Travelogue of the 88th Chemical Mortar Battalion

by Raymond B. Whitaker

"Join the 88th Chemical Mortar Battalion and see the world."

The Navy might object to someone else using its ancient recruiting slogan but the 88th has had enough traveling to qualify with many salty outfits.

The first 18 months after beginning basic training in September, 1943, members of the unit had an average of 18,000 air miles behind them, or approximately 1,000 miles per month. If the roundabout routes of convoys were figured in, the total mileage would be far in excess of those figures.

During its normal existence, the battalion has had quite considerable combat plus some weird experiences.

The 88th received its baptism of fire in the Mariannas - on Saipan in June and July, and Guam in July and August of 1944. September found the battalion present on both Auguar and Peleliu. In October, General MacArthur returned to the Philippines accompanied by - you guess it - the 88th! When a task force landed in December at Ormoc on Leyte in the move that polished off the Nip's organized resistance on the island, part of the assault troops were from the 88th.

In February, 1945, the battalion had a rest - that is, if building a camp, reorganizing from four companies to three and getting ready for another operation could be called a rest.

In March it was "march order" again. This time against the Kerama Retto and IE-Shima. Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945, the 88th splashed ashore with the assault troops on Okinawa, "a stone's throw from Tokyo." From L-Day until the island was declared secure, the battalion stayed in the line continuously.

Overseas points visited by units of the battalion include Oahu, Maui, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Ulithi, Saipan, Guam, New Hebrides, Guadalcanal, Oro Bay, Finchhafen, Hollandia, the Admiralties, Leyte, Luzon, Anguar, Peleliu, IE-Shima, the Kerama Retto and Okinawa.

During this time the average man in the battalion piled up a total of 150 days of actual combat. This does not include days spent aboard ship in dangerous waters under air and submarine attack, or days spent in combat zones with snipers around and fighting only a few miles distant.

Divisions supported include the 7th, 27th, 77th, 81st, 96th, and the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions.

Variety is the only word to describe the methods of transportation used by the 88th while in the Pacific, as everything from airplanes to carabao was utilized for moving individuals and supplies. The battalion was trained with the jeep as the main organic transportation, and everything but the jeep has been basic transportation. In the Mariannas it was on foot, in the Palau Group it was 1-ton trucks, in the Philippines it was Weasels, DUKWs and carabao, while in the Ryukus it was horses, 2-ton trucks and boats, plus the good old reliable feet.

While the Jap, his weapons and supplies were the main target of the battalion, a wide number of ways were used to get at them.

In the Palau Group, gunboats were employed with the mortars mounted on the side of LCIs. On Saipan, WP shells silhouetted Nips for machine gunners after riflemen had run out of flares and the Japs were too close to bring supporting fires to bear. On Leyte, WP was utilized to help locate combat patrols which had gotten lost in unmapped territory. After seeing the WP round, the patrols were radioed directions which led them back to civilization. Both WP and HE were employed on Peleliu and Okinawa to ignite jellied gasoline after the target had been marked for the planes with WP.

The 4.2 mortar has a reputation for accuracy of an unusual degree, and the 88th did much to enhance that rep in the Pacific.

On Leyte, the 77th Infantry Division was held up by a church which the Nips converted into a fortress. The building was made of stone, and high velocity and direct fire weapons did little damage other than knocking off the top of the steeple, leaving an opening leading down into the church. The 4.2s were called on to drop WP down the hole to roust the Nips out. The mission was accomplished with 30 out of 50 rounds being dropped inside the strong point. The Japs were easy targets when they popped out.

The 88th claims to bt the only battalion to use the 4.2 as a coastal defense gun. In the Philippines, a landing craft loaded with 300 to 500 Nips was seen trying to make a landing behind our lines. The mortars were faced out to sea and registered on a narrow channel through which the barge had to pass through the reef. When it penetrated the area, a shower of HE and WP rained down upon it, forcing the Japs to abandon ship. Those not killed in the mortar fire were picked off easily.

On Okinawa, one battery was registered on a machine gun at the mouth of a cave. The observer had called for "fire for effect" and had given "on the way" when several Nips were seen running towards the cave. Turning to the observer, the rifle battalion commander yelled, "Get some fire on them." Friendly machine guns already had swung around and, just as the Nips dived into cave, the 4.2 shells and tracers went in after them, in that order.

Return to the home page for chemical mortar battalions.