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Robert W. "Bob" Faris

Arizona -
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"Water cans were stored next to the stoves to keep them from freezing.  We were allowed to have beer under our cots.  Even with the stoves glowing red 5 feet away, on particularly cold nights the beer would freeze.  By morning the inner walls would be covered in frost.  In order to keep uniformly warm, it was necessary to keep turning with your sleeping bag all night or one would bake on one side and freeze on the other."

- Bob Faris

<------ Bob Faris pictured with a Canadian-made Bren light machine gun in 7.92mm caliber.


[The following memoir excerpt was submitted to the Korean War Educator by Dolf Goldsmith on behalf of Bob Faris, who gave his permission to do so.  "Reflections of an Ordnanceman" first appeared as Chapter 23 in Volume 3 of the Collector Grade publication, The Browning Machine Gun, by Dolf L. Goldsmith in 2007. Collector Grade Publications is located in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.  (Visit their website at www.collectorgrade.com.)  According to Dolf, Bob Faris is one of the most knowledgeable small arms enthusiasts and collectors of our time.]

Memoir Contents: Reflections of an Ordnanceman


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Early Days

As far back as I can remember, I was interested in guns--old guns, new guns; sporting, military; etc.  I gradually became inclined primarily towards military arms, because I found machine guns the most fascinating of all.  My areas of interest encompassed their history, their mechanisms and design, and their accessories and ammunition.  Early on, my hardware was limited to camp guns and models, but I was also imbued with the collector's bug, a mechanical bent, and, of course, a desire to shoot real guns.  I even had some success in repairing my friends' cap guns.  Unknown to my folks, I had picked up some broken Iver Johnson and H&R revolvers, and was trying to make them work.  I was allowed to buy a Civil War smoothbore Springfield foraging musket for $9.00 because it was presumed to be non-functioning, but that was not the case.  One thing led to another and by the end of World War II in 1945, by which time I was 15, I had accumulated several functional .22 caliber rifles as well as a few old military rifles.  I shot them regularly on the family farm outside of Perkasie, Pennsylvania.

For some time my interest in machine guns had to be restricted to the few books available on the subject, like Small Arms of the World by W.H.B. Smith, which first became available in 1943; Automatic Weapons by Johnson and Haven, which appeared in 1942; and Rifles and Machine Guns by Johnson, which was also first published in 1942.  School was always a drag for me, but I plodded on and graduated from Perkiomen Prep in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania.  I found that despite my mechanical ability I had little aptitude for mathematics, which scotched plans for me to take up engineering.

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A Good Start - Studying under P.O. Ackley

A friend found out about a two-year Junior College course in gunsmithing in Trinidad, Colorado.  He applied, enrolled, and found it worthwhile.  The next year I applied because it was accredited, so that if desired, I could continue on with conventional engineering.  I had to convince my folks, because they were paying for it.  I started in the fall of 1949.  I found it very good, even though it was mainly oriented towards commercial gun repair and custom work.  P.O. Ackley, the chief instructor, had been an accomplished gunsmith and engineer for at least 20 years, and still operated a shop outside of Trinidad.  I learned a lot about small arms principles that served me well in later years.

During the summer of 1950 I was working in a machine shop in Perkasie to help pay for my schooling, when along came the Korean War.  I was a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, which altered my draft status.  I went back to Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado, determined to finish the two-year course.  Meanwhile I had read and absorbed Ordnance Went Up Front by Roy F. Dunlap.  I resolved to try to become an armorer or small arms repairman when my time came for Army service.  After I finished my Army obligations, I hoped then to find a career in the military armaments research and development field.

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A Civilian Foot in the Door at Aberdeen Proving Ground

While completing my second year at T.J.C., I learned of an opening for a civilian "gunner" at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.  Well, I had to start somewhere, so prior to graduation, I applied for it, hoping it would get me off on the right foot before going into the Army.  The work at A.P.G. consisted of setting up and firing standard and experimental U.S. and foreign automatic weapons, testing barrels for ammunition, proof acceptance of guns barrels, and weapon subsystems.  This was for me.  I thought I was in Heaven.


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Joining Up for Korea

Trying to Keep Working as an Armorer

After nine months I decided that it was time to fulfill my military obligations, and undertook to join up.  Only re-enlistments were processed at A.P.G., so I was directed to Ft. Meade, Maryland, where I became part of an "emergency", 200-man (by alphabet block) shipment of draftees to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for tank driver training.  There was not to be any shipment to A.P.G. for basic and small arms repairman training.  So much for the Army selection process of the right man for the right job.  Anyhow, I put in for assignment to A.P.G., which was disapproved.  However they did assign me as a Small Arms Repairman to G4 Small Arms, H.Q., 3rd Armored Division at Fort Knox, because of my work as a civilian at Aberdeen Proving Ground.  I worked with several NCOs and two civilians for a month and learned the basics of Army inspection, gauging, and repair of the standard weapons used by the training units (like mine).  After a short leave at home, I got orders for Korea.  My ship sailed from Seattle, Washington.  We weathered a bad storm, had an otherwise uneventful trip, and eventually arrived in Japan, where we were sent to a Yokohama replacement depot.  After processing we boarded another ship and headed for Inchon, Korea.  After off-loading at Inchon, as replacements for the 7th Infantry Division, we boarded a train for the Division replacement depot.

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"I Want that Man!"

On our arrival we learned the Commanding General had ordered that the first 30 days for replacements were to be spent in their combat MOS, regardless of any other specialty MOS.  Mine was tank driver, so I was sent to the 73rd Heavy Tank Battalion where I arrived on Christmas Eve, 1952.  The next day ten of us were gathered in the headquarters tent, where we were interviewed and our records were perused.  As our names were called out, we were to call out our MOS.  I called out Small Arms Repairman 3903, and before anyone else could react, I heard from a nearby tent, "I want that man!"  What a shock.  This was the first time since I had been in the Army that anyone wanted me for anything.  It was the battalion maintenance officer, a major, and he had plans for me.  It turned out that many small arms in the battalion were in bad shape, needing a lot of repairs and care.  So, it turned out that my 30 days in a line outfit were spent repairing small arms.  This was not actually authorized, and I was on my own with no special tools, only automotive types; no spare parts, and no gauges.  My first assignment was to fix a pile of "unserviceable" small arms which had accumulated from around the battalion.  Well, I got some files, a pair of pliers, and a couple of screwdrivers, and went to work.  Mainly by cannibalization, I got most of them operational in a few days.  Those that I couldn't fix I turned in to the 707th Ordnance Battalion just down the road.  I was told that they had not turned them in before, because every time they turned something in for repairs, it never came back.  I thought this strange, because everything I worked on only needed parts.

