This guest article written by Andrey Ulanov.
When a new weapon model gets to the front, there is always a risk of it getting captured by the enemy. Armed forces go to great lengths to avoid it. For example, when the USSR carried out comparative tests of the Sudaev submachine gun (PPS) and a new version of the Shpagin submachine gun (PPSh-2), Stalin personally signed an order commanding that tests are carried out in the rear with the units recalled from the frontlines that have combat experience. Regardless, the order was violated and Sudaev’s submachine guns were tested in the battles near Leningrad.
Undoubtedly, Germans took similar precautions. So who and when captured the first German Maschinenkarabiner 42?
Some Russian sources claim that the first MkB were captured back in March 1943. However, this information has yet to be confirmed by any documents. Conducting my own research in the Central Archive of Russian MOD (known as TsAMO), I found a report dated June 1943 (source: fund 81, case file 87, “Correspondence on foreign small arms”), which allows us to re-establish the timeline of capturing the first Maschinenkarabiner 42. It reads as follows:
“To the Head of GAU KA (Main artillery directorate of Red Army). I am sending lieutenant-technician N.N. Troitsky to deliver a German automatic carbine and 4 cartridges for it, which were captured at the 22nd Army’s sector near the city of Holm in June”.
We then find the MKb42(H), serial number 1334, in the Soviet test shooting range documentation, where the carbine arrived in early July. Peculiarly, it only had 3 rounds by then. Apparently, one cartridge was immediately forwarded to the ammunition specialists. This MKb42(H) went through preliminary research and testing in July 1943. Since the three original cartridges were not remotely sufficient for any testing purposes, the range were ordered to manufacture 500 rounds of compatible ammunition “by re-crimping German shells and trimming bullets” on site.
Dieter Handrich’s book “Sturmgewehr! From Firepower to Striking Power” indicates that military tests of MKb-42(H) was ordered in April 1943. As a result, about 2,000 units were sent to Heeresgruppe Nord, intended for the following divisions: 1st, 11th, 21st, 93rd, 212nd infantry divisions and 18th Panzergrenadier division. In fact, the actual list was slightly different. For us, the most interesting detail is that the 93rd infantery division received 213 Maschinenkarabiner, of which 7 were lost already in June 1943 (source: NARA T-315 R-1167 and T-312 R-600).
As you have probably already guessed, the 93rd Infantry Division were located in the area of the city of Holm, facing the Soviet 22nd Army. The front line in this area was relatively stable so sending a batch of new weapons here for combat testing surely seemed like a great idea to the German command. However, the Germans did not consider the high activity of razvedka, the Soviet field reconnaissance units in this area. Not unlike the US Army Rangers, these ghillie-suited highly trained operators, often with Siberian hunting experience, routinely carried out raids deep behind enemy lines to scout fresh intelligence on the enemy forces and bring back live prisoners for interrogation. Their secondary objective was to prevent their German counterparts from doing same.
In one of the reports of the 22nd Army, I have discovered the following episode:
On June 22, 1943, a group of 820th Infantry Regiment scouts led by 2nd Lt. Arkhipov discovered an ambush set up by a German reconnaissance unit. Supported by an infantry platoon under the command of Lt. Ivushkin, Soviet scouts attacked the group, eliminating 12 German soldiers and capturing three (two obergefreiters and one private). According to Soviet field report, the group belonged the 1st Battalion, 272nd Regiment of the 93rd Infantry Division. The report also lists “four machine gun carbines” as trophies.
During the subsequent interrogation, the captive Hugo Hinsche indicated that a special battalion reconnaissance platoon was formed in the 1st battalion of the 272nd grenadier regiment in May 1943. The platoon comprised 27 people armed with “machine gun carbines of the 1942 model”. It can be said with high degree of certainty that it was the razvedka of Soviet 820th Infantry Regiment who became the first Allied soldiers to seize a sample of this highly sought-after German weapon. The history of the 43rd model cartridge, Kalashnikov assault rifles and everything else begins with these people.
Great information sir. Thank you for posting.
A bit too little time to start the history of 43 round from this capture!!!!!! or russians would have been much more than genial, clever and so on.Even on russian net sites it is recognized that the M43 round come from the 1935 Geco round for the Vollmer carbine probably discovered at the time of germano russian pact when soviets visited Germany. Not only on russian sites but also in Collector’s grade book on Sturmgewehr.!!!!!!!!!!!
It is difficult for me to know what is written on some unknown sites :))) . The archival documents of the TsAMO RF from the GAU KA fund unequivocally say that the work on the creation of a new weapon and cartridge was launched in the second half of 1943. After the capture of the captured German MkB(H). Before the start of the war, completely different ammunition was developed.
Ian commented last time the time requird to make a gun functioning and this is also true for ammo. See the bad experience of M 16 with the change of powder.
And where did you see the problem?:)) cartridge 43 took a long time to develop.
New developments are often inspired by multiple sources. What could well have happened is that the Soviets may have been well aware of the intermediate cartridge idea from pre-war work. Indeed, one could argue that Federov was an early pioneer of the idea. Thus the Soviets were well prepared to understand the concepts and their applications, even if they weren’t actively pursuing at the time.
However, the capture of German samples may have been what it took to get a Soviet response to it in motion, and to help crystalize their own ideas on what form it should take.
Thus while the intermediate cartridge idea may not have been a new concept for the Soviets, the impetus to actually invest the money and manpower into making their own, and doing it in the midst of a titanic war, may have been the knowledge that their enemy was doing the same.
Unfortunately, the topic of Soviet pre-war work on ammunition is still poorly researched. I can say that we are all still waiting for a lot of new things in this area.
Based on the data I have, I can say that before the war in the USSR they were more interested in the path that led the United States to the 5.56×45 cartridge. Small caliber bullet with high speed and range like a rifle. One of my documents mentions an experimental 5.6 mm cartridge in 1941.
The other question that has to be asked, though…?
Did everything make it into the archives? Are we missing things because the men behind them became “politically suspect”, and wound up being erased from the histories?
Even in a relatively open society that purportedly doesn’t do the Stalinesque erasures from photographs and works of history, there are things that simply aren’t known because nobody thought to record them in the first place, or because someone wanted things hidden.
Two things come to mind–The lack of any records discussing how Stoner went from the conventionally-designed M7 prototype to the M8 that eventually evolved into the X-01 initial version of the AR-10. From the looks of things, the ergonomics of the AR-10/M-16 family basically just appear out of nowhere, but that seems highly unlikely.
The other thing that influences what gets recorded is the bureaucratic urge to obfuscate and hide wrong-doing. An acquaintance of mine who worked at Springfield Arsenal described watching as massive amounts of records were destroyed before the Ichord Commission subpoenas were delivered. What usually remains after the various bureaucracies get done with things is self-serving and oftentimes, self-delusional. You have to wonder what records would show, were they honestly preserved and kept out in the open for all to see.
I rather suspect that the folks at Royal Ordnance Enfield had some skeletons to hide in reference to their dealings with Sterling, and that we’ll never know a lot of the details surrounding the issues of the Sterling SMG, right along with the AR-18 getting transmogrified into the SA-80. Too much egg on too many faces, and some poor bastard seventy years on trying to figure out what was actually going on will have a hell of a time attempting to make sense of it all.
Of course, the documents will only contain part of the story.
But in the case of Soviet military archives, this question is simpler. These papers were top secret. Nobody thought that they would be published. 99% chance that they should have ended up in flames. These were papers for internal use. The Soviet military was interested in efficiency, not politics. They could praise foreign weapons or point out the shortcomings of famous Soviet designers.
Another plus of the system is that the Soviet bureaucracy required several copies of important papers. If one was missing, there was a chance to find the second.
The creation and testing of new types of weapons and ammunition is a very difficult process. It leaves a big paper trail. Resources, people, finances. The state machine counts all this. Perhaps this will be news, but under Stalin, spending was very closely monitored. The designers who did not work well were not afraid of the political police, but of the financial control department of the war ministry.:))))
It is much more difficult with the documents of the design bureaus. It was there that the human factor was of great importance. There was only one winner. He received money, awards, he received his name on weapons. Degtyarev machine gun, Shpagin submachine gun and so on. Of course, there was a lot of intrigue. And there are a lot of questions.
“(…)an experimental 5.6 mm cartridge in 1941.”
Might this be 5,6 x 60
it was very different from 5,56×45 cartridge and quite mind-boggling is rimmed.
If you carefully read the article on the link, my name is mentioned there. :))))
Hang on a minute! I thought that the AK and it’s cartridge where more or less developed independent from the Sturmgewehr. Were captured Sturmgewehre used to improve the design of the Soviet rifle and cartridge? Yes, absolutely, but the AK wasn’t a copy. Do I understand from your remark Andrey that development of the AK started in earnest after the capture of these MKB 42’s?
Of course, the AK and other Soviet models (for example, the Sudaev assault rifle made in 1944) were not a copy of the StG. People often don’t realize that direct copying is very rarely possible due to different production technologies. ^))))
The Soviet command was preoccupied with the concept of new weapons. Lighter than a machine gun, but more effective than a submachine gun.
The lack of a light machine gun among the Germans was considered a big problem for the USSR. MG was considered too heavy for this role. According to the Soviet military, the StG was supposed to become an analogue light machine gun. The first Soviet samples were also designed for this role. They even had a bipod. The idea of individual weapons for each fighter was born later.
“The lack of a light machine gun among the Germans was considered a big problem for the USSR. MG was considered too heavy for this role. According to the Soviet military, the StG was supposed to become an analogue light machine gun. The first Soviet samples were also designed for this role. They even had a bipod. The idea of individual weapons for each fighter was born later.”
I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, but what I’m taking from this is that the Soviet leadership thought that the lack of an actual LMG was actually more a problem for the Germans than the Soviets? That, looking at it from the Soviet perspective, the Germans should have been equipping themselves with an LMG like the Degtyarev, and that they thought that the StG was an attempt to fill this role, rather than filling the role of PPsH and MP40 combined with the Kar98k?
What I find really odd about the whole reaction to the MG34/42 GPMG concept is that none of the Allied powers tried to look at it from the perspective of what the Germans actually thought they were doing, which was centering their lowest-level infantry elements on the MG rather than the individual rifleman.
I get that the American approach was entirely myopic and full of fantasy ideas going back to how the popular imagination thought we’d won the Revolutionary War, but… Sheesh. I had no idea it was prevalent elsewhere.
I still haven’t had time to go through all my resources and make copies of what I’ve got for citations, but I’ll get to it sometime in the next while.
It’s really fascinating to me to observe that nobody down at the ground level was really looking at what the Germans were doing tactically, and then recognizing “Hey, these guys aren’t using their guns the way we do…”. I spoke with a German WWII veteran, when I was first researching this, and his perspective informed some discussions I had with American WWII veterans. Those guys were taken aback to realize that what they’d observed happening in combat was not at all what the Germans had been doing or trying to do with their MG systems. The idea that the German infantry was more focused on maneuvering their guns than their riflemen was an insight they’d never picked up on, and when they heard what I’d learned from my German informant, you could almost see the lights go on in their heads. A bunch of strangenesses that they’d observed and thought “Wow, those Germans don’t know what they’re doing, at all…” suddenly became clear as “Oh, that’s how that worked, that’s why they did that, and that’s why we got hosed the way we did on the attacks…”.
