The ARVN Advisor M1 Carbine: A Combat Proven Speciality Rifle – Firearms News


Thompson found the “Advisor’s Carbine” very handy and quick to bring into action. 

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The M16 rifle was first deployed in Vietnam by 1965. Some M16s may have been seen action with Special Forces advisors earlier, but if my memory is correct the first major deployment of the M16 was with the 1st Cav in 1965. The earliest U.S. military purchaser was the USAF, which adopted the rifle as the “AR-15.” In fact, a friend, who is an Air Force Security Forces officer, told me a few years ago that there were still some rifles in Air Force armories marked “AR-15.” Early USAF guns are easily identifiable even without seeing the “AR-15” markings as they lack a forward assist, this model is known as the 604. Prior to the adoption of the AR-15, SAC bases and other installations were protected by the Air Police armed with M1 Carbines.

Helicopter pilots often chose a chopped M1 Carbine. The “Loach” crewman at right has an M1 Carbine with an improvised pistol grip and what appears to be an improvised vertical fore grip but a full-length barrel. (U.S. Army/Paul Scarlata)

Prior to adoption of the M16, U.S. Army units were armed with the M14 rifle, which had been adopted in 1957. Designed primarily for combat across the North German Plain as part of NATO, the M14 had a range and striking power advantage over the M16. However, it did not prove a good choice for jungle combat in Southeast Asia. In fact, after adoption of the M16, the M14 remained the primary rifle among U.S. troops in Europe, and in the early days saw some use in Vietnam, but units deployed to Vietnam received priority in receiving M16s. ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) units were armed with M14 rifle and M1 Carbines. For troops of small stature, such as the ARVNs, the M1 Carbine proved a much better choice than the M14. Various US troops in helicopter units or logistical units armed with a handgun, often realized that the M1 Carbine would be a good upgrade for them as well and bought or traded for M1 Carbines from the ARVNs. Other Vietnam combatants, such as the “Ruff Puffs” (Regional Forces Popular Forces militia), were also armed with the M1 Carbine. Regular ARVN units and Ruff Puffs were assigned U.S. advisors. Elite ARVN units such as the Rangers and 
Airborne troops had M1 Carbines early in the war, but were among the first ARVNs to receive M16s.

U.S. Rangers, Special Forces, and regular infantry members were often assigned as advisors to these ARVN units. And, many of those troops, some of them veterans who had used the M1 Carbine during prior service, chose the M1 Carbine as their personal weapon. The M1 Carbine was proven in reliability and offered magazine capacity of up to 30 rounds. Some advisors also managed to acquire M2 select-fire carbines. In either case, if they were advising an ARVN unit armed with M1 Carbines they would have access to ammo and spare parts. Because of the weight of the M14’s 7.62x51mm cartridge (1.65 pounds for a loaded 20-round magazine) versus the M1 Carbine’s .30 M1 Carbine cartridge (1.07 pounds for a loaded 30-round magazine), 50% to 100% more ammunition could be carried when using the M1 Carbine. In a jungle environment, where the possibility of a meeting engagement or ambush was ever present the ability to lay down a lot of fire quickly when using fire and movement to breakoff combat, lots of ready ammo was a life saver. The question always arises about the stopping power of the M1 Carbine, but as the Marines who used carbines in the Pacific found, the smaller Asian opponents in Vietnam fell pretty regularly to multiple, well-placed shots. And, remember that the M1 Carbine cartridge used a 110-grain bullet at 1,990 fps with 967 ft. lbs. of energy.


U.S. Special Forces advisors to this ARVN unit have chosen to use their M16s even though their troops are armed with M1 Carbines. (NARA)

At some point, a creative helicopter pilot found that the M1 carbine was a little too long for his chopper and had the barrel cut down and the stock converted to pistol grip configuration. Reportedly, some “Tunnel Rats” found the chopped down carbine a better choice for clearing VC tunnels than the 1911 pistol. Others, perhaps those assigned to an ARVN Airborne or Ranger unit, managed to get an M1A1 carbine with a folding stock or maybe just the stock. With the barrel cut down and the stock folded, they had a weapon that could be carried and stowed easily but could still be fired from the shoulder. M1 and M2 Carbines with chopped down barrels turned up in M1A1 stocks. Generically these are often referred to as “Advisor’s M1 Carbines.” I have often wondered if there was another influence on creation of the “Advisor’s M1 Carbine.” The original Universal Enforcer, which was produced from 1964 to 1967, was a cut down M1 Carbine with a pistol grip. The Enforcer was always somewhat notorious here in St. Louis where I live. Across the Mississippi in Brooklyn, IL, a town known for its strip clubs, the current and former police chiefs had a duel right out of Tombstone, as they met armed with a 12-gauge “riot gun” and a Universal Enforcer. The “Chief” with the riot gun prevailed. My speculation, though, has always been whether someone had owned, or seen, an Enforcer before being deployed to Vietnam or someone brought one along, thus influencing the “Advisor Carbine”?

