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Surprising Comeback: The 90mm Recoilless Rifle Returns to the Curahees at the 101st

02/13/2011 @ 9:56am

M67 90mm recoilless rifle, USA

Fans of the 9mm: multiply the caliber by 10.  If you like the Judge, and are intrigued by the .338 Lapua Magnum and 50 BMG, ponder the diameter difference.  The 90mm recoilless rifle is fired from any ordinary rifle position, man-portable, and truly without recoil.  It has been around for about 50 years, was phased out in favor of the disposable weapons of similar mission (mostly anti-tank, anti bunker) some with advanced aiming and control.  The M72 LAW, the Dragon, the AT4 came afterward, for example.

I learn today that MJM’s old unit, the 1st of the 506th Infantry (101st Airborne Division) is bringing back the 90mm recoilless rifle.

A good short description of the weapon and its uses is here at www.Armyranger.com where the writer starts: “Among Anti-tank weapons employed by Rangers, especially in modern times, none are as storied and despised as the M67 90mm Recoilless Rifle, used by 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions throughout their existence, prior to the creation of the 75th Ranger Regiment in 1985.”

Despised is right, if you have ever hauled one of those things around in the woods.  However, outside of trudging around in the cold woods during training, and in actual combat, apparently the virtues of the 90mm are being appreciated.  Now, after all of the disposable, advanced sighting and control anti-tank weapons, the single-shot, optically aimed—even primitive—“stovepipe” is back.  This is not a “put some dot on the target, fire and forget” weapon.  Shooting the 90 is like duck hunting, leading the target and timing your shot, but sending out a slow round booming out of the muzzle at about same muzzle velocity as that better bb gun you always wanted but you stayed stuck with that cheaper model. That other kid always had the exotic air gun.

Here, for perspective, are troops firing the 90.

And, NEVER, forget about the 90’s backblast.  If you are standing in the cone and zone shown here, …. Dangerous 30 yards back.

That red zone would be your blood and goo if you are standing there when the 90 is fired.

But, the 90 excels in its simplicity.  It is just a solid metal tube.  Loading it is barely different from loading that bolt-action, single-shot .22 you inherited from your grandfather.  Once loaded and cocked, the firing mechanism is familiar: hold the pistol grip and press the trigger.  I am sure someone will figure out a way to mount advanced optics but the weapon is simple and not sensitive to harsh conditions.

I think it is difficult to get proficient at hitting fast-moving vehicles tracking across your field of fire.

But, the Taliban are not moving around in tanks.  I can imagine no better way to trigger an ambush against troops on foot than the 90mm firing a flechette round enfilade into the kill zone: instant anti-personnel devastation accompanied by an unmistakable earth-shaking boom that wakes everybody up to start shooting.  No one can be confused about the signal to initiate.

Picture hundreds of these darts spraying out, stabilizing, and pinning the enemy to the walls.

There is some chit-chat about “Why no 90mm?” here.  I’m not quite sure why, but, regardless, the 90 is back.  If some of you know personally what problems, missions, and thought processes resulted in the 90’s return, I would like to know, so please comment.  I bet that its crews hope to dig it in, place it well, clear the backblast area, and leave it there.

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  • BIGDAVE54

    We used them in the US Air Force for air base defense. They are still being used to day by the folks in the blue suits. On ABD we would set up overlappin fire zones with the flechette or canister rounds. While the bad gys would brag about their “human wave” attacks…we had another name for it…”hamburger day at the supermarket”.Always carry an extra cable and a couple of extra firing pins in a small pack in the filed. Always get you asst. gunner to rum across the breech with his finger to check for a stuck firing pin before he slams it shut.

  • http://mjm.luckygunner.com MJ Mollenhour

    BIGDAVE54, that stuck firing pin—would it set off the round before the breech was locked? Ouch!

