M16/AR-15 in UK service early 1960's to Late 1980's

#1
Good evening,

I recently purchased a copy of The Black Rifle: M16 Retrospective by R. Blake Stevens and Edward Ezell. Many consider it the definitive work on the development of the AR-15/M16 and its service history with the US Military. I've tried to piece together some information on the various models of M16 in use with the British armed forces prior to the adoption of the Canadian Diemaco C7.

I would greatly appreciate any first hand information or recommended reading materiel from the older sweats.

From what I've read, MoD first ordered several thousand early AR-15's from Colt immediately after Armalite sold the manufacturing rights in the early 1960's.

601.jpg

Model 601 (Colt's initial production model with a "duck bill" open flash hider, brown fiberglass furniture painted green, the front takedown pin is removable, 1/14" barrel twist)

602.jpg

Model 602 (Product improved model, black furniture, thicker prongs on the flash hider, and now a 1/12" barrel twist)
UK 1 DurhamLightInfantryBorneo_zpsd72ba691.jpg

Borneo

UK 2 nKUlz9lWMR3WgAGy-ZjrpDZWVIFQmxNXjbd8vpANhzA.jpg

Model 602's, I believe. Borneo again.
604 Early.jpg

Model 604, the first to be designated "M16" by the US DoD and issued in large numbers to the US Air Force. (The major change from the 602 is that the front take down pin is now captive, preventing loss in the field. We now see a "partial fence" on the lower receiver to contain the spring and detent that capture the take down pin) I've seen pictures of this model in both Northern Ireland and the Falklands.

UK 3 Screen Shot 2018-08-01 at 19.14.44.png

Northern Ireland
UK 4 Brit_solja.jpg

NI again.

UK 5 423825_261474233933263_140531416027546_604633_1280229303_n.jpg

Falklands with a night vision scope?
UK 6 680994925.jpg


Falklands, note the bar behind the front take down pin.
XM16E1b-1.jpg

Early Model 603/XM16E1, Upon the run up to general US adoption the US Army demanded that a forward assist bolt closing device be added to the AR-15 while the US Air Force refused to alter the original design. The USAF would adopt the 604 as the M16 and the US Army and USMC would adopt the Model 603 as the XM16E1. The army ordinance corps also made the fateful decision to alter the ammunition specifications from the cleaner burning but more difficult to produce powder to a dirtier, hotter burning powder. This decision, combined with most units never being issued cleaning kits, would cause the well documented catastrophe in Vietnam during 1966-1967.

I have NOT seen any evidence that British forces ever carried this particular variant. All photos I've seen of British soldiers and Royal Marines have been of the Model 604, without the forward assist device.
603 A1.jpg

Late Model 603/M16A1, having gotten their wrists slapped rather hard by congressional hearing regarding the aforementioned fiasco in Vietnam, the army ordinance corps and Colt's developed several work-arounds for the dirtier, hotter, cheaper powder issue. The recoil buffer was altered and now had several steel weights to slow the cyclic rate of fire. The second change was initially the chrome lining of the chamber and soon thereafter the chrome lining of the bore as well. These design changes as well as the issuing of cleaning kits to units deployed to Vietnam solved the reliability issues. Other noticeable outside changes are the extension of the lower receiver fencing around the magazine release to prevent inadvertent dropping during ops, and a new closed "birdcage" flash hider to prevent snagging on local vegetation. The finish on the bolt carrier group was also changed from the original chrome to the current parkerized color.

I read many references to the M16A1 in use by the MoD but not seen too many photos. Most of those were of training in Belize in the 1980's

UK 7 british_ar_15-tfb.jpg


Where there any official distinctions made in the MoD between the different variants of M16 rifles that were purchased over the decades?

Was there any attempt at rationalizing unit issue or were the rifles assigned to battalions from central stocks held in depots on an as needed basis?

Does anyone have an idea of how many M16's the MoD purchased? While I was aware of the early and extensive use of the M16 by both the SAS and SBS, I was unaware of how often these rifles were handed out to line battalions.

How long did the older models from Borneo hang around in service? I haven't seen any photos of them in NI or the Falklands.

UK Training doc.jpg


I'm also trying to find a copies (online or otherwise) of MoD manuals for the M16.

As always, I greatly appreciate any thoughts and comments and photos ARRSE could provide.
 
#2
Can't help with the manuals but I recollect (correctly or not) that the first use of the AR-15 by the British Army was by Gurkha battalions in Hong Kong.
 
#3
Can't help with the manuals but I recollect (correctly or not) that the first use of the AR-15 by the British Army was by Gurkha battalions in Hong Kong.
I've seen one particular illustration of a Gurkha equipped with an M16 in a book of military uniforms here in the states.
soldier-allied-gurkha-borneo.jpg
He appears to be holding a Model 604 variant with the partial fencing on the lower receiver and no forward assist. I'm not sure how accurate, or not, the illustration is. I believe it was originally from a photo taken in Borneo
 
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#4
Our Close Observation Platoon(COP) certainly had a few M16's in Norn Iron in the late 80's.At company level,there was one M16/203 combo in each multiple.
When they were withdrawn,we were told it was because it looked 'too aggresive'.
 
#5
Our Close Observation Platoon(COP) certainly had a few M16's in Norn Iron in the late 80's.At company level,there was one M16/203 combo in each multiple.
When they were withdrawn,we were told it was because it looked 'too aggresive'.
Do you recall any specific features, such as the flash hider or forward assist?
 
