Weird Weapons of the Vietnam War

Vietnam gave America the first taste of modern asymmetric warfare. We faced a guerilla force and quickly learned that nation-building and fighting a guerilla force is nearly impossible. We later forgot and waged a 22-year war in the middle east without getting much accomplished. In this article, I won’t get too deep into foreign policy failure, but I will dive deep into the world of the weird weapons we saw come out of the Vietnam War.

Vietnam was a brutal place. It was dense jungles, cities, creeks, rivers, and coasts. It created a very diverse and difficult environment for a modern fighting force that was more or less designed for the European theatre of warfare. Southeast Asia, mixed with guerilla warfare, created an environment that required creativity. The folks behind weapons design in the United States were certainly creative and gave us some interesting solutions to interesting problems. Here are some of the weird and creative weapons of the Vietnam War.

Silent Sniper Rifle

I don’t want to brag, but years ago, I stumbled across a mention of the Silent Sniper Rifle in obscure reference books and chased it down through archives and even interviews to suss out the source of the Silent Sniper Rifle. This odd-looking, bulky rifle was designed to provide a rifle capable of killing the enemy while being incredibly quiet. It fired a .458 x 1/2 round that was huge, heavy, and naturally subsonic.

Silent Sniper Rifle
This big beast was quiet but inaccurate.

The rifle used an integrally suppressed barrel with a huge cover that made it resemble something more akin to a water jacket from a World War 1 machine gun. This big bulk rifle weighed 14.5 pounds and fired a 500-grain round, and used a modified Winchester Model 70 action. The Silent Sniper Rifle was paired with a scope, and the design goal was to make the rifle silent beyond 100 meters.

I interviewed the SNCOIC and the OIC of the Sniper School in Vietnam. They affirmed it was silent and met the goal, but it was also not very accurate, and it was quite heavy. Only a few prototypes were produced, and they all seemed to be promptly destroyed.

Remington Model 7188

Jungle warfare in the Pacific proved that shotguns could be ultra-valuable tools for close-range warfare. Vietnam was no different, and the numerous special operations teams experimented with several different shotguns and loads. One such gun was a modified Remington 1100. The modification was making it a selective fire weapon to spray buckshot into the jungle. Why?

Remington 7188
The 7188 through buckets of buckshot.

Well, if you are in a close-range ambush, emptying a 12 gauge shotgun into the general direction of the enemy in full-auto results in a lot of lead downrange. The gun held eight rounds, and the most common buckshot load held nine pellets.

This meant 72 pellets, if my Math for Marines is correct, were flying through the jungle in the general direction of the enemy. These guns came in six different configurations, which included bayonet lugs, rifle sights, heat shields, bead sights, and more.

The gun worked — and apparently worked well — but the recoil and muzzle rise made it too tough to control. The guns were converted to semi-auto only and renamed the 7180.

Quiet Special Purpose Revolver

I could never imagine being a tunnel rat. Having to crawl into a small tunnel likely made by hand in the middle of a war zone would be terrifying. The tunnel rats would go down these hotels with an M1911, a moonbeam, and a prayer. The M1911 was fine, but the tight quarters often challenged its reliability due to the reciprocating slide in ultra-tight quarters. With that in mind, the military developed the Quiet Special Purpose Revolver.

The quiet special purpose revolver
When tunnel rats needed something quiet which could increase their ability to hit a threat, they used this weirdo revolver (Modern Firearms)

The idea wasn’t to just give tunnel rats a more reliable weapon, but they would give them a weapon that was easier to use in close quarters overall. The revolver used specially designed ammunition that used an integrally suppressed ammunition known as 10mm QSRP. This round fired 12 pellets, much like buckshot, and was designed to help the shooter fight in situations where aiming was tough.

The QSPR used a Model 29 as its core design, cut the barrel down to nearly nothing, and re-chambered to fit the 10mm QSPR. These were distributed in Vietnam in short numbers. A Ranger team even scored a kill with one, according to an official report. The war ended before they could be widely fielded, and they faded away after the war.

S&W MK 22 MOD 0 ‘Hush Puppy’

Special Operations teams in Vietnam made suppressors mainstream for special missions. Suppressors made it tough to find you, helped you hide in the jungle, and could allow the silent removal of sentries or lost enemy soldiers. MACVSOG and the like used a few suppressed handguns, but they were largely piecemeal, like the Walther PPK. With that in mind, they wanted something better and something quieter.

MK22 handgun
The Mk22 Mod0 was the first modern suppressed handgun.

The Navy came up with the Mk22 MOD 0, also known as the Hush Puppy, for the SEAL teams. It was a specially modified S&W Model 39 with 15 round magazines, raised sights, the ability to mount a stock, a threaded barrel so a suppressor could be attached, and a neat little feature that locked the slide closed.

When the gun was fired, the slide did clack back and forth, helping the user quietly eliminate sentries, dogs, and similar targets. The Mk22 MOD 0 was quite successful in its goal and went on to serve with numerous special ops units in Vietnam. After the war, they stuck around with the SEALs until more modern options were created.

Stoner 63

After Stoner designed the AR-15, he went back to the drawing board to create a new weapon system that would be known as the Stoner 63. The Stoner 63 would go on to be considered as a replacement for the M16 and numerous other firearms. The Stoner 63 is a 5.56, gas-operated, selective fire weapon. It’s not just a single weapon type but a receiver designed to be modified to fit numerous roles.

stoner 63 pamphlet
The Stoner 63 was a system, not just a rifle.

There was an assault rifle variant and a carbine variant with a shorter barrel. They also produced a light machine gun version that was a belt-fed option, a tripod-mounted medium machine gun, an automatic rifle variant, and numerous other options. The Stoner 63 could be easily configured to be a complete weapon system and used a very interesting receiver design to do so.

Both the Marine Corps and SEALs trialed the weapons in Vietnam. The Marines mostly liked the rifle and machine gun variation but thought the automatic version was silly. The SEALs liked the LMG and Commando variants. The LMG predates the M249 SAW but was used in a similar way. The Commando was a version of the light machine gun version without a swappable barrel.

These are only a few of the weird weapons of Vietnam.

Honestly, there are a ton of them — more than you’d expect. This only covers some of the more successful variants and only covers the United States. I’m personally a fan of the Remington 7188, but what about you? Which would you take as you run through the jungle?

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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