Small Arms Influence on Warfare

I’m giving a lecture on the history of firearms technology for a class at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in a couple weeks, and the course instructor asked me to include some discussion of how changes to small arms have changed warfare. On top of that, I’m getting ready to shoot the 2-Gun Action Challenge Match this weekend with an M1 Garand (and competing against a friend shooting an SMG Guns FG-42). So I’m fiddling with some 8-round clips of .30-06 and I’m thinking to myself, does it really make a difference? Would American campaigns in World War II have been much different if the GIs were all armed with 1903A3 Springfields instead of Garands?

It seems to me that while the difference between a bolt action and a selfloader would be fairly significant to the individual soldier, it wouldn’t make much difference on a larger scale. I have not been in a real firefight myself, but everything I’ve read suggests to me that outside of some exceptional circumstances, battles are won by logistics and fire support, not by the individual small arms carried by the grunts of doughboys or tommies. When small arms do come to light, it’s in the context of small-unit tactics which are (or should be) designed to exploit the strengths of a unit’s weapons and avoid their weaknesses. So the US advantage from the fast-firing M1 was countered by German tactics which emphasized the MG42 as a primary combat element and used Mauser-armed infantry as a protective screen where their lower rate of fire was mitigated.

Soldiers in Afghanistan and Iwo Jima

To think about it another way, consider taking a well-trained US platoon or company out of Afghanistan and rearming them with all World War II era arms – Garands instead of M4s, 1911s instead of Berettas, BARs instead of M249s, and 1919s instead of M240s. Assuming they have the same level of training with those weapons that they have with today’s gear, how much of a disadvantage would they be at? I would contend that the disadvantage would be minimal (and I would love to hear from anyone in active service who has the direct experience to give a more informed answer to the question). The details of various tactics would change to accommodate the particular guns, but I don’t think combat effectiveness would be reduced (if it was, it would be primarily because of the lack of optical sights rather than the guns themselves).

On the other hand, if you were to take a modern squad and replace their support and logistics infrastructure with 1940s equivalents I think the results would be much more significant. The improvements in communications technology, air support, and artillery fire control would have a fairly significant impact on the effectiveness of the unit. Or at least, I think it would. What do you guys with combat experience think?


  1. there was considerable differance in tactics and firepower with adoption of the mp44 into the german army front line units ,moving from a bolt action squad covering the light machine gun to the squad of semi or full automatic 30 round mag armed indiviuals .
    reports from the indiviual units armed with them and the russian army army reports on the recieving end of the increase in fire power .

  2. Very provocative series of questions, brings up many questions of what we regard as “efficiency” and “progress” The first thing that come to mind is that now soldiers have a bit additional gear, (armor, communications, medical gear, more variety of grenades are frequently carried by soldiers compared to WWII etc.) All this stuff is more weight, much of it can be considered an obvious and clear improvement (camelbacks vs. canteens, satellite comms, body armor, etc) but regardless the weight of the WWII weapons being as heavy as they were, even if it is slightly more compared to the proper contemporary equivalent means that; the greater weight of the WWII era arms + ammo, then being combined with the additional weight of the kit of modern soldiers equals a far greater weight to be carried by an individual which would result in a certainly unusual and probably cumbersome outfit… Would it place a disadvantage on the battlefield success/efficiency of the individual soldier/squad/infantry activities in general: I’m not sure.

  3. I’m going to keep this very simplistic, because it strikes me as being a complex subject.

    It seems to me that the invention and adoption of the a reliable musket had a dramatic affect on how battles were fought. It would also have affected logistics. For example compare the longbow with the brown bess. Soldiers become easier to train and replace. Keeping soldiers supplied with ammunition was also simpler. Crafting an arrow is much more difficult than casting a bullet. Small arms also affected the use of armor, so that it became less and less prevalent on the battlefield. The introduction of longer-ranged rifles affected the battlefield, and their introduction arguable resulted into the move towards trench warfare. Then you have the introduction of the machine-gun. As small-arms development continued, the cavalry vanished from the battlefield, probably because a man on a horse is just a bigger target.

    Just a few thoughts.

    • I object to the cavalry part. Polish Cavalry did pretty well against German infantry by means of sneak attack since bolt-action rifles take at least five seconds to chamber a round and aim at a crazed person on horseback bent on stabbing the user to death, and even more time to load a clip while under stress. During the cavalry charges of 1939, the Germans were not entrenched and prepared to face horsemen, but on the move trying to find Polish infantry to kill. And no, the Poles did not charge tanks. Try shooting cavalry when you are not entrenched and when your squad’s machine gun is not ready to shoot. If you are armed only with a K98, you are screwed since you can’t shoot fast enough. If on the other hand, you have an assault rifle or a submachinegun, you had better try to find cover once you start shooting, so that you are not in danger of being slashed to ribbons by sabers or shot by pistols on horseback.

      Funny enough, the Wehrmacht relied on horses more than you think, making their logistical problems worse as the war grew more pessimistic for Germany. Trust me, I did the research.

      • “since bolt-action rifles take at least five seconds to chamber a round and aim at a crazed person on horseback”

        Mr. Chern, I must disagree with your timing estimate here. With practice, I am able to shoot a round from a Mosin/K98/SMLE etc, and have the bolt closed, aimed, and cleared at the target again before the brass hits the brown grass. It took practice, but a boltgun in the hands of someone who trains with it is almost as fast as a semi auto gun.

        This is discussed in Jeff Cooper’s _Art of the Rifle_, and it seemed like a good and attainable drill.

    • You are touching on effectiveness and efficiency in use of arms, Jeremy. Here is good example how it worked some 600 years before WWII.

      Both sides were equipped and motivated in about same way. But, one side used firepower (or rather ‘bow-power’) more wisely and to their advantage. Also, it is colloquially known that this was the first battle fought in Europe while using gun powder.

  4. My feeling is the 1903 v M1 in WW2 would not have made a significant difference. One way to judge might be to look at American tactics against German forces in WW1. Bolt actions on both sides. But the American attitude towards movement & attack was one reason for pushing back German lines in sectors where American forces fought. Was it due to logistics and fire support? I don’t think that’s the prime reason.

    In your line “battles are won by logistics and fire support, not by the individual small arms carried by the grunts of doughboys or tommies.” you leave out an important middle part – which you address in the next line – “small unit tactics”. You can have all the logistic and fire support but without small unit tactics – fire team, squad, platoon – acting in support within each and with each other no battle is ever won. Ask any GI veteran of Europe and they’ll tell you the fear they had of the MG42. The M1 was superior in its ability to put “lead downrange” vs. the German bolt actions yet the MG42 was a great equalizer in stopping/slowing down the small unit tactics the American forces came to be known for. But eventually – they overcame the MG42 – via small unit tactics that evolved over time, based on actual field experience.

    A well led force, with a cause and/or belief, doesn’t need the best equipment. US forces have many examples of good/great leadership at the “small unit” level in WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afganistan. I believe in all those conflicts American forces had superior logistics & fire support – yet the outcomes vary. Without leadership (political or military) – at all levels, no unit, regardless of size can succeed.

    Sorry Ian….this may have gotten totally off your subject of your talk. Good luck with btw. Let us know the feedback you receive.

  5. In terms of the functionality of the weapons themselves, I don’t think we have come a huge way from the early years of the twentieth century (or come to that, the late 1880s! if a Garand doesn’t offer much over a 1903 Springfield, does a 1903 offer anything over an 1888 Commission Rifle? or a 6mm Lee Navy?).

    If the military brass had posessed the imagination, then Fyoderov’s Avtomat was available with the flat shooting, low recoil 6.5mm Arisaka round, Remmington model 8s were there at the same time and in the same place as .250 Savage rounds. Arguably both rounds are superior to the over pressured bureaucratic nightmare that is 5.56 x 45.

    Similarly, the Winchester ’05 and ’07 self loading blowback carbines were available in such potential SMG rounds as 32SL and 35SL (uprated to 351SL). Simple modification to a long magazine and selective fire would have pre-empted the Villar -Perosa and the SMG derivatives from it.

    The developments were there, long before the military brass were forced to take notice of them.

    Even in the field of sighting systems, militaries have been slow to adopt optics, and even slower to adopt range finders (at least for infantry).


    • “Simple modification to a long magazine and selective fire would have pre-empted the Villar -Perosa and the SMG derivatives from it.” states that: According to factory records, these rifles [Winchester 1907] were modified for fully automatic fire and fitted with Lee-Navy rifle bayonets.[4] These rifles were designated by the name of Winchester Model 1907/17, they used either a 15 round magazine or 20 round magazine and fired from 600 to 700 rounds per minute
      [4] Houze, Herbert G. (2003) “Winchester’s First Self-Loading Rifles”. National Rifle Association, American Rifleman 151(5): Washington. p. 51.

    • Keith – (or come to that, the late 1880s! if a Garand doesn’t offer much over a 1903 Springfield, does a 1903 offer anything over an 1888 Commission Rifle? or a 6mm Lee Navy?).

      Yes it did – the improvements in firearms design and metallurgy combined with the better understanding of internal/external ballistics must not be overlooked.

  6. Well sir, you’ve forgotten Patton’s statement regarding the M1 just for starters. Patton was a WWI vet along with WWII. The next thing you need to do to get your head in the right position and way of thinking is to talk to warriors before you start spouting about things you don’t know about and or have no experience with.

    I know there are not many warriors around (a small fraction of 1% of our U.S. population), so I shall share this link with a few who have indeed seen the elephant. Perhaps some of them may wish to comment also.

    If you wish to broaden your horizons, start with reading “With The Old Breed” by Sledge. It’s the best WWII book written by a Marine NCO — down to the nitty gritty. Then progress to other factual reading about Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan — from people who’ve been there, done that.

    You’re probably too long in the tooth (so am I — but I’ve already been there) to get some current experience, but the books may help.

    • Truman, not to jump on statement, but I think you missed the point somewhat. I don’t think that Ian is saying that the 1903 is a better rifle than an M1, just that the difference is more about getting people like Sledge to the battlefield and being able to keep them there and well supplied. That if they carry a 1903 or M1 or even possibly an M16 it is less of an difference for actual combat effectiveness than it would seem on the surface. And Patton was a tanker in both wars and a General officer for the Second, I think the value of his opinion on rifles is somewhat exaggerated.

