August 24, 2004
The Last 'Big Lie' of Vietnam Kills U. S. Soldiers in IraqBy Maj. Anthony F. Milavic, USMC (Ret.)
At a Vietnam Special Forces base during 1964, I watched a
What is efficient combat lethality? The book Black Hawk Down quotes SFC Paul Howe's description of SFC Randy Shughart, a soldier who elected to carry the 7.62mm M—14 into the urban battlefield of
'His rifle may have been heavier and comparatively awkward and delivered a mean recoil, but it damn sure knocked a man down with one bullet, and in combat, one shot was all you got. You shoot a guy, you want to see him go down; you don't want to be guessing for the next five hours whether you hit him, or whether he's still waiting for you in the weeds.' 
With the wisdom of a combat veteran, Howe describes the lethality necessary for a cartridge in combat—one—round knockdown power.
How did we get from military cartridges with proven one—round knockdown power such as the 30—06 and 7.62mm to the 5.56mm? The journey starts with the term 'tumbling.' This term has been associated with the .223 cal./5.56mm cartridge, since early in its marketing as a potential military cartridge to this day. The very word, tumbling, prompts images of a bullet traveling end over end through the human body in 360—degree loops: in reality, it does not move this way at all.
Dr. Martin L. Fackler, COL.,
——The round strikes the target at less than 2700 feet per second. That velocity is reduced by: the farther the range to the target, the greater reduction in velocity; shortened weapon barrel length as is the case with the shorter M—4 carbine; and/or, manufacturing variances in the cartridge.
——Variances in human body thickness and flesh density and consistency.
In those cases, the bullet neither yaws nor fragments and causes only a pencil size hole through the body; i.e., small hole in, small hole out. Neither Dr. Fackler nor anyone else has provided any empirical data or estimate on the incidence of the 5.56mm yaw/fragmentation effect on enemy soldiers. Conversely, since first used by Americans in combat, there has been a consistent observation from the field—enemy soldiers continue to fire their weapons after being hit by multiple 5.56mm bullets; evidently, no yaw/fragmentation effect. Nevertheless, the term 'tumble' was apparently derived from idealized yaw action and, as suggested by the following, was chosen in lieu of the word yaw because it would 'sell' better. 
The book, The Black Rifle, M16 Retrospective by Edward C. Ezell and R. Blake Stevens, ' . . . is, so far as [the authors] could make it so, the truth about the controversial 5.56mm caliber AR—15 (M16)—what it is, what it is not, where it came from, and why.'
Edward C. Ezell, Ph.D., now deceased, was the Curator/Supervisor of the Division of Armed Forces History, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution,
In 1961, Colt's did get somebody's attention. The Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) of the Department of Defense (DoD) was enjoined by the Kennedy Administration to explore how the
The purpose of this test, as set forth in, ARPA, 'Report of Task 13A, Test of ArmaLite Rifle, AR—15,' dated 31 July 1962, was ' . . . a comparison between the AR—15 and the M2 Carbine to determine which is a more suitable replacement for shoulder weapons in selected units of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF).' The Project AGILE results were summed up, in part, by ARPA as follows: 'The suitability of the AR—15 as the basic shoulder weapon for the Vietnamese has been established. For the type of conflict now occurring in Vietnam, the weapon was also found by its users and by MAAG advisors to be superior in virtually all respects to the M1 Rifle, M1 and M2 Carbines, Thompson Sub—Machine Gun, and Browning Automatic Rifle.' NOTE: This study and its recommendations concerned the suitability of the AR—15 for Vietnamese soldiers, who were described by the testers to be of 'small stature, body configuration and light weight,' NOT larger stature
In any case, the report was widely read and some of its components came under serious question, especially those purporting to describe the demonstrated lethality of the .223 caliber cartridge. The following are three such examples from the Project AGILE report:
Example 1. 'On 160900 June, one platoon from the 340 Ranger company was on a ground operation . . . and contacted 3 armed VC in heavily forested jungle.. . . At a distance of approximately 15 meters, one Ranger fired an AR—15 full automatic hitting one VC with 3 rounds with the first burst. One round in the head took it completely off. Another in the right arm, took it completely off. One round hit him in the right side, causing a hole about 5 inches in diameter.. . . (Rangers)'
Example 2. 'On 9 June a Ranger Platoon from the 40th Infantry Regt. Was given the mission of ambushing an estimated VC Company.. . .
These deaths were inflicted by the AR—15 and all were instantaneous except the buttock wound. He lived approximately five minutes. (7th Infantry Division)'
Example 3. 'On 13 April, a Special Forces team made a raid on a small village. In the raid, seven VC were killed. Two were killed by AR—15 fire. Range was 50 meters. One man was hit in the head; it looked like it exploded. A second man was hit in the chest, his back was one big hole. (VN Special Forces)' [6.]
The above 'field—reports' are incredulous on their face and some in DoD requested that these results be duplicated scientifically. The Army Wound Ballistics Laboratory at Edgewood Arsenal attempted to do just that. Using .223 caliber Remington ammunition provided by Colt's representative, they conducted their 'standard lethality trials that consisted of measuring the cavitational and other effects of firing at known distances into blocks of ballistic gelatin, and where necessary, anaesthetized goats.' They failed to duplicate the explosive effects reported by Project AGILE. In November 1962, the Army initiated 'Worldwide' tactical and technical tests of the AR—15 using
The .223 caliber cartridge was morphed into the 5.56mm NATO cartridge and adopted for the United States Service Rifle M—16 (formerly, AR—15) replacing the 7.62mm M—14. How could such propaganda have convinced the Department of Defense to adopt the .223 caliber cartridge? 'All this was inspired by the principle —— which is quite true in itself —— that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper stata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily, and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large—scale falsehoods.'
Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf [8.]
As is usually the case, a judgment based on lies was to adversely affect those at the 'pointy end of the spear.' American warriors reported enemy soldiers continuing to close and fire their weapons after sustaining multiple hits by 5.56mm bullets. This happened as early as 9 December 1965 in the official 'After Action Report of the Ia Drang Valley Operation . . ..' popularized by the movie and book We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young. The commanding officer of the battalion engaged there, Col. Harold G. Moore, USA, writes of assaulting enemy soldiers being hit by 5.56mm rounds: "Even after being hit several times in the chest, many continued firing and moving for several more steps before dropping dead." [9.]
Later in that war, a similar experience is voiced by Col. John Hayworth,
In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the DoD increased the weight of the 5.56mm 55—grain bullet (M193) to 62—grains, replaced some of its lead core with a tungsten steel core, painted the bullet tip green and designated the new cartridge M855. In 1991, the Pentagon sent its warriors to the Gulf War with this new green—tip cartridge. Maj. Howard Feldmeier, USMC (Ret.) was there: ' . . . several Marines commented that they had to shoot Iraqi soldiers 2—3 or more times with the 62—grain 5.56mm green tip ammo before they stopped firing back at them . . ..' That report is exemplified by one of an Iraqi officer who was thrown from his vehicle and set afire by an explosion: 'Somehow he managed to hold on to his AK—47. He also got up, still on fire, faced the firing line of Marines and charged forward firing his weapon from the hip. He didn't hit anyone but two Marines each nailed him with a three round burst from their M—16A2s. One burst hit him immediately above his heart, the other in his belly button. [He] . . . kept right on charging and firing until his magazine was empty. When he got up to the Marines two of them tackled him and rolled him in the sand to put out the fire. . . . He was quickly carried back to the battalion aid station . . .. The surgeons told me he certainly died of burns, but not necessarily from the six 5.56mm wounds . . ..' [11.]
In spite of the above 'lesson learned,' the DoD dispatched its warriors to combat in
The Pentagon remained unmoved by that experience of its warriors and continued to send them to war underpowered. On 4 April 2002, I received an e—mail from a trooper in
Additional observations of the impotence of the 5.56mm round soon appeared in official and professional publications. In their official briefing 'Lessons Learned in Afghanistan' dated April 2002, LTC C. Dean, USA and SFC S. Newland, USA of the U. S. Army Natick Soldier Center reported: 'Soldiers asked for a weapon with a larger round. 'So it will drop a man with one shot.'' In the October 2002 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette magazine, Capt Philip Treglia, USMC reflected on his
In a 3 March 2003 written briefing, LCdr. Gary K. Roberts, USNR recommended to RAdm. Albert M. Calland, Commander, Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Command that he upgrades his command's 5.56mm weapons to the 6.8mm cartridge. That briefing, entitled, 'Enhancement of NSW Carbine & Rifle Capability,' opens by observing:
Recent combat operations have highlighted terminal performance problems, generally manifested as failures to rapidly incapacitate opponents, during combat operations when M855 62gr. 'Green Tip' FMJ is fired from 5.56mm rifles and carbines. Failure to rapidly incapacitate armed opponents increases the risk of
That statement was prophetic.
On 12 September 2003, in Ar Ramadi,
These reports are consistent with my own experience during three tours of duty in Vietnam from the goat incident in 1964 described above to service with the 3rd Marine Division in 1968—69; experience that repeatedly reminded me that this 5.56mm cartridge was nothing more than the full—metal jacket military version of the commercial .223 caliber Remington cartridge. The .223 caliber Remington was and is today commercially advertised and sold as a 'varmint cartridge' for hunting groundhogs, prairie dogs and woodchucks. The cartridge is offered with soft point, hollow point, fragmentation, or projectiles incorporating two or more of these attributes to enhance its lethality and assure a 'clean kill': one—round knockdown power on varmints. States such as the
The lethality of the 5.56mm cartridge, sold on lies, cannot be fixed in truth. It is time the Department of Defense recognizes this 'Big Lie' from the Vietnam War and in the names of MSgt Kevin N. Morehead and SFC William M. Bennett replaces this varmint cartridge with one that gives our warriors that critical capability described by SFC Paul Howe above——one—round knockdown power!
The author's 25—year Marine career included service as an infantryman and intelligence officer with highlights of three tours of duty in Vietnam and, ultimately, representing the Defense Intelligence Agency as a briefer to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense and other Washington area decision makers. He currently manages MILINET an Internet forum on international political/military affairs.
1. Bowden, M, Black Hawk Down, Penguin Books, 2000, p. 208.
2. Fackler, ML,"Wounding patterns of military rifle bullets," International Defense Review, January 1989, pp. 59—64.
3. Ezell, EC & Stevens, RB, The Black Rifle, M16 Retrospective, Collector Grade Publications, Inc., 1994, p. 98.
8. Hitler, A, Mein Kampf. James Murphy, translator.
9. Moore, Col. HG, 'After Action Report, Ian Drang Valley Operation 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry 14—16 November 1965,' dated, 9 December 1965, p. 8.
10. Hayworth, Col. J, E—Mail to author, 23 April 2002.
11. Feldmeier, Maj. H, E—Mail to author, 21 May 2002.
12. Anonymous, E—Mail to MILINET, 26 March 2002.
13. Roberts, USNR, LCdr. Gary K., Brief to RAdm Albert M. Calland, CMDR NAVSPECWARCOM, 'Enhancement of NSW Carbine & Rifle Capability' brief, 3 March 2003.
14. Jones, Bruce L., 'MILINET: Case Studies in Combat Failures of 5.56mm Ammunition,' 3 November 2003