A question for the new year - Pistolsmith

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Old 01-13-2014, 10:34 AM   #1
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Location: Baton Rouge, LA
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A question for the new year

There are a lot of old vets like me who troll this site, and I wanted to ask a question that I have long wondered about.

Most of the young guys think of the M16/M4/AR15 rifles as extremely reliable, and they are. However, some of us know that it took a lot of years, millions of dollars and thousand of dead GIs to get to that point.

The "Forward Bolt Assist" was an addition to the original Stoner design, because the issue ammo had a tendency to swell. The stick power used would react to the moisture and expand (this was long ago before we fought all our wars in the desert.) This would swell the case to the point that it would not enter the chanber. The FBA allowed you to force one of these oversize rounds into battery.

Forcing the over szed round in, combined with the non-chromed and probably pitted chamber, mean the over-size round would seize in the chamber when fired. During extraction, the case would separate leaving the neck portion stuck in the chamber. The bueaty of all this was the rifle was now inoperative and the grunt holding it was in a very bad tactical position. To this day I can't press down a forward bolt assist without thinking some stuff I wish I didn't.

My guess is that this feature is included on most AR pattern rifles because it is still used on MIL SPEC stuff. But why is it included on AR pattern weapons which are chambered for 7.62?

My Mini-14 doesn't have a forward bolt assist, My M4 shotgun doesn't have one, my FNAR does'n't have one. What am I missing, (other than my mind?)

Has any one with an AR pattern in 7.62 felt the need to force the bolt into battery with the FBA?

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Old 01-13-2014, 05:36 PM   #2
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Join Date: Jun 2001
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Some points:

There was no "swelling of cases because of stick powder" because no stick powder was used by the US military.
All 5.56 USGI issue ammo was loaded with ball powder.
The only ammo ever used by the military with the original stick powder was with the small batch of experimental full-auto AR-15 rifles sent to Vietnam in the earl days.
Those rifles were sent with 1,000,000 rounds of Remington ammo loaded with the original stick powder.
These rifles and ammo were handed to South Vietnamese and American advisors to test.
The results were that the AR-15 and it's Remington ammo were astoundingly reliable.
The problems started when the Army forced the change to ball powder not really suited to the rifle or ammo with the issue M16.

Second, no known modern gun powder can "swell the cases". The cases aren't packed full of powder and there's plenty of room for any swelling that possibly could happen to expand into without swelling a brass case.
In addition, military ammo is sealed and water-proof. No moisture could get to the powder to swell it even if it was physically possible for powder to swell.
If moisture could get to the powder, the rounds would fail to fire at all from wet powder.

The jamming of the early M16 was caused by the military insisting that ball powder be used to save money, even though Eugene Stoner specifically said not to use it.
There was considerable investigation as to whether the Army ordered ball powder to be used because we had been using it since before WWII and the powder suppliers had a considerable investment in continued use of ball powder.
Question was never fully answered if the powder suppliers used influence to insure continued use of ball powder, even though the Army knew it would likely cause problems.

The ball powder was dirtier, and the chambers were not hard chrome plated.
The ball powder also had a improper burning rate that caused the rifles to cycle too fast, especially in full-auto.
The combination of the wrong, dirty powder and a chamber that fouled was the problem, not "swelling" brass cases.

Next, "thousands of GI's" were not killed. Too many, YES, but not thousands.

Why a forward assist?
Many people reported that the reason the M16 got a forward assist was because an Army General who was in a position to stop adoption of the new rifle simply informed the development team that "No rifle is going to get adopted on my watch unless I have some way to force the bolt closed".
They say that in order to satisfy him, a forward assist was added.

Last, your mini-14 and other guns DO have a forward assist. It's called a bolt operating handle.
Check out some old film from WWII that shows GI's in combat.
You'll see them loading the M1 Rifle and Carbine using the "M1 bump". When they load a clip into the M1 Rifle they give the operating handle a bump to close it.
With the Carbine they close the bolt, then give the handle a bump to insure the bolt is fully locked.

A smart person does not use the forward assist of the AR type rifle to try to beat a sticky round into the chamber. All that will usually do is insure a badly jammed rifle.
Where most users use the forward assist it to quietly close the bolt in a combat situation.

