Infantry Hand Weapon Study Available

by Fred Ray on December 21, 2010 · 5 comments

Earlier this year I posted some excerpts from an Army study (once classified Secret) from the early sixties, “Operational Requirements for an Infantry Hand Weapon,” which was instrumental in the military’s decision to adopt the smaller caliber M-16 rifle. Other militaries did essentially the same study and came to the same conclusions, adopting reduced power assault rifles (e.g. AK-47, StG-44).

All these studies came to essentially the same conclusion—that most infantry engagements took place at very short ranges, most at 100 yards and under and almost none beyond 300 yards, even though the guns were capable of accurate fire at much longer ranges. This was due to a combination of factors, including training level, sight distances, probability of hit, and of course the battlefield “pucker factor.”

What is of interest to the Civil War student is the terrain analysis, some of which was done at Gettysburg. My take is that the engagement ranges at Gettysburg would not have been much different even if both sides had been armed with M-1 Garands. Of course the hit probability would have been higher (altho you have to wonder how much difference that would have made at 100 yards) and of course the Garand was semi-auto and would spit out bullets as fast as you could pull the trigger.

Unfortunately the copy I initially downloaded from NTIS was in poor shape with large sections illegible, so I began looking for a better copy, which turned out to be a lengthy task. The Marines had a copy at their library at Quantico but had a policy of not loaning “weapons-related” material. Eventually I had to file an FOIA request and located a copy with the USAMHI at Carlisle, PA. All this took quite a bit of my time and the copying of the document was expensive, which then had to be scanned into a PDF and run thru OCR.

I say all this because I have posted the study on my web site and invite you to take a look at it, as I think it will interest anyone who works with Civil War tactics. The download is free, but I’ve included a “tip jar” and ask that if you find the study of value to you, please consider leaving a buck or two, as my expenses in posting it were considerable. Not looking to make money here, just to recover some of what I’ve put into it.

“Operational Requirements for an Infantry Hand Weapon”
Hitchman, Norman A.; Forbush, Scott E. ; Blakemore George J., Jr.
Nov 1960

Abstract: The capabilities of the infantry rifle were explored. Data were obtained on the frequency and distance by which riflemen missed targets, and the distribution of hits at different ranges; the ranges of engagement in battle; and the physiological wound effects of shots with differing ballistic characteristics. A study of the data led to the following conclusions: (1) Hit effectiveness with the M-1 rifle is satisfactory only up to 100 yds. and declines rapidly to low order at 300 yds., the general limit for battlefield rifle engagements; (2) a pattern-dispersion principle in the hand weapon would tend to compensate for human aiming errors and increase hits at ranges up to 300 yds.; and (3) missiles with smaller caliber than standard could be used without loss in wounding effects and with logistical advantage; and (4) hit lethality could be greatly increased by using toxic missiles.


***

Check out the Siege of Petersburg Online for daily posts on battle accounts in newspaper articles, diary entries, letters and more!

What are your Top 10 Gettysburg Books? See what a panel of bloggers said recently.

Want to read some interesting Civil War content from amateurs and pros alike? Check out the Top 10 Civil War Blogs and Top 10 Civil War Blogs: 11-20.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad March 3, 2011 at 7:29 am

Thank you for posting the ORO study. I have always been very curious about it because of it’s reputed influence on US Army small arms policy.

All in all, my impression of the study is that it is incomplete in the evidence it examined and it also makes unwarranted assumptions in the premise and conclusions. At best the study was a good starting point that cried out for follow up experiments and analysis.

Probably the greatest flaw is the importance the study placed upon the rifle. The fact is that before WWII began the rifle had already fallen into a minor supporting role among the symphony of weapons carried by a combat unit of well equipped infantry. The various and numerous organic supporting arms, ranging from light machine guns up to 81mm mortars provided the overwhelming fraction of the firepower and killing power of an infantry battalion.

I thought the SLA Marshall paper analyzing the effectiveness of infantry weapons during the Korean War more credible in it’s conclusions.

http://www.amazon.com/Battlefield-analysis-infantry-weapons-Korean/dp/0879475102

Reply

Fred Ray March 3, 2011 at 11:52 am

Brad, the study was never intended to be a comprehensive review of infantry firepower, only of the infantryman’s rifle. The basic conclusion was the same reached by the Germans and Russians–that long-range firepower in an infantry rifle was a waste because most engagements happened at close range. As for Marshall, his studies have been criticized as being mainly anecdotal rather than scientific (see http://www.theppsc.org/Grossman/SLA_Marshall/Bad-Firing-Data.htm)

Reply

Brad March 4, 2011 at 5:30 am

Hi Fred,

Let me address your concerns.

“Brad, the study was never intended to be a comprehensive review of infantry firepower, only of the infantryman’s rifle.”

Of course. But a study of the infantry rifle is of limited validity when the rifle is stripped from the context of it’s real world employment.

“The basic conclusion was the same reached by the Germans and Russians–that long-range firepower in an infantry rifle was a waste because most engagements happened at close range.”

The conclusion the ORO study made of the maximum effective range of rifle fire in combat was hardly a novel conclusion, as you yourself point out. In fact SLA Marshall made a similar observation himself.

It was the other conclusions of the study that seemed to me to rest on very shaky ground. If you like I can go into much greater detail why I think this is so.

“As for Marshall, his studies have been criticized as being mainly anecdotal rather than scientific”

I already knew about the controversy over the fire rates reported in “Men Against Fire” which was the subject of the link you provided (note: there is a parenthesis in the URL which foils your link). I never claimed that Marshall was ‘scientific’, only that the conclusions reported in his Battlefield Analysis of Infantry Weapons, were more credible than those made in the ORO study.

The real story of both Marshall’s fire-rate mistake and the ORO study is how they were both used to justify poor infantry small arms doctrine in the 1960’s; which led to the catastrophe of the half-baked M-16 being forced into wide scale use during the Vietnam War.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: