The Officers' Barbecue Tekapo (c 1978)
By Mike Subritzky
I won't mention the names of any of the officers who were involved in this military adventure as several are currently serving, senior officers in the modern Kiwi Army. I know that in today's 'High Tech/Politically Correct' Artillery there is not a lot of room for Young Officers with individual flair and a sense of humour, but back a few years ago things were not taken quite so seriously...this then is one such yarn regarding 161 Battery's unofficial history.
In about 1978, the New Zealand Artillery had a stroke of luck as our Australian cousins sent across to us a piece of highly sensitive equipment that was used to calibrate the muzzle verlocity of the gun barrells of the recently acquired M101A1 field pieces. 161 Battery was then deployed to the South Island where we were issued with the M101A1's of 3 Field Regiment and these we took to the live firing range at Tekapo. This push was not an excercise and so we were barracked in Balmoral Camp, eating hot box rations and completely 'Non-Tac' (non-tactical). From memory Lance 'Guv' Gray was the gun commander of Alpha Gun and I was the commander of Foxtrot. The 'Eva' shoots were over a period of about 2 weeks and the initial excitement rapidly wained as the actual fire missions involved very little technical skill on our part, and were slowed right down as everything was controlled by a magic box that was placed about 20 metres to the right of the gun position.
After a few days the officers began to think of a way to create a little interest on the gun line and in due course one or two of the young gentlemen came up with the very bright idea of having a Battery Barbecue. An excellent idea but where in the hell would 161 Battery get fresh meat to replace our normal hot box stews? Then another young gentleman who had been at the OP end of the shoot had noticed that the entire training area was infested with wild ducks and these ducks settled each and every afternoon at one particular 'Tarn' (lake). Another young gentleman, also at the OP end of the shoot had noticed that there was a group of sheep "which appeared to be wild...nay, definitely wild" congregated at the far reaches of the Tekapo Training area. And so an idea was hatched by them that we would supplement our hot box rations with wild duck and feral sheep meat. In fact the idea grew with such momentum that it was decided that the Battery should have a Barbecue. There was only one problem: how to catch the food? No-one in the entire Battery was in possession of a shotgun, and the smallest calibre weapon that we had any live rounds for was 105 milimetres.
Not to be deterred, it was the general consensus of all involved that "yes" a 105 milimetre projectile could in fact be used against a duck, provided that there was enough 'stand off' distance between the initiation of the projectile and the contact with the bird in question. Sheep, on the other hand shouldn't create too much of a problem as the body weight of two sheep would be roughly the equivalent of two humans. We all knew from Ken Turner's ammunition lectures that the 105mm projectile and cartridge weighed 42 lbs, and the projectile alone 33lbs with about four pound of that weight being high explosive RDX. The outer wall of the shell had 0.005 percent carbon and this shattered into pieces of red hot metal each weighing about the same weight as a one cent coin...excellent! With the right stand off distance, a single high explosive round should be perfect for providing ducks for the barbecue. After much discussion the officers decided that barbecue rations would be obtained as follows. Guv Gray's gun would fire a single high explosive round into the mob of feral sheep and this round would have an M557 fuze attached, giving the 'brick' a point detonating function, and this would make it virtually impossible for any observant farm workers to detect. The ducks on the other hand would be engaged with my gun firing a single high explosive round with a M213 fuse (CVT). The CVT fuze was considered perfect for duck shooting as it contained a small radar system inside and would initiate the main charge of the projectile at exactly 20 metres above the tarn, giving good coverage of lethality and a perfect stand off distance.
The day of the barbecue dawned bright and sunny, and the whole of the training area was visible, right out to Mount Cook. We brought the guns into action and once we commenced firing the ducks rapidly departed their loc which was exactly what had been planned and expected. My gun was then swung left of arc to point at the tarn and the skillful officers at the OP end adjusted the rounds until they had the tarn zeroed, and target recorded. My gun detachment was then stood down and we brewed up and played cards for the rest of the morning. Guv Gray's gun did virtually the same thing and then after the morning's fire mission the whole gun position was stood down and everyone spent a couple of hours 'gonking' (sleeping).
Presently the radio in the CP crackled and the duck gun sprang into action. The radar fuze was set and the bearing and elevation data checked and re-checked as we were only going to get one shot at our feathered prey. "Fire!" yelled a voice over the tanoy and Tim Moanaroa pulled the firing lanyard...Bang! the round went down range...33 pounds of red hot lethal steel...everyone on the gunline waited in anticipation for our one chance of a meal of poultry. Crump! went the projectile at the exact stand off distance of 20 metres above the tarn..."Target Round" sounded an excited voice over the radio, and with that we settled down to wait for the results of our fire mission as the guys at the OP end went down to check the kill. Shortly afterwards Guv Gray's gun was ordered into action and engaged their quarry with a single round of point detonating high explosive. We then went back to brewing up and gonking and awaited the target results of the afternoon's shoot...but nothing happened.
Towards evening the Battery was brought out of action and drove back to Balmoral Camp where we carried out post firing maintenance; with still no word on the success of the 'hunt'.
About an hour later the OP's came in and we all looked for the mountains of ducks and mutton that we expected to be draped over the bonnet of the Land Rovers...but there was not a sausage! We went up and spoke to the OP guys and asked where the meal was and it was then that the actual target results were related to us. Regarding the ducks, when the boys got to the tarn there was a gentle breeze blowing and no actual duck bodies could be observed anywhere on the tarn itself, although they couldn't be too sure as the entire area was about knee deep in feathers drifting gently across the tarn. There was the odd piece of flesh and a wing or two hung up in the branches of the surrounding trees but nothing worth considering unless we had been planning on including soup with the meal... "Well what about a sheep or two?" asked Malcolm 'Whiti' White. "The sheep", began Rats (Ratray), "Forget the bloody sheep mate, when we got down range the entire area resembled the second day on the Somme, there was blood and guts everywhere and the few sheep that were still kicking we had to put down with an M16 bayonet". "And as for eating them" said Pete Mita "They were that shot full of holes that we couldn't find anything that wasn't full of shell fragments and bloody shrapnel. If you had of shaken them they would have rattled!"
Well we ate hot box rations again that night, yet another stew. But the meal was supplemented with South Island 'Reinech' so it wasn't all that bad. And in hindsight we had all just learned a good lesson in the lethality of artillery at close range and the internal ballistics of the modern 105 millimetre high explosive ammunition.
"No Names - No Pack Drill!"
(c) Mike Subritzky December 1999