1942 “Men at Work - The U.S. Rifleman and Modern Warfare”


January 29, 2003, 10:46 AM
“Men at Work - The U.S. Rifleman and Modern Warfare”

By Major R. C. Andrews, Infantry, U.S.A.

Those of you who read this Rifleman yourselves, are apt to picture the
rifleman in war as you see him at your local matches, calmly set in a good
position, through a Mansfield which our rifleman has planted with ranges
from here to yonder. In battle he will be neither calm, in a good position,
well rested, nor hitting at any great range. But he must be so trained
somewhere, some time, that he can make hits with his rifle at battle
ranges - some six hundred yards or less (mostly a whole lot less) - close to
our rifleman to permit the planes to bomb him any operations necessary for

Let's put away this picture of our rifleman back home on the range and see
what he will be up against in both defensive and attack situations in modern
war. In our first picture we will have our rifleman on the defensive. Let us
presume that he has had ample time he and his army to get ready to repel an
expected attack. Preparing a position to resist an attack involves
considerably more labor than digging the outlawed elbow holes for the prone
position. Nowadays our rifleman digs himself a nice, round hole about breast
deep. At the bottom he tunnels into the earth in front just far enough so
that he can sit in his hole, completely hidden below ground level, with his
feet stretched out more or less comfortably in front of him. From this hole
he fires from a partly leaning, partly prone position.

Here and there along the line of our rifleman and his buddies are machine
guns and anti-tank guns and perhaps some close-up mortars, all likewise in
holes with their crews in similar holes nearby. Extra ammunition has been
piled in with each weapon and rifleman. Far enough in front of their holes
to prevent the enemy from throwing hand grenades into them, our riflemen
have strung barbed wire entanglements. Machine guns fire along the front of
this wire from such positions and at such ranges that the bullets do not
pass more than six feet above the ground level. That's why you read of men
crawling up to and through the wire; to walk up to it is suicide.

Our infantry has just managed to get set in time. Here comes the enemy
attack! Does our rifleman see anybody? He does not. The first part of the
attack is an artillery bombardment. Our rifleman scrooges right down into
the bottom of his hole where he is safe from everything but a direct hit. He
sees no enemy during this time other than the planes which are bombing and
machine gunning his position. His rifle, at this stage, is just something to
keep him company in his hole.

Suddenly the artillery and mortar fires lift -- go over him - to targets
beyond him in his reserve positions. "Ah!" says he, more than slightly
punchy from concussion and noise, stretching to determine if he is all in
one piece and combing some of the dirt out of his rifle and his neck, "now I
get to make me a few bulls."

So he sticks up his head, and promptly becomes discouraged anew. The enemy
is now smoking his position firing artillery shells filled with
smoke-producing chemicals. He can't see anything through the smoke, and
particles of the burning chemicals fall so close that he huddles into his
hole again.

But if he is trained to his business our rifleman knows what is going on out
there in front of him. Under cover of that smoke-press reports from the
Germans call it artificial fog--enemy riflemen, in front of our wire, are
removing our tank mines, clearing a path for tanks well fed, in fine
physical fettle, knocking out bulls at much labor. Our machine gunners are
firing rapid fire now along the barbed wire, since they can set and clamp
their guns and do not need to see where they are shooting. They are
reinforcing the wire entanglements with bullets.

The enemy planes are gone. Their own troops are too and perform
instinctively and mechanically the firing longer. But out in front there is
the sound of other motors. Enemy tanks are coming up to pass through those
gaps which have been cleared in the minefield. The tanks will come through
to run down our machine guns, thus enabling their men to get through the

The smoke is thinning rapidly now. The enemy has stopped smoking the
position to allow his tanks and advancing riflemen to see where they are
going. The final assault is at hand. Our rifleman sticks up his head again
in the clearing smoke. Pools and patches of it eddy about and cling to shell
holes, mingling with dust kicked up by enemy machine gun fire plastered on
our position. If the enemy has mixed a little gas with his smoke to sneak it
over when it is most difficult to detect, our rifleman is now wearing a gas
mask. He never wore one of those things back home on the range and it
doesn't improve his shooting at all.

