Category Archives: The Past is Another Country

Ambush is Murder: A Painful Lesson, 17 Oct 67

The Battalion Commander led two companies of the 2/28 Infantry “Black Lions,” 1st Infantry Division, on a combat patrol into area where the battalion had been making contact since three of its companies choppered into the area about a week prior. They were part of Shenendoah II, an operation to investigate reports of Viet Cong presence near Lai Khe northwest of Saigon. But what was there was not a straggling guerrilla band: it was the 271st Regiment of the 9th Division, still bearing the “VC” honorific but a full-time professional People’s Army of Viet Nam unit. In the battle, the two American companies would be ambushed by two battalions of the 271st and thoroughly defeated.

By the battle’s end, the commander, Terry de la Mesa Allen Jr., son of a World War II general, had failed to lead and was in a practical fugue state when an NVA bullet blew the top of his head off. (Despite his failure and inactivity on the battlefield, he would be posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on the strength of an entirely fictional citation. The rot in the officer corps was profound in Vietnam). His sergeant major, Francis Dowling, and operations officer Don Holleder, a former football star, their RTOs, and the attached forward observer, 2LT Harold B. Durham, Jr. (who would receive the Medal of Honor posthumously) and his RTO — in short, the entire battalion command element —  were among the 64 killed. The remaining survivors were mostly wounded. The few survivors of A Company were led by a wounded first sergeant, José Valdez; by the start of the ill-fated patrol, D Company’s command had already fallen to 2LT George Welch, who survived.

The film gives a sense of just how an ambush feels from the receiving end, if it’s a well-done ambush. By 1967 the 271st Regiment had been at war for about nine years and was the repository of a great deal of institutional knowledge about fighting. The 2/28 was manned by draftees and led by careerists.

Can Your Suppressed Pistol Beat This? 78 dB.

That’s the measured performance of this little beauty:


.32 ACP Welrod, from the collection of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum.

Vintage 1941 or so, developed by the SOE. The ASOM notes another detail, which explains the strange magazine-is-the-grip design of the Welrod (bold is ours):

A limited range, close-qurters head shot weapon, the Welrod’s main value was its level of discreetness when used. This weapon could be fired with the magazine/grip removed, in which case it did not look like a weapon at all. Using the weapon in this manner allowed operators a level of stealth necessary for operations behind enemy lines.

Internally, Welrod’s suppressor design features are typical of silencers of the time. It has a ported barrel which vents into an expansion chamber partly restricted by screen discs. Modern suppressor designers abjure these design features as archaic and backward: the ported barrel saps velocity, and the screen discs are thought to be much less effective than shaped K-baffles or other baffles.

Really? Show us the quiet, guys. Show us a centerfire single-shot suppressed pistol that can beat 78 dB. We’re not asking much in the way of accuracy — the original Welrod was intended for contact ranges, but was good for minute-of-Nazi-skull out to 20 yards or so — but let’s see more muzzle energy for less noise than the Welrod.

We’re guessing that, without going to a captive cartridge like the Tunnel Rat experimental revolver or certain Russian silent-pistol designs, you can’t get materially better than those 20th Century Britons did with the Welrod. (For all their efforts, we’ve had a hard time confirming behind-the-lines use of this system, even with so many formerly secret archives opening up lately. Anybody know different?).

True, Jesse James the motorcycle loudmouth is claiming something similar for his rifle suppressor, but when he delivers that you’ll be able to hang it up next to your jet pack in the garage where you park your flying car. He’s the Baghdad Bob of gun credibility with that one.

But you would think we would be able to excel something made before computers, finite element analysis, and 70 years of progress in understanding sound theory and in production and metallurgical technology. That we are not, generally, far beyond the status quo of 1941 speaks volumes for the ingenuity and application of those wartime engineers.

The Sword and the Story: “Go to hell!”

The Sword is ordinary enough, in its environment. For centuries US Marine officers have worn a Mameluk-styled sword, and this is one example of a Marine regulation sword, something often presented to distinguished graduates of commissioning programs or officers who distinguish themselves in some way.

Hatfield Marine Sword

It’s a beautiful sword, and the best-made ones (not the cheap Chinese repros you can buy off eBay and from junk-knife retailers) would still serve as a combat weapon, although even the Marines aren’t that traditional, and generally leave them cased or wall-hanging when they go off to cut throats, figuratively speaking that is.

This one, though, is a sword of particular distinction because it belonged to Gilbert D. Hatfield, Lt. Col., retired. What’s Hatfield famous for? Rock Island Auctions, who recently auctioned this sword as part of a lot of two, explains:

Hatfield earned his Navy Cross for his “coolness and military way of handling the situation.” What situation, you ask? He was serving in Nicaragua when Augusto Sandino, a bandit and later namesake of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, launched a pre-dawn raid on his camp with a 5:1 troop advantage. When Sandino sent a messenger to Hatfield requesting his surrender, Hatfield replied, “Marines don’t surrender. Go to hell.” Well put, Marine.

