1. Ian has that right: A proficient M79 or M203 gunner could easily outdo someone with one of these, once you factor in the fussy reload. And, the jams…

    I think I’d have made the same judgment that the Vietnam-era users did: Not enough benefit to justify it.

  2. Note: this weapons consumes 40×46 mm ammunition which has very low velocity compared to other 1960s hand-held weapons: ~80 m/s, for comparison U.S. WW2-era .45 sub-machine guns provided velocity around ~270 m/s. This mean that in this weapon estimating distance to target is of paramount importance.

    • Not to mention, lots and lots of practice time+ammo.

      I used to work with a guy who’d been a “blooker tube” man in Vietnam. He cut his teeth on the M79, and that sumbitch was scary-good with the M203, which was all we had by the time I encountered him.

      I forget what the hell triggered the incident, but I was out on the M203 range as armorer. He was recently assigned, still low ranking, and nobody was really too clear on the fact that he was a Vietnam veteran–Looked way younger than his age, and had enough of a break-in-service that they made him go back through Basic again, and we got him straight out of the training pipeline. “Vietnam vet” did not compute.

      As I recall, he got himself assigned as an M203 gunner, that being his favorite weapon. The range cadre running the range were taking everyone through at lockstep, painfully slow because everyone was (they assumed…) new to the weapon. My guy got a little impatient, there was a bit of an “encounter” with the guy running the range, and it ended with a challenge: “You let me shoot the way I want, and I’ll show you what I can do…”

      What ensued was him loading up his vest with training rounds, and then watching him empty said vest across the range from left to right, hitting every target dead center, no sights. Took him about a minute and 30 seconds to do it, all instinctual shooting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do even the basic manipulation of the M203 that fast before or since… Let alone hit anything with it. Slack jaws, all around, observing that feat. They just gave him “Expert” and said it wasn’t worth even having him fire again. I want to say it was like 32 grenades, 32 targets and in less time than it takes to describe it.

      Talked to him later, about it, and he said he could do even better with the M79. No “useless-ass” M16 hanging off of it…

      • I was an M203 gunner, both in peacetime and in Iraq in 2003-2004. To my knowledge, nobody who actually uses to M203 ever uses the sights past the first few training rounds. The flip up ladder is OK for direct fire, but the quadrant sight is a nightmare, and gets caught on everything and broken. The quadrant gets taken off and thrown in a duffle, never to be seen again until it’s time to turn in weapons. Once you get used to it, it is much easier, faster, and more accurate to shoot using dead reckoning.

        The practice rounds (chalk) are notoriously inconsistent, but the HE rounds are much better. And in a pinch, starshell clusters make a good substitute AP round, if nothing else it scares the crap out of them, and burns and lights stuff on fire.

        • Yeah, it just takes a ton of ammo to get to that point. Which they don’t want to expend on everyone, sooooo… You get a couple of really good guys with the grenade launcher, and you leave the sights on the damn things in case someone else has to use them.

          • One wonders what happens if someone without a flak vest gets hit with a 40mm star-shell smack in the left lung at spitting distance…

          • Chunky salsa generally ensues, initially. Then, the fires start…

            One of the guys I went through basic training with back in the early 1980s was killed during an exercise by a total moron who thought that firing a 40mm star cluster into the back of a truck filled with guys playing Opposing Forces was a good idea. It was not a pretty sight, from reports; the medic was trying to treat a sucking chest wound that was also on fire. It was a pretty nasty and traumatic ten minutes in that guy’s life, and I’m pretty sure he will be remembering that one for life. The munition was entirely inside the chest cavity, BTW… Cutting it out would have meant having to cut ribs out.

  3. Please show us how it does with HE? Maybe all of the problems are really just due to the practice rounds? In any case, another great episode, thank you Ian. As for Andrew’s comments on the 203’s quadrant sight, I could hit much better with it, but yeah, they broke way too easily.

