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Beyond the assault rifle.

To the generation which grew up in the aftermath of world war two, in the shadow of a nuclear holocaust, guns were a tool, used by all classes for recreational shooting. Skill-at-arms was fostered officially with young men by the school cadets in the fifties and sixties. Large numbers went on to serve in the army of the Vietnam era.

Accurate shooting with rifles became a military skill with the Rifle Regiments of the British Army in the Napoleonic wars. The percussion cap and Minie conical ball gave the (muzzle-loading) rifle to every infantry soldier in 1853. The infantryman rammed a paper cartridge down the muzzle replaced his ramrod, and primed his rifle as a drill, normally standing.

The solid-drawn, centre-fire brass cartridge case, smokeless powder, and jacketed bullet which could feed out of a magazine led to the development of the bolt-action rifle by 1890. The origin of the term machine gun dates from this time when the guns were hand cranked.

In that twilight of the early twentieth century machine-guns were deemed to be complex and unreliable, The Rules of War dictated that projectiles were to be jacketed. The Dum Dum hollow point bullet, and explosive projectiles for weapons with a calibre less than 20 mm were banned.

Drawing on the lessons of the Boer War, the British Army devoted considerable resources to developing the Short Magazine Lee Enfield to out-perform the 7 mm Mauser. The doctrine of accurate rifle shooting, to an effective range of one thousand yards, was expounded by the School of Musketry at Hythe. Proficiency as a soldier required qualification with twelve aimed shots per minute.

The First World War saw machine guns, predominantly the recoil operated, water-cooled Maxims, dominate the battlefields. Using streamlined bullets machine-guns could fire barrages on beaten zones many thousands of yards out. As the war progressed, air-cooled light machine guns were incorporated into British infantry sub-units.

The Americans came into the war in 1917. Their involvement in the close-quarter fighting in the trenches led to their immediate use of pump-action shotguns. There was a diplomatic uproar from the Germans, which the US State Department rejected. The Colt .45 automatic pistol was deemed to be so effective, consideration was given to the proposal that every infantryman should be issued with one as an additional weapon. The idea of a weapon option was put into production with the Pedersen Device. This was a semi-automatic mechanism with a forty round magazine which could be fitted into the breech of the Springfield Rifle to fire a .30 calibre pistol bullet. Regrettably this weapon was not tried in battle.

The Italians had used a 9 mm submachine gun, the Villar Perosa, to compensate for poor machine guns. Using captured examples, the Germans accepted the need for the firepower of a machine gun in close quarter fighting and developed rifle configured 9 mm machine pistols.

Arising from the war, the umbilical cord of communications to indirect fire weapons led to doctrines of command to manoeuvre units of all arms. The tank had been developed to overcome the machine gun. Within years Liddell Hart and Bony Fuller would enunciate the doctrines. These the Germans embraced, testing them with the collaboration of the Russians in the east.

Blitzkrieg the German War machine doctrine, relied upon tanks supported by mechanized infantry, artillery and air support. The umbilical cord of wireless enabled it to happen. The infantry weapons were air-cooled belt-fed machine guns, bolt-action rifles, and machine pistols carried by the officers and NCOs. The dogma of a common cartridge for all weapons was no more.

After Dunkirk the British Army purchased whatever Thompson submachine guns could be produced. The role of the machine pistol in infantry fighting was now self-evident. No army could afford the time to train expert riflemen. Tactics now required complex and coordinated training and skills from units.

The German Warmachine attacked the Russians in summer 1941. With a combination of distance and winter, the Germans found themselves fighting an enemy for whom the losses of a million men outside Moscow, simply expended to wear down their static defences, was unquestioned.

