Category Archives: Unconventional Weapons

Ambush is Murder: A Painful Lesson, 17 Oct 67

The Battalion Commander led two companies of the 2/28 Infantry “Black Lions,” 1st Infantry Division, on a combat patrol into area where the battalion had been making contact since three of its companies choppered into the area about a week prior. They were part of Shenendoah II, an operation to investigate reports of Viet Cong presence near Lai Khe northwest of Saigon. But what was there was not a straggling guerrilla band: it was the 271st Regiment of the 9th Division, still bearing the “VC” honorific but a full-time professional People’s Army of Viet Nam unit. In the battle, the two American companies would be ambushed by two battalions of the 271st and thoroughly defeated.

By the battle’s end, the commander, Terry de la Mesa Allen Jr., son of a World War II general, had failed to lead and was in a practical fugue state when an NVA bullet blew the top of his head off. (Despite his failure and inactivity on the battlefield, he would be posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on the strength of an entirely fictional citation. The rot in the officer corps was profound in Vietnam). His sergeant major, Francis Dowling, and operations officer Don Holleder, a former football star, their RTOs, and the attached forward observer, 2LT Harold B. Durham, Jr. (who would receive the Medal of Honor posthumously) and his RTO — in short, the entire battalion command element —  were among the 64 killed. The remaining survivors were mostly wounded. The few survivors of A Company were led by a wounded first sergeant, José Valdez; by the start of the ill-fated patrol, D Company’s command had already fallen to 2LT George Welch, who survived.

The film gives a sense of just how an ambush feels from the receiving end, if it’s a well-done ambush. By 1967 the 271st Regiment had been at war for about nine years and was the repository of a great deal of institutional knowledge about fighting. The 2/28 was manned by draftees and led by careerists.

Can Your Suppressed Pistol Beat This? 78 dB.

That’s the measured performance of this little beauty:


.32 ACP Welrod, from the collection of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum.

Vintage 1941 or so, developed by the SOE. The ASOM notes another detail, which explains the strange magazine-is-the-grip design of the Welrod (bold is ours):

A limited range, close-qurters head shot weapon, the Welrod’s main value was its level of discreetness when used. This weapon could be fired with the magazine/grip removed, in which case it did not look like a weapon at all. Using the weapon in this manner allowed operators a level of stealth necessary for operations behind enemy lines.

Internally, Welrod’s suppressor design features are typical of silencers of the time. It has a ported barrel which vents into an expansion chamber partly restricted by screen discs. Modern suppressor designers abjure these design features as archaic and backward: the ported barrel saps velocity, and the screen discs are thought to be much less effective than shaped K-baffles or other baffles.

Really? Show us the quiet, guys. Show us a centerfire single-shot suppressed pistol that can beat 78 dB. We’re not asking much in the way of accuracy — the original Welrod was intended for contact ranges, but was good for minute-of-Nazi-skull out to 20 yards or so — but let’s see more muzzle energy for less noise than the Welrod.

We’re guessing that, without going to a captive cartridge like the Tunnel Rat experimental revolver or certain Russian silent-pistol designs, you can’t get materially better than those 20th Century Britons did with the Welrod. (For all their efforts, we’ve had a hard time confirming behind-the-lines use of this system, even with so many formerly secret archives opening up lately. Anybody know different?).

True, Jesse James the motorcycle loudmouth is claiming something similar for his rifle suppressor, but when he delivers that you’ll be able to hang it up next to your jet pack in the garage where you park your flying car. He’s the Baghdad Bob of gun credibility with that one.

But you would think we would be able to excel something made before computers, finite element analysis, and 70 years of progress in understanding sound theory and in production and metallurgical technology. That we are not, generally, far beyond the status quo of 1941 speaks volumes for the ingenuity and application of those wartime engineers.

Land Mines vs. Booby Traps vs. IEDs.

Those three are the most hated, if not always the most feared, enemy weapons. Much as WWII bomber crews loathed flak more than fighters (their gunners could shoot back at fighters!) the unattended (or command-detonated) explosive device is more loathed than direct fire. Tom Kratman nailed this in his military science-fiction novel, A Desert Called Peace, which we’re still reading.

“I don’t even like the idea of land mines,” Parilla muttered.

“No one does,” Carrera agreed. “Not until you have a horde of screaming motherfuckers coming to kill you and all that stands between their bayonets and you is a belt of land mines.”

How Armies Use Mines

In military usage, mines, which may be emplaced by combat troops or by specialist engineers, are used as artificial obstacles to hinder or channelize enemy forces, or as ambush initiators. It is good practice to initiate an ambush with the greatest casualty-producing weapon, or greatest shock-producing weapon, available to you, and the authoritative WHAM! of a Claymore is an excellent way to send a message to the enemy, when that message is: “Die, die, die!”

Note to national policymakers: If that’s not the message you’re trying to send as a matter of national policy, you may have selected the wrong tool when you chose the military as messenger.

In a well-executed ambush, the Claymore blast is followed by overwhelming firepower and then, very rapidly, by a lift and shift of fires from the objective to the enemy’s potential escape routes, while troops assault across the objective to ensure the total destruction of the target element, and to gather any intelligence that can readily be gained from their still-warm bodies and shattered equipment.

Just because enemy units are armored, there’s no reason not to initiate your ambush with a command-detonated mine. The Claymore has long had anti-tank equivalents in off-route AT mines, essentially a remote-command-launched rocket that you aim in advance where you expect the enemy armor to be. We don’t know how far these go back, but the first one we used to use was based on the old 3.5″ rocket launcher (the Super Bazooka invented in WWII and used in Korea after the 2.36″ one proved useless on T-34s). The US also has a set of shaped charges and platter mines that have a limited standoff capability. Most American troops never see or train with these devices; for whatever reason, they’re not a training priority, but they’re in the inventory.

The main use of mines, despite that long digression about ambushes, is to fortify positions. A minefield of this type has very limited utility if not covered by friendly observation and fire at all times; otherwise, the enemy can simply blow or lift the mines, something that, like mine emplacement, can be done “retail” by combat troops or “wholesale” by engineers. For this reason, the Hollywood trope of the patrol caught in the minefield is actually a very rare occurrence off-screen. You do not actually find your patrol in a minefield on a nice sunny day with the leisure to probe for mines with a stick (and please, not a bayonet). You find your patrol in the middle of the mines, usually a night in the foulest weather imaginable, and under accurate enemy direct or indirect fire.

In addition to mines that can be placed by troops, minefields can be emplaced hastily by engineer equipment, including sophisticated mechanical minelayers that lay mines in a ditch or holes the machines themselves dig, and pods that can scatter mines from aircraft, usually helicopters or (these days) UAVs.

Minefields emplaced by civilized troops for defensive purposes are, by international convention, marked with recognized international symbols. This is part of why mine, booby-trap, and IED warfare by irregular forces is often hated by regulars; the irregulars do not comply with these rules and norms, and so are thought to be fighting underhandedly. (The guerrillas, for their part, see it as merely doing what they can in an asymmetric fight).

The other part of forces’ loathing for enemies’ mine warfare is, as Tom’s character Duce Parilla seems to have internalized, you can’t fight back against a mine. The guy who killed or maimed your men is long gone. (Of course, you can fight back against minelayers, but the fight is indirect and requires you, too, to play to your asymmetric strengths). This feeling of frustration by mine-warfare attack (in this case, by booby traps that produced casualties) was a key ingredient, along with inadequate officer selection & training and bad leadership at all levels from corporal to Corps, in the misconduct of Americal Division troops that became known as the My Lai Massacre.  They were so tired of taking casualties by booby trap, and so badly led, that they took out their fear and frustration on enemy noncombatants instead.

As tragic as the outcome was for the simple peasant families of My Lai 4, the murders were a great victory for the Communists in the key center of gravity of the war — the minds of the American public and their elected leaders. It was part of an array of events that drove a schism between the military and the media that endures almost 40 years later.

So What’s the Difference?

Mines, Booby Traps, and Improvised Explosive Devices are three somewhat overlapping categories of (usually but not always) explosive weapons.


Mike Croll defines landmines as:

mass-produced, victim-operated, explosive traps.1

In American usage (Croll was a British soldier and, subsequently, NGO counter-mining expert), “landmines” also includes command-detonated weapons like the Claymore. It was once customary for patrols to use a Claymore wired with a tripwire and a pull or pull-release firing device to delay pursuit; this usage has been banned by American military lawyers who were, we are not making this up, inspired by Princess Diana.

Booby-traps are distinguished from mines by dint of not being made en masse in factories, but as Croll points out, “the difference can be academic,” and it’s certainly not significant to the victim. While no non-explosive victim-operated weapons are currently in production worldwide, non-explosive traps have been used since prehistoric times (Croll also traces the archaeology of caltrops and Roman obstacle fields in his book). In the early years of the Vietnam War, US forces did encounter Malayan Gates, punji pits, and other non-explosive mantraps; as the war ground on, the enemy improved his logistics and regularized his forces, and such bulky, hard to make, and easily detected traps gave way to explosive weapons.


Improvised Explosive Devices encompass everything that blows a fellow up, and that didn’t come out of the factory in the form in which it ultimately is used. The ED is often I from factory weapons that were not envisioned by their inventors as traps, command-detonated, or suicide mines. This definition of IED includes explosive booby traps, of course, as a subset. The many forms of suicide IED are also a subset; suicide weapons have approached mass-production status in Iraq and Iran, with such markers of production status as dedicated circuit boards.

We’ve provided a couple of Venn diagrams to help you sort ‘em out, but as Croll himself notes, there’s a considerable gray area. An AT mine can be fitted with a pull-release device or pressure plate and deployed as a massive overkill anti-personnel booby trap, for example. So perhaps instead of having solid borders, the circles should shade into one another.

But we’re with Parilla and Carrera. We hate ‘em, unless we’re behind ‘em and anticipating the banzai charge of the Third Shock Mongolian Horde.


1. Croll, p.ix.


Croll, Mike. The History of Landmines. Bromley, England: Leo Cooper, 1998.

So how bad is the Iran “Deal”?

BLOWING UP PARADISEAnybody who’s been working in the Middle East for the last 30-plus years knows what the valence of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been: strongly negative from its birth in violent revolution to its genocidal ambitions today. No nation has done more to incite, finance, equip and direct terrorism as a matter of national policy. No nation, in a world and a region where individual liberty is a hunted, endangered sprite, has done more to subjugate and enslave its own people. (If you must have this lesson with Hollywood production values, we recommend The Stoning of Soraya M. as an accurate and unflinching look at life in the Islamic Republic, and those areas that have fallen under its malign sway). And no nation is less fit to responsibly safeguard and employ nuclear technology for military purposes.

Across the table from the minions of the terror state sit the lackeys of an American president whose hunger for a deal, any deal, has given the whole enterprise the Vichy flavor of an enervated pedophile  seeking the least-worst plea bargain. The conventional wisdom, apart from a few shrinking circles in which all wisdom radiates with the sun with the openings and closings of The One’s fundamental orifice, is that it’s going to be a bad deal. That is, if you’re not a mullah.

So it’s a bad deal. And the question everybody’s asking is: how bad?

Now we have an answer: this bad. The Vichy Maison Blanc is already celebrating the Iranian holiday, Nowruz (the Shia New Year).  From The Hill: 

First Lady Michelle Obama praised the holiday in remarks at the executive mansion Wednesday. The event featured a Persian dinner and a dance troop’s performance.

“I think it’s so fitting we’re holding this celebration here today,” Michelle Obama said. “One of the things I love about the White House is how it truly is the people’s house. It is a house that reflects the diversity of culture and traditions that make us who we are as a country. Nowruz is one of those traditions.”

