During a firefight near the Cambodian border on June 6, 1968, a 1st Infantry Division soldier got a pleasant surprise as he watched a North Vietnamese Army infantryman aim his rifle, pull the trigger and explode in a cloud of black smoke.

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American troops later examined the remains of the NVA soldier and his exploded Chinese Type 56 rifle, removing some of its parts from the body. There was nothing was blocking the bore, the incident was attributed to poor metallurgy or bad ammo. The situation was a little more complicated than it appeared.

While it is gratifying to see the direct results of your work, some times it is more effective to set the conditions for success and then stand back and let events unfold.  Project Eldest Son, a classified project of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (SOG), placed sabotaged ammunition in North Vietnamese Army ammo dumps. The success of Eldest Son exceeded all expectations.

Green Berets are trained to anticipate the second and third order effects of their actions. Eldest Son killed hundreds, but it frightened the entire North Vietnamese Army and sowed distrust between Vietnam and China.

The Studies and Observations Group was America’s top secret special operations task force in the Vietnam War.  SOG’s operators worked directly for the Joint Chiefs, executing highly classified, deniable missions in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam. From 1966-8, SOG was commanded by Colonel John K. Singlaub.

Think like a Green Beret: Be subtle

Read Next: Think like a Green Beret: Be subtle

Singlaub was an unconventional pro.  Working for the OSS, he parachuted behind German lines in August 1944 to fight with the French Resistance fighters supporting the D-Day invasion during World War II.  After the war Singlaub joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and worked in Manchuria during the Chinese Civil War. In 1951 he became Deputy Chief of the CIA station in South Korea. Later he ran CIA operations in Manchuria during the Chinese Communist revolution and led troops in the Korean War, He was the perfect guy to run SOG.

SOG ran recon teams, normally consisting of two or three American Green Berets and four to six indigenous soldiers.  These teams ran deniable missions into Laos and Cambodia to gather intelligence, wiretap enemy communications, kidnap key enemy personnel, ambush convoys, raid supply dumps, plant mines and bring the joys of unconventional warfare to NVA rear areas.

While skulking around, these teams often encountered ammo caches with millions of rounds.  Being a Green Beret, Singlaub’s first inclination was to steal the ammo, but there was just too much of it and it was in very remote areas.  Demolition was not feasible as it would only scatter small-arms ammunition, not destroy it.

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Featured image courtesy of shadowspear.com