Bob Faris was born in 1930 in Chicago, Illinois, but spent most of his youth in the Germantown, Pennsylvania area. He is an Ordnance veteran of the Korean War, and participated in testing many of the modern small arms used by today’s military at Aberdeen Proving Grounds and Yuma Proving Grounds. Bob is a lifelong collector of military small arms, their ammunition, belts, magazines, and accessories, the paraphernalia that accompanies them, and the uniforms and militaria. He shoots, makes parts, and generally has mentored several generations of firearms designers, testers, users and civilian shooting enthusiasts.
SAR: When did you get your first firearm? Did you go hunting?
Bob Faris: I guess the first thing I got was an old muzzle-loading musket, or a shotgun based on a Civil War rifle. They had smooth-bore guns from the scouts or troops in the field. I didn’t even know what it was until I met Val Forgett years later. I guess I was about nine years old. Just about all military weapons in general caught my interest when I was young. I was following the Spanish Civil War. Then, I was tracking the Japanese War in China in newspapers and even in bubble gum cards. There were these color bubble gum cards that had gory scenes of the Spanish Civil War and the war in China. Those wars weren’t over yet, and that’s where my interest started.
SAR: Did you get your first machine gun when you were a civilian, before military service?
Bob Faris: Oh yeah. The first one was a water-cooled Maxim MG08/15. I bought it for about $25 from someone I knew, and it was a battlefield pick-up that he had gotten from a junkyard. That was early in World War Two, and it was complete. I was pretty young, maybe 12 years old. It had all its parts and the right bipod. I think it was missing something in the lock. I never had a chance to shoot it because I traded it off for something else. It was too heavy for me. There were no books to look at in those days, so I just kept taking it apart. I found a piece of belt but never shot that MG08/15.
SAR: Was your interest in the mechanics of it or the history?
Bob Faris: It’s hard to tell because I was fascinated with both aspects of it. I had a lot of cap guns and similar things, and I used to repair the neighborhood’s cap guns. I found out that machine guns were pretty illegal, so I decided I was going off them for a while and traded that off. The next thing I was into was competition shooting. My father had bought an old deserted farm about 30 miles outside of Philadelphia, near a town called Perkasie, not very far from Norristown, PA. I made a 100-yard range on a 60-acre piece of farmland. I wanted to get out of the city, and my mother’s brother was living with us at the time, well he had some health problems, and he decided he would farm that piece of land if my father would back him up financially and help him with his medical problems. I’d gotten a few handguns, Iver Johnson’s and other fine weapons like that. I had a single shot percussion pistol, and just about anything that was a gun was of interest, but I soon got into military weapons.
SAR: When did you start keeping track of information about these types of firearms?
Bob Faris: I started scrapbooks a few years later, to classify the information I was gathering. The W.H.B. Smith book Small Arms of the World came out in 1943. That was my first useful gun book. Before that, it would be American Rifleman and even some of the sporting and hunting magazines would have an article on a military weapon every once in a while, but there was no other publication that would print articles about the stuff that I liked so I was gathering any info I could get.
SAR: Did you have any other exposure to machine guns or National Firearms Act-type weapons in the ’40s?
Bob Faris: I’d run across some veteran or GI, maybe a veteran from World War One that had something military that we could shoot, (machine guns, pistols, rifles.)
SAR: Then you went into the service?
Bob Faris: I was in the National Guard in 1948, but I went in the service in 1952, after I got out of gunsmithing school. I went to Trinidad State Junior College, Colorado in 1949, and they had a two-year, 50% accredited course. They had a lot of gunsmithing students, but there were also a lot of other students, mostly auto mechanics. I was in school 1949 through 1952, and I had almost joined a reserve outfit at school, but I didn’t fill some of the papers out properly. When I came back in the fall, they said, “Hey, you’re going to fill this out, right? Do you still want to go in?” I said, “No, I’ll wait a while, ’til I finish my schooling,” so that was the end of that for a while. When I went out to school, that automatically separated me from the state National Guard. I was still in it technically, as they had not done the proper paperwork to discharge me and that gave me enough time to finish school. Then, I was moving on and I decided that I wanted to work at Aberdeen. I knew somebody that had gotten a job there the year before, and that appealed to me. I wanted to get my foot in the door, and I did for nine months, and then I joined up in the Regular Army. I had it all set up to go through armorer schools at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), but when I went down to enlist at Fort Meade, they had just gotten an emergency requisition for 200 bodies for tank driver school, Fort Knox, Kentucky.
