Shooting in the army is discouraged

Saturday, May 18th, 2019

Dunlap shares some of his thoughts on pistols:

In the Pacific pistols were chiefly valuable against infiltrating Japs sneaking into our areas at night, and in foxholes or close-quarter fights handguns were easy to point and shoot in a hurry. I saw dozens of .45’s carried loaded and at full cock at all times in front areas of the 1st Cavalry Division, with the thumb safety in place. The men claimed that in a pinch it took too long to cock the hammer. It is a fact that the Colt type .45 is not too handy to cock with the thumb of the gun hand. For that reason I believe that the German P.38 was a desirable military arm because of its double-action feature.

My greatest objections to the U.S. .45 pistol were that it was both hard to shoot and inaccurate. For some reason — size of butt, psychology — I don’t know exactly what, it is much harder for the average man to hit a mark with a .45 autoloader than with almost any other handgun. He may take a .45 revolver and do fairly well, but give him the pistol and he is a lost ball in high weeds. With only a little practice (and some intelligent instruction) the pistol can be mastered well enough to be an effective short-range weapon, but as a rule, the soldier does not get practice. Shooting in the army is discouraged. Too much bother handling the range; use too much expensive ammunition; dangerous anyhow — may shoot somebody.

A lot of people will be insulted by my stating the gun is inaccurate. Most of them will probably be either target shots or ex-soldiers who had experience with good pistols. I am talking about service pistols, the kind of production-line tool issued to the military personnel, not a Colt commercial arm or a gunsmithed prewar Colt Army gun. The average issue .45 pistol will shoot about 20″ groups at 50 yards, and that is not good enough for me. Include the human error in the deal and the result is even worse.

None of the military pistols is perfect. The Polish Mod. 35 is probably the most rugged gun; the Luger the most accurate; the P.38 Walther the fastest to get into action; the Belgian GP the best-fitting and most effective for battle use because of its 13-round magazine; and the U. S. M1911 & 1911A1 the largest caliber, if you consider that an asset. I do not — I think .36 caliber big enough, which is a personal opinion only.

The Polish pistol should have a slightly smaller butt; the Luger is unreliable and the weakest of the 9mm high powered pistols; the P.38 has its butt proportions not so perfect, and its safety-hammer release is liable to breakage; the grip tang on the Browning is not large enough to protect large hands; the Colt has too many parts in the recoil system — link, floating guide, etc.

The .45-caliber 1911 now has a reputation as an extremely easy-to-shoot pistol with good accuracy — and carrying the gun loaded, with a round in the chamber, and cocked, with the safety on, is standard practice.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    Being a pure single action pistol, the Colt was designed to be carried “cocked and locked.” Besides the thumb safety on the slide, it also has a grip safety, which most of its competitors do not have.

    The series of gripes about America’s WW II standard issue infantry weapons is interesting. But it should be noted that by the time we got back to the Philippines or the Ardennes, the US infantry was largely half-trained conscripts who might not have been able to properly use their weapons.

    PS. The US issued far more M1 carbines than M1 rifles, even to infantry units. Look at any newsreel footage from the time. Most of the infantry were carrying carbines.

  2. TRX says:

    I thought the Army always used cocked and locked; it was at their request that Colt paid Browning to add both the grip and thumb safeties to the 1911. (JMB’s original designs had only half-cock, which he felt was sufficient)

    I’m *sure* I’ve seen early Army manuals describing cocked and locked, but all I can find online this morning are FM 25-35 from 1940, which doesn’t address the issue at all, and an update from 1964, which wouldn’t be relevant to Dunlap’s comments, which were from 1948.

    25-35 does have the marksmanship training, though. 5, 10, or 15 yards for bullseye targets, and 15 or 25 yards for silhouette targets. And any hit would do on the silhouette, which was larger than Dunlap’s 20″, and only 25 yards instead of 50.

