A Real Vietnam Fire Mission

The 1/92nd Field Artillery
Association - Vietnam


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Contact! Some grunts out in the bush need you, and they need you now! No time for the niceties, get some steel on the target.

You now should have an idea about how a fire mission is conducted according to the manual. Your eleven men should act in concert to deliver fire in an accurate, and timely manner. There are a few differences between the book, and the realities of Vietnam. You are not on a firing range at Fort Sill, you do not have an eleven man gun section, and the people out there that need your support, want it twenty minutes ago.

Your gun section is six men (I was in a four man section for a while), you are on a hilltop in II Corps somewhere, and a forward observer out there is with forty men that just walked into an ambush. You are the projo man, and you have fuzed a couple of smoke rounds, and about twenty HEs. You also have ten Illumes, and four firecrackers ready to go. You are writing a letter home in the fading light when you hear the pit guard yell FIRE MISSION, CONTACT! Your heart speeds up as you sprint to the pit, and grab one of the trail spikes, and turn the gun to the proper azimuth. The gunner has put his butt on the left trail, making the proper adjustments to the sight. In about twenty seconds, the gunner has the gun aimed, and you and the rammer man run up front, and begin to jack the gun up into firing position. The AG has opened the breech, and put five or six primers in his mouth. He may, or may not strap on a pouch that contains a hundred more, but it will be handy. The section chief has received all the data for the first round over the field phone. You run to the rear of the gun as you throw the speed jack out of the way. You grab the smoke round, and set the time on the fuze, and give it a quick double check. The powder man has cut a couple of the proper powder charges, and the rammer man stands ready with his staff. You pick up the eighty-seven pound round, cradle it in your left elbow, put your right hand on the rear of the jo, and lurch towards the breech. As your elbow makes contact with the teeth of the breech, you push the round up the tube, and get out of the way, and the rammer man slams the round home with a solid thoomp! the powder man puts the powder in, and gets his hand out of the way as the AG closes the breech, and turns the primer lock one and a half turns, all in one smooth motion. The gunner has put the proper deflection, and elevation on the tube, and reads the numbers back to the section chief. The section chief reads it back to HQ, and HQ gives the order to fire. The AG makes a quick slapping motion to the hammer at the back of the breech (no lanyard is used), the gun roars, and as you hear the round whistle off in the distance you bring a couple of HE rounds closer to the trail.

By the time the tube has gotten back in battery, the AG has opened the breech, and the swabber has cleaned the breech to make sure there is no burning cloth to ignite the next powder charge prematurely. A minute has passed, and you know you could have been quicker. You always know you could have been quicker.

The changes have come in, and this time you pick up an HE, and again, lunge at the breech, and slam the round in the tube. There is a trickle of blood coming from where your left elbow has been raked across the teeth of the breech. That wound will finally heal about three weeks after you get home. It is the middle finger of your right hand that really bothers you. You bent it too far back during a fire mission the night before last, and now every round you put up there hurts like hell, and will for a week or two. By then a new wound to your hands will occupy your interest. Right now people need those rounds, and they do not care if you hurt or not.

You pick up another HE, and lunge at the breech. With small corrections, your gun fires a dozen more rounds, until you are given the "end of mission" order from HQ. You go to the front of the gun, and begin to jack the gun down on the speed jack. The powder man holds the speed jack at a tilt so that when the gun is lowered it rocks forward six inches, breaking the spades out of the ground. If the gun has moved a lot during the mission, you may have to jack it up and down several times to bring it to the center of the pit. You run some RBC through the tube, and clean it out. Your crew replenishes the jos, and powder that you used. The gunner may make sure he is still on that azimuth in case those troops in the bush need us again. You fuze some more rounds, and stick six or so behind the gun along with a smoke round. Since it is now getting dark, you bring a few illumination rounds back there too. The night is when you are really busy.

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