Here is one of those strange stories that make the rounds on the internet every so often. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. undertook a massive bombing campaign against North Vietnamese forces. Most of us picture bombs filled with high explosives and napalm being dropped on the Vietnamese countryside, but that’s not all we dropped. Among other things dropped, a toilet was one of them.
Let me explain…
In November of 1965, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Midway (CV-41) was “on the line” at Dixie Station conducting air strikes into the Mekong Delta. One of the attack squadrons aboard was VA-25 “Fist of the Fleet” flying the Douglas A-1 Skyraider AKA “Spad.” According to squadron historian Holt Livesay, 4 November was to see the final sorties of the 1965 cruise and to commemorate the 6-millionth pound of ordnance dropped, the sailors decided that it should be something unique. Commander Clarence W. Stoddard Jr., the squadron Executive Officer (XO), was flying the A-1H Skyraider, BuNo. 135295, NE/572 “Paper Tiger II” and the sailors had armed it with a special weapon on its right wing…a toilet (as cited in Leone, 2017, paras. 1 – 2).
Obviously, this was not an authorized, nor standard, piece of ordnance. So, how did it get on the wing of an attack aircraft?
Apparently, the head (nautical jargon for a toilet) was damaged and destined to be thrown overboard, but a plane captain salvaged it prior to anyone giving it a float check. The ordnance men designed a rack, tail fins, and nose fuse for it, and fitted it to the aircraft. As Paper Tiger II taxied to the catapult, the plane checkers positioned themselves so as to block the porcelain throne from the view of the air boss and the captain. As the plane was catapulted off the deck, a message came over the 1MC asking, “what the hell was on 572’s right wing?” Reportedly, jokes came down from air intelligence about germ warfare being conducted (Prince, 2004, para. 6).
Here is footage of the aircraft on the catapult:
Clint Johnson, one of the squadron members recalls that, as he arrived on station over the target, CDR Stoddard read out the list of ordnance to the Forward Air Controller (FAC), concluding with “and one code name Sani-Flush.” LCDR Robin Bacon was flying 577 on Stoddard’s right wing and had a wing-mounted camera to film the event. He recalls that Stoddard went into a dive and dropped Sani-Flush. When it came off the plane, the toilet turned hole to the wind and nearly struck his aircraft. The FAC reported that it whistled all the way down. The footage Bacon shot made for great ready-room viewing, but sadly, it no longer exists (as cited in Prince, 2004, paras. 4 – 6). You might say that the Navy dropped all sorts of crap on the enemy…Ha…Ha…Ha.
Unfortunately, CDR Stoddard did not survive the war. Christopher Stoddard, USMC, his grandson, notes that CDR Stoddard was flying the exact same aircraft (NE/572) off the USS Coral Sea (CV-43) on 14 September 1966. While searching for enemy truck convoys near the village of Nghi Thiet, Stoddard was fired on by enemy surface-to-air missiles. He retreated over the Gulf of Tonkin, but the missiles hit his aircraft. Initially listed as Missing In Action (MIA), his status was changed to Killed In Action (KIA) in 1973 (as cited in Prince, 2004, para. 8).
An Earlier Example of Unconventional Ordnance
The “Sani-Flush” toilet certainly was not the first time the U.S. Navy dropped something unusual on the enemy. Again, the Skyraider was the aircraft of choice for this mission. In August of 1952, during the Korean War, AD-4 Skyraiders from the USS Princeton (CV-37) dropped a sink on the North Koreans. LCDR M.K. Dennis told the press that “we dropped everything on them (the North Koreans) but a kitchen sink.” Reportedly, this did not go well with an admiral, but he caved in to pressure from the press and the sink fell on Pyongyang later that month (as cited in Stilwell, 2020, paras. 8 – 10).
Yup, a kitchen sink.
Well, would you prefer to have a kitchen sink or a toilet dropped on you? The Navy can accommodate you, either way. It’s unknown if either the sink or the head killed any enemies upon impact with the ground. However, that 1,000-pound bomb the sink was attached to might have done some damage in Pyongyang. In any case, the difference is largely academic given the velocity at which they probably fell.
If anything, these two instances demonstrate that sailors and naval aviators have a distinct sense of humor. If you dig long enough through the annals of military history, you will find strange and wacky occurrences such as these. It is hard to say if such stunts would fly with the brass in this day and age, but you never know.
Leone, D. (2017, November 4). That Time a U.S. Navy A-1H Skyraider Dropped a “Toilet Bomb” on North Vietnam. The Aviation Geek Club. https://theaviationgeekclub.com/time-u-s-navy-1h-skyraider-dropped-toilet-bomb-north-vietnam/.
Prince, T. (2004, February 22). VA-25’s Toilet Bomb. MidwaySailor.com. https://www.midwaysailor.com/midwayva25bomb/.
Stilwell, B. (2020, July 17). That time this Navy squadron bombed North Vietnam with a toilet. We Are the Mighty. https://www.wearethemighty.com/articles/that-time-this-navy-squadron-bombed-north-vietnam-with-a-toilet.