The Fire Mission Controller – Part Three

James Hardesty

We have been following the military career of Jim Hardesty of Hamlet this week after he was featured in the latest issue of Generations the Magazine, recounting his military experience in World War II. D-Day was June 6, and every day after that had a number attached. Hardesty landed with the 172nd Field Artillery Battalion on D-8 – June 14.

Today, however, the story focuses on the battles fought in hedgerow country.

Hedgerows were mounds of dirt covered with trees or bushes that were so thick that a tank couldn’t get through them. As the American forces worked their way through this terrain they were forced to endure a considerable cost in lives. The Germans took full advantage of these barricades. Initial attempts at fighting through these barriers consisted of American tanks charging the hedgerows. When it reached the mound it would lift up, exposing the unprotected underbelly. This unarmored part of the tank was vulnerable and, because the Germans had already targeted these positions, would wreak havoc on U.S. forces.

In order to break out into the larger French countryside where armies could maneuver, a new plan of action needed to be taken. The Air Force was called in to bomb out these hedgerows. Destroying these barriers allowed the Allied armies to get one step closer to breaking out of Normandy. After breaking out, the battle turned into an artillery duel between American and German cannons, and in the end, the entire city of Saint-Lô was destroyed, but they now controlled the roads. Hardesty honed his skills as a fire mission controller in this early combat.

He received hundreds of fire missions a day, constantly calculating fire angles from the coordinates called into him. This was at a time when all mathematical problems were solved using long addition and division, or with slide rules.

“There were no adding machines, calculators or computers to aid in the positioning of the guns,” said Hardesty. “During this phase of the battle they moved to the town of Falaise. Here the American Army Group B almost surrounded the German 7th Army and 5th Panzer Corps, causing massive destruction of both armies and opening the way to Paris.”

Tomorrow we’ll concentrate with Jim Hardesty on what took place after Normandy.