Small Arms of the Vietnam War: A Photographic Study

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With modern military emphasis on whiz-bang weapons technology and the constant quest for things that make a bigger bang on the battlefield, it’s easy to forget that at the dark heart of war stands an infantryman and his individual weapons. Those who understand warfare from research or from personal experience generally realize this about the conflicts that have plagued mankind since the dawn of time. Infantry weapons — often referred to as small arms — have fascinated soldiers and scholars for decades as they are the most personal aspects of combat.

Small arms come into play when contact is close and potentially lethal. This was particularly true during the long, frustrating war in Vietnam, but much of the focus in studying that conflict has been either on aerial weapons — strike aircraft or armed helicopters — or on the originally much-maligned M16 rifle. There were huge numbers of other weapons used by both sides, but they are often ignored and rarely seen being used in combat action. Small Arms of the Vietnam War solves that problem. Divided into easily digestible sections and preceded by cogent discussions of each weapon type, the authors have presented an intriguing collection of photographs that depict the primary small (and not so small) infantry arms most common on Vietnam battlefields. There are rare and stirring images here that depict what it was like to fight in the jungle-covered mountains and in the rice paddies. Viewing these images is like studying a primer about one of America’s longest and deadliest wars.

{Excerpted from Submachine Guns: A shoulder-fired automatic firearm designed to fire pistol cartridges from a box magazine, combining the automatic fire of larger machine guns with the portability and smaller cartridge of a pistol.}

After World War II, the U.S. military had essentially given up on the concept of submachine guns. Even so, several types remained in the inventory of the American arsenal. By the time of the Vietnam War, the .45 caliber M3/M3A1 “Grease Gun” had been mostly withdrawn from front-line service, but still equipped U.S. Army mechanized units and were part of the inventory of USMC special troops. The Grease Gun was supplied to ARVN troops, South Vietnamese Popular Forces, and also to the Montagnard mountain peoples. Rugged but rather slow firing — less than 500 rounds per minute — the Grease Gun was commonly found throughout the Vietnam War.

Large numbers of .45 caliber Thompson Submachine Guns, both the M1 and the M1A1 variant, were still kept in America’s reserve stocks and many were supplied to ARVN troops and Vietnamese Popular Forces during the early 1960s. One of the finest submachine guns ever built, the Thompson was commonly seen in the early years of the Vietnam War — some had originally been brought to Vietnam by French forces in the 1950s, and some trickled down from China in the hands of Viet Cong troops. Some Thompson Gun copies were also fabricated in Vietnamese cottage workshops. The weight of the Thompson — more than 10.5 pounds unloaded — proved problematic for the slight build of the Vietnamese. Several photos show Vietnamese troops carrying the Thompson Gun with its buttstock removed.

Australian troops deployed to Vietnam with a small number of the 9mm Owen Submachine Gun. The World War II vintage Owen was a popular gun with the troops from down under and remained in Australian service until the mid-1960s.

A South Korean Marine holds a mud-splattered M3 Grease Gun during Operation Jefferson, February 1966.
A US Navy man guards suspected Viet Cong guerrillas during 1967. His weapon is a well-worn Thompson M1A1 SMG, with two 30-round magazines wired together.
A rare look at a US Navy advisor ashore during an early sweep in the Mekong Delta area in 1964. He is armed with a Thompson M1A1 SMG with the buttstock removed.

DALE DYE is a Marine officer who rose through the ranks to retire as a Captain after 21 years of service in war and peace. He is a distinguished graduate of Missouri Military Academy who en-listed in the United States Marine Corps shortly after graduation. Sent to war in Southeast Asia, he served in Vietnam in 1965 and 1967 through 1970 surviving 31 major combat operations. Appointed a Warrant Officer in 1976, he later converted his commission and was a Captain when he deployed to Beirut, Lebanon with the Multinational Force in 1982–83. Following retirement from active duty in 1984, he spent time in Central America, reporting and training troops for guerrilla warfare in El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica. Upset with Hollywood’s treatment of the American military, he went to Hollywood and established Warriors Inc., the preeminent military training and advisory service to the entertainment industry. He has worked on more than 50 movies and TV shows including several Academy Award and Emmy winning productions. He is a novelist, actor, director and show business innovator, who wanders between Los Angeles and Lockhart, Texas. Find his Shake Davis series here.

TOM LAEMLEIN is the son of a US 8th Infantry Division veteran who fought in Normandy, Brittany and Germany and has always been fascinated by weaponry. However, it wasn’t until his thirties that he purchased his first carbine which was the start of his collecting career. It also set him on his path as a publisher of specialist titles aimed at weapon collectors and enthusiasts through the creation of Armor Plate Press. His most recent publishing successes have included the highly successful “American Firepower Series”.