November 21, 1966
Da Nang, South Viet Nam--Not only is this war being fought under some most unusual ground rules, the weapons and tactics used by both sides, in what amounts to a guerrilla war, are different and deadly.
Some of the weapons include spider traps, peanut butter jars, beer cans, punji sticks, claymore mines, dud howitzer shells, barbed wire wrapped with detonating wire, trick hand grenades, and planned entrapments. Some of the weapons are used exclusively by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, but, gradually, both sides turn to using a good thing.
Spider traps are a favorite weapon of the Viet Cong. The trap consists of a series of holes over which camouflage is thrown. The VC place these traps, with an armed man inside each one, along routes which may be used frequently by American or South Vietnamese troops.
When the VC hear the Americans or South Vietnamese approaching, they crouch low in their holes and wait for the patrol to pass. After they pass, the VC toss off the camouflage cover and begin hurling grenades and firing automatic weapons from the ambush.
So dense is the foliage in most areas that the VC usually manage to escape into the jungle without casualties.
A peanut butter jar is quite a weapon when it is coupled with a hand grenade and a crafty American pilot in an artillery spotter plane. These pilots, flying in small aircraft, constantly try to spot Viet Cong movements from the air while flying at low altitudes. Their planes are armed only with smoke rockets to mark enemy positions and bring in air strikes or artillery.
Many of the pilots, tired of serving only as bird dogs, began saving peanut butter jars. In them they put a grenade from which the pin had been pulled. The sides of the jars prevent the detonating lever on the grenade from releasing.
The pilots take several of these little goodies with them on their missions. When they spot VC movements, they dutifully fire a smoke rocket, report the positions, and drop a few peanut butter jars. Impact shatters the jars and the explosions create quite a sting for the VC.
Beer cans are used by the VC in much the same fashion. A grenade is placed in a can with the pin pulled and a string is attached to the grenade. The string is stretched across a path. When the string is yanked, the grenade is pulled out of the can and explodes.
The beer can trick is used frequently by VC terrorists in conjunction with claymore mines in activities in the cities and hamlets.
Punji sticks and traps are now being used by both the American and VC forces. Punji sticks, sharp bamboo shafts, with the tips of each coated with poison made from dung, are placed in deep camouflaged holes. The traps also employ sharpened shafts of bamboo, which are driven through heavy boards. The traps are so constructed that when the trip wire is released, they spring out to strike and injure or kill those in their path. VC frequently place the punji sticks and traps along trails known to be used by American Forces.
American troops employ claymore mines, a directional weapon, in the defense of their lines. The VC also use claymore mines which are more primitive but just as deadly.
The VC claymore consists of a large metal dish. On the dish they place bits of chain, metal fragments, glass, bits of wire, or anything which could cause serious injury. Beneath the dish, several pounds of plastic explosives are placed, along with a detonator. The mine can be hidden under a straw hat, a wicker basket, or brush, and can be detonated by a trip wire, or by an individual, working from a safe distance.
A usual tactic, before the detonation of a claymore by the VC, is to start a fire fight a short distance from the spot where the mine is hidden. The shots draw people to the vicinity, and in towns, may draw the curious to the windows of their apartments.
After a crowd has gathered the mine is detonated.
"We have to chop up our old flashlight and radio batteries," one military source said. "We've found out the VC can get enough voltage out of them to set off a claymore."
The American claymore mine is highly refined but no more deadly than the VC weapon. An American claymore is contained in a plastic box, about the size of a two pound box of candy. It is filled with plastic explosive and hundreds of steel balls.
In the past, the VC have crept into our positions and turned the mines around. Then the VC have fired several shots and anxious perimeter guards have detonated the mines, resulting in self-inflicted casualties. It didn't take the Americans long to learn the trick. Our mines are now made so it is impossible for the enemy to tell the front from the back of a claymore. They learned about the changes the hard way.
Dud howitzer shells, fired at the VC by our artillery, sometimes are returned to our troops in the form of booby traps. The duds are recovered by the VC and are placed in trees or hidden in houses, and are detonated with a small battery.
One of the American weapons which has proven quite deadly is the intertwining of detonator cord with barbed wire which surrounds the perimeters of our static defenses. In the event of a VC attack, the cord is ignited. It burns at the rate of 23,000 feet per second, and hurls fragments of the barbed wire at the enemy.
Another American tactic in use is that of a unit permitting itself to be surrounded. A unit will move into an area and dig two sets of trenches. They occupy the outer defense only until an attack occurs. Then, they fall back to the inner circle of defenses and blow up the outer holes and trenches with mines they've planted.
In conjunction with the plan, the U.S. forces also call in artillery, air strikes, and reinforcements to mop up the VC drawn into the trap.