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To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

-- George Washington

Vietnam In the summer of 1970 I was flying near Football Island and observed an Army CH47 helicopter rolling barrels of what appeared to be fuel off the ramp and then igniting them. It looked like they were trying to burn the grass in the area. On return I thought about what I had seen and came up with the idea of doing something similar.

I approached LtCol. Andy Andrus, the MAG 16 S-3, and several members of 463 about exploring the use of napalm barrels as a weapon. Andy gave me the OK to continue. I'm not sure who came up with the specifics on how to rig the net in the helicopter, but I would guess it might have been Capt. Chip Cippola. At any rate we decided to secure two of the four corners of the net to the aircraft with tie down chains and secure the other two corners on the cargo hook. In this way when the cargo hook was released, the barrels would fall out of the net. On the first series of trials we discovered that the empty cargo sling was hitting and damaging the cargo ramp. As a result the ramps were removed.

The next challenge was to develop some type of sight system. I approached Lt. Bob Coday with the challenge of developing the ballistics for a free falling barrel at various heights and airspeeds. I believe we settled on two combinations of altitude and airspeed (I don't remember the numbers, but I believe the altitude was 1500 feet). The calculations were made, and the chin bubble was marked with two cross hairs to indicate the desired release points. We tried the sight, and it was, in Art Picones' words, "Amazingly accurate."

We started small with several 2-4 ship flights using another aircraft to try to draw fire (skunk hunting), and then we would lay down the barrels. We found that firing M-60 tracers into the broken barrels after impact did not ignite them readily so we started to use OV-10's or Cobras with white phosphorous rockets.

We continued to improve our tactics and got most of the bumps worked out. One thing that did evolve was the mixture we used in the barrels. In the beginning we used 20 barrels filled with napalm. We found that this was difficult to ignite due to the low flash point of napalm. We then went to 4 barrels of motor gas and 16 barrels of napalm and had better success. The culmination of our efforts was a mission that involved 12 CH-53's on a mission to drop what turned out to be over 400 tons of fuel on Charlie Ridge.

Charlie Ridge had NVA that were dug in. Attempts to clear the area with fixed wing bombs had failed. Assaults attempted by ground Marines resulted in heavy casualties. It was decided to use the fuel barrels. The mission was nicknamed "Thrash Light" for MG Thrash the Air Wing CG (The USAF B-52 bombing missions were called Arc Light, hence the name). Fixed wing aircraft also participated in the effort. The day after the mission, the infantry mounted a ground assault without resistance. All of the enemy found on Charlie Ridge were KIA. The infantry walked the ridge and counted bodies. Many were burned, but most were in deep bunkers and had died from loss of oxygen. The body count was approximately 135 (that is my memory of that statistic).

After the Thrash Light we continued with several small "skunk hunting" missions but never again performed a large-scale operation. I don't know why. Skip Burns relates that after he left the squadron for a FAC tour he had convinced his Battalion Commander to use a Thrash Light on an assault in the Arizona area. The Regimental Air Officer, who was a fixed wing Major, vetoed the mission. Remember, "Napalm is Nature's Way."

Note: by Charlie Block


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