Saturday, January 17, 2015

Field Artillery and Firepower

I google and read all things artillery and I chanced upon a very interesting book Field Artillery and Firepower by Major General JBA Bailey, RA. The book is well researched and written. I recommend all Gunners, old and current officers alike to read it. 

The book spans the historical development of field artillery and its impact on the many campaigns and wars. The author also discused the advent of new technologies and fast developments in weaponry. This is a valuable thesis worth referring to for a comprensive knowledge of the field artillery. The King of the battle field.

The book’s extensive review is shared below:

This a gem. Read the preview and perhaps buy the ebook from Google.

Allen Lai
Once a Gunner

The slide rule

Look at the scales. So intimidating.

The slide rule is one ruler I never got to know how to use. I do know the slide rule has many important functions to complement the Arty Board and plotting issues. It is an alternative plotting and computing tool in the command post. My TAMA Sgt is an expert on it (I think ) although I suspect he did not do well in mathematics while in school.

I used the slide rule to draw lines.

The slide rule is primarily an instrument used by architects, engineers and mathematicians for multiplications/division, factorings and such like computations. The slide rule is a scale for logsrithmic scales. The slide rue is used to double check on the Bty position, interpolations, angle of sights, crest clearance etc etc. Hey I never got to use it so I cannot imagine what else we can do with the slide rule in the command post. My TAMA Sgt always carries it with him and he had never once contradicted my plottings in the Arty Board/ Fire control plotter.

Is the slide rule still being used? now that we have sophisicated calculators?  I remember using the programmable HP calculator. The state of the art instrument in the 1980s. But then there is no harm going back to basics with mechanical instruments like the formidable slide rule.

Allen Lai

The Artillery Board

The arcs and the gridded paper

The board and a director

Tools secured at the back of the board

I remember another iconic British artillery innovation. The Artillery Board. My batch of artillery officers commissioned into the Federation Artillery Regiments would be the last batch of GPOs to use the Arty Board in the command post as the primary plotter. The fire Control Plotter was just being introduced in 1964. I would believe the Arty Board is still being used today by artillery safety officers.

  The Arty Board is made of wood and is about 30 inches square and weighs a ton. It has alluminium range and bearing arcs placed on top of gridded sheet of paper. The scale used is 1:25,000. Grid references are plotted on it and the arcs displyed the bearings and range to the plotted GR. It was believed that the Arty Board was first used by the British artillery in 1915 during the Great War. If Galileo Galilei was a gunner he would have designed the board much earlier.

The board is really large and clumsy. Yet I had seen the Arty Board despatched down in parashutes with the British airborne Bty on an exercise in the Larkhill range. I believe the Arty Board woud make excellent para-wings if it was strapped onto the backs of the TARA personnel. Maj Chong Kok Hing and I would loved to use the Arty Board as our majong table, but we could not get hold of a used and boarded-out Arty Board. The Arty Board last a life time. It had stopped many unsafe rounds being fired.

Allen Lai

The artillery puff range

Artillery Puff Range MK 1

Puff the magic dragon a song by Peter, Paul and Mary in the hay days of the hippie era circa 1960s and 1970s. A very happpy tune and we all liked it for what the song represented. And each time the thought of the song came to my mind I think of our artillery puff range. I do not know why. Really I don’t.

The artillery puff range was an excellent and ingenuous British inovation for artillery fire observation training. Sometimes it is called a terian board. The artillery puff range should be awarded first prize for creativity. It was simple and easy to construct and had served the artillery regiments all over the world until the advent of the first simulation system INVERTRON and we of course went hi-tech by having one in the School of Artillery in Port Dickson.

I remember 1 ARTY had a purpose built puff range and so did the School of Artillery in PD. I am not sure if any other regiments had a puff range in the unit. Nor do I know why it did not have one when it should.

I first saw the artillery puff range in 1 ARTY in early 1980s when I was posted to the regiment as a BC. But to my dismay the puff range was converted for the QM (Gen) to use as his carpantery store. So much to be said of our COs in 1 ARTY then. We shall never never know what was in their minds. Sure a purpose built building for a puff range would also make a perfect storehouse as well.