Last edited by dfariswheel; 01-13-2014 at 05:45 PM.
Old 01-14-2014, 10:37 PM   #3
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Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Baton Rouge, LA
Posts: 22

Are you sure about the stick power? That was what I remembered from a long time ago.

In rereading my post, I posted while looking at some old photos and thinking about some long ago times. I want to add, I wasn't rying to do a "driving my riverboat with John Kerry along the DMZ" story. I got drafted in '66 but I had political connections, my Dad was drinking buddies with the local Navy recruiter and I spent the first half of my time in Pensacola working on ejection seats and the second half on the Independence way off the 'Nam coast. I did lose six of my best buddies from High School - they weren't so lucky. And about six more who did come home - well they never really did get all the way home.

The stories of swelled cases and separated case necks was told to me by a lot of real grunts. If I remember correctly, they even issued a comic book on how to care for the M16 since the original training said they never needed cleaning.
I think there were a lot of fully automatic only (no selector) and sans forward bolt assist rifles issued. I know that was what the marines on the ship has as late as late as 69.

Hopefully the stories about casehead separation are just scuttlebutt. Anyway, I still think it is a useless device, and seeing one reminds me of a dozen guys I don't have for drinking buddies.
Old 01-15-2014, 06:14 PM   #4
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I'm not sure where your info is coming from but............

Brass doesn't swell up from wet powder. The round fails to fire and that's about it.
Brass will swell or contract slightly from heat or cold, and swells when fired then return almost to the original size.

The separated case heads was another direct effect of switching to ball powder.
The ball powder selected was not appropriate for the cartridge or rifle. It was dirtier and caused increased cyclic rate and more violent extraction, which along with fouled or corroded chambers caused failure to extract and/or case head separation.

Again, I don't know where you got this, but no AR-15 or M16 rifle has ever been made in a full-auto ONLY configuration.
The M16 safety is the selector switch, which has SAFE, SEMI, and either three round burst, or full-auto.
None were made in SAFE or FULL-AUTO only configuration. They all had Semi-Auto settings.

As is now famous knowledge, the early M16 was rushed into combat by Secretary McNamara without any cleaning gear.
The story got around that since it was a .22 rifle, and everyone "knew" that you didn't need to clean a .22, maintenance wasn't done, which caused failures of the rifle.
Once cleaning gear was issued, the chamber was hard chrome lined, and a better suited ball powder was selected, the stoppage problems pretty well ended.

There's a lot of mis- or bad information out there still about the early Vietnam M16 rifle, and you'll still hear a lot of it from Vietnam Vets.
There are still vets and non-vets who have no idea at all who are still convinced that the M16 series are unreliable junk that won't stop anyone with a shot to the head, despite almost 50 years of combat experience by US and many of our allies with the rifle.

We've got almost 20 years of heavy desert combat experience in with the M16 series, and the only people who hate it are the people who aren't using it in combat.
In a number of polls of actual combat vets, and I mean the men who are actually shooting people, virtually 100% are completely satisfied with the rifle and see no need to switch to something else.

So, the early Vietnam era M16 had enough problems without adding things that aren't correct like "swelling cases" and full-auto ONLY rifles.
Old 01-16-2014, 07:39 AM   #5
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Location: Mid TN
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I was a grunt in 66-67 with the 1st Cav. Until the M-16A1 came out, we carried an assembled cleaning rod loosely taped to the handguard. This was to eject a stuck case. The 'ram rod' technique was necessary sometimes in the most in-opportune times. At our level, there were no lengthy discussions about stick powders or forward assists, just this *%&^#$$ Piece of *&% jammed in a firefight, again. Adding insult to injury, no one would admit there was a problem with this new toy, failures were always laid off on lazy troops or poor leadership, neither of which was true.

If time permitted, some oil was squirted on top of the column of cartridges in a magazine before reloading. Again, this was problematic in a firefight. It made the weapon function but made your rifle emit a smoke cloud giving away your position. If the oiled up mag was not immediately fired, it was removed and the cartridges wiped down to prevent attracting dust and dirt. After crawling around for a couple of days in monsoon mud, your cartridges started to corrode. Every couple of days, squad leaders and platoon sgts had to inspect every magazine and make sure tarnished rounds were either cleaned up or replaced. We probably tossed more cartridges than we fired.

