M16A1 Maintenance Comic

Retronaut has published a scan of the Army M16A1 Maintenance Comic from 1968.

“Clean your rifle … 3 – 5 times a day”

It is a wonder they found time to fight the Vietnam war between all that cleaning. I wonder how many of the M16A1 problems were caused by over cleaning and how many bores were ruined by cleaning rods. I commented to a friend that this shows how far the AR platform has come, he replied is also says just as much about how much we have learnt about the platform.

[ Many thanks to Whaleoil, Christopher & for emailing us the link. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Oswald Bastable

    Now there is a trip down memory lane!

    I remember that one floating around- not that we needed such things to keep our SLR’s going 😉

  • D

    I wonder what we’ll think is silly about firearms best practices in 40 years; it’d be really interesting to see how things have developed by that point.

    • noob

      “Do not attempt to glue together broken or chipped LSAT caseless ammo. Doing so can leave residue on the swinging chamber, fouling the action and may cause injury or death.”

    • Ian

      Probably not much different. Knowing how the US military works we’ll still be singing the praises of how great the AR-15 family of weapons are. We aren’t that smart.

  • Jesse

    Holy crap that is illustrated by Will Eisner. Awesome.

  • Brice

    You’ve got to remember that these rifles were being operated in a jungle environment using the wrong powder that burned really dirty mostly by conscripts. Most of these guys got told in basic that the M16 was a maintenance free rifle. Changing those ideas and dealing with ammo that wasn’t formulated right was a huge job. It’s a cool comic. I’m sure thankful that the rifles and ammo we have today work as well as they do.

    • Blackhawk2001

      The “maintenance free” concept had certainly disappeared by the time I entered Basic Training in 1970. We spent hours cleaning our M16s.

      • EthanP

        Unfortunately, when first issued, it was as a self cleaning rifle and without cleaning equipment.
        It was, early on given to troops who had trained on the M-14. Interestingly, the Marines, to whom a clean weapon is an article of faith, Had fewer problems than the Army. It was apparently worst in the 1st ID. A friend in the Marines at the time (3 Purple Hearts). said that a new buffer, which slowed the rate of fire helped a lot.

  • Reg

    There were serious reliability issues during the initial deployment. IIRC most of these were traced to a powder change.

    It was my understanding that the comic book was done to address a mistaken notion that the M16 did not need cleaning.

    • El Duderino

      No, they did a comic book b/c these were the young men who didn’t get into college…

      • They issued SOMETHING to address the “don’t need cleaning.”

        It’s in comic book form because of the low educational level of the troops.

        See? You’re both right!

      • Cymond

        This M-16 comic was illustrated by Will Eisner, who illustrated “PS, The Preventative Maintenance Monthly” from 1951 to 1971. PS is still published and is still basically a giant illustrated comic, although it has a lot more text and far worse art. Connie Rodd (the blonde above) first appeared in 1951. She’s now a professional rather than a sex symbol, but she still appears in each issue.

        Couldn’t get into college? (or couldn’t afford it) That may have been true during the draft in Vietnam but today’s military is strictly volunteer, and many of those volunteers sign up in exchange for help paying for college. How many of us read every word in our gun manuals? Most of us probably only reference them as needed. Do you expect soldiers to sit around reading pure-text maintenance manuals? The comic aspect makes it entertaining enough to read. Don’t blame the comic style on the soldiers’ intelligence, blame it on human laziness.



  • gunslinger

    man, i want one..

  • John Doe

    A prize to the first AR-15 manufacturer to include this in the stock of all their AR-15s!

  • To be honest, compared to the M-14, the M-16 is super easy to clean and maintain. In fact, the only other NATO rifle at the time which could stack up to the simplicity of the M-16 (maintenance-wise) is the FN FAL.

    • El Duderino

      Ya gotta be kidding me. The G3 is simply the easiest to maintain Western battle rifle…ever. Take out two pins and it falls apart, every part is big, trigger pack comes out for easy cleaning, no gas system to worry about. Just make sure to clean the flutes!

      • W

        the G3 is pretty simple. 😀 roller delayed blowback systems are also pretty rugged. Its my opinion that it made the FAL and M14 look complicated.

        Oh and if you think the M14 was a pain in the ass to clean, wait until you deal with the EBR.

  • gunslinger

    wait, is it me, or are there pages (8,9,20,21,24 and 27) missing from that comic?

