Oozing Munitions

While at least one of the Blackhawk crew members thought that the oozing munition(s) he observed in the ASP was unusual, it is not unheard of for artillery munitions to leak, exude, or be at least partially covered with a brownish substance. At least one 307th Engineer mentioned seeing this phenomenon when rigging bunkers at Tallil and the An Nasiriyah SW ASP. He described some of the 155mm artillery rounds stored inside these bunkers as "oozing a brownish sap."[46]

A review of the 60th EOD Incident Journal indicates that a major demolition occurred on March 5, 1991[47] - less than 24 hours prior to the arrival of the Blackhawk and the BW sampling mission on March 6, 1991. This "blow," on March 5, 1991, was much larger than any that preceded it in this ASP, and included several munition types with increased burning action. This "blow" is also notable for being the first that involved large numbers of rockets: 1,000 132mm USSR high explosive anti-tank and 1,100 122mm USSR high explosive artillery rockets. These specific rocket types are significant because this demolition, only 4 days after the ASP was occupied, matches the 82nd Division Chemical Officer’s comments concerning 122mm rockets "cooking off" and landing near his Command Post.[48]

In order to understand this information and to answer several questions concerning munition "cook-offs," munitions oozing a brownish substance, and fizzing munitions, the Naval EOD Technical Center, Indian Head, Maryland, provided a technical review. The Center’s assessment covered several situations in which it might be "normal" for an artillery munition to leak or ooze materials when subjected to high heat or pressure environments like those found in an ASP demolition. Of note, the 60th EOD Incident Journal indicates that the March 5, 1991, demolition included over 26,000 155mm HE fragmentation projectiles.[49] According to the Naval EOD Technical Center assessment:

Undamaged artillery projectiles or rockets that are stored correctly should not leak or present any unusual problems. However, damaged ammunition involved in an explosion and/or subjected to intense heat could experience some leaking or exudation of the munition filler through the fuze cavity or cracks in the munition case that developed during the explosion. Undamaged munitions that are subjected to intense heat, i.e., involved in a fire, could build sufficient internal pressure to cause some of the munition filler to exude through the fuze cavity.[50]

The Naval EOD Technical Center also indicated that a visible residue and possibly a sputtering or fizzing noise may also be present when non-explosive fillers vent:

If the munition is filled with a smoke agent, such as White Phosphorus (WP), exposure to air will cause the WP to react, resulting in the burning of WP with a sputtering (fizzing?) sound and formation of white smoke. The leaking WP will eventually form a crust at the leak point that will cut off the air supply, stopping the reaction. Color of the crust can vary from a light orange to a rusty-brown color.[51]

A brownish residue may also have been present due to the manner in which the munitions were packed, transported, and stored. The 60th EOD Incident Journal indicates that the March 5, 1991, demolition included over 16,000 Russian 152mm artillery projectiles.[52] According to the Naval EOD Technical Center assessment:

Some artillery ammunition manufactured by countries of the Former Soviet Union [Russia] and the Far East are shipped and stored with plastic fuze well plugs that are colored light blue, black, brown, or reddish-brown. Plug materials may be plastic, bakelite, or phenolic. If the munition was exposed to sufficient heat, the plastic plug could melt and resolidify, giving the impression of something oozing out of the munition. Some projectiles and cartridge cases, ranging from 57mm and larger, have a thin layer of brown preservative grease applied to the projectile body and cartridge case.... Projectile fuze wells have been known to contain a thick layer of brown grease to protect the fuze-well threads, and the heating of this grease may cause it to run and possibly give the impression of a leaking munition.[53]


Demolition Activities

The Combat Engineers who assisted the 60th EOD in destroying facilities and munitions were primarily from C Company, 307th Engineering Battalion.[54] More than 30 engineers from this unit have been interviewed, including platoon leaders, the executive officer, the intelligence officer, and the 307th Engineer Battalion Commander. Destroying captured munitions is not normally part of their combat duties, but because of the large quantities at this ASP, EOD personnel gave the Engineers on-the-job training and put them to work rigging explosives. During interviews with C Company engineers, they consistently reported that they rigged no CW munitions and had no first-hand knowledge of CW being discovered.[55]

