When Legends Die: the M1 Grand Rifle
When I was drafted in 1960 and shipped off to basic training, I discovered what could be called the “old army.” The origins of this term are obscure, but may it have been coined to refer to the Indian fighting U.S. Army of the post-Civil War 1870’s because so many of its officers and NCOs were veterans of the Civil War. In the same manner the U.S. Army of 1960 contained many officers and NCOs who were veterans of WWII and the Korean War (1950-1953). Indeed as I discovered the 1960 Army was training to re-fight the Korean War.
The two principal lessons of the Korean War were that the U.S. forces were physically weak (i.e. unable to march long distances on foot) and were inept rifleman (unwilling to fire their weapons and poor shots). So basic training had lots of road marches and a good deal of rifle training using what was then called ‘train fire’. This was a training exercise whereby after several weeks on the ranges firing at conventional bulls eye targets, we were taken to live firing ranges consisting of lanes dotted with pop-up man-sized targets at distances of 50 to 360 meters. As we walked along the lane followed by an NCO scorekeeper the targets would pop-up at different ranges and using so-called Kentucky wind age and Tennessee elevation (guess work) we would try and knock enough targets down to qualify. Incidentally this was a lot of fun.
The rifle that I was issued was the M1 Grand Rifle, a nine pound, semi-automatic 30 caliber, gas operated weapon of wood and steel. In my experience it was a marvelous weapon easy to shoot and extremely accurate up to about 400 meters. (It probably was accurate beyond that, but even in my youth I had crummy eyesight). Its 30 caliber armor piercing bullet (the anti-personnel round of choice) carried a good deal of authority when it hit and would penetrate light armor. The M1 could also launch rifle grenades (even though they fouled its barrel), incendiary rounds, and tracer ammunition. It was a reliable, easy to maintain weapon, that as we were repeatedly told, would be our best friend in combat.
Fortunately I never used the M1 in combat, because taking advantage of an astonishingly unfair Army rule, I used my high test scores to enlist for an additional two years in return for which I received a year’s schooling and a soft (relatively speaking) job in Army Intelligence. As a result I missed the change over from the M1 to the 7.62 MM NATO compatible M14 rifle in 1962-1963 and its replacement by the M16 5.5 MM weapon with which the Vietnam War was largely fought.
Safe in the intelligence world I watched the introduction of the M16 to the Army and heard all the horror stories of continual jamming, bullets that would not penetrate the Vietnamese underbrush, and questionable accuracy and stopping power. I had and have no way of verifying this information so this may or may not have been the real story of the M16’s introduction to combat. I do know that when I actually got around to firing an M16 it was very much like firing an inaccurate tooth brush. We were firing at targets 50 meters away and missing them almost 90 per cent of the time. To handle the routine stoppages we encountered we hade additional M16s that were called into service when a jam could not be cleared. Now these were weapons that were kept in clean, dry armors under the care of trained ordnance specialist.
One has to wonder what the Army was thinking or perhaps not thinking when such a weapon was adopted.
Phi Beta Iota: DoD and the Services do not “think.” Since WWII DoD has been a pork factory, and the primary requirements for success at the political level have been two: sponsor as many flag officers as possible to keep the chum churning; and keep the money flowing and the pot growing, never mind accountability. Below is a quote from Senator Sam Nunn that DoD is incapable of addressing today–it lack an honest global threat and opportunity analysis; it has no honest strategy for waging peace and avoiding war; it’s force structure was devised by mental midgets with low ethical standards; and its operations are a mix of death in the night (JSOG) and theater (everyone else).
I am constantly being asked for a bottom-line defense number. I don’t know of any logical way to arrive at such a figure without analyzing the threat; without determining what changes in our strategy should be made in light of the changes in the threat; and then determining what force structure and weapons programs we need to carry out this revised strategy.
As cited in Robert David Steele, ON INTELLIGENCE: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World (Fairfax, VA: AFCEA International Press, 2000), page 3.
Mobility, communications, and weapons system never get independent operational test & evaluation (OT&E), and the Inspector General (IG) has no strategic mission. We also lack counter-intelligence against the gravest threat to America outside of the two-party tyranny, all the religious fanatics and commercial turn-coats serving in senior positions in DoD, whose agenda is most definitely not in the public interest. DoD lacks intelligence and integrity. No one wants to hear that, but the fact is that until DoD reconnects with intelligence and integrity–at the political, appointee, and professional levels–it will continue to be a massive pork complex of little value to the public.