I can’t speak for the other military branches, but the Marine Corps has a weapons-cleaning problem. When I say that, I mean we clean our weapons too much. Too much, and often incorrectly, to adhere to the strict standards of the Marine Corps. The problem is complicated and tied to both the lower enlisted and the higher-ups. If the Marine Corps wants its Marines to be the most lethal warfighters, it’s a problem it needs to solve. As it’s known in the Marine Corps, weapon maintenance needs to be revised.
THE PROBLEM WITH MODERN WEAPON MAINTENANCE
Keeping a rifle, machine gun, handgun, well, any gun, working relies on proper maintenance. Weapon maintenance is critical to the function of a weapon, especially in austere environments. We’ve fought for two decades in deserts, on snow-covered mountains, and in the worst places possible for modern weapons.
However, the extent the Marine Corps engages in weapon maintenance can be completely detrimental to the weapon. Marines find themselves using improper tools to reach a standard. For example, Marines will often use hard, stainless steel brushes to clean their weapon. When used enthusiastically, these brushes will eventually destroy the finish of the inside and outside of your weapon.
A good finish protects the weapon and helps prevent rust. Without a good finish, the weapon’s long-term reliability will be in question. My issue M9 was almost more silver than black since the finish had been rubbed off over time due to excessive cleaning.
Your average lower enlisted will likely lose or break his issued cleaning kit. This will, in turn, cause them to purchase one, which is often the cheapest one out there. These cheap cleaning kits will often have stainless steel bore brushes that can damage the rifling, making the weapon lose accuracy and consistency over time.
Marines should use bronze bore brushes mixed with bore cleaner in their weapon maintenance.
KEEPING IT SHINY
Even Marines who keep their issued cleaning kits will find them lacking and may supplement them with tools to speed up the chore. This includes Q-tips and baby wipes. I’m guilty of this, as was every infantry Marine I knew. However, Q-tips and baby wipes come with their own problems.
Q-tips break easily and can break off or deposit little bits of cotton in areas that can disable the weapon. They can get stuck in all manner of areas in rifles, but especially in machine guns. However, Q-tips do make weapon maintenance faster, and they can reach into the spots that fingers and AP brushes can’t.
Baby wipes provided the quickest means to remove dirt, dust, and carbon. The problem with baby wipes is their low concentration of alcohol and very high concentration of water which creates rust and oxidation. In time, this gathers in small cracks and pits and eventually causes rust. Rust creates more little places for water and alcohol to gather and rust. The use of baby wipes creates a vicious cycle that will wear the weapon down sooner, creating a need for more weapon maintenance.
Finally, Marines will often turn in their weapons completely dry causing them to rust in the armory. A light coat of CLP prevents rust but can also be the reason a Marine fails inspection as CLP is slightly brown, so the weapon appears dirty when an inspector uses their finger, glove, or white patch.
WHY IS WEAPON MAINTENANCE A PROBLEM?
First, the Marine Corps culture demands perfection. If something can be cleaned, be it a humvee, a weapon, or a barracks room, it must be cleaned. This creates strict requirements for cleanliness. A weapon must be inspection-ready at all times. You never know when the commandant himself might bust into the armory and inspect the weapons.
To tap into that, lance corporals and PFCs can be lazy. Without the demand for perfection, things might be really slack. Give ’em an inch, and they’ll take ten clicks.
There is also a lack of education and clear objectives regarding weapon maintenance. You learn a little in boot camp, but it’s often sidelined in favor of drills, classes, and other training. Those cleaning methods are not retained in the feet, especially when the weapons go from rifles to machine guns, heavy machine guns, shotguns, pistols, missile launchers, and more.
HOW TO FIX IT?
The Marine Corps needs to revamp and re-evaluate its weapon maintenance program, tactics, and techniques. It needs to provide modern equipment and do so in bulk. Cleaning kits are cheap, guns are not, and neither is losing a firefight due to a broken weapon.
The Marine Corps should consult with the firearms industry on the most effective means to maintain weapons. They should also ensure that the troops and command are educated on what’s important in weapon maintenance and how to achieve proper weapon maintenance. No one ever told me not to use baby wipes, steel bore brushes, or Q-tips. I learned it from higher-ups.
