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Did modern soldiers try to miss their shots?

Did modern soldiers try to miss their shots?

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I have heard the claim many times that most soldiers shoot to miss their enemy rather than kill. The most recent claim of this was on the TV show Black Mirror. Except for exceptional circumstances of fraternization such as the 1914 Christmas truce, did soldiers actually try to miss their shots, or are such claims apocryphal?

This idea originated in S.L.A. Marshall's controversial book Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command, which claims that during WWII, 75% of US troops in actual combat did not fire for the purpose of killing. His ideas found a ready audience in many circles, especially the military.

But other scholars have since tried similar studies that reached the opposite conclusion: that most troops fired their weapons during combat. Other writers have cast doubt on Marshall's methodology, claiming that he cherry-picked or outright fabricated his data. There are personal anecdotes that paint him as an unreliable narrator.

But I have not found conclusive evidence to the contrary either. Also note that Marshall looked at WWII, which may be different to Vietnam (where many of Marshall's suggestions were already adopted), and different to modern wars involving all-volunteer forces. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be rigourous studies in this area of military history. Marshall's numbers may be overblown but perhaps they contain a kernel of truth.

As congusbongus wrote, this idea seems to originate in S.L.A. Marshal's Men Against Fire. I examined the book carefully a few years ago, and found that the whole idea seems to start in one scenario, which he generalised from WWII interviews with US soldiers in Europe.

An inexperienced infantry company is given orders to advance, without any kind of fire support. It does so, until it comes under effective fire from a well-concealed enemy, at which point the troops instinctively go to ground. At this point, nobody takes charge. The NCOs do not give the men orders to position themselves better, or organise fire. The officers don't give the NCOs orders. Nobody tells the commander about casualties, or provides him with any information.

Under these circumstances, 25% of the men firing in a useful way is actually pretty good. Marshall explicitly says that he doesn't think NCOs should be organising the men, but should be setting an example by firing. This doesn't work well when a unit is pinned down by enemy fire, because the men are at risk of being shot if they look around very much, so they won't see anyone setting an example.

Other armies don't expect as much individual heroism as Marshal seems to. When the unit goes to ground, there won't be much immediate fire in response. But the squad NCOs will be getting their men organised and passing information up the chain of command. Within a minute or so, most of the men will be firing, and they'll be doing it at selected targets, rather than the most obvious thing they could see from the positions they ended up in when they went to ground.

Marshal seems to have misinterpreted the problems faced by the US Army in WWII, where drastic expansion meant there was a terrible shortage of NCOs with combat experience. Interpreting the resulting difficulties as being due to fundamentals of human nature may have been very agreeable to the heads of the army, but it doesn't seem to have been accurate.

Pretty broad question, so many cultures, countries and wars to consider. But here is one set of statistics, from an article here.

Russell W. Glenn, the author of book Reading Athena's Dance Card: Men Against Fire in Vietnam,

conducted a survey of 258 1st Cavalry Division Vietnam veterans in 1987

his findings showed that

Only nine of the 1st Cavalry Division veterans reported that they never personally fired on the enemy

and when asked to estimate fellow soldiers actions:

veterans were therefore also asked to reflect on the performance of their comrades in arms. When asked what portion of their fellow soldiers fired during any given engagement, the veterans estimated that about 84 percent of a unit's men armed with individual weapons (rifles, pistols, grenade launchers, shotguns) and approximately 90 percent of those manning crew-served weapons (generally the M-60 machine gun) did so.

All the above from an article on Historynet.com

So, considering this war was fought by a famously non-volunteer force, this may represent one of the larger numbers of 'reluctant' soldiers. This article does not directly address firing without intent to hit, but I think the gist of the answer you're looking for is here.

Did some soldiers not fire, or miss on purpose? Definitely and possibly.

Did most? No.

Guy de Maupassant

Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant ( UK: / ˈ m oʊ p æ s ɒ̃ / , [1] [2] US: / ˈ m oʊ p ə s ɒ n t , ˌ m oʊ p ə ˈ s ɒ̃ / [2] [3] [4] [5] French: [ɡi d(ə) mopasɑ̃] 5 August 1850 – 6 July 1893) was a 19th-century French author, remembered as a master of the short story form, and as a representative of the Naturalist school, who depicted human lives and destinies and social forces in disillusioned and often pessimistic terms.

Maupassant was a protégé of Gustave Flaubert and his stories are characterized by economy of style and efficient, seemingly effortless dénouements. Many are set during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s, describing the futility of war and the innocent civilians who, caught up in events beyond their control, are permanently changed by their experiences. He wrote 300 short stories, six novels, three travel books, and one volume of verse. His first published story, "Boule de Suif" ("The Dumpling", 1880), is often considered his masterpiece.

Custer’s Last Stand Still Stands Up

June 25, 1876, is a date that shall live in controversy. Even if Lieutenant Colonel (General to his men) George Armstrong Custer came back from the grave to tell his side of the story, the controversy would still not die. The Battle of the Little Bighorn is like a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle on the south-central Montana landscape – the stuff of legend and historical gamesmanship. Custer and more than a third of the elite 7th Cavalry Regiment lost their lives in an epic struggle with the Plains Indians. Although the deadly conflict at the Little Bighorn is a multifaceted tale that rivals the Alamo as the most famous military clash in the American West, the main focus has always been the man in command of the losing side – thus, the battle’s popular alternative name, Custer’s Last Stand.

Countless historians, authors and amateur scholars more often than not after coming down with a bad case of the Custer bug and finding it impossible to shake have analyzed the battle. The analyses have sometimes been in direct conflict, since the so-called experts have taken different routes in trying to explain the sequence of events, why things happened and who was to blame (Custer, his supporting cast or his bosses) for the 129-year-old U.S. military defeat at the hands of Sitting Bull’s people. The controversy has not lost its intensity through the years. Recent archeological discoveries on the battlefield have cast new light on the engagement and opened the door to new interpretations and, yes, new controversies concerning Custer’s Last Stand.

A previously unidentified cavalry combat position has been discovered near Last Stand Hill (also known as Custer Hill), the knoll north of the Little Bighorn River where Custer and about 40 troopers are said to have made a final stand while surrounded. It is my understanding that artifacts have been discovered on private property near the river, says Darrell Cook, superintendent of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Park. The National Park is not involved in this private individuals have done the research. The exact whereabouts of these newly discovered artifacts remains confidential to protect them from looters, but the general location is close to the Little Bighorn River west and slightly north of Last Stand Hill (see map, P. 45). Artifacts recovered from this site indicate that a portion of Custer’s command fought at this location. What is particularly intriguing about this combat position is that, at the very least, it demonstrates that Custer’s Last Stand was far more complex than most authorities have believed. Unlike Errol Flynn (see the 1941 movie They Died With Their Boots On), Custer did not simply ride over the hill to be suddenly surrounded and massacred by thousands of Indians in a few short minutes.

There is no record of dead cavalrymen being found at this location when burial details were conducted a few days after the battle. This lack of bodies suggests that the cavalry detachment that fought at this position was not overwhelmed by the Indian warriors and was able to withdraw from it in good order, taking any dead and wounded with them. The fighting that occurred at this newly discovered site, as well as the movement to and from this location, would also seem to indicate that Custer’s Last Stand was a lengthy battle and one of maneuver, at least part of the time. That’s not something that the Custer critics and haters want to hear.

As many students of the Battle of the Little Bighorn have concluded, Custer’s Last Stand is one of the most overly intellectualized and politicized events in American history. Some of the most basic facts have escaped the public’s attention, while yarns such as Custer running for president of the United States have been invented. As a result, the public perception of Custer today probably falls somewhere near or below Attila the Hun. This misinterpretation of Custer has in turn led to many misperceptions about Custer’s Last Stand. Because of what happened on June 25, 1876, the Custer name has become synonymous with defeat in the minds of many, but those individuals are not seeing the larger picture, particularly Custer’s extraordinary Civil War career as a Union cavalry officer.

