Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Arming the Troops

During WW2 and Korea the main firearm was the M1 Garand, which fired the .30-06 cartridge. I trained with this rifle in the Navy and loved it, and I doubt that you will ever find anyone who used it who will speak ill of it.

Years later I bought an M1 carbine, which was also used in WW2 and Korea. It was a much lighter weapon, fired a smaller .30 caliber pistol cartridge, and was usually carried by officers. I enjoyed “plinking” with it due to the nice impact of the .30 caliber bullet and the relatively light recoil of the smaller cartridge. I later gave that carbine to my nephew, who has been in the Army for some 20 years.

I knew that the Army had gone to a smaller caliber during Viet Nam and that some controversy had ensued about the lethality of the smaller bullet, but I hadn’t thought much about it until this recent war in Iraq. A few small news items have cropped up to the effect that with our weapons the insurgents are taking several hits and continuing to fight, but nothing much has been said.

About a year ago the difference in impact of the Army’s new weaponry was brought home to me when I was talking to my nephew. He was talking about his wife having some interest in learning to shoot and I commented that the M1 carbine is “a great lady’s gun.” He looked at me sort of funny and, when I asked what was up, replied that he had fired the carbine and said, “I have to admit it rather intimidated me.”

I was a bit shocked. I thought the Garand was quite a lot of fun and the carbine was such a lightweight that I could fire it comfortably with one hand.

Full disclosure: I have never been in combat. I served in the Navy, in diesel-electric submarines. We didn’t need rifles a lot, although I stood shark guard in the periscope shears with an M1 Garand during swim call. When I got bored I would fire the rifle and watch the swimmers rise up and run across the top of the water back to the ship.

In the San Diego Union-Tribune today is an A-P article that brings this issue up again. It confirms that today’s smaller bullet tends to merely drill a small neat hole through the target, leaving him able to fight on another day, unless you hit him in a vital spot. The Army maintains that the answer is not a bigger and more lethal bullet, but better marksmanship.

The thing about the M1 with its .30-06 cartridge (and this is hearsay, not personal knowledge) was that if you hit a guy he went down. If you hit a guy in, say, the wrist he went down. He did not get back up, light a cigarette pick up his gun and drill you between the eyes, he stayed down. Today’s Army doesn’t seem to consider that a reasonable expectation of a weapon.

What it does consider a reasonable expectation is that, when surprised from behind, a soldier will spin around with his rifle and drill his assailant neatly between the eyes in a single heartbeat. If there are three of them, he will drill each of the three neatly between the eyes before one of them shoots him. The Army wants the soldier’s life to depend on his ability to make every shot a killing shot, no matter the degree of difficulty or haste required, sort of like Chuck Norris.

In part, the AP article defends the lighter weapon by saying that today’s military “has troops of varied size and strength.” And the troops in WW2 and Korea were all giants? Audie Murphy, WW2’s most highly decorated soldier, was barely over five feet. It seems to me that the smaller the soldier is, the bigger the weapon he might want to be using to defend himself.

An Army surgeon is quoted as saying that the problem is not the caliber but the rifles; that the barrels are to short to generate enough velocity. “Bullets that go faster cause more damage.” This guy should stick to surgery, because that statement is contrary to fact. High speed bullets drill through before they have time to expand or fragment, remaining largely intact and expending all of their energy on the distant landscape.

The administrators and generals cited in the article all seem to favor the existing weapons, but the grunts actually using them mostly seem to imply that they would like to have something with more stopping power.

Implied in the article is that the Army has billions of dollars invested in the smaller caliber weapons and ammunition, and that it is unwilling to consider really examining the process of re-equipping with a more effective weapon for reasons of cost. Most of the arguments that the Army uses sound to me like they are grasping at straws to conceal this very fact.

“Supporting the troops” includes giving them adequate weaponry.


  1. Anonymous3:36 PM

    I never have served in the military, combat or non. However I have fired different kinds of weapons, including the .30-06 in a Springfield rifle, which I found a nice weapon to use.

    The higher velocity of a bullet produced more cavitation in it's wake, which is definately injury producing. Of course, wher you hit is very important. And a bigger bullet wil invariable produce a more lethal hit or worse injury if not fatal.

    A bit of history, the famous .45 ACP 1911 pistol we all know and love came about as a result of the Moros in the Philippines in 1898. They did not go down with the .38 cal revolvers then in use, and they requested a larger harder hitting weapon. History repeats itself, no?

