Army Today

Artillery as a Fighting Arm

© The Tribune - 03 July 2001

At this crucial juncture where the line between conventional warfare and nuclear conflagration is blurred, the focus of attention should be on the higher direction of war and effective utilisation of forces in an NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) environment. It is a fact that it is the man behind the gun who matters, and only the best should be entrusted with the command. The June 19th article "Support elements as fighting arms" by a retired General tends to foment inter-arm rivalry within the Army. The author has highlighted the limited effectiveness of artillery fire during World War I despite millions of rounds having been fired. These are vintage facts to which military history does not lend credence. However, let us examine these in today's context. During World War II, 60% of all the casualties were caused by artillery fire. During Operation Vijay in Kargil, 80% of our casualties were attributed to Pakistani artillery fire and 90% of Pakistani casualties were caused by our artillery fire. A few quotes from infantry officers from the Kargil operations will help put the record straight.

Major General V.S. Budhwar, GOC, 3 Inf. Division: "My artillery played a major role in breaking the enemy’s will to fight and ensuring his defeat."

Major General Mohinder Puri, GOC, 8 Mountain Division, Mushkoh Valley: "The gunners have done a fantastic job. Actually it was an artillery battle, and the credit for the victory goes to the artillery."

As regards the author’s contesting the accuracy of our artillery fire in Kargil, Colonel Khushal Thakur, CO, 18 Grenadiers, had this to say: "The sight of over 100 guns pounding Tiger Hill was awesome. The fireball of the explosions lit up our objective. We closed in up to 40 metres of the shelling. The accuracy was so great that not one shell strayed from its target. Since then my men hold the artillery in very high regard - specially the Bofors gunners." With reference to the author's contention as to the ineffectiveness of artillery fire against motivated and well-entrenched enemy troops, this is what Brigadier Devinder Singh, Commander, 70 Infantry Brigade, has to say, "The enemy was well-entrenched on precipitous ridgelines in Batalik sector and initially we made little headway. The enemy subjected our troops to heavy volumes of coordinated automatic fire. We had to lean on the gunners to destroy the defence works of 5 Northern Light Infantry one by one....I can say without hesitation that the tide turned in Batalik because of the pounding the enemy received from the artillery....While my infantry battalions deserve immense credit for their courage and determination in several hard fought battles under the most trying and adverse circumstances, the real victory came only when the artillery forced the 5 NLI to abandon their positions and scamper back across the LoC."

The author says, "Firing a few rounds from guns in direct firing mode can hardly justify the claim for transition from Combat Support Arm to Combat Arm." May I remind the General that neither during his service nor today did terms such as Combat Support Arm and Combat Arm exist in the glossary of military terms. It is only arms and services. For the lay reader, the term 'arms' includes armour, infantry, artillery, engineers and signals. Counter-bombardment is a subject which boggles even quite a few enlightened people. To achieve lasting neutralisation of an enemy field battery deployed in an area of 100 yards by 100 yards, it needs a superiority of 30:1 under normal conditions. In high altitude areas, the zone of the gun increases, hence much more ammunition is required. Further, in the absence of the American ANTPQ-36 gun-locating radars with our army, and the inefficacy of sound-ranging equipment in the mountains, the last resort is air operation, which has its limitations due to weather conditions, visibility, enemy SAMs and only daylight capability. Juxtaposing a Bofors battery in a dug-in-gun emplacement in the plains deployed in an area of 500 x 500 yards would require the entire Pakistani artillery to neutralise it. Hence shoot, but why scoot? The author has also said that ground operations would become redundant with the usage of air operations and RPVs. It is apparent that he is not taking into account their limitations.

Coming to the main issue raised by the author, as regards the ethos, training, exposure and experience of artillery officers in battle and the doubts expressed about their potential to command fighting units and formations in battle, I would like to say that from day one an artillery officer is entrusted the independent command of the gun position without a protective mantle which his counterpart enjoys. He has to produce the first round within seconds of the receipt of orders. Ingrained procedures of double check, reflex actions and an alert body and mind ensure it. The results are there for all to see even in peace time, and the accountability is 100%. Gunners pass the Sigma 6 test hands down and that is what training is all about. As regards ethos, it is enshrined in the gunner's motto — "Sarvatra Izzat O Iqbal." (Everywhere with Honour and Glory), which every gunner holds sacred to his heart and has proved time and again in every battle.

Coming to battle experience, the author has highlighted the fact that the guns are deployed in depth. Yes, I agree, and these are manned by three very efficient 2nd Lieutenants and Lieutenants with the adjutant manning the regimental command post. However, what he has failed to highlight is that of the 13 to 14 officers available in an artillery regiment, the other 10 are well up in the thick of battle and considered as the right hands of their respective infantry commanders. These include the operations officers, two per battalion with the forward attacking companies, the battery commanders with the battalion commanders and the CO with the Brigade Commander. The operations officers accompany the assaulting infantry companies in the attack, adjust the fire, take on impromptu targets that may crop up and once on the objective, readjust the fire to beat back any counter-attack which may follow. Further, if the battalion has a second or third phase in their attack with the reserve companies, the same operations officer goes in for a second attack. In case of shortage of officers or casualties, even the subalterns are entrusted with operations officer duties, which mantle they invariably wear after about three years of service. On a number of occasions, in the event of the infantry commander becoming a casualty, the gunner officer has taken over his role and continued the task. Gunners perform similar functions with armour in battle. It seems the General has mixed up the issue of fighting experience with the majority of gunners manning gun positions in a depth area. However, we are discussing the command potential of those 10 officers per regiment who are well up in the thick of battle.

Instances are replete where gunners have challenged the gauntlet thrown by the enemy and stood their ground under most adverse conditions, forcing the enemy to flee. In the 1965 war, the Pakistani Army did its utmost to recapture Alhar, a railway station on the Sialkot-Chawinda section, the deepest point of our penetration. With the ceasefire drawing close, regaining its control became a matter of prestige for the Pakistani Army and they hurled counter-attacks with infantry supported by armour, one after the other. 20 Rajput as part of 35 Inf Bde firmly stood its ground, with superb fire support by the 166 Field Regiment. This regiment employed all means to garner the support of every artillery regiment in range and brought to bear the fire of almost two artillery brigades on the assaulting enemy troops. Each time the enemy left 100-200 killed, with fire being brought down up to 50 metres ahead of the defences. That was a battle of grit and determination, among many that the gunners are proud of.

It will be enlightening to examine the status which gunners enjoy the world over. The Soviets granted supremacy to artillery on the battlefield. To them, artillery was the 'God of War' and the concept of massed employment of artillery emerged. Soviet artillery officers have risen to the highest ranks. In the USA artillery officers, after commanding artillery brigades, are eligible to command infantry divisions. In France, artillery officers are treated on a par with other arms. As a matter of policy, artillery officers are appointed to command armoured divisions in intervals. In Pakistan, artillery is a part of the General Cadre, as also in the United Kingdom and Germany. Incidentally, during World War II, 11 of Germany's 13 Field Marshals, in command of armies, were gunners. Nearer home, General Pervez Musharraf is a gunner and so is our present Army Chief, General S. Padmanabhan. He happens to be the fourth gunner Chief that the Indian Army can be proud of. Lieutenant General JFR Jacob, who played the most significant role in the creation of Bangladesh, too is a gunner. I am all for the Queen of the Battle having its due share. However, the guiding principle must be that the best assumes the command.