Military history

Glossary of Principal Weapons

Because of the limited nature of the Korean War, all combatants chose to fight it largely with surplus weapons from World War II. No startling developments, either in weaponry or tactics, came out of the conflict. While the United States made innovations and great improvements in logistical techniques, cold-weather clothing, and medical service, the only wholly new developments were the use of helicopters for reconnaissance, transport, and evacuation on a large scale, and the employment of jet aircraft in combat. The most modern jet, the F-86 Sabre, was thrown into the aerial war only when Communist forces first employed a first-rate, modern aircraft, the MIG-15, in what was essentially a field test.

Throughout the entire course of the war, weapons, radios, and vehicles, on both sides, remained of World War II vintage, although newer series of each had either been developed or were in production. In this sense, the Korean War was definitely anachronistic, for not only were nuclear weapons withheld, but so were modern varieties of transport, communication, and conventional weapons. At the beginning, the United States had no modern conventional weapons, a great weakness due to the complete cessation of procurement for ground warfare following World War II; but the Communist bloc, fighting through its secondary powers, followed the same course in employing only old or obsolescent weaponry, though much of this was of more recent manufacture, and in better condition, than that in American hands in 1950.

One indication of Communist thinking toward the future of warfare lies in the fact that Communist nations have continued, after World War II, Korea, and up to the present time, to develop and place in production whole new series of conventional arms, in addition to nuclear devices and means of delivery. The United States in recent years has produced new conventional arms in scant supply and with marked governmental reluctance, preferring to base its strategy wholly on the nuclear deterrent.

The principal infantry weapons used in Korea (with the exception of Commonwealth forces, which used British issue), were the following, the majority of which are now obsolete.

United States

1. U.S. Rifle Caliber .30 M-1 (Garand): The basic shoulder weapon of United States, ROK, and many other U.N. rifle regiments. A vintage of the mid-1930's, it was gas-operated and semiautomatic, fired an 8-round clip, and weighed 9.5 pounds, 10.5 with bayonet. Its effective range was about 500 yards, and its rate of fire up to approximately 30 rounds per minute.

2. U.S. Carbine Caliber .30: Produced as both a semiautomatic and full-automatic weapon, it fired a lighter bullet than the M-1 Rifle, with correspondingly less range, accuracy, and killing power. Fitted with a 15-round magazine, or 30-round or so-called "banana magazine"; gas-operated, it was carried principally by company-grade officer's, NCO's, clerks, and the like. Weight, 6 pounds. Developed during World War II from Garand principle.

3. Pistol, Caliber .45 M-1911 A-1: The standard United States side arm, a large semiautomatic pistol, with great stopping power and an effective range of some 25 yards. Developed and issued prior to World War I, it was carried by field-grade officers, signal linemen, gun crews, tankers, and men whose duties of other burdens precluded carrying of rifle or carbine.

4. Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR: Firing the same cartridge as the Rifle, M-1, either semi- or full automatic, the bar could be operated either as a shoulder weapon or from a bipod. With a rate of fire of almost 500 rounds per minute, it was the principal automatic weapon of the rifle companies, one or more being issued to each rifle squad. Weighing 16 pounds, it was developed from Browning's principle during World War I.

5. U.S. Machine Gun, Caliber .30, M-1919 A-3 (Light Machine Gun, or LMG): An air-cooled, 32-pound fully automatic machine gun, with bipod and shoulder rest; recoil-operated on the Browning principle, capable of sustained fire of 450-500 rounds per minute. Firing the same cartridge as the Rifle, M-1 and BAR, it was the infantry platoon machine gun. Developed in World War I.

6. U.S. Machine Gun, Caliber .30, M-1917 A-1 (Heavy Machine Gun, or HMG): a heavier version of the above, water-cooled and tripod mounted, and thus capable of both a greater, longer, and more accurate rate of fire. Issued to the Weapons Company of the infantry battalion. There were approximately 500 machine guns of both types in the U.S. infantry division.

7. U.S. Machine Gun, Caliber .50, Browning: Weighing 82 pounds, this large-caliber machine gun was mounted on trucks, tanks, and other vehicles, and not carried into close infantry combat. Air-cooled, but with a heavy barrel, the .50-caliber machine gun fired approximately 575 rounds per minute, to a range of 2,000 yards. Approximately 350 scattered throughout the infantry division.

8. Rocket Launcher, 3.5-inch or 2.36-inch (Bazooka); Rocket launchers, developed during World War II, fire a hollow shaped charge capable of penetrating thick armor plate. The 3.5, which replaced the obsolete 2.36 in 1950, weighed 15 pounds and fired an 8.5-pound charge. There were some 600 bazookas in the Korea infantry division. Characterized by a large and distinct backblast, the aluminum tube generally was not effective beyond 75 yards against medium armor. Widely issued as infantry antitank weapon.

