9TH INFANTRY DIVISION FLAME-THROWER APCs IN VIETNAM
They were affectionately called "Zippo’s" - 1967
by Paul Kasper
The 9th Infantry Division in 1967 had 4 Flame-thrower APC’s assigned to HHC, 15th Combat Engineer Battalion. As far as I know, they were the only ones in the III and IV Corps at that time. The flame units generally worked in pairs accompanied by one 2-½ ton service truck. We would go TDY to other 9th Infantry Division units for operations as well as other US military units and military units from other countries. My memory is not that great after all these years, but I do remember being TDY with several Marine units and Army units to include the 1st Cav, 1st Inf Div, 11th Cav, 196 infantry, 4th Inf, 25th Inf and many others and of course different units from the 9th Inf Div and the Navy Mobile Riverine force. Our unit also served with the ARVN units to include their Special Forces. I also remember being with the Australian’s and the ROK "White Horse" contingent and the "Queen’s Cobra’s" from Thailand.
The mechanized flame-thrower has its primary mission of dislodging or destroying personnel in emplacements such as fortified positions, caves, tunnels, underground installations and buildings that resist assault by other weapons. It has a secondary mission of destroying material. Mechanized flame-throwers should attack in conjunction with other ground attack weapons, which exploit the advantage gained by flame and provide the necessary supporting fires to the flame-throwers. Coordination and detailed planning with supported and supporting arms are of primary importance to the successful employment of mechanized flame-throwers.
The destructive, casualty-producing, and shock effects of mechanized flame weapons are the same as the effects of other on-mobile flame weapons. However, a flame gun mounted in a highly mobile vehicle gives it capabilities and limitations different from those other flame weapons and dictates differences in its employment. These differences do not alter the fact that all flame-throwers are considered complementary, rather than supplementary, to the other fire support means available to the ground commander and must be integrated into the plan for fire support.
The nickname, "Zippo’s", was given to the flame-thrower APCs due to the way the crew ignited the napalm when the electronic igniters failed. We took out our zippo lighters and hand lit the napalm coming out the barrel. The majority of us had no hair on our arms for the duration of our tour. During WWII the tank, flame-throwers were called "Ronson’s", because they lit on the first spark. Enemy caused-or accident that is! The Flame Unit was a converted M113a1 APC with 4 tanks (pressurized) that held the napalm. The driver sat in the normal front left position and the TC (tank commander) sat in the middle of the turret. The weapons controls were on the side of the pipe that ran from the napalm tanks up to and out the flame barrel. There was a 7.62 machinegun (M73) that was also electric firing (it failed a lot-either it jammed or due to an electric short) beside the flame barrel. That was all the armament except for our side arms (M16 and 45) on our vehicle. During any action the other APC’s or personnel would leave us and get far away in case we took any rounds or rocket fire. I guess the spirit of adventure leaves you when 3000lbs of pressurized napalm is nearby. I have been sent the pictures of the effects of one round in the right spot on a Zippo.
All flame guns have a high flame fuel consumption rate; but because the mechanized flame-thrower has a greater napalm capacity than that of the portable type, it can give a greater and more effective flame before its tanks must be refilled. Its speed and mobility help in its re-servicing and re-employmnents. Its capability of sustained operation should not be measured in seconds or minutes of continuous firing, but by the number of effective bursts (shots) that it can deliver (4 or 5 bursts of 6-8 seconds in length). In simple terms, the bursts are thought of as rounds of ammunition. The effective range of the flame-thrower APC is 150-170 meters.
The drivers hatch-next to engine
Much of the time we were TDY to other units in places like the rubber plantation, Indian territory, fishhook, Angel’s wing, Boi Loi Woods, Cam sot zone, Dong Tam, My Tho and during operations like Fairfax and Junction City and the1968 TET Offensive. Our TDY duty would sometimes be for a week or longer. While attached to another unit their Medics/corpsman would tend to our health needs or wounds. Now I find out that the records were not always sent back to our home unit causing problems, at the VA, with pending disability cases.
We were the trial flame-thrower APC unit the Navy used to decide the effectiveness of installing flame units on their boats. In the summer of 1967 we received orders to report to the MRF (Mobile Riverine Force) at Dong Tam. The morning after our arrival in Dong Tam we went down to the shoreline and were informed by the Navy what they wanted to do. We backed our APC down inside the ATC (Armored Troop Carrier-a type of Landing craft) and had to fire from the sides as the landing ramp protruded up in the front and would have deflected the flame or weapons fire back at us. The APC backed into the ATC left only inches on each side of the craft and only 2-3 feet of room in the rear. They normally had to remove the machineguns on the sides, front and rear of the belly section. There was not enough room for someone to operate them and the heat from the flame was not a wise thing to expose ammo and personnel to. There were two APC flame-throwers in separate craft and one 2½-ton truck used for service and the mixing of the napalm in another. The APC had a crew of two and the service truck also had 2 men assigned to it.