Hatfield’s Navy Cross citation (also here) is considerably more matter-of-fact in its wording:

Captain, U.S. Marine Corps
5th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Brigade (Nicaragua),
Date of Action: July 16, 1927
The Navy Cross is presented to Gilbert D. Hatfield, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty combined with coolness and excellent judgment during an attack by a superior force upon the detachment of which he was in command at Ocotal, Nicaragua, on 16 July 1927, during the progress of an insurrection in that country. Largely due to his heroism, skill and ability, Captain Hatfield’s small command succeeded in holding out against the heaviest odds.
Authority – USMC Communiqué: 0411-1-3 ACE-jfb (21 December 1927)
Born: at Monero, New Mexico
Home Town: Aztec, New Mexico

Bettez notes that Hatfield, 10 Marines, and a number of Nicaraguan Guardia1 were detached from an element that departed the provincial capital of Ocotal to attempt rescue of rumored hostages in Telpaneca. (In retrospect, the hostage rumor, which was false, may have been a Sandino ruse to draw forces out of Ocotal). The Marines had been disarming Nicaraguan regulars of any and all political tendencies in Ocotal, but they clearly didn’t weaken Sandino:

In command at Ocotal, Major Gilbert Hatfield had exchanged notes with Sandino, suggesting that the rebel leader and his followers lay down their arms. Sandino refused. Instead, at around 1:00 AM on July 16, Sandino and his men attacked. Although Hatfield’s forces were outnumbered approximately five to one, they had good defensive positions within the town and managed to hold on throughout the night. In the morning, Sandino called for Hatfield to surrender, but he refused to do so.

At approximately 10:00 AM, two planes on a scouting patrol observed the fighting in Ocotal and return to Managua to report to Major Ross “Rusty” Rowell, commander of the air squadron. Rowell relayed the news to General Feland, who has not been informed because telegraph lines from Ocotal had been cut. Finland believed that the Marines in Otol, who has limited water and ammunition, we’re in a hopeless situation and faced certain destruction. Convinced that the aviation unit represented the Ocotal garrison’s only possible salvation, Feland gave Rowell “a very general directive… to take such steps as would be most effective in succoring the besieged Marines.” In contrast to previous orders which had demanded restraint when flying missions, Feland now gave Rowell carte blanche to launch a bombing attack. Consequently, Rowell lead a five plane squadron to Ocotal to bomb the Sandino forces. Rowell’s squadron flew over Ocotal in mid afternoon and carried out repeated air attacks, using dive-bombing tactics developed by Marine Corps aviator Lawson Sanderson but never before used in war. Feland’s order resulted in what was apparently the first instance of Marine Corps close air bombing support in defense of Corps ground units.

Rowell’s air bombardment broke the back of the Sandino attack. The Marines suffered one man killed and one wounded; three Guardia [Nicaraguan loyalist force operating with the USMC – Ed.] members were wounded. Sandino’s forces experienced considerably more casualties because they had been caught out in the open by Rowell’s planes. In a handwritten letter to Major Hatfield the day after the battle, General Feland expressed regret for the loss of Private Obleski….

And what else he expressed, one needs the book, not the Google Preview, to know, alas.

Some of the political background is explained on pp. 41-42 of Gravatt. The deep reason for the American presence in Nicaragua was a Nicaraguan request that the US supervise the elections of 1928. Sandino’s rebels were attempting to sway the election with terrorism.

On July 2, 1927, Admiral Latimer ordered General Feland to disarm Sandino. Up to this time, the Marines and the Legation had considered Sandino to be only a minor nuisance, characterizing him as an ordinary outlaw (with which the Northern Departments of Nicaragua had always been plagued) or as a slightly demented Bolshevist. The confiscation of the American owned San Aldino Mine evoked the response of July the 2nd, but the belief that the Sandinistas would wither away or would eventually cross the Honduras border with as much plunder as they could carry lingered on until the 16th of July when Sandino struck the Marine Guardia Nacional garrison at Ocotal, Nueva Segovia. From then on, the Marines, the Legation, and the State Department took Sandino seriously.

Three days prior to his attack on Ocotal, Sandino, in a letter to the Marine commander of that garrison, reiterated his conditions for peace—the ouster of Diaz [then Nicaraguan president] and his replacement by a Liberal.

Hatfield was an enlisted man when he received a direct commission in the USMC Reserve (5 July 17) and then in September to the Regular USMC as a 2nd Lieutenant as the Marines expanded during the war. Given his effective combat command, looks like they promoted the right corporal.