It’s like nobody went in with an open mind, observed what was actually happening, and then made the right inferences about what the Germans were doing–At least, on the American side. I’m starting to get that maybe the same issue existed on the Soviet side, as well…
This is a difficult and interesting question.
At the beginning of the journey, the Red Army studied the German experience very carefully. For example, the book by von Merkatz “German military manual on machine-gun business” was immediately translated into Russian, with comments from the officers of the Red Army.
But after 1933, cooperation was broken. The transition to a universal machine gun was not noticed in time. In the USSR, work was carried out in this direction, but they did not fully understand the German concept. In addition, there were problems with the development of their machine guns and production.
For the USSR, the Finnish concept seemed interesting. Finland was not a wealthy country, and the lahti-saloranta turned out to be a poor light machine gun. The Finns were forced to use the Suomi submachine gun as a light machine gun. In forest combat, at short distances, it worked.
There were two concepts in the USSR before the war.
1) Arming the army with self-loading rifles. This was done in the USA (guarantor). But Tokarev’s rifle turned out to be too complex for production and for conscripts.
2) Submachine guns. Degtyarev’s submachine gun was too expensive. There were two candidates before the war. Infantry machine gun (this is not a mistake) Shpitalny and Shpagin’s submachine gun. Shpagin won. Its design was simple and reliable. This made it possible to give the infantry a lot of automatic fire.
During the war, Soviet officers at the front demanded to make an analogue of the MG. They understood the German system better. But the creation of such a machine gun was too difficult a task. I think the designers of the M60 would agree with this. :))))
Mmmmm… I think it’s more a case of the US “developers” (I refuse to call them either engineers or designers…) not grasping the essentials of the whole GPMG idea in the first place. They thought the MG42 was an inferior weapon in ohsomanyways, mostly due to the “cheap and shoddy construction” and the “too high rate of fire”.
Conceptually, they thought that war was best fought with little clumps of riflemen wandering the battlefield, mostly under their own supervision. Because of this, they saw the MG as a weapon which was merely there to “support” their activities when they ran up against anything in the way of resistance. If you examine the way the US uses the MG on the assault and in the defense, what you gradually come to recognize is that they fundamentally fail to comprehend the potential it has for influencing the battle. Witness the ridiculous tripod they issue, along with the fact that they still cannot comprehend the benefits of adjustable command height and a periscopic sight system…
Because of all this, they set out flawed design requirements for the M60, and that goes right back to the tacticians who failed to grasp the essentials of modern war as it was fought in the mid-20th Century, namely that the whole of combat comes down to firepower and achieving dominance of same as early as possible in the engagement, and as far away from you as possible. This is still a critical need, when you don’t have all those nice accessory items like aviation, artillery, and other fire supports.
The American idea is that the MG is used to blast your way onto the objective. The German idea is that you use your firepower to render the objective untenable, forcing a withdrawal that will also be under your guns, maximizing your opportunities to kill the enemy with as little risk as possible to your own troops.
Being one of those troops, I think you can likely guess which set of operating principles I prefer. When you look at the casualty stats from the war, all you can do is look on in sheer horror at the incredible waste of life–And, what’s really incredible is to realize that the side that paid the most attention to preserving the lives of their own soldiers is also the one that was busy committing the most atrocities and abuses on the civilian population, something that I suspect has caused the post-WWII assessments of their purely military virtues to be entirely warped out of contact with the unfortunate reality of it all.
I honestly can’t come up with much in the way of respect for any of the Allied leadership, in terms of the job they did husbanding the lives of the men entrusted to their care. I watch those propaganda flicks telling the troops what an inferior weapon the MG42 was with a red film, enraged at the sheer amateurishness and intentional obfuscation behind them. The reality was, I am afraid, that the German Heer had rather more concern for the lives of its men than did any of the Allies, something that should give us pause for thought to this day.
The fact that a nation of some 90 million took on most of the industrialized world and came as close as it did to winning it all ought to really serve as a serious wake-up call to the rest of us. Purely on the numbers involved, the Allies should have established tribunals for all the involved political “geniuses” and a majority of the military leadership that created the mess in the first place. Absent whatever insanity there was with the Soviet leadership essentially sponsoring the Nazi economy and invasion of France and the rest of Europe, they’d have been unable to do what they did. Without the French seeing Nazi Germany as a bulwark against the Soviets, they’d have likely done what should have been done, and strangled the entire Nazi movement in the cradle.
All of them should have gone up against the wall for malpractice and malfeasance in 1946. It’s just too bad that nobody held any of them accountable…
There is a very interesting moment in the preface of Soviet officers to von Merkaz’s book.
They write that at present Germany (under the terms of the Versailles Treaty) is forced to have a small army with limited artillery capabilities. But thanks to the rich experience of the First World War, the Germans make good use of their opportunities. In particular, they assign part of the tasks of artillery to machine guns.
I’m not sure that I will be able to adequately translate the phrase: “learn to wield a weapon with such perfection that the world did not know before.”
Unfortunately, I cannot say how developed the machine-gun business was after the First World War in France and England. But already in the 1920s, the German system was highly valued in the USSR.
The lack of artillery support is certainly something that von Seeckt was worried about, when they decided to concentrate on the MG for their infantry tactics.
The other major reason was the lack of trained reserve manpower. The initial success that the Imperial German Army had in WWI stemmed largely from the fact that they’d had such vast reserves of well-trained manpower, and since one of the aims of the Versailles Treaty was to prevent them from building that sort of reserve system up again, they were specifically forbidden from doing so. Which kinda-sorta backfired on the Allies, I would say…
von Seeckt foresaw a massive expansion of the tiny force he was allowed to maintain; as such, the determination was to maximize the trained manpower they did have, which was what led to the idea of putting their firepower eggs into one basket, namely the squad/section MG team. As well, they thought that their limited experienced NCO manpower would best be utilized by giving them the most concentrated firepower tools they could, which was, again, why they emphasized the MG and kept trying to develop better and better ones with higher and higher rates of fire.
One thing I do have to give the Germans–They did a much better job of training and managing their combat manpower than most of the Allied armies did. As one of their officers once commented to me, when discussing the American replacement system during WWII, if he’d suggested or allowed such a thing to happen under normal circumstances, he’d have been court-martialed and shot out of hand.
I would like to point out that submachine guns were never used as support weapons in practice by the Finnish Army. Before the Winter War the Army did not not really know what to do with them and ideas about using them as a kind of short range LMG did exist. However, that was never an official doctrine, which is also shown by the fact that they were never crew served weapons, in other words no loader was never assigned to assist the “gunner”.
In the Winter War the Finnish Army admittedly had squads with the Suomi SMG as the only automatic weapon, but that was because there simply was not enough LS-26 LMGs to be issued for every infantry squad in the Army. With the Suomi most squads had at least one automatic weapon, either and SMG or an LMG — the Army had realized fairly early that bolt-action rifles would not provide sufficient firepower on the squad level in the next war, but production of the LS-26 was simply too slow to meet the demand in time for war. A side note: most of the shortcomings of the LS-26 were not realized before the Winter War, so they did not influence the official SMG doctrine, or rather the lack thereof.
In practice the Suomi SMG was used as an individual soldier’s weapon almost from the start of the Winter War. The soldier with the SMG would not try to hang a little bit further back to support the “maneuver element” with a Mosin like an LMG would, but on quite the contrary he would usually lead attacks. During the Continuation War increased numbers of LMGs allowed every squad to include one, but the role of the SMG remained more or less the same. As numbers of SMGs allowed for more than one in some squads, they were usually given to the best soldiers of the squad in addition to the squad leader.
Mr. Ulanov, your excellent contribution solves a long time mystery. The former Heereswaffenamt employee Otto Morawietz in his 1957 book “Die Handwaffen” wrote, that the first MKb 42 were issued to troops fighting in the Cholm pocket (“Cholm Kessel” in German).
That information could not be true, because that battle was in 1942, while documents at the German military archive (not available to Morawietz) clearly showed that in early 1942 only 50 MKb 42 specimens existed at all. Other documents, also cited in Handrich’s book, made clear that the weapons for the first troop trial reached the front about March/April 1943.
Now your article mentions a place named “Holm” and it becomes obvious that someone in Germany confused the 1943 troop trial events near Holm with the unrelated (as far as MKb 42 is concerned) battle of Cholm 1942.
A riddle is solved.
The information mentioned by Dimitrieff above is not correct. Its background is the development by Vollmer of an automatic rifle in 1935 to 1938, when this project was dropped. The ammunition was an intermediate 7.75 mm cartridge developed by Geco from Spring 1935 onwards. In its proportions it was similar to the later Soviet 7.62 M43 cartridge.
That similarity is taken by some as proof that the M43 is a copy of the Geco development. This story overlooks a basic timing flaw. German-Soviet military cooperation came to an abrupt halt when Hitler came to power at the beginning of 1933.
To be honest, I think the M43 designation has indeed some face saving timing aspects. But with Dvorjaninov’s 4 volume, 2544 pages book on Soviet/Russian small arms cartridges on the bookshelf, I do not think that copying a Geco design was necessary. The general idea of an intermediate cartridge was by the way present in a number of countries, among them Finland, Italy and Denmark.
P.S. It would be very nice if you could give us the approximate geographic location of the place Holm you mention.
That is a link to Холм. Kholm in english transliteration and Cholm in german transliteration. So Holm = Cholm? That would again unsolve the puzzle. Maybe Morawietz got the date wrong and wrote the name of the place wrong? Certainly possible, but we cannot ask him anymore, sadly.
AK and ammo were a bit separate parts, the first gun to use the M43 round was the Simonov 1943, the round was used by the AK 47 of 1947, this left sufficient time.But the Geco was of 1935, could have been seen by the soviets visiting Germany at the germano russian pact, and 1939 to 1943 leaves time. Remember that Germany gifted soviet union with his best aeroplane : Me 109 and Ju88.Apparently when occupying Berlin soviets asked Geco to make M43. The initial Geco was 7,7×40 and the prototypes M43 were also 40, the last experimental Geco were 7,62. Again look at collector’s grade book.
Немецкий след советского патрона? Автоматическая винтовка Vollmer M.35.
8 янв, 2017 at 12:01 AM
I don’t know where you get the information from, but it’s completely wrong.
The first weapon made under the cartridge of 43 was the Kuzmishchev assault rifle. It was an officer of the GAU KA test range. His weapon was used to test experienced cartridges.
Cartridge is relatively simple machine. So if you have similar requirements (and it is not unlikely to “keep diameter” and “shorter reach” because most soldiers do not use 100% reach anyway) it is nothing surprising to get similar result.
Of course, in the USSR there was no need to copy the design of the German cartridge. The Soviet military initially wanted a more powerful cartridge than the German one. The first versions of the 43 cartridge were 7.62×41 mm.
Kholm is a small town in Russia near Novgorod and Pskov.
