Borneo: The AR-15's UK Debut

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 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.
Woodhouse Eaves, 1989, there were 2 of these in the armoury. No magazines that i saw. ... lots of AK, and defunct British weapons in there, occasionally brung out for half-arsed exercises.


I was a keen reader of War Machine mag and recignised the rifle - Int Corps WO2 took the time to have a natter, said they'd come in from some esoteric Green Slime connection, been there for years.
 

warmonger82

Old-Salt
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 ?
Other way round, Eugene Stoner and James Sullivan designed the AR-15 to use a new stick type powder known as IMR. This powder was slower burning, generated less chamber pressure, and produced less carbon buildup. The problem was expense so the US Army Ordinance Corps decided to substitute IMR for the standard ball powder around 1964ish I believe. The ball powder's higher pressure and increased carbon buildup combined with absolutely no training or issuing of cleaning kits to forces deployed to Vietnam would lead to a bit of bother in 1966.
 

ugly

LE
Moderator
Other way round, Eugene Stoner and James Sullivan designed the AR-15 to use a new stick type powder known as IMR. This powder was slower burning, generated less chamber pressure, and produced less carbon buildup. The problem was expense so the US Army Ordinance Corps decided to substitute IMR for the standard ball powder around 1964ish I believe. The ball powder's higher pressure and increased carbon buildup combined with absolutely no training or issuing of cleaning kits to forces deployed to Vietnam would lead to a bit of bother in 1966.
IMR is improved military rifle. Its nc powder made in the USA to replace unobtainable cordite as far back as 1915 for UK contracts. IMR 17 became IMR 4895. By 1919 whole railway sidings were full of goods wagons filled to the brim with drums of this. Du Pont paid pennies in the dollar and sold it on fuelling the interwar reloading craze in the USA. IMR 4895 is the powder for 5.56 and many others!
 

warmonger82

Old-Salt
For those of you truly interested in the minutia



 

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.

@Boris3098,

Would you happen remember to remember what sort of stoppages occurred with the AR's?

What did your buffer look like?

Original "Edgewater" Buffer 1.9 oz

Edgewtr1.jpg


Later improved buffer introduced in 1967. It's filled with steel weights to handle the higher velocity caused by the switch to ball powder from IMR 5.15 oz

Standard.jpg
 
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Mike Barton

War Hero
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

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.
The first of the "other side's" M16s were of course the commercial AR-15 variants, bought openly in the US. Hence giving rise to the "Armalite" becoming associated with the Provos, even after they had largely been superseded by the hundreds of AKs imported from Libya from the mid-1980s onwards.

According to Ed Moloney's A Secret History of the IRA, the weapon first came to the attention of the Provos when a Falls Road sailor showed an American gun magazine to someone in the Belfast IRA who decided they would be ideal for urban work. The problem, however, was persuading the old-school gun runners in the US that these were the weapons they wanted, being men of the 1940s and 1950s generation they believed that what proper "soldiers" needed was M1 Garands and Thompson submachine guns. This all came to be seen by the IRA in the North as an example of the out-of-touch leadership in Dublin about how the "war" was to be fought in the North, further driving the split that would see the Belfast leadership ultimately take control.

Eventually the Belfast men got their way and the AR-15s started to arrive in dribs and drabs, before 200 were landed in May and June 1972. It is perhaps ironic that the iconic IRA weapons were shipped from New York aboard no less a British icon that the QE2.
 
Cracking thread. Posted this to get notifications.
 
@Boris3098,

Would you happen remember to remember what sort of stoppages occurred with the AR's?

What did your buffer look like?

Original "Edgewater" Buffer 1.9 oz

View attachment 412663

Later improved buffer introduced in 1967. It's filled with steel weights to handle the higher velocity caused by the switch to ball powder from IMR 5.15 oz

View attachment 412664
Second buffer. I remember the flared front end.
Stoppages were normally mis feeds on automatic. (Some contacts got a tad fraught)

I got the impression a lot of components had been replaced over time.

A friend at Hereford said that they’d suffered from a few buffer pins breaking on their rifles.

One other point I forgot. We had black steel 20 round box magazines issued. As far as I know they weren’t USGI.
I’m sure the front was riveted. Very solid design. My USGI 30 round was a spot welded aluminium box, black baseplate, odd metallic “lime green” finish.
 
The first of the "other side's" M16s were of course the commercial AR-15 variants, bought openly in the US. Hence giving rise to the "Armalite" becoming associated with the Provos, even after they had largely been superseded by the hundreds of AKs imported from Libya from the mid-1980s onwards.

According to Ed Moloney's A Secret History of the IRA, the weapon first came to the attention of the Provos when a Falls Road sailor showed an American gun magazine to someone in the Belfast IRA who decided they would be ideal for urban work. The problem, however, was persuading the old-school gun runners in the US that these were the weapons they wanted, being men of the 1940s and 1950s generation they believed that what proper "soldiers" needed was M1 Garands and Thompson submachine guns. This all came to be seen by the IRA in the North as an example of the out-of-touch leadership in Dublin about how the "war" was to be fought in the North, further driving the split that would see the Belfast leadership ultimately take control.

Eventually the Belfast men got their way and the AR-15s started to arrive in dribs and drabs, before 200 were landed in May and June 1972. It is perhaps ironic that the iconic IRA weapons were shipped from New York aboard no less a British icon that the QE2.
We had a contact in South Armagh where one shooter had an M1 Garand, the other an AR 18/180.

An RUC PC was hit in the arm and leg by the Garand.
He recovered eventually.
 
I remember being surprised at the noticeable “Twang” noise from the buffer spring on first firing.
I was nervous of the floating firing pin. A pal had an ND (well five actually) because he made ready and the weapon fired. The pin had jammed forward with some debris in the bolt. It was our first live shoot with them at Lydd and Hythe in 1982. He wasn’t impressed. Binned the AR and used an L1A1 on the tour.
 
When we had AR-15, back then in jungles did we also use Starlite scope like the US did north of the border in Vietnam?

Cheers
 
I remember being surprised at the noticeable “Twang” noise from the buffer spring on first firing.
I was nervous of the floating firing pin. A pal had an ND (well five actually) because he made ready and the weapon fired. The pin had jammed forward with some debris in the bolt. It was our first live shoot with them at Lydd and Hythe in 1982. He wasn’t impressed. Binned the AR and used an L1A1 on the tour.
That's bizarre, the reserve brigade I served in for 20 years (83-2003) was equipped with M16A1's and Colt Commandos and we never heard of such a problem, not even with bolt carriers full of carbon! The Uzi on the other hand.........
 
When we had AR-15, back then in jungles did we also use Starlite scope like the US did north of the border in Vietnam?

Cheers
We had a few VERY smart 2nd Gen sights in XMG. “Swiftscope” comes to mind but I can’t remember.
 

ugly

LE
Moderator
Second buffer. I remember the flared front end.
Stoppages were normally mis feeds on automatic. (Some contacts got a tad fraught)

I got the impression a lot of components had been replaced over time.

A friend at Hereford said that they’d suffered from a few buffer pins breaking on their rifles.

One other point I forgot. We had black steel 20 round box magazines issued. As far as I know they weren’t USGI.
I’m sure the front was riveted. Very solid design. My USGI 30 round was a spot welded aluminium box, black baseplate, odd metallic “lime green” finish.
I dont recall stripping the buffer. We had us gi not very shiny 20 rd mags along with a handful of 30 rounders but when we went to the L85A1 and we issued 30 round rg mags reliability improved but the mags disappeared regularly when working with units still issued colt mags.
During the Lydd package one wise guy rocked up with a 40 round Sterling mag which wouldn't feed a single round. Cheered me immensely
 

