Training with thunder and lightning

Training with thunder and lightning

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In Weiden, 131 Artillery Battalion instructs the first eight Hungarian soldiers in the PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer. The Hungarian Armed Forces have ordered 24 of these modern self-propelled howitzers from the German defense industry. In February 2022, the first new howitzers will be delivered. The Hungarian soldiers will then begin training their fellow soldiers in their home country.

A self-propelled howitzer is standing on a meadow. Smoke is coming from the barrel; behind the vehicle, there are five soldiers.

“Fire!” The Hungarian soldiers are using a lanyard to fire the first few artillery rounds. The artillery round is leaving the barrel with an enormous pressure wave, creating a loud muzzle report and clouds of smoke.

Bundeswehr/Rebecca Kostanjevec

“Zu - gleich!” The Hungarian gunners now know this battle cry of the German artillery forces just as well as “Panzerhaubitze”, the German word for self-propelled howitzer. The Upper Palatinate region has become the cradle of the modern Hungarian armoured artillery. Given that there are currently no service regulations available in Hungarian for the modern PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer, our Eastern European partners have learnt a number of German terms instead. The first step has been taken. After three months, eight Hungarian soldiers have completed their training to become gunners. The Hungarians know that they are pioneers of their armed forces, so they are highly motivated. “That worked like a charm”, says Lieutenant Colonel Sven Zickmantel, Commander of 131 Artillery Battalion in Weiden. The unit is part of the Division Troops of 10 Armoured Division in Veitshöchheim in Lower Franconia.

Next training course starts in January

Three self-propelled howitzers are positioned side by side; in front of them, there are artillery rounds and propellants.

On the loading site: The gun crews are receiving the ammunition prepared by the ammunition and guard sections. High-explosive (HE) rounds are olive green, smoke rounds are white and green; all rounds are supplied with the required propellants.

Bundeswehr/Rebecca Kostanjevec

The “Honvédség”, as the Hungarian Armed Forces call themselves, want to establish an entire armoured artillery battalion and replace their old self-propelled carriages with the German howitzers. This is why it is necessary to train Hungarian artillery soldiers in Germany as part of the military training assistance programme. As early as in January, the eight Hungarian soldiers will be returning to Weiden in order to undergo training to become gun commanders; platoon leader and company commander training courses will follow later.

In anticipation of the new weapon system

Five Hungarian gunners standing behind a PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer with a red flag on its turret.

The red flag indicates that the howitzer is loaded and ready to fire. The Hungarian battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Barnabás Bartók, wants to fire the howitzer together with his soldiers.

Bundeswehr/Rebecca Kostanjevec

It is a very special experience for Staff Sergeant Ivo Köhnke, platoon leader and instructor. As he explains, the Hungarian soldiers are “highly motivated, they are really keen to learn and are excited to receive the new weapon system.” Working with the Hungarian team has so far been rather pleasant despite some challenges, such as the fact that the German instructors were depending on Hungarian interpreters. The Hungarian soldiers are led by a captain: How do you fuze an artillery round? How can the infantry protect the gun in its firing position? These are some of the first few questions that were raised during training, says the platoon leader.

Hungarian soldiers are learning German commands

A self-propelled howitzer with its rear door open; Hungarian soldiers are heaving the artillery rounds to the howitzers by hand.

The Hungarian gun crews are receiving the prepared ammunition. They are wearing German armoured combat vehicle crew coveralls with Hungarian insignia.

Bundeswehr/Rebecca Kostanjevec

For three months, Köhnke and his team have been teaching the Hungarian NCOs and officers about the handling of artillery ammunition and the procedures at the workstations in the howitzer’s crew compartment, and they have practiced the overall conduct of land operations. As there are currently no regulations for the self-propelled howitzer available in Hungarian, even the interpreters had to improvise. How can “fuzing” or “shell transfer arm” be translated into Hungarian? Since the eight Hungarian soldiers have completed a language course beforehand, their understanding of German was fair enough to simply use the German terms – and, for safety reasons, also the German fire commands.

Live firing after eleven weeks of training

Four self-propelled howitzers are positioned in a field, ready to fire, with large distances between them.

