Bomarc Missile – The First Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile

The Boeing Bomarc was the world’s first long-range surface to air missile and despite its shortcomings remain in service for a decade. It was an extremely ambitious project and is a Cold War weapon that few today are familiar with.

In the late 1940s, Boeing began work on a surface to air missile – then described as a ‘pilotless interceptor’. The project was code-named MX-1599 and the Michigan Aerospace Research Center (MARC) joined Boeing to work on the programme.

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Boeing BOMARC at Hill Aerospace Museum (Matthew Moss)

The MX-1599 was to be a long-range supersonic nuclear-tipped surface to air missile (or SAM), detonated by a proximity fuse. The missile went through a number of official designations as it was developed during the 1950s – finally becoming known as the Bomarc – an acronym of Boeing and Michigan Aerospace Research Center.

The Bomarc was launched vertically using rocket boosters, before its main ramjet engines took over, enabling it to cruise at Mach 2.5 (approx. 1,920 mph). The initial Bomarc A had a range of 200 miles with an operational ceiling of 60,000 feet.

It was ground controlled using NORAD’s Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system until it neared its target, when an onboard radar, a Westinghouse AN/DPN-34 radar, took over.

The Bomarc could be tipped with either a 1,000 lb conventional high explosive or low yield W40 nuclear warhead. These were detonated by a radar proximity fuse. The W40 had a yield of up to 10 kilotons, able to destroy entire formations of aircraft.

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BOMARC Site No. 1 at McGuire Air Force Base (USAF)

The missile had a wingspan of just over 18 feet or 5.5metres, it was 45 feet or 13.7 metres in length and weighed approximately 16,000 lbs (7257 kg) on launch. The Bomarc’s first flight took place on 24th February, 1955.

The USAF intended to use the missile to engage incoming Soviet bomber formations and ICBMs. Originally planning for over 50 Bomarc launch sites, but only one was operational by 1959 and only eight were operational by the early 1960s. The upgraded Bomarc B was developed in the early 1960s, with an improved radar, a Westinghouse AN/DPN-53, and a greater maximum range of 430 miles, as well as a higher operational ceiling of 100,000 feet.

The Bomarc was stored horizontally in specially built semi-hardened bunkers and kept fuelled and ready to launch at a moment’s notice. When targets were detected the missile would be raised and launched vertically.

One of the dangers of keeping the missiles fuelled became clear in June 1960, when a nuclear-armed Bomarc A caught fire exploding the onboard tank and contaminated part of McGuire Air Force Base with melted plutonium. Despite this the missiles remained operational for over a decade with the first sites being deactivated in 1969 with the last stood down in 1972.

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BOMARC launching (USAF)

While the Bomarc missiles were the world’s first operational long-range anti-aircraft missile they were too slow to achieve operational readiness to keep pace with the rapidly changing nuclear threat – as both superpowers transitioned from bomber to ICBM-focused strategies. They were expensive to manufacture and difficult to maintain at readiness. In the late 1950s the Bomarc also embroiled in a war of words with the US Army arguing their short range Nike Hercules (SAM-A-25/MIM-14) missile was more effective. The Hercules remained in service through to the 1980s, albeit as a air defence missile – rather than targeting soviet ICBMs or bomber aircraft.

The Bomarc was an ambitious project when it began in the late 40s, but with technology and cold war nuclear strategy rapidly evolving the Bomarc was almost obsolete before it became operational. A total of 570 Bomarc missiles were built between 1957 and 1964 with the US and Canada (which led to considerable political controversy) being the only countries to deploy them.

I hope you guys enjoyed this look at the Bomarc, we’ll have a few more videos on missiles in the future.

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Specifications:

Wingspan: 18 feet 2 inches
Diameter: 35 inches
Length: 45 feet
Approx. takeoff weight: 16,000 pounds
Top speed: Mach 2.5
Range: 400 miles (IM-99B)
Ceiling: 100,000 feet
Power: 50,000-pound-thrust solid-fuel rocket (takeoff); two 12,000-pound-thrust Marquardt ramjet engines (cruise)
Armament: 1,000 lb conventional or 10 kiloton W40 nuclear warhead

Bibliography

IM-99A/B BOMARC Missile, Boeing, (source)
Nuclear Weapons of the United States: An Illustrated History, J.N. Gibson, (1996)
Nike Historical Society (source)
Supersonic Guardian, Boeing film, c.1960 (source)

The Bomarc featured in the video is part of the Hill Aerospace Museum’s collection.

Rheinmetall G3

We’re all familiar with the Heckler & Koch G3 and its roller-delayed blowback action. What is less well-known is that H&K were one of two companies originally contracted by the West German government to produce the Bundeswehr’s new service rifle. The other company was Rheinmetall and today we’re lucky enough to be taking a look at an example of an early production Rheinmetall G3.

Left side (courtesy of the Cody Firearms Museum)

The rifle which became the G3 was of course originally developed by German and Spanish engineers working at the Centro de Estudios Tecnicos de Materiales Especiales (CETME) and was intended to equip the Spanish armed forces. Initially, the West German Bundesgrenzschutz (border guards) were interested in purchasing a substantial number of the new CETME rifles, with an initial order for 5,000 agreed, however, in September 1955 the order was cancelled due to delays in production and the Bundesgrenzschutz subsequently ordered the FN FAL instead.