Custer, born in New Rumley, Ohio, on December 5, 1839, was a member of the second class of 1861 at the Military Academy at West Point, graduating a year early because Southern artillerymen had opened fire on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The newly commissioned second lieutenant fought in the Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) on July 21, 1861. On his own initiative, he protected the Union retreat at the Cub Run Bridge, and his Company G, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, was one of the last Union formations to leave the battlefield. Custer went on to distinguish himself in nearly every major battle fought by the Army of the Potomac.

Because of his aggressiveness in cavalry charges, 23-year-old Custer was promoted from captain to brigadier general just days before the Battle of Gettysburg. The Union’s youngest general was given command of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade. On July 3, 1863, when Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s Confederate forces began their assault on Cemetery Ridge, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s Rebel cavalrymen were maneuvering to make an attack on the Union rear. Saber-wielding General Custer and his Wolverines were there to stop what some historians have suggested could have been a battle-winning assault. Vastly outnumbered, Custer twice charged Stuart’s forces, throwing them off balance and denying them access to the Federal rear.

The dashing young general stayed in the spotlight with the Michigan Brigade until September 30, 1864, when he was promoted to major general and given command of the 3rd Cavalry Division. Custer would hold that command post until the end, particularly distinguishing himself during the Appomattox campaign. After the Rebel surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan, who had been Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s chief of cavalry, purchased the table on which the articles of surrender had been signed. He would later present this table to Elizabeth Bacon Custer, General Custer’s wife, with a note saying: I respectfully present to you this small writing table on which the conditions for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia were written by Lt. General Grant and permit me to say, Madam, that there is scarcely an individual in our service who has contributed more to bring about this desirable result than your gallant husband.

That such memorable service should be overshadowed by what happened one Sunday in June more than 10 years later is an injustice that irritates Steve Alexander as much as it does anyone. Alexander has portrayed Custer in Little Bighorn reenactments for more than 15 years and in nearly 20 documentaries, including Betrayal at Little Big Horn, Encounters of the Unexplained and Command Decisions. Custer may be the most misunderstood figure in American history, says Alexander, who has amassed a huge library of Custer reference material through the years. I have studied Custer most of my life and have been continuously amazed at his exceptional courage, military ability and character. Custer’s greatest fault, or at least the characteristic that most offended his enemies, was his consistent success, eternal optimism, and zest for life.

Custer’s Civil War record demonstrates that he was courageous and a leader beyond his years. He was a master at the use of surprise, maneuver and terrain. He led from the front and demonstrated his ability to seize opportunity in an instant the soldiers he commanded held him in esteem. This is hardly the nasty and/or delusional Custer that has shown up in popular American culture. Custer was colorful, but he wasn’t crazy.

By the end of the Civil War, Custer had been promoted to major general. In the peacetime Army that followed, his rank would be reduced to that of lieutenant colonel. Custer, as well as other U.S. Army officers who had been reduced in rank, was referred to in official documents and press reports as General. In 1866 he was made acting commander of the 7th Cavalry. For the next 10 years, Custer and the 7th Cavalry would chase hostile Plains Indians and take them on in many skirmishes and two major battles. In November 1868, after a harrowing winter march, Custer and his command attacked and captured a Cheyenne Indian village located on the Washita River in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). About 100 Indians were killed, but Custer also took 67 captives, a fact that debunks the charge by some that it was a bloodthirsty massacre. Evidence found within this village and other allied Indian camps nearby, including murdered white captives, demonstrated that these bands were not at peace. At the Washita, as at the Little Bighorn, Custer had Indian scouts who led him to the enemy (other Indians) and were more than happy to participate in the defeat of people who were also their enemies.

In 1873 Custer and 10 companies of the 7th Cavalry were among the soldiers in Colonel David S. Stanley’s Yellowstone Expedition, which was escorting a railroad survey crew across Montana Territory. When some Sioux warriors tried to raid horses from the expedition on August 4, Custer gave chase. About 300 Sioux suddenly burst out of the timber by the Tongue River, but Custer executed a skillful withdrawal and held them back, later saying that the warriors displayed unusual boldness. After attempts by the Sioux to burn the grass and smoke out the soldiers failed, Custer surprised the enemy with a counterattack and drove them off. Just seven days later, near the mouth of the Bighorn River, warriors fired on the cavalry from the opposite shore. Custer’s 450 troopers, who faced about 500 Sioux, repulsed those warriors who tried to cross the river. During another counterattack, Custer had a horse shot out from under him but emerged without a scratch. In these two engagements, Custer demonstrated enough leadership and discipline to more than hold his own against a larger force of Plains Indians.

Not that it was always smooth sailing for Custer in the West prior to June 1876. Back in 1867, the 7th Cavalry had been plagued by factionalism, and Custer had been court-martialed for absence without leave from his command and for ordering deserters to be shot. He was convicted and suspended from command for one year. In March 1876, he was summoned from his post at Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory, to testify in Washington, D.C., about corruption in the awarding of Western post traderships and other frauds that were cheating both the frontier Army and American Indians. His testimony was damaging to William W. Belknap, who had been the secretary of war in the Grant administration, as well as to the president’s brother. Consequently, Ulysses S. Grant removed Custer from command of the troops at Fort Lincoln, but under pressure, the president later returned Custer to command of the 7th Cavalry (though Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry would be the overall commander of the Dakota Column that marched into Montana Territory in May 1876). On June 25, Custer rode to his death in a cloud of controversies, and his many enemies and later detractors would ensure that the earlier controversies and the ones generated by the military disaster that day would grow after his death.

One controversial notion should be put aside right away: that the Plains Indians at the Little Bighorn were defending their homeland. That is a myth. When Custer surprised the Sioux and Cheyennes village, he was not attacking peace-loving defenders. The Little Bighorn Valley is part of the Crow Indians traditional homeland, and the Sioux had driven the Crows from it. Back on March 10, 1876, Indian agent Dexter Clapp of the Crow Agency in Montana said that the Sioux are now occupying the eastern and best portion of their reservation and by their constant warfare paralyzing all efforts to induce the Crows to undertake agriculture or other means of self support, and added that the Crows expect the Sioux to attack this agency and themselves in large force. Other tribes such as the Shoshones, Blackfeet and Arikaras were also victims of Sioux raids and war making. The proud warrior culture of the Plains Indians was one reason that disenchanted Sioux warriors and their allies left their reservations in 1876 to join the influential medicine man Sitting Bull, who had never signed a treaty with the United States. Another reason was that the government was not fulfilling treaty obligations, which was something Custer had pointed out when summoned to Washington. In any case, the Indians defiance meant war.

The U.S. Army did have a plan of action to deal with the hostile Indians. The Terry and Custer force that departed Fort Lincoln on May 17, 1876, consisted of the entire 7th Cavalry of 12 companies, three companies of infantry, three Gatling guns, Indian scouts and a huge wagon train. Two other columns were also dispatched to seek out the hostile tribes. Plains Indians fought Brig. Gen. George Crook’s column (which had marched up from the south) to a standstill in the Battle of the Rosebud on June 17, and by pulling back to his camp on Goose Creek instead of pursuing the enemy, Crook was of no help to Custer or anyone else. The third force, commanded by Colonel John Gibbon, marched east from western Montana and hooked up with the Terry/Custer force for a conference on the night of June 21. A scouting party headed by the second-ranking officer in the 7th Cavalry, Major Marcus Reno, had discovered a huge Indian trail leading toward the Little Bighorn Valley. The next day, Custer would separate from Gibbon’s force and march up the Rosebud Valley to follow that trail. Gibbon, with Terry accompanying him, was to follow the Yellowstone River to the Bighorn River and then follow that river to the Little Bighorn Valley. In a communication addressed to General Sheridan dated June 21, Terry said, My only hope is that one of the two columns will find the Indians. His belief that either of the two columns would be able to handle any hostile warriors was realistic.

On the morning of June 25, after Custer’s command marched several days, his advance scouts on the Crow’s Nest, a high point between the Rosebud and Little Bighorn valleys, saw a large Indian encampment 15 miles away near the Little Bighorn River. Custer did not heedlessly rush into battle against the advice of his scouts. I told [guide and interpreter] Mitch Bouyer it would be a good thing if they would hide here until night and then surprise the camp, scout White Man Runs Him later said. Then the two Sioux appeared over there and I said we had better hurry and get over there just as soon as possible. Custer was able to pull off a surprise attack. Sheridan reported on November 25, 1876, If Custer had not come upon the village so suddenly, the warriors would have gone to meet him in order to give time to the women and children to get out of the way, as they did with Crook only a few days before.

