Ask Ian – What Was the Best WW2 Rifle Cartridge?

From crablegs21 on Utreon:

“In your opinion and in hindsight, which country had the most optimized cartridge for the their primary infantry rifle for WWII? Additionally, which country would have benefited most by switching to that cartridge prior to WWII?”

In my opinion – and I think post-war development supports this – the best rifle cartridge was 8mm Kurz (7.92x33mm). The StG-44 was never actually Germany’s primary infantry rifle, but they wanted it to be. The 8mm Kurz offers much reduced recoil ideal for semiauto and select-fire rifles, allowing fast followup shots while remaining powerful enough to be quite deadly.

However, this doesn’t address the logistical issue of machine gun cartridges. Basically everyone in WW2 used a single cartridge for both rifles and support machine guns, and the cartridge choice was largely dictated by what was most effective in a machine gun intended to shoot out to 1000+ yards and to engage vehicles and aircraft. Larger cartridges were much better suited for this than today’s intermediate cartridges. Interestingly, both the Italians (6.5mm Carcano) and the Swedes (6.5mm Swedish) developed supplemental big machine gun cartridges because they considered their standard rounds insufficient (these were 8x59mm for the Italians and 8x63mm for the Swedes)

If I had to pick a larger cartridge to allow both rifle and MG use, I would pick 7.35mm Carcano. This is about the lightest “rifle” round of the war that used a spitzer bullet and a rimless case. Its larger bullet diameter compared to 6.5mm rounds would allow better tracer and AP bullets, which are relevant in a military context.

As for which nation could benefit the most from adopting this cartridge before the war, I will go out on a limb and say the US, at least form a rifleman’s perspective. The M1 Garand chambered for 7.35mm Carcano would be a fantastic rifle, probably at least a pound lighter than normal and faster shooting. The BAR could be lightened much more, and might have been able to be a more truly effective automatic rifle.


  1. The 7.35 Carcano has practically the same dimensions than the .276 Pedersen (same base diameter, 11.4 mm; same case lenght 51.4mm-51.5mm; and only one mm more OAL 72.5mm-73.5mm), so ten rounds can likely enter in a M1 clip.

    To me, even better than the 7.35 Carcano, but not in competition because none used it, despite having been widely available for more than 30 years, would have been the .30 Remington. Rimless, same energy than the 7.35 Carcano in a smaller package. (base diameter 10.7 mm, OAL 64.1mm).

    • .30 Remington? If you open up the choices to civilian cartridges of that era, then I prefer the .250 Savage cartridge, which came out in 1913!

      Comparing 7.35 Carcano to the .276 Pedersen is a good call. Shame the US Army missed that boat.

      I have one of those Mini-14 rifles chambered in 6.8mm. I think of it as a modernized version of the old prototype Garand rifle in .276 Pedersen. Ballistics of 6.8mm SPC and .276 Pedersen are very similar.

      • For what it’s worth, the french used the .35 Remmingtom as a military cartridge and the British used some Remm Model 8 Rifles of unknown calibre in WW1

    • I agree with Ian that the 8 mm Kurz was the best round of WWII, but I think he gave short shrift to the .303 British. It was powerful enough to drive the Vickers and Browning MGs and the Bren but wasn’t as overpowered as the 30-06 or the 8 mm Mauser. It was accurate enough for sniping to 900 yards. I know its rimmed & tapered, but BotR proved that rim-lock wasn’t a problem in the No. 4. .303 Brit for second best!

      • The .303 was a very effective all-round rifle cartridge as you state in the No. 1 and No. 4 rifles. However, its pronounced rim and tapered case was a definite disadvantage for an automatic weapon. In testing, the British Army found that the .303 ZB 33 and BREN derivatives were unquestionably more prone to stoppages. The BREN’s curved magazine had additional friction issues and did not feed as well as the straight mag ZB 26 and ZB 30. Only careful training in magazine loading and cleaning kept the BREN in action (and BRENS hated the least bit of sand). The Japanese, who captured (and sometimes used in battle) large numbers of .303 British weapons including Vickers and Lewis guns recognized this when they adopted the 7.7 rimless round (essentially a rimless copy of the .303) for LMG use.

    • The Garand rifle was originally designed around the .276 Peterson and actually did carry 10 rounds in an en bloc clip in order to meet existing Army specifications. It was only after rejection of the .276 by the Army Chief of Staff that Garand redesigned the rifle to accommodate the .30-06 cartridge – lengthened action, reduction of clip capacity to 8 rounds, etc.

  2. How about this. 8 mm Kurtz, (7.92×33), but in 6.5? I think it’s called 6.5 Grendel. So basically anything but the 6.8×51….Oh crap.

  3. Still think the M1 carbine would have been better in a bottle neck 6.5 mm or .25 cal spitzer bullet.

    • I agree with both your comments, though I think the original parameters were service cartridges available at the time. If more leeway is allowable, I’d consider necking down and turning the rim off one of the larger Winchester semiauto cartridges (.351 or .401) rather than .32.

      • Interesting. Reading FBI after action reports from the 1930’s, the .45 ACP fired from a Thompson SMG failed to penetrate automobile bodies. Car body steel was formulated for pressing in large dies, the steel being relatively thick and malleable. It would seem the .38 super would be more effective. Being more of an ice pick compared to the .45’s “ ball peen hammer” shape.

  4. I understand that the Japanese utilized a rifle gunpowder superior to the Americans. Less smoke produced, not as likely to reveal a rifleman’s position.

    • Not true. Japanese ordnance used ordinary nitrocellulose powders that had no special flash suppression properties. What made detection of Japanese infantry positions difficult was the long barrels of most if their infantry rifles which burned most of the propellant within the bore.

      • I’ve got a couple of cites that say differently. I’ll have to look those up, and get back to you, though.

  5. Americans should have adopted .38 Super for pistol and SMG. Already available in the 1911.
    Superior ballistics to the .45ACP.

  6. 1) Ian made a point that I was going to make, the squad automatic weapon provided most of the firepower of an infantry rifle squad. In the German army, the riflemen had two priorities – protect the MG34 or MG42 and hump its ammo. In the British army all the riflemen carried ammunition for the Bren. Notice the size of the standard British ammunition pouch of WW2 – that’s so it can carry Bren magazines 2) OK, if we want to give the US an Italian round as its standard infantry round, let’s junk the BAR rather than modify it and replace it with an Americanized 7.35mm Czech ZB26-ZB30 or Bren. Is there anyone who doesn’t think the Bren wasn’t a better squad automatic than the BAR…

    • In all likelyhood the adoption of a new cartridge, significantly smaller than the 30-06, would have led to the ditching of the BAR and the adoption of a new squad automatic weapon.
      Something similar to the Johnson M1941 maybe (not necessarily for the action, but for the general features).
      It was not like the BAR had much to speak for it in the ’30s apart for the fact that it was already there.

    • I’d contend that the FN Mle D quick-change barrel development of the BAR was at LEAST as good as the ZB 26, ZB 30 and BREN gun, and probably better (definitely lighter) when resized for a moderate-power 7mm or .276 cartridge

  7. Always keep in mind that the 6.5 mm class of Military cartridges were designed around long heavy (155-165 grain ballpark) bullets originally due to perceived requirement to penetrate cavalry and wagon horses at longer range. If the trend toward lighter bullets/higher velocity had been applied to the 6.5 family- think 130-140 grain bullets this whole group of cartridges would have been much more practical for machine guns and early squad automatic weapons. Thin something like the BAR in 6.5×55 Swede or even the 6.5 Carcano with 140 gr bullet at around 2600 fps. The early design of heavy for caliber round nose started at the beginning of the smokeless powder era when 2000 fps was incredibly fast for the standard versus blackpowder that topped out in the 1500-1600 fps range in military paalications.

    • I agree completely. Armor and aircraft outclassed RCMGs very early in the war. Absent those “requirements”, a high-BC 6.5 cartridge makes much more sense for MG as well as rifle usage than a full-size rifle cartridge throwing a blunt little AK bullet at AK velocity – assuming we’re applying hindsight logically, rather than compromising real performance to satisfy disproven 1930s assumptions. If major redesigns of the Garand are in bounds, why treat 6.5 Carcano projectile design (!) as an insurmountable obstacle?

      • The Carcano case is dimensionally very modern for when it had been adopted, but it’s still a first generation smokeless ammo (it was adopted using the second smokeless propellant to be developed). That means that, thus being way smaller than a 30-06, or a 7.92 Mauser, in the ’30s it was still big for what it delivered. Infact the dimensionally almost identical .276 Pedersen was hotter.
        As said, a .30 Remington had similar performances in a smaller package, so shorter and lighter receiver, lighter ammos, more ammos carried… If the US Army wanted to adopt a 6.5, a necked down .30 Remington would have been a better option than adopting a spitzer Carcano.

        • All excellent points. I just chose Carcano because I interpreted “had the most optimized cartridge” as bounding the question to existing, unmodified service cartridge cases.

          If the question encompasses existing prewar cartridges outside service channels, .25 Rem should fit the bill.

          • Certainly a Soviet ballistician, a disciple/ apprentice of Federov agreed entirely… That a “perfect” service cartridge already existed in the off-the-shelf .25 Remington.

  8. The Dutch too developed a special rimmed 7,9 mm round for their 6,5 mm Schwarzlose M1908 machine guns. Most of the Vickers .303 and Spandau 7,92 machine guns the Dutch army acquired after WW I, were adapted to the new round in the ’30’s, for logistical not ballistical reasons. Some of the Dutch Lewis M.25 light machine guns were adapted as well, most however kept firing their 6,5 calibre.