We don’t think we can take more of this appeasement. But tell us more, anyway:

A central facet of Nowruz celebrations are “Haft Sin,” or “the seven S’s” in Persian. Participants display seven items (all beginning with “S” in Persian) as symbols of new hopes for the next year.

The first lady said Wednesday the White House has its own Haft Sin display this Nowruz. Example she cited included an apple for beauty, grass for rejuvenation and crushed berry spices for “the spice of life.”

Say what you will about Neville Chamberlain, he never dressed his wife in trendy swastikas.

Martyr Muath, and What the US Can Do

In this case, as Jordanian airmen carry out Operation Martyr Muath in the certain knowledge that to be shot down is, despite the miracle of the ACES II ejection seat, certain death, we may ask, “What can the US do? What should the US do? And what will the US do?”‘

muath and his jet

Muath al-Kasasbeh in front of a Royal Jordanian F-16.

f16 canopy with savages

The canopy of his jet, found by ISIL cannon fodder.


ISIL, which in August 2014 reported this abandoned 1960s vintage MiG-21MF as a shot0down Syrian jet, recycled the image as the mount of Muath al-Kasasbeh.

ISIL, which in August 2014 reported this abandoned 1960s vintage MiG-21MF as a shot-down Syrian jet, recycled the image as the mount of Muath al-Kasasbeh in January.

The Jordanians don’t need us flying alongside their pilots (although they’d be welcome). They don’t need our precision-guided munitions — they know where the Syrians of Raqqa that are not on board with Daesh are, because they’re in refugee camps in Jordan by the millions. Collateral damage is not a concern of the King’s men.

They are fighting Muath’s fight, and — some of you will not like to hear this, but it is true — Muath’s fight is our fight.

Combat Search And Rescue/Personnel Recovery

One lesson learned comes from the fate of Muath himself. Forced to abandon his F-16 over Raqqa on Christmas Eve, he ejected without difficulty and descended into a pond. He was set upon by Daesh thugs, stripped naked, and beaten. There are photographs of this, unfortunately. The best chance to save him had come and gone.

The United States has more experience in Combat Search & Rescue than any other nation on earth, and we have retained some of the doctrine and TTPs that made what was then the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service so incredibly effective over Vietnam. Indeed, we’ve plucked at least one F-15 pilot from jihadi territory (thanks to the V-22 and Marine special operators).

Muath, seized. assaulted and abused by ISIL assils.

Muath, seized. assaulted and abused by ISIL assils.

There are three main mechanisms of personnel recovery from denied areas. The first is an ad hoc or hasty recovery which uses local forces. Its advantages are speed and surprise. The second is deliberate recovery which uses dedicated assets — special operations aviation, aircraft than are designed to penetrate defended airspace, planning and support. The third is clandestine, assisted evasion and recovery — transporting an evader through a chain of secret ratlines from the denied area to home. Each of these responsibilities falls on different shoulders in the American doctrinal construct, but only the US has the capability and experience to really pull the second kind — the kind that might even have saved Muath — off.

Jordan is, in the grand scheme of things, a poor country. They can’t dedicate the assets to such a peripheral function. And that’s one place where we can help. We should be providing CSAR assets — the whole package, from the Sandy A-10s to the Jolly copters and the planning cell to integrate them — because Muath’s fight is our fight.

Muath had a decent survival/E&E kit, but he never had a chance to use it.

Muath had a decent survival/E&E kit, but he never had a chance to use it.

The third kind of recovery, clandestine escape and evasion, requires much the same effort as building a HUMINT network, but paradoxically has to be kept separate and insulated from the HUMINT net. It cannot be a short-time goal, but we ought to have the ISIL command structure’s wiring so compromised that we can play it like a slot machine — with us holding the house’s odds.

