Vietnam Tunnel Pistol.


August 23, 2007, 01:17 PM
I remember a few years ago, the History Channel
ran a special on "Tunnel Rats" in Vietnam.
It was when I wasn't in to pistol shooting, I was more a target rifle person.

Any how, anyone know what type pistol they used in the Tunnels?....U.S Troops.

I remember the guy saying "He all ways had his cocked, and ready to fire at the first sound." And he gave it good praises for doing the job.
He claimed "Every man he ever shot with it, dispatch rather quickly."

Not sure what the troops carried in Vietnam...I wasn't around until some time in 1983. So I have no idea.

If you enjoyed reading about "Vietnam Tunnel Pistol." here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!
August 23, 2007, 01:20 PM
IIRC, the tunnel rats carried a 1911 as their only weapon.

August 23, 2007, 01:33 PM
A Marine Vienam Vet that I used to work with was a tunnel rat. He was a small framed guy and got the job because of his size. He told me a couple of stories. I saw a couple of pictures of him in Vietnam.

As far a the pistol used, he was issued a "45" for tunnel work. That means a 1911a1 to me. However, he didn't like the 45 so he carried a personally owned Baby Browning 25 acp.

He later sold it to me. I shot the Browning before trading it off soon after that. I didn't think it was a very good defensive weapon.

Ghost Tracker
August 23, 2007, 01:42 PM
Yeah, I don't think anything special or exotic was designated as a "Tunnel Rat Pistol". The issue 1911A1 .45 ACP was what was there & handy. I WILL bet, however, that those guys suffered some SERIOUS hearing loss. Try repeatedly firing a .45 in a trash can...while being enclosed INSIDE the trash can. Whew, OUCH!

August 23, 2007, 01:53 PM
they carried whatever they had handy/could get their hands on. 1911's being most common, with G.I. S&W .38s close behind. but any gun that was available to the tunnel rat would likely be fair game. CAR-15s, Thompsons, shotguns, there was one crazy SOB assigned to the 25th Infantry that carried a Garand with a cut-down stock! :what:

I don't think anything special or exotic was designated as a "Tunnel Rat Pistol".

actually the army DID make one, a supressed pistol that also used an experimental "telescoping case" that was meant to solve the problems of flash and blast when the gun was fired in a tunnel. i think this concept was revived and put into use by the russians for one of their suppressed weapon systems.
IIRC none of these "improved" weapons saw much actual use outside of their field trials.

August 23, 2007, 01:56 PM
The 1911A1 and .38 Special (in various forms) were primarily used as that is what they had.

There's been discussion of other weapons developed for use in the tunnels, including a customized M29 using enclosed piston ammunition with a vastly reduced noise signature and shotgun loads with the same mechanism. I don't believe either was ever deployed.

August 23, 2007, 02:27 PM
A co worker who was a tunnlel rat said he carried a 1911 and a K-bar. Good guy.

August 23, 2007, 03:01 PM
What does "IIRC" mean? :confused:

August 23, 2007, 03:07 PM
If I Recall Correctly

August 23, 2007, 03:42 PM
Read the book "The Tunnels of Cu Chi", which is a good accounting of the tunnels, the VC/NVA as well as Tunnel Rats.

1911s weren't that popular because they were loud and had a huge flash for such an enclosed environment. Tunnel rats used whatever they could get their hands on meaning a lot of revolvers in .38 spcl. one 'Rat' used his personal Ruger MKI .22lr and chalked-up a kill vs. an NVA with an AK.

August 23, 2007, 05:02 PM
S&W model 39 9mm.

August 23, 2007, 05:24 PM
I recalled seeing that or a similar documentary and remembered a tunnel specific handgun ammo combination.
I had to look a little but this is what I found
The other round is the actual dedicated tunnel rat shotgun shell. It was designed for the Quiet Special Purpose Revolver (QSPR), a modified Model 29 Smith and Wesson with a 1" barrel and cylinders reamed out to accept the special cartridge. Ammunition was a turned steel case with a double stage artillery type primer in the base to help seal against gas leakage. The concept was similar to the 12ga Telecartridge but used a captive piston rather than a folded envelope. The mouth of the case had a series of rings machined internally to catch the piston as it pushed forward after ignition. The cup shaped piston held the propellant and pushed the 15 tungsten pellet out past a clear RTV sealant plug at the case mount before lodging in the retainer rings when fired.

It is unknown how many guns and cartridges were actually produced, but at least 10 revolvers made it to Vietnam for field testing. Receiving troops were generally unimpressed with their initial exposure to the system as it just made a "snap" sound like a cap gun when fired. But they were then demonstated to put all 15 shot pellets through a 3/4" thick plywood board and the respect level went up greatly.

