Vintage Saturday: Fusil d’Assaut

Very pleased with his captured rifle!
Very pleased with his captured rifle! Source: Histoire de Couleurs

A Chasseur à pied of the 19e Battalion on the road between Breteuil and Flers, Somme. 10th of April 1918. This Battalion had been on foot after heavy fighting in order to occupy the village of Grivesnes, South of Moreuil in France. The rifle next to him is a captured German Kar98A, a rifle used extensively be German assault troops because of its shorter length compared to the standard Gewehr 98.

 

71 Comments

  1. Is that his captured rifle, or did he adopt the (arguably superior) enemy weapon? Ammunition would be easy enough to come by, he would have higher magazine capacity, and a shorter length compared to some Berthier and Lebel models. This would be very akin to stories of US troops adopting AK-47’s in Vietnam.

  2. Just how did the French Army of the day manage to function, never mind fight, in such a bulky uniform?

    • In 1914 red trousers was still part of French uniform. I always wonder why in early 1900s French Army adopted Berthier carbine holding 3 rounds. It is impossible that French technical intelligence don’t know about German Mauser (5 rounds) or British Lee-Enfield (10 rounds) or Russian Mosin (5 rounds).

      • 3-round carbines were originally for colonial troops, so that in case of mutiny troops with Lebels would have firepower advantage.

        • The Berthier was originally meant for colonial troops who found the Lebel too long, heavy & unwieldy…the Berthier carbine was a perfect match for their size & stature…over the years the carbine was lengthened and became as three shot rifle – see the second installment of the French rifles on the C&Rsenal you tube channel…he explains everything very well…also why it was originally a three round carbine, then rifle and finally a 5 round rifle….typical military incompetence…

        • Actually, the Berthier was issued to French troops serving in the colonies; the colonial indigenous troops usually got Gras single-shots.

          The real reason the Berthier had a three-shot magazine was twofold; first, the French army staff didn’t think in terms of “firepower”, even with the Lebel’s eight-shot tubular magazine. They thought that a three-shot magazine was more than enough for one or two volleys against the “locals”, and if the locals didn’t have modern weapons (or any firearms at all), they were probably pretty nearly correct.

          The other reason was purely practical. The highly-tapered, rimmed 8mm Lebel round just didn’t work very well through a box magazine that could be housed entirely within the confines of a normal rifle stock mid-section. Any magazine with more than a three-round capacity would have needed to project below the bottom of the stock, which exposed it to damage (according to the army’s theories). So the Berthier ended up with a magazine that didn’t extend below the stock, and therefore it could only accommodate three rounds.

          It’s interesting to note that by 1917, the French army was short enough of Lebels, and needed more infantry firepower badly enough, that a modified Berthier with a five-shot magazine that extended below the stock much like an 1891 Mosin-Nagant’s was being issued.

          Some of these hung on in the armories after the war. IIRC, at least some Berthiers were converted to 7.5 x 54 MAS in the mid-1930s, along with some of the Lebels. Both types were issued to French reserve units in 1939, and dd about as much good in 1940 as anything else the French army had- i.e., not a lot.

          cheers

          eon

          • “The highly-tapered, rimmed 8mm Lebel round just didn’t work very well through a box magazine”
            The Chauchat machine gun, famous for being jam-prone, magazine holds only 20 rounds, but was half-moon (or 180-degree) compare it to later Bren machine gun which also use rimmed cartridge (.303 British) holding 30 cartridge.

      • @Daweo:
        It is perfectly possible that they knew, but they didn’t give a damn about it. First of all, from what I heard, “military intelligence is an oxymoron”, that’s why. Most of the G-2s were not front troops, but desk-sailors, and they might just noticed the numbers. “Ha, les Boches et les Russes have developed 5-shot fusils? Eh bien, le notre Lebel is 9+1=10-shot! We trump them still, and twice, Monsieurs!” Just the Brits and Swiss had 10-shot rifles at that time, but the bankers were neutral, and Tommies were on their side, so why bother?

        And why nobody was bothered by the small capacity? Easy – but it takes a visit to the rifle range with both of these to comprehend – it simply takes less time to make three reloads with en-bloc clips in a Berthier than to once reload the damned tube magazine on a Lebel!

      • @Daewo
        There were still some in the French officer corps who believed that the bayonet was natural weapon of the French soldier. Once the enemy saw the French charging with fixed bayonets (and in their red trousers), their morale would be shattered and they would break and run. Why would they need more than three rounds?

      • On the other hand, the fact that the Mauser G98 and derivatives had only a 5 round magazine when the Lee-Enfield had a 10 round one, has never been considered a huge disadvantage to the former. It was somewhat of a disadvantage, but apparently not a major one. So why would a 3 round vs. 5 round magazine be any more significant? The Berthier was nevertheless a big improvement over the awkward tubular magazine of the Lebel.

