Frontline Vietnam: The M16A1 5.56mm Rifle

2015-02-28 03_16_58-FRONTLINE VIETNAM_ 5.56mm M-16a1 Rifle (720p) - YouTube

Vietnam saw the introduction of the M16 rifle – the US Army’s first rifle of caliber smaller than .30, and its first automatic rifle issued to every man in the rifle squad. What was advertised as a huge step forward, however, has become one of the most infamous moments in Army procurement since. To this day, the AR-15 rifle family bears as a black mark its premature and mismanaged introduction to service. The rifle, issued with ammunition of an entirely new type that was not yet held to proper military specifications for case hardness and pressure, advertised to the troops as “low maintenance”, and not yet equipped with a chrome-lined bore or chamber, produced disastrous results for many soldiers and Marines equipped with it.

The Ichord Committee report would identify many of these issues, and – too slowly – action was taken to help remedy the rifle’s faults. One such action was this training video on how to maintain and keep in operation the M16A1 rifle. The video as hosted on YouTube does not have a date attached, but it was originally produced in 1968 under the title “Rifle, M16A1 Part II – Field Expedients”:

We can see in this video a dramatic shift from the initial official attitude towards the M16 rifle. It is no longer advertised as “low maintenance”, an overview of recommended and field expedient cleaning supplies (including toothbrushes and pipe cleaners), and procedures for cleaning the moving parts group (interestingly, disassembling the bolt group in the field is not recommended), chamber, and magazines are identified. Some of the suggestions, such as washing out your rifle while under fire, still seem almost tragically optimistic, however.

Over all, keeping the chamber clean is emphasized. No wonder, too; of 250 interviews conducted for the Ichord report, 50% of troops reported having serious malfunctions with their M16 rifles, and 90% of those malfunctions were reported to be failures to extract. Simply put: The unchromed chamber of the early rifles were not up to the conditions experienced in Vietnam without routine, thorough maintenance with relatively specialized tools. Those unfortunate ones who were issued rifles early on, before cleaning supplies were widely disseminated, must have loomed large in the minds of the video’s creators.

With the addition of first chromed chambers, then totally chrome-lined bores, and tightening of the ammunition specifications of the M16 rifle, it did overcome these issues and eventually regained much of the respect it lost between 1965-1968. Unlike the AK rifle, M1 Garand, or even M14, the M16 did not have a traditional development cycle, complete with major non-combat troop trials and a cycle of improvements. The M16 had its baptism in combat in Vietnam, where there was no room for the growing pains of youth.
H/T, The 5.56x45mm Timeline.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Kevin Harron

    Trolltastic and accurate in one post. M-16 and M-14 fanboys activate.

    • Pete Sheppard

      It gives a great perspective to the M14/M16 debate. On one level, I’m partial to the M14, but there’s no doubt that once the bugs were ironed out, the M16 has excelled.

      • Lance

        In ways if we went to war in Afghanistan instead of Vietnam in the 60s at that time the M-14 would have excelled and the light M-16 wouldn’t made the cut it. But we went to war in the jungles. And in the jungle the lighter and faster shooting M-16 won because in a way it was its full auto fire made it popular in rice patty warfare.

        • Pete Sheppard

          During the runup to Desert Storm, the Marine Corps considered switching out M14s for M16A2s, out of consideration for the likely longer ranges.

          • Lance

            Didn’t happen even the USMC by 1991 had invested too much in 5.56mm NATO.

  • Axel

    Now I get why so many people hate on the AR-15. It’s obviously not the case anymore, but wow. Back then this gun sucked.

    • Keep in mind, too, that the Ichord committee’s findings were widely publicized back home. It’s stuck firmly in the American consciousness, I think.

      • roguetechie

        Nathaniel,

        . Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t many if not nearly all of the things that ichord recommended simply adding back the stuff very dishonest people within the ordnance department deleted from the original specs’? This is what I remember reading but you’ve got a much better handle on early m16 events.

        Also I very much agree on vz58 magazines, I’ve actually heard that converting the SKS to take VZ58 magazines results in less meat taken from critical areas.

        But I actually have an early m16 technology related question. I read on the weaponsman blog that the original handguard had a patented and working heat dissipation scheme integrated. So my question is have you run across any documentation that talks about this? If so can you link me please?

        Heat dissipation is something I think we both agree is a major issue in light and effective small arms design.

        • As far as I know, no, though it’s Daniel Watters who has the eidetic memory on the subject. The AR-15 was adopted “as-is” by the DoD; so it wasn’t really screwed around with much early on. The Army did request changes, but they were things like the forward assist. One thing I might make clear is: The propellant issues that plagued early 5.56mm ammunition were so far as I know not the result of an Army decision. That had to do with what manufacturers would produce powder for the ammunition. In other words, the Army didn’t “select” WC 846, it was used because no other company submitted bids for producing 5.56mm propellant. Daniel wrote a very clear overview of the propellant issues for me, which I quote here.

          Beyond what WeaponsMan showed, I don’t have anything on the heat dissipation qualities of the handguard. I suspect, at the time, that wasn’t a concern the same way it is now, as they didn’t really realize what sort of stresses would be placed on select fire rifles in the future.

          • roguetechie

            Yes the biggest thing about the powder issues that I learned which isn’t common knowledge is they were having to hand select batches that could pass qc all along and when suddenly overnight they were looking at demand making this impossible… Feces occurred.