In November 1955, the Bundeswehr (West German military) was formed and began to search for a suitable new 7.62x51mm service rifle. Having observed the Bundesgrenzschutz’ testing the fledgling Bundeswehr took an interest in the CETEME rifle. 400 ‘STG CETME’ rifles were ordered for troop trials and these were assembled in Germany by Heckler & Koch. The rifles were delivered in late 1956, and comparative trials against the FAL began the following year.

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CETME Model A (Courtesy of P. Hokana)

The trials found the ‘STG CETME’ to be satisfactory in terms of features and design but lacking in durability. A number of small changes were requested including a flash hider suitable for launching rifle grenades, either a flip-up or dioptre rear sight instead of a traditional tangent style, a case deflector, a simpler more ergonomic pistol grip, a longer more ergonomic cocking handle, changes to the recoil spring guide and tweaks to the shape of the buttstock. Additional improvements such as a stronger bipod, lighter magazine, a last round hold open mechanism, overall lightening of the rifle, a lighter 20-round magazine and a proper handguard were also requested.

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Left-side of the G3’s receiver, note the partial reinforcing rib on the magazine housing (Matthew Moss)

FN were unwilling to grant Germany a manufacturing license and the $110 per rifle price for the FAL proved substantially higher than CETME’s production estimates (The ArmaLite AR-10, J. Putnam Evans (2016), p.204). With adoption looking likely, legal wrangling over patent ownership began between Mauser, Rheinmetall and Heckler & Koch. All claimed the ownership of the roller-delayed blowback principle used by the CETME rifle. Eventually, however, the West German government awarded Rheinmetall and H&K future production contracts for the new rifle with the government supporting H&K’s claims but the legal battles continued for almost a decade.

In the meantime, with production of the CETME rifle not yet initiated and in light of some durability/reliability issues suffered during the STG CETME’s troop trials, 100,000 ‘Series C’ FN FALs were ordered for the Bundeswehr in late 1956. In 1957 the Swiss SIG 510 (designated the G2) and the American ArmaLite AR-10 (designated the G4) were also evaluated. Once the modifications requested after the troops trials were completed by H&K, a run of twenty rifles was produced and tested again.

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A view inside the ejection port of the G3 with the charging handle locked back (Matthew Moss)

 

In 1959, the West German government finally adopted the CETME rifle, designating it the G3. The German federal government decided that they wished to purchase the worldwide manufacturing rights to the G3, which naturally the Spanish government was reluctant to agree to. An agreement was finally reached in January 1958 and the contract giving West Germany worldwide rights to the G3 was finalised on February 4th, 1959.

One issue was that in June 1957, CETME had agreed a licensing deal for manufacture and sale of the rifle with a with a Dutch company Nederlandsche Wapen en Munitiefabriek (NWM). In order to gain the manufacturing rights sold to NWM the German government awarded the Dutch company a lucrative contract producing 20mm ammunition (Full Circle, p.234).

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A close up of the trigger mechanism housing, note ‘Germany’ faintly scratched into the surface (Matthew Moss)

Interestingly, as the German government owned the manufacturing rights, H&K initially had to pay the government 4 Deutsche Marks per rifle, despite having been awarded the contract by the German government. In late January 1959, H&K were awarded the first substantial production contract, amounting to 150,000 rifles. Rheinmetall were subsequently awarded a similar contract (Full Circle, p.235).

According to R. Blake Stevens’ book on the roller-delayed blowback action, Full Circle, Rheinmetall produced 500,000 G3s during the 1960s, delivering 8,000 rifles per month (Full Circle, p.287). As H&K had been designated as the technical lead on the G3 project, Rheinmetall’s engineers made no attempts to develop modifications or improvements and even when H&K had switched to plastic furniture the Rheinmetall guns continued to use wood. Rheinmetall’s only other G3-related project was the RH4, a 7.62x39mm chambered, roller-locked but gas-operated rifle designed for export (Historical Firearms).

Bundeswehrsoldaten_während_eines_Manövers_(1960) - Copy
W. German Army Armoured Reconnaissance car, with MG3 team with No.2 armed with G3, c.1960 (US Army)

In addition to the G3, Rheinmetall were the sole manufacturer of the MG3, the 7.62x51mm MG42. Blake Stevens explains that in 1969, when a new tender for G3 production was due, that H&K moved to undercut Rheinmetall who had until now held the monopoly on MG3 production (Full Circle, p.292). As a result an agreement was reached where Rheinmetall retained their monopoly on MG3 production and H&K became sole manufacturer of the G3 for the West German military.

Examining An Early Production Rheinmetall G3

The G3 went through a large number of changes both before and after it went into service. The rifle we’re examining today is a good example of an early production rifle, as adopted in 1959. This rifle is lightly marked with ‘G3 [Rheinmetall’s ‘star-in-a-circle’ logo] followed by a serial number of 745 and below that it is date marked with the ‘3/60’, for March 1960.

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A close up of the G3’s front sight and sling attachment point (Matthew Moss)

Working our way from the muzzle back; the rifle has the early style of flash-hider/grenade launcher support which was introduced in 1957 and altered in early 1961, an enclosed front sight and a detachable bipod (which was not Bundeswehr general issue). It has a stamped metal handguard which was replaced by one with a wooden insert in 1961, before H&K introduced plastic furniture in 1964.