  9. “(…)Interestingly, both the Italians (6.5mm Carcano) and the Swedes (6.5mm Swedish) developed supplemental big machine gun cartridges because they considered their standard rounds insufficient (these were 8x59mm for the Italians and 8x63mm for the Swedes)(…)”
    Norway also did so
    Note that it was not common with Sweden, unlike 6,5 mm cartridge.

  10. In 1941 the Swedes updated the 6.5×55 to a spitzer bullet in the 139/140gr weight @ 2600+fps. Less recoil, flatter trajectory, better long range energy than any .30 or 7mm or 8mm cartridge available in a WWII era rifle.
    Per Wikipedia “Spitzer boat tail service ball (1941):
    Swedish 6,5 mm skarp patron m/94 projektil m/41 prickskytte ball ammunition
    Later service ball version of the 6.5 mm m/94 cartridge, adopted in 1941.
    1941 designation: 6,5 mm skarp patron m/94-41 (6,5 mm sk ptr m/94-41)[24] – meaning 6.5 mm live cartridge m/94-41
    1942 designation: 6,5 mm skarp patron m/94 projektil m/41 prickskytte (6,5 mm sk ptr m/94 prj m/41)[24] – meaning 6.5 mm live cartridge m/94 projectile m/41 sniping
    Sweden, which remained neutral during World War II, decided during the early 1940s to develope a new ball projectile for the 6.5 mm m/94 cartridge intended for sniping and sharpshooting, specifically for weapons such as the m/41 sniper rifle.[28] To improve accuracy and ballistics the new projectile was designed as a spitzer bullet, a design which had previously not been used in service for the 6.5 m/94 cartridge.[29] The new cartridge was loaded with a 9.1 grams (140 gr) boat tail spitzer bullet (D-projectile) fired at a muzzle velocity of 800 m/s (2,625 ft/s) with 2,912 J (2,148 ft⋅lbf) muzzle energy from a 739 mm (29.1 in) long barrel.[30]
    The new spitzer cartridge was adopted from around 1941 onwards. As the original round-nosed m/94 projectile was obsolete in comparison, the new spitzer projectile came to replace the old m/94 projectile as the new service ball cartridge almost immediately upon being adopted.” Also used in their BAR & Ksp m/39 & m/42(Browning 1919 A4 & A6 derivatives). This would have been the best rifle & machine gun cartridge from the WWII era, IMHO. But does Sweden count since they were neutral? -Mark

    • My man! 6.5x55mm cartridge, and heck, AG42 self-loading rifle for the win!

      Of course, only poor Norway and a handful of Swedish volunteers in Finland, and later some Finns who acquired the weapons so chambered actually used 6.5x55mm during the Second World War.

      • The 6.5 x 55mm is one of the best “all-around” rifle cartridges ever conceived, for either military or sporting use.

        Conversely, the Ljungman AG42 is one of the most catastrophically bad rifle designs in history. Unless built and assembled very precisely, it simply refuses to work.

        Swedish-built AG42s work reasonably well due to very precise machining. Egyptian-built copies in 7.9 x 57 only work if every screw is torqued precisely, and sometimes not even then. The scaled-down Khalid carbine copy in 7.62 x 39mm generally refuses to work at all.

        It’s worth noting that the Swedish army never tried to build a Ljungman in 8 x 63mm for their HMG troops, giving them Mauser bolt-actions in that caliber instead. It could be argued that the Ljungman’s quirky action is perfectly balanced for the 6.5 x 55mm cartridge, and reacts badly to anything else.

        One of the more irrational examples of WWTT? is the Desert Eagle self-loading pistol, which uses a variant of the Ljungman action. A more egregious boat-anchor of a handgun has never been seen, unless you count the Gabbett-Fairfax Mars of a century ago.

        I should know, I once owned one of the bloody things, an early-production .357. My M27 S&W easily outdid it on everything except capacity. Even my Colt Lawman Mk III snub was more accurate at 100 meters than the “Arnold Special”. And a Walther P.38 was both more accurate and more reliable.

        The 6.5 x 55mm plus the AG42 is an example of “take the cartridge but leave the rifle in Sweden”. It seems to like it there. Anywhere else, it sulks.



  11. The best rifle cartridge of WW2?

    And down into the weeds we go with definitional terms, critique of WW2 military doctrine, observations of the importance of machine-guns, with the advantage of perfect 20-20 hindsight.

    I say the U.S. .30 caliber Carbine cartridge was the best “rifle” cartridge of WW2!

    For one thing .30 Carbine used non-corrosive priming and dense ball powder. It was also powerful enough and accurate enough for the critical close-combat requirements of infantry fighting. Industrially, the M1 carbine weapon also had the advantage of being suitable for arming the entire military including all non-infantry personnel. PDW are needed in larger quantities than pure infantry rifles, more M1 carbines were manufactured than M1 rifles during WW2. M1 carbines captured by the enemy and used by allies were more popular than M1 rifles, during WW2 and even after WW2.

    Well what about light machineguns? What about heavy machineguns? What about ammunition commonality with infantry rifles? Superficially attractive, but I think WW2 experience demonstrated that ammunition commonality was more appropriate to WW1 doctrine, and shortsighted and obsolete by WW2.

    The US Army tried squaring that ammo commonality circle by using light and heavy loads for their .30 cartridges. The .30 caliber M1 cartridges for use in crew served machineguns and the M2 ball cartridge for use in rifles. Though by the climax of the war apparently M2 AP .30 caliber cartridges were the most common manufactured and used in all the American .30 caliber machineguns and rifles. I believe the French Army wanted to try the same heavy and light load trick for their 7.5mm family of small arms.

    As vital as machineguns were in WW2, not just as infantry weapons, not just as anti-vehicle weapons, but perhaps most importantly as primary weapons of tanks and fighter planes; even so I’d say machineguns were eclipsed by other weapons in effectiveness and importance. As anti-vehicle weapons (and vehicle weapons) cannons eclipsed machineguns. As anti-personnel weapons the new infantry mortars eclipsed crew served machineguns, and perhaps most importantly infantry mortars could be much cheaper and easier to mass produce than machineguns.

    So why then subordinate the ammunition needs of infantry rifles to the needs of crew served machineguns? That doesn’t make economic sense in WW2, where mass mobilization, mass production, and horrific attrition were so important to victory.

    • The .30 M1 Ball cartridge was ditched because it bent the op rods on the M1 as its port pressure was higher that the M1 rifle liked. The military claimed it was because the extreme range of the M1 ball ctg was too great for their existing ranges. The M1 rifle was actually designed around the 276 Pedersen ctg.

    • [The .30 carbine]was also powerful enough and accurate enough for the critical close combat requirements of infantry fighting.”

      Depends upon who was interviewed. The carbine and its cartridge were extolled by some, including officers burdened with map cases and binoculars, artillery and signal corps, etc. Small statutes men like Audie Murphy inevitably love the carbine, while large framed soldiers tend to detest it. It was hated by many paratroopers up to the rank of General of the 82nd AD, not to mention line soldiers who faced enemy vehicles, protected MG42 machine gun nests, etc. Many threw away their carbines for M1s loaded with armor piercing ammunition. The carbine’s cold weather failures in Korea are well documented.

      • How well did the M1 rifles fare, during the 1942 Buna offensive, in that humid environment firing corrosive ammunition? The record of the M1 rifle is hardly perfect either. The M1 rifle was tinkered with almost up to the end of WW2 to fix early problems discovered by service use.

        What good is an M1 rifle without ammunition? For the same weight as an empty M1 rifle, a rifleman could carry an M1 carbine plus 6 loaded 15 round magazines.

        From the way actual rifleman actually fired their rifles in combat during WW2, the M1 rifle only had an advantage over the M1 carbine when firing during daytime in the defense, where the M1 rifle is more accurate out to the practical aimed fire range limit of 300 yards. But during nighttime offense, nighttime defense, and daylight offense, the M1 carbine has the advantage over the M1 rifle because of its greater firepower and lighter ammunition.

        • The fact that both the M1 and M1 carbine were continually modified during WW2 is really irrelevant. Ordnance is always making adjustments based on combat reports from the field. The M1 Carbine was altered several times, eventually becoming the M2. Unfortunately, its ammunition primers, weak magazine and insufficiently powerful recoil spring were never remedied.

          Corrosive primers used in M2 ammunition were a disadvantage, but they did not effect reliablity of the ammunition itself. Corrosion could addressed in the field with regular cleaning and the effective USGI bore cleaner, boiling water poured down the bore or even regular firing (grass can’t grow on a busy street). Dead primers can’t be fixed in the field.

          The M1 Carbine was never intended to be, and never fulfilled the role of a primary infantry rifle suitable to replace the M1, M14, or M16. When soldiers or marines attempted to employ the carbine in such a role, it failed due to insufficient penetration, insufficient accuracy, and lack of range. It failed to do so in WW2, it failed to do so in Korea, and it failed to do so in Vietnam with US advisors and special forces. It was and remains a PDW.

          The fact that a weapon has greater ‘firepower’ means nothing if that weapon fires a round that is neither sufficiently accurate nor powerful enough to create wounds or secondary blast effects sufficient to keep the enemy’s head down when attacking emplacements or even troops taking minimal cover. While the carbine’s light weight and light ammunition proved a significant help in heavy jungle using patrol actions, this was of course not the primary combat environment.

          I reiterate, that line-of-communications and small-statured men tended to really love the carbine for its handly light weight. Larger soldiers and troops engaged in assault operations tended to ditch it for an M1 rifle

          • Reiterate Fudd-lore and cling to obsolete military doctrine all you want, it still doesn’t change the true useful role and actual historic record of the common infantry riflemen fighting a modern conventional war, as during WW2.

            The rifles of an Infantry Regiment are the least important organic weapon providing long range firepower, and providing suppressive firepower for that Infantry Regiment. The rifle is the weapon of close combat, and the weapon providing personal and local security, nothing more. The role of the rifle in modern warfare is hardly more than that of a glorified personal defense weapon.

            The real firepower of a WW2 Infantry Battalion was provided by the organic heavy crew served weapons, organized within the Heavy Weapon Companies, and within the Heavy Weapon Platoons. Even within a “Rifle Platoon”, most firepower is provided by the machine-gunners, not by the riflemen.

            A mass conscript Army suffering mass casualties (as all the primary combatants did during WW2), can not afford the luxury of expert infantry. That means infantry get the lowest rungs of personnel selection, and the lowest priority of training, and the rifleman themselves the lowest rungs within the Infantry branch. That’s why the arming of WW2 riflemen with bolt-action rifles made no practical difference in the outcome of WW2. If the US Army had fought WW2 with M1903 rifles instead of M1 rifles, they might have taken marginally greater casualties, but it would have made no practical difference in which battles were won and which were lost.

          • Since you haven’t been able to rebut my statements on the limitations of the M1 Carbine, either as to its inherent faults or its limitations when pressed into service as an offensive infantry rifle, I’ll assume you are, in the words of William Buckley, yielding the point.

        • That the M1 carbine was better at some things leaves 2 undeniable issues with the weapon system- inconsistent ammo-noted for failure to fire in wet conditions due to underdeveloped primers and inconsistent reliability of the magazines to function correctly. Also, I have known WWII /Korea/Vietnam vets who did not like the carbine cartridge terminal effectiveness against enemy personnel.

  12. In my view, the “6.5 mm armies” adopted powerful 8 mm machine gun cartridges (7.9 Dutch, 8 mm Swedisch, Norwegian, Italian) with the long range indirect machine gun fire of WW1 in mind. Similar thinking was obviously behind the U.S. .30 M1 cartridge, the French 8 mm 32N and 7.5 mm 33D bullets, the Soviet 7.62 mm D and the German adoption of the 7.9 mm sS bullet as the standard cartridge for machine guns as well as rifle.
    All these were optimized for long range machine gun fire.
    Only, WW2 did no longer offer stable tactical situations that had been so dominating in WW1. The mortar was much more effective and easier to apply than indirect machine gun fire.
    But the officers in charge during the 1930s, baptized in fire of WW1, could not bring themselves to realize this and switch from the beloved heavy to the light machine gun as the decisive infantry small arm of the future. The reasoning that the rifleman would only need a weapon for at most 300-400 m range was not considered important enough to give him a wepon firing a round different from the light machine gun round.
    Considering these obstacles, the adoption of the 7.35 mm Carcano by Italy is a much underestimated achievement.
    In Germany, pushing the short 7.9 mm (same barrel profile purely for logistic reasons) behind Hitler’s back and by creative interpretation of his explicit orders (the reason to change from “Maschinenkarabiner” to “Maschinenpistole”) [both totally unthinkable in modern Bundeswehr] finally led to troop trial results that could no longer be ignored. Without the balls of the officers involved, the 7.9 mm Kurzpatrone would be an historic oddity like the pre-war Danish 7 mm or Italian 7.35 mm short cartridges.

    • Mind that in WWI the Italians used the 6.5 Carcano ammo in their main MMG (The FIAT-Revelli 1914).
      What they learnt is that the long 6.5 bullet had exceptional penetration vs anything softer than lead (wood, sand…) but very poor penetration vs. steel
      Because it fractured easily.
      Over 7mm bullets, even not AP, could instead overmatch light armors, and it was easier to put a steel penetrator into them anyway.
      That’s why they wanted to switch to the 8mm Breda for MMGs and especially vehicular MGs (where infact the Scotti LMG in 6.5 had just been adopted to replace the SIA 1918, when it was ditched in favour of the Breda 38 in 8mm).

  13. The 6.5×50 Arisaka was ideal and had the best balance between weight and firepower, more practical and flatter trajectory, truly multipurpose and extremely deadly in any condition.

    • In 1920s Soviet Union did formally declared 6,5×50 to be default infantry cartridge, but reverted that decision. Nonetheless Fyodorov with Degtyaryov prepared various variants of machine gun, see photos
      Weapons differed by used magazine (box or disk) and cooling system (air or liquid)

    • I agree with you that the 6.5x50SR Arisaka was a good concept in terms of filling combat needs, especially for small-statured troops, but not the actual cartridge itself. This is because of its execrable construction/design – thin rim easily pulled off by the jerky recoil of Japanese automatic weapons, semi-rimless design requiring extensively curved box magazine, primer crudely staked in place with a punch press, poor quality brass, non-waterproof storage in plain cardboard boxes frequently resulting in a number of ‘dud’ rounds in jungle humidity, etc.

  14. Probably the best “overlooked” cartridge of the era was the British 0.303in Magnum introduced by Jeffrey in 1919 and discontinued by Kynoch in 1930. A rimless 7.9 x 70mm, its performance was identical to the .30-06.

    What would have made it useful was that any 0.303in British caliber rifle or MG could easily be converted to it by a simple rechambering job. Which would have allowed the Commonwealth forces to have things like Vickers HMGs and Brens that did not have to contend with a rimmed cartridge.

    As far as the overall optimum cartridge for the infantry rifle, the 1892 vintage 7 x 57 Mauser still wins that one, hands down. The .30 Carbine round and its weapon took care of the SMG end of the TO&E. As for the multiplicity of .276in cartridges, all were basically ballistic “twins” of the 7 x 57.

    And yes, if needed an “assault rifle” in 7 x 57 was entirely feasible. The Italian Breda Mo.1935 was built in that caliber for the Chilean army. Unlike the Italian Army standard version in 6.5 Carcano, the Chilean version was selective-fire.

    If an “all-American” rifle round was desired, the .257 Ackley Improved Roberts would have been a reasonable choice. And like its parent .257 Roberts, it was in fact based on the 7 x 57 Mauser case.



    • The Breda PG is more an example of what an “improved” BAR in a lighter caliber could have been, since it has the same setup (automatic rifle fed by a low placed 20 rounds box magazine, fire from an open bolt, no bipod, no quick exchange barrel…) has a quite hefty barrel of the same lenght than that of the Colt Monitor, but weights 2kg less.

      It’s also an example of a gas operated not rotating bolt action that doesnt’ need a long sturdy receiver to lock (a la FAL), since it has a single frontal locking lug.

      • As with most of the Newton cartridges, the .256 was hard on barrels due to its ultra-high velocities. .256 barrels tended to wear out their rifling at about the same rate as .220 Swifts did.

        A military rifle’s barrel can be expected to fire literally hundreds of thousands of rounds in its service life, so a minimum barrel life of at least 50,000 to 75,000 rounds before accuracy begins to degrade is a must. None of the “ultra-high-velocity” cartridges has ever managed that long a barrel life without something like Stellite lining, and sometimes not even then.

        The .257 AI Roberts had roughly the performance of the 6.5 x 55mm Mauser, making it a logical “intermediate” rifle round. The .256 Newton was essentially a forerunner of the .264 Winchester Magnum or its competitor the 6.5mm Remington Magnum, and as chamberings for a military infantry rifle those would have been largely useless.

        BTW, one reason the .338 Lapua has largely superseded the .300 Winchester Magnum as the preferred round for U.S. Army and USMC snipers is not just its longer effective range (out to 2,000 meters) but also because it doesn’t eat barrels as fast. A .338 barrel is generally good for 10,000 rounds before needing replacement; a .300 WM barrel has generally burned out its leade’ by 3,000 rounds, and is almost a smoothbore for half its length by 6,000.



  15. I’ve been thinking about this, a lot, since Ian posted it. I’ve got an opinion, but I’ve been unsure of how to go about communicating it.

    I think the real question here should be “What was the least bad cartridge of WWII?”, followed up with “What the hell should they have done?”

    The best and kindest way for me to put this is that nobody really had it “right”. The nature of detailed infantry combat in that era was not well-understood, at all. The solutions they came up with were all flawed, to one degree or another. It was not a question of “best system”, but of “least bad system for all the considerations”.

    I’ve long made the point in my writing, here and in other forums, that you absolutely have to let tactics and operational considerations drive small arms design and procurement. Trying to shoehorn your way into solutions where the tactics and operational plans don’t work with the weapons you’ve already got or which you procure without consideration for them working…? That’s a good way to get a lot of people killed.

    We weapons “enthusiasts” tend to lose our way, a lot of the time, digging into the weeds of “Oh, ain’t that coooooool, and not paying attention to the various and sundry questions of systems integration and all the rest.

    Perfect example of this is how everyone, Ian included, tends to look at the various flavors of machinegun absent their supporting bits and bobs. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve got the ultimate MG on your hands, if the interface is shiite and the tripod is either non-existent or shiite as well. BAR, Imma looking at you

    How you fight absolutely has to be reflected in your weapons. The current Marine choice of the M27 over the M249 is an excellent example. The Marines feel, mistakenly in my opinion, that maneuver and mobility trump firepower; thus, the M27 with its Automatic Rifle-biased approach to squad fire.

    If you’re going to “float like a butterfly; sting like a bee”, then the M27 and that approach make sense, and the design/procurement of said M27 supports the tactical/operational planning you’ve done, the doctrine you’ve written and trained to.

    If, however, you’re actually planning on fighting like Mike Tyson? Uhmm… Not so much.

    Or, if you get forced into the slugfest because your enemy refuses to play along with your plans. The enemy always, always gets the final vote.

    • You make a very good point about how design decisions are made, but forget that a lot of early smokeless powder systems were based on “what can we do to replace our large bore single shot military rifles with this new technology?” and how to design weapons systems to work effectively and hopefully efficiently in combat situations. We went from .40-.45 caliber rifles to .22 diameter caliber rifles between 1888 and 1960, by way of intermediate steps to try to define the best bore diameter/case capacity/velocity/bullet weight and profile for best reasonable effectiveness without consideration of the end user’s ability to employ the system for optimum results. The BAR was developed from battlefield lessons of WWI and static trench fighting. All the military cartridges developed prior to WWI fell into a bore diameter/case capacity range from 6.5×50 Japanese to 30-06 for the longest case length to the various 8mm cartridges. WWII brought about different conditions and combat environments and led to development of smaller cartridges and potentially better designs for different situations. Facing a fanatic bunch of Japanese conducting a BANZAI charge in the jungles of Guadalcanal was very different from the boscage of Normandy and really called for different weapons systems and cartridges than were in widespread use anywhere. Except for the German 8×33 cartridge and the rifles designed to use it on the eastern front, most rifles and cartridges were kept in service in order to use the same ammo in rifles and machine guns otherwise logistics could become a nightmare of “Who has what rifle and cartridge and what are they using in the machine gun role? is the MG a different cartridge? What do we order and send to the front?”. What about submachine guns and cartridges-where does this category fall on the roster of ammo we order? Never mind the armorers trying to fix multiple different types of guns, each gun having specific non interchangeable parts.

      • Once your MG is belt-fed, the advantage of commonality of ammos with the rifle is void. None is going to use the ammo of the MG for the rifle and vice-versa. Better to have lighter ammos and rifles for the riflemen, and have them carry more rounds for the MG.
        Worse if your service round is so heavy and powerful that a semiauto carbine in that caliber is going to be too heavy, and so you have to adopt another action and another round for carbines.
        Really, all the considerations on the utility of intermediate rounds and of replacing rifles and SMGs with selective fire carbines had been made right after WWI (sometimes, partly, during it, see the Federov Avtomat, or the Ribeyrolles 1918) It had been conservatorism and lack of money to prevent implementing the solution before WWII.

        • Look up the concept of “desire path”, wherein a civil engineer decides what sidewalks to put in where based on how people actually chose to move between structures in his shiny new facilities.

          It could be framed as “desire path” engineering/tactics to recognize that the way that the Germans, then the Soviets, and then the US wound up independently at two-cartridge solutions in the squad/platoon would tend to indicate that the actual necessities of combat have directed this.

          You need “light and handy” in an individual weapon; they’re for the under-300m fight. You have to be able to get those into action, directing accurate and effective fires at surprise up-close-and-personal targets. If your individual weapon does not lend itself to such things…? It ain’t fit for purpose. That means, almost certainly, a different cartridge than the support MG role requires.

          Failure to recognize this set of facts, at this point? Pathologic institutional stupidity, and an indicator that the parties involved ought to be sterilized so as to improve the genome.

        • Of course, the absolute bottom line and common denominator in all this is what the available money is and the active support of various politicians and how well the military planners can brownnose for support. During the Civil War, President Lincoln famously tested the Spencer rifle/cartridge system and mandated the purchase of the system in quantity to the troops. However, the Ordinance board dragged their heels and issued a very limited contract purchase order.

          • The tactic used with the Terni 1921 had been to “improve it to oblivion”.
            Right after WWI, having witnessed the uselesness of the bolt action rifle and the great usefulness of SMGs, but also that they had a too limited range for general use, the recomendation of the Italian Army’s analysts had been to adopt “automatic muskets” for all the infantrymen.
            So the Terni Arsenal developed a light semiauto/automatic rifle in an intermediate cartridge.
            “It’s nice, but we want these improvements”.
            “It’s nice, but the cartridge needs to be improved”.
            “It’s nice, but we need these other improvements”.
            “it’s nice, but the cartridge is still not fully satisfactory”.
            Until, in 1928, when enough time passed and everyone forgot the report that led to the development of the rifle: “Sorry, but it’s still not perfect, and we already spent enough on it. And why a smaller cartridge anyway? Let’s start a competition for a semiauto rifle in standard Carcano cartridge instead.”

          • I hadn’t ever really looked hard at the Terni 1921, before. It looks promising, but the problem is that the people in charge did not have the conceptual tools to grasp the necessities and realities which made a solution like that comprehensible to them.

            TBH, I don’t thing anybody really did, or has since created the sort of clear-eyed thought process we need. Today’s NGSW fiasco shows just how little people really grasp the realities of modern combat, and I think it will remain that way until someone finally grasps the damn nettle and acknowledges the fact that “Hey, we’re tryin’ ta kill people, here…”

            Everyone seems stuck with this mentality that it’s all about the individual rifleman taking down “that one guy” his eagle eyes have seen. It’s romanticized bullshit, worldwide. The US has this “Minuteman with Kentucky Rifle” fantasy indoctrinated into its entire combat mentality, and the Russians are enamored of the “tank rider with Papasha”, riding through German lines and spraying bullets everywhere. Both approaches are fundamentally flawed and exaggerations of reality. Full-auto is a necessity, but it is also horribly ineffective when misapplied, just like the reliance on “one man, one bullet, and one enemy KIA” of the US.

            The reality is that the individual weapon needs to be light, handy, and capable of effectively killing out to a minimum of 300m. It also needs to be capable of firing manageably on fully automatic, for those rare occasions where you’ve really screwed the pooch and have to make like an MG with it. Wanat, anyone…?

            Given that, the NGSW ain’t going to answer the mail. Just my opinion, and I could stand a correction, but I really don’t think that thing is going to work, and it sure as hell isn’t going to fix the deeply rooted doctrinal problems shown up by Afghanistan’s small arms problems.

            The sad fact is, nobody is thinking clearly about any of this, or being honest with themselves. The individual weapon is mostly out on the battlefield in a personal protection and close-in combat role. It is emphatically not a primary killer; that’s the MG and supporting weapons like the mortar and RPG/recoilless rifle. Oh, and your comms systems with the big boys in back, like the artillery and aviation assets.

            Modern infantry are morphing, ever so gradually, away from their classic role of direct combatants. These days, the trend line seems to be taking them and their primary role towards the sort of thing that the Vietnam War-era SOG recon teams were doing–Finding the enemy, calling in the fires, and then doing the damage assessments after. Given that, the scope for intensive small arms work is small, but vital: These eyes and ears of the artillery need to be able to protect themselves, and drive off anyone seeking to kill the FO and his radioman. That’s about it, when you get down to it; in a weapons-free environment, unencumbered by asinine Rules of Engagement, infantry is really only there for that vital role of providing boot-on-ground security for the rest of the combined arms.

      • Read through this, again, to ensure I hit the points I meant to in what failed to post as an actual reply to you, David. There’s that, below, but… I meant to say a couple of things that got away from me in the heat of the moment.

        You hit the nail on the head with the way things shifted once smokeless and small-bore came in, but you miss that a lot of the problems that came in with that was that the people making all that happen failed, utterly, to comprehend all the changes enabled and forced by the new technology. Same issues can be found when you go even further back to look at the shift from flintlock to percussion and from smoothbore to rifled; each incremental improvement enabled and required different tactical considerations and techniques. You could not take a Napoleonic columnar assault up against men armed with percussion-fired rifles, in any damn weather; this was something that took a lot of supposedly smart people by surprise, and it showed in the mid-19th Century battles that massacred troops in job lots.

        It’s a circular process; weapons drive tactics as much as tactics drive weapons, and you have to ensure that you’ve got everything properly aligned. The French had what might have been a war-influencing infantry weapon in the mitrailleuse, maybe even war-winning if they got their tactics and operational uses of it right. They signally did not.

        At the turn of the century, they should have looked at the conflicts like the Russo-Japanese War, and recognized that “Hey, this small-bore smokeless sh*t works different than what we used to do, and those machineguns kill well-trained infantry as effectively as they kill African tribesmen with spears…” The bright lights of the time failed to comprehend these facts, and that’s how we got WWI. They demonstrated just how “bright” they were by not actually examining what was going on in actual combat during the war, and then trying to respond rationally to those things. Instead, they kept fantasizing about the long-range Lone Ranger individual marksman killing his one man, failing to grasp that at the ranges they were equipping for, the individual soldier often couldn’t even observe his enemy, and that said enemy+unseen buddies were better engaged with a burst of MG fire and a mortar round or two…

        The Germans kinda-sorta figured it out, but they only got about half of it right until midway into the war; they needed to be issuing something like the M1 carbine and the MG34/42 combination, along with platoon mortars. That would have been “least wrong”, but sticking with the Kar98k was something that shouldn’t have happened. More MP38/40s, maybe, and one or two DMR scoped rifles firing the same MG cartridge? Better? Maybe?

        Technology changes war, but you’re also in a position, a lot of times, to ensure that the way you are fighting that war drives the technology.

        Rationally, at this point in the game? If I were “the guy”? I’d blow the NGSW out of the system and charge its adherents with fraud, if not treason. Then, I’d put my money into maxing out what I can get from my existing weapons suite, which means better sight systems, improved networking of said sights/fire control, and a better tripod for the existing MG system, one I can actually use to direct fires off of into the 800-1800m zone. I don’t care what that looks like, either–It could be a Lafette, it could be some super hi-tech robotic dog-looking thing that had a tablet fire control interface and which could move autonomously around my squad. I don’t care, so long as I can tell the gunner “Yeah; target is 500mils up, and 200mils right; troops in the open, burst fire”.

        That’s how you do that. You don’t design some uber-cartridge first, and then try to figure out how to make it work, tactically. That is literally putting the cart out in front of the horse, and does not work. You kill a lot of horses, that way.

    • The Marines wanted to use the SAW as an individual weapon, a thing belt-fed MGs kinda suck at. The machinegunner couldn’t keep the pace with the others, and spent too much of his supposed combat time clearing malfunctions. So much that a report suggested to further burden him with a pistol, so that, while clearing, he could at least defend himself.
      The solution would have been to treat the MG as a crew-served weapon, but that’s kinda a blasphemy and an insult to the grunts’ individuality. The second best solution would have been to use a mag-fed LMG, but they are kinda fallen out of fashion. The third best solution is to revert to the automatic rifle, and voilà, The M27 playing the role of the mini-BAR.

      • I think the essential error in Marine thinking is that they want to play tactical toreador and dance around the bullets. Ain’t happenin’, friends. Not kitted up in body armor and going against peer competitors.

        I’ll grant you that it sounds good enough that I’d be saying to the Marines I know “Sure… Yeah. That might work… You, first, though… Me and my guys will be sitting over here moving more slowly with belt-fed 7.62 goodness and our 84mm Carl Gustavs, blasting our way through the enemy formations…”

        I am not a fan of finesse, in war. While it can work, and work elegantly? I’d rather be punching people in the face and beating them about the head and upper body with dimensional lumber, figuratively speaking. Ain’t nobody’s platoon getting up again after I spend a half-hour working it over with 7.62 and recoilless rifles. I’m a clumsy and very blunt sort of person; my preferred combat tactics reflect that. Ya want elegance, hire a ballet dancer. I prefer satchel charges, chainsaws, and machineguns.

    • But, what is your choice for the best rifle cartridge of WW2?

      If you’re interested in my opinion, I posted my preference and the reasoning behind that preference, much earlier in these comments.

      • I didn’t recognize this as a personal question until I re-read the whole thread just now… Sorry!

        I don’t think there is such a thing as “the best rifle cartridge of WWII” because, as I laid out, there waren’t nosuch thing out there. “Least bad”? Maybe.

        First conceptual error with the question that I see is this: Rifle cartridge. OK, what do we really mean by that? Rifle meaning “individual weapon”, as in the one most commonly carried by combat infantrymen? Rifle defined as “Primary weapon cartridge for individual weapons and crew served”? How you frame this is important; the people making the decisions “back when” did not recognize that there should be such a separation of calibers, based on mission of the weapon. The “one cartridge to rule them all” ideas espoused by the various flavors of semi-delusional types since then are expressions of this, and I am here to tell you, ain’t none of them ever gonna square the circle because of a little something called “physics”. You cannot get the long-range heavy-hitting power you need out of a cartridge that you can also successfully use as an individual soldier with a carbine-class weapon that you need for the close-in fight, and if you try giving him something like that, he’s not going to be very effective because “weight and recoil” are real things.

        If I had to pick one WWII cartridge, it wouldn’t be either the .30-06 or the .30 Carbine. One’s too much, the other too little.

        Going for “ideal existing cartridge”? I’d probably plump down for the “Swedish solution”, with the 6.5mm Swedish for individual weapons, and their bigger 7.92mm MG cartridge for everything above the automatic rifle role.

        Ideally? I think a somewhat smaller cartridge case based off the Swedish round, one that was fully into the so-called “intermediate cartridge” class would be ideal. Realistically, that shouldn’t be “intermediate cartridge” in the first damn place, but termed something like “realistic individual weapon cartridge”.

        MG-wise? I think a heavier round that .30-06, but not quite as big or bad as the .338 magnums would suit very well. I also happen to think that something like a .38 Super would have made a much better SMG cartridge, but that’s just me.

        To put it honestly, I think they all sucked. It’s just a question of “what sucked least”, and for that, I think the Swedes came closest to what I would term the ideal.

        Call it the “6.5X50 Ideal” for individual weapon, and the “7.92X70 Perfect MG”, and you’d be about where my gut instinct says things should have been.

        The root of all this is that people were thoroughly delusional about what was going on out there past the muzzles of their troop’s rifles, and did not bother to go into the questions of caliber and weapons with open minds and clear thinking. And, yes, they were constrained by economics and technology. Nonetheless, they could have done better with both–Had the US, for example, taken their model from the Swedes, before buying and building all that capacity out for the .30-06? We’d have been a lot better off. The .30-06 stocks could have been used up in training or Home Guard service, or they could have even been passed off to the Navy/Coast Guard for their shipboard MG purposes. The logistics benefits that were supposed to be there for sticking with .30-06 were illusory, at best: Imagine the benefits in terms of how many rounds could have been shipped overseas and carried by combatants, if the rounds themselves were under two-thirds the size of the .30-06? How much material could have been saved, in fabricating them?

        Too big, too heavy? That has effect, even in prosaic things like individual weapons. It’s the small-arms equivalent of building just Tiger tanks or Pershings, not the mediums like the M4 Sherman that you can easily ship and support overseas.

        • Let’s say there are roughly trhee level of power.
          1) true intermediate rounds, (below 2300 joules, 1700ft-lbs). Good for personal automatic fire, acceptable for semiauto and SAW, bad for MG.
          2) sensible infantry rounds (between 2300 and 3000 joules, 1700 and 2100 ft-lbs) . Between bad and acceptable for personal automatic fire (maybe you’ll find an action and muzzle brake/compensator that make them work in full auto from the shoulder, but it will likely cost weight), good for semiauto and SAW, acceptable for MG.
          3) full blown infantry round (over 3000 joules, 2100 ft-lbs) bad for personal automatic fire, acceptable for semiauto and SAW, good for MG.

        • The .276 round for the Garand pre-30-06 fits the criterion for the individual weapon round better than anything. The rationale for staying with the 30-06 was due to Douglas MacArthur making a decision based on millions of rounds in storage and wanting to have a universal rifle/SAW/ mg round. Then they screw the pooch by adding .30 carbine, arguably the least effective round for military use ever.

          • .276 Pedersen was a bit too hot to be controllable on fully automatic in something that was in the weight class of an individual weapon. Much like the current NGSW abortion, which basically reinvents that wheel.

            If it were me doing the development, I’d figure out what my max weapon weight was going to be, line that up with a cartridge case that seemed to be in the right area in terms of volume and ballistics, and then start working downwards or upwards with charge weight and projectile until I found the ragged edge of controllability on full auto. At which point, I’d dial it back a smidge, and call it good for the individual weapon and light support weapon roles.

            I think something around the 6.5X55 Swedish would be a good starting point, but I’d rethink the case dimensions such that it was optimized for magazine feeding from at least a 30-round magazine, and shorten that case up to the point where it’s got just enough volume for the necessary propellant. Then, I’d play with it in testing until it was doing what I needed it to do down around the 300m mark and call it good.

            The .276 Pedersen and the current abortion that came out of the NGSW program are both, in my opinion, way too hot for general issue.

        • My thinking about infantry weapons doctrine aligns more with your thinking than it differs. You can see that in the dialogue upthread, where I defend my pro .30 Carbine opinion from Fudd-lore.

          The .276 Pedersen may have been too powerful for a lightweight hand held automatic rifle, but then it was designed for semi-automatic fire so I can’t fault it for that. It still had lower recoil than any other military rifle cartridge of WW2 (including any of the 6.5mm cartridges and excluding .30 Carbine). What a missed opportunity by the US Army. McArthur made the wrong decision when he imposed the .30 Caliber on the Garand rifle.

          Rather than any of the WW2 LMG, my favorite light infantry weapon of WW2 is the Japanese Type 89 Grenade Discharger. I’ve seen an example of it, and of the earlier generation Type 10 Grenade Discharger, in a local USMC museum. That was a highly evolved and effective weapon system, that US fighting men on the opposite end of, were quite envious of and wondered why there was no US equivalent. It compares pretty well even against modern equivalents.

          It’s barely a WW2 weapon, but I’m also fond of the US M18a1 57mm RCL Gun. It gave good service knocking out enemy MG nests at extreme range during the Korean War, and I’ve wondered what kind of utility it could provide today with laser range finding, proximity fuzed shells, and some kind mount similar to a MILAN allowing prone fire from a covered position.

  16. Ah, but David… You make my point for me. Precisely none of what you accurately lay out happened by actual planned forethought. It was all a series of reactive responses to perceived problems that may or may not have existed.

    I’d point out, further, that the M1918 BAR was not “…developed from battlefield lessons of WWI and static trench fighting.” More accurately, it was designed from things that people thought were going on, and meant to accomplish things that they thought would work, like the asinine “walking/marching fire” routine. If someone had actually sat their asses down and looked at all the tactical problems and how they wound up being solved in that war, the BAR would have never been more than a failed experiment along the way towards something that did actually answer the mail.

    An Automatic Rifle in .30-06 is an insane, unfunny joke. Even an LMG fired off a tripod, with a top-feeding magazine, it’d still be a bit of a joke, because you can’t generate firepower with that constant changing of the magazines, and the utterly nutso-crazy fact that you have to have your AG or gunner rise up into the line of fire from where they should be safely looking into a periscopic sight system.

    The “least bad” solution to the tactical problems of WWI was the MG34/42 MG system, with its portable tripod system that included a periscopic sight. Even if you were to eschew the elegance of German “Flachen und Luekentaktik”, and go for the brutality of the frontal assault, the mere fact that you can get that supporting-fires MG onto a tripod that enables the gunner to remain unexposed as he fires it…? Huge, huge difference.

    There was an utter lack of clarity with weapons design and the supporting doctrine, back then. Still is, as a matter of fact, which you can see clearly in the insanity of the NGSW program that is answering a question nobody is asking, and failing to address the ones that are actually raised by our inept MG handling. There still isn’t a decent portable tripod fire control solution to go under that wunnerful, wunnerful new MG, and because of that, the inherent characteristics of the human shoulder/bipod combination are going to intrinsically limit the effective range of that new cartridge. Ya can’t hit shiite off a bipod past about 800m, so that range “overmatch” is still going to be there.

    The logistics considerations are always the ones they choose to use as excuses, but the actual fact with all that is that you rarely run into a situation where that makes much of a difference. Commonality of cartridge? WTF? WWII? US military, with the 8-round en bloc clip system vs. the 5-round stripper vs. the belt? I can’t find a single well-documented case where anyone was so hard up for ammo that they were stripping belts and picking up clips to reload for their Garands, or where they were reloading belts from Garand clips. So, the whole “logistics, logistics, logistics” excuse goes out the window. Even if you go back up the system tree, to where they’re building the weapons and making the tools to build those weapons, it’s pretty much a wash.

    The raw, unpleasant fact is that we’ve made most of our decisions in this realm by sheer ‘effing accident. Some have worked, some haven’t–The US with 5.56mm and the M16 worked out sufficiently well, but the previous generation of 7.62mm and M14 did not.

    What needed to happen was that someone needed to sit down and work out what the hell they were actually doing in mid-century combat, then design accordingly. The way we went about it, it was more like “Design first, figure out how to use it after, under fire…”

    Color me in as “not a fan” of On-the-Job-Training for working out doctrine and tactics. That gets people killed, in job lots. Figure out how you’re going to fight first, then design your cartridge and weapons to support that. It ain’t all that hard, either: What range do you need to kill the enemy at, with your tactics? How do you intend to supply your ammo? What other weapons are you going to take with you, and what are their characteristics? How do you intend to have them work together, and what synergies are you relying on for them to work most effectively?

    The paradigm for Western European mechanized war was pretty well set, although by accident: Individual weapons were mostly for local security and combat in built-up areas that you absolutely had to fight in. Supporting fires came from armor; the small arms were effectively de-emphasized, and that worked, so long as you kept your Bradleys, Warriors, and Marders hugged close and tight to your chest. The 5.56mm individual weapon cartridge that served in the AR role, as well? It was adequate; likewise the 7.62mm MG cartridge that supplemented it.

    Suddenly going into a small arms-centric fight in the Hindu Kush? LOL… There were, ah… Issues. Yes, that’s what we’ll call them: Issues. None of that was thought about, it was just “We can’t hit the enemy firing at us with PKMs from 1000m off of tripods with our bipod-mounted heavy-ass M240s whose tripods we left in the FOB ‘cos they don’t work very well in the field…”

    You have to think of the whole thing as a system of systems; the individual weapons are for close-in work, because that’s where they do best and you need that sort of easily shifted and controlled fire. The long-range crap is the domain of the MG, because that’s what you need to kill the other five guys you didn’t see around the one you did, and you’re basically firing up that entire piece of terrain on speculation that someone is there you need to kill. A hundred guys with sniper rifles that are waiting for each and every individual idiot out there to raise their heads and get killed? Ain’t happening; they’ll never see all of them. The MG is king out beyond 600m, and the mortar is his queen. Past 1500m or so? Baby, you better have your FO with you, and his radio better be working.

    That’s how combat works, and nobody bothers to think about it or work out how best to answer those issues. The NGSW is too big, too heavy, and too hard to maneuver around quickly to engage all the close-in targets they’ll have to be dealing with. I lay you long odds that if you matched up a platoon of infantry with M4 carbines up against the wily Talibani sneaking up close and personal, they’ll do a lot better than the guys you hand out all those shiny new NGSW rifles to, because that M4 is a hell of a lot handier for the close-in fight. That’s how it wound up first supplanting the M16A2, and then replacing it: Had nothing to do with the cartridge, it had to do with how f*cking unwieldly the damn A2 was, by comparison. I venture to predict that the NGSW will suffer the same fate as the M21 and M14 DMR rifles, and will wind up being left behind in the arms room for the same damn reasons.

    You want something like the M4 to defend yourself in the close-in fight. You want to actually kill the enemy out there at medium- and long-range small arms distances? That’s the work of a machinegun or mortar. Period.

    • Oh, and that damn MG had better be on a tripod, with a well-drilled crew, led by someone who knows what they’re about, properly equipped with all the shiny accessories like binos with reticles and rangefinders. Same-same with mortars; a commando mortar that ain’t got a full bipod and sight setup along with that can be smoothly transitioned to provide actual indirect fire ain’t all you need. It’s nice to have, but it ain’t what you actually need to kill as many of the enemy as you can as far away from you and your guys as you can manage…

    • M1918 BAR was . . . meant to accomplish things that they thought would work, like the asinine “walking/marching fire”

      I’m glad you clarified further, because I was confused by your previous response. I don’t see the BAR as an “ultimate MG” hampered by poor interfaces and peripherals, but rather a critical caveat to your main point: letting tactical doctrine drive weapons procurement makes sense, but only to the extent that the doctrine makes sense.

      • M1918 BAR: Great action, hampered by two major deficiencies to make it a semi-functional squad support weapon. One, 20-round magazine feeding from bottom, and two, no way of transitioning it to a T&E controlled-fire weapon on a tripod. All it could be the way it was laid out was an Automatic Rifle with a crew of one, and in .30-06? Too damn big; too heavy; too unwieldly. If the Army had been smart enough to tell John Moses Browning to design the BAR around .25 Remington, the BAR would have been a really good AR.

        The superiority of the action is demonstrated by the fact that they essentially turned it upside down and slapped a belt feed on top, turning it into the M240. That’s what I meant by the “poor interface and peripherals” comment. It could have been a most excellent weapon, but with a 20-round box magazine fed from beneath, in .30-06? Yeesh. Not so much.

        • OK action, which (combined with the tech of the time – a cast iron receiver, FFS!) produced all the discrepancies you listed. Even today, the 240 (as you’ve noted yourself on numerous occasions) is a chunk.

          Ordnance would have been better off taking the .25 (along with a decent detachable box mag and coil compression spring) to Isaac Lewis.

          • Having had the dubious pleasure of trying to make tactical Kleenex which was supported as though it were Kevlar handkerchiefs work, I’ll happily accept that extra M240 chunky goodness.

            Not necessarily a fan of carrying all that, mind you, but… Yeah, been there, done that, didn’t like the experience on the other end of the scales. There’s nothing quite like being an M60 gunner, and asking yourself “OK, what’s gonna break/fall off, this time…” every time you go to pull the trigger. People’s mileage may have varied from mine, but I was a long-service professional, and the M60 was a disposable POS being supported as though it were indestructible. Which it manifestly was not.

          • I do not disagree that the M60 is a poor design, but I also don’t think it categorically proves it is impossible to make an MG (especially not a squad MG) lighter than the M240.

          • Oh, you absolutely can. SS-77, Negev, PKM, Knights Armament LMG… The list of things they could have bought instead of the M240 is lengthy.

            But, like most US small arms procurements, it was done in a fit of absent-mindedness and misadventure. The miracle is that they didn’t try to adopt an upcalibered AMELI or the French NF-1. Or, alternatively, something even worse that they ginned up in some backroom lab as a committee effort.

            I was just happy to get something that worked, finally. And, which did not have me waking up with cold sweats, late at night after watching the news during some idiotic “crisis” created by the same sort of morons that procured the M60 in the first place…

            I swear, managing those things in my arms rooms over the years? Has to be responsible for a lot of my stress-induced hair loss and gray hairs. If I’d been a drinking man, back then, I might have become an alcoholic.

          • I read and re-read this, half-expecting to get an E-mail from the VA about care options for P-M60-TSD 😉 You sure have a way with words. Hang in there, buddy.

          • I don’t think the VA has yet added “M60” to a list of service-related traumas or syndromes. Maybe they should, because God knows I’ve picked up a bit of a monomania on the subject…

            Counseling might help, I suppose, but what do you say to the counselor, when they show you the doll and ask you “Where did the nasty-ass M60 touch you…?”

