Unit History in Korean War

This history of the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion in the Korean War was written and compiled in June 1986 by Richard L. Slick, retired CSM of the Army, and first sergeant of the Battalion's Co B from its formation in early February 1949 until July 1951, where he was also known as Native Baker Six Romeo.


Commanders


Appendices

I  Letters
II  The 4.2" Mortar
III  Keeping in touch
IV  Lineage and Service


When North Korea attacked South Korea on 25 Jun 1950, the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion was fragmented for annual Reserve and National Guard training requirements. In July, all elements of the Battalion were relieved of their Reserve and National Guard training commitments and ordered to return to the Army Chemical Center without delay. There the Battalion prepared for overseas movement and eventual assignment to Eighth US Army, Korea.

The Battalion was given "Top Priority." Weapons were checked and rechecked, equipment was inventoried and shortages were immediately filled. Vehicles were subjected to the strictest of Ordnance inspections and, if not satisfactory, were replaced. The 95th Chemical General Service Company and the smoke generator battalions on post were screened for personnel with previous mortar experience, and these men were transferred to the Battalion.

The entire 2nd Cml Mortar Bn, with complete TO&E equipment, moved by rail from the Army Chemical Center, Maryland to Camp Stoneman, California, where we received additional immunizations that were required for the area to which we were going. We were then moved dockside in San Francisco and boarded the USNS David C. Shanks which departed CONUS at 1500 hours, 22 Sep 1950, destination the Republic of Korea. After 15 days at sea we arrived at the Port of Pusan, South Korea, on 8 Oct 1950.

All personnel, weapons, vehicles and TO&E equipment were offloaded and moved to a marshaling area on the outskirts of the city where we organized and checked all materiel for readiness. The Battalion was assigned to Eighth Army and placed under the operational control of I Corps. Basic load items were drawn, to include special items which were unique to the conduct of the Korean Conflict. Loads were checked and rechecked. Just prior to our departure for the front lines, the Battalion was augmented with three hundred enlisted men and three officers from the Korean Army. One officer and seventy-five enlisted men were attached to each mortar company and the remaining seventy-five enlisted men became part of Hq Company.

Without further delay, we began our march along the main supply route to join the already committed combat units of Eighth Army. Our route of march took us through the war-damaged towns of Taegu, Taejon, Kongju, Chonan, Pyongtaek, Suwon, Munsan and Kaesong, crossing the 38th parallel into North Korea at 1515 hours on 20 Oct 1950. Our movement was semi-tactical and was slowed many times by interference from groups of North Korean soldiers who had been bypassed by the fast moving elements of Eighth Army.

The Battalion continued north through Sariwon, North Korea, to Hwangju where we received orders placing us in direct support of the 1st ROK (Republic of Korea) Div. Company A was in support of 11th ROK Inf Rgmt, Company B the 15th and Company C the 12th. This support mission became effective 22 Oct 1950.

The organization of the mortar companies of the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn was such that each company was capable of independent operation for extended periods of time. As a close support weapon, the mortar had no equal. Each company had three firing platoons of four mortars each. All firing was under the control of the company's fire direction center (FDC) which used the artillery target grid method of fire control.

Completing the forward elements of the company was an adequate communication section which had the capability of establishing and maintaining both wire and radio networks. Their operations were controlled by the communications officer and closely coordinated with the FDC. These elements operated as a unit and had the capability of providing wide area coverage or engaging point targets.

The company headquarters group was made up of the remaining elements of the company and worked in close coordination with the forward elements but moved independently of them. This group consisted of the administration section, the mess section, the supply section and the maintenance section, plus an ammunition resupply section attached from Battalion S-4.

The headquarters group would not displace at the same time that the forward elements were moving but would delay their move until the firing platoons had returned to action. When they did move, it would be to an area which provided access to the forward elements and offer cover and security for the personnel so they could carry out their support roles. It was Battalion policy that every man would be served a minimum of two hot meals each day. The men of Company B could also attest that their mess sergeant served them freshly baked bread on most days.

After linking up with the 1st ROK Div, the Battalion continued to move northward toward the town of Unsan. At 1900 hours on 23 Oct 1950, Company B fired the Battalion's first fire mission, consisting of 99 rounds of HE on enemy troop concentrations. On 24 October, Company C was positioned north and east of Unsan with a western boundary paralleling the Samjam River. Company B was deployed to the east of Company C initially but, due to the terrain forward of the positions, later displaced its third platoon approximately 1500 yards farther northward in order to provide additional range to the support being furnished to the 15th ROK Rgmt. Company A deployed to a position in the vicinity of Yongsondong.

Initially the various company headquarters groups remained dispersed throughout the town of Unsan but eventually moved to more secure areas from which they could better serve the needs of the forward elements.

We started to receive intelligence reports from G-2 of the 1st ROK Div which indicated that we were being opposed by a massive concentration of troops later identified as Chinese Communist Forces (CCF). This intelligence proved to be reliable and was later confirmed by prisoners who had been captured and interrogated by ROK forces.

The enemy troop buildup continued and the ROK regiments began to receive increased pressure. The number of fire missions increased and we soon learned the meaning of counter-mortar fire which we started to receive from the enemy's Russian-built 120mm mortars. That weapon was slightly larger than our 4.2s and out-ranged us by approximately 2000 yards.

With this development, our mortar crews became more alert to the nature and threat of counter-battery fire. Even though we were sometimes operating at a disadvantage, we continued to deliver effective on-call support for the 15th ROK Rgmt.

Throughout the last days of October, the CCF maintained constant contact and pressure on the ROK infantry, but they displayed no sense of urgency insofar as advancing on our main line of resistance (MLR) and forcing us to withdraw. We became aware that we were opposed by well-trained CCF soldiers and that they were well equipped with Soviet-made weapons.

On 1 Nov 1950, the enemy buildup appeared to have peaked, and there was a definite indication that the CCF were prepared to launch a counter attack in force against the United Nations (UN) troops. The attack was launched at 1330 hours and was so intense that it caused a general withdrawal of troops from the Unsan area. The attack continued through the early hours of 2 November, during which the 15th ROK Rgmt was completely over-run. Company B's third platoon was firing in direct support of this regiment and was cut off completely from the remainder of the Company.

As a result, there was a loss of 2 officers and 46 enlisted men along with all platoon equipment. 1st Lt Maurice Wilhelm, CO of Company B, along with Lt Han, a ROK officer, and Cpl Bernie Montoya, attempted to reestablish contact with the third platoon and were lost in the process. The remaining elements of Company B withdrew to a more tenable position and reorganized under the command of 1st Lt Samuel H. Smith, the company's executive officer (XO). With two platoons and eight mortars, Company B continued to provide on-call support missions.

Company A, which had been firing covering fire for the withdrawal, was also overrun and lost all of its mortars and half of its vehicles. Additionally they suffered the loss of two officers and fourteen enlisted men wounded in action and one officer and thirteen enlisted men missing in action.

Company C had disengaged earlier and withdrew without incident. From this action we learned that we were pitted against a wily enemy that attacked in force when he was ready and was adept at using the terrain to his best advantage. During the daylight hours of 2 November, we assembled elements at Yongbyon, and the following day we moved to Yonghung-ni where new orders put us in direct support of the 5th Regimental Combat Team (RCT).

As a result of our losses, the Battalion commander and his staff decided that it was no longer feasible to have the complete Battalion trains forward with the firing companies. On 5 Nov 1950, a forward tactical Hq was established and the remaining elements of Hq Company were moved to the rear under the supervision of Major Merritt W. Briggs, the Battalion's XO. The tactical forward was composed of the CO, S-2, S-3 and his assistant, the communications officer and the Battalion surgeon. This group was supported by a detachment of 22 enlisted men. This arrangement made it possible for the group to move and relocate much more efficiently. At this time the Korean augmentation personnel were released for reassignment to other ROK units.

The MLR was finally stabilized and UN forces once again were advancing northward. The 2nd Cml Mortar Bn in the vicinity of Kunu-ri was relieved from attachment to the 5th RCT and I Corps, and was assigned to IX Corps and placed in direct support of the 9th RCT of the 2nd Inf Div. On 23 Nov 1950, an infantry/tank task force, supported by Company C, led the attack with the objective to reach the Yalu River. This attack proceeded through Won-ni and on to Kujang-dong where it was hit by strong CCF counterattacks resulting in the complete encirclement of Company C from 2400 hours 25 Nov to 0800 hours 26 Nov 1950.