Hatfield is buried, as are so many heroes, at Arlington. He was mentor to Naval Academy grad Steve McDonald, of McAlpin, FL, who remembers:

Arlington has Col. Gilbert D. Hatfield USMC, Navy Cross. He was my next-door neighbor as a child when he was the commanding officer of the Marine Corps Air Station, Master’s Field in Miami during the war. He was an early supporter in my going to the Naval Academy.

While at the academy, I was asked to attend his funeral at Arlington, which I did. I rode with the widow “Aunt” Carolyn in the funeral procession.


1. According to Gravatt (p.50), the Guardia’s deployment to Ocotal was its first, in “company” strength of 3 American officers and 50 Nicaraguan enlisted men.


Rock Island Auction Company blog (various)

Bettez, David J.  Kentucky Marine: Major General Logan Feland and the Making of the Modern USMC.

Gravatt, Brent L. The Marines and the Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua 1927-1932. Unpublished(?): 1973. Retrieved from:

“They wouldn’t just kill you for listening to the BBC. That’s nonsense.”

Kellner_diary_-_Apr_14_1943_radio_crimeSometimes, it’s hard for the youth of today to get their heads around the degree of criminality of the 20th century Nazi and Soviet empires. The quote in the headline of this post was uttered to me by one such young person. He just couldn’t believe that the Nazis would kill their own people for listening to the wrong radio program. But in fact, they did.

One of the remarkable documents of the Nazi era is Mein Widerstand, which can be translated as, “My Resistance,” or “My Opposition,” a thoughtful diary kept by a former Socialist Party politician, Friedrich Kellner. Kellner was from the SPD’s moderate wing, which opposed the totalitarians of international (Ernst Thälmann’s Communists, happily subordinate to Moscow) and national (Hitler’s NSDAP) flavors. The ascension to power by the Nazis in 1933 was bad news for their rivals; hotheaded Thälmann immediately called for a revolution, giving the Nazis the flimsy excuse they were looking for to sling him into jail, from which he emerged only to be transferred to Buchenwald and murdered in 1944. Kellner’s opposition was more moderate — he never called his fellows to arms — but no less heartfelt, until the Nazis applied pressure that made him, as they saw it, fall into line. (Supposedly, they made a note in his file that they’d take care of him after the war). He stopped condemning Hitler, and shut up — in public. That appeased the authoritarian Nazi state, for the time being.

But Kellner only stopped his overt agitation; internally, he seethed with hostility to the Nazi experiment, which he (a wounded WWI veteran) saw as leading Germany straight back to the disaster of war. But he’d been scared off over activity; he and his wife were investigated on, we are not making this up, suspicion of ancestral Judaism, and saved only by the fact that Germans’ fabled record-keeping showed their family’s baptisms back well into the 17th Century.

I cannot not fight the Nazis in the present,” he reasoned, “as they have the power to still my voice.” So what could he do? “[S]o I decided to fight them in the future.” Aware that authoritarian and totalitarian states try to massage their public image, he could write down and record the crimes of the Nazi regime. He began a diary, with the title Mein Widerstand, on the first day of the war in Europe, and sustained it through 10 volumes of careful, clear handwriting in watery, wartime ink. He was taking a risk, just like the above-referenced BBC listeners. He would often cut and paste headlines, stories and images from the watery, wartime propaganda in the German media into his diaries.


On April 14, 1943, he pasted the following news article, from an unknown Nazi newspaper, in his diary (our hasty translation) and commented on it. Here’s the article:

Death Penalty for Radio Criminal

Vienna, 12 April. Oskar Uebel, 47, of Vienna, was legally sentenced by the Special Court in Vienna to ten years’ imprisonment for radio crime. On the appeal of the Reich State’s Attorney, the sentence was overturned and remanded to the Special Court. As the Special Court determined in its new sentence, Uebel had listened to enemy foreign programs with numerous young men in 30 to 40 cases. The accused then spoke with them in a sense hostile to Germany. He had absolutely organized these listening and distribution sessions. The Special Court called this a particularly serious case in the sense of § 2 of  the Radio Regulation, that called for the death penalty. They therefore sentenced him to death.

The death sentence has already been carried out.

Yeah, they would kill you for listening to the BBC. (The BBC, for their part, has lifted this dreadful responsibility from their shoulders by abandoning any pretext of being pro-British, but that’s another story). Kellner’s comments were, as you might expect, nearly as horrified and disbelieving as those of my young friend.

