Category Archives: Weapons Usage and Employment

Bureaucracy vs Mobilization

The Golan Heights saw the largest tank battles since WWII in the East.

The Golan Heights saw the largest tank battles since WWII in the East.

When Ori Orr returned to Israel after several years away, including a US staff college, just before the 1973 War, he faced cultural shock. The Israeli Army of 1967 — indeed, the whole society of 1967 — was robustly egalitarian, strikingly so by European or even American standards. A private might use his battalion or division commander’s first name; officers drove themselves and tended their own uniforms. This Army had won great victories on all fronts in 1948, 1956 and 1967, forced Egypt to knuckle under in the 1970 War of Attrition, and fully expected that if the Arabs moved in the direction of a new war, they’d get a new beating.

The Army of 1973 was complacent thanks to its long string of victories, especially the decisive win of 1967. And it had succumbed to the slow creep of bureaucracy and stratification. Senior officers had staff cars, drivers, batmen. In 1967, even cabinet ministers didn’t get such perks.  Orr didn’t think it was a change for the better. It offended his egalitarian sensibilities (he would later be a Member of the Knesset and a government minister for the small-s socialist Labor Party). In fact, he had returned to an Army that had thrown over its battle-born radical beginnings to become leadenly bureaucratic. In a very short time, the IDF would have to lose its peacetime bureaucracy.

Or die.

Emblem of the 679 Tank Brigade.

Emblem of the 679 Tank Brigade.

On the first day of the war, freshly appointed reserve tank brigade commander Orr found that he had subordinates of both the 1967 and 1973 stripes. (Note that the following is a horrible translation from Hebrew to English; the translator was ignorant of military vocabulary like “mobilization” and “armorer,” and frequently uses what Mark Twain might have called “a second approximation of the word.”)

Mickey, the adjutant officer, decided to register the men only after they were assigned a vehicle, before leaving, because he understood that there was no other way to ascertain that the men were registered in their units. This sped up the absorption process.

Mickey, for whom Orr was suitably thankful, was a 1967 officer — damn the rules, get it done. So we may digress for a moment into what they were trying to get done.

Israeli Centurion 1973An IDF reserve unit of the period was a hollow shell with a permanent, full-time cadre of four or five officers, and a handful of specialist warrant officers or NCOs. They maintained the equipment in a mobilization-ready state, in theory, and in the event of a mobilization, they planned on having two weeks’ notice to absorb reservists, shake down the unit, clear any vehicle squawks or supply shortfalls, and get ready to fight. Unlike an American Reserve or Guard unit, or a British Territorial Army unit, there weren’t regular, frequent drills, just infrequent and irregular micro-mobilizations for training. The Arab attack caught the Israelis flatfooted on a holiday, and Orr’s situation was compounded by many small ills. His unit hadn’t done training recently. It had obsolete Centurions with at-end-of-life gasoline engines and balky manual transmissions; they’d already been shifted from being parked in their tactical elements to being parked in the order they were going to the depot for a diesel and automatic shift mobility upgrade.

New to the unit, he didn’t know anybody (but thanks to the small size of the IDF Tank Corps, he’d soon find old friends). And his time in command was, when the Syrians hit a relatively miles away, measured in days (his first order had been to put the tanks back in tactical order). He approved Mickey’s quick-thinking rule-breaking. But he also had the Spirit of1973 in some of his cadre.

Tankers' individual weapons were probably, mostly, 9mm Uzi SMGs in 1973. We've been unable to find images of an IDF arms room circa '73.

Tankers’ individual weapons were probably 9mm Uzi SMGs in 1973. We’ve been unable to find images of an IDF arms room circa ’73.

While absorbing the soldiers , I hear the loud voice of an argument coming from the weaponry area. I left the dark area. The active-duty gunsmith recognized me first, and it took a little longer for the reserve soldiers until they spotted my rank. The gunsmith turned to me almost shouting, “They want to take out weapons without signing for it.” I looked at him in amazement. The world around us was trembling but I had still not managed to inculcate into the very last of the soldiers that we were at war. “Open the door and quickly give each soldier his weapon!” I ordered. At first, he looked at me in disbelief. I guess that I was the only one from whom he would have agreed to accept such a command to change the order of his universe.

One is reminded of legend of the ammunition boxes of Isandlwana. Orr didn’t make the historical reference, but he was less than thrilled with this encounter with one of the 1973 type of bureaucratic Israeli soldier.

I informed the maintenance officer of the instructions that I had given. I didn’t hide my anger at the fact that he had not managed to internalize the message to his men that we were at war, already from the afternoon. NOTE 1

Orr had his first tanks in action against the Syrians 15 hours from receiving the warning order, well short of the 24 hours thought to be the minimum, and far from the two weeks that Israeli strategists had expected their reservists to have. To accomplish that, he sent the tanks with limited ammunition — they had AT ammo but no HE, and in fact only had 2/3 of their basic load. When the commander of this element, Nitzan Yotzer, asked for more time to load his tanks, Orr told him:

Nitzan, the Syrians don’t know how much ammunition you are missing. True, we were educated that in battle, you go out when everyone is full, but there is no time. The Syrians need to see tanks shooting at them and blocking off the routes. We need to make an effort to reach you later with the ammunition. Note 2

Yotzer’s element, a few tanks and a few reconnaissance men in jeeps,  went out and ran into Syrians “east of Tel Tzabah, at the Katzbiya Junction.” The  Syrians weren’t expecting resistance so early, and Yotzer’s Centurions at least temporarily the Syrian advance at 0200 on 7 Oct 73 — just 12 hours after the attack at 1400 on the 6th, and 15 hours after the initial alert came to Orr.

