Landmines: America's Secret Weapon in Vietnam

Sgt. Anthony Jacks emplaces a Claymore mine during a live-fire exercise here Sept. 20, 2009.
February 15, 2020 Topic: History Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Vietnam WarClaymoreM14LandminesVietcong

Landmines: America's Secret Weapon in Vietnam

Meet the 'toe popper.'

During the Vietnam War the land mine was responsible for large numbers of casualties among both military and civilian personnel. Both the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces, as well as the communist North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong insurgency, deployed millions of mines for various purposes, including anti-tank mines for disabling or destroying armored vehicles and anti-personnel mines that were designed to disable or kill enemy soldiers.

Among the numerous types of mines designed and manufactured in the United States, the M18 Claymore is one of the best known of the Vietnam era. A large anti-personnel mine, the Claymore was developed principally by inventor Norman MacLeod in the 1950s. Unlike other anti-personnel mines that are buried in the ground and often activated by the pressure of a soldier’s foot, the Claymore is attached to a stationary object above ground and fired by remote control.

10,000 Claymores Produced

The M18 Claymore mine has a pair of distinguishing features. On its face is stamped the three-word warning “FRONT TOWARD ENEMY.” Additionally, the mine weighs 3.5 pounds and consists of a plastic rectangular convex-shaped casing that was produced after testing that determined its shape was the most effective in delivering a pattern of steel balls that could kill within a range of 55 yards. The mine may be aimed horizontally or vertically via an open sight, and its explosive power consists of a layer of C-4 that provides the energy to project approximately 700 steel balls held together by epoxy resin at a velocity of 3,937 feet per second.

When the Claymore is detonated, it fires the arrangement of steel balls like a shotgun in a sixty-degree arc for a distance of approximately 110 yards. In Vietnam, it was proven effective against communist infiltrators, concentrations of enemy troops, and even light vehicles. More than 10,000 Claymore mines have been produced since the 1950s, and variants are still manufactured in the United States and other countries.

“The Toe Popper”

Unlike the Claymore, the M14 mine (and the M16) utilized by U.S. forces in Vietnam were more intimate. The M14, for example, was not intended to kill an enemy soldier or guerrilla outright. Rather, the intent was to wound or maim, requiring the attention of more than one soldier to administer medical attention and transport the victim from the scene of the incident, thus draining the enemy’s resources. Often, the unfortunate individual who detonated an M14 at least lost a foot, and for this reason the mine became known as the “Toe Popper.”

The M14 was mass produced beginning in 1955 and remained in service with the American military until 1974. Its initial components were mainly plastic, making it difficult to detect and thus even more effective. The mine itself consisted of a cylindrical casing only 2.2 inches in diameter and 1.57 inches tall. It weighed only 100 grams, and its explosive charge consisted of just 29 grams – a single ounce – of Tetryl. A range of foot pressure from about 20 to 35 pounds was required to trip a spring, push a firing pin downward, and detonate the M14.

This article by Michael Haskew first appeared at the Warfare History Network in July 2015.

Image: Sgt. Anthony Jacks emplaces a Claymore mine during a live-fire exercise here Sept. 20. Jacks and other Marines from Reconnaissance Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 2/4, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, practiced insertion methods and conducted live-fire weapon shoots Sept. 17-22 for final training before deploying with the MEU Sept. 24. 2009. U.S. Marines.