When FDC Lost Communication
With the Guns During a Hot Fire Mission

By Micheal Swertfeager


The events of August 16, 1970 have come to mind just about every day of my life for over the past forty years. It was on a clear, sunny and hot Sunday at the US Army 8 inch howitzer battery of four guns at Alpha 4 (Con Thein). We were located along the southern border of the DMZ in South Vietnam. I was filling in as chief computer for my shift leader Forest Baker that was on R&R. We were rotating shifts from days to nights in the FDC section. To accomplish this we would work eighteen instead of the usual twelve-hour shift on our seven-day weekly rotation. On this particular Sunday I was leading the night shift. Section Chief Tony Scannelli and crew relieved us at noon. Everything was routine, my crew and I went to our crew bunker for rest and to get ready for out next shift at 7:00 am the next morning.

I remember washing my bush hat in a blue plastic wash bowel at the south entrance of our crew bunker when the first incoming rounds were heard. Immediately I placed my wet hat on my head and ran to the FDC bunker to see what was going on. Tony and his crew were doing their job in a competent and professional manner, the FDO was a brand new second Lt. that had just come into country, he was assigned to out battery the week before. When I entered the FDC bunker, I ask if there was anything I could do to help. It was determined that we were taking 120mm mortar rounds Dong ha, Camp Carol and C-2 were also under attack. The problem was we couldn't get a fix on where the enemy rounds were coming from. Gene Ghio and I went to the top of the FDC bunker with a pair of binoculars to see if we could see any sign of the enemy mortar but we couldn't identify a target to return fire on.

The enemy was striking our battery center. The new shower we had constructed took a direct hit destroying it and sending a geyser of water into the air. Gun 2 was hit and out of commission along with all communication to the guns. Tony received a grid for a suspected enemy position from battalion. FDC computed the data and fire commands were relayed to Guns 3 & 4, by word of mouth thru a relay team. After a couple of rounds were fired, Gun 3 had taken a mortar hit and the relay team and gun crews had to take cover.

Our First Sergeant Strome was also on R&R with the Chief of Smoke filling in for him. Our BC Capt. Newell and senior FDO Lt. LaPlant had gone to our battalion rear at Dong Ha that morning right after the road was cleared of land mines. The only experienced officer at the battery was our XO, Lt. Knotts. The Chief of Smoke was wounded while trying to get to his post at the guns. I volunteered to assisted LT. Knotts medivac Smoke, I can remember crouching down on my knees next to a stretcher in a cloud of yellow smoke waiting for the Dustoff helicopter to arrive. The mortar rounds were impacting in our battery area. Finally the helicopter came in, but didn't land, we threw the stretcher into the moving helicopter. In my minds eye I can still see Smokes boots sticking out of the Dustoff's open door as it flew away. When I returned to the FDC bunker, there was a lot of concern in the air. The 120mm mortar was a NVA battalion weapon and the possibility of a NVA ground assault was expressed openly. I remember Tony calling for a Sundowner, Artillery Air Observer, to possibly get a sighting of the enemy mortar. Finally a group of grids came down from IOS, a new laser range finding device up on our hill at TOC. With two guns damaged and no communications to the other two. Our FDC processed the data for the grids and requested permission to fire from HQ. Data was checked and permission was granted for nine -point zone and shifts (three quadrants and three deflections) for each of the grids.

We had to stop the incoming mortars, no one had to tell us that. Tony and I looked at each other, I said I'll take gun 4, you take 1. Tony only had six days left of his tour and was going home that week. We both scrambled out of the FDC bunker, steel helmets and flack jackets our only protection. Tony met Lt. Knotts at Gun 1 and started the process of turning it around into firing positioned. Gun 4 was already laid in the direction of the target, but to get to gun 4, I would have to run through the impacting mortar rounds. As I ran to gun four, a mortar round impacted about fifty meters in front of me. I bent down as I ran as if going through a hale storm. The red hot sparks of what seemed to be a giant welders torch flew past me. To my surprise nothing had hit me. When I reached Gun 4 Sgt. Rink assembled his crew to return fire. After my hair raising experience in route to the gun I tried to give the commands to the gun from the ground, but the gun crew couldn't hear me. So I climbed on the gun along with the crew and issued them the firing commands. When we started firing the enemy mortar begun to adjust on us. We stood our ground and continued to fire even after a mortar round hit just the other side of our parapet. A piece of debris hit one of the crewmembers knocking him off of the gun. We fired again and again; a secondary explosion was detected on the target. We continued to fire until all the targets were covered.

When we were finished it seemed so quiet. It was over, the service road reopened and the BC and senior FDO were able to return to the battery. They were stopped and held at C2 until the 5th Mech. determined it was safe to travel the road to Alpha 4. We were debriefed and it was time to go to bed. Remember I had just gotten off an eighteen-hour shift when the attack started.

There were many acts of heroism that day some recognized, most not. Our battery had received more battle damage than any other in the AO. Only C Battery rallied to return fire and silence the mortars. The men of C Battery with their heroic actions and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflected great credit upon themselves, unit and the United States Army.

Mike Schwertfeger (Swert)
C Battery FDC