Rocket Pistols In Viet Nam

                                                          Captain Monty Mendenhall


           The author is unaware of any authorized use of Gyrojet rocket pistols by US military personnel in Viet Nam.  At that time however, it was not too uncommon for officers, and occasionally enlisted men, to bring their personal side arms with them.  Some Gyrojet rocket pistols came to Viet Nam in this manner.  At least two are reported to have been used in there.  One was carried by Army Lt. Douglas G. Magruder, who died there.  In his returned personal effects, was his Mark II Gyrojet. It was engraved with his name. The second Gyrojet user survived.   His name was David Kirschbaum and his full story is available on the Internet at  Portions of Kirschbaum’s story are excerpted below.

David Kirschbaum Speaks

As a Recon man I liked the weapon just fine: light, quiet, low-maintenance, and a hell of a punch. I lay beside a well-traveled trail ‘deep within enemy territory’ for most of a day waiting to shoot some poor suffering NVA bastard in the hip with it, but no one ever came. 

Never did shoot anyone with it. It was not silent, not like the true silenced .22 Hi-standards we often carried. But it was quiet, made a sort of "Psssssst!" sound like air escaping from a truck tire, maybe a half-second long. People would hear it, look around curiously like ‘What the hell was that?’ and go about their business, because it didn't SOUND like a weapon, it didn't SOUND dangerous! (I fired it in camp several times, demonstrating it, never got any attention at all.)”

“It was fully weatherproof, gun and rockets. I lay besides an LZ one day, hiding, waiting for the rain to stop and choppers to come. When I got back to CCC, I checked the pistol: the barrel and cocking/firing mechanism had filled completely with sand and clay that had washed down the bank to where I was lying on my chest.
I figured what the hell, let's shoot it off to see if it'll push the mud out. (Not like a regular pistol, where a plugged barrel would probably explode.)”

“I fired it, wondering if the rocket would clear the barrel. I was surprised to see the firing mechanism actually work despite all the sand and clay! But the rocket didn't clear the barrel: it went "Pssssst!"

just like always, but jammed in the barrel.”

“I took the pistol to the latrine, washed it out in a stream of water to clear out the sand. I recocked it manually (the "hammer" was in front of the rocket), poked a stick down the barrel and knocked the jammed rocket loose (it had only moved a fraction of an inch, it hadn't even recocked the "hammer". Then I removed the expended rocket, let a new rocket move up into the firing position, closed it back up again, and fired off the next rocket (that had been soaking wet for a week or more).  No problem, fired just fine.”

“The biggest problem was the feed design. The rockets all pushed down into the handgrip of the pistol against a spring and follower. Then, while holding that last rocket down, you slid forward this cover on the top of the "receiver" that held them all in place. Fine and dandy if you were going to just shoot them. But shame on you if you had a misfire (although I never did) or a jam (which I did, once, re above). You'd have to slide back that slide, meanwhile holding all the rockets down with your thumb, and then they'd all want to come springing out! The design really REALLY sucked. It should've had a magazine like a regular automatic, instead of everything being integral. Impossible to clear in combat, and a real PITA to reload too.  Never the less, I liked the pistol just fine.”

Summary and Thanks

Considering the results of the recent Gyrojet rocket pistol tests, it is probably a good thing that few were actually taken to Viet Nam.  Close range Gyrojet velocity/energy was sub-lethal and longer range accuracy was doubtful.  Also, as David Kirschbaum noted, clearing a jam or reloading a Gyrojet pistol during a fire fight was impractical. 

Thanks are due to Leonard Yates for supplying the picture of Lt. Douglas G. Magruder’s personal Gyrojet pistol and for permitting to publish it.  Thanks also to the Web Master of the Classic Firearms site for allowing to publish excerpts from David Kirschbaum’s personal recollections of his experiences with a Gyrojet in Viet Nam.









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