M-16 Vietnam

My time in Vietnam my thoughts about being a young man:

Well do I remember the first one issued to me. It was 1967 and the weapon was an original trials rifle which had already seen at least a year of combat. That particular model had no forward assist, the firing pin retaining pin had been lost and replaced with a matchstick and it had NEVER EVER been issued with a cleaning kit.

There were only two 20 round magazines with it, one in an odd waffle pattern. The bolt was a nice high visibility shiny chrome colour, the anodising had worn off and so had the bluing on the steel parts. The three prong flash hider caught every vine I walked past when I was a forward scout.

Things it would NOT do:

Fire more than three rounds on full auto without a feed check. The buffer was rock hard and it fired at about 900 RPM.

Extract the first round of the day. (It used to rip the rim off every time, the chamber was pitted.)

Hold a 12" group at 25 meters. (I was a marksman with any other reasonable piece.)

Some fool had spread the rumour that M16s did not need cleaning! Killed a lot of good men whoever he was. I suspect it was the salesman pushing the things to the military.

This piece had no cleaning rod, so I made my own out of a straightened wire coat hanger which was taped to the forend. It was also useful for tapping out the spent case of the first shot of the day from the chamber.

One day in exasperation I plunged the barrel into
a muddy pit during a functional testfire and nearly blew the barrel off at the foresight.

I returned the now 'officially' defective weapon to the armourer and went back to carrying an SLR L1A1 7.62mm (Australian version of the FAL) which I had modified by removing the flash hider, adding a 30 round magazine full of tracer and a full auto trigger group which I'd liberated from a nearby support unit -- who used the full auto AR heavy barrelled SLR as an LMG replacement. An awesome beast.

The M16 in all of its 5.56mm variants has four major faults, the cartridge, the design of the gas system, the locking lugs and the magazine.

The cartridge is of thin brass and it is fragile. It is very easy to dint and bend when feeding. It is also not an effective killer. Note the word 'effective' before you go off half-cocked.

The gas system is designed by a lunatic. It forces superheated gases down the side of the magazine, fouling the locking lug area with unburnt propellant and carbon and rapidly heating it up, no matter what ammunition is used.

The multiple locking lugs (we only need two or three!) lock into the rear of the barrel in an area which is difficult if not near impossible to clean and to keep clean.

The magazine construction is too thin, both in steel or aluminium. The magazine lips spread and the weapon double feeds or the side of the magazine gets easily dinted and the rounds jam.

I defy anyone to drop a loaded M16 magazine feed lips first onto concrete and not damage the feed lips or the top round. Now throw it on the ground and drive a vehicle over it. It'll flatten. These are both things you can do with a loaded Kalashnikov magazine with no discernable functional damage to it.

Even later when I had a newer model with a forward assist I had to clean it at least three times a day to keep it functioning in the jungles and padi fields, and woe betide you if you fire any M16 with rainwater in the barrel! It'll look like a snake that's swallowed an egg.

The only reason I didn't carry a Kalashnikov or an SKS was we weren't permitted to. (It's a good way to get killed by your own troops, letting off green tracer in a contact.) ;)

Now the Australian Army has adopted an even more unreliable weapon, the Steyr Aug, called the AUSTEYR. When will designers learn -- as the Russians have -- that Infantry weapons must be 'soldier proof' and utterly reliable.

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