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The G3 field stripped (Matthew Moss)

The folding carrying handle seen on the troop trials rifles has been removed, the receiver is stepped for the attachment of a scope base and the magazine housing has a single strengthening rib, rather than the later ‘full-frame’ continuous rib. It has an S-E-F selector (S – Sicher/safe, E – Einzelfeuer/semi, F – Feuerstoß/auto) and black plastic pistol grip. Internally, the rifle has a captive mainspring. Unlike later G3’s the rifle has a 2-position folding L-shape rear aperture sight with apertures for 200 & 300 metres rather than the later dioptre sight adopted officially in mid-1960. The rifle has a wooden stock held with a stamped metal sling attachment and a plastic buttplate.

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Specifications:

Overall Length: 40 in /1.2m
Barrel Length: 17.7in / 45cm
Weight: 8.6lbs / 3.6kg
Action: Roller-delayed blowback
Capacity: 20-round box magazine
Calibre: 7.62x51mm


Bibliography:

HK G3 Operator’s Manual – early 1970s (source)

Full Circle: A Treatise on Roller Locking, R. Blake Stevens (2006)

The ArmaLite AR-10, J. Putnam Evans (2016)

The CETME Assault Rifle, Small Arms Review, J. Huon, (source)

Our special thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, for their kind permission to film items from their collection and their assistance in filming and research.

The Galil ARM & its Inventor

Galil Development

The Galil rifle adopted by the Israeli Defence Force in 1972 was designed by Yisrael Galili and Ephraim Yaari of IMI following the disappointing performance of the FAL in service with the IDF since the early 1950’s. These failings of the FAL in service were mainly due to the poor reliability of the FAL with some of the mainly conscript troops in the field mainly down to poor maintenance and cleaning by the users in the field. The Israeli military found that captured AK47 rifles functioned more reliably without the routine maintenance that the FAL required, this was down to the finer tolerances and mechanism that the FAL employed whereas the AK47 could function reliably without the same level of cleaning and maintenance.

Yisrael Galil with Galil & Ephraim Yaari with Mini UZI
Yisrael Galili, ever the showman, demonstrating the his rifle (Vic Tuff)

In the late 1960’s the IDF carried out a series of trials to select a replacement for the FAL. As part of those trials the following small arms were tested:

  • M16A1
  • Stoner 63
  • Heckler & Koch HK33
  • AKM
  • Armalite AR18
  • and a pre-production rifle from Beretta that ultimately led to the AR70 series rifle.

The result was that the AKM rifle came out as the winner of the trials but with some reservations. The Israelis didn’t like the stamped receiver of the AKM and as part of the trials they tested the Finnish M62 AKM variant rifle which had a machined receiver built from a steel billet which made it much more robust but heavy. This became the basis of what was to become the Galil.

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Double page spread from a 1980s IMI Galil brochure (IMI)

A cold hammer forged barrel was selected together with a unitised front sight/gas block with a front sight base adjustable for elevation and drift adjustable for zeroing. The rear sight was positioned at the rear of the dust cover, which itself was strengthened to be more rigid than a standard AKM and allow the rear sight to maintain zero. The rear sight was an ‘L’ shaped flip type with positions for 300 & 500 meters. Flip up night sights were also fitted, they came with Tritium inserts. The folding stock was a virtual copy of the FN FAL Para type.

Galil Sporters

I won’t cover the Galil in any more detail as it has been covered by several others in great detail, what I will detail in future videos and articles is my own experiences of the semi-automatic ‘Sporter’ Galil rifles as well as the other IMI products that I have extensive knowledge of.

Yisrael Galil with UZI
Yisrael Galili demonstrating the UZI (Vic Tuff)

Meeting Yisreal Galili

Back in the early 1980’s IMI had been courted by several US companies to develop semiautomatic ‘clones’ of their military small arms. Action Arms worked with IMI and the UZI Carbine was developed primarily for US civilian sales by them from 1980. Following on from the UZI Carbine, semiautomatic versions of the Mini UZI and then the UZI Pistol were developed and sold.

Magnum Research Inc. as part of their partnership with IMI in developing the Desert Eagle pistol also marketed the semiautomatic versions of the Galil rifle in the USA.

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An IMI promo photo for the Desert Eagle (IMI/Magnum Research)

In the UK at that time I was working part time as the armourer and technical advisor for the UK & Commonwealth distributor of IMI products Pat Walker Guns. I had worked with Pat since 1980 refurbishing and converting select fire and fully automatic ‘surplus’ small arms to semi-automatic only ‘civilian’ legal configuration for sale on the UK & Commonwealth collector/shooter market. This was a wonderful job as I got to travel a lot to see caches of surplus small arms and work on them… halcyon days!

Yisrael Galil & Ephraim Yaari with UZIs
Ephraim Yaari & Yisrael Galil with UZIs (Vic Tuff)

In or around 1983, Pat acquired the IMI agency for the UK, and as part of that agreement we had to be trained on IMI products so we could service and support them as the distributor. In October 1984, we flew to Tel Aviv in Israel to attend the first (and possibly only) armourers course on the entire family of IMI small arms! The UK team consisted of myself, as the technical part of the team, Pat Walker as the UK agent/distributor, and Colin Greenwood who was the editor of the very popular UK shooting magazine GUNS REVIEW who was attending the course so as to write an article for said magazine.

Once we arrived in Israel we were accommodated in the Plaza Hotel on the beachfront in Tel Aviv. That evening we were introduced to the other attendees on the course who came from the USA, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, and a South American country… We were introduced to some of the IMI personnel, which included Yisrael Galili, and given a rundown of the schedule for the next week.

