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Hamburger Hill is a 1987 Vietnam War film that was one of the competing 'Nam movies following 1986's Platoon. This film was released in August of 1987, only a few weeks following the release of Full Metal Jacket and only a few months following Platoon's Academy Award win for Best Picture. As a result of this, there were invariably many comparisons to these other bigger budget films. While Hamburger Hill did not achieve the same success as Platoon, it did respectably at the box office.
Since Hollywood does everything in groups, Hamburger Hill was part of a slew of Vietnam War-themed movies released in the mid-1980s. Uncommon Valor (1983) was one of the early successes of these strings of movies, but generally, these films were either critically acclaimed "A-list" movies, like Platoon (1986) or low budget "B action films" like Missing in Action (1984).
Hamburger Hill refers to the infamous 'Hill 937' in the A Shau Valley, Thua Thien province, which was a major point of supply by the enemy from the north. At the north end of the A Shau Valley was a major North Vietnamese Army (NVA) staging area known as Base Area 611. Hill 937 is so named because the number lists the number of meters above sea level (hills with identical heights are given additional name identifiers, but there were few hills that had the exact same height in Vietnam).
Though the film shows a majority of the platoon being killed in the ascent to the summit, the 101st Airborne actually suffered 4% KIA during the 10 day assault. It is interesting to note that many motion pictures depict much greater casualties than actually occurred during an historical battle (Gallipoli is a stark example).
Hamburger Hill was directed by John Irvin, who covered the Vietnam War as a photographer and documentarian for the BBC, and the cast includes Dylan McDermott, Steven Weber, Tim Quill, and Don Cheadle.
The following weapons were used in the film Hamburger Hill:
WARNING! THIS PAGE CONTAINS SPOILERS!
The majority of the 101st Airborne troopers in the film carry mockups of XM16E1 Rifles, the interim variant of the M16 rifle which combined the 3 prong flash hider with the A1-style upper receiver. In reality, the 101st AB, at this stage of the war, did NOT carry the XM16E1, but had the M16A1 with birdcage flash hider, a fact pointed out by Hamburger Hill veterans when the film was released. The rifles, while featuring the older flash hiders, have full magazine fences, which were not on actual XM16E1s, but rather on later M16A1s.
MGC Replica M16
Soldiers in the beginning of the film have ModelGun Corp replica MGC M16s slung to their backs as they load wounded onto helicopters. One of the giveaways is the 'blued' 20 round magazine (the real 20 round magazine is anodized aluminum), the shape of the pistol grip, and the rear sling swivel. The most obvious detail is not seen here is the fake forward assist of the replica rifle.
Some of the NVA troops are seen carrying carrying standard AK-47-style rifles throughout the film.
Type 56 Assault Rifle
Other than the milled receiver AK-47s (which are probably Poly-Technology Legend series rifles), there are obvious stamped receiver Norinco Type 56 style AK rifles with underfolder spike bayonets (aka "Pig-Sticker". This variant has a stamped receiver, the version in the film has a milled receiver.)
Type 56 Carbine
The Chinese variant of the Russian SKS, the Type 56 carbine with spike bayonet, is used by the NVA combatants in the film.
The M60 machine gun is used by Duffy (Harry O'Reilly) and then by both Gaigin (Daniel O'Shea) and Bienstock (Tommy Swerlow). NVA forces are also seen using the M60 in defense of the hill. This is not somewhat inaccurate as Viet Cong forces used captured American weapons, and some could have easily have found their way into the NVA arsenal as well.
The M60D is seen mounted on the Huey helicopters in the film. Re-enacting a tragedy from the actual battle, an M60D machine gun is seen used to mistakenly fire on American troops.
Browning M2HB machine guns are seen in the distance on some of the perimeter shots of the base camps and mounted on M113 APCs.
M79 grenade launcher
The M79 Grenade Launcher is first carried in the film by McDaniel (Don James), and then later by Pvt. Joe Beletsky (Tim Quill).
Fake RPG Training Aid
When Sgt. Frantz (Dylan McDermott) is lecturing the new members of the platoon, he uses a former NVA crossover (a participant in the Chieu Hoi program) named "Han" to demonstrate how "not paying attention" will get them killed. Han is "armed" with a long empty tube made to resemble an RPG launcher of sorts (most likely the RPG-2, given the single pistol grip and the prevalence of the weapon in Vietnam). It has a dud warhead loaded in it. "Han" demonstrates his skill and ability by avoiding the noisemakers, tripwire, and barbed wire of the perimeter to get within striking distance of the G.I.s
Some of the Airborne soldiers are seen carrying M72 LAW rocket launchers, but these are not seen used. Since the enemy at this stage had no armor to defeat, the M72 LAW rockets were used primarily as "bunker busters", though they are not effective against soft earth targets like the tunnel entrances on Hill 937.
The M1911A1 is standard issue in the black leather holster of officers and NCOs, however, the handgun is only seen holstered and not seen fired.
M26 Fragmentation Grenade
A variety of "lemon grenades" are seen on soldier's web gear throughout the film. They are often seen from a distance on webbing or in men's hands as they are thrown. In real life, they are supposed to be M61 Grenades (virtually identical to the M26A1 lemon grenades most associated with Vietnam), however, these have a slightly unusual shape, implying that they are some sort of "trainer" grenade that is not often used to impersonate the M26/M61 series of grenades.
M18 Smoke Grenade
M18 Smoke Grenades are generally seen carried on soldiers' gear, primarily NCOS like Sgt. Frantz and RTOs like Murphy (Michael Dolan).
Throughout the film, the enemy uses what appear to be Chinese Type 67 stick grenades. These weapons typically were an oval pineapple-style grenade attached to the top of a short wooden stick and noticeably shorter than the famous German Model 24 Stielhandgranates of World War II vintage.
M41 Walker Bulldog Tank
An M41 Walker Bulldog tank can be seen parked in a field during a visit to a rear area, away from the fighting. The fact that this tank has U.S. armored division markings is a bit of an anachronism, since the M41 was only supplied to the ARVN and was an obsolete tank for U.S. forces. In fact, the M41 was perfect for the ARVN armored units, since its interior was too small for tall American tank crews but perfectly sized for the smaller-statured Vietnamese tankers. The Bulldog's secondary armament was one Browning M2HB .50 Cal machine gun and a .30 Cal machine gun
A pair of F-4 Phantom jets with their 20mm M61 Vulcan cannons are seen making numerous bombing runs on the hill.