Borneo: The AR-15's UK Debut

warmonger82

Old-Salt
Good Evening,

Late last year I posted a thread about MoD use of the AR-15 rifle from Borneo through Operation BANNER. I'd like to pick your brains again on an obscure subset of the AR-15, namely the very first few rifles that were purchased from Colt back in 1963. The AR 15 was first tested by the South Vietnamese Army, US Special Forces Advisors and SEALs for Project AGILE in 1962 where it received high praise for it's light weight, resistance to corrosion, and the lethal ballistics of its 55 grn high velocity cartridge.

Colt Model 02.jpg


This is the Model 602 from Colt (who bought the patent from Armalite in 1959) it is a product improved model of the 601. The major improvement was tightening the rifling twist from 1/14" to 1/12" to better stabilize projectiles in arctic conditions. Minor changes included black furniture instead of the 601's green painted brown fiberglass stock and hand guards, and thicker prongs on the flash suppressor to prevent breakage.

The UK would purchase a number of this model for the Indonesian Confrontation in Borneo and use them to great effect in the hands of none other than THEM

UK 2 nKUlz9lWMR3WgAGy-ZjrpDZWVIFQmxNXjbd8vpANhzA.jpg


f55af63a89-SAS borneo 10.jpg


Photos of THEM with the 602 variant of the AR-15

These early models lack one significant feature, a captive front take down pin. Both the 601 and 602 had a front pin that could be totally removed from the lower receiver during routine cleaning, clearly not a desirable feature while on a weeks long patrol in the most remote jungle in the world.

601 pin.jpg

DON'T lose this...

This defect would be rectified by Colt in early 1964 with the introduction of a captive front pin in models 603 and 604

The next two photos will illustrate the difference
602 lower.jpg

The 602 Lower receiver with the push through front pin


604 lower.jpg

The improved 604 lower that prevent the loss of the front pin by means of a spring detent in the small tube or fence

In the field
Model 602
1 SEAL.jpg

US Navy Seal in Vietnam circa 1963 or '64

AF-94-DFST0203025-454x340.jpg


USAF Security Forces mid 90's (the USAF kept these things for a rather long time, though the flash surppessor has been upgraded)

I apologize for using US images, I cannot find any clear UK images of the earliest models.

Model 604
Gurkha borneo22.jpg

You can see the "fencing" on the Gurkha's AR-15 just below the ejection port

UK 6 680994925.jpg

On the Falklands 1982, a really clear shot of the "fencing"

The question to ARRSErs is did you ever run across any of the older "slab side" AR-15's during your service?
If so, what happened to them? I've not seen any photos of them in UK service apart from early pics of Borneo.
In the US the Air Force held on to the 601's and 602's in their security forces until the mid to late 1990's

As always, thank you all for your time and insights.
 

Attachments

Last edited:
I used a slab sided AR 15 on op banner in 1982/3.

The “captive pin” at the front had been removed before I got it and was replaced with a nut and bolt with locking washer.
 

Themanwho

LE
Book Reviewer
There was a rack of old AR15 rifles in the small arms wing at SEME Bordon in 85, IIRC they didn't have captive pins.
 
I apologize for using US images, I cannot find any clear UK images of the earliest models.
The front cover of an edition of SOLDIER magazine from around 1968-9 featured a nice close up portrait of rather ally looking bod with an Armalite.
 

warmonger82

Old-Salt
I used a slab sided AR 15 on op banner in 1982/3.

The “captive pin” at the front had been removed before I got it and was replaced with a nut and bolt with locking washer.
Funny to hear about the bolt and nut setup as Colt did something similar for their first semi auto only AR-15 Sporter rifles starting in 1964.

42rke2vrcmvx.png

Early example of the SP1 with the three prong flash hider

Colt gave the SP1 a larger than standard hole for the front takedown pin and replaced it with a double headed screw. This was done to prevent interchangeability between the full auto and semi auto models. The Colt SP1 would later gain infamy on your side of the Atlantic as being one of favored rifles of the other guys...

tumblr_p4vy4nennV1s57vgxo1_1280.png

Three examples of captured later model SP1 outfitted with the "bird cage" flash hider.

article-0-1975158400000578-382_634x802.jpg

Outstanding trigger discipline on display here... :rolleyes: That being said, it is a good shot of the receiver screw

EDIT NOTE: Mayhap I shouldn't be too hard on the boyo, it appears that in my first post the pics from Vietnam and the Falklands also display a degree of trigger awareness that would offend my more modern sensibilities...

