From "Spearhead in the West," 1946
Author or authors unknown
THE SPEARHEAD STUKAS
That's what the doughboys and tankers of the 3rd Armored Division
called them. Actually it was a term of endearment, because the
men of the "Spearhead" knew and appreciated the worth
of artillery liaison aircraft over the blazing front line.
It wasn't a spectacular job. The pilot sat up front and attended
to the business of flying. Behind him, the observer, an experienced
artilleryman, studied the ground and compared it with his 1/25,000
map. There was constant radio communication with Division Artillery,
somewhere below and to the rear. Liaison pilots and observers
were workmen. There was little glory attached to the service
-- certainly none of the glitter and dash of pursuit or the Jove-like
power of heavy bombardment. They didn't go home after completing
a certain number of missions. Instead, they flew right out of
one campaign and into another. Except for the complete adoration
of ground forces, who had seen Cub observers direct withering
counter-battery on enemy big guns, the reward was small.
Surveillance of scheduled shoots and the registration of counter-battery
was the aerial observer's bread and butter, but quite often he
was called upon to direct close support fire. In the bocage country
of Normandy, where high ground was at a premium of blood, the
Cubs were a God-send. Their appearance over the battle zone was
a matter of vast satisfaction to Allied ground troops and a constant
source of irritation to the enemy. German soldiers knew that
the cost of poor camouflage discipline was always detection by
the Cubs and a subsequent rain of American high explosives. There
was nothing that Jerry could do about it; when he counter-attacked
the American line, the flying observers brought down a barrage
of hot steel.
When the Germans attempted to knock Fortresses and Liberators
out of formation, ever-present Cubs put the finger on one flak
position after another -- and "the finger" meant an
immediate counter-battery. Sometimes the enemy was goaded to
a boiling rage and then he sent over a flight of precious fighters
to neutralize the irritation. A Luftwaffe pilot who bailed out
of a smashed ME-109 over Hastenrath, Germany, admitted that his
mission had been to strafe the landing strips of liaison aircraft.
That day, seventeen enemy fighters were shot down by anti-aircraft
while attempting to carry out like sorties.
There was plenty of danger in artillery flying. Flak and small
arms was part of it; enemy planes were big poison. When a Focke-Wulf
190 popped out of the clouds or zoomed from the deck in a vicious
attack, your Cub pilot might only rely on a minimum of evasive
action to keep his dog-tags together. In comparison with a fighter,
light plane speed was a joke. There was no armor plate to deflect
machine-gun slugs and cannon fire, no high speed to elude attack.
Cub pilots were probably more respectful of their own artillery
arching through the air on the way to enemy positions than they
were of flak or Nazi fighters. Captain Francis P. Farrel, Division
Air Officer, and a famous "Spearhead" pilot, was killed
in action when his L-4 was destroyed by an American shell over
Stolberg, Germany. Lt. Thomas Turner, a redheaded veteran of
Africa and Sicily, as well as the western European campaign,
barely escaped a like fate when a 105mm projectile passed completely
through the stabilizer and rudder of his aircraft without detonating!
These were the unfortunate accidents of war which were almost
impossible to prevent under combat conditions.
There was no blemish of temperament about the little L-4 Cubs.
They paced the attacking Spearheads day after day. Whenever the
armor coiled, the small planes landed to refuel with regular
gasoline before resuming aerial reconnaissance. The work was
done from altitudes of 2,000 to 3,000 feet over the lines, but
a low ceiling often forced the tiny machines much lower. Regardless
of the weather, if there was any visibility at all, the Cubs
Each artillery battalion of the "Spearhead" Division,
along with the headquarters commanded by Colonel Frederic J.
Brown, operated a pair of these small, but indispensable airplanes.
They kept a constant vigil on the front line, and there was very
little "incoming mail" when the " "Stukas"