US Marines and AK-47 in Vietnam War – a true story

Dražen PrimoracGeneral

Several months ago, we showcased a Vietnam War-era model of an US Marine in prone position, aiming a Soviet built AK-47 Kalashnikov. Several people commented that we have made a mistake, and that US Marines were never equipped with Kalashnikovs. One of such comments came from a gentleman from the US, who contacted us directly by email.
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In our reply to Mr. John Sloan, we commented that this was not a mistake, but instead a deliberate attempt to show the possibilities Model Creator will offer once the platform goes live. Model Creators’ main feature is the ability to choose the pose, equipment and weapon based on the relevant historic references. In this particular case, it is a historic fact that when the new M-16 rifles were issued, there were issues with its reliability, and so US servicemen were sometimes forced to pick up and use AK-47s from dead NVA and VC fighters. US troops generally used the Kalashnikovs only as a last-ditch resort, as in the chaos of a firefight anyone using the AK would immediately attract “friendly” fire due to Kalashnikovs distinct sound and close proximity, so common in the jungle environment. When US troops saw someone with an AK their first instinct was to pour fire and not to ask questions. 

To our pleasant surprise, Mr Sloan responded with the most amazing story. He was actually a young US Marine during the Vietnam War and had had first-hand experience with both M16s and AK-47s. He was forced to use the AK-47 on several occasions, when his issued primary weapon, the M-16, failed. At the time when John was fighting for his life in the jungles and rice fields of Vietnam, his father was a member of the team tasked to find out what was causing M-16’s to jam. The myth, which has been kept alive even to the present day, was that the rifle itself was sub-par, while actually the problem was with its ammunition.

As John vividly recalls: “My father was an Ordnance Inspector for the US Army who was on the team that determined that the dies for the shell were just out of tolerance which when fired would expand under the 50,000-pound chamber pressure to the point where it would heat weld itself to the chamber. When the extractor attempted to eject the casing, it would rip the base from the cartridge and subsequent feed would jam the weapon. It was a stressful situation as I was in Vietnam at the time, and my father knew I would end up with a faulty weapon. It was so stressful that he had a heart attack, and almost died. It was only one die in the assembly line process, so it was difficult to identify. It had been the result of a minor bureaucrat attempting to save a few dollars and therefore look good to his superiors.”

Fortunately, both son and father survived this ordeal, and John could be reunited with his father, and then share this little bit of very interesting history with us many years later!

John allowed us to share his story with all of you and sent us a couple of photos from that time. Below are photos of our new friend during his time in Vietnam. The first one is the "official" newspaper photo, taken just before John’s deployment, while the second was taken after the Battle of Dai Do (also known as the Battle of Đông Hà) that took place from 30 April to 3 May 1968 in Quảng Trị Province during the Vietnam War. 

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We will make sure to send John a model of an US Marine, with the weapon of his choice, the moment Model Creator goes live!

As we continue our work on Model Creator, we will create more modern units as well - and if you have served in those units, please do reach out with your stories!

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