            Also totally off topic but on the long stroke AR variants subject, personally from an aesthetics viewpoint the Daewoo k2 (with it’s signature folding stock and original furniture preferably although I can see a thumbhole DMR version being interesting too) is by FAR my favorite AR family member!

            My other AR family member favorite which wins my all around best in class spot is the m231 firing port weapon. A gun that IMHO doesn’t get anywhere near the attention it deserves! Also according to a very thorough post on ARFCOM, it’s extraordinarily reliable even firing blanks! (on the 300blk forum a guy built an underfolding suppressed sbr that fits in a dewalt case that gives me such fun ideas)

            Back on subject, regardless of whether you like the m14 or are an m16 fan i believe the real thing we should focus on is how extraordinarily dysfunctional both programs were. And the real takeaway is trying not to make the same mistakes NEXT TIME!

            And apparently the k1a1 is direct gas impingement not long stroke…

          • I’m neither an M14 or M16 fan. Both have a rich and fascinating history, and as you say the most important thing is to not repeat the mistakes of either program next time!

        • The pre-production changes to the XM16E1 rifle approved by the Technical Coordinating Committee were as follows:

          1) Impregnating the black color in the buttstock, handguards, and pistol grip;
          2) Modifications to the chamber dimensions due to interference with ammunition
          dimensions;
          3) A change from the original triangular charging handle to the
          current T-shape to improve a soldier’s grip under adverse conditions;
          4) Adding
          a plastic coating to the sling swivel to reduce noise during movement;
          5) Lightening the firing pin to prevent accidental firing;
          6) Addition of the bolt
          closure device;
          7) Changing the rifling rate of twist from 1 in 14” to 1 in
          12”;
          8) Modification of the bolt release to ease use;
          9) Reinforcement of the
          prongs of the flash hider to prevent bending or breaking;
          10) Reversion from
          steel magazines to aluminum magazines; and
          11) Introduction of a captive front takedown pin to prevent its
          loss during field stripping.

          In July 1967, the former Project Manager Rifles COL Harold Yount testified before the Ichord Subcommittee that 129 requests for modification
          were made during the Army’s first contract for the M16 and XM16E1, of which 123 were approved. Over both
          contracts, 159 modifications were approved as of June 30, 1967. Yount contended that ten of these were
          significant in improving the reliability of the rifle:

          1) Substituting a
          stainless steel gas tube to reduce corrosion;

          2) Revising the hardness of the
          bolt to improve its longevity;

          3) Changing the finish of the carrier key from a
          patented electrolyzing process to a Parco-Lubrite exterior and a chrome
          interior;

          4) Changing the firing pin’s retaining pin from a machined part to a
          less-expensive, but more durable cotter pin;

          5) Increasing the width of the
          bolt catch to reduce battering of the lower receiver;

          6) Revising the
          disconnector to improve its strength particularly when launching rifle
          grenades;

          7) Adding a protective boss around the magazine release to prevent
          accidental release of the magazine;

          8) Introducing the new buffer;

          9) Adding the
          closed-end “birdcage” flash hider; and

          10) Shot-peening the bolt to increase
          its fatigue life.

    • Of important notice is that the gun wasn’t the only thing that sucked. The ammo did, as well.

  • Uniform223

    It’s definitely come along way.

    • gunsandrockets

      I think fear of the AK drove the decision to deploy the AR-15 earlier than it ever should have been.

      Fear of the AK was exploited by the advocates of the AR-15 for rapid production and deployment of the XM16E1.

      • Really, I think the leadership was a bit starstruck by the AR-15, especially McNamara. That’s understandable – it’s a remarkable design, but it was no excuse for not putting the rifle through its paces first.

        • gunsandrockets

          Some of the contemporary hyperbole about the .223 cartridge is really embarrassing. As an automatic weapon, and particularly in the context of service in Vietnam, I don’t see what an AR-15 does that is so much better than an M2 carbine.

          • It’s much more reliable, is much more resistant to the elements, has much better range, much better penetration at range, much better lethality at range, much better accuracy, and vastly superior terminal performance close up.

            The AR-15 absolutely destroys the M2 Carbine in every single test I’ve ever seen in which both were included.

          • gunsandrockets

            Perhaps I didn’t make my original emphasis great enough, ‘in the context of Vietnam’. True enough that today the M16/M4 is in every way superior to the M2 carbine. But not back in 1965.

            At that time the M16 was not a reliable or accurate weapon. (certainly not more reliable or more accurate than the M2) Those flaws wouldn’t be fixed for years. For example, the Army tried using the M16 as a sniper weapon during Vietnam, but it was generally considered a failure at the task. Why? Because the typical M16 would group 5 inches at 100 yards with the ammunition available at the time.

            The reason the XM16E1 were rushed into Vietnam service, was because of its supposed superiority for the ‘conditions of Vietnam’. And what were those supposed advantages? A shorter, lighter, full automatic rifle for close ranged ‘jungle fighting’. And at the time there were even advocates for the XM177 as a better form of the M16 for the conditions in Vietnam.

            Such reasoning could have just as easily been satisfied with existing stocks of M2 carbines. The M2 carbine is just as short, just as light, and just as controllable in full auto as the M16. And arguably the 1965 M2 carbine with a 30 round magazine is a superior full auto weapon to the 1965 XM16E1 rifle with a 20 round magazine.