I had never been in such a cold place, except the Cold Test Chambers at A.P.G.  It seldom got above freezing during the day and nights often ran between -10 degrees F to -25 degrees F.  We were issued good warm clothing, with one significant exception: there were no "shoe pac" or "Mickey Mouse" (thermal) boots available in my size.  So, I had to wait until someone with my size boots rotated, in order to get arctic boots in exchange for my leather combat boots.  Thankfully, there was little snow.  After a month or so I finally got a pair of thermal boots.  They really were foot savers.  Of course when spring came, the same problem occurred in reverse.  I couldn't get any leather boots until May or June.  The problem was simply that although front line troops were supposed to have priority, the rear area troops were siphoning them off before they got to the front line divisions.

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On the Line, Repairing Tank Machine Guns

After completing my work on the accumulated unserviceable weapons, I was assigned to go out to the 73rd tank companies on the MLR (main line of resistance) where I was to inspect and repair, where possible, individual weapons and the tank machine guns, in both .30 and .50 caliber.  I had no vehicle, so I had to find a ride or hitchhike, once I got an idea where I was to go.  This was often difficult because we were not allowed to have maps.  Obviously, it was mandatory that whoever was driving knew where I was to go.  I got lost and went the wrong way only once, and almost got blown away.

I checked with the crews, who were holed up in a deep bunker behind and below the ridge line.  They didn't have much to say, but obviously didn't like the idea of an "inspection."  I checked out their .50 cal. M2HB and cal. 30 M1919A4 machine guns, sometimes mounted on top of the tanks on their tripods.  I went from tank to tank for a couple of hours or so until I had checked them all.  About half way through the tanks I heard some bangs, cracks, and booms.  It was plain that artillery fire was coming from the other side (Chinese).  So, I pulled the guns off the turret, took them inside and slammed the hatches.  No one came out of the bunker so I continued what I was doing.  None of the tanks were hit and the shelling didn't last long.

When I finished I reported back to the bunker to hear, "What, you still here?  You should have holed up in the bunker when the shelling started.  They do this about every day."  "Thanks a lot for telling me now," I said.  The guy laughed and I scrounged something to eat.  I guess they thought they might get rid of this "inspector" pest one way or another!

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Lubricant Problems

I was shocked at the condition of most of the machine guns.  They looked all right and well cared for except for one thing.  Most of them were "frozen up."  After I wrestled the bolts to the rear the recoil springs would barely push the bolts back into battery.  I was told why.  It seems that (as I confirmed later) there was practically no PL SP light gun oil in the outfit, nor hardly anywhere else in the Division, so the troops were told to use #10 weight motor oil, but that was too thick in the cold.  Then they were told to dilute the motor oil with gasoline.  Of course when the gasoline evaporated you were back to #10 weight motor oil.  So, they diluted the oil with kerosene.  That worked a little better, but it had to be lightly applied and they had not yet got the right mix.  Alternatively, they would leave the weapon dry, but with the combination of the cold and ever-present dust, that didn't work well either.  These tankers weren't too concerned, because they had been dug in for long-range H.E. fire support for the infantry with their 90mm (M26-46 Pershing) and 76mm (M4A3E8 Sherman) cannon.  As I was to soon learn, the lubricant problem also applied to the individual weapons; i.e., M1 Garands, M1 and M2 carbines, and M3 and M3A1 sub machine guns, and to a lesser extent M1911A1 pistols.  I recommended that they clean up a couple of sluggish guns with gasoline, as they had no solvent.  I left a can of PL SP oil, and told them to apply it lightly.

That day I hitched a ride back to my maintenance company at HQ.  There I helped the turret artillery mechanic work on tank turret electrical problems till 9 or 10 o'clock.  I especially remember lying on turret floors, first on one side then the other, pulling one or more of the rear control relays.  If one of the two in the back failed, the front ones had to be removed first.  I had to stop quite often to put my gloves back on and warm up my hands for a while.  After 45 minutes of this one had to warm up for a while in front of a fire or stove in a tent.  This routine was repeated for most of the 30 days.  It was becoming clear that it was going to be a long winter.

We lived in one-thickness squad tents holding 10-12 cots and heated by two heater stoves on packed dirt floors.  Adjustment of the control was finicky.  Turning it up too much or too fast would flood it, causing it to go out while filling the tent with black soot.  So, everyone took a hand at screwing up the adjustment, until it went out.  Water cans were stored next to the stoves to keep them from freezing.  We were allowed to have beer under our cots.  Even with the stoves glowing red 5 feet away, on particularly cold nights the beer would freeze.  By morning the inner walls would be covered in frost.  In order to keep uniformly warm, it was necessary to keep turning with your sleeping bag all night or one would bake on one side and freeze on the other.

A couple of weeks after I arrived, the word came down that we had to dig the tents in by at least three feet.  We had no explosives and the ground was as hard as concrete.  We had about five pickaxes that we passed around and everyone took their turn.  I recall that we had to have the work finished in three days.  After pounding on two holes for a day and well into that night, we had removed about three inches of "dirt".  We were getting nowhere with the picks.  Then someone rounded up an M46 tank with a blade on the front (it was in for maintenance), and applied it to the task at hand.  eventually the blade was lowered all the way, which raised the front of the tank until only the two rear pairs of road wheels were on the ground.  Back and forth it went, taking at most one inch of "dirt" off on each forward pass.  We only got to about half the depth by the deadline.  The command finally said enough and cancelled the order.  About four inches were worn off both ends of the pick heads.