But he goes to work. It has been a long time since breakfast that morning or
perhaps last night's supper, if he had any of either. He has been living in
that hole for a couple of days or more, and he's pretty dirty and
uncomfortable. The concussion has slightly dazed him. Right now all sorts of
things are shrieking through the air, and knocking dirt on him, and it is
poor consolation to know that if you can hear them they have already missed
you. The nearest friend is some ten or more yards away in a hole of his own.
Our rifleman is quite alone, and unhappy. No, this is not exactly in the
same mental or physical condition he was in back home on the range. But
being a man he sticks up his head. It's he and his rifle against the world

Here they come! Tanks! What good is a rifle? But our rifleman fires at them
until they get too close, fires at the slits and ports to keep them closed
in order to restrict the driver's and gunner's vision, and not in hopes of
damaging the things. The tank rolls and sways straight towards him. He ducks
down into his hole. He has dug it small and round so that the tank treads
will bridge it without crushing him, and the tank runs right over him. If he
has a tank grenade he will pop right up, or stay up long enough before
ducking, to try to roll it under the tank, hoping to stop it by blowing a
tread so that it will be immobilized and our gunners can work it over.

But up he pops when the tank has passed. Now what? Men run at him slowly,
draggingly, from the haze and smoke and dust out front. The rifleman flings
himself half over the edge of his hole. This is the moment for which he has
been trained. Now he can make those bulls, if he can fire fast and
accurately, at ranges all the way up to 100 yards!

He aims and fires, aims and fires, automatically, instinctively, at
indistinct, moving targets that are shooting back. Finally he's out of his
hole altogether and on top with the bayonet, man to man.

Somehow he and his buddies stand up to it and throw the enemy out of the
defended position, back across the wire. A good anti-tank defense behind
them, artillery and mortar fires out in front of the wire to prevent more
enemy from getting in to close quarters, a couple of machine guns which have
been overlooked by the tanks still in position to sweep that wire, a lot of
grenade throwing, all this - plus guts and determination and accurate use of
his rifle and bayonet - have driven out & enemy.

Now our rifleman can repair his hole or dig a new one, patch up his wire,
bury his buddies, go on patrol, and carry more ammunition onto the position,
and maybe even eat, and do most everything but rest.

Having managed to hold off the enemy in that attack, the whole complexion of
the campaign has changed, and our rifleman and his army are soon ready to do
a little attacking themselves. It is their turn to carry the ball.

The enemy position is located, and. our rifleman climbs on a truck or an
armored troop carrier, which is a hybrid truck with caterpillar tracks on
behind instead of wheels. This is a cinch, says you. Oh, yeah! says he. The
ride won't last forever.

He climbs off that truck a long way from the enemy and starts hiking toward
him. This isn't like the conditioning walks some coach makes him take at
Camp Perry either. But he makes it up to an assembly area where be is issued
extra ammunition, perhaps is fed, and drops his pack before the attack.

The pattern is familiar to him now. He's been through the same thing from
the other side. Artillery is blasting away up front - his pals trying to
knock the enemy out of just such holes as he was in when on the defensive,
and with no better luck. And here's a part he didn't see before. Enemy
artillery fire is falling all around his assembly area and other likely
places where his army might be.

His own tanks start passing on their way to the front. The ports are open so
that the drivers can see to avoid obstacles, but they will close them pretty
soon. Didn't our rifleman make the enemy tankers keep theirs closed?

Our rifleman follows the tanks. The word comes back to halt. Heavy smoke
rises from the noise ahead; the enemy is being smoked and blinded just as
our rifleman has been. He sees men in front of the tanks, a long way in
front while the tanks bang back, moving restlessly about to avoid the shell
fire. These men are stepping cautiously, picking up cans and carrying them
to one side. They are clearing a path through the enemy minefield so that
the tanks can pass through safely. Ahead of these mine pickers he sees other
men crawling forward to the enemy wire to cut a lane for the men to go

The smoke ahead is clearing, thinning, blowing away. Our tanks churn ahead.
The rifleman does his best to keep up with them so that he will be on hand
to get the enemy machine gunners who are driven into their holes by the
tanks. The big machines go right over the barbed wire as if it were thread.

