Stille Vuurkrag:-Documented Combat Usage of the American-180 by SADF/Rhodesian SAS

Rhodesian SAS pictured with American-180


(Author’s Note:  Firearms, not politics remains in effect.  Coverage of historical usage of a firearm or weapons system should not be construed as an endorsement of either combatant party)

I’ve been familiar with the American 180 as a range toy since my early interest in NFA items began over 20 years ago, but I never knew that they were used in combat by anyone, not least foreign special forces units until recently.    Recently, Douw Steyn, formerly of South Africa’s 4th Reconnaissance Regiment, related their use in combat during a joint South African/Rhodesian special operation in Mozambique.  Suppressed, they proved effective at close range. More importantly for the clandestine and deniable missions they were carried on, they were not traceable back to the governments of South Africa or Rhodesia.

The American 180, a progression of Dick Casull’s “Casull 290”, was manufactured by American Arms International Corporation during the period in which either Rhodesia or the SADF acquired their models.  Most of 4th RR’s specialized small arms were sourced for them by a South African defense company known as EMLC Technical Consultants and Manufacturers (who also allegedly made poisonous underpants). There is no official documentation that this author can find as to how the submachine guns found their way to South Africa or Rhodesia.  The weapons themselves would have been manufactured by Voere in Austria during that time period.  The acquisition itself was most likely clandestine given that EMLC would regularly provide small arms with no serial numbers for untraceable, deniable operations.

Douw Steyn and Arne Soderlund’s recent book Iron Fist From The Sea: South Africa’s Seaborne Raiders 1978-1988 is about SADF special forces raids against Communist-Bloc shipping, logistics, material and allied forces in Africa.  In one chapter, the authors relate the combat usage of the American-180 during Operation Boxer, an attack on harbor facilities in Biera, Mozambique in September of 1979.  This was a joint operation with teams from SADF’s 4th RR and Rhodesian (Zimbabwe-Rhodesia at the time) SAS.  The actual usage was by Rhodesian SAS members against a FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front) patrol:

The attack team was armed with standard AK47 rifles as well as two American-180 submachine guns equipped with suppressors.  These unique .22lr weapons were fitted with standard 177 round multilayered pan magazines.  With a firing rate of between 1,200 and 1,500 rounds per minute (depending on the ammunition used),a magazine could be accurately emptied in seven seconds with devastating effect on a static target…

Approximately fifteen minutes later, a FRELIMO patrol suddenly appeared at the entrance of the alleyway to investigate.  It could be seen that at least one member was carrying a machine gun.  Capt Willis and Lt. Mike Rich were carrying the silenced American-180 submachine guns and advanced on the FRELIMO group as if to talk with them.  When close up, they opened fire on the leader and his 2iC.  They both dropped immediately but the other members initially appeared not to fully realize that they were under attack and in the temporary confusion, the SAS team clambered over a wall and withdrew through the streets to the lay-up position.

(Steyn, (Douw), and A. G. Soderlund. “Early Seaborne Operations.” Iron Fist from the Sea: South Africa’s Seaborne Raiders 1978-1988. West Midlands: Helion, 2014. 115-16. Print.)

Despite the diminutive size of the round, the American-180 seems to have been highly effective in its role in this particular usage.  No doubt its high rate of fire and lack of recoil played a huge part its effectiveness.  The patrol probably was very confused due to their leader and 2iC dropping from the somewhat undetectable suppressed .22lr fire.  As far as I know, this is the only documented usage of the American-180 in combat.

There were other interesting explosives and small arms provided to 4th Recce by EMLC documented in this book including:

  • Tripod-mounted RPG-7 with special incendiary aluminum (likely thermite) warheads for remote sabotage of fuel tanks and storage facilities.
  • Specially shortened RPD machine guns
  • Armbrust 67mm recoilless rocket launchers
  • Explosive Picture Frames
  • Suppressed Uzis and L2A3 Sterlings

    A Rhodesian soldier with a shortened RPD


Author’s note:  I have reached out to SADF veteran sources for more information on the provenance of these American-180’s to no avail.  If any SADF or Rhodesian Armed forces veterans or other readers, have more information on the usage of the American-180 in combat, training or otherwise, we would love to hear from you.

For more on the weapons, tactics, and operations of SADF’s 4th Reconnaissance Regiment, I highly recommend one pick up Iron Fist From The Seait is an awesome read.

Rusty S.

Having always had a passion for firearms, Rusty S. has had experience in gunsmithing, firearms retail, hunting, competitive shooting, range construction, as an IDPA certified range safety officer and a certified instructor. He has received military, law enforcement, and private training in the use of firearms. He is fortunate enough to have access to class 3 weaponry as well.


  • Tassiebush

    A fascinating read! I believe in the Civil Wars in the former Yugoslavia a locally made version was fielded.

    • Samuel Millwright

      Mgv-176 yes… It’s actually cooler looking too

      • datimes

        I just looked this up. Photos showed several different guns with the lexan magazines and winder that look identical to those of my AM 180.

  • Gun Fu Guru

    Nice disclaimer about the motto.

    • Anonymoose

      Yeah, well, at least Ian Smith didn’t try to solve Zimbabwe’s economic troubles by simply printing more money.

      • Paul Rain

        Hey, we’re not here to discuss things like whether it’s racist to have a democratic system where suffrage is based on objective educational qualifications that groups simply achieve at different rates.

        • Anonymoose

          You mean like our Electoral College, only with actual qualifications?