Company C was finally able to breach the encirclement and work its way back to the Battalion Command Post (CP). Initial survivors were 1 officer, 24 enlisted men and four jeeps; however, survivors continued to walk their way out. The final toll was 2 enlisted men KIA, 10 enlisted men WIA and 6 enlisted men unaccounted for. All equipment except the four jeeps was lost in the action. The 9th RCT with Companies A and B supporting, held the line throughout the nights of 26 and 27 Nov 1950. At 0930 hours 30 Nov 1950, all elements of the Battalion regrouped at Suckchon, North Korea to await additional orders. Later that same day we were placed under the operational control of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade (BCB).

With their ever increasing strength, the CCF continued to force the withdrawal of UN forces from North Korea. The 2nd Cml Mortar Bn remained in support of the BCB and was an integral part of its mission of blocking the CCF advance and protecting the route of withdrawal along the west central sector. On 11 December, the Battalion crossed the 38th parallel in the vicinity of Uijongbu, South Korea.

During the early months of 1951, the Battalion provided general support for the UN units participating in the defense of Seoul. Establishing defensive positions along the Han River, the Battalion fired observed missions inflicting heavy casualties on attacking units and contributed materially to the successful relief of the 23rd Inf Rgmt, 2nd Inf Div, which had been surrounded at Chipyong-ni for a period of seven days. The Battalion remained in direct support of the 27th BCB in its continued drive north and east with the final objective of relieving pressure on IX Corps elements in the Wonju area. To accomplish this mission the companies displayed a high degree of mobility by effectively accomplishing long and difficult lateral movements and still delivering effective on-call fires.

The first replacements for the Battalion since departing CONUS were received in January 1951. We received 140 enlisted men and 7 officers. Approximately two thirds of these were reservists who had been recalled to active duty. Up until this time the Battalion had been operating with less than half of its authorized strength.

On 14 Feb 1951, LtCol Bell was relieved of command and returned to CONUS. Major Merritt Briggs assumed command.

After a period of relative calm, during which we remained in support of the 27th BCB in the vicinity of Changhowon-ni, we participated in daily RIF missions to maintain contact with the enemy force. In mid-April we were relieved from attachment to the British Brigade and attached to the 6th ROK Div. Our previous patrolling with the Australian Bn of the 27th BCB indicated that there was an increase of activity to the direct front of the 6th ROK Div. This buildup continued and at 1700 hours, 22 Apr 1951, the CCF launched an offensive against the 6th ROK Div sector.

The CCF's initial thrust was successful and the soldiers of the 6th ROK Div were unable to contain this massive onslaught. The following day it was determined that the 6th ROK Div was completely demoralized and was no longer an effective fighting force. The Battalion was returned to its attachment to the 27th BCB.

Pressure from the attacking CCF effected several breaches in the sector to the Battalion's front which forced the withdrawal of Companies B and C. Under attack by small arms and mortar fire, the company commanders ordered the personnel to vacate their positions carrying only their individual weapons. It was the commanders' decisions to withdraw to the higher ground to the south and buy time to return to the positions and destroy their equipment.

After a short period of time it became evident that the enemy positions had been reinforced, and the decision was made to withdraw southward in order to prevent annihilation of the entire command. Regrouping in the vicinity of Chunchon, the Battalion received replacement equipment and was once again a viable part of the UN offensive. By the end of May, UN forces had regained the ground lost during the preceding month and returned to the 38th parallel.

The situation remained relatively stable as the summer months of 1951 passed. The majority of the Battalion's fires were harassing and interdiction (H&I) fires in support of the 7th and 24th Inf Divisions. Company C, on numerous occasions, was displaced some 1000 yards forward of the MLR in order to provide close fire support for infantry patrols.

On two occasions, platoons from Companies B and C were assigned to separate RIF missions. This type of assignment was not considered advisable because of the increased logistical support required, security problems, reduced control by company commanders, and the loss of massed fire capability at company and battalion levels. As a result of increased enemy activity, a record number of rounds was expended in August, a total of 13,700 rounds of HE and WP.

Operations during the fall of 1951 were, for the most part, limited objective engagements by supported infantry units in order to secure commanding terrain in front of the 7th Inf Div sector. The mortar companies were in a position in the vicinity of Chup-a'ri, North Korea.

In appreciation of the support received from Companies B and C, a letter was received from MajGen C. B. Ferenbaugh, CG, 7th Inf Div, which read in part: "Your support is particularly commendable in view of the hazardous and roadless terrain over which we are obliged to displace. All movements were accomplished with alacrity and were obviously well planned. The thorough indoctrination of your officers was apparent in the attack on Hill 851, during which action the mortar support was superb. Full utilization was made of forward observers with devastating results. The flexibility of your command in functioning under either infantry or artillery control evidences the thorough training and technical skill of all personnel."

On 7 Sep 1951, Major Benjamin C. Moore assumed command of the Battalion, replacing Lt Col Merritt W. Briggs, who was scheduled to return to CONUS.

On 14 Sep 1951, Company C fired the 100,000th round of 4.2 ammunition since the Battalion was committed. Photographers from the 7th Inf Div IO team were present to record the event. In September the Battalion expended 47,297 rounds of ammunition, a new record.

During early October, the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn supported the 24th Inf Div which had relieved the 7th Inf Div. The mission continued to be the improvement and maintenance of defensive positions just south of the Kumsong River. On 13 Oct 1951, Operation Nomad was initiated; its purpose being to cross and secure the commanding terrain north of the Kumsong. During this operation Companies B and C leapfrogged platoons ahead as the attack progressed in order to maintain the continuous supporting fires for the assaulting forces.

As the Pukhan River provided an excellent avenue of approach to the right flank of the IX Corps salient, Company A was deployed to lend its fire power to deny the enemy access to this vulnerable point. This limited offensive continued through the month of November and established UN forces in position north of the Kumsong and east of the Pukhan River. The success of Operation Nomad was due in large measure to the support rendered by the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn.

The winter months of December 1951 and January and February 1952 found both sides deployed defensively, and actions were confined to minor patrolling and probing. The mortar companies provided covering fires for the patrols and fired on-call missions for targets of opportunity. During the hours of darkness, H&I missions were carried out.

The static nature of the tactical situation dictated that the Battalion personnel undergo a continuing training program. Such a program was necessary since the replacements being received had no prior training with the 4.2 inch mortar.

On 19 Mar 1952, the Battalion moved to the eastern front where it was placed under the operational control of X Corps and further attached to the 8th ROK Div. With the three mortar companies placed in support of a single division, all the mortars were massed in the center of the division sector. Therefore, immediate action was initiated to establish the Battalion fire direction center, since it would now be possible to direct the fires of the three companies from one centrally-located FDC.

At this time X Corps was in a defensive posture. Supported elements continued aggressive patrolling to maintain contact with the enemy and prevent him from constructing or rebuilding fortifications to our immediate front. There was, however, considerable evidence of the forward displacement of enemy artillery, as was indicated by the range at which he was able to employ counter-battery fire.

Due to shortages of mortar ammunition, the Battalion was not able to effectively counter the heavy artillery and mortar fire of the enemy. This condition was not alleviated until late in June when an increased ammunition allocation was received.

On 25 Jun 1952, the second anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, LtCol John L. Carson assumed command of the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn, replacing LtCol Benjamin C. Moore who returned to CONUS.

During the month of July 1952, the Battalion received twenty M30 mortars. This acquisition increased the maximum effective range of the firing platoons by 2000 yards, from 3900 yards to 5900 yards. Precision registration using the new mortars demonstrated this improved range capability. This enabled the platoons equipped with the M30 mortar to reach lucrative targets that had been previously untouched by the fires of the old reliable M2. Although enemy activity during July and August was light, ample targets were found to provide the gun crews of the M30s necessary training to become proficient in the use of the new mortar.

During September 1952 there was increased activity across the 8th ROK Div sector. This activity, mostly probing patrols, developed into attacks on Hill 854 on the night of 21 September. The friendly positions were over-run by a force of North Korean soldiers shortly after 2300 hours. [Editor's note: For additional information about this event, see Richard Barbor's letter to Richard Slick.]

OP 31 was overrun resulting in the death of the officer observer from Company A. The enlisted men of the party were surrounded in the OP bunker along with the observer group from the 158th Field Artillery Battalion. This group of five men maintained communications with the fire direction centers of companies A and C calling for 105mm VT fire on their bunker. Due to this action by the observers, the enemy was forced to withdraw from the hill, and the ROK infantry returned to control and occupy it.

In October 1952 the Battalion was returned to the control of IX Corps. This move was a hurried one due to the fast developing tactical situation in the IX Corps area. Because of the distance involved, the men in the Battalion received little or no sleep from 0700 hours, 5 October, until 1900 hours, 8 October. The men worked, moved and fired until they collapsed from exhaustion.

