Misfire: The Story of How America’s Small Arms Have Failed Our Military
by William H. Hallahan

An interesting history with flawed conclusions

Historian Barbara Tuchman is quoted in the book Misfire on page 253 with this gem:

“[W]isdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?”

As author Hallahan demonstrates in his book Misfire, the answer is people with no credible or proven experience in a subject too often seek to voice their opinion on it.

William H. Hallahan is an author of fiction and history books. If he has any marksmanship background neither Google nor his personal website bother to mention it. Despite authoring a telling history of US small arms procurement, his lack of experience and available information leads to several flawed conclusions.

Is there such a thing as an efficient bureaucracy, especially within the military? Finding flaws in something as large and old as the US Army Ordnance department should probably be expected, however, when the US military replaced small arms in the past there was an obvious improvement associated with the new device. The Trapdoor Springfield used breech-loaded metallic cartridges and supplanted a muzzle loader; the Krag repeater replaced single shot rifles; Springfields and Enfields were much faster to reload and fired a more powerful cartridge than the .30-40 Krag; the Garand gave us semi-auto capability and the M14 more than doubled capacity. The last change we made to the AR-15/M16 increased capacity again with a serious reduction in weight. Despite flaws and mistakes made within the bureaucracies of the US military, an interesting history that Hallahan details here with perfect 20/20 hindsight, US small arms technology has mostly kept pace with the rest of the world.

The “gravel belly” shooter Hallahan ignorantly denigrates literally invented marksmanship training and kept pace with equipment developments. The National Match Course was modified to accommodate and train the capability of every new service rifle. These same shooters ushered in improvements to the AR-15/M16 making it a capable performer to 600 yards, double its intended effective range, while at the same time created practical shooting courses pressing this same platform into close range, high-speed scenarios.

Good shooters realize this. Hallahan and similar low-skilled, non-shooters do not, choosing to follow the mistaken belief that mere volume of fire yields greater downrange impact. Actual timed tests pitting “spray and pray” shooters with huge ammo capacity and full or semi-automatic fire against a “gravel belly” shooter consistently find the “gravel belly” winning. Increasing volume of fire is great but only an advantage if properly directed.

Surprisingly, Hallahan includes an important component of machine gun gunnery skill: Traversing the gun, sometimes referred to as the “two-inch tap.”

On page 311 John Keegan, author of The Face of Battle, records, “By constant practice the machine gunner learned to hit the side of the breech with the palm of his hand just hard enough to move the muzzle exactly two inches against the resistance of the traversing screw. A succession of “two inch taps” first on one side of the breech until the stop was reached, then on the other, would keep the air with a stream of bullets so dense that no one could walk upright across the front of the gunners position without being hit.”

In training today it is the “gravel belly” shooters that espouse this gunnery technique and low skilled shooters would abandon the tripod and T&E that make such a procedure possible, preferring to always “walk in” unaimed fire and wrongly believing volume of fire makes up for the lack of knowledge and ability to accurately direct fires.

By actual test, “gravel belly” riflemen beat machine gunners of the Hallahan school. The instructor cadre I worked for staged numerous demonstrations pitting a Camp Perry-type “gravel belly” armed with an M16A4 and 30 round magazine against a Hallahan-type believing volume of fire always wins armed with a belt fed machine gun, bipod or tripod mounted (gunner’s choice) and 154 rounds. Shooting on an Army machine gun qualification course the skilled “gravel belly” rifleman usually wins or ties, often with ammo to spare.

This does NOT mean machine guns are ineffective! The problem is Hallahan-types refuse to learn from “gravel belly” shooters, zero ineffectively, fail to understand gunnery or marksmanship and are hampered by the myth that volume of fire will make up for skill deficiencies. It can not and won’t. If Hallahan had ever been on a range with skilled shooters, including some “gravel belly” types, he would realize this.