Tag: Vietnam War

Norden Bombsight

The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL has an original, full-size Norden Bombsight on display in the museum. 


Development of the Norden Bombisight began with the U.S. Navy’s desire to secure a system was capable of bombing ships that would fall outside the range of their defensive guns.   About the same time, the U.S. Army had undertaken a similar project.  The Bombsight became one of the military’s top secret and closely guarded projects of WW II.  The intricacy of this instrument allowed a more accurate timing as to when it was necessary to drop a bomb in order to accurately hit the target below.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was the aircraft the Army chose for the Norden, feeling it was the most capable aircraft to insure the success of this top secret bombsight.  Later variations of the B-17 were designed to allow the Norden Bombsight to take over the controls of the plane and actually fly the aircraft.   The known accuracy of the Norden was said to have been successful enough to hit a 100 foot circle at 21,000 feet – which is approximately 4 miles high.  However, test results proved to be more successful than actual bombing missions.

Top Secret Device

The secrecy of the Norden Bombsight meant the sight would not be loaded into the aircraft until just prior to take-off.  Before loading, the sight would be covered from view and brought to the plane using armed guards.  Once the mission was completed and the plane returned, the sight would once again be covered and armed guards would safely escort it back to “the Bomb Vault”.  All bombardiers using the Norden had to take an oath to protect this highly classified instrument, even if it meant their life.  In the event of an emergency landing in enemy territory, they were instructed to shoot the sight’s most critical instruments in order to disable it.  The military felt this did not destroy the sight enough should it fall into enemy hands, which lead to the installation of a thermite grenade making it possible to create a heat reaction capable of melting the Norden into a useless pile of metal.

By the end of the war, the secrecy of the sight was downgraded with the first public display occurring in 1944.  The most famous mission for the Norden Bombsight occurred on August 6, 1945, when the sight was used in the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.   The legacy of the Norden bombsight did not end there.  At the onset of the Korean War, aircraft from WWII that had been left intact were once again called into service.   At the onset of the Vietnam War, the USAF once again would turn to the Norden Bombsight, but this time, WWII technicians were needed to bring them back to operational status.

Today’s Top Ten Armies (Military Powers) in the World

This list of Top Ten Armies (Military Powers) in the world is subjective at best.  Unless you looked at specific aspects and judged based on that criteria alone, the list cannot be definitive.  One can look at a nation’s defense budget or the size of their enlisted members, or combine the two.  Another area for consideration is the amount of armor a nation has inventoried including tanks, helicopters, aircraft and ships.  This top ten took in a little of all of that, but it is still one perspective looking at the Armies around the world.  Input and educational pieces on other armies not listed here, or any additional information that may have been omitted, are welcomed.

Before listing the top ten, one country fell just short of making the list, but certainly deserves to be mentioned – North Korea.  They not only have one of the largest Special Forces in the world – 120,000 members – they have a very large inventory of armor.

10.  Pakistan

Pakistan is known for their good upper leadership.  Founded in 1947, their three branches of service totals more than 600,000 people – all volunteers.  They have close Pakistan Aircraftties to the militaries of the US and China.  Pakistan’s budget of over $5 billion is smaller than all the other top ten militaries, but it does exceed the overall defense budget of a number of other countries around the world.  While Pakistan has about the same number of naval craft as the United Kingdom (see below), they have more aircraft and helicopters and an incredible total of 9,000 tanks and armored vehicles.  They have assisted the United States in their War on Terrorism by fighting the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and along their own borders.

9.  United Kingdom  

British Forces include three branches of service, – the navy, the army and the air force. Below are some figures for the United Kingdom – the figures presented could vary slightly:

  • British HelicopterActive Military (including army, navy and air force) – 197,700
  • Reserve – 212,000
  • Paramilitary – 152,000
  • Aircraft and Helicopters – 1,800
  • Tanks and Armored Vehicles – 5,500

Despite having one of the smallest numbers of active military, the militaries of the United Kingdom are a sustainable force and their SAS is among the world’s top Special Forces.  Britain is a steadfast ally of the U.S.

8.  Iran

Iran militaryIran has one of the best small forces in the world.  Half of this countries government’s income goes towards defense.  Their modern day military was first founded in 1923 and currently boasts over 500,000 active members.  In addition, its defense budget of $10 billion has allowed more aircraft than the US and UK combined and almost the same amount of aircraft and helicopters as China, a country with a much larger force and budget.

