Thursday, December 01, 2011


The evolution of the American military rifleman.







Present day

“When they started out, they couldn’t shoot. They didn’t know their weapons. They had not had enough training in plain old-fashioned musketry. They’d spent a lot of time listening to lectures on the differences between Communism and Americanism and not enough time crawling on their bellies on maneuvers with live ammunition singing over them.”

Colonel John “Mike” Michaels, 27th "Wolfhounds" Infantry Regiment, Pusan, Korea, 1950.

To most folks, that would sound like a training and doctrine failure. Pentagon weenies are not most folks, though. Their solution to every problem for the past few decades has been to spend billions on super-duper high-tech wonder weapons capable of taking the individual soldier’s ability out of the equation as much as possible. Anything but better training, especially in marksmanship, which might expend too many rounds costing a quarter apiece.

As one modern marksmanship trainer who has been trying to jam in an intense 1 or 2-day shooting refresher for troops deploying overseas noted recently, it seems the Pentagon would rather pay for USGI Life Insurance benefits than small arms ammunition. I know that in 4 years of active Army and 9 in the Guard I never, ever, once had any refresher marksmanship training...even when I offered to give it.

The myth of the American male being a “natural shooter” died hard. I know of plenty of guys who still haven’t gotten the word. To my mind, the Korean War sounded the death knell for the American infantryman as a real rifleman. Troops initially sent to stop the North Korean invasion were men stationed on occupation duty in post-WWII-Japan. They were out-of-shape, poorly-trained, ignorant of their equipment, much of which was in poor repair, and just plain soft. When it came to the art of the rifle, even the reinforcements and recruits fresh from training who were rushed to the conflict weren’t much better.

Military historian General S.L.A. Marshall, after numerous studies and interviews, came to the statistical conclusion that, “The great killing zone for the rifle is at less than 200 yards.” Which was no doubt true in Korea. Those who latched onto the 200-yard-range figure used it as proof that the soldier did not need a weapon capable of an effective range beyond 300 meters, such as a small caliber assault rifle.

But SLAM also added a few caveats that seem to have been ignored.

“But an arm which was not reasonably accurate at ranges well in excess of that would shift too large a part of the burden to the heavier weapons of the infantry during the enemy approach and withdrawal…Rifle practice at the longer ranges is still desirable. But the rifleman needs about five times the amount of practice now given him with live ammunition if the weapon’s potential is to be fully exploited in combat.”

Increased training? Expending live ammunition on the range? Surely, he jested. What kind of solution is that?

From men who could already shoot well…long-time hunters, high-power match competitors, or simply self-taught shooters…being able to “shoot up to the rifle” meant something with the M1 Garand.

“The engagement range could run from 500 yards down to right outside my hole. I knocked people down right outside my foxhole and I shot them at 500 yards.”

“With the M1, you could engage targets out to 500 yards. Since I had qualified expert with the M1, I could hit targets that far out.”

“I made shots out to 600 to 700 yards…There was no doubt about it; I was good with the M1. It just fascinated me that the rifle could do those things at those ranges.”

With the exception of some Marine Corps units, marksmanship training and abilities of the average GI was almost universally piss poor. One post-war analysis by an American Army officer found:

“Firepower was also degraded by the failure of training to focus on marksmanship. ‘During World War II and the postwar period, there was a tendency in the Army to substitute volume of fire for marksmanship.’ During the Korean War many infantry units did not place effective fire on the enemy. Effective by means of ‘the old “shoot to kill” tradition.’ One study concluded that 67 percent of the men questioned said that they aimed, on average, only one round out of an 8 round clip.

‘One infantryman expressed a theory, apparently held by many, that the job of the M-1 carbine rifleman is primarily to pour out as much lead as possible to keep the enemy’s head down.’ The study also discovered that one third of the soldiers questioned never zeroed their weapons while stationed in Korea. Although infantrymen indicated that weapons training was the most valuable skill they acquired, the lessons of rifle marksmanship were lost on the battlefields of Korea.”

A great many soldiers were just handed a rifle and never even got the chance to zero it. Even if they knew why and how, it was often no thanks to their training if they did. Firing a rifle that has not been zeroed for the individual, even the best marksman could potentially miss a man-sized target at 100 yards, and the error increases exponentially as range increases. If one is 4 inches off at 100 yards, he is 8 inches off at 200, and 16 at 300, 32 at 400, etc. Which doesn’t even take into account the individual shooter’s proficiency.

