U.S. Small Arms Ammunition (SAA) in Vietnam


#1

In a recent email conversation I had with Col Frank Hackley, USA, Retired, I mentioned that I had been watching the Ken Burns series on Vietnam on PBS and was thinking of him as I saw the kazillions of rounds of small arms ammunition (SAA) being expended. I remembered that Frank was deeply involved with the acquisition and distribution of SAA in that war. He replied with the following, shared here with his permission:

"The control of ammunition used in the Vietnam conflict was centrally managed out of Ft. Shafter, Hawaii by a very effective and dedicated group of ladies we called the Hawaii Five “O”. Our group in VN was primarily involved in recording and predicting consumption rates, so we could keep the supplies at some level so we did not run out of ammo. We also maintained reserves in Okinawa and afloat off VN in cargo ships that could react to any unanticipated surges. Also, all combat units maintained a basic load at the company and battalion level, that was replenished daily as needed from a network of ASP’s (Ammo Supply Points) positioned throughout VN. We were in touch with Hawaii on a hour to hour basis and they in turn with APSA (Ammo Procurement and Supply Agency) in Joliet, Il. to maintain the production at the Gov’t and contractor plants at the proper levels to support the war.

By 1970-1971, we were ordered to reduce the DOS (Days of Supply) held “in country” from 60 DOS to 30 DOS and later 21 DOS because of the fear that if the situation collapsed from either a political or military standpoint our stockpiles would be captured by the VC/NVN. Needless to say, this caused some concern and constant intense management to prevent any shortages developing. I had a Major working for me that was a Math Major and a genius in tabulating and planning consumption rates and he working with the Five “O” somehow kept things in balance.

Shortages did crop-up but we always seemed to somehow work it out, in some cases even “borrowing” items from the other services and allies."

In an earlier conversation, Frank told me that on one visit to a base, there was a stockpile of bombs for which there were no fuzes available. As an experiment, one of these was loaded aboard an aircraft which “delivered” it to an empty field where it functioned normally with a huge bang and fireball. So, all of the others were loaded up and delivered to the enemy, and they all functioned normally. Somebody said, about war: “If it’s a stupid idea, but it works, it’s not stupid.”


#2

Great article! Tom from MN


#3

I have watched the first three of the Ken Burns series on PBS. Much is it is excellent. Some doesn’t match with my memory but I was disappointed with what appears to me to be pictures which are significantly out of context with the time period being protrayed. I think the M16 rifle is a good example. I got to Vietnam with the USAF in the Spring of 1966 and was issued an AR15 which the Air Force was issued. Across the runway at Bien Hoa AB was the US Army 173rd Airborne and they were equiped with the M16. Other US Army units in the area, including the guys at Long Bien down the road to Siagon and the Hawk Missile battery at Bien Hoa were still using the M14. The Marines I saw at Danang where were also carrying M14s. I understand the Air Cav that fought in the Ia Drang Valley in late 1965 had the M16. My impression was that the M16 didn’t get to Vietnam in any numbers until 1962, but “Vietnam” shows them in film associated with much earlier periods. If I am wrong, please let me know when it was first introduced to Vietnam. The ammo we used in our AR15s was all normal Army issue as far as I remember. I don’t know of any USAF acquired 5.56x45mm ammo during this period. My memory is that the USAF introduced the AR15 in 1963, before the Army adopted the M16 in 1964. The USAF weapon lacked the bolt closure button and other things introduced on the M16,

Another example is the Bell UH-1 (Huey) helicopter which appears in the first two parts of the PBS special, but wasn’t introduced into Vietnam until 1965 as far as I know.

Cheers,
Lew


#4

Lew,

You mention the Army units in your area were still armed with the M1.
Did you mean M14?

The 173rd Airborne was issued M16s on Okinawa and had the chance to
work with them for several months before deploying in RVN. Significantly,
they had almost zero problems with the weapon in VN. That’s a matter of
Congressional Record, by the way, and corroborated by my friend, high
school classmate Col. Dan Buttolph, a West Point graduate who stopped
by my house on the way to Okinawa. It was the first time he has seen one
of the “black rifles,” as I had a four-digit serial number AR-15 SP-1 at the time.
I also had not one single malfunction with that rifle in thousands of rounds. Of
course, I kept it clean, it was not full auto, and I never fired any tracer rounds
through it.

I don’t know when the SOG guys had M16s, but I do know that the 173rd was
the first full Army unit, as opposed to spec. ops. and MAAG guys, to get the
M16. By the way, I think Dan was at Ben Hoa, but I am not sure of when, and
I don’t trust my memory anymore. I know he did two or three tours in RVN.

John Moss


#5

Mel,
How does a bomb “work” without a fuse? And if it does, why is there a fuse in the first place?


#6

Here it would be interesting to see detailed tech data and diagrams of the item in question.
Normally ordnance without a fuze on (note spelling) should not react high order.