            I am not kidding when I tell you that I had nightmares about M60 readiness, back when I was up behind the DMZ in Korea. No-shit, waking up sweating bullets, because I knew the Arms Room only had one functional gun in it, and it wasn’t even my platoon’s… Commander told me I could only turn in two at a time, even though all of them were effectively unserviceable, and it was taking months for them to get the damn things fixed, even in Korea. Bill Clinton’s budgets played merry hell with readiness for a lot of stuff, even in Korea.

        • “(…)The superiority of the action is demonstrated by the fact that they essentially turned it upside down and slapped a belt feed on top, turning it into the M240.(…)”
          Evidence of how apt said action was other weapon spawned by it, namely Karabin maszynowy obserwatora wz. 37 see photos
          it was aviation (flexible) machine gun with Rate-of-Fire increased to 1100 and feed from pan magazines (capacity 91…96) using then default in Poland rifle catridge 7,9 x 57 mm.

    • Just as a thought on the perceived role of the M1 carbine- what if it had been developed to use a much better round than the .32 Win Self-loading cartridge it was based on? What if as an alternative cartridge a rimless version of the .351 WSL cartridge necked down to .30 caliber and given the same 40,000 cup pressure of the carbine round with a slightly heavier bullet, say 120-125 grains and a true muzzle velocity of 2200-2250 feet per second out of the standard 18-inch barrel and issued for the same purpose as the carbine was supposedly designed to fulfill? Would that have been asking too much from designers? Then that weapons system could have replaced the Garand/Springfield/P17 rifles issued during WWII with one rifle/cartridge system for issue to all troops except dedicated snipers and machine guns would still use 30-06 and .50 Ma Deuce.

      • Those are the performances of a .300 Blackout, that has similar case dimensions, but needs 52.000 CUP to do so.

      • I’d prefer something in 6.5mm, to be honest. 6.5X50, loaded to just below the velocity of the 5.56mm should have been easily achievable, given the technology of the times, and I think it would have still been controllable on full auto. It would have also been plenty big for tracer/incendiary rounds so as to feed a good LMG that could have been converted between belt and magazine feed by swapping out the feedtray cover that would have had a setup built into the tripod to accept, so that if you needed to adjust fires out past about 500m, you could put the LMG on the tripod, swap out the feed tray cover from the tripod, attach the box mag top cover to the gun, and away you go…

        In a better world, they did that, and saved a bunch of grunt’s lives while they did.

  17. I don’t know if I’d say ‘best’, depending upon how you’d quantify such a term. Certainly Ian made a good stab at it. Based on overall results and effectiveness, though, I’d argue that the US .30-06 M2 and in particular the 165gr AP black tip cartridge was the ‘best’:

    1) Reliability – .30-06 M2 performed equally well in bolt, M1, BAR and Browning MGs. US WW2 military ammunition was made to higher standards than most German and all Italian, French, or Japanese ammunition, was transported in sturdy waterproof containers, and always used excellent brass cases (not steel or ersatz brass) not to mention very reliable (if corrosive) primers. So our weapons genrally suffered from fewer FTF. Notably, an only exception was the US .30 M1 Carbine round, whose non-corrosive primers often went dead in wet conditions.

    2) Accuracy (documented case of kills on stationary soldiers at 800 yards using M1 Garand with open sights and .30 M2)

    3) Penetration (AP) – 1 inch mild steel and a minimum of 0.42 inch of hardened plate (.30 US AP rounds were easily capable of penetrating German APC doors and incapacitating German machine guns with bullet strikes). This ammunition made the cover of thin block or small diameter trees useless to enemy soldiers. .30 AP would penetrate small trees in the jungle, and one US .30 M2 BALL round would penetrate THREE Japanese infantry soldiers marching in file on a jungle trail (despite full pack, entrenching tool and equipment).

    • What post-war studies really found out is that the fire of the soldiers was NEVER accurate, or simply aimed. The probability for a part of the body of the enemy to be hit only depended on exposition, the ability of grunts to reliably hit human-sized targets past 100 yards was negligible, and fantastic quantities of ammunitions were expended for any single hit. The conclusions were that the lethality of the soldiers was only directly proportional to the quantity of ammos they could carry.

      • If you’re referring to the post-war infantry fire ‘studies’ conducted by S.L.A. Marshall, those reports and Marshall’s ratio-of-fire’ hypothesis have been thoroughly refuted by more recent research ( The fact is that many US soldiers in WW2, not just marines and paratroopers were trained to use individual weapons with great accuracy, and did so, even in horrific combat conditions. Spray-and-pray did not dislodge entrenched German troops or Japanese soldiers then, and it doesn’t now. German and Italian after action reports attest to the detested ability of individual US soldiers to hit their targets with great accuracy.

        While we’ll never return to bolt-action rifles, it’s clear that our soldiers shouldn’t be evaluated on the level of a Soviet-era peasant soldier or Japanese serf farm worker in terms of individual rifle effectiveness in aimed fire. As late as 2005, the US Army conducted a investigation after so many enemy were turning up with 1-shot head wounds, worried that that US troops were executing prisoners. It turned out that the optics and excellent accuracy of US infantry rifles were causing all these 1-shot kills.

        • Marshall is only one of many, and not particularly relevant to what I said, since I was talking of soldiers that fired. Post Korean war studies had exact the same findings. No accurate fire, fantastic expenditure of ammos for any single hit.
          I’ve never heard of any of those German and Italian after action reports instead, while, IE, the Biscari massacre seems to point out how US GIs were so impressed by the fire of second-rate troops (airport crew and territorial militia) to assume they were targeted by snipers.

          • Since Marshall also claimed that on average only 25-30% of US soldiers FIRING their rifles shot towards the enemy , and further claimed only a small proportion of that number who FIRED their rifles actually attempted to aim directly at individual soldiers, and since US Army postwar doctrine was influenced by his writings, he is indeed relevant. All of the post WW2 reports on infantry rifle fire use the same ‘methodology’ as Marshall, i.e. they start with a conclusion on the ineffectiveness of aimed rifle fire, then try to fit the evidence support the hypothesis, cherry picking what fits and ignoring verifiable incidents from reliable sources. Many of theese so-called ‘studies’ also (unbelievably) incorporate Marshall’s discredited claims and notebook data, so are unpersuasive.

          • @Dogwalker,

            Marshall is about as much a hot-button for me as the M60. He was a fabulist of the first order, and claimed a bunch of crap that simply wasn’t so.

            The system of marksmanship he claimed involvement in and credit for was what the Army called “Trainfire”. That was developed through insights which came out of the Army Research Laboratories, or ARL. What they figured out (independently of Marshall, BTW…) was that soldiers weren’t shooting at the enemy because they didn’t want to kill another human being (Marshall’s fantasy), but because they’d been trained to shoot at abstract targets which looked nothing like people. They’d been conditioned like so many Pavlov’s Dogs to shoot only at big white pieces of paper with nice, clear bullseyes in their centers at set distances. Not seeing those, they had a hard time with the transition to guys wandering around in subdued colors, presented unpredictably at random ranges. Trainfire recognized this, and that was when they went to the whole qualification system being based on silhouette targets presented in combat-realistic conditions.

            Marshall claimed a bunch of credit for that whole thing, but… I’ll be damned if I could find any documentation whatsoever on that anywhere in the ARL documentation about Trainfire or its development.

            Marshall also claimed a bunch of BS about people being unwilling to kill, and all that other crap. Having made the mistake of citing his work and all that in front of real, live WWII veterans? LOL… I got schooled, and it was highly, highly embarrassing. One of them turned up another vet, who’d actually been at one of Marshall’s vaunted “post-battle debriefings”, one which was cited extensively by Marshall for one of his more successful books about WWII combat. His take, as a participant? What he read later was entirely fictitious, and Marshall had gotten some critical details entirely wrong. Perhaps, deliberately.

            Marshall’s later work in Korea and Vietnam are equally suspect. David Hackworth escorted him, and you can find some interesting things that he said about Marshall and his methods in About Face.

            I’ve never heard of Biscari, until today. I look at the entry in Wikipedia, and what I see has nothing to do with marksmanship or much of anything relevant to this discussion. I see poorly disciplined amateur soldiers under fire for the first time, and reacting accordingly because of piss-poor leadership all the way up the line to Patton. Patton in Africa and Italy apparently had no internal censor going, and did not consider how inexperienced troops would take his words seriously. There’s a lot in common between him, his ego, and some of our politicians that get into trouble by running their mouths without engaging their brains.

          • @Glen
            As already said, Marshall is only one of many, and not particularly relevant to what I said, since I was talking of soldiers that fired, not that soldiers that didn’t fire, or didn’t want to kill.
            See, IE “OPERATIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR AN INFANTRY HAND WEAPON” by Norman A. Hitchman (John Hopkins University, for the Department of the Army) with statistical analysis by Scott E. Forbush and George J. Blakemore, Jr.
            Marshall is not even cited between the sources.
            “The ranges at which the rifle is used most frequently in battle and the ranges within which the greater fraction of man targets can be seen on the battlefield do not exceed 300 yd.”
            “Within these important battle ranges, the marksmanship of even expert riflemen is satisfactory in meeting actual battle requirements only up to 100 yd; beyond 100 yd, marksmanship declines sharply, reaching a low order at 300 yd”
            “the comparison of hits from bullets with those from fragments showed that the rifle bullet is not actually better directed towards vulnerable parts of the body.”
            Your use or the expression “cherry picking” is peculiar, since what you suggest to do, collecting “verifiable incidents from reliable sources” is EXACTLY cherry picking. That’s not how statistic, and science in general works. Collecting few tales of over 600m hits, and ignoring millions of bullets that missed at less than 100m.
            If you are suggesting that all the US post war (WWII and Korea) statistical studies on the matter were in some way “polluted” by Marshall, and so not believable, then whe are no more talking about facts, but about faith, and sorry, I’m not interested in religious discussions.

