SAS Weapons (1984)

In this video/article we’ll examine an internal British Army film about the Special Air Service Regiment or SAS. Produced in 1984 by the SSVC, the Services Sound & Vision Corporation, the 35 minute film provides an introduction to the SAS. It gives some insight into how the regiment’s members are selected, trained and goes into the roles of the four troops: Air, Boat, Mobility and Mountain, which make up the regiment’s four squadrons. The film also outlines the SAS’ role in close protection training and perhaps their best know role as an elite counter terrorism unit. 

It’s definitely worth watching the whole thing, its available up on the Imperial War Museum’s online archive. In this video we’ll take a look at some of the weapons featured in the film. We’ll split these up into a number of categories: foreign weapons, personal weapons and support weapons.

Foreign Weapons

Most of these clips relate to familiarisation with non-service weapons. These are weapons that might be encountered in the field either with allies or enemies. Several Combloc weapons a briefly seen including an RPD and a Chinese Type 56 rifle.

Some of the western small arms featured include brief clips of the FN Minimi and the HK21 – both weapons used by NATO allies – and also neutral Austria’s Steyr AUG bullpup – which SAS operators might encounter on operations. All three of these weapons were relatively new, the Minimi especially.

Personal Weapons

In terms of personal weapons we get a good look at a number of the in-service weapons which the SAS were issued at the time. The film opens with some footage of members of the SAS doing a static snap shooting drip, the troopers in the line are armed with a mix of weapons including an AR-15, a couple of L2A3 Sterling submachine guns and an Browning Auto-5 shotgun, which had found favour with British troops during operations in Malaya and Kenya. The SAS at the time also used the Remington 870. In another clip we see a trooper doing a contact drill with an L1A1 SLR.

Later in the film we see men from one of the mountain troops on operations. Much like the Royal Marines’ Mountain & Artic Warfare Cadre the SAS favoured the AR-15, like Colt 602 or 604s as well as another AR-pattern rifle, possibly a Model 603, fitted with an M203 under barrel grenade launcher. Worth noting that these guys also have 30 round magazines which had begun to be used in the early 80s.

In another short clip of some soldiers disembarking a helicopter during a section of the film about operations in Oman we see another AR pattern rifle and a metric FN FAL with a combo flash hider.

Close Protection & Counter Revolutionary Warfare Wing 

The film then goes on to explain the role the SAS take in training personal protection details and mounting personal protection for important figures. It briefly shows an MP5K and possible an appearance of an HK Operational Briefcase.

Possibly the SAS’ most famous element, the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Wing, is also featured, first showing with an operator in what’s known as ‘black kit’ with a respirator firing an MP5SD. Then a short sequence showing hostage rescue techniques, with a nod to the famous Iranian Embassy Siege operation. The operators are seen with MP5A3s, one of which has been adapted with a front grip and mounted with a Maglite-type weapon light. A room clearance drill is shown with a mix of MP5A3s and one operator has a MAC 10. The MAC 10 was one of the weapons which was surpassed by the MP5 and had been in use with UK special forces (including the SBS) throughout the 1970s.

Support Weapons

Finally, the film also features a variety of support weapons including L7 GPMGs mounted on Pink Panther Land Rovers of the Mobility Troops. Earlier in the film there are brief clips of what appears to be an M1919 Browning being cocked and a 66mm M72 LAW being readied to fire.

There’s also an interesting sequence explaining designating targets for aircraft featuring a Ferranti Laser targeting Module. Finally, we also get a very brief mention of the Operations Research team (responsible for equipment testing and experimentation) and a glimpse of an early machine gun reflex optic mounted on a GPMG. The film offers an interesting insight into the weapons, equipment, tactics and organisation of the SAS during a period where their notoriety grew exponentially. I highly recommend watching the full film over on the IWM’s archive.


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Bibliography:

‘The Special Air Service’, British Army/SSVC, (source)

Thanks to MajorSamm for pointing me in the direction of the video and to Vic for his help with this one.

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.

DCC CGL-4 NO SOUND_Moment2
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.

DCC CGL-4 NO SOUND_Moment6
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.

DCC CGL-4 NO SOUND_Moment4
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.

XM148 in vietnam
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.