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Old December 4, 2012, 03:51 PM   #1
simonrichter
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Vietnam tunnel rat handguns

Recently I've read an article about the "tunnel rats" in Vietnam, the near-to-suicide-mission guys who had to clear the VC tunnel systems in Vietnam. It said they used knives, a special revolver utilizing silent ammunition (in very small numbers only; http://world.guns.ru/handguns/double...evolver-e.html) and "other handguns". Any ideas what these "other handguns" actually were, anyone?

thx, Simon
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Old December 4, 2012, 03:54 PM   #2
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the 1911a1
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Old December 4, 2012, 03:59 PM   #3
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Sometimes the other side used the 1911 also !
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Old December 4, 2012, 04:24 PM   #4
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They also used Smith & Wesson Model 10 and 15 k frame 38 spl revolvers along with a crappy g.i. flashlight. Very scary duty.
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Old December 4, 2012, 04:50 PM   #5
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I had a good friend, who passed away a few years ago, who had been a "tunnel rat" in Vietnam back in the late 60s. He was a small guy, I'd guess maybe 5'6" and 130lbs and told me you couldn't be very big and navigate through those tunnels. On those descents he stated that he carried a 1911, a knife on his belt and a flashlight. Even though he wasn't very big, he was one of the toughest individuals I ever knew. The fact that he had to enter those tunnels was one of the few things he ever talked about during his time in Vietnam, although he never talked about what actually happened down in the tunnels. To my knowledge a 1911 was the only firearm he ever owned in his civilian life. I guess if a certain type of handgun, plays a major role in ones health and safety, you get attached to it.
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Old December 4, 2012, 05:02 PM   #6
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There's a member on here called "TunnelRat"

You might ask him.

The guy I knew onboard ship, (Marine) carried a 1911, Buck Knife and a flashlight.
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Old December 4, 2012, 05:19 PM   #7
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Guy I knew in College was a Marine TunnelRat carried 1911a1, K-Bar Knife and Flashlight
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Old December 4, 2012, 05:25 PM   #8
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There is a great book titled The Tunnels of Cu Chi: http://www.amazon.com/The-Tunnels-Ch...d-Battlefields

It describes a wide range of weaponry including handguns, both standard and modified, in .22, .25, .38 .45 and .44. According the the book, the 1911 was too big and bulky for most tunnel rats. One tunnel rat used a paratrooper M1 carbine. Others brought in chopped-down shotguns and captured AKs to confuse the VC.

One carried a German Luger 9mm and a 4-gauge shotgun. Yes, a 4-gauge!
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Old December 4, 2012, 05:28 PM   #9
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Our unit used a Catepillar D-7. We were a jungle clearing unit with 30 D-7s and had periods reflected in our SITREPs of either uncovering or covering over 60 tunnels a day.

Charlie generally came out with his arms raised and shaking like crazy and their black jammie pants soaked in pee. Can you imagine the feeling of a bull blade and/or a rome plow attempting to scalp you.

I suspect we burried most of them alive.

I have seen members of the 173rd Airborne in our support sent in as tunnel rats with the M1911A1. Far more often than not rats were not used.
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Old December 4, 2012, 06:15 PM   #10
1 old 0311-1
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I spent 2 years in I Corps, along the DMZ. We used 1911's, and K frames. There may have been 'fancy crap' but us Marines didn't get them.
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Old December 4, 2012, 07:11 PM   #11
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if you look at the S & W forum website and search on the subject you will find that S & W made some special M-29's that used some special ammo
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Old December 4, 2012, 07:54 PM   #12
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My uncle was a tunnel rat starting just after Tet. He was on his second tour and three months in-country then. He had a M1911a1 and what he called a German bayonet that he used underground.
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Old December 4, 2012, 08:10 PM   #13
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Usually they carried a US issue S&W model 29 44 magnum but sometimes they had a beretta 25 auto.
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Old December 4, 2012, 08:36 PM   #14
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I never ever had to clear a tunnel, Thank God! We found a few base camps in the mountains of the Highlands and searched quite few villages in the flatlands and rice paddies,,,but I was usually assigned OP, Observation Post, as you almost always set up a defensive perimeter whenever you stopped..and when not on OP we either did not find any tunnels or I was not ordered or assigned to that duty.

The Officers and some of the NCO's and the Grenadier, guy who carried the M-79 grenade launcher carried the old warhorse 1911's and that must have been what the guys who searched the very few tunnels that we found used....Allthough I saw other handguns in other units,,,in our company I only recall the 1911.

The Grenadier had to have one the M-79 Grenade launcher was a single shot and the round did not arm itself until out about 15 yards although being shot with a 40mm round that did not explode would still ruin your day...They also had an insert for the M-79 grenade launcher that would fire 12 guage slugs or buckshot but that was single shot also thus the need for the 1911.

I really enjoyed lamarw's post on the D7 Caterpillar Dozer method,,,now that is the way to take care of things!!!
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Old December 4, 2012, 09:04 PM   #15
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From what I've read, all sorts of handguns were used. Supposedly, captured Makarovs were quite prized not only because of their rarity but because of their fairly mild report when fired in confined spaces.
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Old December 4, 2012, 09:38 PM   #16
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Attached are a couple of pictures of the weapon of choice. The first picture was during an operation in Nam. The caption is incorrect since the individual is myself, and I was a combat engineer and not a sky soldier.

The article is at; http://gasparotero.com/nov91970.htm . As you read the article (I believe it is the third one down) you will see reference to one of my cherished men. Unfortunately "Turtle" lost his life in a later operation.

The second picture was taken last year in Cedartown, GA which is the home of the Rome Plow Company, and a picture is of a Rome Plow dedicated to the Landclearers/Jungle Clearers of Viet Nam. Enjoy~
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Lamar in Nam.jpg (100.4 KB, 240 views)
File Type: jpg rome4.jpg (94.8 KB, 230 views)

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Old December 4, 2012, 10:15 PM   #17
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Quote:
It said they used knives, a special revolver utilizing silent ammunition (in very small numbers only;
Most, I would say a huge majority of tunnel rats as you call them were nothing more then the smallest GI standing around when it was determined someone needed to check out one of those mud pits.

At 130 lbs (in 1967) I got "volenteered" a time or two. Much more then I desired.

There was nothing exotic about their weapons. They consisted for the most part, a 1911a1, a L-shaped flash light with red lense and **** poor batteries, and a M7 bayonet.

The bayonet was used for digging to make the hole a bit larger because as small as we were, those little buggers who made the tunnels were smaller.

Its not like this was an MOS or something, just some poor shumck who didn't have enough since to find somewhere else to be.

It always struck me funny that it seemed the smallest guy in the squad carried a '60. It didn't take me long to realize there was a reason. If you got the "gun" you're normally out of sight, pulling security down the trail.

Certainly nothing exotic about wollering around in the mud like a pig, and that's what you're doing.

But, you did find out there was nothing better then a USGI 1911a1 when it comes to working after crawling on our hands and knees in elbow deep mud with your pistol still in your hand.

Anyway that's what was really like, not what you see in the movies or what you read on the internet.

The thing is, you don't want exotic guns, you don't need fancy sights, (can't see them anyway). You don't want something that requires you pack some wierd ammo, weight was a problem as it was with issue equipment and ammo.

Best Vietnam knife made was the M7 bayonet. I could did a hole just as fast as with an entrenching tool (which you threw away) and a pocket knife.

Knife fighting was left for the movies.

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Old December 4, 2012, 10:30 PM   #18
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The tunnel rats carried what ever was available, be it a .45 or .38 S&W. there were some special exotic weapons designed for use. Ruger .22 automatics with a silencer, large bore revolvers with special ammo ( one type I believe was a captured plunger that pushed the bullet, the gas never escaped the cartridge )but these were rare. The troops never knew when they would find a tunnel, most tunnels were in Chu lai district because the clay was perfect for digging. In other parts of Nam the tunnels were small and short because the ground would cave in on anything larger. One of the biggest problems the rats had was busted ear drums, and all the tunnel Rats were volunteers. If the NVA had the time and equipment they would build vast complexes using roof beams and other shoring. There was nothing special about the weapons used, again they used what ever they had on hand, which was normally the 1911. Most of the write up you read about using special weapons are one of a kind, short usage or test programs. If the war had lasted another 10 years I'm sure they would have come up with special issue weapons. One note, many times when the Viet Cong or NVA ( and after Tet 68, the local Viet Cong were no longer a issue, it was all NVA, ) realized they had been discovered they vacated the area. They knew that to stay in a tunnel was sure death. Once in a while they would leave a rear guard, but if they were able to, they would decide they needed to be somewhere else in a hurry.
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Old December 5, 2012, 10:50 AM   #19
simonrichter
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Thanks for the contributions so far, very interesting.

It was the issue of hearing protection in particular that made me suppose there were indeed other firearms than the 1911 involved, but seemingly that was not the case or only in terms of "paper tiger" projects which never actually reached the guys in the mud....
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Old December 5, 2012, 11:12 AM   #20
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There were a few Revolvers specially made with zero cylinder gap and a simple maxim type silencer. These had to be so closely fitted that cylinder drag jammed them up after only a few shots.
Enough gas escaped that the shot wasn't truly silent, but muffled enough that you didn't get ruptured eardrums and there was no flash or dust kicked up in the shooters face.
I've only seen photos of one of these in what appeared to be a field trial.

I've experimented with custom fitting C&B Colt and .38 generic revolver cylinders for zero gap. Its not easy but the process is pretty straight forwards and greatly reduces flash at the gap, it noticably improved accuracy in each case.

Lathe turning the face of the cylinder is the first step, Its suprising hown many have dished chamber mouths.

PS
By "zero gap" I mean no measurable gap using any commonly available shims. Less than .001
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Old December 5, 2012, 12:00 PM   #21
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I just had coffee with a friend who had to do it. He was in the 27th Land Clearing Team, a Jungle Eater, and was chosen for his size when they came across a tunnel complex. They gave him a .45 which he fortunately didn't have to use. He said those who regularly did it were given silenced .22's.
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Old December 5, 2012, 12:02 PM   #22
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Quote:
There were a few Revolvers specially made with zero cylinder gap and a simple maxim type silencer. These had to be so closely fitted that cylinder drag jammed them up after only a few shots.
I'd think the original Nagant revolver would be perfect for this. From what I remember, the cylinder rotates and then pushes forward to engage a gas seal around the barrel, and eliminate/reduce the gap between cylinder/barrel.
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Old December 5, 2012, 12:08 PM   #23
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Quote:
I'd think the original Nagant revolver would be perfect for this. From what I remember, the cylinder rotates and then pushes forward to engage a gas seal around the barrel, and eliminate/reduce the gap between cylinder/barrel.
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Old December 5, 2012, 12:20 PM   #24
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I went to school with a number of Viet Nam vets (I was 4F). We had one guy who was full of "bravado" and always shooting his mouth off. Finally, the others put him in his place by asking what unit he had been in - long story short, he was nowhere near any danger. Our classes were small - may 15 in a class and it wasn't uncommon that there were 10 or so VN vets - many of them just back and on the GI Bill.

One of the fellows, who was small and wiry, got to talking one day when he and I were having coffee between classes and he told me that he had done the tunnel rat thing a number of times since he ws the smallest. He said that the first time he went in, he had a 1911, his flashlight and a Kabar that his father had given him before he had gone over. On his first trip in, he said he came pretty much face to face with a VC and he was so scared, he just stuck his 45 out and shot. He said that after that time, he carried the 45 but kept the knife in his had as when he shot the 45, it was so enclosed he couldn't hear anything for several days.

I had a lot of respect for these guys - the fellow that I am talking about had been wounded but served his tour out, another guy, a very quiet and gently fellow had been wounded twice and also had a silver star, another one had been a chopper pilot - he had survived three crashes. One of the fellows was a air force vet 0 his job had been to fill the tanks with agent orange - of course they had been told it wasn't harmful. He died of cancer in his mid thirties. I have another friend that has had porstate cancer that they think is associated with being on the ground and exposure to AO, another friend who developed diabetes and who has all sorts of problems - they figure tht is related to AO.

To those of you that are VN vets - my sincere thanks to each and every one of you. It was a different time and unfortunately, the lessons that should have been learned weren't in regards to the consideration for those who served as well as their families. What yuou fellows did was important and I would like to think that the friends that I had that didn't come back from VN gave their lives for something.
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Old December 5, 2012, 12:26 PM   #25
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“””It was the issue of hearing protection in particular that made me suppose there were indeed other firearms than the 1911 involved, but seemingly that was not the case or only in terms of "paper tiger" projects which never actually reached the guys in the mud....”””


Imagine yourself in the confines of the pitch black darkness of a tunnel you are crawling through with your flashlight and handgun and an enemy soldier lunging at you with a knife out of the darkness or firing at you with an AK47….You would need a large caliber weapon like the .45ACP to stop him in his tracks almost immediately,,,and a relatively short light weapon you could use with one hand (your flashlight is in your other hand) quickly in the confined space of a tunnel,,,the warhorse 1911.

Combat above ground was bad enough, but at least you could move forward or backward or to the side and hopefully find cover,,,in a tunnel you are trapped and can basically go nowhere,,,and the light from the muzzle flashes and the incredible noise of the rounds going off would be terrifying.

Incredibly Brave Work, Kraigwy...

Hearing protection in Combat is Problematic….Even in the deafening noise of the worst combat you have to be able to hear commands being given and to hear the enemy,,,movements and identifying incoming rounds as opposed to outgoing rounds and where those incoming rounds are coming from.

Have filed hundreds if not thousands of Service Connected Disability claims for Veterans as a State Employee over a 29 year career,,,and most of the claims were for hearing loss alone or filed along with other disabilities….The Service is a noisy place,,,from Combat with rounds going off and explosives, to the Flight Deck of a Carrier or working around Airplanes, or running Heavy Equipment or Tanks or Firing Artillery, just to name a few,,,a high percentage of Veterans have Service Connected hearing loss…
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