#7

Lew, I was in and out of Danang in 1965/66 and can confirm that the Marines had the M14. I had my own 1911A1 but was offered an M14, which I accepted.

sksvlad, Interesting question, “How can bombs work without a fuze?” Frank provided this:

“I should expand on the VNAF Nha Trang air base bomb story. If you will recall, the reason the bombs went off without a nose fuze was because they were all Comp B loaded (double yellow strip) and had been in outside storage for years on Guam were they more or less had been “cooking” in the tropical sun before being sent to VN. This storage condition, undoubtedly sensitized the Comp B which was 50% RDX and 50% TNT in a cast mixture and made the explosive filler more impact sensitive.”


#8

I arrived in Vietnam in mid-August of 1970. I spent a couple of days in “casual” status before reaching my unit. The bunk next to me was occupied by an Army PFC who was staring in bewilderment at his M-16A1. “I never seen one of these rifles! I was trained on a M-14!” I was USAF and showed him how to load it and strip it for cleaning.

Although I was in the USAF I was assigned to a MACV Advisory Team, part of the Armed Forces Language School (AFLS Team 62, a/k/a “Palace Dogs”). Therefore despite my official branch of service I was effectively in an Army unit. I was issued an M16-A1, which had the forward bolt assist and the “bird cage” flash hider. In training at Lackland AFB I had used an M16 (NOT an “AR-15,” that was the civilian version) that had the three prong flash hider and no bolt assist. The differences between the two rifles were insignificant. We were issued M193 Ball ammunition and some tracer whose designation I don’t remember. The M193 Ball had a 55 grain bullet.

Some of the Army people even as late as early 1971 were using M-14’s: when I did perimter guard duty I of course had my M16A1, but many of the Army troops used the M-14, as did the Navy river patrols. Don’t know what ammo they carried. I never saw an M-1 Garand but I did see M-1 (or possibly M-2) Carbines carried by Vietnamese Air Force personnel.

I also used an M-79 grenade launcher, with both the grenade and the “shotgun shell” ammunition holding (I think) flechettes. The M-79 was one awesome weapon, pound for pound the nastiest piece of hand-held ordnance I ever shot. It looked like a stubby break-open shotgun and its rather vicious recoil earned it the nickname “Thumper.”

Some Vietnamese “Ruff Puff” (Regional & Popular Forces, i.e., militia) were armed with 12 gauge shotguns: one Papa-san of my acquaintance had a nice shiny WW2 vintage Winchester Model 12 of which he was very proud. well he should be: he killed a VC who threw a bomb at an NCO club with it in Cholon. The Model 12 could be slam-fired and Papa-san held back the trigger and ripped out three shots that knocked the VC off his motor bike and into the street, dead before he hit the pavement.

I also spotted one Ithaca Model 37 combat shotgun in the hands of a USAF Security Police officer in downtown Saigon. Again, I don’t know what ammunition these shotguns used but I suspect it was the brass cased 2-3/4" stuff used in WW2. I believe that later on plastic shells were (and currently are) standard issue.

I wouldn’t put much stock in Ken Burns’ historical accuracy: his “Civil War” documentary was very shallow and superficial; his “Roosevelts” documentary was an apotheosis of FDR that excluded all the man’s flaws and quirks because they conflicted with what Burns wanted people to think. I deliberately avoided the “Vietnam” documentary both because I dislike Burns’ approach to history–at least his version of it–and because I heard all the lies 50 years ago and I didn’t need to hear them again. Nearly everything people think they “know” about the war in Vietnam today is wrong, and based on the same set of distortions and flat-out lies that the media of the time generated. I can’t go into detail on these here, but they were numerous and outrageous, and I was a witness to a lot of them. Nevertheless today everyone thinks these fables are “the truth,” most especially people like Ken Burns. Burns is far more interested in drama than he is in accuracy, based on his previous body of work.


#9

Lew and others concerned about the TV showing video images of items introduced much later than the dates of the story being told need to remember that the folks who make these shows are story tellers, not “historians.”

In most cases, the story is scripted first and then they find film to show with it, usually pretty generic “helicopters landing” and don’t pay much attention to what type of helo or even know the exact date of the video. Army troops may be shown when discussing Marine operations, USAF aircraft images interspersed with USN when discussing aircraft carriers, and similar stuff, but usually simply because the images visually support the story line.

You can often see such errors in “documentaries” and while most errors are probably just ignorance or laziness, there is a strong chance that in some cases selected scenes may be used to sensationalize or push a certain narrative that is not supported by the facts.

Unless you are seeing archival footage specifically identified as to date and place it was filmed, do not trust anything you see as being what it is purported to be. Perhaps the errors are innocent, but in some cases clever editing can twist a story entirely out of context. This is true in “documentaries” as well as in news broadcasts, and especially when documentaries go back and use footage from news reports.