Back to the inspection and repair routine.  By the end of my 30 days, I had covered all the 73rd tank companies on the MLR as well as my own Headquarters company.  Then I got a shock; my boss, the maintenance officer, declared that he was going to have my orders changed to keep me working at the 73rd.  I was to start over where I began and repeat the process.  I was not happy with this turn of events, because I was still working without adequate tools, no gauges, no references, and no transportation.  Fortunately the 7th Division personnel said no, I was not authorized at the 73rd, and was to report to "B" Company, 707th Ordnance Battalion, which I did immediately.  The major said thanks, and we said goodbye.

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A Bona Fide Small Arms Repairman, with Real Shops and Trucks!

What a change!  I was now to be working as a bona fide Small Arms Repairman, 3903.  We had a heated shop tent and a shop truck/van to work in with tools (my own), parts, a pipeline to the rear for parts, a copy of TB Ordnance 366 (the repairman's bible), other manuals, and other small arms repairmen to work with.

Well, as it turned out, all was not a bed of roses at 707.  It seems that while I was at the 73rd, the commanding officer of the 707 Ordnance Battalion had committed suicide, and morale was at rock bottom.  It was said that the C.O. had been having problems at home.  My morale, however, remained high for quite a while.

At this point I will outline how "B" Company, 707 Ordnance Battalion was organized, at least as best as I can remember.  The company was divided into sections, each headed by a warrant officer, for technical areas of responsibilities, i.e.:

  1. All small arms, and light weapons, mortars, recoilless rifles, and hand held rocket launchers; also an optical and instrument subsection including fire control, and optical sights for tank guns, artillery, rocket launchers as well as for small arms and light weapons.
  2. Tank guns, artillery, and large rocket launchers.
  3. All tank and wheeled automotive equipment.
  4. Machine shop truck/van support for all other sections.
  5. A tank and vehicle recovery unit to rapidly transport tanks and other vehicles to and from the rear, i.e., Seoul, shops and depots.  In emergencies personnel could be temporarily detailed to help other sections as required.

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Memories Hazy after Over 50 Years

It has been over 50 years since I spent over a year in 707 Ordnance Battalion in Korea, which is mind-boggling to me!  Unfortunately, due to the passage of time, I can only remember the names of a few of the guys I lived and worked with.  I have many photos of familiar faces that I recognize but can't identify by name.  Sergeant First Class Durfee was in charge of the small arms repairmen through most of this time frame.  Corporal Pietro "Pete" Lasalandra was the small arms repairman with whom I worked most of the time, and my replacement was named Bob Bray, Chief of the section was Warrant Officer Peters.  There was also always an ever-growing contingent of Korean troops (KATUSA) to help out and train to be ordnance men, assigned to each section.  They usually wound up being used for bull work, as they arrived with basic training only, and no knowledge of English.  There were several older regular Korean NCOs assigned, who knew some English or Japanese to facilitate communications among us.


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The Shop Truck Routine

I will describe in detail only the routine of the small arms sub-section.  We worked in a shop tent or a shop truck/van parked near the tent.  Weapons requiring repair were sent to our location, where detailed work was usually performed in the shop truck, because it was outfitted with hard-top workbenches, with steel cabinets with drawers underneath for parts.  Our individual tool boxes were lined up on the back of the benches.  The shop truck was usually heavily overloaded with extra barrel racks at either side at the rear, and a small workbench with a hard top and steel drawers underneath at the front center.  These trucks were kept ready to roll, so that we would be ready when we were sent off to inspect the weapons of combat troops on the MLR.  Legend had it that our shop truck had been up to the Yalu River and back.  There were bullet holes in the van body from the outside inwards.  There were also some from the inside outwards, usually through the ceiling, which were the results of occasional accidents.

A standing joke was that the only time the suspension springs flexed was when a wheel went into a hole.  The rest of the time, the truck waddled along down the road with the body resting on the frame.  Only a slight exaggeration!

"Technical Bulletin, Ordnance" [TB Ordnance 366] provided guidance and standards for all Army weapons used in Korea.  The issue I still have is an update of the earlier edition we had.  There also was a TB Ordnance 587 "Field Inspection and Serviceability Standards for Small Arms Material" dated May 24, 1950.  However, TB Ordnance 366 was much more comprehensive, as this bulletin was intended primarily for depot use.

Some procedures required special tools and equipment we did not have, nor were they authorized at our level.  The supply system often did not work as well as planned.  So, when we could scrounge parts and or make tools and fixtures to get the job done and keep the guns operational, we did.

A memorable example was keeping serviceable barrels installed in the infantry's Browning Automatic Rifles.  We changed barrels so often that we speeded up the operation by clamping the receiver in a large vise and unscrewing the old barrel and replacing it, by using a large pipe wrench.  The prescribed method was too slow and inefficient.  Otherwise, BARs with worn-out barrels would have been sent to a depot for new barrels, thus being out of service for a protracted period.  The infantry tended to use BARs like light machine guns, when fighting got hot.  The Browning Automatic Rifle was not useful for sustained fire, primarily because of its lack of a quick-change barrel.

The Army had recently instituted a system of direct exchange of complete weapons, where necessary.  Eventually, this system helped to keep serviceable weapons in the hands of troops.  However, it required that a larger quantity of weapons be in place in the supply system close to the front line.

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Headspacing BMGs Crucial after Barrel Changes

All of the recoil-operated .30 caliber and .50 caliber Browning machine guns were designed for loose threaded connections with their barrel extension.  This system provides for barrels to be readily changeable by the gunner without tools, but it cannot be considered as a "quick change."  The Brownings require full-length unscrewing and assembly, with special care to set the headspace as part of assembly.  The Browning barrel extensions are provided with a simple flat spring with a detent or a pointed bent at the front end that engages 360 degrees of detent notches on the barrel just ahead of the barrel threads.  The .50 caliber M2HB barrel is exposed for 2/3 of its length at the front end, and is removed and installed from the front through a short, perforated barrel support.  The other .50 caliber guns, air-cooled and water-cooled, and all of the air-cooled .30 caliber machine guns, had full-length barrel jackets that completely covered the barrel, except for jacket cooling holes.  If a booster was used it was attached to the front end of the jacket, and also served as a muzzle bearing.  In all cases headspacing had to be considered, or barrels had to be returned to the same position from the rear through use of reference marks previously applied.  Anytime a bolt, bolt lock, or barrel was replaced, the headspace had to be re-measured with gauges.

