Guns in this context means artillery. Howitzers, heavy mortars, long rifles, etc., weapons gnerally above 100 mm. in tube diameter. Some ordnance man will probably want to argue over that definition.
"Ride to the sound of the guns," is an old exhortation in the military, an appeal to agressive action since the crashing report of the cannons generally shows a leader where the center of the action lies. Murat is often credited with this appeal.
"Horse, foot and guns," has been the formula for creating a balanced fighting force for hundreds of years. "Horse" – the cavalry and now the main battle tanks (Abrams) of the armored force, "Foot" – the "poor bloody infantry" of the Army and Marine Corps, the place where the business of closing personally with the enemy on foot to kill or be killed takes place. "Guns" – artillery, the King of Battles, the big killer on the battlefield. Artillery weapons throw massive amounts of ordnance "down range" at the enemy in all kinds of weather, without regard to darkness or daylight in support of the "Horse," and "Foot."
For the last hundred and fifty years, more or less, the artillery has fired its support missions from ranges that precluded a sight of the targets from the guns. Weapon ranges now are measured in tens of miles. The fires of the guns are directed with stunning accuracy by computer driven trigonometric calculations informed by "Forward Observers" accompanying the "Horse," and "Foot."
In Viet Nam, we were almost never operating in the field beyond the reach of some friendly battery of artillery, often several batteries. When we got in trouble as we often did in that vast, jungled country, the artillery was always there, on the radio, to answer the call and to save us with their supporting fires. Any experienced ground combat veteran is eternally grateful for the help that Army and Air Force air renders on many occasion, but the pervasive and unending support of the artillery can not be equalled by anyone or anything else. I remember occasions in which Army artillery units interrupted talk on the radio network of ground units engaged in fire fights to say, "verify your position, we are ready to fire on your targets. Nobody had asked them, they were just there, waiting.
The other day there were six marine snipers killed on a patrol in the Euphrates River Valley. According to what I know, their radio traffic stopped in the middle of a transmission because they were all gone or captured. As an experienced retired officer said on TV today, "sadly, things like this happen from time to time in combat," but the question is, should it have happened THIS TIME?
What should now exist the Euphrates River Valley is a chain of entrenched artillery fire bases with at least a four or six gun battery in each who are in position to support all infantry and armored forces operating in that valley. Without fire support like that, the infantry is operating "naked" in a space in which the enemy rules the battlefield. Six marine snipers? Men out of the Iliad they may be, but they are not bullet proof. The ambush they experienced should have been immediately followed by an appeal over their radio for a "box barrage" around them. These days, it is not even necessary to be able to read a map in order to tell the artillery where you are, GPS will do it for you. The kind of fire support that veterans of Viet Nam were accustomed to might well have saved at least some of these brave men.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there is such fire support available in the Euphrates Valley. What I know of actual numbers of artillery tubes present in Iraq makes me doubt that it exists. Why would I doubt that?
Secretary Rumsfeld does not like artillery. He thinks it is outmoded and the ground forces’ desire for it evidence of their backwardness. He has repeatedly denied or influenced generals to deny requests from field commanders for the presence of more "tube" artillery in their forces. This has happened in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A number of artillery units are in Iraq without their guns, acting as gate guards, perimeter security and the like. As a result our forces are operating without the fire support needed to make these wars, truly "unfair," and "unfair" is what you want. This is not a football game. The more unfair, the better. What are we trying to do, see how close we can come to losing?
Unfortunately, if you ask a lot of senior generals about this they will absolve Rumsfeld and his "boys." Too bad, but a lot of them are the product and evidence of the process that created them.
OK, America, if you want those dead marines really memorialized, see that their comrades get the fire support that they need. It will be a real fight and a lot of "smoke" will be blown. Be ready.