During the Vietnam War, most of the operation US soldiers conducted against Vietcong guerrilla in North Vietnam took place deep in the jungles as part of the South Vietnam pacification program. General William Westmoreland commander of the US army during the Vietnam War, applied the search and destroy tactic. The tactic includes expedition patrols deep in the Vietcong insurgent’s territory with the aim to find and eliminate their strong points.
For the Americans and their allies, this mission was highly dangerous as well as patrolling far away from their bases caused soldiers exposed to ambushes from the enemy army. These enemy bases were well hidden and much better designed to fight in the harsh environment of the jungle. However, the most terrifying threat to the US Army and their allies patrolling soldiers were boobie traps.
What is the Booby trap?
Booby traps were one of the most notorious weapons of the Vietnam War. But booby trap origin was ancient and used by our ancestors. They became an integral part of the war strategy of the Viet Cong (South Vietnamese Army) and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Boobie traps were used so often that they served as both defensive and offensive weapons during the war. Viet Cong and NVA soldiers became highly experienced in making a deadly device that was responsible for the death of a great number of American soldiers.
How Booby trap works?
Viet cong Booby traps were highly effective, although they were primitive and made using widely available materials such as bamboo, iron, mud, and coconuts. These devices were used to delay and disrupt the American forces and their allies. The threat of boobie traps was often enough to slow any advanced artillery too. During shifting resources towards barrack and clearance operations, booby traps inflict causalities. When properly camouflaged, they were very difficult to detect, especially for soldiers exhausted by long and enduring patrols.
Additionally, boobie traps were often covered by snipers to trigger an ambush. Apart from being highly dangerous, ancient booby traps were also used to spread fear psychologically among the enemy. The fear of the Viet cong booby traps was so strong that field units were under constant stress, which created severe mental pressure on both officers and soldiers.
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Types of Booby traps
Punji trap was one of the famous traps used in Vietnam war. Punji traps were long bamboo nails or sharpened steel rods hammered through bamboo and wood. These spiked blocks were hammered to the bottom of a wooden box, which was then dug into a shallow hole or paddy fields. At the top of the wooden box was covered with a thin frame of grass, crops, leaves, and mud to camouflage. Once a soldier on patrol stepped on it, his leg would fall into the spikes, and it was quite impossible to remove a trapped leg or legs without severe damage.
Spikes were often coated with animal’s poisonous urine or natural poison to cause an infection to the victims’ wound. Small punji traps had sides around 16 inches wide and were 23 inches deep. There was a large version of this punji sticks trap. A trap hole needs to dig for the punji sticks. This huge hole was filled with sharpened bamboo sticks pointing in various directions. The top frame also covered with bamboo camouflaged with mud and leaves and fastened around an axle.
If a soldier stepped on it, he would fall into the pit, and the top cover would turn on the axle to its previous position covering the trap and waiting for a new victim to fall in during the crease fire.
Insurgents often lock the cover with a bamboo cross beam. This was the most basic design for punji stick traps. Punji traps were laid wherever the enemy was likely to land with some force such as stream bank, helicopter pad, or where they would take cover to escape gunfire such as behind logs or long grass.
Mace traps were different than other traps. Instead of falling down directly from above, the mace trap would swing down, taking out everyone in its way. The mace was made in various forms. It could be made as a concrete ball, a spiked mud ball, a wooden box, or most often a spiked log.
Mace traps were usually very heavy, and a large number of spikes were welded into it. It was tied in a tree on the end of a rope or cable and attached to a tripwire on the enemy pathway. Mace traps functioned as a pendulum destroy the victims. It usually struck a large number of soldiers at once. Mace trap was one of the most frequent and most fearsome of all booby traps in the Vietnam War.
Spike board consisted of a treadle board with one side covered in spikes. If a soldier stepped on a treadle, the opposite spike side would fly up straight into his face or chest. The possibility of surviving this trap was very low.
Trap Bridge was usually set over a trench filled with water or mud and lined with sharpened bamboo sticks. Sticks were cut low, so they did not peek over the waterline. Sometimes the ditch was blocked to keep the water level high for keeping traps hidden. If this wasn’t possible, then the sticks were covered in mud. The middle of the bridge was partially cut so that it would break under the weight of the soldier’s crossing over it. Once the bridge broke down, all soldiers standing on it would fall on sharp bamboo sticks. Trap Bridge was used to hinder the progress of the search and clearing operations of US arm forces.