The .50 caliber M2HB, with its largely uncovered barrel, had been plagued since its introduction with loss of headspace setting due to careless gun handling, particularly when carrying the gun by grabbing the barrel.  This serious problem was due primarily to lack of proper gun crew training and caused aggravation in use.  So, sometime after World War II, the Army adopted a "fix" for the problem, namely MWO (Modification Work Order) ORD A39-W13, dated March 11, 1949.  They replaced the barrel locking spring with one that has a lug on the outer surface of the detent end.  A hole was provided for this lug, located underneath the right side of the receiver feedway.  It was positioned so that the lug on the locking spring would enter the hole only when the barrel and barrel extension were retracted out of battery by approximately 5/16 inch (i.e. the width of the small loop of a cartridge link.)  This procedure was easily accomplished by the gunner by pulling on the retracting handle until the barrel-lock lug appeared in the hole, holding it there and then screwing the barrel in and proceeding with the rest of the headspacing procedure.

There were more serious problems with the new lock and clearance hole (associated with training again), and the fact that it took several years to get all the M2HB guns converted, so for at least 5-10 years both barrel lock systems were in the field at the same time.  If assembling the barrel to a modified gun, using the old procedure, or forgetting to retract the bolt until the lug showed in the hole (as per the new procedure), the new barrel lock with lug would stop on the shoulder of the barrel and not engage the detents, so the barrel would stop 1-1/2 inch out of battery.  Firing in this condition equals disaster.  The unsupported case head ruptures, releasing high-pressure gas which blows open and bends the feed cover and bends the rear trunnion side supports and receiver side plates outwards.  Case fragments would often hit and wound gunners and assistant gunners.

The Army cure for the new problem was to require a decal be stuck on the gun in front of the rear sight, advising the gunner to consult the manual before assembling the barrel.  It soon became clear that this "fix" was ineffective.  The problem still exists to this day with .50 caliber M2HB guns in service and in private hands.  The problem of inadequate adjustable head space retention with the M2HB and its "fix" were and are clearly unsatisfactory.  It is a classic example of a "fix" being worse than the original problem.  When the original detent-click barrel lock failed to hold, it would be difficult to turn the barrel accidentally as much as a full turn without noticing it.  Firing with that amount of excess headspace is not likely to result in a seriously ruptured case, just as a separated case, which would not release high-pressure gas.

Thirty caliber gun barrel disassembly and assembly is often done with both components out of the receiver, this procedure is also followed with .50 caliber air-cooled and water-cooled guns.  There is less likelihood of not screwing the barrel in far enough, at least for the lock to engage the notches in the barrel, since the operation takes place in one's hands and therefore is not subject to the same hazardous mis-assembly as in the M2HB gun.  I have digressed from our subject, rifle caliber machine guns, in order to highlight a fundamental difference between operating and servicing .30 caliber Browning machine guns and the .50 caliber M2HB.

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Notes on Timing

Next in importance for gunners' checks and maintenance is timing.  Timing governs the point at which the firing pin is released after pulling the trigger.  Correct timing is established as a period during the forward travel of the recoiling components between the point where the bolt lock in the barrel extension fully engages the notch in the bolt, and all the recoiling components reach the forward battery position.  Timing with .30 caliber machine guns was regulated by bending the trigger bar up or down to change the relationship of the front end of the trigger bar with the sear in the bolt.  Measuring the span between "Fire" and "No Fire" is accomplished with the gauge described in TB Ordnance 366 [figure 673].

The bulletin also stated that the bolt latch on the right side of the receiver, if still remaining on M1919A4 and A5 guns, should be removed.  Generally I left them on, as they proved useful to retain the bolt to the rear, to prevent cook-offs when conducting sustained firing.

We had no .30 caliber M2 AC guns on issue in the 7th Division.  There were a few M1919A5 guns, but all were equipped with horizontal buffers, having pistol grips on the back plates.

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Muzzle Boosters

Several types of muzzle boosters for the M1919A4 and A5 guns were in use.  The bullet exit orifices varied significantly in diameter.  There was much confusion as to which type should have been on issue.  There were several types of caliber .30 ammunition in use, i.e.: Ball M1 and M2; AP M2; Tracer M1 and M25; and Incendiary M1.  Generally one orifice size would work satisfactorily.  However, if gunners reported short recoils and other problems associated with the cold weather, inadequate or no lubricants, etc., these often could be overcome with the use of a booster with a smaller orifice.  If, during hot weather, gunners reported over-powering, indicated by battered or broken buffer discs or other signs of battering, a booster with a larger orifice could be installed.  This did not happen very often.

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Loose Rivets on the Colombian Battalion's M1919A4s

Generally the .30 caliber machine gun riveted components retained their tightness well, considering how many rounds were fired through them.  Looseness, when found, was usually moderate and correctable by re-setting the rivets with a hammer, punch, and anvil.  Except for one major exception.  One day we were told to stop what we were doing and move out to the Colombian Battalion and check their .30 caliber machine guns.  We arrived to find the most beat-up, worn-out M1919A4 machine guns I had ever seen.  Almost every receiver side and bottom plate rivet was loose on all of them.  If you charged and released a bolt assembly and pushed up or down on the muzzle end, it would bind the recoiling parts.  The only way they could be fired was for the assistant gunner to hold the muzzle up with something.  It was immediately obvious that they would have to be sent to an Ordnance depot for complete rebuild.  So, we told the officers we were condemning the whole lot as unserviceable, and that they should arrange to turn them in.  No way, said the Colombians.  They were their guns, which they had bought many years ago.  "But, they can't be fixed here," I said.  So, the commo wires hummed to 707 Ordnance.  we explained what was going on, and were told to report back to 707 Ordnance.  I never did hear how the problem was worked out, except that  the guns were replaced.  Maybe they were loaned guns from our stocks, or they may have turned in their loose guns on a trade deal.

