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Chemical Warfare Service Chemicals in Combat

Chemical Warfare Service Chemicals in Combat

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Published by Bob Andrepont
United States Army history of the Chemical Warfare service in combat in World War II
United States Army history of the Chemical Warfare service in combat in World War II

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Feb 06, 2011
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In this skirmish the bazooka team of Company A disabled one tank
which was immediately blown up by a Ranger with a pole charge.35
Next day chemical mortars, firing without aiming stakes or prepared
emplacements, were not quite accurate enough to destroy any of a
group of nine tanks but were threatening enough to force the tanks
to withdraw to positions where they were dispatched by friendly
artillery and naval gunfire.36
Actually, the chemical mortars had the necessary accuracy to engage
targets as small as a tracked vehicle. Just before dawn on one of the
early days of the Sicily campaign, a temporarily disabled German tank
began harassing an infantry position with automatic fire as the crew
made repairs. Asked for help by the infantry, a 2d Chemical Battalion
company commander called for one sensing round and then for a volley
of eight. The tank was silenced. Daylight examination of the tank
found all mortar rounds within an area fifteen yards in diameter, with

35

Hutchinson, "Use of the 4.2-Inch Mortar in the Invasion of Sicily," Chemical Warfare Bulletin,
vol. 29, No. 8 (December, 1945-January, 1944).

36

(1) Ibid. (2) 83d Cml Bn, Battle for Sicily, 5 Nov 43.

428

THE CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE

one of them down the open turret of the vehicle.37

Once the beach-
heads were consolidated, chemical mortars fired preparations preceding
infantry attacks, interdicted enemy lines of communications, and fired
on machine guns, mortars, ammunition dumps, and barracks.38
One of the most significant chemical mortar smoke missions in
Sicily was a series of screens fired for the 3d Infantry Division during
the period 6-8 August. The Germans held a strong ridge line east of
the Furiano River, which flows northward to the sea. The 7th Infantry
received the mission of seizing the heights dominated by Hill 715.
The 2d Mortar Battalion supported the attack with smoke and high
explosives; Companies A and D fired HE concentrations and Company
B carried out the smoke mission.39

From 0530 to approximately 0900
on 6 August B Company maintained a 3,500-yard screen to conceal
the advancing infantry. Firing from positions west of the river the
mortarmen gradually increased the range of the smoke curtain from
1,000 to 3,200 yards to keep pace with the progress of the attacking
troops. The smoke mission terminated upon orders of the commander
of the assault infantry battalion. At about 1000, as the mortars were
firing on call, enemy artillery began pounding the American positions.
Enemy shells hit 4 of the 6 mortar positions (knocking over 3 weapons,
but damaging only 1), 2 platoon-size ammunition dumps, and gen-
erally raised havoc with the wire communications of the battalion.
That afternoon D Company fired a smoke mission which helped 2
infantry battalions under heavy counterattacks to withdraw to the
west side of the river.
Early next morning the infantry tried again, and one B Company
platoon concealed the advance to the attack position with a 1,000-yard
screen. The mortars maintained this screen for almost fourteen hours
despite difficulties caused by shifting winds.40

Once the screen was
established it was kept up by two WP rounds a minute, although for
a short period around noon weather conditions made it necessary to
raise this number to five. The mortar crews lifted the screen several

37

Journal of of Cml Bn, 14 Jul 43. (2) Lt Col Robert C. Breaks, "My Men Had Guts," Chemi-
cal Warfare Bulletin,
vol. 30, No. 1 (February-March, 1944), (3) The journals of the three batta-
lions contain frequent references of the direct or indirect destruction of tanks by 4.2-inch mortar fire.

38

Ltr, ACmlO 45th Div to CmlO 45th Div, 31 Jul 43.

39

Because of its proficiency in dispatching enemy troops the 4.2-inch mortar in Sicily acquired
the nickname Goon Gun. As a tribute to the part these mortars played in this operation, Hill 715
became known as Goon Gun Hill, at least in CWS circles. The infantry called it Million Dollar Hill
because of the large number of rounds fired on it. The artillery also participated in the smoke mission.

