The Childers S.O.W.
By Robert Bruce
“The SOW represented an advanced concept that exhibited considerable potential. This was not only a military weapon, but also for SWAT teams in law enforcement. With its capability of firing the proposed family of special-purpose ammunition in its single shot mode it was a true multi-purpose weapon. In its belt-fed configuration it offered a projectile density performance approaching the exotic....” From The World’s Fighting Shotguns
Carroll D. Childers is a key figure in development of some important weapons and related equipment used by the US Marine Corps and Navy Special Operations during the Vietnam War. He was a prominent member of what was formally called the Vietnam Laboratory Assistance Team while stationed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Virginia in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. This audiotape interview was recorded at Childers’ home in Northern Virginia in September 2000. The transcription that follows concentrates on his work during the war on the innovative RHINO/MIWS/SOW selective fire shotgun, and a detachable box magazine for the Remington 870 shotgun. Material in parenthesis has been added by the interviewer for clarity and brevity.
SAR: “Conceptual MIWS Gun.” What does that stand for?
Childers: That was “Multipurpose Individual Weapons System,” and before that it had the acronym RHINO for “Repeating Handheld Individual Ordnance.”
SAR: I was told that was the SOW, and Swearengen (Thomas Swearengen, WORLD’S FIGHTING SHOTGUNS, 1978, TBN Enterprises - now Ironside International Publishers) calls it the “Special Operations Weapon.” (SAR shows CC the photo of SOW and modified 870 from NHC collection)
Childers: That SOW in your picture was the very first (actual weapon) model — this (Childers points to photos of a test mechanism in WFS, pages 410-412) is more from that drawing there (MIWS engineering conceptual drawing) that we fired from a vise. All it did was prove that you could make a barrel go forward. The one that would have been the final design concept was the one (in photo from the NHC collection) with the elliptical forearm containing the two recoil springs. That one had the selector switch and the whole works.
SAR: Did anybody in particular ask you to design this radical shotgun system? Was it a situation where somebody said to you, “We’ve been using these full-auto Remington 7188’s and they’re too sensitive to environmental conditions, but we still like that firepower. What can you do for us?”
Childers: At the time I was on (Science Advisor assistance) tour in Vietnam (1969-70) with the Marine Corps Force Recon.... They had a lot of close encounters, they were up north where the foliage was thick and the range was short and usually they tried to hide to do their job and would wait until somebody essentially stepped on them before they would take some counter-action.
So a lot of them thought shotguns were good. But what they had was a Winchester pump gun, the Model 97, and some Ithacas (Model 37) but that Winchester with the hammer appeared to be their favorite. And so they said, after all these years we (should) have something better than this. So I said, ok, I’ll design something better than this. (Childers takes a Browning Autoloading shotgun [see WFS p.409] off a wall rack to show the vertical wooden foregrip and talk about the process of developing the full-auto shotgun concept)
Somebody said, “A fully automatic shotgun, what the hell for? You can’t hang on to it!” That was basically what people thought. So I took my Browning and I put that forward handgrip on it. I modified it to fire full automatic and it would shoot five rounds in less than two seconds. You could hold it on target very nicely. I had a wire stock and that forward handgrip on there.
Their next (question) was, “Can you make a large capacity magazine weapon?” The SEALs had (Remington) 870s — the Marine Corps seemed to have the Winchesters. So we took the (870) pump and made the large magazine. This shows that you can, in fact, feed rounds from a large magazine. However, it wasn’t easy because you know, lifting ten shotgun rounds is a good lift for the spring, that led me to say, why lift it? Why not let gravity help out? So I put the magazine on top (in the MIWS).
SAR: Explain the concept of the whole MIWS operating system.
Childers: They (Marines and SEALs) had M79 grenade launchers and they were beginning to get various kinds of M79 attachments to hang on M16s (XM-148, etc). For the most part what they needed was relatively close range firepower and something very flexible. Although there were a few other kinds, you saw one at Crane (NAVWPNS) that was fully automatic. It was basically a (Remington semiauto) Model 1100 of a sort that was selectable fully automatic or semi. (Remington 7188 Mark 1).
I said well, why not design a new shotgun, but one that was real flexible, that might have a family of ammunition so that it didn’t just shoot buckshot or flechettes. And there were signal rounds there. So the concept was to develop a fairly short, stubby 12 gauge shotgun with a large magazine capacity that could quickly replenish the gun with a 10 round magazine. Then, I conceived of being able to break this thing open like a shotgun or M79 grenade launcher and insert a single long round — one that was too big for the magazine. That was a special round — part of a family of ammunition — and I could have mini-grenades and small shaped charges for materiel destruction, signal flares, of course buckshot and perhaps a thermite round.
Anyway, with a round about eight inches long or so, that you could load one at a time if you could access the breech. Then you could have a pretty versatile weapon. We even developed at one point some rocket-assisted 12 gauge shotgun rounds. Now that was a sight to behold.
I came back and began working on it and built a couple of prototypes — some firing prototypes — just to see if things could be made to work like that. After about a year — now you’re up into late 1970 and the war in Vietnam was beginning to wind down and everybody could see (we weren’t) going to be there much longer — so the support for this as a military weapon sort of ceased.
I continued to work on it sort of on my own, on the side, at Dahlgren for a couple of years. I’d get a few bucks here and a few bucks there from end-of-year money left over. We eventually build the working model that you saw (Editor JEFF - this is the top gun in the 2 1/4 in. transparency that was photographed at NHC) and that’s as far as the program ever got.
SAR: Had any weapons in particular inspired the mechanism — essentially a fixed bolt and moving barrel — that appears to be a long recoil system?
Childers: I don’t think there’s ever been a weapon like that designed before and of course I did a patent search. There are three patents in that weapon and during the patent search routine they could not detect any other weapon that was ever designed that had a barrel that moved forward (and this kind of) bolt.
SAR: How did the idea come to you to do that?
Childers: Well, I was trying to make it as short as possible and of course you’ve got some components recoiling to the rear. That’s taking up space in the receiver and that requires the receiver to have enough space (to allow) travel. And so, I saved travel space to the rear of the receiver by doing it this way.
SAR: Explain to me the pantograph linking and the — I can’t call it a bolt...
Childers: I call it the loading tray, basically conceived around a four bar linkage engineering concept. Movement of the barrel back and forth caused that four-bar linkage to toggle a catch mechanism up and down.
SAR: Since that time way back around 1970 this design has existed in both patent drawings on file and in prototype form in the Naval Historical Center collection. We’re told that in Navy weapons engineering circles, they try not to overlook good things and try not to reinvent the wheel. Has anyone come to you or have you heard about anybody revisiting this concept in the period following the war in Vietnam?
Childers: I had a phone call or two over the years where various people had come across the patent — there’s a fairly well known gun machine shop in Arkansas... I guess there are people tinkering around. But, once JSSAP (Joint Service Small Arms Program) got into the act ...and got big companies interested, whatever direction was in their minds was there and you couldn’t change that, and they conceived “dad’s shotgun.”
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