“The Mysteries of Anti-Aircraft Artillery”: Firing the HAA Guns

Lt.-Col. H.E.C. Weldon, himself a coastal artillery gunner, describes seeing Maltese officers at the mess in Sliema being trained on “the mysteries of anti-aircraft artillery”. It was, in-fact, confusing (to say the least) for the un-initiated, let alone the outsider. Combined with readings from the height * range-finder and the predictor team previously discussed, the gunner had the task of executing the commander’s orders, loading, and firing their guns.

Once the guns are on the target bearing requested by the GPO the gunners would audibly declare their readiness to fire. By the time the order to fire was heard, or even permission to engage reached the battery from the AAOR, the shell would have already been rammed into a specific hole where the ‘fuze setter’ could pull or push a crank to the desired position according to the time, and therefore height, the gunner wanted to set their fuze at. However, on the 3.7”, a battery operated automatic fuze-setter, placed just underneath the gun (but directly connected to the predictor) was also issued. Doing so each gun team’s ‘Fuze dial operator’ and ammunition NCO would prepare the shell’s fuze as required. After doing so, the shell would be placed onto the shell lift and breech as quickly as possible to be rammed and shot (also automatically). However, this was done only after the ‘fuze setter’ yells ‘fire’ and is confirmed by the gun sergeant immediately after. The whole procedure could keep going on independently of the direct order to ‘engage’ by the GPO, or at predetermined quantities, through rain or shine, day or night. 

Every man was, essentially, an extension of the delicate instruments. Therefore it was imperative to attain precise coordination between the height & range finder, the predictor and the gunners. Back at the command post, located in between all three, the firing sequence (for the 3” 20 cwt) would be heard as follows:

“GPO- “Engage”

No. 1 height-Finder- “First 15 thousand”

GPO- “Set 15 Thousand”

No. 4 Predictor- “15 Thousand set”, “Fuze two eight” (taking into account the time taken to load the guns)

GPOA- “Fuze two eight”. (by megaphone to guns. Guns load fuze 28).

No. 4 Predictor- “FIRE”. (just before his pointer reaches Fuze 28)

GPO & GPOA – “FIRE”. (almost simultaneously)

Gun Sergeants- “FIRE” and all four guns fire simultaneously.” -Maurice Agius, p 31.

A 3 inch 20 cwt gun crew in Malta

This process or ‘drill’ would be repeated for each salvo as the specific target or formation changed altitude, speed, direction and/or bearing. The most recent loader would run back to get more ammunition so that he has a shell ready in hand when it’s his turn again to load it. If the same or a different target was to be engaged, the height finder would take another measurement, transfer it to the predictor team and the guns are laid again. When required, for added accuracy, the angle of the guns could be perfectly matched with the predictor’s own telescope aimed at the desired target, calibrated with a clinometer. Sounds confusing? It is. Fortunately, the video below explains it better than words can.

By Nikolai Debono, on behalf of Batlefront Malta