Major Cleo M. Willoughby, 2d Chemical Mortar Battalion
The 2d Chemical Mortar Battalion consisted of a headquarters, a headquarters company, and three mortar companies.] At full strength each mortar company had 171 officers and men, twelve M2 4.2inch mortars, three 2-1/2-ton trucks, five 3/4-ton trucks, and thirty-five jeeps. Communications equipment included both radio and wire. The battalion headquarters and each company maintained a fire direction center.
The 2d Chemical Mortar Battalion was part of IX Corps Artillery during the ten months I served in it. The battalion was attached to the 2d, 7th, and 24th Infantry Divisions, the 1st Cavalry Division, the ROK 6th Division, and the British 27th Commonwealth Brigade. When attached to the 7th Division we were further sub-attached to its infantry regiments. In most other divisions we reinforced the fires of the field artillery battalions. But no matter where we were assigned, we always looked to the 24th Division for logistical support.
We worked for a considerable time with the British 27th Brigade and found it a very pleasant relationship, although the large number of units in the brigade made it difficult for us to provide enough observers and liaison officers. But this was a minor problem compared with the language obstacle we met in supporting South Korean troops.
More important than language was the difference between South Korean methods and our own. The ROK units normally sent small detachments about two thousand yards forward of the main line of resistance. This greatly restricted our ability to fire. If we set up our mortar tubes on the MLR so we could reach beyond the outpost line, we were caught when the detachment pulled back. If we went into position a normal distance behind the MLR, we were out of range.
The ROKs attached us to their division artillery. Partly from pride,
1. The chemical mortar battalions of the United States Army were transferred to the infantry in October 1952.
and partly from lack of effective communications, they seldom assigned us a fire mission. Our men disliked being so far forward, where they attracted considerable fire, if they didn't have an opportunity to shoot. In time, however, understanding between the ROK units and our battalion improved.
The 2d Chemical Mortar Battalion was not once pulled out of the line between October 1950 and October 1951. The only time we were not firing was when we were moving from one unit to another. The infantry mortar companies normally rested whenever their regiment was relieved, or went into reserve. The artillery was back far enough to set up tents and build shelters for their men. But this was not true for us. Our companies went into position from 500 to 1,500 yards behind the MLR. Here our men were always under tension, and had to be very careful to maintain local security.
Although a chemical mortar battalion is designed to deliver massed fire, in Korea the rough terrain, the broad fronts, and the regimental combat team type of fighting made this impossible. Still, we had organizational advantages over the infantry mortar companies. Our battalion commander was in a position to ask for a sector, guarantee fires, and then insist on being left alone. The commander of the infantry mortar company seldom had so much freedom. Our T/08cE gave us enough officers for observation and liaison assignments, while the infantry mortar companies had only privates first class for those jobs. Our officers were better trained, and their higher rank made it easier for them to advise battalion and company commanders.
We had another advantage in that we used artillery firing methods, while the infantry continued to use the procedures of the smaller infantry mortars. We used grid-target computing, and the artillery FDC gave us a flexibility that the infantry did not have.
One of our worst problems in Korea was the shortage of spare parts. Medium ordnance repair companies of IX Corps did not have base plates, elevating screws, and traverse nuts in stock, and they had trouble getting them. Often it took five to six weeks to get a replacement part. Once I had to go to Japan to get parts so that we could continue firing.
Heavy vehicles to haul ammunition and supplies were always short. We had enough jeeps, but our heavy rate of fire forced us to haul ammunition tonnages beyond our capacity. Battalion did its best to stretch the limited transportation by adding trucks directly to the mortar companies and by maintaining forward ammunition dumps, but these moves were inadequate when all three companies were firing for sustained periods.
Thinking back about my experience with the chemical mortar battalions, both in World War II and in Korea, I cannot help but rate the
M2 4.2-inch mortar a fine weapon. It packs a terrific wallop, can give accurate support, and has all-around value for close support when given proper logistical support.
Lt.Col. Edgar V. H. Bell, 2d Chemical Mortar Battalion. (Letters to Maj.Gen. E. F. Bullene, Chief Chemical Officer, U.S. Army.)
13 November 1950
I wrote to Colonel Efnor [Lt.Col. Sam Efnor, Jr.] the other day and told him of the activities of the battalion. I asked him to pass this information on to you. There is not much to add at present. We are now with U.S. troops on the offensive again, and the battalion is doing very well.
