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Rifle Combat at Less than 300 Meters

Discussion in 'Rifle Country' started by Timthinker, Dec 30, 2007.

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  1. Timthinker

    Timthinker Well-Known Member

    During discussions about military rifles, some THR members have stated that studies conducted after World War One demonstrated that most combat infantrymen shot at targets no more than 300 meters away. Yet, these studies are never named nor are any of the persons who presumably participated in them. The historian in me would like some information about this interesting matter.

    To avoid any rancor, let me say that I do not doubt the validity of this statistic. Shooting at a hostile, moving target is difficult under the stress and strain of combat. This I readily believe. But I would like some historical information about the research that led to those findings. Thanks.

  2. Number 6

    Number 6 Well-Known Member

  3. Dionysusigma

    Dionysusigma Well-Known Member

    O'Course most combat takes place within 300 meters! Further out, "everyone" calls it sniping... ;) :rolleyes: :D
  4. HorseSoldier

    HorseSoldier Well-Known Member

    Operational Requirements for an Infantry Hand Weapon by Norman A. Hitchman at the Army's Operations Research Office (released 1952) is another specific title that reaches the same "most < 100 meters, almost all inside 300 meters" conclusions people usually talk about. His methodology, as I understand it, involved data from both World Wars and more current data from Korea, which all supported the usual range figures.

    Max Popenker or Tony Williams, if they happen to join this thread, can probably provide some additional references to other specific studies drawing similar conclusions. If I remember right their book on assault rifles mentions at least the 1920s-30s era Russian researchers who advocated an intermediate .25 caliber rifle for infantry use.
  5. Avenger

    Avenger Well-Known Member

    For World War II, I'll believe it. Look at the terrain and vegetation where most of the battles took place. Rifles are line-of-sight weapons, if you can only SEE things out to 100 yards away....
  6. Limeyfellow

    Limeyfellow Well-Known Member

    Yes, because it is not like there was battles fought in the deserts of the Middle East and even in Iraq itself or across the steppes and rice paddies in Asia and so on. There were plenty of battles where the terrian allowed longer shots, but still it rarely happened.
  7. HorseSoldier

    HorseSoldier Well-Known Member

    There's more to it than just the terrain, like Limeyfellow suggested.

    Even in more open terrain, when you factor in the difficulty of acquiring a point target like an individual in drab/camouflage clothing you start losing percentage points off engagements past the 100/300 range figure.

    To that add target movement and you lost more % points.

    The big kicker, however, on two way rifle ranges are the physiological and psychological effects of life and death confrontation. Even if the target is wearing bright colors and stationary, when you factor in adrenalin surge and maxed out heart and respiration rates, etc., the likelihood of hitting a target drops dramatically. How much it drops will vary from shooter to shooter, but the overall big-picture statistical situation is very poor.

    Even without consideration of the (contentious to some) research showing lots of guys historically simply wouldn't shoot at all, it isn't much wonder that most battlefield casaulties are caused by weapons that saturate an area with fire or fragments like artillery or machineguns.
  8. georgeduz

    georgeduz Well-Known Member

    how far can you see?at 300 yards a person looks like a small dot.
  9. threefeathers

    threefeathers Well-Known Member

    SLA Marshall was a fraud and made up his stats. I feel robbed because as a young soldier I ate up every thing he had to say. So I seperate his research from his conclusions. His deal that only one in 10 or so shoot is bull****. My experience in combat is that I was always getting my guys to hold their fire and conserve ammo. The WW2 NCO's I grew up with ALL said the swme thing. As for 400 meter shots when avalible many take them. But in most instances you need permission because you don't want to give you own position away. If you are being shot at from that distance I guaranfrackingtee that most will shoot back.
  10. Lucky

    Lucky Well-Known Member

    If you were a Russian on the Steppes, and you and few hundred buddies were dug in and an equivalent number of unsuspecting Germans were marching towards you - would you hold your fire and wait for them to get closer, or shoot as soon as you could reliably hit them?

    If the only weapons involved are rifles then the farther away the defender engages the better, especially since the guys walking probably have less ammo.

    But in reality if the Russians opened fire at half a click, the Germans would have just sat down and let supporting arms blow the Russians away, right?

    Conversely the ideal time for the Russians to open fire would be when the Germans are in range of the Russian artillery, but not too close that Russian artillery may hit the Russian position, right?

