81mm Mortar: Infantry Battalion’s Artillery

My first close encounter with the 81mm Mortar happened in 1993 when I had to organise Inter-Battalion Mortar Competition as the Brigade Major of the Artillery Brigade. I wanted to have a first-hand feel of it and requested the Mortar Platoon of one of the battalions for a demonstration of their drills.

81mm mortar is a joint design by the UK and Canada and was introduced into service in 1965–66, replacing the 3-inch Mortar. To match and then overwhelm German firepower during World War I, British engineer Sir Wilfred Stokes invented the Stokes 3-inch Mortar System.

81mm Mortar can be man-packed by the mortar detachment, in which case the ammunition is to be carried by other soldiers of the battalion. In addition to their normal equipment, each soldier carries four bombs. These mortars are the Infantry Battalion’s organic firepower, better known as the Commanding Officer’s Artillery and can be used to deliver a heavy volume of fire down on an objective in an extremely short period.

As the mortar was being brought into action, the detachment was heard shouting “Mathy, Mathy, Mathy.” I interpreted it to be ‘Maththi’ (മത്തി) – Sardine in Malayalam. The shouting subsided and the chaos settled with the mortar set in action.

I wanted to know why the clamour was all about and what they were shouting. A Mallu officer came out – he must have realised my confusion – and said “Sir, it is Madhya (मध्य)” -meaning centre. It appeared that the detachment shouted “Madhya, Madhya, Madhya” as they brought the bubbles of the spirit levels on the two axes on the dial-sight in the centre to level the mortar on a horizontal plane.

Now I had a closer look at the dial-sight to find neither bubble was centered. I asked as to what the shouting was all around. (Gunners do not shout while levelling the bubbles.)

That’s the drill sir,” replied the officer. (A standard reply to most questions in the Army!!)

As we progressed through the competition, I realised that all Platoon Commanders assembled their platoons to indicate the AP (Aiming Point.) He said “Door se door, sahi pehachan, achcha laying edge – Abhi keliye 100-meter pe jhanda.” (दूर से दूर, सही पहचान, अच्छा laying edge – अभी केलिए 100-meter पे झंडा.)

An Aiming Point provides a point of angular reference to aim a gun in the required horizontal direction. An aiming point must be as far as possible, sharply defined and easily distinguished feature, such as the edge of a building. The Platoon Commander was correct in the definition which all Platoon commanders rattled out, but everyone used the Flag @ 100 meter.

Was the flag designated as Aiming Point at 100 meter?? No way!  Even if I stretched my imagination beyond its elastic limits – it could at most be 100 feet.  May be, an Infantry soldier can stretch a foot to a meter!!  

I knew that selection and use of an Aiming Point on ground presents problems in featureless areas, in bad visibility or at night as putting lights on distant aiming points is seldom practical. Therefore, modern guns employ a ‘Collimator’ to simulate an Aiming Point at artificial infinity on the principle of parallel lines meet at infinity. Many Gunners – including officers – call it colli-METER.

The Flag @100 meter baffled me, and my gunnery brain cells worked on hypersonic speed to resolve the riddle. Unsuccessful, I gave it up and summoned the very same Platoon Commander who first demonstrated the functioning of a Mortar Platoon. He claimed that he was an instructor at Infantry School. He failed to convince me as all his explanations were illogical and unscientific.

Where do you conduct your Mortar Platoon training at Infantry School? Is the area surrounded by buildings?” I asked. “Yes,” said the Platoon Commander

Now I realised that the Flag @ 100 meter (feet) was creating the artificial infinity at Infantry School, and it was being carried to all the battalions by the Platoon commanders trained at Infantry School.

Infantry will make parallel lines to meet even @ 100 feet.

All Together Heave

On return to our regiment – 75 Medium Regiment – after completion of the ‘Computer Course’ in August 1991, our then Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel Rajan Anand appointed me as the Battery Commander (BC) of 751 Medium Battery.  75 Medium Regiment then had three batteries with fixed class composition.  751 Medium Battery consisted of Brahmins from North India, 752 Medium Battery had Jats and our 753 Medium Battery had South Indians. 