I have been promised some new mortars, and when we get them the entire battalion will be in action. We have had a great deal of breakage of mortar partselevating screws and traverse nuts are the principal ones. Replacement parts that we brought from Edgewood Arsenal are nearly exhausted and there are no other 4.2-inch mortar parts in Korea.
I have not permitted fire over four thousand yards. It has been extremely difficult to keep the mortars in range. There are no roads as we know them, only narrow cart trails barely passable (one way) by jeep and then only in dry weather. These cart tracks are nearly always raised well above the surface of adjacent rice paddies. Once a vehicle is off the trail it is nearly always bogged down for good. Tremendous frontages assigned to infantry units require us to do a great deal of rapid movement, so hand-carry is entirely out of the question.
Ammunition has been a terrific problem, but so far we have never had less than one hundred rounds per mortar on position. This requires great effort and much truck movement as supply lines are very long in point of hours of travel.
I am operating a very small forward command post. I have with me the S3, the assistant S3, the S2, communications officer, and surgeon together with 22 enlisted men. The rest of headquarters company, under Major [Merritt W.] Briggs, is about twenty miles to the rear where they can work in comparative calm and comfort. This has many advantages, as the administrative personnel can settle down in one spot and stay there for a week or more while we move nearly every day. The small
detachment up here can move quickly and does not further clutter up congested trails. For security we tie in to some nearby infantry battalion or regimental command post when we stop for the night.
If any other chemical units come over here they should bring additional tentage. We have very little and there is no shelter available. The few buildings are preempted by higher commands, leaving only open fields for people like us. It is bitter cold and, though the battalion has drawn special winter clothing, the men still suffer because there is no shelter. A couple of squad tents in each company rear would be worth their weight in gold.
I keep the company rear echelons near to me. These consist of the mess trucks, supply trucks, and motor maintenance truckswith the personnel from those sections. The battalion sees to all supply of rations, ammunition and POL. We feed two hot meals and one C-ration meal to the forward units. However, a few of us who are constantly on the move rarely have anything but C rations. The kitchen crews must be able to bake good bread, for there are no bakeries over here.
Personal cleanliness is difficult, as there are no laundries or shower points. The country is crawling with lice and fleas. I require frequent foot inspection, as I am most fearful of trench foot.
We are fighting mostly against the Chinese now, as the North Korean units are broken badly and fight principally as guerrillas. The Chinese are well equipped with small arms, automatic weapons, and mortars. The Chinese usually attack down draws and bottoms, and in covering these approaches our mortars have done their best work. The Chinese take terrific losses, but they keep on coming. Our mortar men get into frequent small-arms fights.
We certainly need the new M30 mortar badly and have hopes of receiving it one of these days. If I had only one in each company it would be useful in reaching the 120-mm mortar used by the Chinese. Their mortar has a range of 6,500 yards and they can sit back and plaster hell out of us while we are out of range. The best antimortar weapon is another mortar.
There is much more that I could tell you, but I have so little time. The morale of the battalion is very high and the men are full of fight, wishing to avenge our losses at Unsan. We do not really need anything here except 36 mortars and three or four more mortar battalions equipped with this new weapon.
16 December 1950
Following the withdrawal of all United Nations forces to the Chongchon River in November, the battalion was attached to the 5th Infantry (24th Infantry Division) and rushed to Kunu-ri. The 24th Division was relieved by the 2d Division, and we shifted to that outfit.
Since the withdrawal from Unsan, the battalion has been committed and shooting every day. We had Company C intact with all three platoons, and Company B with two platoons. Company A, having lost or destroyed all of its mortars and nearly all of its other equipment, was out of action.
Early in November, as things were not too rosy, I sent our administrative section back to Sukchon. I reinforced Companies B and C with officers and men from Company A. Refitting Company A was a terrific task as we had to go all the way back to Pusan for the vehicles and most of the equipment. Efforts made to have corps or army re-equip us were unsuccessful. Only aggressive and hard-driving action on the part of Capt. [Clair L.] George (battalion S4) and his assistants got us our equipment. They went to Pusan, drew the trucks, loaded supplies, and then drove them more than 450 miles over the world's worst roads.
We were able to replace only half of our losses in vehicles and even less of the communications equipment. I completely reorganized the battalion while in the lines and redistributed personnel and equipment to have Companies A and B each with three platoons. We had Company A back and shooting just two weeks to the day after they were knocked out.
