Osprey author Leigh Neville this week examines the use of the American M16 assault rifle among Australian forces in Vietnam as featured in King & Country’s Vietnam ANZACs range.
The 5.56x45mm M16, and the later M16A1, is arguably one of the most contentious firearms in recent military history. Its direct impingement gas system resulted in a large number of stoppages when the weapon was first issued to US forces in Vietnam and a resulting undeserved reputation for poor reliability that exists to a degree to this day.
Direct impingement gas systems require regular maintenance, just like any firearm, to minimise fouling from a build-up of unburnt propellant. The M16 also required a particular type of powder that minimised this build-up. The US military, in their infinite wisdom, decided to initially issue ammunition using another type of powder altogether which actually increased build-ups and consequently stoppages (‘jams’) in the M16.
They also failed to issue proper cleaning kits and lauded the weapon as self-cleaning. Soldiers and Marines took them at their word and experienced sometimes catastrophic stoppages which saw the action seize up and the unfortunate soldier or Marine left without an operable weapon. Thankfully a new powder was adopted, the barrel was chromed to reduce wear, and cleaning kits were issued along with a comic book style maintenance manual.
The Australian Army adopted the M16A1 in 1967 for issue to scouts and section leaders, replacing the 9x19mm Owen and F1 sub-machine guns. In a period infantry section, typically three M16A1s would be issued to a ten-man section (the others equipped with the Lithgow produced 7.62x51mm L1A1 self-loading rifle or SLR, one 7.62x51mm M60 medium machine gun and one 40mm M79 grenade launcher).
The M16A1 continued in Australian service into the 1980s typically relegated to the recon/sniper platoons of the infantry battalions who favoured its lighter weight whilst most infantrymen carried the SLR until the adoption of the 5.56x45mm F88 based on the Austrian Steyr AUG bullpup in the later part of the decade.
The M16A1 is featured in a number of King & Country releases available from Peter Nathan Toy Soldiers:
KCVN051 Australian Scouting Party https://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN051
KCVN071 The Battle of Long Tan Set #1 https://www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCVN071
For more information on ANZACs in Vietnam, we recommend to have a look at the Osprey Elite 103 book: