Front Toward Enemy: How Troop Convoys in Vietnam Got ‘Claymorettes’ To Counter Ambushes

December 8, 2020Matt Fratus
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Prototypes of the Claymorette system on a U.S. Army truck. Photo courtesy of the US Army.

Automatic shotguns or command-detonated claymore mines? This was a question presented at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland where engineers and weapon experts were tasked with testing the effectiveness of counterambush weapon systems. In the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army were notorious in coordinating ambushes against unarmored and unarmed transport convoys. The violence occurred so often that many cargo vehicles transformed into makeshift gun trucks to survive. 

The US Army’s Limited War Laboratory (LWL) — sometimes referenced as the Land Warfare Laboratory — had a few tricks up its sleeves. One solution was outfitting these vehicles with M18 claymore mines. Norman A. MacLeod, the inventor of the claymore, named the anti-personnel mine after the two-handed Scottish sword. The weapon uses a shaped C4 explosive to shoot hundreds of steel ball bearings at an effective range of 50 yards. Modified to fit the bumpers and tailgates of cargo vehicles, “Claymorettes,” or miniature claymore mines, added a layer of deadliness. 

Claymorettes coffee or die
A US Army truck outfitted with prototypes of the Claymorette system to be used in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of the US Army.

“Developed to give convoys immediate area coverage when ambushed, the system consists of a number of small mines mounted on the reinforced side of the truck,” wrote The Baltimore Sun in 1966. “Triggered from the cab of the truck, the Claymorette spews the pellets on both sides.”

The engineers designed special racks for use in Vietnam that weighed 392 pounds and had up to 23 Claymorettes mounted side by side. MacLeod had initially intended for the claymore to stop human-wave assaults like those American soldiers experienced fighting the Chinese in the Korean War, but in Vietnam, his weapon system was adapted creatively for a necessity.

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Airmen drive an EM-113A2 REV around Camp Bucca in 2008. Photo courtesy of the US Air Force.

The prototypes were relabeled by the Army as “Convoy Defense Mechanisms, or CDM-1A, and were sent to Vietnam. However, we do not know the effectiveness of their usage in combat. 

Although the idea was later scrapped when the LWL program was shut down in 1974, the concept would later be employed in Iraq. The American soldiers who guarded prisons did not have the right tool to quell prison uprisings and riots. Then came the EM-113A2 Rapid Entry Vehicle, or REV, fitted with two M5 Modular Crowd Control Munition (MCCM) charges on its sides. Similar in appearance to the M18 Claymore and marked with the trademark slogan “Front Toward Enemy,” the MCCM fires rubber pellets instead of steel ball bearings: a nonlethal solution for a complex problem.

Matt Fratus
Matt Fratus

Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.

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