They would not be out of the woods at all. The Israelis discovered, in those first hot minutes, a disturbing thing they hadn’t expected of their Arab enemies: the Syrians were not intimidated, and they had come to fight.

They wouldn’t find the next surprise just yet, because the Syrian forces here were a unit with older T-55 tanks, evenly matched to Yotzer’s old Centurions: but the Syrians’ armored elite in T-62s, unlike the Israelis, could see in the dark.

Notes

  1. Orr, Ori. Yom Kippur War: These are My Brothers. Contento De Semrik: Kindle Edition, 2013. Kindle Locations 1449-1465.
  2. Orr, Ori. Yom Kippur War: These are My Brothers. Contento De Semrik: Kindle Edition, 2013. Kindle Locations 1518-1524.

Is it Time to Scope Out Scopes?

its dead jimIron sights are obsolete. Britain saw this one, and acted on it, before the United States did. (So did Germany, even earlier; but then they backed off). The plain truth is that iron sights are obsolete, outdated, dead; they’re not just resting or pining for the fjords. They’ve shuffled off their mortal coil and joined the Choir Invisible.

They’re dead, Jim.

As a shooter, you should still understand and be able to use the many kinds of iron sights that have been used on rifles, pistols, and machine guns over the last few centuries. The shooting fundamentals work the same (with the self-evident exception of sight picture and sight alignment) regardless of what kind of sight you’re using, but the iron sight imposes physical, temporal and human factors obstacles that optical sights do not.

The most important of these factors is that an optical sight, whether it’s a traditional telescope, a red-dot, or a holographic sight, puts the aiming point and the target in the same focal plane. How important is this? It’s vital. It reduces the time spent to align the shot (more than compensating for the initial delay imposed by a magnified sight with a limited field of view, it lightens the shooters neurocognitive load, and it reduces hit dispersion downrange.

It’s the nature of a human eye that, unlike a camera, its an extremely complicated piece of hardware that is normally used in pairs to collect a dynamic and changing amount of light that is resolved, not upon the focal plane of a retina, but by the software of a brain resolving, merging and interpolating light data.

Unlike a camera, where the focal plane is just that, a plane, a retina is curved. Unlike a camera, where one pixel receptor of a charge-coupled device (or traditionally, one chemical grain of film coating) resolves the same shades or colors and responds the same to a given amount of light towards the periphery as its companion does at the center, our retinal cells are not all the same. The different kinds, which respond differently to light and color, are distributed unevenly. Unlike a camera, the human visual mechanism with its two eyes, brain, and “software”-driven focus is, at once, a wide-angle lens (with pretty lousy off-axis resolution, but good for movement) and a telephoto (which can perceive great detail, but only straight on).

And unlike a camera, human depth of field is not variable, although the location of focus is. What this means is that you can’t simultaneously focus on the front sight, the rear sight, and the target. Well the most important of those three items is the target, with iron sights you’re likely to miss it if you don’t focus on the front sight. Shooters must be trained (and must practice) to focus on the front sight like that.

So the eye is an awesome piece of engineering (or engineered hardware/software integrated system, really). But it has its limits. In optic land, your aiming point (whether it’s a dot or a crosshair) is superimposed on your target, in a single focal plane. Again, you must train for this, but it takes less training, and it leads to a more rapidly acquired sight.

The aiming point can be a crosshair, another reticle, or an illuminated dot. Each has its pros and cons. For rapid training it’s very difficult to beat the red dot. For distance shooting, numerous compensated reticles are available. Some sights try to provide both: any sight with a complicated reticle rewards study, understanding, and practice.

ballistic_cqreticle_dia

The military forces of the world have been slow in seeing this and issuing optics on a general, wide-scale basis. In fact, it’s taken most of a century for them to catch on worldwide. Before they were able to do so, of course, optics needed to improve: first they needed to be weather-sealed and fog-resistant (first achieved just before WWII), then needed coated optics for improved light transmission, and finally they needed to be ruggedized, or grunt-proofed, if you will. This last is not a small task, as the grunts of any army you could name take a perverse pride in their ability to destroy flimsy gear, and their definition of “flimsy” is eye-opening, if you are not a grunt.

Now, the armies of the world understood the benefits of optics for various artillery, aviation, and even machine-gun uses. (The US issued a dreadful Warner & Swasey telescopic sight for the Benet-Mercié Machine Rifle of 1909; the Imperial Japanese Army had scopes for the Type 92 (1932) medium and Type 96 (1936) light machine guns.

Germany started to do it in World War II, but they lost the war before they could universalize their general-purpose infantry optic, the ZF41. (ZF41, seen here on an FG42, was more common on G.43 and MP/STG.44 type weapons).

FG42-2

After the war, the Federal Republic was slow to adopt optics again, but by the 1960s was issuing a Hensoldt scope to designated marksmen. The current G.36 has its issues, but is optics-ready and issued with a range of optical sights.

Britain, bruised by international opinion, introduced a low-magnification, lighted-reticle optic in 1973, first in Northern Ireland for designated marksmen, then throuhgout the British Army. It never achieved universal issue, but its successor, the SUSAT for the problematical SA.80 rifle, did.

This SUIT (Trilux) sight appears identical to the  UK model, but is marked in Hebrew. Gee, wonder who used it?

This SUIT (Trilux) sight appears identical to the UK model, but is marked in Hebrew. Gee, wonder who used it?

 

Meanwhile, in 1977 the Austrian Army adopted the revolutionary Stg.77, known to the world as the AUG (Armee Universal-Gewehr), its trade name. The AUG was a bullpup design with a 1.5 power optic in an M16-like carrying handle, with rude backup sights on top of the scope housing. (Later AUGs used standard, rail-mounted modular optics).