Ultimately, the Marine Corps needs to accept that parade-ready weapons should be reserved for parades. Additionally, Marines need to accept responsibility for the tools of their trade and treat them as such. It’s a problem that starts at both the bottom and top of the branch and should be fixed before we worry about adopting new weapons.
8,000 miles South of the UK and 400 miles east of Argentina lie the Falklands Islands. The UK has held possession of the Falklands since 1833, and the islands are liberally populated with British subjects, some three thousand or so by 2006.
Starting with British Captain John Strong in 1690, various despots, regents, and tin pot administrators alternately claimed, occupied, or stole this desolate piece of dirt. At 4,700 square miles, the Falklands enjoyed a fair amount of space. However, its brutal Southern latitude made it an inhospitable sort of place. One of the first commercial endeavors back in the early 19th century actually involved the exploitation of feral cattle.
Now fast forward to 1982, and the nearby Argentines had their sights set on the windswept rocks of the Falkland Islands. The British had long since passed the apogee of their remarkable empire. Perhaps they wouldn’t notice if Argentina’s military junta government dispatched a few thousand troops to snatch up the Falklands. Sadly, Argentina’s Leopoldo Galtieri woefully underestimated the Iron Lady’s resolve. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was having none of that.
Buildup for War
With 8,000 miles of open ocean across which to stage a proper response, the Brits knew that air superiority during the upcoming amphibious counter-invasion was going to be critical. British Sea Harriers would bear the brunt of the air-to-air responsibilities. However, every Argentine airplane that could be neutralized was one less that the Harrier drivers would have to burn out of the sky.
On the Northern aspect of the western Falklands chain lies Pebble Island. This forsaken spit of dirt was home to some twenty-five English subjects and another 2,500 very English sheep. Since the Argentine invasion, the Pebble Island Aerodromo Auxiliar Calderon airfield also housed six FMA IA 58 Pucara twin-engine turboprop ground attack aircraft, four T-34 Turbo Mentor counterinsurgency attack planes, and a single Coast Guard Skyvan transport. Servicing, supporting, and defending these eleven aircraft were about 150 Argentine Marines and aviation personnel.
22 Special Air Service Regiment was the foundation of the world’s modern Special Operations units. 22 SAS hearkens back to the Second World War and its first flamboyant commander, LTC Archibald David Stirling. Stirling’s mob of misfits tormented the Nazis from North Africa across Italy and occupied France. Subsequent generations of SAS men were shooting and scooting back when special operating wasn’t cool. In 1982 D Squadron 22 SAS Regiment stood ready to visit their own unique brand of chaos upon the Argentines.
The plan was audacious. After an eyes-on recce conducted by Boat Troop of D Squadron 22 SAS via Klepper canoe, it was determined that there were severe headwinds near the target area. This would ultimately limit the amount of time the commandos could spend on the objective. The operational objectives were therefore reduced from the destruction of the garrison to simply neutralization of the aviation assets.
On the night of 14 May 1982, forty-five SAS D Squadron operators inserted via two Westland Sea King HC4 helicopters under cover of darkness. A single HC4 has the capacity to lift up to 28 combat-equipped troops. Members of the aforementioned Boat Troop provided approach navigation.
The SAS strike force landed six clicks from the airfield and unloaded some one hundred L16 81mm mortar bombs, demo charges, and a buttload of L1A1 66mm LAWs (Light Anti-tank Weapons). The SAS operators carried American-made M16 rifles along with a disproportionate number of M203 grenade launchers.
SAS operators are notorious for their simply breathtaking capacity to tab. Tab is short for Tactical Advance to Battle. This is British slang for a forced march across hostile terrain. The SAS assault force successfully infiltrated the airfield, avoiding the Argentine sentries on duty. They eventually set charges on seven of the Argentine aircraft without being detected.
On cue, the SAS operators blew the charges and opened up on the parked aircraft with small arms and LAW rockets. At the same time, naval gunfire from the British destroyer HMS Glamorgan joined in targeting the nearby fuel stores and ammo dump. The preponderance of their ordnance expended, the SAS raiders exfilled to the PZ (Pickup Zone) where they were extracted by the waiting Sea Kings to the HMS Hermes.