    So Dunlap is complaining that people couldn’t hit a smaller targer twice as far away as what they were supposed to, even assuming wartime Basic spent as much time training as in 1940.

    I’ll grant that the 1911 isn’t suited for everyone. I’m at the extreme other end of the curve; it fits my hand like it was made for it, and it makes my otherwise indifferent marksmanship skills look pretty good. (and that’s with a cheap Norinco copy, no fancier than Dunlap’s wartime production guns)

  3. Kirk says:

    Most of my experience with the .45 is with the same guns that Dunlap is excoriating, only they were some 40 years older and a hell of a lot more worn.

    In my experience with them, they were hard for tyros to master, and that often led to the complaints about their inaccuracy and other “issues”. If you went to the gun with an open mind, and spent a couple of hundred rounds to learn it, you could master it to be able to defend yourself within 50-150 feet. You weren’t gonna be shooting bullseye matches with it, but you were going to be able to at least severely discourage anyone from whatever they were doing.

    But, there’s a bit of a bone to be picked, here: A service pistol is not meant to be an offensive weapon, a substitute standard for the rifle within the pistol’s max range. The pistol is actually a substitute standard for someone’s fists, in that it’s what you should use in lieu of going to fisticuffs. For that, the .45 is probably superior to about any other weapon, because it’s both physically and psychologically devastating. Imagine being that Japanese rifleman participating in a night-time infiltration, only you’ve just discovered that the guy you found attending to nature’s call is armed with a .45, and is more than willing to use it on you at close quarters. Odds are, even if he misses, you’re not sticking around to try playing poke-the-gaijin with your bayonet.

    It’s interesting that Alvin York did not have a lot of trouble mastering his M1911, and that there were a lot of other people who used the thing to good effect, while Dunlap and others are all dismissive of it. What did York and those other guys know/do that Dunlap did not?

    I will buy fully into the idea that the Browning Hi Power is probably the ultimate WWII handgun, though. Being as the CZ75 and Glock were decades in the future, I’ll have to accede to Dunlap’s judgment on that matter, and agree with him. The only thing I’d want to add to the Hi Power, CZ already did.

  4. Ezra says:

    Sidearms in modern warfare account for only about 1 % of the casualties. So using one and killing an adversary is a novelty.

    Over three years in the army and besides basic training only fired the rifle on a range twice. And that was for familiarization and not qualification.

  5. TRX says:

    “they were hard for tyros to master”

    Maybe… but I’ve instructed newbies from a twelve-year-old girl to senior citizens who had no trouble mastering the 1911. Some of them couldn’t pull the slide back on their own, but they hit the targets just fine.

    If the guns weren’t working right, an armorer should have fixed them. If the troops weren’t able to hit the targets then, they should have been (re)trained. At least one of those would have been Dunlap’s job not long before.

    Dunlap did have a point about the caliber. The .45 was another Army requirement; the .38 cartridge JMB designed had more than a quarter again the muzzle energy of the .45. Colt wound up cutting it down to 9×19 ballistics because they were having material and heat treat problems in production; the original loading was re-introduced as the .38 Super in the 1920s. The Army demanded fewer, less powerful cartridges than Browning’s original design.

    On the other hand, as generations of .45 fanboys have shown, the most important thing the .45 offered might not have been ballistics, but confidence. Maybe even overconfidence…

  6. Kirk says:

    Ezra makes a good point, and it is one that the managerial class that has taken over the Army has noted, digested, and then internalized. Most of the Army is essentially an armed bureaucracy that only carries their weapons for show and extreme exigency. The system sees it like that, and enforces it with draconian glee.

    Time was, the soldier’s rifle was kept in a rack at the end of his bunk, or the door to his barracks; if he wanted to go practice, ammunition and a range were available to him within easy walking distance. Sometimes, he had to pay for the ammo, but since the pay was based partially on one’s marksmanship scores, this wasn’t a bad investment.

