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40 mm grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

The revolutionary M79 was the first grenade launcher, in the modern sense of the term

Country of origin United States
Entered service 1961
Caliber 40 mm
Cartridge 40x46 mm
Weight (unloaded) 2.7 kg
Length 731 mm
Barrel length 357 mm
Muzzle velocity 76 m/s
Practical rate of fire 6 rpm
Magazine capacity 1 round
Sighting range 375 m
Range of effective fire (grenade, point target) 150 m
Range of effective fire (grenade, area target) 350 m
Range of effective fire (buckshot) 30 m


   The Springfield Armory M79 grenade launcher was the first weapon of its type. It was not only the first weapon of this type, but by all accounts, it was one of the greatest ever fielded.

   In World War 2 and the Korean War that was still ongoing at the time, the US Army decided regular rifle grenades were inadequate for general-purpose fire support, these munitions being very slow and cumbersome to launch. This left a wide and very dangerous gap between the longest range at which the average infantryman was expected to throw a grenade, and the minimum effective range of the smallest mortars. To close that gap, the Army initiated "Project Niblick" to develop a replacement. By 1952, Project Niblick had determined that a spherical 40 mm projectile with an explosive charge was suitable for the task. Testing, however, eventually showed that a cylindrical 40 mm projectile with a rounded nose was the better choice; it had much better ballistics, and could hold a larger volume of explosives. It was also further determined that to launch the 40 mm grenades, they needed to be fired from a unitary cartridge, using a relatively low-pressure charge. A low-velocity casing 46 mm in length was developed for man-portable launchers, while a 52 mm long casing was developed for launching grenades from mounted weapons.

   Now they had the 40x46 mm low-velocity grenade, the US Army needed a weapon to launch it. The Army asked Springfield Armory to devise such a weapon in 1953, who initially presented the T148 grenade launcher (not to be confused with the XM148, a later weapon of a very different design). The T148 employed a "harmonica" style magazine with a three-round capacity, but proved problematic in testing, leading to its rejection. Springfield then presented the S-3, which was derived from the T148 itself, but employed a break-action loading system, not unlike that used in many shotguns. The S-3 proved effective, and was further refined into the S-5, which finally impressed the Army. After the addition of a new sighting system, the Army acquired several S-5s in the late 1950s for testing and evaluation, and type-classified it as the "XM79". Satisfied with the performance of the weapon, it was formally adopted by the Army on December 15th 1960 as the M79, and large-scale deliveries began in the following year.

   The M79 in appearance resembles a sawed-off shotgun, thanks to its break-action operation, inverted rifle-style buttstock and foregrip, and wooden furniture. Not including a sling, the M79 consists of 4 subassemblies; the barrel, foregrip, receiver, and buttstock.

   To fire the M79, the operator must first safe the weapon, then press the barrel-locking latch all the way to the right side; this will "break" the weapon, allowing it to open, so that the chamber may be accessed. Opening the barrel automatically cocks the weapon. If there is a spent casing (or an unfired round; perhaps a dud) in the chamber, the user must physically pull it out with their hand, as the M79 does not have an automatic extraction mechanism. After loading a new cartridge as far in as it will go, the barrel must be returned to its firing position, which not only completes the chambering process, but also locks the barrel into place. The weapon in this state is now loaded and ready to fire, and when the operator is ready to do so, the fire selector must reset the fire selector from "safe" to "fire".

   The weapon may be fired from any position in which a rifle or shotgun would be fired. From kneeling or prone positions, it may also be fired at high elevations with the buttplate set on the ground, much like a mortar. However, the operator must also be mindful when firing on flat trajectories of the fact that the grenades drop extremely fast on a flat trajectory compared to a regular bullet; aiming on a flat trajectory against a target which is relatively low and close could drop a grenade short into the ground far enough that it will detonate, but close enough that the operator is probably inside the casualty radius!

   It is also possible to fire the M79 one-handed like a pistol (in fact, their stocks have sometimes been sawed-off to make them faster to draw), thanks to their light weight and relatively soft recoil. However, this also makes the weapon more difficult to aim.

