By Don Callison
War Wagon 14
War Wagon 14
Around the beginning of 1971 we were informed that Scouts would no longer be issued fragmentation hand grenades. Rumor had it that that some Scouts who were flying OH-58A Bell Jet Rangers up north were blowing themselves up because the aircraft were to slow to get away from ordinance they had dropped, therefore all Scouts were penalized in the loss of this valuable tool for firepower.
This was about the same time we were notified that the 2.75mm rockets for the Cobras cost $32 each and that we must use discretion when using them too.
Some commanders were quick to point out that dropping explosives wasn't part of the Aeroscout mission which was to "find and fix" the enemy's position. We knew how to find the enemy but most of us wondered how we were going to “fix” Chuck if we couldn't throw grenades, bombs and other exploding goodies on him. Sure, we could have all the concussion grenades we wanted, but we didn't want to give the enemy a concussion, a headache or just a bad booboo. We wanted him dead!
I began experimenting with different types of explosive material that we captured or found lying around airstrips. I was damn lucky I didn't get anything that was boobytrapped. There were a variety of goodies to play with. C4 explosive was really hard to come by. I usually had to rob a claymore mine to get it.
My first attempt at amateur bomb building was to cut the lid out of a soda can, insert a concussion grenade with the spoon on the outside. Then I stuffed the can with C4. I also discovered that 15 rounds of linked M60 machine gun bullets would fit perfectly around the outside of the can. I fitted two rows of bullets around each can with the primers of the rounds centered around the middle of the can. I figured it would be a terrific psychological weapon. We'd blow a guy up, then his buddies would find their pal with ammo brass, and bullets, links and soda can pieces stuck in him. I made several of these bombs; We used one to actually knock down a hootch. My observer carefully rolled it up next to the wall, when it exploded and the whole hut just caved in, fell over and caught fire. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon whose side you were on, no one was home. I stopped carrying this type of bomb because of the danger of one them being struck by enemy or friendly ground fire.
I'd heard the stories of grenades with the pins pulled and put in mayonnaise jars and dropped, and of cans of hydraulic fluid coupled with grenades being used to start fires.
Grenades in jars were out of the question; we were exposed to too much ground fire.
Besides, who wants broken glass all over the battlefield? Someone might cut their foot!
I did get a couple of quarts of hydraulic fluid and used incendiary grenades to set them off. I'd stick a concussion grenade fuse in the incendiary grenade and use “hundred mile an hour tape” to stick it all together. They worked pretty well. I started a really good fire on Lobster Island where I'd reconned for an insertion of ARVNs. Later in the day I was not to politely asked not to use any more of “those Things” because a bunch of the ARVNs got sick from the fumes. I decided to stick to stuff that would just explode.
I think it was Sp4 Scott Giles who was with me when I taped a fragmentation grenade to an 82MM mortar round. Since we didn't know how large of a bursting radius it had, we took it up to 1500 feet over the rice paddies and tossed it. The grenade went off but the mortar round didn’t explode.
One day we were at the airstrip near Cao Lahn when I got into a bunker that was jam packed with a cache of explosives fresh from the bad guys. There was Chi-com, Russian and old US stuff. There were little cans that looked like tuna fish cans. I think they were called “toe poppers”. I used my trusty p38 can opener to open one. It had a bunch of thin plastic, doughnut looking wafers in it with a shotgun shell in the hole and a firing pin against the shell's primer. What a cool booby trap, like a little landmine, just set it up buried, somebody steps on it and whoops, no foot. There were big old Chinese “claymore” type mines but I couldn’t figure out how to safely open them. The best stuff I found that day was labeled "Composition B”. They were OD colored square by rectanglular sticks about seven inches long. On the side of each stick was written, "equal to 2lbs of TNT". Well, I didn't know what 2lbs of TNT was equivalent to so I just taped four sticks together. There was a threaded hole in an end of each stick so I screwed in a pinned fuse from a concussion grenade. Those things were great!