When the drive started about Thanksgiving, we were attached to the 9th Infantry (2d Infantry Division). We had pushed northeast to a point a few miles north of the town of Kujang-dong when the Chinese hit us again. The 9th RCT was badly cut up as was part of the 38th RCT. Company C was overrun and initially we got only four jeeps, an officer and 24 enlisted men out of the mess. Later most of our personnel either drifted back or were located in clearing stations. I sent the survivors back to our rear, which I had just moved to Kunu-ri. We kept Companies A and B in the fighting, and it was hot.
The next day the Chinese hit again and the big withdrawal started. We pulled out with what was left of the 2d Battalion, 9th RCT, the last to leave. They had a total of 274 officers and men, and we loaded them on our vehicles. We retreated to Won-ni, where we put up a roadblock which lasted just two hours. It was about 0330 when the infantry battalion commander reported to me that he had only 30 men left of his 274, so we all pulled back to Kunu-ri. We went into position there and the following night, at about 1900, received an order to pull outsaving what we could but destroying any equipment we could not get out. At the time we received our march order, we were firing at a range of seven hundred yards. We lost only one jeep trailer which upset and was burned.
After a rough night, I gathered up the pieces and re-formed the battalion. We were immediately attached to the British 27th Commonwealth Brigade, this making our fifth attachment in twenty-five days. That's enough, in itself, to drive a battalion commander stark mad.
We joined the British and have been with them ever since. I am
happy with this attachment. These people know their business; they know heavy mortars.
We have been the covering force for IX Corps since early in the withdrawal, and the battalion constitutes the light artillery for the brigade. We have not yet been able to obtain any replacement of our equipment losses at Kujang-dong by legal means, but as we are the rear guard of a withdrawing army, we have picked up some gear. Our S4 with a party of thirty-five men is now in Pusan, and I hope to see them back here tomorrow with enough equipment to place Company C back into action with two platoons.
We could not operate more than eight mortars per company no matter how much equipment we had, for our strength is down to 23 officers and 352 enlisted men. I have cut headquarters company down hard so as to have about 100 officers and enlisted men in each of the lettered companies. But even to operate only eight mortars "the bread is sliced mighty thin," and most men have two jobs to do.
While I feel horrible over the loss of so many fine officers and men, it is a little comforting to know that we lost them while fighting, not while withdrawing. Company C, for example, knew they were being swamped, but they fired defensive fires at six hundred yards and had only ten rounds left in the company when the last rush hit. They were able to destroy eleven of their twelve mortars. The Chinese got to the vehicles first, as usual.
31 December 1950
We are still attached to the British 27th Brigade and have 24 mortars in action with a total strength of 338 enlisted men and 23 officers. Of the 33 chemical officers who left Edgewood Arsenal with us, only 19 are still here. Of the 14 who have left, 5 are missing in action, 2 are wounded in action, 4 hospitalized for noncombat causes, and 3 have been transferred. None of the hospital cases will be returned within ninety days. This leaves us pretty short-handed both for officers and enlisted men, but we are doing all right.
You will be interested to know that we have never been withdrawn for reorganization nor have we received any enlisted replacements. We have received four officers since we were committed. Unfortunately, these officers knew nothing of mortars and very damned little about combat troops. We lost one officer within three weeks, and it was a shame like sending a lamb to slaughter.
I feel very strongly that if the Chemical Corps is to continue to have chemical mortar battalions, it should procure and train the correct type of combat officers for this duty. I would not give a tinker's damn if such an officer did not know one end of a test tube from another, but I would insist that he have a thorough knowledge of infantry organization,
tactics and weapons. I would not care about a college degree if the officer had the will to fight.
I also feel that chemical mortar battalions should not be sent to any theater as chemical mortar battalions unless the use of toxics is contemplated. The personnel may be sent as filler replacements or the mortar companies may be sent out as heavy-mortar units, but there just is no slot for a chemical battalion except where chemical munitions are to be used.
This present attachment is by far the best one that we have had. The 27th Brigade has no heavy mortars and we fill the gap between their own 3-inch mortars and the direct-support artillery, thus bringing the brigade's fire power to nearly that of one of our regimental combat teams. We have an important slot to fill, but when we are attached to an American division (and we have supported four of them), we are used only to reinforce the fires of their own heavy-mortar companies. I have had to fight hard to keep our companies from being attached to the organic mortar companies. This is a waste of fire power, and worse still, a waste of man power. A separate mortar battalion has no role in the present army organization except in the case of gas warfare.
We are in pretty good shape. Morale is high, and while the weather is bitter cold, our men are well equipped for it and can get along.
12 January 1951
We are still in support of the British 27th Brigade. With them we were the last troops out of Seoul.
I do hope that one more effort will be made to award our people the Combat Infantryman Badge. It seems to me to be rank discrimination to keep this badge from our men simply because of the one word, "chemical," in our unit designation. The men in the heavy-mortar companies of infantry regiments serve the same piece, fire the same ammunition, and are subject to the same hazards as are the men of our battalion. Frequently in Korea, the infantry heavy-mortar companies have been attached to my battalion for operational control. Of course, when this was done, the more dangerous assignments were given by me to our own companies.
It is common practice for us to operate jointly with the forward observers of the infantry heavy-mortar companies, their fire direction centers, communications and ammunition resupply. Occasionally we perform the security missions for an infantry mortar platoon, and once we manned their mortars for them. It is interesting to note that we are able to keep eight mortars per company in action with present-for-duty strengths averaging less than 80 enlisted men per company. The infantry companies usually run 120 to 155 enlisted men and only attempt to keep five or six mortars in action. . .
We have very little left of headquarters company, as I have trans-
ferred every possible man to the mortar companies. The personnel section and most of the motor section are kept well to the rear, while I operate the forward command post with 3 other officers and 18 enlisted men. It is amazing how much can be done by so few people, but it is quite difficult and the strain is beginning to tell. I rotate both officers and enlisted men as much as possible. A couple of weeks of eating and sleeping back in our rear echelon restores a man a great deal.
Lt. Freddy B. Parish and Lt. George D. Sisson, Jr., 68th Chemical Smoke Generating Company. (Lieutenant Parish interviewed in Korea by Capt. William J. Fox, 7th Historical Detachment.)
The 68th Chemical Smoke Generating Company arrived in Pusan in October 19SO. Its early assignments varied from unloading and guarding cargo on the piers to working at the airfields.
During November 1950, the company was stationed at an airfield near Ascom City. Part of our men were arming planes, and the rest were mixing napalm and loading fire bombs. The company field-tested the E3R2 incendiary-oil mixing and transfer unit (for mixing and pouring napalm) and found it most satisfactory. The bombs were attached to the planes, and the napalm gel was then blown into the bombs under pressure. It was an around-the-clock operation with fighters being serviced during the day and bombers at night.
In March 19S1, the company began its normal mission of generating smoke. It would be difficult to say that the company was successful during the next six months. The mountains of Korea produce variable and unpredictable wind currents. Besides, military units worked close together, and smoke which helped one often hurt another.
The unpredictability of the wind was illustrated many times. On 4 March 1951 the 68th Smoke Company was called upon to generate smoke as a part of a feint in Operation WELLSEND. A short test period proved that the wind was from the wrong direction. On 13 March smoke was again used, but this time the winds changed so frequently that the smoke was not effective.
From April to August 1951, part of the company remained on alert to screen Seoul in case of air attack. Many alerts occurred when "Bed Check Charlie" roamed around at night. On a red alert one night, smoke was generated. The following morning the Air Force claimed that the smoke limited the vision on a nearby field to such an extent planes could
not take off. Thereafter the smoke was generated near Seoul only on clearance from the joint operations center.
On 1 June, the 68th smoked a bridge construction site. Soon an artillery colonel arrived, complaining bitterly that his observers were unable to see. When smoke was used on a river crossing, the Filipino troops were frightened by the smoke and wore handkerchiefs as masks. Even a training mission for the 25th Division failed. Haze was created to simulate darkness, but the training was unrealistic when the machine-gun tracers could not be seen.
The only successful smoke mission occurred in July. The 27th RCT was making an attack near Kumhwa, supported by part of the 89th Tank Battalion and some quad .50s of the 21st Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. We were to give a smoke screen, but were prevented by the wind. In the attack two light (M24) tanks and a halfback were disabled by land mines. Efforts to recover these vehicles were thwarted by accurate enemy artillery fire.
On the following morning our 2d Platoon began generating smoke at 0700. Conditions were ideal. There was a heavy moiseure in the air and gentle breezes blowing toward the disabled vehicles. It took twenty minutes for the wind to carry the smoke eight hundred yards to the tanks, and a strong haze soon built up. Recovery units removed the tanks and halfback within two hours, and no artillery fire struck the area.
On a basis of number of missions performed and number of men employed, our smoke operations in Korea were not justifiable. But had enemy aircraft often attacked our supply installations, then the smoke company would have been invaluable for passive defense. The mountains and winds, however, made close support of ground troops impossible.
Col. Donald D. Bode, Chemical Officer, Eighth Army. (Interview by Historical Office, Office of Chief Chemical Officer, U.S. Army, 1 March 1951.)
