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Re: 137th Field Regiment and American 75mm guns?

September 19 2015 at 8:36 PM
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Nelson  (no login)
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Response to 137th Field Regiment and American 75mm guns?

> So I would submit that there are no American 75mm GUNS in Malaya in 1941/1942. The nationality of the 75mm HOWITZERS actually referred to by Farndale is a mystery (?) >

Well, you would be entirely wrong, and frankly how you reached this conclusion from reading but a single history—namely Farndale’s, in which you’ve poked holes on more than one occasion—is beyond me. For starters, I specified the American 75mm guns were in Australian hands, focusing on 4th Anti Tank Regiment. Given not only the normal rearmings—for example, 2/15th Field Regiment, RAA, began the campaign armed with 3-inch mortars, then was rearmed in whole or in part with 25-pounders—but also the frequent shifting around of formations, units, and ordnance during the Malaya campaign, particularly during the late stages, who was armed with what on a given week can be difficult to determine. Thus I won’t rule out a transfer of an undetermined number of the U.S. 75mm guns to a British formation at some point.

Also, the average military historian, even an American one, is pretty much unaware of U.S. 75mm GUNS going to the Far East, including the surrender of an entire battalion (2/131st Field Artillery) armed with such pieces in Java. Okay, so when one reads 75mm in WWII, it just has to be HOWITZERS, but you know as well as I that is patently wrong. For starters, there were NO American howitzers of any caliber in Malaya-Singapore in 1941-42. Seeing action in that campaign were some old 4.5-inch howitzers in British Army hands, and the rather more useful 3.7-inch mountain howitzers brought in by the Indian Army. So when Farndale writes “8 x 75mm HOWITZERS”, read GUNS (assuming that the basic arming datum for 137th Field Regiment, RA, is correct). Let’s move on to the American 75mm guns that did see action, at the very least on Singapore island, and maybe farther north.

The two references of immediate interest are specifically histories of 4th Anti Tank Regiment, both written during the 20th century, when more than one veteran of this artillery regiment was still alive and available to be interviewed. They are Stephen N. Gower, Guns of the Regiment (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1981), and Neil C. Smith, Tid-Apa: The History of the 4th Anti Tank Regiment 1940–1945 (Melbourne: Mostly Unsung Military History Research and Publications, 1992). Both books mention the U.S. 75mm GUN arming, in part, this AT formation during the campaign. And both books wisely cast doubt on what specific type of gun saw use there, conceding that information was at the time difficult to come by. I suggest strongly that you hold further predictions in abeyance until you can lay hands on one or both works.

Smith’s Tid-Apa has an appendix near the end providing the specifications and provenance of each gun type deployed by the regiment during the campaign. Alas, the section on the Yankee gun is titled “FRENCH 75 MM GUN”, but at the end it gets better, with Smith casting doubt on what exact model the Aussie gunners were assigned: “Comments: Technical detail on this gun is scant. Available sketches do not accord with the recollection of 4th Anti Tank Regiment veterans like Don Moore, who maintain that these guns received by the Regiment in Malaya were originally consigned to Yugoslavia by the United States.” [Both my own research at the National Archives and a volume or two of the U.S. Army Green Book series specify 75 Model 1916A1 75mm field guns shipped, unsuccessfully, to Yugoslav forces before the American entry into the war. All or most of these guns ended up in British hands on Crete and in the Middle East. Various British sources document the forwarding of U.S. 75mm field guns, model(s) unspecified, to Singapore or at least to the Far East.]

Gower’s Guns of the Regiment includes some very nice drawings by W. D. Thomas of the sundry guns arming 4th Anti Tank Regiment during the Malaya-Singapore campaign. The author’s best guess for the American 75mm piece is the most modern of the bunch, the M1897A4 mounted on the M2A3 field carriage (as I’ve already mentioned, this model was jealously guarded from Roosevelt’s prying fingers until the superior 105mm howitzer became generally available, and—need we repeat it here for the gazillionth time?—four battalions of field artillery armed with such 75mm guns went to the SW Pacific on the Pensacola convoy). On page 86 Gower writes, “The exact specifications of these 75-mm guns has proved elusive to determine.” He goes on to discuss the alternatives, including the Model 1917 (a.k.a. British 75), but dismisses that option: “However, the recollections of one battery member were that these guns had split trails, and this therefore rules out the 18-pr possibility.” He then makes a good case for the Model 1916, but for no compelling reason decides finally on the French 75mm M1897. In the Data Sheets on pp. 204-05 Thomas’s drawing is of the M1897A2 or -A4 on the high-speed M2A3 field carriage. But in the end, Gower too casts doubt on this identification: “Comments: As mentioned in the text (Chapter 5), there is some doubt as to whether this was the actual type of 75-mm gun used by the 2/4th Anti Tank Regiment in Malaya. However, it did have anti-tank rounds and its use as an anti-tank gun would have been quite feasible, especially in the situation that prevailed at the time.” [In 1940, American antitank doctrine specifically used the modernized M1897 75mm gun because its wide train on the M2A3 split-trail carriage allowed it to follow fast-moving tanks, and as such was provided AT rounds.] All I can add is that Gower’s instincts were good, but he should have quit while he was ahead.

As well, Robert Goodwin, Mates and Memories: Recollections of the 2/10th Field Regiment R.A.A. (Rochedale, Queensland: Boolarong Press, 1995), describes the disposition of the guns in place along the Johore Strait to fire on Japanese landing boats and assaulting infantry, and it makes reference to the 75mm guns as part of those defenses. Whether such guns were specifically assigned to 10th Field Regiment or just alluded to in passing, I do not now remember. I made notes or photocopies but at present cannot find them. I do promise to post same if ever located.

Finally, archives residing in the Australian War Memorial are reported to corroborate the use of American 75mm field guns by RAA units during the Malaya-Singapore campaign of 1941-1942, although I have not personally perused them.


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