Question about Sgt. York's actions


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Fatelvis
November 26, 2010, 01:53 PM
On Guns and Ammo TV, they covered the remarkable heroism of Sgt. York's actions. They mentioned that he engaged 7 Germans with 7 rounds of his 1911, putting them all down. The part that intrigues me, is that he supposedly started with the furthest enemy soldier, and continued shooting them until he shot the closest. What would the reasoning be behind that? I assumed that engaging the closest enemy first would make most sense, thinking he was the greatest threat at the time. Am I wrong in this thinking? Thanks-

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RevolvingGarbage
November 26, 2010, 02:01 PM
I'm thinking he knew his limitations, and knew he had to make those seven rounds count. He probably figured the closer they were, the easier they would be to hit, so it would be better to start with the furthest because as soon as the shooting starts, its going to be much harder to hit those further targets.

Erik
November 26, 2010, 02:01 PM
IIRC the logic was that by beginning at the back those in front wouldn't realize that they were under attack. Remember, the context is in battle on an active field of fire. True, as in what happened and why he did it? I don't know.

Fatelvis
November 26, 2010, 02:05 PM
He probably figured the closer they were, the easier they would be to hit
I agree, but wouldn't YOU be easier to hit also?

hso
November 26, 2010, 02:05 PM
In Alvin York's own words (http://acacia.pair.com/Acacia.Vignettes/The.Diary.of.Alvin.York.html) so people can quit guessing - So by this time some of the Germans from on the hill was shooting at us. Well I was giving them the best I had, and by this time the Germans had got their machine guns turned around and fired on us. So they killed 6 and wounded 3 of us. So that just left 8, and then we got into it right by this time. So we had a hard battle for a little while--

I don't know whether it was the German major, but one yelled something out in German that we couldn't understand. And then the machine guns on top swung around and opened fire on us. There were about thirty of them. They were commanding us from a hillside less than thirty yards away. They couldn't miss. And they didn't!

They killed all of Savage's squad; they got all of mine but two; they wounded Cutting and killed two of his squad; and Early's squad was well back in the brush on the extreme right and not yet under the direct fire of the machine guns, and so they escaped. All except Early. He went down with three bullets in his body. That left me in command. I was right out there in the open.

And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a 'racket in all of your life. I didn't have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush, I didn't even have time to kneel or lie down.

I don't know what the other boys were doing. They claim they didn't fire a shot. They said afterwards they were on the right, guarding the prisoners. And the prisoners were lying down and the machine guns had to shoot over them to get me. As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them.

I had no time nohow to do nothing but watch them-there German machine gunners and give them the best I had. Every time I seed a German I jes teched him off. At first I was shooting from a prone position; that is lying down; jes like we often shoot at the targets in the shooting matches in the mountains of Tennessee; and it was jes about the same distance. But the targets here were bigger. I jes couldn't miss a German's head or body at that distance. And I didn't. Besides, it weren't no time to miss nohow.

I knowed that in order to shoot me the Germans would have to get their heads up to see where I was lying. And I knowed that my only chance was to keep their heads down. And I done done it. I covered their positions and let fly every time I seed anything to shoot at. Every time a head come up I done knocked it down. Then they would sorter stop for a moment and then another head would come up and I would knock it down, too. I was giving them the best I had.

I was right out in the open and the machine guns [there were over thirty of them in continuous action] were spitting fire and cutting up all around me something awful. But they didn't seem to be able to hit me. All the time the Germans were shouting orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. Of course, all of this only took a few minutes. As soon as I was able I stood up and begun to shoot off-hand, which is my favorite position. I was still sharpshooting with that-there old army rifle. I used up several clips. The barrel was getting hot and my rifle ammunition was running low, or was where it was hard for me to get at it quickly. But I had to keep on shooting jes the same.

In the middle of the fight a German officer and five men done jumped out of a trench and charged me with fixed bayonets. They had about twenty-five yards to come and they were coming right smart. I only had about half a clip left in my rifle; but I had my pistol ready. I done flipped it out fast and teched them off, too.

I teched off the sixth man first; then the fifth; then the fourth; then the third; and so on. That's the way we shoot wild turkeys at home. You see we don't want the front ones to know that we're getting the back ones, and then they keep on coming until we get them all. Of course, I hadn't time to think of that. I guess I jes naturally did it. I knowed, too, that if the front ones wavered, or if I stopped them the rear ones would drop down and pump a volley into me and get me.

Then I returned to the rifle, and kept right on after those machine guns. I knowed now that if I done kept my head and didn't run out of ammunition I had them. So I done hollered to them to come down and give up. I didn't want to kill any more'n I had to. I would tech a couple of them off and holler again. But I guess they couldn't understand my language, or else they couldn't hear me in the awful racket that was going on all around. Over twenty Germans were killed by this time and I got hold of the German major. After he seed me stop the six Germans who charged with fixed bayonets he got up off the ground and walked over to me and yelled "English?"

I said, "No, not English."

He said, "What?"

I said, "American."

He said, "Good -----!" Then he said, "If you won't shoot any more I will make them give up." I had killed over twenty before the German major said he would make them give up. I covered him with my automatic and told him if he didn't make them stop firing I would take off his head next. And he knew I meant it. He told me if I didn't kill him, and if I stopped shooting the others in the trench, he would make them surrender.

So he blew a little whistle and they came down and began to gather around and throw down their guns and belts. All but one of them came off the hill with their hands up, and just before that one got to me he threw a little hand grenade which burst in the air in front of me.

I had to tech him off. The rest surrendered without any more trouble. There were nearly 100 of them.

Yep, it was Tennessee turkey hunting habit that took over.;)

Fatelvis
November 26, 2010, 02:10 PM
He didn't pick them off with his 1911.


Guns and ammo and another show insist that he dispatched 7 of them with his 1911, and the rest with his rifle, (either '03 or 1917). I'm just repeating what I've heard on TV. If it's on TV it HAS to be correct, doesn't it?

SharpsDressedMan
November 26, 2010, 02:11 PM
According to the legend, his logic was that if he shot the man in front, the rest would scatter, or use their guns instead of advancing with bayonets (ammo use was very sparingly by the disciplined Germans, as they apparently saved the limited ammo for more emergent uses, thinking that they could "take" the singlehanded York without shooting). If he shot the last of the charge and moved forward to the next rearmost man, the others would not know that he was effectvely reducing their number, and hold off shooting him. If that was the theory, he was one cool dude, or figured he had nothing to lose to give it a try. Also, with a 1911, one wonders how far away the Germans were when they started to advance...30......40 yards? Whatever, York didn't miss his targets. In the movie, he referenced making this decision based on how he hunted turkeys and they reacted, but that could have been Holywood bunk. Needless to say, York was a fine shot, a cool head, a clever strategist (for a not-so-educated, pacifistic, enlisted man), and had luck with him that day, too. All it would have taken is just one of those Germans firing one good shot, maybe even from unseen cover, 50-100 yards away. York would have never seen it coming, with all the other stuff that he had to worry about.

rcmodel
November 26, 2010, 02:13 PM
the logic was that by beginning at the back those in front wouldn't realize that they were under attack.That makes the most sense.

I would think if seven solders saw the leader fall down squrting blood they might take cover and start trying to kill the guy that shot the first guy.

rc

Fatelvis
November 26, 2010, 02:15 PM
he was one cool dude
That would be an understatement! Almost like a Quarterback ignoring an advancing defensive line, but with much higher stakes!

SaxonPig
November 26, 2010, 04:54 PM
He did use a 1911. The 1941 movie showed him using a captured Luger but this was a mistake in the film. The Germans were making a bayonet charge and he shot them back to front so that they wouldn't realize he was dropping them and start shooting.

