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War Stories

Gas Mask M17- Ground Operations

John Alto, Bob Dunbar, Bruce Powell, Bain Cowell, Dennis Hurtt, Dunbar Photo, Bob Graham

Additional mask info in this pdf file:

also see Gas Mask - Aircraft



John Alto (4/29/14) (photo above)
D troop may have pulled off the only gas attack in the war. Lots of planning  CS dropped by b-52`s so says Dunbar right along Siagon River. We found some stunned folks found the hooches and blew things up. Pilots and crews also wore masks

I have lots of pictures of this operation

So much booty I had to thumb a ride out on a gun ship. I lost a lot of hearing on the ride out


Bob Dunbar (4/30/14)
I believe John Alto has all the pictures that I have from at least one of the gas attacks. He has copies of most all of my slides. A lot of them were deleted from our first DVD that we made because there were a lot of slides with some pretty gruesome scenes. 

I think the most memorable Gas Attack Operation was immediately after a B-52 attack, then gas was dropped by Chinooks, then D Troops Aero-Rifle Platoon (Lt. John Alto commanding) was dropped in, supported by three gunships (Heavy Gun Team), maybe even two gun teams, I can't remember for sure. I was there though and we have pictures of us wearing gas masks. The Chinooks (several of them, we may have pictures of them dropping the gas too!) with the gas in 55 gallon drums rigged to explode or burst on impact somehow. The Chinooks and D Troop had held off a couple miles away from the Target Area during the B-52 Bomb Drop. 

Then, The Chinooks went in immediately after the bomb explosions ended and dropped out the Gas Drums."D" Troop was right behind the Chinooks about a mile and we went in as soon as we saw the Gas coming up through the trees. As I recall it got pretty "Sporting" that day too, lots of action!

I can't remember crews?? Maybe Frank Hamel was my co-Pilot?
We'll have to check the slides, maybe identify some others? Maybe some of the others who were involved will remember more, I forwarded this to my Centaur contacts, in hopes that some of them might remember more details. Bob Dunbar (Centaur 26)


Bruce Powell (4/30/14)
I did not know that you all used CS Gas in 66. I remember in late 67 and maybe early 68 we used CS with individual gunteams trying to stir up a fight during the pacification. At that time we could not fire unless we were fired upon, and the VC knew it. We had to piss them off with CS. However, if you shoot something up you had better come home with some holes in your ship. I remember that period because I almost got my nickname changed to "Magnet Ass" by having a talent for getting holes.

I would like to hear from crewmen of the other later tours on their use and experiences with CS.


Bain Cowell (4/30/14)
I recall what may have been another CS attack from the air, where CH-47s dropped 55-gal. drums of the powder in the same area – maybe the HoBo.  As artillery FO I was riding in the C&C ship, but didn’t have my mask.  Even circling at 1100 feet, I shed a lot of tears!  This would have been in late 66 or early 67


Dennis Hurtt (4/30/14)
I distinctly remember this mission during our tour. Can't remember exact date, but our Troop's gunships were tasked to follow behind two or three C-130s (at least five miles or so I think) over part the Iron Triangle to pick off any VC stragglers that surfaced from bunkers, tunnels and trench lines when the 55-gallon drums of CS gas hit the ground. The drums were rolled out of the rear of the cargo bays of each aircraft which, as you may recall, were big turboprop cargo carriers that had rear unloading ramps that crew members could push the drums out for the drop. The planes flew at somewhere around 1,500 to 2000 feet, as I recall. Each drum had some kind of detonator/timer strapped to it--maybe either a thermite or regular grenade--that was supposed to blow the drum open and scatter the contents, ideally just a couple of hundred feet above the surface for ideal gas cloud dispersal. Sometimes it worked, but more often the drums just hit the ground and burst open, causing limited gas dispersal.

As mentioned, our job was to was to pick 'em off when they came running up for air. Each gun team flew about a half mile or so behind the cargo planes in a staggered formation with the lead ship a little higher than the wing at the rear, which was tasked to pick off stragglers. And yes, we had to wear gas masks throughout the operation. Very uncomfortable and didn't keep the gas out very well. I remember my crew and I were damn glad to get those things off when it was over. 

Overall, I don't recall that the operation was all that successful. We may have got a few hits, but not very many. Things were moving pretty fast. It WAS great in theory and a novel experience, however.



Bob Dunbar (10/17/14)
The pictures I mention below are in my collection on "My Page" on the Centaur website.

I came across these two pictures I had forgotten I had in my collection of one of our Helicopter Gas Drops, 

I believe the Gas was dropped right after a B-52 strike, we watched the B-52 bombs go off, then the Gas was dropped, then the Slicks inserted the Infantry. I was AC in one of the Gunships covering that Operation the day these pictures were taken. They are pictures numbered: BD-205 was me and BD-187, photo on the right, was one of my crew, I can't remember who it was). 

If I could find the rest of my slides that are somewhere in boxes of age old stuff stored somewhere, I remember having more slides taken from the air of the Chinooks dropping the Gas and some others, maybe even of the B-52's high above as we held a couple miles away from the impact location.. I will try and find all the missing slides one of these days.

Bob Graham (10/18/14)
I just talked to John Alto and I think this would indeed be an interesting story to craft.
Will start assembly and try to get the date/time setting/location for a good beginning. We well surly have some great details. I too was there.

The NVA had Gas Masks also. Report from Operation Saratoga 21Jan - 10 Mar 1968
(1) Enemy Losses: 741 VC KIA (BC), 21 VC KIA (POSS).
(2) Captured: 27 AK47, 4 Pistols, 7 Machine guns,
4 RPG launchers, 19 Lbs documents, 2
M-16’s, 2 radios, and 1 motor bike.
(3) Destroyed: 620 bunkers, 13 rocket firing positions,
272 RPG rounds, 6 tunnels, 12 anti-aircraft
positions, 380 Lbs CKC-C4, 8 NVA gas masks,
22 grenades, 7 RPG weapons.
(4) ENI: Received SA 37 times, AW 23 times, 3 grenade
attacks, 2 mortar attacks, detonated 5 AT mines 1 AP
mine, 32 VC POW’s and 36 detainees.