Landmines: America's Secret Weapon in Vietnam

Michael E. Haskew

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.

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