          • @ Kirk
            And I never said it had to do with marksmanship. To me it can be taken for granted that the Italian troops there didn’t shoot any better than what could be expected by second-rate troops (not even proper infantry) that hardly trained with their rifles.
            And the “poorly disciplined amateur soldiers under fire for the first time” on the other side didn’t shoot any better, despite they were not scraping the barrel with the draft.
            As said, I’ve never heard of any of those “German and Italian after-action reports attesting to the detested ability of individual US soldiers to hit their targets with great accuracy”. The only thing the GIs were really noted for by Germans and Italians was the abundance they had of everything (differently from the Brits, that where “just a little less poor than us”).

        • That was actually the Marines and their RCO scopes with the headshot issues. Army, not so much.

          The problem with Army marksmanship training from that era was that it was really only addressing half of the issue with skill-at-arms, which was the “shoot under pressure in a realistic simulation of reality”. The lack of emphasis on discrete marksmanship skills was a problem, in my mind. Marines were absolutely more accurate with their shots, when they took them. The difference was, the Army trained predominantly on the pop-up target ranges with man-sized silhouettes, while the Marines were training on known distance ranges with abstract targets. On a pure marksmanship basis, the Marines generally displayed better skills.

          However… As several former Marines I had work for me demonstrated, they might have been great shots, but they couldn’t qualify on an Army range. The limited time for exposure of the targets, and the fact that they were taking waaaaay too long to get “set” for each shot, as though they were doing Marine qualifications…? Yeah; abject failure.

          It’s kinda the difference between IPSC pistol shooting, and bullseye match shooting. Neither party was really “doing it right”, because the Army guys weren’t ever trained to really shoot accurately. Good enough to hit a silhouette was the Army standard, and the Marine ideal that they could hit the 10-ring at 600m was theirs. The problem was, you really need to be able to do both, dependent on the situation.

          It’s another one of those deals where what appear to be two diametrically opposing things can be true at the same time…

          • “The problem was, you really need to be able to do both, dependent on the situation.”

            Absolutely true, but it still comes down to accurate, aimed fire. Whether it’s a US paratrooper killing a German tank commander sitting in his turret at 800 yards, or a thin line of Merrill’s Marauders with rifles dropping a company of screaming bayonet-equipped Japanese at 50 yards.

          • The thing that most commentators can’t wrap their heads around is that both things are equally valid and “true”. At one and the same time, most downrange “effect” is random -and- you have to be able to hit your targets as an individual.

            You can weight things one way or the other, however you chose to prioritize. However, comma… Most of your killing, especially past the range band where individual weapons and individual targets are most likely to be engaged, the sad reality is that you want random chance on your side. So… Beaten zone of a machine gun and/or indirect fire from a mortar or artillery will be the most efficacious way of eliminating the enemy.

            It’s like they say with deer… You see one, there are almost certainly ten more in close proximity that you don’t see. And, unlike deer, enemy infantry should not get “sporting odds” and “fair” applied to them: You want to slaughter them in job lots, as far from you and your troops as possible. So… MG bursts and mortar rounds are what you should be using, not freakin’ Daniel Boone or Carlos Hathcock-esque individual marksmen. You’re not trying to kill that one guy, you’re trying to kill the other nine or so guys in his squad that didn’t expose themselves.

            Which is where that dichotomy between “aimed, accurate fire” and “plaster that grid square” comes in. They’re both truths of combat, and both are necessary.

            Of course, your mileage may vary, and I rather suspect things are changing as we speak. I’ve been watching a lot of the video coming out of Ukraine, and the way the Ukrainians are using drones+munitions to casually drop on guys who’re doing their business outside their foxholes and trenches is purely Grade A-Satanic mindf*ckery. I suspect that at some point, the sheer inability to respond to this sort of thing is going to have an effect on how we fight wars, because I’m just not seeing how that kind of thing is sustainable, morale-wise. I mean, it’s one damn thing to get hit by a random artillery round, but to know that there could be “some guy” watching you take a crap from high enough that you can’t hear the drone’s motors…? That’s gotta be a little damaging to people’s equanimity.

      • Yeah, well… There’s a bit of a problem with the thought processes going on, here.

        At the same time that you can look at the aggregate numbers and very correctly say that the whole thing is dependent upon random dispersion of bullets into the vicinity of the enemy (which is statistically “true”, from an abstract generalist point of view), you can also be “that guy” down on the line with the inaccurate rifle that’s designed with the statistical ideal that it takes 50,000 rounds to create one enemy KIA. Which ain’t a good place to be, when you’re only carrying 210 rounds and needing to fire (statistically, again…) 50,000 to kill that bastard who is coming for you.

        It’s apples and oranges. Yes, on the one hand it’s perfectly true that most casualties (even with rifles) are down to random chance. That’s on the receiving end, though… The guy who’s firing, trying to stop J. Random Fritz, Sakimoto, or Lee? He’s got a very different viewpoint angle to be looking at the issue from.

        Too many of the idiots working the issues back at the mid-century mark took the rarefied statistical viewpoint, and failed to recognize that while there was a dichotomy between the two viewpoints, they were actually both true.

        At the same time that you can honestly say that the vast majority of the shots were wasted and effectively random, you also have to acknowledge that if you rely on that and design accordingly for the individual weapon you issue, you’re gonna have a rather massive morale problem on your hands, ‘cos ain’t nobody wanting to rely on having to carry 50,000 rounds into combat to ensure that that “one guy” trying to kill them personally is going to be stopped.

        I mean, you read some of the studies that were the basis for the SPIW program, and you rather begin to get the impression that the lab boys were looking at the average infantryman as a projectile delivery/dispersion boy, and screw their personal need for self-defense. Across the entire force, maybe you can make a point for this, but if you were to tell me that you were going to equip everyone with just Claymore mines and send them into combat so as to generate the maximum amount of fragments delivered unto the enemy…? I’d be telling you “No. Not going to happen…”

        To a degree, I think there’s a lot of “system design” failure permeating the whole small arms issue. Yeah, I am a big believer in firepower, but I also want a damn personal weapon that’s going to do what I need it to, when I need it to, and it had better be accurate, effective, and reliable when it comes to killing that rat bastard who is trying to kill me. More than one perspective on a situation can be true at the same time.

        I think a lot of the problem is that people sitting in the offices and labs fail to really comprehend that it’s completely possible for both the positions of statistics and personal need to be true, simultaneously. There’s a cross-over point where I cease caring about my contribution to the aggregate statistics, and begin worrying about my personal survival, and if my issued weapon ain’t answering the mail at that juncture, we have a problem.

        • The first step is agreeing on the premises, then solutions may differ, but there is some common ground.
          If the premises are that the US soldiers are capable to deliver accurate rifle fire up to 600m, one shot one kill, then the solution is the M14, or even better an AR10. No questions asked. Spend money in accuratising rifles instead than on ammos, any GI will kill 90 enemies with his issued 5 magazines, and any war will be won easily.
          If the premise is that US qualified “experts” have 1/5 chances or less to hit a paper target standing still in broad daylight at 300m, and that, in over 70% of the environments, a soldier in prone position can’t even see an enemy standing still in broad daylight at 300m, then you can start searching for a different solution.

          • It’s not either/or. It’s both.

            One shot-one kill is mostly fallacious fantasy when looked at in the aggregate. But, you try telling the troops that they don’t need a rifle that can hit what they’re aiming at reliably, and watch what happens to morale.

            Again, it boils down to a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of war and combat in the mid-20th Century. You have to put the capability for one shot-one kill out there in the hands of the troops, but the general case is that most of your killing isn’t going to be performed by a bullet with someone’s name on it; most of the killing is going to be done by those addressed “to whom it may concern”.

            Especially in that small-arms battlespace out past about 300m. And, again, it’s not because guys can’t hit, it’s more because you can’t observe. People really don’t get that, at all–Everyone thinks that the big deal is marksmanship/skill-at-arms. Reality? It’s observation, observation, observation.

            If you spend time stalking game, you’ll figure that out. If you’re a city sort of guy, it’s highly counterintuitive. I used to hunt with a guy who was straight out of a James Fenimore Cooper novel; straight-up prototypical frontier woodsman. His marksmanship skills were so-so, but he more than made up for that because he could observe. It wasn’t just that he could make out deer just inside the woodline, either–On the stalk, that SOB was like freakin’ Sherlock Holmes with animal sign. I’m not even in the same book with him, let alone on the same page. I once saw him go through a muddy little brookside crossing, spend about five minutes looking at things, and then come back and say that there were 11 deer ahead of us. We got up to where they’d gone to ground at dusk, there were 11 deer. He’d pick up on stuff that I did not, like the minute variations in their hooves, and he’d do it at a glance.

            Guys like him were like gold, whenever you went into force-on-force in any kind of wooded terrain. Average soldier? LOL… Forget it. You damn near have to walk up and slap him, before he’ll notice you’re there.

            In other words, it’s not target engagement that is the real problem; it’s target acquisition. That’s also why you’re way more effective at killing the enemy when you plan around that fact, and use area weapons like MG and mortars.

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