Venus fly trap
The Venus fly trap is another box trap. In the case of Venus fly trap spikes were not hammered to the bottom of the box but to its sides. These spikes were overlapped and pointed downwards. The injury would not be imposed when the soldiers’ foot fell inside, but once he tried to get it out.
Another hunting trap was the tiger trap. Unlike the bear trap this one struck from above. The trap consisted of a large spike studded board tied in a tree above the road or path. Weighted with bricks and stones, the board was connected to a tripwire. When the wire was triggered by a patrolling soldier, the trap would fall down and kill anyone standing below.
Another type of side closing trap is the bear trap. Bear trap was a small trap that consisted of two spiked wooden boards joined at the end. They designed as they would pivot upwards. Boards were placed in a shallow camouflaged hole. Once stepped on, the boards would strike the victim above his foot. This trap was a traditional one used by locals for hunting bears.
Side closing trap
A side closing trap consisted of two wooden slats with spikes attached. Both slats were fastened to guide rods made of iron and were tightened with heavy rubber bands. When a soldier displaced, the rods holding the slats would spring together and pierce his body.
This type of trap existed in the buildings. Very often, this kind of swinging traps was scaled down to fit inside of a house door traps named because they were tied over the entrance of a doorway. By opening the door, the soldier would release the tripwire, which releases the spiked bamboo sticks or a smaller log and impale him.
Snake pits or Viper trap
Snake pits were a special kind of animal booby trap. American soldiers were most afraid of this kind of trap. The Vietcong often carried bamboo green pit vipers in backpacks. So, if the enemy searches inside these backpacks, they would be bitten. The same sort of vipers was used inside rat tunnels tied to bamboo sticks. Once the stick was moved, the viper would fall on the passing soldiers and bite him.
Those green vipers also tied up to tree branches at face level. After a couple of days, due to hanging without any food, they would strike anyone that came within their range. These snakes were highly venomous, although high in aggression. American soldiers nicknamed them two-step snakes cause if viper bite any soldier then he can have only time to go two step.
Hornet trap is similar to a snake pit trap but less aggressive trap. Hives of hornets or bees were placed along the patrol route and covered with a piece of paper like a tripwire. Once the trap was triggered, it would release the insects on the unlucky enemy soldiers. Sometimes this kind of trap was accompanied by punji traps. Attacked by the hornets, soldiers would panic and run from the affected path straight into the hidden traps waiting for them.
Bamboo whip trap
Another distinctive Vietnam war booby trap was the whip trap. The bamboo pole was bent and held in an arch position by a catch connected to a tripwire. Stepping on the tripwire, simply release the catch forcing the bamboo. They arranged in a position that they could strike the victim in the chest or legs. There were versions with or without spikes attached to the pole. Whip traps could be position at different heights depending on the surroundings. With or without spikes, the bamboo whip trap was powerful enough to inflict heavy injuries on enemy soldiers.
This was probably the most sophisticated non-explosive booby trap. It consisted of a long wooden board with a three feet long bamboo tube attached to it. Inside the tube, there was an arrow powered by a strong rubber band, which was attached to the catch at the bottom of the board. The catch was connected to a tripwire laid across the path. Arrow traps were placed in an angle at certain distances so that when a victim triggered the tripwire would release the catch holding the rubber band and send an arrow straight into the enemy direction.
Spike trap / Nail board trap
Spike trap is same as other Viet cong booby traps. This type of tripwire trap works with trigger. long bamboo spikes or nails attached with a board. As enemy stepped on trigger trap activated and injure soldier. this is one time used trap. Vietcong army used this kind of traps a lot. Its also called Nail board trap.
Booby trap markers
The Vietcong designed booby traps to hold back Americans soldiers on their search and destroy missions. However, these traps were equally dangerous to all soldiers who bumped into them. So they created markers to indicate where was a boobie trap. By knowing how to interpret these markers, they could determine the distance and the direction of the booby trap. This markers knowledge was of vital importance to American patrols.
The hard part of recognizing these traps was, there were many different markers. Sometimes there were sticks laid in a pattern of forked sticks, folded palm leaves, or broken branches. Bamboo tripods and bamboo rectangles laid on the ground were standard markers, but even though they were relatively large, these markers were still hard to notice. Soldiers on patrol had to pay attention to too many things around them to be fully focused on noticing these markers. On long tiring marches, their awareness was especially low, and in these situations, patrolling soldiers were easy victims to these potentially deadly Viet cong booby traps.