By Sam Bocetta
AMERCIAN SOLDIERS went into battle in Vietnam armed with more than a dozen different types of infantry weapons. Many were throwbacks to earlier conflicts; others were new and untested. Here is a quick overview of some of the weaponry.
Among the most famous firearms used by ground troops in the Vietnam War was the M1911 .45 caliber automatic pistol. Already more than 50 years old by the time U.S. personnel arrived in Indochina, the legendary seven-shot sidearm was issued to grunts and officers alike, as well as vehicle crews and pilots.
The U.S. military’s principle semi-automatic rifle of the Second World War was still in limited service during early phase of America’s involvement in Vietnam. Early on, the U.S. military provided surplus Garands to South Vietnamese troops and rural defense forces. While by 1965 most American infantry were armed with M14 rifles, the Marines of the 2nd Battalion landing force brandished the M1 when storming coastal Viet Cong strongholds during some of America’s earliest actions. Soon, the Garand was pulled from service entirely.
Although the Thompson M1 submachine gun was no longer standard issue during America’s war in Vietnam, it was distributed to ARVN forces and many models remained in the country following the Second World War. Viet Cong guerrillas held the weapon in high regard and kept any they were able to capture. The communists even manufactured their own copies. U.S. Special Forces and vehicle crews favoured the M3 “Grease Gun,” both because of the weapon’s compact size as well as its effective range of 300 yards.
Carl Gustav m/45
The U.S. Navy was just one of a number of foreign buyers of this Swedish-made 9mm submachine gun. First produced in the closing months of the Second World War and influenced heavily by weapons like the British Sten and the German MP-40, American SEAL teams valued the weapon for its reliability, particularly after being fully immersed in water. Sweden halted exports to the United States as world opinion turned against America’s war in South East Asia, but Smith & Wesson soon supplied the Pentagon with a domestic reproduction it called the M76.
Another World War Two holdover, the American M2 carbine was also exported South Vietnam and saw action in the war’s early staged by everyone from air crews and ARVN advisers to Special Forces. With 600,000 produced by early 1945, many ground troops got their hands on these light-weight semi-automatics at some point during the conflict.
With an effective range of 500 yards, the 7.62 mm M14 rifle was the primary infantry weapon of the U.S. military. A semi- and full-automatic replacement for the M1 rifle of the Second World War, oddly enough the new model was proclaimed to be “completely inferior” to the Garand in a September 1962 report by the U.S. Department of Defense. At issue was the M14’s cartridge — it was considered too powerful for full-automatic fire. Meanwhile, the rifle lacked the punch to be used as a light machine gun. After only five years of service, the M14 was gradually phased out in favour of the M16. Despite its perceived shortcomings, many irate troops defied the discontinuation, holding on to their M14s and continuing to use them in combat.
The classic AR-15 is a military legend. Originally used by U.S. airborne troopers in the early1960s, the 5.56 mm weapons was first deployed for jungle warfare operations in South Vietnam around 1963. Reliability issues in the field were widely reported; many of the initial shortcomings of the weapon were improved upon in the M16A1, which was introduced to the Army in 1965. Variants of the M16 have been in service with the U.S. military ever since.
This Colt automatic assault carbine was favored by many infantrymen thanks to its compact size and short barrel. It was in production until 1970, but was still in use until the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. It was later abandoned by Colt so that the company could focus on developing more heavy-barreled weapons. But AR-15s remain some of the best and most popular semi-automatic rifles.
First introduced in 1957, this 7.62 mm behemoth served as a squad automatic firearm during the war among many U.S. units. M60s typically blazed through rounds so quickly that every soldier in a squad typically carried an extra 200-round belt of ammo just for the weapon. During the war, it garnered the nickname “the Pig” because of its hefty size. Despite its power, the weapon suffered its share of drawbacks. Chief among these was the inability of crews to change out the barrel rapidly after prolonged firing. It was also susceptible to the Vietnamese climate, which made damage and deterioration inevitable. Regardless, the M60 served all branches of the U.S. military.
The M2 Browning has seen action in every major American conflict for the past century. The .50 Cal earned a place in history during Vietnam thanks to the efforts of legendary Marine sniper Sergeant Carlos Hathcock who bagged 93 kills at ranges of up to 2,500 yards, many of them with an M2 outfitted with an improvised special telescopic sight he kept in his gear. An automatic, recoil-operated, air-cooled machine gun, the M2 had adjustable headspace which made it a favorite at fixed installations (firebases and the like).
The T223 was designed as a copy of Heckler & Koch’s HF33 assault rifle, which was used by Navy SEAL teams. It was revered for its available 40-round magazine and, soon, it was issued experimentally to small units of U.S. military forces in South Vietnam. Perhaps the most well-known variant was the Stoner 63, a completely modular machine gun that has been called the “trumpet of the SEALs.” It appeared only in limited numbers, but delivered great results.
Winchester Model 70
No rifle list would be complete without a Winchester. The Model 70 first entered the fray as a sniper rifle with the Marines but later saw substantial use in other branches of the U.S. military. A bolt-action weapon with a 22” barrel, it was light (at six lbs.) and compact, serving as a viable option for operations that entailed long treks through the Vietnamese brush. The Model 70 remains a mainstay that continues to enjoy loyalty among fans and manufacturer upgrades.
The Vietnam war took its toll on our American servicemen. But thanks to these impressive and (mostly) dependable infantry weapons, a lot of those courageous individuals were able to thwart their enemies and make it home in one piece. We can thank Samuel Colt, John Browning and Oliver Winchester for that.
Sam Bocetta is a writer at Gun News Daily where he covers US gun news and reviews the latest firearm products and gear.