Sniper Galil
Promo image for the Galil Sniper, note the different position of the bipod (IMI)

During our time on the course we were given several ‘live fire’ demonstrations by none other than Yisrael Galili himself as well as Efrahiem Yaari (who would later go on to head up the special operations and weapons division of IMI as director in later years). We also got to handle and shoot all of the small arms IMI manufactured at that time including select fire versions and some prototype Desert Eagle pistols. In the evenings we were shown and also had to demonstrate how to strip, assemble, and troubleshoot all the IMI guns we had shot earlier that day… it became a source of entertainment that myself and the armourer of the Dutch distributor would see who could strip and reassemble each gun type the quickest… I won many a beer in those contests!

During one of the sessions where we were taught to strip the Galil, Yisrael Galili handed out some photocopies of a now infamous photo of the specially adapted Galil. He told us it was a special Galil for ‘mature’ IDF girls. Our friend Miles has a good article about the ‘Female Galil’ here.

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The infamous ‘Female Galil’, with specially adapted ergonomics to suit female members of the IDF. Note the added front pistol grip, specially profiled barrel and the short magazine (Yisrael Galili)

We were given guided tours of the IMI manufacturing facilities seeing how each model and each family of small arms were machined and assembled. We also got to visit the IMI ammunition plant and saw manufacture there as well as test firing the civilian brand of SAMSON ammunition they manufactured.

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An 80s promo photo from the Samson factory (IMI)

It was with great pride that on the last evening we were in Israel we were each presented our armourers certificates and a commemorative book on the history of Israel by the Director of Sales Yehuda Amon at a presentation dinner in a restaurant in the ancient town of Caesarea. I also got to thank personally Mr Galili and Mr Yaarifor their excellent tuition and fantastic displays of weapons handling.

IMI Armourers Course
Myself, Pat Walker, Colin Greenwood Galili and the other participants and IMI staff from the 1984 IMI armourer’s course (Vic Tuff)

It was a fantastic opportunity for a then young man of 23 to get to work with such an influential smallarms company as IMI and get to meet such notable designers as Ysrael Galili and Ephraim Yaari. Sadly, the passage of time has robbed us of many of the people I shared that experience with Pat, Colin, and Mr Galili are sadly no longer with us. Luckily a few of those I met on the course are, and I still corresponded with them to this day.

Watch out for future articles and videos on my personal experiences with small arms.


Specifications for ARM (from 1983 factory brochure):

Overall Length (with stock extended): 38.5in / 98cm
Barrel Length: 18in / 46cm
Weight: 9.5lbs / 4.35kg
Action: Gas operated, rotating bolt
Capacity: 35 or 50-round box magazine
Calibre: 5.56x45mm


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Heckler & Koch HK33

Heckler & Koch’s first 5.56×45 rifle, the HK33, was introduced in the late 1960s as a response to the emergence of the new 5.56x45mm round and the introduction of the FN CAL. The HK33 is little more than a scaled down version of HK’s successful 7.62×51 G3. Developed by Tilo Möller, the HK33 used the same roller delayed blowback action and shares most of the G3’s features.

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Left & right views of the HK33 (Matthew Moss)

It has a stamped receiver and uses the same plastic furniture and pistol grip/trigger mechanism housing as the G3. The rifle is 39 inches or 92cm long and is by no means a light weapon, weighing around 4kg or 8.7 lbs. The HK33 feeds from 25, 30 or 40 round proprietary HK magazines.

The rifle came in main two main variants a full length version with a fixed stock, which could be fitted with a collapsing stock, and a shortened K-variant with a shorter barrel. The weapon came with either a safe, semi and full auto or safe, semi, 3-round burst fire control mechanism.

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HK factory brochure showing the variants of the HK33 (Heckler & Koch)

The HK33 was not adopted by the West German Army, however, it did see extensive use with Germany’s federal state and police forces and the Bundeswehr special forces. While it wasn’t adopted at home it was a successful export weapon with dozens of countries purchasing and adopting the rifle. France tested the improved HK33F in the Army 1970s and although it performed well the FAMAS was adopted instead. A production license was sold to Thailand who adopted the HK33, purchasing 40,000 rifles and the license to manufacture 30,000 more. Thailand also developed their own unique bull pup version of the rifle, the Type 11.

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HK33 field stripped (Matthew Moss)

Malaysia also purchased 55,000 HK33s and the Spanish Guardia Civil used them for a time. The manufacturing rights for the HK33 were also sold to Portugal for production at Fabrica Militar de Prata and to Turkey where it remains in production at MKEK.

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A comparison of the HK33’s bolt with the later HK G41 (Matthew Moss)

HK produced the HK33 from 1968 through to the late 1980s. It also provided the basis for the HK53 5.56 ‘submachine gun’ which we have covered previously. It was also the basis of the less successful G41, which we’ve also covered in a full length episode, you can find this here. The similarities with the HK33 are easy to see but the G41 has a number of subtle changes.