    If you read Rommel's Infanterie greift an there is exactly a rifle-to-rifle engagement in WW1. The French opened fire at long range, maybe 600m or something, but they ALL had their sights way way off.
  11. elmerfudd

    elmerfudd Well-Known Member

    I think HorseSoldier nails it. First off, go without proper sleep for a week, then sprint for 100 yards with 60 pounds on your back, take up a hasty firing position with whatever support you happen to have which is probably nothing and then try to figure out where that camouflaged guy is 400 yards away from you while bullets zing by your head. There are probably a few Sgt. Yorks out there with perfect vision, who can keep their cool under those conditions and respond with precision fire, but they are few and far between.

    I read somewhere that the average distance for police to engage a suspect at is 6 feet and that only about 50% of their shots hit their target even at that range.
  12. GunTech

    GunTech Well-Known Member

    Hitchman's work was based on data culled from the ALCLAD study, evaluating several million combat casualties from WWI and later Korea, as well as after action reports from same. Most people are unaware of his findindings, which pretty much turn every preconceived notion about infantry small arms combat on its head.

    Hitchman's report is virtually impossible to obtain in the original, but extensive quotes can be found in The Great Rifle Controversy, the Black Rifle, SPIW: The Deadliest Weapon That Never Was, US Rifle M14, etc.

    Here's a quote from a post I made some time ago on rec.guns. I'm too lazy to retype it all

  13. Evil Monkey

    Evil Monkey member

    Today in the 21st century, there has been a proliferation of optics. They are being used on all infantry weapons imaginable.

    There's ACOG, SUSAT, ELCAN, some are 1x red dots, 4x, telescopic, etc.

    These pieces of equipment weren't used much when the Hall and Hitchman reports came out. Wouldn't these optical sights (especially the magnified ones) have increased the range of engagements today?
  14. critter

    critter Well-Known Member

    I knew an old marine (now gone on to his well-deserved reward) who was in the first group to land on Guadalcanal and faced many banzi charges while operating a 1903 springfield.

    Some of the charges were across beach flats and river mouth delta flat places while the marines were dug in on elevated places. He reported that they begin shooting (using the standing-ladder volley sight notches) at around 1200 yards.

    I had thought they were woefully short of supplies. He said they were short of everything but ammo. His quote was something on the order of they had plenty of ammo-just not enough time to shoot the little yeller (expletive deleted).

    SO, there were, apparantly, times when long range engagements WERE used. Other times were in the mountains of the Korean war during the Chosin reservoir part of the campaign.

    The relative frequency of such long range shooting, I can not speak to however.
  15. JShirley

    JShirley Administrator Staff Member

    threefeathers is almost entirely correct.

    As a history guy (BA, currently working on Master's), and a former infantryman, I can tell you SLA Marshall was bogus. His methodology has been questioned by genuine historians, and the obvious conclusions are that he made up his statistics.

    That said, the "myth of the American rifleman" is prevalent in our culture. Yes, many U.S. troops have outshot other troops, but I find no evidence this has ever won wars. Support weapons are almost always the big killers. Our current entanglements may be the closest we've come to individual weapons making higher percentages of kills, but that's because they are more police actions in areas populated by noncombatants.

  16. GunTech

    GunTech Well-Known Member

    The average range of engagement in the ETO during WWII was 75 yards.
  17. Timthinker

    Timthinker Well-Known Member

    Guys, thanks for the comments so far. I am hoping to locate some research studies on this topic from immediately after World War One. I believe these studies, and the experiences of those who fought in that war and subsequent ones, eventually paved the way for the smaller rifle cartridges in use today. The problem is locating those initial findings. Thanks once again for the citations and comments.

  18. goon

    goon Well-Known Member

    I don't have a source to site so if that's all you are interested in just skip this post.
    I do have a brother who is in the habit of wearing a surplus woodland camo army jacket. When we go to the range and I walk to the 100 yard berm to put my targets up I can look back at the benches (near the tree line). Often I have a hard time picking him out when he's just standing there in jeans and a camo jacket.
    That's with no effort on his part to camoflage himself or avoid being seen.
    I can easily see where the 300 meter idea came from.
  19. Thin Black Line

    Thin Black Line Well-Known Member

    I've read other places that state 3 to 5 in 10 actually shoot. It's probably
    still 1 in 10 (or far less statistically) who actually hit and kill/wound an
    enemy in combat.
  20. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

    If you'll look there is also an unclassified report of common engagement ranges from the early portion of OIF. I believe it was a Marine report and is in the THR Archives somewhere.

    I've wondered the same thing myself; but the Marine report mentioned above pretty much gives the same results as earlier studies. I think they found that 80% of engagements took place at less than 100m and the majority happened at less than 50m. I'm not sure how much rules of engagement and the mix of civilians may play a role in reducing engagement distances despite optics though.

    Here is one link I found discussing the Marine report; there are others around though:
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