Saturday, August 07, 2004

Fantastic Dan Baum article in last week's New Yorker, The Price of Valor. Did you know that in World War II only 15 percent of soldiers could bring themselves to fire back on the enemy? After the war, the Army instituted a "Revised Program of Instruction" to get this percentage up. By Vietnam, 90 percent of U.S. soldiers were shooting back. Amazing stuff.


Duane said...

It's about time! I've been waiting for someone from the Standard to start blogging. What took you so long?

Anonymous said...

Wish your site had regular comments posting.

Keep in mind that SLAM was making an assertion basically unsupported by scientific data. However, even if what he said was true, it could be due to several factors:

American soldiers were taught to be marksman, and to shoot at point targets. If they were under fire, they probably didn't have the time and space to pick a target, sight, and then fire. Also, modern warfare relies on a volume of fire to "fix" a target (i.e, keep their heads down) while another unit maneuevers close enough to take out the position with grenades or other means. American soldiers probably weren't trained enough on this in Basic, and plus, their weapons at hand were insufficient; it is hard to generate a sufficient volume of fire with 8-shot rifles and 20-round BARs. Meanwhile, each German squad had at least one MG-34 or MG-42, which was a belt-fed machine gun that could fire up to 1,200 rounds per minute; Light machine guns (WWI-era weapons at 600 RPM at most, and which were more or less "medium" machine guns) were available to U.S. units at the company-level, which means that a 200 man company would have only 3 light machine guns, while a german platoon (40 men at most) would have between 3 and 6 (German paratroopers had 2 MG-42s per squad).

In Vietnam, every soldier had at least a 20 to 30 round automatic rifle, firing a light cartridge. They wasted so much ammo later versions of the M-16 were scaled down from fully automatic to 3-shot bursts. So volume of fire is important; if WWII veterans didn't generate enough, it wasn't their fault because of the weapons available to them, and it is unclear whether Vietnam soldiers were any more effective in using their ammunition to acheive their tactical objectives (this may not have been their fault, either.)


(See Michael Doubler's "Closing with the Enemy")

Anonymous said...

Channel 4 in Britain had a quite good documentary on the subject. Apparently the webpage is
I found the reference to Gettysburg quite astounding. If you can get hold on a recording, you should watch it.

Anonymous said...

Marshall has been discredited on this.
My father, an Infantry platoon leader in the ETO, thinks Marshall ----s. For one thing, the Americans were generally moving up in assault, while the Germans defended, which meant in hidden positions. Little to shoot at. They could go a week of hard fighting without seeing an armed German. Secondly, US ammo did not have flashless powder. In cloudy weather, against dark backgrounds, or at night, firing was like shooting a sparkler telling everybody where you were. Firing, thus, was carefully done.
Still, there was "Quick Kill",when I was in (1969-1971) where the pull-without-thinking training was disguised as a modified kind of wingshooting for very close, sudden targets. Presumably, the Army knew the reluctance of a sane man to kill could be a lethal hesitation.
The Civil War data are easily explained by the large number of men killed and wounded between loading and shooting. That could be a substantial interval, since firing meant a laborious reloading, possibly just when you didn't want to do it. Their weapons would normally be left on the field until somebody wanted to pick up the leftovers.
Closet non-killers could shoot high, if they wanted to, thus not drawing the attention of officers, and contributing to keeping the enemy offbalance, which is not forbidden.