Australian War Memorial WAR/70/0105/VN
Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. 18 February 1970. Section Commander, Corporal Joe Danyluk of Port Kembla, NSW, carrying a mortar gun [M79 40mm grenade launcher] calls a halt during a sweep through bombed-out jungle after a bloody battle in the Long Hai mountains during Operation Hamersley. His company, B Company of 8th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (8RAR), together with other units of the Battalion, supported by armor, fought an estimated company of hard-core Viet Cong (VC) for a number of days in the mountains. The area was pounded by airstrikes including a raid by giant B52 bomber aircraft, naval bombardment from HMAS Vendetta, and artillery fire. Twenty-nine bodies of dead VC have been found to date.
First fielded in 1961 by the U.S. Army, the 6-pound M79 was light enough that you could carry it as a support weapon while still having a primary rifle– note CPL Danyluk’s M16 over the shoulder. In American service, it was often called the Bloop Gun or the Thumper. Meanwhile, the Ozzies referred to it as the Wombat Gun.
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, “the Golden Brigade,” arriving for their time in Vietnam in early 1968. Note everybody taking advantage of “smoke em if you got em,” as well as the camo M1 covers, M16A1s, several 173rd ABN Brigade combat patches, and heavy distribution of M79 bloop guns.
U.S Army photo. Typically held back as part of the U.S. Army’s very slim strategic reserve during the war, the 3,650 paratroopers of the Golden Brigade was rushed was to Vietnam in February 1968 as an emergency measure in response to the Tet Offensive.
Reminds me of this passage from a book that I was pleased to see on my son’s reading list, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried,
In addition to the three standard weapons–the M-60, M-16, and M-79–they carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive. They carried catch-as-catch-can. At various times, in various situations, they carried M-14s and CAR-15s and Swedish Ks and grease guns and captured AK-47s and Chi-Coms and RPGs and Simonov carbines and black market Uzis and .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handguns and 66 mm LAWs and shotguns and silencers and blackjacks and bayonets and C4 plastic explosives.
Lee Strunk carried a slingshot; a weapon of last resort, he called it. Mitchell Sanders carried brass knuckles. Kiowa carried his grandfather’s feathered hatchet. Every third or fourth man carried a Claymore antipersonnel mine–3.5 pounds with its firing device. They all carried fragmentation grenades–14 ounces each. They all carried at least one M-18 colored smoke grenade–24 ounces. Some carried CS or tear gas grenades. Some carried white phosphorus grenades. They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.”
That 40mm M79 Bloop Gun, though…known in Australian service lovingly as “The Wombat Gun” and the plot device to at least one Gus Hasford novel about Vietnam.
Jason Florio, perhaps one of the most talented photojournalists in the business, has traveled the globe in recent years to places like Silafando, Mogadishu, and Makasutu. On a trip to Burma he took a series of amazing portraits of Karen National Liberation Army freedom fighters.
For those who don’t know, the Karens have been fighting the Burmese government since 1949 pretty much non-stop. Located in the Golden Triangle, their equipment runs the gamut from captured French Lebels left over from Colonial Indochina, to Japanese WWII equipment, 1960s era U.S. gear left over from Vietnam, and (slightly) more modern Chinese kit.
Photo by Jason Florio Can you dig the Karen Bloop gunner? What is the shelf-life of a 40mm fuse stored at 99% humidity in the jungle? What that TD though.
One of oddest weapons ever carried by the US military looked like a massive sawn-off shotgun. With the improbable nickname of the ‘bloop gun’ this handy little grenade launcher has had an impressively long life.
After World War 2, the Army decided to usher in a new series of weapons. During the previous war, soldiers had carried rifle grenades, simple handheld bombs that could be fired from a cup attached to the standard M1 rifle out to about 150 yards with sloppy but effective accuracy. Three soldiers in each squad were trained to carry and use these devices, and the Army thought they could do better. Originally called Project Salvo, then finally Project NIBLICK, the concept was that a dedicated grenade launcher that could fire faster and more accurately than the WWII rifle grenades, would just tie down two soldiers per squad rather than three, and still be more effective.
Project NIBLICK begat the weapon later designated the M79 Grenade Launcher.
Read the rest in my column at GUNS.com