The standard British Army rifle at the time of the Falklands War was the L1A1 SLR (Self-Loading Rifle). This Anglicized FN FAL was used across Her Majesty’s armed forces. However, the SAS opted for the US M16 for its lightweight and high-capacity magazines. Today’s SAS operators wield Canadian-made versions of the M4 Carbine made by Diemaco.
The M16 has served in sundry guises for more than half a century in the US military and should be established dogma to anybody frequenting GunsAmerica. The M203 was the only component of the US Army’s long-running 1960’s-era Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) program to see adoption. Pronounced “Spew,” the SPIW had to have the coolest acronym in modern military history.
First adopted in 1969, the M203 fired the same 40x46mm grenade as did the standalone M79 break-open grenade launcher. The M203 mounted underneath a standard M16 and allowed the grenadier ready access to an automatic rifle in addition to the single-shot grenade launcher.
The 40mm grenades fired by these weapons operate on the High-Low Propulsion System first developed by the Germans during World War 2. The Germans referred to this concept as the “Hoch-und-Niederdruck System,” and it allows a relatively-heavy, low-velocity round to be safely fired via a handheld weapon.
The L1A1 LAW is a single-shot disposable 66mm unguided antitank weapon. Originally an American contrivance, the US designation was the M72. The solid rocket motor was developed in 1959 at Redstone Arsenal, and the M72 first saw service in 1963. The M72 replaced both the M31 HEAT (High Explosive Antitank) rifle grenade and the cumbersome M20A1 Super Bazooka.
The L1A1 LAW consists of a telescoping aluminum tube within an external fiberglass cylinder with pop-up front and rear sights. When collapsed and sealed the LAW is waterproof. A percussion cap firing mechanism ignites the rocket, and a mechanical setback safety built into the warhead does not arm the piezoelectric detonator until the rocket has accelerated out of the tube.
To fire the L1A1 LAW you pull the safety pin and remove the spring-loaded back cover. This allows the front cover to drop away as well, while the rear cover pivots down to serve as a shoulder brace. Grip the front and back of the weapon and extend it briskly. This movement releases the spring-loaded front and rear sights to deploy. Put the weapon on your shoulder, pull the striker handle forward to arm the mechanism, point the thing at something you dislike, and squeeze the trigger bar.
Firing the LAW is nothing like the movies. The entirety of the solid rocket motor is consumed prior to the rocket’s leaving the launch tube, and the open back of the tube makes the LAW essentially recoilless. The backblast, however, is subsequently ferocious.
Once the weapon is fired, six folding fins deploy to stabilize the rocket in flight. Muzzle velocity is 475 feet per second, and the thing makes a simply incredible racket.
Max effective range is 200 meters, and later versions of the standard HEAT warhead will burn through about 12 inches of rolled homogenous steel armor. The LAW rockets used in the Pebble Island raid weighed about 8 pounds and cost about $750 apiece. Though augmented in US service in 1987 by the Swedish AT-4, the LAW remains in use around the world today.
The Rest of the Story
As a result of intense shelling by the HMS Glamorgan the defending Argentines remained under cover for the most part throughout the raid. Presuming the attack to be the opening salvoes in a general invasion, the Argentine commander ordered the runway destroyed. The Argentines detonated prepositioned area denial charges underneath the runway and cratered it. Shrapnel from these charges injured one of the SAS operators. The Argentinian commander was subsequently killed by British small arms fire during the attack.
The original plan had the assault force redirecting their fire on the Argentinian garrison after ensuring the destruction of the attack aircraft. However, after exfilling the wounded man the ground force commander made the decision to return to the Hermes. This on-the-spot decision no doubt ultimately saved a great many lives.
The Pebble Island raid accounted for all eleven aircraft as well as the ammo and fuel dump and was considered a rousing success. Considering that destroying airfields full of Axis aircraft during WW2 was considered a bit of an SAS specialty, the Pebble Island raid seemed fitting.
Sadly, CPT Gavin John Hamilton, the ground force commander, was killed three weeks later while on a covert reconnaissance mission some forty miles behind Argentine lines. Colonel Juan Ramon Mabragana, the commander of the Argentine Commando unit that killed CPT Hamilton, later described him as “the most courageous man I have ever seen.”
Who Dares Wins.
You may have heard of Stephen Hunter. He won a Pulitzer Prize as the chief film critic for The Washington Post. He also wrote the Bob Lee Swagger novels on which the movie Shooter is based. There’s also a Netflix TV series of the same name.
