This article is an excerpt from the Gun Digest Book of Classic Combat Rifles.
In September 1965, General Westmoreland ordered an additional 100,000 rifles and requested all U.S. ground forces in Vietnam be equipped with the new M16A1 rifles. Colt now signed an additional contract to deliver 25,000 rifles a month by December 1966. In 1968, GM Hydramatic Division and Harrington & Richardson were awarded second-source contracts from the Department of Defense.
Letters from the field began reporting the rifles were malfunctioning at an alarming rate, with U.S. troops found dead next to jammed M16 rifles. Spent cartridge cases were becoming lodged in the chamber and the only way to remove them was to knock them out with a cleaning rod. Requests were made for Colt to send a representative to the field to solve this problem. This turn of events was highly publicized by the media.
A representative from Colt, Mr. Kanemitsu Ito, went to Vietnam and claimed to be shocked, having never seen equipment in such poor shape. He claimed to have looked down the barrel of one rifle and not seen ‘daylight’ due to severe rusting and pitting. Many of the troops he spoke to said they were never trained to maintain their rifle, that the rifle was “self-cleaning” and that they had not handled an M16/M16A1 rifle until they arrived “in-country.” Subsequently, Mr. Ito gave classes on maintenance all over South Vietnam.
Seeking an independent, unbiased report of the true field performance situation, the Ichord Congressional Subcommittee selected a retired officer, Colonel Crossman, as their representative and sent him to Vietnam. In the course of his investigation, he interviewed 250 soldiers and Marines throughout South Vietnam, fully 50 percent of whom reported malfunctions with their M16/M16A1 rifles.
Of these malfunctions, 90 percent were failures to extract. Colonel Crossman found 22-caliber cleaning kits in short supply and concluded many of the problems were due to lack of maintenance and cleaning. He also felt there was room for improvement in the rifle. He concluded, “It was not possible to correlate ammunition make or type with malfunctions.” His findings report, dated June 16, 1967, included the statement that the rifle needed a complete overhaul in design and manufacture.
According to Gene Stoner, there were hardly any 22-caliber cleaning kits in Vietnam — and no instruction manuals. The “cleanup” began: The military developed bore and chamber cleaning brushes and began to distribute 22-caliber cleaning kits, firearm maintenance cards and instruction manuals, for the M16/M16A1 rifles.
From May 15th through August 22nd, 1967, the much-publicized Ichord Congressional Subcommittee (Honorable Richard Ichord, Chairman) investigated the history, development, testing, procurement and foreign sales of the M16 rifle. During the investigation, the subcommittee visited U.S. military training installations of all branches where the committee members interviewed hundreds of Vietnam returnees on their experiences with the M16/ M16A1 rifle.
They also visited South Vietnam to interview troops in combat zones. Several people were called to testify before the subcommittee. Two topics, not identified until after the subcommittee returned from Vietnam, were the propellant and high cyclic rate issues. The subcommittee would focus most of their attention on these two aspects.