  • Grn Dragon

    I found that the scope mount would not hold the scope true we often had to use tongue depressers from the medics but other than that no sticking firing pins just keep up on lube and spare parts

  • Grn Dragon

    no it would not ,only the striking of the firing pin to the primer would ignite the projectile sorry slick no worries.

  • BIGDAVE54

    You can do what you want.I will check for a stuck firing pin because that is what I was taught at the Heavy Weapons School and told by all of my senior ncos. Maybe we could have a test and jam a firing pin and let you slam the breech shut on a live round….

  • Grn Dragon

    well I’m sure your senior NCO’s also told you to CHECK everything !! before during and after firing the 90so back to square one”be a boy scout be prepared!!” KNOW YOUR WEAPON!! every sound odd noise there are some things that schools just don’t and can’t teach old school is the best school.

  • Jcalhounohio

    I was cruising the internet and found this article.  Amazing because I wanted to REJECT the requisition I was working on as being “obsolete no replacemet”.  Now I will have to dig up old resources to get these out to my old unit:  2 Bn “Airborne” 327th Airborne Infantry … yes I am old!

  • http://mjm.luckygunner.com MJ Mollenhour

    Yep, Like The Terminator, “It’s back!”

    I wonder if the hymn to the 90 has returned, too. Probably not in this day and age.
    (Sung to the tune of “Do Lord, oh Do Lord, oh do you ‘member me? beginning the chorus, “I’ve got a home in glory land….”) http://www.4shared.com/audio/WAgDiztj/Johnny_Cash_-_Do_Lord.html
    Peter was a 90 gunner–I’ll be one too (hallelujah).
    Peter was a 90 gunner–I’ll be one too. (hallelujah)
    Peter was a 90 gunner–I’ll be one too. (hallelujah)
    Way–beyonnnnd, the blue.(Begin next verse with something likePaul was a 60 gunner …. (as in, M-60 machine gun)

    Of course, “Jesus was a Curahee [Insert your unit instead, here]. I’ll be one too.”

  • Vince Turner37

    I humped a 90 to an ambush site in the arctic circle Winter of 1984 with WEBCO 2/75th Rangers and it was so cold the breech would not lock shut – two dissimilar metals expanded at different rates rendering it useless. I had to hump it and the ammo back – I was not a happy camper.

  • Baileyrandall65

    I never had to hump thst monster but I do remember those who did,I was a forward observer, for the 6th inf. 2/6 , 3/6 and 4/6 and remember the poor souls who carried them and and amazed of thier getter done attidude . I could make it rain iron from the sky as well as close air, but these guy’s with thier 90 mm’s could make or break a combat situation . Former forward observer with the Berlin Brigade

    SGT. Randall Bailey

  • Collison-anthony

    Berlin brigade did use them, dragons needed a distance to arm 90s could be used close and you could use different rounds for different targets A-2/6 heavy weapons 1978

  • Ole Bjorsvik

    In the Norwegian army we strapped the quite similar Carl Gustav to old fashioned backpack frames. Worked like a charm for easily moving around in the bush around the base. — The same was done with the ammunition.

  • http://mjm.luckygunner.com MJ Mollenhour

    So, the guy carrying the anti-tank gun could drop to hands and knees in a hurry, muzzle forward, tuck his fee in to avoid having his heels blown off in the back-blast, and the gunner could fire from his back. That would be wild. I’m laughing just thinking about it. Joking of course.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gene.britton Gene Britton

    “But, the Taliban are not moving around in tanks.  I can imagine no
    better way to trigger an ambush against troops on foot than the 90mm
    firing a flechette round enfilade into the kill zone: instant
    anti-personnel devastation accompanied by an unmistakable earth-shaking
    boom that wakes everybody up to start shooting.  No one can be confused
    about the signal to initiate.”

    Claymore, anyone?  Something about command detonated directional mines come to mind…

  • Dlabby

    Back in the day I was an m60 gunner and when the brush was too heavy for a good firing lane the 90 guys would just fire a beehive round and instant firelane. The 60 was heavy but I wouldn’t trade carrying it for a 90.

  • DOUG HAWKINS

    I CARRYED THE 0- IN GERMANY FROM 1971 TO 1974. 1ST BATTALION 509TH MEC INFANTRY AIRBORNE FRON MINCE. WE HAD ALOT OF TRAINING AND ALOT OF FUN IN CRAZY SEXXY. I JUMPED WITH THIS THING AFEW TIMES. BUT I WAS A KID THEN. IM 57 AND STILL WOULD JUMP TODAY. LOVED GERMANY.

  • Josey Wales

     Bailey what years were you there?

  • Josey Wales

     Yup, Dragon has arming distance plus 400m to gain control of the missile, max range 1K. No good for MOUT/FIBA/CiC. A 3/6 78-80.

  • Larryrckmn

    Carried the 90 in the 101st and it gets heavy after awhile.But sure did like the results when fired. The 90 was used by the 5/87 Inf during operation just cause panama to blow holes in buildings,last time I saw it in service.

  • Eskivel

    HE does nice work up the ass end of a t-72 at about 300 meters in indian country

  • Mr60rockstar .

    I humped it in 88′ with the 307th Engr Bde, 82nd Abn. I hated it. Walking through the woods with that thing was a pain. No easy way to carry it. If we could put it on a truck, it would have been better. Big bang though. As for the claymore comment, no disrespect, but with a 90mm you don’t have to get close to set it up. Easy shot from 1-200 meters.

  • Eric F

    I was in A/2-6 from 71-73, Since we were light infantry we walked every
    where, and no one wanted to carry that monster. As a new “Cruit” I was
    given the 90. After carrying it for several hundred miles I couldn’t wait to hand that over to the next new guy.

  • Billyd

    i know the 90 was a bitch to hump back in the 80s in the 82nd Airborne

  • Bill

    I lost an eye when a guy caught me in the backblast area back in 1986 with 3/75th. A mean MF!!!

  • Vincent

    i humped a 90 with Charlie Airborne 6/327 up at Ft Wainwright, Alaska Inf in the summer of 1985,winter of 1985 and into the spring of 1986. I had no issues that would cause the breech to not lock shut. And this was at 40 below zero. Were you trained properly ranger.

  • Gdog

    Trained on the 90mm in 1965 as member of the 3rd Bat. 8th Inf 4th ID at Ft. Lewis, WA. It was dumped and given to the base campers and Firebases when we headed to Vietnam.

  • Main Gunner78

    Bravo Co 1/75 Weapons…90 Gunner, this is a bad ass weapon hands down.

  • Henpecked

    Trained at Fort Polk in 1970, did not listen to the DI and everyone else was told to target the farthest tank but being in the second firing order I could tell I wouldn’t be able to tell if I hit it or not. When my turn on the firing line came up I took the closest tank at around 150 yards and when the HE hit what a sight. I could actually see it glow red when the shell impacted. I had my leg in the backblast area and boy did it sting when I pulled the trigger. Good thing it didn’t take the leg off.

  • http://virtualmilitia.com/ MJ Mollenhour

    Pretty funny. Did you get chewed out?

  • swats

    I was a 90 gunner for awhile in bravo co. 2/327. Back in 77 and 78. Hated to hump it. They usually gave it to the newbe.

  • Doc baxter

    So true I was a medic with 5/87 and had one of these fired next to my head . Lost my hearing for three days and have had wearing issues ever since. We were using it to blow holes in aircraft hangers when we took Albrook air field back.

  • Ole Bjørsvik

    We had the Swedish cousin Carl Gustav 84 mm in our army. The noise was awesome, it really felt like a man’s thing. Then the army got conserned about the noise or blast effect on the shooters, and started a research program where they installed sensors on the shooters. The only field unit near the research depratment were some communication or medic training, and it ended with them revolting and running to the newspapers that the army were trying to injury them permanently with this awful thing. — It was hillarious and great fun, and made us in the real infantery feel like MEN.