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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