The tanks charge the enemy position, overrun it, fan out, waddle around the
enemy position, moving, moving, to offer less target to the enemy anti-tank
guns, seeking out the enemy machine guns which cover the barbed wire through
which more riflemen are now struggling. Other tanks go on through to rear
areas. The tanks overlook a couple of enemy machine guns and some of our
rifleman's buddies don't get through the wire.

Our man is through now, and has perhaps a hundred and fifty yards to go. He
sees a head sticking out of 2 hole. It is wearing a helmet so plastered with
mud and dirt that it blends into the surrounding earth. If our rifleman
hadn't seen it pop up he wouldn't have seen it at all. As in hunting, the
movement caught his eye.

Our rifleman drops to his belly, aims, fires. The head subsides into the
hole, slowly. Our rifleman is up, stumbling forward at a shambling run, his
mouth open, sobbing for air, his legs like lead. Another head pops up. Our
rifleman plows to an unsteady halt and snapshoots -- one, two, three. Thank
God there's no bolt to work on a Garand! The head goes down. Our rifleman
goads himself into running forward again. Make him a few bulls? Every shot
has to be a bull.

This is a picture of typical present - day battle, unless all observers on
the other side are conspiring to send back the wrong picture. Why should
hours and hours be spent in training riflemen if they are going to get only
a few such shots? Men who saw some of the fiercest action of World War I
estimate that they fired an average maximum of twenty rounds per day.

The answer is that the rifleman must be so thoroughly trained that no matter
what conditions he has to fire under, his shots will be hits! As in
football, each man must take another man out of the play so that his team
can gain the advantage. In battle he must take out more than one man, if
possible. Every man taken out weakens the enemy just that much more, and
assures us eventual victory. A casualty requires more men, transport and
supplies to take care of him than does a healthy soldier.

If our rifleman shoots sooner than the enemy, and straighter, his opponent,
and not he, becomes a casualty. Toward that goal his entire training must be
directed. The individual rifleman, multiplied by thousands and thousands, is
the backbone of an army.

(from The American Rifleman, January, 1942)

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January 29, 2003, 11:10 AM
Great piece!

I was aquainted with a US Marine from WWII who spent a very long (in military terms)-and it sure seemed like it to him-on Guadalcanal. He operated a 1903 (A3?)- not sure-Springfield. They were mostly dug in (faced little opposition on the beaches at landing) and faced many Banzi charges-mostly soldiers with little machine gun and armor support for the enemy. Little armor on the US side too but lots of mg's.

He NEVER used the word 'Japanese' or even the less elegant 'Japs', always "little yeller bastards". They engaged targets AS SOON as they came in view. Said there was too many to 'wait till you saw the whites of their eyes' or 'till you had a good, certain shot'. They began, sometimes, at or near 1000 yards-and scored hits-all the way into bayonet range.

Very interesting discussions. Interesting to me that in most theaters of war (even the US with the Germans) there was a sort of 'respect' for the German soldier's didication and fighting ability in many cases. None, ever, was given by most soldiers to the Japanese because, it seems, of their brutality to captives, noncombatants and even to their own troups in the mindless mass charges where they were simply mown down like hay for no other reason than to use up US ammo.

Talk to a vet if you can-much better if you can get them to talk to you!!

January 29, 2003, 11:45 AM
Very dated, and a great read!

My war was Vietnam, and I was always grateful that we didn't have to go through what the Class of '45 went through. Then during the Gulf War, I was very grateful I didn't have to go through the sand and all that of what our guys did, especially the electronic gizmos the Iraqis were thought to have.

It seems kind of funny now, but I guess surviving a war makes the weapons, tactics, and terrain or it "comfortable" by comparison.

Weird...! :what:

4v50 Gary
January 29, 2003, 12:00 PM
Several years back the NRA published a book featuring the best of the articles from WW II. It's well worth reading.

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