“Fin Tank On” is a fire order which I must have issued thousands of times in the simulator and on the ranges whilst live firing. Now the order was for real against a real target. The round was a live APFSDS – not practice or computer generated, and the target was a T62 some 1200m directly to our front. The end result would be more than a simulated explosion on a computer screen or a flash of the strike against a well peppered range target and a “well done” by the instructor.
As the order was given, I was traversing the turret to lay the gunner on or around the target. As soon as he identified, he reported “on” and took over the shoot.
The loader had sprung into life (cigarette still in mouth) and the sweat was already pouring from his brow. He loaded the round, followed by the bag charge, and then finally ramming the vent tube, before closing the breech, pulling the loader’s firing guard to the rear, picking up a fresh round, ensuring the loader’s safety switch was set to live, and yelling “Loaded” – all in the space of just a few seconds.
“Drills” are taught to ensure an instant reaction to a familiar order. As tankies, we practiced a lot – months on simulators, months on exercise practicing movement of the vehicle, reaction to orders from BG HQ (Battle Group Headquarters), map reading, camouflage and so on and ultimately learning how to fight the tank. Did any of us ever think we would be doing it for real? Well, I have to say the answer to that is probably no. However, this day in the stifling desert heat, it suddenly was for real.
No time to think, the T62 was already traversing towards us. He had a good position and was dug in well with a perfect hull down position. We were exposed, crossing a large sandbank. I ordered the driver to “left stick”, needed to get the frontal armour facing towards the enemy.
Straight after my fire order, I pressed send on my presell unit (Radio) and transmitted the following: “Hello 0 this is Whisky 10 Contact, wait out”.
I noted through my steamed up episcope that the other two call signs - 11 and 12, had immediately broken left and right in an attempt to engage the enemy from the flank. It was unlikely that the T62 was on his own, so where were the others?
The driver had a great field of view directly ahead, and often would be the first to identify targets. However, this time he was far too busy angling the vehicle to concentrate on much else. This sand type was not great to manoeuvre on. It was too hard on the sticks and you risked throwing a track, not something we wanted at this particular moment in time.
The gunner reported “on”. He had identified the target and was already laying the aiming mark (centre of the observed mass). Contrary to what some believe, tanks are not snipers. Accurate? Hell yes, as long as the Fire Control System is functioning correctly, but any round is still subject to drift, fling and dispersion.
Already the T62 had the drop on us. As I observed through my primary sight, I clearly saw the muzzle flash, and realised he had fired. Bugger (or words to that effect)!
The incoming round fell short by some 200m metres, blowing sand absolutely everywhere. Perhaps he had rushed, or not laid on correctly, used an incorrect range estimation, had a fault with their system… Well, it was an old vehicle and let’s face it, I didn’t care.
“Fire.” The gunner fired the laser, getting the range. The gun worked out the ballistic calculations in a few milliseconds and drove to the correct angle (I noted the range – 1240m). “Firing.” He pressed the firing button and the turret filled with the smell of cordite, then came the sound of the breech opening to accept the next round, which was already being fed in by the loader, and an almighty flash from the muzzle. Some think that when the gun fires, the noise is immense. Well, if you are outside, that is true, but inside the turret and when wearing crew guards and headsets, it’s actually not bad at all.
At the target end, the familiar sight of a round hitting the target (a huge flash) – it was a good strike. “Target,” said the gunner. The impact was around the turret ring and a large plume of smoke immediately started to flow out. Their whole turret was now leaning to one side and was obviously disabled.
“Loaded.” The next round was ready and loaded.
“Target Stop,” I ordered. There was clearly no need to fire another round - the enemy had been neutralised, that was blatantly apparent. Overkill was not necessary, nor wasting ammunition.
“Hello 0 this is Whisky 10. Contact as at 14.23 hours, grid 347854. One T62 in dug-in position. Have engaged and destroyed. Out”
The crew had reacted impeccably. Their reactions were fast and accurate - no emotion, no delay and no mistakes. Practice makes perfect, how true. There was a hushed silence in the turret, and no sign of any other vehicles.
“Cup of tea anyone?” The loader remarked as he lit a cigarette.
This is a work of fiction, used to demonstrate the process of a typical fire order. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.