B Battery Stories

The 1/92nd Field Artillery
Association - Vietnam

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The "Pressure Cooker"


By Jeff 'JD' Danielson

On a normal fire mission the FDC was an intricate dance of numbers, words and decisions. You could look at it like a piece of machinery with all the parts working together in concert to manufacture a product. The product was usually putting ordinance on enemy forces, a means to end a conflict, to protect us and ours.

Some missions were much more complicated than others. Preventing some infantry unit out in the boonies from getting overrun, covering a withdrawal, protecting an LZ and a myriad of others including at times shooting on our own troops to stop a unit from being overrun.

Many missions were fairly cut and dried such as recon by fire, harassment and interdiction (H&I's), or shooting at movement or noise on someone's perimeter which often turned out to be a water buffalo KIA as the result.

The tension in the FDC always went up a few notches when a unit was in contact. It might me a couple of platoons or a company in the bush, a discovered LRRP team being chased, a huey or chinook down, or a LZ/FSB with gooks in the wire. When two and sometimes three of these missions came up at the same time the FDC became a Pressure Cooker. To use an old line the ‘tension could be cut with a knife'.

First thing to know is that most times we were working with four or five overworked, tired personnel who had to discipline themselves to be accurate and quick at the same time with accuracy the all important part of the equation. Focus was the key working word when shooting for two and three different parties at the same time. Keeping them separate in your own particular job was tough enough but at the same time making sure everyone was providing data for the specific targets. The section chief had to orchestrate these separate parts into something that made sense often delegating one of the missions to someone else usually the second computer operator.

If someone was to walk into this ‘pressure cooker' while it was going on they would hear a cacophony of numbers and words coming out in a babble that only made sense to those involved. “Deflection 2240”, “range 6250”, “elevation 320”, “charge 6”, “fuse quick and delay” were some of the shouted information bantered about all for someone out there call sign “Bandit 30”. Then in a minute or so it would all change with a correction from the FO on the ground. At the same time different information was called out for “Target 43” and maybe “Ridgerunner 6”. These blurbs of information were always followed with a “check” meaning someone else came up with the same information deeming it to be correct. If a check wasn't forthcoming, but instead followed with a “wait a second” or just “hold” or “wait” it put the brakes on that mission until the specific information was rechecked. No one wanted to be wrong but it happened although not very often and when rechecked the person whose information was in question was not above saying he made a mistake and the mission continued.

This cacophony of “specific noise” was compounded by the chatter on the landline to the guns where all information was funneled to the guns. This was another area that needed to be attended to also to ensure the correct information went out for the specific targets. That and questions like how many tubes can you put on azimuth so and so and dropping one gun so it could swing to a more important target. We only had the six guns to work with and deciding how to spread them out on the targets only added to the pressure. You'd like to fire a battery at a target but could only afford two or three guns depending on the circumstances. You didn't want to hear a gun “hang fire” or shoot off the jacks. You had to keep track of your resources and use them to the optimum. The fellow on the other end of the landline had to be top notch for he had to keep track of which target was which and provide the correct information to the right guns, when to fire them and give us a shot when the gun(s) fired.

I've heard that fire directors on battleships in WWII were mostly stockbrokers or persons able to function well with a multitude of data. That was what it was like in the FDC and the XO's man on the other end of the landline.

The multiplying factor on all this was the radios. Aside from the chatter, commands and information going on inside the FDC the radio chatter was continuous. Adjustments, change of targets, new threats that had to be addressed and more all came over the radios and we only had two transceivers and an auxiliary receiver. It was a balancing act when we had three targets or missions firing at once. We had to keep changing frequencies and putting one on a sort of hold for a few seconds on the auxiliary radio while still being able to monitor him and switch back and forth as required or necessary.

Many FO's needed a little coaching and suggestions. They were new or understandably rattled and could take a suggestion such as first round White Phosphorous (WP) air burst instead of a smoke round, mixing quick and delayed fuses in dense foliage, preplanning targets, putting a wall of fire around part or most of the perimeter and suggesting type of round instead of HE such as WP or even Firecracker rounds. Giving the a “shot over” when you fired and a “splash over” when the round was seconds from exploding also help keep the FO focused. You had to work with the FO but also help some of them along. Radio chatter was not chatter really, but short, clear and concise information and delivered in a calm reassuring voice.

While all of this is going on there is always the extras like which radio to use with the 292 long range antenna, keeping the batteries charged by starting the generator which took a man away from his position for a few minutes and the crowded atmosphere in that tight little box with everyone politely excusing himself to work around a person.

To top it off there was the frequent incoming enemy fire. They seemed to take great pleasure in firing on the battery during these “pressure cooker” moments. Although everyone recognized the dangers the gun crew's hazard in their parapets and I think they should all have received a Bronze Star for it, the enemy loved to zero in on the FDC bunker with its array of antenna's for aiming stakes. Direct hits were frequent. I can remember a recoilless round going off over my head and cracking an eight inch beam yet no on missed a beat. That happened all too frequently and it just added to the “pressure cooker affect” of the fire missions. One had to quickly shrug off the close calls and stay focused. It took an immense amount of discipline.

Eventually things would slowly wind down. Someone else would take over a target, gunships would arrive, aircraft were called in, or the threats were curtailed and we would work up preplanned targets around the friendlies to be fired off and on through the night. Cigarettes were lit, sweat wiped off and something cool to drink even if it was water. When all the “I's” were dotted and the “T's” were crossed it was nice to be able to step outside and realize how much cooler it was. The pressure was off until the next time.


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