop/company level, and frequently at the squadron/battalion level. This wide range of operational requirements was not anticipated by either doctrine or organization.
The North African campaign demonstrated that field commanders expected reconnaissance units to execute combat missions which doctrine writers prior to 1942, did not anticipate. The equipment of the reconnaissance and cavalry units was designed primarily for reconnaissance. This fact, combined with the rugged terrain, and in action against the enemy's equipment, stressed the capabilities of the equipment severely. The major items which were employed were the 75-mm assault gun, the jeep, the M3 armored car, and the M3 Stuart light tank.
Figure 19. T30, 75-mm Assault Gun. Source: US Army, Photo reproduced in Kent Roberts Greenfield, editor, US Army in World War II, Pictorial Record: The War Against Germany and Italy: Mediteranean and Adacent Areas, 132.
The assault guns of the reconnaissance platoon were probably the best weapon system in the armored reconnaissance battalion. In the words of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hoy, Commander of the 81st ARB; "We are sold on the assault gun. It gives us poise and confidence."(41) These guns were designed to provide both a direct and indirect fire capability to the platoons as they operated independently, and they were very effective in this role. Frequently the assault guns were the only weapon in the platoon capable of providing the firepower the platoon needed to execute a mission. The guns were often massed to provide quick and responsive direct or indirect fire support to a company. Frequently they saved the day as in the case of the withdrawal under the protection of the massed company assault guns by Company A, 81st ARB at Station de Sened. They were one of the few weapons, and the only one organic to reconnaissance units, capable of dealing effectively with German medium tanks.
The other extremely successful, and very popular, system in the reconnaissance units was the jeep. The jeep was reliable, rugged, and most importantly, small enough to go almost anywhere (the actions of 91st CRS described previously being a notable exception). In one instance, LTC Candler of the 91st CRS, hiked to an observation post on a rugged hill top position and determined that it could only be reached dismounted. As he finished his inspection he was greeted by the first jeep of his lead platoon arriving on top of the position.(42) The mobility of the jeep was its most remarked upon feature, particularly in the rugged expanses of North Africa. It was also small and offered a low silhouette making it difficult to spot.(43) The jeep had its draw backs, the primary one being its vulnerability to enemy fire and mines. Crews typically sandbagged the floors and this resulted in some lives being saved, but the jeep was recognized as not being a combat vehicle.(44) The other problem with the jeep was its difficulty handling the weight of the .50 caliber machine ammunition.(45) The machine-gun itself, however, "was easily and quickly positioned to fire on German machine gun positions."(46) In general, however, as a light scout vehicle (and the replacement of the motorcycle) the jeep exceeded all expectations.
On the other hand, the M3 White armored car did not live up to expectations. The vehicle was found to be under powered and therefore its cross country mobility, and grade climbing ability were significantly reduced.(47) It was also too large to negotiate many of the smaller trails and paths which reconnaissance units used to by-pass enemy positions and traverse rugged terrain. The fire power of the .50 caliber and .30 caliber machine-guns were very effective against infantry but not at all effective against the light or medium armor frequently encountered. The open top made the vehicle vulnerable to artillery, and a "grenade trap".(48) The M3's short comings resulted in frequent separation of the armored cars from the scout cars. This made it impossible to employ the armored cars to protect the scout cars (jeeps) as doctrine required, and reinforced the primary liability of the jeep - protection. According to the commander of the 91st CRS, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Chandler, the "scout car's chief usefulness was as a means of transport for the radio communications between platoons and troops and troops and squadron."(49) The M3 demonstrated more utility as a communications vehicle than in its intended role of armored reconnaissance.
The M3 Stuart light tank was the mainstay of not only the reconnaissance forces but also a large portion of the armored units as well (each armored regiment had an entire battalion of light tanks). As indicated earlier, at the time of its development it was a fairly capable vehicle, but by the time of its employment by US forces in North Africa light tanks had been supplanted by mediums as the predominant force on the armored battlefield. It was quick, agile, and reliable, but its 37-mm gun was ineffective against the frontal armor of medium tanks.(50) Because of this, the Stuart's performance in combat was marginal. The Stuart did very well against light armored vehicles, machine guns, and infantry - the enemies most frequently encountered by the reconnaissance units. Thus, although North Africa demonstrated that the 37-mm gun was inadequate against medium tanks, the consequence of this shortcoming was not yet fully recognized, and the Stuart's utility continued to be rated fairly high by the Army.