Company A was attached to the 9th ROK Div in the vicinity of Chorwon where its fires contributed greatly to repelling repeated enemy attacks on Hill 395 (White Horse Mtn). The Battalion, less Company A, was organized into a position from which it provided support to elements of the 7th Inf Div.

An infantry outpost was overrun on the night of 7 October by CCF. The mission of Companies B and C was to support the infantry counter-attack to retake the outpost. Numerous observed and unobserved missions were fired during this action. The Battalion moved to the vicinity of Kumhwa during the night of 13 October. Its new mission was to support the attack on Hill 598 (Triangle Hill) and Sniper Ridge. Companies B and C fired many missions in close support of UN troops defending ground taken from Chinese control.

The enemy initiated repeated counterattacks against the friendly forces, and the control of the hill changed hands many times during the course of the engagement. During the month of October the Battalion fired a record number of mortar rounds: 67,196. The high daily expenditure was reached on 20 October when the three mortar companies fired a combined total of 8,225 rounds.

Triangle Hill continued to be the target for Battalion fires during the first few days of November 1952. A series of friendly attacks were initiated to secure this dominant terrain feature. Prior to the attack, the mortar companies fired many counter-mortar and H&I missions. As the attack progressed on Triangle Hill, all companies fired continuous screening missions in an effort to prevent enemy observation of the advancing infantry units. The screen was maintained for six hours with a total expenditure of 2500 rounds of "Willie Peter" (white phosphorus).

At approximately 1700 hours on 2 November, friendly infantry broke contact and withdrew to the original line of departure after suffering considerable losses. During the next two days, subsequent attacks failed to dislodge the enemy from its positions on the hill due primarily to the intensity of the CCF artillery and mortar fires. On 3 November, a new record for daily ammunition expenditure was established: 9,172 rounds. Throughout the month of November the activity around Triangle Hill continued, but the intensity of the battle abated considerably.

Because of snow and increasingly cold weather, activity along the entire front slowed to a virtual standstill. The CCF assumed a defensive attitude with nightly probing patrols in the vicinity of Sniper Ridge.

On 22 Jan 1953, the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn was redesignated the 461st Infantry Battalion (Heavy Mortar). The 2nd Cml Mortar Bn's service in Korea had come to an end. During this service it had established an enviable record; a record to be long remembered in the history of the Chemical Corps and in the memories of the men who served in the Battalion. During its 27-month period in Korea the Battalion expended a total of 431,249 rounds of 4.2 inch mortar ammunition in support of Eighth Army operations. It remained continually committed throughout the period. Supported units would change but the men of the Battalion remained in positions providing unprecedented continual support for a myriad of UN troop units. In recognition of this outstanding support, the Battalion received many letters of appreciation.

On 8 Feb 1953, the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn was presented the Distinguished Unit Citation by General James A. Van Fleet for action in the Kumhwa area, 7-22 Oct 1952. The citation read in part as follows. "Exhibiting a high degree of mobility and self-sufficiency which fitted them admirably for their exacting and hazardous task, the men of this Battalion moved along the entire width of the battle-line, emplacing where the fighting was heaviest, inflicting tremendous casualties among attackers, and redeploying as soon as a relative lull occurred to yet another sector where the savage battle flared anew.

"The magnificent fighting spirit, esprit de corps, and unshakeable, inspiring confidence exhibited by the personnel of this Battalion were responsible, in great measure, for the smashing defeat of the hostile forces, thus reflecting the utmost credit upon themselves and upholding the most esteemed traditions of the military service."

During the presentation of the Distinguished Unit Citation, General Van Fleet commented, "I knew when I sent your unit to Kumhwa, I was choosing the right people." He then welcomed the Battalion into the infantry where the members immediately became eligible for the award of the Combat Infantryman Badge.

During February and most of March, the Battalion remained in support of the 9th ROK Inf Div in the Kumhwa area. The activities during this period consisted mainly of probing patrols and harassing fires, while both sides placed priority on the improvement of defensive positions and protection from the bitter cold. Hill 1062 (Papa-san) received the bulk of the Battalion's fires. Many of these missions were unobserved but were highly effective. This accuracy was achieved by firing from surveyed data and applying meteorological corrections. The Battalion at all times utilized every method and procedure known to the artillery that can be applied to the 4.2 inch mortar to ensure effective and accurate fire.

On 26 Mar 1953, the Battalion, less Company B, which remained in support of the 9th ROK Div, moved to a position in the 7th Inf Div sector to support a proposed attack on "Old Baldy" which had been lost to the CCF earlier in the week. On the night of 28 March, numerous H&I missions were fired in the vicinity of "Old Baldy." The planned action was postponed, and the two mortar companies moved to support the 1st Marine Div, already engaged in an attack on Outpost Vagas. Throughout the night of 29 March, Companies A and C fired in support of the attack, inflicting serious damage to the enemy. During the early hours of the following day, the Marines occupied and secured Outpost Vagas.

Intelligence reports for the last week of March indicated a large enemy build-up in the 3rd US Inf Div sector. Accordingly, on 1 April, Companies A and C were placed in general support of that division, reinforcing the fires of its DivArty. The CCF launched an attack on Outpost Harry. Supported by artillery and mortar barrages, they advanced to the trenches of the outpost where fierce hand to hand fighting ensued. Friendly artillery and mortar fire was directed on the approaches of "Harry."

On 13 Apr 1953, the Battalion less Company B was again called upon to add fire support to another sector where the enemy was reported to be getting more active. The Battalion received the mission of bolstering the defense of two prominent terrain features known as "White Horse" and "Arrowhead" in the 2nd ROK Div sector. The two mortar companies fired many missions against probing attacks and troop concentrations. The enemy directed no major attack against this sector and Companies A and C returned to their positions in the Kumhwa area and resumed support of the 9th ROK Div.

On 23 Apr 1953, LtCol Chester T. Harvis assumed command of the Battalion, replacing LtCol John L Carson who returned to CONUS.

Three days later, Companies A and C moved back to the 3rd Inf Div sector. Company A moved to the eastern extremity of the sector and went into position in front of the hill mass known as "Fish Hook" or "Boomerang." Company C was positioned to be able to support Outpost Harry.

Battalion operations during the month of May and the first ten days of June were directed at three points along the IX Corps front: Fish Hook or Boomerang, Outpost Harry and Sniper Ridge. The CCF were sporadically active in the vicinity of these prominent features. The majority of the Battalion's fire missions were H&I with occasional on-call observed fire missions against troop concentrations.

On 15 May 1953, the Chinese launched an attack in the ROK Capitol Div sector where Company B had been in position since the 10th of May. For almost six hours Company B fired continuously on the assaulting Chinese forces and was instrumental in repelling the attack. During this action 2,500 rounds were expended.

On two occasions Company C fired screening missions for the operation whose mission was to capture prisoners. In defense of Outpost Harry 11 to 12 Jun 1953, Company C exceeded the Battalion record for the number of rounds fired in a single engagement: 6,082 rounds.

Departing from IX Corps on 11 Jun 1953, the 461st Inf Bn (Heavy Mortar) proceeded to the II ROK Corps sector where it was placed in support of the 5th ROK Div in the vicinity of Suding-ni. A massive enemy offensive against the 5th ROK Div during the night of 14 to 15 June breached the MLR. The Battalion was overrun and withdrew to regroup, having suffered numerous casualties and severe equipment losses. The Battalion fired over 11,000 rounds during this action.

By nightfall of 15 June the Battalion was back in position in the 8th ROK Div sector in the vicinity of Chipsi-li. The Battalion was assigned the mission of reinforcing the fires of the 5th Field Artillery Group and firing missions in the vicinity of "Finger Ridge" and "Lookout Mountain." Of the seven mortars evacuated with the Battalion during the preceding evening, five were still firing. Within days the Battalion was once again at full strength and firing thirty-six mortars.

The Battalion stayed in the 8th ROK Div sector until the end of June and remained under the operational control of the 5th FA Group until the signing of the cease fire.

The month of July was a period of strenuous combat activity for the 461st Inf Bn (Heavy Mortar). During the 27 days preceding the signing of the cease fire, the Battalion was committed successively in support of the 8th, 3rd, 6th, 11th and 7th ROK Divisions. On only one day of the twenty-seven did the Battalion operate without the hazard of incoming artillery fire.

