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The ups and downs of the Dutch Mortars

By Cpl. Diego Bunuel
First published in
SFOR Informer #97, September 27, 2000

Glamoc - Eased into the gaping mouth of the 120 mm mortar, the two-foot long grenade slid into the threaded cannon. Lance Cpl. Remco Hoekstra had felt the thundering detonation penetrate his body through and through hundreds of times before, but there's no getting used to it, the body reacts, and each time the blast shatters the air, even if anticipated, it comes as a surprise.

The grenade surged three kilometres into the spotless sky, pushed up by a column of fire. There's no way of seeing it go. At 800 km/h, almost the speed of a bullet, the 30 kg shell can sometimes be spotted by squinting straight up at the sky as a slight puff of smoke is left behind when the grenade rips through the atmosphere.
Then, almost a minute later, on the other side of a barren ridge of the Glamoc firing range, the explosion resonates. Hoekstra and his friends of the Dutch

Mortar Company cannot see the explosions shaking the ground at five kilometres, they rarely do.
The steel military radio crackles, it s their captain, Klaas Fridsma.
"Target acquired, good," he said. The group cheered.
This is what being in a mortar company is all about. Suppressive fire to wipe out infantry attacks. But delayed gratification is the price for the satisfaction of a job well done.

In the first week of September, the Dutch 2nd Mortar Platoon of the 42nd Mechanised Infantry Battalion landed in Bosnia from their German base of Seedorf. As the exercise carried on, the battery of four mortars were now letting all hell break loose. Firing five grenades as fast as they could load them. Each mortar group, made up of five soldiers, rained explosions along the hillside.

With each firing, the enormous pressure pushes the mortar's steel ground plate deeper into the earth. And Fridsma warns that: "if a soldier were to stand on the plate during the firing it would break both his ankles."
But the real danger does not come from being next to the mortar, it comes from being on the receiving end of it.
"We can guarantee a frag for every meter on a 100 by 60 metre area," said Capt. Pierre Van Aalst, the staff officer for the mortar platoon. "So when you have 18 or 20 grenades that fall at the same time, it's pretty serious damage."

During wartime, platoons have to haul their mortars with armoured personnel carriers, set them up in five minutes and start firing.
"We have to move fast also because the enemy can triangulate our position in 60 seconds," Van Aalst said.
But the brains and eyes of the mortar platoon rests in the forward observer, who determines the height, distance and size of the target and then radios in the co-ordinates to the platoon.
"You can't make a forward observer happier than by letting him do the job of observing," said Fridsma.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Netherland
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