Entering service in the mid-1950s, the M40 was an infantry weapon, not an artillery piece. It was replaced in the 1970s by the TOW missile system. But while it was in service, it was in the anti-tank platoon of the infantry battalion, giving the infantry at least a fighting chance against enemy armor. In addition to US service, the M40 was used by quite a few foreign nations, and even produced by a few. In fact, it’s still in production by Iran.
As it happens, historically, the anti-tank platoons of infantry battalions have tended to engage a lot of non-tank targets, primarily bunkers and machine gun positions. And as it turns out, it still does that job pretty well. Early on in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it occurred to me that digging some M40s out of storage would be a nice idea, saving the cost of shooting TOW missiles into those type targets. Of course, the US has such a supply of TOW missiles, there was no real need to.
But a curious thing has happened. Somehow, the FSA, that is, the rebel forces against Sryian Assad loyalists, have come into possession of at least some M40s, and according to this report from Wired magazine, it’s quickly becoming the direct fire support weapon of choice.
Watch enough YouTube videos of the fighting in Syria, and you’ll start to notice it: a long-tubed gun, mounted on the back of either a jeep or large, fast pickup. Usually it’s blasting bunkers, blockhouses, fortified positions, or places where snipers are hiding. It even goes after tanks. And whenever it fires, the gun seems to kick up way more hell behind it than what it sends out the barrel’s front end. It’s the M40 106mm recoilless rifle, an American-made, Vietnam-vintage weapon that got dropped from the Army and Marine inventory back during the early 1970s. Until recently, the 106mm hadn’t seen much action in the irregular wars that have swept the globe. Then M40s somehow came into the hands of rebels in Libya and Syria. Suddenly, the 106mm – light, cheap, easily transportable, simple to operate, and packing a punch all out of proportion to its modest size — has emerged as a possible Great Asymmetric Weapon of the Day.
Although the U.S. military no longer officially uses the M40, they still keep some around. A few found their way to Afghanistan where they were put to use by certain Special Forces units. The Danish and Australian armies, which acquired them from the U.S. decades ago under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, used them extensively during their ground operations there.
In Libya, the M40 was used primarily in urban warfare, killing tanks and fortified positions. How exactly it found its way into the hands of the rebels there is a bit of a mystery. The M40s showed up in Libya along with thousands of brand new Belgian FN rifles, apparently from Western arsenals. That lead many to suspect they were supplied by Western intelligence. The M40s currently being seen in Syria might be coming either from the same sources that supplied the Libyan rebels or even from the Libyans themselves.
When it comes to the rebellion in Syria, our personal view is “can’t they both lose?”
But we admit to having a wee bit of pleasure of seeing a classic warhorse like the M40 still in the fight.