That One Terrible Gun Myth in Siege of Jadotville…

The Netflix film “The Siege of Jadotville” recounts the fighting between Katanga soldiers and mercenaries and Company A of the 35th Irish Infantry Battalion, who were deployed to the Katanga province of Congo in 1961 as part of the UN peacekeeping mission there. The Irish soldiers fought valiantly and won a tactical victory, but ran out of food and ammunition and were forced to surrender. They were held captive for about a month before being released, and the fact that they had to surrender put a pall over the story for many decades. The movie helps to rehabilitate their image, and is generally outstanding in technical firearms matters.

BUT…it has that one scene where the sniper has to make a long-range precise shot and opts to do it with a Bren gun and a single cartridge instead of his No4 MkI(T) sniper’s rifle. There has long been a myth about the Bren gun’s accuracy, and this is just another repetition of it.

For a live-fire practical debunking, see the video from The Armourer’s Bench:


  1. Thank you for dispelling the “too accurate MG” fuddlore that seems as tenacious as it is indefensible. I don’t know how anyone can continue to believe this given the factors you cited, the results of every livefire demonstration on the net, and the dependence of even the most [theoretically / mechanically] accurate human-fired weapon on the operator and support system for practical / real-world accuracy.

    • The only “real” and well-known case of this I can think of is the documented case where Carlos Hathcock used an M2HB .50 caliber MG as a long-range sniper rifle. There are other cases where they did the same in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. That was why the rear sight base on the M2HB had the fitment capability for a scope, after all… Not that the scopes and mounts were ever all that common.

      Big difference there: You can single-shot an M2HB from a closed bolt, and off of a properly sited and sandbagged tripod, it’s a pretty stable platform to do long-range off of. More than a few guys did it, if only as a combat-zone “parlor trick”.

      Even so, that’s a far cry from the “Sniper BREN” war story. Only thing that makes sense for me with that one was that it was done using the tripod to help “walk in” shots on a target that was out of direct view of the shooter. That’s barely logical; I’ve heard of similar work done with the M2HB.

      As to a “too accurate” MG? There’s really no such thing. You might have one whose beaten zone needs to be opened up at certain ranges, but that’s easily overcome by introducing randomization elsewhere in the system. Hell, if anything, that “too accurate” thing can be a positive advantage, the way they turned the L86 into a de facto DRM…

      • Thanks, Kirk. Your Hathcock example fleshed out my points perfectly. An inherently accurate (closed-bolt) MG can deliver accuracy if (and only if) paired with an exceptional marksman, taking his time with a perfectly locked-down supporting system.

        Absent any of those elements, countless real-world and online MG livefires lead me to question whether anything (except maybe a tripod-mounted heavy) could ever even need conscious effort to open up its beaten zone.

        • Just about everyone I’ve ever heard talk seriously about “too much accuracy” in a machinegun has been someone who really didn’t know what the hell they were doing with one, in the first place. Either as a gunner or a leader. It’s usually coming out of the mouth of someone who’ll also tell me all about the Mattel M16 they were issued in Basic…

          I sometimes wish I’d gone into sociology or something, in order to study the propagation and persistence of these things. I swear to God, I’ve been in a classroom, putting out the right information, and a day later I’d hear one of the attendees that actually managed to pass the testing telling the same-old, same-old tired war stories.

          I think there’s something going on there, with the “stickiness” of specific lore items, the bits and pieces that make that information lore in the first place. It’s part “romance of secret knowledge”, “first encounter being most effective”, and the prestige of whoever imparted it. You can be the guy showing the Field and Technical manuals off, have the civilian historical supporting data right there alongside, and they’re still gonna remember what Unka Robb done told them about the M16 when they were 8 years old.

          We had a family day, one time, and one of my instructional victims brought up his eyewitness “Unka Robb” to refute my instruction about a weapon feature. I dunno what he expected, but Unka Robb and I hit it off, and Unka Robb backed me up on what I was saying about the issue. Apparently, little Timmy hadn’t quite understood, at age six or whatever, what Unka Robb had been saying…

          Didn’t stop him from repeating it forever, though.

          It’s part of why I react so badly to bad info on the internet. That crap hangs around, and reappears in the oddest places… Some dude says, somewhere, that you can fire a 90mm Recoilless Rifle from inside a closed room, and there’s gonna be some dimwit that remembers that twenty years later who’ll use that information to kill himself and his buddies, sure as sh*t…

          • Very well reasoned and argued (as always!). If you ever get around to that study, I’d love the chance to read your thesis or dissertation.

            I’ve often had similar inspirations, and held back precisely because of a corollary to what you called the “romance of secret knowledge”. Contrary to popular belief, leaders (especially in the military, which rewards change for change’s sake) aren’t that resistant to new ideas if proponents are willing to do the homework. In fact, it often seems like the more novel the idea, the more likely it will be accepted (cf. “The Emperor’s New Clothes”).

            The one idea to which everyone seems closed off, is halting or reversing a stupid new idea. It’s never easy to politely explain “2+2 still equals 4; the best answer is ‘inside the box’ because the ‘box’ [state of the art] contains the sum total of all good and bad decisions to date and you, boss, are not that one-in-a-million transformational genius who’s smarter than every other leader combined.”

          • Sadly, I’m not the guy to do that. It’s too basic to human nature, and it’s one of those huge blind spots about “how things really work” that nobody pays attention to.

            I’ve looked for things like that in the literature, but I appear to be asking questions that nobody else is asking.

            What I find maddening to it all is that there should be some way of harnessing that “Matty Mattel” stickiness with actually correct information, and throwing it out into the environment, but… Nope.

            It’s like the classic “Garand Ping”: What the hell makes that one so transmissible and memorable? Why is it hard to eradicate?

            Bad information is around the world before the good stuff even gets its boots on, I’m telling you. Why? No. ‘Effing. Idea.

          • My thoughts exactly – depressing as hell.

            Don’t even get me started on bore axis – a perfectly valid concept of geometry and physics, surrounded by so many absurd theories when it comes to particular pistols (rails, springs, etc.).

          • I think every sphere of human endeavor has this crap involved, somewhere.

            The construction industry is full of it, from the lowliest apprentice carpenter up to what you would think would be highly trained and educated architects and engineers. Sometimes you see something and ask “Why are they doing it that way…?”, and you just get a shrug of the shoulders and “Well, that’s the way we always did it…”

            Nobody ever seems to pay attention to the esoterica, the “tribal knowledge”, or the things a lot of their assumptions are based on. This is why when a new idea comes along, it either immediately takes hold because it’s “in tune” with accepted thought and precedence, or it’s immediately controversial.

            It’s like that, all over. You would think someone would have gotten down to basics and studied the science of idea itself, and how we “know what we know”, along with why some things get studied, and others are just hand-waved away because “…everybody knows that…”

            I’ll point out, yet again, we still don’t know if Roman legions marched in step, or what foot they stepped off on… Something you would think would have been preserved, somewhere.

          • You would think someone would have gotten down to basics and studied the science of idea itself, and how we “know what we know”, along with why some things get studied, and others are just hand-waved away because “…everybody knows that…”

            That’s just it. Lazy sheeple regard not only independent thinking, but also even listening to coherent explanations from people who bothered to think about things, too difficult or inconvenient. Witness the huge majority of people who believed (and still believe) that the millennium began on New Year’s Y2K, and are thoroughly immune to the truth about it.

      • oh that’s simple thanks for clearing that up… i just need to introduce “randomization” to my machinegun

  2. Back in c. 1995 my battalion was one of the first in the USMC to turn in the M60 machine gun and receive the M240. Our machine gunners fussed about the M240 being too accurate, but what was really happening was the new guns had much tighter beaten zones than the raggedy old M60s and the gunners had to work the T&E more.

    • Worn-out M60s didn’t have beaten zones so much as they had “beaten grid squares”. Couple that with the base version having its zero consist of a screw-retained aluminum leaf…? With a fixed front sight that very often got bent to f*ck and back?

      When I was a gunner at one assignment, of my two barrels, I had one that was dead-on accurate. The other was a shot-out mess. Whenever the “good” barrel was off the gun, I was always nervous. I came back to the position, one day, after getting chow, and my AG is doing “improvement” to the position. Using my “good” barrel as an improvised hammer to drive in metal stakes… I had a bit of a freak-out, and that barrel wasn’t good for much, after. He’d bent the entire front sight assembly, and whatever mystical alignment there was there, it never came back even after the entire front sight assembly was replaced.

