Project Eldest Son – The U.S. Scheme to Sabotage Viet Cong Rifles
illegal armsbooby trapsprojectile weapons with explosive propellantWeapons and Ammunitiontrap gunstrapsU.S. Militarymachine gunsrifles
Project Eldest Son – The U.S. Scheme to Sabotage Charlie’s Rifles. “The objective of the scheme was two fold: to thin the enemy’s ranks while at the same time sapping his confidence in his own equipment.” THE U.S. MILITARY’S Studies and Information Group might sound like a dull Washington policy think thank, but during the Vietnam War, the SOG planned and carried out some of the most daring, not to mention devious, operations of the long and bloody conflict. Case in point: Beginning in 1967, the notorious unconventional warfare unit flooded communist ammo depots throughout Southeast Asia with thousands of sabotaged rifle, machine gun and mortar rounds. Each of the ordinary looking bullets was packed with enough high explosives to destroy any weapon that fired it while also maiming (perhaps even killing) the unlucky shooter. And the charges hidden within spiked mortar shells were so potent they could wipe out an entire gun crew. The objective of the scheme was two fold: To thin the enemy’s ranks while at the same time sapping his confidence in his own equipment. It was a 45-year-old SOG colonel named John Singlaub who first suggested the ploy. The former OSS operative supposedly borrowed the idea from the British army, which had secretly distributed its own exploding .303 Lee Enfield rifle rounds to enemy rebels in Waziristan during the 1930s and even tribal insurgents in Zimbabwe as far back as the 1890s. The American plan, dubbed Project Eldest Son, called for technicians to pry apart thousands of captured AK-47 and 12.7 mm machine gun rounds, as well as 82 mm mortar shells. Once opened, the casings would be filled with a potent explosive that was virtually indistinguishable from conventional gunpowder. The booby trapped munitions were then reassembled and mixed into crates of perfectly good ammo bound for enemy supply depots. Eventually, the SOG manufactured more than 12,000 trick rifle bullets and machine gun rounds along with nearly 2,000 killer mortar shells. Over a two-year period, U.S. special ops teams fanned out across South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia covertly adding ammo crates containing the corrupted rounds into enemy supply caches. Another tactic was to leave full magazines loaded with a single tainted bullet onto battlefields in hopes the ammunition would be recovered and used by North Vietnamese forces or communist guerrillas. At the same time, the SOG spread rumours of Chinese armaments factories producing faulty munitions. According to the stories, the deficient ammo was being knowingly transferred to communist troops in Vietnam by careless and indifferent government officials in Beijing. It was hoped the revelation would lead to a rift between the two communist powers. The U.S. Armed Forces Radio Network, which was monitored by enemy intelligence, added to the narrative by advising GIs to avoid using captured weapons because of the risk posed by defective Chinese bullets. The SOG even went so far as to forge official looking VC and NVA communiqués reporting the hazardous ammunition. The bogus documents were dropped in the field for enemy units to recover and pass along to their superiors. Little data exists as to the success of the operation. Yet Eldest Son had to be abandoned in 1969 when details of it were leaked to the American media. The story didn’t end there however. It’s been reported recently that the Syrian military has launched a similar operation its two-and-a-half year old civil war against anti-government rebels. According to the New York Times, pro-Assad forces have been secretly passing booby-trapped rounds to enemy fighters via illegal arms bazaars across the region. The paper reports that the Syrian army appropriated the idea from the U.S. military, which had reportedly been booby trapping insurgent bullets in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
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Original version: Collection with various creators donated by Bernie Weisz; Archival digital version: SLCC Digital Archives. IN COPYRIGHT.
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