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Vietnam War, Korean War, Cold War, Gold, Smuggling, Mining, Alaska, Bear
Mountain, Spy, Government, Russia, FBI, Military, USSR, Soviets, Missiles

Read a few pages. - Enjoy!

 

Part One

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KOREA

 

Spring

1953

 

 

HAPTER 1 

Hill 672 

 

 

 

 

It was about 0330—I was well wrapped in my snug double sleeping bag, dreaming I was fishing in a quiet lake in the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska, when the world exploded. The ChiComs started dumping artillery and mortars on us like they owned stock in an ammo factory. Our bunker, dug in and well sandbagged, was just down from the south crest of our hill, Hill 672 on the maps. Most of B Company was bedded down in similar bunkers, but our night guards and two light machine gun crews were outside, dug in near the summit with only their foxholes for protection.

I jolted upright and looked for Perkins, my Radio/Telephone Operator, but he was already way ahead of me. At the far end of the bunker, barely visible by lantern light through the dust that concussions were kicking out of the sandbagged walls, I could see him cranking away on the field phone with one hand and yelling into a radio handset held in the other. His first response must have been on the wire, for he slid the EE8 field phone as far in my direction as possible without pulling loose the wire connectors.

I jerked the sleeping bag zipper pulls to the top quick-release position, ripped the bag open, and threw myself onto the field phone.

“Fox Oboe Baker!” I yelled into the mouthpiece. “Fire Mission!”.

 “Send your mission.” replied the ever-calm voice of the Battery Exec, Charlie Taylor.

“We’re getting heavy artillery and mortar fire,” I responded. “If this is like last time, they’ll come in on us as soon as it lifts. We’ll need to hit ‘em quick.”

The reply from the Fire Direction Center was blotted out by a ripping crash as two near-misses nearly tore the bunker out of the ground.

“Say again, over,” I shouted.

“I say again, do you want Final Protective Fire, or Concentration Baker-2? Over.”

“Final Protective Fire” was a phrase for bringing your artillery down on your own position, generally used to brush off the enemy prowling around your area while your own people sheltered in holes or bunkers. I hoped we weren’t that desperate yet, but I knew in a small hidden place in my mind that it could come to that, depending upon how our next move played out.

“Concentration Baker-2, on my call. Shell HE, fuse Victor Tare. And Charlie, give me illumination—keep one in the air so we can see to shoot the bastards! Over.”

“Roger,” was the reply. “Call it when you need it. I’ll give you a splash. Over.”

Normally there was a precise protocol for requesting an artillery fire mission, data being exchanged between the Artillery Forward Observer (FO) and the Fire Direction Center (FDC) in a certain order to prevent confusion or transposition of numbers and information. Some Battery Execs (the Executive Officer usually trained and commanded the FDC) demanded strict adherence to the book, but I was lucky in having First Lieutenant Charles Taylor on the other end of the wire tonight. Charlie had been in my shoes often enough to know that speed overrode protocol when your ass was on the line.

“Roger, wait.”

My name is Benjamin Hunnicutt, Second Lieutenant of Artillery, presently assigned as Artillery Forward Observer for Baker Company. I had been bedded down in the Company Command Post bunker so as to be instantly available to the infantry Company Commander, Captain James, if artillery support were needed.

The bombardment seemed to go on forever, mind numbing concussions painfully pummeling brain and body, many of us cupping palms over our ears and holding mouths open to protect our eardrums from pressure shock. The choking dirt and dust pounded out of the bunker walls gave a sense of suffocation. That, and my lifelong tendency toward claustrophobia, created a strong urge to claw my way outside before a direct hit buried us all alive. The Coleman lantern, which had earlier lulled me to sleep with its soft hiss, now danced on its hanger like a wild thing, throwing grotesque shadows which jerked and gyrated like the innards of a black kaleidoscope.

As bad as it was for us in the bunkers, it had to be more terrifying for the guys stuck outside, cowering in foxholes which crumbled a bit with every nearby shell burst. Luckily, all the incoming seemed to be point-detonating. When fused for a contact burst, a shell was triggered to explode when hitting the ground. However, in the fraction of a second between contact and burst, the shell would bury itself a foot or so into the earth, which would absorb much of the shock. More importantly, the lethal fan of hot shell fragments would blow up and out in a wide inverted cone pattern, often leaving untouched any soldiers lying flat or in holes or depressions more than a few yards away.

If they had fired shells fused for air-bursts, the GIs would be in a world of hurts—shells bursting overhead would drive their fragments downward into the foxholes, and into the bodies of anyone below. Spinning shards of hot jagged steel do not make clean wounds. Luckily, although the enemy now had more artillery on the line than our UN forces, he still lacked the skill and precision to use it to best effect.

 After what seemed hours, but turned out to be about ten minutes, the shelling abruptly stopped. Waiting a few moments to be sure, I hit the butterfly on the EE8 handset.

“Charlie! Give me Concentration Baker-2 now! And give me time-of-flight and Splash. Don’t forget the illumination! Over.”

“OK, Ben—just hold on. You’re getting battery ten rounds for effect. Time-of-flight, twelve seconds from… NOW!” I could hear the six howitzers crash out in the earpiece as Charlie spoke.

The captain had already scrambled outside. I joined him, pausing only to clap my steel pot on my head and snatch my carbine from the peg on which it hung. Despite the taste of hell which had enveloped the hilltop, the pre-dawn air was cold. The last skeletal survivors of vegetation on the hilltop had been blasted into shredded remnants; broken limbs, bare of leaves, lay far from the trunks that had sustained them. Smoke was curling up from the newly plowed earth as Captain James and his NCO’s searched for casualties and survivors. The air stank of detonated explosives, and the torn earth was starting to reek of death and rot from newly uncovered bits of humanity left from previous battles.

