An Old Army Myth That Went Unchallenged for Too Long

An Old Army Myth That Went Unchallenged for Too Long


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For some United States Military leaders, the imagery was intoxicating: Iraqi troopers cowering in anxiety as dozens of American rockets and artillery shells broke open over them. Hundreds of explosive grenades streamed down on to their positions, destroying lives and equipment and forcing surrenders en masse. “Please preserve us from this ‘steel rain,’” the Iraqi soldiers supposedly implored their American adversaries.

Although the narrative has differed a bit depending on the storyteller, the meat of the story was basically the exact: During Operation Desert Storm, the Army’s new next-technology cluster weapons — known as dual-goal enhanced conventional munitions, or DPICMs — broke the Iraqis’ will to struggle, and it was Iraqi prisoners of war who named them “steel rain,” since the grenades were being designed of that steel and they fell in thickets above significant places of the desert.

I came throughout this tall tale more than and around again in current several years even though finding out how dud American cluster munitions often killed American and allied troops in the course of Desert Storm. Some of these allied troopers had been killed by unexploded DPICM grenades, but rising from Desert Storm was a hero narrative all over these minor submunitions — and one particular with no any formal documentation to back it up.

Digging into the archives confirmed how such a story entered the Army’s consciousness unchallenged. We printed that tale this 7 days in At War.

This was not the initially time the military overhyped new artillery weapons. The Army’s initial generation of artillery cluster shells was born out of the service’s bitter practical experience going through human wave assaults in the Korean War. A top-secret postwar software at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey raced to produce a new era of weapons it known as COFRAM, for Controlled Fragmentation Munition. The idea was to style artillery shells that broke open up in midair, dispensing tiny grenades that exploded in much more uniformly sized parts than before munitions did. The vital, they uncovered, was to rating the inside of partitions of the grenade entire body in a crosshatch sort of layout. (The M67 fragmentation hand grenade continue to in use nowadays is a immediate descendant of the COFRAM program.) By blanketing huge places with scaled-down munitions, they hoped human wave assaults could be defeated.

These COFRAM munitions stayed largely below wraps till early 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson panicked about the probability of North Vietnamese forces overrunning the Maritime base at Khe Sanh. The president discussed the probability of making use of tiny nuclear weapons with Pentagon management to protect the base, but his commander in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, prompt that nukes would not be necessary. In January, the Pentagon agreed with Westmoreland’s ask for to declassify COFRAM for use in Vietnam.

The Maritime Corps’ formal heritage of the war reveals that significantly less than a thirty day period afterwards, a brigadier normal flew to Khe Sanh with the to start with pallets of 105-millimeter cluster artillery rounds, and a warrant officer shipped handwritten guidelines on their use. On Feb. 7, 1968, Maritime howitzers fired the to start with artillery cluster rounds in support of the Specific Forces camp nearby at Lang Vei. The Maritime artillery commander who was requested to use the new top rated-mystery ammunition only fired a few rounds and “doubted quite substantially their performance.” He went back again to firing regular significant-explosive rounds but kept reporting to his superiors that he was using the new cluster munitions.

These weapons continued to trigger difficulties when and wherever they were used, leaving powering quite a few duds that the Viet Cong frequently harvested and incorporated into mines and booby traps that they applied versus American troops.

The failures of the cheaply built and mass-created artillery submunitions in Vietnam evidently were being forgotten, or had been presumed to have been fixed in the Army’s next-era weapons they debuted in Desert Storm. Despite the fact that the enemy in 1991 did not convert these duds from American ground forces as they had in Vietnam, at minimum 16 American troops finished up lifeless and wounded in any case from buying them up by hand, frequently imagining they were being harmless souvenirs.

But the Military nonetheless holds rapidly to the fantasy of their success. These days, a portray titled “Steel Rain” depicting National Guard troopers firing rockets that contains DPICM grenades during Desert Storm hangs in the Pentagon. Reporters like me who enter the constructing from the Metro entrance pass it on our way to the press functions office, alongside with paintings depicting other tales.

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Posted by Krin Rodriquez

Passionate for technology and social media, ex Silicon Valley insider.