White Phosphorus is one of the more versatile and devastating type of munitions that has even been used in war. It burns hot and bright. Military uses range from the creation of smoke screens and tracer rounds to anti-personnel weapons. Due to the heat it gives off it can burn and ignite cloth, ammunition, fuel. Basically anything that is combustible. Once it starts burning it will continue to burn until it has used up all the air or all the available fuel.
The use of the compound can be traced back to WWI. The picture above was taken in a field hospital during the Vietnam War and shows the effect it can have on the human body. it is deployed through either aircraft bombings or artillery shells. Back in the day those delivery methods were not as accurate as they are now. Sometimes accidents happened, as is the case for the poor soul above.
Once the shell or bomb explodes the burning phosphorous “splashes” causing white-hot pieces of shrapnel to cover the immediate area. The shrapnel then ignites whatever it touches. In this case it ignited the uniform and burned to the skin in a matter of seconds. The most effective way to deal with these kinds of wounds is to remove the burning material from the skin. That usually means removing the skin that it was attached to. Doing so quickly could prevent more serious and life threatening damage. Failing to do so would lead to an agonizing death.
Known by the slang term “Willie Pete” or sometimes just WP, it has been as controversial as it has been effective. Currently the use of the compound in war is heavily regulated by international treaty. And we all know how that usually works out…
The Tet Offensive was a true turning point in the Vietnam War. From a military perspective, the offensive was of limited effectiveness. The US and allied military were able to limit any gains made by the enemy. Politically the effect was devastating. Widespread guerrilla attacks in areas well behind the lines, within pacified areas. Those tied in with a strong and well-organized push by the regular North Vietnamese Army. It seemed to finally cause a light to go on in the heads of the politicians in charge. We would no longer escalate. The main goal from this point on would be to get the United States out of the war.
On the civil front, President Johnson started trying to negotiate peace without preconditions and eventually led to his decision to not run for re-election. When Nixon took over he started the policy of “Vietnamization” an effort to try to train the South Vietnamese to fight the war for themselves. The American people were tired of war, not just the radicalized sections of the population, but everyone.
Militarily we stopped escalating and started focusing on getting more troops home. Vietnamization was to be the method to allow the South to take a more active role in the fighting while allowing America to draw down troops. The goal was to have the US provide ground and air support while having the South take the bulk of the fighting. After a bit, the program was deemed a success and the US left their active role in Vietnam. Not too long after, the South was removed from the map by the Communist North and the Vietnam War was officially over.
OK, I can not say for sure if what we are seeing is an actual USO show. I can tell you it is during the Vietnam War. There was in fact singing and dancing with a lot of people sitting there in a combat zone watching it. BUT we will call it a USO show so we can talk about that for a bit, eh?
The USO, United Service Organization is a non-profit that has been in existence since 1941. Their mission consists of providing services and live entertainment to troops and their families all over the world. In a way, during wartime, it becomes a home away from home for the US soldiers.
Disbanded after WWII it was reconstituted for the Korean War and has been going strong ever since. Regardless of political affiliations millions of people donate and hundreds of performers donate their time for this cause.
Currently, there are over 160 locations in 14 countries around the world and 27 states with over 8 million visitors in 2011.
For the troops in the field visits by some of the top names in Hollywood have always been welcomed. Among the top-tier was Bob Hope, who will always be the face of the program. In more recent times celebrities such as Jay Leno, Bruce Willis, Steve Martin Robin Williams, Gary Sinise, Toby Keith, and many, many more.
It is all about helping the men and women of the armed forces to understand that they are never forgotten and that their sacrifice and the burdens they bear and appreciated. Sometimes live music, warm food, and good company can help to take the sting out of a bad and serious deployment.
In a previous post, we looked at the history of the M60 Patton tank that served the US during the Cold War and beyond. Above is an action shot of an M48 Patton charging off into battle during the Vietnam War.
During the course of the war, there were very few “tank on tank” battles. The tanks served mainly in the role of infantry support. No sight was more welcomed than to see one of these bad boys flying down the road. This variant, used by both the US and South Vietnamese units, provided ample protection for the crew. They were able to win in most engagements against enemy armor. Of course, having the war fought in the jungle and mountains of the region did limit its deployment capabilities.
