THE DEADLY MORTARS
The Chinese and North Korean used mainly 61mm, 82mm and 120mm high explosive mortar bombs to deliver to their enemy ..... us! They were fired out of a tube, angled at between 45o (long distance) and about 70o (a tripod kept the tube in place). One soldier held the tube and fired it, and another soldier loaded bombs one at a time, tail first, into the tube. The weight of the bomb would trigger the propellant in the tail by hitting a pin in the tube, thus sending the bomb up on its deadly mission.
They travelled in their arc up and then down on to the enemy, travelling at less than the speed of sound, which is approximately 740 mph (1069 fps). This allowed the "swoosh, swoosh" sound to travel ahead of the falling missile. The louder the sound the closer to you the mortar was going to hit. A close mortar bomb explosion sounds like lightening has struck the ground next to you, with a very loud ear splitting crack and a percussion air wave that could throw you over. Soldiers were often deafened temporarily or even permanently.
With its 9-82mm mortars, an enemy battalion could sustain an accurate rate of fire of over 180 rounds per minute. Often Australians and other allies had mortar bombs falling about one every 30 seconds for up to one-hour barrages, 3000 bombs dropping over our front-line trenches and bunkers about one kilometre long. Quite often the enemy sent over mortar bombs at meal times while the soldiers were in their lines with their mess tins held out ready for the cooks to throw some grub into them. The Chinese seemed to know exactly what time meals were given out and exactly where. Perhaps they could see through the hills with their X-Ray binoculars, or more likely there were spies within our camp.
In contrast to the Chinese, Australian mortar platoons used 2" (51mm) and 3 "(68mm) tubes to deliver bombs to deliver to the enemy, or else the American 60mm or 81mm mortar tubes. I only fired mortar bombs in training whilst in Australia, and Japan, and a little when we first came to Korea, just to brush up.
Every day there were stories in the camp about someone who had come close to a mortar. While crossing open ground behind "C" Company position, I heard the whoosh - whoosh, of a Chinese mortar coming down. I didn't have time to run for cover and just crouched down where I was for protection. As I looked up I saw it was going to hit about 150 ft away, in a split second I saw a grey cloud of dust and debris flying everywhere, and pieces making buzzing sounds flying through the air above me, but none actually touched me. This incident didn't upset me at all, probably because I was young and silly at only 20 years of age. I just wasn't frightened of mortars at that stage. The sharp crack however nearly deafened me. It was about 2 days later that I realised the danger of the mortars. I needed to relieve myself, so I went up to the steel pipe in the ground which had lime around it to stop the smells. When I was finished I started walking away when whoosh, a Chinese mortar exploded right next to the pipe where I had been. This time I gained my fear of mortars and from then on they always made me jumpy.
We were sent up to "C" Company positions one day on one of our usual digging parties to improve the trenches and "Hoochies" (dug-ins). I was in a "hoochie" and my mate Maurie Sharp was in one next to it. The Chinese saw the shovels of earth coming out over the trenches, and sent some mortars over to stop production. One burst on the bank above Maurie, so close to him that it sent the tail complete with fins into the trench next to him. I heard him yell and as he jumped out of the trench he said. "I'm bloody well getting out of here-the Chinese have my range exactly". He didn't go back there all day. I said to him 35 years later, why didn't you keep the tailing for a souvenir? But I guess at the time he wasn't interested in memorabilia.
Authors Note: In Bosnia 1995 approximately 73 civilians were
killed and many more wounded in a market place, by one enemy
mortar bomb explosion.
60 mil mortar in night action
Courtesy of Cyril "Frenchy" Ray
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