The Battalion in several instances deployed individual companies in different sectors to support friendly advances and provide supporting fires to ROK troops in defensive positions. Accordingly, on 1 July Company B was placed in direct support of the 3rd ROK Div which was defending the west bank of the Pukhan River. The remaining companies participated in action on and around Lookout Mountain which changed hands several times during the period.

On 8 July, Company C was placed in direct support of the 6th ROK Div at Haco-cai, remaining there until 13 July when it displaced northeast to Kongsuri. That same day the entire sector in which the Battalion and the companies were deployed came under increased enemy artillery and mortar fire. As the evening progressed the enemy attacks intensified in size and fury. The three mortar companies fired continuously throughout the evening hours against an attacking enemy force in the vicinity of Hill 690 and Finger Ridge. A high rate of fire was maintained in spite of the extra heavy volume of incoming fire and severe casualties.

Throughout the early morning of the 14th, the enemy force continued strong attacks against the MLR. As dawn approached, small arms fire was being received in the Company A and B positions. Our mortar men engaged the enemy in small arms fire fights while units under orders from the 5th FA Group prepared to displace to alternate positions. Company A's vehicular route of withdrawal was blocked by the enemy. The company commander ordered all vehicles and weapons destroyed and then moved his men out of position over the ridge line to the southwest. At about this time Company C also displaced with elements of the 6th ROK Div.

The Battalion regrouped in the vicinity of Chopanyong where it received a resupply of ammunition and equipment. At 0530 hours, 16 July, the Battalion moved forward to support the counter-attack of the 13th ROK Rgmt of the 11th ROK Div and by 0830 hours was firing from either side of the Chur-a'pi crossroads. The Battalion fired both north and east all day and night supporting the ROK offensive efforts. All companies maintained a heavy rate of fire in support of the forward movement of the 11th and 8th ROK Divisions.

During the eleven remaining days until the signing of the cease fire, the Battalion participated in the combat actions for Hills 825, 568, 482, 406, 699, 425 and 552. Displacing forward whenever possible to gain additional range for better support and sustaining casualties almost daily, the Battalion supported friendly efforts to gain the high ground north of Kumsong. In many instances the success of the ROK infantry elements was due in large measure to the accurate and effective fires of the heavy mortars.

At 2155 hours, 26 July, Company B fired the Battalion's last combat mission against a Chinese platoon-sized patrol.

Post Armistice
On 1 Aug 1953, the 461st Infantry Battalion (Heavy Mortar) returned to IX Corps, setting up in the vicinity of Chiporri. The area was appropriately called "Happy Valley." There the Battalion embarked on a training program designed to maintain its combat effectiveness. On 1 October, the Battalion moved to the 40th US Inf Div sector, and the companies set up in tactical positions ready to bring effective fires on their assigned sectors of the demilitarized zone. The mission of the Battalion then was that of general support of IX Corps Artillery reinforcing fires of the 40th US Inf Div Artillery.


Appendix I - Letters

Lt Col Edgar V. H. Bell, while CO of the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn in Korea, often wrote to Maj Gen E. F. Bullene, then Chief Chemical Officer of the Army. Quoted below are four of those letters, written in November and December 1950, and January 1951.

13 November 1950

I wrote to Colonel Efnor (LtCol 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 the present. We are now with U.S. troops on the offensive again and the Battalion is doing very well.

I have been promised replacement mortars and when we receive them we will have the entire Battalion on line once again. We have had a great deal of breakage of mortar parts, i.e. elevating screws and traverse nuts are the principal ones. Replacement parts that we brought from Edgewood are nearly exhausted and there are no other 4.2 inch mortar parts in Korea.

I have not permitted firing 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 adjacent rice paddies. Once a vehicle is off the trail it is nearly always bogged down for good. The tremendous frontages assigned to the infantry units require us to do a great deal of rapid movement, so hand-carry is out of the question.

Ammunition has been a terrific problem, but so far we have never had less than 100 rounds per mortar on position. This requires great effort and much truck movement as supply lines are very long in point of hours traveled.

I am operating a very small forward CP. I have with me the S3, the assistant S3, the S2, communication officer and surgeon together with 22 enlisted men. The rest of Hq Company under Major Merritt W. Briggs is about 20 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 every day. The small detachment up here can move quickly and does not further clutter up the congested trails. For security we tie in with some nearby infantry battalion or regimental CP 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 available are always preempted by larger 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 trucks; with 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 inspections, as I am most fearful of trenchfoot.

We are fighting mostly the Chinese now, as the North Korean units have been 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 keep on coming. Our mortar crews 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 120mm mortar used by the Chinese. Their mortar has a range of 6500 yards and they can sit back and plaster hell out of us while we are out of range. The best anti-mortar 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 need anything here except 36 mortars and three or four more mortar battalions equipped with the M30 Mortar.

 

16 December 1950

Following the withdrawal of all UN Forces to the Chongchon River in November, the Battalion was attached to the 5th RCT, 24th Inf Div, and rushed to Kunu-ri. The 24th Div was relieved by the 2nd Inf Div, 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 and/or destroyed all of its mortars and nearly all its other equipment, was out of action.

Early in November as things were not too rosy, I sent our administrative section back to Suckchon. I reinforced Companies B and C with officers and enlisted men from Company A. Refitting Company A was a terrific task and 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 Captain Clair L. George, Battalion S4, and his assistants got us our equipment. They went to Pusan, drew the trucks, loaded the supplies and then drove the vehicles over 450 miles of the world's worst roads.

We were only able to replace half of our vehicular losses and even less of the communications equipment. I completely reorganized the Battalion while in the lines and redistributed personnel and equipment to Companies A and B to bring them to full firing capacity. 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 RCT, 2nd Inf Div. 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 Rgmt was badly cut up as was the 38th Rgmt. Company C was overrun and initially we got only 4 jeeps, an officer and 24 enlisted men out of the mess. Later most of the personnel drifted back or were located in clearing stations. I sent survivors back to the Battalion Rear, which I had moved to Kunu-ri. We kept Companies B and A 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 9th Rgmt, the last to leave. They had a total of 274 officers and men and we loaded them all on our vehicles. We withdrew to Won-ni where we set up a road-block which lasted just two hours.

It was about 0330 hours 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 evening at about 1900 hours, received an order to pull out - saving what we could but destroying any equipment that we could not bring out. At the time we received the march order we were firing at 700 yards. We lost only one -ton trailer which upset and was burned.

After a rough night, I gathered up the pieces and reformed the Battalion. We were immediately attached to the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade, our fifth attachment in 25 days. That in itself is enough 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 and they know heavy mortars.

We have been the covering force for the IX Corps elements since early in the withdrawal and the Battalion constitutes the light artillery for the Brigade. We have not been able to obtain any replacement for the equipment lost at Kujang-dong by legal means. But we are the rear guard of a withdrawing army. We have picked up some gear. Our S4 with a party of 35 men is now in Pusan, and I hope to see them back here tomorrow with enough equipment to place Company C back in 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 terrible 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 that 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 27th BCB 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 fourteen who have left, five are missing in action, two have been wounded, four have been hospitalized for non-combat causes and three have been transferred. None of the hospital cases will be returned to us within ninety days. This leaves us pretty shorthanded 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 about mortars and damned little about combat troops. We lost one of these officers 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 officer 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 the other, 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 used 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 we have had. The 27th British Brigade has no heavy mortars and we fill the gap between their 3 inch mortars and the direct support artillery, thus bringing the Brigade's fire power to nearly that of one of our RCTs. 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 manpower. 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 27th British 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 one word "Chemical" in our unit designation. The men in the heavy mortar companies of the 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 is done the more dangerous assignments were given to our own companies.

It is common practice for us to operate jointly with the observers of the heavy mortar companies, their fire direction centers, communication centers and ammunition re-supply. Occasionally we perform 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 8 mortars per company in action with present for duty strengths averaging less than 80 enlisted men per company. The infantry mortar companies usually run 120 to 155 men and only attempt to keep five or six mortars in action.

We have very little left of Headquarters Company, as I have transferred every possible man to the mortar companies. The personnel section and most of the motor section are kept well to the rear, while I continue to operate the forward CP with three other officers and eighteen enlisted men. It is amazing how much can be done with such few people, but it is quite difficult and the strain is beginning to tell. I rotate both officers and enlisted as much as possible. A couple weeks of eating and sleeping back in our rear echelon restores a man a great deal.


The following undated item was written by Major Cleo M. Willoughby, after he served with the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn in Korea.
The 2nd Cml Mortar Bn consisted of a Hq and Hq Co and three mortar companies. At full strength each mortar company had 171 officers and enlisted men, twelve 4.2 inch M2 mortars, three 2-ton trucks, five -ton trucks and thirty-five -ton jeeps with trailers.

