I have been reading a US Army study on infantry weapons and us in combat during the Korean war. The study gathered its data in the manner used by S.L.A. Marshall for the most part as well as other methods. While it presented info and opinions of the users long known among small arms students, it also has some surprising information that does not always jibe with long held beliefs of the family of weapons in early years after WW2.

The best part of the study is the immediate reaction of the users as soon after an operation as the interviewers could get to them.

“After a given company or command had been interviewed concerning a specific action, and its detail had be encomposed, all concerned were then asked to evaluate their firepower, as to what addi-tional weapons would help or what weapons were either superfluous or for any reason not worth their weight under the conditions of the fighting. Officers and men took to this actively and in utter honesty of spirit.”

“But their general reaction to the weapons family was almost universally to the point that what they have is good and adequate to the tactical need.The vehemence with which they expressed this view was the more surprising because,in the greater number of the actions, they had undergone local defeat.”

I think most people familiar with the weapons of the time hold the view that the average Korean “GI Joe” was well served by the weapons provided for them.  That is, the M1 being loved, the M1 Carbine being hated  and so on. This has gone on to be some thing “everyone knows.”   When facts and opinion gets to the point of “everyone knows” I have always felt the so called fact is ready for a hard look. And in that  personal ethic, I wanted to take a look at something everyone knows. How the Infantrymen felt about their weapons during the bleak years of the Korea War 50-51 as captured by a US Army study and infantry weapons and the men who used them.

The M1 Carbine has a very mixed reputation, some love it and some hate it.  I have always found that its bad rap seems to have started in earnest during the Korean war.  One unit, the 38th regiment seemed to love the little carbine, but the study reports the unit to be very unique.

In all other units, bad experience in battle had made troops shy of this weapon, so that in the main those who continued to carry it of their own choice were either the lazy, the new arrivals, the few who had “pet” carbines that had worked perfectly all along, or the individuals whose tasks did not permit them physically to carry the M1. In all save one company after-action critique, malfunctioning of the carbine was prominent in the detail of weapons performance during engagement.”

Having nothing else to go on, it seems you can make a few assumptions with this statement. If one was willing to make excuses to try to explain away the dislike for the M1 Carbine.   Being lazy, but still carrying it, I could imagine the same time of guy would not ever bother to clean it unless was made to. New arrivals who did not have the training on the weapon and the ability to keep it running.  While those with so called “pet” carbines liked it.  Perhaps it was a pet carbine and worked because they gave it proper care? Certainly a devils advocate has some wiggle room to go on. But the next paragraph shoots that out of the water with crack units explaining that the weapon was something you could not count on.

“It is impossible to give exact percentages because of the scrambled nature of the fighting; some men would report having two or three carbines fail within one action.Others could remember picking up a weapon in a moment of emergency, only to have it misfire, but could not say for certain that it was a carbine.However, in each critique, as carbine failures were reported incidental to the fighting, the men were asked for a showing of hands on this question: “How many of you who have used carbines at any time in Korea have experienced a misfire during some part of the fighting?” The lowest showing in any company was 30 percent. In some companies of the 27th and 35th Regiments -two extremely efficient and battle-wise organizations -the figures rose to 80 and 85 percent.This reaction should be weighed against the background of troops’ satisfaction with their other fighting tools. Even if the percentages are exaggerated -and that possibility is admitted -the fact that they feel that way about it implies that they have lost confidence in the weapon. Pending an obvious correction, that of itself makes the weapon a liability in terms of both morale and fire power.”

Going on the report mentions the use of small arms used against the enemy when artillery could no longer be used.  The ranges the small arms of the time were used the with the most effect described.

“The beating-down of a closely engaged enemy must be done mainly by weapons within the infantry battalion. Recognition of the enemy, as he comes forward, is most likely to occur at some distance between 15 and 150yards from the infantry MLR -too close and too late for practical and successful artillery intervention.”

These distances of 15 to 150 yards are one of the many reasons the Army started with the later marksmanship training methods. In these after action reports, one can see the start of the realization that the days of  a battle rifle knocking down commies and nazis at 800 yards with large full power 30 caliber bullets, were  about over.  Indeed, this is cold hard evidence the M14 was obsolete the day the first STG44 was handed to the first German rifleman.

“The average effective infantry fire with weapons lighter than the machine gun was consistently less than 200 yards. In no instance was it established, in the operations brought under survey, that any significant move by enemy forces had been stopped and turned by rifle and carbine fire alone at ranges in excess of that figure.This, perforce, limits the significance of the evaluation. It rarely happens in the Korean fighting or elsewhere that a tactical situation of large order arises which tests the effectiveness of the rifle alone as a stopping and killing agent. By the nature of engagement, the infantry contest between opposing groups of riflemen is pretty much confined to strong patrol actions, fire exchanges between small groups within a larger skirmish, or last-ditch stands by companies which have emptied the ammunition from heavier weapons in the earlier stages of the fight. In the latter situation, the contending sides almost invariably close to within less than 150 yards before the climax is reached in which the position is held or lost according to rifle effectiveness.”