Forests and swamps, terrain inconvenient for war. A positional war was fought there. But this led to a lot of intelligence activity. The 22 Army report reads like a military blockbuster script. Raids behind enemy lines, ambushes, pursuits …
It’s a pity they don’t know about it in Hollywood 🙂
“It’s a pity they don’t know about it in Hollywood “
It’s probably more a mercy than a pity…
One shudders to contemplate what they’d probably do with the whole thing, shoehorning in romantic sub-plots, nonsensical self-insertions of American protagonists that would embarrass a teenage girl writing fanfiction, and who knows what else. End of the day, they’d probably film the thing in some desert somewhere, and completely distort everything in an attempt to make a blockbuster out of it all.
I have yet to see a single American film of any sort that had even the most remote fidelity with real life or actual history. It’s all fantasy, all the time.
I love what Tom Hanks did in Brothers in Arms.
It would be funny if someone decided to shoot a series about the war in the Russian swamps. It was a war without glorious victories. Not Stalingrad, not Kursk. I’m sure American soldiers who fought in Guadalcanal or Australians in New Guinea said that “it’s like we have.”
But this was a war where the best soldiers of Army Group Center were killed. In the Battle of Kursk, Model achieved significantly less success than Manstein in the south. Most of the infantry divisions of the Model’s army had infantry numbers half as much as they should have.
I think the propagandists on both sides have poisoned the well with their lies, possibly forever. An honest accounting of the war, at this point? Something that nobody would believe, or even want to see. The lies help them all sleep at night.
It’s a funny thing–Most of the real, heartfelt and committed pacifists I’ve known? Soldiers, all of them. Very few of the real professionals have any desire to go to war, and they only do so reluctantly and mostly for the men they’ve bonded with in the military. Almost the only people I knew with the “rah-rah, yay us” mentality were either fresh recruits or sociopaths who were more concerned about their careers than their men’s lives.
I am going to have to make a presumption here–The Tom Hanks “Brothers in Arms” you refer to is what was called “Band of Brothers” in English? I honestly can’t call “Saving Private Ryan” a good movie, or even one that was remotely historically accurate. Other than the opening scenes, that whole thing sucked from a viewpoint of historical accuracy.
Sadly, you want a realistic war movie that’s not propaganda? You pretty much have to go to things like “Come and See” or “Das Boot”, neither of which were produced by Hollywood.
Although, come to think of it, the Lee Marvin vehicle “Cross of Iron” was relatively decent, when it came to accuracy. Or, so I’ve been told by people who claimed to have been there…
I think you meant James Coburn not Lee Marvin. It’s a good Sam Peckinpah movie for sure.
Crap… You are absolutely right. I am always getting those two mixed up, and have been for most of my life.
I think you have a bit of a hard-on for the U.S., the military,and its weapons designers, not to mention its entertainment industry, which is what films usually are. I suggest you take a chill pill.
I would suggest you shut your foolish mouth. I’ve more than earned the right to be critical of the entire swath of idiots running the shitshow, having spent the majority of my adult life in the service, mostly in the hope of keeping as many of your kids alive as I could in the face of errant stupidity and cupidity.
Assuming, of course, that any such scions of yours might have deigned serve. I’ve often noted how the most vociferous parties voicing uncritical support for the morons running the game are often the ones also most likely to be the furthest from serving themselves, along with their “better than that” children.
Ah, well… It was ever thus, and ever shall be. Pious pronouncements of support for the petty bureaucrats and bungling careerists are what I expect to hear from the general run of “decent folk”, while pragmatic concern for the preservation of the lives of their lessers usually goes right out the window in favor of the almighty dollar and the fellating of the wealthy and powerful.
Do not, however, make the mistake of thinking that any of them will reward that, when the time comes to sweep up you and yours into the forces, and don’t be terribly surprised when men of my class and station don’t concern themselves very much with your survival under those conditions. You’ve set the stage for your own fate, as it were, and will be expended as needed.
Meanwhile, you may disparage us all you like, when we criticize the cretins that saddled us with excresences like the M60 and the M14, along with the rest of the surrounding matrix of ill-thought minor tactics and doctrine.
Men like me were telling the morons running things that we really ought to pay attention to the South African MRAP technology, and acquiring armored route clearance equipment–Back when it would have made a difference, in the early 1990s. As it eventuated, the geniuses waited until we were in the middle of a campaign in Iraq wherein that equipment would have saved lives before actually doing anything, and only then bothered to bestir themselves in order to get that gear into theater. After several ranking officers committed career suicide by instigating Congressional investigations…
So, yeah… I have precisely zero respect for your pious ilk. You honor the dead with witless pronouncements of support for the men and institutions that killed them, while I spent my time in that same service. I prefer to honor my dead by remembering the feckless way their lives were expended, and by trying to point out that there are better ways of doing things, that might well have saved a few of their lives in the first damn place.
I think particularly of a young man I trained on the machinegun, dead behind his gun from a bullet through his forehead as he sighted along it in the preferred American manner. Had he been sanely equipped with a decent tripod and a periscopic sight, he’d be alive today–But, the men you unthinkingly support chose not to equip him thus, and he’s dead.
So, frankly… Go fuck yourself.
“(…)I have yet to see a single American film of any sort that had even the most remote fidelity with real life or actual history. It’s all fantasy, all the time.”
Wait… what about Bridges at Toko-Ri
The Chinese mystery pistols book has already gone over a million dollars pre-sales. You book is going to make that seem like small change mate. Keep up the good work,
I bet Landser Hinsche never was heard of again
I have not checked his data on the Bundeswehr archives. But I can say he had a good chance of surviving. During the interrogation, he told a lot of interesting information.
There is a chance that he was not even sent to the rear, in a camp for prisoners of war. Some Soviet military units used German prisoners in their rear, especially drivers. An analogue of “hivi”, but only in the Red Army.
Recapture by the Germans would have been ugly…
He’d have been better off chancing Siberia, rather than trying to answer the question of just what he’d done with that nice, new rifle they’d entrusted him with. Or, precisely what the hell he was doing in Soviet uniform, driving around a Lend-Lease Studebaker…
I recall in one of the books I owned before departure from old country how the difference of approaches between U.S. tacticians ad their Soviet counterparts was like two worlds apart. Yet, the American approach was based on experience of WWII. So was the Soviet. In both cases it worked, more or less.
How was it between Germans and Soviets? Not as much apart, but still distinct enough. Both (or all three sides) knew, how to do it their way and what suits them the best. You will not likely see U.S. version of Kalashnikov rifle and Russian version of M16. World is more colorful that way.
It’s always been my contention that the approach a country takes to making war has rather more to do with the intrinsic nature of that country’s dominant culture than anything else. Americans buy their way to victory through brute force logistics; Germans finesse it with exquisitely worked out intricate planning that quite often blows up in their faces; the French are terribly prone to wishful thinking about elan and furiousa francesca, often deliberately ignoring reality; the UK is stolidly phlegmatic about it all, reliant upon the stubborn dignity of their troops and amateur officers who disdain any hint of “bad sportsmanship” by way of crass professionalization… And so on and on.
You would never, ever get an American soldier to “die for the Emperor” the way the Imperial Japanese Army commonly did–But, you could easily convince that same soldier that it was worth the doing, just to piss someone off and demonstrate that they were “just as good as” that Japanese soldier. It’s all down to culture and its foibles.
It is truly unfortunate that few people really appreciate these things, let alone really study them seriously. You go read the literature today, and it’s all very insistent that there are no national differences, that we’re all “just people”, entirely the same under the skin. Which, while it may be true to a limited degree, is entirely ignoring the impact of culture upon people’s behavioral choices and conditioning.
No, they died for the buddy in the foxhole and their family back home. Please take a chill pill. You have a very disrespectful attitude for Memorial Day.
I do not think Kirk is being in any way disrespectful to the American fighting man, but we do all have our national characteristics.
It is also fair to dissect the failures of American arms procurement and usage. The M1 rifle was a great success, ditto the M1 carbine in its designed role. The M3 SMG was good, but too late. The USA spent the first three years of WWII building heavy and expensive Thompson guns which no other country could have afforded.
Machine gun policy was poor. The BAR was changed into a second rate LMG by the addition of a bipod. But a proper LMG has to be incorporated into the squad. In a British ten man squad, three men were the Bren team, and everyone in the squad carried Bren mags. The unlucky BAR gunner was on his own.
The M1917 Browning was a good MMG, but big and heavy. So the M1919A4 was developed as a sort of substitute, half way between an LMG and an MMG, on a simple tripod. It was used in a way most armies would have used an LMG, but it was too big for the role, so the M1919A6 was developed, basically a further lightened M1919A4 on a bipod. To bring in a weapon like that as late as 1944 was embarrassing.
Even more embarrassing is that the basic little tripod of the M1919A4 is still used as the tripod for the GPMG when used as an MMG. Most countries use GPMGs, but they all have better tripods than this. I think is illustrates Kirk’s point. The USA is still using a cheap tripod for a stopgap machine gun, which was only necessary because the BAR was not a proper LMG. That the USA is still using this tripod now must surely show that the US army has not got its head around what machine guns are for. The Germans seem to have worked it out 90 years ago, so the USA really ought to catch up.
I thought about this aspect in past and yes, I feel the same.
I never heard of the U.S. soldier to yell: “For freedom! For democracy!” It was for his survival and for the buddy next to him. Politicians were war instigators and builders of memorials afterwards, that’s all. They were the profiteers, not the grunts.
And IF this happened over again, no matter how corrupt domestic regime(s) may be, it will be again – for he fellow serviceman, for the the survival of the Tribe. Forget the ideals/ idols.
“It’s all down to culture and its foibles.”
To that difference in tactics, and this will be nothing new to many.
The Soviet doctrine was a firepower on move to achieve the objective, in connection with supporting armored vehicles. The fire was to be used primarily in short bursts. The AK rifle fits the bill perfectly. In war clips from Middle East you see exactly that. I almost never saw M16/ M4 in that situation.
The U.S. approach was aimed single shots fired from stationary position. This sounds good, except what you do when you need to move. We all know how “useful” is M14 rifle in burst. A cursory look at 7.62×51 and 7,62×39 says the story.
I think the vision was more “AK for storm assault tactics, SKS for normal infantry”, and then they discovered that the AK really worked for both applications, sooooo… The SKS went into storage and ceremonial duties.
The US was still fantasizing about playing frontiersman vs. redcoat, forgetting the contribution of the French and von Stueben to creating actual American Regulars that could play the stand-up-and-fight game toe-to-toe with the British. This fantasy has informed far too much of our small arms doctrine, and allowed for an awful lot of misplaced priorities when it comes to weapons procurement choices.
Volume of fire is what wins the firefight, and if you can’t generate enough of it, the fact that you’re “hitting what you’re aiming at” isn’t all that important. You need volume+accuracy, not accuracy alone.
Of course, on the converse side of that, I have my doubts about the emphasis placed on full-auto fire by the Soviets and now Russians. The amount of effort put into things like the AN94 and the balanced-recoil versions of the AK are a bit of a false path, in my opinion–Yes, you need to be able to do full auto, but… From an individual weapon, that capacity is something you really rarely need to use. Far better to put your money and effort into better optics and target acquisition–You’ll get more out of it.
