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Commonwealth Artillery Grogs: Syntax used when calling for arty?

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I've been trying to determine the syntax that would be used when British and Commonwealth forces called for artillery support. I'm particularly interested in the precise language that an FOO or similar would use when calling in a 'Quick Barrage' or 'Quick Fire Plan' in support of a small unit action (as described here). How would the FOO initiate contact with the battery (for example, what callsigns were used, what were the radio/phone procedures)? What phonetic alphabet did the Royal Artillery use (Able, Baker etc.)?

Ideally, I'd really like to find a transcript of an FOO requesting such a fire mission (whether in a real or training situation). Does one exist anywhere?

Any ideas/links/references much appreciated.

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"Sorry to bother you Chaps, were in a bit of a binder here. It would be awfully nice of you to lend us a hand and give fritz a damm good thrashing at *insert co*ords here*"

Am pretty sure thats how they did it, yep. smile.gif

Edit: I was reading through bits of one of the sites that website cites at the bottom earlier on. Link

It does seem to have quite a bit of info on there, it also has sections for engaging targets and fire plans etc so that might have some of the info you need buired in there?

the stuff i was reading through was the lessons from World War 1, seemed like pretty intresting stuff.

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Have a rummage through the Div Arty volume of the NZ Official Histories at www.nzetc.org IIRC, it talks about the development of highly standardised barrages, stonks, and murders. These could be called for by a single code word and a grid, and the command posts could work out the rest from there using the appropriate SOP.

You might also look through George Blakburn's "Guns" trilogy.

The Commonwealth used their own phonetic alphabet that began "Ack, Beer, ..." up till sometime mid-war. After that, in the interests of commonality, they adopted the US phonetic alphabet.

I imagine you'll have to hunt far and wide to find a transcript. Other than a brief note that such and such a unit received the order for a fireplan, from such and such FO, I doubt you'll find anything in radio comms log books. I strongly suspect they used preformatted fireplan proformas, with the FOO talking directly to the CPO (ie, officer-to-officer) to pass the requisaite information. The FOO would fill in his copy of the proforma, call the bty CP, then dictate to the CPO who would copy down exactly what was said into another proforma, and then read it back to the FOO to confirm accurate receipt.

For an impromptu fireplan involving a single battery engaging a series of predicted targets (rather than a barrage) the radio chatter would sound something like:

FOO: 2 this is 21, fireplan, fetch officer

CPO: 21 this is 2, officer speaking, send over

FOO: Fireplan Dead Duck, originated by G21, modifications by G21, supporting I24, H-hour 1500, 5 targets, prepare 200 rounds HE

CPO: {reads back}

FOO: Target information, Line 1 column A - VT1234, column B - grid 456 789, column C - alt 320, column E - section position

CPO: {reads back}

FOO: {continues through lines 2-4 for the next three targets}

CPO: {reads back}

FOO: Line 5 column A - VT1238, column B - grid 459 791, column C - alt 280, column E - on call

CPO: {reads back}

FOO: Schedule, from H-5 to H-1, VT1234 5 RFFE, followed by rate 3. From H to H+10 VT1235 5RFFE followed by rate 2. From H+11 to H+20 VT1236 2RFFE followed by rate 1.

CPO: {reads back}

FOO: Send time

Prior to all that, the FOO or his Ack will probably have been engaging one or more of the targets used in the fireplan to get ranged data on them before the grunts go over the top. The ranging would continue after the fireplan details were sent till just before H-5, when the guns need to switch to their first target.

That's the general format, although no doubt there are a couple of things I've forgotten or were handled differently to what's indicated.

For a massive fireplan, involving multiple regiments, the fireplan proforma would be prepared hours prior to H-Hour centrally by the CRA or CCRA, then relevant bits of it distributed out to the concerned regiments in hardcopy.



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Originally posted by JonS:

FOO: 2 this is 21, fireplan, fetch officer

CPO: 21 this is 2,

Good, but this bit is modern. Back in the day, both sender and receiver used the same code once comms were established.