SAR: Shanghaied from your dream job to something you had no interest in…first time the Army ever did that.
Bob Faris:Laughs Right. I would’ve done ’em a lot better good going through Aberdeen, because eventually when I finished Basic Combat Training as a Tank Driver at Knox, they assigned me as a small arms repairman in the Third Armored Division. I knew enough about small arms, and when I got to the machine gun classes, I was ahead of the instructors in taking the guns apart. I was showing off. They said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’ve taken everything apart.” “Can you put it back together again?” and I said, “Sure.” They said, “Show me,” so I put it together again. Laughs I explained to them that I had not only gunsmithing school, but I had been at Aberdeen for nine months as a civilian gunner. I was asked if I wanted an assignment at Fort Knox, but I really wanted to go back to Aberdeen. They wouldn’t assign me to anywhere but Fort Knox, so I took my orders for Korea instead. I wanted experience in the field, and that did help me years later. That was November of 1952. We went there by ship leaving Fort Lewis: no other way to get there than by a long trip on a ship. We stopped in Japan, got outfitted in Yokohama, and I was assigned to the Seventh Infantry Division in Korea and traveled to Inchon. Ultimately after a month’s stay in a tank outfit, I would be going to 707 Ordnance. I got to my outfit on December 25, 1952, Christmas Day! Merry Christmas. Laughs. When I got there I thought I would be assigned right into Ordnance. But, oh no, the commanding general, by name of “Snuffy” Smith, had decreed that all replacements for any outfit in the Seventh Division would spend a month in their combat MOS before they were assigned to their ultimate destination. My combat MOS was “tank driver.” They assigned me to a maintenance company for a tank battalion. There were about four other replacements in there with me. We went to a tent and sat down and discussed our experiences, and of course I didn’t have a hell of a lot. I had a month experience as a small arms repairer at Fort Knox for the 3rd Armored Division. So, here I was, in the 86th Tank Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division in Korea. Anyway, they told us to call out our MOSs, and the other guys called out theirs, then I called out my small arms MOS. I heard a voice shouting through the tent walls, “I want that man.” It was the battalion ordnance officer. The reason he wanted me was he had a whole tent full of broken down small arms, and no way to get them fixed. He wanted ’em back operational as quick as I could get ’em there and, “Get these guns back in the fight.” We weren’t far from the fight, so it was in our minds. Well, I was all for that, so I asked; “What do I have for parts?” “We don’t have any parts” was the reply. “Tools?” “Probably can dig you up a screwdriver.” It went down hill from there.
SAR: What kind of guns were in the pile?
Bob Faris: Everything. The full TO&E. Brownings, .50s, .30s, M1 Garands, I had one of the M2 carbines, M3 Grease Guns, .45 automatics. I got approximately half of them operational by cannibalizing the others, and he was tickled pink. “Well,” he said, “You’re going to be the unofficial small arms repairman, and when you’re done with your month I’m going to get you assigned here permanently.” He wouldn’t officially authorize the work, but he said, “Okay, here’s what I’m going to have you do. You’re going to go around to all the tank outfits on the front line in the Seventh Division and inspect their weapons.” It was only tank weapons that he was interested in. Somewhat the same stuff that I just rattled off. So I said, “Okay, what’s my transportation?” “Oh, we don’t have any. You gotta hitchhike your way up to the front line and hitchhike your way back every day.” Laughs So, every day I’d go up there to the front line where the fight was, and then come back at night to battalion headquarters. If I got back early, I would help the tank mechanic with his work. Not really a hell of a lot of fighting going on up there right then, but there was some shooting going on. Shelling hit near us, but I always just pulled the hatches shut and kept on working. It was a lot safer than the bunkers. It was in the winter, and it was miserably cold out on the line.