Custer divided his command into battalions, and retained personal command of two battalions (five companies, about 210 men). Reno was given command of three companies and most of the scouts (about 175 men). Captain Frederick Benteen was given command of three companies (about 125 men). One company and six men from each company (about 135 men) were assigned to protect the pack train and provide a rear guard for the advance. It has often been claimed that this decision doomed Custer, but never before had a battalion (let alone an entire regiment) of cavalry been whipped by Plains Indians. Neither Custer nor any of the officers with him would have doubted that each of these commands, with the exception of the pack train command, was a formidable offensive force. It is accepted military doctrine that forces divide and maneuver for the offensive while they concentrate for the defense. Custer had divided his forces many times during the Civil War, as well as at the Washita and during the Yellowstone Expedition. At the Little Bighorn, each command had disciplined troops who were expected to carry out their commander’s orders.

As would be expected, Custer commanded the largest force and planned to strike the main blow at the enemy. His company commanders included his brother Tom Custer, twice awarded the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, and other reliable officers Captain Miles Keogh, Captain George Yates, Lieutenant Alger Smith and Lieutenant James Calhoun (who was married to Custer’s sister). Captain Benteen would later refer to these men, along with a few others, as the Custer gang. Perhaps so, but none of these proven soldiers would have conducted themselves the way that Reno and Benteen seemingly did at the Little Big horn by disobeying orders, exhibiting dereliction of military duty and displaying cowardice. Putting the majority of his most reliable officers in his own command may have been Custer’s biggest mistake.

Benteen, by most accounts, resented Custer and had publicly criticized his conduct at the Washita. Their personal animosity was still going strong in 1876. Benteen demanded to lead the advance from the Crow’s Nest, and for a brief time did, before Custer ordered him into the foothills on the left of the main force. That order may have been Custer’s second critical mistake on June 25. What legitimate military purpose this order had, if any, has been much debated. Ordered to pitch into anything you might find, Benteen’s battalion marched parallel to the main force but gradually fell behind and became separated by several miles. From a tactical view, Benteen’s role became little more than that of the combat reserve, and it is possible that Custer’s purpose for making that assignment was to humiliate Benteen. However, James Schreffler, a military science instructor at the College of the Ozarks who has studied the battle extensively from the military perspective, has suggested that Benteen headed a surveillance/reconnaissance force to keep the enemy from slipping away through the numerous draws and washes in the area. Schreffler adds, I believe the tactics used by Custer very possibly would have been used by any other officer of that era in his position and possessing the same information.

As the main force approached the Little Bighorn Valley, hostile warriors were seen, and Custer ordered Reno into the valley to attack the Indian camp while he turned to the right to advance upon the camp from the hills overlooking the valley. Reno crossed the Little Bighorn River and charged down the valley until he halted to form a skirmish line. According to the original map of Lieutenant Edward Maguire, who arrived with General Terry and the reinforcements two days later, Reno stopped his advance about two miles from the main Indian camp. As Maguire was a trained Army engineer who examined the battlefield shortly after the fight was over, it must be presumed that his map is more accurate than the revisionist maps that have the Indian camp shifting about and have Custer’s advance drifting away from the path depicted by Maguire.

The accounts of the Indian participants frequently conflict, but one thing almost all the old warriors agreed on was that their camp (or village) was unprepared for the sudden attack. Reno was able to form a dismounted skirmish line in good order, and the horses were sheltered in low benchland near the river. While this is sometimes portrayed as a defensive action, Reno was actually creating a diversion while Custer maneuvered for a flank attack. It is evident to me that Custer intended to support me by…attacking the village in the flank, Reno later said. The now alerted Indians knew better than to make a frontal attack on Reno’s skirmish line, so they advanced in the foothills to the left of his line to strike the cavalrymen in the flank and rear. Reno then ordered the skirmish line into a wooded area, where the men remounted. Up to this point, Reno’s command had suffered few casualties and was still an offensive force threatening the Indian camp. Had Reno been in a defensive mode, he most likely would have concentrated his forces and kept his men on foot.

At this point, a bullet struck the scout Bloody Knife in the head and a shower of gore sprayed the face of Reno, who was standing next to him. Reno lost his composure, ordering his force to dismount, and then to remount again. Without bugle calls or any preparation at all, Reno bolted from the woods, leading his command in a disorganized retreat that almost immediately became a rout. About a third of the men were killed, lost or missing by the time the command had crossed the river and reached the top of the bluffs on the other side. Fortunately for Reno and the survivors, Benteen and his battalion were just arriving on the scene and the two forces were able to unite on the position now known as Reno Hill. Captain Thomas Weir led one feeble advance to go to help Custer. The company reached Weir Peaks (prominent points joined together and sometimes called Weir Peak or Weir Point), from which the Custer Battlefield is visible, but held this position only briefly before retreating to Reno’s hill position. Only one of Weir’s men, Vincent Charley, died in that short-lived advance. Until Terry’s reinforcements arrived two days later, Reno and Benteen did nothing with their combined command of almost 400 soldiers except defend themselves on Reno Hill.

Custer had been at Weir Peaks earlier. From there, he could clearly view Reno’s position, the Indian camp and the back trail. It is probable that from this position, Custer had made his final plans and had sent his last message to Benteen. The order, hurriedly scribbled on paper by Custer’s adjutant, Lieutenant William W. Cooke, said: Come on. Big village. Be quick. Bring packs. P.S. Bring Packs. Custer biographer Jeffry D. Wert states the only reasonable conclusion: It would appear that Custer shaped his movements by his commitment to the offensive in the anticipated approach of Benteen. Custer had even given orders for the pack train to come quick. Reno had seemingly created a diversion, Benteen would be coming soon, and now it was time for Custer to do his thing – attack.

Maguire’s map shows that from Weir Peaks, Custer advanced to the Little Bighorn River at the bottom of Medicine Tail Coulee. Although many people claim Custer was repulsed by warriors at this point, no dead cavalry horses were found to indicate a fight had occurred here. Furthermore, if Custer had been repulsed, his retreat line would have been to the rear and reinforcements, not away from them and toward what would become known as Last Stand Hill. Maguire marked the spot on his map with a B and later testified at the Reno Court of Inquiry that a ford was there and that it was supposed General Custer went there and attempted to cross. A map made by Captain Benteen also shows a ford at the point Custer reached the river. No beaver dams or other natural features would have prevented Custer from crossing the river at what has become known as Medicine Tail Ford. It is possible that Custer successfully crossed the river at the ford and actually reached the Indian camp. Sergeant Edward Davern testified at the Reno Court of Inquiry: I could see Indians circling around him in the bottom….I spoke to Captain Weir about it. I said that must be General Custer fighting down in the bottom. He asked me where and I showed him. He said Yes, I believe it is. Similar statements were made by Lieutenants Edward Mathey and Winfield Scott Edgerly.

According to Maguire’s map, Custer’s command advanced to Last Stand Hill by two separate trails. In a withdrawal from the river ford, Custer might have been expected to concentrate for the defense rather than divide his force. Perhaps, if these trails had been made at different times, one of them could have been made during an offensive maneuver. Custer commanded two battalions. He may have sent only the largest battalion (three companies) across the river, with the hope that it would soon join forces with Reno’s command (not realizing that Reno’s battalion had retreated in the other direction). That would have given him six companies, half the regiment, in or near the Indian camp, with Benteen expected to arrive with three more companies to reinforce the attack.

