The AK-47 vs. the M16 During the Vietnam War
Download FREE briefings. Have an account? Please log in. Text Size: A A A

The AK-47 vs. the M16 During the Vietnam War

Daily

The AK-47 vs. the M16 During the Vietnam War

The Soviet-made AK-47 and the American M16, the primary assault rifles deployed during the Vietnam War, became symbols of the long conflict.

The Soviet-made AK-47 and the American M16, the primary assault rifles deployed during the Vietnam War, became symbols of the long conflict.

by Michael Haskew

During the Vietnam War, two of the most famous firearms of modern times emerged as icons of the latter half of the turbulent 20th century. The Soviet-made AK-47 and the American M16 were both developments that followed the deployment of the world’s first true assault rifle, the Sturmgewehr 44, by the German Army during World War II. There were obvious advantages to the rifle that could be fired in automatic or semi-automatic mode without requiring the soldier to operate a bolt, and these weapons characterized modern combat with the Vietnam War serving as a proving ground.

The Battle of Waterloo

Gain new insight into the battle that brought the end of Napoleon’s rule in France.
Get your copy of Warfare History Network’s FREE Special Report,
The Battle of Waterloo


The Soviet-made AK-47 and the American M16, the primary assault rifles deployed during the Vietnam War, became symbols of the long conflict.The father of the AK-47 was Soviet arms designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, and it is believed that since the rifle entered production in 1949 over 75 million examples of the original or its improved variants have been manufactured, more than any other firearm in history. The AK-47 has developed a reputation for simplicity and rugged reliability. It has also become a common weapon in the Third World and a symbol of the revolutionary, the insurgent, and the terrorist. While the AK-47 was shipped to Vietnam in great numbers to equip the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong insurgency, it also armed the Soviet Red Army and its Cold War allies of the Warsaw Pact.

The AK-47

The AK-47 is a 7.62mm gas operated rotating bolt selective fire assault rifle. It is capable of a cyclical rate of fire up to 600 rounds per minute and is usually fed by detachable 30-round magazines or 20- and 40-round box magazines. The AK-47 combines the best qualities of other assault rifles, including the gas ejection system of the Sturmgewehr 44, the trigger and lock features of the American M-1 Garand semiautomatic rifle of World War II, and the safety mechanism of the Remington Model 8 designed by American John Browning.

During the Vietnam War, the AK-47 earned the grudging respect of the American fighting man, even as his own M16 became the subject of controversy. The most recognizable variant of the original AK-47 is the AKM, which entered service in 1959 and was regularly encountered in Vietnam. Its famous silhouette is recognized around the world.

The M16

The Soviet-made AK-47 and the American M16, the primary assault rifles deployed during the Vietnam War, became symbols of the long conflict.The origin of the M16 lay in the design prowess of American engineer Eugene Stoner, whose 7.62mm rotating bolt AR-10 was the forerunner of the famous Vietnam-era assault rifle. In 1956, the Armalite Division of the Fairchild Aircraft Corporation began producing the AR-10, and the weapon was immediately recognizable with its straight-line barrel and components that were made of phenolic resin.

The AR-10 was rechambered to fire the .223-caliber Remington round and renamed the AR-15 in 1957. Shortly thereafter, Armalite licensed the production of both rifles to Colt. Subsequently, the U.S. Army adopted it as the M16, its standard issue assault rifle, firing the NATO .556mm cartridge.

The M16 is forever tied to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Typically fed by 20- or 30-round box magazines, the rifle was capable of a cyclical rate of fire up to 950 rounds per minute. The military version remained easily recognizable with its top-located carry handle, large triangular front sight, and polymer and aluminum alloy components. The first M16s reached Vietnam with American advisors in 1963, and the initial production model was designated the M16A1.

During the Vietnam War reports surfaced that early M16s were prone to jamming due to fouling of moving parts and a condition called “failure to extract.” However, the service life of the rifle validates its overall commendable performance. Variants of the M16 remain in production, and it is still in use with some armies today. More than eight million have been produced during the last half century.

The Soviet-made AK-47 and the American M16, the primary assault rifles deployed during the Vietnam War, became symbols of the long conflict.

Originally Published June 22, 2015

Add Your Comments

6 Comments

  1. Posted June 22, 2015 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Caliber for the M-16 is incorrectly reported in this article as “.556 mm”. Move the decimal over one and you get 5.56, which is correct.

  2. Posted June 17, 2016 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    .556 auto at 950rpm, yeh man

  3. Jock99
    Posted October 14, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    The failure of the original M16 was due to the ammunition manufacture using the wrong type of powder. Also the M16 was the first rifle to have a shelf life due to the plastic parts.

  4. GateKeeper
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Not to mention the first picture is an M16A2. A later version of the M16 not adopted my the US military until a decade after Vietnam ended. Who ever edited this is article, well yeah….

  5. Tom
    Posted March 11, 2017 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    AK 47 the best of the best ,I used in my military service ,it never say not .I love it …

  6. Jeffery Roberts
    Posted May 26, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    The AK-47 you can leave it in mud for a week and still fire the weapon, but the M-16 a1 you put that in mud the gun will not fire what so ever and the monsoon season made the M-16 useless that is why after the Americans killed the enemy they would take the AK-47 off the dead Viet-Cong army or VC.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *



Issue Previews

James Longstreet’s Wilderness Battle

James Longstreet’s Wilderness Battle

Early in the morning on May 6, 1864, a column of Confederates marched east as quietly as possible along the bed of an unfinished railroad

USS Potomac: FDR’s White House on the Water

USS Potomac: FDR’s White House on the Water

President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the bullet-proofed yacht the USS Potomac on two of the greatest diplomatic missions of WWII.

Il-2 Sturmovik: The Soviet’s Deadly Tank Killer

Il-2 Sturmovik: The Soviet’s Deadly Tank Killer

The Soviet Air Force’s Ilyushin Il-2 “Storm Bird” took a heavy toll in German armor on the Eastern Front.

“Love” Company in the Vognes Mountains

“Love” Company in the Vognes Mountains

The author, a rifleman in “Love” Company, 399th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Division, recalls brutal winter combat on the French-German border.

facebook gplus twitter youtube rss

Enter Your Log In Credentials

Forgot your Password?

×
.