SAR: How long were you in Korea?
Bob Faris: 14 months, two winters. Halfway through my time the Armistice came. We went back in “reserve,” and had wooden floors in our tents and all this kind of special just-like-home comfortable stuff. For the first winter, just about everything we had was in trouble, including the M2HB. There was improper lubrication and the cold to contend with. There wasn’t any correct lubricant. You had to completely clean a weapon of all old lubricating oil, get it all out of there before anything would work. They were short of the right stuff. That winter of ’52-’53 there was no proper gun oil in the Seventh Division. The weapons didn’t get proper maintenance. The M2HB worked the best, better than say the A4. We were starting to use disintegrating metallic links on the A4. They were just about out of cloth belts. There was still some few left and we used them for functioning, not combat.
SAR: Did you see any unusual weapons while you were there?
Bob Faris: Not anything really unusual. The enemy weapons, foreign weapons, were pretty standard stuff. I would pick up a Schpagin here and a Mosin there just to play with. It was hard to get ammo for things. There wasn’t much of a choice on things to bring back home. You couldn’t bring back anything US or anything Allied, and you couldn’t bring back anything Russian, so that only left Chinese, and the weapons supplied to the Chinese. I have a Chinese Mauser hanging on the wall as my official souvenir. A buddy of mine in Seoul picked out the best one he could find for me. I left Korea in March of ’54.
SAR: Did you have any contact with people over there that you met back in the US?
Bob Faris: I not only met a guy that I went to school with, but he was going through intelligence school in Aberdeen when I was there as a civilian, and he was assigned to headquarters FTIO in Seoul. I had some business in Seoul. My project was an optical sight for the .50 caliber M2HB. So I spent all my free time there. I got a 20 power spotting scope, and I made a mount to fit on the dovetail base of an M2HB. I did 20 of them. This was the first time that I know of that anyone put a good optical piece on an M2 heavy barrel machine gun. Except for the M1 Optical Sight, of course, which was a vile thing. No power. But this one wasn’t all that great because there was no reticle in the spotting scope. I had to put a crosswire in there and then rotate it to where you got a good average focus, and you had to rotate a little bit to get a sharp focus, but you’re still aiming with the center of the X. This was just before the Armistice, and they had a big dustup on the east side, as I was on my way back from Seoul. They got ’em out to the guys, but they got no feedback because the Armistice came shortly, and all interest was lost in the project. They were turned in and disappeared.
SAR: Was your intention to have them firing fully automatic with the scope or just single shot?
Bob Faris: Single shot, because there was too much vibration. The scopes were quite sensitive to vibration. Remember, I volunteered to do that project and it’s all we had to work with.
SAR: You came back stateside, and you went to Aberdeen?
Bob Faris: I went back to Aberdeen and picked up where I left off as a civilian. They’d had a couple of raises while I was gone, which I got, ’cause in theory I was only on reassignment when I went in the Army. I stayed there for a total of 20 years, and I left there in July of ’71. I had started out as a civilian gunner, and worked my way up to top level you can get as a gunner, and in ’56 I got a job as a test director. I was never in the military at Aberdeen. I worked with Bill Brophy, and Larry Moore, who headed up the shoulder weapon section for many years. I worked on testing weapons, ammunition, accessories, and fire controls. We had scientific procedures set up for testing all types of weapons. There were different procedures for handguns, submachine guns, rifles, machine guns, infantry weapons and aircraft armament and tank armament.
SAR: What programs did you test personally?
Bob Faris: I started out with aircraft weapons, primarily the T160 20mm Revolver Cannon, which became the M39. I started on that before I went in the Army, and then when I got out they put me right back on it. I didn’t do hardly any of the initial T130 .60 caliber work, because they expanded the neck and made 20 millimeter out of it, and they stuck with that. It was the same ammo used in the Vulcan M61, but using a different link. Primarily we ran endurance, cook-off, and reliability tests, various adverse conditions, arctic temperatures down to -65F because the gun bays would get that cold at high altitude. There was a stratosphere chamber that would evacuate the proper amount of air to simulate the altitude temperature-wise, and that was variable. It could start out at low altitude at higher temperature and just program these test conditions up and down. We would fire a test from a heavy-duty mechanical rest, a little bit of adjustment for elevation and azimuth and fire into a “container.” There was a firing chamber, then ahead of that another chamber with sand in it to catch all these projectiles. There was “altitude” in there, so you can’t vent it until you were through. You had to make sure that the accumulation of projectiles did not exceed the amount of sand. When you heard a clankety clank, it was hitting the metal container – that’s bad. You had to stop. That phase would have to be done over, until we screened all the projectiles out. Now, if you weren’t taking the altitude into consideration, you used standard firing chambers, temperature-conditioned and armored in case of an explosion.
SAR: Did you work on any of the small arms testing for shoulder-fired weapons?
Bob Faris: Very few. I filled in for people occasionally on the standard and experimental arms of the time. I do remember some politician wanted to see what the Johnson 1941 Rifle would do in the cold test spectrum in the ’60s at a low temperature. It had never been tested at low temperature. I did that one; it was a very limited test. I did some M60 testing, and of course M73 and M219 and the T175, which became the M85. I got into that M73 the first time and it was already in production; that would be in the early to mid ’60s. There were inherent problems with the system and there were a lot of them. Too many to name actually, but here’s a few… Ammunition compatibility, mount rigidity problems, gas contamination from the booster, which is not limited to the M73. They would change the booster relationship with the recoiling component because of fouling, and it would knock the back plate out. It had a stamped receiver and a stamped back plate. Excessive recoil would also knock out the alignment of the solenoid and manual trigger, because it also could be manually fired, which was the requirement for any machine gun on a tank. However, it would not function off of a modified M2 tripod, as it was not rigid enough.
SAR: The M73 used the same standard M-13 link as the M60, and it had ammunition problems, sensitivity to different lots of ammunition?
Bob Faris: Yeah, it’s related to case hardness. We had problems with yielding of the locking system. It wasn’t very rigid, and it had a lot of spring. When you had soft cases, they would stick too hard, and they would separate. This was accentuated especially with high pressure and heat. It was also accentuated in cold, because ball propellant tended to completely fragment and raise pressures, so we had to watch that. The propellant fragmented before it was ignited, when it was in the cartridge case. While it was being ignited at the rear, there’s pressure up forward, and in the cold it’s crunching the propellant up front. We were able to measure the pressure changes under these conditions. That was all thoroughly done by the ammunition test people, once it was determined to be a problem.
SAR: Was this a problem in other weapon systems also?
Bob Faris: No, it was mainly a problem in M73 because of the semi-rigid locking system. They were planning to replace all of the Browning Tank Machine Guns with the M73 because of the shorter receiver. I don’t know how many millions of dollars the government spent trying to make super cartridge cases for 7.62x51mm ammunition just so they’d work in the M73. They went crazy on this. Instead of looking at the system and saying, “There’s a fault in this system,” they tried to change the cases. The ammunition failed, so they said something had to be wrong with the ammunition.
SAR: But the ammunition wasn’t failing in other systems.
Bob Faris: They oversimplified. They had all these problems and they didn’t analyze them properly. It was all in my reports in the ’60s. The higher ups gave Springfield Armory hell and told ’em to fix it. Well, they were in the hole already, and that was their own choosing. They had gotten this design accepted that wasn’t functional and they didn’t know what to do about it. They tried all kinds of things. They changed the configuration of the chamber, tapered the neck, trying to ease extraction, but it wasn’t extraction that was the problem. The cases were yielding at high pressure. For several years we were spending the money and making the finest 7.62mm brass anywhere in the world, all unnecessarily, because while there were lots of other problems in the M73, the ammunition was working fine in the M60, the M14, the Minigun and so forth. I also did lots of work on the M85. I got in on the first engineering test on that: that was about 1960. It was still the T175 at that point, but it was up to E2 model, I think. At least the E1 model at that first test at APG.
SAR: So what was wrong with the M85?
Bob Faris: Laughs Ha… well, this problem was not ammunition compatibility. Parts life of critical components for a start, but… how can I condense this? The problems were all, once again, from a bad design: a locking system that wore out and broke frequently. They had a recoil and feed system that took too much energy to operate. Consequently, when you got into adverse conditions, or just un-lubricated, it figuratively would screech to a stop because the energy required to operate it under normal lubrication conditions was such that it was not adequate for adverse conditions, like dust and sand and non-lubrication. AAI did the original design on the M85 program (T175.) Problems with the M85 were political in a way, but the real problem was that they were committed on these weapons, and they’d convinced themselves they could fix them. The designers and the re-designers had convinced the proponents of this thing to accept it in the first place, then that they could fix it, and they did their damndest. They had state of the art metallurgy, they had all the facilities and machinery, but they couldn’t change the fundamental design problems. They went through two tanks, the M-60 and the M-60A1. Both of those tank turrets and cupolas were configured for the M73 and the M85. That made it so that the mount and the ammo boxes and the coaxial hole through the coaxial gun mount were configured for the M73. With the M73 getting such problems with fouling, they had to extend the flash hider out the front, so the barrel and the flash hider were about that long. (Bob gestures with outspread arms). It wasn’t necessarily the fault of the M73, but it was more sensitive to the changes that this extension was causing functionally. The M85, well, they designed a cupola (M19) to go on top of the turret. The previous cupola had an offset gun mount, and they complained all the time about this weapon swinging side to side when you fired it. There was a tremendous lateral dispersion, because the gun is off-center.
That was the M-1 cupola with the Browning M2HB on the M-60 tanks. All the other offset machine gun cupolas had the same problem. That gave you a lot of lateral dispersion of the rounds. That is not acceptable. They wanted a short receiver on these guns, because with the Browning receivers mounted centrally there would be no room for the commander in the cupola. Those are the major design problems that they had to overcome to make it work, because of the short distance they had to fit it in. What they had to do was shorten up the action, shorten up the receiver. In the M85 that meant that they had a much higher need of energy to translate into feeding. That was primarily because of shortening up the stroke on it, they couldn’t translate the energy properly. If you ever get a chance to study one, you’ll see what a weird feed system it has, and excessive frictional loads are inherent to the design.
SAR: The M85 uses its own link, different from the M2 .50 BMG.
Bob Faris: There was a lot of trouble with that. There were three of them: M-15, M-15A1 and M-15A2. All of them had inconsistent gripping force on the round. Because this bolt system happened to not travel very far, it’s got to hit and drive the round straight forward out of the link. The links were inconsistent in how they were gripping the round, and you had a problem with energy being taken off for feeding forward, as well as the recoil stroke feeding over. The links were either gripping the cartridge too tight or too loose. If it was too loose, while dragging the belt around trying to load it, and the rounds would fall out, the belts would come apart while you were trying to fill the ammunition box. They thought that was all right, but I raised so much hell about it. There’s no way they’re belted for combat conditions. I was watching, and I’d try it myself, and it was very hard to keep from knocking rounds out of the links. They went through two major designs, and I had some prototypes of different links they tried. The final design proved acceptable.
SAR: The end result on the M85 was that it was taken out of service; that it never really got into full service? I don’t remember seeing many in the early ’70s.