9. The 57mm, 75mm, and 105mm recoilless rifles: Infantry-carried artillery. They develop high blast from escaping gases on discharge, but no recoil, as with howitzers or cannon. The obsolescent 57mm could be shoulder-fired, while the newer and heavier guns were crew-served, firing from tripods. Effective against infantry and fortifications, such as bunkers, they fire regular shells with a flat trajectory over long ranges. The 105mm was developed during Korea.

10. Infantry mortars, 60mm, 81mm, 4.2-inch: Mortars are primarily antipersonnel weapons, consisting of simple, seated-breech tubes and base plates, which throw high explosive shells at a high angle, capable of reaching into valleys, trenches, and into defilade impervious to direct fire. The 60mm mortars were carried into position with the rifle companies; the 81mm's were handled by the weapons companies, and the 4.2-inch fired by a special mortar company within the regiment. The 81mm, with an effective range of 4,000 yards, to 1,800 for the 60mm, weighs more than 100 pounds and is not easily transportable in rough terrain by foot troops. The 4.2-inch, virtually an artillery weapon, is normally vehicle mounted.

11. The Quad .50: This was a half-tracked vehicle of World War II vintage, mounting four .50 machine guns capable of being fired as a unit. Developed as an antiaircraft weapon, with the advent of fast jet craft it became an antipersonnel weapon capable of hurling an immense amount of fire into hillsides and valleys against advancing infantry, or of throwing long-range harassing small-arms fire against enemy routes by night. Firing as many as 100,000 rounds per day, the Quad .50 could go over hills like a vacuum cleaner, sucking them devoid of life.

12. The Dual 40: Also developed as an AA weapon, the Dual 40 was a fully tracked vehicle with a tanklike silhouette mounting twin Bofors 40mm antiaircraft automatic cannon. It was also used to support the infantry line, in the same manner as the Quad .50.

The artillery weapons. During Korean operations, the standard U.S. artillery of World War II, the 105mm, 155mm, and 8-inch howitzers and rifles were employed in tremendous quantity. Developments were made in direction, spotting, and radar-sensing. Toward the end of the conflict, Korea was primarily an artillery war, with both sides dug in and cannonading each other rather than employing maneuver.

Armor. At the outset of the fighting, to its tremendous disadvantage, the United States had no tank in the Far East capable of engaging the obsolescent Russian T-34. The light M-24, primarily a reconnaissance vehicle with thin armor plate and light 75mm cannon, was augmented during August and September, 1950, with various U.S. interim model medium tanks, such as the M-26 Pershing, mounting a 90mm gun. Gradually, the old M4A3E8, the World War II workhorse, the Sherman, fitted with a newer high-velocity 76mm gun, became the principal Korea battle tank. It had a high silhouette, light armor, and an inadequate gun, but it was more maneuverable in the alternately steep and boggy Korean terrain than more modern tanks, such as the heavy-armor, heavy-gun British Centurion III. Failure to mass-produce a good main battle tank was one of the Army's principal weaknesses during the period; the concentration was more on seeking an effective antitank weapon than relying on the more expensive tank itself.

The Communist Nations

Throughout the fighting, the enemy was adept at capturing and employing U.S. weapons and equipment. During the first ninety days, the North Korean People's Army secured enough equipment from ROK and U.S. divisions to outfit several of their own; and the Chinese Communist Forces, on entrance, were in many cases equipped with U.S. arms shipped to the Nationalist Government both during and after World War II, all of which had fallen into Communist hands. The Chinese (as the ROK's) also had a considerable quantity of surrendered Japanese arms and ammunition, from rifles to field guns. The principal source of armament for both North Koreans and Chinese, however, was Soviet Russia. Just as the United States provided 90 percent of all munitions used in the United Nations forces, the Russians designed, mass-produced, and delivered the bulk of all Communist weapons.

As with American arms, the majority of Russian equipment was of World War II vintage.

Russian weaponry, as Russian equipment in general, has one marked characteristic: it is extremely rugged, of the simplest design consistent with efficiency, and very easy to maintain, making it in many cases more suitable for the equipping of peasant armies than the more sophisticated U.S. arms. Despite its simplicity and lack of refinement, it is good.

