Join us, on the 53rd anniversary of the week the Tet Offensive began, as we take a look at 1989’s ‘The Siege of Firebase Gloria’ starring R. Lee Ermey, Wings Hauser & Albert Popwell. Directed Brian Trenchard-Smith its a Vietnam last stand movie that riffs on its predecessors.
In this special New Year episode of the Fighting On Film war movie podcast we are joined by historian Peter Caddick-Adams to discuss the cult-classic ‘Kelly’s Heroes’. The film follows a platoon of US soldiers who penetrate deep behind enemy lines to steel enemy gold! Directed by Brian G. Hutton and staring Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Tate Liverpool’s Don McCullin exhibition. McCullin is one of my favourite photographers not just for his incredible combat and conflict photography but also for his street photography which focuses on the hardships and lives of people.
McCullin, now 85, is probably best known for his photographs of conflict, including iconic photographs taken during the Battle of Hue, and his coverage of fighting in Northern Ireland, Crete, Cambodia, Lebanon and throughout Africa. His work covering famine in Ethiopia and the war and refugee crisis in Bangladesh evoke an immense amount of pathos.
The Tate’s exhibition is a well deserved retrospective that charts McCullin’s career from its beginnings through to the present – with him most recently travelling to Syria in 2016.
This short video includes some photographs of the exhibition which covered an entire floor of the gallery with each of the conflicts McCullin has photographed covered in chronological sections.
The exhibition is interspersed with collections of magazines which shows how some of his work was originally published by a wide range of magazines and publications. Perhaps the most interesting artefacts on display were a number of McCullin’s personal items including a US Army helmet, a light meter, a watch, passports, a compass and a 35mm Nikon F camera which apparently was struck by a 7.62x39mm round while in Cambodia in 1970.
One thing I did find disappointing as a photographer myself was that the information with each photograph didn’t include what medium – film (35mm or 120) or DSLR, he took the photograph in. McCullin is an immensely skilled photographer with an amazing grasp of composition and technique while being able to capture highly emotive images. As he’s not only a photographer but also an expert photo developer, it would have been nice to have some of this more technical information next to each photograph. Regardless it was an immensely enjoyable exhibition which put into perspective the sheer breadth of McCullin’s work.
Without doubt McCullin’s life’s work has affected him, seeing so much through the lens of your camera and being largely helpless to help people suffering is something McCullin mentions in a number of interviews and it is a thread in the narrative of the exhibition. McCullin’s most recent work – a series of strikingly moody foggy landscapes is described as being solace from his work documenting conflict and a way of dealing with his experiences.
Find out more about the exhibition here. It runs until the 9th May, 2021.
You can find some of McCullin’s best photographs here.
The need for a lightweight self-propelled anti-tank gun was identified in the late 1940s. The T101 development program took just over 5 years and $2.5 million dollars to develop what became the M56.
The M56 was intended to act as an airmobile support weapon for the US Army’s airborne forces that was capable of traversing muddy, marshy, sandy and snowy terrain. Airborne infantry have historically been lightly armed and sometimes struggled against enemy forces equipped with armour. Attempts to level the playing field with glider transported anti-tank guns or even super light tanks could only do so much. Airborne operations during world war two proved light tanks, like the M22 Locust, were out-gunned, under-armoured and largely useless. While light artillery proved effective it lacked mobility and while infantry anti-tank weapons like the Bazooka were extremely useful they were close quarter weapons.
In response the US Army decided to abandon one of the points of the classic ‘iron triangle’ of armoured vehicle design all together, sacrificing protection for firepower and mobility. The unarmoured 16,000 lb (7 tonne) vehicle could be dropped from a transport plane to support paratroops and later heliborne air cav units.
The M56 was developed and manufactured by the Cadillac Motor Car Division of General Motors, a pilot version was completed by 1955. The pilot model, designated the Full-Tracked Self-Proppelled Gun T101 is seen in this photograph from October 1955. When the vehicle finally entered production in 1957 it was largely identical to the T101 except for changes to the location of the radio, the design of the gun’s muzzle device, the hinged flaps on the gun shield were abandoned and the sand skirts were also abandoned. The Scorpion had no secondary armament and no armour. Protection for its 4-man crew amounted to nothing more than a gun shield, which also has a window for the driver.