Hunter didn’t know much about guns until he began researching Point of Impact, the first in the Swagger series. But he hung out at shooting ranges, gun clubs, and frequented online forums to learn what he needed. If you’re looking for a good adventure story with lots of guns, Hunter’s books might be your next good read.
Hunter recently made an astute observation in the wake of the anti-gun uproar of the last month or so, writing in a column: “Possibly you’re old enough to remember the great massacre spree of 1964? Classrooms shot up, strip malls decimated, Scout troops blown away, fast food restaurants turned into mortuaries. And all because, in its infinite stupidity, the U.S. Government dumped 240,000 high-capacity .30-caliber assault rifles into an otherwise innocent America.”
Remember when that happened? No? Me neither, despite being a historian. That’s because it didn’t happen, despite hundreds of thousands of M-1 Carbines being dumped on an unsuspecting public in 1963 for less than a hundred bucks apiece. NRA members could buy them for a 20-dollar bill. No background check either.
You could even have them shipped right to your door, complete with a “high capacity” 15-round magazine. Ultra-high catastrophic murder capacity 30-round mags were also available for little or nothing. .30 Carbine ammo was cheap and widely available. I’ll bet some of those bullet casings even had a shark’s mouth painted on it to make it extra scary and more able to blow lungs out of the body.
And that’s not all, as Hunter recalls:
Hunter correctly notes that the M-1 Carbine was essentially America’s first “assault rifle.” It didn’t have all the features of the M-16, but it filled that role when the US military was still trying to field a battle rifle, resulting in the less than successful M-14. The walnut stock doesn’t make gun controllers lose bladder control like Eugene Stoner’s rifle, but since that has no effect on the gun’s performance, the Carbine did just fine, thanks.
Hunter’s point is that capable, concealable, inexpensive rifles were widely available in 1964 had anyone decided to shoot up schools, grocery stores, parks, or whatever. They came with 15 or 30-round detachable mags that could be changed quickly. Some had a dreaded folding stock and pistol grip. The ammo was light but effective. A shooter could easily carry hundreds of rounds on his person. But no one did that.
Why not? After all, we’re told that it’s easier to buy a gun than to vote. And that if guns weren’t so easy to get, bad people wouldn’t do bad things. Yet, guns were far easier to buy in 1964 than they are today. There were no background checks of any kind. The mailman would drop it at your door if you wanted. No questions asked. You could literally buy guns at gas stations. I know because I bought my first gun at a gas station in the 1970s.
Does that mean there were no bad people around in 1964? Doubtful. But maybe, just maybe, people are bad in a different way now. Could it possibly be true that something other than access to firearms could be driving these twisted individuals to kill innocent people? Even children? Gun owners are often pilloried in the media for not offering solutions to these horrific trends. But what have the gun controllers offered? Ban “assault weapons.” Ban “high capacity” magazines. Tax ammunition. Ban all the guns. Run a microscope up your ass and wait 30 days before allowing the sale. That’s literally all they have.
But 1964 exposes the lie. This is a relatively recent trend. There are multiple causative factors at work here. For instance, those of us who pay attention are aware of what some medications do to people susceptible to their side effects. I witnessed firsthand the complete loss of inhibition in a close friend. The consequences were ugly. Does that mean that medications are solely responsible? No, but I’d bet everything I own that some of them are part of the puzzle. Not to mention how quickly they’re pumped into kids at the first sign of the latest trendy diagnosis.
There are many possibilities and I’m not qualified to address most of them in detail. But we have a pretty good idea what they might be. How about the crippling lack of a strong father figure in the lives of many young men? Think that just might have something to do with it? Or perhaps the social media obsession over views and likes pushes some weak-minded people to do anything for fame. After all, we know the media will plaster a mass murderer’s face all over the place for at least a week. And bad stuff lasts forever on the internet. Think maybe some of these losers see that and think it’s a good trade? Again, I’ll wager that notoriety looks better than anonymity to many.
I could go on, but you get the point. I don’t hear a peep about that stuff from the gun controllers. Just watch their heads explode when a pro-gun advocate dares to bring up mental health or the destruction of the nuclear family. But it’s just more proof that the operative word in gun control is “control.”