As for the other two companies, led by Captain Yates, they may have been part of a separate attack. Custer, ever audacious and offensive-minded, may have wanted them to threaten the Indian camp from another unexpected direction, or else he may have wanted them deployed as skirmishers along the ridges overlooking the camp. The artifacts recently discovered west of Last Stand Hill near the river might indicate the location of another Custer threat to / or attack on the camp. In his original map, submitted with his report of September 1876, Maguire had a dotted line, representing troop movement, extending almost to the river and marked by a prominent E (see section of that map on P. 44). These markings suggest the lieutenant may have believed that elements of Custer’s command fought at that location (the area of new discovery on the aerial photo map seen on P. 45, where a purple line replaces Maguire’s dotted line). Both the E and the dotted line running beside it toward the river were removed from a later Maguire map, which was used at the Reno Court of Inquiry in 1879.

The retreat of Reno’s force from the valley, along with the subsequent failure of Benteen and Reno to advance to Custer’s support, eventually would have forced Custer to go on the defensive. His immediate command of just over 200 men was vastly outnumbered by an Indian force of at least 1,500 warriors (some estimates are much higher). It stands to reason that Custer chose Last Stand Hill as a defensive position, and the reason he must have gone in that direction (instead of falling back to Weir Peaks) was to reunite with Yates force farther downstream. In the end, Custer’s forces were dispersed and killed over a vast area. From Last Stand Hill, Captain Keogh’s and Lieutenant Calhoun’s companies stretched nearly a mile along a ridge that pointed almost directly at Weir Peaks, as if they were trying to reach that position or facilitate an advance from it. A second division of Custer’s force appears to have created a skirmish line extending from Last Stand Hill west toward the Little Bighorn River, possibly to protect his flank or perhaps even to keep a corridor open toward the Indian camp for an eventual charge. Either Custer failed to concentrate for the defense or else he was still maneuvering for the offense. If the latter is true, he may very well have been expecting reinforcements from Weir Peaks. In any case, his divided forces had become vulnerable.

Survivors of the Reno-Benteen Battlefield and reinforcement soldiers who arrived on the scene a few days later described some 36 horses that had been shot down in a circle on Last Stand Hill. Behind those horses were about 40 cavalrymen, including George Custer, Tom Custer, Yates and Cooke. It has been claimed that a last stand did not occur on this hill, because artifacts have not been found there recently. But this premise ignores the fact that extensive leveling was done to the hilltop, a road and parking lot were built, and a huge water tank was buried almost on top of the hill. Last Stand Hill may be the most abused piece of historical ground in America. Artifacts not carried off or shifted during construction were also vulnerable to being picked up by the millions of people who have visited the battlefield. Once the horses were shot and the men were in a desperate defensive position behind them on June 25, 1876, the Battle of the Little Bighorn became a Last Stand.

Much of the famous battle (which officially ended on the afternoon of the 26th when the Indians broke off their siege of the Reno-Benteen position and withdrew from the field) will forever remain a mystery, and some people will never stop saying that it was all Custer’s fault. The little band of Texans at the Alamo stood its ground against overwhelming odds, and those men became American heroes. Custer and some of his most trusted men in the 7th Cavalry did the same, but not many Americans view them as heroes today. There are, of course, differences. Underdogs William Travis and David Crockett knew that defeat and death at the hands of the overwhelming Mexican force were inevitable. On the other hand, there is every reason to believe that Custer thought a victory was possible until near the end. General Nelson Miles, a successful Indian fighter, later commented on the cause of the defeat: The fact that after Custer’s five troops had been annihilated, the Indians who came back and engaged the seven troops were repulsed, and that they failed to dislodge these troops, is proof that the force was amply strong, if it had only acted in full concert. No commanding officers can win victories with seven-twelfths of his command remaining out of the engagement when within sounds of his rifle shots.

At the Little Bighorn, both Reno and Benteen had refused to follow their orders. They had for all intents and purposes abandoned their commander and the battle. Their actions, or inactions, made Custer’s defeat and death inevitable, but it doesn’t mean that George A. Custer didnt stand tall on Last Stand Hill.

This article was written by Robert Nightengale and originally published in the August 2005 issue of Wild West Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to Wild West magazine today!

3 Carlos Hathcock Shoots a Dude Through His Scope

Carlos Hathcock was a U.S. Marine Corps sniper who had racked up a high enough kill count during his two tours in the Vietnam War to earn a bounty on his head for $30,000 from the North Vietnamese government. Inspired by the bounty, an unknown Vietnamese sniper set out to try and kill Hathcock, unaware that to do so would be like trying to sneak up on Batman and slap him in the penis.

Hathcock was drawn out of camp when the enemy sniper shot several of his fellow Marines, despite knowing that the man was simply trying to bait him. So it was sort of like Enemy at the Gates, only with fewer fake German accents. To avoid a hasty debraining via high-velocity bullet, Hathcock would have to move slowly and stay out of sight, so he crawled the distance between himself and the other sniper on his stomach, making sure to keep the sun behind him.

He kept going like this until he thought he saw a glint of light, like when the sun is reflected off a piece of glass during a boss battle in Metal Gear Solid 3.

The experienced Hathcock fired at the glimmer, knowing it to be either his foe or a tiny mirror placed out in the jungle for no conceivable reason. As it turns out, it was the former, and Hathcock's bullet passed clean through the enemy sniper's scope from 500 yards away, threading the needle at close to one-third of a mile.

Bear in mind that the typical rifle scope is only a couple of inches wide at the very most, so Hathcock had to place his shot perfectly for the bullet to pass through it and not hit the sides of the device. Also, the enemy sniper had to have been facing him, with his gun more or less leveled directly toward Hathcock's position. So, in the span of the half-second he had to spare before his foe spotted him and erased him from time, Hathcock fired a round through a 2-inch circle he wasn't even positive was there, draped in dense jungle about three city blocks away.


Established by French colonists in 1716, Natchez is one of the oldest and most important European settlements in the lower Mississippi River Valley. After the French lost the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War), they ceded Natchez and near territory to Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris of 1763. (It later traded other territory east of the Mississippi River with Great Britain, which expanded what it called West Florida).

After the United States acquired this area from the British after the American Revolutionary War, the city served as the capital of the Mississippi Territory and then of the state of Mississippi. It predates Jackson by more than a century the latter replaced Natchez as the capital in 1822, as it was more centrally located in the developing state. The strategic location of Natchez, on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, ensured that it would be a pivotal center of trade, commerce, and the interchange of ethnic Native American, European, and African cultures in the region it held this position for two centuries after its founding.

In U.S. history, Natchez is recognized particularly for its role in the development of the Old Southwest during the first half of the 19th century. It was the southern terminus of the historic Natchez Trace, with the northern terminus being Nashville, Tennessee. After unloading their cargoes in Natchez or New Orleans, many pilots and crew of flatboats and keelboats traveled by the Trace overland to their homes in the Ohio River Valley. (Given the strong current of the Mississippi River, it was not until steam-powered vessels were developed in the 1820s that travel northward on the river could be accomplished by large boats.) The Natchez Trace also played an important role during the War of 1812. Today the modern Natchez Trace Parkway, which commemorates this route, still has its southern terminus in Natchez.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the city attracted wealthy Southern planters as residents, who built mansions to fit their ambitions. Their plantations were vast tracts of land in the surrounding lowlands along the river fronts of Mississippi and Louisiana, where they grew large commodity crops of cotton and sugarcane using slave labor. Natchez became the principal port from which these crops were exported, both upriver to Northern cities and downriver to New Orleans, where much of the cargo was exported to Europe. Many of the mansions built by planters before 1860 survive and form a major part of the city's architecture and identity. Agriculture remained the primary economic base for the region until well into the twentieth century.