      • Well sir, reading the comments etc, it seems a lot of us have missed the point. I thought this was a discussion about the personal weapons men carried.

        I am a Marine Viet Vet, 10 combat operations. Saw all kinds of weapons — one favorite, when you could find it was a WWI pump trench shotgun. My favorite was the M-14 because I’d seen the effects of the “Mattel’s Toy” that cost so many Marine lives at “The First Battle of Khe Sanh” in April 67. I will never ever have any use for that series of weapons. I never felt out gunned by an AK-47. I had accurate longer range and close in auto fire is Ok too — if you’re mad and scared, you can indeed handle the M-14 on full auto. But I’m a big man, even though my weight was down over 40 pounds during that experience. A large consideration, depending on conditions, is availability of ammunition for a particular situation.

        In my experience, since we’re going to talk about any weapon available, Spooky (WWII C-47 with miniguns and flares) was MAGNIFICENT when things were going down hill fast. The modern replacement is even better. I loved seeing an M-48A3 rampage across a battlefield. BUT it was dry then. Their cannister rounds were superb during some instances (“scratch my back”). And the tanks of that era aren’t close to being as effective as the tanks nowadays and no WWII tank could compare with them.

        My son (post 9/11) was also a Marine. He and I discussed his statement that a single Marine squad nowadays was more “deadly” than a company or more of Viet Marines. We discussed it and we concluded that indeed they are because they could literally “call all kinds of hell in on the enemy” because of the many weapons available to them — on call. Which of course depends on communications. He favored the SAW which is a superb replacement for the BAR (20 rounds versus 200 per “magazine”) and “I prefer the SAW, at least it will fire when I pull the trigger even if it weighs lots more”. He set the range record at 29 Palms for the SAW so I figure he knows a bit. Another consideration here is his back pack weighed around 70 pounds.

        If we limit the discussion to what a single soldier/Marine/Recon/SEAL etc could carry, in the final analysis, it depends on what situation you’re going into (no, you do not always have a choice before hand). You don’t want to carry a goose shotgun for a concealed carry or a small handgun hunting mountain goats or brown bear. Application determines the weapons that are best for that particular job. And I never ever saw a Marine carrying a Spooky, B-52, M-48-A3, Ontos or F-4 in their back pack or on their shoulder.

    • In Patton’s book War as I Knew It, he advocated using the M1 in what he called marching fire where the soldier would tuck the rifle between their bicep and body and shoot towards the enemy as they advanced on to the enemy. I suspect as a sort of covering fire. Try that with an ’03.

  7. The guns which have made a big difference:

    Rapid fire breech loaders (the martinis and winchester lever actions used by the Ottoman forces defending Plevna) ended the days of formations of riflemen behaving like medieval pike men and marching slowly to their enemy.

    Heavy Machineguns rammed that lesson home on the western front of WWi.

    SMGs broke up the fixed trench lines of WWi, forcing a more mobile warfare.

    Light recoiless weapons such as the Panzerfaust and Bazooka, meant that an individual or a small team could realistically threaten heavy armour and emplacements such as pill boxes, and even, as demonstrated in the Falklands with a Carl Gustav – threaten and disable amphibious assault craft. Well used, such weapons can devastate supply convoys, at relatively small cost.

    Light surface to air missiles, for example stinger missiles in the Soviet-Afghan war, force air support to remain high, seriously limiting its effectiveness.

  8. Hey Ian, I wondered if you read comics. I have something to bring up. It’s a manga called Gunka no Balzar. It’s military themed, and does in fact show some background knowledge of 19th century warfare. Artistic license of course, but the main ideas are very much true. Google the title if you want to read it.

    Input for the day, directed towards other persons: “small units” tactics should contribute to overall strategy. But macroscopic strategy varies from country to country. For example, the Prussian (and later German and somehow Israeli) approach to war mistranslated as “mission-type tactics” places emphasis on intent, tactical flexibility, and competent commanders (and their impromptu replacements, should they be killed in action) being at the front to observe, judge, and give orders. I have never seen a good commander leading from the rear and knowing very little of the situation at the front. Equipment and logistics complicate things, as does cultural background (Imperial Japan never learned the lessons of the Western Front of the Great War, placing emphasis on the offensive and very little effort on the defensive early in the Pacific Theater).

    Suppose you have a good commanding officer and one company of inexperienced men armed with bolt-actions, infantry mortars, grenades, quite a few light machine guns (like the Zb vz. 26), and perhaps two artillery pieces, say the FK 96 nA. This company is currently defending a town somewhere in the woods, hiding from an incoming modern-age mechanized unit, size unknown due to fog. It is known that the terrain apart from the main road is terrible for tanks due to previous aerial bombardment, though our frightened men could uncomfortably withdraw using a few trucks and maybe the oddly abandoned but fully loaded and well-camouflaged Panzer IV ausf. J at their disposal. What would you do, run around screaming Mommy?

  9. Not a vet, but as a historian allow me to contribute:

    Douglas MacArthur once ascribed U.S. success in the Second World War to 1) the Liberty Ship, 2) the Jeep, and 3) the M1 rifle. As mentioned up post, George S. Patton once stated “The M1 Garand is the greatest battle implement ever devised.” Liberty Ship= Logistics, supplying the battle fronts with “the Jeep”= a modern, mechanized, highly mobile armed forces equipped with “the M1 Garand” a robust, reliable, efficient and modern [for the period] weapon= the “American Way of War.”

    The USMC used M1903 Springfields in early campaigns like Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. The Springfield may be more accurate from a bench-rest or prone position, but the superior windage-adjustable sights, rapid follow up shot capability, less movement in operation, magazine capacity, ease of reloading, less user fatigue, reduced felt recoil, and other advantages of a self-loader vs. a bolt-action made themselves evident. My understanding–admittedly limited–is that the M1 actually has fewer parts than the Springfield [about the 03A3, I’m less sure…]

    • I think you are largely in agreement with the premise of the article. The thing that made more of an impact for American forces was their superior supply chain and wider mechanization. I doubt that many people will argue that a 1903 is a more effective combat arm than an M1. Just that what an individual solider is carrying, unless that difference is very drastic, has less of an impact on the outcome of a given battle than whether those soldiers have the other supplies they need and can readily call for reinforcements or heavy weapons.

  10. I think the discussion out to be mindful of the stats on what weapons actually inflict the most casualties. I wish I could find the stats that would matter, but a break down of casualties by small arms, artillery, and airstrikes would be pretty important for this discussion. I wonder if it wouldn’t be skewed for the current wars based on the use of precision air strikes and the difficulty in flushing out insurgents on foot. There are alot of angles to examine the topic from. Go back to the Franco Prussian war, the Prussians suffered heavy casualties partially because of inferior small arms, but having a better rifle design wasn’t enough to overcome other deficiencies for the French. Although to get back to your original question I doubt a modern infantry squad would be that hindered using weapons from WW2, especially considering the current opposition for the US and the nature of current engagements. The answer might change if a different opponent was in the mix.

    • Dan,
      the greatest casualty producing weapon since the advent of the fixed cartridge has been artillery. The Army medical corps has been studying this intently since WWI and indirect fire weapons are the big killers. That has changed in the current war where more casualties are caused by IEDs due to the enemy’s lack of artillery. Just FYI.

  11. One could argue that the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, small arms had a large contribution to the victory the Prussians had at Königgrätz with their Dreyse needle guns versus the Austrians’ Lorenz rifle-muskets. The Prussians were able to utilize the relative strengths of the breech-loading gun versus the inability of the Austrians to do so, and the obvious rate-of-fire increase the centerfire paper cartridge, however imperfect and temperamental, was still a tactical advantage over the Lorenz.

    Whether this translated to any kind of operational or strategic advantage, this is uncertain; the tactics of the Prussians to drive the Austrians into a trap in Königgrätz was probably going to be in the Prussians’ favor, even if they didn’t have the needle gun. In the War of 1870 against France, the French actually had the better small arm in the Chassepot, with its India rubber O-ring allowing for a better seal in the chamber area, and subsequently, a better ranged firearm, but if only this was taken into account, it wouldn’t explain why the French lost that war too, since the Prussian breech-loaded Krupp cannon was much more decisively used against counter-battery fire against French artillery positions.

    So whether or not a small arm can contribute to some kind of strategic advantage, this is doubtful based on the innate characteristics of the small arm itself. The ability to produce these small arms, and feed them with ammunition (logistics) is much more important I would argue, but from a tactical sense, sure, individual firearms strengths over another could manifest itself into victory in the battlefield, but I would argue only in cases where there is a large technological disparity (think breech-loader equipped troops versus muzzle-loader equipped troops, as is the case for the Austro-Prussian War).

  12. Small arms on the American side would have not been affected a wit. What the US army relied on throughout the war was artillery. American commanders rated American infantry as unsatisfactory in terms of aggressiveness and studies counducted by the army after the war found the Germans outfound our troops consistently and inflected heavier casualties in every battle they reviewed. The Germans relied on artillery but they lacked the seemingly endless supplies the US had.

    For one example, during the Mortan offense it is argumented one diviion stopped several panzer divisions. What is ignored is that it stopped several diviisions reduced to kamfgrupe strength and that the division was supported by THIRTY artillery battalions. The Germans could never hope to orchestrate something on this scale, let alone hope to muster something like it.

    This is where the American Army shinned. Its fire and control proceedures were the best in the world. This won the war, not US small arms. The M-1 was a superior weapon, but only one in four men using individual arms actually employed their weapons in battle. The figures for troops on crew served weapons and auto weapons used them almost 100%%. This accounts for the change to full auto weapons.

    • The M-1 was a superior weapon, but only one in four men using individual arms actually employed their weapons in battle.

      I can’t believe anybody still treats SLA Marshall as a credible source…

  13. While I think the the M249 and FN MAG are probably better in almost every way for their intended role vs the BAR and M1919; at long range, I don’t think the disadvantage would be too great. The M1 has definitely got the M16/M4 beat for range/accuracy, while the 1919 is also not an inaccurate weapon. In close quarters, the difference would be very noticeably disadvantageous.

