E23 munition

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The E23 munition was a cardboard sub-munition developed by the United States biological weapons program for use as an anti-crop weapon. The E23 underwent a conversion for use as a vector weapon and was briefly used in large-scale entomological warfare trial but technical issues forced it from the tests.


The E23 munition was originally conceived as an anti-crop weapon.[1] When, following the Korean War, U.S. interest in large-scale entomological warfare increased, the E23 was one of two munitions involved in field testing the potential of insect vectors as weapons.[2]


The E23 was made of cardboard and had a diameter of 9.75 inches (24.8 cm) and a length of 18 inches (46 cm).[1] Essentially a cardboard container, the E23 consisted of an internal actuator which simply reversed a plastic bag, expelling its contents.[1] The E23 sub-munition also included a small parachute for use when dropped from the E77 cluster bomb.[1] The weapon was deployed between 2,000 and 1,000 feet in altitude after its release from the cluster bomb.[1] Once converted for use as a vector weapon the E23 could hold 200,000 rat fleas in its interior among small pieces of sponge.[1]


Initially, the E23 was involved in "Operation Big Itch".[1] In September 1954 Big Itch aimed to determine coverage patterns and survivability of uninfected tropical rat fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis) for use in biological warfare as disease vector.[3][4] In preliminary Big Itch tests approximately half of the E23 munitions failed to properly function.[1] In one instance, the problems with the E23 led uninfected fleas to escape into the aircraft where they bit the pilot, bombardier and an observer.[2] These problems led to the E23 being pulled off of Operation Big Itch.[1] Despite the problems with the E23, the Big Itch field trials ultimately proved successful.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kirby, Reid. "Using the flea as weapon", (Web version via findarticles.com), Army Chemical Review, July 2005, accessed December 28, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Croddy, Eric and Wirtz, James J. Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Encyclopedia of Worldwide Policy, Technology, and History, (Google Books), ABC-CLIO, 2005, p. 304, (ISBN 1-85109-490-3).
  3. ^ The tropical rat flea is a known vector for bubonic plague. See: Trivedi, "Xenopsylla cheopis".
  4. ^ a b Rose, William H. "An Evaluation of Entomological Warfare as a Potential Danger to the United States and European NATO Nations", U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, Dugway Proving Ground, March 1981, via thesmokinggun.com, accessed December 28, 2008.