Fire Mission

The 1/92nd Field Artillery
Association - Vietnam

Back to 'The Gun' Page

Fire Mission by the Numbers
By David Powell & Reg Karg

All of us Redlegs have one thing in common… we did the "Gun Bunny Hop." You know, "you put your right foot in, you take your right foot out," "you put your right foot in and shake it all about." You know the dance… join in when you're ready.
Seriously, the gun bunny hop was something we all did in training so we would rotate through and learn all of the cannoneer's positions of a gun crew or howitzer section. Everything was always perfect in training and there were always enough "bunnies" to do the hop.
It wasn't until we went to Vietnam that we were asked to perform the hop under the rules of "musical chairs." "The Book" or training manual gave everyone in the section a title or a number and along with that title/number came specific functions you were to perform so your section performed like a crack drill team on parade day.

The tables below illustrate the title/number of the howitzer crewmembers and their functions before and during a fire mission and, as was common in Vietnam, who did what, while you were short of personnel

Howitzer Section Crewmembers (table 1)

Full 10 Man Crew 9 Man Crew 8 Man Crew 7 Man Crew
CS/Chief of Section CS CS CS
G/Gunner G G G
AG/Assistant Gunner AG/1 AG/1 AG/1
Cannoneer #1  
Cannoneer #2 2 2 2
Cannoneer #3 3 3 3/5
Cannoneer #4 4 4/6 4/6
Cannoneer #5 5 5  
Cannoneer #6 6    
Driver D D D

Crewmembers Duties (table 2)
Title/Number Basic Functions
Chief of Section In charge of making sure everything is set properly
Gunner Lay howitzer, set quadrant and deflection, adjust for displacement
Assistant Gunner Opens/closes breech, sets and changes primer, fires the howitzer
Cannoneer #1 Assembles swab, pail, rammer staff, rams Projo w/#4, swabs powder chamber
Cannoneer #2 Prep ammo, fuze ammo
Cannoneer #3 Jack up howitzer, carry Projo w/#6, loads powder
Cannoneer #4 Jack up howitzer, ram Projo w/#1
Cannoneer #5 Sets out Aiming Posts and Collimator, assemble powder charge & pass to #3
Cannoneer #6 Strings Commo wire to XO Post, preps ammo, carriers Projo w/#3
Driver Drives prime mover


Of course in Vietnam we got rid of the numbers and gave people really cool titles like RTO, Swabber, Rammer, Projo-man, Fuse-man and Powder-man. If you had a driver that did nothing but drive (as shown in tables 1&2) then he was basically worthless as everyone could drive the prime mover. Everyone in a howitzer section in Vietnam had a primary duty, but they knew everyone's duty as well so that when the need arose (and it always did) they could perform any and all of them without being taught or asked.

In this picture you see a 9 man gun section and if this is truly "by the numbers" the #2 man is probably in the Ammo Bunker preparing and fusing the Projos that you see at the bottom right of the photo. From left to right across the photo we see:

  • #1 man "The Swabber" and although the book said he was supposed to ram the Projo with the #4 man he's just not in the best position to do that.
  • Chief of section has his eye on the Projo type, fuze, powder charge and the data the RTO has written down. Chances are he's already checked the data on the gunners Pantel.
  • RTO has written down the data and is ready to read back the information to FDC as soon as the howitzer is ready to fire. He's the man that say's "Fire"
  • #5 man "The Powder-man" has shown the charge to the CS to verify it's correct and is waiting to take the loading tray from the #3 man and hand the powder charge to him.
  • Gunner sets quadrant and deflection onto the Pantel Mount and the Pantel, then uses the hand wheels to re-level the quadrant bubble and adjust for displacement with the Aiming stakes or the Infinity Reference Collimator.
  • #3 man will take loading tray from #6 man after #4 man starts to ram Projo and will in turn take powder from #5 man as he hands the tray to him.
  • #4 man "The Rammer" is starting to push the Projo from the loading tray, when this is done he will wait for the #6 man.
  • #6 man "The Projo-man" will let go of his side of the loading tray when the #4 man has the Projo clear of the tray and will then grab hold of the ramming staff and helps #4 man ram the Projo into the lans and grooves.
  • Assistant Gunner has removed the spent primer from the firing mechanism/breech lock assembly and replaced it with a fresh primer and has half installed the mechanism back into the breech. As soon as the #4 and #6 men have finished ramming and the #3 man places the powder charge into the powder chamber, the AG will close the breech and lock the firing mechanism into place… the howitzer is now ready to fire.

In table 1 above, it shows the AG swabbing the powder chamber when the section is short handed… actually in Vietnam we not only threw out the book, we rewrote the book. Most gun sections though shorthanded, were so streamlined and efficient that the AG would have the Primer Lock/Firing Mechanism backed out (unlocking the breech) by the time the tube stopped it's rearward movement and used the movement of the tube as it went back into battery as the momentum for opening the breechblock. The Swabber was right there cleaning out the chamber and the Projo-man was right there stuffing the Projo into the chamber and he and the Rammer would seat it into the lans and grooves. The Swabber would then insert the powder; the AG would close the breechblock, lock the firing mechanism and fire. The Powder-man and the Fuze-man were responsible for making sure the correct Projos, Fuze, Fuze setting and Powder charges were assembled and staged to the rear of the howitzer recoil area. The Gunner set quadrant and deflection and corrected for movement of the howitzer during firing. The RTO yelled out (repeated back) the fire commands and wrote down the data for the record and the Section Chief made sure that everything was correct.

When I asked some of my brothers from Charlie Battery for input on this piece I was reminded by my Section Chief, Reg Karg (who, by the way, is the Gunner in the above photo), that conditions in a combat situation are so different from training and we did whatever was required when someone needed HIGH EXPLOSIVE NOW! A couple of other things worth mentioning were also pointed out to me by Reg. After receiving our initial lay from the aiming circle we always shot our howitzers into the ground (to dig the trail spades in for recoil) and depending on the conditions of the ground in your gun pit the gunners were lucky to find enough collimator to adjust for displacement, sometimes having to rely on the aiming stakes to carry out the mission. Fire missions during the monsoon season were always both scary and funny. Scary, when you have a 6 ½ ton howitzer firing charge 6 or 7 with wet slippery ground, the assistant gunners would always have to guess just how long a lanyard (4-6' were common) to use, to stay out of the howitzers way on that first round. Funny, when the fire mission was over, all you could hear were the 5-ton trucks starting up all over the battery area and we would use 5-tons and cargo straps to pull the Pigs back into the gun pits. It was also very dangerous to be the Projo-man during the monsoons… trying to keep your footing while cradling a 97-pound Projo took a big and agile man. The Powder-man had to be fast and careful, waiting until the last second to rush out and insert the powder charge to keep it from being drenched. I think Reg said it best when he said "I am sure the Army brass would have had kittens if they saw how we really shot some of the fire missions we fired."

"The Book" also said the maximum rate of fire for the 155mm Howitzer was 4 rounds a minute and the sustained rate was 1 per minute. If you were required to fire a mission by the book, it was easy to see why… everybody was in each other's way. Our gun could easily do close to 8 a minute if needed and sustain 4 per minute without a full crew.

Of course there were those occasions when we had a visiting dignitary or when there was a special milestone achieved (5 Hundred Thousandth or 1 Millionth round) when they would make sure your section was up to strength so that the section could perform a "Fire Mission by the Numbers".


Back to 'The Gun'

| 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