Steyr AUG A1

In the 1980s, Canada issued the domestic Elcan C79 as standard on their new rifle, the Diemaco (later Colt Canada) C7, and the C9 general purpose machine gun. The US Army, whose motto in small arms sometimes seems to be “First? Us? Never!” adopted this sight as the M145 Machine Gun Optic (MGO). US SOF drove the adoption of optics in the 1990s, formalizing what had been a lot of single-unit experiments with the circa 2000 SOPMOD initiative. SOPMOD I saw the first version of the Aimpoint M68 and the Trijicon ACOG adopted. (General purpose forces adopted these optics, or improvements on them, very quickly thereafter).

Russian and Chinese forces are seen more and more frequently with optics and with modular sighting equipment.

If you’re still aiming with a peep or open rear sight and a bead or post up front, good for you. It’s great for marksmanship basics. But small arms history is leaving you behind. It’s time to scope out some scopes.

Unarmed Combat: Tai Chi vs … Fencing?

Sure enough, that’s what we’ve got here, in a clip from last year on Hunan TV. Tai Chi Master Wang Zhanhai goes into China’s most modern fencing center to match his skills against a young fencing expert, Coach Liu. The video is in Chinese with English subtitles (note that “taiji” is just the modern Mandarin transliteration of the old-style Tai Chi). Can open hands defeat a sword? On the sword’s home ground?

Well, there you have it, and if you’re like us you’re impressed with both athletes, but not entirely surprised that master-class with a weapon edges out master-class with open hands. Coach Liu, though, is surprised how hard he found it to count coup on Master Wang. It works in Master Wang’s favor that fencing is a sport that uses thrust-only weapons; several times, a saber slash would have undone him, but the ultimate generation of cavalry sabers (like the US M1913 designed by George S. Patton) were straight, optimized-for-thrust swords. Swordsmanship experts had decided that cuts and slashes were indecisive, compared to the forest of points produced by a cavalry charge, and the effect of those points is greatest if they are straight swords. (Even Patton had no clue how obsolete the saber was in 1913 already, but cavalry would be finished as a decisive arm within a year). Perhaps, if the war had not intervened, the cavalry would have brought back the Uhlan lance!

In SF there are two kinds of guys, the one that makes the commitment to some martial art (usually East Asian: Chinese, Japanese or Korean, but sometimes something exotic like Viking battleaxe fighting or Filipino butterfly-knife artistry). There seems to be one or two of those cats on every ODA,. And then there’s the more common fellow who learns the crude combatives and can administer a sleeper hold if he really must, but prefers to spend his time mastering modern warrior skills (like specialty crosstraining), and prefers to conduct combat using the ancient Chinese art of Ching-Chang Boom, dependent upon the ancient Chinese invention, gunpowder. We’re firmly in the camp of Ching-Chang Boom here, but it’s a pleasure to watch athletes like Master Wang and Coach Liu at work!

Events like this where two masters are paired are interesting, but in fact if you master some martial art, any martial art, you will be more capable than 99% of the people you might encounter, unless you’re like Master Wang and can’t resist trying your skills against experts in other fields. The confidence and mindset that Wang and Liu have here is a large part of what makes them winners. In life, it’s good to be the winner; in combat, it’s mandatory.

It Looked Like an Assassination Attempt…

…When, two years ago, a young man stuck a pistol in the face of Bulgarian politician Ahmed Dogan. Watch what happens next.

But the case got ever more bizarre. Dogan was the long-standing head of the Rights and Freedom Party, DPS by its Bulgarian acronym — a party that caters to the nation’s large Turkish/nominally-Moslem minority, but maintains a euro-Atlantic, pro-NATO foreign policy. Yet the guy with the gun is a member of the ethnic group Dogan’s party claims to represent.

Whatever, the DPS officials present take a remarkably dim view of anybody pointing a firearm at their leader, and proceed to beat the snot out of the guy.

And it just gets weirder and weirder after that. Because the gun wasn’t a gun — it’s the sort of gas gun that’s legal in some European countries, that fires blanks or ineffective tear gas or pepper spray cartridges. (And when the police examined it, it held only three cartridges, and appeared not to be working in any case). He could have shot Ahmet Dogan with the whole magazine, and the result would have been the same — a bunch of middle-aged political dweebs would have given him a thorough thumping, and Dogan would still be alive today — as he still is, in presumably-happy retirement. Dogan, the longtime party leader, was actually stepping down as leader of DPS at that meeting.

The would-be shooter, Oktay Ekhamehmedov, was convicted and sentenced in February, 2014, to 3 ½ years in the pen. He had left a puzzling note in his home that indicated he wasn’t going to hurt anybody, but if the trial revealed a great deal about his plans or his mental state, it didn’t make it into the foreign press. (Indeed, his sentence is only reported in Bulgarian, which is close enough to Russian if you know some of that).

Some critics of the DPS have suggested it was a publicity stunt, and both would-be “assassin” and “victim” were in on it. That seems unlikely; it would take a hell of a conspiracy to make a guy eat a beating and a long prison sentence in silence. But Bulgaria’s in the Balkans, after all, and that’s one of those places where it’s never too hard to sell a conspiracy theory.

507th Follow Up

We have a few small details to add to this morning’s 507th post.

Some bright spark at the El Paso Times requested, after hearing how the unit managed to have M16A2s, M249s and an M2 all go tango uniform in combat, something that seemed reasonable to the reporter: all the records about the weapons. We didn’t find the original article online, but believe that this repost here is authentic.