The 90mm M54 high velocity gun was mounted on a pintle in the centre of the vehicle with the driver on the left and the vehicle commander, loader and gunner sat around the gun. The gun could be traversed 30-degrees left and right and had 10-degrees depression and up to 15-degrees elevation. At the rear of the vehicle was an ammunition store that held 29 90mm rounds. The main ammunition used with the M54 would have been the M318 armour piercing round but it could chamber any of the other 90mm ammunition then in US service. Sadly the ammunition store and breech of the gun aren’t present on this example.
The gun’s impressive recoil, even with a pair of recuperators, hit the Scorpion and the crew manning it hard, the footage shows just how powerful the recoil was. In this contemporary footage we can see that the front wheel almost bounces off the ground. Note also the semi-automatic action that opens the breech and ejects the spent shell casing after the gun is fired.
The vehicle was powered by an air-cooled petrol engine that produced 200hp. Capable of a maximum speed of just over 28mph.
Perhaps its most interesting feature is that it runs on four pneumatic road tyres, rather than metal road wheels, enclosed in a 20in wide track. The track was made up of two bands of rubber and steel cross pieces. There’s a sprocket at the front and an idler at the rear for tensioning the track. This configuration was chosen to reduce weight and it also minimised the ground pressure of the vehicle.
Production of the M56 ended in 1959, after around 325 had been produced. While most of these entered US service, 87 were purchased by Morocco in 1966 while a further 5 were used by the Spanish Marine Corps.
While the M56 was slightly more mobile across country, in reality it wasn’t much better than a standard jeep equipped with a M40 recoilless rifle. Despite the Scorpion’s shortcomings it remained in service into the early 1970s and saw action during the Vietnam War with the 173 Airborne Brigade, which had a company of 16 M56s. In Vietnam the more capable and better protected M551 Sheridan saw wider use and what action the Scorpions did see was largely acting in direct fire support.
Special thanks to Battlefield Vegas for allowing us to film and feature their M56.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Length: 16.5 inches
Action: single shot, striker-fired single action
Rate of Fire: ~4 rpm
The Australian military adopted the F1 submachine gun in 1962, with the first guns reaching troops in April 1963, it replaced the venerable Owen gun. Like the earlier Owen the F1 had a top-mounted magazine – a position that lent itself to prone firing and more comfortable carrying when slung. But it also shared some similarities with the British L2A3 Sterling.
The F1 entered service alongside the Australian L1A1 (self-loading rifle/FN FAL), it shared the rifles butt plate and pistol grip – slightly minimising additional unique parts needed by the submachine gun. Australian Ordnance had begun searching for a replacement for the ageing Owen gun after the Korean War. The Owen had been made quickly and cheaply during the Second World War and while it was well liked by Australian troops it was felt it could be improved upon. Maintenance of the older Owen guns proved difficult as each weapon had been hand fitted to speed up production and some parts proved not to be interchangeable.
A number of designs were developed including one designated the ‘Kokoda’ (presumably after the Kokoda Trail campaign fought by Australian troops in 1942). This design was lighter than the Owen but suffered from overheating problems. A series of designs from the Australian Design Establishment, designated the ‘X’ series, were then developed. These weapons incorporated elements from both the Owen and the British Sterling. Including the Sterling’s perforated barrel jacket and magazine and the Owen’s bolt, magazine orientation and forward pistol grip – a feature many troops with experience with both the Owen and F1 lamented to loss of with the adoption of the F1. The first two ‘X’ series weapons developed into the X3 which in 1962, after successful trials, became the F1.
The F1 used a standard blowback action with a non-reciprocating charging handle. The charging/cocking handle was positioned on the left side of the receiver with its slot protected from the ingress of dirt by a dust cover. The F1 has a two-position fire selector with up for ‘safe’ and down for ‘fire’. The trigger mechanism allowed for firing single shots by pulling the trigger to the half-way point, this allowed the sear to trip into the semi-automatic position (see the diagram below).
