Having lurked on this site awhile, I'm afraid the casual visitor might get the impression that the Marine Corps consists only of Wingers and Grunts. After reading about Grunt weapons such as the '14s, the '16s, the '60s, the '50s; and Winger warbirds such as the '46 and '34 choppers and fixed-wing A4s, A6s and F4s; this old 0848 MOS (Sgt. of Artillery Fire Direction Center) would like to add a new number or two to the mix.
In the 30-plus years since I was in 'Nam, I have yet to meet another Marine who is familiar with the 107-mm howtar.
The howtar got its name because it comprises a 4.2-inch mortar mounted on a 75-mm howitzer carriage. I don't know if they were used in wars before or after Vietnam (see Note), but they were perfect for the type of operations we pulled on Battalion Landing Team (BLT) duty.
One drawback of the 4.2-in mortar ("four deuce") is that it must be disassembled for transport and carried on and off any transport vehicle. At the new site the 4.2-in mortar had to be reassembled and its baseplate seated and leveled—which is time-consuming whether you're in mud or rock-hard dry clay. The howtar could be picked up intact by a chopper, carried via a sling and set down in a new position—no assembly required.
When we flew off the USS Valley Forge (CV-45) on operations, the battery could be set up and firing in a fraction of the time it would take with baseplate mortars. Ditto for moving from one position to another during an operation. We mostly fired HE (high explosive) rounds, but also used Illum (illumination), WP (white phosphorous or "Willy Peter") and CS gas (heavy-duty tear gas).
W/2/11 was a part of BLT 3/1 in '67-'68, firing howtars for most of the tour and baseplate four-deuces the rest of the time.
For about a month in March '68 we were separated from 3/1 and made opcon (under operational control of) to 2/4, who were operating in the same area along the Cua Viet River. We seemed to have the best working relationship of all with the forward observers (FOs) and commanding officers (COs) in 2/4. They loved calling on Whiskey Battery and we loved firing for them. Among the letters my wife saved is one where I tell about two FOs from 2/4 arguing on the radio about who gets Whiskey to fire their mission.
Probably our best teamwork with those guys was one very foggy morning when they were going into a heavily fortified ville full of NVA, dirt-and-log bunkers throughout. By early a.m. the Marines of 2/4 had their gas masks in hand. The FOs adjusted our fire, then we started calculating charges, elevations and fuse times; sent the info to the gunners and they got rounds ready.
At the command of "Fire!" we put in a combination of CS gas and Willy Peter. The WP combined with the heavy fog to hold the gas down to ground level. Our gunners already had the charges cut and time fuses set on the HE rounds.
When the FOs saw NVA begin pouring out of the bunkers, we switched to HE with air bursts. The effect was carnage. The FOs walked our barrages through the ville like that for several hours—using us and our weapons the way we were meant to be used.
Grunt casualties were minimal. Whiskey Battery was credited with 125 confirmed kills and I don't know what numbers got credited to 2/4. Like I said, this was Marine teamwork working from battalion command philosophy down to sweat-in-the-eyes privates.
That day defined Marine for me.
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The author: Harry Cockson served in the Corps from Sept. 1966–Sept. 1968, with Whiskey Battery 2nd Bn., 11th Marines in Vietnam 67–68; Hill 63, BLT 3/1—Cua Viet River, Camp Carroll, Ca Lu. After that BLT went to Phu Loc, then An Hoa. In February 2007, Harry retired after 32 years with the Nebraska Public Power District. Click to view then-and-now pix of author.