Automatic fire is another story.
The Soviet military really liked the Shpagin submachine gun. In general terms, the task for the new assault rifle was: single shooting like a Mosin rifle, burst shooting like a Shpagin submachine gun. Unrealistic. Some of the officers at the proving ground understood this. The Kalashnikov assault rifle was a compromise. Good single fire accuracy. Good accuracy in bursts when the shooter is on the ground. But not when the shooter runs into the attack.
This became a nail in the head of some generals. They demanded that automatic fire be improved. AN-94 became the final. Nikonov is a good designer, but I am glad that his weapons did not become widespread for the army.
A similar story for a balanced automation system. I shot with the civilian version. Concern Kalashnikov made a small batch for its sports team. A friend of mine also had an AK of a conventional design. He carried out tuning, replaced a number of parts with better ones, but it was an ordinary AK. It was easier and more convenient to shoot from it.
Optics for AK were also invented in the USSR. The experience of the war in Afghanistan hastened this work. But at 91, things slowed down a lot.
“How was it between Germans and Soviets? Not as much apart, but still distinct enough.(…)”
But there was important difference in point-of-view, at least in 1930s. Germans were thinking art of war https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/jfq/jfq-66/jfq-66_62-70_Vego.pdf Soviets thinking science of war
Fedorov (for all the invaluable wealth of his contribution) had nothing to do (except in the field of theory) with the work on the “intermediate” patron. Rather, with his characteristic foresight, he rather actively objected.
Although the Soviets knew about these works in the West. And (as usual) tried to do something similar.
But the general opinion of the experts was “useless rubbish”.
The current difficult situation in supplying the army with automatic weapons prompted the search for some kind of ersatz, which can be produced a lot and cheaply. By the way, LAD, apparently, refers to R&D in this direction.
The appearance of the captured STG spurred this work.
All developers received a technical assignment for the development of a similar German “carbine-machine gun”.
The designs were completed and submitted for testing. It immediately became clear that a “carbine-machine gun” chambered for such a cartridge was not at all what the army needed. Therefore, it was decided to use the new cartridge for carbines and SMGs. And also to develop a machine gun with belt feeding.
A burp of this solution, still exists in the form of an RPK.
The tests clearly demonstrate two things.
1. It is apparently impossible to design a Main Artillery Directorate that meets all the requirements.
2. What turns out is impossible to see without tears.
Kalashnikov was part of the group that dealt with the carbine and did not participate in the first competition for the “carbine-machine gun”.
The tests clearly demonstrate two things.
1. It is apparently impossible to design a Main Artillery Directorate that meets all the requirements.
2. What turns out is impossible to see without tears.
Kalashnikov was part of the group that dealt with the carbine and did not participate in the first competition for the “carbine-machine gun”.
But he converted his failed carbine into the same stillborn STG.
Based on which (more precisely, based on MP42), AK46 was subsequently regiment.
The cartridge that became the M43 used the experience gained in the development of analogs of Western samples, BUT the main prototype and “inspiration” was the 7.92×33 cartridge.
This is clearly indicated by both the text of the technical task and the design, which initially practically copied the German design. Up to the use of a mild steel core, which the Soviet industry of that period had not yet been able to master.
And further .
The Germans had no problem with the “lack of a light machine gun.”
This is common propaganda.
At their disposal were Czechoslovak machine guns, which (along with the rest of the trophies) were quite enough for them.
If the Germans had wanted an LMG fed by a box magazine, they’d have kept right on with the MG13 and derivatives. They did not, so other than captured examples of such things, they did nothing more than press available weapons into service.
People who think that things like the BREN and the BAR were the way to go look at the Germans with their belt-feds and think that was somehow an accident, which it emphatically was not. The Germans tried the concept out extensively, had the MG13 on issue, along with the MG30, another box-fed design. If they’d wanted them, they could have had them as easily as anyone else did.
The reason why they didn’t? They wanted the firepower provided by a belt feed, pure and simple. That was the only thing that met the objectives they’d laid out.
No, it’s not like that.
From the very beginning, there were two directions of work. Self-loading carbine and heavy assault rifle. But some designers violated the military’s assignment. For example, Degtyarev made a weapon weighing 10 kg, although the military demanded 5 kg. Separate assault rifle and light machine gun. Then it was decided to make the assault rifle even lighter.
The carbine was a separate work all the time. There was also a competition for a carbine with manual reloading chambered for cartridge 43.
There was a competition for a carbine machine gun.
In parallel, there was a competition for a self-loading carbine. And also on a bolt carbine from a Mosin rifle. Apparently, a far-sighted precaution in case of failure with the “carbine-machine gun”. As well as the competition for the light machine gun.
And they are all chambered for the new M43 cartridge.
And this precaution was almost justified.
NONE of the bidders was able to provide a product that meets the minimum set of AD requirements.
AK, which is actually a compilation of units and parts of various systems, only bears the name of Kalashnikov. In fact, the design was suggested by the Proving Ground officers. When the total design impotence of Kalashnikov became apparent (with all due respect to him as a person).
“Therefore, it was decided to use the new cartridge for carbines and SMGs. And also to develop a machine gun with belt feeding.”
There was no project of a submachine gun for a new cartridge. Vasily Lyuty wanted to do this, but cartridge 43 was not suitable for this job.
They did not want a machine gun with a belt later. This was one of the first proposals of the Degtyarev Design Bureau for a heavy assault rifle competition. The military wanted a weapon weighing 5 kg, the designers did something with a weight of 10 kg.
The transition from the “German” concept of a heavy assault rifle to a lighter model was not quick.
PS I wonder what happened to the BRENs mountain, which were captured in France at the beginning of the war?
The Bren was given an official German designation, the MG138(e). Likewise the Lewis was the MG137(e). The problem with both would have been the .303 ammunition. Obviously, the Germans did not make this. They would no doubt have captured a lot in 1940, but one that was gone the guns would have been useless. So I imagine they would have been issued to troops occupying France and Belgium, where they would not need to be used much if at all. There would have been no way to use them in an active campaign, because once the ammunition was used up, that was it.
“There was no project of a submachine gun for a new cartridge.”(С)
This was done by Shpagin. With a shuddering result, literally and figuratively.
In general, there was no clear understanding of where the SMG ends and the MG begins.
That’s why all this was called “autommat”.
Are you trying to say that Shpagin submitted to the competition version of the blowback? That’s not news. But that doesn’t make the Shpagin variant a submachine gun. :)))
The understanding was perfectly clear. Weapons chambered for a handgun cartridge – a submachine gun.
“A submachine gun, abbreviated SMG, is a magazine-fed, automatic carbine designed to fire handgun cartridges.”(с)wikipedia
In the Soviet documentation, from the very first works, it was clearly stated that an individual automatic weapon chambered for 43 is called an “avtomat”.
Or do you think that the M1 carbine is also a submachine gun? 🙂
Here is some reading on “cross-pollination” between Soviet and German small arms use during WWII. As it appears, the Soviets were well familiar with German small arms and their capabilities, right from the onset.
Same applied vice-versa; the German use of SVT38 and PPSh is well documented. I do not know of Germans using trophy SG43 or DP27 though.
From this point of view, the Russian “invention” of medium caliber assault rifle is not surprising. As bizarre as it may look, both sides actually complemented each other rather well. They “danced the war tango” you can say.
The Germans very often used the captured DP 27. If you look at the exposition of the museum in Overloon, there is an installation of two DPs, which were used in Normandy, on the Atantic Wall. Of course, there was much more on the Eastern Front.
When you are in a trench, there are never too many automatic weapons.
SG43 in the Red Army appeared en masse in 1944. During this period, the Germans no longer captured many Soviet trophies. The opposite happened more often.
Good information, thanks Andrey.
I have a particular liking in DP27 LMG, especially in belt fed version.
There was no DP27 with a belt.
It was RP46, which added its own to all the shortcomings of DPM (modernization of DP27).
The machine gun is so stupid that, not having time to really appear, it was replaced as soon as possible.
So is the RPD.
Mr. Ulanov, Hugo Hinsche (if correct) is not exactly a frequent name in Germany. It should be possible to identify him without knowing his date of birth.
If you want to research him, the right place to contact is:
This is the former Wermachts-Auskunftstelle, now part of the German Federal Archive. And if it had not been for US Army 1st Lt. Henry Sternweiler and French capitaine Armand Klein, its millions of records would have been destroyed.
Due to my work, I often deal with the documents of the NARA and the Bundesachiv. This is necessary if you want to get a picture of the battle from different angles. Typically, you thus get two completely different picture of the battle. :)))
I asked my colleagues working with German burials to check different variants of the surname according to the Bundesarchive accounting system. I will wait for the result.
Great research! Firsthand documents are valuable, and often hard to get to.
I enjoy the comments too but my main thought is that every German could have been armed with a G3 or G36 or M4 w/ACOG and…the result would have been the same. Similarly, every Soviet could have had an AK47, AKM or AK74 and the same in reverse. I like rifles. The US Army issued me an M16A2 years ago and I qualified as a sharpshooter with it (1 point off of expert). But artillery, armor, air power and logistics control the outcome way more than rifles in my view.
I would beg to differ with you in that regard. The small arms may not make a big difference when it comes to the so-called “big picture”, but they damn sure make a difference to the individual soldier in his fight.
Consider the number of American soldiers and Marines in Vietnam who were found clutching cleaning rods, ones they’d had sent from home because the military told them that their M16s didn’t need cleaning and didn’t issue same, after someone with an AK or an SKS walked up and shot them in the head while their own rifles were jammed tight with ruptured cartridges. Had someone done their damn jobs, those young men might have survived–So, it’s a big deal down on that level.
Same-same with the guys at Little Big Horn, who were found with jackknives out, trying to extract stuck cases out of their Springfields. Kinda important, don’t you think, when the opponent has a working Winchester or even just a spear?
The thing that set me off the other day was remembering, yet again, just why I’m so angry about the machine guns with the US Army: One of the young men I trained back in the early 2000s died at his gun, taking a round through his forehead, right under the lip of his helmet. Why? Because he was trying to do his damn job with a weapon that required him to be hunched over behind the optic, head over the line of the barrel.
This is something that represents criminal malfeasance; a WWII German soldier would have had the periscopic sight, and a tripod that put the gun considerably above his head, obviating the need for him to lock down behind the optic bolted to the top of the feed tray. That was nearly sixty year-old technology when that young man died. Why the hell are we not issuing better tools to these men?
It may not matter in the macro sense, but it damn sure matters to the individual soldier. Try going into a building and clearing it with an M14, as opposed to doing so with an M4, and tell me which is more likely to result in your survival. I know which, and it ain’t that M14.
This stuff matters. Maybe not to the “big picture”, but to the individual you send off to war to fight your battles, it damn sure does. And, I would submit, that you owe it to those young men to pay attention to these things, critique the incompetents when they justify doing so, and keep their feet to the fire.
Which is something we simply haven’t done in the US since, oh… Forever. Had someone in the Soviet Union saddled the Red Army with the M14 while Stalin was running the show, I rather suspect that a salutary lesson on the importance of getting things right would have been delivered.