    Those days went away with the “Old Army” of the pre-WWII era. After WWII, all that sort of thing was obsolete, because there was no professional enlisted army, it having transitioned over to draftees. For the entire period between the ramp-up and VOLAR, there was no long-service professional enlisted force; it was all draftees with a smattering of volunteers who might make careers of it all, but who really, fundamentally did not care about soldiering. It was a cultural shift, and one that the managerial classes were comfortable with. They distrusted real soldiers, considering the meat-eaters to be dangerous anachronisms.

    True skill-at-arms only comes with practice and familiarity. You remove the practice and the time with the weapon, and Johnny loses that skill-at-arms. In my opinion, ever soldier ought to go armed at all times, in some way, shape, or form–If only to remind them of what the hell they are, and what they are supposed to be doing. For that reason, I’d issue everyone sidearms, and make them a daily part of life so that the awareness and mentality is never forgotten or neglected. Being a soldier is more than a uniform and a paycheck; it’s a psychological condition, one that has to be carefully inculcated and cultivated. A soldier has to be ready to kill or die at a moment’s notice, and must constantly be prepared mentally to either be attacked or attack in the defense of others. You lock up their weapons in an Arms Room, and only let them out on rare occasions, and you wind up with things like the 507th Maintenance Company happening, or the massacre at Fort Hood. Both of those events are significant not because of what happened, but because of the social conditions within the Army that made them possible.

    Today’s Army isn’t an army of soldiers; it’s an Army of heavily armed bureaucrats who are more concerned, at the macro level, with whether or not the paperwork is right than with whether or not they’re properly prepared mentally and physically to deal with the threats to the body politic.

  7. Kirk says:


    You were not, I presume, following the same training guidelines and protocols that the Army was.

    Personally, whenever I had trouble training others on the pistol, what I did was offer the individual a deal: You and me, we take one of my Glocks down to a range, you buy 200 rounds of 9mm, and when we’re done, you’ll shoot expert with the Beretta. Worked every time. Using the Army training techniques and the M9, with the miserly ammo allocations? LOL… Yeah. No. Didn’t work.

    It was even worse, back when: Consider that they were not even using Weaver stances and holds, strictly the one-hand classic bullseye techniques. It’s no wonder you read about the issues with not being able to hit anything–The old-school techniques flatly sucked, especially training those that had no experience at all with pistols.

    I’d wager that a lot of Dunlap’s reasoning with regards to the .45 stems strictly from the old-school pre-Weaver techniques, which required one-hand shooting stances.

  8. Paul from Canada says:

    Herbert McBride in A Rifleman Went to War talks about this, He was a fan of the pistol. He mentions that a lot of the problem with pistols is that many users (including him), were more experienced with revolvers, and had trouble adjusting to the different grip angle.

    The one biggest advantage to the pistol, in his opinion, was the easier reloading in the dark, (because of the magazine). In WWI with trench raids etc. a pistol was of far more use than it is now.

    I remember getting pistol training as an Officer Candidate, and the vivid phrasing used by the training sergeant. “The Hi-Power is a great pistol, unfortunately, the ones we use, are old and worn out, and the magazines even more so. The feed lips are worn like the c*** lips of an old whore.”

    When we went to Afghanistan, unused war stock pistols were taken out of storage and issued. I would have given a lot to have a new pistol issued to me, rather than the old worn out guns I got during my service. Some of them were re-worked No1 pistols with Chinese characters on the slide, retro-fitted with a fixed rear sight rather than the 800m tangent sight they originally had. Some still had the cutout for the shoulder stock, and were converted from Chinese contract pistols that could not be delivered and were re-purposed.

    One of the reasons I started shooting IPSC, was because of the totally inadequate pistol training I received from the military. More than half of the course contents was basic marksmanship (bulls-eye style), and how to disable or destroy the pistol when capture was imminent. The practical portion was old and outdated (cup and saucer grip for example), and we only fired around 50 rounds. At least they used figure targets, and got us to draw from the holster and fire with a gas-mask on, so the course of fire was half way realistic, but the training was crap.