IIRC, The Colt SP1 was far more common in NI than the Sterling produced AR-180, the semi auto only variant of the AR-18.
 
Last edited:
Funny to hear about the bolt and nut setup as Colt did something similar for their first semi auto only AR-15 Sporter rifles starting in 1964.

View attachment 411544
Early example of the SP1 with the three prong flash hider

Colt gave the SP1 a larger than standard hole for the front takedown pin and replaced it with a double headed screw. This was done to prevent interchangeability between the full auto and semi auto models. The Colt SP1 would later gain infamy on your side of the Atlantic as being one of favored rifles of the other guys...

View attachment 411545
Three examples of captured later model SP1 outfitted with the "bird cage" flash hider.

View attachment 411546
Outstanding trigger discipline on display here... :rolleyes: That being said, it is a good shot of the receiver screw

IIRC, The Colt SP1 was far more common than the Sterling produced AR-180, the semi auto only variant of the AR-18.
Our Battalions AR15s were very old.
Trident flash hiders. Quite shiny black plastic furniture. No butt trap (though I had a new one fitted out of company spares that did have one)
Whatever black coat the metalwork had originally was worn off and replaced with parkerisation paint.

The bolt carrier had the cams machined in for forward assist despite them not being fitted on the upper so not original.

I never had any stoppages but many others did.
My buffer and spring were very new looking too.
 
Last edited:

Cutaway

LE
Kit Reviewer
Good Evening,

Late last year I posted a thread about MoD use of the AR-15 rifle from Borneo through Operation BANNER. I'd like to pick your brains again on an obscure subset of the AR-15, namely the very first few rifles that were purchased from Colt back in 1963. The AR 15 was first tested by the South Vietnamese Army, US Special Forces Advisors and SEALs for Project AGILE in 1962 where it received high praise for it's light weight, resistance to corrosion, and the lethal ballistics of its 55 grn high velocity cartridge.

View attachment 411447

This is the Model 602 from Colt (who bought the patent from Armalite in 1959) it is a product improved model of the 601. The major improvement was tightening the rifling twist from 1/14" to 1/12" to better stabilize projectiles in arctic conditions. Minor changes included black furniture instead of the 601's green painted brown fiberglass stock and hand guards, and thicker prongs on the flash suppressor to prevent breakage.

The UK would purchase a number of this model for the Indonesian Confrontation in Borneo and use them to great effect in the hands of none other than THEM

View attachment 411448

View attachment 411449

Photos of THEM with the 602 variant of the AR-15

These early models lack one significant feature, a captive front take down pin. Both the 601 and 602 had a front pin that could be totally removed from the lower receiver during routine cleaning, clearly not a desirable feature while on a weeks long patrol in the most remote jungle in the world.

View attachment 411450
DON'T lose this...

This defect would be rectified by Colt in early 1964 with the introduction of a captive front pin in models 603 and 604

The next two photos will illustrate the difference
View attachment 411452
The 602 Lower receiver with the push through front pin


View attachment 411453
The improved 604 lower that prevent the loss of the front pin by means of a spring detent in the small tube or fence

In the field
Model 602
View attachment 411455
US Navy Seal in Vietnam circa 1963 or '64

View attachment 411457

USAF Security Forces mid 90's (the USAF kept these things for a rather long time, though the flash surppessor has been upgraded)

I apologize for using US images, I cannot find any clear UK images of the earliest models.

Model 604
View attachment 411458
You can see the "fencing" on the Gurkha's AR-15 just below the ejection port

View attachment 411459
On the Falklands 1982, a really clear shot of the "fencing"

The question to ARRSErs is did you ever run across any of the older "slab side" AR-15's during your service?
If so, what happened to them? I've not seen any photos of them in UK service apart from early pics of Borneo.
In the US the Air Force held on the 601's and 602's in there security forces until the mid to late 1990's

As always, thank you all for your time and insights.
You've posted some good gen with excellent illustrations, if Ugly and MrBane can keep the toilets away this'll be a cracking thread.
 

warmonger82

Old-Salt
Our Battalions AR15s were very old.
Trident flash hiders. Quite shiny black plastic furniture. No butt trap (though I had a new one fitted out of company spares that did have one)
Whatever black coat the metalwork had originally was worn off and replaced with parkerisation paint.

