March 26, 2013

Time Capsule: “How to Shoot The U.S. Army Rifle” handbook, circa 1943

In WWI, the deadliness of American marksmanship amazed both our Allies and our enemies.

“How to Shoot The U.S. Army Rifle”

Courtesy, US Army

The U.S. Army’s “How to Shoot The U.S. Army Rifle” handbook, published in 1943, was prepared by First Lieutenant Arthur Goodfriend It suggests how important the topic of shooting well was back then. It has clear and unaffected prose. For example: “The last war proved that if you hit a German in the right place with a caliber .30 rifle bullet, he falls over dead. This is also true in this war. It applies, moreover, to Japs as well as to Nazis.”

I recently ran across a fascinating copy of the U.S. Army’s “How to Shoot The U.S. Army Rifle” handbook, published in 1943.

This book, subtitled The Infantry Journal, was prepared by First Lieutenant Arthur Goodfriend, creator of the Army's graphic portfolio on rifle marksmanship. The acknowledgements suggest how important the topic of shooting well was back then.

Involved in the project were the editors of Life magazine, “who loaned the cream of their staff to the Army for this project.” Also credited was Life photographer, Gjon Mili, “whose repetitive flash camera dissects the rapid-fire positions.”

Also receiving notice were the Engineer School, Fort Belvoir, Virginia; The Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia, where the doctrine was shaped and pictures taken, and “to Brigadier General C. R. Huebner, General Staff Corps, Director of Training, Services of Supply, who initiated the preparation of the official training portfolio upon which this book is based, and who gave it the benefit of his long experience gained on battlefields abroad and in training camps at home.”

What’s refreshing about the Journal is how clear and unaffected its non-politically-correct prose is. For example, “The last war proved that if you hit a German in the right place with a caliber .30 rifle bullet, he falls over dead. This is also true in this war. It applies, moreover, to Japs as well as to Nazis.”

Continuing, the Journal opines, “The U. S. Army Rifle—be it the M1903 (Springfield), M1917 (Enfield), or M1 (Garand)—has the range, caliber, power, and accuracy to kill Nazis and Japs. All that is required is a soldier well enough trained in rifle marksmanship to hit the enemy in the right places.”

Obviously, the U. S. Army believed, and believes, in this training. Its rifle marksmanship course was the most thorough in the world. In WWI, the deadliness of American marksmanship amazed both our Allies and our enemies.

Likewise, in WWII, reports from far-flung battlefields revealed that the hours of marksmanship training were not spent in vain.

As the Journal noted, “Deadly marksmanship depends on correct shooting habits. In stress of battle, you must do the right things without thinking about them. You must know the correct sight picture. You must take a rock-steady position. You must squeeze the trigger. You must shoot rapidly. And all the while, your sights must be correctly set for range, wind, and weather.”

How to do these things the right way is shown on the Journal’s pages, with pictures and text taken from the U. S. Army's graphic portfolio on rifle marksmanship.

The Infantry School for the semiautomatic M1 rifle was, and is, a method that enables you to get the most out of any rifle you may ever have to shoot. It said, “Put aside your own ideas on rifle shooting for the duration of the war. Where life and death, victory or defeat, depend on the result, it is wise to follow this method. It is based on countless hours of test and trial, on the range and the battlefield.”

Shooters of today can see in its pages that firing on the range meant more bull's-eyes, lessons which when translated to the battlefield, “will cause many a Nazi and Jap to echo the words of that German in the last war who, dying, wrote: "God save us from these Americans. They shoot like devils…. They are the best marksmen in the world."

Over the next few weeks, I’ll gather excerpts from the handbook and put them here on GunReports.com. They’re fantastic reading, not only because of the technical prowess of the material, but also because of the unstinting look at what shooting in war situations requires.

Here’s the first installment, from the chapters, “Today—the Bull's-eye. Tomorrow—The Enemy,” and “Your Rifle Is Better Than The Enemy's”.

