Sunday, August 15, 2010


“Not knowing what lay ahead, Broughton ordered them to proceed by fire and movement, with two groups alternating at bounding ahead while the prone half delivered a covering fire with rifles, carbines, and the BAR. It was probably a sheer waste of bullets since the folding of the ridge provided a natural protection, and in the end it cost them dear.
They emerged onto the skyline and squatted down behind the rocks. The summit of 219 was just above them, less than 50 feet away. Looking up, they could see the earth bank of an entrenchment, and the upper parts of men’s bodies as the Chinese bobbed up and down to fire on them. Grenades were coming down the slope thick as hailstones but the distance was overgreat and they were exploding before they reached the platoon.
Broughton whispered to his men: “How much ammunition you got?” Pvt. James Warmley replied: “Two bullets.” Broughton said: “That just what I’ve got.” The others said they had absolutely none; every magazine and belt had been emptied in the futile firing during the climb. Pvt. Charles Murray said: “I think we’d better get the hell out of here.”
That was what they did.”
The River and the Gauntlet, S.L.A. Marshall
Ammunition is a precious commodity to the militiaman. It doesn’t grow on trees and it cannot be wasted. For instance, the individual cannot burn up 600 rounds in 20 minutes…without hitting anything…and then pull back to have a helicopter drop another full load of ammo, something that happened to a unit of American and Afghan commandos not long ago in Afghanistan. If the small unit of light infantrymen burns up 600 rounds in a single short engagement, they’re sucking hind tit and down to bayonets and rocks. This is why both marksmanship and semi-automatic fire are important in husbanding the crucial amount of ammunition at hand.

Training in and using the exact same tactics as a large, wasteful, fully-equipped military with an endless supply train and extremely deep pockets just doesn’t make that much sense for the self-supporting small arms-equipped light infantry. It would seem to be a recipe for disaster. You just can’t pour out buckets of ammunition in hopes of inflicting a casualty. You’ll run out of bullets before regular forces do, fast and guaranteed.

An army supplied literally at will by a single radio call can afford to be wasteful and use plenty of full automatic fire. But in doing so, the soldiers lose the very basics of rifle marksmanship. For instance, in Vietnam, American military leaders greatly espoused the full-auto capability of the M16 in the hands of the individual soldiers as “firepower”. It did indeed provide volume of fire, but not necessarily hits, and the average soldier lost his basic marksmanship skills in the process.

Major Lones Wigger, an Olympic class shooter, took over a marksmanship program for the 23rd Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1971. Part of his task was to train up replacements fresh from basic training in the states. He was not impressed; only ten percent of the recruits could hit a one-foot-square target at 25 meters.

“I found the average replacement could not hit a silhouette target at twenty-five meters, knew little of basic marksmanship fundamentals, and did not understand why he needed to zero his rifle.”

Major John R. Foster of the 101st Airborne also conducted a marksmanship refresher course, but this one was for combat veteran line grunts, with two men per company per week, usually around thirty troopers total. All the men…except for one…were given two 30-round magazines and one minute to put as many rounds downrange at a man-size silhouette target at 50 meters’ range. They almost always shot in the standing position on full-auto. The average group scored four to six total hits out of 1,800 rounds. The last man was given a short refresher course in basic rifle marksmanship and fired from the prone on semiautomatic. He invariably put many more shots into the target with 60 rounds than all the rest had with 1,800 rounds.

Colonel David Hackworth, doing an on-the-ground study of American infantry in Vietnam noted: “When suddenly confronted by small numbers of the enemy, the Americans firing their M16's will in the overwhelming majority of cases miss a target fully in view and not yet turning. Whether the firing is done by a moving point or by a rifleman sitting steady in an ambush, the results are about the same -five total misses out of six tries - and the data basis includes several hundred such incidents. The inaccuracy prevails though the usual such meeting is at 15 meters or less, and some of the firing is at less than 10 feet. An outright kill is most unusual. Most of the waste comes from unaimed fire done hurriedly. The fault much of the time is that out of excitement the shooter points high, rather than that the M16 bullet lacks knockdown power, a criticism of it often heard from combat- experienced NCO's. The VC winged but only wounded by an M16 bullet, then diving into the bush, makes a getaway three times out of four, leaving only his pack and a blood trail. As to effectiveness over distance, until recently he data basis deriving from 6 major and approximately 50 minor operations contained not one episode of VC or NVA being killed by aimed fire from one or more M16's at ranges in excess of 60 meters.”

