DEFENCE NOTES

50 YEARS OF THE REGIMENT OF ARTILLERY

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Columnist Col (retd) EAS BOKHARI goes over
the history of artillery in the Pakistan army

The Pakistani share of the artillery was less than a score units at partition, and these were a rag tag collection of polyglot nature - and could hardly fit in any tactical or strategic plan. - not to talk of self sufficiency. These units, if these could be called as such, had to be accepted and inducted in the Pakistan Army.

Over a period of time the regiment has grown almost over 100 units - even though the regiment has shed the anti aircraft elements to form Air Defence component of the Pakistan Army. This short presentation deals with the growth of the artillery regiment over a period of time - and brings out some of the episodes which presumably the official history of the regiment would not include - being more of personal nature.

It is to be noticed that the British shibboleth that Artillery is a technical arms and the coloured 'natives' are not quite capable of being good gunners was shattered (and artillery was never only the domain of the white man). In this they have proven terribly wrong and the regiment has made tremendous progress both in the equipment side as well as the handling and gunnery (technique) side. As would be seen - as a Third World country Pakistan had to induct a variety of equipments - and therefore it was necessary to unify the system of gunnery. In the early stages - the British used the FPS (Foot Pound Second) system, the American had the mil / radian system, and the Soviet system was based on rukhs. All this had to be unified for application on all equipment. Pakistan's changing over to metric system helped in this process too in a big way.

The single barelled artillery might have reached at a stage of optimum development - and as a concluding part of this presentation I have tried to say a few words of the artillery of 21st century, and the fate of single barelled gun which has been our work horse for a long time and is still going strong specially in third world countries.

It is anachronistic that during the Second World War, the Britishers did not induct very many 'natives' in the technical arms and surprisingly artillery was considered a technical arm and perhaps beyond the natives. Of course, there were a few Muslim officers who were commissioned in the artillery arm, and no doubt they later proved to be officers of very high calibre, and rose to General's rank.

One spin-off of this was that when the Pakistan Artillery started expanding and more guns were made available, there was a shortage of gunner officers and officers from other arms had to be inducted in the Royal Pakistan Artillery (as it was called at the time of partition) to make up the deficiencies. The 'Royal' stigma remained with us for quite some time.

Such lateral inductees were sometimes referred to as 'Sheikhs' by those who were basically or originally gunners.

I have here a word or two about the British attitude. I fail to understand how they very conveniently forgot that the earliest extant document mentioning 'cannon' is one in Arabic and it is dated 1304. (See Oman's A history of the Art of War, 1924. Vol II. p-2II). And then, the Britishers conveniently forgot that perhaps the first practical artillery man was a Muslim. Here is a quotation from Gen JFC Fuller's Armament and History, a book written by a famous British general, which deals with the evolution of armament. He writes on PP-87-88 thus It was however at the siege of Constantinople in 1453 that the cannon proved itself to be the dominant arm. On April 5, Mohammad II, the first great gunner in history, at the head of an immense army, appeared before the city and planted his cannon opposite its triple land wall. There, on the 12th, amidst the beating of drums and shouting of thousands of excited men, the first great historical bombardment opened. Of it Mijatovich says, Since the creation of the world, nothing like it had been heard on the shores of the Bosphorus: The cannons however were slow - though dreadful - and they could fire but seven times a day.

Mohammad's more effective weapons were the Bombards cast by a Hungarian or Wallachian cannon founder, Urban. They projected stone shot thirty inches in diameter weighing from 1,200 to 1,500 pounds. Two such stone balls of 46 inch diameter still exist in Constantinople.

So by 1948, there were only a few artillery units in Pakistan and of course their Indian designations were changed. These units were not more than twelve, including the Survey Battery.

The regiment has expanded manifold and as I had mentioned, the 'Royal' taboo has been shed. It is much-simpler and meaningful to call the arm as Pakistan Artillery which it is called now. Perhaps the basic artillery unit is a field regiment, which is supposed to provide close fire support to infantry/armour units. The purpose here is to describe life in a field regiment as it existed then. This could be compared by the gunner/other readers with the present set-up too.

The earlier commanding officers and Commanders Army GP Royal Pakistan (AGRPA) were Britishers. Some of these officers were highly competent but some had been drawn from the Reserve Army. Although I had joined 4 Field Regiment (its Indian number was 5 Field) in the border area, soon after the hostilities ended our unit moved to Quetta and was housed in pucca barracks - known as White Barracks - and white these were.