  2. the famous .45 ACP 1911 pistol we all know and love

    Speak for yourself. I hated that damned thing. If confronted by an enemy and that was my only weapon my best bet would be to hurl it at him and hope I hit him in the head. Trying to shoot him with it would be an exercise in futility, as I could not hit myself in the ass with it if I had it in my back pocket.

    I had to qualify with that pos in order to make third. Fortunatly, qualification consisted merely of firing a clip. You didn't have to hit anything, you just had to not shoot yourself. I qualified, but it was close.

  3. Anonymous4:09 PM

    I remember the springfield as a nice weapon, but it was big, unwieldy, and had a heck of a kick. (remember I was a lot younger then, and admittedly with some nostalgia). As a combat weapon, it would be okay as a long range weapon where rate of fire is not as important. Personally, I think an M1 Grand would be better in that situation. (IMO, albeit not having fired a Garand).

    I shot a semi-auto .22 and it was a lot of fun. The .30-30 Winchester was also pretty easy to shoot, and I surmise that the M1 carbine would be similar to that. I'm a bit curious as to why Col. Mark would find the M1 carbine "intimidating".

    The M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, .30 BAR, submachine gun(s), etc were all intended for different roles. The M14 was an (the first?) attempt to combine all these into a single multi purpose weapon. In the jungle of Vietnam, it was large heavy and unwieldy, but had good brush penetration and stopping power. As a full-auto weapon, it was difficult to control. The AR-15 (aka: M-16) as designed was a good one.. but the bureacracy messed it up and thus it's reputation suffered until theose flaws were recified. In general it is a good general purpose weapon (with the caveat that I don't know this via personal experience). But.. it does not and cannot fulfill all roles.

    The argument of bullets vs. rifles are all dependant on various factors.. range of engagement, velocities, size/type of targets, etc. Higher velocities have more potential energy, but if there is no way to transfer this energy to the target, oopsie too bad it goes right through, especially if it is fully jacketed and less suceptible to deformation &/or instability. A high velocity bullet that fragments is great. A large caliber bullet with lower velocity that creats a large wound path is great. A high velocity steel cored bullet that zips right through a combatant is bad (tactically speaking). You want to shoot through steel car doors, concrete walls & helmets, sure, use it.

    It's great to just say "be more accurate", but look at what commonly happens in police shootings.. a lot of shots, not always a great amount of hits. Oh, and they also frequently use hollow point ammunition, which the military typically does not.

    If you're going to have a minimal amount of opportunity for shooting, I would take the maximum amount of fire and the most effective bullet (thus ensuring a higher probability of a hit, and maximizing the effectiveness of the hits you get). Almost sounds like a .45 Thompson SMG, doesn't it? The Germans hated those. The best ammunition would be a combination of velocity and weight, which the standard issue military ammo is not.. at least for the situation our troops find themselves in.

    They are in the situation, and it makes them the expert. I say give them what they need to accomplish the mission. To do anything less is a disservice and negligent and a few other vulgar adjectives.

    For an analysis of the above, read here: http://www.rathcoombe.net/sci-tech/ballistics/tactical/tactical-test.html

  4. Anonymous9:58 PM

    I, like Bruce, have fired the .30-06 round many times, from a WWI surplus Enfield. I have also observed the results of animals taking a round. I saw a 1,000# bull elk taken down by one round. (I even have pictures of me and my siblings sitting on it -- it was that big).
    I saw a mule deer after being hit from 10 or 20 yards. Yes, the bullet did go right through, but it left a 3" exit wound on the far side of its chest. The deer just fell over; it took hours to clean the blood out of the meat.
    A lot of my acquaintances in special ops, as well as most of those from third-world police and military, both admired and feared the AK-47. It is easy to use in close quarters, uses a .30 caliber round, and stops most comers with one shot. I know that this is not news, but the old question is still valid -- why does the enemy have a better weapon?

    Jayhawk, every one I know felt similarly about the .45 semi-auto. Do you know what kind of round their using in Iraq? If it is the international standard "full metal jacket", of course it isn't killing them, it isn't designed to. If they aren't using "dum-dums", why not? If they are, why aren't they working like I have always they do?

    As to the "accuracy" argument, it's rediculous. If they were serious, they'd give our soldiers sabers and tell them to poke holes in the bad-guy's hearts. One stab, and they go down and don't get up. (Of course, they tend to shoot you while you are drawing it, but that doesn't seem to matter, does it?)