Simon & Jonathan Forty, Artillery Warfare 1939-1945 (Pen & Sword, 2020)
With all the differences between the World Wars in terms of mobility and weapons development, it might come as a surprise to some that the most casualties in the European theatre in WWII were still caused by artillery. It was also a vital component in the Far East. To recognise this, Simon & Jonathan Forty have produced a photograph heavy survey of WWII artillery in seven chapters.
The authors begin with a very useful glossary of terms you will encounter in the ensuing chapters and follow that with a quick history of heavy artillery leading into WWII, which has its origins in the Great War as you might expect. Then we are into the Field Artillery that came in various types to support armour and infantry. The authors take us on a tour of the main armies and how they used their guns, covering doctrine, organization, tactics, and combat environment, all with appropriate examples and accompanying photographs and technical information on the guns. The authors move on to self-propelled artillery. These were guns mounted on chassis for mobility and particularly useful for assisting armour. There is less meat in this chapter, but the authors still cover why and how the guns were used in different theatres.
With the proliferation of tanks in WWII came the need to stop them. That is the topic of the next chapter on anti-tank guns. This chapter is organised around some very interesting primary source observations and intelligence in addition to more excellent photographs. The other great technological development in WWII, alongside tanks, was air warfare. Here too, artillery was developed as a counter, which is the subject of chapter 4, including sections on AA machine-guns and AA vehicles. “Big Guns” are next up with descriptions and photographs of coastal and the always impressive railway guns. The authors take a brief detour into rocket artillery before finishing with a survey of artillery ammunition. The appendices describe observer methods, positioning guns, towing guns, and artillery in mountain warfare.
There is nothing particularly outstanding about this book, but it is a solid overview of artillery in WWII. The photographs are the standout attraction, but the authors’ use of primary source material is also useful for understanding this vital component of industrialized warfare. The book was enough for me as a passing WWII reader, but it is also a very good gateway book into further reading if you are so inclined.