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That was the first time I became the BC of the Brahmin Battery and always commanded the same Battery during the rest of my service with the unit.  Our Regiment was then located at Udhampur (Jammu & Kashmir).  The Regiment was tasked to display the newly acquired 155mm Bofors Gun for the Gunners’ Day on Saturday, 28 September 1991 for everyone in the station and school children.  Our CO gave the task of the equipment display to me.  The previous day, I briefed everyone about the task at hand and the next morning at 8AM, we marched off to the stadium where the display was being conducted.  The event was organised under the aegis of 8 Artillery Brigade, who were then staging at Udhampur on their induction into the Kashmir Valley.  Our Regiment was under 39 Artillery Brigade.  On reaching the stadium, I was shown the area where the Bofors gun and allied equipment was to be displayed by the Deputy Commander of 8 Artillery Brigade.  The Deputy Commander was a Colonel with over 25 years of service, while I had eight years behind me.

I took Havildar (Sergeant) Major Lekh Ram and the Gun Detachment Commander – Havildar Chaman Prakash – and briefed them about the placement of the Gun and other equipment and various boards and charts defining the characteristics of the equipment.  By 8:30AM, I moved to the tent where the Deputy Commander was sitting, pulled a chair and sat next to him.  From his body language, it was evident that he did not approve of my action a wee bit.  All the officers of other Regiments, mostly from 8 Artillery Brigade, were busy supervising the equipment display and were all near their detachments.

The Deputy Commander now asked me as to why I was not next to the detachment supervising their actions.  I told him that I had briefed everyone well about the impending task and the Havildar Major would do his job and report to me on completion of the task and my job would commence then.  I had faith in my soldiers and NCOs and I was sure that they would do an excellent job.  I also said that everyone is going to see the Bofors Gun, being in the news for wrong reasons then, and not many would be interested in the field guns and mortars displayed by 8 Artillery Brigade.  

Adjacent to our Bofors Gun was the detachment of the 105mm Light Field Gun, from a field regiment of 8 Artillery Brigade.  By 9 AM, when the field gun detachment got ready, the Subedar Major (Master Warrant Officer) of that regiment held a practice of bringing the gun into action.  This entailed the detachment of five soldiers heaving the gun on to a circular metallic platform.  Due to heavy downpour for the previous four days, the ground was soggy and the detachment had to heave hard to pull the gun on to the platform.  While pulling the gun on to the platform, the detachment would shout in chorus “All together heave!” 

At this time Havildar Major Lekh Ram reported to me that everything is ready.  After seeing the entire arrangement, I summoned everyone and said a few words of appreciation for executing the assigned task well.  I ordered everyone to have a tea break, change into their ceremonial uniform and to be ready by 9:45 AM as the demonstrations were to commence at 10 AM. 

After ten minutes, it was the turn of the Adjutant (Captain) of the field regiment and he too ordered the detachment into action.  The detachment pulled the gun on to the platform “All together heave!”   Now came the Battery Commander (Major) and the same drill was repeated.  With each practice, the ground beneath the platform sank in more, making it overly difficult for the detachment.

I now told the Deputy Commander sitting beside me that with so many practices, the detachment will be tired and any more practice will surely sink the ground furthermore.  He gave me a frown.  Next was the turn of the CO (Colonel) of that regiment and the soldiers became even more tired. 

At 9:45 AM, the Brigade Commander of 8 Artillery Brigade arrived and his first question (as expected) was as to where our CO was.  I said that he was busy with other important commitments and hence had deputed me for the task.  The Brigade Commander wanted me to convey his displeasure to our CO for his absence, which I dutifully agreed.

The Brigade Commander now moved on to the field gun and ordered the detachment into action.  It was again “All together heave!”  It left the detachment in a state of exhaustion, with their ceremonial uniforms all crumbled. 

At the appointed time, the Army Commander of Northern Command arrived and he headed straight to the Bofors Gun.  We gave an excellent demonstration of the capabilities of the gun and briefed about the computers for ballistic calculations, Scania gun towing vehicle and other equipment.  The Army Commander complimented all our soldiers for their smart turnout, actions and briefing and moved on to the field gun.

All together heave!” the detachment commander shouted at the top of his voice, the overly tired soldiers pulled with all their might, but the gun refused to climb on the platform as the ground beneath it had sunk in. 

Once the Army Commander left, all visitors made a beeline to the Bofors gun as expected and hardly anyone cared for the field guns and mortars. 

All together heave!” and similar cries during Gun Drill has a colonial linkage.  It may soon be changed to Hindi cries.

Real Hindenburg – A Revelation

Hindenburg is in news with expose on Adani.  The company is a short-seller that specialises in forensic financial research, founded in 2017 by Nathan Anderson.

