Thousands of chemical mortar rounds in Colorado are on the brink of destruction, nearly a century after an Army colonel revolutionized the way they would be used to defend troops on the battlefield. While never used, the capability to retaliate with chemical weapons was viewed as an effective deterrent for decades.
Col. Lewis McBride is recognized as an instrumental figure in the refinement of the 4.2-inch mortar, according to Kip Lindberg, curator of collections at the U.S. Army Chemical Corps Museum, Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri.
In 1924, then-Capt. McBride was tasked with redesigning and improving the 4-inch Stokes mortar, a short-range weapon able to fire chemical-filled shells at ranges up to 1,000 yards. But the smoothbore-barrel and cylindrical-shaped projectiles limited the firing range and accuracy of the mortar. Lindberg wrote that not only did McBride successfully increase the range and accuracy of the mortar by devising a process to rifle the mortar tube, he tripled its range and operational flexibility.
With expertise in chemical and electrical devices, McBride later became an instructor at the Chemical Warfare School which was then located at Edgewood Arsenal, now part of Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland.
Lindberg noted that McBride was awarded numerous patents over the years and developed delivery systems for riot control products, assisting police departments with combating organized crime in the 1920s and 30s.
McBride, who passed away in 1956 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, is recognized at APG for his contributions to the U.S. Army, in particular for his work on the 4.2-inch mortar.
The APG South parade ground, McBride Field, is named in his honor and hosts a plaque commemorating his achievements. A short distance from McBride Field, the Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives headquarters team is working alongside numerous Army and industry partners toward the safe elimination of the remaining chemical munitions in the Army’s inventory.
The chemical weapons stockpile in Colorado contains more than 97,000 4.2-inch mustard agent-filled mortar rounds, which are currently being reconfigured prior to destruction at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant on the Pueblo Chemical Depot. Reconfiguration involves removing the rounds from wooden boxes and fiberboard tubes, as well as removing propellant wafers, striker nuts, ignitor cartridges and the rear assembly. Once reconfigured, the munitions are returned to storage to await destruction, scheduled to be complete by 2023.