    I remember Peter Kokalis stating that in modern conventional combat, the actual effectiveness of a pistol in combat was such that an extra magazine of rifle ammunition, or an extra canteen of water was far more useful for the same weight, but that the psychological security of having a “backup” kept pistols in demand.

    The British, after the war, asked Dieudonne Saive if he could make a Hi-Power with a double action trigger from a P-38, and he said that certainly he could, but it never actually happened. I would say that from a practical point of view, a double action Hi-Power would be the ideal WWII and immediate post-war handgun. Safe to carry, good ammo capacity and so on.

    The immediate post-war British attitude towards handguns was summed up in a 1945 UK War Office Specification.

    “… a handy weapon, easily carried and effective against personnel at very short ranges. A relic of the Wild West and the days of forming squares to repel charging natives armed with spears. In trench warfare perhaps of some little value. Today it gives a sense of protection in rear area and the modern automatic is easily carried. Rarely fired in training, and even more rarely in anger. Training is its use is perfunctory and only in the hands of the enthusiast is it really accurate.”

    And to be fair, the military attitude toward pistols is correct.

    To be a good pistol shot requires training and practice. For a military pilot (which I was attempting to become), a pistol was only useful AFTER being shot down behind enemy lines, at that point, you are not militarily useful.

    The pistol you have isn’t going to save you from the AK armed, company sized unit sweeping for you in extended line. All it is really useful for in an E&E situation, is to grip in your hand as a seciruty blanket as you cower under a bush while the CSAR team comes to get you.

    From a military perspective, the money for a thousand rounds of ammo and the several days of training spent making you a useful pistol shot would be be better spent making you a better fighter pilot, so as to keep you from being shot down in the first place. If you have to resort to a pistol in the first place, you are not likely to be fulfilling you proper job.

  9. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    “The .45-caliber 1911 now has a reputation as an extremely easy-to-shoot pistol…”

    I have never found the .45 to be easy to shoot. It is easy to load and its slide is easy to work. The grip angle does not suit my hand or wrist. I have always found it ergonomically unpleasant to fire.

  10. Paul from Canada says:

    While I love the Hi-Power, (it fits my hand, decent trigger and a 13 round magazine), if I had to choose a pistol to carry in WWII, I would reluctantly have had to leave it behind and carry a P-38.

    A Hi-Power as issued, has a couple of deficiencies. The safety is too small to be efficiently used “cocked and locked”, the sights are too small, and the grips need to be a bit slimmer and with deeper checkering. Do that minimal customizing, and you have a world beater, unfortunately, as issued, you don’t.

    When I carried it in the CF, we used it Israeli style. Ignore the safety, carry it with an empty chamber, and rack it as you draw, and for the same reasons as the Israelis, (the aforementioned too small safety).

    The P-38 was reliable, had decent sights, average magazine capacity, but most importantly, could be brought into action by drawing and just pulling the trigger.

  11. Kirk says:

    There’s a reason I love the Glock paradigm; Glock set out to design a self-defense solution that reminds me a lot of a fire extinguisher: The gun is perfectly safe so long as it’s in a holster that covers the trigger, and as soon as you draw it, it’s ready to do what it is supposed to, and fire at a threat. There are no manual safeties, and once you’ve inculcated the concept that “out of holster” means “ready to fire”, the operator is a lot safer than the guy they’ve given a pistol to which is sometimes safe to handle, sometimes not. That manual safety is, in my opinion, an actual detractor from real safe procedures with the pistols that have them. So long as there’s no “safe” switch, everyone treats the weapon as inherently dangerous, and that means they’re far more conscious and cautious with them.

    Meanwhile, if they actually need to shoot someone, then there’s nothing between them and doing that. It’s a superior way to design a pistol, in my mind, particularly one that’s intended to go to a bunch of less-than-well-trained people, like you find in a conscript army. Hell, any army, for that matter.