40

Rpt of Seventh Army in Sicily, p. B-18.

THE 4.2-INCH MORTAR IN THE MTO

429

times during the day to permit friendly dive bomber attacks on the
enemy positions. On the third day the infantry succeeded in taking
the heights east of the Furiano, again with the help of chemical mortar
smoke and high explosives.41
Of the three mortar units committed to HUSKY the 2d Chemical
Battalion saw the most action. In fact, it was said to have been the
only combat unit on the island that saw no relief during the entire

operation.42

After reaching Palermo the 3d Battalion was transferred
to II Corps, an attachment which terminated its combat activities for
the campaign. Thereafter the battalion performed a number of rear
area duties, principally those dealing with transportation. It also
guarded prisoners of war and ammunition dumps, collected ammuni-
tion, and generally participated in assignments which failed to utilize
its capabilities as a mortar unit.43

On the other hand, the limited ac-
tivity of the 83d Battalion, attached to both the 2d Armored and
82d Airborne Divisions after the initial stages of the campaign, resulted
primarily from a lack of suitable targets.44
Despite early difficulties faced by the chemical mortar battalions in
their first combat action, they made a creditable record during the
Sicily Campaign. The absence of established doctrine and, with the
exception of the 2d Battalion, the lack of joint infantry-mortar train-
ing, resulted not only in some misuse of the battalions but in the failure
to use them "where they could have been employed to exceptional

advantage." 45

Nevertheless, reaction of ground commanders who had been sup-
ported by the chemical mortars was generally favorable, and most of
them advocated chemical mortar support for all divisions committed
to action.46

Among their comments were "the equivalent of real ar-
tillery," which the chemical mortar was not, and "the most effective
single weapon used in support of infantry," 47

a statement to which

it had fair claim.

41

Breaks, "My Men Had Guts," Chemical Warfare Bulletin, vol. 30, No. 1 (February-March, 1944).

42

(1) Ibid. (2) Upon its relief from attachment to the 45th Division, the 2d Battalion was attached

to the 3d Division.

43

(1) History of 3d Cml Bn in Sicily. (2) Rpt of Seventh Army in Sicily, pp. H-1—3.

44

Rpt of Seventh Army in Sicily, pp. H-1—3.

45

CmlO Seventh Army, Rpt of Cml Warfare Opns—Sicilian Campaign, 24 Sep 43.

46

Ltr, CO 83d Cml Bn to ACCWS for Field Opns, 12 Sep 43.

47

Extracts from Training Notes from the Sicilian Campaign, in Ltr, CCmlO NATOUSA to ACCWS
for Field Opns, 6 Nov 43. CWS 314.7 Personal Ltr files, NATOUSA.

430

THE CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE

The Problem of Transportation

General Shadle, Chief Chemical Officer, NATOUSA, put his finger
on one of the main shortcomings revealed by this first test of combat
when he said there was nothing seriously wrong with the 4.2-inch
mortar or the chemical battalion except transportation.48

The prin-
cipal means of motor transport in the mortar battalion was the 2½-ton
truck, often too big and too conspicuous to operate adequately in
positions as near the front as the 4.2-inch mortars were emplaced.
The ¼-ton truck and trailer seemed more appropriate, and at times
infantry commanders gave up some of their own jeeps in order to
insure chemical mortar support.49

Because man-handling the mortar
carts was an arduous task, crews sometimes attached them to jeeps, an
unsatisfactory practice because of damage to the wheels and handles
of the smaller vehicle. Once an infantry battalion commander directed
his reserve riflemen to help mortar crews struggling with their carts,
an unorthodox move which illustrated as well as anything how highly
infantrymen esteemed the mortar.50

Often mortar crews comman-
deered mules in order to keep up with the infantry advance. These
animals not only made up for inadequate basic transportation but
reached places inaccessible to vehicles,51

a fact that led General Patton
to opine at the end of the campaign that the pack animal still had a
role in modern warfare.52
The mortar battalion tables of organization and equipment pub-
lished shortly after the Sicilian campaign provided for % -ton trucks
and trailers as the basic means of transportation. But because of delays
in acquiring the new vehicles and because of the type of terrain and
fighting encountered in Italy, this change did not prove to be the
expected panacea.