He did use a 1917 Enfield rifle. Again the movie had it wrong when he was depicted using a 1903 Springfield.

jimmyraythomason
November 26, 2010, 04:57 PM
The 1941 movie showed him using a captured Luger but this was a mistake in the film. Years ago,I read where a Luger was used in the movie because a 1911 would not cycle with blanks.

Tommygunn
November 26, 2010, 07:14 PM
Well, I am sure many WW2 movies have used 1911s with blanks and they worked fine ....

Acera
November 26, 2010, 07:18 PM
25 yards, 6 charging men, wow. If true that was an amazing piece of pistol-craft. 25 yards can be covered pretty quickly.

jimmyraythomason
November 26, 2010, 07:19 PM
Well, I am sure many WW2 movies have used 1911s with blanks and they worked fine .... So am I but remember the movie being referrenced was made BEFORE we entered WWII. I'm sure technology caught up with the film industry at some point.

jimmyraythomason
November 26, 2010, 07:20 PM
25 yards can be covered pretty quickly.
That would depend on how badly one wanted to cross it.

NRA-Highmaster
November 26, 2010, 07:28 PM
I always heard that he used a 1917, but a few years back in the American Rifleman his son claimed he was sure it was an 03.

Ron James
November 26, 2010, 08:12 PM
The movie used a Luger because the blanks used at the time would not cycle a 1911. Sgt York states he used a 1903, but the records show he was issued a 1917. So who is correct, the man who did the shooting or the records? He liked the 1903, he thought it was the cat's meow, he could have acquired one, they were in use at the time. However, York is dead and so is every one who was there. We will never know for sure ,but I like to think the man who was doing the shooting would know what type of rifle he was using. He went to his grave stating he used a 1903.

armoredman
November 26, 2010, 08:20 PM
If Sgt York said he used a 1903, then that's the last word. Rest In Peace, sir.

ms6852
November 26, 2010, 08:38 PM
I have nothing to add other than I have the privilege of working with his great grandson, LTC York who works here at Brooke Army Medical Center. Nicest and smartest man I've known in a long time. That is saying a lot for a doctor which by nature are naturally a pain in the you know what. Guess I'm bragging.

84B20
November 26, 2010, 10:42 PM
Shooting the farthest first and the closest last seems to make sense in a combat situation but from my understanding in a street or home scenario, shooting the nearest first is the way to do it. The BG or guys probably don't have a combat mindset and the closest can probably get to you sooner especially if he is within the 21 foot range.

Full Metal Jacket
November 26, 2010, 11:09 PM
watch the gary cooper movie, hollywood is always accurate when it comes to guns....:eek:

AR27
November 26, 2010, 11:14 PM
I met Sgt. Yorks great newphew Steve York this summer at a fishing lodge.

SaxonPig
November 27, 2010, 12:21 AM
45s do not work well with theatrical blanks unless the bore is welded up. In movies they often use 9mm 1911s and call them 45s. In fact, if you look closely the Star 9mm is frequently the Hollywood gun of choice when the script calls for a 1911.

I never saw the statement from York saying he used an 03. The authors I have read always related it was a 1917.

Roadkill
November 27, 2010, 05:03 PM
The rifle in the Infantry Museum at Ft. Benning is a 1917

NRA-Highmaster
November 27, 2010, 05:13 PM
Uh oh. Anybody care to do a seance ? :D

jimmyraythomason
November 27, 2010, 06:03 PM
This gives Sargent(then corporal)York's version of what happened but doesn't identify his rifle <http://freepages.military.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~worldwarone/WWI/Heroes/SergeantAlvinCYork.html>.

rfwobbly
November 27, 2010, 09:30 PM
Uh oh. Anybody care to do a seance ? :D

Already contacted him on my ouija board. Said he was too busy to talk right now. Got his hands full shooting at "fellers in bathrobes with 70 girlfriends". Not sure what that means.

