An Indian Gunner and His Gun
A Letter From the Front
[The New York Times/Current History, February 1916]
An account of how some gunners in the Indian force did their work during a recent attack on the enemy's position is contained in a letter which appeared on Dec. 14, 1915. The orders for the fight came as a great surprise, for the then had been "grousing" at their inactivity and the continued prospect of nothing to do.
On this evening the magic word was passed along, and our instructions were issued. "So many hundred 'high explosive' and so many hundred 'shrapnel' were to be delivered to us that night. The bombardment was to start at 12 P.M. and continue for six hours. Further orders later." When we heard the amount of shells we were to dispose of we looked at each other with astonishment. Never before had we had so many to play with, and we wondered what was in the wind. It took us a few hours to draw ammunition and get it all ready, and it was heavy work, I can tell you. Then we had a few hours' sleep, the last peaceful sleep we were to get for some days.
Next day at 12 we started and kept a steady rate of fire up for six hours. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But it isn't quite so easy as it may appear. Every gun has its little peculiarities, just like a motor or a ship, and you mustn't think that so many hours' continuous bombardment is merely a matter of putting in the shell, laying the gun, and pulling the firing lever, because it isn't. We think just as much of our gun as a cavalryman of his horse or an infantryman of his rifle, and they all take a lot of looking after to keep in working order. We are very grieved sometimes when we are told, "Your gun is firing badly today," and if any particular gun happens to be temporarily out of action for minor repairs the detachment will have to put up with a lot of references to "old iron," "scrap heap," etc. Before we had been firing for a couple of hours the gun began to get red hot, the oil in the buffer expanded, and a host of other little things began to happen to cause us uneasiness. Our worst trouble consisted in trying to keep the breech as cool as possible, and the only way we could do this was to leave it open for the few seconds after we fired until a couple of seconds before our turn came to fire again.
A bystander might have caught the following scraps of conversation: "How is she going now?" "Side slipping," "leaking," "jerky," "the old cow's got the jumps this morning," "steady as a rock," "give her a drink," (oiling the breech,) "fill her up," (fill the buffer,) and other little things which would have convinced him that the gunners, at any rate, think their gun is nearly human.
Six o'clock came at length, and we thought we were finished for a bit, at any rate, but no such luck; we got orders to keep up a certain rate of fire until further orders. This we did, and, although the number of rounds per gun per hour gradually dropped to three, we didn't stop until 5 A. M. on the fourth day.
Exactly how many rounds of ammunition we got through during that time I mustn't tell you, but if the Minister of Munitions could have seen how quickly "our old girl" ate into his supplies he would have wept with mortification.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald