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 Apr 16 2021

Enhanced Forward Presence: armoured infantry ready for action

This article was originally published on April 4th 2021 on the website of the German Bundeswehr.

Exercises are conducted at the enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in Lithuania on a regular basis. They only work out with the right personnel, appropriate materiel and suitable vehicles. While the soldiers of the German combat company are taking the plane to Rukla, the Marder 1A3 infantry fighting vehicles are brought to Lithuania by rail. The moment when the vehicles roll off the loading ramp represents somewhat of a kick-off for the preparations towards the upcoming field training exercises.

Arrival of soldiers and materiel in Gaižiūnai

In spring, there are various exercises with the participation of soldiers of enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Lithuania; for this purpose, they need several Marder 1A3 infantry fighting vehicles. In Germany, the vehicles are carefully prepared and loaded for their long railroad transport. They are then received in Lithuania by the soldiers of the German combat company about four days later. After being briefed by the loading officer, platoon leader Captain Stefan B. takes the floor. “Now get to the vehicles and prepare for unloading. Begin when the first vehicles are ready.”

Checks of the arriving vehicles

Lithuania often has icy temperatures. It is possible that chock blocks are frozen in place. A firm kick or a crowbar solves this problem. The first glance reveals to the driver that the running gear was not damaged during the long haul. He climbs on the engine compartment cover and takes out a huge square-head screwdriver from a lateral storage compartment, which he uses to unlock and open the driver’s hatch. Everything is in its proper place and a few minutes later his squad leader gives the signal to start the engine. A soldier turns the ignition key, preheats the engine twice and gets the infantry fighting vehicle running. A monotonous rumble fills the entire railway station compound. Then the time has come: The first infantry fighting vehicle is being guided off the train car by a ground guide.

March column to the barracks

This procedure only works if the interplay between ground guide and driver is flawless. One after another, the infantry fighting vehicles roll of the loading ramp without any trouble: The vehicles now have Lithuanian soil underneath their tracks.
At the end of the train station compound, a column begins to form. While the engines are warming up, the slippery train station exit ramp is filled with loose snow and chunks of sand. This is supposed to provide the track shoes with more traction on the icy road.
After that, the vehicle commanders gather up around Captain Stefan B.: “The unloading process is finished. After this, mount the vehicles and report readiness to move. Questions?” He looks around: “Mount!” The infantry fighting vehicles start moving and, after a short march, reach the gate of the barracks near Rukla.

To the firing range: zeroing the vehicle rapid-fire weapon system

On the next morning, the infantry fighting vehicles make their way to the training area in heavy snowfall. When the roar of their heavy tank engines comes within earshot, the Marder infantry fighting vehicles are already in sight. After entering the firing range, the crews dismount and gather for the first line-up. Captain Stefan B. welcomes the soldiers, details them into working groups and briefs them about the venue. “Ammunition to be received at the point of issue starting now. Second line-up at 08.30 hrs! Fall out to working areas as ordered;” orders the officer in charge.

Preparation of ammunition and primary weapon system

 The gunners prepare the primary weapon systems. The rest of the crews go and receive the ammunition. Belts for the vehicle rapid-fire weapon system are laid out on the opened rear hatch and meticulously realigned with the ammunition belt realignment device. “This helps to prevent malfunctions of the weapon systems during the ammunition loading process in the turret and in the double belt feed mechanism,” the gunner explains.
While he loads the ammunition into the turret and checks if it properly fits in the path of the bolt, the ammunition belts for the machine gun are being put together on the rear hatch. The green-red flag is attached to the vehicle so that the safety officer can recognize the new loading condition of the vehicle. The firing can commence. Upon order, the infantry fighting vehicle moves into its fighting position.

“Hit, target centre”

Pointing the cross hairs of the weapon sight at the zeroing target 800 metres away, the gunner presses the trigger of his Mk 20 automatic cannon. The shot is fired with ear-shattering noise and the projectile just barely misses the centre of the target.

“Hit, low right! Two mils left and three mils up,” the commander comments after observing the hit. The gunner readjusts the weapon sight and aims at the centre of the zeroing target once more.
“Fire!” orders the commander. Another shot is fired. “Hit, target centre!” is heard from the radio with audible satisfaction.

After successful completion of all preparatory steps, the materiel has been tested and the soldiers are well prepared for the upcoming exercises.

Before granting access, guards at the gate check every person wanting to go onto the firing range and report them to the firing safety officer. 
Gunner and commander together preparing the primary weapon system for firing
The cannon barrel of the vehicle rapid-fire weapon system must be cleaned from oil residues before firing
Soldier joining the ammunition for the machine gun into a belt and  putting it into the belt box, thus improving the ammunition feeding  process to the machine gun during firing

Marder infantry fighting vehicle moving into position on the firing range

Under the watchful eyes of the safety officer: In the firing position, the commander loads the machine gun ready to fire and takes a final careful look to check the weapon system of the infantry fighting vehicle. Then he assigns the targets to the gunner and the firing commences

Story by Stefan Gierke

Crews checking the condition of their vehicles after the train ride before beginning the unloading process 
Bundeswehr/PAO EFP
The engines of the Marder infantry fighting vehicles are running and  ground guides are supporting the tank drivers with hand signals during  the unloading process
Bundeswehr/PAO EFP
The trip to the barracks near Rukla continues in a column formation 
Bundeswehr/PAO EFP
After arrival of the tank crews at the firing range, the first firing preparation measures begin 
Bundeswehr/PAO EFP
Ammunition belts being realigned prior to loading in order to minimize  the number of vehicle rapid-fire weapon system malfunctions during  firing 
Bundeswehr/PAO EFP
Cartridge case being ejected from the vehicle rapid-fire weapon system after firing 
Bundeswehr/PAO EFP

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