The Vietnam War lasted for some 20 years. With the involvement of the United States, they brought with them jet-powered strategic bombers, chemical defoliants, and precision-guided munitions. On the other hand, Viet Cong had makeshift and crude weapons alongside their rusty weapons captured from the French and even bamboo spears. It sounded like an unfair match, but there was one skill the Vietnamese excelled at, their inventive use and creation of booby traps.

Ah, booby traps. Relatively simple, cheap yet effective in hurting (or killing) the poor victims. According to this report, 11 percent of Army deaths and 17 percent of wounds resulted from booby traps. Apart from physical damages, booby traps also had psychological effects, taking a toll on the army’s minds. They would alter their routes to try to avoid these traps— existent or not. Most operations and encounters took place in the jungles. The Viet Cong would place them in possible helicopter landing zones, mountain trails, in the rice paddy, tree lines; anywhere the enemies would possibly pass by, with markers only they could immediately notice. They’re not always aimed to kill but to delay and slow down the American forces and their sophisticated weaponry.

Punji Stakes

A punji stake pit in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Jorge Láscar/Wikimedia Commons

Do you hate it when you get splinters? Then you wouldn’t like this booby trap. Also called punji sticks, these spikes are pretty simple and straightforward: long bamboo spikes were placed upward in a pit and covered with a thin frame camouflaged in grass, mud, or leaves. They would smear these sticks with urine or feces or anything that could spread infection on the anticipated wounds. Just this year, there were reports that the Indian government used an improvised version of these punji sticks against the protesting farmers in Delhi.

Mace Trap

Mace trap. Photo credit: Funker530 / History Collection

Once triggered, the mace trap would swing down from above and take everyone out on its way. They could be made from various forms— spiked mud balls or metal or wooden balls that could be 24 inches big and 18 kilograms heavy.