The organizational structure of reconnaissance units in North Africa was generally adequate to support the successful accomplishment of missions. However, several organizational peculiarities were demonstrated by combat. The tank company/troop in the battalion and squadron was often not in position to support the reconnaissance companies/troops. The impact of this was that reconnaissance units fought armor without the support of their own armor as in the cases of Companies A and C of the 81st ARB during their security missions south and west of Sidi-Bou-Zid in February 1943. After Kasserine, this was remedied by the frequent task organization of tank platoons to reconnaissance troops/companies as was done in both the 81st ARB and the 91st CRS. The 81st made this task organization permanent when it experienced an officer replacement shortage in March of 1943.
The other organizational alteration which was frequently made was the consolidation of the platoon assault guns into mini batteries of three guns under company control. This maximized their fire power and improved fire coordination. This was a typical task organization when the company was employed as a whole, which frequently occurred. Task organization of assault guns, combined with the attachment of a tank platoon made possible the successful attack of Company C, 81st ARB, north of Gafsa in March 1943. Battle experience indicates that the troop became the basic fighting element in the reconnaissance units in North Africa, rather than the platoon, and that additional combat power usually was consolidated there.
At the conclusion of the African campaign in May 1943, the Army, Army Ground Forces, and especially, the Cavalry School, all recognized that a wealth of combat lessons learned regarding reconnaissance doctrine, organizations, and equipment were now available. They quickly and systematically began to formalize these insights, incorporate them into the Army doctrine and structure, and distribute them to the field. The requirement was to accomplish this prior to the next major combat involving reconnaissance units. They did not know that this was barely a year away, but they certainly understood that time was critical. The influence of the combat experience in reconnaissance acquired was reflected in the cavalry's professional journal, in training circulars and field manuals, and in new tables of organization and equipment.
The most critical lesson learned from the North African experience regarded the validity of doctrinal concepts as demonstrated on the battlefield. Heretofore, the priority mission had clearly been reconnaissance, and the accepted technique stealth. It is clear that in North Africa reconnaissance became only one of many missions executed by cavalry and reconnaissance units, and that direct combat was common.
Major General Charles Scott, Commander of the Armor Replacement Center at Fort Knox, was assigned as the senior officer of the US military delegation in the Middle East from March to July 1942.(51) In November 1942 he wrote in the Cavalry Journal regarding reconnaissance doctrine and combat based on his observations in the Middle East:
It is apparent that weak reconnaissance can get nowhere on its mission against this much stronger opposition. On the other hand, on many occasions it will be overrun and destroyed before it can obtain any information of value. Also, on occasions in the desert, it was not even possible for weak reconnaissance to pause only enough to send in valuable information that had been collect, and it was not unusual to see light, long distance reconnaissance piling back just ahead of a strong attack.
In this day and age, long distance reconnaissance must be organized to fight in execution of its mission, to fight for time to send information in, and to fight for time for the main body to utilize properly the information sent in.(52)
It appears that comments such as these from someone as influential as General Scott, one of the armor force's pioneers, would go a long way to settling the issue. In contrast, writing in response in the Cavalry Journal was Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Palmer and Lieutenant Colonel Hoy:
Beware of that misused word 'fire power.' Don't tie a reconnaissance unit down with tanks, 81-mm mortars, 37 SP guns, because it makes the unit too unwieldy and few officers can take care of all those additions and still do the job of gathering information. Understand me, I am in complete accord with General Scott's statement that "Reconnaissance capable of only observation is not worth the road space it takes.' The reconnaissance units should have sufficient fire power, but too much is as bad as too little. Anyone in a reconnaissance unit who is not primarily a reconnaissance man must be there for a very good reason. If I get the armored car, then I don't want the light tank.(53)
In a separate article Colonel Hoy specifically stated:
Ordinarily, a reconnaissance unit will not fight for its information. This does not mean that it need not be aggressive. It takes 'guts' and drive to slip past the enemy, get behind him, and stay there transmitting information. But reconnaissance by fire should not be used promiscuously.(54)
Thus Hoy continued as a strong advocate of the doctrine which was developed prior to the war, and which his battalion attempted to execute in North Africa. As a successful reconnaissance battalion commander in combat, and a member of the Cavalry School faculty, Lieutenant Colonel Hoy was in a position to influence future reconnaissance doctrine and organizations.
