With the modern military emphasis on whiz-bang weapons technology and the constant quest for things that make a bigger bang on the battlefield, it’s easy to forget that at the dark heart of war stands an infantryman and his individual weapons. Those who understand warfare from research or from personal experience generally realize that about conflicts that have plagued mankind since the dawn of time.
Infantry weapons – often simply referred to as small arms – have fascinated soldiers and scholars for decades as they are the most personal aspects of combat. Small arms come into play when contact is close and potentially lethal. This was particularly true during the long, frustrating war in Vietnam but much of the focus in studying that conflict has been either on aerial weapons – strike aircraft or armed helicopters – or on the originally much-maligned M-16 rifle. There were huge numbers of other weapons used daily by both sides but they are often ignored and rarely seen being used in combat action.
This book solves that problem. Divided into easily digestible sections and preceded by cogent discussion of each weapon type, the authors have presented an intriguing collection of photographs that depict the primary small (and not so small) infantry arms most common on Vietnam battlefields. There are rare and stirring images here that depict what it was like to fight in the jungle-covered mountains and in the rice paddies. Viewing these images is like studying a primer about one of America’s longest and deadliest wars.
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Small Arms of the Vietnam War
A Photographic Study
By Dale A. Dye, Tom Laemlein
Warriors Publishing GroupCopyright © 2015 Dale A. Dye and Tom Laemlein
All rights reserved.
PISTOLS AND REVOLVERS
Pistols and revolvers are small, light, easy to conceal, fast to bring to bear, and may have more safety features than other firearms. Generally being an emergency self-defense weapon for use under 25 meters, a handgun bullet has neither the energy nor the accuracy of a bullet shot from a rifle.
PISTOLS AND REVOLVERS
The Colt M1911 .45 caliber pistol was in continuous service since its inception, seeing service in two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, and more.
As modern military forces worldwide developed and fielded reliable and accurate infantry shoulder weapons, pistols and revolvers became secondary weapons. The combat handgun was relegated in most nations to the role of self-defense weapon for officers not otherwise armed, a last-ditch back-up for gunners manning crew-served weapons, or as a survival tool for aircraft and combat vehicle crews. For the allied forces that fought in Vietnam, the two most common examples were the M1911Al .45 caliber semi-auto issued to U.S. and ARVN forces and the Smith & Wesson Military & Police Model .38 caliber revolver carried by combat aircrews.
Given the close-quarters nature of most infantry combat engagements in Vietnam and some other special circumstances, the pistol took on a more important role than it was designed to fill. Notably, the venerable .45 pistol became the principal tool of "Tunnel Rats" who crawled into enemy bunkers, underground fortifications, and tunnel complexes generally armed with nothing more than a pistol and a flashlight. Combat narratives from veterans who engaged Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army units at close ranges during the war are filled with stories of pistols used effectively when rifles or other weapons failed or fell short of ammunition. In such desperate engagements, the stopping power of the .45 ACP round was particularly praised as a rapid and reliable fight-ender.
Throughout the long war in Vietnam — and particularly in the early years when regulations regarding personal defense weapons were more lax — there is evidence that quite a number of combat soldiers and Marines carried civilian weapons either brought from home or sent by anxious family or friends. There was a particular up-tick in the appearance of civilian pistols and revolvers during the force-wide fielding of the M16 rifle when reports of regular battlefield malfunctions became widespread.CHAPTER 2
A shoulder-fired automatic firearm designed to fire pistol cartridges from a box magazine, combining the automatic fire of larger machineguns with the portability and smaller cartridge of a pistol.
The term submachine gun was coined by John T. Thompson, the inventor of the Thompson.
After World War II, the U.S. military had essentially given up on the concept of submachine guns. Even so, several types remained in the inventory of the American arsenal. By the time of the Vietnam War, the .45 caliber M3/M3A1 "Grease Gun" had been mostly withdrawn from front-line service but still equipped U.S. Army mechanized units and were part of the inventory of USMC special troops. The Grease Gun was supplied to ARVN troops, South Vietnamese Popular Forces, and also to the Montagnard mountain peoples. Rugged but rather slow firing — less than 500 rounds per minute — the Grease Gun was commonly found throughout the Vietnam War.
