I do not know about the use this privilege gets

Monday, March 18th, 2019

I didn’t realize that the British Army maintained the old Christmas tradition of inverting the hierarchy:

Christmas is the only day in the year the British private gets a break. Theoretically he can have his say about anything. If he does not like the way the army is run, he can go tell the general about it, or anyone else, without fear of getting kicked around for opening his mouth. I do not know about the use this privilege gets.

Also, it is the day the officers and sergeants are supposed to pay for their privileges by working for the ranks. In this little camp it took the form of serving the dinner.

For New Year’s Eve, a case or two of fancy twelve-year-old Scotch was produced, as the boys did not consider the Johnny Walker used as bar whisky very good! Beer was harder to get than hard liquor, being rationed from headquartermaster. All this at a time when American soldiers in a lot of places were stealing dried apricots and raisins from the cooks to make their own.

In Egypt it takes two men to drive any motor vehicle

Sunday, March 17th, 2019

Dunlap talks about going into Alexandria:

Going in was simple — all British drivers had orders to pick up any man in uniform going their way and plenty of trucks moved in both directions up until about 10 P.M. After that, it was usually a taxi trip back. First you found a taxi which under inspection appeared able to last out the journey, then you persuaded the driver to go. He was usually reluctant, not liking driving out of the city with a load of soldiers who might pay him and might not. After a good bit of mangled English and Arabic he would decide to take a chance and collect his assistant; in Egypt it takes two men to drive any motor vehicle — one to operate and one to act as helper in repairing the inevitable breakdown, messenger if necessary, squeeze the rubber-bulb horn and of course, company, for the trip back. In case the driver had not been working long enough to pick up a smattering of the various languages spoken, the pal had to act as interpreter. Often the “assistant” would be just a boy.

[...]

The better restaurants printed their menus in four languages— English, French, Greek and Arabic.

[...]

However, when Mussolini decided England had lost the war and jumped in, all the Italians in Egypt disappeared and an equal number of “Frenchmen” instantly appeared. They fooled no one, but the British did not care to make an issue of it and contented themselves with taking over official Italian offices and property.

British soldiers swore they could see at night

Saturday, March 16th, 2019

Dunlap ended up at the captured equipment depot outside Alexandria:

The 6 A.O.D. (Sixth Army Ordnance Depot), at Dekheila, (pronounced as in tequila, if you know that) about 12 or 14 miles west of the city of Alexandria was the British Captured Equipment Depot for the Middle East. [...] Artillery and vehicles were handled at a different location a few miles away, though there was a stray 88mm sitting beside the small arms shop, with 16 of the nicest, newest Continental truck tires on it — tires the black market would pay $200.00 apiece for in Cairo. And me with no tractor (how did I ever get off on this tangent?).

[...]

Guards were all over the place, either Indians who spent all their spare time polishing their Enfields and leather bandoliers, or various breeds of “colonials” who to me looked like jungle blacks who had the spears in their hands replaced with fixed-bayoneted rifles.

Most of them knew no English except the words “Inglis Solja.” Their challenge was like something you hear in the zoo at feeding time, but you had better freeze when you heard it, even if you had both feet in the air jumping off a truck. They loved those bayonets.

White British soldiers swore they could see at night and I am inclined to agree. I know I have been called at a distance in pitch darkness and had to identify myself, while the familiar Britishers with me went unchallenged.

[...]

There was one very large warehouse used solely for storing unwanted Italian swords, sabers, bayonets and knives. Thousands of each were neatly piled or stored in chests piled high on one another, and the variety was countless. Italy never declared anything obsolete. Bayonets and sabers 80 years old had been taken—swords of our Civil War period. Models of every type existed. Few had good steel and since there was not much call for extra bayonets, these stayed here and collected dust.

[...]

Although I was a “T-corporal” (Technician 5th Grade) I was considered a guest and allowed to live with the sergeants, eat in their mess, etc. This was extremely important. The Sergeant’s Mess had their own dining hall, with adjoining bar. With a full stock of liquid refreshments they used the best Scotch for bar whisky. The corporals and privates were allowed only beer in their messes.

[...]

When any British Non-Commissioned Officer works, it’s news; when Sergeants and W.O.’s stand at benches, it’s unbelievable. Something like seeing American Majors and Lt. Colonels greasing trucks.

[...]

Under the British system, a would-be armorer puts in four years learning how. He is taught not only all weapons up to 75mm guns but also blacksmithing, tinsmithing, bicycle repair and a general mechanics course. Under the armorers’ training he learns some pretty fancy gunsmithing, working with all sorts of civilian pistols and shotguns as well as machine guns and rifles and making broken and missing parts by hand. One year of the training period is spent in an arsenal or armory as a regular workman, although of course not in a single production job.

Practically all of this time was devoted to the Lee-Enfield rifle and emphasis was placed on speed of work. I have seen some of these armorers spin screwdrivers in each hand disassembling weapons, working very fast, but never interrupting their conversation which usually was thousands of miles away in subject.

The officer in charge, a Lieutenant (First) was called by all “Mister.” And I never saw anybody salute anybody around the place.

[...]

This was extremely shocking to us three Americans, since in the American forces, under the same set-up, the commanding officer would have been a Lt. Col.

[...]

The above sentences are not meant to be funny.

They were so bad even the Egyptians hated to take them

Friday, March 15th, 2019

Dunlap’s American unit was stationed Egypt with the British Eighth Army:

And if we went out in the blue we wore British battle-dress and their helmet. The melting-pot troops and colored colonials used for guard duties were not yet educated to the American helmet. If it wasn’t British they shot and then investigated. Fatigues were out; our fatigue coverall and cap happened to be almost identical with the German service work clothing.

[...]

The British were issuing to all troops who put in for them 50 “Victory V” cigarettes per week. These were made in India and would burn the throat out of a 37mm gun. They were so bad even the Egyptians hated to take them.

[...]

The British would have issued us their shoes, but theirs are black, not brown, hence not allowed by our own command. For dress, that is, off-duty wear, we could get hand-made footwear of any kind at prices not too steep. From $10.00 to $20.00 would purchase anything you could think up from a native cobbler, of fair quality leather and good workmanship.

[...]

The only catch to this seemingly luxurious sleeping accommodation was that we and it were promptly covered with fleas and bedbugs which we never did defeat in even a skirmish.

[...]

The British had a good insect repellant powder, but we had nothing, and the commercial preparations we bought did not work. I was assured by the Tommies that after a year or so they would quit biting me; after a white man’s blood thinned out they didn’t like it.

[...]

Units were moving up and back, as the British system is to relieve and replace units rather than individuals. During this past war the American way was to keep any committed unit up in the line and maintain strength through the individual replacement system. Most of us who saw both systems from the bottom shelf think the British the best. Men stay healthier and stronger if a rest period can come up once in awhile.

According to a G.I. movie on trench foot, one American division in Italy had 4,000 cases; the British division alongside it, under identical conditions, had 300; (according to the movie it was because the British soldier did as he was told about taking care of himself, while the childish American did not). Me, I think it was because the whole English outfit pulled back of the lines for dry socks, hot food and sleep every week or two while a relief crew held the line for them.

We are a nation of suckers

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

Dunlap got to know Egypt and its people while stationed there:

Of course the souvenir angle crept in, and every other Arab on the street was a hawker selling something. Anything and everything was sold by these peddlers. Persistent to the point of suicide, they pestered us until we hated to step out of a vehicle on a side street. Naturally, they planned on retiring on what they were going to make from the Americans. Undoubtedly some did, too. We are a nation of suckers.

[...]

But all of them expected baksheesh, meaning a present over the tip class. Most of the population wanted and asked loudly for baksheesh, constantly.