        • Could be that some of the Brits at Mons would have disputed your assertion that the 10-round magazine was not a big advantage. I doubt the mad minute would have been achievable if they had to reload twice as often.

      • Good call, plain and simple. All-around protection from the elements throughout the seasons was — and still is — of vital importance on the battlefield. Anyone who has spent extended amounts of time in the field, whether in peacetime or war, will understand this.

    • Winter or foul weather clothing was far bulkier before the advent of synthetic fabrics.
      Anything with enough insulation was thick.

  3. There is a very good new yopu tube ‘site’ ny C&Rsenal’ which discusses ONLY WWI firearms (including historical backgrounds) it fits well with Ian’s great work…found it the other day on TFB…the first two ‘episodes’ are on the Lebel & Berthier…check them out….the Lebel and Berthier both had major shortcomings (loading & capacity, respectively) – and any Mauser would have been welcome for its higher 5 round capacity and ease of loading

  4. April, northern France…lot of rain, cold and mud, so the poilu would certainly not be in an tropical uniform…I think the mauser is just a war prize, that’s why it is so well exposed in the picture, as pickelhaube style helmets in 1914-15.

    The berthier, the original one with the 3 rounds clips (then they make a modified version in 1916 with 5 rounds clips) was for colonial troops and for cavalry and artillery services as Lebel carbines versions weren’t very good.
    The French know everything wrong about the Lebel well before 1914, it has the sin to be the first rifle with smokeless ammo well too soon, in an age when tube magazines did make sense…they were planning to adopt a semi-auto rifle and they have a program about this since late the 1890s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meunier_rifle but war was near and and it was a logistical and industrial folly to put it into production even if the final rifle would have been ready in 1914, so they slowed down completely the whole thing.
    Did WWI had taken more years to start, you maybe could be seeing steampunk like pictures of french soldiers in red pants and dark blue uniforms with the first mass produced semi-automatic infantry rifle…although the uniform thing was also in process to be totally modernized, the blue-horizon uniform of late 1915 was based in pre-war programs.

    • “Did WWI had taken more years to start, you maybe could be seeing steampunk like pictures of french soldiers in red pants and dark blue uniforms with the first mass produced semi-automatic infantry rifle”
      Self-loading military rifle were also developed in other countries, like British Farquhar-Hill rifle
      http://world.guns.ru/rifle/autoloading-rifles/brit/self-loading-rifle-farquhar-hill-e.html
      , which ever was formally adopted as “Rifle. .303 inch, Pattern 1918”, Russian Fyodorov (or Fedorov) Avtomat, so if WW1 would broke out later other nations also probably would have self-loading rifles.

      • As same counties didn’t get self-loading rifles adopted and issued in mass even by the time WW2 started, it’s unlikely even a 10 year delay in WW1 would have changed anything.

        Now if WW1 would have lasted a few more years, then it’s likely that self-loading rifles/carbines would have been widely issued as the standard arm.

  5. Why hasn’t anybody responded to my previous post? THE BOLT OF THE KAR98.A IS MISSING!!!!!!!!!!! Trust me, I’ve examined other photographs of Gewehr 98 and Kar98 and the safety catch of the bolt should show up here but it doesn’t which infers that the captured rifle is clearly not functional in its current depiction.

  6. De-Milled Rifle…either by the Germans before abandoning it, or by the French after capturing it. Common thing in WW I and later…disable a rifle so the enemy cannot use it if having to surrender (ie, the British etc. armies had a standard OP for disabling guns if forced to surrender by Higher Authority ( ie, throw away or bury bolt, snap off cut-off lever, Urinate down Plugged barrel, Fire shot in Mud-plugged barrel,smash stock ,etc.

    Other instances are Turkey/Mesopotamia/Palestine 1919…Turkish troops returning home had their rifles “de-milled” by the British removing and destroying Bolts (But many Turkish Officers beat them, by removing bolts, smuggling them Home, and Passing the British check-points with “already demilled” rifles. Problem was resolved for Turkish M88/05s by buying new Bolts from CsZB (Brno) in 1923.

    Doc AV

  7. I’m actually surprised this fellow is wearing a khaki overcoat, although that may be an artifact of the colorization process. Khaki uniforms and helmets in the French pattern were made, but IIRC were for allies such as Serbia and colonial troops. Metropolitan French troops should have been wearing horizon blue. Although I can’t exactly blame the fellow, it’s a big improvement as far as camouflage goes.

    And I expect his equipment, as bulky as it is, is still less cumbersome than the body armor we wear these days.

    • Louis Barthas, tonneliér/cooper/barrel-maker from the Midi, and a poilu from late 1914 until 1918 described a lively trade for Tommy raincoats. At one point, in the midst of a downpour, he describes an officer ordering anyone wearing a British army raincoat to remove it because it is “not regulation.” Needless to say, he was disgusted that the officers cared more about punctilious “letter of the law” enforcement than everyone getting soaked through their filthy, saturated coats!

      You can see the colorized collar of his greatcoat sticking out at the top of the collar of the over-garment.

  8. “”In 1914 red trousers was still part of French uniform. I always wonder why in early 1900s French Army adopted Berthier carbine holding 3 rounds. It is impossible that French technical intelligence don’t know about German Mauser (5 rounds) or British Lee-Enfield (10 rounds) or Russian Mosin (5 rounds). “””

    Verry simple the first berthier was a cavalry carbine , later a cheap rifle was made in the same systhem

    in 1914 , berthier colonial was the only rifle curently in production

    • Excuse my being pedantic:

      The French rushed to be first to field smokeless powder in 1886 with the result of the Lebel tube-fed repeater, that would be outclassed by rapid developments elsewhere. Five years later, the Belgian Mauser was being used and tinkered with by various designers–including the Mausers themselves of course, and the Russians had the Mosin-Nagant…

      The French knew they’d adopted an obsolescent rifle, but waited for something that would be a huge leap ahead… Hence all the experiments with small-bore rifles like the charger-loaded Deaudateau, and the aforementioned Meunier 7mm self-loader.

      The first Berthier was a cavalry carbine, then a mousqueton, then a gendarmerie carbine, then an artillery carbine, then an “Indochinois” short–well shorter anyway–rifle, and the full-length “Tiralleur Sénegalais” rifle. By 1915, the Berthier ’07 was in full production because the machinery and physical plant and factory production had already been set up, again, as stated up post by several respondents.

      • That was also a budget problem , weak budget was alaways comon in french army snce the death of louis XIV

        Lebel rifle was mass produced , and the french army has not the money for made millions of new rifle

        They made the berthier cavalry carbine because the lebel action was to heavy for made a good cavalary carbine

        after , the colonial army , who are budgeted by another minister ( minsiter of colony ) needed a cheap rifle

        when the war start , this colonial rifle was the only rifle currently on production

        hope that clear for américan guns enthousiast

  9. Very interesting !
    Usage of captured weapons by French army is badly documented in France.

    Careful, though, it is baTaLLion, with one T and two L and not baTTalion. It is pronounced “batayon”. In French, “-ill-” is pronounced “-y-“, like in “yours”. “-il-” with only one “L” is pronounced as it is spelled, “-il-, like in “illness”.

    A “batallion” is, at the origins, the number of troops needed to compose a “bataille”. Today, “bataille” means “a large scale fight” but, in the middle-ages, a “bataille” was a subsystem of an army fighting in the field of battle.

    There was the “flanc gauche” (the left flank), the “flanc droit” (the right flank), the “corps” -means body-, “coeur” -means heart- or “centre” -means center- (the center part of the troops), the “avant garde” (the vanguard), the “arrière garde” (the rear guard), the “réserve” or “renforts” (the reinforcements) and the “bagage” (the logistics, the baggage). All of these were “batailles” and, assembled, they constituted the “force” (army or party).

    To insure a balanced number of troops in each of the batailles, a number (or a ratio, in fact) was created : the “bataillon”, which is the number of troops needed to make a bataille. This number changed according to the total number of troops present at a battle but the ratio remained the same : flanks and center were equals, rear guard was more numerous than vanguard, reinforcements and baggage were not standardised and could be either numerous or few dependent of the ressources at the time of battle.

    After the middle-ages, the term “bataillon” went to us with slighty differents meanings according to the time it was used and, if I remember, during the first world war its meaning was “3000 soldiers”.

      • Indeed ! As a French reader, I apreciate how Ian makes effort to pronounce and write French, as all other languages, the best he can. And he succeeds doing so, making very far less errors than I do when speaking english.
        My reply was not a reproach 😉
        I myself made a spelling mistake writing a word in my own language when trying to correct his one, so I am not in place to reprimand him.

        The aim was to explain the spelling of the word in French, which help write it correctly in the future. It is not a judgement on Ian.

        I know I digress but I consider that every occasion is good to learn something.

  10. Trying to put yourself into French infantryman shoes – it must have been frustrating. Many of you spelled the reasons. Now, to make this even more palpable, they had plenty of design talent in their own nation to make first semi-automatic rifles (part of Mondragon). It says something of sorry state of French army command and logistics.

    Actually, I’d doubt that officer’s corps would approve use of enemy’s infantry arms; especially in French army.

    • It’s hard to believe (at least from our viewpoint today) that the French actually LED in arms development and technology (even if for a very brief period) The officer corps – indeed the entire leadership of France sucked- Nappy III was the instigator of the Franco Prussian War (the Prussian warlike mindset and intransigence didn’t help matters much, though…the Great War was merely a continuation of the F/P war, BTW

      • I’m part way though a book on the Battle of Tannenberg, which has a lot of interesting background information.