I can’t close any better than Hunter, so I’ll leave you with his final thought. Regarding the M-1 Carbine, Hunter writes:
“Either Peyton Gendron [Buffalo] or Salvador Ramos [Uvalde] could have employed it to the same results. So, in 1964, the guns were there— lots of them, everywhere, dirt cheap. But Gendron and Ramos were not. We must look elsewhere for the reason why.”
In 1865 a German chemist named Justus von Liebig started Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company in the UK. Liebig subsequently opened a factory in Uruguay to process beef extract products that were later sold under the trade name Oxo. One of their most popular offerings was tinned corned beef. The company marketed this stuff as Fray Bentos, so named after the Uruguayan town where the factory operated.
Fray Bentos corned beef was food for the Common Man. The company also produced glue in the same facility. Fray Bentos was delivered in one-pound tins that were easily portable. This made Fray Bentos ideal fodder for soldiers in the field. During the Boer War and later in World War 1 Fray Bentos was surprisingly popular among British Tommies. In fact, the term “Fray Bentos” made it into the informal military lexicon as a slang term for anything that was good. Now hold that thought.
In July of 1917, the Allies launched the Battle of Passchendaele. This orgasmic bloodbath orbited around a campaign to wrest the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders from the entrenched Germans. Passchendaele lies on the easternmost ridge past Ypres, some five miles from the Bruges to Kortrijk railway. Seizing the Passchendaele Ridge would cut the main supply route for the German 4th Army and facilitate a continued Allied advance that was hoped might turn the tide of the war. The Battle of Passchendaele was a really big deal.
Launching a major campaign in Flanders in 1917 was not without controversy. The terrain was abysmal, particularly given the unusually heavy rains, and opinions were divided at the strategic level as to the wisdom of this grand plan. However, to the beleaguered troops on the ground little of that mattered. Their world was distilled down to a few yards of blood-soaked mud.
Tank F41 was a male Mark IV serial numbered 2329. While they enjoyed a common basic chassis, male and female Mk IV tanks differed in their primary armament. Male tanks sported a brace of 6-pounder cannon along with supporting machineguns. The female sort bristled with machineguns alone. The commander of F41 was Captain Donald Hickling Richardson. With the approval of his eight-man crew, CPT Richardson had christened their mount Fray Bentos. In combat, they all felt a bit like tinned meat.
The crew of Fray Bentos was a cross-section of British culture. The second in command was 2LT George Hill, while the senior NCO was Sergeant Robert Missen. Lance Corporal Ernest Braedy was the only other Noncommissioned Officer. Gunners included William Morrey, Ernest Hayton, Frederick Arthurs, Percy Budd, and James Binley. At 0440 on August 22, 1917, these nine men left the line of departure with infantry support as part of an attack by the 61st Division near St. Julien. Their subsequent three-day ordeal became the stuff of legend.
As Fray Bentos approached the Somme Farm they came under withering German machinegun fire. SGT Robert Missen, the gunner manning the port 6-pounder gun, silenced these Boche positions in short order. This was just the beginning of SGT Missen’s remarkable day.
At around 0545 with 2LT Hill at the controls, Fray Bentos approached Objective Gallipoli, an arbitrary map reference included as part of the overall scheme of maneuver. A German machinegun slathered the tank with machinegun fire, and one round found its way through the driver’s slit. This 8mm Maxim bullet struck 2LT Hill in the neck and knocked him out of the driver’s seat. CPT Richardson immediately took his place, but the terrain was ghastly.
It’s tough for the civilized mind to visualize what this place was like. Trenches, barbed wire, poison gas, machineguns, and death defined the World War 1 battlefields. The earth was churned into chaos by countless tens of thousands of rounds of artillery. The rains had transformed the soft Belgian dirt into a sticky, deadly quagmire. There were numerous anecdotes of infantry troops wandering off from the accepted tracks and simply being consumed by the mud. It was for this sordid world that the tanks had been developed in the first place.
The Mk IV tank was a 28-ton behemoth that spanned some 26 feet from front to back. These massive tanks sported half-inch steel armor and were driven by a 105 BHP Daimler-Foster 6-cylinder inline sleeve-valve 16-liter engine. The Mk IV carried 70 imperial gallons of petrol and had a top speed of 4 mph. Over rough terrain, its operational range was around 35 miles.