[...]

Only a small middle class exists and that only in the cities, as shopkeepers, civil servants and agents of all types. These are nearly all fairly well educated and it is they who clamor for progress.

[...]

The poor man, whom the English and we called “Wog,” is a small husky brown character, frequently lousy and in the majority of cases with inherited syphilis, who seldom has more than the galabeah on his back and a coin or two for his daily meal.

[...]

Although technically a Mohammedan he isn’t too devoted—or well fed—to pass up a piece of pork or a drink.

[...]

He is uneducated, unbathed and unbothered.

[...]

He is an Arab and his language is Arabic; the ancient Egyptian race is dead.

[...]

He has no shame and no morals whatever. He is dedicated to trying to chisel his way and cheat everyone possible, in such a childish and open manner he seldom succeeds.

[...]

The Wog is an inveterate smoker from the age of five, though he seldom can afford more than a few at a time. He would work harder for a few cigarettes than for money equivalent to their cost in town. Not just American cigarettes, prized throughout the world, but cigarettes of any kind. If he gets a few piasters ahead he’ll gamble or perhaps go to a native cafe for a go at the hubbly-bubbly, the familiar water-pipe. Here he will get a load of hashish, so cut and adulterated it does not really cause much trouble beyond a dream or two.

[...]

The commercial districts are not too different from those of southern American cities outwardly. In fact, they look better as a rule; the department stores and luxury establishments are grade A by any estimate.

[...]

As more Americans arrived and began the customary overpayment for trifles, things went up.

[...]

In the fall of 1942 I bought a beautifully carved little ivory elephant for the equivalent of 60¢. A year later the same item was priced at approximately $5.00.

[...]

Any Cairo architect should be able to make a fortune in the United States, particularly in the West and South, for they can make their creations acceptable to the eye far more so than any of our own “Modernistic” designers.

[...]

Traffic did not even pause at night. It took us quite awhile to get used to the idea of people driving in the dark. Cairo has more traffic than any place I have ever seen except the Chicago Loop during rush hour.

[...]

[Y]ou locate two parallel streets, it is an accident.

[...]

The true native sections are only a little improved over their condition of past centuries. Most of them have no sewage system in the modern sense, as does the metropolitan and modernized section; no water system from house to house; nor electricity.

[...]

Streets are often a page straight from Kipling, with camels, beggars, money-changers, and roving entertainers pushing through narrow passageways.

[...]

I liked the shop sections of the quarter, where men ran lathes with bows and loose thongs, holding their work with their toes and doing good jobs at woodturning. The coppersmiths and brass workers had incredible stocks of pans, pots, trays, candlesticks and other items, some so huge I wondered how they could be lifted and used.

[...]

These mud affairs sometimes reach four stories in height, looking as if they will fall any minute. Do not confuse them with thoughts of adobe structures; these are just plain mud, slapped on a flimsy framework of branches and wooden timbers.

[...]

One of the screwiest aspects of Egypt is the way buildings look as if they had just been tagged with a small bomb. Something is always missing. The secret is that there is—or was, at any rate, shortly in the past—a ruling that no building could be taxed until it was completed. Therefore no one ever completed a structure. Occasionally a magnificent villa or tall apartment building will be seen with a halffinished balcony or a corner of the upper cornice revealing beams or steel and stone.

[...]

Egyptian money is based on the millieme unit: 10 milliemes equal one piaster, 100 piasters equal one pound Egyptian, worth $4.14.

[...]

The lower classes wear the galabeah, like a loosesleeved nightgown, usually made of light-colored striped material, very like that of some barber’s cloths in this country.

[...]

A few Panama-style straw hats are seen and a few felts, but ordinarily the men go hatless or wear red tarboosh, what we have called the fez; like an inverted flower pot.

[...]

The women wear either black gowns and veils covering them completely, or very up-to-date dresses and makeup. Usually only the poorest women wear the traditional Moslem clothing and veil. And if she is good looking the veil gets very thin or lost completely.