  • Michael

    Man that video made me super thankful to have been issued a more mature iteration of the black gun.

    • Yep. Chrome-lining is up there for one of the greatest innovations of the 20th Century vis-a-vis small arms.

      • iksnilol

        I shudder thinking about the days when guns weren’t chrome-lined.

        • Esh325

          There were a lot of weapons used in Vietnam that weren’t chrome lined and yet you never heard of issues with them

          • Hedd Wyn John

            Indeed, but I think the article sums it up well; the AR15 didn’t have the opportunity to be trialled in peacetime instead it was fielded and tested in Vietnam without going through the traditional testing cycle which meant that lives were lost when the problems were exposed.

          • AK, SKS, RPD, FAL, and M14 all had chrome-lining. Beyond that, the only autoloading weapons that would have been present that didn’t would have been the M1 Carbine, M1 Garand, and SVT-40. I don’t have any anecdotes about the Garand’s performance in Vietnam outside of special units, but I do have some about its performance under similar conditions in the Pacific Theater of World War II:

            “Materials to clean and oil the small arms were much in demand. Cleaning and preserving (C&P) materials had been in short supply to begin with. Many of the M1 rifles had been issued without oil and thong cases. Often when the men had the cases they simply threw them away to lighten the load they were carrying. By 3 December the shortage of gun oil, small individual containers for oil, brushes, cleaning rods, and other C&P items was serious enough to effect operations. One combat officer, observing that the first thing the men stripped from the Japanese dead or wounded was the neat bakelite oil case they carried, reported that gun oil was ‘very precious and always short.’ Urgent messages characterized the condition of small arms at the front as ‘deplorable’ and ‘terrible.'”

            – “The Ordnance Department: On Beachhead and Battlefront”

            “The M1’s were going to ruin for lack of cleaning in the holes up front-the poor guys did not have anything to take care of them with, and often were not in a position to shoot them often enough to keep the barrels clear of corrosion (grass won’t grow on a busy street-regardless of the corroding primer compound, if a .30-06 barrel gets a bullet through it every six or eight hours it will stay in pretty good shape). As a result of the fouling of gas cylinders and pistons, a large percentage of our semi-automatics were becoming singleshots.”

            – “Ordnance Went Up Front”

            So it wasn’t a problem unique to the AR-15 by any means.

        • M

          Yugo/Serbian/Iraqi AKs…. lol

          • iksnilol

            Iraqi AKs IIRC are chrome lined.

            Not saying there is anything wrong with parts not being chrome-lined. It is just that chrome-lining makes maintenance easier. In fact, non chromed barrrels are more accurate for some reason. I know bench and long range target shooters like them.

  • Geoff a well known Skeptic

    From what I have read for the last 45 years or so, Army Officers involved the the program engaged in a campaign of deliberate sabotage. They should have stood courts-martial for EVERY man who died in SVN with a bad rifle in his hands. Every one of them should have been executed for treason, as they caused the deaths of hundreds of soldiers directly or indirectly. Geoff Who was in the US Army 1972 -82.

    • The real sabotage was done by the overly-credulous supporters of the M16 who bought the advertising hype of Colt and Cooper-Macdonald, Inc. Too many in the Office of the Secretary of Defense thought that the rifle and ammunition could be adopted and issued “as is” with minimal modifications. Even if IMR 4475 had been retained as a qualified propellant, it would have done nothing to prevent the corrosion of un-chromed chambers nor the issues caused by allowing the civilian ammunition manufacturers to use their own case hardness standards.

      • Geoff a well known Skeptic

        There were incidents like the Arctic Test Center exceeding level of maintenance. Pulling the pins out of the front sight/gas block and replacing with roll pins? Geoff Who was a 45B20 in his misspent youth.

        • Even if true, the Arctic Board incident occurred in 1959, several years before the official adoption of the rifle. Overall, the AR-15 actually performed better at the Arctic Board than it had nearly a year before at the Infantry Board or even months earlier at Aberdeen’s Development & Proof Services.

          Another thing to remember is that after adoption, the creation of the M16 Technical Coordinating Committee in 1963 meant that all of the changes in the rifle and ammunition were reviewed by representatives of all of the service branches and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

  • MPWS

    There are several factors to extraction force magnitude, not just imminent gas pressure alone. I recall from one source I had seen in past that the actual force may vary between 0 and 160 lbs. This by itself is sufficient indication of system’s sensitivity.

    This info is related to time well past the initial ‘catastrophic failures’ as described in this article and is still valid. In practical sense it means to avoid snags, it is well advised to clean rifle regularly. Thus, this rifle has become instead of “low maintenance” of medium to high intense maintenance; depending on environment and frequency of use. One does not to be a detractor per se to recognize that.

    • There’s a lot of data showing the current AR-15 family is pretty low maintenance (including my own personal experience). What sort of sources do you have?

      • MPWS

        Worked in weapons design and engineering – 14 years. Have good familiarity with M16 from that standpoint.

        • Sounds like you might have some documents you could share with me, then. I’d be eager to see them.

      • guest

        “a lot of data” like from biased BS sources.
        How about official US armed forces statistics, where every member of the DI rifle family fails time and time again.

        • How about the “official US armed forces statistics”? Mind posting those?

