Here we see a U.S. Model 1918M1 155mm gun, the famous French GPF (Canon de 155mm Grande Puissance Filloux, a direct copy of the C modèle 1917 Schneider) of the Great War, which equipped U.S. forces overseas and– when upgraded with air brakes, new metal wheels, and pneumatic tires to allow for high-speed towing– remained the mainstay of the interwar Army throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
By the outbreak of WWII, the Army had 979 GPFs still on hand although they were being replaced by the new and much more modern M114 155 mm howitzer (many of the latter are still in use in the Third World today).
With the relegation of the old GPF to the reserve, when the balloon went up and German and Japanese subs started crawling just off the U.S. coastline, these vintage guns were pressed into service on what were termed “Panama Mounts,” a semi-fixed installation atop a circular concrete mount that allowed the gun to revolve and rotate in place. Capable of sending a 95-pound shell out to 17,700-yards every 15-seconds with a well-trained crew, they could shatter the hull of a U-boat with ease or give a surface raider far from home at least a moment of pause.
One such gun (pictured above) remains at Fort Morgan, Alabama, controlling the entrance to Mobile Bay.
In 1942 the fort received four GPFs, two of which (Nos. 176 and 802) were used on Panama Mounts on top of the old Civil War-era bastions while two others were left mobile.
These were manned by men of Battery F, 50th Coast Artillery throughout the duration of the War. It should be noted that, while Fort Morgan was an active U.S./Confederate base from 1819 through WWI, by 1931 it had been disarmed and abandoned, with the visiting 155’s of Battery F her last hurrah.
Established at Camp Pendleton, Virginia 1 February 1942, the 50th Coast Artillery was a tractor-drawn heavy artillery regiment. After just two months of training, Battery F entrained for Fort Barrancas (Pensacola) Florida. Arriving there on 7 April 1942, the unit left in a (slow) motor convoy to Fort Morgan to establish Temporary Harbor Defenses (THD) of Mobile and remained there until 1944.
Battery E went down the coast another several miles to my hometown of Pascagoula to defend Ingalls Shipyard from a point on Beach Boulevard, but that is another story…
Their use in Coastal Artillery was nearly the last hurrah of the GPF in U.S. service.
By May 1941, the M1917/18 was a Lend-Lease item and much of those stocks not used to guard the various beaches soon were on their way to the British, where they made an appearance in North Africa against Rommel and Co. The GPF also served in the Pacific, with at least 60 of the model captured by the Japanese in the Philippines. Late in 1942, some 100 GPFs that remained in storage were mounted on the turretless chassis of the obsolete M3 Lee tank to form the M12 Gun Motor Carriage as a form of early self-propelled artillery. When teamed up with the companion Cargo Carrier M30 (also a turretless M3), which allowed them to go into the line with 40 rounds of 155mm ready, they proved popular in a niche role. These tracked GPFs earned the nicknames “Doorknocker” and “King Kong” in service due to their ability to pierce up to seven feet of reinforced concrete and turn pillboxes into a smokey hole in the ground– a useful thing in Northeastern Europe in 1944.
If visiting Fort Morgan, be sure to check out the small museum just a few hundred yards from where the surviving GPF sits.
Inside the museum they have the guidon of Battery A, 104th Coastal Artillery, an Alabama National Guard unit mobilized for federal service 10 months prior to Pearl Harbor and then shipped to the Pacific in 1942, only returning home in January 1946.
As well as the typical WWII Coastal Artillery uniform of sun hat, olive coveralls tucked into canvas leggings, gas mask, and cartridge belt:
Of note, interwar Coastal Artillery coveralls were blue denim but were often worn by National Guard units operating 155mm GPFs in WWII, such as one of these big guns going boom, shown in the late 1930s Kodachrome below.
The Cody Firearms Museum has an extensive collection of historic arms and they recently got a special look at one of their original “Silencers.”
The pre-NFA vintage firearm suppressor brand named by its inventor, Hiram Percy Maxim, was x-rayed by the Cody Police Department while the agency was on hand at the Wyoming-based museum this month to verify that some ordnance at the center was inert.
The M1910 Maxim Silencer is attached to the threaded barrel of a Springfield 1903 in the Cody’s collection. Thus:
More about the M1910, which was used in small numbers by the Great War-era U.S. Army, in my column at Guns.com
Here we see a group of U.S Army victors on Kettle Hill on about July 3, 1898, after the battle of “San Juan Hill(s).” Left to right are officers and men of the vaunted “Brave Rifles” of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry Regiment, center is the “Rough Riders” of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (with former Asst. Scty of the Navy, Col. Theodore Roosevelt, center, with a revolver salvaged from the USS Maine in his holster) and the African-American Troopers (“Buffalo Soldiers”) of the 10th U.S. Cavalry to the right.
This photo is often shown cropping out all but the 1st Vol Cav and TR and billed as “Colonel Roosevelt and his Rough Riders at the top of the hill which they captured, Battle of San Juan.”
It looks like Big Green is pumping up training not only in Basic (marksmanship training is moving from 500-rounds/83 hours to 600 rounds/92 hours to include the use of co-witnessed iron sights and the Aimpoint M2/M68 close combat optic) but also in One-Station Unit Training for Infantry as well.
In 2019, the U.S. Army will extend OSUT at Benning for Infantry Soldiers from 14 weeks (a standard they have had since 1974) to a whopping 22 weeks.
Changes to the program are meant to increase Soldier readiness, making them more lethal and proficient before they depart for their first duty assignment, according to the Infantry School commandant, Col. Townley R. Hedrick.
Big changes include a full 40-hours for combat lifesaving, a week of land nav (up from a day), use of the ACOG and PSQ-20 NVG to include day/night quals, 40 hours of combatives (up from 22), more reaction drills, more MOUT, a 16-mile road march (up from 12), more crew-served weapon time, lots more maneuver training in small units among other things.
In short, the Army is getting closer to the model the Brits have used for generations. At Catterick, all Tommies run a 26-week course (28 weeks for the Paras or Guards).
With my current location just an hour or so from Camp Shelby, where almost every National Guard mechanized unit in the southeast has stomped through the pine thickets since the 1960s, lots of DRMO’d surplus gear and vehicles are common. I give you, a very sweet mid-1980s Chevrolet K5 Blazer in its M1009 CUCV guise, found at a local bookstore.
These pop up a lot along with their M1008 1/2-ton Silverado cousins. GM produced some 70,000 CUCVs from 1983 to 1986 and they served on active duty through the 1990s in just about every utilitarian role needed across the Army:
You still see a slim few in the Guard. For instance, I bumped into an immaculately maintained example belonging to a tank company while I was up supporting FEMA operations in Smithville after the terrible tornadoes in the area in 2011:
While these have typically all been put to pasture by Uncle, you can be sure civilian-owned specimens will continue to circle the globe for another century or so.
Not to spoil the surprise, but the Army’s new Multifunction Aiming Light seems to be a modified Streamlight TLR-8, as shown off at a recent event. The daytime range for the M4-mounted MFAL’s laser is up to 200 meters in sunlight with the IR beam reaching 600 meters at night (which is great for lassoing), while use with the M17 is limited to 25 meters.
More in my column at Guns.com