Rounds Complete!

Just in case you wondered what artillery looked like at night…

The Marines are pounding the heck out of someone. And you’ll notice it takes a looooong time for the rounds to reach their target. The caption describes this as a “massive fire mission” and that it is.


Load HEAT!

Sorry for the delay, but poor internet availability kept us from our appointed (HEAT) rounds. Real life is still intruding on blogging, but I felt I at least owed you your regular weekly peek.

Unless you’ve been dead the last 9 years, you know who this is. Even if you have been dead, you’ve had a pretty good chance of meeting Marg Helgenber’s character on CSI, Catherine Willows.

Semi Random Desert Thoughts

I spent a fair amount of time in desert environments. Not like today’s soldiers, but enough. For a guy who spent 12 years in the service, I was fortunate to only have to go to the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, CA one time. It was unpleasant. The conditions weren’t any worse than a lot of other places I’ve been. And the pace of operations was only slightly higher than usual. But the whole hassle of traveling from Ft. Carson, CO to NTC, drawing equipment, getting it ready for the field, and jumping through all the other hoops that a “high visibility” event involved were enough to take away most  of the fun factor of running around the desert for two weeks and shooting at things.

By a happy coincidence, my parents were in the area during the first couple days while we were still drawing our equipment. I managed to snag a couple hours off to spend some time with them. I am still grateful I had a chance to show my folks just a small slice of what life for a grunt in the wild was like. They got to see my home away from home, which was a pup-tent. I gave them a good tour of a Bradley, showed them all the rifles and weapons we carried and fed them an MRE. Most importantly, I went with them to the commissary and bought a dozen cartons of cigarettes. Back in the day, lots of grunts smoked. And after a few days in the field, cigarettes became more valuable than cash.

Drawing the equipment and going to the field wasn’t that bad. Just sign your name and you’re the proud owner of a Bradley. But your Bradley is one of the very first ones made. It is old and tired. It has tons of broken parts and is in sad shape. Whoever had it before you didn’t take much care of it. Think of it as a rental car, but instead of a businessman using it on a sales trip, a teenager had taken it to the races. Year after year.

The other problem was that you had to turn the vehicle back in. And suddenly, all the little things that were wrong with it when you drew it? They’re your problem now. They don’t want to have to fix them, so you have to. They (civilian contractors who could give a damn about you and your problems) don’t have to take it back, but you DO have to turn it in. You’re leaving. And so many hours go into fixing what was broken when you received it. The vehicles themselves weren’t always the worst parts. Often it was the associated equipment. For instance, cleaning the main and coax guns was something of a nightmare, as we were in a dustbowl. Kinda hard to clean a weapon when mother nature was blowing in sand and grit faster than we could scrub it out.

This isn’t me in the picture, but since I’m away from home and can’t scan one of my pics from my trip there, this will have to do. It shows:

Army and Marine forward observers at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, Calif., scan the valley for potential targets. Official photo by Casey Bain, JFIIT, USJFCOM

The Cold War Brigade

OK, we’ve gone through the WWII division organization. We talked about the disaster that was the Pentomic Division with its “Battlegroups” that sounded the death knell of the regiments in the US Army. We’re going to take a look at the brigade organization in the Cold War era.

Now, understand that we are talking about brigades that are a part of a division. There were also a lot of brigades that were separate units that belonged to echelons at corps or higher levels. Some were combat brigades and some were specialized support units such as MP or Military Intelligence Brigades. For now, let’s stick to the brigade as a fighting unit of a division.

During the Cold War, each division would typically have a structure of three ground maneuver brigades, a brigades worth of artillery, and up to a brigades worth of helicopters. Divisions were classified as either “heavy” or “light.” This told us if the units were mounted on tracked vehicles or not. Let’s start with a brigade in a light division.

Each light division would have 3 brigades and nine infantry battalions. The normal allocation would be for each brigade to have three infantry battalions. While battalions could be shifted from brigade to brigade as needed, units tried to keep the same battalions with the same brigade as much as possible. To boost the combat power of the brigade, there was usually an artillery battalion in “Direct Support.” This meant that while the brigade commander didn’t command the artillery battalion, he did have first call upon its fires. Again we see the combined arms of the infantry/artillery team in action. The division commander would allocate other assets to the brigade as needed to accomplish its mission, such as engineers from the divisions engineer battalion, ground surveillance radar teams from the MI battalion, and helicopters to move or supply the brigade. As you can see, it is a fairly simple structure.