  • EthanP

    Most of the problems with the early M-16s were self inflicted by an Army Ordanance that resented the introduction of a competitior to the home grown M-14. The army gave almost no training with the AR. Stateside training was with the M-14. Troops were often give the new rifle when they first arrived in country. It was issued as a self cleaning rifle. Ain’t no such animal. Even the Kalashnikov is issued with cleaning gear. The M-16 was NOT!. To add insult to injury, the powder used to load the 5.56×45 ammo was changed from that used by the developer (Dupont IMR) to Olin ball powder. Different burn rates increased the cyclic rate considerably. Worse, the Olin ball powder was made from remanufactured naval artillery powder surplus from all those WW2 battleships and cruisers now scrapped. The remanufacture included adding calcium carbonate. This really gummed up the small parts and impingment gas system. It should be added that the Israelis have not reported any problems in their arid dusty environment. Lets not forget that ultimately, the M-16 is the standard against which all other western combat rifles are judged. Only the Steyr AUG has had any real export success as of this date. Some nations make their own, UK, France, Germany and Italy, but these are exported only in small numbers.
    I recommend Clinton Ezells “The Great Rifle Controversy”. That where I got my info.

    • Evan

      The Army ordinance Dept. also decided it was too expensive to plate the interior of the magazines to manufacturer specifications, albeit for use in a jungle environment, and simply skipped plating them at all.

      Also, the rifle went into production without a chrome lined chamber or bore, which is not too bright for high round count service weapons. When paired with the under-spec powder propellant in the military 5.56 ammunition, this accounted for a large percentage of the weapon’s early problems.

      That’s why the AR-15/M16 rifle received such glowing praise from the Special Operations users who first tested it in 1961-1962. They read the manual and used off-the-shelf manufacturer-spec ammo.

      • Sean

        Actually that was Mcnamara and his whiz kids who decided it too expensive. Ordnance had reccommended it based on SWP experience in WWII. M1Carbine Bores post war were chromed in replacement barrels.

      • Evan

        I stand corrected Sean.

      • Evan Jay

        Actually the reason special forces were impressed with the m16 was because in those early days the rifles were issued with the original barrel twist as Eugene Stoner Specified which was 1:14 making the bullet tumble much easier producing impressive wound cavities. The army later changed to a faster 1:12 and then to 1:7 on the a2

    • Esh325

      “Lets not forget that ultimately, the M-16 is the standard against which all other western combat rifles are judged.” That’s your opinion, not saying it’s right or wrong. I wouldn’t judge a rifles success only on how much it was exported.

    • Schuultz

      Probably more fair to say that the M16/AR15 is the standard by which all Americans compare foreign weapons. I’m sure that the Russians in particular would consider their little known rifle the standard, you might’ve heard of it.

  • eye5600

    I think I remember seeing that comic, or something like it, when I was in-country (1969-70). The rifle issued to me by the 1st Div did not work worth beans. Officers (fresh from OCS) would tut-tut and say “gotta clean your rifle, soldier.” Shortly before I turned it in, an actual armorer took a look at it and replaced some parts.

    • Charles222

      Had a similar experience in 2003 with my M4; eventually turned out that the moron before me had tried to modify the trigger group to shoot full auto. I guess that explains why it kept trying to shoot bursts on Semi. :p

    • W

      Haha, your comment reminds me of this.


      I dont care what kind of rifle you have. When you surpass the service life of individual parts (gas rings, extractors and their springs, buffer spring) it will not be reliable and that is the problem with many M4’s in inventory.

      • charles222

        Completely true, W. Rifles are machines like any other; wouldn’t expect your truck to last very long after draining the radiator and oil, would you?

  • huey148

    The Army used to do comics like that all the time…the PM series with Old Sarge, Connie and Bonnie if I remember right….

    • Charles222

      They still do, actually-I’ve seen ones for the M1 and Bradley.

  • Mike Knox

    I had a copy of this once. My mom was more distressed about me reading this than playboy..

  • M.G. Halvorsen

    ! remember seeing this in the mid-70’s in Germany. The early problems were a direct result of the substitution of powder from Dupont IMR to Olin Ball, and the insistance that the M16 was a “self-cleaning rifle” and, therefore, no cleaning kit was necessary…We corrected those mistakes in the late 1960’s. The AR platform has proven to be an accurate and reliable weapon over the last 40+ years. My only complaint is the “bunny-bullet” it’s chambered in. Varmint rounds are NOT good combat cartridges…And everybody but the US Armed Forces seems to agree…Can we bump it up to a 7mm?