…all records and documents about the weapons that jammed during the March 23 ambush that led to the death of nine Fort Bliss soldiers were destroyed in the Iraqi attack and that there is no way to trace the weapons’ histories.

The Army, responding to an El Paso Times request under the Freedom of Information Act, said any official information about the weapons used by Fort Bliss’ 507th Maintenance Company was lost on a supply truck taken into combat.

The disclosure that the records were lost shocked, bewildered and further angered relatives of soldiers who were killed in the early morning ambush, which is among the worst losses for the U.S. military during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition to the nine Fort Bliss soldiers killed, two from the 3rd Forward Support Battalion were killed, five soldiers were wounded, and seven soldiers were taken prisoner.

“Capt. Troy King (507th commander) stated that he does not have any historical data on weapons involved in the enemy contact,” June Bates, Fort Bliss freedom of information officer, said in a written response. “He lost his motorpool truck and all documentation.”

Bates said King’s records, which were kept in the motor pool, were stored in his supply truck, which was also “involved in the enemy contact.”

This is a little bit disingenuous, because even in 2003 the 507th, like any unit, would have had a property book maintained on computer at a higher level. For example, the 507th’s superior unit would have had a computer run of all the unit’s property, which would have to be reconciled at intervals (annually, or at a change of command, or on deployment/redeployment) with the property actually on hand. Most everyone who’s served a hitch in the Army has endured a property inventory. In 2003, it would have required unit commanders and logistics officers/NCOs to work off a green-and-white-banded, impact-printed inventory. This document records every single piece of organizational property by NSN, quantity, and, in the case of sensitive and serial-numbered items like weapons and optics, serial number.

So all of the 507th’s paperwork could go up in smoke, but two pieces of information clearly at hand were the serial number inventory of the unit’s weapons as-supplied-by-higher, plus, the serial number inventory of the surviving weapons. The only thing you can’t do without the company level records is determine what individual was assigned which weapon. You might be missing nine M16A2 rifles, and know their serial numbers, but you can’t say that this one was the one used by SGT Walters and this other one was 1SG Dowdy’s. Those assignments are lost (although there’s a long-shot possibility some of the soldiers who lost their weapons but survived, the wounded and captured troopers, might actually know their rifle’s serial number. About 1 in 20 soldiers seems to memorize this).

The paper doesn’t seem to know what they were asking for, or where to get it from, or how to ask for it. Soldier-hating journalists that they were, they were looking for some “gotcha” that they didn’t get.

The El Paso Times had requested the history of 31 weapons the soldiers carried during the ambush. The request sought information about weapon repairs, the weapons’ ages, and the manufacturer and condition of each weapon assigned to the 507th soldiers involved in the attack.

The Army does not maintain longitudinal records on individual weapons at all, which may be a mistake. This is one of the reasons for the shot-counter initiatives we’ve seen in these pages several times. We’ve also seen that, while the Army insists they’re fully equivalent, an arsenal-rebuilt weapon is statistically less reliable than a new one. Those two claims are actually both true, as impossible and contradictory as that sounds. The reason is, the Army has a criterion-referenced standard for weapons that both new and rebuilt weapons must meet. But, unlike the Army’s own depots, where a reject just goes back through until it passes, it’s a big deal when a new weapon coming in from an industrial manufacturer like Colt, FNH or General Dynamics-Saco doesn’t meet standard, and it leads to some pain and suffering for the manufacturer. As a result, they inspect parts, processes and weapons to a higher standard to ensure that the low tail of the bell curve still clears the Army’s criterion.

Because personnel files were lost in the ambush and no duplicates exist, the 507th is now trying to re-create the information. Also, [Ft Bliss Spokesman Jean] Offutt said, some of the weapons the 507th used haven’t been recovered.

“But shortly before the soldiers deployed, all of the weapons were certified and serviceable,” Offutt said. “The weapons were fired on the firing range before they deployed.”

Again, all that means is that the weapons were Technically Inspected (TI’d) prior to the deployment and met in-service standards for that particular weapon. As we’ve also often stated, in-service standards are considerably lower than initial-acceptance standards, because they make allowance for wear and tear, and all the slings and arrows of field use by the American GI, which can include using a pistol for a hammer, and a rifle barrel for a pry bar. The example we use in explaining the standard is the M16A1 technical standard for group size: a new gun must meet a fairly loose specification of 4 MOA, but a gun is not taken out of service for dispersion until its groups are over 7 MOA.

Please read the comments on the earlier post. Kirk has a particularly good one, but it’s not the only good one by any means.

It’s all fine and good to practice maneuver warfare and tell yourself you’re punching through the enemy’s resistance and bypassing his pocketed troops. but if you’re going to do that, having the Tail-End Charlie of your corps movement be a combat service support unit that is completely lacking in the experience and mindset of combat arms units is not a good idea.

The soldiers of the 507th did well when you consider that they were a unit expected to be, “in the rear, with the gear,” but found themselves fighting against enemy regulars, regulars, and even tanks.

Their sacrifice was not in vain, because the Army has considerably increased weapons and combat training for support and service support soldiers since then. Today’s maintenance, supply and technical soldiers may suddenly be thrown into a fight like this, but if so, they’ll have some training to fall back on; They won’t be as far over their heads as the 507th was that day in 2003.

Salem, NH Cops: Better to be Lucky than to be Good

An old saying goes, “It’s better to be lucky than to be good.” A Salem, NH cop was breathing easier Monday after citizens turned in a Colt Commando carbine that he lost Tuesday afternoon. He put the rifle, in a soft “tactical” case, on top of his cruiser and forgot about it, driving off and going blithely about his shift until midnight shift change, when he went to take the rifle out of the trunk, and realized… he’d never put it in there in the first place.

colt_6933

11.5″ Commando, semi-auto SBR, Colt product LE6933. Colt marketing photo.

