If there is a requirement of providing fire support, it is cardinal of faith among Gunners that, no matter how impossible the going, the guns will be brought to the selected gun position and made operational well before the stipulated time. Traditionally, after an exercise, when the guns are brought back to the gun park, the GPO, the troop leader and the gun detachments do not rest till the guns are cleaned and serviced.
I am convinced that we live in what one might call the ‘artillery century – Richard Holmes
In the medieval period, cannons were described as “Ultima Ratio Regum”— the last argument of kings. Since then, the concept of causing destruction to the enemy’s war machine at a distance has matured considerably in thought and effect. Today we are living In what has been described by military historians as “The Artillery Century”
“Both the world wars of the 20th century have been ‘artillery wars’. That is to say that, in each, artillery proved to be the decisive arm in decisive engagements.”
– John Terraine
If proof was needed of the battle winning capability of modern artillery, it was amply in evidence in the recently conducted Gulf War where the combined firepower of Allied fighter-bombers and the death and destruction wreaked by the guns and rocket launchers, made it utterly unnecessary to pursue a long drawn out ground offensive. With a greater premium being placed on human lives in the coming decades, there will be correspondingly heavier reliance on the artillery.
While belonging to an elite arm is a reward in itself, it needs to be realized that elite fighting arms are built up by the sweat of ones brow, by dint of dedicated hardwork. The Regiment of Artillery, comprising of over 300 units, is the largest regiment of the Indian Army. The Regiment enjoys a reputation of professional excellence, on and off the battlefield and unyielding esprit-de-corps in the face of the greatest adversity and hardship. It is for us, the present generation of Gunners, to ensure that we build on the strong foundations laid by our predecessors so that their sacrifices shall not have been in vain.
This article aims to acquaint the younger reader with the ethos of the Regiment of Artillery. In this context, the word ethos includes our attitude to soldiering, our unique insistence that the provision of fire support is a sacred trust, our heritage and our customs and traditions. In other words, what makes us Gunners tick and why we are what we are.
Pursuit of Excellence. Perhaps the one thing that distinguishes a Gunner from any other soldier is his professionalism. The pursuit of excellence in professional life is considered a goal by itself. No Gunner is ever satisfied with merely meeting laid down standards.
He must constantly endeavour to surpass them and scale new heights of professional excellence. This yearning for rising above routine norms is rooted in the requirements of the modern battlefield. Reacting to emerging situations during a battle, where chaos and confusion are the predominant ingredients, calls for a very high degree of skill in handling the fire of the available artillery. Also the artillery cannot afford to make mistakes, for these are often paid for by the blood of own troops. Our quest for professional excellence is aptly reflected by this maxim, “On target, on time – everytime’.
Guaranteed Fire Support. The ultimate aim of all artillery fire is to break enemy’s will to fight. While the deep artillery battle involving interdiction and destruction is not entirely linked with the immediate plans or engagements of the manoeuvre arms, a major part of the artillery’s overall function is to provide intimate fire support to the supported arms for their ongoing battle. Military history tells us that success in the contact battle hinges to a great extent on the quantum and the quality, that is, the effectiveness, of artillery fire support. Hence, it is imperative that artillery support be guaranteed come what may. No matter how trying the circumstances, how great the exhaustion, how few men are there to man the guns, how many casualties have been suffered, fire support must be provided – on target, on time – everytime. The provision of guaranteed fire support to the supported arms is a sacred trust and every thing else flows from it. This trust is inviolable.
Total Reliance on the Artillery. it is a measure of the reputation of professional excellence enjoyed by the artillery that in war no supported arm commander is willing to move an inch without his Gunner adviser. it is also a well known fact that virtually all senior commanders prefer to have Gunner officers as staff officers. This is because superior training, dedication and a life time of working at one to two tactical levels higher than his own rank, endows a Gunner with more finely honed faculties than his contemporaries from the other arms.