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Specifications (from 1985 factory brochure):

Overall Length (with fixed stock): 36in /92cm
Barrel Length: 15.7in / 40cm
Weight: 8.7lbs / 4kg
Action: Roller-delayed blowback
Capacity: 25, 30 or 40-round box magazine
Calibre: 5.56x45mm


Bibliography:

Full Circle: A Treatise on Roller Locking, R. Blake Stevens (2006)

HK33 Factory Brochure, c.1966 (source)

HK33E Factory Brochure, c.1985 (source)

Colt CGL-4 (XM148) 40mm Grenade Launcher

Here’s Vic’s video on the XM148, check out Matt’s article below:

There have been attempts to fire grenades from the infantryman’s weapon since the 17th century. Up until the 1960s these almost entirely involved muzzle attachments or grenades which could be fired off the end of a rifle’s barrel. In May 1963, the US military called for a new ‘underslung’ grenade launcher to complement the AR-15/M16, then in early testing. The grenade launcher program had its roots in the ultimately unsuccessful Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) program which had begun in 1952.

While a series of designs were developed by various manufacturers and designers, May 1964 saw Colt unveil the CGL-4. The Colt was tested against designs from Springfield Armory and Ford, a design from AAI was promising but it was not able to chamber the 40x46mm rounds used by the M79 and was rejected. The US military sought munitions commonality between the M79, already in service, and the new rifle-mounted grenade launcher.

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Left side view of the XM148’s bulky tangent sight (Vic Tuff)

In March 1965, the CGL-4 was chosen for further testing and a contract for 30 launchers was signed. The CGL-4 was reportedly developed by Karl Lewis and Robert E. Roy in just 48 days. However, the design was complex. To load the barrel housing slid forward allowing a grenade to be placed in the breech, the weapon was then cocked and a long trigger, which projected back towards the rifle’s trigger guard, could be pulled to fire the weapon.

CGL4 Patent
Karl Lewis & Robert E. Roy’s patent for the Colt CGL-4 (US Patent Office)

Despite some problems with barrel housings cracking an order for 10,500 of the new launchers, now designated the XM148, was placed in January 1966. Production capacity issues and problems with the launcher’s sight lead to production delays and it wasn’t until December 1966, that the first shipment of 1,764 launchers arrived in Vietnam for field testing.

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Right side view of the XM148’s trigger, cocking mechanism and pistol grip (Vic Tuff)

Initial reports from the field were promising with troops praising the “tactical advantage of both the point fire and area fire system” concept. The XM148 was well received by the SEALs and the Australian SAS. The armourers of the Australian SAS, deployed to Vietnam with the 1st Australian Task Force, were also hard at work attaching XM148s to L1A1 rifles. Removing the L1A1′s handguard and attaching the XM148 to the rifle’s barrel.

Field testing was carried out by 12 units from six different divisions which were operating in various parts of Vietnam. This gave a wide variety of terrains and yielded some interesting results. In general it was found that the XM148 decreased rate and quantity of the grenadier’s fire, it slowed his reaction times when firing at a target, it hampered his movement in dense vegetation and also meant the grenadier had to spend longer caring for his weapon.

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XM148 with breech open (Vic Tuff)

It was noted that the sight mount which was overly complex and prone to snagging on brush and kit, it was also felt that too much force was needed to cock the XM148 (around 30 lbs) and the trigger mechanism was felt to be overly complex and difficult to repair and disassemble. One safety concern was the XM148′s long trigger bar, which could snag and launch a round – not ideal for special forces patrols infiltrating through thick bush. Problems with the launcher’s quadrant sights also continued causing deflection errors out at longer ranges. The bulkiness of the sights exasperated these problems as when they were knocked the XM148′s zero could be effected. The XM148 also precluded the use of a bayonet as when fired it would blow the bayonet off the muzzle. Overall, troops felt the XM148 was too fragile and complex for use in the field.

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SP4 Willey firing an M16A1 mounted with a Colt XM148 c. 1967 (US National Archives)

At least one unit found use for the launchers, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)’s Operational Report for Quarterly Period Ending 31 October 1967, noted that the XM148

“proved unsatisfactory in infantry units due to its lack of durability; consequently, USARV directed that they be turned in. However, 1/9 Cav has devised a method of mounting the launcher coaxially on the M60C machine gun used by scout observers on OH-13 scout helicopters. Durability in this environment is
not a problem since the weapon deos not receive the rough handling it did in the hands of ground troops. Firepower on scout helicopters is significantly increased. Fifty-two XM148s have been retained for use by 1/9 CAV.”

Finally, despite Colt’s efforts to rectify the growing list of problems the Army Concept Team In Vietnam deemed the XM148 unsatisfactory for deployment in Vietnam and recommended they be removed from service and a new improved launcher be developed. This was a massive blow to Colt who had already manufactured 27,400 XM148s. Many of these were already in Vietnam.

The US Army launched the Grenade Launcher Attachment Development (GLAD) program in the summer of 1967. A large number of manufacturers submitted designs including Colt, who offered the improved Henry Into-designed CGL-5. The Army turned down Colt’s offer of 20 free improved launchers and rejected the CGL-5 outright. The GLAD program saw the resurgence of the earlier AAI design, designated the XM203, this simple design, now chambering the 40x46mm shell, was eventually selected in August 1968. Ironically, as AAI was predominantly a research and development company and after an initial run of 10,000 made by AAI, Colt was subsequently awarded the contract to manufacture the M203 from 1971 onwards.

CGL-5
Harold Into’s patent for the product improved CGL-5 (US Patent Office)

While the XM148 proved to be a failure it played an important role in proving the operational viability of the rifle mounted grenade launcher system. The muzzle-launched rifle grenade is all but obsolete, superseded by the under-slung grenade launcher.

