Sunday, August 05, 2012


“An amusing example occurred during the attempt on Erzeroum in 1877. No. 2 column, Colonel Kruzenstern’s, which had to move on Fort Akkali by the road from Khan, a distance of about three miles, managed to get off the road and wandered about the country, not knowing where it was. To improve matters, the rear battalion of the column, mistaking a herd of donkeys for Turks, began to cry out Allah! To deceive the supposed enemy, whereupon the leading battalion promptly faced about and let fly a volley at it, which luckily passed over the men’s heads, but made a noise and increased the confusion.”

This anecdote from a British Army officer at the turn of the last century is a perfect example of the almost overwhelming military tendency to fire too high. At night, the problem becomes even worse, when, as illustrated above, an entire battalion firing at another entire battalion missed entirely.

In the days of mass-firing troops with black powder weapons, it was pretty much universal that volleys went high and inflicted nowhere near the casualties such a large swarm of lead would be expected. The problem of firing too high continued throughout military history, and still persists to this day. 


A young infantry lieutenant by the name of Rommel started his war fighting the French on the Western Front, and noted: “As soon as the leading squads went into position, the enemy opened with heavy rifle fire. But his fire was still too high. Only a few bullets struck in front of and beside us, and we soon became accustomed to this. The only result of fifteen minutes’ fire was a hole in a messkit.”

This is less surprising when you consider that, in addition to most soldiers’ tendency to fire high under stress, almost all military bolt-action rifles of the time period had sights whose lowest setting was around 400 yards. Even with a good sight picture, one could fire over a man’s head at 100 yards.

Army, WWII:  “The Japanese fire high. Our experience is that only 10 percent of our wounds are below the knee, 20 percent are below the hips, and the balance are body wounds. Bullet sears on trees are mostly 2 1/2 feet above the ground.”

The 5th Marines on Guadalcanal: "Unnecessary firing gives your position away and when you give your position away here, you pay for it. The men in my squad fire low at the base of the trees. There is too much high firing going on.”


Lt. Col Frank Herbert: "Shoot low. Ricochets kill too."

 "The majority of our soldiers tended to shoot high at night. This is an old problem that can only be overcome by additional training and emphasis.

"One night...a VC force hit us...I had just given a big lecture to the two company commanders involved because in the afternoon fighting...the .50-caliber machine guns [on M113s] had been shooting too high. The comanpany commanders briefed their personnel and that night I will never forget both of them yelling, 'Shoot low, shoot low,' and it paid off. The next morning there were 12 VC lying along the perimeter wire and every one had been hit by .50-caliber fire. You could see how the rounds had virtually eaten up the dike in front of the enemy's firing position before taking him out..."

Rhodesian Bush Wars

Ian Rhodes: “Terrorists generally fired on fully automatic - "spray and pray." This would often start high, and would rise. The indiscriminate use of ammunition on fully automatic usually meant they would run out long before the Rhodesian troops.”

"When cover or “drake” shooting, riflemen were to shoot directly into and through the terrorists position, keeping their aim deliberately low, while gunners were required to aim at the ground immediately to the front of that cover - Tumbling rounds, dislodged stones, or fragments of smashed rocks and trees do great injury to those lying in cover, while the earth that MAGs can kick up has excellent distraction and demoralizing value."


Bill Mauldin's famous GIs Joe and Willie knew all about getting low.

For many, the knowledge of soldiers’ tendency to fire high has saved the life of more than one man willing to get down on his belly to avoid such fire and survive and escape.

An American GI in Italy: “In general, their machine-gun fire is very low. You can throw yourself down and feel reasonably secure—but you don’t dare rise. As it is, there’s only a tiny margin of safety. Often, however, the German can’t prevent you from wriggling away, and then getting up and making a dash for it. Twelve of us did this once. We were inspecting an Italian truck, which was about 50 yards from a small house. The Germans had a machine gun on each side of the house and riflemen inside it. When they opened up, we dropped down, wriggled out of the dispersion areas as fast as we could, and then ran. All 12 of us got away without a scratch.”
One British soldier also serving in Italy credited crawling with saving his life: “Then the second-in-command sent down for four drivers to bring in four trucks left behind by the Germans. We went over the top of the hill, from which the Jerries had been moved, and we could see the trucks about 400 yards away. When we were within 10 yards of them, an enemy machine gun and snipers suddenly opened up. They got my chum. Seeing no cover, I dropped down in the tall grass. Probably because I remembered what I had been taught about crawling, I'm here to tell the story.”
Of course, there are plenty of offensive uses of getting down on your belly, avoiding casualties and advancing unnoticed. The Eastern foe has always been particularly adept at crawling.

