Project Eldest Son
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Basic Information

Also known as Italian Green or Operation Pole Bean Project Eldest Son was an American covert operation taking place during the Vietnam War in which US Special Forces and Intelligence Assets inserted sabotaged ammunition into the supply chains of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. The sabotage in question consisted of replacing the propellant in weapon cartridges with explosive, typically in at least sufficient quantity to burst the weapon from which it was fired, thus having a reasonable chance of killing or injuring the user. Such sabotaged rounds were kept at a low percentage of the inserted ammunition so that they appeared to be the result of a fault in the manufacturing process, which in turn would reduce morale and sap confidence in North Vietnam's communist backers in the USSR and China. Actual casualties as a result of these weapon explosions were more of a bonus than a target result.

Officially the sabotage was confined to a small number of types of WarPac ammunition and the project was terminated due to leaks in the US before much more than half of the ammunition had been placed, but there are persistent rumours that some of the altered rounds remain in circulation and that other types of ammunition, including NATO types, may have been sabotaged. This adds to the caveat emptor factor in buying unprovenanced ammunition.

The same tactic has been used repeatedly in the past against enemies prone to using captured ammunition and similar things are rumoured to have been done by British Special Forces to Provisional IRA arms caches in Ulster and the Irish Republic (albeit in this case with a greater emphasis on causing user casualties).


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • As noted, another hurdle when buying cheap ammunition - or when stealing unusually poorly defended stockpiles. OR not noticing that someone has tampered with your ammo supply.
  • Given the level of fifth columnist activity in the US during the Vietnam War, it would not be all that surprising to find sabotaged rounds being deliberately inserted into the US supply line.
  • There was also substantial interference with later WW2 era German ammunition due to the amount of unfree labour of various kinds used in their arms industry in the later years - due to the circumstances this was more likely to be inert than dangerous to use, but the possibility is real, especially with weapons such as hand grenades where the chance to add a "zero second" fuse might be taken.
  • Another amusing trick along these lines might be to add a slightly oversize bullet, just large enough to be forced into the bore by the explosion and block it.
  • A sort of reverse version of this trick is played using black powder weapons in one of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe where a group of soldiers are deliberately issued with basically inert powder.
  • It would not be entirely surprising if state agents were to inject sabotaged ammunition into the civilian market to assist efforts at firearms control.
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