Both the comments of General Scott and Colonel Hoy were unofficial, but they are indicate the different interpretations of reconnaissance lessons present in the Army following the North African campaign. General Scott's view is the traditional cavalry view which harkens back to the doctrine envisioned prior to the creation of the Armored Force. This view saw the cavalry as a mobile, lethal, all purpose combat force capable of performing many missions, one of which is reconnaissance. Colonel Hoy's view is the revisionist view of cavalry: a force optimized to perform reconnaissance by employing speed, maneuver and stealth. Events in North Africa supported the position of General Scott. Army official publications and actions after the African campaign were a compromise of the two. Stealth remained a primary technique of reconnaissance, but the use of fire and movement to gain information also appeared n doctrinal literature from 1943 on.
In 1943 and early 1944 the Army issued a number of publications which indicated that the role of the Army's reconnaissance units, particularly at the battalion and squadron level, was changing. The first publication was FM 2-30, Cavalry Mechanized Reconnaissance Squadron, published in April of 1943. This manual was written for the cavalry reconnaissance squadron of the cavalry and motorized infantry divisions. As it came to pass, these units never were fielded. Nonetheless, the manual was the only battalion and squadron level reconnaissance doctrine published during the war. It was published prior to the completion of the North African campaign, but demonstrates that some of General Scott's views of reconnaissance and combat were being reflected in doctrine prior to the end of the campaign.
FM 2-30 continued to state the basic premise of all previous reconnaissance doctrine, that reconnaissance "...seeks to flow around or infiltrate through such obstacles as hostile counterreconnaissance or security groups by means of stealth and to reach the enemy main body."(55) However, in a number of passages the manual specifically recognized the importance of combat to successful reconnaissance:
When the advance of its detachments is arrested by enemy action, necessary pressure is applied at a weak point by the use of reserve elements to penetrate the resistance and expose the enemy dispositions to continued reconnaissance.(56)
The cavalry reconnaissance squadron may engage in offensive combat as an incident in the execution of any mission which it is assigned. On reconnaissance, individual patrols will have frequent engagements with hostile groups. The squadron may find itself opposed by a counterreconnaissance screen around whose flanks it cannot side step and be confronted by the necessity of executing a penetration. A point usually will be reached at which it will be necessary to attack a covering force in order to develop so much of a situation as will reveal the strength and attitude of the enemy.(57)
Although previous doctrine, FM 2-10 Volume II, Employment of Mechanized Cavalry, 1941, recognized that occasionally combat was necessary, FM 2-30 is far more permissive. The 1943 manual indicates that combat will be unavoidable: "It is to be expected that the squadron must fight at some time in the execution of any mission it may be assigned."(58) The manual further states that "the outstanding combat characteristics of the squadron are its great fire power and extreme mobility."(59) FM 2-30 indicates that even as Colonel Hoy's 81st Reconnaissance Battalion was trying to practice the infiltration reconnaissance doctrine developed prior to the war, the cavalry school was beginning to recognize that combat was an integral part of effective reconnaissance.
The most important doctrinal issue addressed in FM 2-30 was security. The manual stated:
When it becomes necessary for the division commander to assign a primary mission of security, the operations of the squadron are typical of cavalry. Reconnaissance tactics are employed to gain and transmit timely information of the enemy. Other elements (support troop, antitank platoon, pioneer and demolition platoon) cooperate with the reconnaissance elements and, using the technique of harassing and delaying action, block the routes of hostile approach to gain time for the main body.(60)
This describes the intent of the 81st ARB mission at Sidi-Bou-Zid in February 1943, and goes far beyond the previous doctrine which considered the primary task of security to provide early warning.
In September 1943, Headquarters Army Ground Forces published a training circular on mechanized cavalry, TC 107, "Employment of Mechanized Cavalry." This training circular was designed to inform the Army of doctrinal lessons learned regarding mechanized cavalry, and was an official attempt to disseminate doctrinal information from the African campaign quickly, rather than await the publishing of a manual. TC 107 reinforced many of the ideas expressed in FM 2-30. It advocated attacking to reduce obstacles,(61) and it specifically stated that the mechanized cavalry squadron had sufficient combat power to engage in offensive and defensive missions to conduct reconnaissance.(62) Like FM 2-30, however, TC 107 also stated that infiltration tactics were still the prime means of conducting reconnaissance.(63)
The most significant doctrinal publication issued after the North African campaign, was FM 2-20, Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, Mechanized, published in January 1944. This manual was the definitive reconnaissance doctrinal publication through the conclusion of the war. Unlike FM 2-30, FM 2-20 was written specifically for the cavalry troop organization that was adopted in September 1943 and fielded in Europe from the time of the Normandy invasion through VE Day. The manual was a clear expression of the World War II Army's view of reconnaissance.
