It's late and I'm tired - long evening with the kidlets at our company Christmas do - but Jim from Ranger Against War left a comment on the last post that reminded me of this tale from my misspent youth I just had to tell.
Back in the 90's I was working as an 81mm mortar platoon fire direction chief; we were live firing on the range at Ft. Lewis, Washington.We had been firing all day shooting our METL* missions and now night was falling. We fired several rounds to adjust in the forward observers (referred to as "The Hill"), when I walked the line of steel to check on the round count. At this point the platoon sergeant informed me that the ammo point had issued us a lot of defective ammunition - a bunch of mortar ammo had been sent to Saudi in '91, sat around the desert getting too hot, too cold and generally fucked up, and then returned to CONUS - and as a result we had no high explosive (HE) rounds to shoot. All we had on the firing point were illumination ("'lume" or ILL) and white phosphorus ("Willie Pete" or WP).
(Despite the nonsense you may have heard, WP is NOT a "chemical weapon". It burns hella hot and can be used as an indecendiary, and it puts out a thick, white smoke and is commonly used as an "obscurant", to blind an enemy or hide your own troops, i.e. a "smoke screen").
I called my battalion to check and see if they wanted us to cease firing. Nope. We were supposed to fire a night mission - a "coordinated illumination", where we adjusted the 'lume rounds so that the flares would light up an area, and then, while one gun continued to fire 'lume rounds, the remainder of the platoon would plaster the now-supposedly lighted-up bad guys with high explosive.
Except, of course, we HAD no high explosive. So, by God, we would shoot the mission using phosphorus rounds instead of HE.
So I called up to the Hill.
(Me) "You, this is me, be advised, HE withdrawn, stand by to observe coordinated illumination with Whiskey Papa** in effect***, over."
(The Hill) "Me, this is you. Do I copy that you will fire WP, I say again, Whiskey Papa in effect, over?"
(Me) "You, me, that is correct, over."
(The Hill) "Me, you, let me be sure I understand this correctly: you wish to both illuminate and obscure the target, over?"(Me) "You, me, that is correct, over."
(The Hill) "Me, you, roger, we will continue to illuminate until the target is totally obscured, over."
(Me) "Roger, out."
I have to tell you: unless you've seen it, the white phosphorus clouds under the hard light of the flares are like nothing else extant. They may possibly be one of the most unearthly and beautiful things created by man. The billows of perfectly white smoke bubble, roil and twist under the light, and are, in turn, lit from within by a million tiny stars of burning phosphorus.
Anyway, for his wit and good humor, I bought that observer his every round at the NCO Club the following evening.
I'd almost forgotten that story. Glad I got to tell it to you. G'night, y'all.
*METL: Mission Essential Task List - the stuff the Army and your higher believes you gotta know and do right to win in battle.
**Whiskey Papa: phonetic spelling of the letters "WP"
***"in effect": When you are moving the fall of the mortar or artillery round so as to hit your target - usually done with one gun - you are "adjusting". When you get on target you fire the entire battery, section, platoon, or battalion in order to spoil your arget's entire day. This is called "fire for effect" or just "in effect".