Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Guns of Afghanistan

Heavy metal indeed:
...Guns N' Roses music is blasting from the big gunners' hooch.


It's all about the bang and the thunder for D Battery, B Troop, 2nd Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, which is a quaint regimental anachronism.

They laid down some 700 rounds of mortar in Helmand province during the last month in support of British, American and Dutch infantry operations against a hardcore Taliban redoubt in the strategic Sangin River valley, fiercely contested for its water, hydropower source and the skein of supply routes that crisscross the district.

Just soothing their ears now with a dose of primordial rock licks, back at base, in preparation for the next howitzers-hither summons.

"Napoleon said artillery wins wars, infantry holds ground," quotes Bombardier Michael Hobb, a ridiculously cherubic-looking 20-year-old from Yarmouth, N.S. "Napoleon was in the artillery, you know."

He continues to wax rapturously about his particular component of Task Force Afghanistan, the sheer orgiastic thrust of firing cannons that, while technologically advanced to the point of pin-sharp precision, still pretty much resemble – to an untutored eye – the lumbering contraptions dragged into the field by Napoleon's forces a couple of centuries ago.

"Big guns, big boom."

"A ruuuuush," offers Gunner Adam Hannaford, 23, of Hamilton, drawing out the word so that it sounds like a rocket hiss.

Or, as described by Gunner Robert Kelly, 25: "Hours of boredom and then an intense moment of adrenaline." Adding: "All elbows and a--holes." As in elbows cocked to pull the lanyards and sphincters clenched in the heat of battle...

Some Canadians might be appalled at such fanciful reveries about killing apparatus. But most Canadians haven't been under stomach-churning enemy fire either. The Taliban can bring it, when they choose and where they choose. They have repeatedly chosen Sangin to engage in conventional attacks, as opposed to dart-and-detonate tactics using improvised explosive devices elsewhere...

The infantry moves forward and probes, comes into contact, then calls co-ordinates for artillery lobs. From their position further to the rear, the bombardiers calibrate the source of incoming fire using radar and other sensitive equipment.

"There was air cover too, but that doesn't always get where you want it to go," points out Warrant Officer Dennis Goodland, wizened troop leader to a startlingly young coterie of gunners. "It can cause too much collateral damage."

The 155mm M-777 howitzers and a variety of other humongous artillery pieces – some containing up to 120 shells that burst into lethal bomblets – are shredding-machines, if less blindly ruinous than air power bombardments. The gunners just call them "bullets."..

The guns boast the longest-range rounds of all artillery pieces in use in Afghanistan. To the Taliban, as Canadians have learned, they're known as "The Desert Dragons."

At Forward Operating Base Robinson, where the Canadians fired their howitzers every day for a week, D Battery created a gun line with an American artillery battery from the 82nd Airborne Division, the two nations blending seamlessly in support of the "pointy" end of the combat arrow in Helmand...
I hope the Star's Jim Travers didn't get as far as the final paragraph above.

More on Canadian guns here.

Update: Upon mature reflection I think of the LAV III's cannon as being more in the Jo Jo Gunne line: a far-off country .


Blogger cliffhanger said...

Great post !
My husband is there right now--he's Artillery

5:39 p.m., May 01, 2007  

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