In the Navy…The Gunnery Range
>When a RNZN Ship comes out of refit (a process to cover the rust with more layers of paint, fill the hold in with new cement, restock the bar fridges etc) they then ship off to Aussie for Sea Acceptance Trials (SATs) which is a sort of a WOF for warships. It involves a series of different exercises including speed trials, fire fighting drills, war games, and gunnery (or weapons) testing.
The old (now retired and sunken) HMNZS Waikato (F55) was carrying out such gunnery testing off Beecroft Peninsula using it’s 4.5″ twin turret. Nowadays turrets on warships are automatic, hydraulics and electronics load, aim and fire on targets over the horizon, however the Mk6 Mod 4 guns on “The Waka-tooo” (Waka-too, the War Canoe) were completely manual – “Gunners” (Gunna do this, Gunner do that) manually loaded shells (High Explosive, Armour Piercing, Star Shell etc) and cartridges full of cordite into a breech and rammed them shut. The Principal Warfare Officer, deep down in the bowels of the ship in the Ops Room and his team would load figures into what barely passed as a computer that would swing the turret onto its target (or close enough to it) and then a person cramped into a small space in top of the turret looking out a little window would confirm ‘gun on the range’ – this would be acknowledged back down below and then a moment of silence before the shells would be fired at their target up to 25,000 yards (about 12 miles) away.
Well this day off Beecroft, I was asked to be “Captain of the Turret” which was pretty cool as Officers weren’t normally ‘invited’ into the Gunner’s realm and it is about as close as you can get to the the shooting. Laid off the range about 10kms away, my job was to visually confirm the gun was aimed between two large coloured signs indicating the extreme edges of the range so falling shot would not put anyone (like the observation tower) at risk. Our helicopter was also flying above the range to provide ‘fall of shot’.
I called ‘gun on the range’ after judging the turrets were in fact aimed between the signs and the guns roared. Silence as everyone waited for the tell tale ‘puffs’ on the land…but I didn’t see any looking out my little window, but the first thing I heard was “Check! Check! Check!” in a thick Aussie accent. This came from the observation tower as our shells landed within a mile of them!!!! We were somewhere in the region of 5 miles off target!!!!
And of course you know who was to blame!