We didn’t have from nothin’

Saturday, March 9th, 2019

Roy F. Dunlap almost followed McBride’s example (A Rifleman Went to War), but instead he joined the US Army and worked on small arms:

Even before Pearl Harbor I had ideas about getting free board and room with my shooting and was toying with the notion of joining the Canadians, who cordially recommended the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the “Princess Pats,” who I gathered consisted mostly of Americans who couldn’t wait.


In the spring of 1942, Mister, the U. S. Army was in sad shape. We didn’t have from nothin’. They were in a hurry to get us on our way — four weeks’ basic. After three and a half a large percentage, including me, were transferred into the “cadre school,” or school for noncoms. A big honor or something, but I didn’t like it, since I was very sick of close-order drill and calisthenics, which was what the basic training at Aberdeen Proving Ground amounted to, except for short lectures given by officers who had learned them by rote, apparently.

He belonged in the ordnance unit:

The first thing he asked me was how to put in a front sight on a .45 pistol. I knew I’d arrived.


There wouldn’t be a thing wrong with the gun [M2 Aircraft machinegun] except it wouldn’t work. All you could do was switch parts here and there till it did. Then you had to change it over to feed from the opposite side and do it over again. And so on ad infinitum.


Anyway, we suddenly were issued helmets (most of us got new ones but a few lads caught the old 1917 soup dishes). This was the first time any of us had seen a helmet. I told you the army was short of stuff, remember? We were all armed with Remington-made 1903 rifles, with straight stocks.

These were fairly well made, since they came out before the stamping mania hit the production lines, and all parts were as made on regular pre-war service Springfields. Of course, the floorplate would probably pop out if you dropped the butt more than two inches when lowering it to the ground, and the safety usually flew off when you slammed the bolt open on inspection, but we could cure little things like that, being an ordnance outfit. Machine work wasn’t bad at all, compared with later stuff.


  1. Bruce says:

    Maybe someone on Isegoria knows something about Malcolm Dunbar?

    ‘The first time in the world that tanks were used strategically and as a new weapon of war was in Spain, at the battle of Ebro, in their civil war. All the nations should have been watching and maybe were, but only the Germans saw anything. The Spanish Republican chief of armor in that battle, who was the first man to comprehend and use tanks to full effectiveness, was a Scottish independent soldier named Malcolm Dunbar. His were the tank tactics which made Guderian and Rommel world famous in later years.

    In 1943 Malcolm Dunbar was in the British tank troops, in England. HE WAS A CORPORAL.’

    Ordnance Goes to War is full of good stuff. I liked the story of the officer who thought Springfields had interchangeable parts.

  2. Kirk says:

    Dunbar was also an avowed Communist with ties to the Philby circle, and was gay, to boot.

    I’ve heard of him, from reading about the Spanish Civil War. But until just now, I didn’t know what the hell happened to him after the Spanish Civil War. My guess is that he didn’t get very far in the British Army because of his varied and sundry ties to the Communists, and the fact that he was gay. I’m actually rather surprised to see that he was ever even taken into British service… I thought he’d been liquidated in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.

    I’m not so sure I’d say that Guderian and Rommel copied him, either. Certainly, he had a good handle on the precursors to modern tank warfare, but… So did a lot of people. It’s like saying that the Germans copied Liddell-Hart or de Gaulle–Yeah, they were all saying the same things at around the same time, but to claim that one of them came up with a definitive set of solutions that everyone copied, in secret…? No. Most of the German tank warfare innovations were worked out by them, on the fly, and only because the German Army was the only one flexible enough to let the various enthusiasts work their leads.

    It’s much the same with infantry tactics–The French had a captain that worked most of it out, but the best he could manage was to publish a little pamphlet that basically outlined modern tactics. Germans captured a copy, read it, said “Hey, this looks like a good idea…” and then implemented it Army-wide, once they’d figured out that it could work. That’s where the Sturmtruppen idea came from–Ideas taken up from the French, that the French themselves were unable to implement because of inflexibility and a lack of vision. Much the same syndrome with armor–Many others were groping towards it, but it took the Germans to implement it, with the rest of us playing catch-up.

    The scary thing about the German Army from about 1890 to 1945 is just how thoroughly pragmatic and open to the talents it was. Very little of the traditional stereotype of Prussian rigid militarism is actually true, and if you go back and look, the truth of the matter is that the Allies were the inflexible and unadaptable ones. Not only that, but the Allies were far more class- and rank-conscious, with clear and inflexible delineations between the ranks, compared to the Germans. German tactical adaptability and flexibility flowed up from their base organization principles, and did not resemble at all the fantastic imaginings of Allied intelligence organizations. Which is one of the things that made them so dangerous–The troops on our side were trained and conditioned to expect the Germans to conform to the stereotype, and when they didn’t…? Well, there were a lot of cases where those expectations led to us getting our asses handed to us.

  3. Albion says:


    I heard years ago (can’t recall where) that the strength of the German forces was built round the willingness to let NCOs get on with the job of achieving an objective, not controlling how the objective was achieved.

    I suppose that, given the way it appears that Hitler interfered in his armed forces campaigns and overrode those who could see and experience what was happening at the cutting edge, the allies were fortunate that so many good officers and men were weakened by being given so many bad orders from the top.

  4. Adar says:

    Germans and Soviets jointly worked out tank tactics in Kazan after World War One. That Republican officer taking orders more likely from a Red Army officer or commissar.

  5. Kirk says:


    I am unsure I’d ascribe it solely to the NCOs, which is something that smacks more of our paternalistic system. If I were setting out to construct an explanation for the German’s success at the art of war over 1870-1945, I’d put more emphasis on the intangibles of “military culture”, and how they approached the entire issue of how to make war than any particular group or individual. The Germans did really well at all levels below strategic and logistic; at those, they were abysmally horrid.

    And, the Germans did have some rather massive blind spots in their military system. The Kaiser-worship and later Fuehrer-Prinzip ideals that they followed were recipes for disaster, and while the German military was very egalitarian and innovative in some aspects, in others it was locked into a near-feudal approach to loyalty and conduct that led them to follow a path of idiocy incarnate.

    I think the overall “takeaway” from observing the German experience at war would be to step back and analyze exactly what factors and inherent characteristics led to their success, and then do what the Japanese did, confronted with Western culture during the Meiji period–Adopt and adapt what works in the context of our own system, acknowledging those things we don’t do well that the Germans did have considerable experience and success with.

    Everything is a lesson, in life. The question is, will you learn it…?

  6. Kirk says:


    You could well be right, but we really don’t know enough about the antecedents to a lot of what went on in that war, or who was really running the show.

    One can wonder, from the close ties later established by the Soviets and the Nazis, just how “opposed” they really were, to each other in Spain. From one standpoint, you could call it a live-fire training exercise with particularly high fidelity, given the amount of cooperation between the Soviets and Nazis. You could also take a clue from the later instransigence Franco demonstrated when it came to working with the Germans.

    If I had to gauge things, I’d say that the odds are pretty good that Dunbar might have been a “front man” who was being puppet-mastered by some Soviet officer who later got himself purged for being too effective an officer… Which is why we don’t know anything about him. Or, maybe Dunbar was an unsung genius–There’s too much we really don’t know.

  7. Bruce says:

    Thanks for good information on Dunbar.

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