The Swedish K And A Very Good Morning In South Vietnam

By Rick Cartledge
Photos by Alan Smithee

An astute collector telephoned the other day. He told the story of a new acquisition. Though it ends as you read this, the rich history of this particular Swedish K begins at an unexpected place. It starts with the thirteen days of Cuban Missile Crisis. This history of this particular Swedish K begins with its former owner.

The owner served as a veteran Air Force pilot at the outbreak of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He accepted orders to go to south Florida on a secret mission. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought America to a screeching halt. The pilot prepared to fly an F84F out of Mac Dill Air Force Base, Florida in the coming conflict. Armed and ready, the pilot prepared to fly against Cuba.

Our pilot also studied the Check List and Technical Manuals for the F4C, then the hottest ship in the air. The men of the 559th Fighter Tactical Squadron stood first in line to fly the new fighter. Then the orders came to stand down. The Crisis had ended as abruptly as it had started. The future Title II owner got orders to South Vietnam before he got to fly the F4. Enroute, he stopped at Elgin AFB, Florida to learn the finer points of handling the TO1D ‘Bird Dog’. He describes the ‘Bird Dog’ in Army parlance as the L-19, a one seat behind the other propeller driven, tail dragging Cessna. Checked out in the Cessna, our pilot boarded a transport plane to his new assignment. He landed half a world away in the Republic of South Vietnam. The calendar read August 1963.

The Green Berets

Before the Air Force issued him his new tail dragger, they issued him his armament - a World War II U.S. Navy .38 Special revolver and six bullets. He would hear the pop of a propeller rather than the rush of a jet engine for the next year. He accepted his assignment flying a single engine two seater over jungle outposts in South Vietnam. Occasionally he would fly supplies to these bases. Usually he had three other assignments. Our pilot knew that he would not be flying a milk run in upstate New York. He immediately went in search of better personal armament.

Through the power of positive persuasion, he got his hands on one of the new Air Force rifles, the AR-15. The rifle shot well, but did not fit in the front seat of the tail dragging Bird Dog. The AR-15 did offer more firepower than the World War II .38. He decided to keep it until something better came along.

Flying out of Ben Hua, he became adept at the three types of missions assigned to the Bird Dogs. They flew Combat Observation, Escorts, and Spotter missions. He carried all of the required Air Force equipment except a parachute. His plane flew so low that he considered a chute to be useless. He was not sure that if he crash-landed in water that he could float wearing his flak vest and flotation device.

Our pilot settled into the conflict and began flying missions. He particularly enjoyed doing air drops and fly-overs at one particular Green Beret base camp. The men of this particular camp always waved to him as he circled and dropped their packages. One morning he landed at the Green Beret camp. After unloading the packages, one of the Green Berets asked what he carried for protection. He showed the Berets his World War II revolver and his new AR-15 machine rifle. They invited him to the camp’s edge to take a test drive.

After the gun work, he stated that the AR-15 did not fit well in his small airplane. The men from Fort Bragg said, ‘We think that we can help you.’ Several of them took him to one of their twenty man tents. Inside the tent, our pilot found out why Green Berets in combat rival Irish Horse Traders in civilian life. He stated that he found a whole assortment of firearms — MP28s, MP40s, Thompsons, almost anything he could want — stuffed under the beds. The Berets had so many guns stuffed under the cots that he could barely walk around. He stated, ‘I never saw so many guns in my life.’ A Green Beret showed him an M1A1 Thompson in cosmoline. He bought the Thompson for $10.

If At First You Don’t Succeed

Back at Ben Hua, our intrepid pilot cleaned the cosmoline off the Thompson. He then rounded up some ammunition and went to the firing range. He found the Thompson to be a good weapon, but very heavy. Inside the Bird Dogs cockpit, he found the M1A1 to be smaller than the AR-15 but still too large for decent movement. He carried the Thompson in his cockpit for a while. Our pilot later sold the Tommy gun to another Ben Hua pilot for exactly what he had paid for it. Flush with $10 cash, he knew a certain Special Forces camp where he easily could spend it.

He landed at the base camp, got out of his plane, and walked into the tents. In one of the tents, he spotted a BAR lying on a bunk. He stated to the Special Forces trooper that he had never fired a BAR. The Green Beret said, ‘Do it.’ The trooper invited him to come to the top of the berm surrounding the tents to a height of 15 to 20 feet. There they fired into the trees. The pilot stated, ‘I was surprised how heavy the weapon was on my left hand, which was on the grip under the barrel. That was until I began firing, then it became much lighter. The pilot liked the BAR but, unfortunately, did not have a B-24. He had smaller fish to fry.

