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We Were Soldiers
We Were Soldiers is a 2002 Vietnam War film based on the book We Were Soldiers Once... And Young by Lieutenant General Hal Moore, US Army (ret.) and former UPI reporter Joe Galloway that chronicled the first major battle between the United States Army and the People's Army of Vietnam in the Ia Drang Valley in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Gen. Moore, in the documentary seen on the DVD, states that this film is the only one which gets "[the Vietnam War] right". The film was directed by Randall Wallace (The Man in the Iron Mask) and stars Mel Gibson, Barry Pepper, and Sam Elliott.
The following weapons were used in the film We Were Soldiers:
Rifles / Carbines
The XM16E1 assault rifles are used by the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, including Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson), First Lieutenant Charlie Hastings (Robert Bagnell), Second Lieutenant Jack Geoghegan (Chris Klein), Sergeant Ernie Savage (Ryan Hurst) and most US Army soldiers. Later on the film during the Battle of Landing Zone X-Ray, Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper) uses one as well. Many rifles used in this film were not actual XM16E1s. The historical XM16E1s had only a partial magazine fence. Many rifles were actually M16A1s mocked up to look like XM16E1s, modified with chromed bolt carriers and three-prong flash-hiders. Apparently there were a few original receiver marked XM16E1s in the mix.
Supplementing the large number of XM16E1 rifles built for the production by Cinema Weaponry are some slab side M16 rifles (or unaltered Colt SP1 rifles, which look the same). On the left of the stack (in the image) is a slab sided rifle with no forward assist on the upper receiver or magazine fencing on the lower receiver.
A Korean War-era M1 Carbine is carried by the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the formal title of South Vietnam) interpreter dressed in tiger stripe fatigues. He appears in the scene in which the NVA scout is captured and interrogated. Viet Minh soldiers also use M1 Carbines against the French army during the intro.
In the film, the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) aka the PAVN (People's Army of Vietnam) used AK-47s with milled receivers. As per the actual battle, we also see several Viet Cong units carrying the same rifle. Real Soviet AK-47s were impossible to get in the U.S. for many years. After the fall of communism, milled receiver AK-47 parts kits were available on the market, and authentic AK-47s were built for the film (using American-made milled receivers by using the proper markings) and the original Soviet built parts. The AK-47s used in the film were built by legendary film armorer Mike Papac.
In the opening scene where a French convoy is ambushed during the First Indochina War, various French soldiers use MAS-36 rifles.
Several Viet Minh soldiers and NVA soldiers use SKS rifles during the intro sequence and during the Battle of Ia Drang.
Mosin Nagant M44
During the intro sequence, a Viet Minh soldier can be seen with a Mosin Nagant M44 Carbine.
A Viet Minh soldier during the intro sequence and a Viet Cong soldier later on can be seen using Karabiner 98k rifles. It should be noted that according to one of the armorers of the film, Steve Karnes, the Kar98ks used in the film came from Israel and were chambered to 7.62x51mm NATO.
The M60 machine gun is used by several US soldiers. Various door gunners of Huey helicopters use them as well. Specialist 4 Russell Adams (Erik MacArthur) and his assistant gunner Specialist 4 Bill Beck (Desmond Harrington) also use an M60 in a deleted scene.
Two Browning M1919A4s are mounted on two French jeeps during the intro sequence.
GE M134 Minigun
A pair of GE M134 Miniguns are seen as part of the M21 Armament Subsystem mounted on the Huey helicopter gunships that rip apart PAVN soldiers in the climax of the film, and another one is also on display on a table near the beginning of the film.
In the scene where the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division perform a bayonet charge against the NVA position (an event which actually didn't happen in real life), a small crew of PAVN soldiers man a DP-28, a variant of the Soviet Degtyaryov light machine gun.
During the Battle of Ia Drang, one PAVN soldier can be seen carrying an RPD light machine gun.
A ZB26 Machine Gun is used by a Viet Minh machine gunner during the opening sequence of the film set during the Indochina War. According to Steve Karnes, the film's armorer, the ZB26 used in the film was sold to the Chinese and converted to 7.62x39mm later in its life. It also has Chinese characters on the side of the receiver.
When the American soldiers charge the NVA position, a two man crew of NVA soldiers man an MG34 machine gun before being killed by the Huey helicopters. One NVA soldier also mans another MG34 in the same scene.
A fake DShK heavy machine gun is manned by an NVA machine gun team in the final sequence before being wasted by the Huey helicopters. The DShK in the film is actually a Browning M2HB heavy machine gun mocked up to look like a DShK.
A Colt M1911 is used by Command Sergeant Major Basil Plumley (Sam Elliott) as his main weapon since he prefers the .45 over the M16. When Moore praises the latter, Plumley says: "Bah, it's plastic... feels like a bb gun to me. I think I'll stick with my pistol". It is not common to see the first model of the M1911 being used by Plumley, since the M1911 was replaced in 1924 by the improved Colt M1911A1 which was the sidearm of the US Military in the Vietnam War, World War II and the Korean War, however they did appear on occasion, usually under special circumstances. Of note is that in real life, Plumley also carried an M14.