   All 40x46 mm grenades have fuses that activate at or past 30 m, as a safety precaution; as such, a grenadier armed with an M79 and fighting closer targets will either have to use a buckshot or canister round, directly hit an enemy soldier with a grenade, or switch to a different weapon. When fired, the M79 has a distinct muzzle report similar in sound to a cork being pulled out of a bottle; for this reason, it became widely-known the nicknamed of "Blooper" and "Thumper".

   The sights consist of a front blade and a rear leaf, when the ladder sight is lowered. The ladder sight is required for accurate medium or long range shooting, and when raised, it effectively becomes the weapon's rear sight. The sight ladder is effective for ranges from 75 m to 375 m, in 25 m increments. However, experienced users often don't bother to use the ladder sight, as the time required to raise it and take aim "by the book" often isn't available in the heat of a fire fight.

   There are countless different types of 40 mm grenades that can be launched from the M79. Below is a partial listing.

   The M381 is an HE (High Exlosive) round, weighing 0.23 kg and containing 32 g of Composition B. It has a maximum range of 400 m, arms at a range of 8 m, has a lethal radius of 5 m, and a casualty radius of 130 m. Early M381s sometimes armed much sooner in flight than designed, leading to serious casualties by the user and their comrades during accidental discharges, or if the grenade struck vegetation in flight.

   The M382 is a TP (Training Practice) round, which is a stand-in for the M381 HE round. Its size, weight, shape, balance, and ballistics are identical to the M381, but it contains only a tiny pellet of RDX explosive, and 4.54 g of inert yellow dye. It creates a bright yellow cloud of smoke on impact. Though the charge is very weak, it is rated as having a danger radius of 20 m, for range safety reasons.

   The M406 is another HE round, with basically the same explosives, weight, and ballistic performance as the M381, but also having a much more effective arming mechanism that activates in mid-air at ranges of between 14 m and 27 m.

   The M433 HEDP (High Explosvie Dual Purpose) round is a shaped charge munition with an armor penetration capability, and added fragmentation effects, allowing it to be used more effectively against vehicles and structures. It arms mid-air at ranges of between 14 m and 27 m, and has an effective range of 400 m. The M433 has a 0.23 kg projectile containing 45 g Composition A, and has a lethal radius of 5 m, an incapacitation radius of 15 m, and a casualty radius of 130 m. The penetrator formed by the shaped charge will penetrate 50 mm of steel plate, 300 mm of pine, 400 mm of concrete, or 500 mm of sandbags. It will also readily blast a loophole large enough for a rifle through the walls of most structures.

   The M576 Buckshot round is an interesting one, because loading it will turn the shotgun-like M79 into an *actual* shotgun. It is a direct-fire-only round that must be aimed on a flat trajectory. It fires twenty 24 g metal buckshot pellets at a muzzle velocity of 269 m/sec, out to an effective range of 30 m. The effect is the same as a very large buckshot shell, so this round is best used in closed terrain and confined areas. Field manuals advise that the M576 must be aimed at the foot of the target; likely because the M79's sights don't work like those on a genuine shotgun.

   The M662 is an Illumination round, which is visible for a distance of nearly 5 km, and from an altitude of nearly 1 km. It consists of a 0.22 kg projectile containing an 85 g illumination candle. At the top of the projectile's arc, a parachute opens and slows its descent, as the candle ignites and burns brightly with a red hue. The candle burns for up to 40 seconds, with an intensity of 20 000 candlepower.

   The M992 Infrared Illumination round works much like the M662, but it emits infrared light. It weighs 0.22 kg, and the projectile carries a 50 g illumination candle. It functions the same as the M662, but appears very dim to the naked eye, like an ember or a lit cigarette; but through night vision optics with infrared imaging capabilities, the area below appears to light-up almost as bright as day. Needless to say, this is an extremely valuable capability when used against foes with little or no night vision capability.

   The M531 is a less-lethal crowd control round that disperses tear gas. It weighs 0.29 kg and the projectile carries a 57 g of Agent CS, including a pyrotechnic mixture. Upon impact, the projectile emits a billowing cloud of CS gas for up to 25 seconds, and is able to saturate an area of 120 square meters. CS is an extremely powerful irritant against eyes and lungs, but is normally not dangerous.