7.  Turkey

Turkey militaryTurkey’s Army dates back over 2,000 years.  Their modern day militaries were not established though until 1920.  Turkey has over 600,000 members in its military forces and its budget is close to $19 billion.  This country comes in fourth for the total number of tanks and armored vehicles – 11,000 plus.  All Turkish males – once they reach 20 years of age – are required to serve in the military.  There are very few exceptions to this requirement.

6.  Germany 

Germany's Leopard IIMuch of Germany’s notable military history began with the rise of Hitler.  They were responsible for the start of WWII when they invaded Poland.  When the war was over, the country divided and the West German Army was formed.  It wasn’t until the 1990s the country reunited.  Currently, Germany has more than 200,000 active military members who are well-trained and well-equipped.  Germany boasts of one of the best tanks in the world – the Leopard II.

5.  France

France's MilitaryFrance’s military does not have the reputation as a super power, but its numbers would say differently.  Their military totals over 360,000 members spread throughout their navy, air force and paramilitary branches.  All three branches are very well rounded, but many feel their navy is bar far their strongest branch.  France’s defense budget comes in just over $58 billion.  Despite this impressive budget, it still has the smallest number of aircraft and helicopters than any other country on this list.

4.  India

India has a more advanced Air Force and very-well trained Special Forces.  They have four branches of military and also additional paramilitary units.  Their active military India's militaryhas more than 1.3 million members.  India has an additional 2.1 million in reserves and their paramilitary has 1.3 million members.  In all, India has more than 4.7 million total members.

Despite their large number of service members, India’s aircraft and helicopter and tank and armored vehicle totals put them only in the center of the list of countries listed here and they do have the smallest naval craft fleet.  Some estimates of nuclear warheads in India’s possession go as high as 80.


3.  Russia

This former superpower still has a large amount of equipment in its military inventory.  They have well over 1.2 million active military members and an additional 750,000 in Russian Militarythe reserve.  Their paramilitary total comes in at around 5,000.  The total military budget for Russia is in excess of $64 billion.  Only two countries have a higher military budget than Russia – the United States and China.

The current known Russian force was first founded in 1992, but Russia’s military history dates back to as early as 863.  Between the ages of 18 and 27, all male Russians are drafted into the country’s service for a period of 12 months.  A few exceptions, such as being a student or the parent of two or more children, serve as exemptions to this otherwise steadfast rule.

Russia is known to have the largest number of nuclear warheads on hand, but most of them are not active.

2.  China

Founded in 1927, the People’s Liberation Army of China has more than 2.3 million China's militaryactive service members in its military making it the largest active force in the world. With a reserve of 800,00 and a paramilitary of 1.5 million, in all, China has more than 4.5 million military members.   China’s defense budget of $129 billion is continually increasing each year by an average of 12 to 15%.  This total makes it the second largest defense budget in the world – second only to the United States.  China is believed to house as many as 240 nuclear warheads.

1.  United States

The US military has history dating back to 1775 when it first formed forces (Continental Army) to fight in the Revolutionary War.  The US Army has been involved in every major world war as well as the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War and the Global War on Terrorism.

United States militaryThe defense budget for the United States is more than the combined totals of the previous nine countries coming in at over $689 billion.  The US has just over 1.4 million active military members, another 1.4 million reserve members and 11,000 in its paramilitary.  The US ranks second behind Russia in the total number of warheads, but it does have the largest number of active warheads.  The United States leads in the overall aircraft and helicopters – 21,000 – but is just barely ahead of China with its total of tanks and armored vehicles.  The United States also has an impressive 12 aircraft carriers in its fleet.

This list of today’s top ten armies (military powers) in the world, certainly sheds light on the overall power of these nations given their impressive numbers in members, equipment and budget.

Top Weapons of the Vietnam War

With the advancements in military warfare, the top weapons of the Vietnam War take on a very different look than those used just a few years prior in the Korean War. Helicopters were widely utilized and tanks were not practical. The Vietnam People’s Army (North Vietnamese Army) fought a more conventional war, sometimes sending large units into battle. The U.S. and South Vietnamese forces relied more on their air superiority and tremendous firepower when operating their search and destroy missions, which involved ground forces, artillery and airstrikes.