The Russians had excellent tanks, large numbers of self-loading rifles, and hosts of soldiers armed with machine pistols, "burp guns" as they were known. The German General Staff reacted by ordering the production of semi-automatic rifles. These were produced but the vast quantities required to replace their millions of bolt-action rifles was beyond them. At the same time, the Assault Rifle, a weapon in development for years, was approved for immediate service. Using an intermediate cartridge of the same calibre as their rifle, this selective fire weapon, the final version of which was the MP 44, was recognized by the combatant powers, as the most advanced infantry weapon of the war. There were now three cartridges within the infantry unit inventory.

Early in the war, the Americans had adopted the .30 M1 Carbine, a two handed pistol for use by support troops, officers and N.C.O.s, the Americans also had three cartridges.

German small arms developments were analysed by the allies. In Britain a design team developed the EM-2 rifle. Using a 7 mm short round based on the .30M1 case the weapon was selective fire. The ballistic coefficient of the bullet was sufficient for the same round to be used for the Light Machine Gun. The Americans had propellants which enabled the cartridge to exceed the designer's performance, but, like access to Atomic secrets this was denied.

Britain and ourselves became embroiled in the Malayan Emergency, an infantry war fought by small units in the jungle. The weapons were .303 Carbines, Bren's, 9 mm submachine guns, and 12 gauge Browning automatic shotguns with "double waxed" cartridges.

The Korean War erupted almost at the same time. The Chinese showed what determined massed attacks could achieve and almost overran the whole peninsula.

Given the importance of American backup in the envisaged conflagration with the Soviets, our weapons had to be standardized. In 1957 the Americans made the decision to include the British in access to Atomic secrets. Australia remained excluded from this arrangement. The EM-2 was dead in the water.

The lessons from Korea were new rifles and machine-guns based on the 7.62 mm NATO round. The umbilical cord of radio to indirect fire weapons and tactical air support was confirmed. The Claymore mine for defence of fixed positions, and the airburst Splintex artillery shell was the US Army's solution to massed attacks. Standardisation of munitions did take place within the ABCA Pact and NATO. National armaments industries meant that weapons were not common. The key thing achieved was officers were exchanged between all the armed forces and attended each other's staff colleges.

The Vietnam War can be seen as taking place to establish the boundaries of Communism in South East Asia. The war built up incrementally. The Americans and Russians met at the UN in New York and informally agreed on the terms of engagement, these agreements were binding but nothing was put on paper. An example of this was the use by the Egyptians in 1967 of a Russian anti-ship missile to sink an Israeli naval vessel miles out in the Mediterranean Sea.

Weapons to fight the Vietnam War, which was initially a guerrilla war, came from American war stocks. The .30 M1 Carbine and .45 M3A1 Grease Guns were preferred weapons. Pump-action shotguns were poured into the country for distribution to village guards, police and paramilitary units concerned with static defence. Winchester was contracted to develop the multiple flechette 12 gauge round for use in these shotguns. This was not public knowledge even in 1971. (Conversation with Donald A McCall of Winchester, Geelong in late 1971.)

The Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) fought courageously. In 1965 whole battalions died to a man in their trenches. Effectively two wars were being fought, conventional war against the North Vietnamese Army, and, a guerrilla war. Different mixes of weapons were deployed, but substantially they were not weapons intended to counter Mao Tse Tung's guerrilla doctrine of "overwhelming force with the element of surprise." Australian advocates of aggressive and ceaseless patrolling by the Vietnamese forces concerned with static defence were unable to impress this doctrine on the allied leadership.

From 1966 onwards the American Army was issued with the 5.56 mm Armalite on the grounds it was light, more ammunition could be carried, and it was suited to warfare in the tropics. The Secretary of Defense had said so. (Many years later the shortcoming of the 5.56 mm round was overcome.)