warmonger82

Old-Salt
I remember being surprised at the noticeable “Twang” noise from the buffer spring on first firing.
I was nervous of the floating firing pin. A pal had an ND (well five actually) because he made ready and the weapon fired. The pin had jammed forward with some debris in the bolt. It was our first live shoot with them at Lydd and Hythe in 1982. He wasn’t impressed. Binned the AR and used an L1A1 on the tour.
Slam firing was an issue with earliest AR-15's. Colt's solution was to simply the lighten the head of the pin to reduce inertia while chambering a round. Originally this was accomplished by merely grinding down the top of the old large head pins. Later pins were manufactured to the new specification starting around early 1964.

firingpins.jpg

Top: original contour
Bottom: Modern contour

It'd be interesting to know what type of AR-15 your mate had. The UK's first AR's were the slab sided Model 602's that had the original pins, while the more numerous Model 604's with the captive front take down pin were outfitted with the lighter firing pin
 
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ugly

LE
Moderator
Slam firing was an issue with earliest AR-15's. Colt's solution was to simply the lighten the head of the pin to reduce inertia while chambering a round. Originally this was accomplished by merely grinding down the top of the old large head pins. Later pins were manufactured to the new specification starting around early 1964.

View attachment 412787
Top: original contour
Bottom: Modern contour

It'd be interesting to know what type of AR-15 your mate had. The UK's first AR's were the slab sided Model 602's that had the original pins, while the more numerous Model 604's with the captive front take down pin were outfitted with the lighter firing pin
Dented primers was a common effect with early L85A1 and L86A1 weapons. It wasnt reported much as very few users were routinely making ready away from a one way range. COP drills called for one up the spout at the loading bay
 
I dont recall stripping the buffer. We had us gi not very shiny 20 rd mags along with a handful of 30 rounders but when we went to the L85A1 and we issued 30 round rg mags reliability improved but the mags disappeared regularly when working with units still issued colt mags.
During the Lydd package one wise guy rocked up with a 40 round Sterling mag which wouldn't feed a single round. Cheered me immensely
Just push down the spring loaded buffer pin (bottom of the front face) and the buffer and spring came out.

Didn’t get grotty with normal use but SA in winter was gungy.
I always felt it was more exposed to the elements than the SLRs one.
 
Slam firing was an issue with earliest AR-15's. Colt's solution was to simply the lighten the head of the pin to reduce inertia while chambering a round. Originally this was accomplished by merely grinding down the top of the old large head pins. Later pins were manufactured to the new specification starting around early 1964.

View attachment 412787
Top: original contour
Bottom: Modern contour

It'd be interesting to know what type of AR-15 your mate had. The UK's first AR's were the slab sided Model 602's that had the original pins, while the more numerous Model 604's with the captive front take down pin were outfitted with the lighter firing pin
Bottom one on mine but as I’ve said a lot of my rifles parts seemed newer than the upper and lower.
 
Slam firing was an issue with earliest AR-15's. Colt's solution was to simply the lighten the head of the pin to reduce inertia while chambering a round. Originally this was accomplished by merely grinding down the top of the old large head pins. Later pins were manufactured to the new specification starting around early 1964.

View attachment 412787
Top: original contour
Bottom: Modern contour

It'd be interesting to know what type of AR-15 your mate had. The UK's first AR's were the slab sided Model 602's that had the original pins, while the more numerous Model 604's with the captive front take down pin were outfitted with the lighter firing pin
Just thinking about other differences between all our rifles.
My cocking (Charging) handle was “T” shaped. A mates was triangular.

Firing pin retaining pin. Mine was a nice little precise machined piece with a flared tip. At least one bloke had a split pin.
Some bolt carriers were black. Most were a “matt” silver.
 
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I was at “An open day” a few years ago. Had a play with an HK 417. I was intrigued to see TWO extractors on the bolt face.
 

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