with Garry Wait
One of the newest, most exciting weapons featured in the British Army book is the Marksman Self Propelled Anti Aircraft Gun (SPAAG). Following the Falklands War, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was livid at the losses sustained by the Royal Navy and the British Army, in part due to issues with the Rapier towed antiaircraft missile systems. Problems were experienced due to the need to “zero” the system and calibrate after each road move or unloading from a Naval landing craft. This meant valuable time of 15 minutes was wasted while cables were laid, stabilising of the sights and the calibration of the Blindfire radars was done.
It was acknowledged that the British Army’s reliance on missile systems was overoptimistic and a few within the Ministry of Defence noted that the Argentines had been pleased to have available Swiss Oerlikon twin 35mm Antiaircraft weapons on ground mounts for the Falkland Island defences.
Some of these weapons had even been captured and pressed into use with the RAF Regiment, who were delighted to have a solid backup to the longer ranged but troubled Rapier system.
Thatcher met with Minister of Defence Michael Heseltine in 1985 to discuss options as tensions had historygrown extremely hot with the Soviets. When the Iron Lady asked about options, Heseltine’s private secretary had a brainstorm. He pointed out that the Finns had expressed interest in a Marconi systems private development, the Marksman. This was a modular turret that could be mated to almost any Main Battle Tank. The Finns had in fact ordered a prototype system to be tested and put onto a modified Polish made T55. Although the testing was in the preliminary stages, the weapon
had shown promise.
The Prime Minister jumped at the idea, especially when advised that 15 fire units of twin 35mm Oerlikon KDA guns that had been captured in perfect order from the Argentine Army and were still currently in use with RAF Regiment reservists of 1339 Royal Air Force Auxiliary Wing. These weapons were confiscated by Royal Ordinance Factory in short order and integrated with seven other sets of 35mm that were in testing along with the sole prototype unit. This gave the factory enough for seven batteries of three Marksman SPAAG’s as an initial production run. More guns would be forthcoming from Krauss Maffei who provided spares from their busy Gepard production lines.
With the Challenger tank coming on line and taking over from existing MBT regiments, two squadrons of recently replaced Chieftains were stripped of their turrets and assigned to the fledgling project. For the first time since the Crusader SPAAG of World War II, the British Army had access to a world
class self propelled anti aircraft gun. Done in complete secrecy, this weapon would even surprise the average “squaddie” who expressed their shock and admiration at the exciting new designs when displayed for the first time on Salisbury Plain.
The Marksman provide an outstanding gun platform and was noted to be even more stable than the T55 the Finns had provided for testing, as the Chieftain was larger and more robust for the heavy recoil of the twin cannons. Some wag tried to describe it as a Brit Gepard, which was shouted down by indignant Royal Ordinance Factory staff. One superintendent pointed out that not only was it better armoured than the Gepard, it also had a laser rangefinder for engaging ground targets out to 8 kilometres, Marconi radar enabling air targets to be engaged out to 12 kilometres and fully stabilised gun sights for the commander and gunner. British technology had actually improved on the work of the Bundeswehr’s prized SPAAG.
More than a few officers bemoaned the fact that it had taken the Cold War turning hot to get the stingy taps of the Treasury to open a little more to provide funds for this superb weapon. Having access to ammunition kindly provided by the Argentine Army had proved helpful in getting reluctant bean counters to sign off on the process.
Initially, as the British Army was already heavily committed with the British Army of the Rhine, operators from the Royal Air Force Auxilary Regiment were integrated with British Army Chieftain crews to provide composite teams to operate the new equipment. This ensured a clever mix of
experienced gunners to operate the expensive new electronics and qualified drivers to maintain the frustrating Leyland engines of the Chieftain tanks. As Corps assets within British Army of the Rhine, the new vehicles were extremely popular and the seven batteries tended to see lots of action in the
Third World War. It was a particularly innovative weapon that took the battlefields in World War III as the Marksman. British troops soon found that the Marksman worked very well as a “backstop” support to the highly
successful Tracked Rapier. Occasionally ground commanders got overconfident and put the Marksman in the front line as a fire support weapon. Even with the thick hull armour of the Chieftain chassis, the vehicles didn’t stand up long against infantry RPG fire and cases are known of local commanders being castigated for such waste of scarce resources for inappropriate missions.
In game terms, you will find the system works very well as a complement to the existing missile systems as a mobile and well armoured platform capable of medium range effective AA support. As summarised to the troops on issue originally :
- Keep the Marksman at range, behind the front line armoured forces it’s designed to protect.
- Prioritise against air targets which are the bread and butter of the Marksman system.
- Protect the Marksman with combined dismounted and armoured forces, ensuring it’s not swamped by enemy infantry.
- Team up the Marksman with Tracked Rapier and if possible Blowpipe to ensure the full range of Air Defence assets are used appropriately. The key is to have Rapiers at the back, Blowpipe in concealing terrain scanning the skies while the Marksman keeps up with the armoured thrust forward.
- Plan the use of the Marksman carefully, using it’s excellent rate of fire and mobility to provide an umbrella of firepower over your vulnerable armoured spearhead.
- Risk the Marksman unit as a solo asset, remember you’re part of a larger team.
- Assume that the Marksman is a dedicated armour killer. You only carry 20 rounds per gun of APFSDS ammunition. Make them count. Your primary mission must be air defence, the anti vehicle ammunition is not there for use as a primary choice.
- Overestimate the range of the guns. Unlike the missile systems of the Rapier and Blowpipe that you’ve become used to, the Marksman is lethal – except at shorter ranges. Use the mobility of the vehicle to make the enemy pay. You have exceptional firepower and mobility and this should be used carefully.
- Run the depleted formation, Marksman provide best support as a full unit.
- Expose the Marksman to enemy fire until you’ve cleared the way. This secret weapon is priceless and not to be squandered in small scale efforts.
In conclusion, the combination of the two forces used here – Royal Tank Regiment and Royal Artillery – bring to mind the two mottos, which are respectively “Fear Naught” and “Ubique” (which translates as “Everywhere”) The Marksman truly allows your armoured crews to Fear Naught, Everywhere.