As a result, it required a lot of small arms ammo to kill a single VC or NVA. Estimates range from a low end of 50,000 rounds per kill to a high end of 200,000 rounds.

On the other hand, the Aussies in Nam were primarily armed, at least initially, with the L1A1 inch-pattern FAL or SLR (Self-Loading Rifle), which was semi-automatic only. Those armed with the SLR’s fired an average of 275 rounds per kill. In patrol encounters it was 187. With all small arms including machine guns and M16s included, the total round count was 485 per kill. That, of course, includes the real full-auto suppressive fire from real machine guns, if you consider the M60 a real machine gun. However, in about 22 per cent of all 1ATF contacts, thirty shots or less resulted in an enemy casualty. All this despite the Aussies’ general distaste for the body count method, and that they did not “extrapolate” numbers or include “probables” in their count.
Even some major national militaries had to learn the value of accurate slow fire and conserving ammunition solely due to a lack of bullets to fire. The United States Marines on Guadalcanal, for instance, were pretty much abandoned early in the campaign, their supply ships and escorts chased away by Japanese naval and air forces. From high-ranking commanders to front-line grunts, the importance of making the most of their ammunition was stressed.
“Teach not to waste ammunition. Learn to make every shot count.” Colonel Amor R. Sims.
“We learned not to fire unless we had something to shoot at. Doing otherwise discloses your position and wastes ammunition.” Corporal Fred Carter.
Even the Japanese in WWII, almost universally noted for their less-than-stellar marksmanship, decided they needed to stress it later in the war as their bastions were being cut off and strangled; “left to die on the vine”, as General Douglas “Dugout Doug” MacArthur put it. With supplies of ammunition running out, these notes came from two different captured official Japanese military documents:
"Supply: ‘Get one of the enemy every time you shoot’ is to be a maxim of this fight. The defenders must shoot the big forms of the enemy [United Nations] as they approach. As many provisions and as much ammunition as possible must be stored in the front lines. However, these supplies should be widely dispersed as a protection against bombing.”
“With regard to shooting, large quantities of ammunition are seldom available at the front; therefore expert marksmanship must be developed during the training period. The principle ‘Get a man with every round’ is very sound. This is particularly important with regard to heavy weapons. You must avoid random firing; aim your shots well.”
Ammunition, especially for American calibers, was desperately hard to come by for American and Filipino guerillas fighting the Japanese occupiers of the Philippine Islands during WWII. Colonel (should have been General) Wendell Fertig led the resistance movement and learned one had to go to real extremes to conserve ammunition amongst poorly trained guerillas.
“In my command in the Philippines, I found that the only way to break out of an ambush action was to provide indigenous personnel with limited ammunition. A guerilla with an empty rifle will retreat readily, while one with an adequate supply of ammunition will stay too long and risk capture.”
At one point, guerillas were also required to bring back their empty brass for reloading. You only got as much new ammunition as the number of spent cases you brought back!
There are, fortunately, less extreme ways to conserve precious ammunition while still being effective in the firefight. One way to achieve these goals as well as conserve ammunition is by the use of well-aimed individual fire from semi-automatic rifles. I believe it was Clint Smith from Thunder Ranch who put it best: “Shoulder-fired full-auto is only good for turning money into noise.”

Conducting extensive studies of small arms use during the Korean War, Army historian and researcher S.L.A. Marshall noted that when American GIs were fighting desperately to stem the massed Chinese human wave attacks, the automatics—BARs, machine guns, Thompsons, M2 carbines--quite often ran completely out of ammunition during these actions. But the semi-automatic M1 Garands in the hands of riflemen never ran completely dry.
The Korean experience proves substantially that the fighting posture of the line is most sound when automatic fire is combined with slow fire in its weapons complex. This subject will be treated more extensively in the data bearing on evaluation of the various weapons. Suffice to say now that any trend toward eliminating the semi-automatic, hand-carried weapons in favor of full-automatic weapons in the hands of all infantrymen should be vigorously combated. In perimeter defense, the time almost invariably comes when the automatic weapons run short of ammunition, with the local issue still to be decided. This is the crisis of the contest, when decision may swing either way, depending on which side is most, capable of delivering the last few volleys.

The semi-automatic weapons are conservers of ammunition. Apart from their great value in the hands of a good marksman at any stage of the fight, they compose the weapons reserve which becomes of inestimable value in the last hours when both sides are near the point of exhaustion. In the infantry company data from Korean operations there are numerous examples wherein the retention of the position depended finally on fire from the M1, and rifle fire finally decided the issue. The troops who carry the weapon almost unanimously recognize the vital importance of this factor. On the basis of their experience, they would not concur in any suggestion that the line could be strengthened by fitting it exclusively with full-automatic power.”