From my website at http://www.canadiansoldiers.com/mediawiki-1.5.5/index.php?title=Radio_Procedure

Rules for the use of RT

Code signs - A three letter group, known as a "code-sign," is allotted to each formation and unit headquarters. Sub-units employ the code-sign of the parent unit with figure or figure-letter prefix. (ie - PNQ, PNQ1, PNQ2, or PNQ1A).

Link signs - In wireless communication between one wireless station and another, a single call is employed, known as the "link-sign," and this is always the code-sign of the junior wireless station. Link-signs can be abbreviated to the first letter (or the first two letters if confusion might arise) or to the affix, when used.

Link calls - The link-sign is the only "call" employed by either terminal, when transmitting a message to the other terminal.

Example - 1 ESSEX (code-sign CDR) has a message for A Coy (code-sign CDR1).

1 ESSEX sends :- "Hallo charlie one, have you received spare batteries, charlie one over."

A Coy sends :- "Hullo charlie one, yes, out."

Note - in a message sent from A Coy to 1 ESSEX exactly the same call and reply would be made.

See also the following example:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />At some point the Germans discovered our wireless frequency and proceeded to jam it. All I could hear then was a loud EEE-YOW-EEE-YOW-EEE-YOW. When that happened the control set at Battalion (HQ) would start sending out a netting signal on our first alternative frequency, which is what happened. Then I had to tune in my receiver to Battalion, net my transmitter to my receiver and call up Battalion to see if they could hear me: "Hello Mike Two, report my signals, over." If they could hear me loud and clear I would get the message: "Mike Two, strength five, out." Messages had to be brief. The 'Mike' was part of our battalion call number for the day; 'two' meant Baker Company; 'strength five' meant loud and clear and 'out' meant end of conversation, no reply expected.

the link sign in use is Mike Two - Mike, the phonetic for "M" comes from the three letter group code-sign used that day for the Calgary Highlanders, "2" comes from "B" Company (the second company of the battalion). Note that as per the above notes, both senders (Battalion Headquarters, and B Company) use the "link-sign" of the junior station - in this case, "Mike Two." </font>
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Thanks Mike. Good additions.

Very little of the abbreviated military argot makes sense to untrained ears. Then, funnily enough, all of a sudden it makes complete and crystal clear sense.

We tend to use GR (grid reference, abbr to 'grid') instead of MR.

Traces of the old phonetic alphabet live on in odd places. Observation Post Assistants are still called OP Acks, and line laying vehicles are still called Monkey wagons, etc.

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Originally posted by JonS:

You might also look through George Blakburn's "Guns" trilogy...

For an impromptu fireplan involving a single battery engaging a series of predicted targets (rather than a barrage) the radio chatter would sound something like:

For something a little more on the spot, borrowing heavily from Blackburn and Mowat, it might sound something like:

Infantry Company Commander (OC): "Where's whatisname! Get him up here quick!"

Forward Observation Officer (FOO): "What is it?"

OC: "Get up here and start FOOing!"*

Signaller: "**** a brick! There's a hundred of 'em!"

FOO: (to signaller, on other side of wall) "Able Troop Target - Mike Roger Niner Ate Fife Six Tree Ate - Right Ranging - Fire!"

Signaller: (to FOO) "Shot - four thousand!"

FOO: (to himself) "one hippopotamus, two hippopotamus, three hippopotamus, four hippopotamus, five hippopotamus, six hippopotamus, seven hippopotamus, eight hippopotamus"

OC: "You're onto the ****ers!"

FOO: (To signaller): "Five rounds gunfire - Fire!"

OC: "You nailed the sons of bitches, give it to 'em again!"

FOO: (To signaller): "Repeat!"

OC: "Nice shootin' FOO!"

(Guns of Normany pp.114-116)

For a shoot of the entire regiment, he would have called out "Mike Target!" rather than "Able Troop Target"

Jon can correct any obvious errors. I've reversed some of the lingo in Blackburn's account - I'm not positive there was a "book" way of counting hippos...

*FOO was apparently almost as adaptable a word as "****"

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Tommy Atkins,

This should help--provided you don't die of information overdose!

