"It matters not what gave the signal, whether it was the flashing of a lantern by a Boer scout, or the tripping of a soldier over wire, or the firing of a gun in the ranks. It may have been any, or it may have been none, of these things. As a matter of fact I have been assured by a Boer who was present that it was the sound of the tins attached to the alarm wires which disturbed them. However this may be, in an instant there crashed out of the darkness into their faces and ears a roar of point-blank fire, and the night was slashed across with the throbbing flame of the rifles. At the moment before this outflame some doubt as to their whereabouts seems to have flashed across the mind of their leaders. The order to extend had just been given, but the men had not had time to act upon it. The storm of lead burst upon the head and right flank of the column, which broke to pieces under the murderous volley. Wauchope was shot, struggled up, and fell once more for ever. Rumour has placed words of reproach upon his dying lips, but his nature, both gentle and soldierly, forbids the supposition. 'What a pity!' was the only utterance which a brother Highlander ascribes to him. Men went down in swathes, and a howl of rage and agony, heard afar over the veld, swelled up from the frantic and struggling crowd. By the hundred they dropped—some dead, some wounded, some knocked down by the rush and sway of the broken ranks. It was a horrible business. At such a range and in such a formation a single Mauser bullet may well pass through many men. A few dashed forwards, and were found dead at the very edges of the trench. The few survivors of companies A, B, and C of the Black Watch appear to have never actually retired, but to have clung on to the immediate front of the Boer trenches, while the remains of the other five companies tried to turn the Boer flank. Of the former body only six got away unhurt in the evening after lying all day within two hundred yards of the enemy. The rest of the brigade broke and, disentangling themselves with difficulty from the dead and the dying, fled back out of that accursed place. Some, the most unfortunate of all, became caught in the darkness in the wire defences, and were found in the morning hung up 'like crows,' as one spectator describes it, and riddled with bullets."
Although never noted for their discipline, on at least this occasion the Boers battling the British Regulars during the Anglo-Boer War at the turn of the last century were able to hold their fire until the last moment and then unleash close-range intense volleys to decimate their exposed opponents.
Lacking grenades or supporting arms, and with use of the bayonet neglected, small arms can and have settled the issue in many a night encounter. While the individual can indeed inflict enemy casualties, in night firing it is important that a coordinated volley by all present be delivered and delivered at the closest range possible for a truly effective smashing wall of firepower to stop an enemy formation dead in its tracks.
This has been so pretty much since the ascendancy of firearms in military action. As the British Army saw it in the age of the wildly inaccurate and slow-loading Brown Bess flintlock musket, it was even more important.
“The most effective manner of acting with this end in view is to reserve the fire until it is certain to be effective, and then to pour in volley after volley as quickly as possible. General Skobeleff’s order is the following: “By day a battle may be brought on by a gradual and intelligent application of the ground and men at disposal, but at night the circumstances may be such as to render it necessary to make a great impression at once. This is the reason why in a battle by night volleys are always to be fired.
There are two other reasons for the invariable rule that all firing shall be by volleys:
1st. Independent firing gives an indication of numbers and of the extent of the position, and volleys do not.
2nd. Men become less excited when firing volleys, are more easily held in hand, and in consequence the confusion is lessened.”
While this may sound quaint in its wording, the basic truths behind these ideas remain. Oriental enemies especially gained much valuable intelligence against Western defensive positions at night by tricking single nervous young recruits into firing wildly and inaccurately into the darkness, giving away their own position and another piece to the whole puzzle of the entire unit’s dispositions.
In the vicious day and night jungle fighting on Guadalcanal, Corporal J.S. Stankus of the 5th Marines made these observations:
"Unnecessary firing gives your position and when you give your position away here, you pay for it. The men in my squad fire low of the trees. There is too much high firing going on. I have observed the Japs often get short of ammunition. They cut bamboo and crack it together to simulate rifle fire to draw our fire. They ain't supermen; they're just tricky bastards.”
A Sergeant Dietrich noted another ruse used by the enemy on Guadalcanal:
“A Japanese trick to draw our fire was for the hidden Jap to work his bolt back and forth. Men who got sucked in on this and fired without seeing what they were firing at, generally drew automatic fire from another direction.”
A decade later, North Korean soldiers would also use wooden clappers to simulate gun shots and get UN forces to fire prematurely into the night. Even more interesting and unusual was this tactic noted by the U.S. 8th Army in Korea.
“Shortly after the Communist Chinese Forces entered the conflict, they conducted preliminary reconnaissance of UN position by a ruse. Four flutists deployed around a base of a hill about fifty yards apart in the open and under a full moon and played tunes. For five minutes they played while skirmishers kept shuttling up to them and withdrawing. They succeeded in drawing fire which disclosed the outline of the perimeter.”
Even though many of us will have nothing better than conventionally-sighted rifles with daylight sights, there are some good ways to increase your chances of a hit firing at night-time targets. Rather than paraphrase, allow me to quote from an article in the Infantry School Quarterly (Volume 46, No. 2).
“Assume the prone position, holding the rifle as usual, left elbow well under the weapon and the butt firm against the shoulder. Modify the rest of the position like this: keep your head high so your eyes are well above the rear sight. Hold your head centered above the comb of the stock. Keep both eyes open.
Align on the target by pointing your rifle at it. When you feel you are aligned on it, lower the muzzle more than you think is necessary to hit the target. You do this because, with the head and eyes held high, you have a natural tendency to hold the muzzle up to your line of sight. This makes you fire over the target.