        While the French war planning was wildly unrealistic, so was that of Germany.

        According to the author, the Schlieffen plan was (at the time it was formulated, then attempted) physically impossible. There literally weren’t enough roads into France along the required routes, capable of carrying the number of German troops necessary to carry out the plan. And that was without any sort of strategic brilliance on the part of the French. Combine this with the anticipated timetable of Russian mobilization and the Germans were in a real bind.

        It’s not a wonder that the Germans lost, but that it took so long.

        In 1940, mechanization and the Molotov-Ribbontrop Pact changed all of those calculations.

        • Not to mention that the required marching speeds for the German troops were very unrealistic. Basically a large portion of the German Army should have been composed of very fit men capable of keeping up marching speeds only modern elite light infantry like US Rangers are capable of.

        • I actually made my way through The Guns of August a few years ago…If I’d tried to read it when it was published, I’d’a died of boredom or old age…this time it was fascinating (I’d matured a lot and read a lot more in the interim. The Germans expected the Belgians to roll over and play dead, instead they fought, requiring sieges the Germans weren’t prepared for, giving the poorly led French (and the newly arrived British) time to form a defense. The roads (what there were of them) weren’t capable of supporting the huge German guns (300 & 400mm plus) that were needed to destroy the frontier forts…by the time the Germans got into France itself, the Germans were bushed….also the Russians had mobilized quicker than the Germans expected and they wound up moving a huge amount oif troops to the East to counter the threat (not much of an actual threat, but in numbers a HUGE threat on paper) Poor leadership on the Allied side was a serious problem for the early part of the war…everyone it seemed was still fighting the in the Napoleonic Wars mindset except for the Germans…of course the situation is much more complicated than can be discussed here…but German overconfidence (plus the ORIGINAL von Schlieffen plan was changed prior top the beginning of the War, poor Allied leadership – French AND British – including the Russkies) combined to drag the war on until 1918

      • WW1 may have been continuation of Franco-Prussian War from the French point of view, but it certainly wasn’t that for the Germans. They had, after all, won that war and had gained pretty much all the territory they wanted from France. The main strategic competitor of Germany they believed to be Russia and the war against France was just a necessary evil.

    • The Italians were even worse off. The Italian military was woefully ill prepared for a modern war. The inept and cruel leadership of Cadorna only made things worse.

      • I would agree, in accordance with bulk of historical material, with this assessment. Italian leadership were approaching real bottom on any measurable scale. Yet, it is known that Italian industry produced tremendous amount of materiel during Isonso campaigns. Austrians, when they managed to get their hand on it were awash with food and tobacco like never before.

        So, in comparison, Armee de Terre Francaise did not do that badly. Well, with some Anglo-Saxon help.

        • A miniscule amount of Anglo-Saxon help at first, all British mythmaking aside. The BEF was a drop in a bucket of Frenchmen.

          Also, let’s not forget the French essentially invented modern artillery. Modern guns have not really changed much since the days of the French 75 – in fact, you could probably fire an Excalibur shell out of an M1917 GPF and be assured that it would function correctly.

          • Yes…I’m quite appalled by the classical image of WWI in english-speaking forums and even historical books about the french in WWI…it was like they did all wrong until the British mounted a big army in 1916 and the Yanks could lauch their own big attacks in 1918. France was by far one the most important Imperial Germany’s ennemies, the number one on their list in 1914 as the only one that could do something to halt them in their plans for a quick victory (the only way for them to win the war).
            There is also a tendency to totally forget what the russian did, Brusilov offensive anyone?.
            It’s the only big allied country that fighted in an total war non stop from 1914 (1914-1915 were the wort years for the french in casualties, and Verdun was in 1916, and they did send an army for the Somme battle !) to 1918 were they still have stamina to being the major factor in winning second Marne. Well they did not pick a french general as a Allied supreme commander only because Paris was beautiful in the spring seasons…

            In artillery (the GPF 155mm was the best in his class and even futuristic), heavy artillery (railroad monsters and even self-propelled big mortars and guns on tracked vehicles) tanks (FT-17 the real first modern tank design), new tactics for artillery and infantry ( http://www.virdea.net/french/infantry-tactics.html )…the germans would have totally crush them in Verdun without the new type or artillery and the fact that the french air arm slowly started to have a local air domination, as a example.
            Yes their small arms weren’t by far the best of the war, for many reasons, alhougth they have really advanced proyects before the war and the much maligned Chauchat was the firt mass produced platoon support automatic light gun and they did use a lot of semi-auto rifles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusil_Automatique_Mod%C3%A8le_1917 not only a handful of Mondragons.
            Overall they did the job, at a horrendous cost, maybe it was a phyrric victory that explains a lot of 1940 events but in 1918 they were considered the best army in continental Europe.

          • How about Canadian contingent fighting in Fields of Flanders and elsewhere? This was the time when Canadian “statehood” was supposed to be born. (Well yeah, I recognize that French-Canadians were important part of it.)

          • That’s pretty insight-full assessment, Roberto. I also think that French were on par with Germans in some ways and maybe even ahead. What they missed in diligence they made up in inventiveness.

          • If you’ve ever read “Farewell to All That,” it’s clear the British had considerable contempt for the French even at the time. Totally unjustified, of course. The British disasters at Gallipoli and the Somme do not paint a glowing picture of British military expertise compared to their allies. The fact us Americans sharing a language with the British and the subsequent history of genuine French ineptitude in the following war means that we generally take the British view of WWI over here, not always to our benefit.

          • The real issue for the French in WWI was a lack of clear, realistic thinking.

            The French hadn’t fought anybody of any real significance since 1871.

            Just as the Japanese drew a lot of BAD lessons from fighting the Chinese, the French drew similar ones from fighting the Chinese and Vietnamese in Indo-China, various Muslim groups in North Africa, the army of Dahomey, and the army of Madagascar.

            The Germans were a horse of an entirely different ballgame.

            A lot of French weapons were world class, such as artillery, aircraft and (at the time) machine guns.

            What they lacked was generals who could think outside of the box and didn’t think that France had an infinite supply of manpower. The French started the war trying to fight it the way the Japanese tried to fight the war in the Pacific, and until they learned their lesson, with similar results.

            The wonder wasn’t that the French Army mutinied but that for the most part, the British Army didn’t.

          • I am wondering what exactly those “wrong” lessons the Japanese drew were.

            Given the number of Western units that were dominated by the Japanese during all stages of the war I think they must have learned a few right lessons as well.

          • “I am wondering what exactly those “wrong” lessons the Japanese drew were.”
            The Japanese didn’t do a lot of “dominating” in these places:
            Nomonhan
            Guadalcanal
            Saipan
            Tarawa
            Guam
            The Philippines
            Iwo Jima
            Okinawa
            Manchuria
            Korea

            If the answer is “bayonets” against Shermans and T-34s, it must have been a VERY stupid question.

            If you want to what was fatally wrong with the Japanese army in WWII, you only need to read Coox’s “Nomonhan”. They violated virtually every principle of modern warfare there that every ROTC cadet learns in his first year. It prefigured every defeat of theirs until the end of the war.

          • Bigoted mythmaking.

            The Germans made objectively bigger mistakes yet are worshipped as masters of warfare. I suspect denigration of the Japanese has more to do with wounded war-Era racism that came from being one naval battle away from losing the war to them than any objective analysis.

          • “Bigoted mythmaking.”

            Objective fact.

            The Japanese Army was materially and doctrinally unprepared for combat with a mobilized modern military.

            They were tough guys against Chinese boy soldiers with antique rifles and taos… not to mention thousands of women and girls in Nanking.

            They were tough guys against half starved Americans and half trained Philippino troops with WWI weapons.

            When they came up against well equipped, well trained troops of the U.S., British and Soviet Armies it was a different story.

            Of course Nomonhan, New Guinea and Burma proved just how little regard they had for the lives of their own troops.

            The colossal ineptitude of Hitler doesn’t negate the utter foolishness of Japanese strategy. It only highlights it.

          • The shrieking racism of anti-Japanese propaganda of the time is an objective fact.

            Another objective fact – those “well-equipped, well-trained” (what a lot of qualifiers to cover for embarrassing defeats there) Allied soldiers would not have gotten off the beach on Kyushu.

            And a final objective fact – had Midway gone the other way, Japan would have won the war. And I doubt the US Army would have put up a comparable fight on Oahu With the shoe on the other foot.

          • Incidentally, while I’m on a roll dissecting your post and its many, many layers of WWII myth and legend.

            “Hitler’s ineptitude”

            Not the ineptitude and incompetence of the German military, who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Hitler, personally. Without his interference the mighty Wehrmacht and its crew of true military geniuses would have carried all before it!

            The distinction made in the German case between Hitler and the Nazi Party and the German people, nation and even military, and the similar lack of distinction made in the Japanese case (where the people and political leadership were treated as a monolithically malignant entity), is illuminating. It also has its roots in, you guessed it, wildly racist wartime propagansa.

          • “The shrieking racism of anti-Japanese propaganda of the time is an objective fact.”

            As is the shrieking racism of pro-Japanese propaganda of the time, as aptly shown in the book “War Without Mercy”.

            EVERY army that the Japanese defeated between 1937 and 1942 was:

            * poorly equipped
            * poorly trained
            * badly led

            While the Soviet army at Nomonhan might have been poorly trained, it was VERY well led at the top, and FAR better equipped than the Japanese. The crushing Japanese defeat there showed all of the fatal flaws which the British and Americans would exploit later:

            * outdated, poorly designed armor
            * shockingly poor logistics
            * divided command
            * obtuse, obscurantist, self-defeating doctrine
            * incessant political intrigue

            The Japanese lost for very specific reasons, all of them well known and well described by authors such as Toland and Coox.

          • ““Hitler’s ineptitude”

            Not the ineptitude and incompetence of the German military, who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Hitler, personally. Without his interference the mighty Wehrmacht and its crew of true military geniuses would have carried all before it!”

            Yes, Hitler’s ineptitude… along with that of HIS generals.

            Hitler’s generals were HITLER’S generals. Those who didn’t toe the line ceased to be serving generals. After the Stauffenberg assassination attempt, dismissal was the LEAST of the dangers. Did Hitler’s generals obey (and sometimes amplify) his inane orders? Absolutely. What’s your alternative? Resignation? Suicide? I suggest you read Kershaw’s “The End” to see the state of the Wehrmacht in 1945, and how it got there. Hitler was determined to destroy the German military in a series of doomed attacks and pointless die in place defenses. No mere generals were going to stop that.

            There was no singular Japanese dictator to screw things up. They had the albatross of organizational culture around their collective necks. Marry pre-modern atttitudes toward war with an imperfect understanding of modern military technology and you’ve got a huge handicap. Throw in inadequate resources and industrial capability and you’re doomed.

          • “As is the shrieking racism of pro-Japanese propaganda of the time, as aptly shown in the book “War Without Mercy”.”

            If I recall correctly, one of the takeaways from War Without Mercy was that the Japanese propaganda effort was distinctly less offensive (and certainly less dehumanizing) than our own.

            “EVERY army that the Japanese defeated between 1937 and 1942 was:

            * poorly equipped
            * poorly trained
            * badly led”

            A cop-out of stunning, even epic proportions. Certainly I suspect the defenders of Singapore would have disagreed. I turn this around on you: every single defeat we handed the Japanese Army from 1942 onwards was the direct result of our defeat of the Japanese Navy and resultant logistical dominance in a very wet theater. This would have reversed quite spectacularly in 1946. Another historical note: the “bad leader” in charge of the Philippines in 1942 would have been the supreme Allied commander of 1946.

            “While the Soviet army at Nomonhan might have been poorly trained, it was VERY well led at the top, and FAR better equipped than the Japanese. The crushing Japanese defeat there showed all of the fatal flaws which the British and Americans would exploit later:”

            You keep returning to Nomonhan as though you don’t want to discuss any subsequent actions in which it was proven to be not only a fluke but, given later post-Soviet casualty reports, an essentially even battle. The only rejoinder I have ever seen to the revelation that the Soviets were in no condition following the battle to continue hostilities is the weak attempt to assert Stalinist propaganda figures as true Japanese casualties and dismiss those provided by the Japanese government as lies.

            “Hitler was determined to destroy the German military in a series of doomed attacks and pointless die in place defenses. No mere generals were going to stop that.”

            Part of any general’s duties is to manage his political leadership. The German military clearly failed at this, although the roots of this failure go back to 1933 and the fundamental nature of the Nazi regime and its relationship to the German military. Furthermore hardly every error made by the German military during the war was forced by Hitler.

            “There was no singular Japanese dictator to screw things up. They had the albatross of organizational culture around their collective necks. Marry pre-modern atttitudes toward war with an imperfect understanding of modern military technology and you’ve got a huge handicap. Throw in inadequate resources and industrial capability and you’re doomed.”

            In fact I think you could make the case the Japanese military was a highly effective learning organization – probably more effective than ourselves. The Leavenworth paper “Japan’s Battle of Okinawa” illustrates this quite effectively and can be viewed here: http://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16040coll3/id/119/rec/16

          • “If I recall correctly, one of the takeaways from War Without Mercy was that the Japanese propaganda effort was distinctly less offensive (and certainly less dehumanizing) than our own.”

            Then you read a different book with the same title.

            Japanese bigotry, toward everyone from Okinawans to Englishman, was every bit as virulent as that portrayed in any Western propaganda. The difference of course was that with the lessons of Pearl Harbor, Singapore, etc., the Allies learned to take the Japanese seriously, while exploiting their systemic weaknesses at every turn. The Japanese on the other hand, stuck to the fantasy that we were weaklings and cowards and would eventually just give up and go home, leaving them in control of China and Korea.

            It doesn’t really matter how Percival THOUGHT of the defense of Singapore. It was the results that mattered. By HOW much did he outnumber the Japanese? The Malaya/Singapore campaign was a disaster caused by poor leadership, poor training, inferior equipment, and bad strategy and tactics.

            Even when the smarter Japanese commanders figured out that banzai charges weren’t going to do anything but cause them to run out of troops, the fanatics sabotaged those efforts whenever they were able. Our best ally in the Pacific War was the enemy’s own organizational culture… elements of which were shown to be faulty back AT LEAST as far as the Boxer Rebellion.

          • The funny thing of this debate is that you are both right. Nomonhan showed that the Japanese Army was not prepared to fight a war against a modern mechanized army with superior firepower. The casualties were indeed quite even in the end and the Soviets had exhausted themselves nearly as badly as the Japanese; it would have required some time to recover before the Red Army could have continued a strategic offensive. The individual Soviet soldiers were probably less well trained than their Japanese counterparts and the same goes to low ranking officers as well, which contributed to the (tactical) stalemate and heavy Soviet losses.

            Overall Nomonhan was still a strategic defeat to the Japanese. They did try to learn from the mistakes made there, but lack of industrial capacity and primacy of the Navy for industrial production made that difficult, so most of the actually implemented changes were relatively minor like further preference for night offensive actions and increased number of automatic weapons (especially LMGs) to boost infantry firepower. The IJA certainly wanted more artillery and tanks as well, but the industry could not deliver them. The Army did not change its core tactical doctrine, but it is difficult to say whether that was because they didn’t think of it necessary or simply because they did not have the resources to do so.

            The battles on the Pacific Islands were indeed doomed because the IJN had lost the naval war. It took some time for the IJA to learn the optimal tactics for defending islands and indeed there was a lot of resistance from officers who had swallowed the Militarist propaganda without questions. Iwo Jima showed that quite clearly, but still the Japanese tactics there succeeded as well as possible under the circumstances (tiny island, no air or naval support). However, at Okinawa the Japanese tactics were very good now that the new defensive tactics had been officially adopted. They even tried using massed artillery to some initial success, although that did not end too well, because the US artillery and air superiority was so great.

            What would have happened if operation Olympic had been carried out? The Japanese intelligence had correctly predicted to landing areas, so it would have been difficult for the US forces. On the other hand the terrain around the landing zones favored armored warfare and use of massive firepower. So most likely the US forces would have captured those areas relatively easily. The mixed Japanese defense strategy actually favored the US, since while large on Japanese scale, the IJA armored forces were simply not large and modern enough to seriously threaten the landing beaches. The real challenge would have been capturing the mountainous areas inland. On the other hand, the plan did not call for capturing the whole island but just the Southern third of it. There is no question the US forces could do it eventually, but losses would have been high.

          • “The Army did not change its core tactical doctrine, but it is difficult to say whether that was because they didn’t think of it necessary or simply because they did not have the resources to do so.”

            One major problem especially with the Japanese army was the rampant obscurantism that affected almost everything.

            Most other armies, then and now, advise the crew of a disabled tank to take what sensitive items you can, destroy the rest and exfiltrate. Not the Japanese. Their doctrine was to die fighting on a disabled vehicle. That ensured that not only did they lose a vehicle, they lost a trained crew, which takes longer to produce than the vehicle itself.

            The same thing went with futile banzai charges that only annihilated Japanese rather than Allied units.

            A lot of this was due to the narrowness of army experience. While navy personnel traveled far and wide, most army officers never got farther from Japan than Manchuria. Combined with the influence of the various al Qaeda-like “patriotic societies”, Japanese military thinking was frequently at best “muddled”.

          • Chris,

            I wonder who exactly these “obscurants” were. Certainly the wartime record demonstrates the Japanese adapting their tactics and strategy to fit the situation and enemy at hand quite effectively (in fact the tactics pioneered by the Japanese in the Pacific remain very effective – and poorly understood in the West – to this day), all the way to the high command level and all the way back to the defense of Japan proper. Certainly they didn’t seem to be commanding many battles as the war went along.

            It’s telling that the people that come to mind when considering retrogressive trends in the Imperial Japanese Army were -not- actual Japanese servicemembers, products of long development through the military system, but military amateurs from the Imperial family – who were generally pushed aside when the going got hot.

            You also repeat the myth of the “Good IJN, Bad IJA” in your latest post. Looking at the record, the Japanese Navy lost many winnable battles and suffered from the obscurantist leadership of battleship admirals like Yamamoto et al.

            To say that the Imperial Japanese military is shrouded in myth and legend – most of it with more than a tinge of wartime hatred – is an understatement. What bothers me to no end is that I have never seen a discussion of Japanese militaria without some deflection into slagging the Japanese military. This doesn’t happen with other countries. I’m sure you can all agree with me that a notional discussion on Type 38 rifles would play out much differently than one on K98s.

          • “You also repeat the myth of the “Good IJN, Bad IJA” in your latest post.”

            No, I pointed out the fact that the Imperial Japanese Navy was far more open minded and cognizant of the world outside the Empire of Japan, rather than the obscurantist Imperial Japanese Army.

