M79 Grenade Launcher (Blooper)

The M79 Grenade Launcher is a very distinctive and simple weapon which first appeared during the Vietnam War. Visually it looks like a simple large barrelled saw off shotgun using a break open mechanism.  It gained various nicknames during the Vietnam War due to its distinctive firing sound, these included “Thumper” or ‘Blooper’ although some Australian troops called it a ‘Wombat gun’.

The M79 was to have a long term impact on infantry weapon development as can be seen in many modern under slung grenade systems which form part of modern infantry assault rifles.  The idea was to provide the infantryman with a weapon that had greater range than a rifle fired grenade but was smaller and lighter than a mortar. Early designs focused on firing a 40mm grenade which was 46mm long but attempts to create a multi shot weapon stalled and the single shot design was carried forward to become the M79 in December 1960.

The first weapons were delivered to frontline US Army troops in 1961 who found it a simple, portable and reliable weapon ideal suited to the jungle conditions of Vietnam. A skilled user could hit a man sized target at a range of 140 meters but it was hampered by a very slow rate of fire making it less useful for suppressing fire during a skirmish. The other problem at close quarters was the fact the round had to travel 30 meters before arming itself which meant many users had to carry a back up weapon for close quarters, due to the size and weight of the M79 this back up weapon was normally a handgun, eventually the M79 was replaced by an under slung version which allowed the user to be a rifleman too.

A variety of rounds were developed adding to the weapons flexibility - these include shrapnel, smoke, explosive, flechette and shotgun-like buckshot rounds, as well as flares. Also a non lethal crowd control ‘rubber bullet’ round and CS gas grenade were developed. The explosive (HE) round explodes to produce 300 fragments which are lethal to a radius of 5 meters, it must travel 30 meters before it arms itself but before it is armed it is normally travelling fast enough to kill who ever it hits.

The Flechette round, some times called a Bee Hive round fires 45 steel darts or Flechettes, this proved rather ineffective as the darts would not penetrate if they didn’t hit point first. For close range fighting this was replaced in 1966 with a shotgun like buckshot round the M576. This fired 20 – 27 steel pellets which were lethal at close range but like all shotguns rapidly less effective as range increased.

The M79 proved a very popular weapon among armed forces and para-military organisations around the world seeing service in the armed forces of Turkey, Australia, Israel and some South American countries. Versions were produced by Daewoo in South Korea and by the South African arms company Milcor. It is an example of a classic weapon design, simple, easy to use, versatile and portable

Grenade Launchers 40-Mm Fm23-31 (Paperback) by Us Government. The official US army source book on this type of weapon. cover cover cover
Homemade Grenade Launchers: Constructing the Ultimate Hobby Weapon (Paperback), Ragnar Benson. Interesting but definitely in the category of don’t try this at home. cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, T. (7 April 2008), M79 Grenade Launcher (Blooper), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_M79_Grenade_Launcher.html

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