The Japanese WWII treatise, "Hints for the Soldier":
“Deploying and crawling will reduce casualties, and are the first steps toward victory. It should be known that if you deploy and conceal yourself there will be no casualties from hostile bombing, or from rifle or artillery fire.” 

A senior Marine NCO and master scout on Guadalcanal observed: “Here is the way Japs patrol. I was out on the bank of the river with another man. We were observing and were carefully camouflaged. We heard a little sound and then saw two Japs crawl by about 7 feet away from us. These Japs were unarmed. We started to shoot them, but did not do so as we remembered our mission. Then 15 yards later came 8 armed Japs. They were walking slowly and carefully. We did not shoot as our mission was to gain information. When I got back, we had a lot of discussion why the two Japs in front were not armed… I believe they were the point of the patrol and were unarmed so they could crawl better.”

Australian intelligence noted on New Guinea: “Individual Jap soldiers, with light but very effective equipment for independent combat, crawl through jungles so thick that it would appear impossible for a human being to penetrate. Yet for miles they wriggle their way through on hands and knees, or on their stomachs--taking several days, if necessary.”

Japanese infiltration tactics were quite similar to those used by the Red Chinese, North Koreans, and the Vietnamese. The VC/NVA proved particularly adept at crawling unnoticed right through American defensive lines.

A Marine officer in Vietnam noted: “…they’re really proficient at moving at night…very silently, very slowly and very patiently…They did get through even though our people were waiting for them. They crawled in between the holes, and our people never even realized that they passed through their positions.”

One doesn’t even get the chance to fire, high or otherwise, against such an enemy.

None of this means that the Western soldier cannot do the same thing if properly trained and patient.

"Creep up, Indian fashion, and arrive in the enemy's midst suddenly.”

Sergeant O.J. Marion of the 5th Marines on Guadalcanal: "You crawl in the advance—unless you are to charge and make it. The reason for this is that all men hit, are hit from the knees up, except for ricochets. We have crawled up to within 25 yards of a machine gun firing over our backs.”

The Japanese even agreed in their own documents that the Americans’ had the ability to do it up right when they set their minds to it: “The hostile forces are skilled in approaching by crawling, and they often get within 15 yards of our troops without being detected. They open surprise fire with very rapid-firing automatic weapons and deal destructive blows.”

British and Commonwealth troops also learned that the best way to eradicate the dreaded Japanese sniper involved stealthy crawling:

"About the only way to combat Jap snipers is to use stalker-snipers, who shoot the Japs as soon as they are located. The stalker-snipers nearly always work in pairs, making full use of camouflage. While moving, they must be completely under cover. If trails are unavailable, about the only way they can get about in the Burma jungle is along dry stream beds and gullies. The British are now trained to crawl (frequently on their stomachs) long distances if necessary... The stalker-snipers who move along the banks of dry stream beds and gullies communicate by word of mouth. Along these avenues of travel there are always places where the gullies and dry stream beds converge. Thus, the snipers can hold prearranged meetings under complete cover. When the snipers meet, they discuss the situation and make future plans."

During WWII, the Germans were impressed by the ability of Soviet infantry to use the ground to move stealthily.
“If the party itself is fired upon, the men instantly throw themselves on the ground and attempt to crawl to cover.”

“Stress is laid on the necessity of being able to crawl for long distances at a quick pace. Patrols are well equipped with camouflage suits, and make full use of darkness and bad visibility.”
“Stress is laid upon movement by rushes and crawling noiseless approach to enemy positions, use of camouflage, and utilization of cover.”

“When working forward, the Russian moves in short, quick bounds, and is capable of moving through the thickest undergrowth in order to work his way close to the enemy position. If the defense is on the alert, he is able to lie still for hours on end.”