Sarvatra : Omnipresent Guns.With its uncanny ability to rapidly switch from one target to the other and to thus neutralise large areas of the battlefield with heavy concentrations of fire in quick succession, artillery has truly lived up to its motto “Sarvatra : IzzatO-lqbal” – “Everywhere : With Honour and Glory”. From the world’s highest gun positions at 16,000 feet in the Himalayas in the North, the steaming and humid jungles of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the East, to the shimmering sands of the Thar Desert in the West, the guns of the Regiment of Artillery maintain a silent vigil over the nations’s frontiers -always ready for any eventuality. There is no place the guns cannot be taken; there is no place they will not. If there is a requirement of providing fire support, it is cardinal of faith among Gunners that, no matter how impossible the going, the guns will be brought to the selected gun position and made operational well before the stipulated time. Similarly, artillery OP officers and other personnel of OP parties serve shoulder to shoulder with infantry and armoured corps troops at the forward line — always ready to make the supreme sacrifice with the troops they support. They become so much a part of the team that some OP officers have earned the rare honour of commanding infantry companies during war, when the company commanders became casualties
Air OP : Unarmed into Battle. The Regiment of Artillery was till recently the only arm that flew its own aircraft in battle. Besides being good pilots, they were experienced gunner officers who learnt their trade in an artillery regiment before being selected for the Air OP role. Infact, this gallant band of Gunners always won the largest number of gallantry awards, out of all proportion to their small numbers. Their countless acts of valour and sacrifice and exhibition of the highest Standards of professionalism, while flying “unarmed into battle”, enriched and added to the glorious traditions of Regiment of Artillery. They now form part of the Army Aviation Corps and it is imperative that the Regiment continues to contribute officers for Recce and Observation duties
Accuracy, Drills and Procedures. The artillery always insists on the highest standards of accuracy in all technical work related to the provision of fire support. As technical work, particularly in the command posts (CPs) concerns mainly numerical figures, that is, bearings, ranges, angles, fuze settings, there is always a possibility that a mistake might be made. Mistakes are unacceptable. Hence, we have devised comprehensive drills and procedures to ensure that with constant practice, the drills become second nature and can then be implemented correctly even in the fog and friction of war. All important work is done independently by two persons. This procedure acts as a double check. In addition, at all levels, we train our officers, JCOs and gun numbers 1 to carry out a common sense check. This system of reducing every thing to simple -to-execute drills and incorporating double checks at important stages, becomes a way of life for a gunner. It ensures that every task that is given to Gunners will be methodically carried out, with adequate safeguards against things going wrong. By force of habit, even in administrative matters, Gunners become more systematic and meticulous in the organisation of events and effective supervision of the work of subordinates.
Failsafe Communication. Another important facet of our professionalism, and something we Gunners take pride in, is our failsafe system of communication. The standard of our communications can be gauged from the fact that in war, the fastest channel for the passage of information upto the divisional HQ, is the artillery net. Also senior supported arm commanders often rely on artillery communication facilities in war to pass orders to or communicate with their subordinate commanders. With our unique system of insistence on radio sets being manned physically throughout the day and night, automatic relay by a second station if the one called fails to receive, a high standard of maintenance of radio sets and ensuring the availability of adequate number of fully charged batteries, our communications are always “through” and we take tremendous pride in this.
Flexibility. Due to long range and good communications, the artillery can rapidly switch fire to cover multiple targets over a large front, providing tactical commanders a great deal of flexibility in their operational plans. The ability of artillery regiments to move quickly from one gun area to another and to rapidly redeploy, enables artillery commanders to concentrate maximum support at the point of decision in a short period of time. After the 1971 war in Bangladesh, Lt Gen AAK Niazi had attributed the defeat of his forces to three factors: the superiority of Indian air power and armour and to the concentrated artillery fire which his troops were subjected to relentlessly throughout the lightning campaign. We must never allow our flexibility to be compromised.
Love for the Guns and Battle Worthiness
Regimental colours symbolise the true spirit of a regiment. They epitomise its history and commemorate the epic deeds and the past glory of the regiment. Major victories are emblazonead on the colours. But, above all, the colours play a vital role in fostering that indefinable thing called esprit-de-corps. While other corps are entitled to receive colours, in the case of the Regiment of Artillery, the guns are our colours. Nothing could really be more fitting. Guns are the raison d’etre of the artillery, the symbol of our strength and the reason for our “being”. For a Gunner, there Is no duty more sacred than to guard, preserve and honour the guns, even at the cost of his life. Artillery units take pride in caring lovingly for the colours. The guns are kept in the gun park where they are serviced, maintained and kept spotlessly clean. The gun parks are themselves kept as if they were a place of worship. The guns are saluted when work starts in the morning or ends for the day. A gun column moving in front of a quarter guard is entitled to a General salute.