The artillery puff range was essentially a large table/ platform top layout of a selected terrain constructed to scale 1:25,000. It was also very interesting that the scale fitted the observation of the range through the normal binoculors. The puff range was raised 6 feet above the floor so that gridlines were drawn in perspective to the OP position. The top platform was made of a wood and chicken wire, the surface was covered by the porous green hessian canvas cloth and painted with shades of dark colours for shadows, blue rivers and brown colour for roads and tracks.It was even able to replicate dead ground and precipies. It had of course bushes and woods; and toy models to make up the scenario.

I requested to reactivate the puff range in 1 ARTY and had used it on a monthly basis.

A  full OP team would sit at one end of the puff range with other trainees sitting on bench racks behind watching the shoot. The artillery puff range in 1 ARTY can accomodate a class of 20 personnel, seated in three rows behind the OP party.

Below the puff range were a team of TAMA and signallers to create the fall of shots. The team had a trollery and one corner was placed over the grid reference with a pointer pointing up to the terrain above.

Fall of shots were made by mixing sulphuric acid and amonia gas blown into a bottle to form white ammonia gas to be channeled up through the hessain top via a tube. The fall of shots were very crispt and clear to the OP. When we expired training grants to purchase ammonia ad acids, we got the TAMA personnel to blow cigarette smoke up the tube. Same effect. The TAMA sgt and TAMA assistants joined in to provide extra “rounds” during FFE and Regimental targets. Smoke shoots were quite exhausting even for the gleeful smokers. We always had adequate smokers in the BTY as most of us picked up smoking addiction when cigarettes were free issues in the 1960s.

Do we have artillery puff ranges nowadays? or the INVERTRON simulation (maybe a newer simulator) is available for all the regiments? I would think life firing in Asahan would be very restricted too. The artillery puff range is as real as it can get for OP training. Lets reinvent the wheel and not wait twiddling our tumbs for our annual training allocations to be at the Asahan range.

Allen Lai

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I remember Sam

I remember Sam. Samsuddin Basrah. If there is one thing about Sam, it would be his smile. Yes his contagious smile. Warm, assuring and fatherly even. I have always wondered why his smile never left his face. Sam wore his smile like a mask and we never saw an ugly Sam. Never. Slim, clean, straight forward and personable. He would be akin to the Cliff Richard or Ricky Nelson of our generation. No, Sam does not sing. Not even like us after a stengah at the bar. We did not catch him singing in the bathroom either. But on some very rare times Sam rose to the occasion and belted his heart (and voice) out. He stood up to be counted. Sam had the next door boyish image.

I had never served in the same Regiment or organisation with Sam. He was in 1 ARTY and I in 2 ARTY. I remained a field gunner throughout and Sam was a field gunner and air defender. Much of our interactions were at Corp activities, Corp mess nights, Corp games, conferences and army exercises.  We had not even attended one our courses together and I don’t play golf which was his favourite sport. He would always encourage me to play golf in every Corp golf competition. Come on Allen, he would always say as Director of Artillery.

Sam and I did not have the same feathers as we were close; yet not close. In the same flock but different birds. Sam was a couple of years older than me and those others of our vintage; circa 1960s. I believe this small age gap made him more responsible and matured. That is not to say Sam did not participate in our rowdy activities. Sam was never a leader in such ativities but was always dependable to participate, his smiles and all. Sam was a true thoroughbred team player. He was quiet and alert by nature. Always with a soft and encouraging voice. He would say his piece with full integrity and the truth matters most to him. He had left a good legacy for others to follow, which would be very difficult, as Sam had set an exemplary profile and left a high benchmark as a Gunner.

Anybody else who wants to share their moments with Sam, please write in the comments below or better still inform me or Rama so that we can add an addendum to this post. 

Sam left us too soon. Sadly and suddenly. Whilst he would no longer be with us, Sam and his quiet smiles would be missed by all of us.

Goodbye Sam, We are glad you were a Gunner.

Allen Lai

PS. Photo to be uploaded later. anybody got one?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Jottings From Perth W.A.

Honouring the brave
 I was on holiday in Perth and made it a point to visit KingsPark. I am impressed how veterans who died in battle are honoured by trees planted by their loved ones. Its a lasting act that fills the park with respect for soldiers. I had a short walk to find a Gunner, and I did. The Blue and Red stood out so proudly. There was also many other memorial type monuments recording the Australian experience over the Great Wars, Campaigns etc. I was moved to see such liveliness in a sombre scenario.I wish we could do this too.

