Howitzers On Maneuvers

I remember the old “Beetle Bailey” cartoon about how Sgt. Snorkel, when told by Beetle Bailey that he tried firing a howitzer only to have it make a funny whistling noise, looks into the barrel and orders Beetle to go and try firing it again.

I do hear in actual military maneuvers how they don’t necessarily have the use of actual weapons firing and wonder what is really done.

You run around yelling “bang!” Or if you are unlucky enough to be the machine gunner for your platoon “bangbangbangbangbang!”

Dry fire drills are a thing.

The Germans have a great big phallic looking monster of a suppressor for their PzH 2000s.

The Brits have a whole bloody armoured division they use to tear-ass around southern Alberta because they don’t have enough room to make actual bang noises at home.

Oh. And really big laser tag rigs like MILES

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It’s only a battle group but it’s worth a division :grin::grin:…and it’s more fun driving around a shooting real rounds out the main gun … And Med Hat loves us :+1::+1:

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Force on force exercises use blanks and other simulation type rounds (Hoffman devices, ATWESS cartridges) for use with MILES equipment. At least for direct fire weapons. I couldn’t say what the mortars and arty use, aside from graders at the other end throwing Arty Simulators and CS gas grenades in the “impact area”. Some exercises use live rounds at places like Ft Irwin where combined arms task forces can shoot at various targets. Everything from rifles up to tank guns, mortars, and artillery in day and night scenarios. The Vulcan being used against ground targets was a sight to see at night. As are main gun tank tracer rounds, which look like Star Trek Photon Torpedos as they speed down range at high velocity.

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I never did much of the so called maneuvers thing in the states, but they did this drill thing firing the primer only. Kinda foolish when I think about it due to the complete lack of recoil when I look back on it. Recoil is the one thing you must learn to deal with, and the basic blast being right behind it. I had this one E-7 that was sorta hung up on it, but the First Shirt got rid of him as soon as he found a window. Myself, I never had an actual issue with John. Didn’t mean I liked him (a typical ticket puncher). I sorta gathered that it was something to make the “lifers” feel good. Liked him well enough to name my pet rat after him.

The drill is really good for getting the untrained folks the idea of what’s going to happen down the road. Yet when it really happens you soon forget about all the crap you did in the drill. More cross training is what they should have done. You have one gunner and one AG. Yet if you loose one or another (happens); who’s gonna fill the space. We cross trained everybody during H&I’s. There you have recoil and the blast. Anybody can load to a certain extent, and so on. But not smoothly. The gunner is the one position that can’t have any error, and not for everybody. I did it well, but you also had to force me into it. Samething with the AG slot. I was the only guy who AG’d besides Randy, and I just never got comfortable over there. Kinda weird as it’s the same blast and the same recoil.

Guess it’s not an altogether bad idea when you look back at it, as it’s a very dangerous place between the trails of a howitzer. That slow moving recoil with decapitate you instantly, and broken hands are not uncommon. The chief is as useless as it gets, but it makes the lifers happy finding a slot for one of their own (after all somebody has to hand the powder over the trails!).

While I certainly can’t speak to what current practices today are, here’s how it was handled when we were out in the field for maneuvers when I was assigned to a DS Field Artillery Battalion from 1972-1975,

Howitzers are almost always indirect fire weapons and there is generally not a lot of value trying to simulate the firing of them in the battery area. As mentioned, there really isn’t any kind of blank, (except the primer) when you’re talking about separate loading ammunition. A primer won’t make much noise and certainly won’t generate any recoil so what’s the point? Quite frankly the REAL value for the FA is in practicing the movement from one position to another with the attendant set up and break down of positions and actually getting to the new position while still being able to communicate with the unit to which you’re providing support.

On the RECEIVING end, however, umpires and controllers will often set of simulators to let those folks at least know that they are being “fired” on. But there is no way that a simulator can provide the same sort of effect that the arrival of a 155mm shell has in terms of sound and pressure waves.

Direct fire weapons on the other hand like rifles and tanks do have simulators (blanks and Hoffman device) which do at least provide something more than the “bang, you’re dead” scenario.

We always used to go to the training area which had Firing Points and an Artillery Impact Area (being stationed in Baumholder DID have its advantages!) when we practice our live firing. And leading up to the battalion test cycle, which was usually in June, we would go to the field and shoot, usually starting in late January/early February, and head out the the field on Tuesday morning and come back in around noon on Thursday, 3 weeks out of 4 until we moved out to Graf in May for a month to finalize training and test. Late summer, and fall was when the large field exercises, such as Reforger took place, probably after the crops were in.

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On maneuvers, mortars act the same as artillery. A fire mission is called in and the mortars go through the actions of fulfilling the fire mission and the umpire in the target area registers a hit and those in the “impact area” pull out their casualty card. A lot of our training with the M106 was each section practicing a hip shoot which is getting a fire mission while moving to stay with the tanks so you have to pull off and lay the guns and get the first round off to adjust and then going on to the fire for effect.

For mortar basics we did have a pneumatic firing device and a subcaliber firing device for simulating firing but with a much shorter range.

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You mean that guy who verifies correct type of fuze and setting, size of charge, quadrant elevation, deflection, that the charge is inserted properly, all while orchestrating the movement of all crewmembers AND insuring all data is within the Safety T? THAT guy?