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Praise for the BMGs

The remainder of repairs on .30 caliber machine guns, as per TB Ordnance 366, were routine and not numerous.  Of all the automatic and semi-auto weapons we serviced, the .30 caliber and .50 caliber machine guns performed with the least amount of malfunctions and failures.  I think we applied more updates and installed more maintenance work orders (MWO) than repairs.  They were also more tolerant of extreme cold, dust, and inadequate lubrication, than any other small arms, and other light weapons.

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Links versus Cloth Belts

Early M1917A1 water-cooled guns were made with bronze instead of steel trunnion blocks.  This made the trunnion blocks susceptible to excessive wear if ammunition loaded in disintegrating steel link belts was used, because the metal under the feedway is quite thin.  Steel link belts were originally designed for aircraft machine guns in World War I.  During World War II, it was decided to eventually do away with the cloth belts originally used with ground guns, and to simplify ammunition supply by using the same metallic belts for ground and aircraft weapons.  Of course, cloth belts have problems too.  When they get wet or damp, rounds tend to stick due to the cloth swelling.  Corrosion happens even in sealed steel boxes, which can also cause rounds to stick.

There were few significant failures or other maintenance problems with .50 caliber machine guns, provided that all the retaining screws for the retracting slide assembly were properly safety wired, and that modifications were up to date, .50 caliber ammunition was supplied almost 100% in metallic link belts.

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Scrounging to Keep 'em Shooting

There was, however, a major problem when the 7th Division almost ran out of .50 caliber ammunition.  For some time supplies had been short, and at one time we were ordered to turn over our unit reserve and gun functioning supplies to emergency parties out scrounging from all outfits not on the front lines.  The 8th Army in Korea had been expending large quantities from the AAA quad .50 caliber M45 mounts on M20 trailers and M16 (half-track) Motor Gun Carriages.  They were not being used against enemy aircraft, which were nearly non-existent over the front lines, but were being used to support ground operations.


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Problems Encountered with Other Small Arms

The BAR - Susceptible to Dry, Cold, and Dust

I will try to briefly describe problems with the other principal small arms in use.  Problems with BAR barrels have already been described.  Other problems were located in the trigger group, buffer group, and the bolt operating group.  Trigger group components such as the sear, connector, sear release stop lever, trigger, and low cyclic rate components are served by a flat sear spring, with three prongs.  Unless the trigger assembly is kept well lubricated the sear will fail to trip and release the operating slide and bolt assembly, or fail to re-engage when the trigger is released.  It would not return the trigger and connector, when dry, and/or too cold or contaminated with dust, etc.  Bending the three prongs to increase the preload often helped.  The low rate mechanism in the trigger group and the accelerator and actuator within the buffer tube generally would be slowed down by the same adverse conditions, until the actuator would not hit the sear release hard enough to release the sear.  I often re-assembled the buffer head up-side down, so that only high rate and semi-automatic were available, which worked more reliably than high rate and low rate.

The same field conditions would cause the buffer cups and cones to stick or jam to the rear, thus negating buffer action, which was hard on the gun.  Dusty conditions aggravated wear between the piston head and the gas cylinder.  The piston head ring gauge tended to give a false "OK" indication if the piston head was worn egg-shaped.  Too much gas blow-by reduced the force acting on the piston to cycle the piston, slide and bolt assembly to the rear.  The same problem existed with the plug gauge for the gas cylinder body.

The last major problem was correction of excess headspace.  Because of no headspace adjustment, nor any component such as bolts being available in small incrementally-variable lengths, this condition was correctable in the field only by trying a new bolt, bolt lock, bolt link, or combination thereof.  We did not have the facilities or time to install a bolt-lock headspacing adjusting-plate, as per TB Ordnance 366.  If none of the new components described corrected the problem, the gun was condemned, and turned in.

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M3 and M3A1 Submachine Guns

The .45 caliber M3 and M3A1 submachine guns were issued to troops who traveled around in tanks and trucks.  They worked best dry, and basically the guns performed well in moderate cold and dusty conditions.  The magazine was a weak component.  They were dust sensitive, but the plastic caps provided kept them clean, if you had them and used them.

These guns were not particularly rugged, so were subject to disabling damage if dropped on an open dust cover.  The covers bent easily, negating the safety feature, and dust could enter around the edge of a partially closed cover.  Dropping the guns on a sharp or hard surface could dent the receiver enough to bind the bolt.  Dust often would enter the open magazine well, because the guns were usually laid on the floor. Unless one was in a free-fire area it was not a good idea to have a loaded magazine in the gun, even with the bolt forward and locked in place by the safety lug on the cover.

Removing and replacing the barrel required care.  Too much pressure on the barrel lock would bend or break it.  Rough handling often resulted in bent wire stocks.

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The M1 Rifle

The .30 caliber M1 Garand, the infantryman's primary weapon, was rugged and reliable under moderate conditions.  Heavy firing under dusty conditions resulted in accelerated wear between the piston head and gas cylinder.  The plug gauge for the gas cylinder would not detect egg-shaped wear satisfactorily.  However, the gauge provided for the piston head would.  It held the "No Go" dimension between two flats, so it did pick up egg-shaped wear.  Usually, but not always, these gauges enabled component replacement before wear affected functioning performance.  Even so, there was a high turnover in operating rods and gas cylinders.

The bolt cam end of the operating rod (piston on the front end) and its track in the receiver required careful and liberal lubrication especially in dusty and rainy conditions.  The trigger group was not as sensitive to dust, because it was protected inside the stock.  It would work dry, but became a problem if lubricants froze up in the cold.

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M1 and M2 Carbines

The M1 and M2 .30 caliber carbines were more fragile and less reliable than the M1 Garand.  Nevertheless, it was the TOE (Table of Organization and Equipment) weapon of a large percentage of the troops, and saw a lot of combat.  The most fragile component was the stock, which reminds me that the stocks of both rifles and carbines were broken in basic training more often than in the field in Korea.