1. Infantry rifles. The Communist forces were equipped with a miscellany of shoulder weapons, from the Russian 7.62mm carbine, a bolt-action rifle of 1944 vintage, to Japanese 7.7mm Imperial Army rifles, taken by the Soviets from the Kwantung Army in 1945 and turned over to the CCF The tendency in Communist armies has been to discard the rifle in favor of the submachine gun, less accurate, but able to throw a much higher volume of fire in the hands of unskilled personnel.

2. The Submachine Gun 7.62mm PPSh 41 (Burp Gun): Designed during World War II, the PPSh 41 submachine gun indicated the Soviet belief that highly accurate small arms were wasted in the hands of ground troops, while a large volume of fire was a requisite. Cheap to make, simple to operate, and thoroughly dependable under any battlefield conditions, the Soviet submachine gun was the best of its class during World War II. Fired either full or semiautomatic, it held a magazine of 72 rounds, with a cyclic rate of 100 per minute. Inaccurate except at close ranges. Toward the end of the war, Chinese infantry carried sub-machine guns or grenades almost exclusively while on the offensive.

3. The Tokarev 7.62mm Semiautomatic Rifle: This rifle, fitted with flash hider and bipod, served a purpose similar to that of the U.S. Bar.

4. The Degtyarev 14.5mm Antitank Rifle, PTRD-1941: This extremely long, ungainly weapon was designed against armor of the early World War II type. With the advent of thicker plate it became an anti-vehicular rifle, and was used for long-range sniping against personnel. Each NKPA division carried 36 of these, called by Americans the "elephant" or "buffalo" gun.

5. The machine guns: Several varieties of light machine guns were used by the NKPA and CCF, together with the Coryunov heavy machine gun, which was wheel-mounted. Russian machine guns were generally 7.62mm, an excellent military cartridge.

6. The mortars: While as with other arms, a miscellany of calibers and types was found in Communist armies, the standard Russian makes pre-dominated. Because of its ready transportability by hand and its cheapness of manufacture, the mortar was a favorite weapon of both the NKPA and CCF. An NKPA regiment contained six 120mm mortars; each of its three battalions had nine 82mm's; and the smaller 61mm was found at company level. The smaller Soviet mortars had an added advantage of being able to fire U.S. 60mm and 81mm mortar ammunition, of which the Communists captured great stores. The American tubes, unfortunately, could not reciprocate. Other infantry support weapons, such as rocket launchers and recoilless rifles, were not standard enemy issue; they were employed only when captured.

Artillery. The artillery support of NKPA and CCF divisions closely followed that of the World War II Soviet division, though initially the CCF left most of its heavy artillery behind on crossing the Yalu. A division contained twelve 122mm howitzers, twenty-four 76mm field guns, twelve SU-76mm self-propelled guns on the T-34 chassis, and twelve 45mm antitank guns. In addition, each of the division's three regiments had four organic 76mm howitzers. The 122mm rifle was also furnished by the Soviets. With the exception of a few Japanese pieces, Communist artillery was Soviet-made, and during the later stages of the fighting appeared in quantities reminiscent of the Soviet massed artillery used in front of Berlin in 1945. Larger, long-range artillery, such as the 152mm gun, were used sparingly, in contrast with U.S. employment of medium artillery (155mm) in great quantities; the CCF had a marked reluctance to fire on targets they could not observe.

Armor. The Russian T-34/85, the Soviet main battle tank of World War II, which appeared in final form during the winter of 1943-1944, remained the Communist battle tank throughout. The T-34, weighing 35 tons and capable of 34 miles per hour, had excellent traction and was admirably suited to the terrain of Korea, where heavier American tanks such as the Patton found rough going. The T-34, mounting an 85mm gun and two 7.62mm machine guns, was considered by the Soviets an obsolescent tank in 1950. Their heavier, more modern tanks, such as the Josef Stalin III, were never furnished to satellite or auxiliary armies. In the first weeks, 150 T-34's, spearheading the NKPA attack, raised havoc with both ROK and U.S. forces. Later, both a preponderance of American armor and airpower reduced Communist armor to a minor role; it was carefully concealed and hoarded, and rarely employed.

Since both combatants tended to use old and obsolescent armament—such as the T-34/85 and the Sherman M4A3E8, or the 1944 7.62mm rifle and the pre-World War II M-1-no comparison of weaponry is particularly significant or valid in the Korean War. In general, Communist equipment proved adequate, and in its class comparable in performance to American.

Of definite significance, however, is the fact that the Soviets had developed entire new families of small arms and supporting weapons, superior to those of World War II, which they were placing in mass production. The Western nations, including the U.S., while they had such weapons on the drawing boards, did not produce them. In a future limited conflict, the West might find itself outclassed in the field of conventional weaponry.

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