#8
Our Close Observation Platoon(COP) certainly had a few M16's in Norn Iron in the late 80's.At company level,there was one M16/203 combo in each multiple.
When they were withdrawn,we were told it was because it looked 'too aggresive'.
Was it the M16 that was "too aggresive" or the M203? I can imagine that the Provos use of semiautomatic only AR-180's and Colt SP-1's made for a major image problem in the NI for those two weapons
 
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#9
It was used in Malaya as a SMG replacement with Commanders and radio ops.
 
#10
It was used in Malaya as a SMG replacement with Commanders and radio ops.
Makes sense, the Aussies integrated M16's into their sections on the same basis in Vietnam. Were there any units in Borneo that were armed exclusively with M16's such as the SAS or Gurkhas?
 
#11
Good evening,

I recently purchased a copy of The Black Rifle: M16 Retrospective by R. Blake Stevens and Edward Ezell. Many consider it the definitive work on the development of the AR-15/M16 and its service history with the US Military. I've tried to piece together some information on the various models of M16 in use with the British armed forces prior to the adoption of the Canadian Diemaco C7.

I would greatly appreciate any first hand information or recommended reading materiel from the older sweats.

From what I've read, MoD first ordered several thousand early AR-15's from Colt immediately after Armalite sold the manufacturing rights in the early 1960's.

View attachment 355165
Model 601 (Colt's initial production model with a "duck bill" open flash hider, brown fiberglass furniture painted green, the front takedown pin is removable, 1/14" barrel twist)

View attachment 355166
Model 602 (Product improved model, black furniture, thicker prongs on the flash hider, and now a 1/12" barrel twist)
View attachment 355168
Borneo

View attachment 355169
Model 602's, I believe. Borneo again.
View attachment 355170
Model 604, the first to be designated "M16" by the US DoD and issued in large numbers to the US Air Force. (The major change from the 602 is that the front take down pin is now captive, preventing loss in the field. We now see a "partial fence" on the lower receiver to contain the spring and detent that capture the take down pin) I've seen pictures of this model in both Northern Ireland and the Falklands.

View attachment 355172
Northern Ireland
View attachment 355173
NI again.

View attachment 355174
Falklands with a night vision scope?
View attachment 355175

Falklands, note the bar behind the front take down pin.
View attachment 355178
Early Model 603/XM16E1, Upon the run up to general US adoption the US Army demanded that a forward assist bolt closing device be added to the AR-15 while the US Air Force refused to alter the original design. The USAF would adopt the 604 as the M16 and the US Army and USMC would adopt the Model 603 as the XM16E1. The army ordinance corps also made the fateful decision to alter the ammunition specifications from the cleaner burning but more difficult to produce powder to a dirtier, hotter burning powder. This decision, combined with most units never being issued cleaning kits, would cause the well documented catastrophe in Vietnam during 1966-1967.

I have NOT seen any evidence that British forces ever carried this particular variant. All photos I've seen of British soldiers and Royal Marines have been of the Model 604, without the forward assist device.
View attachment 355176
Late Model 603/M16A1, having gotten their wrists slapped rather hard by congressional hearing regarding the aforementioned fiasco in Vietnam, the army ordinance corps and Colt's developed several work-arounds for the dirtier, hotter, cheaper powder issue. The recoil buffer was altered and now had several steel weights to slow the cyclic rate of fire. The second change was initially the chrome lining of the chamber and soon thereafter the chrome lining of the bore as well. These design changes as well as the issuing of cleaning kits to units deployed to Vietnam solved the reliability issues. Other noticeable outside changes are the extension of the lower receiver fencing around the magazine release to prevent inadvertent dropping during ops, and a new closed "birdcage" flash hider to prevent snagging on local vegetation. The finish on the bolt carrier group was also changed from the original chrome to the current parkerized color.

I read many references to the M16A1 in use by the MoD but not seen too many photos. Most of those were of training in Belize in the 1980's

View attachment 355180

Where there any official distinctions made in the MoD between the different variants of M16 rifles that were purchased over the decades?

Was there any attempt at rationalizing unit issue or were the rifles assigned to battalions from central stocks held in depots on an as needed basis?

Does anyone have an idea of how many M16's the MoD purchased? While I was aware of the early and extensive use of the M16 by both the SAS and SBS, I was unaware of how often these rifles were handed out to line battalions.

How long did the older models from Borneo hang around in service? I haven't seen any photos of them in NI or the Falklands.

View attachment 355182

I'm also trying to find a copies (online or otherwise) of MoD manuals for the M16.

As always, I greatly appreciate any thoughts and comments and photos ARRSE could provide.
Essence looking Mr. Barnacle pre walrus tache.
Wasn't Falklands though although he was there at Top Malo House.
 
#12
Was it the M16 that was "too aggresive" or the M203? I can imagine that the Provos use of semiautomatic only AR-180's and Colt SP-1's made for a major image problem in the NI for those two weapons
The M203.Seemed like grenade launchers were a bit naughty.
We used M79's before that though,they weren't a problem.
Do you recall any specific features, such as the flash hider or forward assist?
Like I said mate,my memory isn't what it was.The rifles were older models(I think).I'm pretty sure all M203's were later models,i.e.birdcage flash eliminator etc.
Slightly outside the scope,our jungle instructors from'them'all had A2's.That was 1990,Kenya.
 
#13
The M203.Seemed like grenade launchers were a bit naughty.
We used M79's before that though,they weren't a problem.
Did anyone ever actually fire a 40mm HE round in NI?
 
#15
Brand spankers M203 with M16A2 bodies were issued in late '88 to the roulement Bn in South Armagh, to replace the old M79s
 
#17

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