Kellner’s diaries, which he kept in his office in a local courthouse where he was an official, would have led to the destruction of him and his family if ever exposed. Not to mention the fact that the diaries only exist today

Kellner’s diaries are now a prized possession of the family and were first displayed in 2005 at the George W. Bush presidential library at Texas A&M. Many libraries and museums have offered them a permanent home. Kellner’s grandson, Robert Scott Kellner, has translated them into English but they are, insofar as we’re aware, available only in a German edition. Pity, as Kellner’s message deserves to be heard in every language. As he told his grandson: “[W]hen evil seeks power, men and women of good will, no matter how much they love peace and hate war, must put aside their differences and stand together and fight.”

Bushrod Johnson was…

First, the poll. No fair Googling.

Bushrod Johnson was… free polls

Answer, after the jump.

Continue reading

Napoleon III was a Weapons Man

portrait_de_napoleon_iiiWell, OK. A Heavy Weapons man, perhaps — an artillerist who once sat down, while imprisoned, to  write an engaging and technical, five-volume history of artillery, with a title as comprehensive as his intent: The Past and Future of Artillery. Remembered today for little more than his army being pantsed in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Louis Napoleon was a remarkable, erudite, and intelligent fellow. When you marvel, today, at the beauty of Paris you’re marveling mostly at the nephew’s makeover of his capital city, not the works of his uncle or of the Bourbon dynasty (although Louis was careful to preserve the best of what came before). Those big “N” monograms on the bridges of the Seine? Not the victor of Borodino (pyrrhic though that victory was) and Austerlitz, and the vanquished of Waterloo; the nephew, who was captured with his army in a German encirclement, to the chagrin of all Frenchmen then and now.

Napoleon III also created the long-standing Legion d’Honneur, funding its stipends to recognized soldiers with money derived from the expropriation of the family of the Duc d’Orleans. (In 19th Century France, politics remained a contact sport).

Unfortunately for those of us who would read his whole treatise on artillery, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, as he was known at the time, did get relief from his prison stint in the 1840s and turned to the matters of state which would one day seat him on an imperial throne. He never seems to have resumed work on The Past and Future of Artillery, of which only the first volume was published.


While we’re attempting to find an digital copy of the English edition of this volume (hell, we’d take in en français, and does anybody know if any of his notes and illustrations for the subsequent volumes survive?), we can offer the preface to you.

There are some remarkable insights in this short preface. For example:

Inventions born before the time remain useless until the level of common intellects rises to comprehend them. Of what advantage could a quicker and stronger powder therefore be, when the common metal in use was not capable of resisting its action ? Of what use were hollow balls, until their employ was made easy and safe, and their explosion certain ? Or what could the rebounding range, proposed by Italian engineers in the sixteenth century, and since employed with much success by Vauban, avail, when fortification offered fewer rebounding lines than now ? How could attacks by horse-artillery, attempted in the sixteenth century, succeed, when the effects of rapidity in the movement of troops on the field of battle was so little known that the cavalry always charged at a trot ?

There is a mutual combination which forces our inventions to lean on and, in some measure, wait for each other. An idea suggests itself, remains problematical for years, even for centuries, until successive modifications qualify it for admission into the domain of real life. It is not uninteresting to trace, that powder was probably used in fireworks several centuries
before its propelling power was known, and that then some time elapsed before its application became easy or general.

Civilization never progresses by leaps, it advances on its path more or loss quickly, but regularly and gradually. There is a propagation in ideas as in men, and human progress has
a genealogy which can be traced through centuries like the forgotten sources of giant rivers.

For a man who is commonly and popularly dismissed as one of the least brilliant of the crowned heads of old Europe, those are some remarkably insightful lines.

Or consider this excerpt:

Fire-arms, like everything pertaining to humanity, did not spring up in a day. Its infancy lasted a century, and during that period it was used together with the ancient shooting instruments, over which it sometimes was victorious, but by which it was more frequently defeated.

The Preface alone makes it crystal clear that Napoleon III was a comrehensive student of artillery and arms, and the history of them; and that his lack of completion of The Past and Future of Artillery is a very great loss to all students of weapons.

Napoleon III on Artillery OCR.pdf

Fewer Gongs for Modern Marines? .

USMC EGA eagle globe and anchorIt’s definitely a common belief (although not a universal one) among the combat grunts of the ground services that that higher echelons of command have gotten, to use a word that doesn’t really fit the seriousness of the claim, stingy about awarding high valor awards, compared to the rate of awards in previous conflicts. Marine Major Christopher B. Mays puts it like this:

There is a perception by Marines that the award process is more restrictive and that fewer valor awards have been awarded in Iraq and Afghanistan than in previous wars. ….

