Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “weapons”

Why could using discarded grenades be dangerous?

In my entry for Leadership Lessons and Remembrances from Vietnam, I claim you can answer the question “Why could using discarded grenades be dangerous?” with this resource. Here’s how:

  1. Visit the resource and click on “fullscreen” under the book.
  2. Type in “grenade” in the book’s search box. This will give you three indicators at the bottom of the online book reader:

search result indicators

Mousing over these dots will show some text. You want the section where you see “Just after the Marine picks up the grenade, a fire fight starts …” Here you’ll read:

A Marine on an operation in a jungle area picks up an M-26 fragmentation grenade, “dropped by some guy in the squad,** he thinks. A member of a patrol steps through a hole in a hedgerow. An Army engineer on a morning sweep of Highway 1 begins to check the same 10 potholes in the blacktop road he’s been sweeping for a week, when somebody in the waiting column of trucks honks his horn impatiently. What do all of these men have in common? They’ll all be dead in a matter of minutes.

Just after the Marine picks up the grenade, a firefight starts. He pulls the pin and throws the grenade. He’ll never throw another. The enemy planted the grenade after removing the 4-7 second delay fuze and replacing it with a zero delay fuze.

The whole column is worth reading for an explanation of wartime mishaps and how one can try to avoid them.

Leadership Lessons and Remembrances from Vietnam is just one of many Marine Corps and Vietnam War related resources in Writer’s Guide to Government Information.


FAS Military Analysis Network (US Weapons via FAS)

FAS Military Analysis Network (US Weapons via FAS) – http://www.fas.org/programs/ssp/man/index.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What is “angle of attack” in aviation?
  • What sort of missiles might one find on a US submarine?
  • What was the structure of the Japanese military in the 2000s?
  • What are some policy issues related to the militarization of space?


The Federation of American Scientists is a nonprofit group interested in government transparency and national security matters. Their Military Analysis Network documents weapons systems from the US and other nations. Some of the information may duplicate what you might find in the “fact files” of the various services, but if you don’t find something in those fact files, this site may help.

The Military Analysis Network is divided into the following sections:

  • US Munitions and Weapons Systems
  • Rest of the World Military Equipment (China, European Union, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, Serbia.) – Equipment list intended to be representative, not exhaustive.
  • Historical Weapons Archives
  • Selected Country Military Summaries – Information appears to date between 2003 and 2006).
  • Weapons in Space
  • US Military Logistics
  • Military Equipment Tutorials
    • Aircraft for Amateurs
    • Airpower Overview
    • Boats for Beginners
    • Underwater Acoustics
    • United States Navy Ship Introduction
    • International Naval Forces Overview
    • World-Wide Land Combat Systems
    • Bullets for Beginners
    • Big Bullets for Beginners
    • Bullets for Beginners Background
    • Bugle Calls
    • Rockets for Rookies
    • Bombs for Beginners

The weapons pages will have pictures and often diagrams of equipment.
I highly recommend the Military Equipment Tutorials, even though most of them seem to be around a decade old. They can teach you the difference between a carbine and sub machine gun, what to play on the bugle when, how to identify NATO ammunition and more.

1968 M16 Comic Book Maintenance Manual

1968 M16 comic book maintenance manual – http://www.ep.tc/problems/25/index.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What is the correct way to disassemble, then reassemble your character’s M16?
  • What should your character do if her M16 jams?
  • What does LSA stand for, and how does it help your character’s M16?
  • What are some ways to keep your character’s ammo magazines dry?


This particular maintenance guide was put together by Will Eisner. It does offer very specific and seemingly easy to follow guidance on maintaining a weapon and will familiarize you and your character with M16 parts and common problems.

Be cautioned that it is a product of its times and plays on racial (Vietnamese) and gender stereotypes to drum up interest for the army guys that were reading it.

Navy Fact File

Navy Fact File – http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact.asp

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • When was the first Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) first deployed?
  • What is the explosive capacity of a MK 54 torpedo?
  • What is the sleeve insignia of a Navy Captain?


This is the place to go to put your sailor on a ship and provision him with weapons. This site is a series of one page fact sheets broken down into the following topics:

  • Aircraft, Fixed Wing
  • Aircraft, Rotary Wing
  • Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Training Targets
  • Guns, Weapons Systems
  • Missiles
  • People
  • Submarines
  • Surface Ships
  • Underwater Search and Recovery Equipment
  • Naval Fleet Auxilliary Force (NFAF)
  • Special Mission Ships
  • Prepositioning Ships
  • Sealift Ships
  • Ready Reserve Forces

Some of the fact sheets of pictures of the ship or weapon they are describing. They will usually list physical dimensions and weight and include a point of contact for more information.

The People section is the home of a page on Navy Rank (officer) and Rate (enlisted). See http://www.navy.mil/navydata/ranks/rankrate.html for a direct link. You can get extra accuracy points in your story if you refer to the “Rate” of a Chief Petty Officer instead of his rank.

Battleground Iraq : journal of a company commander

Battleground Iraq : journal of a company commander by Todd S Brown; United States. Dept. of the Army – http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/070/70-107-1/index.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What was a night raid like in Iraq?
  • What was the routine of an occupying force?
  • How did some Americans see the Iraqis they encoutered?
  • How did US servicemembers pass the time in the field between assignments?