Kind of sounds like SLAM is espousing say, oh, a semiautomatic M14. And in the same category we can put the civilian semi-automatic versions of the FAL, HK91/CETME, AR10. It’s worthy of note that some of the armies with a reputation for marksmanship--Australia, Great Britain, Canada—adopted a semiautomatic-only version of the FAL.

I often use for examples mountain troops and paratroops. That’s because such units often operate in independently, in small groups, and without supporting arms. Resupply of both beans and bullets can be difficult and tenuous. In many cases, the engagement must be decided entirely with small arms, yet they must still retain enough ammunition for continued action.

“Ski patrols, assault units, or raiding parties are not suited for
a prolonged engagement, because of their usually limited ammunition
supply. They detach themselves from the enemy after forcing a decision, or complete his destruction in close combat.”

German WWII Gebirgsjaeger mountain troops knew full well that small arms could often be the only means they had to make the decision in the fire fight, and used these tactics to increase the “firepower” of their individual weapons and cut down on ammunition expenditure.

“In cases where ski troops have no artillery support, fire fights alone are frequently the only means of securing the success of the engagement. Increasing the allotment of telescopic sights to riflemen strengthens the fire power of the squad and favors the more frequent firing of single shots. Concentration of the fire of all rifles with telescopic sights to overpower important single targets (enemy leaders, observation posts, and machine guns) can be of particular advantage before and during an attack, and also in defense. Because of the limitations of transportation in ski warfare the platoon or squad leader must control the use of ammunition.”

Although the Swiss had, for many decades, stressed and achieved an almost unparalleled level of individual marksmanship, this was espoused even more by their special mountain regiments. This was, in large part, due to the difficulty of ammunition supply and also to the fact that the rifle was often the only weapon available to mobile small units in rough mountain country.
The carbine to which this article refers to is the K31, sometimes erroneously referred to as the Schmidt-Rubin, a straight-pull bolt-action, faster than any conventional bolt-action rifle but slower than a semiautomatic rifle.

“On account of the ease with which it is operated and its small size and weight, the carbine can be carried anywhere without a great deal of inconvenience. Its simple action permits almost instantaneous opening of fire and it is not in any way affected by the cold. Its firing accuracy is excellent even at distances in excess of three hundred yards, since a gun in good condition and well adjusted possesses extremely slight dispersion in the hands of a good marksman. The maximum consumption of ammunition may be fixed at six rounds per minute, and even this is a bit high. It is not hard, therefore, to maintain a supply of ammunition even in relatively inaccessible locations.”

Nature of Fire
Rate of Fire
One round at a time
6 rounds per minute
1 clip 5.6 ounces
Sub-machine gun
Bursts of 5 to 8 rounds
60 rounds per minute
2 magazines 5.7 pounds
Machine gun
Bursts of 20 to 30 rounds
250 rounds per minute
1 box of ammunition about 24.2 pounds

“In mountain service and exercises, we should emphasize individual carbine fire more than we have in the past. It is admitted that mountain soldiers already can shoot. It is certainly necessary.

He must learn to shoot in snow, among rocks, in extreme cold, while wearing mittens, at night, and especially in fog. The targets should be at varying distances, from thirty-five yards to three hundred, even five hundred yards. He must be able to register hits on visible targets in from five to twenty seconds. In short, no matter what the situation, he should be able to make each shot count. When he has aquired a certain mastery of shooting, he will take up patrol fire under the control of his chief…

The carbine is perfectly suited to aimed, high-angle fire (the opposite of grazing fire). By crossing the trajectories of several weapons, there will not be many dead angles in a given zone.
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The morale effect of surprise fire coming from several different directions and penetrating into all the angles of a terrain is very great. If, in addition to this, the material effects are considerable as a result of good accuracy, the enemy detachment will have had experience from which it will not immediately recover.

These are the very results we are aiming at!”
In many cases, especially during the Second World War, paratroops often had to operate on their own, without support weapons, and, despite some successful air drops often with a tenuous—at best—means of resupply. From Crete to Arnhem, they frequently had to make do with their own small arms and what ammunition they had brought with them, and so had to get the most out of it.


