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5 Worst U.S. Military Guns Ever to Fire a Shot

M16 Rifle
Image: Creative Commons.

Explained: 5 Worst U.S. Military Guns – In the 246 years of the United States of America’s existence as an independent nation, her Armed Forces have wielded some truly fine firearms…and some clunkers. Regarding the second category, some were true all-around lemons, whilst others weren’t necessarily inherently bad designs but make this 5 Worst list because they either (A) had enough inauspicious moments or (B) had early variants that initially stunk up the joint before finally being corrected after much trial and error. In no particular order…

5 Worst U.S. Military Guns: The M16 Rifle — **Original Vietnam War Edition**

As discussed in my standalone 19FortyFive article on the M16, the early issues of this weapon system were eventually corrected, which explains why it remains in service in some variant after six decades. But those eventual corrections were of slim comfort to the surviving loved ones of American GIs who were killed in the Vietnam War thanks to hopelessly jammed first-generation M16s. Hopelessly jammed due to borderline criminal negligence on the part of the Army’s bureaucratic bean counters, who: (1) willfully used the wrong powder in their ammunition; (2) failed to strengthen chamber and bore of the barrels with chrome-plating; and (3) refused to issue cleaning kits under the assumption that the rifle was “self-cleaning!”

M16 Rifle (M16A2 Version)

M16 Rifle (M16A2 Version).
Image: Creative Commons.

5 Worst U.S. Military Guns: Beretta 92F/M9 — **Pre-1990s, Pre-FS Version**

Those of you who are either (A) familiar with my previous writings and/or (B) know me in-person will be shocked at this one, as you folks know that the Beretta is an old sentimental favorite of mine. But objectively speaking, early editions of the M9 pistol were problematic, due to (1) locking block breakages and (2) slide separation failures. Regarding the former, I personally witnessed it the very first time I fired a Beretta 92 back in November 1989; one of the staffers at the Santa Anita Firing Range told me bluntly, “It’s a 6,000 round gun.”

Regarding the latter, there was a much publicized-incident in circa 1988 in which some Navy SEALs were injured when the suddenly airborne Beretta slides hit them in the face, which prompted the SEALs to switch to the SIG P226.

Beretta M9 U.S. Army

Image: Creative Commons.

It turns out that the locking block issues were due to the edges being too sharp (back in a summer 1990 issue of American Handgunner Magazine, Massad F. Ayoob recommended rounding the edges); whilst the slide problems with a metallurgy were due to a culprit element known as Tellurium. Happily, for us Beretta enthusiasts, these maladies were corrected sometime during the 1990s, and to quote the salesman who sold me my first Beretta in 2002, “You will not wear this gun out!”

5 Worst U.S. Military Guns: Chauchat Machine Gun

This was the standard “machine rifle” of the French Army during WWI, and soon was adapted by the American “doughboys.” As with the Reising, it looked great on paper. “Unfortunately,” quoth Travis Pike of Sandboxx News, “the Chauchat turned out to be one of the least reliable machine rifles ever made. It was a finicky weapon that was plagued with issues.”

Chauchat

Image: Creative Commons.

Image: Creative Commons.

Mind you, some spin doctors state that the weapon was actually quite reliable when not jammed with mud and dirt. But if a military-grade firearm can’t handle just those sort of battlefield conditions, what’s the freakin’ bleepity-blankin’ point?!?!

5 Worst U.S. Military Guns: Colt New Army & Navy M1892 Revolver

This was the U.S. military’s first double-action six-gun with a swing-out cylinder. It was not a bad design in terms of intrinsic accuracy or reliability, but rather was accursed the perceived performance of the cartridge for which it was chambered: the .38 Long Colt, specifically during the Philippine Insurrection of 1899-1902. I say the “the perceived performance” because in retrospect, the supposed inadequacies weren’t entirely due to inherent fatal flaws of the gun or cartridge but largely due to the sheer mental fanaticism and mental toughness of the adversaries faced. As military history blogger Barry C. Jacobsen explains:

“Moro insurgents, fighting against American rule of their islands, would send lone suicide assassins called juramentado to “ran amok”; attacking and killing American Army officers and civilian administrators…The juramentado would prepare for his mission in a most unique and painful way: by having his TESTICLES TIED OFF WITH COPPER WIRE! In a state of intense agony, the would-be assassin spent the night working himself into a killing frenzy. By the next day, the juramentado would be in a virtual altered state of consciousness, so filled with agony that his mind would no longer register additional pain.” [author’s original emphasis and use of ALL-CAPS]

I dunno about you folks, but I’m wincing with pain just from having transcribed that passage. In any event, as the saying goes, “Perception is reality,” and the perception of the M1892’s shortcomings eventually led to the adoption of what many consider the best handgun ever issued to the U.S. military: the M1911 .45 ACP auto pistol.

