Diary 19-25 June 1968
19 June: 1.5 + 1.0 end 5th week [Field strength] 589. 8171 [marginal note the meaning of which is unknown to me] Quiet nite [this is the first occurrence of this notation which appears in almost every subsequent entry except where the entry is Unquiet nite.] air mobile 2 Co's to W & S of swamp [not otherwise located]. Found documents and 10 RPG 7. Scattered night sightings. C Co. became night Company [do not remember the meaning of this remark]. Repaired Flame Service Unit (FSU) charged 1 FT [flame track] Rec'd ltr & tape ML, ltr Vic. Wrote ML.
The HHC Flame Platoon was composed of 4 older model gasoline-driven M113 flame tracks whose cargo compartment was filled with a complicated, Rube Goldberg-like flame throwing system. The FSU was a truck-mounted compressor and pumping unit that were used to refill the flame track's tanks with napalm and compressed gas. A flame stream was produced by ignition of napalm as it was propelled through a gun-barrel-like device by high-pressure gas. The stream could shoot about 40 yards. Built for European battlefield use, the Army sent them to RVN in the belief they would be useful in incinerating NVA in bunkers. In practice, they were mechanically unreliable and usually unavailable on the battlefield when needed. During May-Nov 1968, I never had a combat opportunity to use them. They were tested occasionally during "mad minute" weapon firing at FSB Rawlins III. They were awesome.
Butch Sincock was an A Co. Platoon Leader during the Battle Xom Binh Dong west of Saigon on 26-27 May 1968 (refer to diary entry for battle details). His 14 June 2004 message reports his remembrance of a combat use of the Flame Platoon, which I have obviously forgotten.
"They were employed in combat during our late-May '68 battle just west of Saigon. The two flame tracks were facing west on the perimeter. Just after dawn on the 27th when the second wave of attacks began, the concentration of NVA was to our south. The two flame tracks moved from their positions to a spot on the south of the perimeter. I don't know who called for them, but presume it was someone at Bn. level.
When they pulled up to the perimeter the soldiers moved away to either side. No one wanted to be next to one of those things if they took an RPG! The flame drivers came to a stop, locked the brakes, put the engine in neutral and cranked the engine up so high that sparks were coming out of the engine exhaust. I think that was to build up compression in the tanks (2 as I recall).
I recall vividly at least one of the flame tracks cut loose with a stream of flame at a squad (10 +/-) of VC/NVA behind a paddy dike not far away. When we finally surveyed the battlefield the next day we found that the flame track had completely neutralized that enemy squad, decapitating one or more of them with the flame stream. It was pretty gristly. The guys referred to them as "crispy critters." So, I can testify that they were certainly effective in that combat situation, although I shared the reluctance of the troops to get anywhere near them in a firefight."
This is the way the Flame Platoon Leader, Gary Bennett, remembers the equipment and the combat action described above by Butch:
"The Flame tracks had two spheres of approximately 200 gals. These held 200 gals. of napalm and 200 gals. of compressed air. As soon as the system was charged, the track was a rolling bomb and we wanted to discharge that puppy as soon as possible. The igniters were very iffy and the TC usually carried a cigarette lighter and a can of lighter fluid to fire off the load coming out of the nozzle.
One of the reasons I didn't like to deploy them was as soon as the flame shot out, everyone stopped shooting to watch the fire. It was very important to maintain suppressing fire, that is why there was a machine gunner assigned to the track along with the coax. The coax was temperamental and often jammed.
We did get the word from Battalion to attack. We had two tracks at this event. It was my understanding that the other two were north in War Zone II with a Cav unit the flame did stop the attack cold. It actual fused an RPG launcher to the shoulder of a VC.
The flame members carried a Chemical Corps MOS. I figured this was a war crimes assignment. The tracks were affectionately known as "Zippos". The support truck was always getting stuck in the mud. It had a large air compressor and a mixer that used MOGAS and coconut extract to make the napalm."