A multitude of potential questions could be asked concerning the awarding of personal decorations for valor in combat. Is it a valid perception that the U.S. Marine Corps is more restrictive in awarding valor decorations in OIF/OEF? Is there a significant difference in the frequency of valor decorations awarded for each conflict or war during the period from WWI to the War on Terror? If so, why?

What Maj. Mays did, as you may have guessed from the tone of the above paragraphs, is analyze the “top three” awards (MOH, Navy Cross, Silver Star) longitudinally across all the Marines’ many armed conflicts from WWI to today.

In fact, the number of valor awards has declined precipitously since Vietnam, compared to a fairly stable level from WWI through Korea and the early years of Vietnam. World War I makes an interesting comparison, an indirect comparison because the Silver Star Medal was not available in World War I, because the Marines suffered just about twice as many KIA in WWI as they had done as of the study’s cut-off date in OIF/OEF, 2461 vs 1220. Yet the disparity in medals is greater — even when Silver Stars are added in, the number of top-three awards in OIF/OEF is under 40% of the number of top-two awards in WWI. MOHs are only awarded at 15%, and Navy Crosses at 8%, of the WWI rate, a disparity only partially compensated by the existence, now, of lower valor awards that were created after World War I.

KIA 2461 1222 49.7%
MOH 13 2 15.4%
NC 394 32 8.1%
SSM 0 127
total 407 161 39.6%

Moreover, comparing citations (which was beyond the scope of this paper), it’s hard to identify a World War I MOH or Navy Cross that can reasonably be said to merit only a Bronze Star or Silver Star.

The situation is even more disparate when you compare later wars with OIF/OEF.

KIA 19733 1222 6.2%
MOH 81 2 2.5%
NC 957 32 3.3%
SSM 3758 127 3.4%
total 4796 161 3.4%
KIA/DOW 3852 1222 31.7%
MOH 42 2 4.8%
NC 221 32 14.5%
SSM 1571 127 8.1%
total 5686 161 2.8%

We could go on, but you get the point. Either today’s Marines are considerably less nervy than their institutional (and often, the way service has come to run in families, familial) antecedents, or the Marines as an institution has lost interest in recognizing its Marines’ valor.

We, having known Marines of all these generations, except, sadly World War One, have a strong opinion on this issue, which we’ll keep to ourselves just now, because this post is about Major Mays’s research, not our opinion.

The official response from the Marine Corps Awards Branch defends the way in which it awards medals. The Marine Corps Awards Branch Head, Mr. Lee Freund stated, “A much more correct observation would be that the Marine Corps staunchly avoids inflation of valor awards and consistently seeks to ensure that the level of valor required to earn a specific valor award remains consistent with awards earned by Marines in previous conflicts.” However, the findings detailed in …[the study]… do not agree with the statements made by the head of the Awards Branch, numerically speaking. There is a disparity in the number of valor awards given during OIF/OEF when compared to all previous wars from WWI to OIF/OEF.

So why is this of interest to us? We’ve never been Marines, and we’ve never been given any high decoration. No more do we harbor any resentful feeling that we deserve one; all we did was hold up our end of the log when the duty was ours. But we think the same dynamic, whatever it may be, is at work in all services. Mays tries to understand and explain why this is happening in his Corps, but the scope of his research is necessarily limited. He suggests that a cultural change that devalues awards consequent to a general devaluing of the services may be a factor; the constant media and entertainment-culture disparagement of the military virtues may be being reflected in the services themselves.

It’s also clearly the case that the bureaucratic and administrative topheaviness of the Corps and the DOD is a factor. In World War II, paper awards recommendations handled by jack-of-all-trades unit clerks usually led to an award in weeks or months. In OIF/OEF, a dedicated computerized awards system operated by a bloated clerical establishment takes years to act, or, as is often the case, to fail to act.

But the reasons require further study, and Maj. Mays has suggested some positive research questions that future researchers can use to hammer out some answers. Fixing the problem — now that Mays has documented that there is a problem — will require command attention (if it doesn’t get it, it will get Congressional attention, and we can’t imagine any way that will make things better).

Major Christopher B. Mays has provided a valuable service to the Corps, the DOD and the nation by documenting the fact that awards incidence has declined in the current unpleasantness — some DOD officials have been inclined to pass this widespread perception off as mere whining by pampered troops and officers. If you are interested in this kind of thing, you should Read The Whole Thing™: Top 3 Valor Awards USMC ADA611586.pdf

Vietnam Sniper Study

In 1967, the Army got the idea to study whether, how, and how effectively different units were using snipers in Vietnam. They restricted this study to Army units, and conventional units at that; if SF and SOG were sniping, they didn’t want to know (and, indeed, there’s little news either in the historical record or in conversations with surviving veterans that special operations units made much use of precision rifle fire, or of the other capabilities of snipers).