    • charles222

      Curious what you mean by “everybody”…NATO, which uses 5.56? The Russians, who issue 5.45? The Chinese, who issue 5.8? You must mean Japan or South Korea, or wait, they issue 5.56 as well…or maybe the Australians…who just selected upgrading their 5.56 AUGs over buying new rifles…

      • CanadianGunNut

        Hahah owned.

    • W

      varmint cartridges not good cartridges? research open tip match 5.56 and get back to us on that.

  • Lance

    A cool piece of Vietnam memorabilia. Overall there was nothing really wrong with the A1 it was the military fault in the first place. Glad to see A1s still in heavy foreign service, its a nice light weight rifle.

    • W

      The A1 was actually a very good rifle, though its thin barrel left much to be desired. That why I like the A4; rails, flattop receiver, and heavier barrel, though wish it would have a collapsable buttstock.

      • Charles222

        Um…it can…unless you mean it doesn’t come with one. :p

        I could swear Colt made an AR variant back in the 80s or 90s with a full-length barrel and the old CAR buttstock.

      • W

        I havent seen or heard of such a beast, though have taken the initiative to build one myself. I like the accuracy of the 20″ barrel, though it is awesome with a collapsable butt stock.

      • Esh325

        I think the A2 and A4 were good additions, but they increased the weight of the rifle by a significant amount which kind of defeats the purpose of the M16 being a light weight rifle. The 3 round burst mechanism was also flawed and some what made the trigger pull inconsistent. The barrel diameter under the handguard is not as thick either which hinders the accuracy potential a bit. Still a very accurate rifle though despite that.

  • Peter Ball

    Clean 3-5 times per day?

    I have one answer for that: AK

    She (Arsenal SGL-21) rests nice and happy inside a tennis racket bag, with 6 loaded mags.

    Yep, I sleep well knowing she won’t fail….anytime.

    • W

      do you fire surplus 5.45 ammunition?

      I clean my arsenals after every range session because of the ill effects of the readily available corrosive ammunition. AKs can seize up too if they’re abused hard enough.

      • Stella


        The SGL-21 is chambered for 7.62×39, of which surplus is far less common. New, non-corrosive Russian made stuff is inexpensive anyway–as far and centerfire cartridges go. I prefer my ARs but I do love my SGL. The prices right now for an SGL or really any AK are pretty crazy though.

      • W

        stella, that was my bad. i caught that when i read my comment again. I should know this since I own one *facepalm.

        I noticed this awesome new trend with the 7.62×39 too. When I bought a bunch of Tulammo, it was marked as “non corrosive”. good times 🙂

  • Matt

    My father gave me a copy of this when I was to young to appreciate it. I wish I had taken better care of it. Great to see it again.

  • Andrew Racek

    I’d love to see someone jam more than 20 rounds into a 20 round magazine. If its on the manual, I bet some dummy tried it.

  • If you want to own a copy, you can get it as a PDF on DVD-rom here:

    The DVD has two great M16 training films, and a vintage AR-10 promotional film and these vintage Tech Manuals:
    US Army M16A1 TM-9-1005-249-10 Operator Manual (1977)

    US Army TM-9-1005-249-14 General Support and Maintenance, Rifles 5.56mm, M16 and XM16E1 (1971 ?)

    * U.S. Army DA Pam 750-30 The M16A1 Rifle – Operation and Preventive Maintenance (1 July 1969) comic book format

    • Lance

      I got and prefer the USMC M-16A2 tech manual, covers alot.

  • I’d love to see anything equivalent issued by the Soviets with the SKS (or the Chinese for that matter). Of all the rifles in Vietnam I think the SKS survived the horrible conditions of jungle warfare the best. We’ve had a cheap Norinco since the late ’80s and that thing has *never* failed to fire or feed. It used to stovepipe occasionally but a new spring kit & bolt buffer took care of that.

    Of course, if there’s too much gunk around the firing pin it’ll slam-fire sometimes, which draws inqusitive looks at the range…

  • Chase

    I bought a copy of this from MidwayUSA to bring up my order total so I wouldn’t get punitive shipping charges. A fun read. 🙂

  • Sam Suggs

    nice to see somthing positive about the Vietnam conflict al the dam propaganda spued in the first major act of meadia sabotage still sticks in our history books to this day. i dotn care for the m16 platform particulrly those of this era oweer with prober maintaince and manufaturing teckniqes its certaintly servisble assuming you dont have to oprate for exstended periodes without cleaning