(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
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 Sea, it is an awesome read.