Effectively the American field forces carried the AR15, and later the M203 40 mm grenade launcher, but retained the M60 GPMG for fire support within the Squad. (The 7.62 mm M14 rifle became history.) Once in a static position, heavy weapons such as .50 Brownings and later the 40 mm Mod 19 Mk5 automatic grenade launchers were transported in with hot meals and other supplies. There were now two weapons systems, one for carrying in the field, and the other, for static defence. With the burst fire capability of the AR15 every soldier now had a multiple hit option with his rifle. The 40 mm M79 or M203 gave the infantry subunit the option of a high explosive round for aimed fire, superior in range and accuracy to a muzzle-launched grenade. A 40 mm shotted cartridge was also available. Large numbers of modified commercial shotguns were used.

Towards the end of the sixties, drawing on American analysis of small arms in Vietnam, experimentation was undertaken on combat shotguns and munitions. Starting with the Winchester multiple-hit flechette round, design was undertaken of a multiple option ammunition family, to comprise; High-explosive, anti-tank, smoke, and illuminating rounds. There was now a family of munitions. A prototype weapon was developed. With the decision to withdraw from Vietnam after the chattering classes accepted Hanoi's version of the 1968 Tet offensive, the project was closed down.

Perhaps the focus by the UK (who had used shotguns extensively in Malaya,) and the American General Staff, on a major war in Europe, together with the political vacillation over Vietnam was the reason an Operational Requirement for a combat shotgun was never tabled within the ABCA Pact. The major American arms producers, rather than having had the courage of their convictions and producing an appropriate weapon regardless of cost at the beginning of the war, all deferred to "the guvmint" to eliminate the possibility of financial loss. Perhaps the reality that after the defeat in Vietnam it would be a generation before America was involved in infantry fighting made the exercise irrelevant.

Brigadier SLA Marshall quoted in Australian Infantry Magazine in 1971 states "75% of all enemy casualties (in Vietnam,) are inflicted by the weapons integral to the infantry company ..."

This was corroborated by Major General RNL Hopkins in a conversation with the author in 1972 with the words, "This has been known for a long time. It is just not talked about very often."

Major Frank Hobart in his foreword to Jane Infantry Weapons 1975, points out 86% of all rifle contacts do not exceed 300 metres. With regard to light machine gun contacts 80% do not exceed 1,200 metres. An omission in the published literature has to be the breakdown between kills achieved by machine guns, rifles and other weapons. As the Major did not attribute any of the foregoing data to the Tactical Retrieval Cell at the Staff College in Camberley we can only assume he was not an "infantry officer" instructing at the Royal Military College of Science.

The current family of military small arms was developed in the context of vast mechanized hordes of Soviet troops pouring over the German border. The German tradition of mechanized troops riding around in "battle-wagons" de-bussing with machine pistols carried the day. The umbilical cord of signals underpins this doctrine. There is one round for the rifle and light support weapon using common components, the 7.62 mm light machine gun for fire to 1,200 metres, effectively giving four cartridges, 9 mm, 5.56, 7.62, and 40 mm.

Much weapons design is undertaken as a result of bureaucratic deliberation within both armies, and arms firms which are, in most cases, an arm of government. It is a bit like the Assault Rifle, development of the cartridge was taking place and years later the weapon. For various reasons nobody stood back and said, never mind producing Mausers by the million on our existing tooling, let us take a quantum leap into the future ... Thank God.

The multiple option ammunition family of multiple-hit, high-explosive, anti-tank, smoke, and illuminating has now been in development for thirty years. Submissiles and other munitions for use in smoothbore weapons were developed in the fifties but never incorporated into infantry weapons. The calibre of 20 mm seems to be immutable. It is understood the limiting factors have been the technology, and cost of producing fuses of an acceptable size. Given there is now a limited issue 20 mm infantry weapon in the US Army inventory, it must be assumed these handicaps have been overcome.

The 20 mm/5.56 nun weapon shown in photographs in popular journals displays a compact weapon. Since it does not have a long barrel in proportion to the calibre it would be a fair assumption that it is intended for use in the situations not exceeding three hundred metres. As there is no muzzle-brake discernable it can be assumed to be smoothbore.