   The M1006 is also a less-lethal round, which fires a foam rubber projectile. The impact force is heavy enough to stun or repel an offender, but usually not enough to cause serious injury or death. It is effective at up to 50 m; however, training manuals forbid the operator from firing this round at persons within 10 m, because even with such a soft projectile, fatal injuries are possible at this range.

   The M1029 is another less-lethal round, loaded with 48 hard rubber .48 caliber balls. It can be used against single offenders like the M1006, but it is also effective against crowds. It is most effective at 15 m to 30 m, but has a maximum range of 100 m. Though as with the M1006, training manuals forbid the operator from firing the M1029 at people within 10 m, or the projectiles could well mimic more of the effects of buckshot than just their dispersion.

   The first combat use of the M79 was during the Vietnam War. While so many other new US weapons proved wanting during this conflict (the M16 and M60 in particular), the M79 proved extremely reliable, lethal, and effective. It also gave US and South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers overmatching firepower against an enemy who relied on commando mortars, rifle grenades, recoilless riles, and rocket launchers for their organic fire support assets, all of which proved cumbersome at best in the dense jungles and forests of Vietnam. This made the M79 one of the most valuable and effective weapons for the ARVN and its allies, and it was highly regarded. It was this success more than anything else that validated the modern grenade launcher, making it a weapon coveted by almost every military force in the world.

   The M79 was manufactured from 1961 to 1971, with over 350 000 produced; this also does not include production of the M79 abroad, where it continued to be manufactured much longer.

   Possibly the most prolific grenade launcher in history, the M79 has been used by many nations. These are known to include Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Chad, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Oman, Paraguay, Philippines, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, the United States, Vietnam, and Yemen. It is also used by many non-state groups, such as the Kurdish Peshmerga.

   Few M79s remain in the US inventory, having been largely phased-out in favor of the M203, but they are still occasionally issued. Notably, many situations which arose in recent wars, where United States have been evolved, have forced the return of many M79s back into front-line service, which had previously been gathering dust in armories and warehouses. Even after the introduction of repeating grenade launchers such as the MGL, the M79 seems to have a habit of finding its way into firefights across the world.

   It is therefore likely that despite its age, the M79 will remain in service well into the foreseeable future.




   T148: First attempt at a 40mm grenade launcher, and predecessor of the S-3/5. Was a repeating weapon that fired from a 3-round cassette.

   S-3 and S-5: Prototypes of the M79, derived from the T148.

   Daewoo KM79: South Korean license-built copy of the M79.

   M79-VN: Vietnamese copy of the M79, distinguished by having an optical sight.

   HK69A1: A German equivalent of the M79, made by Heckler & Koch. It has a much less eclectic appearance, thanks to its skeleton buttstock and angular composite furniture.

   Milkor M79: A South African reconstruction of the M79, with the stock, pistol grip, and foregrip of the Vektor R-4 assault rifle, and a 3.5x telescopic sight.

   Milkor Stopper: This South African grenade launcher was made primarily for crowd control purposes, and fires a variety of proprietary less-lethal 37 mm grenades. However, it can also be fitted with a 40-mm barrel, which can fire any 40x46 mm grenade.

   Pallad: This Polish 40 mm grenade launcher is not only employed as a "standalone" weapon like the M79, but can also be fitted to a weapon as an under-barrel launcher like the M203. It fires a unique 40x47 mm low-velocity grenade.

   40 GL: This Singaporean grenade launcher may be used as a standalone weapon, or as an under-barrel weapon. It should not be confused with the 40 AGL, which is a completely unrelated automatic grenade launcher (though it is made by the same company).

   B&T GL-06: This Swiss-made grenade launcher is similar to the Milkor M79, and has a dedicated crowd control variant, the LL-06.

   FN FN40GL EGL: A Belgian "standalone" grenade launcher developed from the grenade launcher used in the F2000 assault rifle. Its furniture may also be removed or omitted, allowing it to be used as an under-barrel weapon.

   RGS-50: This large Russian 50 mm single-shot weapon was designed primarily for crowd control, but lethal 50 mm ammunition was developed for it as well.

   There are also many repeating grenade launchers that fire low-velocity grenades.



   Article by BLACKTAIL

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Video of the M79 grenade launcher

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M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

M79 grenade launcher

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