Index Home About Blog
X-Source: The Tankers' Forum
Subject: Siege Artillery
From: Alon Harksberg
Date: 8/8/99 5:06:18 AM

This talk about the 130mm bring back bad memories about the bitter
nemesis of the infantryman. Out of the four weapons I've faced in my
life and would not want to ever face again (even in dreams), three are
Russian artillery weapons (the fourth is the Russian spring mine).

In a Katyusha barrage the infantryman has no where to run. They fall
everywhere simultaneously and destroy everyone / everything not under
cover. A truly gruesome weapon. Both the Syrians and the Egyptians
tended to fire them in timed salvos, with a second flash barrage landing
out of nowhere several minutes after the first decoy one, just as people
emerged from cover. They also learned how to mix different Katyusha
types as well as barreled artillery in order to confuse and terrorize
their targets. In 1973 I saw a Katyusha barrage pulverize a M107 battery
(which was at the time engaged in anti SAM site interdiction) while
another Katyusha barrage caused an entire infantry battalion to simply
get up and bug out almost to the man. We occasionally got even by
calling in the IDF's two Katyusha battalions. These were some of the
hardest working units throughout the entire war - they fought non-stop
on both fronts, day and night. One even got pulverized by counter
battery fire, loosing its CO in the process. Another trick we picked up
on the last few days of the war was using Druze scouts (which arrived
from the dormant Golan front looking for action) to spread
dis-information and fool the Egyptian into targeting their own troops
(although this worked only once or twice).

The 130mm were essentially similar in sheer effect plus their great
reach meant no warning whatsoever, no time to take cover and no counter
battery fire to silence them. Both the Syrians and the Egyptians were
well aware of the 130mm's intimidating nature and so tended to use them
primarily by night, for added psychological terror. With the 240mm
warning and cover didn't really matter since if you happened to be in
the same general area where they impacted, you'd be dead (if lucky) or
horribly maimed / injured from giant shrapnel and flying debris (if not
so). During the war of attrition that developed on the Hermon following
the 1973 armistice, the Syrians used 240mm (and 180mm) to rake the ridge
from end to end, sometimes on a nightly basis, until we put an end to
that in an operation which still cannot be discussed. That was a very
unsettling experience to say the least, with many brave men succumbing
to mental fatigue under the relentless bombardment.

We used to call them these huge bastards "Goliaths", both after the
biblical character and after the map grid in which one of the more
notorious batteries was located (submerged under nearly 2 meters of anti
air raid concrete, with only the barrels sticking out, ala Guns of the
Navarone). Generally speaking, what the Arabs lacked in accuracy and
finesse, they more than made up for in sheer barbaric volume and density
of explosives they could place on a given map grid from multiple vectors
and for extended periods.


Alon Harksberg

From: Alon Harksberg
Date: 8/9/99 4:29:45 AM

>Some questions: the 240mm you were referring to was the Soviet rocket,
also in IDF service?<

I could only wish! Rick, the 240mm I was referring to were the
Russian monster breech loaded mortars, not the BM24 Katyusha rockets,
which were bad enough on their own but not even remotely as bad as the
"black hole creators", so nicknamed for the enormous shell craters the
240mm left (smaller in solid rock). That's over 9 inches of sheer terror
incoming your way!

>The 'Katyusha' is just your generic term for Soviet MRLs right, not
 just their 122mm?<

Correct. Even the indigenously developed IMI rocket system were
often identified as Katyushas.

>How tight of a grid could they hold their fire to?<

Tight enough, since the shells / rockets always seemed to fall
directly on top of my friggin head no matter where I was :-> To this day
I swear those crazy bastard Arabs gunners had it in specifically for me
but the problem is that every infantryman thinks exactly the same so I
guess that we're probably ALL right to some extent :-> The Arabs usually
employed "monkeys" (forward observers). These were very experienced and
very brave officers and NCO who used to approach and even penetrate our
lines, sometimes mounted in wheeled vehicles like BTR-60s, BRDMs etc to
get a closer view. They directed their fire on the vehicles with the
most antennas or those vehicles which appeared to be moving erratically
(commanders checking out company sectors etc). You just simply can't
hide that without interrupting operations. Believe me, a commander's
track was a very lonely vehicle during a bombardment - everyone was
running / driving away from it in every direction.

>If you were in you foxhole you could usually survive one of these
 barrages right? Your reference to terror was only for troops out in the
 open right?<

First of all, if a surprise barrage caught you out in the open (like
it often did) on the move, mounted or dismounted, it was praying time.
Believe me, everyone, even guys with little school education, became
extremely proficient statistics professors when it came to guessing when
the next shell is going to drop or when the next barrage is coming.
There were guys who developed all sorts of crazy survival techniques

A foxhole, no matter how deep (and it was never deep or well
constructed because of the need to constantly press on), could hardly
save your ass, especially if you're in the middle of a sand dune and
facing a mix of plunging and air burst shells (although sand is not
nearly a good "damage conduit" like say water). In rocky terrain you may
have better protection but the shrapnel and debris are a real killer and
injuries tended to be more severe. Of course, an open topped track like
a M3 or a jeep was equally as bad. Tony's absolutely right about the
helplessness but being subjected to repeated barrages from multiple
caliber day and night gradually creates an even worse sensation - that
of paralysis and claustrophobia, even in an open desert.

>The 180mm was a Soviet artillery piece or what?<


>Finally, did you get a chance to see Egyptian bunkers around SAM
 sites after US cluster bombs had been dropped on them? Or hear
 descriptions of the effect? If so could you give your impressions?

No I didn't. Areas which were bombed (especially cluster bombed) and
close to or within IDF held territory were often marked off / closed off
to prevent accidental injuries from unexploded munitions. This was I
think a lesson from 1967, when quite a few IDF troops were accidentally
killed when exploring / scavenging the destroyed Egpytian convoys along
the Sinai roads. Most SAM sites I saw were engaged with a conventional
mix of missiles, rockets or iron bombs or simply with tanks. I remember
that cluster bombs were amply used on the giant Egyptian military camps
around Ismailia and along the road to Cairo but I don't remember any
outstanding impressions.


Alon Harksberg

Index Home About Blog