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Specifications:

Length: 16.5 inches
Weight: ~3lbs
Calibre: 40x46mm
Action: single shot, striker-fired single action
Capacity: 1
Rate of Fire: ~4 rpm


Bibliography

Images: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Black Rifle, E.C. Ezell & R. Blake Stevens, (1987)

Colt Industries Newsletter, Vol.2 no.3, May 1967, (source)

‘Grenade launcher having a rotatable forwardly sliding barrel and removable firing mechanism’, US Patent #3507067, H.A. Into, 14/12/67 (source)

Operational Report for Quarterly Period Ending 31 October 1967, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), (source)

‘Grenade launcher’, US Patent #3279114, K. Lewis & R. Roy, 25/09/64 (source)

Springfield Armory Database entries: 1 2 3

40mm Shoulder-Fired Grenade Launchers & the SEALS, Small Arms Review, K. Dockery, (source)

The XM148: Birth of the Mounted 40mm Grenade Launcher, Small Arms Review, J. Wong, (source)

My thanks to Daniel Watters for information on AAI & Colt M203 production contracts. 

Heckler & Koch G41

In 1981, Heckler & Koch introduced what would be their last infantry rifle that used their tried and tested roller-delayed blowback action, the HK G41. In October 1980, following NATO’s smalls arms and ammunition testing during the late 1970s, a meeting of NATO Armament Directors, agreed to standardise to the 5.56x45mm round favoured by the United States since the mid-1960s. Standardisation Agreement (STANAG) 4172 saw NATO standardise on the Belgian/FN SS109 ball round. At the same time Draft STANAG 4179 proposed adopting US 30-round M16 magazines as the standard 5.56 magazine pattern, while this proposal wasn’t ratified the M16’s magazine became the de facto standard.

At this time Heckler & Koch were engaged in a major engineering project to develop the G11 caseless ammunition-firing individual weapon. Their main offering for the 5.56x45mm rifle market at the time was the HK33, a rechambered version of the 7.62x51mm G3 developed by Tilo Moller, which was introduced in 1965. The HK33, however, used a proprietary HK magazine and was not compatible with the M16’s magazines. In 1977, as the NATO trials began and it became clear that 5.56x45mm would be adopted, HK began to develop what would become the G41. In 1979 with initial development completed HK submitted 18 G41s for testing with the West German Army. It wasn’t until 1981 that HK introduced the G41 onto the market.

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Left and right profile views of the G41 (Matthew Moss)

While continuing to use the same roller delayed blowback operating system as the G3, HK33 and MP5, the G41 embodied a number of improvements. While still using a stamped metal receiver it utilised 1mm thick high tensile steel rather than the 1.2mm thick steel used by the HK33. This helped to lighten the receiver. The new rifle also used a lighter bolt assembly, paired with a new recoil spring which comprised of five wound strands around a central coil, rather than a single coil, which had a longer stroke. This acted to lower the felt recoil. The G41, however, had a higher rate of fire at around 850 rounds per minute compared to the 750 rounds per minute of the HK33.  Some of the G41’s bolt geometries were reworked and a new extractor was added.

The G41’s lower receiver was redesigned to allow the rifle to feed from STANAG magazines rather than HK’s earlier proprietary magazines. The cocking lever and forward assist were taken from the HK21A1 (XM262) general purpose machine gun, developed for the US SAW trials.

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HK G41 (top) and HK33 (bottom) field stripped (Matthew Moss)

It also had a new more triangular polymer foregrip and added a plastic dust cover to the ejection port, a NATO pattern optics mount (meeting STANAG 2324) replaced HK’s claw-mount system, and a spring-loaded folding carrying handle near the centre of balance was added. Importantly it also added a last round hold open device and a bolt release catch, on the left side of the lower receiver.

The usual thumb serrations on the side of the bolt, for pushing the bolt home, were replaced by a prominent forward assist, similar to that found on the M16A1 and other HK weapons such as the HK21 light machine gun and the PSG-1 sniper rifle. HK sales literature described it as a ‘low noise’ forward assist and the manual describes the “quiet cocking of the weapon” – essentially riding the cocking handle back into battery and then pushing the forward assist to lock the action, the system is not as ‘low noise’ as advertised.

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Right side of the G41, note the addition of a forward assist and dust cover (Matthew Moss)

Another important feature of the rifle was the inclusion of a three-round burst setting alongside semi and fully automatic. The G41 could mount a standard G3 bayonet, fit an M16 bipod and had a flash hider designed to enable it to fire NATO standard rifle grenades. The 40mm HK79 under barrel grenade launcher could also be mounted to all variants of the G41, simply swapping it out for the polymer forend. HK referred to this set up as the G41-TGS or ‘Tactical Group Support system’.

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Spread from a 1985 HK promotional product brochure showing the various G41 configurations (HK)

The G41 came in a number of variants with designations A1 to A3. The base rifle had a fixed buttstock and its rifling had 1 turn in 7 inches with a right-hand twist, in a 18.9 inch barrel. The A1 had a 1 in 12” twist barrel and fixed buttstock. The A2 had a collapsing, single position stock and 1 in 7” inch twist rifling, while the A3 had 1 in 12” inch twist rifling. The 1 in 7” rifling was optimised for the new SS109, while the 1 in 12” optimised for the US M193 round. There was also a shortened G41K model which had a collapsing stock and a 15 inch barrel available with both rifling types.