Meanwhile, of course, the Marines were conducting parallel development in what would become the nation’s premier sniper capability, until the Army got their finger out in the 1980s and developed one with similar strength. The Marines’ developments are mentioned only in passing in the study.

Specific Weapons

The study observed several different sniper weapons in use:

  • ordinary M16A1 rifles with commercial Realist-made scopes. This is the same 3×20 scope made by Realist for commercial sale under the Colt name, and was marked Made in USA. (Image is a clone, from ARFCOM).


  • Winchester Model 70s in .30-06 with a mix of Weaver and Bushnell scopes, purchased by one infantry brigade;
  • two versions of the M14 rifle. One was what we’d call today a DMR rifle, fitted with carefully chosen parts and perhaps given a trigger job, and an M84 scope. The other was the larva of the M21 project: a fully-configured National Match M14 fitted with a Leatherwood ART Automatic-Ranging Telescope, which was at this early date an adaptation of a Redfield 3-9 power scope. (Image is a semi clone with a surplus ART, found on the net).


The scopes had a problem that would be unfamiliar to today’s ACOG and Elcan-sighted troopies.

The most significant equipment problem during the evaluation in Vietnam was moisture seepage into telescopes. At the end of the evaluation period, 84 snipers completed questionnaires related to their equipment. Forty-four of the snipers reported that their telescopes developed internal moisture or fog during the evaluation period. In approximately 90 percent of the cases, the internal moisture could be removed by placing the telescope in direct sunlight for a few hours.

The leaky scopes ranged from 41% of the ARTs to 62% of the Realists. The Realist was not popular at all, and part of the reason was its very peculiar reticle. How peculiar? Have a look.

Colt realist 3x20 scope reticle(A later version of this scope, sold by Armalite with the AR-180, added feather-thin crosshairs to the inverted post. The British Trilux aka SUIT used a similar inverted post, but it never caught on here).

The theory was that the post would not obscure the target, the way it would if it were bottom-up. That’s one of the ones you file away in the, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” drawer. Theory be damned, the troops hated it.

The use of the rifles varied unit by unit.  Two units contemptuously dismissed the scoped M16s, and wouldn’t even try them (remember, this was the era of M193 ammo, rifles ruined by “industrial action,” and somewhat loose acceptance standards; the AR of 20145 is not the AR of 1965). The proto-M21s came late and not every unit got them. It’s interesting that none of the weapons really stood out, although the NATO and .30-06 guns were the ones used for the longest shots.

None of the weapons was optimum, but in the study authors’ opinion, the DMR version of the M14 was perfectly adequate and available in channels. The snipers’ own opinions were surveyed, and the most popular weapon was the M14 National Match with ART scope, despite its small sample size: 100% of the surveyed soldiers who used it had confidence in it. On the other hand, the cast scope rings were prone to breakage.

The biggest maintenance problem turned out to be the COTS Winchester 70 rifles, and the problem manifested as an absence of spare parts for the nonstandard firearm, and lack of any training for armorers.

Looking at all the targets the experimental units engaged, they concluded that a weapon with a 600 meter effective range could service 95% of the sniper targets encountered in Vietnam, and that a 1000 meter effective range would be needed to bag up to 98%. (Only one unit in the study engaged targets more distant than 1000 m at all).

Snipers were generally selected locally, trained by their units (if at all), and employed as an organic element of rifle platoons. A few units seem to have attached snipers to long-range patrol teams, or used the snipers as an attached asset, like a machine-gun or mortar team from the battalion’s Weapons Company.

An appendix from the USAMTU had a thorough run-down on available scopes, and concluded with these recommendations (emphasis ours):

a. That the M-14, accurized to National Match specifications, be used as the basic sniping rifle.

b. That National Match ammunition be used in caliber 7.62 NATO.

c. That a reticle similar to Type “E” be used on telescopic sights of fixed power.

d. That the Redfield six power “Leatherwood” system telescope be used by snipers above basic unit level.

e. That the Redfield four power (not mentioned previously) be utilized by the sniper at squad level.

f. That serious consideration be given to the development of a long range sniping rifle using the .50 caliber machine gun cartridge and target-type telescope.

(NOTE: It is our opinion that the Redfield telescope sights are the finest of American made telescopes.)

Note that the Army adopted the NM M14 with ART (as the M-21 sniper system) exactly as recommended here, but that it did not act on the .50 caliber sniper system idea. That would take Ronnie Barrett to do, quite a few years later.


The Effects of Terrain

Terrain drives weapons employment, and snipers need, above all, two elements of terrain to operate effectively: observation and fields of fire. Their observation has to overlook enemy key terrain and/or avenues of approach. Without that, a sniper is just another rifleman, and snipers were found to be not worth the effort in the heavily vegetated southern area of Vietnam.