While the Mk IV was designed to get the British troops up and out of the trenches, life inside these early tanks was unimaginably horrible. The vehicles were cramped, miserable, and noisy. The Mk IV had no suspension, and direct fire from German artillery would burst a Mk IV like a grape. Even under peaceful circumstances, the buildup of fumes and carbon monoxide from the primitive gasoline engine would reliably sicken the crew. In combat, the interior of an operational Mk IV grew stifling hot and resembled hell.
Driving a Mk IV was not like operating a modern armored vehicle. These primitive tanks were all but unmanageable over truly rough terrain. While CPT Richardson struggled mightily with the controls, Fray Bentos slid inevitably sideways until it was well and truly ditched. With that, now deep behind German lines, Tank F41 became a pillbox.
Soon after 2LT Hill was hit, gunners Budd and Morrey were hit as well. Mk IV tanks carried external ditching beams for just such eventualities. These heavy wooden timbers could be affixed to the tracks that spanned the entire periphery of the vehicle. Then by gunning the engine this beam would make its way around the tank and theoretically pull the heavy vehicle out of the quagmire. However, to affix the ditching beam one had to be outside the tank. With uncounted German soldiers surrounding the disabled vehicle at a range of some 30 yards, this was easier said than done. Regardless, SGT Robert Missen and LCPL Braedy tried it anyway.
SGT Missen dove out of the tank on the starboard side, while LCPL Braedy performed the same maneuver to port. Braedy was cut to pieces immediately and died on the spot. Realizing his mission to be hopeless, SGT Missen returned to the tank. Both quick-firing 6-pounder cannons then went to work and effectively silenced the offending German machineguns.
By 0700 the supporting British infantry had been forced to fall back, leaving Fray Bentos alone, disabled, and unsupported. The Germans smelled blood and moved in for the kill. The British crew responded with fire from their 6-pounder cannon and Lewis guns as well as individual rifles and pistols.
Fray Bentos carried a basic load of 332 rounds for the two 6-pounder guns along with its three amply-supplied .303 Lewis guns. Individual weapons included SMLE (Short-Magazine Lee-Enfield) bolt-action rifles and Mk VI Webley revolvers. By the standards of the day, Fray Bentos was a formidable war machine. When they designed and equipped her nobody imagined that this isolated tank would have to stand alone and be disabled in combat for three days. However, that’s just what she did.
Things Get Worse
SGT Missen later related, “The Boche were in an old trench close in under the front of the tank and we could not get the Lewis onto them owing to the angle of the tank, but we shot them easily with a rifle out of the revolver flap in the cab.”
At this point the British presumed the tank to have been overrun and began firing on it as well. SGT Missen, a man with some truly epic stones, volunteered to exit the tank and brave the concentrated fire from both sides so as to, “Go back and warn the infantry not to shoot us as we should sooner or later have to clear out of the tank…I got out of the right sponson door and crawled back to the infantry.” By the time SGT Missen left on his suicide mission every member of the crew save Gunner Binley was badly wounded.
The remaining crew flashed a white rag from one of the portholes on the British side of the tank. This action combined with SGT Missen’s miraculous trek across no-man’s land finally curtailed the British fire. Throughout it all the Germans attacked the disabled tank time and time again. This went on from the 22d, all day of the 23d, and well into the 24th of August. Throughout it all the valiant crew of Fray Bentos continued to fight back with every weapon at their disposal.
By 9 pm on the third day, CPT Richardson concluded that further resistance was futile. Despite their cumulative grievous wounds the crew removed the firing locks from the 6-pounders to disable them and retrieved all three machineguns. Under the cover of darkness, CPT Richardson and his crew eventually made their way back to the positions of the 9th Battalion of the Black Watch. There they left their Lewis guns to be used by the Black Watch gunners.
Ernest Braedy’s body was never recovered. Gunner Percy Budd was killed in action a year later in August of 1918 at age 22. The rest of the crew miraculously survived the war. The 60-hour ordeal of Fray Bentos saw them become the most highly decorated Allied tank crew of the war. Their extraordinary story of valor, devotion, and brotherhood served as inspiration for the epic 2014 David Ayer WW2 movie Fury.