The key statement in FM 2-20 indicating the final evolution in the Army's view of combat and reconnaissance is "The troop employs infiltration tactics, fire, and maneuver to accomplish reconnaissance missions."(64) This statement, for the first time since the publication of the mechanized reconnaissance doctrine in 1933, establishes the position that infiltration is not the only method for accomplishing reconnaissance. FM 2-20 makes the techniques of fire and maneuver, indicating combat, doctrinally sanctioned for the conduct of reconnaissance. It specifically said "The reconnaissance troop of the squadron, normally reinforced with assault guns, and with light tanks when their use is anticipated, is prepared to fight for information if necessary to the accomplishment of reconnaissance missions."(65) Infiltration is still also a technique, but it was no longer the preferred technique. The manual captures the combat lessons of North Africa, and recognized the likelihood that security, defensive, and offensive missions were executed outside the context of reconnaissance: "Elements of the reconnaissance troop may be required to defend observation posts, bridges, or defiles, in order to accomplish reconnaissance missions. Enemy attack may necessitate defensive action in other instances."(66) Regarding offensive action: " The unit attacks when reconnaissance indicates that the enemy position can be taken with the means available."(67)
FM 2-20 also reflected many of the tactics, techniques, and procedures learned in Africa. Although it was intended as a troop manual, it discussed in detail the utilization of tanks and assault guns. The manual emphasized task organizing the troop with both systems. In the case of the tank, the manual stated:
The troop may be supported by the light tank company, the latter providing combat power to overcome minor opposition. The light tank company may be attached as a unit or by platoons to the reconnaissance elements when the squadron front is so broad, or the terrain so difficult, that reserves cannot be moved readily to all parts of the squadron zone. Attachment also may be made when hostile resistance can be foreseen.(68)
In the case of the assault gun, it indicated the following:
The troop employs the attached assault guns to support reconnaissance platoons by placing smoke or HE concentrations on organized enemy positions, thereby permitting side-slipping and infiltration by reconnaissance elements.(69)
The assault gun platoon, consisting of a platoon headquarters, two assault gun sections (one assault gun each), and an ammunition section, operates under reconnaissance troop control. Usually held, with one reconnaissance platoon, in troop reserve.(70)
FM 2-20 made task organization of the troop for combat a cornerstone of doctrine.
In regards to the security mission, the manual did not reflect the critical importance of security missions for higher headquarters. FM 2-20 states "The troop contributes to the security of the division by reporting the location of enemy forces and by giving timely warning of ground and air attacks."(71) This is an expression of the troop's capabilities in regards to security. It indicates that the troop, by itself, can provide no more security than early warning. This does not contradict the squadron capabilities and role described in FM 2-30, and is a realistic appraisal of the troop's capability.
Figure 20. Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 1943. Source: War Department, TO&E 2-25, Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Mechanized (Washington D.C: War Department, September 1943), 2-3.
The final significant Army response to the lessons learned from Africa was the decision in June 1943 to standardize all mechanized reconnaissance formations in the Army as cavalry reconnaissance units. The reconnaissance battalions of the armored divisions were redesignated as cavalry reconnaissance squadrons.(72) In addition, a new table of organization and equipment was adopted in September which standardized all mechanized cavalry troops and squadrons throughout the Army.(73)
The new troop and squadron organizations were adopted based on lessons learned in Africa, and sought to standardize reconnaissance units, adopting the best features of the armored reconnaissance battalion and the cavalry reconnaissance squadron (see figure 20). The new organization recognized the superb performance of the jeep and its effectiveness as a reconnaissance vehicle by increasing the number from four to six in the platoon (see figure 21).(75)
Figure 21. Cavalry Reconnaissance Platoon, 1943. Source: War Department, T/O &E 2-27 (1943), 2-3.
The dissatisfaction with armored car was noted and the number was reduced in each platoon from four to three. The effectiveness of the assault gun was also understood, as well the frequent consolidation of the weapon systems in combat. This resulted in the standardization of an assault gun troop in the squadron (eliminating the individual gun in the reconnaissance platoon of the armored reconnaissance battalion). Finally the importance of tanks to reconnaissance was validated by the retention of the light tank company.