And this

Due to the specialised nature of tunnel warfare, priority was placed with ENSURE (Expedited Non-standard Urgent Requirements for Equipment) program for the development of special "Tunnel Exploration kits". Six kits were requested by USARV on the 29th of April 1966, and then passed on to ACTIV (Army Concept Team In Vietnam) on the 7th of August. ACTIV then distributed the six kits, two went to the 1st Inf Div at Di An, a further two were dispatched to the 25th Inf Div at Cu Chi. Of the remaining kits one was given to the 1st Cav at An Khe, whilst the last remaining kit went to the 173rd Airborne Bde at Bien Hoa.

Each kit cost 728 Dollars and consisted of a .38 calibre pistol which was fitted with a suppressor and a spotlight sighting device. This was all carried on a standard pistol belt in a specially designed holster. On the wearers head was a baseball cap which had a miners lamp mounted on it which was switched on and off via a mouth operated bite-switch. At the back of the cap was a bone conduction microphone communication system which was connected to a small ear piece. The power pack for the lamp and a communication wire reel were also hung on the pistol belt, but were situated on the wearers back.

Tests on the exploration kit in Vietnam soon revealed its short comings. The silenced .38 cal pistol was not liked because of its length with the suppressor, and because it lacked balance and was awkward to handle. The special aiming light was found to be unnecessary given the tight confines and short ranges the tunnel rats were operating in. The huge pistol holster was also a failure as it was too big and unwieldy to be used in the tight confines of a tunnel. The head mounted miners lamp fared no better! This was obstructed by the baseball cap's visor and could be shorted out by switch malfunctions rendering it useless. Furthermore the lamp tended to slip down over the wearers eyes. The earpiece part of the communication system was also troublesome as it kept falling (

August 23, 2007, 06:30 PM
I have the book "Tunnels of Cu Chi", I'll look tonight.

August 23, 2007, 08:05 PM
I read an article years ago by a guy who said he was a tunnel rat. He said they were issued revolvers, probably .38s since those would have been the mot common caliber at the time. The Air Force Police had .38 revolvers, I think right up until the M9 pistol was put into service.

The soldier in the article also said they were ordered not to fire more than three shots at a time. This was supposed to be so the enemy could not tell how many rounds he had at ready. He said he panicked at one point and emptied the gun, which got him removed from the detail. I remember this because the soldier related a specific thing, his issue weapon, the tactics he was supposed to use to employ it, and how his tactical mistake affected his duties.

How true is it? I read it in a magazine in the 1980s. This was after First Blood, Missing In Action, Still in Saigon, and Goodnight Saigon. The mainstream press had realized that they treated Vietnam Veterans like crap for the past fifteen years and suddenly got religion, so anything that was said by veterans, particularly ones who discussed unusual engagements or duties, was fodder for media trying to atone for the sins of their fathers.

Ron James
August 23, 2007, 09:19 PM
They may have had all kinds of Buck Roger's stuff on the drawing boards, but in my two and 1/2 tours in Nam I only observe 3 different types of firearms used by Tunnel Rats, The 1911, the 38 S&W and a couple of Mk I Rugers

August 23, 2007, 09:23 PM
I've also heard rumors of colt woodsman .22's but I don't know if that is true. If my life depended on it I'd take the .45

August 23, 2007, 10:25 PM
One guy I know used .22 instead of a .45, he said the .45 in the tight space was hell on his ears. I do not remember if it was a Browning or a Colt.

August 23, 2007, 10:51 PM
I really suspect that any .22lr pistols used (except for SF hushpuppies) were personal firearms brought incountry or sent by relatives/friends. Things were certainly different during the Vietnam war!

August 23, 2007, 10:53 PM
Joab nailed it with his QSPR (Quiet Special Purpose Revolver) info. The rounds are known as ".44 QSPR", and they are a very scarce round. Mine, like most others in circulation, is fired, and a loaded example of the cartridge alone is classified as a silenced weapon.

August 24, 2007, 03:04 PM
I have an article somewhere that has a list of all the weapons used by Tunnel Rats in Vietnam. I'll have to look for it later as I am getting ready for work.

Pretty much all the weapons listed in this thread were used with the 1911 and the .38 revolvers being issued others acquired by other means. The major problem was definitely the noise which prompted soldiers to acquire other quieter weapons. Believe it or not captured Makarovs were highly prized by Tunnel Rats due to it's decent stopping power and low noise.

August 24, 2007, 03:13 PM
I thought I had read something about High Standard .22lr as well. For my $.02

August 24, 2007, 03:52 PM
Standard issue was a 1911A1, a buddy of mine from the VA Hospital told me about "being sent down a hole with a com' wire and a .45" He heard movement around a corner and turned and fired, sadly it was another American GI he shot and killed worse for him, one he knew.
He never got over the experience, he committed suicide about 8 years ago. Ironically with a .45, I still get a little teary eyed relating this story. He and I did a lot of hard therapy together, sadly for him therapy and sobriety were not enough.

August 24, 2007, 04:08 PM
Wasn't Forest Gump a Vietnam Tunnel Rat,who used Lt Taylor's 1911A1,whilst crawling through the tunnel and flushing out the bandits.?Quite impressive for a semi-retarded,simpleton like Forest's character.:)

Now then for the truth about Tunnel Rats:In Vietnam,how were men selected to be 'rats' and what special qualities,did they need to qualify for this special task,because it seems like a very dangerous and nerve-shattering experience,crawling through an enemy tunnel? Was it one of the worst jobs in a platoon,to do?

August 24, 2007, 04:33 PM
Quite impressive for a semi-retarded,simpleton like Forest's character.

I would think one would have to be a little "off" to do that job anyway...

August 24, 2007, 04:38 PM
A guy I ride with was a tunnel rat and he used a 1911. AND he has hearing aids!

Vern Humphrey
August 24, 2007, 04:52 PM
Randy Ellis, "Tunnel Rat 6" is a friend of mine. He pushed for silenced Ruger MKIs -- one stumbling block was they had to develop a jacketed bullet, since the standard lead bullet loaded in .22 LR was deemed to be in violation of the Hague Convention.

The few times I went into tunnels, I had my Colt .357. The only time I had to use a weapon was when I came upon a cobra some wiseacre had tethered there with commo wire. The only reason I'm not stone deaf is I also had my Randall bowie knife, and by teasing it with my flashlight, I managed to get the upper hand.

August 24, 2007, 04:55 PM
The Aussie troops that went down the tunnels generally used the 9mm Browning.

August 24, 2007, 05:12 PM
My late cousin [agent orange victim] told me he used a Colt 38spl.when he was ordered to check out tunnels.:mad:

August 24, 2007, 05:28 PM
Forgive my ignorance, but I've always wondered why we went exploring in these tunnels? Why not napalm/gasoline/specialized incendiaries of some sort? Torch the tunnel and be done with it?

I'm assuming there was some other risk associated with such a measure or we were also looking for intelligence down there?

Vern Humphrey
August 24, 2007, 05:33 PM
Forgive my ignorance, but I've always wondered why we went exploring in these tunnels?

Several reasons --

To gain intelligence (we found lots of documents in tunnels),

To find weapons caches,

Because tunnel design got pretty sophisticated and was very resistant to nape and explosives

And because on at least one occasion when we naped a tunnel, we found out it was being used as a hospital.

August 24, 2007, 05:41 PM

Some of these tunnels were designed like mini cities with electric power, storage rooms, kitchens, sleeping quarters, meeting rooms and even hostpitals. They were huge and could run on for miles. They were also dug into clay-like soil which was resistant to explosives & surface shock.

The tunnels were designed so well that they had various baffles, water barriers, airtight compartments and hidden doors that allowed them to resist discovery, explosives, gasoline, acetylene gas (fuel air explosive) and CS gas. The US Army discovered that it was necessary to go in after the VC/NVA because they were impossible to destroy from the surface. -After the war, it was discovered that the efforts of Tunnel rats never came close to discovering how extensive they actually were.

August 24, 2007, 05:54 PM
1911 Government Models in .45 ACP and S&W Model 15's in .38 Special.

Seven High
August 24, 2007, 06:32 PM
It must have taken a lot of courage to enter a tunnel with nothing more than a pistol and a crappy GI flashlight.

August 24, 2007, 08:42 PM
It must have taken a lot of courage to enter a tunnel with nothing more than a pistol and a crappy GI flashlight.

That's what I was thinking. Very high-risk.

August 24, 2007, 08:50 PM
While researching the cartridge a few years ago I read that one tunnel rat, I forget his name, used a lever-action .444 Marlin.

August 24, 2007, 08:53 PM
Thanks for the info on the tunnels. I had no idea they were that extensive and well constructed. Seems like it would have taken forever for them to build these and, good grief - with what kind of equipment?

What kind of dimensions were these like? I always thought the tunnels almost required crawling, but the descriptions are much bigger.