25 pdr

In Remembrance

Friday, January 2, 2015

Danger Close Missions

A danger close OP bunker

How close are danger close missions? How close should they be? I recall the closest targets are about 800 metres for all shoots in Asahan Range. It is in the Range Standing Orders.

But what is the accepted danger distance to troops? I can only recall some principles in shooting danger close missions. Things like the range to the target; the 200 mils fan angle to the line of fire over own troops; calculations for splinter distance, which is 250 metres for the 105 shell and 400 metres for the 155 shell; the zone of the guns and the shape of the splinter zone. So much to consider. Corrections to adjustments were always calculated with the above principles factored in.

It was Ok when doing all the calculations during life firing training, but in war/ops? The over riding factors still remains in poor map reading and the actual locations of the gun positions, OP/FOO locations and the forward troops. The later Grid References amost imposible to verify.

I had my first real danger close mission during my Artillery Advance Course early 1970s, in the School of Artillery, Manly Australia.

Our practical OP training was at the Holsbury Artillery Range, north of Sydney. It was a two weeks life firing exercise, with every student conducting a danger close mission. We were to call for fire 50 metres infront of our OP position. Needless to say we were well protected as the bunker above. Shells would fall on top of the bunker during FFE. It may look safe but it sure was quite frightening with the blast and smoke coming into the observation slits. The shoot is quite tedious as only one student and an IG is alowed into the bunker for each mission. Just in case, it is for risk management if not anything else.

Calling danger close missions are compulsory in the wake of Australian Gunners’ experience in Vietnam circa 1960s as with the Battle of Long Tan. Fire support was called onto the ambushed troops position by the NZ FOO serving with the Australian Bty. It was deemed that it was better to bring fire onto one’s position as the final recourse, rather than be out numbered by the enemy during their assault.

My personal experience of a shell falling into my location was a single WP shell fired while doing adjustment in earnest and with great oversight (Nice way to say stupidity on my part) at the Inlet location in the Mong Gajah sector, Kedah. My FOO party was not protected with any OHP in our observation trench. I had conducted a danger close mission and I thought that I could “creep” well in my adjustment plan. The first round did not behave itself and fell into the camp, 50 metres from me. Luckily there were were no casualties. God was watching over me. He must have just smiled. God bless Him. I still shiver at the thought of the accident.

In hindsight, it was perhaps that I did not take into acount the slope effects; the wear and tear of the adjustment gun barrell, as guns with 50% worn EFC should not be used to fire danger close missions. It could also be the C of M as Mong Gajah is located in a hilly area and it was a cold morning. Yes the crest clearance at the target end was also definitely a major factor for which I did not take into account. I was over confident. After all I was trained in Australia, wasn’t I ?

For all it is worth, we will let the IGs have their say. Fortunately/Unfortunately there was no demand for a Board of Inquiry. It was deemed as part of our operational harzards.

I hope the new range at Gemas/ Asahan would have an OP bunker for danger close missions. I remember it was part of the Q brief when I was with the Gemas Project in the 1980s.

Allen Lai

Once a Gunner

The OP Ack

The OP organisation never changed since WW1

The OPO has an OP assistant, called OP ack. Remember him in the OP party? Yes he is the BDP member of the OP group. He has an important role to play to assist the OPO. He should be as qualified to call for fire and observe the fall of shots and give corrections.

But alas are our OP Ack well trained? Truth be told I have never really had to depend on my OP ack throughout my time as an OP or FOO. I never remember training him for his roles too. Worst still was when we were having training ammunition allocation. We never did have adequate life firing training for the OP ack in Asahan range. I did OP drills all by myself.

If I remember correctky the OP ack is responsible to be familiar with the zone of observation. The OPO should indicate every target to his OP ack to which the OP ack is suppose to work out the OT factor, apex angle etc etc for the OPO. He continues to watch out for the target as ordered by the OPO. He is to check the OPO’s fire orders for any possible errors, but never to counter them.

His main role to to check his OPO for gross errors and also to count down for the time of flights. He reports “stand by” 5 seconds before shell burst for every round fired. At the end of every shoot the OP ack is to enter the shoot in the OP log, and if a target is recordered by the GPO, the OP ack is to mark it into the target map. Maybe there are more duties for the OP ack, but I forgot them already.

Now that we know the importance of an OP ack. Anybody knows what he does? except to follow the OPO around? Is he redundant in the Malaysian Artillery OP organisation? If I had not taken action to train him, circa 30 years ago, what about now? I hope all present COs take note to what troubles me as I start to hear about the state of our regiments training and our competency levels. Least we forget gunnery. 

