WKD: How Well (Or Bad) Did the M16 Really Perform in Vietnam?

WKD: How Well (Or Bad) Did the M16 Really Perform in Vietnam?

Kyle Mizokami

History, Asia


Let’s take a look.

Key point: The M16 remains loved and hated by many to this day.

In Part One of this series, we discussed how the U.S. Army came to dump the M14 battle rifle for the M16 assault rifle. The M16 promised light weight and greater lethality, but was it all it was cracked up to be? In this segment we follow the rifle to Vietnam, where the weapon developed a reputation for being unreliable–a reputation it didn’t entirely deserve.

As the U.S. Military began a major commitment to the conflict in Vietnam it began issuing a new weapon to U.S. Army and Marine Corps infantry units. Developed by Armalite and manufactured by legendary gunmaker Colt, the M16 assault rifle was smaller and lighter than its predecessor, the relatively new M14 battle rifle. The M16, used by U.S. Special Forces and the South Vietnamese Army troops they advised, gained glowing reviews in the areas of usability and lethality. The Army and Air Force purchased 104,000 of the rifles in November 1963.

As U.S. Army ground forces began to stream into Vietnam their infantrymen were re-equipped with M16s. Units such as the 1st Cavalry Division, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the 101st Airborne Division took the M16 on its first large scale deployment with U.S. forces. Despite wariness of the M16 with its plastic parts replacing the all wood and steel M14, the new rifle won over many skeptics and the Army and Marines ordered another 419,277 rifles in 1966.

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