Bob Faris: Oh, hell no, it got into service all right, you’ve got to recognize that from the early ’60s until the ’70s, they were “play guns” because the M60 series tanks weren’t used in combat in Vietnam. Anything that’d go wrong in training, they’d blame it on the crews. “Oh, you didn’t do this or that. You didn’t lubricate it enough,” and there were a lot of hassles over that. I tried to convince them they shouldn’t go into production until they fixed the M85. It was too late on the M73. But not too late on the M219, where they eliminated 20 parts, eliminated the “dump cart,” (the ejection system,) and went to a direct ejection system. That’s another story. But neither one of them saw combat in Vietnam. That’s all they cared about. They had their new M-60 tank, “ready” for combat in Europe. They had new machine guns that wouldn’t be reliable, especially in the desert, and I tried to convince them of that. I had to go to the Pentagon and explain the problems based on my last test. I went with the commanding officer of Test and Evaluation at Aberdeen because my immediate boss and his boss were in Germany, fighting a battle on the 20 millimeter. The test director, me and my Colonel drove down there in his staff car, went to the meeting. It was chaired by the project manager for the M-60, M-60A-1, M-60 A-2 tanks and I explained that every time we had a test, no matter what, the M85 got a little better, except for un-lubricated, in sand and dust, it never got any better. I ran 13 engineering type tests, a complete battery of tests with all the conditions. Nine of the tests had sand and dust, and an un-lubricated machine gun, and it never passed even one of those tests. Severe failures? “Oh, we’re not worried about that.” “The battlefield is going to be in Europe”, all this kind of crap they fed us.
SAR: You must have been popular in that group.
Bob Faris: Colonel Burney was the project manager. I’d see him every once in a while, he’d come and look at a test, see how it was going. They were referring all these good results from the tests and none of the bad during the meeting, and I’m starting to sweat because I haven’t got an opening to tell the whole truth yet. He says, “Well, we’re all agreed, everything is okay and ready to go to production?” I said, “No, sir.” He looked at me, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, sir, if you want to standardize a gun that will not work satisfactorily under un-lubricated, sand and dust,” and Louis Artioli from Springfield Armory raises his eyebrows. (He’s the guy who’s doing the project, and he thought he got through this briefing.) The Colonel said, “Tell me about it, what are you talking about, this passed the tests, didn’t it?” Well, Colonel Burney got all the high points in his reports, and they emphasize things he wants to hear, and I gave about 10-15 minutes of what’s wrong with the gun, and he’s overdue in the Chief of Ordnance’s office for the decision. He looked at Artioli and he says, “Is this true?” “Yes, sir.” He’s starting to sweat. He could see his whole plan for his vacation in Hawaii or whatever falling apart, and he says, “Are you saying that we shouldn’t go into production?” I said, “I’m not going to say that, sir, that’s your job. All I’m telling you is if you want a tank gun that works in desert conditions, you’ve got to do something about this.” He asked what they had been doing and I said, “They’ve been working like hell to get this fixed, and I cannot fault them for what they did.” I was a GS9 at that time. He turns to Artioli, “Is this true?” “Yes, sir.” Colonel Burney turns to my colonel and says, “Did you know Faris was going to do this?” “Yes, sir. Bob filled me in on the whole M85 program, on the way down to Washington.” Laughs I thought I was done for, pulling the plug at this point, but it was the first opportunity I had. Another 15 or 20 minutes of education on his part and he asks me, “Have you tried everything you know of on this gun?” I said, “Yes, sir, I have, it’s just the basic design.” Someone asked, “Is there a possibility of blocking the air intake that’s coming through the case ejection port, through the gun, into the tank?” Laughs “No, it’s the way the cupola is built.” He says, “Well, could we put a spring-loaded shutter on it to close that off, and when you take the safety off on the gun, it’ll pop the thing up, or a separate lever?” I said, “That’s theoretically possible.” But he knew I meant “Not likely.” You’ve got to recognize the time frame; this was during the last Berlin Crisis. They had these brand new M-60A-1 tanks over there, and the Crisis wasn’t over. We had M2HBs mounted on a lug welded on the top of the M-19 cupola, and they were raising hell about that. “We look like a bunch of idiots!” That’s the pressure the project manager was under to get those guns into that tank. I knew all this. The Project Manager decided to authorize initial production of the M85, but to direct every effort to overcome the problems brought out in this meeting.
SAR: Bob, if they weren’t going to work, they weren’t going to work.
Bob Faris: Not in sand and dust they wouldn’t, but they wouldn’t accept it. The goddamn test results are in every one of my test reports, and they ignored it. Back to the XM219, the M73 was continuously going through changes and modifications. They came out with the XM-219 with direct action ejection. It was not working all that well. When I split the results out, it had more failures to eject with that than it did with the old one. They put other new changes and improvements in the gun, so it looked like the new gun with a fixed ejector was better. The old gun with these other new additions would’ve been better than that. Laughs I wrote that in the report, and they were furious, they tried to get it retracted. It was not retracted.
