GUNNERS TOO ARE HUMAN – PART IV – FREE-LOADING GUNS

So you have finished reading Parts I to III of this serialised post (If not, read ‘Gunners Too Are Human – Part I’, ‘Gunners Too Are Human – Part II’ and ‘Gunners Too Are Human – Part III’) and are now ready for Part IV? Well, fasten your seat belts; here goes:

I don’t know if it has changed now; but, during our times, Gunnery Officers also used to be responsible for ceremonials. Hence, somehow, ceremonies used to get into their veins. Everything was to be done with great pomp and show. C-in-C West was retiring and the Fleet was to sail for giving him a befitting farewell. A mass briefing was held at the Fleet Office and FGO was given the responsibility of explaining the finer points of all the ceremonies and accompanying manoeuvres. He and his team had prepared one chart after the other and all these were being explained with a large pointer. All of these were also parts of WFXP or Western Fleet Exercise Programme (as annexures). I hadn’t understood some of the stuff. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts about Gunners, clarity at either end is what the Gunner likes the most. But, now, as I looked around, I noticed that one entire end wasn’t clear at all. Finally, one of the senior COs could not resist blurting out, “FGO, if you have finished making us totally confused about these manoeuvres, may we now go back to the ships and try to figure these out by ourselves?”

My Officer-in-Charge in Trials Team for acceptance of weapons and sensors in the Navy, however, was very clear about a few things: One was that he never diluted the role of his team, ie, WATT (B). He was very quick on the uptake and quickly grasped the crux of most problems without wasting much time brooding over these. Two, he enjoyed life like a true Gunner and here too he was quick on the uptake of a different kind. So whilst late Lieutenant Joy Banerjee (Trials Officer (Gunnery)) busied himself with trials of guns and associated radars and fire-control systems, our OiC looked forward to taking direct charge of these trials on Make-and-Mend days (Wednesdays and Saturdays when the navy used to have half days in a six days week). And, he made sure that his direct intervention would be just before 12:30 P.M. when most wardrooms would have PLD or Pre Lunch Drinks (PLD is a naval invention for which the Army and the Air Force do not have equivalents).

Indeed, under his active leadership as a true gunner, there was hardly any occasion of a gin-pennant being hoisted by any ship, craft or submarine in harbour, that we hadn’t made use of. (When an officer gets promoted or obtains an honour, he hoists a gin pennant on the mast to hurriedly invite all those who can see it; once again a naval tradition). The gin pennant looks like this:

In the Indian Navy, the gin goblet or glass is missing and we merely hoist the Stbd (starboard) pennant, ie, Gin Pennant without the glass.
In the Indian Navy, the gin goblet or glass is missing and we merely hoist the Stbd (starboard) pennant, ie, Gin Pennant without the glass.

One day, Joy reported to the Officer-in-Charge the result of his trials on the 4.5 inch twin gun of a Leander class frigate. The OiC said to remind him on Saturday morning. Meanwhile, I had done trials of their Electronic Warfare equipment and I too reported to him. He told me the same as he told Joy.

We reported the deficiencies to him on Saturday morning and he said we must visit the ship and help her get over these deficiencies. That afternoon, Joy (even though a Gunner himself) and I had made up our minds that we would be the road block in our OiC’s pathway to happiness at someone’s expense. Anyway, first we visited the EW compartment and then all the gun positions and Joy and I kept suggesting the ways to get over the anomalies. Suddenly when the OiC suggested that we could go somewhere where we could sit across the table (!) for better comprehension of the GO and EWO of the Leander, we knew it was time for us to intervene. Now, everybody would know that he was suggesting the wardroom where Heineken would soon start flowing. So, Joy and I pretended that we had left our Trial Diaries, by mistake (!) in the office and that we would visit the ship later to brief and counsel them.

The OiC, therefore, had no choice but to follow us to the gangway to beat a hasty retreat. However, here like Jeffrey Archer’s famous book, there was a twist in the tale. As we reached the gangway, we found that the brow had been removed for crane movement to load missiles on a Durg. Enquiry from the OOD revealed that it would be quite some time before the brow would be put back.

We announced for the GO and had no choice but to descend to the wardroom. The sweet click sounds of Heineken cans opening was music to our OiC’s ears. The ship’s Gunnery Officer learnt a lot that afternoon about not just 4.5 inch gun but all his weapons including small arms. The Gunnery Trials Officer, Joy Banerjee was much sobered after guzzling each can of the brew. And, your truly learnt a lesson for life: there is no such thing as an unlucky Gunner. Much before Paulo Coelho came on the scene, Gunners knew that if you are determined to get your heart’s desire, the elements conspire to make it happen.

P.S. I met him after a span of nearly 30 years recently and found that he had given up drinking altogether.

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