History Tuesday: The More Things Change…

…the more they stay the same.

I recently purchased a copy of Roy F. Dunlap’s excellent book, Ordnance Went Up Front, and will be doing weekly articles on various portions of the book. Today seems as good a day as any to start.

When discussing Italian pistols, Dunlap had this to say:

In settling on a small weapon for a small cartridge, my own idea is that the Italian Army, or Beretta, whichever was responsible, showed good enough sense. For a couple of the war years it was the fashion to deride the Beretta, along with all other handguns weighing less than two and one-half pounds and less than .45-caliber, some of the deriders being quasi-military experts who could not hit the ground twice in succession with the .45 and who got their dope from the ballistics section of ammunition company catalogs. Then somebody discovered that the British service pistol cartridge since 1933 has been the .38 S&W cartridge, to replace the .455 caliber, and since the British are very realistic in their attitude regarding the lethal qualities of their equipment, a few minds began to wonder.

The final blow to the heavy handgun partisans came when Uncle Sam quietly began issuing plain ordinary Colt .380s – standard commercial autoloaders. True, they went to high officers, but that did not alter the fact that they were officially qualified as a last-ditch, close-range, self-defense weapon, which is exactly the status of any military pistol, regardless of size, shape, weight, origin, or training-camp sales talks.

The average military man cannot hit much with any pistol, and as a rule, the bigger the gun the less he hits. That is why the Uncle called for the M1 carbine in the first place. In the hands of gun-masters such as Charles Askins, Jr. or Al Hemming or Harry Reeves the handgun is more deadly than the rifle is with the average soldier behind it. However, men like that are so scarce that they cannot be counted in any army. The old claim of “the .45 knocks ’em down if it hits ’em in the arm of leg” carries no weight with anyone who has actually seen any bullet work on humans. Sometimes a .45 might flatten a man with a minor wound, but I have known of Jap soldiers who absorbed a burst in the body from a Thompson and went down fighting. The .45 carries a lot of shocking power, it is true, but the point nearly every pistol argument misses is that a hit with any bullet above a .22 rim fire will slow a man enough from what he is doing – running away, running toward you, or shooting at you – to give you time to put in a fatal hit or hits. And I do not think anyone will argue that the smaller calibers are not easier for the unpracticed man to handle. A hit with a 9mm or .38 is 100% more effective than a miss with a .45, regardless of the wound it causes.

Elsewhere in the book, he states:

With only a little practice (and some intelligent instruction) the pistol can be mastered well enough to be an effective short-range weapon, but as a rule, the soldier does not get practice. Shooting in the army is discouraged. Too much bother handling the range, use too much expensive ammunition, dangerous anyhow – may shoot somebody.

I also plan to look into the legalities of “transcribing” this book into Kindle format, for used copies are expensive and not always easy to find, and I have found it to be incredibly informative. I think it would be interesting to anyone who likes firearms, or even history – his observations on African, Egyptian, Philippine etc culture are quite interesting.

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8 Comments

Filed under History

8 responses to “History Tuesday: The More Things Change…

  1. Josh

    It sounds like a pretty good book. I might have to look up a copy if i can find one. I’m reading The Gun By J. Chivers right now. And its turning out to be pretty good as well.

  2. Redchrome

    Ah, the joy of old books!

    You may want to see if Google has already transcribed it, or has a way for you to submit it for transcription. If its copyright has expired, consider reading it aloud for LibriVox http://librivox.org/.

    I’ve not been in the military, so this may be armchair-warrioring; but I get the impression that in many cases pistols were often issued to officers more as a symbol of authority (or a way to keep order among the troops) rather than as a serious fighting weapon. Hence why plenty of German officers carried .32 ACP pistols; why the German Army Luger holster required two hands to withdraw the pistol from it; and why the Russians issued the Nagant revolver for 50 years in spite of the fact that I doubt any unskilled person could hit an enemy with it at more than arm-wrestling range even if the target was standing still.

  3. L.T.

    I thought the reason the military adopted the M1 carbine was because support and mechanized troops needed a 100-yard capable weapon that was lightweight and portable–the Garand was too big and cumbersome for a cook to drag around, but the Thompson wasn’t accurate enough at range to be a reliable substititute. The line of “The bigger the gun, the less he hits” makes no sense to me.

  4. Jack

    I’m not positive, but as I understood it a copyright only lasts for 50 years, and after that any work is considered public domain. From what I can find that book was published in 1948, so I expect you won’t have an issue with transcribing it, especially if you don’t intend to sell the ebook.

  5. For what its worth, the book was reportedly ready for publication at the end of the war. When shown the manuscript by the publisher, General Julian Hatcher seized it for security reasons.

  6. As for copyright, the original protection lasted 28 years. The protection could be then renewed for a second term of 28 years. However, changes in the copyright law in 1976 stretched out the copyright protection of renewal terms from 28 years to 67 years. So, the copyright either expired in 1976, or it was renewed and will remain protected until 2043.

    For works published after January 1, 1978, the copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the author.

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