The 105 Howitzer

Artillery Training

Near the end of our time at Camp Matthews we assembled in an outdoor arena and were given some forms to fill out – questionnaires about our preferences for the further career in the service.  I put down that I would like to be a tail gunner in a fighter plane or a dive-bomber.  I’m looking back and I’m glad that didn’t come through.  My second choice was artillery and some days later, after we got back to the recruit depot, I found out that indeed I was assigned to the artillery.

During our last day or two at the recruit depot was the graduation ceremony.   It was typical of the Saturday morning inspection; we were all dressed in our greens and had our rifles and looked pretty good.  Generally a lot of awards were given out for best squad leader, etc.  I got none of those, but I was just glad to graduate.  We were now full-fledged Marines and could go around the recruit depot for another day or two and do many of the things that we were forbidden to do, like buying things that we needed at the PX.  Also the slop shoot was open to us, which was the drinking pub on the depot grounds and we could go in there and drink beer. That was our primary entertainment.

On another day we got a leave just for the day, so Kurowski, Beagel and I went out on the bus and we found out what San Diego was all about. It was not the city you see today; but much smaller and overwhelming with servicemen of all kinds, mostly Marines and Navy personnel.  We would go into the USO, which was located in the old YMCA building.  It was pleasant enough to pass a little time.  There were hostesses who would come around with coffee and donuts.   Places to sit and write, telephones and occasionally shows you could see.

The other spots were very orientated to military personnel with souvenir shops, and all sorts of gaudy storefronts where you could buy most anything.  There were two or three burlesque houses and we did go into one or two of those.   They were entertaining because they were different. I had never been in a burlesque house and it was fun to see the action on the stage. By today’s standards you could say it was family style entertainment.  The comedian would get up and tell a few racy jokes and there were always the chorus girls who would come on stage; they were all very nice and they looked good to us.

I believe it was about the middle or latter part of October that we went to Camp Elliot, the artillery and infantry training school.   It may be that it was a part of what was later to become Camp Pendleton.  We were assigned to two-story barracks, which were very new and decent, they had two tiered bunks and everything was ship-shape.  We had inspection again every Saturday and our bunks had to be just so.

Soon we were told that we were on alert. Later in the evening when we first got there we were issued ammunition and were told to be ready to go at a moments notice. The word was that they were afraid of a Japanese invasion of the California coast—this proved to be untrue of course.  Later it did come out that a Japanese submarine had come off shore somewhere in Northern California and had thrown a couple of shells into the coast line.

The training at Camp Elliot as far as Beagle and I were concerned was training on 105mm Howitzer, 75 mm pack Howitzer and we were shown the rudiments of the French 75 mm cannon that the French had used in WW I.  We were also given some rudimentary training on the 155 Howitzer.  These were the biggest guns the Marine Corp had for division use.

The 75mm pack Howitzer was called a Pack Howitzer because it could be disassembled, reliable, and could be carried up into the mountains on mules, then reassembled and fired from almost anywhere.  The 105 mm Howitzer had a 4.25 inch bore, split trails and was pulled by a truck or a tractor.  The projectile weighed 33 pounds and the shell casing, which you took off of the projectile, contained seven powder bags.  The bags were silk and they were all tied together with string; in order to fire a certain distance, by command we would take off one, two, three, or however many of the powder bags were required for the distance desired and snapped them off, putting the shell casing back on the projectile. The amount of powder inside that shell casing would determine how far that projectile would go.

The three main operators of the 105 were the gunner, who regulated the lateral aiming of the Howitzer.  The number one man who regulated the elevation of the angle upward or downward of the Howitzer and the loader who put the projectile into the breechblock.  Probably five or six other people took care of handling ammunition, opening crates for ammo, getting rid of the powder bags. During the next several weeks we trained on that particular Howitzer most often and were trained in the various positions; we did fire once or twice on the firing range.

Evenings were pretty much on our own.  Sometimes there was a show on the Base or we could go to the pub on the Base or do much of whatever we wanted, read or write letters home.  It was a Camp routine at that particular time. We did get one or two leaves to go into San Diego. The way to get into San Diego was to go through the front gate.  Getting sized up by the MP’s to see that everything was shiny, if it was you boarded a bus and went into San Diego.  That trip took a while, probably an hour the way I remembered it.

You could board the bus back from the USO at the YMCA and come back to camp.  When we disembarked from the buses, late in the evening or even in the morning the MP’s were waiting and you were inspected to see that you weren’t carrying anything into the camp.

Because Christmas was approaching I thought about my parents. We were given a three-day leave – not enough to get to Chicago and back – so I wrote a letter to my parents, and scouted around for gifts.  I bought several gifts with the little money I had, got my picture taken and framed and bought my mother a gold-filled necklace.  Not much.  When I got back home she still had it and seemed to like it though it was beginning to tarnish a bit.  I suppose it was a nice token to give her and she seemed to appreciated her gift.