    • The M4 as produced and issued today is far more accurate out of the box, to 500m, than a rack grade M1. M1 reject was 8.2 MOA! This reflects, mostly, superior manufacturing technology. Both colt (M4) and FNMI (M16 current contract) are making guns far more accurate than the milspec calls for.

      • Let me reply to myself as I can’t edit a hasty comment, what the M1 delivered was far better terminal ballistics at extreme ranges (rifle in combat that;s 300-600m). If you could hit. The M4 is not only more mechanically accurate, but often fitted with pretty decent glass in the ACOG or Elcan SpectetDR. Hardly fair to compare this technology to the M1’s excellent peep sight…

        • Kevin.. LoL you got ANY idea what I would have given for a SOCOM 16 with an ACOG or EoTech and a vest full of mag’s back in VN, that is if the little people still only had AK’s and Mosins. The M1A produced today out of the box will shoot circles around any new M14 of the 70’s.

      • But how does the M4 accuracy compare to the M14 (effectively an “A2” version of the M1)?

        I don’t know of any published accuracy numbers for the EBR, but look at the enormous boost in accuracy that was discovered by replacing those beautiful walnut stocks with pure plastic and metal (like the M16 family has always had).

  14. Ian .. You have as another has already stated .. opened a very complex subject. Having been afforded the “opportunity to excel” as we used to sarcastically say when notified we were up for another cross border recon. The view of the combat infantryman vs the one never having been afforded the opportunity is and will be vastly different. With that said, the individual soldier and his weapon have never won or “lost” a WAR. Governments / Politics win and lose wars for their country. Soldiers FIGHT wars. They do so with the weapons provided to them. The combat soldier NEVER lost a battle in Viet Nam; we sure got our a– handed to us on several occasions, but never and I say again never surrendered a single time, not one. Individuals we captured, positions overrun, camps overrun, but surrender of a force did not happen. Did we lose a lot of people, yes about 1/8 or 1/10 of what the other guys lost. Did our tremendous logistics win the war NO, did our overwhelming air power of every type win the war? No. A close friend and I we sharing a very small tree in 1966, war Zone D and doing our best to out shoot and out dodge a double handful of very nasty tempered little guys. I had dropped three with my trust WW II M3 grease gun at very close range .. they had one AK47 and two Mosin-Negants; I so I WON little battle. I was carrying the M3 because my friend and I were with the 47th ARVN Ranger Battalion .. 5.56 ammo would have been very scarce. Ian I would not recommend you go against an M1 at equal range, with a Mauser or Arisaka. They are both as you know fine rifles but the battle field advantage is to the M1 all other things, experience training etc being equil. The soldier and his weapon face off in a hunt be hunted scenario, clear, secure and hold as long as ordered ground which may be an entire country or more. So when you ask .. has, did, do small arms win or lose wars, change the outcome? they certainly can effect it because if soldiers are “out gunned” or out “tacticed” (my word) he dies. When a LOT of soldiers die on the and ground is lost, and Governments/politicians start considering how to change the Strategy, which changes how at the Operational levels and lower SOLDIERS levels tactic are changed and carried out. Wars and Battle were fought won and lost before Artillery, long before Air Support .. a soldier with a spear, pike, sword went forward and faced his enemy. Then came the catapult, and cannon and logistics trains, and airplanes etc. Of all the supporting elements logistics or lack of; can be the most telling on the outcome of battles and therefore a war. Soldiers without logistics support at all levels will eventually become unable to continue the fight. The German Government surrendered, the Japanese Government surrendered, the American Government just decided to quit! We soldiers in all these confrontation did not lose the wars. So Ian yes, small arms can make a difference by giving the guy who must beat the other guy on the ground at the game of hunt and be hunted, which allows the strategy to be successful which effects governments decisions. Having the “right” rifle; automatic, semi, bolt action, can give a battle field advantage over the other guy. Remember the Saying “We have the Maxim and they have not”. Air, Artillery and a working Logistics system provides the support .. as in Afghanistan in many cases our soldiers get engages without any air, arty or logistics. Ask yourself; are we going to defeat the enemy there, make him surrender; or just pull out .. quit. The guys from 10th Mountain, 101st Air ASLT, 25th Inf, SOF elements are not making that decision, they are continuing to fight with the small arms we have provided and YES it makes a difference.

    • Again Thomas, this is close to my conception of rough work. As I see you were not fond of ‘mouse-gun’ either and it does not surprise me. Did you have any choice as to what you wanted to fight with? I read that some GIs even rather picked captured AK than M16.

      • He stated that he did not have an M-16 because, serving with an ARVN unit, the appropriate ammunition would be nonexistent or in short supply. Special operations units often had an AK or two in the unit in the field as the sound of an AK being fired at the NVA/VC might buy them a couple valuable seconds to gain an advantage. After the bugs were worked out (read: original specifications adhered to and cleaning kits issued, as they were supposed to be), the M-16 proved to be a competent weapon. In fact, almost unanimously, MACV-SOG members chose the CAR-15/XM-177 as their preferred weapon. Bureaucratic inertia accounted for, there is a reason the M-16 and its 5.56 cartridge are still with us 40+ years later. It works well, and- getting back to the original point- small arms are only a small, small part of a much larger, much more complex and convoluted puzzle.

        Most battles are won or lost far before any troops set foot on the field.

        • Yes Steve, I had been following M16 story thru years quite thoroughly and can say I concur with what you say, at least to some degree. M16/M4/M955 combo has known weaknesses however which hold it away from top marks. The ‘durability’ with U.S.forces is not necessarily indicative of its qualities, rather inability of procurement to obtain better. I am sure industry is capable enough.

          My ‘quickie’ to Thomas was intended to extract from him, as a knowledgeable and experienced serviceman, his take. I think he did that further down in discussion.

          • Hello there.. morning… sure looks like we’ve beat this horse a good bit. If interested I have several actual copies of field reports 1962 to 1973 on both the “do all end all never fail” rifle known as the M14 and the “useless M16 never function never could kill rifle” Neither description comes even CLOSE to the facts. Reports are both technical and field interviews by various investigating teams of soldiers and marines armed with these weapons in various type units. Of course some may read them and say “well these guys were not talking to the “right” people or “they filtered out all the stuff that didn’t meet policy”. Cripes .. there are still people “discussing” whether SGT York used a Springfield or a Model 1917, or the Arisaka Rifle was a good battle field rifle and was the 45-70 Springfield Carbine the reason for Custer’s annihilation. As I read Ian’s original question “how has small arms changed warfare” Why don’t we just take a simple YES or NO vote .. nothing more just YES or NO without any philosophical addition.

  15. In WW2 how the US setup infantry squads didn’t work. The scouts and the sargent moved away from the rest. Then in their isolated position had the rest of the squad attack & then as confusion set in the squad stopped. Next the artillery had to be called in.

    Bolt action were obsolete before WW1, but nobody in power knew it. The march of time didn’t change that.

    • Agreed. I’d like to get rifles which can shoot through brick walls and obtain lethal head-shots more easily!

      Train the guys not to do spray and pray, and perhaps they should use the machine guns as the primary offensive weapons. I’d love to see the look on a jihadist’s face when he tries to suicide bomb a whole line of MG-42’s supported by crews with Sturmgewehrs, and the line watched by Kar98k snipers with suppressors attached. Or even better, the M1919, M1918 BAR, and lots of Garands, and for sniping try the Arisaka rifles, particularly the Type 97 sniper (hard to spot with very little muzzle flash from the reduced charge ‘genzo’ round, and very accurate due to the soft recoil). With open field in front, the WWII equipment wins in terms of effective lethal range compared to most terrorist equipment.

  16. Denny .. I may have given you the wrong impression.. I at times carried a M2 Carbine or M3 Sub Gun, or once a M1A Thompson. That was purely and solely due to the units I was with had those weapons and no 5.56’s. I prefer the CAR 15 (AKA XM 177E2) for heavy jungle. The 7.62 (Any .30 Cal)for long shooting. As for being a “mouse gun” or “Toy” I would strongly advise you not to get in front of one and think your safe. The M16 and all the derivatives are only as good as the man using them, that also goes for all infantry weapons. Records show that in hundreds of engagements with the NVA and VC with AK47’s they fired THOUSANDS of rounds and never hit a man .. so did our troops. Iraqi troops, in cities and villages(towns) would jump up and empty a magazine at 50 yds and not hit a single person. Large bore heavy bullet=long range lethality. Small bore light bullet=equals massive wound. It is in the ammunition matching to the barrel length and twist ration that makes the difference. And above all SHOT PLACEMENT. A 7.62 bullet that misses is not as effective as a 5.56 that hits.

    • I hear what you are saying Thomas. Perception of ‘mouse-gun’ comes from early GIs experience, more than opposition (and as we all know .223 Rem was intended to aid farmers against rodents) – thus the name. If small bore was wholly ineffective, the Soviets would not bother implementing it.

      I personally feel that choice of 5.56/5.45 was erroneous; perhaps you may want to read the report I posted. I believe the .30 and around is the best right ‘after slice of bread’ and in fact the new AAC’s .300 (BLK) seem to prove the point. If I venture to go little further, I’d think that sort of mission specific/ multiple projectile round would be best for a specific application. We could go on for considerable length to speculate.

      • Hi Denny,

        My reading of the 5.56 x 45 story shows it in an even poorer light.

        “Mike” Walker’s original .222 is a beautiful little round, loaded to a max pressure of around 40K PSI, and optimised for a 55 grain bullet, ideal for dropping foxes and coyotes.

        In the hands of the military bureautwats, the only way to achieve the helmet penetration at the called for range, and still fit within their arbitrary size and weight constraints, was to hike the max pressure up by over 50% to 65K PSI.

        The big name European sporting gun makers, such as Holland& Holland, Rigby etc, loaded their “Magnums” to around 40K PSI max, to ensure easy case extraction from dirty guns under hot conditions, when ambient heat has raised pressures higher, hence the original loadings of .300 H&H mag gave approximately .30 -06 performance, and even the huge .416 Rigby looks tame.

