Wacky Propaganda

It’s always interesting to look at the propaganda that military organizations put out regarding their opponents – it can often reveal what was particularly worrisome to men in the field at the time. A good example is the WWII US training film grasping at straws to convince GIs that the MG42 had major flaws. “It’s bark is worse than its bite!” Well, not really…

Anyway, here’s another interesting example, brought to our attention by reader Fidel  – a German postcard allegedly demonstrating how those nasty Brits designed the SMLE so that Tommies could snap the tips off their bullets before firing, to make dumdums. The three photos show someone using the thumb grip portion of an SMLE magazine cutoff to deform the tip of a cartridge.

German propaganda postcard - 303 DumDum bullets
German photo sequence allegedly showing how a British soldier could make dumdum bullets on the front line (from this Flickr photostream of WWI postcards)

Of course, this doesn’t actually work. You might be able to bend the tip enough to prevent it from feeding into the rifle, but that’s about all (I also don’t expect the relatively light sheet metal of the cutoff would last very long doing this). The grain of truth at the bottom of this is that the .303 projectiles did in fact have an aluminum or wood pulp core at the tip, used to move the center of gravity of the bullet back for more stable flight. This also contributed to the bullets tumbling when they hit, which may or may not have been intentional.

Anyone else know of some good examples of wacky weapons propaganda?


    • It was/is a common misconception, but there’s no truth to it. The round is simply designed to have low enough recoil to make assault rifles practical, and to be lighter so that infantry can carry more ammunition. A 5.56mm round is half the weight of a 7.62×51 round.

      Most infantry seem to agree on two things. One is that you can never have too much ammunition, and the other is that everything weighs too much.

  1. Moving the CG back will provide less stability, not more. If the center of resistance is forward of the center of mass, the bullet will be inherently unstable and will require more spin to stabilize. A hollow base will move the CG forward and inprove stability, such as in a shotgun slug, or a minie ball.

    • Brian, you might have gotten this wrong (maybe mixed up with stuff that is not spin-stabilized?). For a spin-stabilized round moving through air, moving the centre of gravity back makes it more stable, less susceptible to wind drift and retain more energy. That’s why we use hollow-points for precision shooting.

      The most famous modern use might be the 5.45×39, which was also said to be designed to tumble (Fackler disagreed later that this had any significant effect), like the .303 British. Yet the hollow-point design also improves the ballistic coefficient so that it has ballistics close to its western counterpart, the 5.56×45, while being a wee bit weaker (20% less E0) with roughly half the recoil.

      • Brian has it pretty much correct.

        conventional pointy rifle bullets are inherently unstable; during “flight”, the centre of pressure due to air resistance is infront of the centre of gravity.

        Spin stabilization is used to keep the bullet travelling nose first rather than tumbling.

        Spin stabilization comes with its own problems; once out of the barrel, the bullet will revolve around its centre of gravity – if that is located off the centre line (say the jacket drawing process resulted in slight differences from one lip of the drawn jacket to the other) then the bullet will jump sideways slightly as it exits the constraint of the barrel (which constrained it to rotate around its geometric centre) and will end up travelling a corkscrew trajectory similar in pitch to the rifling, but getting shorter in pitch as the bullets forward speed decreases.

        The reason target bullets tend to be hollow or soft point, is to put the drawn edges of the jacket, where unevenness in drawing is most likely and most pronounced, as close to the centreline of the bullet as possible.

        With a solid point bullet, those edges of the jacket are located closer to the circumference, and along the flanks at the rear of the bullet, as they are further from the centreline, the result is a less well balanced bullet.

        For a given muzzle velocity rifling pitch and calibre combination, there will be an optimum weight of bullet for best accuracy. it is a case of balancing the amount of spin stabilization to allow air resistance to keep the bullet nose first and to keep the corkscrew effect of any eccentricities in the bullet to a minimum, too much spin and you get more of a corkscrew and the bullet is more inclined to remain in the orientation it left the muzzle – at long range that can result in it descending with its nose still up.

        Too little stabilization and the bullet develops a wobble as it tries to tumble

        Two of the main factors increasing the ballistic coefficient of a bullet are;

        assuming constant weight, put a sharper nose on it.
        assuming a given nose shape and base shape – add more weight (length) to the cylindrical bit in the middle – that increases its “sectional density” so you have more momentum for the same air resistance.

        The second route appears to be favoured by commercial makers, as it allows them to use the same nose and base forming punches across a line of different bullet weights.

        both routes result in a longer bullet which will have its centre of pressure further forward compared to its centre of gravity than a shorter bullet – so both will require a faster pitch of rifling to stabilize.

        Wind drift is proportional to rate of velocity loss – so higher ballistic coefficient bullets have less wind drift than lower BC ones.

        One interesting twist on wind drift; because of the drastic increase in air resistance in supersonic flight compared to sub sonic, and because of slightly greater bullet weight – you actually get less wind drift with sub sonic .22rf, than with high or hyper velocity loads.

        I wish I could point you to a short and easily explained book about ballistics; the only one I know of which fits that description is Geoffry Kolb’s (Border Barrels), but its been sold out for about 15 years.

        The trick with minnie and “diabolo” type shotgun and airgun slugs is to get the centre of pressure behind the centre of gravity, the slug is then aerodynamically stable. such slugs tend to have crappy ballistic coefficients.

  2. Not government propaganda, but the History Channel and it seems every program ever to talk about the M1911 has this gem of a video clip in it (which was propaganda when it came out) whenever they talk about how powerful the .45 ACP is (starting at 35:30):


    “Although sometimes criticised for being too heavy and inaccurate, the .45’s stopping power was undeniable.”

    Note: the slug doesn’t penetrate the Stahlhelm. Great job convincing me it’s the best gun for the job.

    • As far as the History, Military History and Discover Channels are concerned, I’ve noticed that they have had a regrettable tendency in recent years to incline more and more towards the so-called “reality show” format which, as we all know, is not only highly annoying but also tends to distort the truth and portray anything but stark reality. The comparison programmes they have about topics such as rating the top ten bomber aircraft of all time are based on the opinions of “experts” who may actually hold important positions in hallowed institutions of academia and research, yet are hardly the correct knowledgeable people to consult on the subject at hand. Their supposed expert analyses of a given technical or historical issue is so sketchy and obviously flawed as to be laughable were they not equally infuriating for presenting such distorted “truths”.

      • Before anyone accuses me of making sweeping statements, please understand that I am referring to many, though not necessarily all, of the programmes on these channels. Some of their articles have been reasonably accurate and factual, and I won’t hesitate to give credit where credit is due. What dilutes their credibility is the admixture of otherwise informative programmes where half-triths are piggy-backed on actual facts, and programmes where it is clear that opinions and wrongly-directed research have prevailed over facts.

      • You and I are on the same page Earl. Even though I enjoy things like Top Shot, it is purely for its entertainment and “I get to see cool guns on TV”-value and nothing more. I don’t turn on the show expecting to learn something, which actually seems a little sad now that I think about it, considering that originally the goals of these channels was to actually teach something.

        • You’re absolutely right, Big Al. Frankly, I have learned far more from simply reading the posts and sharing in the knowledge pool on Forgotten Weapons than I have ever gleaned from these TV programmes, or from a lot of other firearms websites for that matter. This says a very great deal about the sheer quality, diligence and respect for factual truth ( as well as one another ) that Ian and all of the site members have made possible. There are not enough thanks in the world for this wonderful contribution to real and honestly-presented knowledge, especially in the Age of Information and the Internet.

  3. I don’t have documentation to support this, so you’ll have to technically classify it as hearsay. But in USAF basic training in 1980, during one of the many “indoctrination” classes we were subjected to, one of the drill instructors asserted that the devious Russians deliberately chambered their AK-47s for a bigger (7.62) bullet than NATO so that their soldiers could do battlefield pickups of NATO 5.56 ammunition and use it. He “admitted” that it would be less accurate because the bullet would be loose in the Russian barrel, but insisted it would work. And, of course, since Americans used a “smaller” round, we couldn’t use Russian ammunition against them since their “bullets” would be too big for our rifles.

    Absolutely NO ONE in the flight called him on it. In my own defense, as a 19yo who had almost no prior exposure to firearms, I was barely aware of the difference between rimfire and centerfire back then, much less cartridge dimensions. Propaganda is so much easier against the ignorant.

    The pictures of Russian QC-reject manufactured goods intended to demonstrate the inherent failure of the communist system were amusing, too. At least I caught on to those; probably because there were pictures. The ammo claim was verbal without graphic support… probably because we would have seen the cartridge differences in real pictures.

    • Cunning devils, to have realized that the US were going to adopt 5.56mm about 15 years before they actually did and planned ahead.

    • Bear, you definitely have my sympathies and empathy on this subject. That’s got to rank right up there with the platoon leader instructor in basic training who insisted to me that the reason for having rifling in the barrel of an M-16 was to ensure that the spinning bullet would drill deep down into human tissue and cause maximum damage(!!!!!). Of course, as a young recruit at the time, who was I to argue with his nibs without being shouted down, even though I had been handling and using assorted firearms (and actually knew at least something about how they worked) since I was seven?

  4. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Once you have been shot at by something you tend to respect whatever it is and give it better qualities than it may possess. My first time firing an AK 47 (a real one) was eye opening.The AK was reliable but it was far from being accurate. Our MAS 49/56 was a much better weapon at range over 100m. These propaganda points really serve a useful purpose;a scared teenager far from home often needs a confidence boost when facing the unknown. The German propaganda was probably a way to anger the average German who was predisposed to be friendly to the English.
    Other propaganda points to look at are the WW1 sawtooth bayonet outrage and the German anger over the French knitting needle bayonet. All silly in a war that introduced poison gas and flame throwers.

    • I gather that individuals caught by the allies with a saw tooth bayonet in their posession, were murdered on the spot.

      In Churchill’s “my life” he described his efforts to drop the softpoint 7.62*25 mauser cartridges he had in his shirt pocket when he was captured in South Africa – before they were discovered.

      He was successful, and the young Afrikaans officer who captured him, later became his friend, and also became president of South Africa.

  5. There was a type of ammunition used in an early machine gun that was so “wacky” that it could be considered to be a type of propaganda. The Puckle machine gun was a very early 18th century revolver machine gun which was never actually adopted into service. That was probably just as well, as it was of very dubious practicality.

    However, it was offered with two types of ammunition. Regular round bullets were intended to be used against “Christians”, while square bullets were intended to be used against “Muslims” (who at the time would have been the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire). The idea was that the square bullets were supposed to cause more grievous wounds and would have been unconscionable to use against fellow Christians, while Muslims were due whatever they got.

    I guess in those days people had a rather different idea of how they wanted others to view them.

    • I’d never heard of the Puckle gun before this. Had to do some searches. I found several sites that referred to it as a “machine gun” (including some old schematics/parts breakdowns), but it looks like it was a revolver rather than what we’d call a machine gun these days. Pretty cool, for the time.

      The mention of round and square bullets was what got me searching. I wondered how he managed that in one gun. Turns out he didn’t; there were two separate variants of the gun, each chambered differently. But yeah, for Christians vs. Turks/Muslims. I wonder if they considered pork tallow for bullet lube (a la Sepoy Mutiny) for the anti-Turk version. [grin]


  6. There was some “wacky” propaganda about the 5.56mm relating to the Vietnam war. A common statement was that the round caused exceptional wounds due to it being “designed to tumble in flight”, and that this was a bad thing to do. That’s the sort of thing that sounds impressive to someone who knows nothing about firearms, but is nonsense to anyone who does. Having bullets tumble in flight would take us back to the days of smooth bore muskets in terms of range and accuracy, and is ridiculous on the face of it.

    The 5.56mm bullet may have been designed to tumble *after* impact in flesh, but then most other modern “spitzer” bullets also do. Yes, bullets are intended to hurt, but that’s sort of the whole point of shooting someone, isn’t it? “Dum-dum” bullets are outlawed for military use because the wounds they cause are difficult to treat while there is no corresponding military justification. Tumbling bullets remain intact however and can easily be extracted whole and the wounds closed up (if the victim is still alive, that is).

