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"Hope on the Battlefield" Topic


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526 hits since 19 Sep 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP19 Sep 2018 8:50 p.m. PST

"During World War II, U.S. Army Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall asked average soldiers how they conducted themselves in battle. Before that, it had always been assumed that the average soldier would kill in combat simply because his country and his leaders had told him to do so, and because it might be essential to defend his own life and the lives of his friends.

Marshall's singularly unexpected discovery was that, of every hundred men along the line of fire during the combat period, an average of only 15 to 20 "would take any part with their weapons." This was consistently true, "whether the action was spread over a day, or two days, or three."

Marshall was a U.S. Army historian in the Pacific theater during World War II and later became the official U.S. historian of the European theater of operations. He had a team of historians working for him, and they based their findings on individual and mass interviews with thousands of soldiers in more than 400 infantry companies immediately after they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops. The results were consistently the same: Only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire at the enemy. Those who would not fire did not run or hide—in many cases they were willing to risk greater danger to rescue comrades, get ammunition, or run messages. They simply would not fire their weapons at the enemy, even when faced with repeated waves of banzai charges…."
Main page
link


Amicalement
Armand

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Sep 2018 4:44 a.m. PST

An interesting article. Marshall's findings are controversial, but as the article points out they have been largely confirmed by other studies and there is no doubt that the military paid close attention to them and changed their training methods as a result.

But the question that keeps popping up in my mind is how does this all play out through history? The article indicates that du Picq's 19th century studies reached the same conclusions. Okay, so for troops armed with firearms the ability to 'fake it' and just shoot into the air is pretty easy. But suppose we go back further? What about before firearms? How does a man armed with a sword or a spear 'fake it' in the midst of a desperate hand-to-hand fight? Unlike with a firearm, to fake it under those circumstances would be the equivalent of committing suicide. Is there any evidence that this happened?

If not, if earlier soldiers did not try to avoid killing people, what changed when firearms were introduced?

Legion 420 Sep 2018 6:19 a.m. PST

Only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire at the enemy
Read Grossman's "On Killing" … link

Legion 420 Sep 2018 6:22 a.m. PST

Only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire at the enemy
Read Grossman's "On Killing" …

Fred Cartwright20 Sep 2018 6:30 a.m. PST

An interesting article. Marshall's findings are controversial, but as the article points out they have been largely confirmed by other studies and there is no doubt that the military paid close attention to them and changed their training methods as a result.

Unfortunately there is little evidence that revised training produced more effective shooting, at least as far as conscript armies are concerned. Even in Vietnam where it was estimated that 80% of soldiers participated, much of it was point rifle in general direction of enemy and pull trigger repeatedly and not aimed fire. Rowland's "Stress of Battle" covers this.

How does a man armed with a sword or a spear 'fake it' in the midst of a desperate hand-to-hand fight? Unlike with a firearm, to fake it under those circumstances would be the equivalent of committing suicide. Is there any evidence that this happened?

There is some evidence to suggest that the actual fighting didn't last very long and most casualties were sustained when one side broke. Much of the "fighting" was of the standing a few yards apart shouting and trading insults, punctuated by the braver souls dashing forward and throwing a spear or javelin at their opponents until one side gathered up enough courage to charge or sensed that their opponents were getting psyched out. The actual clash being fairly brief before one side broke. During the pursuit it would be easy for the less enthusiastic to be "outrun" by their more bloodthirsty comrades.

mkenny20 Sep 2018 8:44 a.m. PST
Fred Cartwright20 Sep 2018 9:00 a.m. PST

Have seen that mkenny. Having looked at SLAM's work and the writings of the detractors I have yet to find any evidence that they present that SLAM's figures were wrong. The gist of their argument is not proven and yet their conclusions ignore all the other evidence such as Wigram's observations of British platoons in combat and subsequent studies post war which also produce similar figures for participation in battle. My conclusion is that however SLAM produced his figures he seems to have got it about right.

catavar20 Sep 2018 11:29 a.m. PST

From my own experience I don't find this surprising. I've always wondered if that's why some professions training recruits in the use of firearms use paper targets shaped as a human silhouette, rather than round targets, for practice.

Freds first post explains pre-gunpowder engagements pretty well I think. From what I've read, in what we wargamers would classify as warbands, the troops would gather in a large group with the best armed (and probably most experienced types) up front; the less enthusiastic towards the back.

Even in more professional formations like the Romans, it wouldn't be hard for a soldier to go through the motions… shield up, stabbing motion with sword, til his line becomes brittle or tired and is relieved by those behind him.

The above is just in my opinion of course. Those with more knowledge on the subject may see it differently.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP20 Sep 2018 11:55 a.m. PST

Glad you enjoyed it my friend.

Amicalement
Armand

Mark 120 Sep 2018 12:21 p.m. PST

How does a man armed with a sword or a spear 'fake it' in the midst of a desperate hand-to-hand fight?

The impression I get, from most historians I have seen, heard, or read who focus on the equipment and the "soldier's experience", is that in the age of sword and spear, it was in fact shield and muscle-mass that were the more decisive factors.