Sometimes I have brooded that no army officer can miss a posting to Quetta. An officer, particularly a good officer must go there. There you have the Infantry School, the Tactical Wing, the Staff College and a host of other institutions. A good officer must go through these at some stage of his career. At one time even 'war courses' were run at the Command and Staff College Quetta. I think we were about four 'youngsters' who went to 4 Field and we were posted to different batteries. At that time a field regiment had three batteries - each with two troops and each troop had four guns, i.e., a total of 24 pieces per unit. Each troop was an independent firing sub-unit, and with some trick the entire unit, i.e., 24 guns, could also be concentrated on a target. With the present-day US system and with the reduction of guns per unit to 18, the unit concentration has become extremely easy and time efficient.

The British were known for making things complex and sometimes without any rationale. Their gunnery system was based on the 'Pivot Gun' system in which a single gun was considered the pivot and rest concentrated on or distributed from it. And this pivot gun was directed on to the target. The present system is the Battery Centre system which is much easier involving no 'windowing' of data for others. It is much more direct and accurate.

While we are on the subject of gunnery and ballistics, I found that the senior British artillery officers were incorrigibly ignorant about the prowess of young Pakistani artillery officers, and were more used to 'rankers', who had served them well and were now battery commanders. It had been somehow drummed in to their thinking that Pakistani gunners were mediocre.

I was taken for an interview with our Brigadier. A tall (6 ft 7 inches) and weather-beaten man, he was professional down to his toes. He asked me just one question. The question was, What is Log Zero? Promptly I said Infinity, and he had no more questions to ask me. On my first interview with my Battery Commander I was asked to punctuate the following sentence:

That that is that is that and that that is not that is not that. I think I made a mess of it and put in unnecessary punctuation marks. I leave this to the readers to do it (It needs just two and no more).

I was a little amazed when I went to the ranges (for course shooting). This was an era of observed shooting, i.e., shooting while the target was in sight. (Now much is done by prediction and other sophisticated methods). The OP Officer had a terrible task as he even had to work out the gun data. This is ridiculous, but it was the practice then and as a result it was a common sight that the first round was not seen anywhere near the target. And then a long process of creeping towards the target would start which was neither time -nor ammunition-effective.

I was startled when one Major (in the good books of the British) would throw some dust and see its fallout, i.e., direction it went, and then in a mystical fashion worked out something which he claimed was the right correction of the moment. Such jugglery and magic work somehow impressed the Britishers, though it was an outright hoax and inaccurate method of finding the correction due to wind speed, density and other weather conditions as it did not relate to the atmosphere where the projectile was actually travelling.

The field regiment was equipped with the good old 25 pounder field gun-a good piece which had seen service in the Second World War. It is still used for ceremonial purposes and for operational purposes in certain sectors. The original gun had a platform on which it could easily be traversed, and then had a trailer hooked on to it in which the ammunition was carried. All this was pulled by what the Britishers fondly called the FAT (Field Artillery Tractor). It was not a tractor in the sense in which we perceive it. It was in fact a vehicle with a winch and usually a Chev or a Ford in which the crew and their paraphernalia travelled.

The British were fond of issuing innumerable number of tools on each gun. Some of these were never used during my entire stay in the unit and they just existed because they were there. These should have been in some workshop or EME unit. I suppose they expected the illiterate driver of the FAT to repair it in emergency. It was expecting too much from him.

The trailer of course had a good point that it provided some sort of articulation to the gun during travel but it made the radius of turning quite long and was tactically unacceptable.

I am not a historian of artillery, but have had the opportunity of seeing the Regiment burgeoning and coming of age over a period of time. I suppose this presentation will fit well in the 50 years Celebrations of Pakistan which, I understand, are continuing in the country during the year. Unfair as the distribution was of the territory at the time of partition, the distribution of military assets was equally irrational. In the case of artillery Pakistan got a ragtag of units of field, anti-tank, anti-aircraft and medium guns. All these were, of course, of British origin and had seen the Second World War. Some of the pieces were, perhaps, in the last quarter of their life (the life of a gun is measured, i.e., the barrel in terms of EFCs - Effective Full Charges fired, and each barrel has four quarters of life).

Neither the units were to their full TO&E (Tables of Organisation and Equipment), nor their battle worthiness could be guaranteed. Precisely, the units were not more than a dozen or so and consisted of the following:

1 Mountain Regiment. Much later it was converted into an SP Regiment the change from mules to tank was really remarkable.