 

A frantic search was unavailing, but a citizen had picked up the weapon and secured it, and brought it in the next day.

salem nh lost rifle case

This rifle case was briefly on a WANTED poster in Salem, NH

 

The police are keeping the name of the embarrassed cop secret, so far.

A ‘good Samaritan’ couple returned a missing rifle to Salem police Wednesday afternoon that had been lost by a police officer. The officer had left the Colt M4 Commando 5.56mm semi-automatic rifle atop his cruiser’s trunk as he headed out for patrol Tuesday afternoon.

The officer, who was not identified in a news release asking for the public’s help in finding the rifle, put the patrol rifle, which was stored in a black canvas carrying bag, on the trunk of his cruiser about 3:45 p.m. as he was preparing for duty, according to the release.

He drove out of the station, forgetting to put the rifle in his trunk. He was sent out on several calls after leaving the parking lot.

Police believe the bag containing the rifle fell off the trunk as he drove out of the parking lot.

The officer did not notice the rifle missing until the end of his shift, about 11:45 p.m., the release said .

via ‘Good Samaritan’ couple returns missing Salem police rifle | New Hampshire.

Ironically, the police did not seem to appeal for public assistance in finding the rifle, instead threatening anyone who had picked it up. Despite that, the citizen did the right thing, and they would likely have done it even earlier had they known it was a police weapon. The M4 was not marked with the department’s identification.

This XM-177/GAU-5 is an early example of what evolved into the Colt Commando.

This XM-177/GAU-5 is an early example of what evolved into the Colt Commando. Springfield Armory National Historic Site photo. 

Gun control advocates, and many police, seem to think that the police are the only ones that can be trusted with such a weapon. In this instance, it looks like the citizens took better care with it than the cops did.

The Mauser K98k: a Commando’s View

These days, the venerable 98 Mauser has been elevated to a mythical position among the world’s firearms. It is, many writers say, the ne plus ultra of the military turnbolt repeater. To these fans, this position is demonstrated not only by its decades of service in every corner of the world, but also by its impact on every subsequent turnbolt, from the 03 Springfield and the Arisaka Type 38 (1905), to the Remington 700, Winchester Model 70, and Weatherby Mark V, all of which took something from the German original.

Mauser K98k from world-guns-ru

Yet there is an interesting fact about the Mauser’s history: while many nations were impressed by it and adopted it, the only major one to do so was the United States, who found its Krag-Jorgensen rifles and .30-40 Government rifle cartridge woefully outclassed by the Spaniards’ 1893 Mausers in the Spanish-American War. Superior rifles didn’t save the Spanish cause, but nobody who was on those battlefields had any doubt as to who had the best rifles.

The elevation of one of the volunteer regiments’ colonels, and an avid shooter and hunter, to the Presidency (that promotion itself the product of gunshots) might have had something to do with it. The British had a similar Mauser experience in the Boer War, and were close to the adoption of a rifle with numerous Mauser features (the Pattern 13 and ’14 Enfields) when war intervened and someone in the War Office thought it the wrong time to change. So they entered the Great War wedded to the SMLE Mk. I.

Lee enfield Mk1

After the war ended, though, the British were satisfied with their SMLE. The French also didn’t think the Germans had a better rifle (even though most arms historians are pretty sure they did). Like the Americans and Russians, they were thinking about semi-autos for the future (France would later adopt an odd but serviceable turnbolt, the M1936). None of those nations came out of World War One thinking the Germans had better rifles.

And they didn’t enter — or exit – World War II thinking that, either.

Here’s a opinion worth noting from Peter Young. Who’s that? Well, to lay the whole thing out, it’s Brigadier Peter Young, DSO, MC, MA, FSA, retired. Or it was, when the wartime officer turned historian wrote the Foreword for John Weeks’s World War II Small Arms. In it, Young records being less than impressed with German rifles and riflery, even when it had its very best chance to make an impression on him:

It is interesting to see that the Germans, whose military skill is so much admired, were also capable of making mistakes. The production of the Model 98 Karabiner is a case in point. Having been missed by numerous German riflemen between 1940 and 1945, I have often wondered why the Germans, so skillful with mortar and light machine gun, we’re such rotten shots with the rifle. Well, now I know:

“Unfortunately,” the author writes (without considering my feelings!), “It was a relatively awkward rifle to shoot, and the bolt action was most disappointing. The sight radius was short, which did not make for good shooting.”

MP40_German_Stalingrad_illustration

In Nº.3 Commando, which I commanded in Italy and Normandy, we were always glad to acquire Lugers or “Schmeissers”, and sometimes used the MG 34. Nobody ever bothered to keep a German rifle. The firepower of the platoon is a decisive factor in infantry combat, and by giving their men a rifle that was so much less effective than the Garand, or even the old Lee Enfield, the Germans were making life unnecessarily difficult for themselves at section level.

Now, that should put the cat among the chickens. Neither Glock nor H&K fanboys can hope to equal the shining, white-hot ardor of German WWII armament fanboys. But this is the word of one who most assuredly Was There™.

Weeks, in the book, does note the German attempts to leapfrog the 19th Century rifle: the G43, which was never built in large numbers, the MP.44, which he’s remarkably (and we think, unfairly) dismissive of, and the daddy of all German techno-fantasies, the FG.42: Weeks loves it as much as any other writer, but recognizes that its production in Wehrmacht-sized quantities was never a possibility. Even the much simpler K.98k with its decades of production engineering could never be built in quantities enough to arm Germany’s mass levies.