Our napalm-filled bombs are made in Japan. They are made of plastic, cost forty dollars each, and hold 100 gallons. New ones are now being made which hold 90 gallons.
The Navy uses Corsairs and dive-bombers to carry their bombs; the Air Force uses F-Sls, F-80s, F-86s and B-26s. They experimented at one time with carrying six tanks of napalm on an F-80, but the normal load is two tanks of gasoline and two tanks of napalm. On an average good day,
the expenditures of napalm are: Air Force, 45,000 gallons; Navy, 10,000 to 12,000 gallons; Marines, 4,000 to 5,000 gallons.
At one time there was considerable difficulty in getting a good mix because there were no thermometers to test the temperature of the gasoline. The personnel mixing the gel would get the current temperature from the weather report, but the gasoline would be from 10 to 15 degrees colder than the air temperature from sitting out in the cold overnight. That problem has been solved by using thermometers and the E3R2 mixing unit. The E3R2 is very efficient, and when standardized will alleviate mixing problems. In a letter to me, one chemical officer stated that his men formerly worked a 24-hour day on mixing napalm. Since they have received the E3R2 units, and have been checking temperature more closely, his man-power needs have been so reduced that his men spend much of their time helping Air Force personnel in jobs such as loading bombs.
After the first few months of World War II, napalm was mixed in England and shipped in SS-gallon drums to the Continent, where it was handled by air chemical companies. In Korea two smoke-generating companies are used to mix the napalm.
Often, fire-bomb tanks are only half-filled with napalm to lighten the load so that jets can take off from a short runway without difficulty. This requires the expenditure of more tanks, but is necessary at times.
The tactics are much the same as those used during World War II. Napalm fire bombs have been dropped from high-altitude bombers, but with little success. Dive-bombing at very low levels (25 feet) is satisfactory, but the effectiveness of the bomb is reduced to some extent by its skipping when it hits.
Napalm is very effective against enemy personnel and as an antitank weapon. A hit anywhere within fifty feet of a tank is effective. It is used widely and successfully against dug-in enemy personnel. When the bomb lands, the burning napalm spreads out and drops down into foxholes. It is especially effective against trenches and improvised protections such as drainage and irrigation ditches where enemy soldiers are spread out along a wide front.
The lack of enemy ground fire allows low-level bombing, even as low as 25 feet. However, a number of duds result from drops as low as that. There are three main reasons for duds: extremely low altitudes, failure to arm the bomb, and broken arming wires.
The value of napalm is indicated by the great number of requests for its use.
Major Charles H. Barclay, Chemical Offficer, 1st Cavalry Division
The flame ehrower is an extremely effective weapon, but it has its limitations. In Korea the steepness of the hills and the weight of the weapon were particularly important. Then, too, we found that few men were trained to use it.
During Operation COMMANDO in October-November 1951, the 1st Cavalry Division planned to use the flame thrower extensively to clean out enemy bunkers. To do this we first had to qualify operators. For this training, we generally selected replacements who had recently arrived from the U.S. training camps. Although Army Field Forces has a requirement that all recruits be trained in the flame thrower, we made a survey of 85 men and learned that only 2 had fired the flame thrower, 12 had seen demonstrations of its operation, and the others had never even seen the weapon. These men came from seven or eight different replacement training centers.
Battalion commanders were urged to use the flame thrower during COMMANDO. As the attack progressed, we had 97 flame-thrower missions. The problem was to get the operator within effective range. Too often the Chinese would let the operator get near, and then drop hand grenades down on him. Of the 97 attempts, about 90 operators reached a point where they could use the weapon.
Once the flame was discharged, the operator was a sure target. Of the 97 flame throwers sent out, 65 were lost through enemy action or were abandoned so the operator could escape. Six operators were killed.
The 1st Cavalry Division also employed the flame thrower in defensive positions, mostly at night. In the 8th Cavalry Regiment a company using two flame throwers burned twenty enemy on their defensive wire. An examination of the bodies the next morning showed that none of these men had been shot. Another night advantage is the three or four minutes of battlefield illumination afforded by the flame thrower.
In setting up Defense Line WYOMING, the 1st Cavaky Division placed one thousand drums of napalm in front of the infantry positions, but these were never used. The drums were filled, set in the ground at a 45degree angle with the opening facing the enemy. A block of tetryl and an 81-mm white phosphorus mortar shell were set underneath the drum, and the whole apparatus fuzed with detonators. This was a defensive weapon, but it would also provide ten minutes of illumination.
Page updated 30 May 2001
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