Friday, October 6, 2023

75mm Recoilless Rifle, a weapon of past wars

Another story from my father-in-law about his time in Korea. Keep ’em coming, says I. all in his own words. My notes are in italic.


 The recoilless rifle works by allowing the blast gasses to escape out the rear to offset the kick when it is fired. When fired, the back blast can be deadly. The gunner sat on the left with the telescopic sight. The loading crew of two or three sat on the right of the barrel. The barrel was normally a four-man carry. It sat on a .30 Cal. heavy machine gun tripod. The gun was developed at the end of WWII and used extensively during the Korean War. The weapons platoon of the rifle companies had them in 57mm. My Battalion Heavy Weapons Company had the 75mm. as I was leaving Korea these were replaced with 105mm guns, jeep mounted. The recoilless rifle was a high velocity, low trajectory, direct or indirect fire type of artillery piece.


It had three shells:

HE (High Explosive) with a fuse that could be set at “Super Quick”, or “Delay”. With Delay it could penetrate a bunker and explode inside. A good gunner could skip a round off the frozen ground and get an air burst on the reverse slope of a hill or a detonation back in a cave. We used this shell most of the time.


HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) that used a shaped charge designed to penetrate armor at close range. The round was not very effective against the Russian T-34 medium tanks being supplied to North Korea and China.


WP (White Phosphorous) used to mark distant shell hits while other artillery shells were landing in the same vicinity. The gunner could find his splash and adjust his aim from there to his target. A good gunner could be on target with two or three rounds. It was also used on concentrated troops and to set targets on fire.


The 21.8 pound HE projectile had a max range of 7,000 yards, nearly 4 miles but the effective range was about 2 miles especially in high Korean cross winds.


We also had prearranged concentrations so our infantry patrols could call in our fire support at night if needed. More often they called for the 105mm and 155mm howitzers a mile behind the front line which could fire barrages.


This type of weapon served its purpose in trench fighting like during the Korean War while I was there. As you know it has since been made obsolete by guided tank and artillery shells. It can now be seen only in military museums.


Note: I was surprised to find the HEAT round had trouble with the T-34. I knew that the 2.36” bazooka issued to our infantry at the start of the war couldn’t penetrate the front glacis armor of the T-34/85 (or the Chinese copy, the Type 85). Later the “super Bazooka”, 3.5” was issued and that could defeat the T-34 armor.

Quatre Bras game test (Bloody Big Battles)

 Monday, I ran a first solo test of my Quatre Bras scenario for Bloody Big Battles, intended to be a moderate size game. Units are mostly divisions with a few large divisions broken into brigades. The scale is each base represents 1,000 infantry, 500 cavalry or 24 guns. All the Anglo-Dutch artillery units are half-strength, as are a couple French ones. The opening deployment is seen below.

As soon as the game started, I realized that Grand Pierrepont (off-photo to the left) and Piraumont should not be objectives while Bois de Bossu needed one. I also need to simplify my casualty objectives. The only Napoleonic variant rule used was the K modifier for heavy and Guard cavalry. There are a couple scenario special rules, like leaders becoming hors de combat. I am considering one more period variant: cavalry disrupted by fire should retire 9”. These chaps didn’t routinely fight dismounted.


Yellow discs show disrupted units. The large polyhedral die indicates what turn is being played. The French moved first and found Perponcher’s division a tough nut to crack. 

Perponcher’s artillery escaped, better than they fared in the actual battle. Picton’s division of Peninsular veterans proved quite impressive. Their devastating musketry decimated the French, though the division rolled poorly in 2 assaults and was stopped by artillery in the last.


I counted Bachelu’s veteran division as spent too soon. They might have got a hit on Picton.


Guiton charged again but Piquet failed to join.

At the end of the game, the French held the Bois de Bossu and Gemioncourt, better than Ney managed in the real battle. But French losses were much heavier than the real battle. Allied losses = 1 cavalry, 4 infantry (2 Brit, 1 DB, 1 Nassau). French losses = 3 cavalry knocked out (1 guard, 2 Pire) and 3 ran off (guard, Pire’s other 2), 4 infantry KO ’ed (3 Bachelu, 1 Foy), 2 ran off. The game lasted 150 minutes, slightly over 20 minutes per turn.


In my rush to stage the test, both sides had some poor tactics. The Anglo-Dutch formed a grand battery of ~48 guns that was masked by Picton, never fired a shot. Pire’s French light cavalry was destroyed, as were the precious Guard Chasseurs. The Cuirassiers fought well and survived. All in all, French tactics were poor.


I’m about to set out on our first trip across the pond since the plague, and will be heading for Maine after our return, so the scenario is unlikely to be tested again this year. The order of battle seems OK, but other things need to be changed.


I had Jerome enter a turn earlier since I figured the time he got into the fight counts. I think Cooke’s Guard division should also come on a turn earlier. They did clear the Bois de Bossu in time to exit the south side and get into trouble from French cavalry. In this game they barely had time to fire into the woods.