FG42-Right

To some extent, what Young is describing is simply “the-devil-you-know effect”; not many Germans picked up M1s, either (although photographs indicate that it did happen). His Commandos’ taste for Lugers and MP.38/40 submachine guns may be partly explained by the British practice of being fairly stingy with the issue of the British analogues of these arms, especially the pistols.

The problem with the K.98k is, quite simply, that at the outbreak of of WWII its basic action was 40 years old, and based upon a design that was about a decade older than that. The many German experiments with upping their combat firepower at section level shows that the German Wehrmacht did indeed recognize that the shortened version of their World War I Gewehr 98 was only a stopgap when they introduced it amidst their rearmament program of 1935.

The Big Lie About Wanat (COP Kahler), Part 1 of 2 (long)

The Big Lie principle, as elaborated by Hitler and Goebbels, is that if you tell a small lie, you’ll be caught on it, but if you tell a really big, even outrageous whopper, people will tend to believe it. It’s an insight into human psychology which helps explain how those two second-stringers wound up seizing the levers of the most advanced nation in 20th Century Europe and running it into the ground, to the detriment of scores of millions worldwide. But right now, it’s making the rounds in our little world, as hired shills for foreign manufacturers lie about one battle to pad their own paychecks. This lie is so bold and blatant that many have come to accept it as true, even though official documents tell another story.

The lie is that, “9 American Infantrymen died on 13 July 08 at COP Kahler at Wanat, Afghanistan, in the Waygul Valley of Nuristan province, because their M4 Carbines jammed”. This lie clearly doesn’t hold up if you read the historical papers, professional analyses, and interviews with survivors. What does hold up is a story of incredible devotion, dedication and heroism on the part of the Americans there, and of intelligent, bold and fearless attacks on the part of their enemies. But there are some facts the foreign-firm lobbyists don’t tell you.

  • to start with, that they’re paid lobbyists.
  • Then, that most of the killed were not using M4s at the time they were killed.
  • Then, that those that were did not have jammed rifles.
  • Then, that the survivors who did have jammed rifles, used the rifles far beyond their duty cycle, because (1) they hadn’t been trained on the limits of the weapon and its duty cycle, but mostly, (2) they hadn’t any other option: their crew-served weapons went down due to failure, ammunition exhaustion, or destruction by accurate enemy MG and RPG fire, leaving them with ugly choices: go cyclic for long periods with rifles, or get defeated. Getting defeated was not a survivable option.
Indefensible: COP Kahler viewed from an aircraft, looking south. It is the tan area at center. COL Ostlund photo.

Indefensible: COP Kahler viewed from an aircraft, looking south. It is the tan area at center. COL Ostlund photo.

This was the plan to which COP Kahler was built. It was opened just days before the attack.

This was the plan to which COP Kahler was built. It was opened just days before the attack.

Why, then, does this story persist? It persists because it fits a narrative much beloved of the anti-military writers of the Acela Corridor, many of whom are unsophisticated and trivially spun by lobbyists. The Atlantic magazine is a fine illustration of this. In a recent article by a defense-industry lobbyist and retired general, whose conflicts of interest they have never disclosed, they printed:

The M4, the standard carbine in use by the infantry today, is a lighter version of the M16 rifle that killed so many of the soldiers who carried it in Vietnam. (The M16 is still also in wide use today.) In the early morning of July 13, 2008, nine infantrymen died fighting off a Taliban attack at a combat outpost near the village of Wanat in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province. Some of the soldiers present later reported that in the midst of battle their rifles overheated and jammed. The Wanat story is reminiscent of experiences in Vietnam: in fact, other than a few cosmetic changes, the rifles from both wars are virtually the same. And the M4’s shorter barrel makes it less effective at long ranges than the older M16—an especially serious disadvantage in modern combat, which is increasingly taking place over long ranges.

OK, perhaps in a future post we’ll break that out, bullshit by bullshit. For example:

  • The M4 is a lighter version of the M16 Rifle, yes, and the 2015 Corvette is a modified version of a car introduced in 1953. There are very few parts in an M4 that are the same as the ones this guy’s artillery battery struggled with at FSB Bertchesgaden almost 50 years ago. Most of those parts are in the trigger group, and there’s always the charging handle. Apart from those, from muzzle to buttstock, from sights to magazine, it’s a new gun.

But we’re not going to do that today. Instead we’re going to address this insidious and false claim:

  • [N]ine infantrymen died fighting off a Taliban attack at a combat outpost near the village of Wanat. So far, so good. (At least he notes that they did fight off the attack; a lot of careless reporters say they were overrun).
  • Some of the soldiers present later reported that in the midst of battle their rifles overheated and jammed. Yes. You see what the author is doing there? He’s making the inferences, without saying in so many words, that their guns killed them. This is one of those things that is “true, but….” Those grunts were not killed by their guns. They were killed by the enemy, and as we’ll see, the malfunction of weapons systems was real, but not decisive. You could argue that bad training, worse officer leadership in the planning phases (the officers provided magnificent leadership under fire), and incredibly-bad site selection were responsible, instead.  (The location selected for COP Kahler was the bottom of a bowl, with mountains about 7,000 feet higher surrounding the outpost 360º. It’s hard to imagine a less defensible position, yet these guys defended it). But in the end, they were infantrymen in a hard fight with a determined enemy, and guys get hurt doing that.

So let’s explore the action at Wanat for a minute. Click “More” to continue. This is a long one.

