My Ship Fired 30 Bullets At Me - A True Life Story

Leander Class Ship
A Leander Class War Ship That Fired Bullets At Helicopter

This is a true life story that happened sometime in the 1990 when I was posted in a Leander class frigate you see in the picture above. My ship started firing 4.5 inch diameter bullets from its 5 meter long double barrel guns, mounted in the front at my helicopter in which I was coming back to land on my ship’s deck after a firing range clearance mission. Each of these bullets weighing 25 kg and travelling at 750 meters per second speed missed me.

It was God’s grace that I am still alive to write this true life story. That day the ship was planned to fire its 4.5 inch twin barrel gun mounted in the front side of the ship just a few meters ahead of the Ship’s Bridge. The firing was supposed to commence from 9:30 am to 10:00 am. Before the firing is carried out over the sea, the ship has to ensure that there are no ships, boats or people in the direction in which firing will be done, up to a distance of about 80 km.

The Sector Clearance Flying Before Ship's Gun Fires Bullets - A True Life story

Those days, the ship would launch its small helicopter which has to go all the way up to about 70 kilometers and shoo away all the ships or boats in that area, return back and debrief the ship’s Captain, that the area is clear for firing. After the helicopter lands and switches of its engine, the Captain of the ship orders firing to commence.

The gun firing is practiced regularly to teach the new crew who may have joined the ship recently and to improve the speed and efficiency of the old crew on the ship on how to use the ship’s fire control radar system, using the fire control system to aim the guns on the correct direction and target, practice firing so that all the ship’s crew get trained in the correct procedure for firing and learn to do it as fast as possible.

The ship will survive a war only if the ship’s crew is crew is able to fire and destroy the approaching enemy plane or missile before it hits the ship. Otherwise the enemy plane will drop a torpedo, a bomb or a missile etc., and sink the ship into the sea along with its entire crew. It is highly dangerous on a ship during a real war unless the crew is trained well.

The probability of the ship getting hit either by a plane dropping a bomb over it, a submarine attacking with a torpedo from under the sea or another ship firing its gun or a torpedo is very high. That day the briefing for the flying was planned to be at 06:00 am. My mission was to take off and go up to 40 miles or 70 km from the ship for firing range clearance. My ship was already some 300 kilometers into the sea from the nearest land.

Power of Bullets The Ship's Gun Fired- A True Life Story

If at all anyone is there, my job was to get them away to safe direction. Leander class ships are used by many countries in the world and it normally has crew of about 300 people onboard. It can carry one small helicopter on its helicopter deck in the rear of the ship and has a twin barrel 4.5 inch diameter (120 mm caliber) shell firing twin bore gun mounted on the front part of the ship, which is controlled by an automatic system utilizing a fire control radar.

These guns are capable of propelling huge 25 kilogram bullets each of which is a foot long, 120 mm in diameter and flying at a speed of 750 meters per second, up to an effective range of 18 to 20 kilometers or more. These guns are basically designed to shoot down enemy aircraft which are coming to attack the ship, before they can do any harm the ship. Amazingly, these guns are capable of shooting down even an incoming missile travelling at a speed close to the speed of sound.

The Hands call was at 5:30 am. Hands call means, a long shrill sound from a curved whistle normally called as a Pipe, on the ships broadcast system, after which an announcement is made, to get everyone up from the bed. Every announcement is made after sounding a pipe on all war ships around the world.

Everyone gets about 5 minutes to get off their bed wear their dressing gown, go to the dining hall and have a tea. After 5 minutes of hands call, at 5:35 am another announcement is made, "Hands to tea". Officers however get their bed tea served by stewards in their cabins.

Throughout the day some announcement or the other will keep coming on the broadcasting system till 10 pm, when the last announcement, "Good Night" is piped. Unless there is an emergency on the ship, no broadcast will be made between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am so that everyone who are not on duty can have a good sleep. Out of every three crew onboard a ship will be on duty and the other two will sleep. This is called a three watch system. Each watch is four hours long.