Communications equipment includes both radio and wire. The Battalion headquarters and each mortar company maintained fire direction centers.

The 2nd Cml Mortar Bn was a part of IX Corps Artillery during the ten months I served with it. We were attached to the 2nd, 7th and 24th Inf Divisions and the 1st Cavalry Div, the 1st and 6th ROK Divisions and the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade (BCB). When attached to the 7th Inf Div, 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 Inf Div for logistical support.

We worked for a considerable time with the 27th BCB and found it to be a very pleasant relationship, although the large number of units in the brigade made it difficult to provide observers and liaison officers. This was a minor problem compared to the language barrier we encountered when supporting the ROK units.

More important than language was the difference between the South Korean methods and our own. The ROK units normally sent small detachments about 2000 yards forward of the MLR. This tactic restricted our ability to provide maximum support. If we emplaced our mortars on the MLR so we could reach beyond the outpost line, we were caught if the detachment pulled back. If we went into a position a normal distance behind the MLR, we were out of support range.

The ROK units attached us to their DivArty, partly from pride and partly from the lack of effective communications. They seldom assigned us a fire mission. Our men disliked being so far forward, where they attracted a considerable amount of counter-fire, if they didn't have an opportunity to shoot back. In time however, the understanding between the ROK units and the Battalion improved.

The 2nd Cml Mortar Bn was not relieved of its mission at any time between October 1950 and October 1951. The only time we were not firing was when we were moving from one supporting role to another. The infantry heavy mortar companies normally rested whenever their regiment was relieved or went into reserve. The artillery was far enough back to set up tents and build up shelters for their men; but this was not true for us. Our companies went into positions from 500 to 1500 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 fires, in Korea the rough terrain, broad fronts and the regimental idea of combat 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 fire and then insist on being left alone. The commander of an infantry mortar company seldom had this much freedom. Our TO&E gave us enough officers for observation and liaison assignments, while infantry mortar companies had only privates first class to do these jobs. Our officers were better trained, and their higher rank made it easier to advise supported commanders.

We had another advantage in that we used artillery firing methods, while the infantry continued to use the procedures associated with the smaller infantry mortars. We used Target-Grid computing, and the artillery fire direction center 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 the IX Corps did not have base plates, elevating screws, and traversing nuts in stock, and they had trouble getting them. Very often it took five to six weeks to get a replacement part. Once it was necessary for us to go to Japan to get parts so we could continue to be operational.

Heavy vehicles to haul ammunition and supplies were always in short supply. We had enough tons, but our high rate of fire forced us to haul ammunition 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 experiences with the chemical mortar battalions, both in WW II and Korea, I cannot help but rate the 4.2 inch M2 mortar as a fine weapon. It packs a terrific wallop, gives accurate support, and has all-around value for close support when given proper logistical support.


Appendix II - the 4.2" Mortar

The 4.2 inch mortar is without exception the finest combat support weapon ever developed. But over the years and for many obscure reasons, most of which were based on unfamiliar and invalid suppositions, it has been unduly maligned and treated as the step child of military ordnance. The following are excerpts from articles which have appeared in various service periodicals over the years.

Combat Forces Magazine, September 1944

Recent news clippings have frequently mentioned a "six-barreled mortar" used by the Germans to throw HE. In the strictest sense of the term this is really not a mortar but a rocket mechanism. The weapon's six tubes are fired electrically, either singly or simultaneously, and the Germans have used it effectively both in Russia and Italy. In the event of gas warfare this device might supplant the Livens projector.

The important Chemical Warfare Service developments in our Army have been the airplane spray tank and the 4.2 inch mortar. The former is designed purely for chemical warfare, and considerable research has been necessary to define gases capable of high altitude release without complete loss of persistency. The 4.2 inch mortar, one of the most unglamorized weapons of this war, is a sturdy, facile, and highly mobile weapon, adaptable to almost any type of terrain or combat. Its rapid rate of fire and the 106.4mm shell with a wide effective HE bursting radius make it a weapon difficult to surpass in close Infantry support. The mortar's present limit of maximum accuracy is around 3,200 yards. It has a rifled barrel to insure greater accuracy. A hand drawn cart provides mobility. A trained crew can assemble and fire the 4.2 in as little as two minutes and can dismantle it in the same time. In an emergency it can be carried for several hundred yards, with dismantling, by four men. Its greatest rate of fire is about 20 rounds per minute, five rounds per minute can be fired almost indefinitely. These qualities, coupled with the incontestable virtues of any mortar as a fighting weapon, make the 4.2 inch mortar extremely effective.

The heavy mortar is not an experimental weapon. A 120mm mortar has been used in great numbers on the Russian front. Both fixed and running barrage fires with heavy mortars have been used successfully in both offensive and defensive operations. In such tactical missions as repulsing infantry attacks, firing on targets of opportunity in close support of infantry advances, and cutting off infantry advancing behind an armored attack, the heavy mortar is a good weapon.

Only recently the Japanese began using a 90mm mortar in the Solomon Islands area, and the British found the 4.2 inch mortar effective with both HE and smoke in the breakthrough at El Alamein. Incidentally, the British mortar is quite similar to our own.

The Chemical Warfare Service technicians and service troops are constantly improving and building up stocks of chemical material as the best possible insurance against the ever-possible day that the enemy attempts his last great gamble with poison gas. The difficulty involved in maintaining a high state of gas warfare training in troops lacking the stimulus of immediate necessity are many, and hard constant work by officers and men of every branch of the Army is necessary to keep gas discipline on a high level of efficiency.

In the two big theaters of action, the weapons and troops of the CWS are speaking for themselves. Flame throwers in the South Pacific, new mechanical smoke generators, both stationary and portable, in North Africa and Sicily, and HE and smoke shells of the 4.2 inch mortars in the battles for Sicily and the Italian peninsula, all have left and are leaving their mark on the enemy. On every front where American troops fight today, CWS protects or fights by the side of the Infantry.

 

The Infantry Journal, December 1949, "The use and misuse of the 4.2"

The heavy mortar is one of the great weapons to come out of the war. Yet its tactics are grossly misunderstood - and its techniques undeveloped. Too little and too late with the manuals, types of ammunition and development of SOP in using units all resulted in the use of the mortar at perhaps fifty percent of its capability during the war. The opinion of most lieutenants who actually fired the mortar in the Pacific and many who fired it in Europe and told me about it is about as follows.

First, a mortar is a mortar and has a mortar's limitations - an accurate and practical range of four thousand yards, a narrow traverse, a dependence on the ground as a firing base, and an annoyingly frequent re-emplacement. Other limitations are being improved upon. But it doesn't seem likely that much can be done about these basic ones without reducing the virtues that make the weapon useful. The upshot is that while some techniques may be profitably borrowed from the Artillery, tactics may not. The mortar company cannot play field artillery battalion as a primary mission.

It does not have a battalion's command, personnel, or equipment. The guns cannot be kept in supporting distance of the infantry battalion combat teams and still be effectively controlled by a company communications system. Leapfrogging batteries would be an agony, and as for survey - the company could not even begin the job.

So what? With spin stabilization, the shell's flight is accurate for a mortar. Figures from doctrine understate the weight of ammo a battery with good technique can fire accurately in a given time and without tube erosion. Within the shell's thirty-yard effective bursting area nothing uncovered escapes. And outside of it, the effect drops off so sharply that 100 yard close support is safe. The gun is highly mobile and simple to operate. Its flexible system of propellant charge makes possible a world of simplifying and accelerating fire technique. Given the word, Ordnance could develop a bag of tricks in shells and fuzes to make any FO drool. A combination quick and delay fuze is needed - and a VT. Fill the roomy, cylindrical shell casings with socks of heavy jellied gasoline, fuzed super-quick and base ejection. Fill others with HC smoke and parachute flares. You can get everything but heavy fragmentation.

 

The Army Combat Forces Journal, June 1995, "An artillery weapon now"

The 4.2 inch mortar was originally conceived as a Chemical Corps weapon, later it was adopted by the Infantry as a regimental heavy-support weapon, and now it is a field artillery weapon. The Artillery School is now developing new T/O&Es and techniques for the use of the 4.2 in an artillery role.

The capabilities of the 4.2 may be better understood by comparing it with the 105mm howitzer. However, this comparison is not intended to suggest that the 105 replace the mortar. The mortar's simplicity means savings in time and money. Its cost is approximately $2,000, while the towed 105mm howitzer costs approximately $15,000. A round of ammunition for the 4.2 costs about $1.50 less than the cost of a 105 projectile.

