Land clearing became an important mission during the Vietnam War after realizing that soon after infantry soldiers would sweep an area the enemy would temporarily leave, then return and be able to once again hide in the dense jungle forest. Without any prior techniques on how to remove the thick vegetation the enemy found safety in, General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, told his staff to begin exploring options of how to clear the jungle (Thomas).
Early experiments with a ten-ton or heavier hollow ball being towed by a ship anchor linked to two very, heavy tractors, a device similar to one used in Australia, a one hundred ton tracked tank-like vehicle and the three wheeled LeTourneau tree-crusher all were unsuccessful. The parts were either too hard to fabricate or were too heavy to transport and the LeTourneau tree-crusher was too vulnerable of a target because of its large size (Evans). Success finally came when the Rome Plow was introduced.
The Rome Plow was already being used in the United States to cut fire breaks before it was applied for use during the Vietnam War. Manufactured by the Rome Plow Company in Georgia, the Rome Plow is an oversized blade that was attached to a D7E dozer. The D7E dozer had a reinforced cage for the operator’s protection and had a tubular steel skeleton that extended from the cage to the front of the dozer that acted like a shield for the engine. The plow blade weighed more than two and a half tons, was wider than the dozer and as tall as a man. It was mounted at a thirty degree angle so that debris would be cast aside, had a spade that was curved more than the conventional earth-moving blade and it also had a reinforced steel stringer that protruded for the left side. The operator would repeatedly stab the tree in order to weaken it, while rotating the dozer in order to cut the tree down (Thomas). The Rome Plow’s usefulness became evident early on and lead Lieutenant General Julian J. Ewell, who was commander of II Field Force to say that it was “the most effective device” for winning the war (Evans).
Three land clearing teams were operational by the summer of 1967, equipped with thirty Rome Plows. Two of the teams were assigned to the 20th Engineer Brigade, supporting II Field Force and the other was assigned to the 18th Engineer Brigade, supporting I Field Force. Other engineer units were conducting land clearing missions on a smaller scale by divisional engineer combat battalions. Organizational changes were needed as the conflict intensified and tactical units who had land clearing teams attached faced drains of their command, administrative and especially their maintenance capabilities. The three land clearing teams were then reorganized into companies, with thirty Rome Plows each, in December 1968. Then in January 1969 three more companies were activated making a total of six land clearing companies. The six companies were divided between the...