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Mitchell Livingston Werbell, III

The man who brought "silent death" to the Vietnam War.

Mitchell Livingston Werbell, III

Mitchell Liningston Werbell, III

U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Alderbert F. Waldron was credited with 113 confirmed kills and 10 blood trails with his Sionics suppressor and accurized M14, designated the XM-21, during his five-month tour with Company D, 360th Infantry, 9th Division. The VC got wind of his deadly skills and put a $50,000 bounty on his head. He was nick-named “Daniel Boone.” Once Army Intell became aware of said bounty, Waldron was flown out of the country in 12 hours. As a result of his marksmanship, he undoubtedly was one of the highest decorated troop in Nam, garnering two DSC’s, two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars for meritorious service. To encourage snipers, the Army awarded a Bronze Star for 10 kills, a Silver Star for 20, and for 50, a Distinguished Service Cross. Waldron walked away with two Distinguished Service Crosses, five Silver Stars and 10 Bronze Stars. During the course of Waldron’s heroics, he utilized a Sionics sound suppressor, as exemplified by the following after action report:

Read the story of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Adelbert "Bert" Waldron here.

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Werbell with his extremely quiet suppressor installed on a Beretta Model 71 pistol.

“Sergeant Waldron and his partner occupied a night ambush position with Company D, 3/60th Infantry on 4 February 1969…The area selected for the ambush was at the end of a large rice paddy adjacent to a wooded area…At approximately 2105 hours, five Viet Cong moved from the wooded area toward Sergeant Waldron’s position and he took the first one in the group under fire, resulting in one Viet Cong killed. The remaining Viet Cong immediately dropped to the ground and did not move for several minutes. A short time later, four Viet Cong stood up and began moving again, apparently not aware of the fact they were being fired upon from the rice paddy. Sergeant Waldron took the four Viet Cong under fire, resulting in four Viet Cong killed. The next contact took place at 2345 hours, when four Viet Cong moved into the rice paddy from the left of Sergeant’s ambush position. The Viet Cong were taken under fire by Sergeant Waldron, resulting in four Viet Cong killed. A total of nine enemy soldiers were killed during the night at an average range of 400 meters. Sergeant Waldron used a starlight scope and a noise suppressor on his match grade M14 rifle in obtaining these kills.”

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Mitch WerBell (right) adjusting his suppressor for text and evaluation.

The man who indirectly played a significant role in Waldron’s success by providing the Sionics noise suppressor was Mitchel Livingston WerBell, III, allegedly the son of a wealthy Russian cavalry officer of the Russian Imperial Army, OSS operative in S.E. Asia who conducted covert operations behind Japanese lines in Manchuria during WWII. Werbell was a flamboyant international arms dealer, small arm innovator and adventurer who was involved in several soldier-of-fortune plots in the Caribbean and Central America. He claimed he was a retired Major General in the “Royal Free Afghan Army.” Upon discharge from the Army, he went into the advertising business, switched to public relations, founded his own public relations firm and drifted into suppressor development. From his 60-acre estate, he developed and patented a Gas Pressure Relief Valve, which vented high pressure gasses designed to reduce blow-back pressure, which made his suppressor far superior to any competition at the time. He also was the first to use exotic metals, such as titanium in suppressors. In l967, he went into the small arms and suppressor business on a full-time basis. In fact, at the time, many experts considered WerBell’s suppressor design as the most significant advancement in suppressor design since Hiram Maxim.

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WerBell’s patent #3,500,955 for a firearms silencer with helical suppressor elements.

His unique charismatic, flamboyant persona wowed potential investors and shocked his detractors as did his in-your-face promotional techniques. As one wag put it, “Mitch Werbell doesn’t wear cuff links, but if he did, they probably would contain explosives. The cane he carries conceals a small, but serviceable sword. His swagger stick doubles as a rocket launcher.” Some observers characterized WerBell as “…a wizard of whispering death.” Others, “… as the Thomas Edison of silenced weapons.” One of WerBell’s promotional gimmicks for investors and potential customers, was firing a Sionics suppressed Beretta into a couple of phone books in his hotel room. I never actually witnessed this particular ploy but did, along with WerBell, using a suppressed Beretta turn a garbage can into a sieve out of the window of the five-star Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., one bright summer Sunday afternoon in 1968. The Sionics firm’s name stood for “Studies In The Operational Negation of Insurgents and Counter-Subversion.” The heraldic emblem was a “CoBray” a half cobra snake and half moray eel. WerBell also developed, along with Gordon Ingram, manufactured and marketed the famous Ingram M-10 and M-11 submachine gun.

mitchell-livingston-werbell-05
The South Vietnamese Army were exposed to Sionics suppressors. Notice the CoBray emblem WerBell is wearing—a testimony to his marketing background.