    The Beretta 92 is just too damn complex, as is the M1911A1. With the Glock, it’s perceive threat, draw, shoot until threat is ended, holster pistol. An M9? LOL… Perceive threat, draw, try to remember whether or not the safety is on, put it off, pull trigger, oh, now it’s a lot lighter, pull again by accident…

    With Glocks, every single “problem child” I had getting qualified on the M9 managed to overcome their issues, which mostly revolved around fear of the gun and the attendant confusion generated by too much “choice” when operating it. M9 has multiple different control interfaces to worry about–Double-action trigger, single-action, safe, and fire. The different trigger pulls will confuse the living hell out of the tyro, especially when coming to the gun from a rifle that only has one “pull”. I don’t know how many people I trained who accidentally dropped the safety while manipulating the pistol, which set the hammer down, and then they were like “Why is this trigger so heavy…?”. Seems stupid, but when you’re not a “gun person”, that kind of thing is inimical to making the trainee effective with the pistol. On a Glock, it’s consistently simple to get down to business. Is it loaded…? Then, it’s ready to fire, and the trigger pull is the same, each and every time. No confusing safety–It’s just like a fire extinguisher: Unholster, and start shooting.

    Glock may or may not be a complete asshole as a human being, but he did do one thing right: He let the pistol shooters and engineers he sought out as advisers do their things, and as a result, the Glock is very nearly a perfect defensive weapon for civilian or military use. Not so sure about it for law enforcement, but that’s another rant, entirely.

  12. Paul from Canada says:

    They are not sexy, but a Glock, or for that matter, any modern polymer framed 9mm striker fired handgun is really the most practical choice.

    A lot of experienced shooters don’t like the trigger, but for amateurs, it can’t be beat. Like you said, draw and fire.

    Up here in Canada, we have been trying for several years to replace our venerable Inglis Hi-Powers without success. Part of the issue is that whichever one we choose must be manufactured by Colt Canada, and nobody wants to give their whole technical package to a potential competitor for a total contract that is less pistols than the NYPD has.

    We should just do what the Dutch and British did, which was buy them off the shelf from Glock.

    Tamara Keel commented on the recent U.S. pistol contract, that she could have saved a whole pile of time and money. Instead of the repeated and expensive trials, get a Glock, S&W M&P, H&K VP-9, Ruger, etc, put them in a paper bag ($0.25), go to the Pentagon, find the first E5 who walks by (cost zero, since he is on salary), put a blindfold on him (negligible cost), have him reach into the bag, and adopt whichever one he pulled out.

    Until we get a quantum leap in technology, like lasers, a Browning tilting barrel, locking on the ejection port, polymer framed 9mm striker fired model is the best evolution of the handgun.

  13. Kirk says:

    It is scary how much of the money and effort expended on defense could be saved with just a slight modicum of common sense, and some judicious application of simplicity to the various things they insist on complicating.

    Seriously–I think we’d be better off firing the entire small arms staff we currently have, and replace the lot of them with a randomly selected committee of SF weapons sergeants.

    Granted, that might leave us with some really obscure and idiosyncratic choices being made, but the odds are that it would work, and it would be far cheaper than what we’re doing now for such crappy results.

  14. TRX says:

    I remember the industry mag coverage of the Beretta contract back in the ’80s. It was obvious to everyone that the contract was going to Beretta, no matter what anyone else did; the Army kept changing the requirements to favor the Beretta more closely, and when one of the competitors came up with a prototype that met the spec, the Army changed the spec again.

    People should have gone to jail for that… but back then, with no internet, they were able to scam the system without even bothering to hide it.

  15. TRX says:

    “old-school pre-Weaver techniques, which required one-hand shooting stances.”

    That’s how I learned, right out of the Army manual. And I still shoot that way.

    I think it’s a matter of how you learn and what you get used to; I don’t shoot any better with Weaver, isoceles, teacup, or any of the other two-handed grips, and I figure if John B. had wanted me to use two hands, he’d have put two handles on it.

