The Continuing Danger of White Phosphorous Bombs Dropped On Laos During the Vietnam War.
Above Photo: Plane drops a white phosphorus bomb on a Viet Cong postion in 1966. (USAF)
Nicknamed ‘Wille Pete” in Vietnam, white phosphorous was mostly used to mark targets, as it created brilliant white smoke that could be seen from a long way off.
Gunners would use white phosphorous shells as an artillery marking round to find the correct range on a target, after which the real high explosive shells would be fired.
In its original, pre-weaponised state white phosphorous looks like a harmless bar of soap.
During the war the US began mixing white phosphorous with napalm to make the napalm burn more fiercely. The difference was napalm burned skin, but white phosphorous burned to the bone, and couldn’t be washed off.
Many non-combatants, enemy and US troops were badly burned by white phosphorous during the war, and it still claims victims in the jungles of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, in the form of UXO, or unexploded ordnance.
UXO features in my novel BACK as one of the dangers modern-day backpackers encounter in the tri-border jungle, as they set off on a poorly-planned expedition to the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
This isn’t just fiction. Recently I was out along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Salavan Province, Laos, doing research for the novel. In the jungle we came across a UXO team who said they’d discovered a “phosphorous bomb” and gingerly lifted a sandbag off a hole where they’d stored it, in order to show me.
I couldn’t make out exactly what the ordnance was (pictured above), but the guy showing me was very apprehensive around it, so the UXO teams must have great experience of the instability and danger of this particular item of unexploded weaponry.
Imagine my surprise, after I’d finished taking some photos, when the guy showing me accidentally dropped the heavy sandbag right down on top of it.
Luckily, it didn’t go off, but the look on his face said it all.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
And for POWs left behind in Laos:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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