[...]

West of the river is a cultivated area of the Nile Valley, and when it comes to farming, an Egyptian fellah can make a Japanese gardener look like a lumberjack raising cotton in a stone quarry.

[...]

Cattle are seldom seen, because they need feed and land is too valuable to use as pasture. The work animal is the donkey, small, white, strong and tough.

[...]

The fellahs, or farmers, are about the only class in Egypt who can go in for the four wives allotted by the Koran, since all four can work and earn their keep.

[...]

Papa would walk at the donkey’s head, leading him. On the flat-topped two-wheeler would be all four wives, a couple of mothers-in-law, a half-dozen or so kids, all of whom would be shouting very disrespectful comments and doing continuous back seat driving. The old man never had a chance for they outnumbered him and were just as big as he was. Any ideas regarding harems and the position of the lord and master we had received immediate revision.

[...]

Conversely, the Sphinx, down the hill two or three hundred yards and a little south, is much smaller than you have been led to believe by pictures. It does not sit majestically out in the desert. It peeps out of a sort of unfilled swimming pool, over the sandbags holding up its chin.

[...]

Being unromantic but practical, what sank in on me deepest was the condition of the mortar in the Great Pyramid at the newly-uncovered base. Good as the day it set, not a grain of sand can be brushed off; somebody knew how to make cement back then, as well as push around large chunks of rock.

On the burning desert, of fiction

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Accommodations in Egypt weren’t ideal when Dunlap arrived:

The American pyramidals were better at this time of year, for although very hot during the day they were easy to stake down and hold against the sandstorms. The British tents were of light cotton cloth, made in India, solely for shelter from the sun. They were the wall type, not waterproof and were double, that is, with an inner roof and wall usually blue or purple in color. It was best to dig them in against wind. You simply excavated as far down as the wall of your tent was high, parked the tent in the hole and filled sand down around it. This made the shelter windproof and you were low enough to be safe against most bomb bursts in case of air attack.

[...]

Lumber was worth its weight in silver and for months every board was precious.

[...]

Everything, built by frenzied Egyptian workmen, was on the verge of collapse. They were capable of good work, but seemed to think that they had to go so fast they couldn’t be bothered with the details.

[...]

About the only trucks we had access to were a batch of Canadian Ford farm trucks, with stake and slat bodies, rear wheel drive only. These came to us someway through the R.A.F. and were all painted and scarred up. Some had German crosses plainly visible under the R.A.F. cocardes painted on cabs for aircraft identification. They had been captured and recaptured, used around the desert for a couple of years. Many had been copiously ventilated by strafing fire from planes. The tops of all were dented in from the common habit of the desert soldier of sitting on the cab whenever possible. Except for the right-hand side steering drive these were familiar to our drivers and we got along fairly well. When we had any.

[...]

I never expect to be as cold as I was that winter in Egypt, on the burning desert, of fiction.

There is an almost palpable sense of fear in this landscape

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

New evidence suggests that the “peaceful” Maya fought bitter wars:

In February 2018, National Geographic broke the story of the PACUNAM LiDAR Initiative, a sweeping aerial survey of some 800 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala. Using revolutionary laser technology, the survey revealed the long-hidden ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed.

Mayan Ruins in Jungle

“You could walk over the top of a major ruin and miss it,” says Thomas Garrison, an Ithaca College archaeologist who’s part of the PACUNAM project. “But LiDAR picks up the patterns and makes the features pop out with astounding clarity.”

Three-dimensional maps generated by the survey yielded surprises even at Tikal, the largest and most extensively explored archaeological site in Guatemala. The ancient city was at least four times bigger than previously thought, and partly surrounded by a massive ditch and rampart stretching for miles.

