Saturday 5 July 2008

Predator and the awesome firepower scene

I remember going to see Predator at the cinema - crikey, that was a long time ago. 1987 if IMDB is correct. I am pretty sure that this was the movie that I went to with the Big T, and he came out with an imprint of his watch face embedded in his forearem. The tension was that great, he'd had his arms crossed and had dug the watch well and truly into his other arm.

I have just done a quick search for one of my favourite scenes - where they glimpse the alien for the first time and blast holy hell out of the jungle. For years afterwards, I had to put up with people telling me what a bullshit scene that was. After a while, I gave up trying to explain what bullets do to shrubbery, and used it as a means of sorting out those who have fired an automatic weapon from those that haven't.

I didn't get to participate in that many live fire shoots when I was a reservist - live ammo costs a lot (I was going to say that it costs a bomb, but bombs cost even more), so it's use was rationed. Blanks are much cheaper, but at times the budget for ammo ran out completely and we were reduced to running around the scrub yelling out "bang bang bang". I kid you not. Your defence force in action.

I imagine that sailors are told to stand on deck and go "whoosh" to similate firing a Sparrow missile.

Pilots probably get to run around the tarmac flapping their arms and going, "vroom".

Yes, I still cringe when I think about it.

Live fire shoots were something to look forward to - assuming that such a thing is your cup of tea. They were one of those things that made humping the M-60 around worth it. It was worth humping that damned thing around all year just to give it a run on a live fire and movement.


Because it was so much fun. Fun with a capital F.

Imagine this. Your section of 9 or 10 blokes is given a scenario of where you are doing a patrol through the bush and you hit an entrenched enemy and you have to clear them out. The target area has already been setup with remote controlled pop up targets set into bunkers, so you load up, patrol into the live fire area and let rip when given the word.

The entire shoot is tightly controlled. DS (directing staff) walk along behind you to make sure that no one does anything stupid, like point their weapon at someone else, and to check on things like your patrol skills, accuracy of your shooting, how you mark targets for the others in the section, how well you conduct your IA (immediate action) drills and so on. [IA is what happens when you pull the trigger and nothing happens. It could be a weapon jam, or your magazine is empty. The drill allows you to quickly determine what has happened and what has to be done to fix it - like stick a fresh mag on the weapon.]

We wouldn't know where the live fire zone was of course. We might patrol for half an hour before hitting it, but once we found it, we really let rip.

I'd be lugging the standard gunner load of 400 rounds for the M-60. My offsider would have his rifle plus another couple of hundred of link for the gun. Other members of the section would also be carrying a bag or two of link, each bag holding 100 rounds. We'd typically try and lug 1000 rounds, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it weighs plenty. Each round weighs 146gm, so a 100 round bag weighed in at 14.6 kilos (I'm not sure if that is correct, as it seems an awful lot - the M-60 itself "only" weighed 10.5kg.

Anyway, we lugged as much ammo as they'd issue us, which was about as much as we could carry without collapsing after 5 minutes.

So we'd be patrolling along, then the DS that had the remote control panel for the targets would flip up a target and the contact would be initiated. "Contact" for any non-Army types reading this means you have contacted the enemy. I'm not talking about contacting them via email or phone - I'm talking about contacting them with a wall of fast moving lead.

Half the time, everyone missed the fact that a target had popped up and the DS would have to flip a few more up to make it obvious. The drill then would be for us grunts to yell "contact front" (assuming it was a frontal contact) and then run a few steps, hit the ground, crawl to a firing position, select a target and open up. Everyone had an arc of responsibility - you don't want people shooting in all directions. A contact is not a wild melee of people shooting in all directions. Bullets kill both types of people - friendlies and enemies, so one does ones best not to zap your mates. Everyone would stick to their arc and blast anything that popped up within that arc.

That's when the fun began. The idea behind having a machine gun is to pulverise the enemy, so people would indicate targets for me to hit - since I was carrying 90% of the section firepower, it made more sense for me to blast a target with sustained fire than to have a rifleman plug a few rounds into it with his SLR.

One reason why I got the M-60 was that I was the master of the 3-5 round burst (the main reason though was that I had the strength and stamina to carry it all day and night). When we went on the range, I was always stunned by how few people could make the thing consistently fire a 3-5 round burst. I could pretty much fire as many rounds in a burst as were called for. If I was asked to fire 4 round bursts, that's what I'd do. If they wanted 5 round bursts, I'd fire 5 rounds, pause, fire 5 more, pause, and repeat until the ammo ran out. I seemed to have a natural feel for the tempo of the gun, and knew exactly when to release the trigger after each burst.

The idea behind the 3-5 round burst is that every 5th round is a tracer, so if you five a 5 round burst, there'll be one tracer in there somewhere to mark where your burst went. You can then adjust the next burst to fall wherever it is supposed to go. If you fire more than that, the gun recoil will probably have your rounds going all over the shop. You fire a burst, check where it went, adjust, fire another, check, adjust, fire another burst etc etc etc. I'm happy to say that I was pretty good at putting those rounds where they were supposed to go. I don't know why - I guess I just had the knack.

Anyway, to Predator.

A section contact would see us fire off maybe 1500 rounds - more if the DS were feeling generous and had given the riflemen extra mags. They carried 3 mags of 20 rounds back then, so 9 of them would blast off 540 rounds between them, and I'd add maybe another 1000 from the gun (assuming it didn't jam or fall apart in the process). By the time we'd finished, every tree under about 6 inches in diameter in the target area would be lying on its side. That much lead going through bush just flattens everything in its path. It was a good lesson in showing us what to hide behind and what not to. If you hugged a tree and your hands didn't meet on the other side, then that was an ok tree to take cover behind. Anything less, well, you wouldn't make it through the contact in one piece.

I watched one bloke shoot down a fairly thick tree. The DS were distracted, so instead of brassing up his designated targets, he put round after round into a selected tree in front of him. About halfway through his third mag, down it came. It gave everyone a surprise, since trees that big usually didn't fall over during a live fire shoot, but he was accurate and persistent, and he beat it in the end.

Nothing would be left standing in front of my gun for some distance. Any grass in front of the muzzle would be completely flattened by the muzzle blast. Any grass growing level with the barrel would be chopped off at that height by the departing bullets. All sapplings, shrubs, bushes and topiaries would be no more. The ground in front of me would be littered with twigs, shrubs, branches, leaves, grass and woodchips, and every now and then, the tracer would set some of it on fire, so we'd finish the contact, clear our weapons, then pick up rakes and water packs and put out a small bushfire.

So next time you are watching Predator, look out for that scene.


kae said...

I was in the ARES in the late 70s. I remember the yippee shoots.
When you got to the end of the financial year if you had any of the very expensive ammo left you'd use it up, because if you didn't you'd get less ammo the following allocation because it was deemed that you didn't need as much. But you used to save it and ration it all year so that you'd have enough. This was any kind of ammo, blanks and live rounds.

It was fun!

Boy on a bike said...

Yippee shoot. I'd forgotten that term. We did one shoot where we had to clean out the armoury before the end of the year - just as you mentioned. We didn't bother patrolling on that shoot - we simply flopped down into our firing position and the DS stacked up so much ammo next to me, I couldn't see the bloke to the left. We fired until the gun gave up (after a barrel change), had a break, cleaned it and then started again.

My ears rang for days after that.