Best Defense

Rate of fire: A Best Defense update

Studious little grasshoppers will remember that I’ve wondered aloud about the history of the rate of fire in combat.

031023-N-6967M-234
One member of Special Boat Team 22 (SBT-22) lays down cover fire with a minigun during a practice narrow river beach extraction.  

Photo by PH1 Shane T. McCoy
031023-N-6967M-234 One member of Special Boat Team 22 (SBT-22) lays down cover fire with a minigun during a practice narrow river beach extraction. Photo by PH1 Shane T. McCoy

 

Studious little grasshoppers will remember that I’ve wondered aloud about the history of the rate of fire in combat. For example, the primary purpose of drill was to increase the rate of infantry fire at a time when reloading was time consuming, and gave time to enemy cavalry or pikers to cross the gap, with lethal results.

So I was interested to read that the turning point came in the mid-19th century, when militaries stopped worrying about organizing combat formations to increase shooting and instead began to worry about soldiers using up their ammunition too quickly. One of the jobs of officers became keeping an eye on men with repeating rifles expending their ammunition too quickly, according to a book I read recently about the Nez Perce “war.”

The less money a country had, the more its officers would focus on this new problem. Cathal Nolan writes that, for example, in the case of the Austrian army of the time, “A main worry guiding rifle procurement by Vienna was … that illiterate and poorly trained persons would exhaust their ammunition before the critical moment in the battle arrived.”

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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