Large numbers of .45 caliber Thompson Submachine Guns, both the M1 and the M1A1 variant, were still kept in America's reserve stocks and many were supplied to ARVN troops and Vietnamese Popular Forces during the early 1960s. One of the finest submachine guns ever built, the Thompson was commonly seen in the early years of the Vietnam War — some had originally been brought to Vietnam by French forces in the 1950s, and some trickled down from China in the hands of Viet Cong troops. Some Thompson Gun copies were also fabricated in Vietnamese cottage workshops. The weight of the Thompson — more than 10.5 pounds unloaded — proved problematic for the slight build of the Vietnamese. Several photos show Vietnamese troops carrying the Thompson Gun with its buttstock removed.
Australian troops deployed to Vietnam with a small number of the 9mm Owen Submachine Gun. The World War II vintage Owen was a popular gun with the troops from down under and remained in Australian service until the mid-1960s.CHAPTER 3
A shotgun (also known as a scattergun or peppergun, or historically as a fowling piece) is a firearm that is usually designed to be fired from the shoulder, which uses the energy of a fixed shell to fire a number of small spherical pellets called shot, or a solid projectile called a slug.
When facing multiple opponents at close quarters, few weapons can match the shotgun. For urban combat, prisoner control, and shipboard operations it remains as deadly today as it was a century ago.
American military forces have carried shotguns in combat since World War I, when scatterguns proved particularly handy in brooming enemy forces out of linear trench lines where pinpoint accuracy and extended range was less important than simple blast effect. The consistent occurrence of close-range enemy ambushes in Vietnam brought the shotgun into regular front-line action from the mostly Military Police or prison-guard role it played in World War II and Korea. Shotguns — mainly eight-shot 12-gauge Remington Model 870 "riot-gun" types or variants — were issued in many infantry units as patrol weapons or for perimeter defense of firebases or other semi-permanent installations.
Soldiers or Marines armed with shotguns and walking point for combat patrols generally carried an alternating mix of 00 buckshot and slugs in their weapons. Virtually all shotgun rounds issued in Vietnam were either brass or plastic cased since the wet and humid jungle tended to be hard on cardboard casings. The issue shotgun loaded with double-ought buckshot could kill out to ranges of 30 meters and wound at double that distance. The major drawback was the spread of the nine balls contained in a buckshot round, making it possible to miss a man-size target at longer ranges, but an enemy engaged at five to ten meters was a sure kill for shotgunners. Marines, who carried a larger-than-usual number of 12gauge shotguns into urban combat in Hue during Tet 1968, reported the weapon to be particularly effective in room-clearing engagements with NVA occupying houses or buildings in the embattled city.
During the mid-1960s when the war in Vietnam was in its bloodiest period, ordnance researchers were experimenting with "flechettes" for a variety of American weapons. Flechettes are best described as little — about 25mm — arrows, darts, or nails with fins. While flechette rounds were developed for a host of American weapons up to and including 105mm howitzers, most line infantrymen in Vietnam knew about them from using flechette rounds in shotguns. Both Remington and Winchester-Olin developed and fielded flechettes rounds for 12-gauge shotguns. These launched some 20 flechettes which were reportedly capable of penetrating flak-jackets and steel helmets out at ranges up to 400 meters, but most shotgunners found the flechette round most effective at 30 to 35 meters. The down-side of using flechettes in shotguns was a failure of the load to penetrate heavy jungle growth. An enemy behind a meter or two of bush was relatively safe from the effects of a flechettes round fired in his direction.CHAPTER 4
RIFLES & CARBINES
A firearm, fired from shoulder level, having a long spirally grooved or rifled barrel intended to make a bullet spin and thereby have greater accuracy over a long distance.
RIFLES & CARBINES
The American-made M16 rifle was redesigned in 1966 to perform better in the wet, dirty conditions that prevailed in ground combat during the Vietnam War, and it became the weapon most commonly associated with U.S. troops in that conflict.
