Observation Posts (OP) and Forward Observers (FO)

“OP Security-It’s Gotta Be Good

decoy fake dummy spotter plane piper cub wwii The old observation-post rule is restated in adage form by Major Allison A. Conrad, 135th Infantry, ITALY:

Fighting, strategy, war plan, invasion and relieving are some of the important activities taking place inside a war zone and strong enough to change the course of the war. Two other critical elements here, which almost precede each progression are observation and communication. Observation post is continuously monitored for suspicious movements and every preventive step is taken here to stop the attack from these points. In other words, they are tirelessly guarded, much like what a trading robot does.

Less movement at the OP means less work for the Graves Registration Officer.  Control of movement in and around an OP must be continuous.  It is fatal to relax on this point for one moment.  Even in a unit as battle-schooled as this one,  I have seen excessive movement around OP’s bring down immediate enemy fire.  (In one instance, the same thing happened at a Command Post).    Each time the result was the same: A tragic number of unnecessary casualties.

‘Visiting firemen’ who insist upon driving up to your front door, instead of parking at a reasonable distance and advancing on foot under cover, are the worst offenders.  Vehicle-dismounting points must be clearly marked, and guarded 24 hours a day.

COMMENT: A guard placed at a suitable point on the route to the OP with instructions to discourage unnecessary visitors and to point out the location and a covered route to authorized visitors, will help a lot to control movement at the OP.

Packboard for FO Radios

A Field Artillery Battery Commander, FRANCE: “Our forward observers usually required 10 or 15 minutes to remove their SCR-609  (or SCR-610)  radios from the jeeps and set them up.  We eliminated that cause of delay by mounting the radios and batteries on pack-boards. The only modification necessary was the changing of the antenna to extend upwards.

Phone for FO Radio Operator

Commanding Officer, 339th Infantry, 100th Division, FRANCE: “We have found it profitable to supply each forward-observer radio operator with two sound-powered phones and a small reel of W-130 wire. This equipment enables the observer to remain at his vantage point while the radio operator transmits from the position most suitable for his radio.

British Comment on OP Security

cartoon unsafe fo forward observer army war military dangerous combatThe Commanding Officer of a British Field Artillery Regiment, ITALY, forcefully voices the same observation-post ‘do’s and don’ts’  that are constantly being stressed by American officers and closes his exhortation with:  ‘More care in occupation and use of OP’s must he exercised.  Undue exposure and carelessness do not show bravery – they show that you are just a bloody fool.  You may get away with it for days and then find that just when observation is vital, the Boche will neutralize your OP.’

Control of Forward Observers

Field orientation and supervision of FO’s are stressed by Captain Woodrow M. Smith, 34th Division Artillery, ITALY:

The artillery observers must be centrally controlled. We found it advisable for the battalion S-2’s (Officers from the Intelligence Section) to coordinate observation within their own combat-team sectors in order to eliminate the possibility of duplication of effort.

wire layers field artillery communications wwii fo forward observerThe S-2’s should instruct the new observers carefully to obviate their common tendency to over-enthusiasm. Inexperienced observers should also be warned against the danger of wandering off on patrol missions and otherwise getting separated from their supported infantry.  FO’s must keep in touch with the situation.

An ETO observer similarly emphasized centralized control: ‘The battalion liaison officer should control the zones of observation.  Don’t let the forward observer become an assistant infantry platoon leader.’

COMMENT: Whether the battalion S-2 or battalion liaison officer is to coordinate the FO’s is a matter for the battalion commander to decide.  The point is that one individual must be responsible for the coordination of all observers so that complete coverage of the zone of operations is insured.

Use NCO’s as Observers

‘Count on having a minimum of 12 forward-observer parties per battalion,’ advocates the above mentioned ETO observer.   ‘Trained sergeants and corporals can do this work as well as officers.’

Don’t Pin Down the FO’s
cartoon artillery new green forward observer fo radio
‘Forward observers should be permitted to leap-frog from one point of observation to another when operating with assaulting echelons.  They should not be required to stay with the foremost elements of the rifle companies, where the observer is frequently pinned down and not able to perform his function of adjusting artillery fire,’ recommends Lieutenant Colonel Charles J. Payne, Commanding Officer, 19th Field Artillery Battalion, FRANCE.   ‘Another disadvantage to keeping the observer with the foremost elements is the fact that the observer’s radio antenna often draws additional enemy fire which hinders the advance of the infantry.’

FO Security

Supported infantry units should provide local security for the forward observer when he is occupying points of observation not included within the perimeter of infantry defense.  COMMENT: FM 6-135, which has been issued to all theaters, discusses in detail the proper use of FO’s.

cartoon war combat exposure fire FO Responsibility

A Captain of a Field Artillery Battalion, FRANCE, points out: ‘One of the FO’s most important jobs is to get across to infantrymen the types of targets on which he can give them maximum support.  After a little combat experience, the infantryman learns the true value of artillery and doesn’t call for support unless the target merits it.  He learns not to waste valuable ammunition that he may need later on a more urgent mission.’

Warning to OP Kibitzers

Says a Captain of a Field Artillery Battalion, FRANCE:  ‘Well-meaning infantrymen who crowd about the OP to observe the results of the firing or to steal a look through the BC telescope should be warned that they are inviting fire from the enemy.  OP’s are high on the priority list of enemy targets. The importance of OP camouflage discipline cannot be over-emphasized.’