After the United States pulled out, many of the M48s were turned over to the South Vietnamese. They went to good use in several engagements against their Northern counterparts. However, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Congress began cutting off the military aid to the South and eventually actually passed laws that made the selling of fuel and ammunition to our former allies illegal.
Without that support, the tanks were unable to be put into the field and eventually the South Vietnamese were defeated. A number of the surviving tanks found their way into service with the victors but were soon abandoned in total.
So looking at the picture it is hard to say where that tank was headed, but I for one would not want to be on the other end when it got there.
This picture is from the personal collection of my father, William Hatfield and below is the story that he told me about it. This would have been taken during one of his several tours in Vietnam where he served with the US Navy as a Hospital Corpsman. For those that don’t know the US Marines had no medical corp of its own, so they use Navy Corpsmen as their medics. So my father spent a lot of time in country with the Marines and in the thick of it.
Scattered around the country of Vietnam during our involvement were a number of what were called “Fire Bases“. These bases served as forward positions that were often way out in the boondocks. They served as an extension of the “zone of control” for the US military. They provided the front line troops somewhere to rest. Most importantly they housed much of the heavy artillery that provided support for troops in the field. To the Vietnamese they were huge targets.
Time for a Picture?
The picture above was taken at approximately 2am and captures the opening of an attack on the base by enemy forces. Usually they would start with mortar fire, sometimes heavier ordinance if they had it. Usually once the mortar fire started the enemy positions would be located and devastated with artillery or in most cases troops would be sent to clear out the nests.
Most attacks consisted of the mortars and on occasion enemy troops would try to infiltrate the base. Their goal to kill and destroy as much as possible then disappear in to the night. Sometimes these attacks would occur on subsequent nights. Every now then they would get lucky and a shell would fall on a stash of ammunition or even fuel. When that happened you would end up with an explosion, much like you see above.
And there was William Hatfield, taking time to snap a quick picture before he got to work on the wounded. In the thick of it indeed.
During the Vietnam War, that was the most beautiful thing you can see. Helicopters were the lifeline for the troops out in the bush. They brought you reinforcements, food, water, ammunition, clean socks and eventually they would take you somewhere at least marginally safer than where you were.
The helicopter above is a CH-47 Chinook, a very big brother to the classic Huey that was the face of the war. The CH-47 entered service in 1962 and amazingly are still being produced and are in service today. Sixteen countries have these in their arsenal. Including Iran who purchased a large number from us in the 70’s and still have many in service today.
It can reach a top speed of 196 mph, has a range of 450 miles and can lift approximately 28,000 pounds of cargo, if arranged properly.
Originally used in some of the roles mentioned above supply and troop transport. Eventually it became an invaluable tool for the artillery section. Its enormous lifting capability meant that it could take big guns and there crews up into the mountains faster, easier and safer than transporting them overland. Once established the Chinook could keep the fire bases supplied with massive amounts of ammunition. This allowed them to function for extended periods of time. Having these artillery emplacements in strategic locations were vital to war effort. They could provide support to forces in the field at a much greater capacity.
During the war, nearly 750 of these big birds were in service with almost 200 lost to combat or accidents. Pretty high percentage. I can guarantee you that if you were out in the field and saw one of these flying overhead, your heart skipped a beat.
Colonial Williamsburg is an interesting place. During the day you are treated to a series of events that take you back to the town during the era of the revolution. These events begin at the start of the day and continue to the end. As the day progresses the timeline progresses so that during the course of one visit you can actually see how events changed the people in the town and actually “live” the events as they happened.
To break the fourth wall for a minute I need to say this. I have studied Benedict Arnold and he was a complicated man. He is at the same time our greatest warrior and our basest traitor. I do not condone his actions and prefer to remember him for what he did prior than dwell on what he did after.
After switching sides Arnold was given a general’s commission in the British army. In Late 1780 and into 1781 he was tasked with leading raids through Virginia which led to the capture of Richmond and Williamsburg among other towns.
The picture above, from Colonial Williamsburg is of the event that portrays General Arnold taking control of Williamsburg. The gentleman playing Arnold knew his craft. He portrayed Arnold as an angry, haughty man, one that truly believed he had done the right thing. To the point that he, as Arnold, railed against the American Congress and suggested we should be glad if the British were to win, as they looked to save us from that corrupt body. In his mind he had reasons for what he did, and the actor was brilliant in his role.