Back in the tents, he took a stroll through the Special Forces gun mall. Among the weapons he spotted a brand new Swedish K. The pilot chose the Karl Gustav gun and some extra magazines. The Men from Bragg complimented him on his choice. The well-crafted folding stock weapon would fit easily into the passenger seat of his small airplane. They took him back to the top of the berm and let him put some brass on the ground. Our pilot knew instantly that he had found his gun.

Back at his air base, the pilot drew a couple of crates of 9mm ammunition. He went to the firing range and learned to shoot the Swedish K very well. He learned first with both hands. Later he learned to shoot the Karl Gustav with one hand. The one handed shooting paid off on one of his last missions in South Vietnam. While on a mission to a remote base, he flew over a small village south of Soc Trang. The Viet Cong had just torched the little hamlet. Victor Charlie strolled down the road leading out of town without a care in the world. Suddenly an American prop plane came out of nowhere. The pilot eased the Swedish K out the window between the propeller and the strut. The roar of Karl Gustav sent Victor Charlie diving for the ditches.

The little gun rode with the able pilot through the rest of his tour. The Swede sat beside him as he flew to back country in the Republic of South Vietnam. He flew more than 500 hours. The Air Force credits him with more than 325 combat missions. When his tour came to an end, the pilot did not want to give up his Swedish K. He did not.


The pilot’s tour in South Vietnam ended in August of 1964. He climbed on a plane at Saigon and flew off to his next assignment in the Far East. He landed at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan with dop kit, luggage, and his Swedish K. He kept the automatic gun in his foot locker. Occasionally, he went to the base gun range. The pilot served his country well in Japan for the next three years. His tour of Japan completed, our pilot packed for home.

He landed in America in 1967. He took his station at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. He still carried his dop kit, luggage, and the Swedish K. He put the little blue steel gun in his foot locker wrapped with chain and locked. He wondered what to do with the K. He had owned the Swede for more than four years. The Karl Gustav carried with it many memories that were now a part of his life. He remembered the Green Berets who gave it to him. He remembered the Viet Cong scrambling for the ditches. Besides, he shot the Swedish K well and thoroughly enjoyed shooting it. A notice on a bulletin board in 1968 showed him the way to keep his Swedish K.

The United States Government announced the Amnesty of 1968. On 29 November 1968, the pilot took some time off his job at the air base. On that particular day he walked into his local ATF office. There he filled out the paperwork for his Swedish K. He used Form 4467 dated October 1968. This form carried the title, ‘Registration Of Certain Firearms During November 1968’. The top of the form carried the following admonishment. ‘This form cannot (cannot is underlined) be accepted for registration of firearm except when received by Director during the time period November 2, 1968 through December 1, 1968.’

The 1968 registration form also contained several other interesting sections. In Block 2, Place of Business or Employment, the owner typed ‘Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio’. Under ‘Place Where Usually Kept’, the owner typed, ‘Always Kept At Home In Locked Trunk’. The form gave the serial number as 301719. Under ‘Other Marks Of Identification’ the form stated ‘Letter ‘C’ above the serial number on receiver and letter ‘A’ below serial number’. Under manufacturer ‘made in Sweden’ the last section before the owner’s signature say, ‘The gun is serviceable’.

The #18 Model section stood as the most interesting section. This section states, ‘Swedish gun same as S&W mod. 76’. One could easily dismiss this as not being filled out by RKI’s. It goes a bit deeper than that, to time and place. Sweden was and remains a neutral country. After the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, no Swedish guns entered the United States. Rumor says that a set of Swedish K plans slid under the door at Smith and Wesson in the dead of night. Smith produced an extremely close but not identical copy of the Swedish K in their S&W 76.

The pilot signed his name to complete the paperwork. He handed over the paperwork and returned to his job at the air base. The Director of ATF approved this Form 4467 on January 10, 1969. He put the approved paperwork in his foot locker next to the Swedish K. He gave the gun a good cleaning and greased it for storage. The gun and paperwork remained stored for next thirty-three years.

To The Next Generation

In 2001, the pilot had passed his seventieth year. He gave thoughts to his estate and the Swedish K. He thought of what to do with the weapon that carried so much of his personal history with it. He decided to pass the Swede to the next generation. With that decision, he telephoned his local Class 3 dealer. The Class 3 dealer gave him a very good price for the gun. The Karl Gustav then went to its current owner.

The current owner described the condition of the Swede as follows. ‘The first thing one notices is its remarkable condition. This man took wonderful care of his Swedish K. Everything in the gun is original and in excellent shape. All of the numbers match. The blue steel shines brightly. The bottoms of the magazines contain the distinctive stamp of the Swedish K. Then there is all of this history that goes with the gun.’

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N7 (April 2003)
and was posted online on November 29, 2013


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