MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
The M3A1 Grease Gun
By Breech Block Submission
months ago, when Dick and I were toying with his idea to launch the
Foundation’s monthly E-Newsletter, we reviewed a number of projects and
issues that would fill the “Breech Block”, be of value to the intended
audience, and hold readers’ attention. Of course, the main reason for
the Breech Block, or any thing else the Foundations does for that
matter, must relate in some way to the Vietnam Tanker and Ontosman. We
found that there are many fields that we can dig to satisfy most readers
on a regular basis. In addition, there’s any number of today’s news that
directly impacts us older Vets. The changes to the VA system that affect
us could be their own book and in fact, are!
We thought that introducing our readership to what the Foundation “does”, how we do it, and who does it would be an “O/K” feature. Articles on the many operations tanks and Ontos participated in would stir some memories. Even some stories around how Tankers and Ontos Crewmen used the weapons we had available to us in the many situations we found ourselves involved.
And then, the light came on even brighter! How about all those Tankers and Ontosmen who trained up to meet the VC/NVA enemy but, for one reason or another, did get the chance to “go south”? We agreed that the Foundation’s Bylaws would be changed to include all Tankers, Ontosmen, and direct support personnel who served during the Vietnam War-era, removing the restriction that “Vietnam War-serving” placed on us. So, we’ve cast a much wider net and now provide a historical home for tracked vehicles that popped caps on shells larger than 89mm and can stop incoming smaller than .29cal.
We drew straws and came up with the “Grease Gun” for starters. And a great choice it is – much smaller than a tank and only slightly smaller than an Ontos and TO/E on both! What’s not to like?
And, even though we’re “young” at this we should have known that asking the question of the Tanker/Tracked Tank Killer Community “Tell us what you thought (and still may think) about the “Grease Gun”. And, “Write to us of your personal experience with it.”, would generate some “interesting” responses. We were not disappointed. The several one-liners ranged from “For the year and 12 days I was in the ‘Nam, my “greaser” never left my side” to “Sir, no disrespect, but that thing was a piece of s—t”.
Here then is some long-forgotten nomenclature of, and a few (sea) stories about, the “M3 .45 Caliber Submachinegun”.
Illustration: Gregory Proch. Taken from the Vietnam Magazine.
It was the spring of ’66, I was nearing my end-of-tour as a Tanker, and I was planning my trip home from my “Senior Trip” to Vietnam. The Battalion Commander called me in to ask me to assist the move of 2/4, re-locating from Chu Lai to south of Marble Mountain across Danang’s Tien Shau Ramp. Arriving at the debarkation site with 6 5- ton M-54’s, I found my old college room mate and wedding Best Man just moths before, was a Platoon Commander in Fox Company. To make a long story a bit shorter, he talked me into extending my tour by six months and joining up with the “Magnificent Bastards”. I met the Bn. C.O., LtCol “PX” Kelley, who assured me that if my extension and transfer were approved, I’d be assigned a platoon in Fox Company.
After the move, I returned to the Tank Battalion, informed my boss of my intentions, he approved, Division approved, and, to the point of the story, I checked out a grease gun, packed my kit in the back of a jeep, and headed off to Marble Mountain and the F/2/4 CP. On the way, after several departing beers, and having to stop for relief, I shot a chicken running across a sand dune – with my .45. But that’s another story I’ll save to tell when the Breech Block covers that TO/E weapon in a future article.
The next morning I stood in front of my new platoon and its Platoon Sergeant, SSgt Jimmy “Pappy” Cline, a re-tread Korean War Grunt. My God, I thought, these are truly “Magnificent” (the “Bastard” part would surface later in my tour). That night I took out my first Grunt patrol. My grease gun was loaded and with 2 magazines of .45cal rounds. I cannot begin to related how heavy that grease gun got as we slogged hour-after-hour through rice paddies, stumbling over dikes, and through villages that night. Before first light we set our ambush, rang out our socks, and waited. We had a contingency plan for cordon/sweep operation of the village, from which suspected VC departed every night to salt the area with mines and returned in the morning to change their clothes and get ready to work their plots, if our ambush failed.
To our extreme disappointment the returning VC party skirted our well-conceived ambush. We’d been “out thought” but were prepped for the back-up tactic. The next move then was for the platoon, with cordon set, to sweep the village. By this time I was anticipating lightening my grease gun load at the first opportunity. That came almost immediately when a pair of black pajamas scurried around the corner of a straw hootch and into its front entrance, closely followed by a volley of M-14 rounds kick up around his flip flops.