    • nadnerbus

      If you are referring to extraction problems in the current fleet of M4 or M16s, I do think you are going to have to back that up. It seems to be a non issue from everything I have read.

      Chrome lined bores and chambers, properly hardened brass, clean ammo and an extractor and spring that are in spec and the rifle should run just fine.

  • Panzer

    So. between 1965-1968, if you were in a rifle squad and issued an M-16 that did not work well what did you do? Were other rifles available? Would the military support/allow the purchase of a better rifle in the black market? Or did the infantrymen just have to put up with defective weapons? What a nightmare.

    • gunsandrockets

      You might carry an M79 grenade launcher instead.

    • Esh325

      I’ve read if they had the chance they would find an m14 or some of other weapon

    • My dad’s friend just grabbed an Ithaca 37. Used it throughout the war.

    • Pete

      I was too young for Vietnam but was in the Army right after. The older soldiers told me that the Army would not support you in using a different weapon, but as with all things that made no sense, it was rarely enforced. There were M-14s, M1s, M1 carbines, and even Thompsons and shotguns in the inventory, and unless you were a jerk, you could talk the armorer into one of those, with the excuse that there weren’t enough M16s that were working. On a worst case basis you picked up an AK-47 in the field or bought one on the black market.
      And yes, there is a lesson to be learned here. Similar to the lesson learned by Suzanna Hupp about following stupid rules and laws that will get you or your loved ones killed. The people that make those stupid rules are always safe across the ocean or behind armed Capitol police in the statehouse or Washington DC.

      • I think it probably depends on the unit.

        • Lance

          No units depended on either M-14 or m-16 M-1 Garands and Carbines were out of use in active army units. Some US nation guard u its still had them in the 60s but no guard unit were ever deployed to Vietnam President Johnson made sure of that.

          • Lance

            All WW2 era weapons were used by ARVN till 68, after Tet. Ten part of Nixon’s vietnamization ARVN got M-16s and M-60s and heavy weapons like M-48s and M-113s.

          • I mean I think how much liberty the soldier has in choosing his weapon probably depends on the unit.

      • Lance

        Most M-1s Garands and Carbines and Tommy guns were not US issue most used by ARVN till after Tet in 68. Some Army units used M-14s in Vietnam (1st infantry) but most were issued M-16 when they came 1st Calvary a prime example.

    • Again, the weapons weren’t defective as such – they lacked a modern feature, that is chrome-lined chambers and bores. Without that, and without the proper cleaning accessories (including weapon-specific training), the rifles would quickly go to ruin.

      If I were speaking through a device that could send my voice back through time, to an infantryman in 1966, I would take a page out of the above video: Keep your rifle, and learn how to zero it. Once it is zeroed, throw away all the training you learned about adjusting your sights in combat; just use the flip up dual-range sight. Next, find a good cleaning rod, and try to pick up a .45 caliber bore brush. Keep those with you at all times, and don’t be shy to try to get spares, either. Every break you get, pull out the bolt carrier and check to make sure it’s lightly lubed on contact surfaces; if it isn’t, lube it with a light film of grease. With the bolt carrier out, run the .45 caliber bore brush into the chamber vigorously until the chamber is shiny. Return the bolt carrier to the upper receiver, and reassemble the rifle.

      Inspect all your ammunition, and toss any that looks bent or obviously out of spec, or corroded.

      That’s the best you could do under the circumstances, I think.

      • KestrelBike

        Interesting! Thanks for writing that out.

      • gunsandrockets

        The defects of the XM16E1 were much more than just an absence of chrome lining and adequate cleaning supplies.

        As first issued in Vietnam half of the XM16E1 produced would exceed the specified cyclic rate with issue ammo. Some examples would exceed 1000 rpm. Not only did that tremendously increase wear on the system, it would produce the nasty jam talked about in the linked video with FTE from the extractor ripping through the rim of the cartridge case.

        • That is largely an ammunition issue, not a weapon issue. Those are two separate things.

          • gunsandrockets

            Not fair. It is more than that. You can’t separate the weapon, from the ammunition, from the specifications, from the policy used for the testing and evaluation cycle. It is a complete package.

          • You said they were issued defective weapons, not defective ammunition. Those are two different things, no matter how you may equivocate them.

            There was nothing wrong with the early magazines, so far as I know, and the rifles themselves weren’t defective (keep in mind that chrome-lining was a new practice; yes it’s way better than not, but it is possible to fight in the tropics without it, given adequate training).

          • gunsandrockets

            Chrome lining was a new practice? Maybe in 1939 with the Type 99 Arisaka. Certainly not in 1962 when the AR-15 was first mass produced for the military.

            By definition a 20 round magazine is flawed when used for feeding an automatic weapon with a cyclic rate of fire well in excess of 800 rpm.

            By your logic there was nothing wrong with the ammunition either. But the XM16E1 couldn’t handle it without malfunctioning. Until Colt and the Army changed the XM16E1 so that it would work properly with the ammunition issued.

            Why engage in such sophistry? You can’t separate the rifle from the ammo or the ammo from the rifle. We both know the origin of the problem was the blind adherence of the Army to the specified muzzle velocity (which the advocates of the AR-15 claimed, but was not actually delivered by the original product).

            What I find amusing about that blind adherence to MV, was that even if the AR-15 had it, it still wouldn’t have met all the requirements that was the origin of that MV requirement. The requirement that the AR-15 ‘equal or exceed’ the lethality of 7.62 NATO out to 500 yards range. I think it’s safe to say M193 is less lethal than M80 at 500 yards!

