True grit has never been so evident as it was for the daring, young pilots who flew slow, unarmed Auster artillery spotting planes over Normandy in 1944.
Artillery is of little use without the forward observers who undertake the dangerous work of identifying the targets and correcting the fall of shot. To ensure this was available in challenging battlefield situations the RAF and the Royal Artillery jointly created the Air Observation Post. This consisted of Royal Artillery officers who were trained to fly the Auster or other light aircraft. They would spend the majority of their time at very low level, normally only 30 feet off the ground. This gave them cover from enemy ground fire but resulted in many crashes into trees, poles, hills, cables and buildings. When they needed to observe the fall of the shot they would accelerate at low level, then zoom climb high enough to see where the shells landed. They would then duck back down to the low levels and radio the corrections to the guns.
Just flying like this is challenging and dangerous, however to do it while under enemy fire and while radioing artillery corrections is even more impressive!
History Guild members have access to much more reading about this topic in the library. This includes FIRST IN THE FIELD – 651 SQUADRON, 1941-45, as well as FROM ARMY CO-OPERATION TO FIGHTER RECONNAISSANCE – DEVELOPMENTS 1939-1945 and THE ORIGIN, DEVELOPMENT AND WARTIME SERVICE OF THE AUSTER AIRCRAFT RAF. For the period between the wars there is THE ROYAL AIR FORCE IN THE ARMY CO-OPERATION ROLE, 1919-1940 and Post WW2 AIR OP AND THE ARMY AIR CORPS, POST-WW II.
Here are two brilliant examples of the Auster operating in Normandy in 1944 from the Imperial War Museum.
This period video below gives a broader view of how the British used aircraft for reconnaissance and observation during WW2.
And then the other side of the fire support equation is attack aircraft. The RAF had Forward Air Controllers embedded in the frontline units to direct air strikes. This would become increasingly common during WW2 and in most conflicts after.
Here are a few good podcasts on this topic. They cover a range from the WW1 origins of the Air OP through to Forward Air Controllers in Vietnam and more recent times.
Here are some great podcasts that cover this topic.
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