HDMS Silenced .22 Pistols in Vietnam

By Al Paulson

Two silenced pistols designed for clandestine and covert operations during World War II proved to be immensely popular with Allied operatives: the High Standard .22 Long Rifle HDMS pistol issued to members of the American OSS (Office of Strategic Services); and the 9x17mm and 9x19mm Welrod pistols issued to members of the British SOE (Special Operations Executive). Both the HDMS and the Welrod served with distinction in Indochina during the Vietnam War, as well.

The silenced .22 pistol had proven to be the most favored weapon of OSS operatives, and many hundreds formed the nucleus of the CIA’s armory when the agency was formed from the core cadre of the OSS following VJ Day. While a number of HDMS pistols remained in service with the Company, a large number were refurbished and stockpiled for a rainy day, which arrived in the 1960s with increasing U.S. involvement in South Vietnam.

High Standard silenced pistols were never standard-issue military weapons during the Vietnam period, but were rather issued to CIA operatives, CIA contract players, and U.S. military personal tasked with highly sensitive, high-priority missions of interest to the Company. That is to say, HDMS pistols were issued where silenced killing—using a compact, accurate instrument—with a minimal sound signature—were specific mission requirements. It also appears that some HDMS pistols were transferred to the U.S. Army’s newly established Special Forces (Green Berets).

For some people armed with the silenced High Standard, like pilots working for Air America (CIA’s “private” airline that was extremely active throughout Indochina and the Indo-West Pacific), carrying an HDMS in a shoulder holster represented a status symbol. This status symbol also served as a very real insurance policy if a pilot’s aircraft was shot down during a covert mission in Laos or Cambodia. For others, such as Special Forces members assigned to Project Phoenix, the silenced .22 pistol was the ideal tool for silently delivering a double tap to the head of an adversary. Phoenix was McGeorge Bundy’s “Tit for Tat” program to match Viet Cong assassinations of local leaders, educators and educated by seeking out and eliminating members of the Vietcong infrastructure with extreme prejudice. First proposed by presidential adviser Bundy in February 1965, the program did not actually begin until General Creighton Abrams gave the green light in 1968.

Before Project Phoenix officially started, HDMS pistols were principally used in Vietnam by courier intercept teams who liked the silenced High Standard .22 because the weapon could be used to disable a courier. All courier escorts would be killed in the ambush using more conventional weapons. Hitting the courier with a well-placed, silenced .22 rimfire round would be used to trigger the ambush. The big dividend of using the HDMS was that there was a good chance that the wounded courier could be kept alive (long enough) for interrogation if the shot was placed properly.

One HDMS was used by a Vietnamese operative of the Company who was assigned a Black Op in North Vietnam during the autumn of 1969. The scene was a crowded public park in Hanoi, where the operative silently shot the People’s Minister of Mobilization, with a minimum of fuss and blood. Witnesses simply assumed the North Vietnamese cabinet minister had a heart attack, and the operative made a clean getaway.

In 1970, an eight-man team of CIA and Special Forces personnel used HDMS pistols to take out the security detail guarding an important Viet Cong general staying at a remote plantation. When no one was left alive but the general, South Vietnamese accompanying the American team prodded the incredulous general awake and informed him he was a prisoner. In another operation that year, a Cambodian double agent was handled in a more traditional fashion by a CIA contract player, who used an HDMS to place a silenced single CNS (Central Nervous System) shot into the traitor as he left a hut to urinate.

A more notorious operation was successful but subsequently got blown, with the ultimate result that three Special Forces officers nearly went to jail for murder. A South Vietnamese double agent named Chuyen turned out to be a triple agent, who had been responsible for causing the deaths of many South Vietnamese. Captain Robert Marasco and two other Green Beret officers got the job to “eliminate” the triple agent “with extreme prejudice,” which was CIA-speak in those days. Mokrie dela was the term the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti used for the same activity, a term meaning “wet affairs or wet work.”

The three Green Berets conducted a very professional operation to locate and snatch Chuyen, whom they drugged with morphine in an effort to make their wet work more humane, despite the atrocities and loss of life visited upon the South Vietnamese by the triple agent. One of the Green Berets dispatched the brigand with two silenced shots to the head. The body was sealed in a mail sack along with plenty of weights, and then dumped well offshore into the South China Sea. The entire episode, including the legal aftermath when the mission became public knowledge, would make a great book.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N7 (April 2002)
and was posted online on February 21, 2014


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