The commander of a German parachute demonstration battalion recently issued to his companies a directive which affords useful insight into some of the ground tactics that enemy paratroopers may be expected to employ. The following extracts from the battalion commander's order are considered especially significant:
1. Since so many targets are likely to be seen only for a fleeting moment, and since the rifleman himself must disappear from hostile observation as soon as he has revealed his position by firing, the German paratrooper must be extremely skillful at "snap shooting" (rapid aiming and firing). The following three points are to be noted and put into practice:
a. Snap shooting is most useful at short ranges. It will not be employed at ranges of more than 330 yards, except in close combat and defense, when it will generally be employed at ranges under 1,100 yards.
b. Even more important than rapid aiming and firing is rapid disappearance after firing, no matter what the range may be.
c. Movement is revealing, also. Men must move as little as possible and must quickly find cover from fire at each bound.
2. I leave to company commanders the distribution of automatic and sniper rifles within companies. I wish only to stress the following principles:
a. Wherever possible, sniper and automatic rifles will be given to those paratroopers who can use them most effectively. In general practice, this rules out commanders and headquarters personnel (who have duties other than firing).
b. There seems to be a general but incorrect impression that our sniper rifles improve the marksmanship of men who are only moderately good shots. These rifles are provided with telescopes only to make more distinct those targets which are not clearly visible to the naked eye. This means that an advantage accrues solely to very good marksmen firing at medium ranges—and, what is more, only where impact can be observed and the necessary adjustments made. Since the sniper is seldom in a position where he can observe for himself, a second man, with binoculars, generally will be detailed to work with the sniper.
Even in jungle fighting, where everything is point blank and chaotic, other methods besides the blind spraying the bush of with mass volumes of full automatic fire have proven effective in the past.

A British officer in Burma during WWII, Captain H. Peacock, a former forest ranger in Rhodesia and Portuguese East Africa, advised jungle soldiers on shooting the bolt-action SMLE.

“Shooting.—The correct use of a rifle deserves a few words. In the jungle quick decisions and timing are of far more urgency than mere accuracy. The affliction known as ‘stag fever’ is far more prevalent in the jungle than in open country, where there may be time to exert self-control and shoot calmly and accurately. To fire at the right moment, to know when to hold one’s fire, are all-important under conditions where a second shot is most unlikely to be obtained after
a miss. In the jungle, fifty to seventy-five yards is a long shot. Study your rifle and make sure of absolute accuracy at close ranges: and fight against ‘stag fever’, which attacks the most experienced of us.”

While I have little use for Communists, and even less for Che Guevara, he did have a few rational thoughts on the effective armament of poorly-supplied and trained guerrilla units during the Cuban Revolution. Even with poorly-trained shooters, it’s hard to waste too much ammo with a bolt-action rifle.

“The arms preferable for this type of warfare are long-range weapons requiring small expenditure of bullets, supported by a group of automatic or semi-automatic arms. Of the rifles and machine
guns that exist in the markets of the United States, one of the best is the M-1 rifle, called the Garand. However, only people with some experience should use this, since it has the disadvantage of expending too much ammunition…An ideal composition for a guerrilla band of 25 men would be: 10 to 15 single-shot [bolt-action] rifles and about 10 automatic arms between Garands and hand machine guns, including light and easily portable automatic arms, such as the Browning or the more modern Belgian FAL and M-14 automatic rifles.”

In the successful counter-insurgency fought in the jungles of Malaya, British and Commonwealth forces had plenty of automatic small arms. Even so, to be used most effectively, only the submachine guns were fired full-auto, and then still aimed from the shoulder.

The best results with all automatic weapons are likely to be obtained when fired from the shoulder as aimed fire, 9 mm carbine shots in short bursts, and M1/M2 carbines in single shots [semi-automatic].

Owen 9 mm SMG
[Sub-machine Gun]
Fire from shoulder in
aimed bursts—
3-4 rounds at close
Range, or
2-3 rounds at longer
Don’t fire single rounds.
Don’t fire from the hip.
Don’t fire from rough
alignment of sights
from shoulder.
SMG 9 mm
L2 A1
Fire from shoulder in
aimed bursts—
2-3 rounds at close
range or
2 rounds at longer
[M1 semi-auto]
[M2 full-auto]
Fire from the shoulder in
single rounds at the
highest possible rate.
Don’t fire from the hip.
No. 5
[Jungle Carbine,
Aimed fire from
shoulder in single rounds.
Don’t fire from the hip.
7.62 Self-
Rifle (FN)
Aimed fire from
shoulder in single
Don’t fire from the hip.
In 1964, the United Kingdom was fighting counter-insurgency in Aden. The Radfan was an area of rugged, stony mountains rather like Afghanistan, only lower elevation. Although an unsuccessful mission, the saga of the Edwards Patrol of the SAS is of note.

