A Battery Stories

The 1/92nd Field Artillery
Association - Vietnam



The Whistling Howitzers
Over 62nd Maintenance

By Tom Kanis

OK, this is a War Story, and you all know the difference between a War Story and a fairy tale, right? Well, a fairy tale starts out "once upon a time", and a War Story starts out, "hey this is no bulls**t".

I was working as AXO of A Btry on Artillery Hill in July of 1971. Sgt. Rick Smith had Howitzer Section 2. Rick was a short intense blond-headed guy and really was into being a gun chief. On the particular evening in question we had a fairly light program of night fire scheduled, and it was going to be competed about 2330, which would make for a lighter load than we had been experiencing up until that point. The XO tried to use only two howitzers for these night-fire DT programs, so that the firing battery would get a full night's rest every other night. All was good news until we got a call at about 2300 from one of the Montagnard 'villes to the north of FSB Kelly, asking for sporadic illumination (somehow interpreted to be every hour on the hour) from then until dawn. They were nervous about some Intel estimate and wanted to light up the area to deny it to the bad guys.

NOT THE REAL McCOYThe XO, LT Rich Alvino told SGT Smith that his section would be the one to shoot the Illum mission. His guys accepted it with the usual friendly grumbling. On the other hand, I had an idea. SGT Smith's gun crew could get their gun laid, get the 'joes laid out, fuzes installed and time set, powder charges cut and under a tarp, out of the dew. I, being the intrepid Artilleryman that I was, could load, check the lay and fire the gun by myself, and SGT Smith and party could go to bed. In retrospect, the tough part would be to pick up the 95-lb projo and getting it in the breech. The gun crew did as bid and happily went off to bed after firing the midnight round of the program. About 0045, I loaded the second round, and called the FDC to report "Safe and Ready" at 0059 by my watch. LT Shugart in the FDC checked my data read-back and gave me the word to fire. I put down the field phone, snatched at the lanyard and the gun went off and the round sailed out over Buon Ho Lake and popped most satisfactorily---this was going to work just fine! The third and fourth rounds worked just fine, too.

The problem showed up on the fifth round, due out at 0500. I was getting pretty tired, and I had to take two cuts at it to get the 'jo up to the breech. It almost fell back out of the breech before I got the short rammer-staff up behind it. I rammed the 'jo as hard as I could with one hand and stepped back to the gun pit's ammo bunker. I grabbed the charge, stuffed it into the gun and slammed the breech shut. There, that would keep the damn thing from falling out! I primed the firing lock and inserted it, then read back the data to the FDC and got the word to fire. Standing to the right of the breech, I jerked at the lanyard, expecting the usual boom and recoil. Instead, I heard a loud whistling noise that was slowly increasing in pitch. Visions of a dreaded in-bore explosion loomed in my head! We had been shown pictures of these catastrophes at Ft Sill, and it wasn't pretty at all. I dived out of the gun pit, as the noise grew higher in pitch.

At last, there was a "clunk" and the more accustomed boom as the propelling charge ignited and the gun recoiled, although not as much as usual. I stood up and tried to see if the round would pop over the target, but nothing at all could be see. I sat there for a couple of minutes trying to figure out what happened. The only thing I could think of was that the powder was burning and whistling past the not-fully-seated projo. As the gas pressed the 'jo upward into the centering slope, the seal got tighter and the whistle got higher in pitch. At last, the round had clunked into place and the powder had sufficient resistance to develop pressure and the gun fired, albeit at a much lower velocity. The round probably landed in Buon Ho Lake. I picked up the field phone and told the FDC that the last round didn't sound right and that I didn't observe the round illuminate. We agreed that I should shoot the mission again which I did after very thoroughly ramming it home! The next round fired just fine as did the last one at 0600. The sun was a very welcome sight over eastern horizon. And that is the story of the whistling howitzer, and that 's no bulls**t

Tom Kanis

| Home | History | Maps | Stories | Links | The Gun | Honor Roll | Postings | Reunions | Contact |
© Copyright 2013 - 1/92nd Field Artillery Association
All rights under copyright are reserved.
A Not for Profit Organization

Comments or questions to