Tactically, the mortar is capable of being emplaced in deeper defilade because of its high angle of fire. It is easier to conceal and camouflage than the howitzer, but unlike the howitzer it is incapable of direct fire. The mortar's light tube gives us a weapon weighing 670 pounds, while the towed 105 weighs 4,980 pounds. The mortar may be broken down into six major component parts, each weighing 162 pounds or less. A two-round box of mortar ammunition weighs approximately forty pounds less than a two-round box of 105 ammunition.

The mortar can be hand-carried for short distances, towed by its crew on a light handcart, or towed in a quarter-ton trailer by a quarter-ton truck. It may be packed on four mules, or mounted in and fired from a self-propelled armored vehicle. The 4.2 is suitable for an airdrop, helicopter lift, or amphibious assault.

Recent studies of the 4.2's lethality and accuracy indicate that observed fires upon targets most suitable for attack by mortars favor the mortar (4.2) over the howitzer by a ratio of 1.5 to 1, increasing to 5 to 1 as the size of the target increases. High angle of fall of the projectile and greater bursting charge to weight ratio of the ammunition also contribute to the lethality.

The rate of fire for the mortar is higher for short periods of time. Some combat reports indicate the mortar projectile has a greater surprise effect on the enemy than a round fired from a gun or howitzer.

On the other hand, the 4.2 has several drawbacks. Its projectile has a longer time of flight than that of the 105 fired at low angle. Range dispersion is approximately double, but maximum range is only about half that of the howitzer. But these disadvantages diminish considerably when the performance of the mortar is compared to the howitzer's high-angle fire. The relative inaccuracy of the mortar is caused partially by the general looseness of its parts, each of which can be hand carried. An Artillery mortar that is towed or mounted on a vehicle would not need to come apart so readily and could be assembled more tightly. The sight is too fragile to remain on the weapon during firing, so it must be removed before each round is fired. The sight does not have a mil-graduated reticle or gunner's aid. There is no provision for handling the sight in conjunction with the elevation quadrant, which is a component part of the sight. The clumsiness of the traversing and elevating mechanism reduces speed and accuracy of firing.

There are other drawbacks to the mortar. The preparation of the propellant charge is a difficult and slow process. The base ring is subject to damage in rocky or frozen terrain. Since only the muzzle end of the barrel is open, removal of misfires is difficult.

The bore sighting system is complicated by inability to see through the barrel of the mortar from end to end. The combination aiming-circle and distant-aiming-point system of bore sighting is time consuming, since an aiming circle must be set up in the rear of each mortar and a visible distant aiming point is needed.

Two major departures from artillery gunnery procedures are required when firing the 4.2: the mortar is fired with a constant elevation and the charge is varied to obtain range changes. The vertical interval between the tube and the target is converted to a horizontal range effect based on the angle of fall and expressed as a site charge. This site charge, which appears on the ballistical data scale of the GFT fan, is added to the range charge correction corresponding to the chart range as read from the GFT fan. The sum of these two charge elements is the charge which should be fired. Mortar ballistical scales have been developed which may be fitted over the 105mm howitzer ballistical scale for use with the GFT fan.

Present field artillery observer procedure is suitable for mortars. These mortar gunnery methods have been field tested at Fort Sill and found to be satisfactory. Additional firing and tests, particularly during student service practices, will be conducted to determine the accuracy with which a unit can mass its mortars on a target.

The 4.2 inch mortar, from the Chemical Warfare Service, to the Infantry, to the Artillery and so it goes. Everyone liked it. It proved its worth to all branches, but each branch would have to develop its own set of procedures. For those men who fought with the Four-Deuce and actually served the piece, it was their weapon.


Appendix III - Keeping in touch

This appendix contains excerpts of personal correspondence to me from Lt Col Edgar V. H. Bell, CO of the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn in Korea. The correspondence covers a period of twenty-plus years. The colonel was an intense, purposeful commander who always demonstrated interest in the character and welfare of those who served under him. These letters clearly indicate that, even though retired, he continued to keep in contact with those with whom he had served. To me this is a prime example of the bond that develops between a caring commander and his men. I share these excerpts with you so that you may become aware of the character and mettle of this commander. To have served with him was an educational experience, and I feel that, by knowing him as a competent, caring commander during the early years of my own career and later as a valued friend, my contributions to the service of the U.S. Army and my country were enhanced many times over. The colonel believed in his men and would be the first to endorse the following: "For those who have fought for it, Freedom has a taste the protected will never know." - Richard L. Slick

Army Chemical Center, Maryland, 1 January 1953

I am always happy to hear from my fine soldiers of the 2nd Mortar Bn. I took some mediocre officers to Korea with me, but the few good ones pulled us through only because of my first class noncommissioned officers like you, Vincent Pukas, Jack Covert and about a half dozen other top-notch people. You are all my kind of soldiers, and it is my only regret that I did not bring all of you home again.

 

Hq, Chemical Corps RTC, Fort McClellan, Alabama, 7 June 1953

I was glad to hear from you, and thanks for your comments on the article in the Combat Forces Journal. I was a little surprised that the Chemical Corps permitted the publication of those letters as they were largely instrumental in getting the 4.2 inch mortar out of the Chemical Corps and into the sole possession of the Infantry where it belongs. I will bring you up to date with "Natives" of our time with the 2nd Cml Mortar Bn: I have heard a rumor that a soldier named Smith of the 2nd Bn was exchanged as a wounded POW. He is reported as having said that four officers and fourteen enlisted men of the Battalion were in prison camp with him right after his capture. The officers were Bigan, Bengston, Tyndall and Deakin. He also stated that Bengston and Tyndall died in camp. No word of Capt "Willie."

I am CO of the RTC and have been making some very fine riflemen, but I have just been told that our RTC would phase out soon, so I will be out of a job. The big brass wants me to take command of a smoke battalion overseas, but, after having been in the shooting business all of my life, I do not care to be a smoke maker if I can help it."

 

Poland, New York, 7 September 1956

It always gives me a great thrill to hear from men with whom I have served and particularly my fine combat NCOs. I truly believe that my greatest reward for my years of service lies in the fact that so many of my men have remembered me, and every once in a while they take time out from their busy days to write to me. Such a tribute from men like you means more to me than any Army award. Thank you for not forgetting the "Old Man."

Our people of the 2nd Mortar Battalion are now scattered all over the world. Captains Holcomb, King and Nieto are all at Ft McClellan, Capt Jankowicz is at Pine Bluff Arsenal, and Capt Vestal is in Germany. Capt Bruce Elliott is with the Military Mission in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Capt Dorsey is in the advanced class at the Artillery School, Ft Sill.

You asked about the conditions outside the service. My answer can be only that which I have experienced in this past year of being a civilian. For what it is worth, here it is: First of all, there is one hell of a difference in associations and in attitude. I miss the close contacts with real men who have a common interest in life. In the Army you are in contact with your associates for twenty-four hours a day. In civil life only till the whistle blows. You have nothing in common with the people around you except the job itself which is usually dull. People have no real interest in each other.

Soldier leaders, like you and me, have a deep, sincere and warm interest in the welfare of the men under our command. It is more than an interest, it is a great responsibility. Civilian leaders (and I use this term very loosely) do not give a damn. Their attitudes are entirely impersonal. A man is only a two legged machine to them. They give only fuel (pay) and little or no first echelon maintenance. What happens to the machine after the whistle blows is none of their concern. In civilian life there is only one mission - very simply stated it is to "get the money." How, makes very little difference, and from whom makes none. There is a complete absence of loyalty to anyone or anything.

Summing up, these are the two things which have hit me hard: The complete absence of the comradeship that I have always enjoyed with my men and the absolute, selfish, whole-hog greed.

On the bright side of the ledger there is freedom of action and of course increased earnings. Both of these must be discounted somewhat. True, a man is not counted AWOL if he fails to come to work for a few days, but he may be fired. Earnings are much higher, but so are taxes and living costs.

In many respects you find the same irritations in both modes of life. For example - the snotty and stupid superior who makes life miserable.

One advantage of civil life is the ability to tell these jerks off. This I have had to do only once to my complete satisfaction. Since then I have been accorded full respect by all hands.

All of this sounds as if I bitterly regret leaving the Army. Well, I do in a way, but it could not be helped. I set up a mission to accomplish in my civil work life. I am reading my phase lines on or ahead of schedule. I planned to work only for 2 to 3 years after which I would devote all of my time to fishing and writing. D-Day is 1 Oct 1957. Included in my writing projects are factual histories of the 90th (ETO) and 2nd Cml Mortar Bns. These will be for private distribution to members of both units. I have collected a mass of notes, maps and other documents for these projects.