Continue reading

Simple Sabotage Field Manual

simple_sabotage_field_manual_coverWe thought for sure we had featured this already, but if so, we can’t find it on the site. This is a sabotage manual  dating to 17 January 44 . It was classified SECRET but was declassified long ago — 14 June 76, to be precise.

It is only 32 pages long, typeset but with no illustrations. It’s rather typical of OSS training materials in that it seems to use a sort of Socratic method, where the book, film or other training method is not aimed to teach people simple rote skills, but to spur deeper discussions and thought.

Despite its limits, there is a lot to be had here, including from the introduction by BG William Donovan to the closing suggestions, “General Devices for Lowering Morale and Creat­ing Confusion.” (And yes, it does seem like that last part of the manual has been in use by everyone in DC for quite a few years).

Some of the suggestions border on the whimsical:

Saturate a sponge with a thick starch or sugar solution. Squeeze it tightly into a ball, wrap it with string, and dry. Remove the string when fully dried. The sponge will be in the form of a tight hard ball. Flush down a W. C. or otherwise introduce into a sewer line. The sponge will gradually expand to its normal size and plug the sewage system.

Here is the book in .pdf:

SimpleSabotageFieldManualStrategicServicesProvisional.pdf

Or, if you want it in .mobi for Kindles and Kindle-reader apps, or, in .epub for iBooks, or several other file formts, you can find it at web.archive.org.

 

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The cat, or the importance of the smallest indicators

It is a tradition in the great militaries of the world that between wars, sniping becomes a neglected art. It’s neglected because it’s hard, because training for it is costly, and because the principal product of your snipers, actionable intelligence, is little appreciated in the peace time army.

The following story from the First World War illustrates all the reasons this art should not be neglected.

—————————————— I ——————————————

THE two snipers of the Royal Midlandshires, the shooter and the observer, were comfortably in their post. The shooter was longing for a cigarette, which regulations forbade lest the enemy – two hundred yards away – should see the smoke issuing from the concealed loophole; but the observer, Private William Entworth, was studying the parapet opposite.

Suddenly he spoke: “Line of water-tower. Red sandbag. Left. Two feet.”

WWI enfield sniper

Pattern 14 Enfield rifles were adapted with telescopic sights for British snipers. The British program was a reaction to German sniper successes. This rifle was sold by a British dealer recently.

Saunders’ eyes picked up the water-tower in the distance, ranged to the parapet, found the red sandbag, then swung to the left of it. Yes, something moving. He cuddled the stock of his rifle, and brought the pointer in the telescope to bear. Then slowly he began to squeeze the trigger.

“Don’t shoot.”

Entworth was only just in time.

“Why not, ole son?”

sleeping cat“It’s only a cat.”

“A ’Un cat! ’Ere goes.”

“Come off it. If you get shootin’ cats outer this post Mr. Nowell’ll – Besides, it’s rather a nice-lookin’ cat. Tortoiseshell colour. We ’ad one in Ferrers Street ’e reminds me of. … There, ’e’s climbin’ up on the bloomin’ parados, curlin’ round and goin’ to sleep just as if there wasn’t no war. Shall I enter ’im?”

“Wot’s the good?”

“Dunno. Shows we was awake. ‘Time 11.25 Ac. Emma. Cat (tortoiseshell) at K 22.C.35.45. Action taken: None.’” So wrote Private Entworth with laborious pencil. As he finished a voice sounded outside.

“Who’s in there?”

“Private Entworth. Private Saunders.”

“Shut the loopholes. I am coming in.”

“Well, seen anything?” questioned Mr. Nowell, the Sniping and Intelligence Officer of the Battalion.

“They’ve been working on the post at K.22. D.85.60.”

“Seen any Huns?”

“Only a cat, sir. I’ve entered it in the log-book. It’s sunning itself on the parados now, sir. Line of water-tower. Red sandbag.”

“Yes, I have it,” said Nowell, who had taken the telescope.

“Shall I shoot ’im, sir?”

“Why should you?”

“’E probably kills rats and makes life brighter-like for the ’Un, sir, by so doing. There’s a glut o’ rats on this sector, sir.”

british_unit_war_diary_page_wwi“The cat looks very comfortable. No, don’t shoot, Saunders. Entworth, give me that log-book.” The officer turned over the pages. “I wonder if anyone has ever seen that cat before? Hullo, yes. Private Scroggins and Lance-Corporal Tew two days ago in the afternoon. Here’s the entry: ‘3.40 pip emma K.22.C.35.40. Cat on parados.’”

Nowell’s eyes showed a gleam of interest. “Note down whenever you see that cat,” said he.

“Yes, sir.”

“And keep a bright look-out.”

“Yes, sir.” Once more the loopholes were shut, and Nowell, lifting the curtain at the back of the Post which prevented the light shining through, went out. His steps died away along the trench-boards.

“Think we’ll see it in ‘Comic Cuts’” (the universal B.E.F. name for the Corps Intelligence Summary). “‘At K.22.C.35.45, a tortoiseshell-coloured he-cat.’ I don’t think!” said Saunders.

“Shouldn’t wonder. The cove wot writes out ‘Comic Cuts’ must ’a bin wounded in the ’ed early-on. Sort o’ balmy ’e is.”

—————————————— II ——————————————

Meantime we must follow Mr. Nowell down the trench. He was full of his thoughts and almost collided round a corner with a red-hatted Captain.

“Sorry, sir,” said he, saluting.

“Righto! my mistake. Can you tell me where I shall find the I.S.O. of this battalion?” asked the Staff Officer.

“My name’s Nowell, sir. I am the Sniping and Intelligence Officer.”