Here again we see the common use of the rifle. The power and range of the M1 Garand made little difference in the vastly common engagement distances. The M14 would certainly not have changed this outcome and the ranges of Europe certainly could not justify the need for a longer range battle rifle when shots in Korea would have been just as far or further.  With the NK and Chinese forces using PPSH and other type of weapons, the full power battle rifles certainly did not give the fighters any edge over them.

Even the famous rifle prowess of the USMC had little effect on enemy soldiers at distance.

“The Marines who were under siege at Koto-ri through the early days of December told of their effort to pick off Chinese riflemen who in broad daylight would stroll to within 300-350 yards of the armed camp or walk in the open to a stream bed to draw water. They found the targets far more elusive than they had expected.”

Of course none of this is to say the rifle was inaccurate or the men unskilled.  In fact, the report even made certain to point this out.

“What is said here is meant to reflect in no degree whatever on the accuracy of the standard rifle; the men who use it in battle swear by it. Junior officers frequently said that they had seen it do decisive work in excess of 250 yards range.”

I think it does indicate that while it is important to have the skill to hit a man at the potential of the weapon, it does point out that the idea of full power “battle rifle” is just not needed and the vast majority of the time, would not be used by the average user.

“Rifle practice at the longer ranges is still desirable. But the rifleman needs about five times the amount of practice now given him with live ammunition if the weapon’s potential is to be fully exploited in combat.”

I could not agree more with this last statement, regardless of rifle or service round used, everyone should constantly strive to keep their long range skill equal to their CQB to mid-range skill.   It has always been our opinion that a modern rifleman is not just a CQB shooter or the guy who lays prone with his precision bolt gun, but the whole package.  Like any skill it often takes a commitment to master. 

3 COMMENTS

  1. Very interesting. I wonder if part of the misses on the Marines part was do to the extreme cold resulting in a slow bullet and thus more drop? I thought I remember Kevin writing something about that or linking to some who did the comparison with cold and hot ammo.

    I get the impression that the carbine is a bit sensitive. I read one anecdote of a chosin Marine that said he used his pencil graphite as lube (he was from somewhere cold and did that at home) and said he never had the problems the other guys had with the regular lubricant. Plus with the exposed rails/action and fairly weak cycling it probably wouldn’t take much to slow it down and induce problems.

  2. There’s a helluva lot of internet commandos who seem to think that all their engagements will be at 15 yards, and the solution is to dump a whole mag into the target as fast as possible.

    Being old, I carried 7.62 which was heavy and hence scarce. Even with a 200+ loadout of 5.56, rapid fire chews up ammo real quick, and then you get to the “oh shit I’m running low” point.

    I think being able to put imed fire on or real close to a man sized target at ranges out to 300m from standing, sitting, kneeling and prone is a reasonable goal for a rifleman.

  3. I question the entire premise that a lot of the US WWII and Korean War combat techniques were based on.

    The reality is that what we had worked, but it wasn’t working as well as it should have. I suspect that had the US been running German MG tactics and German MG systems, then those Chinese “human wave” attacks would have suffered a hell of a lot more casualties than they did historically. Once you get past about 200-250 meters, if you see the enemy, you really ought to be laying crew-served weapons on them, and leaving the individual rifleman to provide close-in security for those weapons. The guys in these reports are complaining that they couldn’t make hits at long range with their rifles, but the reality is that they never should have been engaging those targets at those ranges with their individual weapons in the first damn place–That’s the role of an MG, which should be dumping a bunch of rounds into the beaten zone around that one guy you spotted, ‘cos there are likely a bunch of other enemy troops concealed around the one you observed. That’s also the guy you drop mortar rounds on, while the MG team is doing its thing…

    Mid-century combat should have been optimized as “Close-in final defense out to 250m: All weapons available. Enemy observed past 250m: Crew served area-fire weapons like the MG and mortars, with any available supporting fires added in…”.

    Reality is, a guy with a rifle is unlikely to be at all effective on those sorts of targets, if only because he’s shooting at the one guy he sees; you need to be dumping rounds all around him, in order to be hitting all the guys you don’t see…

    This is why I don’t think that the authorities who were making decisions back then really knew what the hell was going on, down at the pointy end of things. If they had, they’d have gotten us much better MG and mortar systems, and more of them.

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