List of Top Weapons

This list of top weapons of the Vietnam War will focus specifically on infantry weapons. They are listed in no particular order.

M16 Assault Rifle – More specifically, the M-16A1 – 5.56mm – was one of the most distinguishable hand held weapons of the Vietnam War. The reliability of this rifle is reflective in its continued use by US forces today.

CAR15 – This 5.56mm telescopic assault rifle was used in Vietnam, but primarily by US Special Forces.

M14 Rifle – This 7.62mm rifle was briefly used during the Vietnam War, but was eventually phased out with the introduction of the M16.

Colt 45 1911 – This 45 cal pistol continued to see service through Vietnam, but was mainly issued to the Officers and/or those enrolled in special forces.

M-60 Light Machine Gun – This 7.62mm gun was often mounted on armored vehicles and helicopters and used by troops for infantry support.

AK-47 Assault Rifle – A 7.62mm weapon, the AK-47 was produced during the 1950s by the Russians. It was considered more durable than the M16, but not as accurate. The AK-47 is still in production today.


The list of infantry weapons in Vietnam could go on and on.  Rocket launchers, grenade launchers and even anti-tank weapons were widely used by the infantry. Other types of machine guns, pistols and rifles were also used. The above list could be disputed, but is, no doubt, reflective of some of the top weapons of the Vietnam War.

One of the Longest Surviving POWs – William Andrew Robinson

Bill RobinsonMany facts and stories from previous conflicts remain in the spotlight long after they have passed.  One that seems to elude many is the name of one of the longest surviving POWs – USAF Airman First Class William Andrew Robinson.  If asked, how many individuals would even be able to answer which conflict Bill was involved in?


Bill’s story begins on a typical mission day in Vietnam – September 20, 1965.  By the end of the day though, the mission would result in a life that was anything but typical.  And while most POWs have been interned for a number of years, Bill Robinson would endure 7 years and 5 months of captivity – the longest POW internment in US military history.

The mission of the Huskie Helicopter that Robinson and several others boarded that morning remains unclear.  The chopper was shot down, however, and Robinson and those aboard were all taken prisoner.

Robinson is shown here with a female guard. The photo became very popular in Vietnam, even appearing on postage stamps.

Robinson was transported to what was known as the “Hanoi Hilton Prison” by the North Vietnamese Army.  For the next seven years, Bill Robinson survived unthinkable conditions.  He was beaten, starved and often witnessed the death of his fellow prisoners.

Bill was finally released on February 12, 1973.  He accredits previous WWII, as well as Korean War, POWs for his survival.  He notes their experiences proved it was possible to survive the horrific day-to-day struggles of a POW.

Overview of Robinson’s Military Career

Robinson’s military career started just after graduation from high school in 1961.  After his training, he served stateside in Oklahoma and North Dakota and eventually overseas in Korea prior to being sent to Vietnam.  In April of 1965, Bill’s tour of duty in Vietnam was scheduled to last only four months.  Those four months, however, turned into almost eight years.  He describes his internment as boring “punctuated by terror” and notes the only communication he had with his fellow Americans was through a tap code they had devised.

Bill said he was able to survive by continually telling himself he was only in Vietnam for three days.  “I was shot down yesterday; today was today; and I was going to the house tomorrow.”  He remembers continually preparing himself for the prospect of being released and going home.  He knew he must remain strong – both physically and mentally – in order to survive.

Upon his release, Bill Robinson was commissioned to Lieutenant, but he always remains humble about his captivity.  He notes that he is but one of 7.3 million who can his story, because he survived.  Thousands upon thousands of stories died with those who did not survive their internment.

Captain Robinson has spoken many times about his POW ordeal.

Robinson continued his service and retired a Captain in 1984.  During his career, he was awarded the Air Force Cross, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the POW Medal and two Purple Hearts.

Robinson is remembered by many as one who set the standard for maintaining honorable duty even under the most unbearable conditions.   William Andrew Robinson, the longest surviving US military POW, has no doubt proven himself to be a true survivor.

United States M16 Assault Rifle

The United States M16 assault rifle was designed in 1956, but production did not begin until 1963.  This rifle is considered one of the top rifles of the military.  The M16 first entered into service in the US Army during the Vietnam War as an effective weapon against jungle warfare – becoming standard issue by the US military by 1969.  After Vietnam, the variants of the M16 have remained the primary service rifles of the US armed forces.  This assault rifle is also used by a number of militaries throughout the world.  To date, more than 8 million M16s have been manufactured world-wide, making this assault rifle the most produced firearm of its caliber.