In the delicate balancing act between mobility and firepower, and not supposed to seek combat but rather secure a drop zone, the troopers of the patrol carried five 20-round magazines for their SLR’s, one in the rifle and four in their ammo pouches. An additional 50-round bandoleer for reloads was also carried. A single .303 Bren gun was also carried in the role of the SAW.

A sick patrol member slowed their progress so that when daylight came, they had to hide in two old sangers (fighting positions built of rocks). At 1100, they were unfortunately discovered by a wandering goat herder (shades of Bravo Two Zero!). A brutal ordeal began.

An all-day firefight ensued. The Arabs greatly outnumbered the British patrol and were armed with bolt-action SMLEs. They were very good with those rifles too, but the SAS troopers held them off with their own aimed and deliberate fire for two hours until air support arrived. The RAF Hunter aircraft kept the tribesmen pinned down, but at dusk their support was lost and, as in Afghanistan, terrorist reinforcements had been filtering into the area all day, slowly surrounding the position despite the air strikes. A rescue helicopter had been driven off, shot full of holes. By nightfall, every man in the patrol had been wounded either by bullets or rock fragments from bullets smashing into the sangers. One man was dead.

The SAS men destroyed their radios and made a break for it after dark. During the escape, Captain Edwards was killed. After the break-out, as they crept towards the nearest British outpost, four Arabs picked up their trail. Two men heard them and waited; rather than hide in ambush and delivering a large volume of fire, the SAS troopers stepped out into the path and quickly cut all four men down with SLR’s. When two more guerillas later picked up their trail again, an identical ambush dispatched them too.

The wounded and battered patrol eventually hooked up with a British Saladin armored car near daybreak and was transported back to base. They had survived incredible tribulations against overwhelming odds. Even though they had started with only 150 rounds apiece, had been marching or fighting for 36 straight hours, had engaged in a day-long firefight and two ambushes, there was still some ammunition left for their semi-automatic SLR’s.
The Rhodesian Light Infantry

This is how the elite units of the Rhodesian security forces, almost always outnumbered and not relying on aerial resupply if stealth was needed, conserved their ammunition while still using their South African R1 versions of the FAL to very good effect.

“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.

To ‘Win the Fire Fight’, riflemen would consume the first two magazines as quickly as it remained practical to maintain accuracy, using single rounds or double taps (While trained to use the double tap, my Commando’s policy was the use of single rounds - Aim, Squeeze and Switch). As with the rifleman’s use of magazines, the [machine] gunner was free to offload the first one or two belts. Each stick member was responsible for monitoring his own ammunition usage during the firefight, and running out was an unforgivable sin!”

Later, we’ll cover their famous Drake or Cover Shoot, to explain how to suppress the hell out of the enemy with just “double taps”.

Fighting “Small Wars” in the Caribbean and Central America between the World Wars, the United States Marine Corps also knew about tenuous supplies of ammunition despite their early use of aerial resupply, and the need to get the most from what they carried. After 1936 and the first military adoption of the M1 Garand, when it filtered down to them Marines believed that an infantry unit armed solely with semiautomatic rifles was just fine.

“If the rifle units are completely equipped with the semiautomatic rifle, the inclusion of any full shoulder weapon in each squad is not warranted. If the basic arm in the patrol is the bolt-action rifle, the armament of each squad should include two semiautomatic, or two Browning automatic rifles, or one of each. This proportion of automatic shoulder weapons to bolt-action rifles should rarely, if ever, be exceeded. Ammunition supply in small wars operations is a difficult problem. Volume of fire can seldom replace accuracy of fire in a small war. The morale of guerrilla forces is little affected by the loss of u particular position, but it is seriously affected by the number of casualties sustained in combat. The majority of the personnel in an infantry patrol should be armed, therefore, with weapons that are capable of delivering deliberate, aimed, accurate fire rather than with weapons whose chief characteristic is the delivery of a great volume of fire. The automatic weapons should be utilized to protect the exposed flanks, or to silence hostile automatic weapons."

So, since there's really no legal choice available other than semi-automatic battle rifles
(or assault rifles, if you must), a formation that lacks any full automatic arms doesn't
necessarily mean it's toothless or ineffective, and can still leave the fight with ammunition
left for a rainy day.


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