 

Poland, New York, 14 November 1956

I am most sympathetic with your desire to get back with the troops. For a real soldier, troop duty is the only worthwhile assignment in the Army. It always irked me to see how many officers shied away from duty with a line outfit, and I found that, without exception, such officers had no real love for the Army. They wore the uniform for other reasons: security, glamour, etc. Army policy contributes to this attitude. Easier jobs, softer living, less responsibility and better chance for promotion were the advantages of the non-troop officer. In my opinion this policy is responsible for the greatest weakness of our Army which is the lack of competent leaders at all levels.

Leadership cannot be taught in any school, no matter how fine. Even the Military Academy turns out officers with little or no knowledge of leading men. This art can be learned only by doing it, and that must be done under competent, exacting supervision. The next war will be fought by small integrated units, and this will place a demand for leadership far greater than we have had in the past. It takes a long time to make a good troop leader, and I hope that the Army will wake up before it is too late.

 

Avalon, New Jersey, 7 February 1958

Capt King and MSgts Pukas and Ezzell are now at Ft Benning. I can easily sympathize with your 4.2 mortar problem of trying to operate without firm doctrine. As you probably know, the Chemical Corps in World War II activated and equipped 25 mortar battalions without one word of printed doctrine on the operational employment of this weapon. And the only technical publications in existence were based on WWI material with the old brass sight. World War II was over before the first manuals were published, and that was just as well because the new manuals were worse than nothing. So each battalion developed its own tactics and techniques; some good but mostly bad. Of course this made for a great difference in the effectiveness of the battalions. A few did well but most of them should have stayed in the States.

So you will develop your own concept of tactics and techniques and then provide operational doctrine for the 4.2 inch mortar in Armored units. I wish that I could help you.

Did you know that at one time the Armored Force was the sole "owner" of the 4.2 mortar? This was sometime after WWI when the Chemical Corps (then the Chemical Warfare Service) gave up the weapon and went out of the shooting business (they should have stayed out). The armored "Cavalry" was just then coming into existence under Adna Chaffee. They grabbed the 4.2 to use as highly mobile artillery, and for a while these armored cavalrymen were the only users of the 4.2 in the Army.

I expect that you will have a hand in the development of the Armored Force doctrine of employment, and, if you do, hold hard to the basic principle of concentration of fire power. The most common and the most disastrous fault lies in the dissipation of this fire power. It is most common because it is the lazy man's or buck passer's solution. He has for example three mortar units to support three line units. So he says, "Let's divide evenly like PX rations," giving one mortar unit to each of his line units regardless of the missions. His subordinates follow the commander's lead, so the mortar company is split down to platoons, sections and finally squads - stopping there only because it is difficult to divide a single 4.2 inch mortar. This is disastrous because the massed fire power of the 4.2 is watered down to the vanishing point.

You saw in Korea the great effort made by supported troop commanders to split our mortars down to platoons and even squads. We were successful in overcoming their efforts and keeping our companies firing as a unit, but it was a hard and constant struggle to keep our companies together, and I fought many bitter battles on this issue. It was not so bad in Europe during WWII but only because we were lucky enough to tie in with the III Corps for whom we did a fine bit of shooting on our very first operation. After that the III Corps adopted our Battalion as its own "household troops," and I had strict orders from the Corps commander to report directly to him at any time that in my opinion my companies were not being properly employed. I had to do this only once when we got a mediocre division from the States. The commanding general laid down the law promptly and the word got around. After that we had no trouble keeping our companies intact.

As to techniques, these must insure fast, accurate fire. Targets are always fleeting so the fire must get down quickly. Accuracy is essential because every round laid on position has cost its price in blood, sweat and tears, and therefore every round must produce worthwhile results. I believe that field artillery techniques, modified to meet the peculiarities of the 4.2 inch mortar, are by far the best.

Artillerymen are not stupid. Their techniques have been developed over many years of war and much shooting. Field artillery techniques are simple, effective and most of them are common knowledge to many line officers of other branches. Therefore use them where they fit.

Here I am "preaching" again. Please excuse me but you know how I love and respect that 4.2 inch mortar. I doubt that many men, in or out of the Army, have a broader experience in the capabilities of this fine weapon.

Capt Clifford Dorsey is being reassigned to Germany: Mortar Battery, 2nd Battle Group, 3rd Inf Div.

 

Avalon, New Jersey, 12 December 1960

I was delighted to hear that you had gone back to troop duty. This is where you belong. Unless the Army has changed since I retired, there is always a shortage of fully qualified leaders and instructors with troops. Why I shall never understand. There is no service in the Army that can compare with troop duty. However, many officers and non-commissioned officers shy away from it perhaps because it is harder work than duty on a staff or in a school. You are a fine combat-proven troop man, and your experience and ability can best be employed in service with soldiers and that particularly in the basic training field, where you and I well know young soldiers are either made or spoiled permanently. In spite of nuclear explosives, electronic equipment, and push button weapons, no army can ever be any better than the quality of its men, and that required quality is either achieved or lost forever in the basic training centers.

Cliff Dorsey is now a major and S3 of a 105 battalion in Germany. LtCol Ben Bell is the CO of an Armored Artillery Battalion at Ft Knox. Nieto and Morton are still CmlC and stationed in France. Covert is operations sergeant of the 3rd Recon Squadron, 8th Cavalry in Germany. MSgt Ezzell is on ROTC duty in North Carolina. Holcomb and Snow are both airborne and at Ft Bragg. King and Bluejacket are in Germany. MSgt Laspina (medic) is still in Italy.

I continue to hear rather regularly from former members of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade, who still sing the praises of the support rendered by the 2nd Mort Bn in the Korean fracas. Col Bruce Fergusson of the 5/54 Australians is now CO of the Australian equivalent of a basic training center. The brigade commander and the other two battalion COs are now retired. The brigade major is in Nigeria, the S3 is in Hong Kong and the S2 is in England. So the people of Nottingham, like ours of Native, are scattered far and wide.

 

Avalon, New Jersey, 19 March 1974

My sincere congratulations upon your retirement after completing 32 years of honorable and distinguished service. I am glad that you chose to retire with all of the ceremonies at Fort Campbell. No man is more deserving. You are the finest soldier with whom I have ever served in combat, and this includes commissioned as well as non-commissioned officers. As you well know, to me combat is the "payoff." Nothing else matters. I wish you great happiness in retirement, and I am confident that you will keep busy. You could never be one to be content to "sit on your duff." Working with the Boy Scouts will give you an opportunity to use your experience and ability to help shape character; there can be no finer objective.

I retired as mayor of this town last November, having accomplished all of my objectives. My major achievement was the setting aside for parks, playgrounds and "open space" for conservation purposes, over 1500 acres within this community. For that the townspeople named the main entrance into Avalon "The General E.V.H. Bell Causeway."

My 75 years of life include combat service in WWI, WWII and Korea, and six years as mayor of this town. If I have accomplished anything worthwhile in all of my life, it has been in helping to mold the characters of the men with whom I have served both in units and in replacement training centers. Far more important to me than all of my medals and bronze plaques is the fact that every Christmas I receive over 125 cards from men with whom I have served.

[LtCol Bell has been deceased for a number of years, but these letters leave an indelible mark of his presence. In some way he has touched the lives of all those with whom he served. We have benefitted from this association, and with his passing we have lost a mentor and friend. RLS]


Appendix IV - Lineage and Service

The 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion's lineage originated on 15 Aug 1917 with the activation of the 30th Engineer Regiment (Gas and Flame). It was organized from 30 Aug to 28 Nov 1917 at Camp American University, Washington, DC. In December the first two companies of the Regiment deployed to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). At that point it had received no training in either defensive or offensive warfare nor did any of its soldiers have protective masks.

Once in Europe, these companies reported to the British Special (Chemical) Brigade and received training in offensive chemical warfare by training on Livens projectors, Stokes mortars and cylinders. They then received defensive training by actually experiencing a friendly cylinder attack of chlorine. Following this training, the Regiment's officers were detailed to units in the Special Brigade along the front to experience actual offensive gas operations.

Following this training, on 22 May 1918, the Regiment moved into the line to provide smoke and incendiary fire support using the equipment with which they had trained. The Regiment's first action was on 18 June in support of the French. At 2230 hours, it fired 700 sixty-pound drums of phosgene, from Livens projectors it had emplaced the night before, at two targets some 1500 meters away. Later, on 13 July 1918, a Hq AEF general order redesignated the Regiment as the 1st Gas Regiment.