During the American Civil War Natchez was surrendered by Confederate forces without a fight in September 1862. Following the Union victory at the Battle of Vicksburg in July 1863, many refugees, including former slaves, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, began moving into Natchez and the surrounding countryside. The Union Army officers claimed to be short on resources and unable to provide for the refugees. The Army planned to address the situation with a mixture of paid labor for freed slaves on government leased plantations, the enlistment of able bodied males who were willing to fight in the Union Army and the establishment of refugee camps where former slaves could be provided with education. However, as the war continued, the plan was never effectively implemented and the leased plantations were crowded, poorly managed and frequently raided by Confederate troops who controlled the surrounding territory. Hundreds of people living in Natchez, including many former slaves and refugees, died of hunger, disease, overwork or were killed in the fighting during this period. [6]

After the American Civil War, the city's economy rapidly revived, mostly due to Natchez having been spared the destruction visited upon many other parts of the South. The vitality of the city and region was captured most significantly in the 80 years or so following the war by the photographers Henry C. Norman and his son Earl. The output of the Norman Studio between roughly 1870 and 1950 documents this period in Natchez's development vividly the photographs are now preserved as the Thomas and Joan Gandy Collection in special collections of the library of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

During the twentieth century, the city's economy experienced a downturn, first due to the replacement of steamboat traffic on the Mississippi River by railroads in the early 1900s, some of which bypassed the river cities and drew away their commerce. Later in the 20th century, many local industries closed in a restructuring that sharply reduced the number of jobs in the area. Despite its status as a popular destination for heritage tourism because of well-preserved antebellum architecture, Natchez has had a general decline in population since 1960. It remains the principal city of the Natchez micropolitan area.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 13.9 square miles (36 km 2 ), of which 13.2 square miles (34 km 2 ) are land and 0.6 square miles (1.6 km 2 ) (4.62%) is water.

Climate Edit

Climate data for Natchez, Mississippi (1991–2020 normals, extremes 1892–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 83
Average high °F (°C) 56.9
Daily mean °F (°C) 46.4
Average low °F (°C) 35.9
Record low °F (°C) 4
Average precipitation inches (mm) 6.23
Average snowfall inches (cm) 0.1
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 11.2 10.4 9.9 8.3 9.2 9.9 10.6 10.2 7.2 6.7 7.8 10.3 111.7
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1
Source: NOAA [7] [8]
Historical population
Census Pop.
18202,184 44.5%
18302,789 27.7%
18403,612 29.5%
18504,434 22.8%
18606,612 49.1%
18709,057 37.0%
18807,058 −22.1%
189010,101 43.1%
190012,210 20.9%
191011,791 −3.4%
192012,608 6.9%
193013,422 6.5%
194015,296 14.0%
195022,740 48.7%
196023,791 4.6%
197019,704 −17.2%
198022,015 11.7%
199019,535 −11.3%
200018,464 −5.5%
201015,792 −14.5%
2019 (est.)14,615 [2] −7.5%
U.S. Decennial Census [9]

As of the census [10] [11] of 2000, there were 18,464 people, 7,591 households, and 4,858 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,398.3 people per square mile (540.1/km 2 ). There were 8,479 housing units at an average density of 642.1 per square mile (248.0/km 2 ). The racial makeup of the city was 54.49% African American, 44.18% White, 0.38% Asian, 0.11% Native American, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.18% from other races, and 0.63% from two or more races. 0.70% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 7,591 households, out of which 29.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.6% were married couples living together, 23.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.0% were non-families. 32.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 3.00.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 26.5% under the age of 18, 8.8% from 18 to 24, 24.3% from 25 to 44, 22.4% from 45 to 64, and 18.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females, there were 81.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 76.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $25,117, and the median income for a family was $29,723. Males had a median income of $31,323 versus $20,829 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,868. 28.6% of the population and 25.1% of families were below the poverty line. 41.6% of those under the age of 18 and 23.3% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.

Natchez is home to Alcorn State University's Natchez Campus, which offers the School of Nursing, the School of Business, and graduate business programs. The School of Business offers Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and other business classes from its Natchez campus. The MBA program attracts students from a wide range of academic disciplines and preparation from the Southwest Mississippi area and beyond offering concentrations in general business, gaming management and hospitality management. [13] Both schools in the Natchez campus provide skills which has enabled community students to have an important impact on the economic opportunities of people in Southwest Mississippi. [14]

Copiah-Lincoln Community College also operates a campus in Natchez.

The city of Natchez and Adams County operate one public school system, the Natchez-Adams School District. The district comprises ten schools. They are Susie B. West, Morgantown, Gilmer McLaurin, Joseph F. Frazier, Robert Lewis Magnet School, Natchez Freshman Academy, Natchez Early [email protected], Central Alternative School, Natchez High School, and Fallin Career and Technology Center.

In Natchez, there are a number of private and parochial schools. Adams County Christian School (ACCS) is also a PK-12 school in the city. Adams County Christian School was founded as a segregation academy [15] and is a member of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS). Cathedral School is also a PK-12 school in the city. It is affiliated with the Roman Catholic St. Mary Basilica. Holy Family Catholic School, founded in 1890, is a PK-3 school affiliated with Holy Family Catholic Church.

A list of media in the Natchez metropolitan area (collectively known as the "Miss-Lou"):

Channel Callsign Format
1240 WMIS Blues
1450 WNAT News Talk

Channel Callsign Format
88.9 WMAU Public radio
91.1 WASM Religious
91.9 WYFQ Religious
95.1 WQNZ Country
97.3 WKSO Top 40 Adult
97.7 WTYJ Blues
101.1 WWUU Classic Hits
104.7 KWTG Classic Country
105.1 KZKR Classic Rock
107.1 KFNV Classic Hits

Transportation Edit

Highways Edit

U.S. 61 runs north–south, parallel to the Mississippi River, linking Natchez with Port Gibson, Woodville, Mississippi and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

U.S. 84 runs east–west and bridges the Mississippi, connecting it with Vidalia, Louisiana and Brookhaven, Mississippi.

U.S. 425 runs north from Natchez after crossing the Mississippi, connecting Ferriday with Clayton, at which point U.S. 65 follows the west bank of the Mississippi, connecting to Waterproof north to St. Joseph, Newellton, and Tallulah, Louisiana.

U.S. 98 runs east from Natchez towards Bude and McComb, Mississippi.

Mississippi 555 runs north from the center of Natchez to where it joins Mississippi Highway 554.

Mississippi 554 runs from the north side of the city to where it joins Highway 61, northeast of town.

Rail Edit

Natchez is served by rail lines, which today carry only freight.

Air Edit

Natchez is served by the Natchez-Adams County Airport, a general aviation facility. The nearest airports with commercial service are Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, 85 miles (137 km) to the south via US 61 and Alexandria International Airport, 82 miles (132 km) to the west via US 84 to LA-28W.


The modern tank is the result of a century of development from the first primitive armored vehicles, due to improvements in technology such as the internal combustion engine, which allowed the rapid movement of heavy armored vehicles. As a result of these advances, tanks underwent tremendous shifts in capability in the years since their first appearance. Tanks in World War I were developed separately and simultaneously by Great Britain and France as a means to break the deadlock of trench warfare on the Western Front. The first British prototype, nicknamed Little Willie, was constructed at William Foster & Co. in Lincoln, England in 1915, with leading roles played by Major Walter Gordon Wilson who designed the gearbox and hull, and by William Tritton of William Foster and Co., who designed the track plates. [2] This was a prototype of a new design that would become the British Army's Mark I tank, the first tank used in combat in September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. [2] The name "tank" was adopted by the British during the early stages of their development, as a security measure to conceal their purpose (see etymology). While the British and French built thousands of tanks in World War I, Germany was unconvinced of the tank's potential, and did not have enough resources, thus it built only twenty.

Tanks of the interwar period evolved into the much larger and more powerful designs of World War II. Important new concepts of armored warfare were developed the Soviet Union launched the first mass tank/air attack at Khalkhin Gol (Nomonhan) in August 1939, [3] and later developed the T-34, one of the predecessors of the main battle tank. Less than two weeks later, Germany began their large-scale armored campaigns that would become known as blitzkrieg ("lightning war") – massed concentrations of tanks combined with motorized and mechanized infantry, artillery and air power designed to break through the enemy front and collapse enemy resistance.

The widespread introduction of high-explosive anti-tank warheads during the second half of World War II led to lightweight infantry-carried anti-tank weapons such as the Panzerfaust, which could destroy some types of tanks. Tanks in the Cold War were designed with these weapons in mind, and led to greatly improved armor types during the 1960s, especially composite armor. Improved engines, transmissions and suspensions allowed tanks of this period to grow larger. Aspects of gun technology changed significantly as well, with advances in shell design and aiming technology.