  4. A starshell would not arm at “spitting distance” Maybe the world looks different from a fortification.

  5. “One wonders what happens if someone without a flak vest gets hit with a 40mm star-shell smack in the left lung at spitting distance…”

    I pulled Staff Duty Officer one night with a Special Forces qualified sergeant who was the Platoon Sergeant for our Battalion Scout Platoon. Sometime on the other side of midnight, the war stories from Vietnam started. He had been a buck sergeant in an A Team at a SF Camp up in the Central Highlands one night when the PAVN tried to overrun the place. He rolled off his bunk (in a bunker, logically enough), and ran outside dressed in his skivvies, T-shirt, grenade vest, boots and M79. As soon as he was outside the bunker, he was confronted by a NVA about 5 yards away. He instinctively fired, despite the 40mm grenade not arming until it traveled it had traveled between 14 to 27 meters. It hit the Viet square in the nose and tore his head off.

    • Speaking of hit in the face by a 40mm grenade, YT channel ‘At Ease, Soldier!’ published yesterday a short video about another Viet Cong who survived such misadventure thanks to a US medic who was able to remove the live HE round from his head!

  6. “Clearly, you’ve never been to China Lake…”

    Why do you think a naval instillation should be near water? It’s like the Marines base at 29 Palms – which over counts by 28. They used to have a fence around it with a sign “29 Palms National Forest”

      • To be exact, a wooden mockup of a battleship. But Chicago had its “brick battleship” at the World’s Columbian Exposition

        The U.S. Navy records only two commissioned warships named for the state of Illinois—the current Virginia-class submarine SSN-786 and Battleship No. 7 of 1901. Yet five years before the first commissioned Illinois was launched, the Navy operated for a brief period another full-size “battleship” of the same name off Chicago. This one, however, was constructed mainly of brick and mortar, had no underwater hull, and could not float, let alone sail. This Illinois was the centerpiece of the Navy’s exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.”


        It should be noted that the name USS Illinois was given to BB-65 an uncompleted member of the Iowa Class http://www.navsource.org/archives/01/65.htm

  7. Extremely interesting video underscoring just how a good idea, not perfectly executed, can render a concept dead for an extended period.

    The pump action 40mm sounds wonderful in theory, and if it didn’t have any of the loading or jamming issues, it may have been a valid weapon. Though even that’s not a guarantee as in addition to those jamming issues, there’s the issue of magazine size. It’s a tiny magazine that limits you to the loadout in the magazine. By Comparison, the single shot does give the operator the option of switchiung types of rounds if needed, and can be reloaded more quickly than this model

    If you need more firepower than the M79/209 can deliver with quick reloading, you’re really better off using some form of Mk-19 platform, either on a fast attack vehicle, a technical, fixed emplacement, etc.

    • If you’re in a tactical situation that is asking the question “Is an M79/203 providing you with enough firepower…?”, and the answer is “NO!”, you’ve fundamentally erred in your judgment. You probably shouldn’t have gone there in that sort of strength in the first place, and the enemy is about to hand you your ass with overwhelming numbers, anyway…

      The 40mm grenade is filling a tactical role that is somewhere in between the hand-held offensive grenade and a full-blown mortar. It’s my personal opinion that one ought to have at least a 60mm mortar per every two AR/LMG-roled machineguns, and maybe make that a one-to-one ratio when the situation warrants. Trouble is, most armies do not feel that a mortar is an appropriate squad-level weapon. I disagree–I happen to think that the mortar/MG combo is like peanut butter and chocolate, two good things that belong together. Operating a commando mortar isn’t really all that complex; you do not necessarily need the services of a fire-direction center to make good tactical use of them.

      Personally, what I think is going to happen with regards to the development of infantry weaponry and tactics is that we’re going to start seeing semi-autonomous MG and mortar fires sections assigned to the squads, which will be running around with these things as RPV-like assets. Put the MG on a PakBot chassis, with the requisite control hardware/software suite, and instantly, there go my critiques of the Army for not providing decent tripods and sights; the gunner is behind cover, using a tablet or something to control his fires? His gun team leader is providing fire control via his observation equipment? That’s the wave of the future. Add in remotely operated or networked automatic mortars? Yep; I’m a happy camper.

      The 40mm is a happy little tool, but that’s all it is, really: Happy, and little. Especially with the paucity of development on the HEDP rounds; most of the inventory is essentially a non-lethal munition with that stuff. My M203 gunners were not happy campers with that round; too many times, it had little to no effect, other than putting the fear of God into the target. They mostly shrugged off any wounds it generated.

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