From Flame Platoon leader, Bob Renneisen, 1969-70:
"The flame stream could be fired on and off through a "gun tube" like affair that projected over the track driver's right shoulder. The flame was ignited by a "glow- plug" igniter, which seldom worked. For this reason, Flame track drivers carried straightened-out coat hangers with a diesel soaked rag on the end. If the igniter didn't work (usually), the driver would use a Zippo to light the rag and hold it in front of the tube when they fired the thing off—kind of like spraying Right-Guard through a match flame—really high-tech.
We used the flame tracks weekly at Rawlins to burn the trash, at which they did quite well. Otherwise we employed them as part of the perimeter defense at Rawlins with machine guns (M-60) mounted and use of the flame capability was part of the overall perimeter defense strategy in the event the FSB got hit."
From Doug Conn, Recon Plt Sgt, 1969-70:
As far as I can remember they could be lit and relit a small flame on the front of the tube stayed lit. We took them out to the crescent [nickname for a part of the TAOR which resembled a crescent as it followed a wide curve to the east of the Saigon River] in the dry season to burn up some heavy jungle with huge anthills and bunkers inside. Pictures of this are in my photo album. If you see a picture of Flame you will notice no other tracks around. We sure didn't like being close to them. If chuck [derisive nickname for Charlie, nickname for Viet Cong] got mad he would aim for them first. I know they were inoperable much of the time. They were stationed at Rawlins on the right side going in. They did have the mixing truck with them all the time. It was on a deuce and a half 6X6 truck"
20 June: [Field strength] 591 Quiet nite - A Co. RIF along streamline, move by vehicle. Neg find. B Co plat AM [air mobile] in 1500 to swamp site. Clothes and documents. Extremely heavy wind & rainstorm. 45 mph winds. No mail - wrote ML.
[Here follows a list of what appear to be unrelated items; perhaps they came from a BDE CO meeting.]
1. VCI of vehicles - should be no problem (what is problem)
2. Turn-in of radar sets & pick up there of.
3. BG Preer, new ADC [Support] vice Gleason. Visit 3 BDE [on the] 24th.
4. Fuel cell problem.
5. S5 work.
21 June: 3/4 [Field strength] 620 Quiet nite - 3 rockets launched N of B Co. psn outside AO, impact BN. A, B, C Co's all saw & reported. A Co. RIF'd - neg. results. Heavy, brief rain. Went to PX. No mail.
22 June: [Field strength] 613 Quiet nite - B & C Co's patrols spotted .51 cal mg fire at chopper. Arty & mortars fired. Gun ships attacked - unk results. A Co. made mtd/dismtd RIF on portion of streambed. Found 1 Chinese claymore, 6 Rifle grenades, 13 Booby trap grenades. 1 VC w/ hand grenade escaped. Called in arty. Crusaders gave me a helmet [Crusader was radio call sign and nickname of a supporting helicopter company. They actually lent me an aircrew member's helmet with integrated earphones and microphone so that I could communicate with the pilot during AM operations.] Heavy & prolong rain. Rec'd 2 letters & 1 tape ML, Father's Day P [Present]. [the following appear to be notes to myself to take action about personnel matters.] VD, Pot, Passes to Town, Liquor, Co. XO for HQ.
23 June: 1.0 + 2.5. [Field strength] 599 Unquiet nite - B Co. observed personnel digging in two locations - fired mortars. C Co. observed personnel. Radar sighted personnel & fired arty VT. No attack. A Co. RIF'd in river tree line. 2 wounded by booby-trapped grenades. Light rain. VD as of today A-3, B-0, C-13, H-8= 24. No mail.
24 June: 1.0 + 1.5. [Field strength] 597 Quiet nite - B & C Co's patrols almost met, out posted village Ap Go, airmobiled at 0630. Sealed & searched. Found 2 VCI, 1 M16, 7 draft dodgers. Out 1420. Moved B Co. Heavy rain. Rec'd ltr. ML, Pop. Wrote ML.
25 June: 1.0. 47th malaria pill. A Co. left 0500 partially sealed Xom Go May village. Worked with PF. Neg. results. A Co. Policed & dug drainage ditches. 1 load crushed rock arrived. No rain. Sent ML tape, Vic letter, Pop a tape. [More notes to myself] Claymores in, Police, Drainage - gravel, grappling hooks. 1 load gravel.
Illegitimi nil carborundum