During the Cold War, the main battle tank concept arose and became a key component of modern armies. [4] In the 21st century, with the increasing role of asymmetrical warfare and the end of the Cold War, that also contributed to the increase of cost-effective anti-tank rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) worldwide and its successors, the ability of tanks to operate independently has declined. Modern tanks are more frequently organized into combined arms units which involve the support of infantry, who may accompany the tanks in infantry fighting vehicles, and supported by reconnaissance or ground-attack aircraft. [5]


The tank is the 20th century realization of an ancient concept: that of providing troops with mobile protection and firepower. The internal combustion engine, armor plate, and continuous track were key innovations leading to the invention of the modern tank.

Many sources imply that Leonardo da Vinci and H.G. Wells in some way foresaw or "invented" the tank. Leonardo's late 15th century drawings of what some describe as a "tank" show a man-powered, wheeled vehicle with cannons all around it. However the human crew would not have enough power to move it over larger distance, and usage of animals was problematic in a space so confined. In the 15th century, Jan Žižka built armored wagons containing cannons and used them effectively in several battles. The continuous "caterpillar" track arose from attempts to improve the mobility of wheeled vehicles by spreading their weight, reducing ground pressure, and increasing their traction. Experiments can be traced back as far as the 17th century, and by the late nineteenth they existed in various recognizable and practical forms in several countries.

It is frequently claimed that Richard Lovell Edgeworth created a caterpillar track. It is true that in 1770 he patented a "machine, that should carry and lay down its own road", but this was Edgeworth's choice of words. His own account in his autobiography is of a horse-drawn wooden carriage on eight retractable legs, capable of lifting itself over high walls. The description bears no similarity to a caterpillar track. [6] Armored trains appeared in the mid-19th century, and various armored steam and petrol-engined vehicles were also proposed.

The machines described in Wells' 1903 short story The Land Ironclads are a step closer, insofar as they are armor-plated, have an internal power plant, and are able to cross trenches. [7] Some aspects of the story foresee the tactical use and impact of the tanks that later came into being. However, Wells' vehicles were driven by steam and moved on pedrail wheels, technologies that were already outdated at the time of writing. After seeing British tanks in 1916, Wells denied having "invented" them, writing, "Yet let me state at once that I was not their prime originator. I took up an idea, manipulated it slightly, and handed it on." [8] It is, though, possible that one of the British tank pioneers, Ernest Swinton, was subconsciously or otherwise influenced by Wells' tale. [9] [10]

The first combinations of the three principal components of the tank appeared in the decade before World War One. In 1903, Captain Léon René Levavasseur of the French artillery proposed mounting a field gun in an armored box on tracks. Major William E. Donohue, of the British Army's Mechanical Transport Committee, suggested fixing a gun and armored shield on a British type of track-driven vehicle. [11] The first armored car was produced in Austria in 1904. However, all were restricted to rails or reasonably passable terrain. It was the development of a practical caterpillar track that provided the necessary independent, all-terrain mobility.

In a memorandum of 1908, Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott presented his view that man-hauling to the South Pole was impossible and that motor traction was needed. [12] Snow vehicles did not yet exist however, and so his engineer Reginald Skelton developed the idea of a caterpillar track for snow surfaces. [13] These tracked motors were built by the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company in Birmingham, tested in Switzerland and Norway, and can be seen in action in Herbert Ponting's 1911 documentary film of Scott's Antarctic Terra Nova Expedition [14] ). Scott died during the expedition in 1912, but expedition member and biographer Apsley Cherry-Garrard credited Scott's "motors" with the inspiration for the British World War I tanks, writing: "Scott never knew their true possibilities for they were the direct ancestors of the 'tanks' in France". [15] [ page needed ]

In 1911, a Lieutenant Engineer in the Austrian Army, Günther Burstyn, presented to the Austrian and Prussian War Ministries plans for a light, three-man tank with a gun in a revolving turret, the so-called Burstyn-Motorgeschütz. [16] In the same year an Australian civil engineer named Lancelot de Mole submitted a basic design for a tracked, armored vehicle to the British War Office. [17] In Russia, Vasiliy Mendeleev designed a tracked vehicle containing a large naval gun. [18] All of these ideas were rejected and, by 1914, forgotten (although it was officially acknowledged after the war that de Mole's design was at least the equal to the initial British tanks). Various individuals continued to contemplate the use of tracked vehicles for military applications, but by the outbreak of the War no one in a position of responsibility in any army gave much thought to tanks. [ citation needed ]

World War I

United Kingdom

The direct military impact of the tank can be debated but its effect on the Germans was immense, it caused bewilderment, terror and concern in equal measure. It was also a huge boost to the civilians at home. After facing the Zeppelins, at last Britain had a wonder weapon. Tanks were taken on tours and treated almost like film stars.

From late 1914 a small number of middle-ranking British Army officers tried to persuade the War Office and the Government to consider the creation of armored vehicles. Amongst their suggestions was the use of caterpillar tractors, but although the Army used many such vehicles for towing heavy guns, it could not be persuaded that they could be adapted as armored vehicles. The consequence was that early tank development in the United Kingdom was carried out by the Royal Navy.

As the result of an approach by Royal Naval Air Service officers who had been operating armored cars on the Western Front, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill formed the Landship Committee, on 20 February 1915. [19] The Director of Naval Construction for the Royal Navy, Eustace Tennyson d'Eyncourt, was appointed to head the Committee in view of his experience with the engineering methods it was felt might be required the two other members were naval officers, and a number of industrialists were engaged as consultants. So many played a part in its long and complicated development that it is not possible to name any individual as the sole inventor of the tank. [20]

However leading roles were played by Lt Walter Gordon Wilson R.N. who designed the gearbox and developed practical tracks and by William Tritton whose agricultural machinery company, William Foster & Co. in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England built the prototypes. [2] [21] On 22 July 1915, a commission was placed to design a machine that could cross a trench 4 ft wide. [2] Secrecy surrounded the project with the designers locking themselves in a room at the White Hart Hotel in Lincoln. [2] The committee's first design, Little Willie, ran for the first time in September 1915 and served to develop the form of the track but an improved design, better able to cross trenches, swiftly followed and in January 1916 the prototype, nicknamed "Mother", was adopted as the design for future tanks. The first order for tanks was placed on 12 February 1916, and a second on 21 April. Fosters built 37 (all "male"), and Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Wagon Company, of Birmingham, 113 (38 "male" and 75 "female"), a total of 150. [22] Production models of "Male" tanks (armed with naval cannon and machine guns) and "Females" (carrying only machine-guns) would go on to fight in history's first tank action at the Somme in September 1916. [19] [23] Great Britain produced about 2,600 tanks of various types during the war. [24] The first tank to engage in battle was designated D1, a British Mark I Male, during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (part of the wider Somme offensive) on 15 September 1916. [25] Bert Chaney, a nineteen-year-old signaller with the 7th London Territorial Battalion, reported that "three huge mechanical monsters such as [he] had never seen before" rumbled their way onto the battlefield, "frightening the Jerries out of their wits and making them scuttle like frightened rabbits." [26] When the news of the first use of the tanks emerged, Prime Minister David Lloyd George commented,

It is really to Mr Winston Churchill that the credit is due more than to anyone else. He took up with enthusiasm the idea of making them a long time ago, and he met with many difficulties. He converted me, and at the Ministry of Munitions he went ahead and made them. The admiralty experts were invaluable, and gave the greatest possible assistance. They are, of course, experts in the matter of armor plating. Major Stern, (formerly an officer in the Royal Naval Air Service) a business man at the Ministry of Munitions had charge of the work of getting them built, and he did the task very well. Col Swinton and others also did valuable work.


Whilst several experimental machines were investigated in France, it was a colonel of artillery, J.B.E. Estienne, who directly approached the Commander-in-Chief with detailed plans for a tank on caterpillar tracks, in late 1915. The result was two largely unsatisfactory types of tank, 400 each of the Schneider and Saint-Chamond, both based on the Holt Tractor.