Figure 22. M8, Armored Car, "Greyhound." Source: Military Modeler, Drawing from "M8 Greyhound," Military Modeler (April, 1986): 33.
The last significant change made in Army mechanized cavalry after the North African Campaign was the fielding of new equipment. This resulted in the replacement of M3 White armored car by the M8 Gray Hound. The M8 was a large, 6X6 wheeled vehicle, mounting a 37-mm antitank in an open turret. It was originally designed by the Tank Destroyer Force as a 37-mm antitank gun motor carriage, but was adopted by cavalry due to its availability and the significant short comings of the M3 White Armored Car.(76) The M8, however, was not a great vehicle, merely an improvement over what was previously on hand. Before the M8 was committed to combat in any numbers, FM 2-20 warned that the "armor of the vehicle provides a fair degree of protection against small arms, while the 37-mm antitank gun permits mobile defense against lightly armored vehicles,[however] the vehicle is not designed for offensive combat. The car has only fair mobility across country. Mobility is limited in heavily wooded areas and on broken terrain. The larger turning radius and limited mobility across country make the car susceptible to ambush on roads and in defiles."(77) This vehicle would be the mainstay of the cavalry force through the rest of the war (see figure 22).
Figure 23. M8, 75-mm Assault Gun. Source: Military Modeler, Drawing from "Viva La Difference," Military Modeler (May 1988): 49.
Figure 24. M5A1, Light Tank. Source: Military Modeler, Drawing from "Temporary Residence," Military Modeler, (August 1991): 15.
In addition to the M8 armored car, new assault guns and a new tank arrived in units. The half-tracked assault gun was replaced by the M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage. This system employed a 75-mm howitzer on a fully tracked and armored light tank chassis (see figure 23). The M3 light tank was replaced by the M5 light tank. The M5 had a more powerful power plant, thicker armor, and was easier to drive than the M3. Otherwise, it was essentially the same vehicle, including as its main armament the 37-mm gun (see figure 24).(78) The major contributions of all these new systems was to increase mobility, protection, and fire power of the platoons and troops. The impact of these capabilities was units better capable of combat.
The North African campaign provided the reconnaissance force of the US Army the opportunity to test its doctrine, organization, and equipment. The results of that testing indicated that there were several fundamental flaws in reconnaissance doctrine. These flaws were the overemphasis on stealth and avoiding combat, and the lack of recognition of the importance of combat and combat related missions. Combat experience demonstrated that effective reconnaissance required fighting. It also demonstrated that reconnaissance units were required to conduct many tasks other than reconnaissance. These tasks included the traditional missions of cavalry outlined in FM 2-15, 1941: offensive combat; defensive combat; security for other arms; and special operations such as mobile reserve, filling gaps, and liaison.(79)
The basic organization of the reconnaissance units was found to be fundamentally sound. Combat did show, however, that company/troop and battalion/squadron level organizations often operated as complete units contrary to the expectations of doctrine which emphasized independent platoon operation. Battle experience indicated the reliability and effectiveness of the jeep and the assault gun. It also indicated the inferiority of the M3 armored car, and the adequacy of the light tank.
The Army adjusted rapidly to the North African experience. Within a year doctrine, organizations, and equipment were evaluated and changes issued to units in the field. The swift effort to correct reconnaissance doctrine was largely successful. The combination of FM 2-20 and FM 2-30, as well as TC 107, emphasized the integral relationship between combat and reconnaissance, and advanced numerous battlefield techniques (such as task organizing the troop for combat) based on combat experience. The shortcoming of the revised doctrine, however, was its prevailing emphasis on reconnaissance, to the detriment of other combat missions which proved very common in North Africa.
Improving the tables of organization and equipment made the already effective cavalry organizations even more flexible. Equipment was improved and upgraded in all areas. The most important equipment addition was the M8 armored car replacing the inadequate M3.
Thus, by the spring of 1944 all mechanized reconnaissance forces were again consolidated in the cavalry. They were prepared to execute an aggressive doctrine which emphasized reconnaissance through a combination of stealth, fire, and maneuver. How effectively the combat messages of North Africa were perceived, and acted upon, was exhaustively tested in combat for eleven months as World War II entered its final stage beginning in June 1944.
(1)US Army Cavalry School, Cavalry Reconnaissance, Number Three: Operations
of the 91st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Mechanized, From El Abiod to Mateur
(Fort Riley KS: US Army Cavalry School, 1944), 1.
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