    I admit I haven’t tried the latest new tacticool style where you bend your elbows until you bring the gun about a foot from your face; I don’t care what credentials its proponents have, it’s ridiculous, like the “hold it sideways over your head” MTV/gangbanger thing.

  16. Kirk says:

    Good Lord… How long ago did you do that training…?

    Even during my tyro days in the Army, during the early 1980s, we were doing the “two hands on the gun” thing. Which only makes sense, to me–The one-handed stances simply do not provide as much support, and the technique I was taught even back in the old days was to extend and lock both elbows, looking directly over the sights so that when you moved the pistol, you created a tank-turret effect, and everything above the waist moved until you had to adjust stance to square up to the target. Using that, I’ve always been fairly successful.

    The times I’ve practiced one-hand shooting have been drills for dealing with an out-of-action arm or hand, and I’ve never been as successful with those as with the two-handed techniques.

    Even with the few bullseye target shooters I’ve had to deal with, the usual run of pistol shooter in the Army has always done better using a Weaver or modified Weaver stance.

    But, as you say: It’s all about what you were exposed to first, and what I got was Weaver from the beginning.

  17. Kirk says:

    So far as the Beretta contract went, I’m unsure as to what actually went on. I’ve been assured by trusted people who were actually there that the supposed “quid-pro-quo” over the basing rights and cruise missiles had zip and nothing to do with the contract going to Beretta. If any chicanery was going on, it would have been at echelons above the reality of the guys I talked to, and would have had to have been at about Presidential level–And, that supposedly didn’t happen.

    It’s just like the current brouhooha over the M17; back when that idiot general made the statement that we should just go down to buy off-the-shelf Glock 19s, and call it good, I knew that meant Glock was screwed–After what he said, there’s no way the procurement geeks would have ever allowed Glock to win the contract, even if they had a product a thousand times better than the other contenders. I think Glock had a pretty good case to make that they’d been screwed by that little comment, and they should have made a damn protest over it.

    Of course, that would have produced another lengthy re-competition, which they’d also have never won, because politics, but… Hell, I can see why they said “screw it”.

    That said, I do not like the paradigm of the M17. I want a pistol like the Glock, which is inherently never, ever “safe”. I do not like the casual mentality that a mechanical switch safety tends to encourage. If I had a dime for every incident of negligent discharge that included some asshole making a statement like “…don’t worry, I’ve got the safety on…”, I’d be swimming in cash right now. Glock got that bit of user psychology completely right–No switched safety, the gun is always dangerous, and you’re going to inculcate a healthy caution in the user.

    Which, to me, also argues that the idiot cops who manage to shoot themselves with a Glock probably ought to be fired, stripped of responsibility for law enforcement, and then sterilized for the good of the species. If you’ve got a good holster, which a cop should, there’s no damn excuse for a negligent discharge with a Glock.

    Of course, they also need to take the European attitude about weapons and cops up; in Europe, you make a cop draw their pistol, you’re getting shot, and shot until you are no longer a threat. Here in the US, we tend to use drawn pistols as threat signals which European cops are horrified by, but that’s the culture here–A cop tells you something, and you find that a lot of idiots won’t comply until that gun is out and pointed at them. In Europe, in a lot of countries, there is a lot of paperwork that has to be filed each and every time a pistol gets drawn in the course of duty, and if you fail to comply with the police officer’s instructions, you’re probably going to get your ass beaten in as an intermediary step. Make them draw, and you’re getting shot, because you escalated the situation past “ass beating”, which is something you’d better accept with good grace, because if you start to win…? Yeah; you’re getting shot.

  18. Neovictorian says:

    The .45-caliber 1911 now has a reputation as an extremely easy-to-shoot pistol with good accuracy — and carrying the gun loaded, with a round in the chamber, and cocked, with the safety on, is standard practice.

    Also, it now has an eight-round mag. In the non-fictional world.

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