That is, most battles of large infantry formations were pushing matches. If your side could push hard enough, some of their guys would fall down. That would reduce their muscle-mass, and increase your advantage in the pushing match, so more of them would be at risk of falling down, but rather than fall under the feet (and blades) of their enemies the guys in the front would try to push their own guys in the back to make room for them to back up, and the muscle-mass equation would cascade quite rapidly to the winning side's favor, and the formation would collapse.

It's not hard to see someone who doesn't cut or stab still participating in the pushing contest. At least, that's kind of how I think of it.

But I claim no expertise in ancient combat … just a casual spectator of the topic in popular press.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Mark 120 Sep 2018 12:33 p.m. PST

I might add that it may well be that, if there was in fact a dis-inclination of most rank-and-file soldiers to take an active role in hacking and stabbing, that may also at least partially explain the persistent value of pikes in warfare.

With a pike you don't need to have the soldier be as active. A formation of soldiers who can be convinced to do nothing more than place the pointy end of their pikes towards the enemy can be a very dangerous formation. It may well be the enemy's activity, of advancing against the pikes, that generates the injuries. The pikemen can be almost entirely passive once they have their pikes leveled.

Doesn't mean all pikemen were passive. Only that, if some substantial portion of them were, the formation could still generate a lot of casualties on the enemy.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Lion in the Stars20 Sep 2018 5:04 p.m. PST

That is, most battles of large infantry formations were pushing matches. If your side could push hard enough, some of their guys would fall down. That would reduce their muscle-mass, and increase your advantage in the pushing match, so more of them would be at risk of falling down, but rather than fall under the feet (and blades) of their enemies the guys in the front would try to push their own guys in the back to make room for them to back up, and the muscle-mass equation would cascade quite rapidly to the winning side's favor, and the formation would collapse.

That's actually why the 'rugby scrum' of putting your shield into the back of the man in front of you is illegal in Society for Creative Anachronism heavy** fighting. It's extremely likely to see someone pretty badly hurt, even with weapons blunted to bruising-only.

** Heavies fight in Medieval style, light fighters are the Renaissance rapier ("swishy-pokey") types.

Walking Sailor21 Sep 2018 7:45 a.m. PST

From mkenny's link it is apparent that Marshall only interviewed survivors of each action, not any casualties. i.e. He did not interview anyone that stood-up, fired, and got shot. He only interviewed the ones that kept their heads down, or the lucky ones that shot without getting hit.
By interviewing only one sub-set of the population that took part in the action his study is incomplete.
"He" must next go to the hospitals and interview the surviving casualties.
There is a third sub-set which cannot be interviewed, but an attempt must be made to fill in their actions from the survivors.

There is a correlation between firing rates and combat survival rates that invites further investigation.

As regards the shape of training targets: the best practice is the most realistic practice. Batting practice is not done with tennis ball lobbers.

Fred Cartwright21 Sep 2018 8:32 a.m. PST

"He" must next go to the hospitals and interview the surviving casualties.

That would be tricky given that both he and they are dead!
Mkenny's link also has severe limitations. It relied on the memory of one man about what Marshall did or didn't do during his interviews and only relates to his time in Korea and thus sheads no light on what Marshall did during WW2. As I said the best that Marshall's Detractors can say is case not proven, but that is only by ignoring all the other evidence that points to SLAM's figures being about right.

Walking Sailor21 Sep 2018 4:00 p.m. PST

That would be tricky given that … he [is] dead!
Hence the quotation marks.

If the sample was taken from such a limited cohort, whether or not it is correct, his statistical analysis does not stand peer review.

Fred Cartwright21 Sep 2018 4:30 p.m. PST

If the sample was taken from such a limited cohort, whether or not it is correct, his statistical analysis does not stand peer review.

As mkenny's link was essentially only anecdotal evidence of the cohorts SLAM sampled that remains to be proven.

Wolfhag22 Sep 2018 10:55 a.m. PST

Are there any game designers out there that are using the 15%-25% of the men shoot each turn rules in their game?

Wolfhag

TacticalPainter0122 Sep 2018 3:11 p.m. PST

Effectiveness is relative. If only 25% of your enemy are firing too then the factor balances itself out. By simply rolling dice we are acknowledging that fire from a unit will vary for a host of factors, one of which may well be some men not firing. Marshall's point was that not all men fire all the time, not to set a fixed rate that only 25% fire all the time.

Fred Cartwright23 Sep 2018 2:52 a.m. PST

Are there any game designers out there that are using the 15%-25% of the men shoot each turn rules in their game?

The accepted view is that most wargames rules produce unrealistically high casualty rates, but then designers get round that by saying the "casualties" don't represent just dead and wounded, but those who have become combat ineffective for whatever reason. Having said that it is quite possible that the loss of 2 or 3 of the gutful men would render a platoon combat ineffective quite quickly, but would be represented on the tabletop by wiping out half the platoon.
How to game just 25% of men doing most of the fighting would be a challenge and a hard sell to most players used to the tradional way rules work.

Walking Sailor23 Sep 2018 3:41 p.m. PST

Are there any game designers out there that are using the 15%-25% of the men shoot each turn rules in their game?

Disposable Heroes/Coffin For Seven Brothers – First Edition: "a firing unit may only fire with half the models in the unit, rounding up"

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