"Sight picture is no good without a zero."

The stories of poor small arms training during the Korean War era are endemic.

Basic Training at Fort Dix, NJ in 1947:

“We did very little weapons training there. We didn’t even have weapons until two weeks before range firing. Before that we just had sticks…The marksmanship training we got wasn’t very good. Most of it was on proper sight alignment, which was the most important thing. We also did a lot of dry firing behind the range. The bad thing was that they didn’t reach us proper zeroing techniques. The problem was they didn’t have experienced cadre, most of the trainers were corporals.”

Camp Breckenridge, KY, 1952:

“We trained on all the infantry weapons, but very little. Not enough to say we were experts on any of them. It was more a familiarization on most of them.”

Camp Crowder, MO:

“If you shot expert [a basic trainee], they made you cadre. That’s how hard up they were to find people to train the new troops who were being drafted.”

Ft. Dix again:

“The training wasn’t that good; the sergeant and corporal instructing us did not know how to shoot. All they did was rattle off a bunch of instructions and scream and holler at us. If the NCO’s didn’t know how to shoot, how could you expect them to teach us how to shoot?...At Dix, they were more interested in us scrubbing them in hot, soapy water and standing inspection with the damned things.”

Other veterans made statements such as:

“I was issued a rifle and allowed to fire 50 rounds familiarization with it.”

“We were issued some weapons in California and everybody fired different weapons off the tail of the ship [en route to the Korean battlefields]…They’d throw trash over the side and we shot at it…We zeroed our rifles while we were on the ship, or we attempted to zero them…It was real flaky…”

“We took a Merchant Marine ship to Japan. I remember we did some rifle training on the ship. We practiced our firing techniques from different positions firing live ammo into the sea.”

Needless to say, with this kind of training, the average GI’s shooting wasn’t exactly Sergeant Alvin York-ish.

Another of the Army’s own official post-war studies concluded: “The costly design precision and long-range accuracy of the M1 rifle are of doubtful value to the average infantryman…A marked decrease in the hit probability for all types of riflemen occurs at ranges between 100 and 300 yards.”

“Data on the incidence of gunshot wounds (as well as study of the visibility of man-size targets on the battlefield) show that there is actually a limited requirement for delivering rifle fire at ranges exceeding 300 yards. This does not mean, however, that there is no requirement for such fire at greater ranges.”

“Fully automatic or rapid semi-automatic fire does not increase the burst hit probability beyond that of the single (first) round. [emphasis added]”

SLAM again:

“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....

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."

Such was based upon the fact than in numerous infantry battles in Korea, the full-automatic weapons...the machine guns, BAR's, and M2 carbines...had burned up all their ammo fairly early in the firefight and gone dry, leaving the issue to be settled in the last few minutes and last few yards by the semiautomatic M1 Garands.

In addition to the poor marksmanship training, troops of the era also had pretty bad training in maintaining their weapons in the field, understanding how their weapons worked and knowing what they could really do.

The solution to such a dilemma? Well, some damn fools such as yourself or myself might think that increased training and live-fire practice would fix the problem. That’s why we don’t get paid the big bucks and have stars on our shoulders like those guys working in the Pentagon, and don’t get even bigger bucks after retiring from the military to work as a “consultant” for a large defense contractor.

No sirree, Bawb. The solution lies in multi-gazillion dollar uber techno weapons development that tries to take the human equation, i.e. the soldier, and his abilities or lack thereof out of the picture altogether, or at least as much as possible. And remember, as Jeff Cooper summed up the modern military definition of firepower, "If you can't shoot well, shoot a lot!"

To get a feel for just how our military-industrial weapons "development" and "procurement" process works, see the the multi-billion dollar fiasco of the 1980's M247 Sergeant York DIVAD SP anti-aircraft gun, which thankfully died before it could perform in combat as it did in testing. The Sgt York, BTW, never even came close to the existing off-the-shelf West German Gepard Flakpanzer (adopted in 1972) or the Soviet ZSU-23-4 Shilka (1965), both of which are still in use around the world even today. No matter how much you polish a turd (and throw money at it) it's still a turd.

For the best and most entertaining example of how the Pentagon-Defense Industry symbiotic relationship truly works, get the movie Pentagon Wars starring Kelsey Grammar and Cary Elwes. It's definitely worth the watch.

Meanwhile, us ignorant hicks can just go attend an Appleseed, put in more dry-firing and launch more bullets downrange and make our old-fashioned "junk" weapons quite effective.

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