A Colt M1911A1 is seen in the holster of LTC Hal Moore and most of the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division. Some US soldiers use M1911A1s.
Smith & Wesson Model 15 Snub Nose
The .38 caliber revolver pulled out by Major Bruce "Snake Shit" Crandall (Greg Kinnear) appears to be a Smith & Wesson Model 15 Snub. In 2007, the real Crandall was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley.
During the intro of the film set in the Indochina War (1946-1954), a French officer (Foreign Legionnaire) uses his sidearm, a Browning Hi-Power, to kill several Viet Minh soldiers before being killed. The use of a Browning Hi-Power pistol by a member of the French Army at the time of the battle (1954) was not common, as either the Mle 1935 or MAC Mle 1950 were the official French military sidearms used during that period. The armorers couldn't get an appropriate French military pistol and since Hi-Powers were in the region, they opted for those instead.
As the American soldiers are heading off for battle, you can see an ARVN soldier holding up an M1928A1 Thompson with a 20-round magazine.
The NVA and the Viet Cong use PPSh-41 submachine guns during the intro sequence and the rest of the film, with both the standard 71-round drum magazines and 35-round magazines.
Viet Minh soldiers use PPS-43 submachine guns alongside their SKS rifles and PPSh-41s to kill the French soldiers in the intro sequence that takes place in 1954 in the Indochina War. During the rest of the film, the PAVN (People's Army of Vietnam, the formal name of the PAVN. Also known as the North Vietnamese Army or NVA.) and Viet Cong (Informal name for the National Liberation Front or NLF.) also use PPS-43 submachine guns against US Army soldiers in the Battle of Ia Drang.
Various French soldiers use MAT-49 submachine guns during the opening scene. Various NVA and Viet Cong soldiers also use them during the rest of the film, surely captured from the French army during the Indochina War.
Winchester Model 1912 Field Gun
In a deleted scene, Specialist Galen Bungum (Blake Heron) and his wife are seen using a Winchester Model 1912 Field Gun to shoot skeet.
M26 Hand Grenade
In several scenes, U.S. soldiers are seen with M26 hand grenades strapped to their pouches.
M79 Grenade Launcher
Various US soldiers can be seen carrying M79 grenade launchers in a few scenes. Specialist Galen Bungum (Blake Heron) uses one since he is the grenadier of Sergeant Savage's squad.
An NVA soldier is seen firing an RPG-2 (Vietnamese-made model was known as the B-40) against the American forces.
A Viet Minh soldier uses an M1A1 "Bazooka" with a modified rear sight to destroy a French jeep during the intro sequence. While it seems that a Viet Minh soldier using a Bazooka could be an anachronism, the French army widely used the M1A1, M9A1 "Bazooka" and M20 "Super Bazooka" during the Indochina War. The Viet Minh widely used captured French weapons during the Indochina War, and the PAVN and Viet Cong also widely used them during the Vietnam War.
Hispano-Suiza HS.404 (M2 Autocannon)
The M2 autocannon, the American license-built model of the Hispano-Suiza HS.404 appears in the film as the gun armament of US Air Force A-1H "Sandy" ground-attack planes that respond to the "Broken Arrow" call, making strafing runs on advancing Vietnamese infantry.
Colt Mk 12 Cannon
The Colt Mk 12 cannon can be seen as the gun armament of a US Navy A-4 Skyhawk responding to the "Broken Arrow" call, strafing Vietnamese infantry during low-level passes.
M34 White Phosphorous Grenade
A wounded NVA soldier is seen throwing an M34 White Phosphorous grenade (known as "Willie Pete" during the war) at Sergeant Forrester, severely wounding him.
Type 67 Stick Grenade
Chinese Type 67 stick grenades (aka Chinese Type II grenades) are seen in chest pouches on NVA soldiers. In one scene, one grenade is thrown near wounded American soldiers, and a brave soldier jumps on it to save his comrades.
French Uniform Errors
There are several errors also in the uniforms of French troops:
- No lieutenant from "troupes de Marine" (2 golden horizontal stripes on bleu) would have a white kepi (Kepi blanc for Foreign Legion soldiers only, excluding NCOs and officers)
- The red berets are worn the wrong way (Insignia on the right in France for all the Army. Only exception French Navy Commando green berets)
- Insignia on the red berets are wrong (infantry instead of paratroopers)
The actual battle and its effect on the war
Although the battle would last more than 300 days, the film covers only the initial engagement, the first time the US used the Air Mobile Infantry (called "the helicopter soldiers" by a Vietnamese officer) in combat. Over three days, Moore's regiment suffered the loss of 72 out of his 395 men and were responsible for over 1800 enemy soldiers KIA out of 4,000. The utterly lop-sided casualty figures helped to convince Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Vietnam theater commander General William Westmoreland that the communist North Vietnamese could be persuaded to give up their attempt to conquer the South using attrition tactics. Events, of course, would prove this strategy disastrous.