    I have some 303 bullets that I collected off the butts on a range as a young lad and they include a couple that came apart on impact. Both appear to have clay nose inserts (which was one of the materials also used). In one, the jacket tore open at the join between the nose insert and the rest, and the nose insert is partially separated. The insert however is still held on by a small piece of the jacket. I suspect the damage to the bullet was caused by hitting something hard in the earth (such as another bullet). It is possible that German soldiers in WWI found spent bullets near their positions where the nose had torn off completely, and assumed that this was the condition of the bullet when it was fired.

    Most of the 303 bullets that I found were intact with no deformation at all, so they seem to normally be a very robust round. I do have a rather interesting one however where the jacket was intact (except for the crimp at the base being opened out) and the nose plug still in place, but the lead is completely missing! I dug it out of the earth myself, so I don’t think that anyone was fiddling with it after it was fired.

    • Frankly, I find the whole idea of banning “dum-dum” bullets to be silly in itself. The purpose of shooting an enemy soldier is to kill him. The idea that shooting him with expanding bullets is less humane is absurd, especially given that when hunting a deer it’s considered inhumane NOT to use expanding bullets. How is it that in war, it’s MORE humane to use bullets that can cause a slower, more painful death?

  7. I can fully understand the viewpoint of the authorities who used propaganda to boost the morale of their troops, but cannot condone it. Distorting or misrepresenting the truth about the other side (and its weaponry) and the situation at hand — issues of acknowledging the truth and fairness aside — ultimately does the greatest disservice to one’s own side, for the reason that the latter will not be able to accurately judge and assess who or what they are actually up against, and act accordingly.

    It is also demoralizing for front-line troops and insulting to their intelligence to be told fairy stories embedded in half-truths. Sooner or later, they will find out the truth for themselves. A classic case in point was highlighted by Australian war correspondent Osmar White, who covered most of the New Guinea Campaign and lived, worked and suffered on the Kokoda Trail with the soldiers whose travails he was documenting. In his book, “Green Armour” ( copyright 1945, Corgi Books 1975 ), a detailed and evocative account of the New Guinea Campaign, he flatly stated that “The Australian soldier is, above everything else, a realist. He has too much horse sense to make good cannon fodder. The ‘death or glory’ idea fails to move him. He believes wholeheartedly that it is much better to be a live dog with the will to bite — and a bite or two left — than a dead lion with no will or bite at all. He can see no virtue in stubbornness for the sake of stubbornness, nor in discipline for the sake of discipline. Give him a logical objective and competent leadership and he is one of the most dangerous and resourceful fighters in the world. But employ him on a task or manner beyond the limits of intelligent patience, and he makes a poor defender of last ditches”.

    In this light, from the uncertain and dreadful early days of the campaign, when Port Moresby was the last stronghold still holding out to the immediate north of Australia ( the Japanese were almost over-stretched by this point and were bombing Port Moresby regularly if sporadically ), he further wrote the following excerpt :

    “After the first sensational torrent of Japanese conquest in the early months of 1942, the stream of war stagnated. Yet uneventful Moresby graduated as a subject for martial headlines — within well-nigh limitless limits of military security. We made what we could of little news. We dubbed the defenders ‘The Mice of Moresby’. Those who served sheets of a deeper dye even went so far as to call them ‘The Miracle Men of Moresby’, in black letters an inch high.

    This latter epithet was too much. They resented it and the author was chided. He was taking a shower in the front garden of the press hut one evening when a truckload of filthy, sun-scorched, unshaven gravel shovelers from the airfield pulled up.

    ‘Are you B___Y___, the war correspondent?’ they called.
    ‘Yes, sure’ he called back.
    ‘Well, we’re the goddamn Miracle Men of Moresby. Take a good look at us!’ they replied, and drove off without further comment into the twilight.”

    • For those readers who may not be so familiar with the New Guinea Campaign, the term “The Mice of Moresby” was essentially a humorous, self-deprecating stock-in-trade description by which the Australian defenders of Port Moresby regarded themselves and the situation they were in. It was not a reflection on their courage or fortitude ; rather, it was a wry term that depicted the desperate, overwhelming odds they faced against a superior foe at a time when Japan was reaching her zenith in the Pacific War.

      • It may have been intended as a humorous reference to the “Rats of Tobruk”. The term “mice” would be an implied diminutive (as compared to “rats”), and so a form of self deprecating humour. It also has the added advantage that “Mice of Moresby” provides alliteration.

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