August 24, 2007, 09:06 PM
The LRRP team I was attached to used the standard issue 1911A! and the S&W Victory model 38spl, A couple of gentleman{;)} That came with us from time to time where issued and carried High Standard MD's suppressed and Swedish K's that had been also suppressed.

Most of the Britt's and Aussies there used P-35's{High Powers}.


With snakes, mines,pugi's and what not you had to have your **** wired tight!!!

And being built like a rat terrier help allot to.:D

August 24, 2007, 10:32 PM
While researching the cartridge a few years ago I read that one tunnel rat, I forget his name, used a lever-action .444 Marlin.

you're probably thinking of Jerry "Mad Dog" Shriver, who last i heard was the only person documented to have carried a .444 on a combat mission. he was with MACV SOG and carried it b/c he beleived that the .444 might/would penetrate small bunkers

August 24, 2007, 10:49 PM
"The LRRP team I was attached to used the standard issue 1911A! and the S&W Victory model 38spl, A couple of gentleman{} That came with us from time to time where issued and carried High Standard MD's suppressed and Swedish K's that had been also suppressed.

Most of the Britt's and Aussies there used P-35's{High Powers}."
Thats exactly what I saw from 1967 thru 1972 in I and II corps. I managed the 2nd time over to get a 'K' as I had a MACV pass. Ya got the ammo from the aussies over beers! I never went down in no stinking tunnels , but I went into beau coup stinking bunkers.

August 24, 2007, 10:56 PM
1911. Check out the book "The Tunnels of Cu Chi," by Tom Mangold and John Penycate. Good read.

August 24, 2007, 11:22 PM
I was a grunt Marine with 3rd Bn 26th Marines in early 1969 when we
located a huge tunnel complex on the Batangan Peninsula. It turned
out to have a hospital, many living quarters, and a whole lot of arms
storage chambers. Iirc, we took about 70 prisoners out of the tunnels.
The Army sent a platoon of engineers from the Americal division, with
probably 20 tons of explosives to blow the tunnels after we cleared them.

I don't remember our unit having "designated" tunnel rats, it was done on pretty much
a volunteer basis. I went down 2 or 3 times, enough to realize just
how claustrophobic I am. That was enough for me. I remember a few guys
carrying .45s down into the tunnels, but a lot of guys went in with just a knife,
either a bayonet or a K-Bar, and a flashlight. That's all I ever took, because
I didn't have a pistol.

The engineers tried pumping CS gas down into the tunnels but I don't
think that worked out too well, because once the gas was dumped in,
it just sat there and you couldn't go back into the tunnel. A couple of Marines tried,
got overcome by the gas and almost died. That's when
they abandoned the CS gas idea. Not long after that they started blowing the tunnels
with huge blocks of C-4 and SHAPE charges.


August 25, 2007, 09:35 AM

August 25, 2007, 12:16 PM
I remember seeing pictures of tunnel rats in Nam back in the late 60's and early 70's. I think it was an American Rifleman article. They were carrying .38 Spcl S&W's with silencers. IIRC the article stated that the silencers weren't too effective due to the revolver's cylinder/barrel gap, but that it made shooting them less deafening in the tunnels.

August 26, 2007, 12:02 AM
Even though the 1911 was the standard issue many carried a .38 Special revolver. Also, some brought along a short barrel 12 ga in case they stumbled upon a large tunnel complex which opened up to "rooms". They needed the extra firepower and the larger area would allow use of a shotgun without blowing out your own eardrums.

August 28, 2007, 09:35 AM
I would think one would have to be a little "off" to do that job anyway...
Yes,but at least he managed it,without refusing an order.Unfortunately someone had to do it and I think that Forest did it,because he said 'yes to everything',was simple and was considered to be expendable or cannon-fodder.

Most of the Britt's and Aussies there used P-35's{High Powers}.
Standard issue pistols,which are still in service today,the latest incarnation of the HI-Power being -the BDA 9mm.
By the way,was it only Brits from the SAS who served in Vietnam,or were there others from the Royal Marines and SBS.Also some of them,Iv'e heard used 1911A1s in the 50s up to the 90s.I know that in the Iranian Embassy seige of 1980,in Shepard's Bush,West London-that a trooper used a 1911A1,in favor of a HI-Power 9mm.Interesting isn't it and also Iv'e heard that the SAS had officers from the LAPD Swat team,visited them in Sterling Lines,Herefordshire-to learn about their methods of CQB and hostage-rescue.Perhaps they shared info about the 1911A1 and about the knockdown power of the .45 ACP,round.

If you enjoyed reading about "Vietnam Tunnel Pistol." here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!