This soldier of the 1st Field Force grasps an “Advisor’s Carbine” of the type with a shortened barrel (no front sight visible) and an improvised pistol grip. (U.S. Army/Paul Scarlata). Chopped barrel on Thompson’s friend’s “Advisor’s Carbine” retains the front sight (top right). The later adjustable rear sight was used on the carbine Thompson tested (Bottom right).

Whether a chopped Advisors model or a standard M1 Carbine, the features that made the M1 Carbine popular during the jungle fighting in the Pacific during WWII, remained valid in Vietnam. It was an excellent jungle fighting weapon—fast handling, high magazine capacity, compact so it didn’t catch on undergrowth as readily, and low enough in recoil to fire fast follow-up shots to enhance the stopping power. However, admittedly it did lack stopping power compared to the 7.62×39 mm AK47s or SKSs encountered in the hands of NVA or VC enemies. When the M16 became widely available, most frontline US troops replaced any M1 Carbines they were using. However, the early reliability problems with the M16 attributable to the powder being used and lack of training in proper maintenance may have made some M1 Carbine users reluctant to switch. If not already using the M16, US advisors switched once their Vietnamese comrades received M16s. At that point, most reliability problems with the M16 had been solved. For troops needing a more compact weapon, the GAU-5/A was available initially to USAF dog handlers by 1966 and for Army troops as the XM177. Numbers of these compact versions of the M16 were not widely distributed, however, so at least some chopped M1 Carbines probably still rode in trucks, helicopters, Swift Boats, and elsewhere.

Right side view of former infantry officer’s SBR “Advisor’s Carbine.

I always thought cutting down M1 Carbine as a compact close combat weapon made some sense in Vietnam but using this weapon with an improvised pistol grip seemed to limit its effectiveness to only close range, especially since many “Advisor’s Carbines” were actually select-fire M2s. A friend of mine who was a Vietnam-era infantry officer, however, retrospectively, created an extremely useful “Advisor’s Carbine.” He registered his carbine as an SBR (Short Barreled Rifle) and had the barrel cut back to just ahead of the carbine’s forearm. Instead of the makeshift pistol grip stock used on many Vietnam carbines, he used an M1A1 folding paratrooper stock, giving him the option of firing from the shoulder.


Thompson has wondered if the Universal Enforcer, available commercially during the early stages of the Vietnam War, might have influenced the “Advisor’s Carbine.” (Top) The folding stock M1A1 carbine offered an easily carried weapon that still could be fired more accurately from the shoulder by extending the stock. (bottom)

He also chose the most effective configuration of the M1 Carbine. His carbine retains the faster cross bolt safety of the early M1 Carbine, rather than the replacement lever safety designed to mitigate problems with troops pushing the magazine release button, which is located ahead of the safety. However, the cross-bolt safety is quicker. He did use the adjustable rear sight of the later version of the M1 Carbine, allowing more effective engagement at longer ranges than the original flip-up rear sight. He saw no need for the bayonet lug added on later M1 Carbines. I had shot his carbine when working on my book on the M1 Carbine and at least one other time because it was “neat.” I shot it again for this article. As in the past, I found this “Ultimate Advisor’s Carbine” fast-handling and with the stock folded extremely compact.

Although the M1A1 stock is not the best folding stock I’ve ever used, it is adequate given the M1 Carbine’s light recoil. It certainly isn’t in the same category as shooting an HK91A4 or G3A4 with the torture instrument labeled a “collapsible stock.” Firing at multiple plates between 25 and 50 yards, double tapping each one, the carbine needed little if any recovery time between shots and the peep sight allowed me to pick up targets quickly. At 50 yards a three-shot group with GI ammo ran about two inches. My friend’s “Advisor’s Carbine” may not be the ultimate fighting machine, but it’s a nice retro take on a close combat weapon that could be deployed in a Southeast Asian jungle or a U.S. urban jungle.

Left side view of former infantry officer’s SBR “Advisor’s Carbine.

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