The M-79 Grenade Launcher


An alternate infantry weapon was the M-79 grenade launcher.  Our flank guards often carried them.  The weapon resembled a fat, short, one-barreled shotgun.  The barrel was only about a foot and a half long.  Like a shotgun, the grenade launcher broke in half in order to load the chubby little shell.  The favored projectiles were the grenade and the canister round.  The grenade, smaller and not as powerful as our fragmentation grenade, was thrown several hundred yards.  The canister round held a dozen big lead pellets, and like a shotgun shell, was for short range use only.

M-79 Grenade LauncherThe ammo was either carried loose in a bag hung by a strap over the shoulders, or in a custom-made nylon web vest with pouches sewn across the front.  The vest distributed the weight of a dozen or more grenades, and they were easy to get at.

Later reincarnations of the M-16 rifle included a grenade launcher mounted under the rifle's barrel.  The weapon was intended to give the foot soldier added firepower, but also meant carrying the added weight of the grenades.

While men in other units might have had different experiences, in the time I was in the field in Vietnam I never saw a launched grenade used effectively against the enemy.   There were times we fired them against the walls of bunkers and hootches, but they didn't have enough impact power to blast through.  We never encountered a situation where we could fire at an exposed group of soldiers, so that the grenade's shrapnel might injure several at once.  Our opponent was usually well-hidden in a fighting position, or underground, and a surface blast had no effect.  If I was going to carry more weight, I'd choose the traditional fragmentation grenade every time.

Notes I wrote down during M-79 training  class while in Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk:

40 mm Grenade Launcher M-79, single-shot, breech-loaded, primarily fired from the shoulder.  The launcher consists of a receiver group, fore-end assembly, sight assembly and stock assembly.  28.78 inches total length, 5.95 lb unloaded, 6.45 lb loaded.  Maximum range is 400 meters, maximum effective range is 375 meters for an area target, 150 meters for a point target.  Minimum range is 80 meters, and in flight the grenade takes 14 to 28 meters to arm itself.  Casualty radius is 5 meters.

The gun fires an eight ounce grenade round, which tends to drift to the right.  In the field we also saw canister rounds, smoke rounds, and a parachute flare round which ignited and burned for perhaps fifteen to twenty seconds.


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The M-79 Grenade Launcher:  Tales Of A War Far Away
Copyright 1995 Kirk S. Ramsey
Last modified: March 02, 1995