M1 and M2 carbines did not perform well dry, in dusty conditions, or in the cold with thickened lubricant.  As with the M1, the bolt cam and lug on the operating slide and its slot on the right side of the receiver were particularly sensitive to binding due to lack of sufficient lubrication.

The early light bolt originating with the M1 carbine was subject to occasional breakage, but endurance improved with the heavier bolt on the M2 carbine (which eventually replaced the light bolt of the M1 carbine).  Magazines, both 15- and 30-round, required particular care in handling, because they were made of rather thin and soft sheet steel.  The feed lips were particularly susceptible to distortion.  Attempts were seldom made to re-shape them, so discard and replace was the rule.

Many semi-automatic M1 carbines were converted to M2 on request (including mine) as long as parts were plentiful.  It was considered that multiple hits with .30 caliber M1 carbine ball was better than one.

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The M1911A1 Government Model Pistol

The .45 caliber M1911A1 pistol worked best with very lightly applied oil.  It was not affected too much by dust, or the cold, and worked satisfactorily dry.  Most of the work performed on the pistol involved "tune-ups" to improve trigger pulls for pistol shooters.

We once ran into a rather bizarre incident.  In one of the tank units we inspected, we discovered that all of their pistols were as shiny as nickel-plated cap pistols.  All of them had been sanded with emery cloth and paper, to remove the remnants of the parkerizing.  They had been shined up because a lot of the original finish had been worn off through hard use, and they were getting rusty.  So, some officer thought they would look better if all the finish was removed.  All this did was make them susceptible to more rust, and in any case such a procedure was strictly forbidden.  Over a period of time we had encountered single pistols in this condition, but not all of them in a single unit.  We condemned the whole lot, and a small quantity of them at a time were turned into a depot to be refinished.  I never heard if there was a court-martial over the incident.


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Other Duties, and Training Sessions

Other duties were performed as required and included: keeping duplicate records of all the repairs and updates performed; ordering parts periodically; pulling guard duty, sometimes as often as every other night for short periods; and training of U.S., Korean and other UN personnel on U.S. small arms material.

One of the more interesting training sessions that Pete Lasalandra and I conducted was for officers from the Ethiopian Battalion, which was attached to the 7th Infantry Division.  Pete was a post-World War II immigrant from Italy.  As Italy occupied Ethiopia for a number of years, we could communicate with those officers that knew English or Italian.  We understood that the Ethiopian Battalion was made up of officers and men from Emperor Haile Selassie's royal guard.  One of the officers was a prince of the royal family.  The Battalion was highly respected as a fighting force by members of the 7th Infantry Division.

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Collecting and Studying Captured Weapons

Captured weapons found their way to and through (eventually) our outfit to collection points in the rear.  I found it very educational to retain examples from examination, study, and firing.  I stored them under the parts cabinets in our shop truck.  There was not a lot of ammo available, but enough to check them out.  At one time or another, I had:

  • a British Mk. I .303 caliber Bren gun with one magazine;
  • a Canadian-made Chinese Mk. II 7.92mm Bren gun, with one magazine;
  • a British No. 4 .303 caliber Lee-Enfield rifle, fitted with a U.S. M81 telescope on an M1C mount and base;
  • a U.S. M3 .30 caliber carbine with an M81 sniper telescope;
  • a Soviet M41 7.62mm PPSh (Shpaghin) submachine gun;
  • a Chinese T50 7.62mm PPSh (Shpaghin) submachine gun;
  • a Soviet M43 7.62mm PSSS (Sudarev) submachine gun;
  • a Chinese T24 7.92mm Maxim medium machine gun, without tripod;
  • a Soviet M1910 7.62mm Maxim medium machine gun, without mount;
  • a U.S. M1921 .45 caliber Thompson submachine gun;
  • a U.S. M1928A1 .45 caliber Thompson submachine gun;
  • a Soviet M43 Goryunov 7.62mm medium machine gun, incomplete and without mount

I also carried a Polish 9mm VIS M1935 (Radom) pistol in a shoulder holster under my fatigue jacket, all the time, up to shortly after the armistice.  I had brought it from home.  I eventually sold it to a Colombian officer, as there was no way I could bring it back legally.


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Reaching Out to Touch Someone

In between our work load, guard duty, and other duties as assigned, thinking of home and other distant places, I had time to consider other projects.  A principal one of these was to find a way to extend the effective range of our tripod-mounted machine guns, so that they could also perform as long range sniper weapons.  The most important first step was to fit them with telescopic sights.  None existed for the .30 caliber machine guns, and the one once made for the .50 caliber M2HB was obsolete, out of the supply system, and unavailable.  I knew of a .50 caliber single shot rifle built by a Captain W. Brophy that he was using up and down the MLR.  He had fitted a .50 caliber M2HB barrel on a Soviet PTRD action, and equipped it with a large telescope.  It seemed logical to me to try an optical sight on our tripod-mounted machine guns, sighted and fired single shot or semi-automatic.  I looked around for available telescopic sights.  There wasn't much that could be attached to the moveable base of the M1917A1 water-cooled .30 caliber machine gun.  I tried an M82 telescope and mount from the M1C snipers' rifle.  It fit well, but the telescope didn't have enough field of view and not nearly enough magnification.  The only telescope I could find with enough field of view and magnification was a 20X spotting telescope.  The biggest problem with that was that it had no aiming reticle nor mount.  So, I asked the instrumentation section if they could install a reticle in the eyepiece.  The answer was yes, but it had to be installed so that it rotated when the eyepiece was focused, which meant that the crosshair orientation was random in rotation.  I improvised a mount, and we got it all together and took it out for trial at around 1,000 yards.  We fired a few hundred rounds of M21 Ball and M1 Incendiary ammo, semi-automatic and burst fire.  The results were good enough to confirm that my idea had potential.  However, I became convinced that the .50 caliber M2HB gun on its M3 tripod would be better.  So, I designed and fabricated a mount having elevation and azimuth adjustments for zeroing the 20X telescope.  We took it out and tried it on semi-automatic with M8 API and M20 APIT ammo at 1,000 to 1,500 yards, and the results were quite impressive.

