View Full Version : The Saga of the M16 in Vietnam

March 7, 2000, 06:18 PM
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>The following story is one that I tell with some trepidation, since my experience(s)
with the "Matty Mattel Mouse Guns" were not pleasant
ones. In this time and place far separated from the grim reality of kill or be
killed, the bitter memories of the "little black rifle that wouldn’t
shoot" have started blending into the mists of long forgotten firefights. Some of
the bitterness of those days of long ago will no doubt color the
story somewhat, but in order for the reader to understand the story from the
perspective of those of us who experienced the frustration, this is
probably unavoidable. There seemed to be a callous disregard for the lives and well
being of those individuals who willingly fought and often
died using a seriously flawed rifle. This is their story then, for those who went
in harm's way with the XM16E1, and most of all, for those who
didn’t come back. May their sacrifices never be forgotten.[/quote] http://www.jouster.com/articles30m1/index.html

[This message has been edited by dZ (edited March 07, 2000).]

Gale McMillan
March 7, 2000, 08:06 PM
In my association with Seal Team Six and some of Dicks black operations I had a lot to do with Super Chief Johnny Johnson I found out that he had been carried home on a stretcher each of three tours. The first time when he was over run with his M16 Jammed and inoperative. The next tour he carried a M14 most of the tour until they refused to let him carry it. Since his Prime mos was medic the first choice was 45 auto and he elected to carry it 0ne and a half tours. He hated the m16 so badly and said he would have rather carried nothing as to carry the M16

March 7, 2000, 10:39 PM
I just hope history doesn't repeat itself with the OICW...


March 8, 2000, 09:19 AM
Interesting review of the M16s history. I qualified with the P.O.S. in 1968 and am glad I didn't have to rely on it.
To this day I just can't get enthused enuf to own one of these toys. ;)

"Keep shootin till they quit floppin"
The Wife 2/2000

March 8, 2000, 05:07 PM
Although it was designed and adopted long before I was born, I, too, am dismayed that the AR has been in service longer than even the Garand (longest service life, period?). It was a bad decision then, and it's a bad decision to remain with it.

I like the size, ergonomics, weight, and cartridge of the AR, but I don't like the design. It's fine for a civillian that can afford the time to keep it clean and lubed properly, but it's a poor service weapon.

Personally, I think the US should adopt something along the lines of the South African R4/R5 or Israeli Galil. Maybe the G36 would be a good choice, too.

Makes you wonder that if the US adopted the FAL instead of the M14, would the US have ever adopted the AR?

March 8, 2000, 05:11 PM
the rifle section of the OICW is a G36 so maybe there is hope...

March 8, 2000, 06:19 PM

Capitalism - it isn't a dirty word, it's reality.

"If you really want to know what's going on;
then, you have to follow the money trail."

March 8, 2000, 07:42 PM

YOu have been slightly misinformed. The longest service life of any U.S. service rifle was the .30 cal 1903 Springfield Rifle. It went from 1903 to 1936 (Year Garand Came In)

And was still used well into the 50's.

Early on in wwII Marines still used the 03A3. Many G.I.s in North Africa had the Standard Issue rifle also. It was also the mainstay Sniper weapon (the 03a4)

In other militaries throughout the world I think longest service life honors goes to the m98 mauser or the FAL. Not sure on that though.

my .02 history lesson

March 8, 2000, 11:13 PM
Recent issue of American Rifleman sez that the Moisen-Nagant is the longest serving bolt action rifle.

March 9, 2000, 12:11 AM
I was referring to US service rifles and included a '?' to denote uncertainty. If the Springfield was the standard service rifle from 1903 to 1936 that puts its service life at 33 years. The AR was adopted around 1965 to the current date, which puts its service life at 35 years and counting.

March 9, 2000, 07:37 PM

You are right Destructo m-16 just surpassed the 03 Springfield a short while back.


Art Eatman
March 10, 2000, 10:01 AM
SOF magazine had an article about the M 16 problems, some four or six years ago. No particular with their story and the linked article.

A slight variation on caus-and-effect was that the original use of IMR powder was protested by the Olin Corporation. Olin wanted in on the act, figuring that since Colt was getting paid for rifles, Olin should "contribute to the cause" by selling ammo.

Ball powder leaves more residue than the IMR; it did indeed increase the cyclic rate of fire, and the obduration became a problem.

So greed and politicking led to a bad package; CYA led to any rational solution taking an undue number of years. And so good men died.

There are times, when one considers the apparently increasing instances of this sort, that maintaining a positive attitude about loyalty and patriotism becomes rather difficult.

:(, Art

March 10, 2000, 01:11 PM
i found inside .gov an index reference to:
M-16 rifle subcommittee - 4.104, 4.117

maybe i will see what it takes to get a copy of the report from the 60's


Jack 99
March 10, 2000, 07:19 PM
The M16 is just a tad less rugged than I would like if I were going into a combat zone. That said, its not all that bad, either. The positive aspects of the rifle outweigh the negatives, overall.

The original purchase was by the Air Force for airbase security purposes. The M16 is probably ideal in that role. Its not really a "battle rifle" and the real issue is the military trying to make it something it may not be. These days, the role of the military has changed and so has the idea of a main infantry rifle. Most soldiers are now technicians and its a lot easier to string comm lines or set up radar equipment with an M4 on your shoulder than an M14. We do need another option though for front line infantry.

BTW, McNamara is the one who loved the M16 and shoved it through the system before it was ready.

March 11, 2000, 01:23 AM
if McNamara loved the M16, it is because JFK loved it. I have read that JFK got to play around with an AR prototype, and he really dug the thing. recall that JFK was an NRA life member. I wouldn't be surprised if McNamara and his cronies had a financial interest in Colt. as the saying goes, follow the money.

its funny to read all the anti-M16 stuff. I frequently read memoirs of Vietnam vets, particularly of the various spec ops types, and most of them really liked the M16. then I read stuff from regular grunts, and they mostly hated it. its almost as if there were two different models.

March 11, 2000, 02:49 PM
I remember the day well, Christmas Day 1967, Cam Lo, Vietnam. They lined us up to recieve a Christmas present from Uncle Sam, brand new M-16 rifles, with the new bird cage flash supressors, way better than the old 3-prong ones that would get snaged on vines going through the bush! Every morning before going out on patrol, we had rifle inspection, and God help the Marine who had a dirty rifle! The Sargent's boot would be so far up his ass that his helmet would fly 50 yards! I never had a problem, as long as it was cleaned and lubed daily! Our lives depended on it, and Marines are known for keeping their weapons in Tip-Top (Killing) shape!

March 11, 2000, 09:36 PM
I have no personal experience with the M-16/AR-15, but my stepfather was in country in '67-'68 when the M-16 was first issued. Most of those issued to his unit couldn't get through one magazine without jamming and eventually found their way to the bottom of a river. The men in his unit preferred to us captured AKs when they could get them.

My stepfather was also not impressed with the stopping power of the 5.56mm, having been accidentally shot with an M-16. Now that I think about it, the only issue firearm I have ever heard him speak fondly of was the .50 BMG.

Hard Ball
March 19, 2000, 03:49 PM
One problem with the initial issue of M16 rifles in Vietnam was that only three 20 round magazines were issued with each rifle. Four hundred rounds were to be carried. This meant that only 60 rounds were available in magazines for instant use, The other 340 were carried in 20 round cardboard boxes and had to be loaded into the empty magazines before they could be used. Reloading empty magazines repeatedly under fire was not popular with the troops.

"I swear to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemeis domestic or foreign WHOMSOEVER."

March 19, 2000, 04:18 PM
I've got no battlefield experience (thank goodness) with the M-16, but when I did my stint in the Army, I liked my rifle. I was quite handy with it, and I loved its accuracy; I only wish I could have fired it more.

Having said that, though, I'll defer to those who have had battlefield expeience with the M-16 and who give it marginal marks for reliability. I kept my rifle very clean, but I realize this isn't always possible in the field. A battlefield rifle should be able to fire under nearly any condition, dirty or not.

Reading "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal," by Ayn Rand, should be required of every politician and in every high school.

March 19, 2000, 09:32 PM
So what do Gulf War vets think of their M-16 experience?

4V50 Gary
March 20, 2000, 12:07 AM
I read the story with great interest. It is compatible to Culbertson's report on the M16 in his book, A Sniper in the Arizona.

Edmund Rowe
March 20, 2000, 01:40 PM
M-16s in Gulf War: I heard that way before the fighting started that troops found they had to clean them often and dry lube helped since wet oil tended to attract the dusty sand.

Once the shooting started I never heard of any problems. Of course, with all that time to prep with BUFFs, arty, A-10s, F-111s etc. and the attack supported with MBTs, Bradleys, and whatnot it was pretty tough to get a rifle into action most of the time.

Back in Grenada I heard the Ranger's appraisal of their M-16s was, "When we shot the Cubans they fell down."

Note that I hear there is a world of difference between the M-16A1 and the M-16A2. One Marine I knew who was involved in the transition described them as "Different as night and day." Culver makes a good point that the M-16A2 is almost as heavy as an M-14 but with the downgrade in bullet performance.

I've heard a lot of the nightmare stories of the early M-16s. UGH. The transition was apparently rammed down the grunts' throats overnight with hardly a day of training on the new rifles. :mad:

According to the book, "The Black Rifle" a big part of the problem was the -16 was billed as "self-cleaning". I dunno what it is about US military procurement but there seems to be an unwritten rule on overselling the products merits. Back in the 60s-70s the F-15 fighter was billed as "never needing depot overhaul." Guess what I did for 8 years?? F-15 depot overhaul Engineering!! I hear similar "no depot maintenance" claims on stuff like the F-22 and the Comanche and I roll my eyes. :rolleyes:

Also, Peter G. Kokalis (SOF small arms editor) has said repeatedly that just about ALL new military small arms have early problems. Even the M1 Garand had them. Unfortunately, it seems our military is set up so that our teething problems are 10 times worse than what they could/should be.

Culver's article on the IMR/ball powder/chamber problem of early M-16s is the best I've seen on the subject.

The future? Fortunately it seems that most of the world's militaries are going to micro-caliber performance, so for the most part grunts will all be in the same ballistic disadvantage. i.e. everyone will have about 200-300 yards effective range. Might be very good news for the sniper community.

The USMC may be on the right track with their Designated Marksman concept putting some 7.62 NATO riflemen back in each squad.


March 20, 2000, 06:11 PM
Edmund, surely you must know that all you need to do maintenance on the F-22 is run Norton Disk Doctor after every flight! And if you run into triple-A, they've even got a "defrag" utility. ;)

Given the money DoD is spending on OICW and *not* spending on training ammo, I guess the current philosophy is "We can miss faster than you guys."

March 21, 2000, 04:36 PM
I was never in the military, so I obviously can't comment on the M16. I do have a question, though, about the 5.56 cartridge.
I've heard that its purpose was not to kill, but rather to injure, the idea being that a wounded soldier required 5 guys to be taken out of combat to tend to him, instead of just
having one dead enemy soldier to deal with.
Any truth to this?


Edmund Rowe
March 21, 2000, 11:01 PM
With the way the military-industrial complex is headed, maybe they'd be happier to buy a new F-22 every time one had problems! :) :(

The concept of wounding enemy soldier instead of killing them I think came from Mao Tse-Tung. Not sure of that though. I think it has a lot to do with guerilla warfare thinking.

Modern rifle ammo is prohibited from creating excessive suffering to enemy soldiers due to some Geneva or Hague treaty. Therefore, most military ammo is FMJ since around the turn of the century. 1900, that is. :D

Wound effects of most military ammo didn't begin until the 80s. (Dr Martin Fackler is the only name I've heard for extensive study on international military bullet effects), well after the international acceptance of FMJ ammo for military use. Now, Dr. Fackler does say military FMJ rifle ammo is better for creating wounds in most cases compared to other rifle ammo, but since the bullet designs predate the research by 20, 30, maybe even 50-80 years or so, I don't think the "wounding" effect was intentional.

Even M-16 M-193 55 gr ammo's tumbling/fragmenting effects inside human bodies was more of an accident than on purpose.

OK, now that I've gone over the history, my own opinion is that the wounding/5 to take care of 1 philosophy may have a place in guerilla warfare but on a conventional battlefield it doesn't work too well. I may be presumptuous on the mind of the GI Joe Grunt, but I would figure they'd more often than not shoot to utterly finish the opposition. In short, GI Joe wants to finish off Herman the German or Ivan the Russky or Chang the Chicom, not see him leave to the field hospital where he'll come back maybe smarter and tougher the next fight.

On another note, back in the Cold War the Soviets basically put minimal importance on taking care of their wounded. They probably heard the Mao philosophy, also, so they solve the problem by not putting too many resources into the wounded in the first place. I dunno how well the philosophy took, since accounts I read of Russians in Afghanistan seem to say that a grunt will take care of his wounded buddy that he's been through 2 years of fighting with. However, the hospital/medic support isn't nearly as much as NATO soldiers expect. Anyway, Asian-philosophy militarys often have the same attitude of "too bad" for the wounded.

So what I'm saying is the Maoist philosophy of wounding may work best when used in a guerilla warfare mode on a western miltary. Otherwise its mostly just a military science discussion.

Hope that helps.


March 22, 2000, 12:25 AM
Norm Augustine (recently retired CEO of Martin Marietta) has a humorous outlook on defense procurement. he has a quote along the lines of, "In the year 1995, the entire defense budget will be used to acquire one new fighter. The Air Force will fly it four days a week, the Marine Corps gets one day, and the Navy gets it over the weekend."

The F-22 would not cost that much more than an F-16, *if* we bought them in large batches like we have the F-16.