Mayan Ruins via LIDAR

“This was surprising,” says Houston, “because we had a tendency to romanticize Maya warfare as something that was largely ritualized and concentrated toward the end of the civilization. But the fortifications we’re seeing now suggest an elevated level of conflict over centuries. Rulers were so deeply worried about defense that they felt the need to invest in all these hilltop fortifications. There is an almost palpable sense of fear in this landscape.”

Death Valley is a summer resort

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

After Dunlap went to Africa the long way around, he continued on up to Suez:

One night we had a spectacular show of lightning flashing on the horizon, which turned out to be the sea battle of Madagascar, between British and Free French units and the Vichy French ships based there.

[...]

About the time we headed into the Red Sea I ate something I shouldn’t — probably some of the fancy fruit stored in the hold for officers only — and came down with amoebic dysentery.

[...]

In a week I lost between 25 and 30 pounds.

[...]

[Suez] Didn’t look too bad, though the sight of all ages and both sexes using the banks and wharves as latrines very openly was rather startling.

[...]

On this numeral business, if we use the Arabic system, just what do the Arabs use? The one and the nine are written the same in both systems, but there similarity ends. Their two is a reversed seven, their zero is a dot, their five a zero, and so on.

[...]

As we pulled out of Suez, British soldiers ran alongside the train and handed up cans of beer. This, joyfully received, cemented international relations in the Middle East. The incident will also illustrate how desperate things were at the time and how welcome we were, because, for an English soldier to give away beer at any time — for any reason — and to an American, well it just is not possible to comprehend. Maybe they were so happy about Alamein going OK they were not responsible for their actions.

[...]

That desert is dead. There are no birds, no animals, no cactus, no vegetation; compared with it, Death Valley is a summer resort.

The microblade was best for lacerated wounds

Monday, March 11th, 2019

University of Washington archaeologists have re-created and tested three types of stone-age spear tips:

So Wood traveled to the area around Fairbanks, Alaska, and crafted 30 projectile points, 10 of each kind. She tried to stay as true to the original materials and manufacturing processes as possible, using poplar projectiles, and birch tar as an adhesive to affix the points to the tips of the projectiles. While ancient Alaskans used atlatls (a kind of throwing board), Wood used a maple recurve bow to shoot the arrows for greater control and precision.

Stone, Microblade, and Bone Spear Tips

For the bone tip, modeled on a 12,000-year-old ivory point from an Alaskan archaeological site, Wood used a multipurpose tool to grind a commercially purchased cow bone.

For the stone tip, she used a hammerstone to strike obsidian into flakes, then shaped them into points modeled on those found at another site in Alaska from 13,000 years ago.

And for the composite microblade tip — modeled microblade technologies seen in Alaska since at least 13,000 years ago and a rare, preserved grooved antler point from a more recent Alaskan site used more than 8,000 years ago — Wood used a saw and sandpaper to grind a caribou antler to a point. She then used the multipurpose tool to gouge out a groove around its perimeter, into which she inserted obsidian microblades.

Wood then tested how well each point could penetrate and damage two different targets: blocks of ballistic gelatin (a clear synthetic gelatin meant to mimic animal muscle tissue) and a fresh reindeer carcass, purchased from a local farm. Wood conducted her trials over seven hours on a December day, with an average outdoor temperature of minus 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

(That outdoor temperature seems like it would affect the target quite a bit.)

In Wood’s field trial, the composite microblade points were more effective than simple stone or bone on smaller prey, showing the greatest versatility and ability to cause incapacitating damage no matter where they struck the animal’s body. But the stone and bone points had their own strengths: Bone points penetrated deeply but created narrower wounds, suggesting their potential for puncturing and stunning larger prey (such as bison or mammoth); the stone points could have cut wider wounds, especially on large prey (moose or bison), resulting in a quicker kill.

[...]

“We have shown how each point has its own performance strengths,” she said. Bone points punctured effectively, flaked stone created a greater incision, and the microblade was best for lacerated wounds. “It has to do with the animal itself; animals react differently to different wounds. And it would have been important to these nomadic hunters to bring the animal down efficiently. They were hunting for food.”

No one but the high command can punish them

Monday, March 11th, 2019

After Dunlap went to Africa the long way around, some of the Americans traveled on and picked up some British Tommies, who had a different way of doing things:

A day or so later when they discovered they were only to get two meals a day, things happened. They didn’t like it. The British Army may not get such good food, or very much of it, but it demands its regular rations when they are available. At any rate, the 500 Britons raised enough hell so that the schedule was revised and the whole 8,000 on board ate three times a day for the rest of the trip, even if the third meal turned out to be mostly tea, bread, butter, jam and an orange.

[...]

When more than three enlisted Americans come to any higher authority with a complaint, it is mutiny, they get court-martialed and spend the next couple of decades regretting it, but British soldiers can petition or complain in numbers and no one but the high command can punish them.

They wanted to be nice to the Americans, but they didn’t know what to do

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

When his unit deployed, Dunlap went to Africa the long way around:

Forty days on the sea. Through the Caribbean unescorted, when German submarines were trying hard to sink one ship per day and keeping pretty close to the schedule for awhile.

[...]

[Laying in the harbor of Rio] was to be the last time we were to see a city with lights for a long time.

[...]

The port of call was Durban, U. S. A. (Union of South Africa). We had to remember the double meaning of those three letters from there on in. None of us had any knowledge of the place and most of us had never heard of it. We were learning more about the world. Durban is a quaint little jungle village of 300,000 people, with 25,000 automobiles, open-air streetcars, doubledeck busses, big movie houses, skyscraper apartment buildings with automatic elevators, a business section as modern as any American city and a climate about 60% better than Southern California. If you ever do a little embezzling or rob a bank and have to jump the old home town, go to South Africa. They even have good ice-cream!

[...]

The South Africans are large physically, and live on a larger scale than any other British colony or dominion.

[...]

Living in a game country, the attitude toward shooting is much the same as in America. There is probably more per-capita big game hunting there, and they have rifle associations, clubs, matches and an organization which corresponds to our National Rifle Association through which military equipment is available to members.

[...]

When our colored soldiers came ashore the people were somewhat stymied — they wanted to be nice to the Americans, but they didn’t know what to do.

[...]

The problem was solved for the moment by more-or-less declaring that the American colored troops were sort of “honorary Aryans” for the moment and allowing them to use all white establishments for the period of our stay.

[...]

Many native leaders have been campaigning for years for more or equal rights in the government, which of course means the end of white domination politically, should they be won.

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.

Gunfire has its own language

Friday, March 8th, 2019

I was listening to the audiobook version of Outlaw Platoon, when Sean Parnell (or his ghostwriter, John Bruning) made the point that gunfire has its own language:

Suppressing fire, the purpose of which is to pin you down, sounds undisciplined; it wanders back and forth over you without much aim. It is searching and random and somehow doesn’t seem as deadly.

Accurate, aimed fire is a different story. It has a purpose to it. You know as soon as you hear it that somebody has you in their sights. The shots come with a rapid-fire focus that underscores their murderous intent. Somebody is shooting at you. It becomes intimate and fear inducing…

The enemy machine gunners hammered at us with accurate bursts. As their bullets struck home, they spoke to us infantrymen as clearly as if they had used our native language. Message received: these were not amateurs in the hills on our flanks.

Riflemen are hard to discourage

Friday, March 8th, 2019

Roy F. Dunlap was a competitive shooter before he went to war, and, as he explains in Ordnance Went Up Front, he came back still enamored of guns and shooting:

Fort Sheridan, Illinois, was our “home” range. Forty (now fifty) firing points, all the way back to a thousand yards, and the army manned the telephones and the pits for us, costing us anywhere from thirty cents to a dollar an hour per target, depending on the number of targets rented. After the day’s match or matches we’d rent a few on our own hook and have our fun and practice. Our gang used to go down to the short ranges and practice rapid fire (small wagers here and there, etc.!).