Next, if you are a right-handed shooter aim slightly to the right of the target and fire. (A left-handed firer would aim slightly to the left.) You must use this holdoff because tests have shown that right-handed firers aim a little too far to the left when using this technique, while left-handed firers aim a little too far in the opposite direction.”
Easier said than done, I know. As with all things, this one needs practice, and plenty of it. In many parts of the country it is almost impossible to find a place to conduct night fires. If possible, use a very large piece of cardboard attached to the rear of a silhouette target. After firing, you can then evaluate your results. I cannot stress enough one should aim lower than you think you need to. AIM LOW, AIM LOW, AIM LOW! Everyone shoots high in this situation. If you’re gonna miss, miss low. Missing low still strikes fear into the enemy when he can observe and hear the misses tearing up things, ricocheting, kicking up debris on him and snapping past his ears.
The Japanese night fighting manual offers the simplest, yet still effective, advice on firing your rifle at night.
2. Night firing is usually too high; therefore, take care not to incline the upper part of the body to the rear, or raise the muzzle of the rifle above the horizontal.
3. In firing at night, it is a good thing to release the trigger by one pressure of the finger, instead of the usual method.
4. Never get excited after firing; keep cool.
5. When firing is stopped, turn the safety without fail.
The Germans were the only ones to heavily emphasize the use of and training with of small arms for night fighting in the WWII manuals. This training had its own separate category and schedule apart from other night-time skills such as reconnaissance, cover and concealment, scouting, and bayonet, E-tool, knife, and hand-to-hand fighting.
“A soldier's familiarity with his weapons may be a decisive factor in night combat. To achieve complete mastery in the manipulation of weapons and equipment, the trainee must practice all postures-first while in camp, then under simulated combat conditions, and finally in the dark and blindfolded. The last type of individual training can be given only in the field, and its objective is to perfect the trainee's skill until he qualifies for unit training. Each arm of the service will proceed according to established procedures.
Squad training should emphasize firing practice at dusk, in the dark, by moonlight, and in artificial light. Firing practice should frequently be combined with an extended exercise, such as a strenuous march or reconnaissance problem, during which the unit should switch to extended formation after dusk. Only thus will the trainee get accustomed to the idea that he must be able to fight even after great physical exertion. Special importance should be attached to firing practice as part of defense in twilight and moonlight in order to condition the trainee to enemy attacks and give him confidence in his unit's ability to defend itself during the various stages of darkness.”
With a conventional daylight rifle scope, especially if there is a moon or snow cover, you may be able to actually see your target quite well through the scope. Aim as you would during the day. Without an illuminated reticule, you may not be able to make out the crosshairs, but often you can, and if not you can compensate somewhat by placing the dark blob of the target right in the center of your field of view.
I really like the dimly illuminated red pointer reticule in my L2A2 British Trilux scope on the FAL. Too many low-end commercial scopes boasting an illuminated reticule have settings so bright they give you a tan around your eye at noon and light up your whole face…while blinding you to anything but the reticule…at night.
When on the defensive and dug in, aiming stakes are used to set the right and left limits for each rifleman so that he does not become confused in the dark and fire at his neighboring friendlies. Don’t laugh. It is much easier to get disoriented at night than most people think. By keeping the rifle flat or tilted downwards slightly, even in pitch blackness the rifleman can sweep his zone with semi-auto fire, moving the weapon slightly between each shot.
This tale was told to me by a Korean War Army infantry veteran. Seems it was his task to cover the mouth of a gully with his BAR, Browning Automatic Rifle. Since he would not be able to see well enough at night to aim at individual targets, he carefully prepared his foxhole firing position with a board taken from a supply crate in addition to aiming stakes. The board lay flat, and he laid the BAR on it during daylight, on its side, and carefully adjusted the plank so it held the BAR on target.
That night when he heard stealthy movements from the enemy at the mouth of the gully, he held the BAR down sideways flat on the board and pulled the trigger. The gun’s recoil “walked” the weapon across the board from one aiming stake to the other, the bullets describing a flat arc across the target area. When the BAR reached the far end’s aiming stakes and was empty, he reloaded, flipped her over, and let the recoil chatter her back across the arc.
Other methods include aiming your rifle exactly at where an enemy might reasonably be expected to be at night, for instance a doorway or a narrow gully, then propping the rifle on forked sticks. If movement is heard from that direction in the dark, squeezing off a couple of shots from the mounted weapon may hit the enemy or at least come close enough to make him go elsewhere.
Hammer in sector stakes (right and left) to define your sectors of fire. Sector stakes prevent accidental firing into friendly positions. Tree limbs about 46 cm (18 in) long make good stakes. The stakes must be sturdy and must stick out of the ground high enough to keep your rifle from being pointed out of your sector.
Hammer in aiming stakes to help you fire into dangerous approaches at night and at other times when visibility is poor. Forked tree limbs about 30 cm (12 in) long make good stakes. Put one stake near the edge of the hole to rest the stock of your rifle on. Then put another stake forward of the rear (first) stake toward each dangerous approach. The forward stakes are used to hold the rifle barrel. To change the direction of your fire from one approach to another, move the rifle barrel from one forward stake to another. Leave the stock of the rifle on the rear stake.
One thing to remember is the vital importance of flash suppressors on your firearms during this type of action. All flash suppressors are not equal. Muzzle brakes and “assault rifle ban legal” muzzle devices are often nothing more, as Mark says, than “Blast Enhancers”. Remember you want to outfit your weapon now with a flash suppressor or a flash hider not a Blast Enhancer.