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Meet the 5 Worst U.S. Military Guns To Ever Fire a Shot

A Soldier assigned to U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa engages pop-up targets with an M4 carbine during marksmanship training at Cao Malnisio Range in Pordenone, Italy, Jan. 26, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Davide Dalla Massara)

5 Worst U.S. Military Guns – In the nearly 250 years of the United States of America’s existence as an independent nation, its Armed Forces have wielded some truly fine firearms…and some clunkers.

Regarding the second category, some were true all-around lemons.

In contrast, others weren’t necessarily inherently wrong 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!”

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.

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.”

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.”

Reising M50

Reising M50. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Reising M50

Reising M50. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

A United States Coast Guardsman with working dog and Reising SMG during WWII.

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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.

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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).