In addition to these sorts of personnel recovery, there are also hostage rescue operations. The HR aspect of personnel recovery requires specialized forces, which the Jordanians do have, and actionable intelligence, which has been lacking. This is a field in which the US and Jordan can fruitfully work together.

Other Possible Responses

That’s not all we can do, of course. We should expedite any requests they have of us. We should throw open our ammo dumps and arsenals — if their leader has the stones to do what our leader has not got the stones to do, namely, bomb our mutual enemies back to the Stone Age, the least we can do for him is pick up the tab for his Neolithization of enemy-held Syria and Iraq.

It goes without saying that our tactical intelligence should be shared. Little of that exposes sources and methods that would compromise American intelligence gathering.

Unarmed Combat: Tai Chi vs … Fencing?

Sure enough, that’s what we’ve got here, in a clip from last year on Hunan TV. Tai Chi Master Wang Zhanhai goes into China’s most modern fencing center to match his skills against a young fencing expert, Coach Liu. The video is in Chinese with English subtitles (note that “taiji” is just the modern Mandarin transliteration of the old-style Tai Chi). Can open hands defeat a sword? On the sword’s home ground?

Well, there you have it, and if you’re like us you’re impressed with both athletes, but not entirely surprised that master-class with a weapon edges out master-class with open hands. Coach Liu, though, is surprised how hard he found it to count coup on Master Wang. It works in Master Wang’s favor that fencing is a sport that uses thrust-only weapons; several times, a saber slash would have undone him, but the ultimate generation of cavalry sabers (like the US M1913 designed by George S. Patton) were straight, optimized-for-thrust swords. Swordsmanship experts had decided that cuts and slashes were indecisive, compared to the forest of points produced by a cavalry charge, and the effect of those points is greatest if they are straight swords. (Even Patton had no clue how obsolete the saber was in 1913 already, but cavalry would be finished as a decisive arm within a year). Perhaps, if the war had not intervened, the cavalry would have brought back the Uhlan lance!

In SF there are two kinds of guys, the one that makes the commitment to some martial art (usually East Asian: Chinese, Japanese or Korean, but sometimes something exotic like Viking battleaxe fighting or Filipino butterfly-knife artistry). There seems to be one or two of those cats on every ODA,. And then there’s the more common fellow who learns the crude combatives and can administer a sleeper hold if he really must, but prefers to spend his time mastering modern warrior skills (like specialty crosstraining), and prefers to conduct combat using the ancient Chinese art of Ching-Chang Boom, dependent upon the ancient Chinese invention, gunpowder. We’re firmly in the camp of Ching-Chang Boom here, but it’s a pleasure to watch athletes like Master Wang and Coach Liu at work!

Events like this where two masters are paired are interesting, but in fact if you master some martial art, any martial art, you will be more capable than 99% of the people you might encounter, unless you’re like Master Wang and can’t resist trying your skills against experts in other fields. The confidence and mindset that Wang and Liu have here is a large part of what makes them winners. In life, it’s good to be the winner; in combat, it’s mandatory.

Devilry, Thy Name is Germany

Such was a British headline a century ago. after Germany released poison gas on French Algerian troops in May, 1915. But the Hun actually introduced posion gas into warfare 100 years ago today, making today the centenary of WMD.

The BBC has an interesting article with some of the history, as well as some interesting observations on the effectiveness of gas weapons in the Great War. That first introduction on 31 January 1915 was a disappointment to its Trutonic authors, says the Beeb:

As he climbed to the top of the church belfry in Bolimow, west of Warsaw, General Max Hoffman of Germany’s Ninth Army was expecting a bird’s-eye view of a military breakthrough – and a new chapter in warfare.

The date was 31 January 1915, and he was about to witness the first major gas attack in history.

Gen Hoffman watched as 18,000 gas shells rained down on the Russian lines, each one filled with the chemical xylyl bromide, an early form of tear gas. But the results left him disappointed.

“I had expected much greater results from the employment of this ammunition in – as we then imagined – such large quantities. That the chief effect of the gas was destroyed by great cold was not known at that time.”