Allen Lai

Once a Gunner

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Great experience interoperating with guns like these

The sole objective of interoperativity is to make systems and organisations work together. In artillery it entails streamling fire discipline language, systems and procedures, having close to standardised equipment particularly ammuntions, and sharing of resources.

Malaysian Artillery was firmly rooted into the British system from day one. Interoperability with NATO systems started around 1970s. We were actually half way into interoperability because, we had Italian guns, NATO standard ammunitions, British and American artililery equipment, and of course we spoke fairly good english, Malaysian way.

In the British concept, OPOs ordered the guns to fire, whilst in the American way, they requested for fire. There was a classic example in the later; an american OPO requested for immediate fire support and when it was finally approved the target was no longer there. Request for fire support is still the norm as with request for close air support.

My first experience with interoperabilty was when we had finished our YO course in Larkhill in 1965 we were seconded for a month with British Army on the Rhine (BAOR) artillery units serving NATO in Germany. I was seconded to 2 Field Regiment RA deployed at Dennis Camp in the Munsterlager sector, south of Hamburg, Germany.

Young officers in the Regiment largely suspected my standard of english. They think I would be off the mark and to be fair, there would always be some degree of racisism with the British in those days. The only way out of it was to whack back. Hard. We were having happy hour in the bar, when a British officer, stiff upper lips and all, called me a swine and I happily called him a hog. He challenged me if I knew what was the difference between a swine and a hog. I clarified that a swine is a beautiful bitch of a pig and a hog is an incorrigible castrated batchelor pig like him. That settled our argument to the delight of other officers present. He then respected my command of his english language and settled for truce by calling for drinks all round. From then onwards I fitted in. “Ein Beer biter” was the order of the day.

My other experience of interoperability was when I participated in Exercise Long Gun in Queensland, Australia. Omar Mohammed and Dato Hassan were with me. We were FOOs for the joint Commonwealth exercise. An Australian Div Arty comprising two field reigments and a medium regiment were supporting a UK Para Bde. The UK Para Bde flew directly from the UK and parashuted into the Shoalwater Bay area in the Capricorn Coast of Central Queensland. Shoalwater Bay has two seasons throughout the whole year. It was either hot or very hot. It was very hot, mostly plus of 38 degrees centigrade.

I remembered members of the Para Bde wore their winter Pakka jackets as it was winter in the UK and summer in Australia. It was definitely an oversight by the Paras. The three weeks exercise was a tremendous success. Dato Hassan had a Wallaby (small kangaroo) hopped on to his stomach whilst he was resting in the bush to our amusement. 

It was actually exciting and fun to operate along side with other artilleries in the world.

Allen Lai


The Malaysian Artillery Regiments draw our roots from the Royal Artillery (RA). We started with our gunners serving inthe Search Light battery in Pulau Blakang Mati off Singapore. The RA will celebrate their 300 years centenary in 2016. Ubique. Everyware. Unique was best translated into Bahasa Malaysia by our Lt Colonel Waris as “Everywhere On On”. This slogan was proudly painted on the wall of 6 Arty located in Lok Kawi Camp, Sabah.

Below is the notification from the RA Assiociation to celebrate the auspicious occasion, worldwide.

          On the 26th May 2016 the Royal Regiment will celebrate its 300th Anniversary. As part of the celebration of this significant milestone, we will conduct a west to east circumnavigation of the globe, commencing at our birth place in Woolwich in mid 2015, and finishing at our Regimental home in Larkhill.

A baton, designed to represent our 300 years, will be carried around the globe, before being presented to our Captain General when she reviews the Regiment at Larkhill on the date of our Foundation.

The circumnavigation will provide an exciting and unrivalled opportunity for all corners of the Regimental family: Regular, Reserve, Veterans (through the RAA) and RA capbadged UOTC, CCF and ACF units, to play their part in an incredible journey. We will also seek the support and engagement of Commonwealth Artillery nations and our close Allies, alongside Industry Partners.

I urge you all to get involved, think imaginatively, seize the opportunity to lead and participate in an adventure to a far flung corner of our planet, and play your part in living up to the motto given to us by King William IV – Ubique.

Arty Directorate hopefully will take notice of the event and perhaps participate in whichever way we can.


Allen Lai