British Artillery in WW II


This specifically speaks to your questions raised.



John Kettler

[ October 17, 2007, 02:51 AM: Message edited by: John Kettler ]

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"Blooooody hell, look at the size of that force - chuck every bastarding peice of artillery we have near that hill!"

"Which one?"

"The one with all the bloody Hun on it, squire!"

"Err, roger that."

*French countryside generally flattened, along with entire German division*

"Played, lads!"

"Tea in 10, hope you make it back!"

Something akin to that, I presume.

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Fire Orders Chapter 13b by Douglas Burdon via his son Alan

"...Ted shouted the information into the telephone and received acknowledgment from the Battery Command Post. The G.P.O. reported the orders over the tannoy and the four lights flashed spasmodically as the four guns acknowledged. Soon after the last order was given the lights flashed again to signify the guns were laid and ready to fire.

"Dog Troop ready," Ted reported to B.H.Q.

"Dog Troop ready," came the acknowledgment. "Nice going, Dog Troop. You're first in the regiment to report ready." "We always are," was Ted's smug reply.

"Charlie ready?" queried B.H.Q.

"Charlie ready," replied "C" Troop Command Post.

"Good work, Troops. We're first again. The other Batteries haven't reported ready yet."

A brief period of comparative quietness followed, during which Ted and the "C" Troop signaller kept their ears glued to their telephones as they awaited the order to fire. The atmosphere had become suddenly tense. The G.P.O. stood with the tannoy mike held close to his mouth and his eyes fixed firmly on Ted. Ernie's whole attention was focussed on the artillery board, ready for a possible alteration to switch and range. The gunners were fully alert at their posts intent on brassing-off their rounds and hoping to inflict maximum damage to the target.

Suddenly: "Fire!" came from B.H.Q.

"Fire!" yelled Ted and the "C" Troop signaller simultaneously. "Fire!" the G.P.O. yelled into the mike.

"Fire!" yelled the sergeants, from their guns.

Eight spiteful, staccato roars shattered the peace of the morning as the four guns in each Troop fired almost simultaneously, spitting tongues of orange flame from their muzzles as the high explosive shells went screaming towards their target. The guns recoiled sharply from the shock of discharge and slid slowly forward again. The breeches were thrown open, the spent shell cases ejected and another shell shoved into the breech and rammed home. A fresh charge of cordite was put in, the breeches were slammed shut and the guns again roared their defiance into the mellow summer air.

"Dog finished," Ted reported to B.H.Q., as the lights flashed in the tannoy control unit.

"Charlie finished," "C" Troop reported almost immediately. "Dog and Charlie finished," B.H.Q. acknowledged.

Several seconds of silence ensued. Then; "More two degrees; eight, eight hundred."

The guns were laid and fired at the corrected switch and range, and a brief pause followed as the result of the shoot was observed from the O.P. Then came the order: "Eight, eight hundred. Five rounds gunfire.”

"That last lot must have landed right on target," the G.P.O. commented, with obvious satisfaction. ..."

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Nice find Wicky, and it seems to be a MIKE (at least) target, but note that it also seems to be an immediate neutralisation mission (rather than any kind of fireplan) and all of it is between BHQ and the TpHQs, rather than any comms with the FOO.

Incidentally, I am rather dubious of the Sulzen article. It keeps getting repeated all over the place as holy writ, but it isn't much more than a cardboard-cutout. I don't know if that is down to faulty memory on the author's part, or general dodgyness of the Origins talk he references. I suspect the latter, but either way; treat it with caution.



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The piece is incredibly information dense. In it, we have a Mike target (battery target, Scale 2), a succession of Uncle targets, and a daylong barrage. Wonderful stuff! Of course, now Kingfish will have to go back and tweak his 21 PD scenario.


First rate excerpt! Whole book's here and on the next page. Burdon can really write.


Correction. It looks like the whole book's there, but close reading indicates it's more of a large collection of chapter excerpts with the confusion caused by the fact that some are seamless.


John Kettler

[ October 20, 2007, 04:48 AM: Message edited by: John Kettler ]

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