:rolleyes:

Tommygunn
November 27, 2010, 11:08 PM
Already contacted him on my ouija board. Said he was too busy to talk right now. Got his hands full shooting at "fellers in bathrobes with 70 girlfriends". Not sure what that means.:evil:That's OK; we know!:evil::evil::D:D:D:D:evil:

Bill B.
November 27, 2010, 11:45 PM
He did use a 1911. The 1941 movie showed him using a captured Luger but this was a mistake in the film. The Germans were making a bayonet charge and he shot them back to front so that they wouldn't realize he was dropping them and start shooting.

He did use a 1917 Enfield rifle. Again the movie had it wrong when he was depicted using a 1903 Springfield.

I like others have wondered about the firearms he used. When I talked to his son about this he did tell Sgt. York personally approved everything in the movie. If he did use a 1911 he apparently approved them using a Luger in the movie which seems out of character for him. His son also mentioned that he did not care for a peep sight on a rifle. His father did not like the peep because he could not hit moving objects{Germans} with the peep. He thought for that reason that his rifle was an 03.

ozarker
November 28, 2010, 01:13 PM
used luger instead of 1911 in film due to lack of 45 blanks. I also read interview with female relative who insisted alvin used 1903 because he preferred the open sights on it.

KodiakBeer
November 28, 2010, 02:19 PM
Back to York's own words. They took his 03 at LeHavre and gave him a "British gun" (an Enfield).

http://acacia.pair.com/Acacia.Vignettes/The.Diary.of.Alvin.York.html

MAY 21, 1918 LeHavre, France: So we got to France at Le Havre. There we turned in our guns and got British guns. Well, we went out from Le Havre to a little inland camp. I had taken a liking to my gun by this time. I had taken it apart and cleaned it enough to learn every piece and I could almost put it back together with my eyes shut. The Greeks and Italians were improving. They had stayed continuously on the rifle range for a month or two and got so they could shoot well. They were fairly good pals, too. But I missed the Tennesseans. I was the only mountaineer in the platoon. I didn't like the British guns so well. I don't think they were as accurate as our American rifles. Ho ho.

AJumbo
November 28, 2010, 04:12 PM
...we turned in our guns and got British guns.

Just so I get my turn at muddying up the waters, the US '17 looked a lot like the British service rifle, and I've seem them referred to as "British rifles" more than once.

I'm willing to go with York's assertion that his rifle was an '03. If he had wanted one badly enough, I think he could have found an '03 to replace his "lost, damaged or otherwise unserviceable" '17.

Deltaboy
November 28, 2010, 04:22 PM
Sgt York was a Great old County boy who learned to shoot so he could eat and live in the hills of Tenn. Those poor Germans never knew what hit them.

hso
November 28, 2010, 04:24 PM
Uh oh. Anybody care to do a seance ?

Just read his dairy and autobiography.

KodiakBeer
November 28, 2010, 04:31 PM
Just so I get my turn at muddying up the waters, the US '17 looked a lot like the British service rifle

The Enfields were originally produced under contract to Great Britain in .303 caliber as the P14. When the war started, we needed rifles in a hurry so rather than retooling we just produced the same rifle in 30.06. They were in fact British pattern P14 rifles, which were barreled for the American 30.06.

Beetle Bailey
November 28, 2010, 09:03 PM
I really don't know why there is still confusion on this. Alvin York himself said he used a 1903 Springfield, and that he preferred the 1903 to the "British gun", and that he liked the sights on the 1903 better. He was a technical advisor to the movie and in the movie Gary Cooper used a 1903. Reportedly, York was upset that Cooper had to use a 9mm Luger because they couldn't get blanks to work in the 1911. I mean, really? We are suppposed to believe York doesn't know the difference between a 1903 and a 1917?

KodiakBeer
November 29, 2010, 04:35 AM
I really don't know why there is still confusion on this. Alvin York himself said he used a 1903 Springfield, and that he preferred the 1903 to the "British gun", and that he liked the sights on the 1903 better.

