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Live Fire Maneuver: A New Approach to Studying Small Arms in a Historical Context

By Miles Vining

Much of our interaction with historical small arms has been on a very individual level; examining one particular rifle or handgun, maybe comparing it to the next one. We can take these small arms out and shoot them at a static target, or we can even participate in an action match with them, attempting to possibly replicate what a soldier in the Second World War would have had to accomplish while under an extreme amount of stress. We can also talk to veterans of previous wars, or if they have long since passed away we can read their memoirs or sift through after-action reports.

From a historical perspective of trying to understand how these weapons were utilized in combat, this allows us a thorough picture of the capabilities and limitations of these small arms. However, the author wanted to take a more direct approach to studying these weapon systems, especially when it came to U.S. small arms in the Second World War. Shooting an M1 Garand at a static target isn’t replicating what a soldier at Bastogne would have been doing, because his targets were moving. An action match might induce stress on an individual level, but imagine that same stress across a squad of 12 men, working together in bounds of firing and moving, while trying their hardest to not have a negligent discharge. Different generations record and talk about events in such contrasting points that they leave scholars always asking for more. Oftentimes this sort of information isn’t written down because it was such common knowledge or mundane at the time, why should it be recorded?

But one of the most important aspects we believe should have more emphasis placed on in the historical research field is the context of these weapon systems. The M1 Garand wasn’t designed to be shot from 200-800 meters, with match ammunition, by a tight leather coat clad shooter who had a full breakfast. It was instead designed to be used by large numbers of men, working very closely together...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N5 (June 2017)
and was posted online on April 21, 2017

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