But the failure at Bolimow proved to be only a temporary setback.

By April, German chemists had tested a method of releasing chlorine gas from pressurised cylinders and thousands of French Algerian troops were smothered in a ghostly green cloud of chlorine at the second Battle of Ypres. With no protection, many died from the agonies of suffocation.

via BBC News – How deadly was the poison gas of WW1?.

The actual effect of the gas was much less than its large presence in the public consciousness of World War I would indicated:

Casualty figures do seem on the face of it, to back up the idea that gas was less deadly than the soldiers’ fear of it might suggest.

The total number of British and Empire war deaths caused by gas, according to the Imperial War Museum, was about 6,000 – less than a third of the fatalities suffered by the British on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Of the 90,000 soldiers killed by gas on all sides, more than half were Russian, many of whom may not even have been equipped with masks.

Far more soldiers were injured. Some 185,000 British and Empire service personnel were classed as gas casualties – 175,000 of those in the last two years of the war as mustard gas came into use. The overwhelming majority though went on to make good recoveries.

According to the Imperial War Museum, of the roughly 600,000 disability pensions still being paid to British servicemen by 1929, only 1% were being given to those classed as victims of gas.

“There’s also an element of gas not showing itself to be decisive, so it’s easier to… not have to worry about the expense of training and protection against it – it’s just easier if people agree to ban it,” says Ian Kikuchi.

In the end, gas was a psychological weapon, but with war gases and gas-countermeasures such as masks and suits equally available to all sides, the prospect of a decisive employment of gas was unlikely. That makes it a little clearer why postwar conventions banned gases.

Gas After the Great War

Gas research continued, and the Germans made numerous interwar breakthroughs, which then inspired British breakthroughs (producing the nerve gases, G- and V-agents respectively). But Germany never used gas in World War II, perhaps because of Hitler’s experience being gassed at the Front in the First War, perhaps out of fear that the Allies had equaled German research (they hadn’t, until very late). Russia never renounced the use of gas, and used it postwar in various peripheral conflicts (as well as supplying it to numerous client states), but never used it in the Great Patriotic War. Russians, as the Beeb noted, suffered more than anyone from the gas warfare of the First World War.


Clormethine — the form of HN (HN-2) released in the Bari Incident.

In World War I, every nation tried to be the one that used a new gas first. In World War II, every nation held its war gases back, to retaliate if someone else did — and no one did. The most serious gas casualties of World War II resulted from an American stockpile aboard ship in the harbor of Bari, Italy, being inadvertently released by a German Ju88 night bomber attack on shipping in the harbor on the night of 2 December 43. One of the 16 sunken ships contained 100 tons of nitrogen mustard, HN (methyl-bis(beta-chloroethyl)amine hydrochloride). The HN was reportedly not in bulk storage, but loaded into M47 series chemical bombs:

M-47 chemical bomb.pdf

Most of the HN burned off, but the part that mixed with bunker oil in the water injured 617-628 men (numbers in sources vary), of whom 83 subsequently died. Ironically, because of HN’s effect on lymph nodes and leukocytes, follow-on studies on the Bari bombing survivors were helpful in developing chemotherapy for leukemia, Hodgkin’s Disease, and other lymphomas.

War gases (mostly nerve and blood agents) were a critical part of Warsaw Pact and Soviet war plans, and were used widely in Soviet proxy wars, mostly against civilians. The US developed safe-handling binary chemical munitions as a counterweight, but has since destroyed its chemical stockpiles and production capacity.

We’ve come a long way from the Kaisers 1914 “Devilry.”

He’s Feeling Gladius All Over

OK, now that we’ve shown our age with a pop-music pun that 90% of the audience will not get, we want to send you to the imgur link where  Sir Keyboard Commando, whoever he may be, converts this piece of steel stock:


…to this replica of a Roman gladius, the short sword of the legions.



SKC made the sword from 1075 steel alloy by, essentially, cutting away everything that didn’t look like a Roman sword.