The bolt carrier had the cams machined in for forward assist despite them not being fitted on the upper so not original.

I never had any stoppages but many others did.
My buffer and spring were very new looking too.
The model 604 that the USAF and MoD adopted originally had a chrome finished bolt carrier group and without any serrations for the forward assist (makes sense, no forward assist was present). By 1965-66 Colt was able to convince the USAF to accept serrated bolt carriers so that they could supply just one part for both air force and army rifles.

604-RightCls3-561x330.jpg


An early Model 604 with original smooth chrome bolt carrier group

mx02.jpg


USAF GUU-5/P (Frankenstein mix of part with a new 1/7" barrel for the 62 grn SS109 ammo) This has the later phosphate finished bolt carrier with serration that would allow a forward assist to engage, if the device were present.

A link for this carbine ‘Mixmaster’: The U.S. Air Force’s GUU-5/P
 

warmonger82

Old-Salt
Great pics @Gungythree these are easily the clearest images I've seen of slab sided AR-15's in Borneo. I've yet to see any images of UK Forces carrying these early gats anywhere else.

To be perfectly frank the early slab sided 601 and 602 models are quite rare. Around 30k-35k examples were produced between 1959 and the end of 1962 before Colt switched to a captive front pin lower receiver in early 1963. The total number of slab sided AR-15's that made it into UK service before the update to the lower receiver has to be low, around 1,000.

Is there any firm date as to when the MoD purchased its first AR-15's?

Was there any official MoD nomenclature acknowledging the changes to the receiver as there was for the various stars * and marks of Lee-Enfields?
 
3 Para had a bunch of ancient pre forward assist M16a1 's with BFA's they used for " enemy forces" weapons in the 90's . I don't think they were ever cleaned and they worked fine.

Maybe they were the original ones dating back to Borneo times ?
 
@jumpinjarhead might have something in his Armoury small collection.

I have contemporary civilian AR types by Ruger and Sig if you would like me to put up a pic or two of the receivers of those.

Very interesting, thanks
 

ugly

LE
Moderator
3 Para had a bunch of ancient pre forward assist M16a1 's with BFA's they used for " enemy forces" weapons in the 90's . I don't think they were ever cleaned and they worked fine.

Maybe they were the original ones dating back to Borneo times ?
In 1982 I was enemy and spare body for the DS (dogsbody) on a jnco cadre in Munster. The cadre was used to trial early place and a bunch of AR 15 rifles were delivered to go with the webbing on runs etc! They were locked up after use in our company arms cote and the Norman wouldn't let me play with them, fast forward to 1986 and I was issued an early colt model for the next two years!
When I say issued we had two per team along with other toys which were shared depending upon need!
We also received later in the tour a pair of modernised AR15s, with enclosed flash hiders and forward assists!
 
Did we issue the early rifles set up for ball propellant that went tits up in Vietnam after they changed to non ball powder or the later modified rifles ?

Were we making our own 556 then or buying it in ?
 
About 25 years ago the old Durham Light Infantry Museum had a Borneo display where a AR15/M16 was being carried by the display mannequin. Since I assume that veterans would have complained had it been wrong, I can only assume that the rifle was also issued to ordinary County regiments as well as Them/Gurkhas/Paras. Would this be correct?
 

Cold_Collation

LE
Book Reviewer
About 25 years ago the old Durham Light Infantry Museum had a Borneo display where a AR15/M16 was being carried by the display mannequin. Since I assume that veterans would have complained had it been wrong, I can only assume that the rifle was also issued to ordinary County regiments as well as Them/Gurkhas/Paras. Would this be correct?
Plenty of pictures online of the DLI in Borneo issued with the AR15. It's correct.
 

Cold_Collation

LE
Book Reviewer
...one could also observe that there was little difference between Para, Gurkha and County regiments. All were non-SF. People should remember that. Just as 'County' regiments did Claret ops.

Incidentally, didn't a certain Lieutenant Smith - sorry, Peter de la Billiere - serve with the DLI before trading for a beige beret? ;-)
 
On this topic the picture in this recent obit should be of interest. Late 1980's was in Belize and Belize Defense Force had AR15 that had been gifted by UK from stocks held in Belize for UK forces.

 

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