The Ship Working During War - A True Life Story

In war time every one has to be in one watch which means there is nothing called sleep hours. Everyone will stay in their designated posts. They may be allowed to sleep on their post and are provided food and water also there. In my ship of 300 crew, 200 of us would sleep at night and the rest 100 would be on watch so that the ship continues to sail safely. No one is awake throughout the night. This is not a True Life Story. It is actual life on a Ship during War at sea.

The ship works on a two watch or three watch system. Each watch is 4:00 hours long starting from 4 am, 8 am, 12 pm, 4 pm, 8 pm and 12 am. In case of shortage of crew onboard and often during war time when danger is not imminent, the ship may follow a two watch system. Those who are on duty at 12 am in the night, will have an early dinner and sleep, get up at 11:30 pm, get dressed up and reach the post at least by 11:45 pm so that he can be there with the previous duty person and know what is going on for the next 15 minutes.

The person who was on duty can then go off at 12 am. This is the procedure to be followed in each watch of 4:00 hours. It is only the Captain of the ship who does not get relieved. He is on duty 24 x 7. He can sleep only when there is absolutely nothing going on in the ship.

No One Sits in The War Ship's Bridge - A True Life Story

That is also the reason that in the Warship Bridge, from where the entire ship is controlled, only the Captain of the Ship is allowed to sit. Other than the Captain’s chair, there is no place anyone else can sit inside the Bridge. The moment something goes wrong, the duty personnel are to wake up the Captain and inform him even if it is past midnight.

All the cabins of a war ship will have a speaker through which the announcement can be heard everywhere inside the ship. In fact, these announcements can be heard even in the bathroom and toilet. These announcements are routine in nature but becomes important when it pertains to a fire somewhere in the ship or a flooding in any part of the ship, both of which can sink the ship, if it goes undetected, uncontrolled or is mishandled.

There have been instances in the Navies world over, when a ship caught fire and the crew tried to douse the fire by flooding the compartments. They succeed in dousing the fire completely, but they ship sank the ship because of the over flooding they did, to douse the fire.

The Ship's Broadcasting System - A True Life Story

The Ship's Boradcasting System is a set of mics and speakers through an amplifier. There are loud speakers fixed in each and every compartment of a war ship. Even if you are inside your cabin and sleeping, there are announcements made by the ship starting from a wake up call to good night and everything inbetween.

Even if the Ship's Captain wants some one in his cabin he gets it announced in the broadcast system which is fitted even the bathrooms. One of the most important announcements in the broadcast system on our ship was that which said, "Fresh Water will be available in all the bathrooms from 5:45 am to 5:48 am".

Water Scarcity A Problem on All Steam War Ships - A True Life Story

Yes, what you read is true. This being a steam ship, its two huge boilers need a lot of fresh water to generate steam for running the turbines which in turn will generate power for turning the two propellers of the ship. To generate fresh water at sea, all modern ships have one or two reverse Osmosis plants capable of making at least 5 or 10 tons of fresh water every hour from the salty sea water.

This fresh water is tangy in taste and difficult to drink. You need to develop a taste for this water. I used to mix the water with some lemon juice to get over that taste. All war ships will have at least two propellers where as a merchant ship normally has only one propeller.

This is because the warships need to go fast and also maneuver quickly to evade a missile or torpedo attack. This is not possible with just one propeller. So there are two propellers. Even if one engine fails or is hit by the enemy torpedo, the ship will continue to sail and fight with the remaining propeller.

Water Comes for Just 3 Minutes on a Steam War Ship - A True Life Story

So we used to get water for three minutes precisely in the morning, another three minutes in the evening and if there is a little bit of excess water, then an additional three minutes during lunch time also, in all the bathrooms. I used to wake up before the Hands call is piped on the broadcast system, go to the toilet where sea water and some toilet paper was always available.

I would start brushing my teeth with the drinking water bottle I had filled up the previous night and wait for the water to come in the bathroom showers, so that I can take a proper bath in those 3 minutes. When the water comes, there is a 200 water drum placed in the bathroom which also gets half-filled in three minutes.