        Certainly some US makers loaded commercial rounds to 65K PSI, for example the .270 Win, which just as the .222 has a reputation for excellent accuracy, the .270 has a reputation for being difficult to get to group tightly…

        Because of the bureaucratic constraints, the 5.56 places needless stress on extractors, and needless heating and erosion of barrels in automatic fire.

        Interestingly the current 70 grain loading of the 5.56 has near enough identical ballistic coefficeint to the 155 grain bullets most often used in 7.62 X 51, and because of the higher ratio of powder charge to bullet weight, the 5.56 bullet starts out faster, and remains faster, and therefore flatter at all ranges to beyond 1,000m but of course carries less energy and does less damage than a .30 cal bullet at virtually all ranges.

        The .280 British was a massive missed opportunity. for the same general bullet design, a 139 grain 7mm bullet has roughly the same ballistic coefficeint as a 180 grain 7.62mm bullet, and less recoil than the standard 150 grain bullet. It’s a while since I checked the tables, but beyond about 250m the 7mm has dropped less and is carrying more energy than a 150 grain 7.62mm bullet.

        • Thank for your note Keith!

          This what I said is not intended as bashing named calibre, however as you say, there are some pretty logically based reservations against it. I believe (in addition to what was already stated) that planners literally ‘boxed themselves’ by adopting this particular shot. I also, as you do, see more practical usability for round with ‘less revs and bigger torque’ and not the other way.

          Even taking a cursory look at Russian version of same idea, you will see how they yielded more practicality. In same way it is helpful to look at new (well getting older by year) Chinese 5.8 x 42 round. The mentioned planners know about the problem, but are putting off the solution, potentially endangering defence of not just one country, but whole military block (look at the study I posted earlier – 5.56 was complete flop in Asia).

          I am familiar with British .280 shot history. Lots of related material is in books by T.B.Dugelby among others. One can only hope (providing he has genuine interest in progress) that its direct ancestor, being 6.8 SPC gets finally implemented.

          When speaking of 70grs bullet you speak of the M855A1, I believe. There seem to be rave reviews on range, which have to be verified in field. But even if it is better than previous, it is still missing single desirable quality – to be truly versatile and useable in MGs.

          • Hi Denny,

            The 6.8 SPC is an interesting project, following along the path of “What is old shall be made new again”

            The early 20th century .30 Remmington parent case (a rimless version of the .30 -30 winchester, america’s oldest smokeless round) is pretty close to the dimensions of the even older Mannlicher cases, so within a few fractions of a milimetre here and there, we’re seeing pretty much the concept of a light bullet load 6.5mm Manlicher Schoneaur round, Carcano round, or come to that a rimless 6mm Lee Navy.

            Fyoderov was in the same place before WWi, admittedly his avtomat was not as good a rifle as the AR, and the semi rimmed 6.5mm Japanese round was not as good a choice as a fully rimless round.

      • The dimensions of the Mannlicher (and 7.62 x 39) case head might offer a far better optimum that the .222 case head, in terms of bulk of ammunition and of obtaining the desired ballistics at more reasonable pressures and temperatures.

        the effects of increasing bore size are also quite dramatic, and are very well illustrated in the commercial derivatives of the .30-06.

        A .270 Win will give higher velocity with the same ballistic coefficeint bullets (so flatter trajectory at all ranges) than the barrel devouring.25-06

        a .280 Rem (and the almost identical European 7×64)will give the same trajectory and energy performance as a .270 Win with chamber pressures of 40k PSI instead of 65K PSI, with no greater recoil, and due to lower bolt and action deflection, with better grouping potential.

        • Keith,

          Your statements regarding the .270 Winchester compared to the 7×64 aka .280 Remington are misleading. Having had experience with all the above going back decades I can attest to the fact that in the field there is no discernable difference in performance. Regarding grouping capability, I have never come across a well set up .270 that will not group. I prefer the .270 as availability of components is greater than the the 7 x 64 let alone the .280 Remington. The only dilema with the .270 is that the availability of projectile types is not as broad as in the 7 mm (.280) calibre.

          • Hi Mikee
            we’re singing from the same sheet

            the external ballistics of .270Win and .280Rem are indistinguishable. The internal ballistics are very different, with .270 loaded to a max pressure of 65K PSI and .280 achieving the same results with a max pressure of 40K PSI.

  17. Ian,
    Very interesting subject, and as usual the awesome readership of Forgotten Weapons is bringing a high quality commentary. Best blog on the web IMO!
    Perhaps the M1 did not change warfare. Really though wasn’t it just a response to a change that had already occurred? Couldn’t the Stg44, the Mg42, and in reality both the Ak47 and the Ar-15 also be seen as varying responses to this change? It’s my extremely humble history geek opinion that this change was originally brought about by: The invention of smokeless gunpowder. Once that was introduced full automatic weapons were possible (as well as far more effective artillery but this is a small arms conversation).

    • I believe that the full scale issue of a true infantry semi automatic shoulder rifle did not “revolutionize” warfare, it was an advancement in the rifleman’s capability to acquire and rapidly utilize fire superiority over enemy forces equipped with bolt action rifles’ to a degree previously not available to all infantrymen. This brought about changes in squad and platoon level tactics. The same can be applied to the introduction of machineguns, light machineguns automatic rifles etc. It is hard at times to really determine if technical developments drove / drives tactic changes or does / has at times, a desired changes to tactics driven a technological development program to accomplish a desired tactic. It is sometimes a case of “I have a Weapon then, you develop a counter weapon, then I develop counter weapon to your counter weapon”

  18. Well I think I’d have to agree with Ian’s assessment.

    Two great books covering the entire war, both titled “World War II” if I’m not mistake, were written John Keegan and Anthony Beevor. They are two of my favorite military historians and looking back at the war with years of research to reflect on the matter, they both basically concluded that the war was won mainly by two things, Russian blood and American industry.

    There are many smaller pieces of the war that gained a lot of attention, during and after the war. And these parts are certainly of great interest, whether it was the technological arms races, intelligence and espionage, partisan and resistance movements, commando raids, etc.

    In the end, however, Keegan and Beevor both reached the conclusion that in a global war of such an unimaginable scale, it was America’s ability to mobilize industry(at the end of the war they were roughly half the worlds GDP), and those millions of poor Russian soldiers who bled the German army dry.

    Thus I have to agree with Ian that in the case of WWII, I doubt M1 or M1903 would have made much difference.

    In smaller and unique conflicts however small arms may make a bigger difference, but only to a certain degree. To take Ian’s modern soldiers/old weapons idea further, I would venture that if you armed modern special forces with WWI era small arms, they would still be the scariest and deadliest fellows on the battlefield.

    • I can absolutely, positively, assure you 1st .. SOF forces can at any time have any weapon they feel will best help them accomplish their varied mission statement. 2nd many SOF teams and individuals have in fact found it necessary to equip themselves with WW II weapons, and not out of preference. SOF det’s are trained to use to the maximum whatever weapon they may have. 3rd deadliest yes, scariest .. welllllll if you lived for 6 or 8 weeks without washing, changing cloths, and eating the ugliest things imaginable I think you too would become pretty scary. A good shooter can get the most out of a bad weapon. A good weapon will not make a bad shooter a good shooter.

  19. I’m no soldier and have rarely fired guns, but I read history (and love the blog!) I have two thoughts: Patton may or may not have thought the Garand was winning the war, but a General is a public figure, and whatever he thought there was a compelling moral/ propaganda reason for telling his GIs and the home front they were carrying the best gun ever. Second, he was dead on about the Jeep and Liberty ships- US forces in WW2 were the best-supplied and most mechanized the world had ever seen by a wide margin. It’s easy to forget that the Germans were far from fully motorized. We had more fuel, bombs, planes, radars, radios, artillery, trucks… everything. I’ll never discount the bravery and work of the GIs but little would have changed if they’d had bolt actions. That said, if I was there I’m sure I’d be happy to have a Garand and probably take some comfort from Patton’s words, as they were intended.

    • You point is well meant, but disputable, Oliver. I wish you to see pictures (not Hollywood production) from just before war (WWII) started. America had, part of Jeep Willis nothing even close to what Wehrmacht had. I recall what my father told me seeing arrival of German occupying force – it was all mechanized, often in armoured transporters or light and medium tanks. Situation has changed dramatically during the conflict as Germany’s resources were gradually depleted.

      • The Wehrmacht was latgely horsedrawn. It was never entirely mechanized. They didn’t parade the horsedrawn wagons, artillery, and even field kitchens when they were trying to intimidate captive nations — tracked vehicles are better at that!

        The Western Allies did not use any significant amount of draft horses in WWII. Not just the US but the Brits and Free French were all motorized and mechanized (difference between the two terms in US Army, mechanized puts infantry and ideally arty prime movers under armor). I believe Ivan used the terms similarly, motorized rifle divisions were truck borne until in the immediate combat area, non motrorized divisions had to get transport not organic to the division. I think the Russians used many fewer horses in 1945 than in 1941.

  20. <—Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran, 07-08, 09-10, SSG, US Army, Infantry Squad Leader
    It all depends on a myriad of factors. What is the mission? Who are they fighting? What is the terrain like? How will the enemy be armed in comparison?

    All things being equal, the key to fire and maneuver is the ability to suppress the enemy, to fix him in place, allowing you to maneuver on their positions to kill up close with small arms and grenades. Part of the suppressing issue is to fire at any known, likely or suspected enemy positions, such as logs, open doors, windows, etc., where-ever an unseen enemy can be hiding. To do this effectively, a weapon with a high rate of fire is more efficient. Ex. A MG42 is more effective at suppressing a position that a BAR would be, with all other considerations being the same as far as the shooter, support, position, etc, due to being belt fed, tripod equipped, with a higher rate of fire and quick barrel change option.

    When it comes to small arms, having a rifle like an M1 Garand, which held 8 rounds, was obviously a step up over a bolt action rifle like a 1903A3. A soldier is more likely to actively engage the enemy if he believes he can hit his opponent. If a quick second shot is possible in a semi-auto, versus having to throw a bolt on a five round magazine, its my opinion that the weapon will be used more, and thus used more efficiently.