In the more open rice fields and mountains, there was more scope for sniper employment. But sniper employment was not something officers had been trained in or practiced.

The Effects of Leadership

In a careful review of the study, we found that the effects of leadership, of that good old Command Emphasis, were greater than any effects of equipment or even of terrain. The unit that had been getting good results with the Winchesters kept getting good results. One suspects that they’d have continued getting good results even if you took their rifles away entirely and issued each man a pilum or sarissa.

Units that made a desultory effort got crap for results. Some units’ snipers spent a lot of time in the field, but never engaged the enemy. Others engaged the enemy, but didn’t hit them, raising the question, “Who made these blind guys snipers?” Sure, we understand a little buck fever, but one unit’s snipers took 20 shots at relatively close range and hit exactly nothing. Guys, that’s not sniping, that’s fireworks. 

The entire study is a quick read and it will let you know just how dark the night for American sniping was in the mid-1960s: there were no schools, no syllabi, no type-standardized sniper weapons, and underlying the whole forest of “nos” was: no doctrine to speak of.

Vietnam Sniper Study PB2004101628.pdf


Forgotten Engineer: Tadeusz Felsztyn

Coat_of_arms_of_Poland-officialTadeusz Felsztyn was an ordnance officer in the Army of the Republic of Poland during that nation’s brief flowering between the power vacuum created by the fall of the absolute monarchical empires of Germany and Russia in 1918, and the rise of their absolutist and totalitarian replacements, unconstrained by the codes of noblesse oblige or considerations of Christian morality that had stayed the hand of Kaiser and Tsar. In September, 1939 the Third Reich and its mirror image, the Soviet Union, crushed Poland under the “heel of a boot stepping on a man’s face, forever,” and it became a very unhealthy place to be a Lieutenant Colonel in Polish service, and doubly so for Tadeusz Felsztyn.

The name suggests he was Jewish, which happenstance of birth marked him for murder by the Nazis; and as a Polish officer he would have been marked for murder by the Soviets (an order signed by Stalin’s own hand; unlike Hitler, he didn’t rely on middle-men to commit his atrocities, possibly because he’d already had so many of the middlemen shot).

What, exactly, Felszteyn designed is not known, but he is reported to be responsible for the remarkable 7.92mm x 107mm anti-tank rifle round, used in the Maroszek-designed Wz.35 rifle. At that time, and at the outbreak of the war, he was a lieutenant colonel and almost 45 years old (he was born Sep. 30, 1894).

We were fortunately able to learn more about him. Here is a genealogical page that clearly refers to him (Colonel, mathematician, physicist, started in Polish Army at age 23), and behold! He lived to age 69, died in Pitsford, Nortants., England, in the industrial Midlands. Later, in England, he anglicized the spelling of his name to Feldstein. He appears to have died without issue, although his siblings have survivors to this day. 

Since we know he survived the war, now, we can show that he appeared before controversial Congressional hearings on the Katyn Forest Massacre in 1952. In that appearance, he gave a brief bio, before testifying on the bullets that were used in the murders, and described how he was taken prisoner by the Soviets, and how he came to survive. The Google Books view has a small snippet of this testimony (not sure why they don’t have the whole thing, as a US government document it is in the public domain). Fortunately, has it. Because the file at is very large (the entire hearings run 2,300 pages! and even the splits are 30+MB each) we have excerpted the testimony over the jump.

Felszteyn’s testimony is quite interesting (it’s also quite erroneous, in that he suggests that Geco 7.65mm Browning ammunition might have been used in Soviet issue firearms. We know now that the Soviets used German-made firearms in the Katyn murders).

Zeitschrift Schiess-u Sprengstoffwesen 1931In 1939, certain of his research appears to have been published in a German journal, by the traces available of a hardcover bound volume of the journal: Zeitschrift fur Das gesamte Schiess und Sprengstoffwesen mit der Sonderabteilung Gasschutz (Journal for the Field of Gunpowder and Explosives with section on anti-gas protection). XXXIII-XXXIV. Jahrgang. (Volume 33-34, 1938-1939). Hardcover – 1939.

(Bound volumes of this journal do turn up; they’re expensive when they do). The image to the right is from the 1931 edition. (Remarkable Art Deco typography, that).

After the war, he seems to have published many books in Polish in London (if it was not another Tadeusz Felsztyn) in the period from 1945 to 1947, and then again in the 1950s and early 60s, books on general science. He also appears to have written a history of the General Anders’s Polish Army in Exile, with which he served after being released from a Russian prison camp for that purpose. (One of the great puzzles of the Katyn massacre is why only some camps of Poles were massacred, and why some were not. The Yeltsin-era openness of some KGB/MVD/NKVD archives has turned back to Cold War stonewalling).