Those who come late will have to use that water in the drum, which usually has about an inch thick sediments in its bottom which churns up the moment you dip a bucket or take a mug of water from it. Despite being sailing at sea which is nothing but water all around the ship, there was always a serious shortage of water onboard all steam ships those days.

Often the ship's engineering officer may let out some steam through the bathroom pipes from the boilers, to give you the feel of a sauna bath. That morning I had already finished my toilet visit and finished brushing my teeth also with my fresh water bottle.

I was waiting for the water to come in the bathroom to take a bath along with another Officer. We both are chatting when the Commanding Officer of our ship also came in. I was a Lieutenant those days and my Commanding Officer was a Commander, just one rank above me.

The Warship Captain's Has 24x7 Water in Bathroom - A True Life Story

The Commanding Officer (CO) has his own bath attached cabin with 24 x7 water available. In fact, he has two cabins, one called day cabin where he works, which is like an office and one can meet him there. The other is called night cabin where CO sleeps at night and often by day where, nobody is allowed, accept his Steward.

The CO also has his own cook and a pantry. The CO of the ship always eats alone, where as other officers eat in the Officer’s Mess Wardroom. This is done so that authority of the Commanding Officer is maintained.

The Fleet Commander who is an Admiral, had embarked on board to see the firing during this sailing. Whenever the Admiral embarks the ship, the CO has to shift into the Executive Officer's (XO) cabin so that the Admiral can now stay in the CO's cabin.

The XO's is the second in Command of the ship. But XO’s cabin does not have any attached bathroom. He has to use the same bathroom as other Officers. This is because, the XO needs to mingle with the Officers to know the pulse of the ship and its crew. The CO is thus the father of the ship and the XO is the mother of the ship.

The Ships's Captain Stuck in Officer's Bathroom Without Water - A True Life Story

Because the Admiral has embarked the ship, my CO had lost the luxury of his attached bathroom and now has to stay in the XO’s cabin and even stand in line with other officers like me, to take a bath in the bathroom or use a toilet. As my CO walked into the bathroom the other officer with me moved away to make room for the CO.

Unfortunately, our common bathroom set up only had two showers in it. Now I was standing in front of one and the other Officer was standing in front of the other shower. The three of us talked to each other for a couple of minutes when water suddenly started coming out of the showers precisely at 6:45 am.

 Immediately, I went into one hour and the other also jumped into the second shower. The CO was left out standing patiently outside the shower. Out of courtesy the other Officer took a shower without using soap and got out of the shower to allow the CO to take a shower.

The CO thank that officer and started taking a bath. He applied soap and shampoo nicely on his body and hair. I finished my bath and was leaving the shower when the water vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

My CO was caught unaware and stood there with shampoo in his hair and soap all over his body. He had his eyes closed and he was asking someone to go and get the water opened again. My CO was used to 24 x 7 water routine and did not understand how water can stop in 3 minutes.

I politely made him understand that the three minute water routine in the morning is over and now we can expect water for another 3 minutes after 12 hours in the evening. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. I gave him additional info that the 200 liter drum has about hundred liters of water and if he wants, he can use it.

The Bathroom Water Timing Increased to 15 Minutes - A True Life Story

The Ship's Captain got furious at my suggestion and ordered me to immediately tell the Engineering Officer of the ship to start the water for another 15 minutes. I went to the Engineering Officer’s cabin and conveyed the Captain’s order. The Engineering Officer who very often used to get scolded by the Commanding Officer for some ship's engine troubles, got the right opportunity to give it back to the CO, that day.

So, the Engineering Officer got the water opened after a good 15 minutes later, ensuring that the soap and shampoo got dried up nicely on the CO's body. This episode did some good to the entire ship. The CO never knew that the ship's crew are getting only 6 minutes water in the bathrooms in 24 hours.

The Captain ordered that water timing be increased from 3 minutes to 15 minutes twice a day. The Engineering Officer went to CO and told him about the shortage of water onboard and got it reduced to 10 minutes twice a day so that, the ship's engine boilers had adequate water to produce steam.