    Another factor to consider is weight. All the above weapon systems that were issued to WWII Soldiers and Marines weighed on the average much more than their modern offshoots. From my understanding, a basic combat load for a rifleman in WWII was ten 8-round clips for his M1, whereas a modern combat load is seven 30 round magazines for a rifleman. Additionally, adding other modern positions within a rifle squad, such as grenadier and designated rifleman, only increases the modern rifle platoon. Modern weapons are far from light and usually exceed the weight of WWII equipment, but that is with the attachment of additional sighting equipment, such as ACOG scopes, infrared laser aiming devices, weapon mounted flashlights, all of which increase the effectiveness of the modern soldier, especially during missions in other than daylight settings.

    I've shot 3 gun matches using my M1 Garand for the same reason you want to shoot the 2 gun match. I had a blast, and was easily able to engage steel targets with a hasty sling out to 500 yards. However, the people using more modern AR15s with modern optics kicked my butt and not because of their better understanding of marksmanship. They were firing lighter, more ergonomic, low recoil rifles, with scopes, with magazine capacities at 30 rounds or more.

    Lets face it, if you had to chose a weapon to be armed with, knowing you were going to go into combat against an unknown number of enemy for a long period of time, what would you prefer to carry? An 1903A3? An M1 Garand? Or a modern M4?

    • You got SSG! Very well said. Few people can imagine just how complex “fire and maneuver” really is. A, SqdLdr as you I’m sure know, is avery busy busy guy! The “place suppressive fire” means having a weapon “readily” available at the tactical maneuver level, that can indeed suppress. The good lord above knows the varying ideas and opinions as to what is a viable “suppressive” fire weapon, M240 or 249? hahaha Where do in we insert the Mk19’s, what is the 203 in all this? And we haven’t even addressed the importance of communication in this “fire and maneuver” action to place the effective fire on the enemy. Best rifle in the world is useless unless it is pointed in the right direction.

  21. @ Thomas/Oct.18,2013/7:38 a.m.
    @ Thomas/Oct.18,2013/10:01 a.m.
    @ Keith/Oct.18,2013/7:38 a.m.
    @ Bryan/Oct.18,2013/12;30 p.m.
    @ Denny/Oct.18,2013/12:51 p.m.

    Gentlemen, I think that most of your points and arguments/counter-arguments are generally true and valid, as are some of the many others in this post.

    Forgive me if I am interpreting Ian’s first paragraph incorrectly, but I get the distinct impression that the course instructor’s request to include some information on how changes in small arms have changed warfare might just encompass a much broader and more historically sweeping spectrum, eg., how the incorporation of Gatling and Maxim MG’s during the many British Colonial campaigns of the 1800’s irreversibly and irrevocably changed the way infantry wars were fought ; how the heavy early German investment in their version of the Maxim gun ( MG08 ) and the tactical usage thereof contributed enormously to the stalemate and carnage of the First World War ; how extensive Russian use of Maxims resulted in stunning Japanese defeats during the Russo-Japanese Wars at the turn of the 20th Century ; and how the sheer proliferation of the AK-47 and its intrinsic qualities have had an unprecedented geo-political impact, in concert with economic, socio-political and other human factors, the enormity of which we are only now beginning to understand.

    I am sure that most of us have read C.J. Chivers’ seminal book, “The Gun”, which concisely and clearly illustrates this phenomenon. Although I don’t necessarily agree with every single thing Chivers says, I do think most of what he has written is well-researched and quite factual, certainly enough to give the reader a proper sense of the scale of influence of certain firearms on the course of warfare.

    There are doubtless many other seminal events in the course of firearms history that can be regarded as being of equal significance on a similar scale.

  22. As others have pointed out, the War in the Pacific might be a better case to look at than the War in Europe. And the German light machine gun, would have been more of a menace, one suspects, if GI’s had gone out with ’03’s instead.

    Having the perceived best gun would have boosted morale. Sort of like having a pistol, is a pistol worth the extra weight? Technically, probably not. But what soldier in a war zone would not take one? It makes them more confident, and to a degree that is worth something.

    Regarding war material, there are two advantages: having the next big thing first (tanks, machine guns, sub machine guns, stabilized tank turrets, proximety fuses, heavy long range bombers, radar, night vision, reliable radios in tanks and airplanes, guided missiles, etc) or being able to make arms that are reasonably on par with the enemy a lot faster than the enemy can. It is doubtful if, given the secondary use of small arms combated to artillery, rockets, gunships, etc., if any advancement at this point in small arms would be a big thing. Heaven help us all if another war comes down to who can make the most arms for a war of attrition, but many would argue that is what the US brought to the table in WWII.

    In WWII the US had 3 times the labor hour efficiency of Germany and 9 times that of Japan and more factories than both put together. It does not really matter if an M1 is better than a K98 or an Arisaka if, in a war of attrition, for every K98 you have 3 M1’s and for every Arisaka you have 9 M1’s, you win baring horrible leadership on the battle field.

    I love my M1 and it was unforgettable to see my Grandfather shoot it, so many years after he had carried one in WWII. But the accomplishment that made all the difference was for companies like Winchester, General Motors, Rockola, International Harvester, etc., to be able to turn on a dime and produce millions of small arms, and tens of thousands of Hellcats, Liberators, etc. It was not just manufacturing might, but access to raw materials: iron ore, bauxite, coke, mica, copper, petroleum, phosphorous, etc. The US had all that, the Axis Powers struggled to secure sources of them.

    It is not just what you make, it is if you can make so many that your troops never lack for them, and the troops of countries that are your allies never lack for them.

    • Jacob, I do believe you have hit the nail squarely on the head insofar as the military logistics and industrial support capacity of a country — any country — are concerned. Many people tend to focus on the immediate performance parameters, capabilities and functional capabilities of a weapon as it relates to overall beattlefield performance ; while they are correct to a large extent, that is still hardly the whole picture. You have fulfilled a good part of that other missing component of the overall picture.

    • Jacob .. I fully agree (course that doesn’t mean much!), I believe the “bottom line in this conversation is in fact the word in your last bottom line sentence “troops”. Producing a million weapons a day wont mean didley if you do not have trained troops hands in which you can place them. And not just small arms .. aircraft, artillery, armor, ships etc. But confining this to Ian’s question. Weapons residing quietly in storage racks do not win battles, and unless you win battles things generally do not turn out as you would like. As I have tried to kinda cut through all the chaff .. yes Ian small arms have had an effect on the win, lose or draw of “war” starting at the “user level”, and the conduct of “war” but so have many other things.

    • I took notice of your last paragraph, Jacob.

      I believe you are the only one who sees things around last big conflict in proper way, that is in connection with industrial potential of one or either side. Without it the war cannot be won or even conceived.

      Now, to what degree we can think of next potential conflict to be “realistic”, unless we somehow checkmate opponent prior to it? Let’s just consider that N/A is NOT out of range of enemy’s aerial bombardment (and this does not mean just classical bombs, or even smart bombs and missiles for that matter). If anything like that (God forbid) was to happen, we would find out pretty quick under what circumstances operated war-time Germany. And this is one of consideration which hopefully precludes any such event from happening again.

  23. Just a short observation: I find it fascinating that even though weapons ranging from the M-16 to the longbow have been mentioned, reliability barely has. Also, two things to bear in mind: while the experience of special and counter-insurgency operations is certainly more combat experience than I have, which is none, comparing them to WWII battle is not necessarily as straightforward. That leads on to the other point, which is that in comparing weapons systems over time the change in the nature of the battlefield needs to be taken into account. The question of taking a contemporary US platoon and arming them with WWII weapons is perhaps best answered by asking what kind of battlefields their respective weapons were designed for. Small arms development has been a field of strongly diminishing potential for a long time, and changes in military weapons are more a question of what they’re being optimized for rather than great leaps forward in technology.

    • You have very good point; you see issues or war/conflict away from matter of basic hand-held equipment and you are right. Well, for one thing, let’s assume this discussion is merely hypothetically based, with focus on narrowly defined subject. I myself sometimes forget that and get carried away into greater scope.

      But having said that, the challenging question posted by Ian is valid and worth od consideration. Frankly, there is no convincing argument in either way.

  24. Studies done by the allies during WW2 showed that in combat only around 10% of men actually aimed their rifles while firing this percentage rose to around 20% in elite units such as para’s, rangers, commandos etc (intrestingly the same studies showed that an similar percentage of men in combat didn’t actually shoot their weapons at all) Both the Germans and Japanese would routinely blame any defeats not on small arms fire but on artillery and airpower.
    I suppose one line of thought is that in wars in the 20th and 21st centuries small arms are not the main killers, but are used more as a deterant or as a means to pin an enemy in place to allow the real killers get about their work, the real killers being artillery (or airpower since WW2)
    For example In the American civil war artillery accounted for around 10% of all battlefield casualties the rest was almost entirely caused by small arms. just over 50 years later and dispite there being huge advances in small arms that figure that almost reversed, in WW1 80% of all battlefield casualties were caused by artillery.(despite the popular idea of machine guns mowing down rank after rank)
    Even in the modern age with all its advanced small arms, fantastic training, all volunteer forces, etc, etc in Afghanistan and Iraq the first thing a unit does when in contact is to call in heavier firepower.(on this I am split between wondering if this process is a tact admission from the military doctrine thinkers that small arms are little more than bit players on a battlefield or if it is a reluctance on democracys to allow small arms to bear the load of winning a fight alone, with a corresponding increase in risk and casualties this would possibly entail, hence the reliance on heavy weapons as a safer alternative)
    So in summary I don’t think what small arms a unit is issued with makes much difference, as what ever they have will be used for the same purpose – which is to hold the enemy in place to allow other weapons to do their thing.
    Of course if your question had been ‘would issuing a few civil war regiments M1’s had made much of a difference? I would have given a different answer.

