Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Fury" for the Fifth Time, Focus on Faith

Yesterday my son Nigel and I went to see "Fury" for my fifth, his second time.  We went to the 10am showing at the Kendig Square theater in Willow Street, PA.  This is where movies go when they have  run their course in the big chain theaters.  Our tickets were $2.50 each and we were half of the people in the theater.  

Nigel focused on the the "surprise" events in the movie.  The first thing Nigel said after we left was that his brother "Jacari would hate this."  Jacari does not like war movies and really does not like horror movies.  Cartoons and comedies make him happy.  Nigel pointed out several of the times when everything was calm and then someone dies horribly.  

For me, I focused on Shia LeBouef, known in the movie as "Bible."  LeBouef does the best portrayal of a Believer in the Army I have ever seen.  The banter about his faith was perfect.  Wardaddy asks, "Can Jesus save Hitler."  Bible says if Hitler cries out to the Lord in faith and repents of his sins, he will be saved.  Bible gives the serious answer knowing that that Wardaddy, Coon-Ass and Gordo are busting on him.  He says, "You know where I stand." And he means it, but he can also take the jokes and join in.  

So many other Believers are shown as wooden, or vile.  Bible sits apart and reads his tattered Testament when Gordo and Coon-Ass get laid in the tank.  But Bible is angry later when Wardaddy and Norman are off by themselves with two German women.  Bible does not want the pretty German girl as do Gordo and Coon-Ass, but Bible does not want to be left out when they are sharing real food and a clean place.  

Bible tears up and his words catch in his throat when he knows he is going to die, but he remains brave and faithful to the end.  

I love this movie more each time I see it.  

Other posts on Fury:

Fourth time watching Fury


Faith in Fury


Monday, November 24, 2014

Tanker's Final Exam, Part 3, Machine Guns and HE

After the first two engagements, coax machine gun then HEAT at a 1600-meter target, the next two engagements were machine guns against troop targets.

We are supposed to keep moving while firing machine guns.  As we moved away after firing the cannon, I said "Driver Steady" over the headset.  Merc and I had practiced for hours holding our sights steady on an area target while Burhans smoothly steered the tank down the trail.  He held 10 mph while the loader and I scanned the horizon.  The .50 cal. target came  first.  Troop silhouettes off to the left at 1200 meters, almost 3/4ths of a mile.

When Pierce called the target, I swung the turret close to the area, then dropped down to refine the aim through the .50 cal. sight.  Burhans slowed to 5 mph.  I had been cautioned over and over by our platoon sergeant not to "Cowboy" the commander's machine gun.  I only had 50 rounds to bring effective fire on those targets.  That meant the 2nd tracer better be on target, if not the first.  Firing the .50 by eyeball is fun, but not accurate.  I aimed through the site, kept my burst short and put effective fire on the troop targets.

Next were troops at just 500 meters.  As soon as we saw then, Pierce dropped down in the turret in case the coax jammed.  I swung the target in the area and yelled "Gunner, Coax Troops."

Merc took the control and put nearly all of the hundred rounds into those troop panels.  Burhans held us at a steady 5 mph while Merc fired, then eased up to 10 mph again when I called "Cease Fire."

When we rounded the next bend, Merc was ready for the shortest shot, but one that would catch other crews out.  We fired at a panel at 900 meters with High Explosive.  This was the round we fired with the telescope, not the main sight connected to the stereoscopic range finder.

Merc had no problem.  Months of practice and the relatively short firing distance meant he was ready to hit the small panel with the slower high explosive round.  HE has a muzzle velocity of just 2,450 feet per second, less than half the speed of SABOT armor-piercing rounds.  A 900-meter shot with SABOT was point and shoot.  With HE the ballistic path took the round many yards above the target before it dropped through.

When Pierce spotted the target (He was very good at picking out targets.) I swung the turret and yelled, "Gunner HE Anti Tank."

Pierce already had HE loaded and the next round cradled in his arms.

Merc refined his aim.  We waited two extra seconds for this telescope shot but it seemed a lot longer.

"On the Way," Merc yelled and the tank rocked back.  Pierce yelled "Up" announcing the gun was reloaded just a second after the tracer showed that the HE round passed through the panel.  I announced "Hit."  The grader concurred.  Merc yelled "On the Way" and the second round passed through the panel.

I said "Driver Move Out" and tapped Merc on the shoulder with my foot.  Pierce reached over the gun and whacked Merc on the helmet.  We could lose points for unnecessary chatter on the headsets, so Pierce had to jump down and hit Merc on the head, in the most affectionate way.  Pierce was grinning.  He knew we were tearing this range up.  But the next engagement would be tough.  Moving tank.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Total Reverse: At the End Drill on Sunday, I Decided to Try to Stay for Another Year or Two

Pretty soon I will be older than the model for this picture.  But despite that, I just wrote a letter to ask to extend my enlistment for two more years in the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.

The reason for the change, as far as I can tell, began with seeing "Fury."  I may not be able to return to tanks, but after a weekend of talking to soldiers I have served with for years now, I knew I would hate myself if I didn't at least try to stay in.  So I wrote a letter saying why it was good for the Army to keep me in for another year or two.

I don't know if it will work.  Waivers over age 62 have to be approved by Big Army at the Pentagon, not just at the state level.