The vast majority of battlefield engagements in Vietnam involved soldiers exchanging fire from rifles of one form or another. The standard issue infantry shoulder-weapon early in the war was the M14 in 7.62mm carried by the Army and Marine units until that venerable weapons was replaced (sometimes forcibly as in the case of the U.S. Marine Corps resisting surrender of the longer-range and heavier-hitting rifle), by the M16 which was classified as an assault rifle owing to its selective-fire capability which allowed the rifleman an option of either semi-automatic or full-auto fire from a 20-round magazine of 5.56mm rounds. There were also bolt-guns carried primarily by trained snipers, and the venerable M1 Garand rifle saw plenty of service in the hands of many ARVN soldiers. By 1966 and throughout the remainder of the war, the M16A1 — an improved version of the original — was the bog-standard infantryman's weapon of most allied forces in Vietnam. A notable exception was the 7.62mm L1A1 Self-loading Rifle (SLR) carried by Australian and New Zealander troops of the Royal Australian Regiment in Vietnam.
It's unreasonable to consider the M16 — sometimes called the Matty Mattel rifle by critics of its plastic and steel construction and the black-rifle or widow-maker by fans of its light weight and firepower — without some attention to the teething problems of the initial-issue version of the weapon. Infantrymen were encountering excessive fouling of the rifle which resulted in jams and malfunctions at the worst possible times. A major Congressional investigation discovered there were essentially three major problems with the M16 and its issue ammo. These included a high-residue propellant which fouled the action after a magazine or two of fire, a lack of chromed chamber and barrel, and a lack of proper maintenance training and equipment among the troops carrying the weapon in jungle conditions. The Army quickly addressed these problems and came up with the M16Al — plus a blitzkrieg training program and the proper equipment for rifle maintenance — to produce one of the most significant and effective battle rifles of the 20th Century.
Carbines — lighter, shoulder-fired weapons with a shorter barrel than a rifle — are generally diminutive versions of full length weapons and designed to fire either the same ammo as a rifle or in most cases lower-powered rounds including those originally designed for military pistols. Familiar carbines such as the venerable U.S. M1 of World War II heritage and the M2, its select-fire variant, were often carried by ARVN regional forces and their American advisors early in the war. In a nod to ammo standardization and in an effort to improve the lethality of the standard carbine round, American ordnance designers in the mid-1960s fielded the CAR-15, essentially a carbine version of the M16 rifle with a collapsible stock assembly and made to fire the 5.56mm round from either 20 or 30 round magazines. These experimental weapons — official U.S. Army designation XM-177E1 — began arriving in Vietnam in 1966 and met with approval by users who believed them to be the ideal weapon for commanders, radio operators, forward observers, dog handlers and others who needed more compact firepower. Despite glowing reports on the weapon, particularly from Special Operations troops, technical problems such as erratic rates of fire and consistent clogging due to residue after sustained automatic fire plagued the CAR-15 experiment. Production of the carbine was terminated in 1970 and soon thereafter it began to disappear from the battlefield as existing weapons were cannibalized for replacement parts.CHAPTER 5
GENERAL PURPOSE MACHINEGUNS
A general purpose machinegun is designed to be employed by an individual soildier, with or without an assistant, as an infantry support weapon. It generally has a caliber no greater than .30 inch or 7.62mm.
GENERAL PURPOSE MACHINEGUNS
General Purpose or Light Machineguns are designed to be carried by infantry. Most are fired from a bipod or light tripod but can be fired from the hip in an emergency.
Second only to the rifle on Vietnam battlefields, the General Purpose or Light Machinegun (LMG) was the most common direct-fire weapon used by infantrymen in battle with units of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. Allied small-unit offensive tactics were designed and employed around a base of fire provided by machinegun crews, who pounded targets and covered riflemen maneuvering against enemy formations or fortifications. In the defense of hard-won positions, strategic firebases, or other installations, the LMG was always positioned in pivotal locations to sweep enemy attackers with rapid, well-aimed fire.
There were generally two basic models of LMG employed by allied forces facing the Viet Cong and NVA. A very common LMG, particularly among line ARVN infantry, Popular Force and Regional Force units was the M1919A4 Browning, which was issued as a crew-served weapon with tripod, T&E device, and other accoutrements. Those Americans who operated in proximity to ARVN units often saw the .30 caliber weapon in its A6 variant which included a carrying handle, shoulder stock, and bipod. The M1919A4 also saw extensive service in American units primarily as a coaxial weapon on tanks or an infantry-support weapon on Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) and wheeled vehicles of several types. While it couldn't be called the workhorse GPMG in Vietnam, the venerable Browning air-cooled .30 caliber showed up in some very interesting and diverse places throughout the war.