2 Field Regiment: It was meant to provide direct support to infantry. The unit was equipped with 25 pounder guns, which we still have, but are now normally used for firing salutes.

3 (SP) Field Regiment: It was only partially SP and had some towed guns too. The equipment with the unit was the same good old 25 pounder.

4 Field Regiment: Another regiment which was supposed to support infantry. I was lucky to serve this regiment where I was assigned to a battle tested 5 (Nowshera) Battery. We had 25 pounders and at that time the regiments were equipped with 24 guns per unit (the present holding of units is 18 guns).

5 Heavy AA (Anit-Aircraft): This unit, as its very name implies, was for AA use and was equipped with 3.7 inch Heavy AA GUN.

6 LAA: This unit was another AA unit and was equipped with 20/40 mm AA guns for use against low flying aircraft.

7 Field Regiment: It was another field regiment equipped like 2 and 4 Field.

8 Medium: This regiment was the only heavy calibre unit and was equipped with the British 5.5 mm gun (I understand the Indians still have this equipment and they did use this against us in the 1965 War. Of course, now they have the Bofors and the Soviet 130 MM). I had a short stint in this unit and its gun towers were always a problem. These were neither reliable nor powerful enough to tow the gun for sustained periods. Even the distance from Peshawar to Nowshera ranges could take many hours by road, and was too much for these vehicles (Macks).

9 and 10 Anti-Tank units were equipped with 6 pounder direct hit anti-tank gun. As we will see later these equipments were not retained by artillery and became organic to infantry.

11 Field Regiment and 12 Medium Regiments were to be raised by milking existing field regiments and eight medium regiment. Luckily we had portions of a locating battery. That's about all the artillery assets we had in 1984. These assets were loosely grouped and located and controlled by AGRPAs (Army Group Royal Pakistan Artillery). The name of the formation was very high sounding but it could hardly effect any control over the firepower as some of the basic infrastructure for the HQ was missing, I mean communications et al. There was one at Karachi, one at Multan and one, I suppose, at Peshawar, all too far-flung, but that was the best that could be done.

I remember we had neither any spares for our equipment to start with nor was there enough ammunition. Some of the core artillery outfits like the Artillery Centre and the Artillery School were left in India at Muttra and Deolali. So we had to start from scratch. Artillery Directorate and the School of Artillery were hastily organised, and so was the Artillery Centre at Attock.

The artillery units were required to take part in Kashmir operations and for good part of the year in 1947, 48 and 49 remained on border duty. It was only after the ceasefire in 1949 when they got some respite to move to a peace station and start re-equipment and retraining. In a way, this very early initiation to war-like conditions proved good to most of us who were later to serve the regiment in various capacities.

Most of the commanding officers at that time, perhaps all, were British officers and some of them were least interested in their commands (there were exceptions like Cols Milne and Jervis and Brigadier Crawford who were downright professionals). The units, i.e., the field regiments, as I have mentioned above, had 24 guns and three batteries, i.e., each battery had a troop of four guns. In those days it was considered a great feat, which, I later thought, was a mere taboo to concentrate the fire of the whole regiment, i.e., of the 24 guns, as it involved six troops command posts and three battery command posts. Besides the Regimental HQ at a desired point. The gunnery was cumbersome. The British always thought, and quite erroneously, that Pakistanis would not make good gunners, and gunnery and ballistics were the British domain. This shibboleth was debunked later in the 1965 War when we were able to produce concentrated fire (point concentrations) within no time wherever we wanted. And even young officers could bring down the fire of the entire regiment if they were authorised (and most of them in support of infantry and armour were so authorised).

It was not the until the mid fifties that the Regiment got a real boost as far as the expansion was concerned - and with the coming of the American Military Aid - a number of Field and SP units were raised and thus a fair amount of balance had been achieved and enough artillery was available for the field formations (existing then).

All the same I cannot say that every unit or a formation had proper organic artillery in spite of the American aid. To give an example the 6 Armoured Division which had the task of stopping the Indian onslaught in the Sialkot Sector - had just one artillery unit - i.e. the First SP to support its units. Luckily after the abortive Akhnur operations - entire 4 Corps Artillery was put in support of 6 Armoured Division. Such sort of adhoc arrangements were very common - and the affiliations changed rather frequently. This of course was not good - but it could not be helped due to paucity of guns.

By end 1965 - the number of units was just about 40 - and the last i.e. 40 Field Regiment was booty from Chamb - where the Indians had left their 25 Pounders intact before fleeing the place.

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