Down memory lane: Playing the sport of kings on target, on time, everytime

The Artillery Journal | Aug 4, 2016

When the last target had been effectively engaged, the CO smugly asked the GOC whether he would like to indicate a target. One of the six targets warranted a small 100 metres correction to move the MPI of the regiment closer to the centre of the target.

In the 1970s and the 1980s, annual practice camps were looked forward to with relish and experienced with a sense of joy. The pungent smell of burnt propellants in the air and the sound and fury of booming guns reminded us of the old saying that gunnery was the sport of Kings. The tempo of training reached a crescendo as the dates of the annual practice camp of the regiment approached. Each regiment was given six to eight weeks at a camp location in the Artillery field firing ranges to hone its skills in the art and science of technical gunnery.

The test exercise at the end of the camp usually followed the pattern of ‘advance to contact’. This format permitted almost each and every important tactical and technical gunnery skill to be thoroughly tested. The exercise ended with the ‘Technical Day’ when a fire plan was made for a deliberate attack.

On the Technical Day of the practice camp of 80 Mountain Regiment in February 1973, Maj Gen P C Reddy, GOC, 6 Mountain Division, himself a famous Gunner, was present at the Observation Post (OP). The General Officer Command (GOC) sat quietly through the proceedings as a ‘datum shoot’ was engaged. The regiment then fired on the technical day targets as per the firing ‘task table’.

When the last target had been effectively engaged, the CO smugly asked the GOC whether he would like to indicate a target. “Not one, but several,” the GOC replied and asked that the 2IC be told to come to the OP. Presently, Maj SBL Kapoor (later Maj Gen), the 2IC, fetched up from the regiment gun area and the GOC indicated six targets to him across the length and breadth of the Khairanwala Rao nullah in Assan Ranges in the Aravalli Hills, North of Saharanpur. The GOC told the 2IC that he wanted the regiment to fire on all six targets in turn. “Shyam”, he said, picking up a stop watch, “Your time starts now. Good luck.” The gauntlet had been thrown down and the challenge was taken up with gusto.

The reader would imagine that all hell must have broken loose at the OP and in the gun positions and he would be wrong. All and sundry went about their jobs with quiet certainty. Two ‘rotation shoots’ were taken on the regimental radio network. The third shoot was taken on the OP’s telephone line with the gun area. The other three shoots were taken on the battery radio networks with the alternate command posts. All the six troops were used to simultaneously register the targets ‘as fired’ and the TA Havildars circulated target records on the fire order line. After 14 minutes from the word go, registration had been completed and the regiment was ready to fire on the first target.

Exactly 17 minutes after the GOC had pressed the stopwatch button, the regiment had successfully engaged all six targets with 1 RGF (One Round Gun Fire) each. One of the six targets warranted a small 100 metres correction to move the MPI (Mean Point of impact) of the regiment closer to the centre of the target. By any standard, by any yardstick anywhere in the world, the results achieved by the Regiment were exemplary. The GOC got up from his chair and warmly complimented the CO and all officers, asked for the radio set and personally passed the message that was music to our ears after two months of hard training, “From Tiger to all ranks: Excellent shooting! Keep it up.” That was the acme of gunnery skill. It had taken the GOC Iess than half an hour to satisfy himself that the regiment was fit for war. Nothing could have been fudged or manipulated.

Though he looked pleased as punch, Maj SBL Kapoor, the 2IC, gently remonstrated with us during lunch. “In 8 Field Regiment we did it in 15 minutes,” he said. “Okay guys, Lt Alok Mehta, the senior GPO, exclaimed, “We’ve got a record to beat.” The CO smiled and asked, “Alok, when do you want to give it a try?” And, Alok replied, “Sir, how about after lunch?

That was the spirit that made the pursuit of professional excellence the Regiment of Artillery’s credo: the enthusiasm and the professionalism that had conquered against indomitable odds at Chushul in 1962, Khem Karan in 1965 and Sylhet in 1971 and over two dozen other battlefields: the deep rooted sentiment that the race is to the swift and may the Devil take the hindmost; the inherent boldness that emphasised speed but yet did not sacrifice accuracy; the elan from which the ethos of the Regiment of Artillery flows: “On target, on time, everytime”.

In another practice camp in the Jairampur Field Firing Ranges near the border with Myanmar a few years later, | was the Regiment Survey Officer and It was my privilege to take the datum shoot on the Technical Day. The range was covered with trees that were 100 feet tall. There were three open patches and the one at the centre of the three was chosen as the target for the datum shoot. | gave the orders for the shoot and within less than one minute the first shell burst fairly close to the target.

We were equipped with the 76 mm mountain gun whose high explosive shell produced very little smoke. The ‘fall of shot’ was difficult to spot as the smoke tended to disappear in the trees. However, we knew the range well and | saw the fall of shot clearly. | ordered, “Go left 50, add 200”. The second round fell ‘over’ the target, so the order that followed was, “Drop 100.” The third round fell ‘short’ and | ordered, “Add 50, one round battery fire.” The three rounds straddled the target and it was time to order, “Datum point”.

Less than five minutes had elapsed. | came out of the OP and was about to give out my Comments on the shoot — as was the norm during training —when the GOC spoke up.

Major General Bhupinder Singh, GOC, 2 Mountain Division, was also a Gunner and a famous one too. He addressed the C Arty (Commander Artillery) and our CO, “I am not sure if the OP officer has registered the datum point correctly, because | did not see a single round.” There was pin drop. silence, punctuated only by the chirping of the birds. The C Arty murmured, “Frankly, | saw Just one round.” Our CO was weighing his words carefully when I piped up, “Sir, we can repeat the round of battery fire with smoke ammunition. Each round will show up quite clearly.” The white phosphorous smoke ammunition of the gun was ballistically matched with the high explosive ammunition, but it was not permitted to be used during the ranging process as it was always in short supply and ranging was not its primary purpose.

The C Arty said, “Son, before you do that, write down your observations for each round on the blackboard”. | did so and ordered, “Smoke. Repeat”. In under a minute. three plumes of white smoke rose around the target one by one — almost exactly as | had written down. There was no doubt left in anyone’s mind about the effectiveness of the shoot and there were smiles all around.

The GOC got up and shook hands warmly. He said, “In over 30 years of service as a Gunner, | haven’t seen a shoot like this.” Ten minutes later, the Regiment had fired successfully on all the targets selected for the Technical Day. The CO asked the GOC If we coulda have a tea break. The GOC said, “| thought you would give us a glass of beer after excellent shooting like that”. That was the end of the Technical Day and the practice camp. St Barbara, the Patron Saint of the Gunners would have been pleased. But, we knew there were some small glitches that needed to be ironed out and, even as we rejoiced in having done our job well, we knew there was more training ahead.

it was a privilege to have served the guns and to have been part of a superb team that was instrumental in taking the application of Artillery fire to new pinnacles of glory. We did not nave the modern instruments and equipment that are now available to realise the pipedream of all Gunners — the achievement of ‘first salvo effectiveness’. But we made up for the lack of technical means with nard work and training. We practiced the basics of technical and tactical gunnery relentlessly and reposed our faith in inculcating a sense of pride in achieving the nighest standards of professional excellence. We wove together a robust tapestry of esprit de corps, training skills and professionalism to stake our claim to the glorious legacy of the Regiment of Artillery: Sarvatra — Izzat O Iqbal. Everywhere — with Honour and Glory.