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Ballistic Testing for Forensic Purposes

WO Bob Thompson, Art Armt
Bob Thompson
Bob Thompson

If a soldier was shot other than in combat, such as incidents involving suicide, AD (accidental discharge), manslaughter and so on, I did the ballistic tests for forensic investigations during my various posting in South Vietnam.

The testing was conducted with an Military Police Investigator present who provided;

  1. The weapon used, and,
  2. the measurements from the soldiers thumb to his head with his arm fully extended, and again, with his arm bent at the elbow

106 Field Workshop had a decent fire pit that I used to test fire weapons; this made the job easy.

The method was

  1. Cut wooden rods to the exact lengths of the measurements given.
  2. Cover large rolled paper towels with a clear plastic sheeting and place in the fire pit on a box at waist height.
  3. The testing Armourer stands in the fire pit with the weapon. He is then positioned by an assistant armourer, on the side of the pit, using one of the cut rods to set the distance from the muzzle to the paper roll.
  4. When all was set and agreed, the Testing Armourer fires the weapon twice; each time retrieving the bullet from the paper towel and removing the plastic sheet with its pattern of the powder residue. On each sheet the Testing Armourer writes the distance, the weapons number, date, and his army number.
  5. This is repeated after resetting the distance from muzzle to the paper roll using the other cut rod.
  6. Finally it is repeated with the muzzle at point blank range.
  7. The Testing Armourer then completely inspects and strips the weapon and provides a written and signed report on its serviceablity.
  8. The witnessing MPI then puts everything in a Plastic Bag, and, along with the weapon takes it away.

Unfortunately I did this job a number of times.

Case - Self Inflicted Injury

Once I had a case where the soldier in a Battalion had deliberately shot off two of his toes to avoid going out on patrol.

I function tested his weapon, carried out the test on the paper towels and wrote a full report to say that under no circumstances did his SLR malfunction.

After a stint in hospital, the soldier did 14 days in the stockade at Vung Tau and then went out on the next patrol.

Case - Accidental Discharge

On another occasion I had a case that a M16 accidentally discharged when the soldier had one up the spout, safety off. He had dropped it on its butt.

I tested at least 10 weapons and found that it could happen.

Case - Accidental Discharge

We also had a case of a lot of M60s were running away (no not like that) and wouldn’t stop firing.

I found that the Instructors at Canungra were teaching the soldiers to put in their sear springs and sears upside down.

A signal sorted this out.

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