[...]

And not one of all the men I know is tired of guns. Rather, the opposite — we’re more anxious to shoot than ever. One ex-platoon sergeant of the Rangers, for fifteen months a prisoner in Germany, spent his furlough Sundays before discharge on the firing line at Fort Sheridan, back in the matches! Another, who fought the Japs under very messy conditions for a couple of years, worried in every letter that he hadn’t greased his match rifles well enough in 1941. A third, who finished the war a Major, after seeing Burma as one of the leading lights of Merrill’s Marauders promptly traded one of the boys back from Germany out of two Mausers. A man I knew in New Guinea, who eventually collected a couple of Nip bullets in the chest, is irritated mainly because he can’t shoot any gun with heavy recoil until he heals up a little more. I have rheumatism or something in my right elbow and shoulder (and the rest of my joints, too, for that matter) so that I may have to do my future pistol shooting lefthanded, but don’t believe it will affect my rifle holding. Riflemen are hard to discourage.

The rifleman who went to war — to fix ‘em

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

A few months back, commenter Bruce mentioned Roy F. Dunlap’s Ordnance Went Up Front. It’s an odd mix of lighthearted stories about Dunlap’s time in World War 2 and dry details about the weapons fielded by both sides in both theaters:

This [book] isn’t really my fault: I was parked peacefully beneath a coconut palm splitting a banana with a monkey and wondering if I’d live through the coming invasion of Japan when some hopeful soldier who had attended mail call threw me a letter from T. G. Samworth, “who gets out the books on firearms,” starting everything. The monkey ate the envelope, and since he looked smarter than I felt, I asked him what I should do — tell the man the truth, or write him a gory story.

(Mr. Samworth had the idea I was the Second Rifleman to go to War, à la McBride.)

Anyway, I wrote and explained that I was usually the snipee instead of the sniper, and that there wasn’t much I knew to write about except small arms, which would be OK but for the fact that a batch of other guys had been doing the same thing all through the war, though it was evident that two-thirds of them never handled the items they publicized. Besides, I had to work for a living, instead of fighting — most of the time anyway — so I wasn’t glamorous. The answer was, in effect, “Write it up anyway, you’ve seen enough guns, in enough places, and know enough about them to make a book.” Besides, he offered money. So I then had a post-war project. This is it.

[...]

If the following manuscript can be classified at all, it must be as an elaborated technical diary of an American gun nut through the rifles, pistols and machine guns of World War II, both enemy and allied.

Dunlap was a competitive shooter before the war and an armorer during the war:

I’m the rifleman who went to war — to fix ‘em.

Again he cites McBride’s A Rifleman Went To War, one of the first great books about sniping by one of the first great snipers.

Most of the book is wry commentary, not dry gun specs:

  • We had a lot of good stuff and a lot of stuff not so good, but as a rule only about half the quantity or quality the home front thought we had.
  • The propaganda this country swallows would make Goebbels roll in his grave. In envy. He had suckers, but not so many.
  • I have a fine battle dress jacket so covered with insignia and bars and brassards it looks like a military store window showpiece, but I am now so wide I can’t wear it any more, so, as the man said, what price glory?
  • I’m satisfied. My malaria hasn’t bothered me for eight months; I wasn’t hurt too much by jungle rot although my ankles and feet and legs are now sort of a purplish-brown color; I didn’t get a Purple Heart, for which I am very happy, and though my joints complain sometimes that I slept on the ground a night or so too often, I’m not bad off. A lot of things could have happened to me that didn’t. I hated the army, but I didn’t mind the war so much.
  • This probably really started when I was about three years old, since somebody is pretty sure to have given me a toy gun about then. Business picked up when I grew up to six years and enough strength to operate an air rifle. At nine I altered one of them into a workable pistol, and have been maltreating guns ever since.