TODAY—The Bull's-Eye, TOMORROW—The Enemy

Today's bull's-eye will be a well-trained, well-armed Jap or Nazi tomorrow. You hit him. Or you miss. For that reason, there's no such thing as shooting that is about right. It is either perfect-or it is wrong. Your life depends upon it.

In camp, you shoot at a fixed target. On the battlefield, the target moves. You must learn to hit the first-before you can hope to hit the second. By learning right shooting habits-by constant practice-every man can learn to shoot.

It seems hard at first. Later, when your body limbers up- when you learn the rules of good marksmanship-it becomes easier.

Your Rifle Is Better Than The Enemy's

The M1 rifle costs about $80 to build. It is semiautomatic. It has an 8-shot clip. It has adjustable sights. It can shoot straighter and faster than standard rifles issued to the Japs and Germans.

The M1903 (Springfield) proved itself against the Germans in the last war, and is still a masterpiece of rifle construction today. It is a high-precision weapon, with adjustable sights and an effective range of 600 yards.

The Jap has an Arisaka rifle. It has a shorter range than the M1 and M1903. It has a lighter bullet. It has no windage scale. It is only fairly accurate beyond 500 yards.

The Germans are equipped with the Karbiner 98. Like our Springfield it is bolt-operated, with a 5-shot clip. But it has no windage or elevation. It hasn't the accuracy of our American rifle.

Your rifle should give you an advantage over the enemy. But actually, your rifle is no better than the man who shoots it. If you can't shoot your rifle accurately, you might just as well meet the Axis with your bare fists.

Axis and American Rifles

Courtesy, US Army

The chapter on Axis and American rifles said "The M1903 (Springfield) has proved itself against the Germans… and is a high-precision weapon, with adjustable sights and an effective range of 600 yards."

Here's a list of the book's chapters:

  1. Today—the Bull's-eye. Tomorrow—The Enemy
  2. Your Rifle is Better than the Enemy's
  3. Six Steps to Perfect Marksmanship
  4. You Are Both a Coach and Pupil
  5. Sighting and Aiming
  6. Why There is Only One Correct Sight Picture
  7. First Sighting and Aiming Exercise
  8. Clean and Blacken Your Sights
  9. Second Sighting and Aiming Exercise
  10. Third Sighting and Aiming Exercise
  11. The Rock of the Marne
  12. How to Adjust the Loop Sling
  13. How to Tighten the Loop
  14. A Tight Sling Means a Steady Rifle
  15. Take Up the Slack
  16. Hold Your Breath While Aiming
  17. Support the Rifle 'With Your Bones’
  18. The Prone Position
  19. The Sandbag Rest Position
  20. The Sitting Position
  21. The Kneeling Position
  22. The Squatting Position
  23. How to Adjust the Hasty Sling
  24. Sling Goes Well Up on Arm
  25. Final Phases of the Hasty Sling
  26. The Standing Position
  27. What's the Matter With This Picture?
  28. The Best "Marks-Man" Wins
  29. Squeeze-Don't Jerk
  30. Call Your Shots
  31. Your Life-Or His
  32. Prone Position-First Method
  33. Skirmisher's Method
  34. Prone Position-Rushing
  35. The Sitting Position
  36. The Kneeling Position
  37. Cover to Cover/Up
  38. Cover to Cover/Down
  39. Loading in Four Positions
  40. First Rapid Fire Exercise
  41. Second Rapid Fire Exercise
  42. Third Rapid Fire Exercise
  43. Will You Kill These Nazis?
  44. This is the Rear Sight
  45. Windage Knob
  46. Elevating Knob
  47. Wind Changes Path of Bullet
  48. How to Correct Sights for Wind
  49. Windage to Allow for First Shot
  50. Your Rifle is Like Your Girl
  51. How to Zero the Rifle
  52. Adjust the Sights
  53. Adjust the Elevating Knob
  54. Sight Changes
  55. Wind Gauge and Elevating Drum
  56. And Now You Shoot for Record
  57. Answers to Problems