Water available for 20 minutes a day was three times better than 6 minutes a day. I quickly got ready, went to the Officer's Mess Wardroom, had a quick breakfast and went for briefing at 6:00 am to the ship's Bridge. The bridge is where the captain sits and controls the ship. All the equipment necessary to steer the ship and navigate are available on the bridge. The Captain gets a 360 degree view outside the ship through the windows of the bridge.

In A Warship Only Captain is Allowed To Sit in Ship's Bridge - A True Life Story

Only the Captain of the ship (CO) is allowed to sit on the bridge. Rest everybody in the bridge has to keep standing throughout their watch on the Bridge. In fact, there are two chairs on either side of the bridge. The Captain, normally sits on the right hand side chair. But, when the Admiral embarks onboard the ship, the right hand side chair becomes Admiral's chair and the CO will sit on the left hand side chair. Often most Captains never dare to sit when the Admiral is on the Bridge.

Ideally, the Captain should have been there on the bridge during the conduct of the flight briefing. Unfortunately, the CO was still stuck with soap and shampoo on his body, in the bathroom, waiting for water to be opened when we started the flight briefing.

Admiral And Captain Missing in Flight Briefing for Ship's Gun Firing - A True Life Story

The briefing was conducted smoothly by the Navigating Officer. Even the Admiral was not there that early in the morning. The Navigating Officer told us what the ship will be doing when we were away flying and clearing the range for two hours and when should we come back to land.

The Communication Officer briefed us that we need to stay at least at 1000 feet to be able to communicate with the ship because all the VHF or Very High Frequency radio sets on the aircraft and ship both need to be in line of sight to get connected. The Gunnery Officer briefed us that the firing of the 4.5 inch guns is planned to commence at 9:30 am but only after we land back on the ship’s deck at 9:30 am.

I and my crew, left the ship's bridge towards the helicopter on the deck in the rear section the ship. The two of us along with the flight diver manned the helicopter, started up engines, engaged the rotors and took off by about 6:30 am.

The Helicopter Took Off for Sector Clearance Before Ship Fires Bullets - A True Life Story

We flew initially at 1000 feet altitude over the sea in the direction in which firing was supposed to be done. Our duration of flight was from 6:30 am to 9:30 am. After about 20 km we found a small fishing boat in the firing sector. We flew down the helicopter to 50 feet over the boat, came to a hover and told this boat crew to move away southwards, because ship is likely to fire bullets in this direction.

The fishing boat crew know about it because most naval ships come in the same area and carry out firing practice. So, the boat started moving in the southerly direction we had indicated after pulling their fishing nets in to their boat. We flew up to 70 km away from the ship and during this time we might have at least told four more boats to move away in a safe direction which they followed.

Then we turn back towards the ship, still flying at a height of about hundred feet over the water. On our way back, we realized that these boats have moved away by just about 5 or 6 km and have started fishing again.

They were still not completely out of the firing sector of the ship and were in complete danger of being hit by a stray 25 kg anti-aircraft bullet travelling at 750 meters per second, which can either kill people onboard those boats or make a hole in the boat and sink it.

So we had to fly low again and to ensure that these boats move to a safe direction clear of the firing sector which took us a long time. This took some time and we got delayed by about 20 minutes.

Helicopter Had No Radio Contact With WarShip - A True Life Story

The best part of this mission was that, after about 10 minutes of takeoff, we had started descending to 50 feet to shoo away boats and in the bargain we lost radio contact with the ship. There was no radio contact throughout the mission, even after we climbed the helicopter back to 1000 feet as briefed.

This is quite a normal phenomenon, because even in the previous flights for firing sector clearance missions, we had lost radio contact with the ship for about 2 hours till we climbed up back to 1000 feet and reached about 20 km close to the ship.