          • The first American infantry rifle to have a chrome-lined barrel was the M14, so yes, in this country it was a new practice.

            I’m not going to argue with you over things not related to the topic, like cyclic rates of fire vs. magazine capacity. If you’re going that far to find “flaw” with the design of the AR-15, then you’ve essentially ceded the point to me.

            There absolutely was a lot wrong with the ammunition. The ammunition for example had insufficient case hardness specifications for an automatic weapon. This would have caused problems regardless of whether it was used with an AR-15 or another automatic rifle. If your argument is that a .223 cal bolt action should have been issued instead, then, I dunno…

            Man, I don’t know why you’re accusing me of sophistry. I’m not the one insisting that weapons and ammunition are inseparable.

            The requirement was that the AR-15 meet a certain threshold of penetration to 500m.

            Re: lethality at 500m. It depends. Certainly, M80 has a higher velocity and about quadruple the energy of M193 at that range, but that doesn’t do it any good if it’s not depositing that energy in the target properly. There are a lot of variables involved here, and it’s certainly not reasonable to assume that because of any gap in general effectiveness that M193 is not effective at that range.

          • gunsandrockets

            “Man, I don’t know why you’re accusing me of sophistry. I’m not the one insisting that weapons and ammunition are inseparable.”

            Let me be clear. You are engaging in sophistry when you separate the weapon from the ammo. When you claim the weapon was just fine and only the ammo was defective.

            Particularly when the historical record shows that Colt and the Army changed the M16 to work with the ammo, rather than altering the ammo to work with the M16. And we both know the real problem with the issued ammo wasn’t so much case hardness or bad batches of powder with too much calcium, it was the load used to meet specified muzzle velocity within pressure limits.

          • gunsandrockets

            “Re: lethality at 500m. It depends. Certainly, M80 has a higher velocity and about quadruple the energy of M193 at that range, but that doesn’t do it any good if it’s not depositing that energy in the target properly. There are a lot of variables involved here, and it’s certainly not reasonable to assume that because of any gap in general effectiveness that M193 is not effective at that range.”

            Why must even simple declarations of fact, such as M193 is less lethal at 500 yards than M80, cause you to fly into such extreme defense? Or to twist my statement about the Army specifications about M16 lethality into a claim that M193 is not effective at 500 yards? Gah, that’s what I mean by sophistry.

          • gunsandrockets

            “The requirement was that the AR-15 meet a certain threshold of penetration to 500m.”

            Well no. The range specified was 500 yards. But even so I used to think that penetration requirement was all there was to the specifications too until I read the source document, which clearly states a specification for ‘equal or greater lethality’.

      • Pete Sheppard

        That was pretty much it for field care. I just remembered the scene in ‘Battleground’, where James Arness’ character is reminded to check his rifle. He does not, then is killed when his rifle freezes up.

        • Right; that’s simply necessary for any weapon without a chrome-lined chamber that is operating in tropical climates, not to mention one with a brand new and somewhat haphazard ammunition specification!

    • welp

      From what family members have told me, it goes soemthing like this:

      -Drop kick that thing as far into a field as you can
      -Pick up an AK from a fallen enemy OR
      -Get certified to use an M60.

      -If you can find an m14 that somehow wasn’t taken back to the armory, use it.

  • matthew

    my father served in vietnam, in the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service. he told me about how him and his crew were good friend with armorer on base, so they got a hold many different guns instead of the m16, in fact he hated the original m16 so much that he still distrusts it, then i watched a video of a guy compairing the M1A, an AR, and another french rifle, and the AR did the best out of the bunch, much to my and my fathers suprise

  • Pete Sheppard

    Nathaniel, thank you for these articles! Great reads and information, giving what was known, suspected and believed at the time.

  • Steve Martinovich

    It was very polite of the VC to send only one soldier and for that person to fire only one round, allowing the plentiful time to wash the mud out of the rifle.

    • Lance

      Many commies thought that, and were proven wrong………….. DEAD WRONG!!!!!

    • nadnerbus

      Ha, came to say the same thing.

      I say old boy, it wouldn’t be sporting to shoot this chap while he has his cleaning gear neatly laid out on his poncho. Give the lad some time.

  • CapeMorgan

    It was rushed because at first it was felt that the NVA and VC were better armed than the ARVN. Additionally, M-14 production was slow and contrary to some of the comments made now, the M-14 was not the weapon the Army wanted from its latest studies. There were huge amounts of M1 carbines issued to all the various RVN paramilitary organizations so the US wanted a more ergonomic weapon for them and the also to replace the heavy M1 in front line units. I think that there were more AK’s available to the VC than you think.

    • gunsandrockets

      ARVN weren’t issued significant numbers of M16 until after 1967.
      From what I have read the M1 and M2 carbine were the de-facto individual arm of ARVN itself, and not just paramilitary organizations.

      The numbers of M14 produced were far more than enough to equip the entire infantry forces of the U.S., and those numbers were produced before the first large production run of XM16E1 for the US Army.

      If you have any information relating to actual combat experience of allied forces versus VC equipped with Kalashnikovs, I am eager to hear it. So far it appears to me, that back then the Kalashnikov was a convenient bogeyman exploited by some of the factions fighting over US small arms policy.