  3. [OFF-TOPIC so ignore if you wish]
    If I understand correctly
    Recently Project Hunter yield result in form of contract for L403A1 which will be used by Royal Marines Commandos. It seems to be souped-up AR-15. MoD claims that
    shares much in common with the rifle systems used by many of the UK’s allies. Given their specialist role, and the critical task of working with and alongside many of the UK’s allies, the platform will enable ASOB to share skills and drills in an efficient manner.
    which seems to be surprising for me, because I never early encountered British military to explain that we are using this equipment because our allies do. Is that first such instance or similar such official statements were made earlier?

    • I think you can safely discount the verbiage coming out of a wonk trying to justify what they’re doing vs. the real reason, which is that the UK’s “special guys” find the ergonomics of the L85 abysmal, and having had the M16 series on hand for those situations where the L1A1 didn’t suit, well… They preferred to stick with something that didn’t require the gyrations.

      All else is just hand-waving and justifying with sweet-smelling lies. The real deal is that the UK SOF community considers the bullpup a bad idea, and only ever use them when they’ve got to blend in with their own troops.

      Spend a few days shucking mags on an intense CQB range, and you’d soon see the issues with the L85 and the superiority of the conventional layout. I imagine that if there’d been a history with something else when they forced the L85 down everyone’s throat, they’d have gone with that line of development.

      It is really stunning when you think about it. If you’re willing to consider the piston-based systems from HK as M16 derivatives, the penetration and prevalence of M16 ergonomics is damn near universal, these days. Look at the latest Beretta, or the Sako that Sweden and Finland look likely to buy…

    • “Using it because our allies do” is the old procurement excuse for “OK, we have to admit that all our previous efforts were shite, so we’re going with what has a track record of actually working in field conditions”. Something no version of the SA80 family could ever truthfully claim.

      I do find it amusing that after the M16’s early problems, which were almost 100% the results of deliberate sabotage by Ordnance, today it is the basis for almost every infantry rifle not made or used by a Communist or (putatively) former Communist country and/or “client state”.

      I think it’s fair to state that it has replaced the Kalashnikov system as the most widely-used military rifle on Earth, just as the Kalashnikov superseded the Models 96 and 98 Mauser bolt-actions in that role half a century ago.

      I think it’s also fair to state that its two major potential challengers, the aforementioned SA80 and the H&K G36 systems, have turned out to be two of the all-time lemons of military small arms history, right up there with the M60 GPMG and the Enfield Mk I .476 revolver. (Even the Merwin-Hulbert Pocket Army was less aggravating than the latter.)

      The HK416 rather proves the point. Essentially a Daewoo K2 gas-piston M16 with better PR.

      I’ll go out on a limb and say the further a modern 5.56 x 45mm rifle design strays from the original M16 of 1961, the more likely it is that it won’t work when needed.

      That won’t stop the would-be empire builders in Ordnance, of course. It never has, and it never will.

      clear ether


      • M16 . . . today . . . is the basis for almost every infantry rifle not made or used by a Communist or (putatively) former Communist country and/or “client state”.

        And even new AK variants are all wrapped up in AR’s clothing.

      • The other amazing thing is the prevalence of that other Armalite product, the AR-18. Failed commercially, copied everywhere! I mean, seriously… Even the HK 416 is a mashup of the two weapons, really.

        Strange world, sometimes.

        • And no matter what the Ministry of Supply said, the SA80 is nothing but a bullpupped AR18. I still believe the British government killed Sterling Armaments just to avoid admitting that fact, there being royalty payments involved if it became public.

          AR18 is still probably the best AR you can come up with if you’re limited to stamping metal as a way of making one. But it does require that you know what you’re doing and know what sort of metals to use.

          The lack of a proper knowledge base on both is what doomed the entire SA80 family, along with stubborn refusal to correct such mistakes because doing so would have been both a blow to egos and an admission of “guilt”.

          clear ether


          • Having read most of what’s published on the SA80 program, I think a lot of the issue boils down to the same thing that made British Leyland what it was… Huge cultural differences between upper management and the “shop floor” guys. The MoD folks thought that firearms design was a fungible thing; any engineer can do it. They also had a huge issue with Sterling because Sterling wasn’t run by the “right sort”, and they resented that Sterling had gotten the better of them over the disputes with regards to the Sterling SMG. There was also a lot of residual angst over how the IRA got ahold of Armalites… Huge amount of bad blood, there.

            To me, the biggest problem was basically conceptual: Nobody involved really knew how to “fight” a modern rifle. The layout and ergonomics on the entire SA80 program indicated that; they simply didn’t understand a lot of the necessities. As a result, the whole program was a dog’s breakfast, as the British slang goes.

            What’s funny is that I once met and BS’ed with a guy who was retired from the British SOF, or so I surmised. He was either SAS or SBS, and very cagey regarding what he’d actually done on active duty. What he wasn’t was at all reticent talking about the SA80 program; apparently, at some point, he’d been detailed as either an adviser or a tester. His comments about the process were mostly unprintable, and the one thing that I remember almost verbatim was him telling me something to the effect of “We told them (Royal Ordnance, I presume…) that there was no chance that we’d ever allow those “things” into the hands of our guys, no matter what they threatened…”

            Given that I was watching him shoot about like someone in Delta Force, I rather suspect he was the real deal. The man had mad skills with a handgun…

          • @Dogwalker,

            Yeah, I had similar feelings the first time I actually handled the L85 when shooting it with the Brits. I have never handled a purported “military-grade” weapon that felt as half-ass as that thing did, from the flimsy receiver to the furniture to the ergonomics. The only thing that I can compare it to would be the M60, in terms of “what it should/could have been” compared to “what it actually was”.

            Amazing thing is, neither weapon really needed to be as bad as they were… Both adopted in peacetime with plenty of time there to wring out the issues, both based on decent predecessors, and both utter failures when fielded absent real critical fielding processes.

            The signal thing about the L85 that struck me? One of the senior British NCOs who we were working with had been a part of the testing/fielding process, and he was livid that all the little things they’d found during initial testing/fielding hadn’t been corrected at all before general issue. All those problems with the plastic furniture? Identified. The ejection problems? Identified. He ran on for a good ten minutes with all the crap they’d found that should have been fixed on the general-issue weapon, yet was not.

            Of course, we did the same or similar with the M16, back when. The big difference was, the M16 actually got fixed by the arseholes doing the fielding, once their feet got put into the fire by the Ichord Committee. The L85? They had to hire HK to do the work for them, because they’d gutted the in-house expertise.

        • The AR18 is the most influential weapon that had never been adopted by anyone and it’s the real reason the AR setup is so prevalent.
          Because it’s obviously possible to design an action that’s at least as reliable, lightweight, and so on, but gun manufacturers don’t design weapons to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. Design time COSTS A LOT, and the AR 18 setup WORKS and is CHEAP. So if the question is “should we take an AR18 setup and maybe modify it a bit or should we invent something completely different?” the answer is almost always “take the AR18”.

          • The AR-18 also has the virtue of having been proven out by a myriad of designers. Unless you’re the feckless halfwits behind the SA80, it’s really hard to f*ck that design up.

            Which is more a marker for how ‘effed up they were, than anything else.

          • @ Kirk
            The SA80 should be a case-study. What really impresses me is not that much the poor ergonomy, the worse reliability, or the flimsiness of the plastic furniture. In a certain sense, those are “normal” ways of badly designing a weapon, even if it’s peculiar that all those mistakes had been made all toghether.
            What impresses me the most is that, taking out the optic, the SA80, bare rifle, has a weight comparable to that of the FAMAS.
            But the FAMAS has a relatively heavy bolt, an integral bipod, and a stamped steel receiver whose metal is so thick that you can drive nails with it.
            How it’s possible that, for the same weight, without the bipod, and with a liberal use of plastic, the the SA80 is so flimsy that it jams if you squeeze it to hard (even visually, it’s evident that the metal sheet of the receiver is very thin)? What did they do with that weight?
            It’s like they bent the laws of physics in order to deliver a shitty rifle.

  4. No comments on the mercenary forces weapons? I thought I spotted an Owen SMG in that movie – plausible I suppose. I have to admit, I did not remark on the obvious goof. Great stuff Ian, and probably why my suspension of disbelief is always tested by the entertainment industry.