So, we were not worried that we do not have radio contact with the ship. The ship also has a radar which can track us. Thus, we were very confident that the ship's Captain knows exactly where we are flying looking at the radar scope, with respect to the ship. As per plan our flight was supposed to take off at 6:30 am and land back at or before 9:30 am. Firing was supposed to commence only at 9:30 am after we land as per the published program of the ship.

Since we were already late by 20 minutes, I climbed my helicopter back to 1000 feet altitude and started flying towards the ship as fast as we could. We were also a bit low on fuel. As we reached 1000 feet height over water, suddenly our helicopter engine started malfunctioning as we were hearing some gunshot like sounds from behind the aircraft. I looked inside at the flight instrument panels and found that everything was alright.

Danger: Can The Ship Fire Bullets At Its Own Helicopter? - A True Life Story

Then, where is the sound coming from, if not from the engine? Any problem with the helicopter rotors would have created heavy vibrations in the entire helicopter. Nothing of that sort was happening either. I turned my helicopter towards the right to see if there is any smoke behind the helicopter coming from the engine.

Since we were flying a single engine helicopter, any problem with the engine means quickly landing the helicopter over water surface and get out of it. This small helicopter was not designed to float. So the moment we touch water the helicopter will topple. The correct procedure to do a ditching on water is to bring the helicopter to a very low hover over the water at about five feet, allow all passengers and the co-pilot to jump out into the water.

The Helicopter Ditching Procedure At Sea - A True Life Story

Now the Pilot will slowly put the helicopter down on the water, shut down the engine using the switch and apply the rotor brakes to stop the rotor. As the helicopter starts to sink into the water, hold on to some fixed part of the aircraft, look up as the pilot’s head goes under water to see that the rotors have hit water and has stopped rotating.

Now, unstrap the seat belts and swim out of the helicopter. By day it is possible to do. At night this may be very difficult due to disorientation. I turned the helicopter around by about 90 degrees and I looked to the right side. To my surprise, I saw a few plumes of smoke behind our helicopter at a distance which look like small cloud plumes.

Our War Ship Was Firing Bullets At Our Helicopter - A True Life Story

As I continue to look to my right, I saw new cloud patches forming one after the other all around the helicopter. That is when I realized that the ship has commenced firing the 4.5 inch twin barrel guns already before we landed back. The bullets she is firing has an effective range of about 20 kilometers and here we were flying at just 10 kilometers from the ship.

And the sad part was that we were being fired at by our own ship using the biggest anti-aircraft gun available on board. Immediately, I pressed the radio button and ask the ship, "Confirm firing commenced?" This was the first call we had given after about two hours of silence.

There was a pause of about 10 seconds in getting a reply from the ship. Then came the voice of our ship’s Navigating officer who said on the radio, "Negative,.... Check, Check, Check".

The word negative means No, in aviation terminology. The word Check, Check, Check, is used three times consecutively to stop firing the guns. In his panic, when the Navigating Officer realized that the ship has commenced firing its 4.5 inch anti-aircraft guns in the same direction from which his own helicopter which was launched by him at 6:30 am to clear the firing sector, is coming back to land, he forgot to release the radio transmitter button before calling out Check, Check, Check to stop firing the 4.5 inch double barrel guns.

After landing on the ship, we went and debriefed the ship’s Captain about the range clearance and that we have moved about five fishing boats away from the firing range. The Fleet Commander, the Admiral was also sitting in his chair in the ship’s Bridge.

As we debriefed and left the Bridge, neither my ship’s Captain, nor the Admiral spoke a word. They had no words. They were trying to look away not able to face the two of us for having fired the ship’s anti-aircraft guns at us, totally forgetting that the helicopter is still in air and they should wait for it to land back before commencing firing.

My Ship Fired 30 Bullets at Me - A True Life Story

We met the Gunnery Officer in the Officers Wardroom Mess sitting with a gloomy face. I asked him, “What are you doing here. Isn’t the Gun Firing still on”. The Gunnery Officer said, “The firing exercise has been called off”. I smiled and told him to cheer up. Then I asked him how many shells he fired at us. The Gunnery Officer told me about 30 shells were fired by the 4.5 inch guns in under two minutes when the Navigating Officer got the firing stopped calling out Check, Check, Check.