  25. I absolutely disagree with this assumption, though I can see why one might draw that conclusion. I personally was told by a commander .. so and so I am not send troops in as long as I have air! Many and justifiably, commanders will not risk troops when a Mk82 will do the job. Nothing to do with could the grunts do the job, just good husbanding of resources.. Mk82′ can be made by thousands as can 105mm or 120mm mortar .. a good PFC or Sp4 is a lot harder to replace. In a fire fight “sharing the load” is not on a commanders mind. Which would you rather be a part of an infantryman clearing a town house by house one street at a time or have an AC130 stand by to squirt on command any resistance. I carried a bayonet for a long time, but I sure as h_ _ _ had no intention on directing we “fix bayonets” and charge when we had two Mummers with TOW’s setting 100yd away. The first thing a commander thinks of when coming into contact is “how can I kill all these bastards at the least cost”. When it is necessary to risk troop you do .. when it isn’t necessary only a fool does.

  26. I’ve read all the posts, and it seems that everyone has missed a very important point about the question of relative combat effectiveness of U.S. vs. German (or anybody else’s) infantry sections.

    Ian Hogg and John Weeks explained it best. (Hogg was an artilleryman, Weeks was an infantryman, so they had all the bases covered.) They stated that the U.S. and German forces both believed in massed infantry firepower (called the “section [or squad} base of fire”) but arrived at it in fundamentally different ways.

    The Germans believed that the squad was there to support the machine gun. That being the belt-fed, bipod or tripod-mounted GPMG (remember, they invented the idea), the MG-34 or MG-42. The squad’s rifles (and noncom’s SMGs) were there to provide flank cover for the GPMG and cover its being moved up in the advance. The GPMG did the heavy lifting in the squad’s primary job; killing the enemy. That was why it was belt-fed, and you see photos of Wehrmacht infantry hung with ammo belts and humping ammo belt cans; they were there to protect and feed that gun.

    The U.S. had a different approach, mainly because our SAW, the BAR, was magazine-fed and thus couldn’t generate the sheer volume of fire the German GPMGs could. The M1 Garand, being semi-auto and having an eight-round clip (no, it’s not a “magazine”, it’s the thing that goes in the magazine), provided the squad base of fire via massed aimed or suppressive fire from the “squaddies”. The BAR was used mainly to kill the enemy GPMG’s crew once they were localized. Our one attempt to build a SAW that matched the German ones, the M1919A6, was, to put it charitably, a failure, being way too heavy and (like the BAR) lacking the important feature of a quick-change barrel, which an air-cooled GPMG badly needs. (Only the FN M30 version of the BAR had a proper quick-change barrel.)

    (Fun fact; the first MG with such a barrel was the hand-cranked American Ager of the Civil War era. The Germans invented the GPMG, but we Yanks invented the most important gadget in its bag of tricks.)

    Other armies had the worst of both worlds; bolt-action rifles and BAR-type SAWs with box magazines. The Italians had it worst, in that their LMGs had incredibly badly-designed feed systems that were even kludgier than some the Japanese had- they were second in the race to the bottom there. The British weren’t quite as bad off, as the Bren had a 30-round magazine (worked better with 28) that could be changed while prone, and a quick-change barrel like the German GPMG’s. Plus the 10-round capacity of the SMLE, which could be fired a bit faster that most other bolt-actions. Add in a few Stens and the Vickers in support, and the British section wasn’t too badly served.

    So, U.S. troops with bolt-actions plus BARs would have their work cut out for them vs. their German opposite numbers, as they would lack the major source of their squad base of fire; the rapid, heavy firepower of the Garands. Fortunately, the only times this happened during the war, they weren’t up against German troops at all in one case, and primarily in the other.

    Because the places that our troops went in with bolt-actions were both in 1942. At Guadalcanal, versus the Japanese, and in Operation Torch, against (initially) Vichy French and Italian forces.

    In the latter case, the bill came due at Kasserine Pass.

    BTW, while at age 55 I am way too young to have been there, I had relatives in all theaters of the war. And grew up listening to them explain why all those WW2 TV series in the Sixties got most everything wrong. 😉



  27. “It seems to me that while the difference between a bolt action and a selfloader would be fairly significant to the individual soldier, it wouldn’t make much difference on a larger scale. ”

    Having read these kind of discussions before, and I always think there is a critical point that is overlooked and leads to the kind of statements like I quoted. Basically, people like to divorce the performance of the individual from the overall success of the larger strategic unit. However, in reality it is the combined sum of efforts of individual soldiers that lead to the overall success of the larger organization. Perhaps I can explain this best through an simplified hypothetical problem:

    Let us create a hypothetical unit of 1000 rifleman. In our first scenario this unit is equipped with bolt action rifles. In any given engagement a soldier equipped with a bolt action rifle has a 5% chance of becoming KIA or a casualty. Thus, from any given battle we can expect 5% losses from our unit, in other words a 95% survival rate. Now we will have the unit engage in a five battle campaign. After the first battle we will lose 50 soldiers, leaving 950 for the next battle. From the second battle we lose another 5%, which is 48.5 soldiers, leaving us with 902.5 combat ready men, which we will round down to 902 (I think a man would have a hard time fighting with half of himself in the field and another half in the morgue). As we continue, in the third battle we lose 45.1 men leaving 857 (rounded up, Mr. 0.9 got better) to fight in the fourth battle where they suffered 42.85 casualties (which we will round to 43). Our unit entered the final battle with 814 men, of which 40.7 (rounded to 41) were lost, leaving our unit at the end of the campaign with 773 men.

    Now we will run the same scenario with the same unit of 1000 rifleman. However, let us equip this unit with auto-loading rifles, which for the purposes of this simulation will increase the survivability of an individual soldier in any given battle from 95% to 97%, this 2% increase being the result of the superior suppressive fire and follow-up shot capabilities of the auto-loading action. Let us now undertake the same five battle campaign: after the first battle, the unit loses 30 soldiers leaving 970 combat ready men. In the second battle our auto-loader unit loses 29.1 men, and for the sake of argument I will round down our survivors to 940. After the third engagement this unit is left with 911 men (28.2 casualties rounded up), who suffer 27.33 casualties leaving 883 soldiers (rounded down) for the final engagement. In our final battle 26.49 soldiers are killed, leaving 856 combat ready men equipped with auto-loading rifles.

    So, to compare, our bolt action unit was left with 773 combat ready men at the end of the campaign, while our very slightly more survivable auto-loader unit had 856 soldiers. That is a difference of 83 men, or to use percentages the auto-loading unit was at 110% of the strength of the bolt action unit. Thus, even though upgrading to auto-loading rifles only increased survivability of an individual by a measly 2% in any engagement, this small advantage applied across the entire unit and multiple battles created a strategically significant advantage for the upgraded unit. Note that the further you run this simulation, the bigger the disparity between the two units becomes.

    This is why I think that the dismissal of the importance of the advantages of technology to the individual as “irrelevant to larger strategic outcomes” is a load of crap. In the numbers game of strategic operations these minor improvements to individual survivability or combat effectiveness are multiplied by numbers and time, and can lead to significant differences in outcomes in a conflict.

  28. First thing to come to mind was: Logistics and small arms technology are related. The biggest disadvantage troops armed with Garands would have versus ones armed with M4s would be the greater logistical requirements of the former (the ammunition being somewhere around twice as heavy). This can make a big difference if you’re talking a DHC-5 air dropping 100,000 rounds on two pallets instead of 50,000 rounds. To a great extent, then, it’s logistics that drives small arms technology.

    • True, but you can also with degree of success argue that with M1 you can reach out to 800m while with M4 just 400 (if lucky), therefor the final outcome is about same. Of course and I understand we ignore other factors such as use of terrain, tactics, defence-assault relation, numbers of participants, air support and so forth. It gets quickly very complex, indeed.

    • Nathaniel, if you’re going to compare logistical loads, then you have to allow for disparities in consumption rates. Those 100,000 rounds of 5.56 are going to be expended much more rapidly than the equivalent weight of 7.62 or .30-06 — even if the troops were equally trigger happy, they’re still going to take more time to fire the bigger rounds.

  29. Do small arms make a difference?

    Ask that question of the first American troops who had the misfortune to encounter the AK-series weapons in Vietnam. They’ll be more than happy to describe the disadvantage they found themselves at, trying to overcome the volume of fire disadvantage they discovered while trying to establish dominance in most of their firefights in the close terrain they often fought in.

    I met a Marine who had been in Vietnam for two successive tours–The first one where he carried the M14, and his second, where he carried the M16. His opinion was that he’d been drastically underarmed on the first one, and just barely matched on the second. I remember this guy mostly because he didn’t parrot the usual negative opinion you hear from many about the M16. He honestly felt that the only real issue with the M16 was the 20-round magazine.

    Weapons capabilities and characteristics both drive and inform the tactics. If you don’t have weapons that can support your tactics, you’re screwed. This is why WWI became such a charnel house; without portable mass-of-fire weapons like the Chauchat, French assault tactics were doomed going up against German Maxims. Examples can be found throughout the history of modern warfare. Disagree? Ask the Chinese who were forced to deal with UN troops what they thought about going up against the M1-based tactical system of the US, armed with the mish-mash of weapons they had. I’m sure their opinions would be most illuminating, if most of them weren’t dead. Same-same with the hordes of Soviet troops who received the same sort of education from the MG42-based Germans they fought.

    • In fact, Soviet have full unit with PSSH41/PPS42/PPS43 (200m tactical accurancy) cover by DRM with Scoping Rifle (SVT & Mosin Nagant) and Machine Gun Maxime (PM M1910)Or SG-43 Goryunov on a wheeled/Ski mount.
      In 42/43 Soviets soldiers have betters equipements than the german in term of weapons, clothes & shoes ….

  30. Another armchair historian with a thought: Fear, Courage, Shock Effects, and Combat Balance?

    Reading history, especially of WWI, it seems that in addition to the horrible death rates, the psychology of it all was huge. Artillery killed many. And scared how many more out of their wits or into insanity? Machine guns certainly must have frightened opposing infantry.

    How do you keep large numbers of men committed to the cause against such weapons? Partly by support from your own of course…

    What does this mean for small arms? Are a squad of people with night scopes on select fire weapons really not much more intimidating than a similar sized group with M1s? Let alone springfields? Which group would be more likely to change your tactics for night travel?

    Which weapon would you rather fight your way out of an ambush with? How willing will you be to enter a dangerous village armed only with a very long relatively slow albeit lethal rifle?