The most common crew-served infantry support weapon on Vietnam battlefields was the M60 GPMG, affectionately known as The Pig due to its 28-pound unloaded weight. The M60, manned by a trained gunner and his assistant, fired the 7.62mm round from belts of 200 strung together in disintegrating metal links at the rapid rate of 800 rounds per minute. It was a reliable, hard-hitting weapon with an action modeled on the German MG-42 system. It had a rugged bipod that was standard infantry issue, but could also — although rarely in the field — be fired from an issue tripod that included a precision-fire traversing and elevating device. The weapon had an interchangeable barrel that was supposed to be switched out periodically with a spare carried by the assistant machinegunner, although in practice these spare barrels often disappeared or were disregarded in the heat of combat. Trained and talented M60 gunners kept the barrels relatively cool by firing in constrained bursts of eight to ten rounds. During sustained fire, it was common for gunners to cool the barrels with Lubricant Small Arms (LSA) although the practice engendered clouds of steam marking the gun's position. While the M60 GPMG gained well-deserved fame in the small-unit infantry support role, it was also fitted via pedestal or traversing ring-mounts on vehicles such as APCs, trucks, and Jeeps. One of the most familiar and effective uses of the M60 GPMG was the primary weapon of otherwise unarmed helicopters in Vietnam. Initially hung from bungee cords in the doors of various helicopters and later on specially designed pedestal mounts, the M60 GPMG was very effective as a suppression or defensive weapon in the hands of skilled door-gunners.CHAPTER 6
BARS AND THE STONER SYSTEM
The U.S. military defines "assault rifles" as short, compact, selective-fire weapons that employ a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges. That would include the M16 and the AK-47, but there were some outliers — weapons with arguable classification — that saw limited service in Vietnam.
BARS AND THE STONER SYSTEM
For nearly 50 years, the BAR reigned supreme on the battlefield.
Most ordnance technical experts and gun gurus can agree that a true "assault rifle" is an individual, selective-fire weapon that feeds an intermediate cartridge from a detachable magazine. That's about all they can agree on when it comes to classifying the plethora of weapon types that wound up being used in the long war in Vietnam. For instance, there are those who insist that the venerable American M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle should really be classified as a light machinegun. And there are those who argue that the Stoner weapon system, employed by Navy SEAL teams and tested by the U.S. Marines in Vietnam, is both light machinegun and assault rifle depending on configuration. These disputes mark those weapons as outliers in our book.
In Vietnam, the BAR, most commonly encountered in the hands of ARVN troops, was most often used as a base of fire covering maneuver elements in combat or as a strongpoint in static defensive positions. Since the BAR fired the same .30 caliber standard ammo as the M-1 Garand rifle and the M1919 series of machineguns with which they were typically equipped for most of the war years, commonality of ammunition was a plus for South Vietnamese units. At a hefty 19 pounds and 48 inches long, the BAR was a handful for diminutive ARVN troops but they learned to use it with great skill and effectiveness, especially during the early years of the war. Some American units employed BARs during the war but these were mostly Navy or garrison units that still had older weapons in their inventories or had traded with the ARVN to supply themselves with a little more firepower. In the fight for Hue City during Tet 1968 when American Marines overran an abandoned ARVN armory, several BARs were purloined and put to good use against the NVA in subsequent street fighting. VC and NVA units were not above capturing and using the BAR wherever they could get their hands on it but ammo resupply was always a problem for them.
Excerpted from Small Arms of the Vietnam War by Dale A. Dye, Tom Laemlein. Copyright © 2015 Dale A. Dye and Tom Laemlein. Excerpted by permission of Warriors Publishing Group.
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Table of Contents
Pistols and Revolvers,
Rifles and Carbines,
General Purpose Machineguns,
BARs and the Stoner System,
Grenade Launchers and Flamethrowers,
VC and NVA Small Arms,
American Rifles used by the VC & NVA,
RPGs, Recoiless Rifles, Rockets, and Flamethrowers,