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That one is not used in the army itself. It is a one of its kind which is used at the weapons and ammunition evaluation center at Meppen which is located very near to the city of Meppen. When ammunition is evaluated, that thin reduces the bang for not annoying the citizens.

Can be used with ever kind of Howitzer.


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I went the first six or seven months without a section chief, and we simply kept a close eye on each other.
The set ring on the time fuse has to be set by somebody, and I got that job. I kept the wrench in my back pocket. By rights the section chief should check the time, but when I finally did get one (a shake & bake!) I found out real quickly that he had no idea how to set the time! Add to this the fact that we shout most of the time after dark. A hundred pound round is really too much to be handing over the trail (I know some folks like to do that), and you just don’t want another warm body in side the trails. Remember those ten and eleven man crews ended up being seven men on a good day in combat (I’ve shot with four kids many times). My shake & bake didn’t even know the art of cutting powder! I tried to teach him, but he never quite grasped the idea. So I cut all the powder charges, and set the time. The chief simply was there to hand me powder (I don’t think he even knew if the solution was right in the gunner’s position!). When I set the time, the guy on the field phone looked over my shoulder to see if my numbers were what he called out

Let me say this, my section chief was made the chief of smoke. He was very good at his jobs! Then six months later we get a dud! We usually trained kids shooting H&I’s, as your never shooting close anybody on your side. If something goes wrong; you at least didn’t kill anybody. Nobody is in a hurry, cause your gonna shoot from about nine or ten till dawn. Much safer. Almost always it will happen during H&I’s, and it did happen. A blown parapet, blown recoil cylinders, even a bad lot of fuses a couple times. You learn to shoot in the rain, and a few others things. Can’t learn that doing the drill!

The one thing they never bothered to teach us at Sill was the art of direct fire. When I started out we never shot too close other that near one spot. Then we moved out west, and we found ourselves shooting five hundred yards and out on a regular basis. You literally had to learn on the job! Top taught us how to shoot when you had the bad guys way too close. Counter battery fire is another they never speak about, and I’ve done my share of that. Never really got good at it, but survived.

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I know that “Beetle Bailey” was based on how the US Army was during WW2, and things have changed greatly since then.

Gary, we never did direct fire at Fort Sill either. I only remember going to the direct fire range one time during my three years in Germany. It’s not that easy to hit a fixed target (much less one that’s MOVING!) with the sights that you have in an M109.

Counter battery was something we DID work on. We had a Q-4 radar in our HHB and they would practice picking up the rounds that WE fired and would compute our battery location as a way to practice locating where rounds were coming from.

As far as we were concerned in the FDC a counter battery mission was really no different (except perhaps in urgency) than any other Fire Mission. You get a call for fire, a target description, a location and then you compute the data.

Of course when we got grid locations from the Q-4 we knew better than to fire them. (Except when they sent us the grid for Charlie Battery!!! :laughing:)


the best way to learn counter battery fire is to "pre-register your probable targets. Sadly; you learn this alittle too late. Oddly the Marines do a little bit of training on direct fire, and I must applaud them for this.

We got one of those radar sets brought out to us on an experimental basis in the summer of 68. Nobody really understood it all that well, and they sent a couple guys out of FDC to school on it. In the meantime we would simply watch for the flash from the mortar tubes, and coat the area with WP to change their mindset. Lucky for us that Charlie almost always preferred to mortar or rocket us right after midnight, and never much later than four in the morning. That way you learn to pick up the flash. Rockets are another story, easy to spot, but seem to have more range. Yet they almost always shot them in three to five shot volleys. Usually a couple seconds apart. The trick was not to run and hide, as they usually missed everything on the first few shots.

Glad that somebody has finally taken a serious interest in counter fire. What they really need to teach is how to shoot the hundred fifty yard stuff. I’ve shot WP inside the wire more more than I want to remember, and I think the folks at Sill thought nobody got inside the wire! My First Sargent learned to shoot close order drill in Korea, and passed it on. Lets see; a negative three degrees, charge one green bag with one lonely second on the fuse. You must be careful as in a panic somebody will often load the full charge five! Pigs have been known to jump the pit during recoil and the round goes about three hundred yards. I saw one bunch shoot a charge seven white bag like that, and half of them got hurt. As you can see, we were desperate for a beehive

Gary, you’re talking counterfire against a less capably equipped enemy from over 50 years ago. Things changed. Counterfire against a peer level army like the Soviets & Warsaw Pact was a whole league above. They had a lot more artillery, both towed and self propelled, tube and rocket. I’m pretty sure that today’s Chicoms or North Koreans also have a plethora of field artillery to cover their infantry & armor for combined arms operations.

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I’m speaking of counter battery at less than twelve hundred yards with everything from 122mm rockets to 120mm mortars. And on rare events a howitzer (152mm at Khe Sahn, and 122mm at LZ Lewis in my area). By the way you rarely saw VC in I-Corp as most everybody was NVA. A huge difference! Their preferred piece of arty was a 90mm recoilless rifle. A very nasty item; I might add

On my first trip out west, I was out on the wire and heard hydro static drives in the night. The were not ours! I’ve done combat with East Germans, Chinese, and Bulgarians. Maybe some others: I don’t know.