I first met WerBell when we were both involved in varying degrees with an abortive attempt to launch an invasion from the U.S. and overthrow the Haitian dictator at the time…in l966, “Papa Doc” Duvalier. I then crossed his path on several occasions in l968, when he was flogging his wares to the Army and I was the Officer in Charge of the Army Marksmanship Training Unit (AMTU), XVIII Corps, Fort Bragg, North Carolina in l968 before I went to Viet Nam. WerBell was subsequently responsible for 40 or so Sionics suppressors, one of which was used by Waldron, being hand-carried to Major Willis Powell, who had been OIC of the AMTU at Fort Benning, who was heading up the 9th Division Sniper School. In 1968, Major General Julian J. Ewell, commander of the 9th Infantry Division, Viet Nam, believed snipers could effectively operate in the Division’s area of operations as large portions contained wide expanses of flat, cleared terrain and rice paddies.  He contacted the AMTU at Fort Benning, Georgia and asked them to develop a program for training snipers for the 9th Division. How the suppressors actually got in Major Powell’s hands and how they were paid for, if they were, remains a mystery. I contacted his eldest son, Mitch IV for an explanation with no luck as I did with the Army Marksmanship Training Unit at Ft. Benning, Georgia.  Major Powell has passed, and I was unable to locate any surviving members of his training team.

mitchell-livingston-werbell-06
Werbell’s Sionics suppressor in country. Founder of Soldier of Fortune magazine (right), Green Beret, and Bronze Star recipient Lt. Col. Robert K. Brown with an early version of WerBell’s and Ingram’s M-10 submachine gun.

I linked up with WerBell by chance when I was serving as a Battalion Intelligence Officer for the 2/18, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division in Vietnam. One day a TV crew from CBS showed up at our Tactical Operations Center. I noticed a familiar face. It belonged to a CBS cameraman who had been filming a documentary of the abortive Haitian invasion plot WerBell and I were involved in, in 1966. He shared how WerBell was now in Saigon promoting his wares to the U.S. and Vietnamese Army and was headquartered at the Astor Hotel on Tu Do Street. I grabbed a jeep, mumbled something about “…important intell business in Saigon… to my Battalion commander …” and tracked down the old rogue. WerBell, always gregarious and the showman par excellence, was as generous with his scotch as he was with his bullshit. In the course of discussing the effect of his suppressors on the war, I suggested I might be able to organize a demonstration of his arsenal at the South Vietnamese Army’s Infantry School in Thu Duc, as I had met and established rapport with the school’s Commanding General and I might be able to get John Paul Vann, a significant mover-and-shaker in the U.S. operation in Nam to attend.

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The M-10 (aka MAC-10) series of submachine guns, developed in part by Werbell, are some of the most recognizable in the history of small arms, and certainly the most compact with a high rate of fire.

Vann, had retired from Army as a Lt. Col. due to his outspoken criticism of how the Vietnam war was being waged. He came back to Nam as the Deputy for Civil Operations and Rural Development and held the equivalent rank as a civilian as a Major General. He made his mark in the war when he played a decisive role by calling in B-52 strikes on North Vietnamese armored columns during their March 1972 Easter offensive. He was a brilliant tactician and strategist who might have won the war in Nam if he had not died in an ill-timed chopper crash. Vann got my forever gratitude by doing me the favor of writing a letter to the then commander of the 5th Special Forces Group requesting I be transferred to Special Forces from the 1st Division. Colonel Arron granted his request and I started wearing a Green Beret. But that’s another story for another time. I had become friends with Vann, after being introduced to him by Col. Wendell Fertig, (Ret.) who had led guerilla operations against the Japanese in World War II. I met Fertig as I was selling copies of his autobiography through my small publishing company that specialized in guerilla and unconventional warfare.

WerBell lent me one of his Sionics suppressors for my M16. During the first firefight I got into, my new toy ended up rocketing down range a few meters. The results were under-whelming. I had not screwed it on tight enough. A few weeks later, I did arrange for a demonstration of WerBell’s exotic weapons and suppressors for both the M16 and M14 in late 1968 at the South Vietnamese Army Infantry School at Thu Duc, Vietnam. It was well attended by Vann, the Vietnamese Infantry School commanding general, high-ranking South Vietnamese officers, various Army personnel and CIA operatives. Vann stayed an hour busting caps with a variety of WerBell’s goodies and choppered off. I never saw him again. Waldron left the Army to join WerBell’s operation for a period of time. He passed on in 1995 as did WerBell at age 65 in 1983.

Editor's Note:  I would like to say that it has been an honor to have Lt. Col. Brown as a guest writer for this special issue. As an avid reader of Soldier of Fortune magazine since the late 1970s, as well as his other publications like Survive magazine, this is a memorable part of my firearms industry career. - Vincent L. DeNiro 


If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.




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