Momentarily he peered around the left side of the entrance way and ducked back. I let loose with my grease gun. The entire door way disappeared leaving a much larger opening. Surprisingly, the black pajamad gentleman re-appeared - facing us. Then he pitched forward, face first, into the yard, lying motionless.
We broke cover and carefully approached the body. Trying to re-construct what had just happened, we guessed that when he peered out the hootch after first entering, he’d stood next to the entrance with his back against the straw wall because, as we approached is lifeless body, he looked like a bristling porcupine, not covered with quills, but covered with hundreds of pieces of embedded straw! My grease gun had taken the straw wall he was backed up to and re-deposited it into his back side.
We found Chicoms and a fully loaded AK-47 on the floor next to where “Charlie” had been standing before he participated in the “transfer of straw” exercise. As good as the news was that we’d added, by one, to the VCC body count of our company’s totes for the month, the personal achievement that I’d got my first kill as a Grunt, was the relief in the knowledge that for the rest of the 5-day operation, I’d have lbs less to pack.
This was the first time I carried my grease gun as a Grunt.
Another story about the “Grease Gun” by John Wear:
Our tank is at the Dong Ha tank ramp in the middle of our quarterly PM so today I decide that it is time to clean all of the tank's on board weapons. The first one to get the PM is the .45 caliber "grease gun." What a piece of shit this useless weapon is. It is too heavy, totally inaccurate and it rusts far too easily in the hot humid weather of Vietnam. I take it off of the mount that is on the inside of the turret and I see that it is filthy and rusty. I bring it and a loaded magazine into the transit tent where we are staying. I pop the 20 rounds out of the magazine and clean the inside making sure that the spring works well. Then after cleaning the entire weapon, I reload the magazine and then stick it in to the gun to check its functioning. Opps! Now the damn magazine is stuck. No matter how hard I pull on it, the stuck magazine just will not budge. So I ask Frank Cruz, one of the other tank crewmen that is in the tent, to pull on the magazine as I carefully pull the bolt back. I figure that I can stick my finger inside of the open chamber and push the magazine out from the inside as the bolt is held back. As I gently pull the bolt back, Frank gives a might yank on the magazine and all of a sudden the gun slips from my grip. In losing my grip, I release the bolt. BAM!!! The first round in the magazine gets chambered as the bolt moved forward and the gun goes off. Everyone inside of the tent is stunned into silence. Oh God! Where did the bullet go? I am holding my breath just waiting for one of the Marines in the tent to begin to moan and groan with a .45 slug in his head or his body. Other than smoke from the round firing…there is nothing to show for the accidental discharge. Then I look toward the opposite end of the tent and about five inches above my driver, Staffo’s head. There is a brand new hole. Thank God! It missed my driver and spared me going to the brig for a long - long time. We quickly stow all weapons back inside of our tank and the transit tent empties as we all head out for other parts of the tank park...before a lifer who heard the shot shows up to give us a shitpot full of grief!
Before my reincarnation as a Tanker I was a grunt (C/1/4). For awhile even a grunt office pouge. In the field one of my jobs was guarding the C.P. I used verious weapons for this one was an M1 Carbine with an inferred light and scope, (the battery pack was 42 Lbs.) another was the M3A1 Grease Gun. What a piece of crap, the only machined parts were the Bolt and Barrel everything else was metal stampings. It fired so slow you could hear each round going off. Wouldn't even had made a good club. A few loaded magazines weighed more than the gun.
Now we flash forward a few years and I'm a tanker in Vietnam and one of the weapons aboard is an M3A1 Grease Gun. Man I'm thinking "If we ever have to bail out and use this, we're in deep shit." The magazine springs were so weak we had to fire it upside down to get it to feed. If we double springed the magazine we could only half load the magazines. Some how while we were at the "Rock Pile" we acquired an M1928a1 Thompson, it became mine by default as I was the only one that knew how to disassemble it and operate it. (I had learned this when I was "Volunteered" to attend a POW School as a grunt.) It had no butt stock or lands or grooves in the barrel and was heavy. But it worked great. Sure would cover an area, with no lands or groves the rounds came out in a cork screw pattern.
This was the weapon that was replaced by the M3A1 because of the cost of manufacture. In this case I think it was less bang for the buck.
We’re building our archive of Grease Gun stories. Please let us hear from you.