The AK-47 vs. the M16 Rifle During the Vietnam War
The Soviet-made AK-47 and the American M16, the primary assault rifles deployed during the Vietnam War, became symbols of the long conflict.
By Michael Haskew During the Vietnam War, two of the most famous firearms of modern times emerged as icons of the latter half of the turbulent 20th century. The Soviet-made AK-47 and the American M16 were both developments that followed the deployment of the world’s first true assault rifle, the Sturmgewehr 44, by the German Army during World War II. There were obvious advantages to the rifle that could be fired in automatic or semi-automatic mode without requiring the soldier to operate a bolt, and the clash between the Ak-17 vs the M16 characterized modern combat with the Vietnam War serving as a proving ground. The father of the AK-47 rifle was Soviet arms designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, and it is believed that since the rifle entered production in 1949 over 75 million examples of the original or its improved variants have been manufactured, more than any other firearm in history. The AK-47 has developed a reputation for simplicity and rugged reliability. It has also become a common weapon in the Third World and a symbol of the revolutionary, the insurgent, and the terrorist. While the AK-47 was shipped to Vietnam in great numbers to equip the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong insurgency, it also armed the Soviet Red Army and its Cold War allies of the Warsaw Pact. The AK-47 Rifle The AK-47 rifle is a 7.62mm gas operated rotating bolt selective fire assault rifle. It is capable of a cyclical rate of fire up to 600 rounds per minute and is usually fed by detacha
Join The Conversation
View All Comments
3 thoughts on “The AK-47 vs. the M16 Rifle During the Vietnam War”
This article appears to be missing the ‘rest of the story’. It’s a great introduction of the two weapons but there was no ‘comparison’ of them other than to list the inventors and the rate of fire. The web site needs to upload the full article.
As a witness to the disaster that was the initial general fielding of the M16, I have to point out that hundreds, maybe even thousands of young American men died as the result of what the author so glibly refers to as “failure to eject”. Our rifles failed almost as soon as they arrived – they stripped the head off the fired cartridge case and then fed a new cartridge into the remainder of the old case, fusing them together. Because the M-16 design’s chamber can’t be accessed from outside the weapon, a man using that M-16 had to strip the weapon, knock the fired case/new round out and then reassemble the weapon and insert a magazine, chamber a round, and hope they weren’t dead by then. Many Marines and soldiers died trying get their weapons back in action during a firefight.
The AK for all its flaws (short sight radius, crude sights, fast climb during full auto firing, cumbersome safety, short stock) always fired when their triggers were pulled. They never failed the men who carried them.
To us in Vietnam, it was another example of how little our country cared about us – another “least bidder” weapon, hopelessly unsuited for combat use. Much later, after our war was done, the government finally admitted that they had substituted the powder used to load the 5.56mm rounds, which had been responsible for the fatal jamming. At the time, they tried to blame it on us (“lack of cleaning”, “improper lubricants”, inexperience with the M-16″).
I hope the experience of that disaster will someday result in fuller operational testing of new weapon system before our young people’s lives depend on them – but I won’t hold my breath.
The M16 is and was junk: cheap, fragile, inaccessible chamber and awful to try to disassemble under fire while trying to clear a jam. It was inexpensive to make, so max profits for the investors – but to those young men killed next to their disassembled weapons, it was nothing personal, just business.