I will let you know.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Seeing "Fury" for the Fourth Time

Last night I saw the move Fury for the fourth time.  I was in NYC and saw it with Jim Dao, who covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the New York Times.

Seeing it the fourth time, I was just as impressed with the crew and how accurate every tank scene was--until the final battle scene when everything went all John Wayne.  I did not leave the theater in the same emotional haze that enveloped me as I walked form the theater the first time.  That night I walked out of the theater ready to re-enlist for six years--if I could serve in tanks.

My favorite scene remains the four American Sherman tanks battling the single German Tiger tank until just the heroes' tank remained.  I loved watching the gunnery procedure in fine detail.  Four times watching Bible shoot, Coon-ass load, Gordo drive and Wardaddy lead the crew just made the whole scene look better.

Of course, by the fourth time, I realized my view of the action is very different from someone who has never sent rounds downrange from inside a tank turret.  Like a helicopter pilot in a simulator, I can feel and smell things that non-pilots completely miss.

I may see the movie again in a theater before it goes to video.  I am sure I will own the video when it is available.

If you haven't seen it yet, enjoy!!!!
Other posts on Fury:

Fourth time watching Fury


Faith in Fury


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tankers Final Exam, Part 2 "Gunner, HEAT, Tank"

After the first engagement, we rolled down the firing lane scanning the trees and dunes ahead on the range at Fort Carson in southern Colorado.  Off to the left just over a mile away, a 6 by 6 wood panel popped and I yelled my favorite fire command into the headset:

Gunner, HEAT, Tank!

At the moment, Burhans brought the tank to a smooth halt.  I traversed the turret left and got the gun on the target.  While the turret traversed Geno loaded a HEAT round into the chamber and yelled "Up" announcing the main gun was loaded and ready to fire. The High Explosive Anti Tank round has a projectile shaped like a whiskey bottle.

The round detonates when the nose of the round touches the target, but the detonation is at the back of the round.  It forms a shaped charged that burns a hole through up to a foot of armor plate.  An explosive shell would not penetrate half that much armor.  The best round for punching through armor plate is the solid-shot SABOT.  We'll get to that later.

With HEAT loaded, Merc moved the sights to center of mass of the panel, shouted "On the way" and fired.  The tank rocked back as the main gun recoiled, splitting the turret in half.  The spent cartridge from HEAT round clattered to the metal floor of the turret.  Geno slammed another HEAT round into the chamber and yelled "Up."  I saw the tracer pass through the panel with my binoculars and announced "Hit."

One of the advantages of HEAT over the more effective SABOT round for the tank commander, is that it is easier to adjust fire.  With a muzzle velocity of 3,850 feet per second, the HEAT round took two seconds to travel from the gun to the target.  The SABOT round covers the same distance in just over a second.  That extra second gives me a better chance of seeing through the huge cloud of smoke and flame coming from the gun muzzle.

Merc refined his aim as he always did, announced "On the way" and fired.  Another round, another hole in the panel.  "Driver, Move Out."

Next, machine guns.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Remembering the Tanker's Final Exam

The Moment After the 105mm Round Goes Downrange

Last post ended when my crew and I lined up for the moving range at my first annual tank gunnery.  It was April 1976.  I had enlisted in the Army the year before after spending 2-1/2 years in the Air Force.  I was a Specialist at enlistment in June of 1975, got promoted to Sergeant in January and was a tank commander.  For the driver, PFC Richard Burhans, and I it was our first gunnery.  For the loader, PFC Gene Pierce, this would be his second annual gunnery.  My loader, SPC "Merc" Morris, had been a loader in the two previous years.  This would be his first time as a gunner.  

And gunner was the position The Lord made him for.

Merc was a rumpled, complaining, lousy soldier in many ways, but was good with numbers and could think quickly and clearly about ranges, ammo and adjusting fire.   

As we rolled onto the range we loaded ammo and waited in springtime sun in Colorado.  Blue sky, little wind, and lots of nerves.  The moving range takes the crew down a lane with nine targets.  Four main gun targets, three coaxial machine gun targets, and two .50 caliber machine gun targets.  The "Coax" machine gun is a 7.62mm, belt-fed weapon mounted parallel or coaxially with the main gun.  The .50-cal is fired by the commander in the cupola on top of the tank.

After the command "Driver, Move Out" we move slowly down the range.  We are all scanning left, right and front for targets.  The first targets pop up to the right: troop targets at 400 meters.

Before I talk about firing, a word about crew commands.  The fire command is primarily for the gunner, but tells the whole crew to do something.  The format is: Alert, Ammo, Target.  So for the first engagement, when I saw the troop targets, I used the commanders override turret control to swing the turret close to the target area.  As I swung the turret, the driver brought the tank to a smooth stop and I said, "Gunner. Coax. Troops."

Merc then brought the sights to the center of the troop concentration and announced "On the way" as he squeezed the trigger.  The loader made sure the ammo belt was feeding smoothly into the coaxial machine gun while the gunner fired.

Before the new tanks with stabilized sights and guns, tanks fired from the halt.  So every time I issued a fire command, the driver's job was to bring the tank smoothly to a halt as level as possible.

Merc put a dozen tracers in the area--a total of 60 rounds.  I called ""Cease Fire!"  And then "Driver, Move Out."

The whole crew scanned for targets.  To the left, a tank-sized panel popped up.  First main gun engagement.

More next post. . .

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