This book is the journal of company commander (then Captain) Todd S. Brown who led an army company in Iraq from April 2003 through March 2004. From the editor’s introduction:

There is a lot that Todd Brown’s journal is not. It is not an official account, nor does it purport to be. It is not consistent. Todd experiments with his writing style–he was a civil engineering major at the US Military Academy–and bounces around with respect to structure, organization, and delivery. He also bounces through mood swings reflecting good days and bad days. Reading a paragraph in isolation might cause one to believe that the war was winnable or hopeless depending on the exigencies of the moment rather than upon some overarching theory of campaign progression. Sometimes he speaks casually of breathtaking courage, and other times he seems almost whiny.

Captain Brown’s account is supplemented by editor supplied background material at the beginning of each monthly chapter. The work has a glossary and an index as well as five appendices, all of which will be helpful to the writer of stories set in this period:

  • A. Command and Control at the Brigade and Below
  • B. The Samarra Paper
  • C. Civil Samarra
  • D. Countermortar Operations around the LSA
  • E. Life Aboard the Bradley

Some of the relations with the Iraqis might be helpful in occupation stories set on other worlds.

U.S. Marines in the Persian Gulf, 1990-1991: With the 1st Marine Division in Desert Shield and Desert Storm

U.S. Marines in the Persian Gulf, 1990-1991: With the 1st Marine Division in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Lt. Col Charles H. Cureton, USMCR. 1993. 154 pp.

(Paper: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/631292176)

(Page Images)

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What happened at the Kuwait International Airport during the war?
  • How did the 1st Marine Division interact with their British allies?
  • How many M220A4 TOW II Missile Launchers were available to the 1st Division during the Persian Gulf War?


From the foreward:

The material in this monograph is based on personal observation, unit command chronologies 1 August 1990 – 30 April 1991 (located in the Archives Section, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C. Navy Yard), unit combat operations center journals, situation reports, and interviews.

This work is arranged chronologically, with most of the detail reserved for the actual four day war itself. Background material is provided, as is an index. Between the narrative section and the index are four appendices. The two likeliest to be important to writers of stories set in this period are Appendix B, Major Weapons Systems and Appendix D, Uniforms in the 1st Marine Division.

Gulf War Photographs

Gulf War Photographs –http://www.history.army.mil/photos/gulf_war/index.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What did the UK’s Staffordshire Regiment look like in action?
  • What did a M-270 Multiple Launch Rocket System look like?
  • Where can I find a picture of a camel in a truck?
  • What did air ambulances look like during the Persian Gulf War?


This resource is organized into 13 numbered galleries, plus one “Gulf War Photo Sampler.” Some of the galleries are labelled allowing for this listing by subject:

  • Allies (UK only) – Gallery 3
  • Aviation – Galleries 4 & 5
  • Base operations – Galleries 6 & 7
  • Camels – Gallery 8
  • Combat service support – Gallery 9
  • Miscellaneous – Galleries 1 & 2 plus “Gulf War Photo Samplers”
  • Patriot Air Defense System – Gallery 10
  • Tracked vehicles – Galleries 11 & 12
  • Wheeled vehicles – Gallery 13

Each of the photographs is captioned, and clicking on a photo will bring up a higher resolution photo. As these photos were taken by US government employees in the course of their duties, the photos are in the public domain and could be used in book illustrations.

Vietnam Studies (series)

Vietnam Studies (series) – http://www.history.army.mil/html/bookshelves/collect/vn-studies.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What was the role of Australians and New Zealanders in the Vietnam War?
  • How did the military blood program work in Vietnam?
  • Where can I find an account of the battles of Prek Klok?
  • What was the role of Army intelligence in Operation Cedar Falls?


Another online bookshelf of Vietnam-related materials from the Center of Military History. From the series introduction at the beginning of each volume:
“At the request of the Chief of Staff, a representative group of senior officers who served in important posts in Vietnam and who still carry a heavy burden of day-to-day responsibilities has prepared a series of monographs. These studies should be of great value in helping the Army develop future operational concepts while at the same time contributing to the historical record and providing the American public with an interim report on the performance of men and officers who have responded, as others have through our history, to exacting and trying demands.
All monographs in the series are based primarily on official records, with additional material from published and unpublished secondary works, from debriefing reports and interviews with key participants, and from the personal experience of the author.”

Notable works in this series are:

  • Allied Participation in Vietnam
  • The Development and Training of the South Vietnamese Army 1950-1972
  • Division-Level Communication 1962-1973
  • Field Artillery, 1954-1973
  • Medical Support of the U.S. Army in Vietnam, 1965-1970
  • The Role of Military Intelligence, 1965-1967
  • U.S. Army Special Forces in Vietnam: 1961-1971

Most of the books in this series are arranged in chronological order and have tables of maps, charts, illustrations and photographs.

United States Air Forces in Korea, 1950-1953

The United States Air Forces in Korea, 1950-1953, by Robert F. Futrell (1961). 774 pages.

(Paper: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/55117954)
(PDF: https://media.defense.gov/2010/Dec/02/2001329903/-1/-1/0/AFD-101202-022.pdf)


Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Who commanded the US Far East Forces in May 1951?
  • What did AFOOP stand for?
  • Who was the youngest American flying ace in the Korean War?
  • What did the aftermath of a napalm strike look like?


Story Ideas:

Aside from providing background for stories set in this time and place, writers may find the attitudes of the Air Force towards air power useful in describing military views of other weaponry in science fiction stories. Similarly events at the United Nations and at the truce talks might have value in describing similar situations in fictional wars here and elsewhere.

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