Saving a Recon Patrol
That Was Out of Range
By Charles G. White
and Gerald F. Mazur

By Charles G. White:

In 1967 and 1968 one of B Battery's duties was the support of Marine long range reconnaissance patrols. Most of these fire missions for the recon teams were "locator rounds." The patrol would call a fire mission for a particular grid location. After spotting the impact of the round, the patrol then could confirm or plot its own location.

On one occasion we received a frantic call from a patrol who informed us that they were under attack and needed immediate fire. Either they had wondered too far from their assigned location or someone miscalculated their proximity to available fire support when they were inserted for their assignment. As I recall, the calculated range was around 33,500 meters. When we informed them that they were out of our range, they demanded that we fire anyway -- "Maybe it will back them off." We again informed them that at that range we could not assure them of any degree of accuracy, and that they were risking our dropping the round on top of them. They said "It won't make any difference if you don't fire." We fired the round at what we calculated to be our absolute maximum range, and gave them a Splash warning. Several minutes went by, and we heard nothing. We could not get a response on the radio. We concluded that we were unable to reach them, and that they had been overrun. We were greatly relieved when around 30 minutes later, we finally received a response. They informed us that the round had landed almost on top of them, and that because the round had landed so close, the enemy had abandoned the assault. The best part was when they said "Thank's a whole lot."

During contact missions we always kept the gun crews informed of the progress and results of a mission. For one thing we felt that it gave them a greater awareness for the need for absolute accuracy. Secondly, it was a good moral booster to know that they had helped save the lives of U.S. troops.

How were we able to exceed our maximum range? For one thing the weather factors were in our favor that day. Also, it is possible that the patrol may have miscalculated its location. In any event, the patrol was absolutely convinced that we had the most accurate fire power of all.

By Gerald F. Mazur:

I remember a fire mission that was called in to B Battery. Charles White was the FDO at that particular moment and I was the shift leader at that particular moment.

I told the man on the radio (after he gave me his coordinates) that he was a little out of our max range and that he should radio 1st Marine Division to see if there wasn't someone (105 or 155) closer to his position that couldn't help him out. He called back in a few minutes (and he was whispering the whole time) that Divison told him that there was NO ONE within miles that could help him out. I told him to get his head down and we proceeded to fire. He radioed back that the round hit good and the gooks were on the run. He then adjusted us in and we actually came back within operable range. When he told us, we ceased fire. He said that it was getting dark, but we definitely kept them (US troops) alive.

NOTE: Over 33 years after this incident, we talked with Brian M. O'Neill who was the CO of B Battery. He recalled the incident and had more to add. Unknown to us, he had periodic meetings with the Marine recon battalion that we were supporting. He had been prohibited from passing on to us any information that he received at these meetings, except as needed for actual firing. After the incident he met with Marines and learned that several had been injured by our initial round. However, the Marines had no animosity toward us because they said we had saved their lives. The Marines believed that we were the most accurate shooting battery in the country. We always believed that we were very good shooters and very accurate, because we registered our guns separately, and kept and used detailed up-to-date data such as constant revisions for the diminishing muzzle velocity for each gun. However, when firing beyond our maximum range, all of that meant nothing. We suppose that they will never believe that in this instance it was just pure blind luck.