I have to say that it wasn’t until I’d had to keep a fleet of M60 machineguns operable that I truly began to appreciate the supposed Samurai tradition of taking a battle-broken sword back to the swordsmith who’d made the thing, and then forcibly inserting it where the sun doesn’t shine… I rather doubt that was a real thing, but as Chris Rock said about wife-beating in cases of infidelity, I can’t condone but I do understand. There’s nothing like a failed weapon in combat for your life to concentrate the mind and focus you on the foibles of the idiots who passed it off on you, especially when it’s a systemic and known set of flaws they just hand-waved away.
>Had someone in the Soviet Union saddled the Red Army with the M14 while Stalin was running the show, I rather suspect that a salutary lesson on the importance of getting things right would have been delivered.
I can give part of the answer to this question. In the USSR, during the Second World War, “garand” was tested. The Soviet officers really liked this rifle. On tests in the USSR, it showed greater reliability than the SVT and the German G43. But when asked about Lend-Lease supplies, the answer was no. It was decided that the rifle required too skilled care. The average Red Army infantryman would not be able to properly operate such a weapon. This has already been found out with Tokarev’s rifle. Shpagin’s submachine gun was simpler. And a lot of bullets made up for the shooter’s mistakes.
The USSR would gladly take MG-42 from its allies, but only Hitler supplied it. In 43-44 there were very large shipments :))))
“It was decided that the rifle required too skilled care. The average Red Army infantryman would not be able to properly operate such a weapon. This has already been found out with Tokarev’s rifle.”
Is this really fair to the average Russian soldier? I hear it a lot: “they could not cope with a semi-auto rifle.” Were they all stupid. or was the training poor? The average Russian could cope with a semi-auto in 1946 when the SKS was issued, did they all become smart overnight?
Anyway, the US would never have sent M1s to the USSR. They were just too vital, every one was needed. Lend-Lease was very generous, but even the USA could not share everything. The Royal Navy was really keen to get Helldivers, for instance, but had no luck. The US Navy wanted every last one of them. But they were willing to share the Avenger, and luckily that did fine.
There was a sum of several factors.
1) Rifle problems. The SVT-38 was not a completely successful design. SVT-40 also did not solve all the problems. The military demanded that Tokarev reduce the weight of the rifle. This requirement was met, but had a negative impact on reliability. In addition, the quality of wartime production could not be perfect. Skilled workers were drafted into the army, and some of the operations were performed by women and adolescents.
2) Problems of training soldiers. SVT was more complex than a Mosin rifle or a Shpagin submachine gun. Meanwhile, in the USSR, the general education program was introduced only under the Bolsheviks. A significant part of the recruits, even in 1941, did not have a secondary education.
3) The lesson of SVT was very painful for the Main Artillery Directorate of the Red Army. Weapon reliability requirements have been revised. SKS and especially AK were significantly more reliable.
4) I can’t say if the M1 could have been supplied under Lend-Lease if the USSR wanted them. The task of the test site was to study the weapon and evaluate it. For example, in the USSR they tested the RPG “bazooka” and refused to send them to the front.
I think you sum it up well. The SVT40 was not an entirely successful design. Soviet soldiers were trained to use simpler weapons. But given a decent semi-auto rifle and proper training, Soviet soldiers would have had no problem using a semi-auto rifle, they were not stupid, even if many of them lacked a decent education.
Soldiers who had SVT released before the war and were well trained were able to unpleasantly surprise the Germans in 1941. I saw quotes from German documents that all the soldiers of the Red Army were armed with light machine guns.
Unfortunately, SVT just ran out of time. By 1944, Tokarev had eliminated most of the shortcomings. But there was already cartridge 43.
It might have been better for the Red Army to adopt the more automatic Degtyarev rifle in 1930. It was the Soviet counterpart to the Melvin Johnson rifle. In 41, she would have been more reliable and familiar to the soldiers.
But Tokarev’s design had more prospects. Nobody could have said in advance that there would be no time for the treatment of “childhood diseases”.
“Is this really fair to the average Russian soldier?”(C)
This is absolutely true in relation to the “soviet soldiers with a Tokarev rifle.” 😉
For any Asian peasants, the technical aspect of operating the M1 rifle did not cause noticeable difficulties. There were some problems with size and weight, but no more.
This is a difficult question.
Of course, small arms do not provide a very large part of the losses in World War II. And even of those killed by bullets, most of it is the work of machine guns. The role of personal weapons is noticeable in close combat – Stalingrad, the jungles of the Pacific Ocean, German cities in the final of the war.
However, the qualities of personal weapons are of great importance at the tactical level. And many small tactical victories can give great results. Or the case when a small detachment achieves a strategic result. Capturing the bridge in Remagen for the Americans, capturing a bridgehead on the Oder for the Red Army.
Many small drops give heavy rain.
Andrey, I would have to question that proposition about small arms not providing a “very large part” of the losses in the war.
Every time someone tells me something like that, I have to ask them where the numbers are coming from, and how they’re calculating it all.
If you’re looking at what wounds were treated in the casualty system, then the question becomes “What about the guys who lay dead on the battlefield, and never got into the system in the first place?”.
If you’re looking at something like the bayonet, the question then becomes one of how you attribute things–Suppose that a frenzied bayonet charge is made, and rather than face close contact with crazy bastards who stuck knives on their rifles, the unit breaks and runs out of their safe field fortifications and then get slaughtered on the retreat by artillery fire? Are the bayonets ineffective because nobody died with one stuck in them, or shall we discount the psychological effect and its follow-ons entirely, crediting only the artillery with those kills?
The other issue with these numbers that everyone bandies about is that they’re really sourced from questionable places–Do we trust the graves registration guys to properly assess what killed a given casualty? Are they forensically qualified to do that? Was anyone even bothering to properly record this stuff as they cleaned up the battlefields?
I don’t doubt that small arms play a lesser role than some would imagine, but at the same time, they’re not something we can say “doesn’t matter, anyway…” about. If nothing else, there’s the impact on morale; you put someone out there with inferior or no individual weapons, they are pretty damn likely to mutiny or just not do anything at all.
I really have to question the entire proposition that small arms are unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Were that the case, then the Tsar would have only worried about issuing enough artillery pieces, and nobody would have cared about the small arms production problems of either WWI or WWII. I think it would be more accurate to say that while small arms aren’t going to win you everything in war, their lack is almost certainly going to lose you everything.
As you say, the little things build up. How many Allied soldiers would be alive today, had anyone had the wit and wisdom to recognize what the German military was doing with its machineguns, and then come up with better counters or, at the very least, copied them?
I spoke with a couple of German gunners on the MG34/42 who’d had the misfortune to be on the Eastern Front, fighting the Soviets. The descriptions they had of what the war looked like from their point of view was, to say the least, harrowing–The killing was on a scale that I find incomprehensible in terms I can relate to without abstracting it all.
One of those gunners described holding off a regiment-sized infantry attack on his position where he and the other members of his heavy MG platoon fired hundreds of thousands of rounds in the course of a night, and when the attack broke off the next morning, the field between them and the starting point for the Soviet forces was carpeted with dead, enough so that he could have walked a good 300-500m forward without ever stepping on soil. This wasn’t a one-time occurrence, either–Just the one that was most memorable for him, it being one of the first times he’d seen something like that.
The thing that struck me was that he was still having problems with things, fifty years later… “They wouldn’t stop coming… They just wouldn’t stop… Why didn’t they stop? I had to keep shooting… Why didn’t they stop?”. His wife told me later that he’d had nightmares for weeks afterwards, and I never brought up anything like that with him again.
I had to stop asking questions after that point–He was having what were clearly the sort of flashbacks I’d seen in Vietnam-era veterans, and I didn’t want to stress him out anymore than I already had. He wasn’t some Nazi thug, either–Just some farmboy from the Tyrol who got dragged into it all, and managed to survive the war.
I think that there are an awful lot of the dead from WWII that went down to the MG34/42 and its surrounding matrix of tactics and use. Along with the mortars, those were the primary tools of the German infantryman who walked from Poland damn near to Moscow, and who did most of the retail-level fighting. I don’t think they’d have gotten as far as they did, or done as much damage as they did, absent the superiority of their machineguns and mortars.
Of course, trying to apply scholarship and give everything numbers with regards to all of this isn’t really possible, at this point. You’d have to go back and literally start counting bodies and figuring out what killed each and every one of them–Which wasn’t exactly a priority or even possible when it was happening. How many bodies are they still pulling out of the marshes to this day, both German and Soviet?
Again, a good question.
As far as I know, the Americans tried to conduct similar research in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. If I remember correctly, it was the studies of Korea that became one of the bases for the report by Norman A. Hitchman, named ORO-T-160 “Operational Requirements for an Infantry Hand Weapon”.
I had problems with this even when I was engaged in tanks history. There was a lot of data from the repair departments. But these were tanks that were deemed fit for repair. Heaps of burnt scrap metal were only suitable for melting. Survival bias. Later in the USSR, special commissions began to be made, which on the battlefield carefully studied all the destroyed tanks, both their own and the enemy. It was easier since 1943. The battlefield more often remained with the Red Army.
It is much more difficult to count people. I’ve been collecting data from hospitals. Of course, these are not 100% good statistics. But even from it it is clear that in a field battle, artillery and mortars play an important role. When battles began in the city, the importance of small arms increased significantly.
I guess the German machine gunners you spoke to were also a case of survival bias. They were fortunate enough to face the bad commanders of the Red Army. An infantry attack on heavy machine guns is death. The Red Army understood this very well, German machine guns, back in 41, conducted a Darwin selection.
The USSR’s response was tanks for direct support of the infantry. For example, T-60. It was a bad tank. Weak cannon, weak armor, weak engine. Much worse than the T-34. But it was made by a former automobile plant, T-60 and T-70 were made in large quantities. There were other tricks as well. Snipers, use of anti-tank rifles against machine guns. When a person really wants to live, he comes up with many different tricks.
Then artillery was added. In one Soviet book it was well written: ” when you have 200 guns per kilometer of front, you are not talking about the enemy. You only talk about your successes” :)))
Of course, even so, German machine guns continued to be a big problem. They write about this in documents from the front until May 1945. But it was successfully resolved. If the Red Army lost a lot of people for each machine gun, even the population of China would not be enough for this.
I think the most chilling thing I heard from a German soldier was his description of what he’d been told about the intelligence material he’d help capture after one of these attacks, the ones that his unit (and, maybe other Germans, too…) called “Urra attacks”. They’d counter-attacked, and managed to overrun the Soviet headquarters for the attacking unit, and basically grabbed up every piece of paper they’d been able to get their hands on.
Supposedly, what he was told later by one of the officers was that one of the pieces of paper they’d gotten had been calculations made by the commander of that unit regarding how many men he’d need: Multiplication of how many German machineguns they’d confirmed times the number of rounds they’d be able to fire in the time it took to leave the start line and make it to the German lines. It was all carefully worked-out, and totally bone-chilling in that the Soviet reconnaissance guys had the exact number of German guns there were, and that they’d measured the distance to be covered down to the meter. As well, each element of the Soviet unit had been told exactly how much time they had to cross the killing zone to reach their objectives…
Granted, that’s a third-hand report and entirely apocryphal, but… It’s one of the most viscerally disturbing things I can imagine, being that desperate to force yourself to become that callous to human costs in war. The people in power that created that situation should have all faced tribunals after the war for sheer brutal incompetence.