The page shows a photo essay of the whole process:

  1. laying out the outline with machinist’s layout die and a scribing tool;
  2. cutting the shape with a bandsaw;
  3. grinding to section;
  4. draw-filing to a smooth, ripple-free surface;
  5. heat-treating in a homemade furnace;
  6. quenching;
  7. tempering in a kitchen oven.

And best of all, he can say, “I made it myself!”

The Case of the Traveling Isotopes

Police in Fairfield, Connecticut got more than they bargained for in a traffic stop recently: the junk in the trunk was radioactive.

The cops stopped a car for falsely attached plates1, and found that one of the three or four people in the car (media reports disagree) had a warrant out for his arrest. Nothing special here; happens every day in every State of the Union. But in searching the car, the cops found a yellow box with some scary “Radioactive” labels2.

The cops sealed off the scene with an alacrity worthy of Gecko45:

Kings Highway was shut down in the area of Villa Avenue while police responded to the scene..

troxler gauge and acessories3440The cops then called the Fire Department. “Yep, scary labels.” They took out a Geiger counter. “Yep, radioactive. Not very, but no-$#!+ gamma rays.” The firefighters called out the bomb squad. “Labels sure are scary, but it’s not an A-bomb.” The bomb squad called the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, who ID’d the scary-labeled device as a Troxler gauge, a gadget routinely deployed on road and building construction sites, especially where fill has been or will be used, to make sure the soil has proper density levels and water content to support construction3. It uses gamma rays to measure the density of the earth on site. Each gauge is licensed to a particular operator, whose personnel must be trained in the unit’s operation and in radiation safety. These units are safe as bricks in this context.

The DEEP then called the number of the owner of the gauge, and they sent somebody to come pick it up. The cops took down their barriers — some three hours after putting them up.

american-portable-nuclear-gauge-associations-small-anatomyThis happens from time to time. A Troxler gauge was reported stolen in Colorado in 2012. (A followup suggests that it was actually lost off of a car trunk or roof). There is no indication that this is the same gauge. The gauge is of little use for anything but its intended purpose, although the radioisotopes contained in the one or two capsules within (Cesium-137 for soil density and Americium-241/Beryllium for optional fluid density) could be deadly if removed from their sealed, welded capsules and handled or ingested.

The capsules in these and other practical radiological devices, such as radiotherapy machines, conform to international standards.

The Colorado gauge was never recovered as far as we could discover, but the Connecticut gauge was apparently property of a local company, which was glad to get it back. (It’s not clear whether any of the persons in the car was an employee of the Connecticut contractor or had the gauge legitimately).

In a famous incident, a number of Brazilians suffered from grave radiation poisoning after kids found a radiotherapy machine in a disused clinic, and broke the Cs-137 out and played with it.4 But with most legitimate uses of radioactivity, these isotopes have little application to the dreaded “dirty bomb” of fiction.

The isotopes in Troxler gauges emit alpha particles, neutrons, and gamma rays. There are therapies for Cesium or thallium (radioactive or non) ingestion including Prussian blue (aka cyanide) in therapeutic doses. Americium-241, including the mixed Am/Be source in some Troxlers, on the other hand, is a lasting problem if ingested, but a relatively minor one (increased cancer risk) compared to the Acute Radiation Syndrome death sentence of high exposures to Cs-137.


  1. This is happening a lot, especially in jurisdictions which are using license plate scanners to maintain 100% surveillance of motor vehicles. If the plate doesn’t match the registered vehicle make, model or color, the cops have PC to stop the vehicle.
  2. We’re not sure whether these markings are a net plus or a net minus. While they warn off anyone with the good sense God gave a lemur, the typical Asset Redistribution Specialist™ may look at that and think, “Homey down the pawnshop be payin’ me fo’ dis.”
  3. If you want to know how the details of how it works, the gauge manufacturers have a trade association that has a free overview and detailed for-pay classes available.
  4. The International Atomic Energy Agency published a thorough and readable report (.pdf) on this incident. Four people died and many others were injured, 20 requiring hospitalization. It would have been a worse incident if not for a local physicist who learned of the accident and began evacuating contaminated areas even as the authorities were notified. Peak exposures were on the order of 6-7 Gy.