“Good. I’m Cumberland of Corps Intelligence.” Nowell looked up with new interest. He had heard of Cumberland as a man of push and go, who had made things hum since he had come to the Corps a few weeks back.

“Anything you want?” continued Cumberland. “You’ve been sending through some useful stuff. I thought I’d come down and have a talk.”

Nowell led the way to his dug-out. He had suffered long from a very official Corps Intelligence G.S.O., whom Cumberland had just replaced. Under the old regime it never really seemed to matter to the

This RE. 8 was typical of Great War reconnaissance planes.

This RE. 8 was typical of Great War reconnaissance planes.

Higher Intelligence what anyone in the battalion did, but now Cumberland seemed to take an interest at once. After a quarter of an hour’s talk Cumberland was taking his leave. “Well,” said he, “anything you want from Corps, don’t hesitate to ask. That’s what we’re there for, you know. Sure there isn’t anything?” “As a matter of fact there is, but I hardly like to ask you.” “Why not? “It’s such a long shot, sir.” “Well, what is it?” “I’d like aeroplane photos taken of K.22 squares C. and D. opposite here. New photographs, sir.” Cumberland was about to ask a question, but looking up he caught the slight flush of colour that had risen in Nowell’s face. “Righto,” he said easily. “We rather pride ourselves on quick work with aeroplane photos up at Corps. I’ll have the squares taken to-morrow morning if visibility is pukka. And the finished photos will be in your hands by five o’clock. Good afternoon.” Cumberland strode along the trench, and Nowell stood staring after him.

“Never asked me what I wanted ’em for,” he muttered. “Taken in the morning; in my hands by afternoon. Why, in old Baxter’s time such efficiency would have killed him of heart-disease. Well, let’s hope that cat’s playing the game, and not leading a poor forlorn British Battalion Intelligence Officer to make a fool of himself.”

—————————————— III ——————————————

The next afternoon the aeroplane photos duly arrived, together with a note from Cumberland:

“Dear Nowell,

“Am sending the photographs of K.22.C. and D. taken to-day, also some I have looked out of the same squares which were taken six weeks ago. It would appear from a comparison that a good deal of work has been put in by the Hun round C.3.5. It looks like a biggish H.Q. I have informed C.R.A. who says it will be dealt with at 3 pip emma to-morrow, 18th inst.

“C. Cumberland,

“Capt. G.S.”

—————————————— IV ——————————————

It is five minutes to three on the following day, and the bright sun which has shone all the morning has worked round behind the British position.

In the morning two gunner F.O.O.’s have visited the trenches, compared certain notes with Mr. Nowell, and gone back to their Observation Posts on the higher ground. Nowell himself has decided to watch events from the O.P. in which was laid the first scene of this history. He hurries along to it, and calls out: “Who’s in there?”

“Private Saunders. Private Entworth, sir.”

“Shut the loopholes. I’m coming in.” He goes in.

6_inch_30_cwt_howitzer_muzzle_view_IWM_Duxford“Move along, Entworth, and I’ll sit beside you on the bench and observe with my own glass. Get yours on to the spot where the cat was. Got it? Right. Two batteries of 6-inch Hows. are going to try and kill that cat, Entworth, in a minute and a half from now. Zero at three o’clock. Nice light, isn’t it?” At these words of Nowell’s several thoughts, mostly connected with his officer’s sanity, flashed through Entworth’s rather slow brain, but long before they were formulated Nowell rapped out:

“Here they come.”

Sounds just like half a dozen gigantic strips of silk being torn right across the sky were clearly audible in the Post. At the same instant through the watching glasses heaps of earth, tin, a stove-pipe, were hurled into the air. There were other grimmer objects, too, as the shells rained down.

Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Nowell having gone, Private Entworth was speaking, though his eye was still glued to his glass.

“Direct’it right off and right into a nest of ’Uns. There was ’ole’Uns and bits of ’Uns in the air, I tell yer, Jim Saunders. Loverly shooting, ’twas! I doubt there’s anything at C.35.45. left alive. There is, tho’! By ––– there is! There goes that ruddy-coloured cat over the parados like a streak, and what ’o! for Martinpunch!”

—————————————— V ——————————————

And finally an extract from “Comic Cuts,” the Corps Intelligence Summary of the next day:

“A cat having been observed by our snipers daily sleeping on the parados of a supposedly disused enemy trench at K.22.C.3.4. it was deduced from the regularity of its habits that the cat lived near-by, and – owing to the fact that the German trenches at this point are infested by rats – probably in a dug-out occupied by enemy officers. Aeroplane photographs were taken which disclosed the existence of a hitherto unlocated enemy H.Q., which was duly dealt with by our Artillery.”

Hesketh-Prichard, H. (2012-07-01). Sniping in France: With Notes on the Scientific Training of Scouts, Observers, and Snipers (Kindle Locations 1760-1833). Tales End Press. Kindle Edition.

About Sniping, a Few Observations

  • Sniping is ultimately a psychological operation.
  • This is not the best-known sniper memoir (that would be MacBride’s, probably) but as Hesketh-Price stood up and ran the sniper school, it carries considerable weight.
  • As this story shows, the whole book is well written and is a fun, fast read.
  • This story is the best capsule illustration we know of why a sniper’s greatest worth to you is not in his trigger pulling — however good he is at that.
  • Count on the British to have no qualms about blowing large quantities of “Huns” away, but take delight in the survival of the little Hun cat.

The British only developed a sniper school and culture under pressure from German snipers. Like most democracies, Britain would let this tribal knowledge fade out during periods of protracted peace. And have to learn it all over again under pressure from German snipers within a couple decades.