Ready for firefight: The platoon with four self-propelled howitzers moved into a firing position from a hide position and is waiting for the fire command.

Bundeswehr/Rebecca Kostanjevec

For the majority of training participants, the live firing at the nearby Grafenwöhr major training area in November marked both the conclusion and highlight of the eleven-week training course. The soldiers had to show that they can apply the knowledge they have gained in the past weeks even under combat conditions. In their home country, the experienced artillery soldiers have been using D-20 gun howitzers, which still date from the Soviet era. The new armoured artillery battalion is to be established in the small town of Tata. The town lies in the Hungarian Tuscany north of the capital city of Budapest.

Cooperation works

Group photo of three Hungarian soldiers in camouflage uniform and with headsets.

The Hungarian battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Barnabás Bartók (centre) with two of his artillery soldiers, is visibly satisfied after having fired the gun.

Bundeswehr/Rebecca Kostanjevec

During their visit on 17 and 18 November, the Hungarian battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Barnabás Bartók, and Colonel Janos Csombok, head of the liaison office of the Hungarian Armed Forces in Germany, gained a personal impression of the training course for their soldiers in the Upper Palatinate region. Both were delighted with the progress made so far. The cooperation runs smoothly, as Bartók explains: “I am grateful for the excellent training of my soldiers and I am looking forward to continuing this cooperation with our German partners.”

Praise to the instructors

Several soldiers are standing in a large concrete hangar, with a self-propelled howitzer as a training gun behind them.

A self-propelled howitzer as a simulator: In it, soldiers are trained on all operator stations and monitored at the same time. Live firing is simulated using a gun barrel fitted specifically for this purpose.

Bundeswehr/Rebecca Kostanjevec

The first training segment was “excellent”, says his German counterpart, Lieutenant Colonel Zickmantel, happily. “This is the first international gun training at the garrison.” Earlier, the soldiers from Weiden gained experience in the training of gunners in Croatia. In times of the COVID-19Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic, a cross-border training programme cannot be taken for granted. The preparation time ahead of the programme was very short due to constraints caused by the pandemic. “We are proud that the training ran smoothly even under the current conditions”, Zickmantel goes on to say.

Always a welcome guest

A German and a Hungarian soldier are standing on a paved town square, behind them there are rows of houses and shops.

Weekend programme: Lieutenant Colonel Sven Zickmantel (left), Commander of 131 Artillery Battalion, takes Lieutenant Colonel Barnabás Bartók on a tour through Weiden and tells him about the history of the town on the market square.

Bundeswehr/Rebecca Kostanjevec

The German commander sums it up as follows: “The resourcefulness and high flexibility of the German instructors have led to a high training level.” The Hungarian soldiers are welcome guests in Weiden, and they also enjoy their stay in the town and the region. The commitment of the artillery soldiers from Weiden also contributes to this: They look after their Hungarian fellow soldiers on the weekends, too, for example during a sightseeing walk in Weiden.

“A really great task”

Four Hungarian soldiers are standing in a maintenance hall; two civilian mechanics in blue overalls explain their jobs.

Markus Wolf (right), head of an Army Maintenance Logistics base, makes a visit to Weiden and explains the processes required to maintain the self-propelled howitzer to the Hungarian soldiers; to them, this is an important element of the project.

Bundeswehr/Rebecca Kostanjevec

“It was fun”, Köhnke says, summing things up. The instructor is now looking forward to the next training programme: “This is a really great task.” 131 Artillery Battalion has already been making plans for a continuation of this very successful cooperation. The Hungarian soldiers will undergo the continuation training to become gun commanders in the first quarter of 2021 in Weiden. This training segment is scheduled to start as early as in January. Following its completion in March, one officer is going to complete the company commanders’ course while four other soldiers are going to be sent to the platoon commander course. In turn, the Weiden artillery soldiers are going to be in Hungary in the summer. In June, 131 Artillery Battalion is going to participate in artillery firing in Tata with elements of the battalion command post and one battery.

by Mario Hönig und Karsten Dyba

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