Chambered in 9x19mm, the F1 fed from a 34-round curved magazine, although it could use straight, single-feed, Sten or Owen magazines. In the 1960s, in order to achieve commonality with Britain and other Commonwealth nations, that used the Sterling Submachine Gun, the Australian government contacted the Sterling Armaments Company to enquire how much a license to produce Sterling’s magazines would cost, only to be quoted an exorbitant fee. The Australian government were unwilling to pay for the license and produced them anyway. And as Sterling could not afford to take legal action were able to continue to do so – with the understanding they would not sell any commercially. The Australian government would later purchase a number of suppressed Mark 5 Sterling-Patchetts, also adopted by the British army as the L34A1.
The weapon’s ejection port was located on the bottom of the receiver ahead of the trigger guard. A small piece of metal was added in front of the ejection port, as a hand stop, to prevent the operator from inadvertently moving their hand over the port. The F1 had an in-line stock fitting into the rear of the tube receiver. The sights were offset to the right, the rear peep sight folded against the receiver when not in use while the front sight, rather than over the muzzle, projected from the right side of the magazine housing. The F1 could also mount the L1A1 self-loading rifle’s standard L1A2 sword bayonet.
The F1 weighed just over 7lbs (3.2kg), was 28 inches long and had a cyclic rate of approximately 600 rounds per minute. It had a solid butt stock, unlike the Sterling which had a folding stock. The F1 was produced solely by the Lithgow Small Arms Factory with most sources suggesting 25,000 were produced for the Australian military between 1963 and 1973. The Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum were kind enough to look into the exact number made for us, and reported that there is some uncertainty surrounding the exact number produced with production report totals varying, giving a total of either 21,916 or 24,828.
The F1s saw extensive service in Vietnam and later with Australian peacekeeping troops through to the 1990s. It was issued to rear echelon troops, ACP and aircraft crews and to infantry sections. While the F1 was appreciated for its reliability, for those troops who had experience with the venerable Owen Gun, the F1 lacked a certain something. Colonel Warren Feakes noted that “every time I picked up an F1 I had the feeling that something was missing.” Another Australian veteran, Warrant Officer Kevin Konemann, who served in Vietnam in 1966-67, recalled: “It was awkward to fire from the shoulder and more awkward to fire from the hip” and that “the F1 wasn’t popular. Soldiers found it more difficult to point and bring on target than the OMC [Owen Gun] and firing from the shoulder… was decidedly more difficult without the front hand grip.”
Despite the shortcomings identified by some troops the F1 remained in service alongside the L1A1 self-loading rifle into the early 1990s, when both were phased out of use as the 5.56x45mm F88 (Steyr AUG) was adopted.
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Matt recently had the opportunity to visit the excellent Menorcan Military Museum at Es Castell, on the Spanish Balearic Island of Menorca. The museum is well worth a visit with some very rare and extremely interesting weapons on display.
The M45 Quadmount was developed by the W.L. Maxson Corporation for the US Army. It mounted four .50 calibre M2 Browning Heavy Machine Guns on a lightweight, rotating powered mount. I recently had the opportunity to take a closer look at an M45 while visiting the Menorcan Military Museum.
Introduced in 1943, the M45 was capable of 360 degrees of rotation and 90 degrees of elevation. It was manned by a three man crew: two loaders, who loaded the M2 Browning’s 200-round belt drums, and a gunner.
The M45 was extremely versatile and could be mounted on a number of trailers and vehicles including the M20 and M17 trailers and the M16, M17 and M51 half-tracks.
The gunner sat on a canvas seat inside the M45, between the two pairs of guns. He controlled the aiming of the guns with two control handles and aimed the M45 through a reflex sight which was mounted to a sight bar.
The M45 was powered by two 6-volt batteries and weighed approximately 2,400lb (1,090kg). The gunner was protected by an armoured plate at the front with two hinged armour plates either side of the M1X reflex sight. The M45 mounted four M2 TT (Turret Type) varriant machine guns – these were fired by solenoids. All four of the guns could be fired at once but gunners normally alternated between the upper and lower pairs in order to allow the guns to cool and loaders to replenish the drums.
When all the guns were fired together the M45 had an impressive rate of fire of approximately 2,300 rounds per minute. The Quadmount saw action throughout World War Two, the Korean War and in Vietnam. However, with the beginning of the jet age the M45 became increasingly obsolete in the anti-aircraft role. It continued to be used against ground targets with many mounted on vehicles to create ‘gun trucks’.
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