From approximately March 3 to March 10, 1991, the Commander of the 307th Engineer Battalion was physically present at Tallil. Due to the cease-fire, the presence of two Fox vehicles conducting reconnaissance operations in the ASP area,[56] and the lack of a specific identified CW threat, the use of M8 chemical alarms and M256 kits by engineers and EOD technicians conducting demolition operations was limited.[57] The day before his arrival, the 307th Engineer Battalion Commander remembers receiving a division intelligence report of a probable chemical facility at Tallil. He remembers receiving no other specific CW warnings concerning either the air base or ASP. Since the 82nd Airborne Division Chemical Corps technicians had already cleared the area, his subordinates did not wear CW protective gear while at the ASP.[58] The Engineer and EOD teams destroyed army munitions including small arms ammunition, mortar rounds, anti-tank rockets, artillery rockets, artillery rounds, anti-aircraft artillery rounds, tank ammunition, and explosives. They also destroyed aircraft munitions including general purpose bombs, cluster munitions, incendiary bombs, unguided rockets, air-to-air, and air-to-ground missiles. A 307th Engineer Battalion operations summary reported that they also destroyed 18 MiG aircraft. No CW items were listed.[59]

While C Company, 307th Engineers and the 60th EOD performed the majority of bunker demolition work at Tallil and the ASP, several other units were also involved. USAF EOD technicians from the 1703rd EOD Detachment destroyed unexploded ordnance and identified specific air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance for shipment to rear areas. Several of these individuals, including the 1703rd EOD Commander, were interviewed; none of them saw any chemical weapons.[60] Organized demolition operations by units of the 82nd Airborne Division at Tallil Air Base and the An Nasiriyah ASP began on March 2, 1991, and continued through approximately March 23, 1991.


Figure 6. Destroyed fighter near ASP

On approximately March 24, 1991, units of the 82nd Airborne Division (including C Company, 307th Engineer Battalion and the 60th EOD) rotated out of the area and were replaced by the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and its supporting units, which included the 84th Engineer Company and the 146th EOD Detachment. The logs of the 146th indicate that the new units continued to destroy substantial quantities of munitions and that demolition operations at Tallil and the ASP continued into April 1991.[61] In an interview with the commander of the 146th EOD, he stated that he supervised the destruction of large quantities of army and air force ordnance, bunkers, aircraft, and facilities, but he did not observe any CW.[62]

The largest and most controversial of the demolitions at this ASP[63] occurred on April 2, 1991, at approximately 7:30 PM. As the former commander of the 84th Engineer Company described the situation:

On the 2nd of April ... [a]bout 7:30, 1930 in the evening, it was dark by then. On that particular day it was fairly cold and so I think all the atmospheric conditions contributed to people hearing it and seeing it for a long, long way.... It [demolition debris] was pretty much confined to the area, but some of the stuff that we rigged were in open air pits, to use this word. [The munitions] were not stored in bunkers, [they] were just racks of bombs that the EOD guys said were aviation bombs had been moved out of Tallil just to get them out of like ready racks into some real quick, kind of hasty [revetments], scrape up some dirt and lay them out in the open. These had fuel air mixtures and kind of things, incendiaries, so when this went off ... These incendiaries looked like nuclear explosions, they had fireballs at the base, big column going up of fire, and another mushroom column at the top.[64]


Figure 7. Aerial munitions awaiting demolition

A 146th EOD Journal entry lists this particular event and the types of munitions blown in place (BIP) on March 30, at 6:00 AM local.[65] This date and time are incorrect and out of sequence with the dates immediately before and after it. The types and quantities of munitions listed correspond to the event described by the 84th Engineer Company Commander. The first 15 entries are for several thousand aircraft delivered munitions to include: Russian FAB-250s (a 500lb general purpose bomb), FAB-500s (a 1,000lb general purpose bomb), US Mk83s (a 1,000lb general purpose bomb), French Belugas (a cluster munition), and several types of Spanish incendiary munitions. The correct date for this event - April 2, 1991, at approximately 7:30 PM - is confirmed in another account of this demolition by a 2nd ACR unit which gives additional details:

02 Apr 91: At approximately 1945 hours [7:45 PM], the Dynamite Base Camp [call sign of the 82nd Engineer Battalion] was alerted by the sound of a tremendous explosion originating from somewhere in the north. The Battalion, as well as the Regimental [2nd ACR] , FM [radio] nets began sounding like a late night radio talk show with everyone sending spot reports and everyone requesting updated information. Within a short period of time, a series of explosions lit up the sky with a fireball that was easily 800 ft high ... After the third set of explosions, information began coming over the Regimental command net that the explosions were originating from Tallil Airfield and were a result of an EOD team destroying ammunition and ordnance at the airfield.[66]


Figure 8. Photo of ASP demolition on April 2, 1991

An interview with the 210th Field Artillery Brigade [2nd ACR’s supporting artillery] executive officer also attests to the size of this demolition and the impact it had on those who witnessed it. The executive officer and his brigade commander were walking outside in the late afternoon or evening when they saw a tremendous yellowish fireball to the northeast. They both thought they saw a nuclear detonation, with a mushroom cloud following. They ordered their men to MOPP 4, which they were in for about an hour. Word was later passed on their tactical radio net that US engineers had caused the explosion.[67]

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