If you aren’t already poking your head in at WWII After WWII you are missing out. Here’s one particular article that seems a perfect fit for the readership. Make sure to give him a read as you can tell a lot of effort goes into his articles.
Since starting wwiiafterwwii, numerous people have contacted me requesting I write something on this topic. This is understandable as the M1 Garand remains one of the most popular rifles of all time, and there is a high degree of interest with American readers (and to my surprise, some readers in Vietnam as well) in the Vietnam War.
Other discussions on this topic usually end up in a fairly simplistic debate of “yes there were Garands used in Vietnam” or “no they were all gone by then” so hopefully this is of some value.
(South Vietnamese soldiers with M1 Garands on patrol during 1963.)
(A member of Vietnam’s DQTV militia takes aim with a M1 Garand in December 2018.)
M1 Garands in the ARVN
Less Garands already in-country from the ANV era, major shipments of M1 Garands to the ARVN started in 1963 and ran off and on for the remainder of the USA’s involvement in the conflict. Below is a year-by-year table of M1 Garand deliveries.
The reason for some of the small lot sizes in uncertain. These may have been paperwork maneuvers to square up previous shipments, or, may have been honest accounting of very tiny transfers. The 1967 shipments went to the USA’s Military Assistance Advisory Group for redistribution; one might assume this was to prevent corruption and incompetence by ARVN generals.
As shown in the table, warehoused M1 Garands were drawn from both the US Army and the Department of the Navy, which also included US Marine Corps Garands, but excluded US Coast Guard examples, as that branch was part of the Department of the Treasury at the time. No US Air Force Garands went to the ARVN.
Legal authority for M1 Garand transfers to South Vietnam was through Section 501 of the Military Assistance Program (MAP), a law passed in 1961. This facilitated the rifles as no-cost loans of indefinite duration, with the United States retaining first option on reclaiming the guns when South Vietnam no longer wanted them (this of course became moot when the country collapsed in 1975). Section 505 of MAP prohibited South Vietnam from reselling the Garands; of which they were seemingly in no position to do anyways.
Garands were only a small part of MAP aid given to South Vietnam, which ranged from bayonets to warplanes. Between the time the ARVN was formed in 1955 and it’s extinction 20 years later, the USA loaned $14.78 billion worth of weapons to the country ($61 billion in 2019 dollars) via MAP. Naturally this is dwarfed by the USA’s own spending on the Vietnam War, which was roughly the equivalent of $1.1 trillion in 2019 dollars. The bulk of the MAP gear came during operation “Enhance”, part of President Nixon’s “Vietnamization” policy in 1972 – 1973, which accelerated arms deliveries. The above report was presented to President Carter in 1978.
MAP Garand transfers were organized by the multi-services Pacific Command (PACOM) at USMC Camp Smith, HI. Rifles taken from various points in the United States were consolidated at ports in California, and usually sent via merchant ship to Saigon or Cam Ranh Bay by way of Japan or the Philippines.
The Garands supplied to South Vietnam were not segregated by their original manufacturer or production year; all were mixed together. As the M1s transferred out of American custody, each entire lot was reassigned one new NATO stock number (NSN). For example the large first lot in 1963 was assigned the NSN 1005-00-674-1425. This number, which still exists in the NSN database in 2019, has a description of “Rifle, Caliber .30” and a listed weight of 9,999 lbs. The manufacturer is listed as “United States Army” with a mailing address of Rock Island Arsenal.
(With M1 Garand deliveries flowing, the ARVN could flush out obsolete holdings. In October 1969, an auction of 200,000 old weapons was held, with scrappers and arms dealers both eligible to bid. Shown here are a Mle. 1892/M.16 cavalry carbine and a Berthier rifle; both holdovers from the French era.)
in ARVN service
M1 Garands naturally replaced any legacy MAS-36s or other WWII bolt-actions left over from the Indochina War, in addition to some M1/M2 carbines being inappropriately (in American eyes) used as standard infantry rifles. However by large, they replaced nothing as most were assigned to completely new ARVN units which were being rapidly recruited as South Vietnam’s army expanded in size.
(South Vietnamese troops pose with M1 Garands in July 1961.) (photo via Life magazine)
By no means was the Garand the only WWII firearm in daily ARVN use during the 1960s and early 1970s. The M1/M2 carbine, the M1911 pistol, the Thompson family (M1928, M1, and M1A1), the M1918 BAR, and the M1919 and M2 Browning machine guns were all in service.
(A South Vietnamese unit poses with a UH-1 Iroquois helicopter. All firearms are of WWII vintage: the soldier taking aim has a M1 Garand rifle, the others Tommyguns or M1 carbines.)
(This 1965 photo shows ARVN troops armed with M1 Garands, M1918 BARs, and M1 Thompsons – all WWII guns.) (photo via Life magazine)
(With the M1 Garand, the ARVN used both WWII-surplus M1905 and M1 bayonets, and the M5A1 shown above. The M5A1 entered American service during the Korean War. This plastic-handled design was basically a M3 combat knife modified for bayonet use.) (photo via warrelics.eu website)
(A South Vietnamese soldier in 1968 equipped with a M1 Thompson, Mk2 pineapple grenade, and M1 pot helmet; WWII items.) (photo via Life magazine)
(The M1 pot was standard headgear in the ARVN it’s entire existence. This one is marked in the late-1960s style of military police.)
The M1/M2 carbine was most popular as the ARVN viewed it’s lesser recoil and lighter weight as being superior to anything else (including the M1 Garand) in their perception, prior to M16s being available. Some South Vietnamese troops were loathe to exchange their carbines for Garands, even though on paper the M1 Garand was clearly a superior battlefield asset. Before large-scale transfers of M16s started, this perception was occasionally a point of contention with American advisors.
(A paratrooper of the ARVN with slung M1 carbine and a captured RPD, a Soviet-made light machine gun of Cold War vintage.)
(The “other side” appreciated the M1 carbine as much as the ARVN. This 1971 photo shows a female Viet Cong on the Ho Chi Minh Trail armed with one.)
The virtues of the M1 Garand in Vietnam were much as they had been during WWII: it was rugged, reliable, accurate, and the .30-06 Springfield had respectable stopping power and penetration through jungle foliage. By the mid-1960s, it’s perceived vices were lack of full-auto as the AK-47 became more common on the battlefield, and the rifle’s physical size, as discussed further below.
(A South Vietnamese soldier with WWII M1 Garand and Mk2 pineapple grenade during the 1960s.)
Pretty good read right? That’s not even half of the article, just a small excerpt. It follows the M1s all the way up to present day. Go read the whole thing.