Army Will not Prosecute Deserter / Traitor Bergdahl

You read it here first: US Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl, who deserted his unit in combat and aided the enemy with information they used in subsequent attacks of his betrayed unit, is not going to be prosecuted by the Army.

That’s the message sent between the lines by a preparation-of-the-battlefield leak to one of the favorite leakers of the lame-duck SecDef, and of administration DOD political appointees in general, Lolita Baldor of AP.

Baldor has been given a background briefing on how rare prosecution of deserters is, in advance of the announcement. The subtext is, there’s nothing special about this guy, this is all just routine Army administration. 

That subtext is, if we need to say it, bullshit.

The U.S. Army has prosecuted about 1,900 cases of desertion since 2001, despite tens of thousands of soldiers fleeing the service in the face of deadly combat, long and multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and strains on military families.

The data reflects how rarely the military takes desertion cases to court. And it underscores the complexities of such cases as a top military commander reviews the investigation of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who left his Afghanistan post in 2009 and was captured and held by the Taliban for five years.

That’s really rare? Most of the 20k deserters DFR are guys who walked off after basic training, or in their first unit. It’s very doubtful that the nearly 2,000 prosecuted were all overseas or combat desertions. Indeed, Bergdahl is the only  combat desertion we’re aware of, and the only one who went beyond bugging out to aid the enemy.

In some circles, that makes him a hero. Those would be the same circles that bow to our enemies.

More than 20,000 soldiers have been dropped from the rolls as deserters since 2006, Army data show. Totals for earlier years weren’t available, but likely include thousands more.

In trial cases over the last 13 years, about half the soldiers pleaded guilty to deserting their post. Another 78 were tried and convicted of desertion.


Soldiers who avoid deployment or leave posts in combat zones are more serious cases, particularly if the deserter is responsible for standing guard or protecting others in dangerous places.

via Army Data Shows Rarity of Desertion Prosecutions – ABC News.

The point being, when they let Bergdahl slide they’re not doing anything special.

There’s also one outright falsehood in Baldor’s column: Army spokesman Wayne Hall is quoted  claiming that GEN Mark Milley, commander of FORSCOM, has “broad discretion” in the decision about Bergdahl. Anyone who believed Milley has free hands in this has less understanding of the Army than we’d expect from someone like Lolita Baldor (who has been writing nonsense about the military for her whole career). In fact, the decision is a political decision, and Milley’s hands are tied; he’s merely the delivery system for a decision that was made in Washington, and almost certainly in the White House.

The problem is, fundamentally, that the President, his advisors, and the lame-duck SecDef are well-attuned to the sufferings, if any, of Bergdahl, and put much less value on those of his unit peers whom he condemned to injury and death when he turned coat. Indeed, they’re much more sympathetic to the views of the five top Taliban and Haqqani Net terrorists they swapped for him. Being the in Acela Corridor crowd means you can transcend obsolete concepts like Duty, Honor or Country. To those people, Bergdahl is a “hero,” in a rare unironic use of the word, for them.

The Bergdahl trade needs to be rehabilitated, after some of the terrorists released on his behalf were implicated in the Taliban’s murder of 140 Pakistanis, mostly schoolchildren, in a Peshawar school. Connected Army folks think it’s going to happen in the next few days, when eyes are not on DC.

Fortunately for the Taliban, for the politicians who value them more than our own soldiers or their families, and, especially, for traitor Bowe Bergdahl, there are people in the press willing to be their Sons of Ham, “the hewers of wood and the drawers of water.”

Like Lolita C. Baldor of the Associated Press. Whose phone rings every time a Big Lie needs some polish, and wide release.