In October 1968, I conducted my last test of the XM219 “Improvements” prior to adoption for production. (It was also referred to as the M73E1 at that time.) Overall performance was equal to or slightly better than obtained in earlier tests, though still not satisfactory. I had established by tests in May 1966, that not only dynamic headspace, but basically the guns were being manufactured with excess static headspace. In addition, a condition I called “Over-ramming” was prevalent, dynamic, probably due to an early modification to the barrel chamber neck which reduced the area of the stop shoulder, further aggravating the static headspace problem. Springfield Armory had not accepted the over-ramming analysis.
SAR: So Aberdeen stuck to their guns and they backed you up.
Bob Faris: Oh yeah, just like they should.
SAR: What happened on the M85 project?
Bob Faris: Well, nothing significant for a long time. They kept dodging the bullet, while trying to fix it. Then I got transferred to Yuma Proving Grounds. (I transferred from Aberdeen in ’71.) At Yuma I was an aircraft armament tester. Test Engineer was the title, whether you were a technician or not. I had been in the aircraft arms section right after I got out of the army. I was in it until about the time the T175 and M73 came along. Then I had transferred into another section, which included infantry and tank machine guns. I worked 14 years at Yuma, retired in 1985. I was still stuck, concerned with those two damn guns that hung around my neck like an albatross.
SAR: The M73 and M85?
Bob Faris: No kidding. For ten years the army tankers had “play guns,” and thought they were doing fine. They weren’t really happy with them, but they weren’t having any great troubles – just smaller problems that kept appearing. One day in 1973, I was sitting at my desk in Yuma, minding my business. I got a phone call from Tank Automotive Command. One of the people for the project manager (a new one) for the M-60A1 tank, a Major, was on the line. He says, “Mr. Faris, we have sent M-60A1 tanks to Israel, and the Israelis are taking the M73s and 85s out of the tank. (Yom Kippur War) Now, there seems to be some serious problems here. I understand that you tested these guns, signed off, and they were accepted.” I said, “Major, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I did most of the testing on both the M85 and the M73 and the M219. It was all done at Aberdeen between 4 and 14 years ago. Tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to go to my files here and dig out all my reports. I’m going to give you report numbers, and you show me anyplace where I “passed” these guns in adverse conditions. Call me in two days.” He said, “I’ll be doing that.” I sat back in stunned disbelief; clearly this man was looking for a scapegoat, because I knew that they were planning to put the two guns on the XM-1 they were working on, as well as embarrassment over the performance of the M85 and M219 machine guns in their first war.
My temperature was starting to rise on that alone. It looked like something was developing there. I went back and dug out my reports. I had conducted 13 engineering tests on the M85. Nine of them had un-lubricated and sand and dust tests done at Aberdeen. The gun never passed one of those tests, and they were done over a period of years. I got back with that Major, and I gave him this information. He said, “Well, thank you very much. I’ll be in touch.” I was looking at pictures of our new XM-1 super tank at the time, and what did it have on top? An M85. The next pictures I saw, Ma Deuce was on the XM-1. By the way, they were already planning to replace the M219.
SAR: John Browning’s design is a good one.
Bob Faris: And if you can’t make something better, don’t replace it. People’s lives depend on them. The Israelis took the M73 and M85 out of the tanks because they had the exact problems that I foresaw, and they pulled them right off and replaced them. As it was described to me, they took ’em out and threw ’em on the ground. They took the cupola off and put a simple ring mount up in place of it. They had 1919A4 Brownings in 7.62x51mm, and actually some of those kits came into the United States for examination out of Israel. We, however, decided to adopt the M240 as a coaxial machine gun instead, after thorough testing.
The Interview with Bob Faris continues in the next issue of Small Arms Review, as Bob discusses the old days of machine gun, and regular firearms collecting, and more US small arms tests.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V11N4 (January 2008)