That is when the realization came to the two of us. Our helicopter had missed about 30 of these 25 kilogram bullets whizzing past us for almost two full minutes, as we were flying towards the ship and did a 90 degree turn too.

We were happy because we survived without being hit, because of only two reasons. The first reason was that we were flying a very small aircraft and we were at about 10 km away from the ship, even though there was a 100% probability of being hit by at least one bullet.

A single bullet hitting our helicopter could have either killed one or both of us or would have led to our helicopter crashing into the sea that day, never to be found again. The second reason which I can imagine is that, at least one out of the two of us had done some good deed in our previous life, because of which God had decided to save our helicopter, almost 30 times in two minutes. We landed back safely on the ship after about 15 minutes.

We Get Summoned to The Fleet Commander's Cabin - A True Life Story

We thought that the matter has ended. But at about 12:30 pm, just about half an hour before lunch, I heard the ships broadcast system announcement, "Ships flight crew Admiral’s cabin". I thought, the Admiral has been briefed something against us probably by the Captain and we are going to get something seriously damaging to our career from the Admiral.

The two of us reluctantly walked up towards the Captain's cabin. As we knocked and opened the Captain's day cabin, we found the Fleet Commander, standing at the door waiting for us. The Admiral shook hands with us and made us sit down on the sofa and even told us to make ourselves feel comfortable.

The Admiral Appologised For Firing Bullets At Us Opening A Champagne Bottle - A True Life Story

Then he ordered the Steward to open a Champagne bottle which was already placed on top of the table there, in an ice bucket. I was a teetotaler and I didn't drink even beer those days. But when the Admiral offered me champagne I couldn't say no.

I had three or four servings of Champagne in those 30 minutes we sat listening to the Admiral’s broadcast. We were mere listeners to the old time stories the Admiral was recounting to us one after the other, non-stop.

We both never had an opportunity to speak anything, nor did the Admiral ask us anything. We got no opportunity to explain why we got delayed by about 20 minutes in the range clearance sortie in the morning. In fact, the Admiral himself never mentioned anything about the chaos we had in the morning wherein our helicopter was shot at over 30 times with the Ship’s guns.

Probably, the old Admiral was feeling guilty himself for the whole incident since he was also onboard when this mishap happened. The Champagne bottle was opened probably to celebrate the second life the two of got and for the ship getting away with the biggest blunder of the century and Naval history, by firing at its own helicopter, in peace time.

The Ship's Captain in Distress Outside The Admiral's Cabin - A True Life Story

We thanked the Admiral and left. As we came out of the cabin, we show our ship’s Captain standing outside anxiously. I saw a few drops of sweat on his forehead. The Captain asked looking at me, "What did the Admiral ask you?"

The champagne was already in my blood and working wonders on me. I hardly was listening to what the Admiral was telling us. I said to the Captain of our ship, "Sir, the Admiral was basically asking about the ship, living conditions, daily routine, water availability etc".

Probably the Captain realized that I was already high on spirits and left us without asking any more questions. I went to the Wardroom, had my lunch, went to my cabin and slept off, since there were no more flying planned for the day.

The Ship's Captain in Distress Changed Bathroom Water Timings Again - A True Life Story

I woke up at about 6:00 pm and was waiting for the freshwater announcement on the broadcast system for taking a bath. At 6:25 pm I heard the announcement on the ships broadcast system which said, "Fresh Water will remain open in all the bathrooms from 6:30 pm to 7:00 pm".

I was impressed. It was 3 minutes fresh water in the bathroom at 6:00 am that morning, which the Captain had extended to 10 minutes at 7:00 am, for his own benefit. And now just twelve hours later, the 3 minutes fresh water availability in the bathroom has become 30 minutes.

Even today, I have not been able to figure out if the 30 minutes has anything to do with the 30 in number bullets weighing 25 kilograms each, which the ship had fired at us. This is a true life story.

A True Life Story