IN BOSNIA WITH THE 1ST SQUADRON, 4TH CAVALRY
Story and photos by Jim Bartlett, Editor-in-Chief
CLICK ANY IMAGE BELOW FOR A LARGER PRINT
Top photo: Using their high mobility, Battery A’s M109 Self Propelled Howitzers add new meaning to the term "Shoot and Scoot." They can be in position and firing in minutes.
Above: Sgt. Martin Leyva, of Lovington, New Mexico shows off a rocket assisted 155mm shell. Average engagement range is 16k, these almost double it.
O THOSE OUTSIDE ARTILLERY circles, they are know as "Gun Bunnies" or "Cannon Cockers." To those in the know, however, artillery is "The King of Battle" and anyone who has been on the wrong end of it can testify to the awesome power they can throw around. Military scholars rate them high for destructive power on the battlefield. It is estimated that 75% of all fatalities and casualties in modern conflict are inflicted by artillery.
From my experience, I can tell you that one five-man gun crew, given the proper coordinates, can kill many times their number of anyone unlucky enough to be on the wrong end of their wrath. With average ranges going out to 16 or 17 kilometers, they are truly the long arm of the law. When General Custer rode out to the Little Bighorn, he left his artillery and Gatling guns behind, thinking them too slow and cumbersome. Very, very few Cavalry commands have made that same mistake twice.
Click here to listen to an actual gun drill being carried out somewhere in Bosnia, on an actual "Artillery Raid." After the turret rotates at the end of the clip, the only step left is to insert a priming cartridge and pull the lanyard. Drills are carried out with "Dry Guns," without actual ammunition. (Download size: 565kb)
When the 1/4 Cavalry came down to Bosnia, part of their overall force was a battery of self-propelled M109 155mm Howitzers assigned to support them directly. Whenever the Cavalry is in the field, you will find Battery A of the 429th Field Artillery lurking somewhere, its guns laid onto various coordinates, ready to drop hell itself onto anyone foolish enough to pick a fight with the troopers. They call it an "Artillery Raid." Up to eight guns, highly mobile, providing for their own security, and laying in wait for the call to fire. That's what Battery A was up to when Team Berserkistan met up with them.
OMMANDED BY LT. PHIL BROOKS of Fayetteville, Tennessee and his senior NCO, Sgt. First Class Padilla, a 16-year Artillery veteran, they explained their role. "We're on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Anything goes down, we're there," they said, giving a quick rundown of what they could do in the event of hostilities. It was impressive to say the least.
Within 30 seconds of getting the call for a "Fire Mission" as they call it, the first rounds will be on the way. The average range of engagement is 16 kilometers, almost twice that with rocket-assisted shells. Each gun can put four rounds per minute onto the target for three minutes and one per minute thereafter. With a lethal burst radius of 150-odd meters for a 155mm shell, and time-delayed fuses that will slice deep before going off, one shell is bad enough. Four, your worse nightmare.
From Battalion Rear, their higher-ups can coordinate 24 guns spread out around the countryside in section or battery packets. With only a slightly longer delay to get it all set up, the entire Battalion can be dropping shells in something like a minute and a half. Some simple math.
OE CAVALRY SCOUT starts taking fire from a dozen or so infantrymen from a hill near his checkpoint. Being an established checkpoint, his coordinates are already laid into the Artillery's firing computers. Joe Scout calls for artillery support and gets it.
Worst case scenario for the dough foots on the hill: 45 seconds after they fire their first round, the initial spotting round comes in. It is on target and the gunners begin "Firing for Effect." One minute and forty-five seconds later, 96 155mm, high explosive shells weighing over 30 pounds a piece have completely smothered his position! This is very, very bad.
The Army Corps of Engineers calls for something like six to eight feet of reinforced concrete to protect against something like that. The average bushwhacker isn't going to be pouring concrete, so the numbers pretty much guarantee that they're going to get blown to atoms if they don't the hell out of there before it arrives. In World War I, artillery barrages numbering in the millions of shells literally turned a huge swath of France into a moonscape.
O FAR, BATTERY A hasn't had to fire in anger. The hours are long, but unlike a lot of their brothers in arms, they get to practice the skills they may have to eventually use. Aside from normal maintenance, it's drill, drill, and more drill. Even when they were out on an assigned "Raid," they were drilling. "We do gun drill constantly." SFc. Padilla told us. "What we do is switch everybody around and cross-train so everybody can do everyone else's job. If we take casualties, a Pfc. might have to jump in and take over the gun. We make sure they can do it if it comes to that."
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