I remember the first time we were told to go to Dong Tam-it seemed strange for flame thrower APC’s, from the 9th Inf, 15th Engineers to be told we were going to be with the Navy for awhile. We were nicknamed on the radio and respectfully so “Zippos” sometimes the electronic firing device didn’t work, so we’d bring out our Zippos lighters and light the napalm this way as it was leaving the barrel. I had no hair on my arm for the first 8 months of this.
There was only four flame thrower APC’s in all of III and IV corps of Vietnam. Two would be stationed at Dong Tam with the Navy the other two would be stationed at Bear Cat. Upon arriving at Dong Tam we reported to the landing dock to insure the APC’s would fit into the well deck of the landing craft (the first boats used were armored troop carriers) or Tangos, One APC in each and the 2½ ton truck to mix napalm would be in the well deck of another boat. The three boats would be part of the riverine task force TF-117, being used on the rivers and small canals going into action when ever needed. The only problem we encountered was the flame could not be fired off the front of the craft. This was due to the large part of the ramp sticking up over the bow of the boat. We went alongside the USS Benewah, where it was decided to remove the canvas awning off the boat, it was still a tight fill. Even after removing the canvas there was still not much room only inches to spare on each side of the APC.
Initial firing worked well. The heat made the boat crew remove the front and side machine-guns, the crew was afraid that the heat would cause their ammo to cook off and explode. After the initial test the Navy and Army brass were satisfied and the flame thrower boats were in business and began being used in operations. Still we had problems in reloading with the service truck. Due to mixing of gas and napalm. No sparks were allowed to be in the area while mix/reloading occurred We either went ashore if necessary, or tie up the boat containing the service truck to our boat. There was another thing that became apparent. When under fire the other craft stayed away from us. They found out we had four containers under pressure containing napalm and only 4 inches of aluminum protecting us and the tanks. I guess they figured if we went up everything in the near vicinity would go with us.
I did not see the final product, a boat similar to a monitor that was outfitted with a flame thrower. But we were the first and we could leave the ships for joint operations inland with the other armored units of the force. We left the MRF to go assist the Thailand “Queen Cobras” for another operation in the fall of 1967, during my tour in 67-68 we served with the Navy, Vietnamese Marines, most Army divisions and the ROK, ARVN, and Aussie’s.
15th Engineers/9th Infantry Division
P.O. Box 561
Murphy, NC. 28906
Photos courtesy of Paul Kasper