It could not or at least should not have been easy. Arnold was a complicated man. Standing in the crowed, watching the event take place brought about the mixture of emotions that can only come from the study of such a complex man. Had he died of his wounds after the battles in Saratoga in October 1777, he would have been our greatest hero, second only to Washington. But his path lay down a darker road.
That is a picture of a picture that was made into a mural on the wall at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan. While this may not fit directly into the Military History theme of the blog, it does fit around the edges.
The race to moon started as far back as the first time that someone looked up and say it hanging in the sky, and wondered “I wonder what’s up there?” Early Science Fiction writers came up with many different scenarios of what is there and how we can find out. It was not until the chaos of WWII that the idea finally looked like it would be a reality.
Above is a V2 from an earlier post. The first guided missile that the Germans used to effect against England. The German engineers that came up with that became one of the great prizes of WWII. The Americans, British and Russians all looked to claim their brains. That race itself has had books written on them, so I won’t go into a lot of detail, to read more about it go here.
And thus the ground work for the Space Race was laid. When the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957 the marathon became a sprint. The desire to reach the moon became a national obsession. President Kennedy made his famous challenge at Rice University in 1962. In the speech he explained why we had to go to the moon.
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
With those words a new gear was reached in the development of the technology that was needed to reach that goal. In 1969 with Apollo 11 we finally reached the moon and a new place in the human epoch.
If this is how your flight ended up, well you have had a bad day. This transport plane was shot down by a surface to air missile as it made its approach to the airfield. Another ghost of the war in Vietnam.
According to the story told by US Navy Corpsman William Hatfield, who took this picture, this was the third plane shot down that week. Unfortunately Hatfield was not able to document where the airfield was before passing. He did recall that when ever planes were coming in there was always a feeling of mixed emotions. Often they would be bringing reinforcements and even supplies, two things that there was never enough of, but there was also a feeling of dread.
No matter how often they patrolled the perimeter or how well the area was “secured” every flight in and out was in danger. “Sometimes we would just watch as the missiles flew up towards the planes, wondering if they would make it or not,” he relayed in a 2012 interview.
“As soon as the missiles were in the air artillery would fire on the position and Marines would be sent. By the time anyone got there was never any sign of the VC (Viet Cong). They sure did have a system figured out.” Hatfield went on. In this case, to the best of his recollections the flight crew did not survive the attack. “It was always tough when is happened like that, as a corpsman I usually had to help with the casualties and recovery. Gunshots, shrapnel, grenades were all things you learned to deal with, but messes like this were just something else.”
Of course being determined to document what he could of his time “in country” once the debris was cleared he took the picture above.
This photo was taken by William Hatfield during one of his three tours in Vietnam. Serving a US Naval Hospital Corpsman he spent most of his time in country serving as a medic attached to various Marine units.
The story behind this photo is one that is both amazing and a little scary. This is how is was related to me:
US forces would use mines to block off certain approaches to villages that were considered “non-pacified”. On occasion once the mines were deployed. The Vietcong would use the villages children at night to go out and move the mines, making it very hard for the US troops coming in the next day. The children became particularly adept at this sort of maneuver.
The next morning as the Marines approached the village they would be meet by the children and in exchange for candy, would show them where the mines had been moved to. This sort of arrangement usually worked out very well.
On the morning that the picture above was taken the same scenario played out, except one of the children did not make it out in time to conduct their business. When you aren’t sure if all the mines are out of the way you tend to be cautions. When you are in a tank, that caution slackens a bit. As expected, the tank found the mine and had a tread blown off, leading to the picture you see where the tank is being towed.
What you don’t see in the picture is that sitting on top of the tank at the time was a young Mr. Hatfield who, along with some squad-mates, decided to take the ride instead of the long walk into the village. When the mine exploded Hatfield and his squad were blown off the tank suffering shrapnel wounds all around.
Being the Corpsman, Hatfield treated the other wounded men before himself and as a result, everyone survived. By the time the other Corpsman had shown up Hatfield was weak from loss of blood, but still had the presence of mind to take the photo above. He was awarded the Purple Heart for this adventure.
People, Places and Things from US Military History