In 1948, the Army organized an Operations Research Office. An early project of this office was to study 'small arms' effectiveness. Battlefield reports from America's previous wars were studied and the ORO came to a few conclusions.
- Most small arms combat takes place at close range, less than 300 yards.
- Quantity usually won out over quality. Careful aim didn't seem to matter much. The number one cause for casualties was the number of bullets used.
The Army decided their best solution was to find a new high velocity .22 caliber automatic weapon.
Over the next 10 or 12 years, many weapons were tested but the winner was the AR-15 designed by Eugene Stoner, a former Marine who had been designing guns since his discharge from the service after World War II. Stoners weapon was a departure from most guns tested. He had realigned the barrel with the stock which kept the gun from rising as much when fired automatically and he also used cutting edge materials like aluminum and plastic where he could. The AR-15 was 2 pounds lighter than it's closest competitor and it had a much lighter recoil.
A few thousand guns were sent to Vietnam for testing in battle conditions in 1962 and the initial reports said the new rifle was plenty lethal. While at close range the bullet left an entrance wound and exit wound of approximately the same size, at longer distance the bullet would 'tumble' when it hit a fleshy target. The entrance wound was the same but the bullet left a huge gaping hole on exit.
In 1964 both the Army & Air Force adopted the new weapon now called the M-16 and thousands were sent to Vietnam. Soldiers aren't too thrilled with the new gun with it's plastic stock & aluminum parts. Jokes about the rifle being made by Mattel abound. In fact, the Mattel connection to the real M-16 is an urban myth to this day. Many people swear they saw or have seen M-16's from the Vietnam era with the Mattel logo emblazoned on the plastic stock. [We'll get to the toy in a minute]
In an effort to create enough ammunition for the new M-16, the Army used a different gunpowder than the one designed specifically for the rifle. The new powder is not field tested and the results are disastrous. The new powder increases the guns firing rate, creating greater wear and it leaves deposits in the barrel which allow the gun to jam. To make matter worse, the gun had been marketed to the Army as "nearly maintenance free" and was sent out with no instructions on cleaning. The fiasco was investigated by a Congressional committee which praised the weapon and blamed the problems on Army mismanagement.
Intensive M-16 training was then introduced,the ammunition was changed, and the gun was redesigned to carry a cleaning kit in the stock. Since then, the M-16 has been the armed forces weapon of choice for over 50 years with an estimated 8 million used worldwide.
Mattel's M-16 Marauder was a full sized replica of the real thing. When you cocked the rifle and pulled the trigger the Marauder let loose the sound of machine gun fire. The more you cocked the gun, the longer the burst.
With the rifle under Congressional investigation and the assassinations of Both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy in 1968, the Marauder probably had a short shelf life. I would guess at most three or four years. I've heard there is a red white & blue version of the box.
Trivia: In John Wayne's pro Vietnam film "The Green Berets", there's a scene where Wayne smashes his M-16 against a tree. It's said he used Mattel's Marauder instead of the real thing.