The following year, the French pioneered the use of a full 360° rotation turret in a tank for the first time, with the creation of the Renault FT light tank, with the turret containing the tank's main armament. In addition to the traversible turret, another innovative feature of the FT was its engine located at the rear. This pattern, with the gun located in a mounted turret and the engine at the back, has become the standard for most succeeding tanks across the world even to this day. [28] The FT was the most numerous tank of the war over 3,000 were made by late 1918.


Germany fielded very few tanks during World War I, and started development only after encountering British tanks on the Somme. The A7V, the only type made, was introduced in March 1918. with just 20 being produced during the war. [29] The first tank versus tank action took place on 24 April 1918 at the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, France, when three British Mark IVs met three German A7Vs. Captured British Mk IVs formed the bulk of Germany's tank forces during World War I about 35 were in service at any one time. Plans to expand the tank programme were under way when the War ended.

Other nations

The United States Tank Corps used tanks supplied by France and Great Britain during World War I. Production of American-built tanks had just begun when the War came to an end. Italy also manufactured two Fiat 2000s towards the end of the war, too late to see service. Russia independently built and trialed two prototypes early in the War the tracked, two-man Vezdekhod and the huge Lebedenko, but neither went into production. A tracked self-propelled gun was also designed but not produced. [30]

Although tank tactics developed rapidly during the war, piecemeal deployments, mechanical problems, and poor mobility limited the military significance of the tank in World War I, and the tank did not fulfil its promise of rendering trench warfare obsolete. Nonetheless, it was clear to military thinkers on both sides that tanks in some way could have a significant role in future conflicts. [31]

Interwar period

In the interwar period tanks underwent further mechanical development. In terms of tactics, J.F.C. Fuller's doctrine of spearhead attacks with massed tank formations was the basis for work by Heinz Guderian in Germany, Percy Hobart in Britain, Adna R. Chaffee, Jr., in the US, Charles de Gaulle in France, and Mikhail Tukhachevsky in the USSR. Liddell Hart held a more moderate view that all arms – cavalry, infantry and artillery – should be mechanized and work together. The British formed the all-arms Experimental Mechanized Force to test the use of tanks with supporting forces.

In the Second World War only Germany would initially put the theory into practice on a large scale, and it was their superior tactics and French blunders, not superior weapons, that made the "blitzkrieg" so successful in May 1940. [32] For information regarding tank development in this period, see tank development between the wars.

Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union all experimented heavily with tank warfare during their clandestine and “volunteer” involvement in the Spanish Civil War, which saw some of the earliest examples of successful mechanized combined arms —such as when Republican troops, equipped with Soviet-supplied tanks and supported by aircraft, eventually routed Italian troops fighting for the Nationalists in the seven-day Battle of Guadalajara in 1937. [33] However, of the nearly 700 tanks deployed during this conflict, only about 64 tanks representing the Franco faction and 331 from the Republican side were equipped with cannon, and of those 64 nearly all were World War I vintage Renault FT tanks, while the 331 Soviet supplied machines had 45mm main guns and were of 1930s manufacture. [34] The balance of Nationalist tanks were machine gun armed. The primary lesson learned from this war was that machine gun armed tanks had to be equipped with cannon, with the associated armor inherent to modern tanks.

The five-month-long war between the Soviet Union and the Japanese 6th Army at Khalkhin Gol (Nomonhan) in 1939 brought home some lessons [ which? ] . In this conflict, the Soviets fielded over two thousand tanks, to the around 73 cannon armed tanks deployed by the Japanese, [35] the major difference being that Japanese armor were equipped with diesel engines as opposed to the Russian tanks equipped with petrol engines. [36] After General Georgy Zhukov inflicted a defeat on the Japanese 6th Army with his massed combined tank and air attack, the Soviets learned a lesson on the use of gasoline engines, and quickly incorporated those newly found experiences into their new T-34 medium tank during World War II. [37]

Prior to World War II, the tactics and strategy of deploying tank forces underwent a revolution. In August 1939, Soviet General Georgy Zhukov used the combined force of tanks and airpower at Nomonhan against the Japanese 6th Army [38] Heinz Guderian, a tactical theoretician who was heavily involved in the formation of the first independent German tank force, said "Where tanks are, the front is", and this concept became a reality in World War II. [39] Guderian's armored warfare ideas, combined with Germany's existing doctrines of Bewegungskrieg ("maneuver warfare") and infiltration tactics from World War I, became the basis of blitzkrieg in the opening stages of World War II.

World War II

During World War II, the first conflict in which armored vehicles were critical to battlefield success, the tank and related tactics developed rapidly. Armored forces proved capable of tactical victory in an unprecedentedly short amount of time, yet new anti-tank weaponry showed that the tank was not invulnerable. During the Invasion of Poland, tanks performed in a more traditional role in close cooperation with infantry units, but in the Battle of France deep independent armored penetrations were executed by the Germans, a technique later called blitzkrieg. Blitzkrieg used innovative combined arms tactics and radios in all of the tanks to provide a level of tactical flexibility and power that surpassed that of the Allied armor. The French Army, with tanks equal or superior to the German tanks in both quality and quantity, employed a linear defensive strategy in which the armored cavalry units were made subservient to the needs of the infantry armies to cover their entrenchment in Belgium. [32] In addition, they lacked radios in many of their tanks and headquarters, [40] which limited their ability to respond to German attacks.

In accordance with blitzkrieg methods, German tanks bypassed enemy strongpoints and could radio for close air support to destroy them, or leave them to the infantry. A related development, motorized infantry, allowed some of the troops to keep up with the tanks and create highly mobile combined arms forces. [32] The defeat of a major military power within weeks shocked the rest of the world, spurring tank and anti-tank weapon development.

The North African Campaign also provided an important battleground for tanks, as the flat, desolate terrain with relatively few obstacles or urban environments was ideal for conducting mobile armored warfare. However, this battlefield also showed the importance of logistics, especially in an armored force, as the principal warring armies, the German Afrika Korps and the British Eighth Army, often outpaced their supply trains in repeated attacks and counter-attacks on each other, resulting in complete stalemate. This situation would not be resolved until 1942, when during the Second Battle of El Alamein, the Afrika Korps, crippled by disruptions in their supply lines, had 95% of its tanks destroyed [41] and was forced to retreat by a massively reinforced Eighth Army, the first in a series of defeats that would eventually lead to the surrender of the remaining Axis forces in Tunisia.

When Germany launched its invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, the Soviets had a superior tank design, the T-34. [42] A lack of preparations for the Axis surprise attack, mechanical problems, poor training of the crews and incompetent leadership caused the Soviet machines to be surrounded and destroyed in large numbers. However, interference from Adolf Hitler, [43] the geographic scale of the conflict, the dogged resistance of the Soviet combat troops, and the Soviets' massive advantages in manpower and production capability prevented a repeat of the German successes of 1940. [44] Despite early successes against the Soviets, the Germans were forced to up-gun their Panzer IVs, and to design and build both the larger and more expensive Tiger heavy tank in 1942, and the Panther medium tank the following year. In doing so, the Wehrmacht denied the infantry and other support arms the production priorities that they needed to remain equal partners with the increasingly sophisticated tanks, in turn violating the principle of combined arms they had pioneered. [4] Soviet developments following the invasion included upgunning the T-34, development of self-propelled anti-tank guns such as the SU-152, and deployment of the IS-2 in the closing stages of the war, with the T-34 being the most produced tank of World War II, totalling up to some 65,000 examples by May 1945.

Much like the Soviets, when entering World War II six months later (December 1941), the United States' mass production capacity enabled it to rapidly construct thousands of relatively cheap M4 Sherman medium tanks. A compromise all round, the Sherman was reliable and formed a large part of the Anglo-American ground forces, but in a tank-versus-tank battle was no match for the Panther or Tiger. [45] Numerical and logistical superiority and the successful use of combined arms allowed the Allies to overrun the German forces during the Battle of Normandy. Upgunned versions with the 76 mm gun M1 and the 17-pounder were introduced to improve the M4's firepower, but concerns about protection remained—despite the apparent armor deficiencies, a total of some 42,000 Shermans were built and delivered to the Allied nations using it during the war years, a total second only to the T-34.