The Regiment made "superhuman efforts" to meet the needs of the AEF. Never to be left behind in the trenches, members of the Regiment would carry their Stokes mortars with them to assist in taking out enemy machine gun positions and other strong points. The Regiment continued to provide support throughout the war by participating in thirteen actions during ten campaigns.

These include Flanders 1918, Lys, Lorraine 1918, AisneMarne, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne where it provided the first offensive use of chemical agents in support of AEF forces. During these battles nearly six hundred members of the Regiment made the ultimate sacrifice while supporting the AEF. After the Armistice, the Regiment redeployed to Camp Kendrick, Lakehurst, New Jersey, where it was demobilized on 18 Feb 1919.

During the inter-war years, the Battalion experienced many changes. On 24 Feb 1920, the 1st Gas Regiment was reconstituted in the Regular Army at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland. It was redesignated the 1st Chemical Regiment on 5 Feb 1929 and then inactivated on 15 Apr 1935. But, like a phoenix rising out of its own ashes, the 2nd Separate Chemical Battalion (Motorized) was constituted on 16 Apr 1935 from parts of the 1st Chemical Regiment inactivated the day before.

The newly constituted Battalion, equipped with the 4.2 inch mortar, deployed by ship 8 June, 1943, from Newport News, Virginia, to North Africa. The unit disembarked at Mers-el-Knaber near Oran, Algeria, where it began familiarization training for the invasion of Sicily. The Battalion first participated in Operation Huskey, the invasion of Sicily, where it was cited as being the only combat unit to see no relief during the entire operation.

On 20 Aug 1943, the unit was redesignated the 2nd Chemical Battalion, Motorized, and given vehicles to transport its mortars about the battlefield rather than drag them on carts.

The Battalion went on to participate in Naples-Foggia and Rome-Arno on the Italian Peninsula. It entered the continent of Europe on 15 Aug 1944 as part of Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. This operation presented special situations for the Battalion as elements became part of the airborne invasion force utilizing gliders, and then, once landed, the remainder of the Battalion fought for several days as infantry with two other mortar battalions to protect the right flank of the VI Corps.

On 31 Dec 1944, the unit was reorganized again and redesignated the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion. In the six-month period November 1944 through April 1945, all of the Army's chemical mortar battalions were reorganized from the old quadrilateral form (4 firing companies) to the new triangular form with 3 firing companies.

The Red Dragon soldiers went on to breach the Maginot and Sigfried Lines and cross the Rhine River on 24 Mar 1945. Following the end of the war, the Battalion briefly served as part of the occupation forces and was inactivated on 26 Jul 1946 while still in Germany.

Of the 25 chemical mortar battalions that saw action during the war, only one, the 91st, remained on active service. In January 1949, Hq Co and Co A of that battalion were transferred from Fort Lewis, Washington, to the Army Chemical Center, Edgewood, Maryland, and on 1 Feb were redesignated as the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion. Recent graduates of basic training with the 9th Inf Div at Fort Dix, New Jersey, were received as filler personnel for Companies B and C. Advanced individual training (AIT) began at the Army Chemical Center under the direction of the Bn CO, LtCol Edgar V. H. Bell.

Following this AIT, mortar, communication, fire direction, and forward observer training started and continued for several months until it was concluded that the available ranges at the ACC were inadequate for training. Permission was requested and received to conduct extensive firing exercises at Camp A. P. Hill, Virginia, and at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, Pennsylvania. With Companies B and C totally involved with training, elements of Hq Co and Co A participated in Exercise Portrex on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

During 1950, the Battalion continued to train and improve the readiness of the two newly formed companies. The Battalion participated in Exercise Swarmer at Fort Bragg and Camp MacCall, North Carolina, and later was fragmented to satisfy the annual Reserve and National Guard training requirements.

With the start of the Korean War, the Battalion was deployed on 22 Sep 1950 to Korea in time to participate in the UN Offensive. Its 4.2 inch mortars were again supporting the forward soldiers providing continuous support from October 1950 to October 1951 without any respite. After the UN Offensive the Battalion participated in every other major campaign during the Korean War, namely CCF Intervention; First UN Counteroffensive; CCF Spring Offensive; UN Summer-Fall Offensive; Second Korean Winter; Korea, Summer-Fall 1952; and Third Korean Winter.

Once major hostilities had ended in Korea, the Army transferred all 4.2 inch mortars to the infantry. Prior to this, on 23 Jan 1953, the Battalion was redesignated as Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 2nd Chemical Battalion and stationed at Dugway, Utah. Equipped with smoke generators since 6 Jun 1958, the Battalion moved to Ft McClellan, Alabama on 20 Mar 1963 where it was then deactivated on 19 Dec 1973.

After the re-emergence of the Chemical Corps in the late '70s, the Battalion was reactivated at Fort Hood, Texas, on 1 Sep 1981. Following years of training and preparation, the Battalion was called on again to serve. It deployed on 27 Oct 1990 to participate in Operation Desert Shield, supporting XVIII Airborne Corps in the defense of Saudi Arabia. On 10 Jan 1991, the Battalion was attached to the 1st Inf Div, part of VII Corps, to support offensive operations. No stranger to combat, the "Red Dragons" of the 2nd Chemical Battalion were again at the "point of the arrow" by providing smoke, NBC reconnaissance and decontamination support to the "Big Red One" as it breached Saddam Hussein's "impenetrable" defenses. As the "mother of all battles" continued, the Battalion was reassigned to the 3rd Armored Div (Spearhead) to provide the same support during the pursuit and destruction of the Iraqi Republican Guard Division deep into Iraq that it had provided earlier at the breach. During these operations, the Battalion commanded at any given time five to seven active and reserve chemical companies during the defense of Saudi Arabia and the liberation of Kuwait.

Following this latest deployment, the Battalion returned to its home at Fort Hood where it continues to train and support America's Force Projection Army.



[Editor's note: The following letter is not a part of Richard Slick's original history, but was written to him by Richard Barbor when the latter read the first part of the history in the June 2001 issue of The Red Dragon, the newsletter of the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion Association.]

Richard L. Slick
3348 Baltimore Pike
Littlestown, PA

August 12, 2001

Dear Richard,

Thanks for providing the history of the 2nd Chemical Mortar/Korea which appeared in the last “Red Dragon” for the rest of us to discover and reminisce over. Based on some recent conversations and recollections with Henry L’Heureux and Bob Plant (see Red Dragon roster), I think I can add some additional information about the events surrounding the enemy attacks on Hill 854, near Hwang gi, North Korea, on 21-22 September 1952, particularly regarding B Company actions which were missing from the history.

B Co. was positioned back of Hill 854, as substantiated by some old photos I have, and manned two OPs: one on Hill 854 (I don't know the number designation) and one immediately to the west on Hill 799 (OP 21, code name Oldsmobile, according to Bob Plant). My OP party and I manned Hill 854 in the days just prior to the events of 21-22 September. We experienced severe shelling for several days – I seem to recall a density of about 1000 rounds in one 24-hour period over our 800 yards of MLR. I remember joking with Marty Troster, our FDC officer, who had told me that things were very quiet just prior to this, my first OP duty, that if this was his idea of quiet then I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy the rest of my tour very much. As luck would have it, our observation bunker was hit by an enemy round, 120mm mortar, I think. We were all wounded and had to be evacuated on the afternoon of 21 September. We were replaced by Henry L’Heureux and his crew. When 854 was overrun that night, they were all captured – Henry has a fascinating story of how their Korean houseboy saved all their lived that night. They spent the rest of the war as POWs. Meanwhile, over on Hill 799, Bob Plant recalls they were fighting for their lives and finally were forced to retire. Bob received the Bronze Star, “V,” for his actions that night. As I recall, A Co. was to our west and it was there that Tom McGeever, my old friend from Fort McClellan, lost his life. The skuttlebutt at the time was that he had been found with a single shot to his forehead and there was a strong suspicion that he had been assassinated while a prisoner rather than dying as a result of the general attrack. There was certainly evidence and rumors of other atrocities discovered after we retook the positions.

Because of a shortage of FOs I guess, I was asked to man the OP on Hill 799 after our counterattack the next day since my wounds weren't enough to immobilize me. I asked Bob Plant to volunteer to accompany me since he was intimately familiar with all of the checkpoints and fire zones from that OP and I was not. That he agreed to is further evidence of this man's courage since they had just so recently escaped by the skin of their teeth from this same position. We remained there for a few days until the line was taken over by the US 45th Div and we march-ordered over to IX Corps as described in your narrative.

Sincerely,

Richard P. Barbor


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