Fighting to the Muzzle. The love of Gunners for their guns is well known. Brg Gen SLA Marshal summed it up very aptly when he said :
“Artillerymen have a love for their guns which is perhaps stronger than the feeling of any soldier for his weapon or any part of his equipment……….. that these guns will never be deserted simply because danger threatens, is a point of honour around which the Artillery has largely built the solid discipline of its corps”
Two incidents from our history highlight this aspect. In December 1944, during the Burma campaign, Hav Umrao Singh was in charge of one gun of his battery in the Kaladan Valley. After a fierce preparatory bombardment, the gun position was attacked repeatedly by two Japanese companies. When finally no ammunition remained, Hav Umrao Singh, with two other survivors, used the rammer and hand spikes as weapons. When a counter attack restored the gun position six hours later, he was found in an exhausted state beside his gun, with seven severe wounds and ten dead Japanese around him. For this act of great gallantry, Hav Umrao Singh (later Hony Capt) was awarded the Victoria Cross. Another legendary example of Gunner gallantry and spirit was at Bir Hachiem in May 1942, when the 25 Pr Guns of 2 Indian Field Regiment destroyed 52 German Panzer tanks in short range, direct shooting engagements, denying Rommel a breakthrough. Their gallantry was acknowledged personally by Sir Winston Churchill in the House of Commons. This tradition of “fighting to the muzzle” to save the guns has been continued through the wars’ fought after independence. Lt. Gen Sartaj Singh. GM, then GOC of a corps, personally rallied the Gunners of 216 Medium Regiment around their guns in the Chamb Sector during the 1971 war with Pakistan.
“Keep Your Powder Dry”. The daily maintenance and serviceability of guns is a major responsibility of YOs and the gun detachments. ‘Maintenance Parade’ is attended by the CO downwards. Artillery units take pride in ensuring that all their guns are always “in action”. If a gun is declared “out of action” for any reason, no effort is spared till the gun is brought back into action. Traditionally, after an exercise, when the guns are brought back to the gun park, the GPO, the troop leader and the gun detachments do not rest till the guns are cleaned and serviced. Similarly, the maintenance of ammunition, the real weapon of the artillery, is also given due importance. “Keep your powder dry” is an oft-repeated exhortation.
Important Customs and Traditions
The customs and traditions which have fashioned the Gunner ethos are singularly distinctive. They are a priceless legacy and represent the true spirit and precious heritage of the Regiment. They also serve as a constant reminder of a proud history, immense gallantry and distinguished leadership; a past which in turn inspires us to strive to achieve high standards in the future. The Regiment, comprising one-sixth the strength of the army has accumulated a vast array of customs and traditions. Here, it would be pertinent to recapitulate a few of the more Important ones-:
• Artillery units are awarded Honour Titles to mark distinguished performance during a battle, as against Battle Honours being given to infantry and armoured corps units. This is because the greatest possible Battle Honour “Sarvatra” (everywhere/omnipresent) has been bestowed in perpetuity on the Regiment of Artillery.
• The guns are our colours.
•The British Grenadiers Quick March is our official regimental marching tune. However, it is likely to be replaced by an Indian tune.
• The Regiment has a Senior Colonel Commandant and four other Colonels Commandant. Each of them looks after the interests of 50 to 60 units.
• All action in a gun position and on the gun drill ground always takes place on the double. This is symbolic of the need to meet fire support demands quickly.
• Gunners have complete faith in their guns. “The Guns do not lie” is a well Known maxim.
• The guns never remain idle during a battle.
• Instructors-in-Gunnery wear red bands on their peakcaps and turbans to distinguish them from students under training. The red bands are also required to be worn while performing the duties of IG during a practice camp.
• Artillery uniforms are devoid of unnecessary embellishments as a Gunner’s actions and deeds are expected to mark him out as part of an elite Regiment
• Gunners continue to wear their belts -even during meals as a reminder that they are ever ready for action.
Artillery has emerged as an arm of decision on the modern battlefield. Success in future wars will unquestionably depend on the skillful handling of artillery and its awesome fire power. Manoeuvre by infantry and mechanised forces will be possible only after the artillery has prepared the area with devastating fire. Clearly, the tasks ahead are daunting, requiring skill, inspiration and hard work. The Regiment of Artillery will doubtlessly rise to the occasion by its legendary professionalism. The provision of adequate and timely fire support shall ever remain a sacred trust. The guns, our colours, will continue to be venerated and will be a source of inspiration in the future, as in the past. Through sincerity, unflinching devotion to duty and by dint of sheer hard work, the Regiment of Artillery will continue to live up to Its Inspiring motto : “Sarvatra Izzat-o-lqbal”. In the challenging times ahead, the Gunners will strive to reach for the stars in the pursuit of professional excellence. it is due to our professional excellence that we are proud of having been commissioned into the Indian Artillery.