    • Owen I did not noticed, but certainly they had a bunch of interesting SMGs there: Franchi LF-57, a Sten Mk II, Vigneron and a MAT-49, plus of course Irish Swedish Ks, some even with the correct Enfield spike bayo bar – but to compensate that, they all carried Yugo M56 leather pouches, which would be unlikely. Photos show them with correct Carl Gustav leather magazine case, and the only things it had in common with the Yugo M56 pouch is the material and having four pockets – though CG pouch has got two flaps for them, not four individual.
      What I have noted in the movie, were Carl Gustaf Mk 1 GL, MAG-58, Stockes-Brandt 81 mm and 60 mm M2 mortars, M1919A4, M2HB, SMLE Mk III*, No.4 Mk 2, No.4 Mk 1(T), FALO, FAL, Vickers MkI, DShK, K98k, MAS 36, FN HP, P38, G3A3, Fouga Magistere, F4 Phantom (?? – in Congo, of all places?), DC-6, UH-1D (Err, wasn’t that a tad early for the Bell 205 to appear in the field in 1961? the HU-1 wasn’t even an UH-1B at that time (renamed in 1962), and Sa-58s, probably doubling for AK, but actually might be true – Moscow sent mostly Czechoslovak guns to Africa, though at that time mostly the Sa-23/25 and Sa-24/26 SMGs and vz.52 SLRs – just take a look at newsreels from Katanga.

  5. If we’re talking about the Myth That Will Not Die, and Ian’s piece includes a No.4(T), one of my favorite pieces of Fuddlore is the notion that Lee-Enfields shoot tighter at 200-300 yards than they do at 100 yards.

    Elmer will tell you with great confidence that this is because the bullet tracks in a spiral around the line of aim, then “settles down” and stabilizes past 100 yards.

    The basic laws of Newtonian physics was never Elmer’s strong suit.

    • An awful lot of this results from observational knowledge gained through doing it, and trying to theorize plausible explanations for what the shooter is seeing. You can build some doozies up that way…

      I don’t hold it against people, really. The pragmatic use of empiric observation is almost always going to get you better results in the field than the theoretical stuff; after all, you’re doing it, you’re seeing it, and if it works…?

      Where I part ways with that is when they start coming up with explanations and passing those on as though they’re God’s truth. If you leave it at “Hey, for some reason I’m getting better groups at 200-300 yards than I do at 100… No idea why, it just looks that way from my shot groupings…”, then I’d be perfectly happy. The fantasy-land stuff? Fuhgeddedaboudit…

      A lot of these things come in because we don’t bother to really educate the masses in any of this crap. In the service, they harp and harp and harp on not trying to interpret things when you’re making intel SPOT reports: Just report what you see and experience, nothing more, nothing less. If you did that in grade school, and at least tried to teach people to be better witnesses and so forth, we’d have a much better set of habits about these things. Not to mention, far more accurate databases to work off of.

      It’s an information deal, a cultural tic. People aren’t taught to be good observers or witnesses, so they aren’t. I think it really ought to start with exercises in toddlerhood, teaching kids to just see and report what is there, not what they think they see. This is a huge problem for the cops, with eyewitness reports on things; people are highly suggestible, mostly because that’s the way they’ve come up since childhood. I think it could easily be trained out of the general population, if anyone bothered to try.

      There’s a bunch of linguistic studies out there that look at how language shapes thought and thought patterns. There’s a culture that doesn’t do left and right; they just do cardinal directions, and they’re always aware of them. A lot of our “fuzzy thinking” is language-based, because most language encourages poor thought because of built-in biases and ambiguity.

      • This is a huge problem for the cops, with eyewitness reports on things; people are highly suggestible, mostly because that’s the way they’ve come up since childhood.

        Even cops have the problem themselves. Including “highly trained observers” like me.

        A couple of years ago there was a shooting incident literally across the street from me about 2200 local. I heard six rounds fired, looked out, and saw what looked like a person in a white wool sweater or etc. lying on the stoop of the opposite brownstone.

        It turned out to be a rather large dog that had wandered in to the stop-and-rob around the corner and when the uniforms showed up, got aggressive, receiving a few .45 slugs for its trouble. Dead dog.

        The thing is, it looked like a dead person from my angle until I found out what actually happened.

        One more reason I was glad I was a ballistics and trace evidence specialist. Your eyes can fool you, what you have on a lab bench generally can’t.

        Or as Gil Grissom (William Petersen) once said, “People lie; (material) evidence never lies”.



        • And, if the material evidence does “lie”, it is almost always because of bias in the observer/collector of said evidence. Given all the scandals surrounding things like “bite mark” evidence, and the existence of genetic chimeras…?

          I’m not even sure I trust “the science” any more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.