  • iksnilol

    Of course we were right all along. Just look at American dogs, they make copy of 7.62×39. When do they make it? 45 years later (300 whisper) and then they get it SAAMI approved in 2011.

    Then, even more of an insult; they start making ARs with piston systems (some of them also in 300 BLK).

    But that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that they don’t have the integrity to admit we were right.

    • Barry

      You were so right, comrade. That’s why mother Russia switched to 5.45 because the Russian pigs copied the West. American forces didn’t adopt 300blk, but most of the Russian military are using 5.45. And with the AK 12, they added more capitalist weapon features like rails and polymer. In addition, the Chinese Military are using 5.8mm ammo, So who’s right?

      But that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that you don’t have the integrity to admit you are wrong.

    • It’s not about right and wrong. They’re different systems both with pros and cons. Both have matured and are even better in this century.

    • Wasn’t NATO right if the former Second World is now switching/has switched to 5.45×39?

      • iksnilol

        They haven’t switched completely. AKMs and 103s are still in use. Though I will readily admit for most purposes the smaller calibers are better for millitary who only shoots people and carries much heavier equipment. The heaviest rig I would use weighs only 15-20 kg and that is with rifle, 10 mags, water for some days, a tent (a small tent, but a tent nonetheless) and some other things. While soldiers get up to that weigh by only putting on their armor and getting their rifle.

    • gunsandrockets

      The greatest contrast between the AR and Kalishnikov isn’t caliber, it’s the magazines.

      I think it is interesting that even today they are still tinkering with the AR magazine to get it to work right.

      • To be fair, Western magazine design was always a little funny. AK mags aren’t perfect (that would be the Vz. 58 magazine), but Western engineers really didn’t seem to understand how to make a reliable magazine.

        Actually, in comparison to its American contemporaries, the AR-15 magazine is extremely well engineered.

        • guest

          It’s so “extremely well engineered” that it will bend the mag catch and render the rifle useless if it is dropped straight onto the mag from 3 feet.

          • You know, I’ve actually done that. I actually have half a mind to go record myself doing that to my AR, just to prove you wrong.

        • JV

          adopt stoner mag?

        • gunsandrockets

          “Actually, in comparison to its American contemporaries, the AR-15 magazine is extremely well engineered.”

          Its contemporaries of 1959? Extremely well engineered? Care to expand on that?

          • Yes, American magazine design of the time was sorely lacking. The original M16 magazine performed a lot better than either the T25 or M1/M2 Carbine magazines. It compared well vs. the M14 magazine for weight, and works at least as well.

            Now, I’m not comparing it to Eastern magazine design, because I don’t think the two are directly comparable as their priorities were totally different. Versus the American contemporaries of the day? Yeah, the 20-round M16 USGI mag is pretty hot.

          • gunsandrockets

            It seems you are not referring to the original waffle mag, which was withdrawn from service. Even so you are the first person I’ve seen claim that the 20 round aluminum M16 magazine “works at least as well” as the M14 magazine. (Even more doubtful with the original issued M16, which were running with such excessive cyclic rates.)

          • The waffle magazine was just the same thing, but steel. They made very, very few of those, and it wasn’t the original design anyway. That was the Armalite 25 round straight magazine.

            The waffle mags were withdrawn because they were less corrosion resistant, heavier, and didn’t work any better.

            If you’re familiar with the design of the M14 magazine, you should be less confused. Here’s the follower from an M14 mag – tada! It’s the same crappy poorly supported thing virtually all American mags at the time had:

            http://smg.photobucket.com/user/Lollygagger/media/saigamagmad-7.jpg.html

            So no, just because it’s a part of a Revered John Garand design doesn’t mean it works better. I can think of no reason it would work any better than an AR-15’s 20 rounder. They’re just too similar in construction and design. Even the feeding geometry is very similar.

  • Lance

    none Chrome bores was one if it faults butthe use of rifle powder meant for 7.62 NATO was another fault the .223 Eugene Stoner made used IMR stick powder and the military went against his wishes to remain to his ammo/rifle specs. and used surplus ball powder for use in 7.62 NATO ammo. This was alot dirtier and made the rifle cycle above what it was meant to do.

    Overall most problems was to the XM-16 and M-16 adopted in 1965. The M-16A1 fixed most issues and was issued in 1967. Early M-16s had merites its lighter simpler sights. And was full auto something the vaunted M-4 lacked in regular infantry till recently.

    • We’ve been over the powder issue before. Here’s the link.

      • Lance

        Got my info from books too, read “The Black Rifle”??

        Not tthe only issue with XM-16s but they all added up in the early Vietnam era. Most corrected by 67 with the M-16A1.

        • If you read The Black Rifle, you will know what you said in your first post is incorrect.

  • Zeke

    Out of curiosity how did the M14 fair in that environment (or the M1’s back in the Pacific and Korea)? TFB did post that dust test not too far back and if you dig a little more there was also that mud test. It just seemed like that exposed op-rod and M1 styled breech wouldn’t fair too well.

    • The M14 had two big advantages then, which were chrome-lined chambers and a mature ammunition specification that had been around for a decade. These would have helped eliminate the failures to extract, which was the overwhelming problem that plagued the M16 early on.

    • gunsandrockets

      One flaw I have heard rumor of, is the climate of Vietnam is so wet and damp that the wood stocks would swell and warp to the point of making the M14 impossible to disassemble.