The various chiefs at the 707th Ordnance Battalion became interested, and we demonstrated it to the commanding officer, who in turn reported the results to General Trudeau, the Divisional Commander of the 7th Infantry Division.  Within a couple of days he flew in by helicopter and we demonstrated some more.  Official photos were taken, and the contingent flew away to decide what to do with it.  It seems that the Commanding General was quite Research & Development-minded, and had a list of weapon projects he wanted pursued.  This one was not on his list.  We did pursue some of his projects successfully, but most of them required R & D facilities we did not have, nor the time to use them if we did.  I was not surprised when years later he was appointed Chief of the Army R & D office in the Pentagon.

Soon, word came down from 7th Division HQ to get 20 of the sight units made for distribution to the heavy weapons companies in the infantry regiments of the 7th Division.  I made a set of drawings and took them to a base machine shop in Seoul, got the machinists started, and was told to come back in a few days.  I had some time on my hands, so I looked up two friends who were assigned to a Foreign Technical Intelligence Office (FTIO).  I greeted my friends Sergeants Fred Lohnes and John Blatz.  I knew Lohnes from the T.J.C. gunsmithing course back in Trinidad, Colorado.  Blatz was another military arms enthusiast I had met at Aberdeen Proving Ground.  It turned out that the FTIO was holding a demonstration of captured enemy and Allied weapons outside of Seoul, and I was invited to attend.  What luck!  I got to examine and fire many guns I had not run across yet back at 707 Ordnance.

In a couple of days my scope mounts were ready, and I took them back to 707 Ordnance.  When I got back, there was chaos.  The Chinese had broken through the divisions on either side of the7th, and our Infantry regiments were fully engaged.  707 Ordnance was ordered to get ready to pull out.  I don't remember which divisions were on each side of the 7th, but I believe the Korean 1st Capitol was one side.  The 7th Division units were driven off Pork Chop Hill.  This flare-up occurred during the period 6 to 10 July, 1953.

After the line was stabilized and things quieted down again, I got the telescope systems assembled, checked, and distributed.  Instructions were issued with them, but my copy has disappeared.  Essentially, the instructions said to fire semi-auto, observe the strikes and adjust the sight/mount to bring the center of impact and the cross in the sight into coincidence, regardless of the range.  After sighting in, if no specific targets were to be engaged, short bursts may be fired, but vibration will obliterate the image.

Fighting continued, but we got no feedback, even though we heard a couple of our units had been used.  On 27 July, 1953 the armistice was signed, and there was no more interest shown in the project, and the sights soon disappeared.  However Sergeant First Class Durfee and I were eventually put in for Meritorious Bronze Star awards.  SFC Durfee got his, I did not.  His was given for his solo work inspecting and repairing all of the .50 caliber quad gun systems in the division, a massive task, while I worked on the sights.  No one but him knew anything about those complex power-driven turrets.  His award was much more deserved than one for me.


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Life After the Armistice

After things on the front settled down and it appeared that the armistice might hold, 7th Infantry Division went into scheduled reserve.  We moved some miles to an area east of Tong-do-chon-ni.  We were no longer to be spread out tactically.  All the trucks and tents were laid out in rows and life became like peacetime.  We even had wooden floors and bases in the tents.

The date of the Armistice, 27 July, 1953, also marked the half-way point of my tour in Korea.  The second half was less eventful than the first.  The second winter was also a little warmer, as Tong-do-chon-ni was further south and somewhat down out of the mountains.  There was more time for educational projects.  I still retained "my" gun collection, and continued to fire them as ammo became available.

Sergeant Blatz brought some more weapons to shoot one day.  These included a Type 24 Maxim, complete with mount and ammo in belts (made for the British Besa tank machine gun).  I brought out my guns and we conducted our first "machine gun" shoot.  Sgt. Blatz brought "his" M1941 .30 caliber Johnson semi-automatic rifle.  Several of these rifles had turned up in use by Chinese troops.  Our best guess was that they were rifles the U.S. had sold to Netherlands East Indies forces (NEI) in 1941.  The Japanese forces captured them, then the Chinese Nationalists captured them from the Japanese.  The Chinese Communists captured them from the Nationalists and finally used them against us in Korea.

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M2 Carbine Modifications

As the months crawled by, I modified two M2 carbines.  One would function at the slowest cyclic rate I could obtain, the other at the highest.  There was quite a spread between them.  Then I modified a Soviet PPSh41 submachine gun by installing a .30 caliber carbine barrel, and by soldering a 30-round carbine magazine to the top cap of the PPSh41 magazine.  The gun also needed an extra-strong bolt operating spring, and required lubricated ammunition.  It worked fairly well, with a very high cyclic rate and a large muzzle flash.

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The Faris Full-Auto .45 M1911A1

My last experimental project was to modify an M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol to fire full-automatically.  It was quite a handful and not very controllable except at close range.  More so, if you used two hands.


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Homeward Bound - the Wrong Way

After many months passed I finally became a short-timer.  I took an opportunity to make my departure a month sooner.  There was a nearly full shipload of other UN troops headed home in the other direction, with brief stops in (of course) Japan, then Colombo, Ceylon; Djibouti (in French Somaliland); Izmir, Turkey; Pyrheus, Greece; Marseilles, France; and finally, New York.  The remaining space on the ship was to be taken up by returning U.S. GI's.  We were told that the trip to the U.S. would take about the same amount of time as if we went east from Japan to the U.S. West Coast.  I was ready to leave, so I put my hand up for the trip.  It took 34 days, and we were only allowed ashore in Pyrheus for 10 hours.  At every other port we could only hang over the rail.  It was a miserable trip, every day we had to stand on deck freezing (in February) all morning, while the hold was inspected.  Most everyone got sick, and had nothing to do but dream.