We also had an early morning ritual at predawn stand-to. Every other rifle had the chamber cleaned and a fresh cartridge chambered. When this was done, the other half of the company cleaned their chambers and inserted a fresh cartridge.

I cannot document any one being killed by the lousy pieces of *&^% weapons we had, but it was disheartening to have 10% of your weapons jam in a firefight against an enemy who had perfectly functioning weapons.

The M-16 may or may not be a good weapons system now, but they got pushed out the door too quickly. We would have been better off with M-1 carbines back then. This problem was just one of many problems with gear, leadership, tactics, and strategy that characterized the whole tawdry affair.

Fast forwarding to more recent times, my son in law has spent 7 years of his last 12 in a sandbox somewhere in SW Asia. He is fond of the M-4 and his Beretta because they do what they are supposed to do. Interesting side note, one particular unit he was in had worn out their Berettas. Unit funds were available and command discretion was available to buy new weapons, perhaps more modern handguns. Without missing a beat, all the weapons NCOs agreed on Glock 19s. 200 of which were procured with 5 mags each. They are now in their 4th year of issue without a murmur of dissent past the first month. This unit is six months on, six months off in SW asia , so they get a lot of carry and a little use.

Last edited by cohee; 01-16-2014 at 08:01 AM.
Old 01-16-2014, 06:37 PM   #6
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A few months ago there was a topic on a forum asking actual current combat vets to evaluate the M16/M4 series weapons in current use in the Sand Wars.

To a man, they all said their rifles were 100% reliable with proper maintenance.
The people with problems were "the people who stayed inside the wire" who didn't maintain their rifles properly.

The standard 5.56 military ammo was extremely reliable. No one reported any "I shot him six times in the chest and he kept coming" stuff.
Some wished for a more effective bullet, although they said the current round is very effective.

Some people in certain areas would have liked a longer range rifle and cartridge, but stated that long range was the purview of the sniper or designated marksman, or machine guns or the various rocket weapons, air strikes, etc.

All actual combat vets limited the accessories on their weapons.
Many said that the "people that stayed behind the wire" tended to load up their weapons with every sight and accessory available, to the point the weapons were so heavy, bulky, and complicated they were almost useless.
Combat troops use only what's necessary and works for them, the lighter the better.

Problems reported were:
Worn out magazines.
Some reported being issued magazines that were almost certainly Vietnam War era.
Even so, most mags even with badly worn finishes were 100% reliable.

The major issue was proven bad magazines that were turned in were simply re-issued to someone else instead of being scrapped out.
Many reported that when/if they got a bad mag they stomped it flat and reported it as a combat loss, or damaged it enough to ruin it and turned it back in.
This is also why where allowed, combat troops often bought their own MagPul or Brownell's or other mags.

One problem was people buying all sorts of cheap marginal commercial magazines, which often caused problems, putting other people and missions at risk.
This lead to the military temporarily banning any mags except official USGI issue.
This was later eased to allow MagPul.

Many reported having problems with senior NCO's who insisted that rifles be lubed to formal inspection standards, even though they'd been told that in combat weapons needed much more lube then previously thought.
As above, in some cases it took direct orders from command, and in one case a very senior NCO had to be threatened with being relieved by a senior Field Grade officer before he reluctantly backed off.

Bottom line: Every recent actual combat vet poster was very satisfied with the M16/M4 in combat, and no one really though a different rifle, like a piston rifle, would be any better.
Given good magazines, proper maintenance and lubrication, the rifle is as close to 100% reliable and effective as you can get, and that's from the men who were actually out there shooting people.

Last edited by dfariswheel; 01-16-2014 at 06:41 PM.
Old 01-17-2014, 08:31 AM   #7
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In 67 we began trading in our bleached white M-16s, M-79 grenade launchers for M-16A1s which were a more reliable weapon. Most of the problems with M-16s just went away. However we not happy with the birdcage flash suppressors because they could not be used to snap the steel bands on C rations. Troops in our unit were given the option of continuing to carry .45 or turn it in. To a man, they were turned in and sent back to the rear. Part of this conversion process saw the issuance of CAR-15. They were really cool looking, but most of the troops carrying them discovered that the 30 round magazines were not yet ready for prime time and the weapon had reliability issues. People in our unit prized a functioning weapon over 'cool factor' and turned those in too. As I recall, just one 30 round magazine was issued with each CAR-15.

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