One of the main issues with the G41 was its weight. Despite efforts to lighten the sheet metal receiver, it weighed more than its predecessor the HK33. According to measurement data compiled by researcher Nathaniel F, unloaded the G41 weighs in at 4.31kgs or 9.5 lbs, this is a full pound heavier than the HK33. A contemporary M16A2 weighed 3.39kg or 7.5 lbs while the Spanish CETME L, a similar stamped receiver rifle chambered in 5.56×45, weighed 3.72kg or 8.2 lbs. The rifle eventually adopted by the Bundeswehr, the HK G36, weighed 3.13kg or 7.3 lbs.  The G41K with its collapsing steel stock wasn’t much lighter, weighing 4.3kg or 9.5 lbs, according to HK sales literature. Another potential issue may have been reliability with the move to the STANAG magazine rather than the optimised proprietary HK magazines may have introduced some issues.

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The bolts of the HK G41 (top) and HK33 (bottom), note the redesigned extractor, forward assist serrations on the bolt carrier and the G41’s thicker but shorter recoil spring (Matthew Moss)

Following NATO’s decision the early 1980s saw a large number of countries looking to replace their ageing 7.62x51mm battle rifles. Sweden began to look for a 5.56x45mm rifle to replace its licensed version of the G3, the Ak4, in the late 1970s. HK could initially only offer the HK33 but the G41, tested later, was also rejected by the Swedes in favour of FN’s FNC. Italy sought to replace the BM59 with a more modern rifle and HK entered into an agreement with Luigi Franchi which saw them offer both the original HK configuration and the develop their own, slightly modified version, the Franchi mod. 641, but the Beretta AR70/90 was selected. Similarly, in 1984 Spain decided to adopt the indigenously developed CETME L. In 1986 the HK G41 was also submitted to the Irish Army’s trials to replace the FN FAL, it was beaten by the Steyr AUG. Initially West Germany had hoped to procure up to 20,000 HK G11 rifles per year, with a total of 224,000 in service by 2003.

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HK’s G11 and G41 (Matthew Moss)

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent reunification of Germany saw Federal budgets stretched and the G11 programme was subsequently abandoned entirely. The Bundeswehr still needed a suitable rifle to replace the G3 and in the 1990s sought a lighter weight rifle. HK felt their HK50 project, in development since the mid-1970s was a better bet than the heavier G41, and following Bundeswehr trials the G36 was subsequently adopted in 1997. Sadly, I have not been able to get a hold of any of the trials reports from the nations that tested the G41, so can not say with certainty why the countries mentioned above rejected HK’s rifle.

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Graphic from HK’s manual for the G41 (HK)

From photographs of members of the Turkish Gendarmerie special operations group training at the Foça Commando School, dating from the early 2010s, it appears that Turkey either purchased a number of G41s or Turkey’s state-owned defence manufacturer, MKEK, produced an unknown number under license.At some point in the 1980s the British Army also tested a small number G41s with serial numbers #11131, #11832 and #11833 remaining in UK collections.

Denmark’s elite Jaegerkorpset and Froemandskorpset used the G41 for a time and Argentina’s special forces, including the Grupo de Operaciones Especiales, have also been photographed with both HK G41s and G41A2(collapsing stock) fitted with the TGS package comprising of the HK79 under barrel grenade launcher.

Argentine commandos with HK G41
Argentina’s Grupo de Operaciones Especiales on parade with G41s and the G41-TGS, grenade launcher package (source)

The G41 represents the last evolution of HK’s infantry rifles using the roller delayed blowback action. It comes from a period when HK were developing what they hoped would be the next generation of small arms technology and with the collapse of the G11 programme and the lack of interest in the G41 the company faced financial uncertainty throughout the early 1990s. HK’s move away from the roller delayed blowback action to a more conventional gas operated rotating bolt system, combined with lightweight polymers, in the G36 proved to be more successful than the ill-fated G41.

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Specifications (standard G41 rifle model):

Length: 39in (99cm)
Weight (unloaded): 4.31kgs or 9.5 lbs
Barrel Length (not including flash hider): 17.7in (45cm)
Action: Roller-delayed blowback
Calibre: 5.56x45mm
Feed: 30 round STANAG magazines
Cyclic Rate: ~850rpm


Bibliography:

The World’s Assault Rifles, G.P. Johnston & T.B. Nelson, (2016)

Die G11 Story, W. Story, (1993)

Full Circle: A Treatise on Roller Locking, R. Blake Stevens (2006)

The 5.56 Timeline, D. Watters, (source)

1985 HK Brochure on the G41 Series (via SAR Archive)

HK G41 Owner’s Manual (via SAR Archive)


Our thanks to the collection that holds this rifle for their kind permission to examine and film it. Please do not reproduce photographs taken by Matthew Moss without permission or credit. ©The Armourer’s Bench, 2019.

The CETME AMELI Light Machine Gun

The CETME AMELI was developed by Spain’s state-owned small arms institute, Centro de Estudios Técnicos de Materiales Especiales or CETME. It was an attempt to develop a light machine gun chambered in 5.56x45mm. Its name, AMELI, is an acronym for ‘Ametralladora ligera’ – simply Spanish for light machine gun.

Development of the AMELI began in 1974 under the supervision of Colonel José María Jiménez Alfaro (who would later become the director of CETME). The Ameli was officially unveiled in 1981 and after undergoing exhaustive military trials was adopted into service in 1982 as the standard squad-level support weapon of the Spanish Army under the designation MG 82. It was manufactured by the Santa Bárbara National Company (now General Dynamics Santa Bárbara Sistemas) at the La Coruña factory.