Yet, in his diary he says he carried a 1917 Enfield...

kragluver
November 29, 2010, 07:34 PM
York's Division originally trained with the Brit's when they first arrived in France and WERE issued Enfields - SMLE's that is. They turned those in for 1917s before going into the line during the Meuse Argonne. Whether York had picked up an '03 at some point and used it or a '17 will never be known for sure unless forensic evidence can somehow verify what rifle those .30-'06 cartridges that were found on the battlefield a couple years ago were fired in. Not likely. He DID use a 1911. It really doesn't matter what rifle the man (and the rest of his squad) used. They knew how to fight and handle their weapons.

jimmyraythomason
November 29, 2010, 07:36 PM
It really doesn't matter what rifle the man (and the rest of his squad) used. They knew how to fight and handle their weapons. I think that pretty well covers it.

KBintheSLC
November 29, 2010, 08:00 PM
Mr. York was indeed a great shooter and calm thinker. However, I believe he owes a lot to luck. I mean, ~30 dug-in machine gun nests opening up on your crew at that range with no real cover. Survival of such an event would be nothing less than a miracle.

chaplain tom
November 30, 2010, 03:47 AM
I don't know how true this actually is, but my father had an uncle who actually served with York in the battle in question. The word was that the Germans who York was shooting at were facing the troops York was with and York had circled around BEHIND the Germans. When he started to shoot, he remembered his hunting days and the way game reacted when shot at. The Germans had their backs to York so he shot the man farthest away so as not to alert the other Germans. Apparently from York's angle if he shot the farthest man, the others would not see the dead man go down. This according to my great uncle was how York explained it to his own men. I never met my great uncle, he died before I was born, but my dad explained what he had been told by his uncle while we were watching the movie one evening.

But we all know how old family legends go...Who really knows how and why he did what he did?

Fatelvis
November 30, 2010, 09:18 AM
The Germans had their backs to York so he shot the man farthest away so as not to alert the other Germans.
I would think shooting the furtherst man first would have the opposite effect under these circumstances. Everyone would be looking away from you, and the furthest man would be seen by all the men, as he was shot. Shooting the closest man first would be best under these circumstances, if you were using York's reasoning.
I do not doubt your Great Uncle's participation, but this seems to go against all that I've heard, and wouldn't seem to go along with York's reasoning for his shooting method.

chaplain tom
November 30, 2010, 09:52 AM
I would think shooting the furtherst man first would have the opposite effect under these circumstances. Everyone would be looking away from you, and the furthest man would be seen by all the men, as he was shot. Shooting the closest man first would be best under these circumstances, if you were using York's reasoning.
I do not doubt your Great Uncle's participation, but this seems to go against all that I've heard, and wouldn't seem to go along with York's reasoning for his shooting method.

Supposedly it was all about the angle from York's perspective and the way the Germans were lined up. But like I said, I never met my great uncle and I too have some questions about how it could have happened like that. As I said, We all know how family legends go...They seem to grow and if you were to ask 3 different family members, you'd get 3 different tales of what actually happened.

I drew up a few simple stick man pictures of how this could be the way it went down and it is possible for York to be shooting from behind and the Germans be facing away from him, and also in a direction (facing at a certain angle) which they wouldn't see the man farthest away going down. Other than the noise of battle though I can't explain how they didn't hear York's gun firing.

My grandmother had an actual letter from York to my great uncle talking about their service together, but I never saw that either. So I don't know for sure when and where they served together.

Animal Mother
November 30, 2010, 06:52 PM
I vaguely recall an article which recounted a similar shooting style used by Winston Churchill during his military service in either Africa or India. The article recounted a situation where Winston Churchill engaged some charging natives and dispatched them in a similar manner by firing at the ones furthest back and working his way forward to the front most man. I wish I had more details, but I think the article was in an American Rifleman magazine about 15 years or so back.

Al Thompson
November 30, 2010, 10:11 PM
I walked that battlefield in 1987 and by moving a short distance, SGT York could have indeed flanked the bad guys. It's a series of low, close and steep small hills on the edge of a valley. I thought the movie was pretty accurate about the terrain he faced.

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