When we look at a heavy division, things get a little more complicated. There were two types of heavy divisions, Armored and Infantry (Mech) divisions. Each division had 3 maneuver brigade headquarters, a brigades worth of artillery, an aviation brigade and 10 ground maneuver battalions. In a Mech Infantry division, there were 5 infantry battalions, mounted in either M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers or latter Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The division had 5 armor battalions with M-60 tanks or later, M-1 tanks. An Armored Division had the exact same structure but there were 6 tank battalions and only 4 infantry battalions.

The normal bridage structure had two brigades with three battalions and one with four. Often, this 10th battalion would be held in reserve by division to either exploit success or reinforce a breach in the lines. Each brigade would have a battalion of artillery in direct support, with the same relationship as in a light division.

Here’s where things get complicated- mech infantry needs armor support and armor needs infantry support. Battalions were kept “pure” through most of their training and garrison life, but when in the field, units would be “task organized” to form a “task force.” Let’s take a look at how this might work. For simplicitie’s sake, let us presume a heavy brigade with 2 tank battalions and one mech infantry battalion. When we’ve task organized, we’ll have two task forces and one “pure” tank battalion.

The tank battalion has 4 tank companies. The mech battalion has 4 infantry companies. The first thing we do is swap two companies from each battalion. That gives each battalion 2 tank and two mech companies.

We carry this out at the next echelon as well. A tank company will swap a platoon with an infantry company. After this swap, these composite companies with both tanks and infantry are called “Company Teams” or just “Teams.”  Now we have a balanced force that is truly combined arms.

Sorry that there’s no powerpoint slide. I’m away from my computer. This loaner doesn’t have any office software and I’m not trying to draw an org chart in MS Paint. If you have any questions, just pop into the comments. I’ll be happy to address them.

Permission to leave the net…

I’m running out to the desert for a couple days on personal business and don’t know how much internet access I’ll be able to get. I’ll try to get some good stuff done, but we’ll see. In the meantime, keep clicking away.

Soldier of Africa

I saw a hit from South Africa on sitemeter earlier, and when I checked my email today, I found a message from there. Lo and behold, a fellow blogger. The South African Army has a great history as a part of the British Empire, and while it struggled through the age of apartheid, it has served its nation well and remained nonpolitical in the transition to majority rule.

By all means, visit Soldier of Africa. It has a lot of great pics and you will probably enjoy seeing soldiering from a slightly different perspective.

And the blogger there was kind enough to pass along a good infantry/armor joke:

An Infantryman was on vacation in Limpopo and he wanted a pair of genuine crocodile shoes in the worst way, but was very reluctant to pay the high prices the local vendors were asking. After becoming very frustrated with the “no haggle” attitude of one of the shopkeepers, the Infantryman shouted, “maybe I’ll just go out and get my own crocodile so I can get a pair of shoes made at a reasonable price!”

The vendor said, “By all means, be my guest. Maybe you will run into a couple of Armour Guys who were in here earlier saying the same thing.”

So the Infantryman headed to the Limpopo River that same day and a few hours later came upon two men standing waist deep in the water. He thought, “those must be the two Armour Soldiers the guy in town was talking about.” Just then, the Infantryman saw a tremendously long crocodile swimming rapidly underwater towards one of the Armour Men.

Just as the crocodile was about to attack, the Armour Man grabbed its neck with both hands and strangled it to death with very little effort. Then both Armour Soldiers dragged it on shore and flipped it on its back. Laying nearby were several more of the creatures.

One of the Armour Guys then exclaimed, “Damn, this one doesn’t have any shoes either!”

Go, and enjoy.

UPDATE: The tip came from loyal reader and commenter AndrewB. Thanks.

Two other anniversaries today

Today is also the anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava.

But the battle that always comes to mind for me is the struggle of Taffy 3 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. What can I say, but go to ‘phibian’s place and watch the youtubes in their entirety. That’s a heck of a lot of valor in one fight…

For those of you who aren’t big history buffs, the Battle of Leyte Gulf was by  far the largest naval battle ever.

St. Crispin’s Day

St. Crispin’s Day Speech

William Shakespeare, 1599

Enter the KING

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here

But one ten thousand of those men in England

That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?

My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;

If we are mark’d to die, we are enow

To do our country loss; and if to live,

The fewer men, the greater share of honour.

God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,

Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;

It yearns me not if men my garments wear;

Such outward things dwell not in my desires.

But if it be a sin to covet honour,

I am the most offending soul alive.

No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.

God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour

As one man more methinks would share from me

For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!

Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,

Let him depart; his passport shall be made,

And crowns for convoy put into his purse;

We would not die in that man’s company

That fears his fellowship to die with us.

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,

And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,

And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,

But he’ll remember, with advantages,

What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,

Familiar in his mouth as household words-

Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,

Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-

Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Oh, yeah, it’s my birthday too.