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New Vanguard 86: M109 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer 1960–2005

by Gordon L Rottman

Published by Osprey Publishing Ltd, ISBN 1-84176-631-3, 96 pages.

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The author rightly describes the M109 as being the father of all post-war self-propelled artillery pieces. It’s layout, consisting of a 155mm piece in a fully rotating, completely armor enclosed turret, mounted on the rear of a fully tracked chassis has been emulated by nearly every other self-propelled artillery piece that has followed. The M109 (and its companion, the M108) has been used since the very early 1960s by over two-dozen countries, be they allies or enemies of the USA. Modifications have seen improvements in the vehicle’s lethality, mobility and maintainability, while variations such as command and ammunition transporters have also seen service.

Mr. Zaloga’s concise and informative text begins in the post-WW2 era by describing the US Army’s quest for a self-propelled gun in a fully rotating turret, able to maneuver with armored and mechanized units on a nuclear battlefield. Discarding late-war designs by the late 1950’s, the US started fresh with the prototypes for the M108 and M109 (the T195E1 and T196E1, respectively). These early versions saw combat in Vietnam, where they adapted well to the US concept of far-ranging infantry operations backed by artillery in “Fire Bases”. Later combat use by Israel, especially direct-fire operations against urban targets, was followed by more conventional use by US and Coalition forces in Operation Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.

The author also details efforts made by the US and several user nations to improve lethality, mobility and reliability. While nations such as Germany and the UK chose to replace their M109s, the US chose to improve the system in an overall fashion, while developing the follow-on “Crusader” system. The latest version, the M109A6 “Paladin”, has exploited new technologies such as satellite-supported GPS navigation systems to enhance the ability of the ‘A6 to deploy, perform a fire mission, and quickly redeploy, before the enemy can react. This “shoot and scoot” technique is also supported by the ‘A6’s stable mate, the M992A2 FAASV (Field Artillery Ammunition Support Vehicle), since studies indicated that a more expeditious ammunition re-supply method out-weighed the need for an automatic-loading gun. Various upgrades in munitions and their range have also led to improved lethality. For instance, the limited use of the “Copperhead” laser-guided round in Desert Storm, or the more widespread use of the DPICM (Dual-purpose Improved Conventional Munitions) whose hellish effect led to the Iraqis calling them “steel rain”, are described. The next generation of munitions, such as new version of SADAM (Sense-And-Destroy-Armor Munition), and their recent use in Iraq, are also detailed.

The text is complimented by 44 B&W photos, one set of four-view scale line drawings, two tables, eight pages of color art, a bibliography, and an index. The photos are well captioned and crisply reproduced and include internal details of the latest versions of the ‘109. The color art includes a cutaway center-spread detailing the M109A2, while the profile and perspective art covers British, Canadian, German, Norwegian and US Army use in a variety of time frames. All of this information will be useful for those considering how they will finish a model. The charts detail the production status of the ‘109, as well as who its user nations are, which is handy for those who wish to research things further. Naturally, the bibliography will be of assistance here as well.

As is the case with every book Mr. Zaloga has produced in this series, modelers will find a great deal of relevant information relating to this classic self-propelled gun. Historians will also appreciate the concise descriptions of the ‘109s combat use, as well as its development.

Highly recommended.

Frank V. De Sisto

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