Well, I won't tell you all the stories about the frustrated, miserably sick, bored, and wild-eyed GI's, but I will tell just one.  As we sailed north their the Suez Canal overnight, we hit one of those fantastic Mediterranean storms, so bad it cracked the hull, and the USNS "Puke Bucket" started taking on water.  We were headed for Izmir anyway, so we laid over until the welders fixed the ship.  Everyone, including U.S.N. personnel, was sick from that storm.

Finally one day I got up on deck and could see the Statue of Liberty.  I almost cried.  We docked and were put on buses to Ft. Dix, New Jersey, where we got separated.  I met my folks, and we drove home to Perkasie, Pennsylvania.


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Lessons Learned, 1953

It was well known by all concerned that the U.S. Army and U.S.M.C. were totally unprepared for warfare in Korea, particularly during the first winter of 1950-51.  By the third winter, 1952-53, we were better equipped, and clothing and general sustenance were much better.  However, operation and maintenance of armament, tanks, and other vehicles still presented serious problems.

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Lubricants Still a Sticky Issue

Sticking to small arms, the most immediate problem was with lubricants.  This includes utility of the weapons oil issued for general (including winter) use, and its availability.  As previously described, emergency alternative solutions weren't satisfactory.  It must be recognized that even when the prescribed standard "OIL-LUBR PRES SP (PL-SP) Spec Mil-L-644 A W/Amend. 1 STK No. 14-0-2833992 CONT PA 28-024-ORD-2053(52)" was available, it was not satisfactory below freezing temperatures.  When used in large enough quantities PL-SP worked reasonably well in warmer weather, under both dusty and wet/rainy conditions, on all issue small arms.  However there were still serious unresolved problems with lubricant design and supply.  Better lubricants for ground forces would not appear for another ten years.


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The Venerable Arsenal

Korea was fought with World War II-issue small arms which had been variously standardized in 1911 (the pistol), 1936 (the M1 rifle), 1918 (the Browning Automatic Rifle), 1941 (the M1 carbine) 1917 and 1919 (the caliber .30 machine guns), 1918 and 1940 (the caliber .50 M2HB), and 1944 (the caliber .45 M3 submachine gun).

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Only the .50 M2HB Remains

The only gun on this list left unchanged in U.S. Army service is the .50 caliber M2HB machine gun.  Finally, after all these years the Army is looking at a quick-change-barrel for the M2HB gun design being offered by FN (Fabrique Nationale) of Belgium.  So, the M2HB Browning will soldier on for many more years.  There is nothing new on the horizon except a .50 caliber Gatling gun for helicopter use.  The Army made a poor attempt at a new .50 caliber tank gun called the M85, but it only lasted for ten years of non-combatant life.  They finally gave up on it, and went back to the M2HB. All the other small arms have been replaced by newer, and mostly better, designs.


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Postscript

Returning to APG

In June 1954, a month or so after I got home, I went back to Aberdeen Proving Ground and got my old civilian gunner's job back.  I discovered that gunners had received a couple of raises while I was gone, which also applied to me.

I gradually worked up in the ranks to the top gunner's job, and in 1956 I applied for a position as a test director.  The duties of a junior test director (GS-7) involved following a test plan, arranging for and conducting the tests with a gun crew of from one to eight men, and writing a firing record or report.

Early on I conducted tests primarily on new 20mm aircraft automatic weapons and ammunition.  They were mainly endurance, barrel erosion, product improvement and cook-off tests.  From 1959 through 1963 I was involved in Engineering and Product Improvement tests, which were part of the 7.62mm NATO caliber M73 tank machine gun program.  The M73 had already been standardized, but was experiencing continuous problems.

By 1960 I was deeply involved in the .50 caliber T175 tank machine gun development program, which went on and off for several years.  This included tests on hard stands and tank turret mounts, which in addition to the tests mentioned included cold and hot room tests from -65 degrees F to +125 degrees F, sand and dust, mud, rain, belt pull, unlubricated, and accuracy tests.  I conducted an arctic test at Fort Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, where the U.S. Army had a test station.  Three design variants of the M15.50 caliber link were also evaluated, as well as other redesigned critical components.

Despite poor results in the unlubricated and sand and dust conditions the gun, now called the M85, was accepted for production because of pressure from the last Berlin crisis.  They had all these empty M19 cupolas on the new M60 tanks in Berlin, which the M2HB machine gun wouldn't fit.  Continued testing of the M73 7.62mm co-ax machine gun in the M60 turret revealed no significant improvement in performance.  The M73 gun went through several modifications and redesigns.  The last culminated in the M219, which was a greatly simplified M73, but it didn't work much better and still had the same basic flaws as the original.

Some of the other gun programs I participated in included the 20mm M39 aircraft gun, the 20mm M61 Vulcan, the TRW 25mm Bushmaster Rapid Fire Weapon System, the 5.56mm Stoner 63 weapon system, and the Rheinmetall HS 820 20mm Interim Rapid Fire Weapon System.

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Moving to Yuma

In 1970 the U.S. Army decided to move its Aircraft Armament Testing Mission from Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona.  I volunteered to go with it, and relocated in the summer of 1971.

My first major program at YPG was to monitor Lockheed Corporation's testing of the AH 56 A Cheyenne XM140 30mm Armament Weapon System.  After that program was cancelled, I conducted long-range ammunition fuse tests on new ranges built for these tests at YPG.

As interest in armored fighting vehicles picked up I was back to tests of the 20mm, then the 25mm Bushmaster weapons and ammunition, culminating in the M242 25mm Chain Gun mounted on turret systems on the Army's M2 and M3 Bradley and the U.S.M.C. LAV.  The M240 7.62mm tank machine gun finally replaced the M73/M219 guns on these vehicles.  Tests on these and M1 Abrams tanks were successful.  These latter programs were to advance my status to GS12 in the early 1980s, and keep me busy until my retirement in December, 1985.


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Photo Gallery

(Click a picture for a larger view)


The Small Arms Shop truck, named "Peggy." These trucks were outfitted with workbenches, vises, and a large variety of tools and spare parts to keep virtually all U.S. small arms in operation.

Some barrels were just a little harder to change than others!
 

Corporal Bob Faris firing the Chinese Type 24 Maxim, utilizing British Besa belts.

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