      Off course non-wood stocks were available that would have been immune to that.

      • I dunno about impossible to disassemble, but I bet it played hell on their zero.

    • gunsandrockets

      According to my copy of Small Arms of the World, the rainy conditions of the SWP theatre hurt function of the M1 by washing away lubricant from the cam lug, producing failures to function. This problem was ‘fixed’ by using lithium grease to lubricate that part of the M1. Longer term a cam lug with a roller was experimented with as a fix. That modification included in the M14 rifle.

  • guest

    In all fairness the unchromed chamber issue is not the only one.

    ARs are simply put well designed weapons, that do not take into consideration that they have to be very simple to use and maintain. Too many parts. Too many small parts. Too tight clearances. Over-use of pins in places there should be none. Physically the rifle is inferior due to too much sacrificed weight/strength that MAY under some circumstances result in a broken weapon (drop one on the standard mag, and see why).

    Sum total of Vietnam war, all the way until today, is that the AK won and the AR lost. And you can actually see why – even the russians ditched the AN-94 for the same reason the AR should have been ditched: overcomplicated and unreliable.

    As with the design of firearms – same as with the design of anything – the new and improved version of anything should surpass the previous model of the same thing IN EVERY WAY.
    Here however some misplaced patriotism got in the way.

    And when all is said and done the only tests where the *modern* AR comed out with flying colors, are usually not the ones that involve the AK, XM-8, Scar, Galil etc.
    This is like that infamous wine tasting competetion where the Californian wines came out on top, and the french lost, and the french got pissed. Either you chose something by true performance, or you make a political choice and keep your choice alive with apologetic excuses.

    • The body of evidence doesn’t support this.

      • guest

        That’s a very vague answer, if it can be called that, Nathaniel.
        For example, from my own personal experience: Vepr jams – 0. Mini-14 jams – 0. LR and Bushie jams – often. I can get into the nitty-gritty details too if you’d like, from my own personal “body of evidence”.

        • nadnerbus

          I own a mini, an M1A, and an AR in 5.56 and .308. The two ARs have been by far the more reliable, having had absolutely no malfunctions with either that have not been induced by me through something stupid. The M1A still jams to this day randomly, though not as often as it did out of the box (every three to five rounds back then), and the mini has gotten pretty rock solid since I broke it in with a few thousand rounds and got away from Wolff, but it is what it is.

          This of course means jack diddly squat though, since I am just a hobbyist who doesn’t drag his guns through the mud, put high round counts through them, or rely on them for my life. But then, neither does your own body of evidence, no offense.

        • I’ve gotten into the nitty gritty details, many, many times, and at the moment I don’t feel like repeating myself. Suffice it to say the AR-15 is a very well-designed weapon that is light, strong, reliable, simple, and inexpensive. We have half a century’s worth of experience establishing this, and no amount of anecdote about non-mil-spec AR-15s used with gun show magazines will overturn this.

          • guest

            Then how come every neutral and fair comparative test that M4 (or similar) participated in against other firearms it lost?

            And “strong, simple and inexpensive” get the f*** out of here! I can take an AK, driver over it with a truck and bury it in the ground for a year, hose it over and it will still work. An AK has most parts stamped and it has FEWER parts, none of which too small can be field-stripped and lost. I get it now Nathan, you’re a fanboy, and there’s as much point discussing with a fanboy as there is when talking to a wall.

          • Are you referring to the 2007 dust tests? We’ve covered those before.

            There are plenty of examples of other comparative tests where the M4 or similar comes out on top. For example, the SAS trials where the C8 Carbine beat out the SIG 551 and G36, or the most recent IC competition where the M4 came in second for the two least severe types of malfunctions and first for the most severe.

            You know, why don’t you try burying an AR in the ground for a year? You were just talking about comparative testing… I bet a mil-spec AR-15 would do pretty well at a test like that.

            If you think you can’t lose any parts disassembling an AK, you have another thing coming. I further question that the AK actually has fewer parts… Though I don’t know that for sure.

            I realized going into this that if I posted documents that helped overturn some of the myths about the AR-15 that I would get called a “fanboy”, but I think it’s interesting that you’ve chosen to do so in a comment on this article of all things!

    • The latest AK variant service rifles are probably have more parts and are much more complicated than ARs. The Vietnam ere AR was 90% there. I’d take a modern DI AR over an AK any day (and I like AKs).

      • guest

        AK-12 you mean? You’d have to be more specific and explain which AK and why, and not just “probably”.

  • Pete Sheppard

    I finally watched the video; thanks!

  • If the early M16s had been piston guns, I wonder if we’d be moving to DI now.

    IMO, the latest improvements to the M4 have pretty much corrected any issues with DI, but I still like piston ARs too.

    • DI didn’t really have anything to do with the failures of the M16 in Vietnam, but for what it’s worth one of Colt’s early improvements to the design was to hybridize it with the AK.

      • I’d say it didn’t have everything to do with the failures, but it was a factor for sure. Again, non-issues with the latest M4s.

        • None of the documents I’ve seen give it as a factor. In one case, it seems a lot of ammunition with high calcium levels made it overseas, which caused issues, but that ammunition was out of spec to begin with, and there’s no telling how that would have affected a non-DI design.

