Attenzione, Fuoco!

Lt. Antonio Ruiz González
First published in
SFOR Informer#143, July 18, 2002

On July 2, Mortar Coy 'La valanga' (the avalanche) from the Italian Battle Group (IBG) performed shooting exercises at Resolute Barbara Range in Glamoc. 'La valanga' Mortar Coy is one of the 'Tolmezzo' Battalion in Italy, which was the concept for the formation of the 14th Alpine Regiment, the base of the IBG.

Glamoc - The mortar company is made up of three platoons. However, to accomplish the mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the regiment has deployed just one of them. Every platoon has four mortars. Capt. Dino Mora is the Mortar Coy commander: "We have here just a platoon. A Battle Group is formed in order to fit the mission, so we brought to BiH one platoon and it is under direct control of the IBG Task Force commander," he said. "Every platoon has four squads, in the line of weapons, one for every mortar. The other squad is the observation team and at last, another one acts as a fire director centre."

The mortar
The mortar used here is a 120-mm Otto-Melara, which is a light model, just 95 kilograms, because these are mountain troops. This mortar is a smooth bore, muzzle-loaded, high-angle-of-fire weapon system. It is the ground mount version, which is the lightest and most movable one.
The 120-mm mortar is capable of providing close, continuous, accurate and responsive indirect fire support to manoeuvre unit commanders in covering force and close combat areas of the battlefield. It is also capable of providing target and battlefield at night and during other periods of low visibility. It can also fire smoke-screening missions. This type of mortar can shoot at a minimum range of 600 metres to a maximum of 7,500 metres.

Mortar position
According to the executive order, 'Tolmezzo mortar' exercise should have been a total heli-insertion one. However, due to technical problems, it was that way just for personnel, and not for equipment. The movement of personnel was done from Rajlovac helipad by AB-205 Italian helicopters. Once the mortars were set up on the fire position, frenetic activity appeared. Mortarmen were setting camouflage nets over the guns, laying the ammunition for the exercise, etc.
The usual fire with mortars is indirect fire, which means that target can not be seen from the fire position. But it is possible to direct fire at Resolute Barbara Range; therefore, Glamoc has a good capability for training. That is one reason why the troops are so excited, they will be able to see the shells on the targets. First Lt. Antonio Cesare is the Mortar Platoon leader: "This is a very good range for us. Its capability for us is compared to the one we use in Sardinia Island," he said.

Calculating team
Also called the fire director centre in other units, it is a squad made up of a sergeant as a leader and a few other men. They are in charge of transforming data sent by the forward observer team into firing data for mortars. Also, they manage radio nets, such as command and fire nets. All orders are sent in english, as NATO procedures marked. Cpl. Giuseppe Pilloni is the fire net radio operator. "I speak with the observation team through this net. I receive data from the observer, in english, and from this data my partners in the team make the appropriate calculations to get data for the mortars. I also tell the observers the time of fly of the shell to make it easier for them to watch the moment of the impact," he explained.

Forward observer
This team usually deploys with rifle company commanders. The sergeant leader of the team is in charge of the acquisition of targets for the mortar platoon. It is done by means of call-for-fire NATO procedures. For that exercise, the observer was on a hill with a very good view of the target's zone. Sgt. Giuseppe del Grosso was the forward observer for the exercise. "Theoretically, the observation can be made from ground or from helicopter, with one or two observation teams, but for this exercise we will be very near the platoon because this is a very good range, and it is just an exercise," he said.
"From our position we estimate grid, altitude and range to the target, and also the shape and composition. Those data are passed by fire net. We also deal with the fire adjustment, which are several rounds used to centre the fire on the target. After that we observe the effect of the fire and we move on quickly to another position," said del Grosso.

At the firing line
Targets appeared and the whole process began. The forward observer called by fire net to the fire director centre with the data of a target. The calculating team quickly transferred the data to the line of mortars. "We simulate we are supporting a rifle company of our regiment, which is our real mission. We will shoot targets that the forward observer points out to us," said mortar platoon leader Cesare.
One of the mortars of the platoon is called the main weapon or pivot gun, which is the mortar represented at the calculating team board, as the geographical centre of the platoon. That weapon deals with the adjustment or ranging of the fire so that it will be the mortar that shoots two or three rounds before the others. After that, once the fire is over the target, the platoon will perform a fire for effect, which is a certain number of shells per weapon, to obtain the desired effect.
Corporal Daniele Carluccio is the main weapon team leader. "We try to adjust the fire within as little shells as possible so the other mortars can shoot with the data obtained by us. The observation team adjusts our rounds over the target. There is a direct link between our weapon and the observer, the effect we produce," he underlined.

Bomba alla volata! Attenzione! Fuoco!
After a few shells were shot by the main weapon, the whole platoon put rounds on target. Every mortar squad leader ordered his crew: "Bomba alla volata! Attenzione! Fuoco!" (Shell in the tube, attention, and fire). The same words went along all the fire line with mortar-men involved in a vibrating movement. Men aiming the mortar through the dial sight, others levelling the weapon after every round, and others carrying the shells to the barrel. And then, thumbs up and the squad leader again ordered fire. Again and again.
They put rounds downrange with pinpoint accuracy at a blistering pace.
Training, and again training, is always the key of success.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Italy
Training and Exercises

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Photos: PO Susan Rose

A big blast.


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Team leader Cpl. Domenico di Gioia gives the fire order data to his men.


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Cpl. Nicola di Tullio aims the mortar, and Cpl. Guido Serra levels it.


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The three crewmembers work hard for the next shoot.


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Thumbs up and team leader Cpl. Daniele Carluccio orders: "Bomba alla volata! Attenzione! Fuoco!" (Shell in the barrel, attention, fire.).


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Cpl. Gianluca Melillo carries another shell for the main weapon.


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Cpl. Gianluca Melillo carefully places the shell into the barrel.


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Team leader, Sgt. Giuseppe Correale with two radio operators, Cpl. Danielo Celeste (l.) for command net, and Cpl. Giuseppe Pilloni, for fire net.


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Fire observer Sgt. Giuseppe del Grosso watches the impact of the shells on the target.