    What about the weapon/armor differential? In WWI and WWII, so far as I know, no person had body armor of any use whatsoever against the battlefield rifles in use. US troops today wear armor and helmets that are reportedly quite effective against many weapons. While carrying weapons said to be utterly lethal at least against the unarmored. If the Taliban (say) carried 300 winmags that could penetrate US body armor, would the war be different? If the Taliban used body armor and helmets that stopped the M4/M16/SAW rounds would the war be different? Think not just of those killed/wounded by small arms, but by how tactics and posture and results change based on “we have a rifle that will defeat your armor” versus “we have armor that means you have to hit us in the neck to kill us.”

    So small arms would have to be considered in balance with the opponents, and in the context of the emotions and courage and faith of the solider.

    • In a guerrilla war, body armour is a dubious benefit, particularly somewhere hot, and inaccessible to vehicles.

      The guerrillas will annoy the hell out of you until some fool decides to give chase.

      From that point onwards, body armour is hot, heavy, it chafes and it restricts movement.

      If things get up close and personal, a gun is of very limited use, trench clubs, entrenching shovels and daggers, the tools of choice amongst trench raiders in WWi, become far more effective.

      all of the moves in Judo and Juijitsu which look unrealistic, with grabs to lapels, suddenly make sense, they were developed to use the breastplate in a suit of armour as a place to get hold of for a throw.

      The articulation points in body armour (the human body hasn’t changed since fuedal times so they’re the same today as suits of armour from hundreds of years ago) provide no protection against joint locks and breaks, and a helmet provides extra grip and leaverage for neck breaks.

      • Sorry, but this brings me into chuckles…..)))) This picture takes me back in my visual memory, to what I saw in military museums, back in OGE (old&nasty Europe).

        Exactly as you say, in manual for flintlock-gun infantryman (arquebussier): weapon at enemy – 2.use your bayonet – 3.use your spiked helmet – 4.proceed with chokes and breaks. And finally, even when dead, keep on fighting. How glorious and miserable at the same time. That’s what they wanted you to do – be good&brave soldier. We did not change a bit since!

        • During the Falklands war in 1982, most of the supplies were lost when ships were sunk, so battles were fought after long marches, and with bayonets fixed, and the Ghurkas with their Kukris in their hands.

          a step back to times before the crusades – as horses would have been a useful advance in the Falklands.

  31. If I may, I’d like to retreat somewhat from the 20th century discussion and go to the 16th. Defeats at the Battle of Bicocca and the Battle of the Sesia marked the decline of traditional warfare in Europe because of the winning side’s use of small-arms. The Japanese use of matchlocks, for example at Anegawa and Nagashino, towards the end of the Sengoku period also had a dramatic impact of the nature of their wars. Oda Nobunaga’s use of firearms contributed to the history of Japan though it’s unification, leading to the Shogunate and the Edo period.

    For your lecture, Ian, perhaps some mention of this would be appropriate. To summarize, the the introduction of small-arms into warfare dramatically changed the way battles were fought even before the introduction of field artillery.

  32. Over the entire history of warfare, you can see that the universal response to the relentless increase in lethality of individual arms has been greater dispersion of combatants. Combat units are smaller, spread out over areas, and engage opponents from longer ranges. Dispersion minimizes the increase in casualties you would expect from more lethal individual weapons.

    • Very true. And may I add: fight at night and sleep in the day. And take mind-altering drugs to supress fatigue and fear… we are surely on the way to robotized soldier. It is moving that way in vehicle and aircraft technology already.

  33. I think that the kind of small weapons influence the tactics used – the Germans squads on the western front armed with K98’s and belt fed machine guns used very different tactics than German squads on the eastern front armed with MP44’s and the American squads armed with M1’s and BAR used yet another set of tactics.
    The point you missed with your supposition of arming modern American troops with the M191, M1 etc of WWII is the effect on logistics – one of the big reasons the U.S. switched from the 30-06 cartridge to the 5.56×45 was to change the logistics of supplying ammo to the soldier at the front. 30-06 is a much bigger, heavier round that the 5.56, and when you start talking about supplying thousands of soldiers with millions of rounds the logistics required for the 30-06 is much greater. This will have much more of an effect than the actual combat difference between the two sets of weapons.

    • CJM,
      The 5.56×45 was never intended to replace the .30-06. The 7.62×51 was dreamed up by Ordnance to slightly reduce the cubage required for shipping ammunition. The 5.56×45 was developed as a higher-performance replacement for the .30 carbine round.

  34. One last thing to throw out there is in regards to WWI trench warefare and small arms. If the war had dragged on in the trenches, would the Winchester 97 pump shotgun have been a game changer? Assuming the British had not developed tanks, just over the top massed assaults. The Germans claimed foul when the Army issued pump guns. For trench warfare it was the next big thing, had the thing gone on. It wasn’t shoot once or twice then go to the bayonet, it was quick handy and lethal and one could load as they shot. The interesting thing, really, was that was an adaptation of civilian arms–Browning had duck hunters, not dough boys in mind when he designed the 97.

    A submachine gun would have been the next big thing as well, had there been practical ones in sufficient quantity. The Peterson device was a bold but flawed attempt at it (.32 caliber pitiless bullets), and it was WWI that eventually brought about the Thompson SMG.

    • a pump action with 00 buck is highly effective

      assuming you can hit the target, then it gets seven to nine simultaneous hits with .32″ diameter balls of lead.

    • That’s okay, Jacob. I think we all understood the gist of what you were saying. Besides, .32 rounds can be every bit as “pitiless” as other types when put in the right place:).

  35. One aspect of logitics that should not be ignored is at the personal scale. The individual warrior has seen a steady growth in the numberr of rounds he can carry for his personal weapon, the amount of food he can pack and the variety of coomunications and navigation equipment available, all of which ease pressure on the supply and support chain.

    As to the choice of weapons, there is a vast difference between what the average squaddie, grunt or equivalent from any other country likesor wants, what his army brass thinks is best for him, and what is actually the best tool for the job.

    • One very big thing driving SCHV weapons in US service was the war reportage of historian SLA Marshall. He wrote two books “Men against fire” and “The Soldiers’ Load” which have been kept in print, IIRC, by the Marine Corps League (the Marines were always a reading service.. the Army brass reads the sports pages only).

  36. All again …As I read Ian’s original question “how has small arms changed warfare” Why don’t we just take a simple YES or NO vote .. nothing more just YES or NO without any philosophical addition. From each commenter… just a SIMPLE ys or no Vote. This where the “rubber meets the road”

    • Not trying to jump the gun [ no pun intended 🙂 ], but after all is said and done, I would call it “YES”.

      So many knowledgeable fellow contributors on FW have already posted what I would have said in any detail, so I will simply summarize my opinion as this : Small arms and their development have had a significant overall influence on warfare, although they do not constitute the sole significant influence on warfare in themselves. When taken in the context of historical timing and interaction with other battlefield-related factors, they can, and have on occasion proven to be, decisive.

  37. Yeah, small arms have changed warfare.

    My credentials to comment: lifetime student of war, retired Army (SF NCO), combat vet, history undergrad, read a few books and shot a few guns — probably like a lot of you.

    The basic thing that technology does is give one side a fleeting advantage, until its enemy can catch up. And the enemy, of course, is strongly incentivized to catch up. So what happens is all technology advances, sort of, stepwise fashion — all the nations of the world adopt the same tech, pretty much simultaneously. And people have to adapt their war fighting to the technology on hand

    Small arms technology shows certain long-term secular trends, and these include: smaller calibers, higher velocity, longer practical range, higher rates of fire. All these combine to make small arms much more lethal than they were at, say, Lexington Green where the immediate losses were in the low double digits (8 militia and 3 redcoats, IIRC).

    1860-65, first big war with the Minié ball, for the first time rifles can fire as rapidly as muskets. Infantry lethality in the defense is much greater. (A similar revolution happens with artillery. In fact artillery continues a separate longterm trend of increase in firepower, one that, along with increased mobility of infantry, 80 years later, will render fortifications obsolete). Tactics and the operational art have to change to accommodate the new lethality.

    1905, just when infantry officers have worked out tactics for the more lethal battlefield of 1870, they stumble into the battlefield of 1914 which is exponentially more lethal — the rifles are now small calibre (.28-32), high velocity (2600 fps+) repeaters and they’re joined by rifle-calibre machine guns that are water cooled and never take a break, but that have to be killed to stop them dominating the terrain. (There’s a similar revolution in artillery, with recoil mechanisms allowing more rapid fire and unprecedented accuracy over unprecedented distances). The Japanese painfully work out many of the necessary tactics, but they bleed badly doing it. (They win the war because of their Navy).

    1914-18 nobody remembered the lessons all those liaison officer brought back from Port Arthur. MGs and repeating rifles are now joined by hand grenades, the Stokes trench mortar, and sniper rifles (Meanwhile, artillery has gotten even better, and aerial observation from balloons and airplanes helps the gunners dial in). The balance tips so far to the defense, that you have a four year stalemate with millions of casualties over mere meters of mud. The tank, first employed at Cambrai in 1916, is an attempt to regain the offensive in the face of all that lethal small arms fire and arty frags (it’s too technically immature to fulfill its promise yet). In 1918, new small arms (SMGs and light machine guns) enable new tactics on the German side, but it’s too little, too late; the entry of the US with its fresh forces has more than offset the Germans’ strategic victory in suborning the fall of the Russian Empire.

    The US doughboys didn’t have better weapons and tactics than the European armies already in place. Their stuff was about the same quality and tactical capability (they just had a lot less of it, and had to get it from the Allies). They just weren’t exhausted.

    1939-45 saw steady increases in infantry firepower, but rare reemergence of the stalemate. This is because new means had evolved for reducing both field and fixed fortifications, ranging from the man-portable (the Hohlladung used at Eben Emael) to the massive (tanks) to the conceptual (the employment of tanks as reimagined by Liddell-Hart, Guderian, von Manteuffel and Rommel, de Gaulle and Patton between the wars) and the technological (parachute and glider borne vertical envelopment). Every army in WWII was trying to field more automatic weapons in 1945 than 1939. (That includes the USA, which fought its first battles with Springfields in 1941-42). The significant developments of the war in small arms were German — the GPMG concept (which long predates the war, with the MG34) and the assault rifle concept.

