I like big guns
Some years ago - no, actually many
years ago - I was in the Danish
Home Guard (Det Danske Hjemmeværn). It is more or less equivalent to the National Guard
, I guess, but I wouldn't know for sure since I haven't been in
the National Guard. I had a very good rifle (an old one, since the Home Guard kinda gets the equipment that the regular army
can't use any more. Not that I minded; my rifle was one of the best in my division (here a platoon
sized unit), and probably even better than the new ones), and I was quite good at hitting the targets. This is an advantage in many situations, and makes you popular among your comrades who won't have to jump for their lives
The Danish Homeguard is (or was; a lot has presumably changed since I quit in 1995) divided into the Air, Army, and Naval Homeguard. I was in the Navy of course, being the daughter of a sailor. Not that I got to sail much, which was all for the good since water is bumpy and not to be trusted, but we had some other really cool devices in our division: two great big whopping Bofors 40mm (1,57 inches) anti-aircraft guns. There's a great picture of one here (look at the one on wheels: it is identical to "my" gun). It's a beaut. It is operated by a crew of minimum 5 people: the layer, who will move the gun vertically, and depress the firing pedal (the trigger); the trainer, who swivels the gun horizontally, the loader who stands on top of the gun platform and feeds the grenades into the gun; the supplier, who is responsible for keeping the grenades coming, and finally, the commander, who shouts out the orders for the others.
Of course, being so fascinated with just about anything big (hint: rhinos and sumo wrestlers...) I could not just stand by and not get into the action. So I took a lot of classes and courses, and was generally being so annoying that, in the end, my superiors relented: I was made Gun Commander. I got to be the one who stood beside the big gun and called the shots. Naturally I had to go through all the other positions (no! bad! I'm being serious here!) as layer, trainer, loader, and supplier, working hard and sleeping with a pencil between my toes, and it was a lot of fun. But the real treat was still to stand beside the big gun, binoculars in hand, and call out to the crew:
"Short, right. FIRE. Short, left. FIRE. COVER!"1 (And, once the target had been sufficiently molested) "CEEEEEASE... FIRE!"
I find it kind of cool to know that I was, allegedly, the first female Gun Commander in Denmark (and most likely in Europe), and my crew - an all-female crew - was the first all-female crew ever, as far as anybody knew. And we were good: we murdered the targets - and that did little to make us popular among the other crews. You see, the target was a wooden contraption with a big piece of plywood affixed to it. It would be towed behind a boat, across the shooting range some 500 to 700 m out, and we were supposed to aim for the plywood. Well, we did. We aimed, shot, and hit, and the whole contraption sank. This meant a lot of downtime (no pun intended). So they placed a few big orange floats or buoys for the crews to practice on. So we shot those to pieces (around this time I was told that, in the future, we were not to actually hit the targets! 'Try to... come close, but don't destroy it.'). Glorious times, those were...
These old guns had to be carefully maintained and looked after. I have disassembled, cleaned, oiled, and reassembled those guys so many times that I think I could still do it, even though it has been a good 15 years (and counting) since the last time. Most of the parts are very heavy, but I did my damndest to pick up and carry what needed to be picked up and carried. We'd always set up the cleaning station close by, so we'd only have to carry stuff a few steps. But still... The breechblock was a block of steel that weighed some... 60 kg. I could stick my arms through the hole in the block, and stagger to the table and plonk it down. The barrel, though, weighed 130 kg, and it took at least three people to shift it. Five, if it was hot and needed to be changed during shooting. The rest of the pieces were a bit more manageable. It would take us a good whole day to get our gun clean after shooting, but it was very satisfying, after assembling the gun and manhandling it back to its parking spot, to stand back and look at it, all clean and oiled and happy. Whereas we'd be all tired and dirty, sweaty and oily - but happy.
The guns have gone now. I hope they are safe and sound at some museum or other. I'd hate to think of them being demolished and sold off as scrap metal (that'd be almost 2000kg worth of metal!); they were very fine pieces of machinery or weaponry, and I can personally vouch for them being well kept during the years I took care of them.
NOTE: A thank you to Palpz, Jack, mcd, Apollyon, and Bennyfactor for helping me with trying to translate the Danish command to English. 'Fire at will' comes very close, but 'Fire for effect' seems to be the one. Thanks to Bennyfactor for prowling the net for me. I think I'll leave the 'cover' in the wu though...
- In Danish the command/term for "Keep firing until I tell you to stop" is "dækning". Roughly translated it means "cover". If any of you out there knows what the English term is, I'd love to know.