The Efficacy of Musket Fire

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Competent authorities have compiled statistics on the efficacy of musket fire, Colonel Ardant Du Picq notes:

Guibert thinks that not over two thousand men are killed or wounded by each million cartridges used in battle.

Gassendi assures us that of three thousand shots only one is a hit.

Piobert says that the estimate, based on the result of long wars, is that three to ten thousand cartridges are expended for each man hit.

To-day, with accurate and long range weapons, have things changed much? We do not think so. The number of bullets fired must be compared with the number of men dropped, with a deduction made for the action of artillery, which must be considered.

A German author has advanced the opinion that with the Prussian needle rifle the hits are 60% of the shots fired. But then how explain the disappointment of M. Dreyse, the happy inventor of the needle rifle, when he compared Prussian and Austrian losses. This good old gentleman was disagreeably astonished at seeing that his rifle had not come up to his expectations.


  1. Handle says:

    It’s true today. The ratio of shots fired in combat situation to bullets hitting flesh is a fraction of a percent.

    But though I’m starting to sound like Robin Hanson lately, but here’s my own “X is not for the-thing-we-usually-associate-with-X”: “Bullets aren’t for killing.”

    Most fire is suppressive fire, that is, sent in the direction of the enemy in an attempt to keep them pinned down behind cover and immobilized, with maybe a faint hope that occasionally one of the shots will hit somebody.

    At that point, with rounds constantly blasting, you will either be trying to flank and maneuver to a position of superior lethal potential, or you will be calling for indirect fires or air support to rain down explosives on top of the enemy, frozen in their position by an unrelenting blizzard of bullets.

    It’s the explosives that actually do most of the flesh-mangling and killing. The wave of bullets is mostly useful to buy time to deliver the bombs.

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