Step back in time as you step into the Firearms and Ordnance Gallery at the Armed Forces History Museum.  Feel the power insisde this extensive gallery of authentic weapons from around the world dating throughout history.  Included in this display is an M16 Assault Rifle. 

About the M16

A lightweight, air-cooled assault rifle, the M16 is built using steel, an aluminum alloy, composite plastics and polymer.  This 5.56 x 45 mm NATO cartridge rifle is magazine fed, capable of 12 to 15 rounds per minute of sustained firing and 45 to 60 rounds per minute of semi-automatic firing.  Its muzzle velocity is 3,110 feet per second and the M16 has an effective range of 550 meters point target and 800 meters for an area target.  The barrel length on the M16 is 20 inches and it only weighs 7.18 lbs. (without ammo).

Originally, the rifle experienced a jamming problem known as ‘failure to extract’.  This occurs when the spent cartridge does not eject from the chamber, but remains lodged inside, even after the bullet as left the muzzle.  The source of this difficulty was due to the new gunpowder used in the M16 which had not been adequately tested.

Though the first M16s were relatively light, later variants were heavier due to the thicker barrel (only forward of the handguards) profile, which made it more resistant to damage and slower to overheat engaged in sustained fire.  The M16 also features a carrying handle, a rear sight assembly located on top of the receiver and a ‘Low Light Level Sight System’.

Another attribute of the M16 is a recoil spring located in the stock (right behind the action), allowing a dual function of operating both the spring and the recoil buffer.  During automatic fire, the alignment of the stock with the bore reduces the muzzle rise, but since the recoil does not have a significant effect on the point of aim, faster follow-up shots are possible, reducing user fatigue.

Combat and Current Use

The M16 variants are still being produced today.  Since its inception, this assault rifle has been used in a number of combat situations including Vietnam, the Invasion of Panama, the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War.

Beginning in 2010, the US Army started phasing out the M16, replacing it with the M4 carbine, which in effect is a shortened derivative of the M16 variant – M16A2.  The United States M16 Assault rifle is still being used throughout the world with an estimated 90% still in operation.

The White Table – A Remembrance to Our POW/MIAs

The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL has a White Table of Remembrance set up and on display in the museum in recognition of our POW/MIA’s. 

The White Table’s History

Though no one is able to trace the history of the White POW/MIA Table back to its very beginning, it is believed to have originated by the River Rats during the Vietnam War.  Once the war was over, it is believed the tradition continued state-side as a commemorative to the fallen comrades as well as the men who were still missing in action.   It wasn’t long before the tradition became a part of each military branch.  Over the years, the “table” has evolved and there are some slight differentiations that exist between the tables set by each branch of the military.  The general principle, and most of the setting, is similar.

  1. The tablecloth chosen for the table is always white.  White symbolizes the pure intention with which the comrades honored have served.
  2. The table is small with a setting for just one person, reflecting the vulnerability of one prisoner against his enemy.
  3. A single rose in a vase sits on the table symbolizing the blood that has been shed.  The rose also represents the families and loved ones that have been left behind and the faith they uphold that their loved one will one day return.
  4. A slice of lemon is placed on a bread plate as a reminder of their bitter fate.  And the salt on this plate symbolizes the tears that have been shed by their families as they quietly wait.
  5. A glass on the table is inverted which denotes their inability to be with us and toast with us this night.
  6. A candle on the table represents the light in our hearts that accompanies the hope that they will one day find their way home.
  7. A chair is placed at the table and remains empty, for they are not here with us.

Let Us All Take a Moment to Remember

Most of us have not been deeply touched by the loss or the unknown whereabouts of a loved one who served in the military.  We go about our daily rituals with little thought of those who died in combat, those still listed as missing in action or even those who may possibly still be held as prisoners of war.  Our day should not be dismally overshadowed by such atrocities, however, we should never forget the sacrifices made by our military men and women and especially those (and their families) who gave the ultimate sacrifice – their life.

Make a promise to periodically remember those who have given so much in order for us to continue to enjoy the lifestyle’s we often take for granted.  Make it a point to review and remember through the symbolism of The White Table.