The company’s website claims, ‘We view the Hindenburg as the epitome of a totally man-made, totally avoidable disaster.  We look for similar man-made disasters floating around in the market and aim to shed light on them before they lure in more unsuspecting victims.’

Where does this company get its name Hindenburg?

Let us peep into the history of the real Hindenburg.

Nazi Germany built the largest airship of that time. The airship used highly flammable hydrogen gas for lift off but was vulnerable to explosion.  In the 1930s, the Graf Zeppelin made an airship that pioneered the first transatlantic air service.  It was named Hindenburg after Paul Von Hindenburg (1847-1934,) a German World War I military commander and President. The airship measured 804 feet from stern to bow.

Why was Helium, a non-combustible gas not used in the German airship?

U.S. law of the time prevented the Hindenburg from using helium.   

Hindenburg’s designer – Hugo Eckener – wanted to use Helium, but the U.S., which had a monopoly on Helium and feared that other countries might use the gas for military purposes, banned its export.

After the Hindenburg disaster, owing to American public opinion, the law was amended to allow helium export for nonmilitary use.

Despite being filled with 7 million cubic feet of highly combustible hydrogen gas, the Hindenburg featured a smoking room. Passengers were unable to bring matches and personal lighters aboard the airship, but they could buy cigarettes and Cuban cigars on board and light up in a room pressurised to prevent any hydrogen from entering. A steward admitted passengers and crew through a double-door airlock into the smokers’ lounge, which had a single electric lighter, and made sure no one left with a lit cigarette or pipe.

On May 3, 1937, the Hindenburg left Frankfurt, Germany, on its flight across the Atlantic to Naval Air Station Lakehurst, in Manchester Township, New Jersey, just outside of New York City.  It was carrying 36 passengers and 61 crew and was captained by Captain Max Pruss.

1n 1936, Hindenburg had crossed the Atlantic, often to Brazil, 34 times.  While attempting to moor at Lakehurst, the airship suddenly burst into flames, probably after a spark ignited its hydrogen core. 13 passengers, 21 crew, and a ground crew lost their lives, and most of the survivors suffered serious injuries.

Hindenburg’s final flight across the Atlantic was relatively uneventful, other than some headwinds, that slowed it by an hour. When the aircraft flew over New York area, thunderstorms and bad weather thwarted the scheduled late-morning landing at Lakehurst.

To avoid the storm, Captain Pruss flew over Manhattan and out into the Atlantic, to wait until the storm subsided. People of New York ran out of their homes to watch the world’s largest airship overhead. It raised curiosity as it was roughly the size of the Titanic, but it flew overhead.

Around 6 PM, the storms passed, and Captain Pruss ordered his ship to Lakehurst, almost a half-day late. By 7 PM, the Hindenburg was on final approach to Lakehurst, which had mooring mast and a winch. In those days, large airships dropped its lines and cable to be run down through the mooring mast and into the winch, which pulled the airship to the ground.  This procedure was called Flying Moor.

When Hindenburg was at an altitude of 295 feet, the mooring lines were dropped to the ground as a light rain began to fall. The lines were connected through the mooring masts to the winch and as the Flying Moor operations commenced, Hindenburg caught fire.

As the Hindenburg’s flaming tail began to drift toward the earth, the flames moved forward through the different hydrogen-holding cells toward her bow. The ship began falling steeply. When the airship’s stern hit the ground, the fire burst through its nosecone. The entire disaster lasted less than 40 seconds.

Hindenburg disaster marked the end of an era of airships. Then began World War II and arrived speedy fighter aircraft which could easily shoot down the slow-moving airships, blew the death knell to the airship industry.

Radio announcer Herb Morrison, who was at Lakehurst to record a newsreel for NBC, immortalised the Hindenburg disaster in a famous statement, “Oh, the humanity!”

The U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Navy couldn’t come to any solid conclusion in their report and stated ‘the firey disaster was a result of the mixture of free hydrogen and air.’  The mystery Hindenburg disaster lives on, likely never to be definitively solved.

Such are the man-made disasters Hindenburg refers to and the company claims to shed light on them before they lure in more unsuspecting victims.

The Hurricane Subsides

Ms Hazel McCallion, who transformed our city – Mississauga – a suburb of Toronto from a largely rural community into a bustling metropolis during her 36-year tenure as mayor, died at the ripe age of 101 on January 29, 2023.