The Western Allies did about the same sort of thing, but mostly with machines. It’s not commonly acknowledged, but the 8th Air Force actually had more dead than the Marines in the Pacific, which is mind-boggling to consider.
In war, maybe shit. Unfortunately. 🙁
But in this case, I doubt that the officer correctly understood these notes.
If Soviet military intelligence had accurately detected all German machine guns in advance (and this happened), these data would have simply been transferred to the artillery headquarters.
The main problems arose when machine guns appeared unexpectedly. The Germans were good at camouflaging their positions, for each machine gun there were usually several options. Destroying them with artillery before attacking was a great and rare success.
Perhaps these papers were just the notes of an artillery observer who prepared the calculations for the shooting, but did not have time to hand them over?
As I said, apocryphal third-hand. I don’t doubt that the Germans were probably misinterpreting a lot of what they took up in terms of intelligence material, but it does indicate how they generally perceived what their Soviet counterparts were doing.
I used to do low-level military intelligence stuff myself, and the thing you have to keep in mind at that level is that interpretation of material and events is a very tricky thing–You may see or observe something, but figuring out what the hell it means is best left for others that know more.
Which is one reason I get so irritated with a lot of the Allied “work product” with regards to the German use of the machinegun. Everything is looked at through the lens of their own ideas, their own usages. Nobody here in the West really stopped and bothered to question what they were seeing or to try to work out what the Germans were actually doing.
You look at the German manuals, talk to their soldiers: It’s pretty damn clear that they were implementing Flaechen und Luekentaktik ideas down to the lowest level. Yet, go look at what the Allies were templating as typical German tactics–They show the Germans trying to do exactly what they would, which is to batter the objective frontally. Apparently, the appearance of German soldiers and machineguns in their rear areas were taken as just so much inexplicable bad luck, rather than representing the actual objectives of the Germans.
It took nearly fifty years before the scales started falling from the eyes, and the US took up “maneuver warfare”. It’s still being argued, and if you go out and watch what they are actually doing on the ground, it’s still instinctually “throw men and firepower at the enemy” until he surrenders. Which is fine, so long as you’ve got the men and the weapons, but… You sort of run into problems once you run out, or give up that superiority via restrictive Rules of Engagement.
The rule they drum into your head as a private soldier is that you never, ever “interpret” anything you see in the way of intelligence to report. You just say what you saw, and leave it at that–You don’t make inferences or judgments about what you observed. “Two tanks observed, visually resemble the T-72 but their exhaust and sound signature do not match the T-72, sounding like the M1”. That’s a good report, from the guy on the scene. “Two of the new T-80U tanks from an elite Guards unit seen moving towards Eppen” is not, because that observer has reported his interpretation of what he’s seen along with the information. He doesn’t actually know that those are turbine-powered T-80 tanks, or that they’re a Guards unit headed towards Eppen. He just thinks they are…
And, you go looking? That’s a lot of what you find with regards to people’s reports and discussions about the Germans and their tactics–They’re looking at the question as though the Germans were simply Americans or British troops with funny uniforms and weird weapons, then templating on top of that the things that Americans or British forces would be trying to do.
I can’t remember where the hell I read it, but there was a really egregious example from the Italian theater, where a German intelligence officer got ahold of an intelligence summary from an American unit. He’d gone through the whole thing, making marginal notes with increasing hilarity and incredulity because the American intelligence types had been so far off base. They’d described the Germans as “attacking in the wrong place” not because the Germans were trying to avoid the American strongpoints and get in behind to dislocate them, but because the Germans had lacked accurate intelligence and thought that the American fortified positions were where they tried attacking in order to infiltrate! It was so far off from the actual German intent that the German intelligence officer made note that he thought it was possible that American intel report might have been some form of disinformation meant to somehow fool the Germans…
The tragically humorous part of it was that those German notes were later captured, and a later set of American marginal notes were overlaid on top of the German ones that were still insanely out of line with the reality of it all.
As the old saw goes, in war it is critical to fool the enemy; what is more difficult is to avoid fooling yourself. During WWII, there was a whole lot of “self-fooling” going on with regards to a lot of what we’re talking about here. I’d lay long odds that if you could possible gather up all the parties and try to get them to describe what they were trying to do, and what they’d thought the enemy was doing? What you’d get would be a tragicomedy of misinterpretations and consternation–“What? You thought we were doing that? How stupid do we look?”.
Although, to be honest, there was an incredible amount of stupidity to go around. It’s just that the people who were doing the stupid thought it wasn’t stupid, at the time…
The problem of correct analysis and interpretation is a huge problem.
I will tell you two stories.
The first is known to many. British SAS patrol during the Iraq War. Bravo two zero. His commander then wrote a book, one of the surviving soldiers also wrote a book. Then they made films on them.
There was an epic description of a battle with the Iraqi army. A lot of killed soldiers, an armored personnel carrier, which the SAS fighters knocked out from an RPG. Then another SAS veteran, Michael Asher, went to Iraq and followed their route. He was surprised to find out that there was no epic battle. Three Bedouins went to see the strangers near their home. An old man, a cripple and his younger brother. Two AK-47s and an old rifle. Eight SAS fighters in this battle threw their backpacks and fled into the desert.
Knowing only the first part, the British military should consider their training to be of the highest standard. If you know the second part, then someone should ask the question, how could this happen?
Story number two.
After the war, many German generals taught the American military. For example, the commander of the ” Grossdeutschland” division Hasso von Manteuffel. In particular, he spoke at the General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. As an example of his successful battles, he talked about the battle in Romania. April and May 1944, the city of Targu Frumos. As far as I know, the US Army used this example to teach defense tactics against tanks.
The problem is that Manteuffel didn’t even look at German documents. Moreover, he did not see the Soviet documents.
Marshal Konev’s offensive began in March. His armies have covered hundreds of kilometers. They captured a huge amount of German equipment. Fuel depots, thanks to which Soviet tanks were able to move on. But still, these were battles with heavy casualties. When the Soviet units entered Romania, they had very few people and tanks.
One episode that I recently analyzed documents. Battle April 12, 1944. A German Panzer Division reported that it was attacked by two Soviet Panzer Corps. 70 tanks and 80 tanks, 150 in total. The Germans had 15 tanks and 30 self-propelled guns, they were able to deliver a counterattack and stop the Soviet tanks.
In fact, there were 12 tanks in one Soviet tank corps that day. The second had 11 tanks. The first corps did not fight that day. Epic Battle with 150 Tanks – It was a battle with 11 tanks. The Soviet troops believed that they were in front of the Romanian units. When they found out that they were fighting the Germans, they retreated because they were weak.
I think if Americans ever tried to use German advice, they would have been very surprised.
In fact, they should have seen why Soviet forces were advancing so successfully in 1944. Tanks “Tiger” and “Panther” in ambush is very dangerous. The Americans learned this in Normandy. But an ambush cannot be everywhere. In 1944, Soviet troops learned how to conduct reconnaissance. Lend-Lease cars – Jeep, Dodge, Indian and Harley motorcycles. Scout groups detected German ambushes and Soviet tanks simply bypassed them. It doesn’t matter what kind of armor and cannon you have, when the enemy tank is in your rear and you run out of fuel. It was the same at 41, just the opposite.
Oh, you have that right, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The US took everything the German generals said as though it were passed down from on high by Moses himself–Never mind the self-serving nature of it all, or the fact that a bit of careful comparison between what they were telling us and what happened on the ground would have shown an awful lot of… Mmmm… Shall we call them “discrepancies”?
Then there was the whole “It’s all Hitler’s fault… We told him not to do what he did…”. The generals didn’t want to wind up on trial, so of course they had nothing, nothing at all to do with carrying out the atrocities–“It was all those other guys, the bad ones… The SS…”.
By the time we got into the Cold War, there was a flippin’ cottage industry going, and the amount of self-serving specious BS that crept into everything was off the scale. I think there would have been some very ugly surprises for everyone involved in the Cold War going hot, to include the Soviets. Their expectations of what would it would be like going up against the NATO allies vs. their experiences with the Germans would have been as far out of contact with reality as the ones the NATO allies had about them. The whole thing would have been a cluster-fark of epic proportions, and likely would have ended in embarrassment for all. The strategic and operational acumen demonstrated by the Soviets in various venues during the conflict would likely have foundered on the reality of things like what happened during the attempted mobilization for Poland during the late 1980s or the initial phases of the Chechen War. You go to make war in the big leagues, you better be sure you’re not standing on feet of clay, and it does not make for success when you suffer from the egregiously high casualties due to the little things like not being able to ensure the troops are fed, watered, and properly hygienic. The figures from Afghanistan alone are incredible; Napoleonic War-era casualties to things like typhus and cholera due to the inability to perform the minutiae of logistics functions like distributing healthy food and providing sanitation out in the base camps. In Afghanistan, the Soviet forces had so many hospitalization cases that it was mind-boggling to anyone with experience in a modern army; by way of contrast, one of the biggest health issues for US and other coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were that they were coming back after a year’s service overweight and under-exercised. Food was generally better on those deployments than a lot of the troops got at home, what with the vagaries of home cooking and the availability of fast food…
Other than “ugly surprises all around”, I honestly wouldn’t want to forecast much of anything about any potential WWIII. I’m pretty sure my life expectancy on the Inner German Border was probably measured in minutes, and my remains would probably still be glowing in the dark to this day…
I have a few veteran acquaintances who are very fond of the 2010 Sherlock Holmes TV series. They really like the beginning – Watson is returning from Afghanistan. The end of the 19th century, the beginning of the 21st century, but in England Watson returns from Afghanistan. Such a tradition.
For the USSR, this war was a big mistake. Wrong intelligence, wrong assessment of the situation, wrong decision. Many generals were against it. The army was preparing to fight in Europe. But the politicians made the wrong decision. How it is constantly passing.
My friends were very surprised when the United States began its military operation in Afghanistan. I think the Soviet paratroopers and American soldiers who died in Takur-Gar are sitting together on a cloud in paradise, looking down and saying to each other: “God, what idiots did this?”
I could comment excessively, but that’d be beyond the purview of this website. Suffice to say that I would pass on my respect to your Afghantsi (is that the right spelling…?) friends, and rue the day any of us ever let the politicians send us off to war. The perspective I’ve gained with age would have a lot of frank things to say to the bright young thing I was at age 17, and I suspect that he would not like to listen to what I had to say, at all.
Have you read any of the books by SLA Marshall? They were considered good once. I think he came up with some figure that only a certain percentage of infantrymen ever aimed their rifle in combat, or even fired it at all.
Sobering stuff, but was any of it true? I read a biography of John Paul Vann, who early in his career had been mentored by Marshall. He came to the conclusion that Marshall was a bullshitter who made a lot of stuff up. Who was ever going to check?