    Those German concepts weren’t enough to help the Germans win the war, but they were so obviously superior to the old way of doing things that every major army was on the way to adopting them within a few years of V-E. This illustrates something important about small arms (or any weapon) conceptual development: if you have a technology that gives you a combat advantage, that advantage is fleeting/ Because once you demonstrate the advantage everybody apes what you’re doing, rather than be defeated (or in peacetime, left behind).

    In Afghanistan the US forces have a significant small arms advantage over their enemies and, in fact, over most of their allies, even though the allies’ weapons are all certified to be interoperable with the Yanqui ones. The advantage is in the accessories, particularly optics and night vision. The only allied forces that can truly interoperate with us 24/7 are the first world (and at the start of the war, particularly Anglosphere) SOF.

    Meanwhile, artillery (and air power) have also undergone a technical revolution, to the point where they can be delivered with uncanny precision. PGMs were useless, almost, in the Kosovo war, because they were not guided by eyes on the target on the ground… we blew up a basic shitload of decoys, including ancient tanks and planes dragged out of museums to draw our fire. Likewise, PGMs in the 1998 pinprick raids on Afghanistan and Sudan were not only worthless, but counterproductive. In Afghanistan in 2001-02, we had eyes on the enemy, and the PGMs did not go to waste.

    The next step is smarter weapons as in the things tracking point and MEPRO are working on. (And others who are not all up in the camera lens).

    But better small arms only give an advantage when only one side has them. If both sides get them, they may change the face of warfare. For example, the US military now fights at night, you’d better believe that every potential enemy is thinking about how he is going to fight us at night. And neutrals are forced to make the same technical and tactical adjustments, just because that’s where warfare is going. There’s going to be more fighting at night, period.

    • Kevin & Earl .. Hello Team Guy! Was 1st, 5th, 3rd 46th Co, 7th, SOA, ISA and TIRED! Well synopsized and factual. I think a problem some have today is defining what is a “war”. 1st .. I believe folks have often gotten wound around the axel with “terminology.” Conflict, Limited-Warfare, Insurgency, Guerilla Warfare, Unconventional Warfare, etc, etc. Was the Falkland Islands operation a War or a Conflict .. or just a “Limited Action”? I believe the Brits and Argies would say war. My feelings are that in every case when one man is sent against another man on behalf of his government to that man it is war. 2nd .. as a military historian I think you will agree the type small arms issued to a man on the ground has repeatedly changed how “warfare” has been and will be conducted.

  38. Out side the discussion but our mayor now deseased (laprade charente 16390 France)told me that when the germans arrived here that they had so many horses that they borrowed equipment and cut the hay in the dronne river valley. It had not been cut due to most of the men being called up. The germans left half the cut hay for the population (women/children) to gather up.

  39. Damn, I was off on another project this weekend and missed this discussion until this morning. My two cents worth… I did my 1459 days (not that I was counting) in US submarines during the Cold War, which included some rather warm, if classified, episodes. But on WW2… the European war, after the US got involved, was between Admiral Doenitz and Liberty ships protected by ASW surface ships. Doenitz lost, and the Nazis drowned in a flood of logistics and invasions that the U-boats couldn’t counter. (Also, air superiority bombed most of central Europe into logistic inefficiency, making it difficult to counter seaborne land incursions.)

    In the Pacific, Midway largely eliminated the Japanese seaborne air threat, and the US Navy submarine fleet made it impossible for the Japanese to re-supply occupied islands against Allied invasions.

    In both theaters, infantry weapons and tactics were essentially irrelevant (aside from body counts, of course.) In both cases ultimate victory was a combination of air superiority, sea power and logistics.

  40. It must be remembered that breech loaders are only 150 years old and machineguns are about 120. Reliable ammunition and smokeless powder set the stage for today. In the 1899 Boer War a modern British Army with all the comforts of home were battered by Boer farmers with new European rifles. The Boers could move quickly the British ultimately had to divide up South Africa with overwatching blockhouses and barbd wire. The industrial revolution made huge armies possible. The conditions on the Eastern Front in 1914-1918 were a mincing machine where bravery got men slaughtered.On the Eastern Front in 1914-1915 Russia nearly obliterated Austria-Hungary in a war of movement.
    WW2 was a war of movement and of both excellent artillery by the US and Airpower. The US issue of the M1 Rifle and M1 carbine gave the US soldier great firepower.Soldiers rarely stand in the open and shoot at you. Incoming fire usually comes from unseen enemies.It is necessary to suppress their fire so grenades;mortars;artillery or air strikes can do their work.
    Rifles are standoff weapons at their ideal.They keep you enemy from being able to use grenades or rifle fire on you.You are also able to keep you enemy pinned down so that bigger weapons can be deployed. Submachineguns; PDWs and smoe chopped military rifles are for close range emergency use. If you are not able to engage an enemy at 300 meters you are probably pinned down waiting for his artillery to get you.
    A good rifle must be accurate, reliable and powerful enough to engage an enemy at 300 to 500 meters.He should be supported by a belt fed light machinegun and maybe a mortar or good grenade launcher.Any semi auto rifle from the M1 to the MAS 49/56 to the M14S and L1A1 will do. The US M16 is reliable and very accurate to 300 to 500 meters; as is the FAMAS and the AUG.
    It was US firepower that came from the BAR,M1,M1 carbine Thompson SMG and M3 that decided face to face confrontations in both Europe and the Pacific. From this base which required precision logistics the the US built the greatest War machine the world has ever known. Yes Ian a semi auto battle rifle gave the US a great advantage in WW2. If firearms were more developed in 1914 WW1 would have been different and even far bloodier as the generals learned to use their new weapons power to its best effect.

    • Andrew .. I would agree with about 90% of your comment .. however I respectfully disagree with the comment that the sub machine gun, or chopped up rifle are for close in emergency use. The sub gun in many variations and types since first issued as standard issue was an offensive weapon .. close in yes, emergency only .. no. Urban and jungle fighting call for if possible, a short maneuverable shoulder weapon preferably of selective fire due to engagements range, 85% of the time, will be at less than 200 yds to point blank. The current M4 is accurate and lethal to 300 yds .. but the probability of a single round lethal hit is reduced from that of a .30 caliber. Rifles for long shots .. carbines for short shooting.

      • Very true. And keep in mind that if you do enough damage with your carbine, at some point the other fellow will whistle up his friends, and even if there’s no arty available, some mother’s son with a GPMG will be giving you his undivided attention. And GPMG’s generally have about the same range and killing power as…sniper rifles.



        • Eon .. Very very true .. however the SOB’s if they spot ya, with or without you engaging them in a mano-e-mano will invariably whistle up anything he thinks will KILL YOU! Even if you be quietly just engaged in going potty potty!! LoL

          • Yep. The military version of the golden rule is always, Do Unto Others- Before They Do Unto You.

            Then Get The Hell Outta Dodge.




      • Thomas Very well reasoned and I stand corrected. I saw Submachineguns in the hands of special operators and police. The submachinegun also has the advantage of being able to be suppressed. In jungle or MOUT I would rather carry a reliable submachinegun or PDW (like the FNP90) than a chopped battle rifle (AK74S or AR with a 12 inch barrel) because of both the muzzle flash and the reliablity question. Thank you for the information.All the best.

  41. The point to remember in all this is that tactics and weapons interlock. If your tactics and operational techniques do not mesh with the capabilities of your weapons, you are, in a word, screwed. And, well on your way to defeat.

    Everything impacts, from the factory floor back in the rear right up to the front line. If you’re going to be effective down at the squad level, it all has to be coherent and mesh properly. Let us say, for example, that your military is going to consist of a mass of hastily trained, technically-unsophisticated, and fairly simple men. Should you chose to arm them with complicated weapons more suited to a force composed of long-service professionals, guess what? You’re wasting a lot of money, and you’re not likely going to be able to afford to arm most of your potential troops, who will likely never be able to wring the full potential out of those sophisticated weapons. On the flip side, if you arm a long-service professional force with wea1pons designed for barely-literate peasants with limited mechanical skills, you’re losing out on a lot of potential capability.

    Tactics, operational technique, and weapons are all intimately related. I disagree totally that you could re-equip current US forces with WWII-era weapons, and not lose out doing so. For one thing, that weapons mix was horribly biased towards the now thoroughly discredited notion of the individual rifleman’s primacy on the battlefield, and the MGs of that era were utter shiite. Tell me I’m going to be taking an M1919A6 up against PKM-armed insurgents, and I’m going to be putting a bullet through someones head. Additionally, the weights of those weapons and the ammunition will preclude me from carrying much of the other crap we now need, like the ECM suites every squad now hauls around. Simply not doable, even with today’s fitter troops.

    Now, if you wanted to give me something from the WWII era that could help me do my damn job? How about the ROE, and the attitude towards our own casualties? Those would make a huge difference, I think.

  42. I keep thinking about this thread.

    One way of looking at this issue is to turn it into metaphor: Consider small arms as computer hardware; tactics are the software that runs on them. Some tactics can “run” on almost any set of hardware, but others only function on gear it is compatible with. No matter what, however, the “software” is still more important than the hardware, all other things being equal.

    • A very interesting and appropriate analogy. However, it can also be argued in equal measure that software is absolutely worthless without the hardware to interface and translate its workings into tangible functionality. One cannot work properly without the other.

  43. One fact that needs to be put into consideration, unlike ww2, here we have a situation similar to Vietnam. One side is technologically much superior than another (when comparing US Forces vs. worldwide “Terrorists”). If you were to put 2 state of the art western armies on the battlefield one against another, it would be interesting to evaluate the results. Of course, small arms would not prevail here, even if you gave them muskets, as they would certainly try their best to destroy each other in long range proxy attacks (that are money costly for both sides, but not in human casualties as the targets are equipment and installations) with artillery and aviation and other gizmos.

    But, put 2 guerilla/terrorist groups one against another in some kind of asymetric warfare, in another words, no aviation, artillery etc. small arms type and their tactics (for example in woods or mountains environment) would here have an tremendeous effect, in my opinion.

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