“Skipper,” I yelled, “we’re getting Baker-2 in about nine seconds. Battery ten rounds, VT. Better get ‘em ready!” I slapped the selector switch on my carbine forward to the full-automatic position and twisted the safety to “fire”.

The Company Commander waved a “Roger” and hustled his men into position to cover the mouth of a shallow ravine which funneled from the low ground to our left front, uphill and into our position. He also placed a just-in-case Browning Automatic Rifleman and a machine gun to cover the steep bluff falling off to our right, though it was unlikely that an attack in strength would come from that quarter. The medic and his assistant were helping four wounded men into the aid bunker; other troops searched for more. I had been mentally counting off the seconds; just as I looked over to alert the captain, we both heard the rustling of shells passing overhead, instantly followed by the flash and slam of airbursts above the gully to our left. At the same time, a single shell popped high above Hill 672 and a dazzling parachute flare ignited and slowly descended. Its stark white light clearly showed us all, frozen into position and aiming our weapons toward the mouth of the ravine. Our six-gun 105mm battery fired ten rounds from each piece, the entire 60-shell barrage taking less than half a minute.

Within seconds after the first shells burst, the flare revealed running figures, Chinese in thickly padded brown uniforms, spewing out of the ravine, screaming and wildly firing long Russian Mosin-Nagant rifles and drum-fed PPSH 41 submachine guns in our direction. B Company was more than ready—the riflemen hunkering down and delivering a steady aimed fire which ground down the head of the attacking mob as though it was being fed into a giant pencil sharpener. The machine gunners were mostly firing in short accurate bursts, conserving ammunition and keeping their barrels cool. One gunner was obviously panicked or overexcited, freezing on his trigger until the tail of his ammo belt fed through the gun and it fell silent. After little over a minute of our deliberate and deadly fire, scarcely a dozen of the enemy remained standing. There appeared to be no leaders left to organize or direct them. They retreated in disorder in the direction from which they had come.

A second parachute flare popped high in the dark sky just before the first faded below the horizon, the timing perfect for maintaining visibility around the hilltop.

After the survivors had faded back into the gully, we very cautiously examined their casualties and found many that had already been badly chopped up by artillery shell fragments. It was easy to see why their attack had been piecemeal and disorganized—they had waited, crowded together in the draw, for their own barrage to lift, expecting to follow it up and catch us in our holes and bunkers. Trapped by the close confines of the gully, they were a prime target for our own unexpected barrage. Their charge up into our guns was probably as much a panic to escape our shellfire as an attempt to take the hill.

James and his Platoon Leaders combed the hilltop for more American casualties, finding two newly dead and five freshly wounded. I heard sporadic single rifle shots, an indication that perhaps some of the attackers had not been killed as dead as was deemed necessary. Perkins appeared beside me carrying the SCR 300 backpack radio, already in contact with the FDC so I could report on the situation, and on the results of the fire mission.

As I reached for the radio handset, a crumpled figure at the mouth of the gully suddenly stirred and raised itself to knee level. I saw no weapon, but a large cloth bag hanging diagonally across his shoulders marked him as the Chinese equivalent of a grenadier. He reached into the bag just as I dropped the handset, pivoted my carbine to a level position, and loosed a long burst from the hip. My bullets stitched a path across the intervening ground and into the twisting, jerking figure, still fumbling inside the grenade sack. Perkins had levelled his own carbine the instant he had seen my reaction, and his slugs mingled with my own. One of us hit the sack in a tender spot— the would-be grenadier and his explosive supply disappeared in a ragged eruption of smoke, noise, and body parts.

With the sound of the explosion, the captain and his people had hit the ground, assuming another artillery attack. Realizing what had happened, they sheepishly arose. Captain James, white faced, walked over to me and stared into my eyes for a few tense moments. Then he said loudly, “You damn’ artillery people just can’t do anything quietly, can you?”

With this weak joke, the tension broke and the grinning troops continued about their grisly chores.

 I contacted Charlie at the FDC, reporting the results of the mission and requesting that he keep B-2 dialed in, just in case. Since dawn was starting to show, I terminated the succession of parachute flares that had lighted our targets so well.

For the dozenth time, I gave silent thanks to the genius who had devised the VT fuse used with our artillery shells on anti-personnel missions. Even gunnery experts have difficulty adjusting time fuses to explode the optimum distance above enemy troops to achieve maximum casualties. The projectile’s time-of-flight had to be calculated as accurately as possible by the FDC, then the time fuse set to this interval minus the precise fraction of a second needed to explode the shell just before impact. Any shifting of fire would minutely change the shell trajectory, causing a burst too high, or in the dirt, and require a new setting.

With six or more cannon blasting away as fast as their crewmen can slam their breeches open and stuff in fresh rounds, a crewman on each gun cutting powder charges, and another setting the timing ring on fuses, it takes skill and cool heads to achieve speed and accuracy. Any error can kill one’s own troops as easily as the enemy’s.

VT stands for Variable Time, that term given it late in WW2 to conceal the nature of the system from the enemy. There was actually a tiny radio transmitter built into each fuse which sent out radar-type signals ahead of the outbound shell. When the signal bounced off the earth and returned to the fuse head at the correct interval, the fuse detonated. Thus the shell exploded at the desired altitude above the enemy without worries about calculations and setting of fuse timing. A very expensive little gadget which has been known to self-detonate while flying through thick clouds, but has saved the lives of thousands of American GIs.

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