This week, Osprey author Leigh Neville looks at the M79 "Wombat Gun’ featured in King & Country’s Vietnam ANZACs and USMC ranges.
The 40mm M79 is a single shot, break-open grenade launcher capable of engaging targets to around 375 meters. It fires a range of projectiles including high explosive (HE), high explosive dual purpose (HEDP- capable of penetrating light armour), chemical smoke and illumination rounds. In Vietnam, the M576 buckshot round, which effectively turned the M79 into a giant shotgun, proved popular in the dense jungle.
Australian infantry sections were issued the ‘Launcher Grenade, 40mm, M79’ from around 1965-66 with one per infantry section. The M79 provided an organic indirect fire capability to the infantry section and was much prized, covering the range between a hand thrown grenade and the minimum danger close range of battalion 81mm mortars. Its disadvantages included its weight (around 8 kilograms) and the fact that it hampered the grenadier from carrying a rifle although most Australians assigned the M79 also carried an SLR or M16A1.
These factors led to its eventual replacement for US forces by the M203 series of launchers which were mounted under the barrel of the M16 family of assault rifles. The M79 however soldiered on with Australian Army for many years and served in Rwanda, Somalia and East Timor before finally being
phased out in favour of an M203 attachment for the F88 Steyr.
Intriguingly the M79 has been favoured by some units, including the US Navy’s SEAL Teams, up until relatively recently as users found it far more accurate than under-barrel systems.
More commonly referred to as the ‘Thumper’ or ‘Blooper’ by US units, a number of Australian infantry units in Vietnam christened the 40mm M79 instead the ‘Wombat Gun’, apparently as the 40mm bore looked like a Wombat hole! Others have speculated that the name may have arisen with reference to the much larger 120mm L6 Wombat recoilless rifle also in Australian service.
The ‘Wombat Gun’ is featured in two King & Country releases available from Peter Nathan Toy Soldiers;
KCVN030 Australian Patrol in Vietnam
and KCVN010 USMC Blooper.
For more information on ANZACs in Vietnam, we recommend to have a look at the Osprey Elite 103 book: