Book Review: Misfire: The Tragic Failure of the M16 in Vietnam


by Bob Orkand and Lyman Duryea,

Guilford, Ct.: Stackpole Books, 2019. Pp. vi, 252+. Illus., tables, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0811737969

The Dismal Debut of the M-16

The authors of Misfire are retired professional Army officers with direct operational experience of the M-16.

Their purpose is, in effect, to show that the root causes of the problems with the early versions of the rifle stemmed from a variety of sources, most of which can be summed up by improper or careless procurement planning and testing, the blatant neglect of well documented problems with ammunition compatibility, and flawed elements in the initial design of the rifle itself. What essentially began as a one-time procurement order for special purpose rifles to be used by the Army’s airborne and special forces and the Air Force, evolved by default into a new. General Issued standard rifle when Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara refused to renew production of the M 14 rifle. Enamored of new technology, McNamara seemingly believed that he and his “whiz kids” were more qualified than professional military people who had years of weapons experience, and therefore, better qualified to render a judgment on the selection of a service rifle for the armed forces.

McNamara isn’t the only villain in this saga; the Army M-16 Project Manager, his boss, various testers, manufacturing inspectors, and even field commanders in Vietnam all bear some culpability in creating the debacle. The primary defect, a failure to extract spent rounds, was corrected by chroming the rifle’s chambers and barrels, and using the correct ammunition; the rifle’s designer, Eugene Stoner, had specified that it was supposed to operate with ammunition using a specific propellant, which unfortunately was not the one the DoD had stockpiled.

Almost every chapter reiterates the fact that the principal problem was caused by substitution of the IMR propellant with ball powder, thereby causing the failure to extract. This repetition becomes tedious; it appears in a chapter detailing the findings of a congressional investigative commission, then in the following chapter, along with some review of the weapon’s earlier history, and so forth. This interrupts the “flow” of the narrative, and the re-insertion of these “snippets” seems almost gratuitous.

Where the authors simply write their findings or opinions, the flow is much better and the narrative much more readable.


Note: Misfire is also available in several e-editions


Our Reviewer: A native of Tyler, Texas, upon graduating from A&M in 1968, Mike was commissioned in the Marine Corps. After serving as a Vietnamese language instructor at Quantico, he became a rifle platoon commander in the 1st Marine Division in Viet Nam, and later commanded a combined rifle company that consisted of two platoons of US Marines and two of Vietnamese Popular Forces soldiers. Twice wounded, he was medically retired from the Marine Corps as a captain. Mike spent the following 40 years in Virginia as a systems engineer and program manager for several defense contractors. He worked on some interesting projects that saw service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and received several awards while in that position. Retiring in 2011, he returned to Texas with his wife to make a home College Station. After 52 years of marriage, they have five children and eleven grandchildren. 


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: Michael Beggs   

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