The Australian 9th Division, surrounded at Tobruk by German and Italian positions, dominated No Man’s Land by aggressive patrolling. In the barren, treeless, wide-open desert, the only way to sneak up on enemy positions undetected was by crawling, and the Aussies did plenty of it.

On one nighttime raid, “the raiders crawled in single file for two miles through a minefield to attack an observation post, the position of which had been revealed by reconnaissance patrols on the previous day.” Their successful surprise attack killed 15 of the enemy and wounded an unknown number.

Crawling really can be amazingly effective. Many Western hunters know this well, antelope hunters in particular. The pronghorn antelope’s normal eyesight is the equivalent of 8x binoculars and is its primary defense against. After getting shot at once or twice, they become very wary of anyone getting within rifle of them. In fact, I’ve seen them where they’ll take flight just because a pickup truck comes to a stop two miles away. But, by using the terrain carefully and a willingness to crawl, I’ve never failed to fill my speed goat tag. Sure, I spent months plucking prickly pear cactus spines out of my knees after the first such hunt, but it was a price I was willing to pay.

In my younger days, before I moved West, and bothered to hunt waterfowl, it was easy enough to crawl up through even thin cover to ambush ducks and geese on ponds and rivers.

There are weapons restricted hunting areas near inhabited areas in which only the use of handguns, traditional muzzle-loaders, and shotguns with slugs are allowed. In many of these areas, the deer tend to “yard up” out in the middle of wide open spaces where no one can approach them.

But you can if you’re willing to crawl. I’ve patiently and slowly belly crawled out into the middle of wide-open hayfields with no more cover than frost-killed alfalfa and gotten within solid pistol range of these animals on more than one occasion.

This is the advantage of “micro-terrain”. This consists of even the smallest dip, depression, or hummock in the ground, none of which show on any map. Yet micro-terrain still has the ability to hide you from watchful eyes even when there appears to be no cover at all. It’s imperative to scope them out with your own eyes. As General George Washington once said, “No reconnaissance at a distance will suffice.” When you’re actually in the terrain, flat on your belly, you will be amazed how little it really takes to conceal a human being.

Major John Plaster of Ultimate Sniper fame, once set up a rural “drug lab” for a training exercise, with the “bad guys” alert and closely observing all approaches with optics. The 5-man SWAT team he was training was able to crawl through a hayfield of alfalfa only about a foot tall completely undetected.

Plaster explained this micro-terrain well. On closer examination, the “wide-open” field had, “…several natural depressions of 6 to 10 inches, which—when added to the height of the alfalfa—allowed 18 to 22 inches of concealment, plenty for a man to low-crawl.”

In 1982, during the bloody battle for Goose Green in the Falklands War, 2 Para had been fought to a standstill by entrenched and hard-fighting Argentine troops when their night attack lasted too long and daylight revealed them in the open. While A company slugged it out against a key positions on Boca Hill, D Company discovered that where the desolate land of the isthmus sloped down to the water, there was a small but consistent 18-inch lip between the ground and the beach. The entire company crawled a thousand yards under this seemingly non-existent cover until they were even with Boca Hill and then hit it hard in a surprise hail of fire from the flank. Now under attack from two sides, the defenders were forced to surrender the hill.

Two years later, Pakistani officer clandestinely training the Afghan Mujaheddin encountered another problem in getting macho types down on their bellies. He amply demonstrated that one could almost easily crawl up to the Soviet oil pipeline between guard posts and set explosive charges undetected. The Mujaheddin absolutely refused to adopt such tactics. The Pakistani colonel finally figured out the problem.

“In fact what was wrong with my method was that it lacked noise and excitement. It was not their way to fight, with no firing, no chance of inflicting casualties, no opportunity for personal glory and no booty…It often took a serious setback, with quite severe casualties, to force a Commander to review his methods.”

So, if the S ever does HTF and you're fighting it out with the 3rd Mongolian Horde supported by the 27th separate Zombie battalion, you may want to, as Fat Bastard would eloquently put it (in my best fake Scottish accent),  “Get doon on yar bellee!”

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