      • mosinman

        one has to only look at the country before and after to see who was “right” and it isn’t the 90 year old leader

        • Vexed

          Make zimbabwe rhodesia again?

  • gunsandrockets

    a swarm of angry bees…

  • noob

    explosive picture frames? so if I frame my crappy painting in it I can point at the whole ensemble and say “That there cost me over $200!”

    • wetcorps

      Frame a high resolution picture of a Claymore for extra effect.

    • Kivaari

      I think they are talking about breaching charges shaped like a frame. Cutting holes in walls, roofs, and doors. “Mouse holes”.

      • Rusty S.

        They were used in operations against enemy cadres staying in safehouses. A team would infiltrate, replace portraits of enemy leadership hung on the wall with copies in explosive frames, and exfil. They would then wait for an enemy cadre to return before detonating the devices.

        • noob

          The perils of a cult of personality

  • gunsandrockets

    I prefer 1000 rounds of 9mm!

    • Cattoo

      Bet that got a little warm.

  • Joe

    .22 Magnum would be cool.

    • Samuel Millwright

      There have been at least some made in 22 mag…

  • Юрий Данилов
    • gunsandrockets

      Holy Crap! A Weaver “Qwik Point”? Boy that brings back memories. I actually had one of those back around 1980 that I tried mounting (without much luck) on a Ruger Mini-14.

  • Adam D.

    That RPD is sick!
    Anyone know of more detailed pictures on these?

    Someone at TFB should really write an article on the RPD,
    it’s a gun that should get a lot more exposure.

    • Big Daddy

      SF used them in Vietnam a bit and there are a lot of pictures. Google it.

    • Jeff Smith

      Ian at Forgotten Weapons has a video on his factory shortened DS Arms RPD. He goes into the US Military usage in Vietnam. It’s definitely worth watching.

  • Paul Rain

    I also endorse Iron First From The Sea. Very interesting book.

    In terms of how stuff (at least more mundane pistols and rifles) got to Southern Rhodesia… RKB’s book ‘I Am Soldier of Fortune’ has some interesting stories about that. He took plenty of guns on trips to Rhodesia for hunting and self-protection, but not so many of them ended up checked into baggage on the way back. Unfortunately this was just about all they could do to get even small arms in, after the South Africans joined the Soviets, British and American governments in supporting one man, one vote, once in Rhodesia.

  • UCSPanther

    Yugoslavia made a copy of the American 180, and I have seen some footage of checkpoint guards wielding them during the Balkan Wars.

    The Yugoslav version appears to not bother with a wood stock, and instead uses an underfolding wire stock.

    • Ben Loong

      Yeah, the MGV-176. I remember seeing one as a kid back in the 90s. It’s a really distinctive firearm.

  • mosinman

    i also had no idea the AM 180 was used in combat so it’s cool to see it “in the wild”

    • UCSPanther

      There was a case where a police officer used one on a felon. The hapless (and very dead) brigand had about forty rounds in his torso when all was said and done…

  • Jas

    I had an AM 180 way back in the eighties. Did a lot of testing on bulletproof materials. The biggest asset of this weapon is what it does to bullet proof glass. We used it to demonstrate that even 7.62 resistant glass is not totally resistant to bullets. There is strength in numbers….

  • EHW2

    Rhodesian SAS list of desired properties for weapons:
    -Handles Jungle
    -Looks good with khaki shorts
    -Kills Commies dead

  • kiltlad

    “Ranch Work” in Rhodesia in the mid ’70″s. Now those were good time’s. Fond memories for a young lad in his senior years.

  • Dan

    “(Author’s Note:  Firearms, not politics remains in effect.  Coverage of historical usage of a firearm or weapons system should not be construed as an endorsement of either combatant party”

    Except when a few people cry around and the entire article gets pulled.

  • Schmiss

    The American 180 was built under license in Yugoslavia as the MGV and was used by police before and throughout the Yugoslav wars.

    • Ninoslav Trifunovic

      MGV was never really popular among fighting sides. It was better than nothing so Croats and Muslims (Bosniaks) used them only on the very beginning of the clashes in 1991 or 1992. But soon, AK took it’s place in combatant’s hands. Sure, it was capable little SMG, and to some degree it was popular choice when suppressed among some Serb reconnaissance/sabotage units.

  • YellowLabFan

    I read that some were sold to the FBI or ATF back in the day. I wanted one so bad, but unable to have NFA guns in California.


    Rhodesian Selous’ Scouts used a suppressed version of the AR-180. They found that a swarm of .22 rim fire launched from 300 or so meters away really freaked out the ZIPRA/ZANU boys. Yes, accuracy was minute of campfire, but they were definitely deadly.

  • Bill

    Back in the 80s, I worked at a remote federal installation that had its own DoD SWAT team, and their specialty bullet launchers were AM-180s with 10 inch barrels and shoebox-sized lasers. They were the coolest range toys I’ve ever played with!

  • Mr. Privilege

    Make Zimbabwe Rhodesia Again

  • Budi Utomo

    They (SA SAS and Rhodesian SAS and their sizable black Shona and Ndebele native militias as well as the British South Africa Police (mainly Black) and Rhodesian African Rifles (black)), used a lot of old British weaponry- the Sten, the Bren and the 303.
    Part of operations was with captured Soviet weapons (interestingly North Korean) as well so the antagonisms and intrigues between the various groups- especially ZANU-PF and ZAPU vs ZIPRA could be exploited- creating the anti-FREMILO separatist group RENAMO.

    The whole Rhodesia issue is simplified as a racial issue- but it is far more complex.