THESE AIN'T "GOODY'S POWDERS" !

                            

Turning "lemons" into "lemonade" is really
a lesson in combat survival

The situation at LZ Incoming (see "LZ Incoming" and "LZ Incoming Redux") created more problems than just the NVA wanting us to "die for our country".  We were forced to use our howitzer like mortars, firing many, many missions at low charges.  Firing so many Charge 1 and Charge 2 missions as counter-mortar fire (recalling that there are a total of seven (7) powder charges to each round) resulted in overflowing powder pits. The Chief of Smoke was gravely injured when an enemy mortar ignited one of those overflowing powder pits.  Other powder pits had been hit by mortars, too, but the injuries, other than burns, werenít big problems. Besides, no one wanted to get on a MedEvac.  Every time a MedEvac ~ or any other kind of helicopter ~ approached LZ Incoming, enemy mortars and snipers would crank up, hammering on our hill with increasing ferocity as the helicopter neared.  Consequently, helicopters couldnít land.  They would pass slowly over the chopper pad, a few feet off the ground.  If you wanted off the chopper, you jumped and rolled. If you wanted on the chopper, you ran, jumped and held on for dear life.

The overly rapid accumulation of unused powder bags was creating too many opportunities for casualties where MedEvac might be necessary. This concerned everyone on the hill. The men came up with a couple of innovative and sometimes "fun" solutions.   One was to pile unspent powder around a trip flare on an inner ring of trip flares. That way, if the flare were tripped, the resulting flame would torch anything in the vicinity and probably provide toast for breakfast, too.  The NVA watched us set these up.  To make them even more interesting, the powder pile would also occasionally be wired to a Claymore mine detonator so that, if the spirit moved you, one of the guys on the perimeter could create an firestorm "event" just to be unpredictable.  Unpredictability is good!   Not sure the NVA would agree with that, though.

With the partially destroyed guns, we had other opportunities to get rid of the powder.  If, for example, you put the shell casing in the howitzer full of powder charges, and then jam the rest of the barrel full of powder bag charges, too, youíve got yourself one HELL of a flamethrower!  At night, with the barrel hanging over the perimeter wire, it was an awesome sight!  A 40 ft tongue of white hot flame, laced with red sparks from powder that was still igniting. I think Buddha made a few converts every time we'd set one off.

Unfortunately, this neat little trick can also melt your friend, Mr. Barbed Wire.  The wire just sags right to the ground.  And you go completely "night blind" for a while if you are not ready for one of these babies when it fires.  And the heat!  Even from behind the gun shield, it takes your breath away.  The grunts, after the demo, began avoiding us, I think. They found reasons to stop wandering through the battery area.  I suspect that they thought we were crazy.  They might have been right.

Nonetheless, I really wanted to use this to deal with a ground assault.  After all, the really bad ground assault came right through those two gun positions.  We demonstrated the howitzers in "flamethrower mode" one night. After that, we didnít have any probes or attacks of any sort on that side of the perimeter.  The NVA could not have been any more awed than we were with this newest toy. 

After my bunker escape adventure, a number of the men were feeling even more worried about mortar attacks.  After all, if the ammo bunker blowing up from a mortar attack nearly got me [and my "gallant" BC], were they not also vulnerable, too?

I seem to recall that we had discussions after the exploding ammo bunker depleted all of the rounds. The discussions all concerned white phosphorus rounds. For some reason, there were no Willie Pete or WP [white phosphorus] rounds in the two destroyed positions.  But we had slightly more than 150 in the remaining ammo bunkers.  If one exploded on our little hill, the blast radius would cover nearly the entire area of the battery and some of the infantry area, too. We had 150 or more. The men were worried.

Shipping than elsewhere was not an option. That would require stacking them in an ammo net and having a slow-moving Chinook helicopter hover over the ammo loaded into the net.  If we stacked the ammo outside the battery area, it might get hit by mortar or sniper fire.  If we stacked it inside the battery, the enemy would be trying to shoot down the Chinook right on top of us.  If they succeeded in killing that big chopper and it crashed on top of us, it would be even more spectacular than having the WP explode!  But, the WP blowing up would still happen. Willie Pete burns flesh and you canít stop it unless you either dig it out of the hole it is creating in your flesh or immerse the afflicted part under water.  It is a wonderful terror weapon.  If white phosphorous has been fired into an area, you donít want to go there for a while.  In a way, itís as terrifying as napalm, but lasts longer. And, you can fire it from artillery. 

We had to fire it. That was the safest thing to do. Since we were in the middle of a target rich environment (with us being the targets),  some of the men wanted to use it for counter mortar fire and they also wanted to start using it for harassing and interdicting fire (H&I's) in our immediate vicinity.  The suggestions sounded good to me.

We began creating end executing our own fire missions ~ pick a good spot for mortars and, in the middle of the night when their "shift" was probably changing, lob WP rounds on top of themÖ..with time fuses so that the airbursts would scatter the WP as far as possible.  On two occasions, we got secondary explosions.  The guys who picked the coordinates for those targets won the contest those nights.

On my own, I probably would never have thought of the innovative things the men offered.  But the ideas completely changed the dynamics of the battery on that little hill.  We felt trapped in the first week or so when we were there; the enemy would accept horrible losses to overrun us Ė and they almost succeeded. The things we did to strike back, however, like "trip flares with a bonus", the "Claymore Surprise", the WP attacks and "Buddha's giant flamethrower", gave us the confidence that we would hang on to that piece of terrain and inflict terrible losses on the enemy.  And we did.  Eventually, we could even land helicopters there.  We were back in control.

Someone got an American flag in the mail. One of the guys chopped down a tall, skinny tree from the surrounding jungle and we few our flag.  I remember looking up at it one day waving in the breeze - when we were back in control of this area and thinking how incredibly proud I was of my battery Ö.. and my menÖ..and the country that produced them. We had withstood the test of fire against overwhelming odds. We were good; we were Americans; we were soldiers!

Lt Bert Landau

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