Efforts To Increase the Range

The other serious difficulty encountered in the first combat employ-
ment of the mortar was that of its range. The introduction of the

48

Ltr, CCmlO NATOUSA to ACCWS for Field Opns, 26 Aug 43. CWS 314.7 Personal Ltr files,

NATOUSA.

49

Journal of 2d Cml Bn.

50

Breaks, "My Men Had Guts," Chemical Warfare Bulletin, vol. 30, No. 1 (February-March, 1944).

51

Journal of 2d Cml Bn.

52

Notes on the Sicilian Campaign.

THE 4.2-INCH MORTAR IN THE MTO

431

M5A1 propellant in January 1943 increased the range of the mortar
from 2,400 to 3,200 yards.53

The M6 propellant, standardized in
March 1943, raised the maximum range to 4,500 yards although the
item was not in production in time for use in Sicily. Meanwhile, in
July 1943 OCCWS froze the range of the 4.2-inch mortar at 3,200
yards, despite repeated requests from North Africa for increased range.
Washington headquarters answered: "It has been decided, for prac-
tical purposes, and in view of manufacturing and materiel difficulties,
the chemical mortar is to be considered as having a maximum range
of 3,200 yards. ... It is considered that this is a satisfactory range,
and any additional work done is to be confined to further perfecting
the performance of this weapon within this range." 54
At the end of hostilities in Sicily a conference of Seventh Army
CWS officers agreed that a range of 4,500 was required,55

an opinion
which was reflected in the other important reports of the Sicilian
campaign.56

These recommendations, combined with an urgent request
from theater headquarters for a chemical mortar range of at least
4,500 yards, led the OCCWS to reverse its decision.57

Shortages of
certain ingredients for the M6 propellant added to the delay involved
in getting the Army Ground Forces blessing for the increased range,
so that supplies of the M6 propellant did not reach the theater until
the end of the year.
Among the lesser problems arising in Sicily were certain shortcomings
of the M2 mortar sight. This piece of equipment was unsatisfactory
for night employment because it lacked a means of illumination. More-
over, it could not be employed from deeply defiladed positions. In these
positions sighting stakes had to be placed to the rear of the mortar
position rather than to the front, because of the small traverse (200
mils) of the M2 sight. This limited traverse also caused excessive
re-emplacements. Captured Italian 81-mm. mortar sights with 360°
traverse proved much superior to the American model.58

53

CWS TofO Ltr No. 1,3 Mar 43.

54

CWS TofO Ltr No. 3, 23 Jun 43.

55

Conf of Cml Warfare Officers of Seventh Army. CMLHO.

56

(1) Rpt of Cml Warfare Opns, Sicilian Campaign, 24 Sep 43. (2) Notes on the Sicilian Cam-

paign.

57

(1) CM-IN 18330, 24 Aug 43. (2) CM-OUT 11648, 28 Aug 43. (3) IOM, ACCWS to
ACCWS Field Opns, 26 Aug 43.

58

(1) Ltr, CO 83d Cml Bn to ACCWS Field Opns, 12 Sep 43. (2) Conf of Cml Warfare Officers
of Seventh Army. (3) Memo, ACmlO Seventh Army for CmlO Seventh Army, 23 Aug 43.
CMLHO.

432

THE CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE

There was little difficulty with mortar maintenance during the oper-
ation as the equipment was new and not seriously overtaxed. Ammuni-
tion was in good supply in Sicily although inadequate waterproofing
initially resulted in numerous corroded fuzes.59

And transportation
difficulties resulted in low ammunition reserves at forward positions,
even though the over-all supply of mortar shell in Sicily was ample.60

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