Nicknamed Hurricane Hazel due to her unique political style, she served 12 terms as the Mayor of Mississauga from 1978 to 2014.

Hazel was born in Port Daniel, Que., on February 14, 1921. Her family owned a fishing and canning company. She attended business secretarial school in Quebec City and Montreal after high school. She joined the Canadian Kellogg company and transferred to Toronto. She remained with the company for 19 years. In 1967 she decided to leave the corporate world and devote her career to politics.

In 1945, she met her husband Sam, and the couple married six years later. The McCallions then settled in Streetsville (now part of Mississauga,), where Hazel’s political career began. Sam passed away in 1997. Hazel’s in-laws on her marriage to Sam gifted a piece of land in the village of Streetsville,where she lived at the time of her death

Hazel McCallion was the Greater Toronto Airports Authority board of directors at the time of her death. She was first appointed to the board in 2017. McCallion also sat as a chancellor of Sheridan College and a special advisor to the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus.

McCallion the Mayor of Mississauga, I saw her the first time when she gave the graduation address to the students when our daughter Nidhi graduated from high school in 2009. She came driving her Chevrolet Malibu car bearing the licence plate MAYOR1. The graduation address was inspiring, motivating and made the listeners think. She peppered her address with wit and humour and made everyone laugh too. Immediately after delivering the address, she dashed off to the next high school in the city to address that school’s graduates. This proved that her nickname of Hurricane Hazel suited her to the tee.

Hazel McCallion, has won every mayoral election contested in Mississauga since 1978. She is the longest serving mayor in Canada and has kept the city debt-free since her first term of office. McCallion began her political career in 1968 on the Streetsville municipality which she served as Chairman of the Planning Board, and then Mayor of Streetsville. In 1974, Streesville got incorporated into the City of Mississauga.

In her first mayoral election in 1978 she narrowly defeated the incumbent mayor. In 1979 she came into world news when a public health and safety crisis occurred during the 1979 Mississauga train derailment. A train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in a heavily populated area of Mississauga. A large explosion and fire ensued as hazardous chemicals spilled. McCallion, along with the Police and other governmental authorities, oversaw an orderly and peaceful evacuation of the entire city of 200,000 residents. Despite having sprained her ankle, she continued to hold press conferences and update briefings. There were no deaths or serious injuries during the week-long emergency.

Her reputation has hinged on her financial acumen and political pragmatism, with her no-nonsense style endearing her to constituents and alienating some opponents. In 1991 she became the first mayor to submit their city’s budget to public scrutiny.

Mayor McCallion is well known for her love of hockey. She played for a professional women’s team while attending school in Montreal. One of her friends and a hockey commentator Don Cherry, who joked during her 87th birthday that while 98 per cent of the city voted for her, he was looking for the remaining 2 per cent that didn’t. She never campaigned for the elections, she never put up posters, she never delivered any elections speeches, but she always got over 90% of the votes.

Her principles were grounded in the belief that a city should be run like a business; thus, she encouraged the business model of governance. Her family’s business background, her education, and her prior career in a corporation prepared her to approach government with this model.

Hazel’s Hope, a campaign to fund health care for children afflicted with AIDS and HIV in southern Africa is her charity initiative. Hazel became the poster girl for longevity and good health for Trillium Health Centre. On her 90th birthday, Dr. Barbara Clive, a geriatrician, marvelled at Hazel’s good health: “At 90 her gait is perfect, her speech is totally sharp and she has the drive to still run this city. She’s the poster child for seniors.”

On her 100th birthday she said “My mom or dad couldn’t afford to send me to college or university. So I had to do it without that additional education. It’s the people you meet along the way, there’s always people to help you along the way if you’re willing to accept the help.”

In December 2014, Mayor McCallion stepped-down and people of the city remain ever grateful to her. What an amazing woman, who has given her life to our great city. What an inspiration for all women and for those of a certain age, that they aren’t done yet and can still live happy very productive active lives. To the generations coming up behind, to work hard and make a name for oneself and make a difference.

After delivering her annual State of the City speech, her last as mayor on September 23, 2014, Mayor McCallion had some advice for anyone who wanted to fill her coveted seat in Mississauga: “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. You have got to be honest with people. You can’t make promises when you haven’t got a hope to fulfill them.”

RIP Hazel. Thank you Hazel for all your hard work, commitment and dedication and to prove that age is only a number – even past hundred.