5 Worst U.S. Military Guns: Reising M50 Submachine Gun

Theoretically, this gun would’ve been ideal for: (1) civilian cops, as a supplement to the shotgun; and (2) WWII Marines, to give them a more ergonomic submachine gun than the heavy “Tommy Gun.” In reality, as noted by my 19FortyFive colleague Brent M. Eastwood, “The unreliability of the weapon gives it the distinction of being the worst firearm ever issued to U.S. military personnel.”

Readers’ Reactions?

Agree or disagree, dear readers? Either way, please let us know in the comments section!

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Tomb

    August 14, 2022 at 8:27 am

    M16, m4 use direct impingement.
    T91, Daewoo k2, Israel tavor, ak47 use piston.
    Look over design yourself…
    Coming us xm5 uses piston.
    Propose piston is better..

  2. Billy

    August 15, 2022 at 9:01 am

    Why do I let myself get suckered into clicking on this clown show website?

  3. Brent

    August 15, 2022 at 9:05 am

    Although pretty ‘niche’, I’d vote for the open mount 3″50 guns mounted on amphibious ships in the 80s. Supposedly anti-aircraft, if we were able to get out two shots in a row with a breakdown, we were surprised. We eventually just stopped wasting our guys time on them. And, in the late 80s they were removed and replaced with 25mm chain guns, a severe improvement.

  4. Semi-smokeless

    August 15, 2022 at 12:14 pm

    The 8mm Chauchat was reasonably reliable, for the state of the art in 1915. The big problem was with the US M1918 Chauchat in 30-06 which was much more powerful than the 8mm and generated more heat. The additional heat caused it to jam much fast than the 8mm version. There were also problems with the conversion of US customary measurements into the metric system. The tolerances in the .30-06 version was too tight. The Chauchat like the original M1918 BAR was intended primarily to be fired in semi-auto mode not full auto. Both the Chauchat and the BAR was operated by a 3 man crew in the great war. Gunner, Loader and ammo carrier, who also provided rear and flank security for the gun.
    As for the 38 Long Colt the army was trying to fire a .353 to .357 bullet through a .370 bore. This worked somewhat when the army was loading the 38 Long with black powder, it failed to obturate when fired with smokeless. There is an article on this in the current Black Powder Cartridge News magazine.

  5. George H Avery

    August 15, 2022 at 3:22 pm

    Obviously no serious effort was put into this article, as it overlooked:

    A) M1847 Springfield smoothbore Cavalry Muskatoon. After an inspection tour of western posts in 1853, Inspector General Joseph Mansfield reported that the ball would simply roll out of the barrel if tilted downward, and that “There is no probable certainty of hitting the object aimed at, and the recoil is too great to be fired with ease.” It s considered the primary reason for Lt. Col Edward Steptoe’s defeat by the Palouse in the 1858 Battle of Pine Creek.

    B) M1837 Allen and Thurber 6 shot “Dragoon” Pepperbox revolver. This double action revolver had a bar action that precluded the use of sited for aiming.

    C) Winans Steam Machine Gun.

    D) M1848 Volcanic Arms “Rocket Ball” Repeating rifle – had a lower muzzle energy than a pocket pistol.

    E) Mk 1 Underwater Defense Gun.

    F) M1858 Colt Revolving Rifle – prone to chain fires that sent shrapnel into the left arm and hand of the user.

    G) M42 Submachine gun. The magazines warped and misfed, it was EXTREMELY finicky and susceptible to jamming from dirt/mud/dust/etc. (users were advised to keep the bottom feed magazine clear of dirt/grass/mud etc. – difficult to do under actual combat conditions)

    H)

  6. Colin Campbell

    August 15, 2022 at 6:24 pm

    The M9’s faults were tolerated until large numbers of soldier began carrying them in ‘red’ status. There was a problem that the Military Police knew about for at least a decade – but officialdom ignored the reports.

    The problem is that when you put the M9 into the old-style standard issue holster – it would go off of ‘safe’ without the soldier being aware that this happened.

  7. John M Balazek

    August 16, 2022 at 7:33 am

    You missed the Ager Coffee Mill gun. It’s single barrel meant that a hang fire would cause it to fire out of battery which made it almost as dangerous for it’s crew as the enemy. Gatling had to pay Ager royalties because he added multiple barrels to Agers design meaning the gun was never out of battery!

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