The multiple option ammunition family has two requirements, it must be capable of being fired from light weapons carried by the soldier in the field. The velocity of the 20 mm projectiles needs to be such that repeated rounds can be fired without the soldier thinking he is firing an anti-tank rifle every time he pulls the trigger. Thus, the requirement is for a common family of munitions, but with different (propellant) charges. One for a weapon which may be fired offhand and frequently, with a range not exceeding 300 metres, the other for the Light Machine Gun role to reach targets at 1,200 metres and even beyond if the old ideas of barrages and beaten ground are considered for future conflicts.

The idea that the multiple option ammunition family have variable charges such that extra charges can be added or removed in the field, as happens with Quick Firing field guns was put forward in the seventies. The author was admonished by the official concerned, "I would not discuss that with the ammunition companies you are going to call on ..." The benefits of such a design are that the weapon option of the carbine can use the LMG ammunition simply by removing the heavier propellant charges. Similarly in a defended position, the LMG may be loaded with belts of the carbine charge because it is close country and the company commander wants a burst of multiple hit interspersed with HE if there is a rush for the wire.

In tactical situations where a unit is moving in open ground, the LMG role requires a reach of 1,200 metres or even further. The belts of ammunition and propellant charges are assembled in whatever combination was ordered and the gunners know, if they see something move within range they fire a burst of HE, or if it is fire from a sangar in the hills they give it a belt of antitank ...

Back in the good old days, the Vickers machine gun was set on its tripod and indirect fire could be dropped into dead ground. There are modern mortars and artillery but if you are in a small unit up in the hills, especially if they are bristling with fire and forget rockets for helicopters, the option of sending a belt of projectiles in a high trajectory to fall behind cover is something which may appeal to a junior officer.

The Pedersen idea of weapon options in 1917, was pursued by Eugene Stoner (who designed the Armalite,) in the mid-sixties. Essentially his idea was that using the one calibre, 5.56 mm. The basic weapon might be configured as a magazine fed carbine, a rifle, and magazine or belt-fed machine gun variants.

Arising from Stoner's concept, the next step put forward perhaps a decade later, was for an integrated multi-purpose weapon system based around the 12 gauge, 18 mm shotgun cartridge. Given the designer had no access to the multiple option ammunition family developments, the proposal was to fire rockets from steel cases which would reach the 1,200 metres required for the machine gun role. These are munitions which may have been developed in the fifties. The weapon options within the proposed weapon were belt-feeds and magazine feed. By exchanging components; barrels, breech-blocks, feed mechanisms or magazine housings, it was proposed the smoothbore weapon be reconfigured into a rifle calibre weapon, in either of the two calibres required.

By definition war is chaos, unpredictable. The rifle cartridge is still useful in a mobile situation where a soldier is moving in open country in vehicles with backup, or over rough ground. An obvious solution to the weight and bulk of the multiple option ammunition is to have belts of the heavier charge in HE, AT, smoke and illuminating being carried within a platoon for the section support weapons. The forward scout might have the carbine version of the 20 mm but loaded with HE and multiple-hit for a counter ambush contact. The remainder of the section carrying belts might use a rifle calibre version of the carbine to engage targets at ranges accepted for small arms today. When they reach a static position and are re-supplied, the weapon and or ammunition options are simply "delivered" along with stores. At the discretion of the company commander, whose weapons cause 75% of all enemy casualties, the weapon configurations and roles are issued to his subordinates.


Australia's Bid for the Atomic Bomb Wayne Reynolds Melbourne University Press 2000

EM-2 Concept and Design Thomas B Dugelby Collector Grade Publications Toronto, 1980

Janes Infantry Weapons 1975 Foreword

Hatcher's Notebook, The Stackpole Company 1957 Ch 15

Textbook of Automatic Pistols R K Wilson with I V Hogg Arms and Armour Press 1975 p282

The World's Fighting Shotguns Thomas F Swearengen TBN Enterprises 1978 Ch 8
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Author:Gordon, Duncan
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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