Home Forums WWII Sneaky tricks with arty: Dropshorts on the 50 Div front

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    John D Salt

    The Japanese “…trick of firing rounds onto our fwd infantry positions at the same time as our own guns were firing thus making the infantry think that our own rounds were falling short” was mentioned in the thread on 82 (west African) Division’s artillery that, I now dscover to my horror, was over a year ago:

    Jungle Gunners — 82(West African) Div arty in the Arakan

    Whirlwind asked if this trick had been documented elsewhere, and I muttered something noncommittal.

    Moving bunches of paper and crud from South Wales to North Wiltshire today, I happened across a single photocopied sheet I had obtained from the National Archive at Kew an awful long time ago. It records the Germsn pulling a similar sneaky trick, apparently on a considerable scale. A transcription of the whole page follows. It comes from WO 171/1291, the War Diary of 9 DLI for Jan-May and Jul-Dec 1944. 9 DLI were then part of 151 Inf Bde in the rightly famous 50 Div, the Tyne-Tees division, and this bit clearly refers to the fighting in Normandy after they have been ashore a while.

    All the best,


    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – cut here – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    During the past month there have been frequent reports from inf formations and units alleging that shells fired by our own artillery were falling on our own forward troops. Whenever such reports are received, HQ RA take immediate action to check all guns firing, not only in the Division, but usually in the whole Corps. It will be appreciated that this takes a long time and involves a large number of calls on an already busy system of communications. As a result of these checks it has been conclusively proved that in over 50% of such cases NO British guns were firing at the time of the alleged incident. On occasions when our guns were firing errors have been found in only three cases of which only two involved the front of this Division and only one the Divisional Artillery.

    The possible causes of short rounds are :-

    (a) Faulty ammunition. Mistakes in manufacture occur occasionally and there may very rarely be short rounds from this cause but insufficient to cause the present volume of reports.

    (b) Faulty guns. The shooting of the guns of the Divisional Artillery has been repeatedly checked by observation both from ground and air OPs and there is no doubt that they are shooting together and to the map, i.e. even shooting blind they are hitting the point aimed at. This virtually rules out the guns as the cause of short rounds.

    (c) Human errors. There will always be some of these and a very small number have been discovered but there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that mistakes are being made in the quantity suggested by the number of reports received. Indeed it would be unreasonable to assume that the Divisional Artillery, which has had a great deal of experience and has supported the Division throughout its campaigns, has suddenly lost its form to the extent suggested by reports.

    The conclusion is unavoidable that the very great majority of reports of short shooting are incorrect and in fact refer to enemy shells or bombs and not our own. Other formations, who are receiving similar complaints of short shooting, report that the enemy is definitely synchronizing his fire with ours. In this very close country with very limited visibility and with the sound of our own shells passing overhead in the ratio of at least 20 to the enemy’s one, it is not unreasonable and only too easy to assume that the small number of shells or mortar bombs coming back are from our own guns firing short. In the vast majority of cases the assumption and subsequent report are incorrect.

    It is most important that these false assumptions should be guarded against and that the circulation of unfounded reports of short shooting by our own guns should be stopped. There is already evidence that the prevalence of such reports has infected the troops of certain units with definite distrust of their own artillery and unless it is checked this feeling will spread. On the other side there are signs that the confidence of artillery units in their equipment and themselves is being undermined. The result of a general loss of confidence all round will be that ultimately the infantry will not get the close and effective supporting fire from the Divisional Artillery which they should receive, because both sides ask and take exaggerated safety precautions.


    Is this an example of a sneaky Hun trick, or just a reflection that in Normandy the Germans were short of artillery ammunition and didnt concentrate the fire support that they did have? It may also have been a way of reducing the effectiveness of counter battery location.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke


    It is very interesting to notice the effect that it had.  I wonder if there are any reports from armies other than the British.  And more key perhaps, it would be great to find a German artillery officer’s memoirs who mentions doing this trick deliberately.

    Of very tangential interest, the only instance  I can think of someone employing similar psychology at the least was also German from WW2:  IIRC Adolf Galland would fire his own guns if bounced to convince the following pilot on seeing the additional tracer that he himself was being fired upon (Galland claimed that it did work).



    John D Salt

    I am currently reading through Infantry Magazine’s “Infantry in Vietnam” (1967), and the other day stumbled across this (p. 166):

    A cry, “short round”, came from the 1st platoon as a black column of smoke drifted upward near the advancing troops. But panic was averted by the immediate yell of Platoon Sergeant Leslie Crawford — he had recognized this to be an enemy mortar round, and he knew that the explosion had been too small to have come from any of the supporting weapons. Crawford’s quick thinking foiled the enemy attempt to get the supporting fires lifted. The men had been alerted to this enemy ruse while they were still in Hawaii, and Company C, just a few days before, had encountered the same trick.

    The smallest weapons firing in support of the Americans at the time of this incident were 81mm mortars. The fact that confusion was possible between 60mm and 81mm bombs suggests that telling friendly from enemy indirect fire is not straightforward. The difference in fillings is considerable: my sources indicate the 60mm M49A2 bomb is filled with 0.15 kg of TNT, and the 81mm m49A2 light HE 0.56 kg of TNT, over three and a half times as much.

    All the best,


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