Centrefire automatic machine gun - CETME Ameli (about 1982) (1)
Early NA or standard model AMELI (Royal Armouries)

The initial model was the NA variant, or Standard Model. This is the model that closely resembles the MG-42 with its conical flash hider. The Spanish military, however, wanted a lighter gun and the NB variant was designed, this is easily identified by the straight flash hider that is now integral with the barrel and not part of the barrel shroud.  The NB model reduced the unloaded weight from the original 7.24 Kg (16 lbs) to 5.4 Kg (12 lbs). However, this weight reduction and the use of materials of lower cost than the original trialled guns caused reliability issues with the AMELI in service. Both variants had a rotating rear disk sight, graduated from 300 to 1,000 metres, and a folding front sight. A mounting block for a British SUSAT optic was later added to the top cover.

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Detail view of the AMELI’s receiver from a factory brochure, also featuring the transparent belt boxes which did not go into service (source)

Parts breakages and stoppages plagued the AMELI in service and gunners had to take great care of their weapons to keep them serviceable. One issue was that the stamped forward barrel shroud was a press fit over the receiver and held in place by steel ‘barbs’. Rough handling and downward pressure on the bipod during manoeuvres and firing caused the shroud to deflect, this caused accuracy and functionality issues. To alleviate these problems the Spanish Marines went so far as to TIG weld the forward barrel shroud to the receiver, this fixed most of those issues.

The AMELI’s shape resembles the MG42 machine gun but the similarities are external only. While the MG42 uses the short recoil, roller locked system (where the barrel and bolt recoil together a short distance before separating), the AMELI employs a roller-delayed blowback action with a fixed barrel and a fluted chamber. This system was also used in the CETME Model A, B, C and L rifles, as well as in the HK G3 rifle, the HK 33 rifle and the HK MP5 submachine guns. Similarities with the CETME Model C and Model L rifles are limited to the commonality of the takedown pins and no other parts contrary to popular myth!

Centrefire automatic machine gun - CETME Ameli (about 1982)
Later NB variant of the AMELI – note also the different pistol grip profile, more similar to a CETME L rifle’s (Royal Armouries)

Both AMELI models have similar rates of firing of around 1,000 rounds per minute. The AMELI used the same feeding system used in the MG42, it had a cross bolt safety located at the rear of the top of the pistol grip and a quick change barrel system. To remove the barrel you pull the two sides of the barrel latch, which is built into the rear sight assembly, rotate the handle clockwise until the gate in the side of the barrel shroud opens and then pull the barrel back out of the gun. The front of the barrel is secured by a round ball detent which clicks into the front of the barrel shroud.

CETME also developed a top feeding magazine adaptor system, perhaps inspired by the contemporary FN Minimi’s ability to feed from magazines as well as a bolt. The Bren-like adaptor allows a STANAG magazine to be loaded in upside down into the action. To fit the adaptor the gun’s top cover and feed tray had to be removed. To deal with the magazine housing now obscuring the front sight the adaptor had a new set of sights – one at the rear and a new ‘front’ sight built into the side of the magazine housing, a little like the Australian F1 submachine gun. This short sight radius isn’t too practical for a light machine gun.

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A still from the video showing the top feed magazine adaptor’s sights, note they’re offset to the right and the protected front sight is built into the magazine housing (Vic Tuff)

The AMELI was sold to only a few operators apart from the Spanish Military, the Mexican Army and the Malaysian PASKAL Naval Special Forces have used the AMELI but the current status with those operators is unknown. In Spanish service the Ameli has almost entirely been withdrawn from service, being replaced with the Heckler & Koch MG4 5.56x45mm LMG. This is partly due to reliability issues and the original guns being worn out and with spares and new guns no longer available as the original manufacturer ceased manufacture in 2013 and went out of business.

Mexican Army Ameli
Mexican Marines with an NA model AMELI (source)

The AMELI is an interesting machine gun that should have had more success than it did. It was sadly a victim of government cost cutting which much like the British SA80 undermined the quality of the finished product. The story of the AMELI also reminds me of the ArmaLite AR10 produced by Artilleries Inrichtingen in the Netherlands, in so much as the AMELI was produced in very limited numbers (around 3-4,000 guns), in various models and variants with no clear defined history as to why aspects of the design were changed. Evidence of this was seen when a very good contact of mine bought up all remaining inventory from the CETME factory some years ago including around 30 Ameli’s. Apparently there were variations between every one they bought!

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Specifications (from CETME brochure):

Length: 97cm (38.2 inches)
Weight (unloaded):  NG: 6.7kg (14.8 lbs) NB: 5.2kg (11.5 lbs)
Barrel Length: 40cm (15.8 inches)
Action: Roller-delayed blowback
Calibre: 5.56x45mm
Feed: 100 or 200 round belts
Cyclic Rate: 900-1,250 rpm


Bibliography:

CETME AMELI Operator’s Manual, Small Arms Review Archive, (source)

CETME AMELI Early Factory Brochure (Spanish), Small Arms Review Archive, (source)

CETME AMELI Factory Brochure – including both models (English), Small Arms Review Archive, (source)

CETME AMELI Factory Flyer (Spanish), Small Arms Review Archive, (source)