Regrettably, S.L.A. Marshall was basically a lying sack of feces. Nobody has ever been able to go back and find any of the raw data he supposedly collected to enable his “insights” into combat, and he was notably evasive whenever he was asked, referring people to non-existent government secrecy orders to justify it all. As a historian, he sucks.
At least one of the WWII veterans I talked to about him was at one of these seminal post-combat sessions with him, and he did not remember Marshall even bringing the issue up.
I have to say that I’m embarrassed to have been taken in by his line of BS, but after actually having to find the factual basis behind it, I can’t find anything, anywhere, that would support anything other than a verdict of “fabulist”. And, that’s the charitable interpretation. The uncharitable one, based on reading David Hackworth’s description of having been his escort officer for one of his Vietnam tours is that he was a calculating, lying POS scumbag who profited off the deaths of American soldiers through whitewashed mostly fabricated “histories” of their battles, which he’d use in malicious ways to paint people he didn’t like as cowards and people he did like as heroes.
Much of his “combat non-participation” theory falls down on the reality of it all–Say that he was right, and only 15% of the men were actually doing all the fighting. What, do you suppose, those men are going to do when they notice this fact? Think they’re gonna be at all accepting of it, or are they likely to take informal action to “encourage” their cowardly peers? As well, there’s the minor question of just where the hell the leadership would have had to have been, and just how ineffectual they would have had to be–Did Marshall think that all of the junior leaders, the corporals and sergeants, just looked the other way when they observed what they would have had to been seeing? Were those guys not checking for ammo after firefights? How credulous do you have to be, in order to accept Marshall on the face of it?
I know I bought into his BS entirely, when I was younger. Then, after having the embarrassment of bringing that issue up in the company of actual WWII combat veterans, I had my illusions about Marshall pretty much removed. None of those vets saw anything at all that even remotely resembled Marshall’s line of slander–And, that’s precisely what it was, slander against those troops and their leaders.
Notably, Marshall was himself not a veteran of actual combat.
The other claim Marshall liked to make was that he was “instrumental” in the development of the Army’s TRAINFIRE system after WWII and Korea. Go look in the literature–You will not find a single place where he was ever even interviewed by the Army Research Laboratories scientists who developed that program, and perishing few cites for any of his work, most of which were apparently regarded, dryly, as “unreliable”. Yet, Marshall made much of that fantasy throughout his career, taking credit for it all. I could not find any evidence for that anywhere I looked.
So, he is a highly questionable source for much of anything, right along with his current disciple Grossman–Another unqualified and entirely delusional sort who believes that there is some fantastic inherent “reluctance to kill” universally present in the human race. I’d like to introduce both of them to actual history, but I don’t think either bothered to read any of it when they were required to.
I am not going to argue either of their cases, merely observe that most of their “work” isn’t based on actual research or verifiable numbers. It’s all anecdotal supposition, interpreted to their pleasure in order to support theses that I find laughable on the face of things, these days. There may be grains of truth in some of what they say, but the ridiculous lengths they took their pronouncements to render what they’re saying as specious bullshit.
If you can find any who are still on this side of functional, and who are willing to talk to you these days, try running Marshall’s multiple lines of BS past any actual US veterans of front-line combat in WWII. You will get an earful, and I advise staying out of range of their fists should you be so foolish as to assert anything from Marshall as being even remotely accurate.
Thanks. That’s SLAM Marshall sorted out! I wonder if his claims had any effect on US Army doctrine? If you believe that 75% of infantry don’t fire their rifles at all, or don’t aim them if they do, maybe that reinforces ideas of teaching “gravel belly” type shooting at the range? The again, perhaps Ordnance did not need any encouragement in that regard.
As you say, if 75% of infantry were combat ineffective, you would have thought the other 25% would have made their feelings known pretty loudly. It does not ring true at all.
The thing was that the Army pretty much abandoned “gravel-belly” shooting in the TRAINFIRE system. The Marines kept it up, clear into the early 2000s.
TRAINFIRE was based on the observation that typical known-distance range fire conditions men to only shoot at clearly delineated targets, ones that are big bullseyes at set ranges. What they figured out, finally, was that the troops weren’t shooting at the enemy not because they were afraid, or because they didn’t want to kill, but because they’d been conditioned only to shoot at clear targets that didn’t look like people. They were looking for big round black-and-white bullseyes, if only subconsciously.
So, while they still trained basic marksmanship skills (somewhat…) on known distance ranges with bullseye targets, actual qualification was done on pop-up target ranges with targets that looked like actual enemy soldiers. Huge difference with that, because it conditioned soldiers to fire at things that looked like people and to take shots at fleeting targets.
Marshall may have been partially correct (which is the worst kind of correct…) in that the soldiers weren’t shooting. What he got wrong was the “why”, and that was more down to how they were trained and conditioned to respond under fire. TRAINFIRE corrected that, and the Army got much better results in Vietnam. Which, of course, Marshall took full credit for in his writing…
Ordnance actually has little to do with training. They don’t write the manuals, and they only influence things via their responses to what the various branches say they want. The guys who’re responsible for working out the training techniques and policies are the actual branches responsible for those things–The Infantry branch does small arms, the Artillery guys do artillery and fire control, while the Engineers do things that the Engineers do, like fortification and obstacles. They all consult with each other, and before you go and do something like change how a foxhole is dug, you have to get the Infantry and everyone else with a piece of the frontline pie to sign on with the changes. Ordnance is supposed to be following along, doing that which it takes to support things, but occasionally steps out of its lane the way Rene Studler did.
The funny thing about Studler is that he really set himself up as the expert on small arms, which he may have been in terms of the administrative side of it all. The use thereof? He wasn’t even a combat veteran, let alone an infantryman–His claim to fame was a tour of European arsenals during the ’30s, and having run repair and intel operations during WWII, from what I remember. Actual combat veterans from the Infantry? Those guys had a pretty good idea of what they wanted, which would have looked a lot like the FN in .280 British, but Studler and his coterie of fellow true-believers that were running things were dismissive, and we got what we got. You can go back and find articles and staff papers from the actual former combatants, and they were all saying sensible things that would have resulted in much better small arms, but the trouble was, they were all more-or-less talking to themselves and ignored by the decision-makers.
Kinda the way we were, in my time, about preparing for the IED issue back during the 1990s. The ability of the entrenched bureaucracy to stick its collective fingers in its collective ears and go “Neener-neener, can’t hear you…” if you try to inflict foresight on it is truly a remarkable thing to see. “No, Sergeant K, you need to stay in your lane… We do not want to develop that capability because if we do, someone will ask us to do it, and we don’t want to divert any of our budget from our programs…”.
That statement is more-or-less verbatim what I was told by the Engineer school in the aftermath of my attempt to get American Combat Engineers into the Canadian Humanitarian Demining school up in Kelowna, British Columbia. I’d worked out what is known as a “drug deal” in the Army, in order to take advantage of some open slots that Canadian acquaintances of mine had made graciously made available–Woulda cost nothing to the American taxpayer, and all we needed was a cross-border training document. The Canadians were going to pay for everything, except travel to Kelowna from Fort Lewis. Whole thing blew up in my face, ‘cos I was “exceeding my authority”, and I got a major ass-chewing and told to stay in my lane, ‘cos we didn’t want no part of that “Humanitarian Demining” thing, and if we developed that capability, why… The politicians might actually ask us to do it! Horrors!
About two weeks after my ass-chewing, I’m sitting in my office. Three guys from the SF unit walk in, and start asking me if I know anything, anything at all about demining… Seems that the Clinton Administration had decided we needed to go do some o’ that, in Cambodia. I think you can guess my reaction. Did my best to help out the SF guys, wished them the best of luck, but advised them that looking for help at the Engineer school was pretty much a waste of time.
Some years later, Congress decided to blow some spare cash on the issue, and they finally did set up a “humanitarian demining” school at Fort Leonard Wood, but I never really saw anything of real value come out of it. Although, they were the ones who wound up buying the South African armored route clearance equipment and testing it, so that it was laying around rusting when 2003 came around, and someone remembered they had it there. Wasn’t anyone doing anything pro-active at the schoolhouse, either–The guy who got that stuff refurbished and sent to Iraq was a major assigned to Iraq who committed career suicide by initiating a Congressional investigation asking why that stuff was sitting there in Missouri while guys were out on the ground in Iraq wandering around with mine detectors and sandbagged HMMWVs…
There are reasons I regard most of the American military establishment as a bunch of time-serving incompetents with no regard for their responsibilities, implied or mandated by legislation. We were telling them that something like the IED campaign in Iraq was coming, right along with warning that they were setting us up for what happened to the 507th Maintenance Company. All of which was ignored. You’ll note that there were no after-the-fact investigations of either situation that asked “Why were we unprepared…?”. Everyone just acts like the IED campaign and the 507th were things that merely “happened”, and that nothing could have been done to prepare or prevent them…
The British Army had a very similar story with regard to mine protected vehicles in Iraq. The top brass did not want to spend money on them, because they had earmarked funds for a new generation of armoured vehicle they called FRES. So the troops were sent out in Land Rovers, and only when enough of them had been killed were the brass forced to buy proper mine protected vehicles. FRES was eventually cancelled after a few billion had been spent on its development. Clearly the brass blamed the mine protected vehicles for this, because they got rid of them with indecent haste as soon as the urgent operational need ended. Keep them in store just in case? Nah!
As for humanitarian mine clearing, leave it to the rats, seriously. Those little guys can be trained to sniff out mines, and they work for fruit. Plus they are too light to set the mines off. A real win-win.
Oh, you have no idea–The guy who wrote the British Army pamphlet (equivalent to the US Army Field Manual…) on route clearance operations was someone I knew and interacted with. This was during the same era I’m talking about trying to get the “system” to respond, and the two of us compared notes and pooled what we knew–Rather more on his part, since he’d actually done live operations in Northern Ireland. However, the whole “Build specialized armored vehicles that can survive an IED strike” idea was a bridge too far for the British Army of the time. He’d had the same problems getting the leadership interested that we had, and of course, the British Army was similarly unprepared for Iraq when the time came. I don’t know how bad it was, for the British Army, but I do know that there were people who were aware of the technology and who were doing the same thing we were and agitating for its procurement.
I think that at least part of the problem was that it was South African, and since that was back when it was still the apartheid era, well… Anything from them was “politically incorrect”, and thus not to be taken up or even paid attention to. The mentality behind all that is germane to what we’ve been talking about here, in that the usual run of idiots we have running things seem to all think that an idea is only as virtuous as the man thinking it and putting it into action. Me? I’ll steal a good idea from anyone, if it will work and help keep my guys alive…
This is possibly why I come across as a bit of a Wehraboo, which is hardly the case in reality. I regard the Nazis and their ilk pretty much the same way I look at hornets: Pretty, beautiful predators that I seek to understand in order that I can insure they don’t threaten either me or those I’m protecting. I don’t like them, but I will admire their efficiencies and copy those things of theirs that actually work. The provenance? I don’t give a rip about that, at all–Keeps my guys from having to walk around in the open with mine detectors on foot, looking for IEDs and mines on the MSR? Hell, I could care less if Satan himself were the one that invented the damn MRAP clearance vehicles–I want them for my guys. Period.
Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot more people that think that if a bad man has an idea, no matter how “good” or effective it might be, that colors the idea forever.
Arrant stupidity, to my way of thinking. I’ll steal a good idea from anyone, put it to use, and so long as it works, I could care less who had it first.
Thanks for your good stuff, you have a fund of information.
I’m glad that the US Army and British Army work so closely together, even if it has to be kept on the down low in case the brass get to hear about it.
No, as you say, we were not at all prepared for the invasion of Iraq. A friend who was there told me he had nine troops to patrol a vast warehouse complex in Basra. The upshot was that the job could not be done, they had to let the Iraqis steal everything. Multiply that by a thousand and you have the British experience in Iraq. There was nothing wrong with the soldiers, but there were not enough of them, and they did not have the right equipment.
Same with the US in the early days. Having been involved in a lot of the prep work for it all, and then actually being over there for the first year of the occupation and getting tasked with “massaging” the logistics down in Kuwait, about all I can say is that there wasn’t anything that went to plan.
And, it wasn’t that there wasn’t a plan or that the plan was bad; the problem was that none of the pre-war assessments of the situation in Iraq were able to grasp the level of dysfunction. Everybody was thinking that “Hey, it’ll be like going into Italy during WWII, where maybe it wasn’t as “functional” as Germany, but there’ll still be some civic functions up and working…”.
Instead, it was more Mad Max than anyone could conceive. There were no functional civilian authorities left to work with, and what few locals stood up were actively slaughtered by the remaining vestiges of Saddam’s government. The level of “WTF??!!!???” was incredible–The public water supply system in Tikrit, for example? Nobody had done any maintenance work on that water plant since the British were there before Iraq became independent. We couldn’t even find the operators, and basically had to go in and rebuild the damn thing from scratch–The filtration beds? The last time anyone had changed those or even renewed them was apparently under the British period of governance, and we were having to source stuff to do that from as far away as Dubai. The oil industry was in similar shape–Basic maintenance hadn’t been done, and no investment had been made in oil infrastructure or anything else. And, then there were the constant attacks on everything we tried to fix–You’d get a power line up, and the “insurgents” would immediately blow it up. Or, the locals would loot it.
Everything before the war was predicated on there being some level of lawlessness and disorder, but… The actual “on the ground” was exponentially worse than anything anyone had or really, could have predicted. Most of the Iraqi civil population was so thoroughly beaten down by the time they spent under Saddam that they would quite literally not do anything without approval from Baghdad, and the few that weren’t like that were usually killed off fairly quickly. People critique everyone involved, but I’m here to tell you that the post-war “thing” was less like a hostage situation and more like an intervention with a nation of battered wives. Hitler only had a decade and a half to condition his people; Saddam was there for close to forty years, and had had a lot more effect than people appreciate. None of the Iraqis who should have made the “middle class functionaries” were still around and able to influence much of anything. Everything was completely “Mad Max”, about like you’d expect dealing with a Somalia rather than what had been a semi-functional nation-state. I honestly can’t fault anyone for the chaos other than the Iraqis themselves, and the Saddam regime. I don’t think there was a damn thing we could have done differently that would have made a difference with regards to the aftermath–There were no functioning bits of Iraqi society to really ally with, in terms of what you’d expect. Total cultural disconnect, TBH. I mean, Italy did a better job in the aftermath of Mussolini–You walked into the average Italian town, from what I’ve read of the occupation there, and there would at least be a semblance of a functioning government structure to work with–A mayor, city staff, schools, all the rest. In Iraq? LOL… Yeah, the buildings might still be there, but as far as the people who were supposed to be there, working in them? Nope; they were either Saddam-appointed apparatchiks that took to their heels, or they were people who were afraid to even look like they were interacting with the US or anyone else.
Iraq wasn’t so much an occupation as a “build everything over again” effort, performed in an environment where the people we were trying to help were actively breaking everything we fixed. That water plant in Tikrit? I think it got looted three times before the fix “took”–They stole things that didn’t make any damn sense whatsoever, like pipe fittings and filter media that you could only use in the plant itself, and they were screwing themselves because that was the water they needed to drink… In. A. F**king. Desert.
You want a word for Iraq circa 2003? Institutionalized. Just like some lifer on death row who only knows prison life, the only thing people could think of was going back to prison, where they were comfortable with living behind bars. Not everyone, but when you looked at the whole society, that’s about what it was, and it took years for them to get out of the mindset. Totalitarian states have to have their populations deprogrammed as much as any victim of cult brainwashing, and the sad fact is, none of the people involved in the aftermath of Iraq really saw that, or planned for it. I’m not sure it was a “knowable” thing, TBH. Precisely none of the pre-conflict assumptions about what we’d have to work with actually proved out, and we had to work out things on the fly. You really would not believe the kind of thing they had to deal with, with regards to rebuilding civil and economic infrastructure, and I can’t fault any of the involved parties for failing to anticipate it. In hindsight, yeah… Maybe we should have known, but the last time we had to deal with something like Iraq was WWII, and those were all highly developed and totally different societies. We went in expecting, at worst, maybe Italy in terms of dysfunction. What we found was more like Mad Max than anything else.
Thanks again for your valuable insights.
I think the area where the US went wrong was trying to impose “democracy” on Iraq. Not a concept they were familiar with, and as you say, after 40 years of a vicious tyranny, not one that would take overnight.
I feel dissolving the Iraqi army was a very bad idea. Keep the buggers in jobs! Find a local Mr Big and tell him he’s the president now. You have to be pragmatic. As you say, civil society in Iraq was a wreck, how could that society become a functioning democracy overnight? Absolutely impossible.
I think the problem is that America was running an empire without wanting to admit that fact to itself. Every empire has to pick a local guy to be their man and keep things under control.
By the way, I read that one of the mine clearing rats in Cambodia has just retired after five years on the job, he found hundreds of mines and IEDs, and only expected bananas in return. What a guy.
The effects of leaving the Saddam-era Iraqi army intact and then working with them are, inherently, unknowable. The pundits all say it should have been the one we took, but I honestly can’t find much to agree with, there–That military was inherently corrupt, ethnically biased in favor of the minority Sunni, and far too used to the role of regime enforcer and bully-boy. Keeping them in power was probably never going to work, and keeping them in their barracks would have merely served to allow them to become centers of destabilization, targets for any recidivist in sight.
The other idea, of picking a new bully-boy for the country and handing it over to him… We tried that; that’s how Saddam wound up in charge after the Iraqis booted out the last guy the British Empire put in place. As a course of action, I don’t think that one was any more workable.
In the end, there were no really good choices, and no real way to finesse things. Iraq is Iraq, and it either suffered the growing pains and learned, or it turned into Somalia on the Tigris. The only real “easy” solution I can honestly see would have required undoing all the varied and sundry idiocies of Sykes-Picot and redrawing the borders of most of the Middle East along the actual effective ethnic borders, giving each of the ethnic-religious groups their own economically and politically viable territory to run for themselves however they wanted to. Which, of course, would have likely resulted in a whole new series of wars over entirely new and novel issues, this being the Middle East we’re talking about.
The whole region is a dog’s breakfast, and entirely unamenable to externally-applied reform, in my opinion. If they weren’t sitting on top of the world’s oil supplies, I’d be all for building a wall and letting them all go at it like Kilkenny Cats. Unfortunately…
Thankfully, way above my paygrade. All I can do is observe and make rude comments. I don’t blame the people who we look at in retrospect as having made the wrong decisions–Mainly because I don’t think there were any “right” ones there to be made. No matter what, the whole thing was due to be a disaster, and we aren’t going to change that with any ease whatsoever. Maybe keeping the old regime forces would have been a good idea, but had we done so, I suspect that would have totally discredited anything else we did in the name of expediency with the rest of the population. “Oh, we’re here to rescue you from evil… Oh, by the way, the we’re putting the assholes who worked for the last set of thugs and criminals back in charge, so as to keep the status quo going…”.
That may work for a game of Empire, but playing imperial power was never the goal of the US. We’re more Venice than we are Rome, if you catch my drift…
The ratties working to clear mines in Africa are good little guys–I’ve been reading about them since day one, fascinated with it all. I’m reminded of the way the South Africans were doing explosives detection with their dogs, driving them around in armored vehicles designed to pick up scent, which the dogs were trained to respond to, signaling the presence of explosives for investigation. That’s something the US should have taken up, but didn’t.
In a way, the Gambian Pouched Rats are working off a long debt they owe humanity, what with all the food their fellow rodents have destroyed or despoiled down the millennia. Good on them… Few thousand years of mine clearance, and they’ll have made up for a lot of that. 🙂
“”The level of “WTF??!!!???” was incredible–The public water supply system in Tikrit, for example? Nobody had done any maintenance work on that water plant since the British were there before Iraq became independent. We couldn’t even find the operators, and basically had to go in and rebuild the damn thing from scratch–The filtration beds? The last time anyone had changed those or even renewed them was apparently under the British period of governance, and we were having to source stuff to do that from as far away as Dubai. ”
I showed this snippet to a friend who now works in Iraq for an international construction company. His answer was:
“Nothing has changed in the mentality since then. Trust me. 🙂
And in the state of local equipment ”
Yeah, we’re way off-subject at this point, but…
Iraq and that whole region are another world, with entirely different rules and logic. Knowing what I know now, and if I’d been consulted about dealing with that whole mess? I think I’d have emulated Pontius Pilate, and washed my hands of the entire mess. I really have my doubts about whether or not you can force a fix on things externally–The dysfunctions have been building up since the Mongols swept through and burned Baghdad, and I suspect that there were a lot of things contributing to today that started about the time of Ashurbanipal.
Neither the Romans nor the Persians really ever managed to deal with any of it at all effectively, and the long period where that region was the buffer zone between Persia and everything westwards set the conditions pretty emphatically for what we see even now. Sure, it’s one of the “Cradles of Civilization”, but the unfortunate fact is that babies have a habit of sometimes wrecking their nurseries as they grow up…
As you say, off topic, but it is good to set the world to rights now and then, and your personal experience of Iraq is instructive. It is always interesting to learn from people who were actually there.
With regard to our old friend SLAM Marshal, I was prompted to go back to his book “Infantry Operations & Weapons Usage in Korea”. Not that bad really. He likes the BAR as the base of the fire team, but it is a one man weapon. He refers to the M1919A4 and M1919A6 interchangeably as LMGs, which I find interesting.
Given that the US only ever used the BAR as a one man weapon, giving it a bipod would never turn it into an LMG. The M1919A4 seems to have been an attempt to make a gun to do the job an LMG did in most armies, and the M1919A6 took the process further. But both guns were too bulky to make a proper LMG. A 30-06 Bren would have been a fine thing, except it was “not invented here”. Sad.
War is the interaction of all kinds and services.
“Small arms do not play a significant role”?
Tell this to the Armenians. The system of defense of which, spread like a wet newspaper, after mobile groups of Azerbaijan (armed only with what they could carry in their hands) destroyed the command and control system. LOL