Category Archives: History

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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