  • Robert L. Rice

    I carried an AR 15,,in Vietnam,keeping it clean,meant that it would fire when you needed it,I never had a problem,Im thinking that many VC,wished that I had not kept it clean…

  • St Bernard

    “disastrous results” alright! Dead with a jammed up piece of junk laying beside you is pretty disastrous alright.

  • Patrick

    Training part issue my dad was shooting semi auto m14 in Marine corp in boot camp buy time he end up in Vietnam he had not fired or used m16 until issue him
    one there on spot. Back than they where slow make changes in training so many guys in Army Marines where shooting M14 in boot camp never fire or train with m16 until where there in Vietnam have fight for lives with rifle they had real train with. That one thing change from than Army Marine corp never go in battle with out training with weapons war take in battle.

  • nadnerbus

    I have read production issues with the various manufacturers of M14s and the politics thereof were a large factor. Corruption at Springfield Armory, and McNamara’s drive for streamlining defense like a business played a part as well. Think of the F-111 and how it was supposed to be a common airframe for the services. That didn’t work out so well either.

    Then there was the simple fact that the Army ignored a large volume of research and evidence that indicated a smaller, lighter rifle chambered in a smaller, lighter round, had numerous advantages over the old style M14 when they decided to procure it. The myth of “every soldier a marksman,” taking careful aimed shots out to many hundreds of yards had been debunked by WWII. So, they were left scrambling to find a suitable candidate to fill the roll. Limited testing had shown the AR15 to be an effective option, the Air Force having liked it, and the US advisers in Vietnam who tested it liked it a lot. So McNamara went all in. But it was rushed, bad changes were made in the rush to field it and its new ammo in volume, and the rest was history.

    That’s the general story as I understand it anyway.

    • I think the M14 story is complicated enough that it’s very difficult to summarize. The best solution is to just read the book.

    • J.T.

      “common airframe for the services.”

      DoD never learns from their mistakes.

  • nadnerbus

    and part of the tradeoff for that legendary reliability from the generous clearances and robust gas system is a heavier weapon, much more recoil (making full auto fire pretty impractical, IMO) and a sight system that has always been lacking.

    that doesn’t matter of course, since the weapon was made for Soviet troops and Soviet doctrine, just as the M16 was engineered to meet the demands of the west.

    I don’t get the war over these two systems. They are both great at what they do, and both have pluses and minuses.

  • James Taylor

    The Marine platoon I was assigned to as Corpsman had an Sergeant who walked point with a WW2 “Grease Gun” in early 1970. He refused to carry the M16. I myself was only allowed to have a 1911 as a “non combatant”. But, when I went on an overnight ambush, I did carry the M16 just in case.

  • john

    Hilarious! Absolutely hilarious! “OK, after your 45 mile patrol, take your gun completely apart in the pitch dark and spend an hour cleaning every nook and cranny, don’t get it wet, don’t get it dirty and don’t speak harshly of it when it can hear you or it just won’t work”.

    Instruction for the AK47- shoot it, reload it, shoot it some more.

    BTW, I own both and the AK will STILL shoot anything, anywhere, anytime without much care at all. The AR STILL needs to be clean and have good ammo (not Russian crap) to work flawlessly.

    If the SHTF I would pick up the AK and go. That is JMHO

    • Despite the optimistic cleaning recommendations in the video, the primary problem the early AR-15 had was that it lacked a chrome-lined chamber. If your rifle doesn’t work, there’s an urge to clean every last inch of it, but really keeping the chamber clean was essential.

  • Leigh Rich

    I was happy when the Army switched from the M 14 to the M 16. that 14 was so friggiing heavy to carry. The M 16 recoil was non existant. I had no problem with mine.

  • Frank Masotti

    OK my ar seems to be able to take more abuse then the early m16a1’s

  • cawpin

    “the US Army’s first rifle of caliber smaller than .30,”

    Army, yes. US military, no.

    “and its first automatic rifle issued to every man in the rifle squad”

    The M14 was the standard issue before the M16.

    • That is why I said “US Army” not “US military”, as the 6mm 1895 Lee rifle used by the US Navy precedes it.

      The M14 was never fully automatic for every man in the rifle squad. Everyone but the automatic rifleman had their weapons modified for semi-automatic only.

  • Jamie Clemons

    You see how Vietnam turned out.

  • ray worsham

    Hey, Nathaniel it is “loomed large”…and good thing it did. That speaks well of those men.

    • Thanks for the correction; it was a typo I didn’t catch!

  • Uniform223

    This reminded me of when I was doing familiarization training with AKMs with Georgian troops. One of the things that stood out to me the most was the differences in recoil. The AKMs I was shooting had the 7.62×39, so the recoil between the two felt like night and day. Usually after the first shot (standing) I was completely off target (50meter engagement). The heavier recoil coupled with it’s notch sight meant slower follow up shots and more difficult in dynamic situations.
    *I respect and admire both the AK and AR design. The fact that they are so different from each other is why I will never get into a “organic phallic object” measuring contest with either of them*

  • screwtape2713 .

    You know what I have found absolutely fascinating when reading this article and others (such as the discussion with Jim Sullivan and Daniel Watters) regarding the early problems with the M-16, the chamber specs, the ammo specs and so forth?

    If you rolled the timeline back 50 years to WW1, substituted “Canadian army” for “US army” and blotted out the name of the firearm in question, you could just as easily be describing the Ross rifle debacle…