#10

John,

Thanks, the “M1” was a typo. In fact, my keyboard is so dirty internally that “4”, “a” and "d’ sometime require repeated attempts before they actually appear on the screen.

NRV_Outdoorsman,
The AR-15 I was issued by the USAF in 1966 had no bolt assist but was both fully and semi automatic. It was the version first purchased by the Air Force before the Army selected the gun.

Lew


#11

Lew is correct. The term “AR-15” does not just apply to semi-
automatic versions. There are selective fire “AR-15s” as well.
The designations M16, M16A1, M16A2, M4, etc. are simply
military Designations for various forms of the AR-15, applied
after basically the whole US Military went to the “M16.” As I
recall, even the first Colt M16-marked rifle still had the larger
designation “AR-15” on the left side of the mag housing. I could
be wrong - my service predates much use of the M16 and it has
been a long, long time since I have actually seen one.

Lew - thanks for the confirmation. I know there were plenty of
.30 Carbines in VN, mostly M2 I suppose, and while never there,
have seen plenty of pictures of ARVN troops with them, and even
a few early ones of them with M1 Garands although far fewer than
carbines. I guess the weaponry there was pretty international!

By the way, my “new and improved” : - ( keyboard sticks like the
devil. Drives me crazy. Not old enough to be too dirty. Its funny
you have trouble with “d.” My keyboard seems to resent “ed” endings
and often, when I bother to proof read, they are missing from about half
the words that should have them.

John M.

John M.


#12

For what it is worth I saw the M1 Carbine in Laos with the Hmong (US allied local mountain tribe) and that still in 1998!


#13

The Agency was supplying M1 Carbines and probably some M2 carbines to the people they supported in Laos (mostly the Hmong) and in Vietnam well before the US military got seriously involved in Vietnam. The agency preferred the carbine because of the small physical statue of the soldiers they were equipping. To improve the effectiveness of this weapon they conducted a development program (in conjunction with FA assistance) to develop the “Mod 1.1” carbine round with a new bullet. I was fortunate enough to meet and get to know the retired ordnance colonel who ran this program and still had a great deal of documentation which he showed me, along with the rounds. A number of bullet designs were tried but the final was compressed lead shot in a very thin bullet jacket. It was used in at least field trials in Laos and may have been issued in some quantity, but I am not sure it was issued in significant quantity and my source wouldn’t have told me if it was. To look at it the round it isn’t distinguisable from a normal .30 carbine ball round. Apparently, during the trials a Laosian Sargent made 27 one shot kills using this round.

A companion round for the CIA was the 7.62 NATO light bullet rounds with white tips. These were also part of the same project, and the retired colonel gave me a quantity of these. The purpose of these rounds was to reduce the recoil of the M60 so it was easier to handle by the Laosian soldiers. I think the weapons may have been modified but I could be wrong there.

I will try to write an article for the Journal on this when I get time.

Cheers,
Lew


#14

This has been an interesting read.


#15

There is a reference to Ia Drang valley, located at CORE Humanities (CORE is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation).
There is some information on the ammunition used…but some of the Links don’t work.

Sam3


#16

I have had this Viet Cong shotgun for 50+ years. When I acquired it it was in a weapons cache that was buried in a French era bunker. In an area we called “Dodge City” 15 Km south of DaNang. A lot of old weapons and improvised grenades and other explosive devices. It was loaded with a paper 20 ga. shell that had been reloaded . The over shot card was missing and contained no projectiles but the “powder” contained in it resembled roughly crushed up match heads. It is a slam fire, fires from an open bolt. made from pieces of pipe. It opened by rotating 90 deg. clockwise and pulling forward to open the beech. drop in a shell and slide it closed , rotate counter-clockwise and it is locked and loaded. Took some big brass ones to pull the trigger on this glorified zip-gun.


I wish I had kept the shell but could bring the gun back but not the cartridge. I believe this was Viet Minh, French era. The bunker had been sealed for many years.


#17

[quote=“JohnMoss, post:11, topic:25665”]
As I recall, even the first Colt M16-marked rifle still had the larger
designation “AR-15” on the left side of the mag housing. I could
be wrong - my service predates much use of the M16 and it has
been a long, long time since I have actually seen one.
[/quote]

Correct. The very earliest AR-15s were marked that way, and in addition, they had greenish-colored plastic buttstocks and handguards. We got one of those in the USAF gunsmith shop for destruction, but I stopped that from happening. I don’t remember the serial number but it was very low, maybe three digits. I called Colt to get a date on it, which they supplied, but I don’t remember when it shipped. The first USAF AR-15s were purchased in the 1960-61 period (Curtis LeMay’s order). I think the one I saw was from this group. The first AR-15s went to Vietnam in mid-1962 for field evaluation.