A Very Incomplete List of Felsztyn’s Books

  • 1945: Wiara i wiedza w świetle nowoczesnych poglądów fizycznych, which translates to Faith and knowledge in the light of modern views of physics.
  • 1957: Swiat w Oczacu Wspólczesnej Nauki which translates to The World in the Eyes of Modern Science
  • 1958: Atom W Służbie Ludzkości which translates to The Atom in the Service of Mankind.
  • 1959: Rakety i Podroze Miedsyplanetarne which translates Rockets in Interplanetary Travel.
  • 1960: Poza Czasem i Przestrzenią. Zjawiska Pozazmysłowe which translates as: Beyond Time and Space: Extrasensory Phenomena.
  • 1962: Evolusjonizm which translates to Evolutionism.

No Polish family of 1939-89 avoided tragedy. His younger brother Roman died on April 19, 1919, reportedly in battle in Lvov (L’viv), which would have made him one of the last casualties of the Polish Uprising that produced independence, or one of the first casualties of the Russo-Polish War of 1919-21, which ended in a decisive Polish victory over the Soviets’ most capable general, Mikhail Tukhachevskiy (who himself would meet a similar fate to the Polish officers captured by the Soviets in 1939 — shot in the back of the head on Stalin’s orders).

Click “more” to read Felsztyn’s testimony at the Katyn hearings.

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A Blast from the Past — Literally

FOOM!There is been few blasts like the one that blew up USS Maine in Havana harbor, on 15 February 1898, the forward magazine of the ship blew up at 9:40 PM. A crew of 355 was nearly annihilated; there were only 16 uninjured survivors, and 75 or 80 wounded ones. Because the mishap happened at night, and officers’ country was in the aft end of the ship, the officers survived at a higher rate.

1024px-Telegram_from_James_A._Forsythe_to_Secretary_of_the_Navy_-_NARA_-_300264The captain of Maine, Charles Sigsbee, sent an urgent cry for help via Capt. James Forsythe, commanding officer of the Key West naval station.

The investigation that ensued ruled that the ship was subject to an attack by a naval mine. It was only the first of many investigations, and there remains to this day no conclusion, although the balance of expert opinion seems to suggest a mishap aboard ship is more likely than Spanish hostile action. The destruction of Maine became a casus belli in the hysteria-induced Spanish-American War of 1898. Indeed, it was probably the most influential cause, or pretext, for the US to have initiated that war.

The Maine was an odd ship, but she was created in the 1880s and 1890s at an odd time in naval affairs. “Armored Cruisers” seemed to be what Navies needed, ships that could combine sail and steam — she was initially designed with three masts — and that would attack headlong. Accordingly, Maine had a ram built into her bow, and her two gun barbettes (mounted in left-front and right-rear sponsons) were arranged so that she could deliver her full “broadside” — four 10-inch guns — only straight ahead or straight behind.

Maine also had advanced armor for her day — Harvey Steel, an early form of face-hardened armor. But it took so long for America to build, launch and commission this pre-Dreadnought battleship (ships characterized by guns in sponsons and coal-fired steam piston engines) that she was, although nearly new at her sinking, soon to be obsoleted by that British revolution in naval arms.

Our interest, of course, is easily led from the 10″ main battery on down through the 1.5″ anti-torpedo-boat armaments to, inevitably, the personal weapons.

Julia Maine Recovered Lee Navy

Like every Naval vessel, Maine had some small arms lockers, and in February, 1898, they held the unusual M1895 Winchester-Lee 6mm (.236 Navy) rifle. The rifles, at least some of them, were salvaged and were sold by Francis Bannerman of Bannerman’s Island fame. Ian at Forgotten Weapons has an excellent video showcasing one of these rare rifles, now featured in a Julia auction. James Julia expects a five figure knock-down on this. Julia explains his documentation of provenance:

Also accompanied by a copy of pages 34 and 35 of a reprint of The Bannerman Catalog of July 1907. Page 35 lists the serial numbers of 54 6mm Lee Straight Pull Rifles salvaged from the USS Maine, including this exact rifle.

Julia Maine recovered Navy

It also lists the SNs of six 45 cal Springfield rifles recovered at the same time. These rifles were sold to Bannermens [sic] through the Navy Yard at New York in Jan. 1900. These 54 Lee rifles and 6 Springfield rifles are the only officially documented small arms recovered from the USS Maine although there have been one or two others that have surfaced in the last few years that were undoubtedly authentic. Regardless there are probably no more than about 60 or so of these relics in existence.

How many guns came by their pitting this honestly? No doubt someone will take great pride in adding this piece of history to his collection.