            That didn’t make them nice people, and they were also prone to horrific crimes against POWs and civilians, including their rampage in Manila at the end of the war.

            The faults of the Japanese were many and varied. In most cases, they were never remedied, BOTH because of obtuse, backward thinking and sheer physical incapacity. Pretending that there was a road over the Owen Stanley mountains and not managing to put a reliable radar set on the biggest battleship in the world were not a recipe for success.

            The Japanese had one chance and one chance ONLY of winning the war: the Western allies simply giving up and going home. That was NEVER going to happen. The Japanese deluded themselves otherwise. When that didn’t happen and they continued on toward the edge of abyss, their fate was sealed.

  11. As one who has spent some brief time “in the trenches” I would postulate that the arguments about who saved the bacon of whom is entirely irrelevant to the ones who were in the combat at the time. If you take a bullet it makes no difference if you were the lone supporter of the cause or one of five billion from your nation of birth … you still gave “the last full measure of devotion” in the cause you believed in. This is proven to me by the Americans, and other nationalities, who went into battle far sooner than their nations and died alongside those to whom they owed no allegiance except as comrades-in-arms. This is well illustrated by the aviation pioneers who fought and died alongside their adopted brothers and sisters in WWI as well as my dear friend Dick Daggett who joined Clair Chenault’s Flying Tigers way before Pearl Harbor and before anyone else from the US government became convinced that the looming war was inevitable. Dick was shot down and a whole Chinese village was slaughtered because not a single one would divulge his location to the Japanese Imperial Forces even under intense torture. The Grandson of the village leader, who was beheaded by the Japanese, is now a close friend as well and came to visit me and my family recently to deliver my “adoption papers” from his family as well as my honorary membership in the Chinese Marine Corps. From this perspective I assure everyone that it makes no difference where you came from, who your family is or what religion you are in a foxhole. Combat is the Universal Equalizer.

  12. “This is proven to me by the Americans, and other nationalities, who went into battle far sooner than their nations and died alongside those to whom they owed no allegiance except as comrades-in-arms.”

    It’s interesting to consider that at one time, Americans were flocking to Canada in order to FIGHT in a war!

  13. This post is possibly completely inappropriate and might be deleted, but here goes:
    I have always believed as is quoted in the opening lines of Ernest Hemingway’s 1941 classic For Whom the Bell Tolls:
    “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” (by: John Donne (1572-1631) as it appears in Devotions upon emergent occasions and seuerall steps in my sicknes – Meditation XVII, 1624)

    In this vein, I had two close friends who objected to the war in Vietnam. They were both dedicated pacifists. Instead of fleeing to Canada or elsewhere to avoid the draft and combat, they both volunteered for the Navy with the stipulation that they become Medics and be assigned to a Marine Combat Unit. There, they treated friendlies, wounded enemies and villagers … especially children. Both were severely wounded while caring for “MY Marines” as they termed us. Both suffered tremendous recovery and rehab problems. Neither ever complained one time that I ever heard. One died of a then-new mysterious blood-borne disease contacted through a transfusion of “tainted” blood” now known as AIDS. The other is still alive but has problems due to his decades-past injuries. These men were and are true heroes. The same applies to any man who will go into war on behalf of anyone else based upon his or her beliefs and conscience. I would admire anyone for dying for a friend; to die in defense of a stranger is even more admirable.

  14. Gentlemen,
    please pardon me if I seem to take more voice than it belongs to me. I just want to say this:

    your views, openly and sincerely expressed, are tremendous well of reference and ongoing learning. I praise the day I entered this forum. And now… enough for that.

  15. Thank you so much for explaining this photo! I’ve been trying to find the story behind it since I noticed the weird details.

    You are clearly correct about the captured rifle. He also appears to me to have the bayonet inside the pack on the ground as that is definitely not a Rosalie. The knife in his belt is pretty clearly a captured German weapon as well. The coat also threw me off, any idea if it is French, perhaps from a colonial unit, or if it may be of British American or German origin?

    Given his lack of any other visible firearm it does seem possible that he has “adopted” this rifle. One could assume that a soldier who carries a trench knife for close fighting would also value the retaliative handiness of a carbine. I’m curious, could the bolt have been removed for cleaning and/or protection from the mud/elements? Or is the only likely answer that it was removed to render the weapon useless on capture?

    I’m not an expert but this frankly doesn’t have the “pose with captured enemy weapons” look to it that I have seen in most other photos of the period, looks more like he just sat down during a march. The area around him also doesn’t look like it has been fought over, no trenches or barbed wire, I suppose by April 1918 the war was more mobile, but I would still expect to see the debris of war or maybe an artillery crater or two. I just wonder how far a Poilu would lug an extra rifle around as a souvenir.

    Anyway, Thanks Again for the picture and the info on it! – Cheers

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