I must pause here to explain how Light Horse Scouts made a grenade attack with an OH6A Loach helicopter. The pilot selects the route and begins the run to arrive at an altitude of three to fifteen above the target. During the run the observer holds the grenade out the left door and pulls the pin. He keeps his M60 machine gun trained on the target during the assault. The pilot might fire a few minigun rounds during the approach to keep heads down. The wingman, called Trail, will also have his gunner’s M60 covering the target from his position to the rear and right of the lead ship, about the length of two rotor disks away. As Lead hovers over the target, the gunner drops the grenade and the pilot makes two audible oral clicking sounds on the radio to let Trail know that a grenade is out and not to get directly behind Lead or overfly the target. The lead ship would accelerate forward for three or four seconds then turn back toward the target at about the time the grenade went off. That way we could be back on top of the bad guys while they might be hopping around doing the chicken or trying to deedee out of the area.
Get the idea? Whenever I dropped a homemade device I would make four or five extra loud clicks on the radio to let Trail know there was something bigger than usual was being dropped so he could swing wider and stay farther awaway. I'd begin my return to target well after the “Whump” of the exploding ordinance to keep us well away from the blast and flying debris. The first Composition B bomb that we dropped completely blew up a very large, above ground bunker. In the twenty foot wide, three feet deep crater we located enough body parts to claim two KBAs (killed by airstrike).
I told my buddy, Morris Clark, War Wagon 10, about the potency of the new bombs and he just had to try one of them. I gave him one with the warning to give himself plenty of distance when they tossed it. He and his gunner, Rene Garneau, took off to work an area.
About thirty minutes later we got word that they were coming back in with battle damage. I watched as they hovered into the lager area. I couldn't believe it, Garneau was leaning way back and slumpped down in his seat in "recliner fashion". He had his feet sticking out of what was left of the windshield, legs crossed over the wind sheild cross bar all nice and comfy. He was extremely happy to be alive.
He and Morris had made a bomb run with the Composition B. Morris had turned back inbound to the target too soon. As they got over the big crater the bomb had made, a huge clod of dirt came down through the rotor system, then through the uppermost part of the windshield and hit Garneau in the head. He thought he was dead. There was still a large clump of mud stuck to his helmet. I wish someone had taken a picture of those guys.
Morris was really impressed with the power of the bomb. We used all the composition B and we got a bunch of KBAs but I never came across that type of explosive again.
In that same cache were a couple of cases of old M26 frag grenades. Not the pineapple type but a newer egg shaped kind. I think some guys called them Lemon frags. I’d thrown them in basic training in 1965. Each grenade had a steel spring wound up inside to provide fragmentary projectiles. The grenades we found were really old. They were getting rusty and the rubber bands holding the spoons were rotten.
My Gunner, Rooster Cogburn and I loaded up a bunch of those old frags for our next mission. We found a big, above ground bunker standing alone in an open field.(No shit, the VC and NVA really built above ground bunkers out in open fields. I guess they had to have some place to go when they were working in the feilds and the Imperialist war mongers came hunting for them.) We decided we’d try out the M26s.
I made the first run. Rooster dropped the frag. I continued past the bunker for the three or four seconds and turned back to the target. We didn’t hear the grenade go off. I lined up on the door again and Rooster tossed in another grenade. The results were the same. We threw four more duds in to the bunker. When bunkers are constructed, a smart builder will dig a deep, small diameter, hole in the floor as a place to kick a grenade that might come rolling through the doorway. Well… We figured that this guy’s “frag pit” must be just about full. I guess the VC in the bunker finally just had enough of this bullshit or maybe he just dug down within himself and found some courage. As I made the seventh grenade run on the bunker the VC soldier stuck the muzzel of his AK47 out of the doorway and let go with what seemed like the whole clip. He literally stitched bullet holes vertically up the center of our nose and windshield. I hollered “TAKING FIRE”! Buck Buchanan, Cobra lead and his wingman rolled inbound. One of the Crusaders actually hit and destroyed the target. One KBA!
Cogburn and I joked and wondered what the poor guy in the bunker must have been going through. First, the sound of the Loach hovering up to the door. Then the grenade bouncing in and him frantically scrambling to kick it in the frag hole. Finally, the thing not exploding only to have the ordeal begin again. We wondered if he stuck his fingers in his ears each time.