The main problem with the Flame-thrower APC was its high rate of napalm consumption. If mixed properly the napalm could only sustain 32 seconds of burn time. The most effective use was by firing in 2-3 second bursts. In certain instances firing of a wet burst (unlit) followed by a lit burst would cause an explosion due to the fumes gathering inside a structure. It also removed all the oxygen in any structure/building when ignited by the second "lit" burst. While it is a highly effective weapon, lack of reloading without returning to a SAFE area limits its effectiveness. While it has the speed and mobility of any APC, this creates a problem with its limited weapons. It can burn cover from the enemy, clear bunkers/buildings without physically sending anyone in until after it was burned clear and waiting a short time to insure that ammunition, possibly stored inside, exploded.
Driver's Hatch - Engine Vent on the Right
After the initial test of the capabilities, the Navy and Army Brass decided to use us on several operations and began building flame boats for the Mobile Riverine - Force. I did not see the final Flame boat while in Vietnam but have seen pictures of it in operation and the design since. I have included some photos for the article they have been provided by Mobile Riverine Force Association members. I thank them for their help - their names are listed at the end of the article.
Firing the Zippo APC from the boat.Side View with author 1967
Firing from ATC
Service TruckFlame turret
Final Navy flame unit
History of the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC)
From the beginning in 1960 the M113 APC with various adaptation have entered service in over 50 countries. There are various modifications to over 40 different specific variants. That does not include the field modifications or specific countries need due to type of combat or terrain. Many of the older style are being retired, but there is a new model with upgrades and modifications.
The original M113 was meant to be a Vehicle that could carry 11 soldiers plus a driver and tank commander (TC) with armor protection across battlefield areas. The important key was that they were air transportable, air-droppable, and could even float/power through water. This allowed military planners to add APC’s into a much wider range of combat situations-to include "rapid deployment" scenarios. The M113’s were quickly recognized as the foundation for a family of vehicles. Early versions included a command post (M577), mortar carrier (M106 and of course the Flame-thrower version described in this article. (The M132)
The M113 was changed over the years with many adaptations for each purpose: including the M132
In 1960 it used a gasoline engine with 209 HP and had a combat weight of 23,520 lbs. and a cruising range of 200 miles.
In 1964 it ‘s weight increased to 24,594 and had a diesel engine rated at 212HP and a cruising range of 300 miles and was called the M113a1.
In 1979 it became the M113a2 and a combat weight of 24,728 with the diesel engine still rated at 212HP.
The next change was in 1987 when the model M113A3 was introduced with a diesel engine putting out 275HP, weighing 27,000 and had a top speed of 41MPH. The other versions could barely achieve 37MPH - this is a real factor in battle, every MPH can and does make a difference. They still maintained a cruising range of 300 miles.
History of the Flame Boat (Zippo)
The original Zippo was a converted LCM-6 Landing craft from WWII. It was modified with bar armor trigger plate (almost all craft in the MRF had this modification). This caused the premature denotation of a warhead from a enemy B-40 Rocket or recoilless rifle round and reduced the penetration of any other armor. It also became a area of storage space-mainly c-rations. They also added Styrofoam pontoons along the hull to help compensate for the weight of the added armor and equipment.
The Zippo boats were created by adding two Army flame-thrower turrets and became very effective for burning back the vegetation from the edge of the waterways. This stopped the enemy from being able to setup ambushes in the cover. If a building such as a hootch or a bunker was within range it was also extremely effective in destroying them. The sight of a Flame-thrower also created fear in many a person. A crew of eleven was onboard and used other armament usually consisting of 50 cal. 30 cal. machineguns. On occasion twin 50’s or a 20mm cannon were mounted in a center turret. Top speed was only 8 knots and they were powered by two Detroit diesel engines with dual shaft drives.
Navy photos courtesy of Don Blankenship, Don Anderson, Jimmy Bryant
Flame APC photos by Paul Kasper
Some data from Military/Info, Golden Valley, Minn
9th Infantry Division Campaigns in Vietnam
Counteroffensive Phase II
Counteroffensive Phase III
Counteroffensive Phase IV
Counteroffensive Phase V
Counteroffensive Phase VI
The 15th Combat Engineer Battalion twice earned the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm for its outstanding military service. They also received the Civil Action Honor medal, First Class for numerous civic actions and the Presidential Unit citation. The various Company’s received many other awards as well as individual awards. Many members are listed on the Wall for giving all. The unit was rotated to Hawaii in 1969, where it was inactivated.
Paul Kasper has a website at
There are more photos, information, sounds and songs from Vietnam