Tank hulls [46] were modified to produce flame tanks, mobile rocket artillery, and combat engineering vehicles for tasks including mine-clearing and bridging. Specialized self-propelled guns, most of which could double as tank destroyers, were also both developed by the Germans—with their Sturmgeschütz, Panzerjäger and Jagdpanzer vehicles—and the Samokhodnaya ustanovka families of AFV's for the Soviets: such turretless, casemate-style tank destroyers and assault guns were less complex, stripped down tanks carrying heavy guns, solely firing forward. The firepower and low cost of these vehicles made them attractive but as manufacturing techniques improved and larger turret rings made larger tank guns feasible, the gun turret was recognized as the most effective mounting for the main gun to allow movement in a different direction from firing, enhancing tactical flexibility. [32]

Cold War

During the Cold War, tension between the Warsaw Pact countries and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries created an arms race that ensured that tank development proceeded largely as it had during World War II. The essence of tank designs during the Cold War had been hammered out in the closing stages of World War II. Large turrets, capable suspension systems, greatly improved engines, sloped armor and large-caliber (90 mm and larger) guns were standard. Tank design during the Cold War built on this foundation and included improvements to fire control, gyroscopic gun stabilization, communications (primarily radio) and crew comfort and saw the introduction of laser rangefinders and infrared night vision equipment. Armour technology progressed in an ongoing race against improvements in anti-tank weapons, especially antitank guided missiles like the TOW.

Medium tanks of World War II evolved into the main battle tank (MBT) of the Cold War and took over the majority of tank roles on the battlefield. This gradual transition occurred in the 1950s and 1960s due to anti-tank guided missiles, sabot ammunition and high explosive anti-tank warheads. World War II had shown that the speed of a light tank was no substitute for armor & firepower and medium tanks were vulnerable to newer weapon technology, rendering them obsolete. [ citation needed ]

In a trend started in World War II, economies of scale led to serial production of progressively upgraded models of all major tanks during the Cold War. For the same reason many upgraded post-World War II tanks and their derivatives (for example, the T-55 and T-72) remain in active service around the world, and even an obsolete tank may be the most formidable weapon on battlefields in many parts of the world. [48] Among the tanks of the 1950s were the British Centurion and Soviet T-54/55 in service from 1946, and the US M48 from 1951. [49] These three vehicles formed the bulk of the armored forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact throughout much of the Cold War. Lessons learned from tanks such as the Leopard 1, M48 Patton series, Chieftain, and T-72 led to the contemporary Leopard 2, M1 Abrams, Challenger 2, C1 Ariete, T-90 and Merkava IV.

Tanks and anti-tank weapons of the Cold War era saw action in a number of proxy wars like the Korean War, Vietnam War, Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Soviet–Afghan War and Arab-Israeli conflicts, culminating with the Yom Kippur War. The T-55, for example, has seen action in no fewer than 32 conflicts. In these wars the U.S. or NATO countries and the Soviet Union or China consistently backed opposing forces. Proxy wars were studied by Western and Soviet military analysts and provided a contribution to the Cold War tank development process.

21st century

The role of tank vs. tank combat is becoming diminished. Tanks work in concert with infantry in urban warfare by deploying them ahead of the platoon. When engaging enemy infantry, tanks can provide covering fire on the battlefield. Conversely, tanks can spearhead attacks when infantry are deployed in personnel carriers. [50]

Tanks were used to spearhead the initial US invasion of Iraq in 2003. As of 2005, there were 1,100 M1 Abrams used by the United States Army in the course of the Iraq War, and they have proven to have an unexpectedly high level of vulnerability to roadside bombs. [51] A relatively new type of remotely detonated mine, the explosively formed penetrator has been used with some success against American armored vehicles (particularly the Bradley fighting vehicle). However, with upgrades to their armor in the rear, M1s have proven invaluable in fighting insurgents in urban combat, particularly at the Battle of Fallujah, where the US Marines brought in two extra brigades. [52] Britain deployed its Challenger 2 tanks to support its operations in southern Iraq.

Israeli Merkava tanks contain features that enable them to support infantry in low intensity conflicts (LIC) and counter-terrorism operations. Such features are the rear door and rear corridor, enabling the tank to carry infantry and embark safely the IMI APAM-MP-T multi-purpose ammunition round, advanced C4IS systems and recently: TROPHY active protection system which protects the tank from shoulder-launched anti-tank weapons. During the Second Intifada further modifications were made, designated as "Merkava Mk. 3d Baz LIC". [ citation needed ]

Research and development

In terms of firepower, the focus of 2010s-era R&D was increased detection capability such as thermal imagers, automated fire control systems for the guns and increased muzzle energy from the gun to improve range, accuracy and armor penetration. [53] The most mature future gun technology is the electrothermal-chemical gun. [54] The XM291 electrothermal-chemical tank gun has gone through successful multiple firing sequences on a modified M8 Armored Gun System chassis. [55] To improve tank protection, one field of research involves making the tank invisible to radar by adapting stealth technologies originally designed for aircraft. Improvements to camouflage or and attempts to render it invisible through active camouflage, which changes according to where the tank is located, are being pursued. Research is also ongoing in electromagnetic armor systems to disperse or deflect incoming shaped charges, [56] [57] as well as various forms of active protection systems to prevent incoming projectiles (RPGs, missiles, etc.) from striking the tank.

Mobility may be enhanced in future tanks by the use of diesel-electric or turbine-electric series hybrid drives—first used in a primitive, gasoline-engined form with Porsche's Elefant German tank destroyer of 1943—improving fuel efficiency while reducing the size and weight of the power plant. [58] Furthermore, advances in gas turbine technology, including the use of advanced recuperators, [59] have allowed for reduction in engine volume and mass to less than 1 m 3 and 1 metric ton, respectively, while maintaining fuel efficiency similar to that of a diesel engine. [60] In line with the new doctrine of network-centric warfare, the 2010s-era modern battle tank shows increasing sophistication in its electronics and communication systems.

The three traditional factors determining a tank's capability effectiveness are its firepower, protection, and mobility. [61] [62] Firepower is the ability of a tank's crew to identify, engage, and destroy enemy tanks and other targets using its large-caliber cannon. Protection is the degree to which the tank's armor, profile and camouflage enables the tank crew to evade detection, protect themselves from enemy fire, and retain vehicle functionality during and after combat. Mobility includes how well the tank can be transported by rail, sea, or air to the operational staging area from the staging area by road or over terrain towards the enemy and tactical movement by the tank over the battlefield during combat, including traversing of obstacles and rough terrain. The variations of tank designs have been determined by the way these three fundamental features are blended. For instance, in 1937, the French doctrine focused on firepower and protection more than mobility because tanks worked in intimate liaison with the infantry. [63] There was also the case of the development of a heavy cruiser tank, which focused on armor and firepower to challenge Germany's Tiger and Panther tanks. [64]


Tanks have been classified by weight, role, or other criteria, that has changed over time and place. Classification is determined by the prevailing theories of armored warfare, which have been altered in turn by rapid advances in technology. No one classification system works across all periods or all nations in particular, weight-based classification is inconsistent between countries and eras.

In World War I, the first tank designs focused on crossing wide trenches, requiring very long and large vehicles, such as the British Mark I these became classified as heavy tanks. Tanks that fulfilled other combat roles were smaller, like the French Renault FT these were classified as light tanks or tankettes. Many late-war and inter-war tank designs diverged from these according to new, though mostly untried, concepts for future tank roles and tactics. Tank classifications varied considerably according to each nation's own tank development, such as "cavalry tanks", "fast tanks", and "breakthrough tanks".

During World War II, many tank concepts were found unsatisfactory and discarded, mostly leaving the more multi-role tanks these became easier to classify. Tank classes based on weight (and the corresponding transport and logistical needs) led to new definitions of heavy and light tank classes, with medium tanks covering the balance of those between. The British maintained cruiser tanks, focused on speed, and infantry tanks that traded speed for more armor. Tank destroyers are tanks or other armored fighting vehicles specifically designed to defeat enemy tanks. Assault guns are armored fighting vehicles that could combine the roles of infantry tanks and tank destroyers. Some tanks were converted to flame tanks, specializing on close-in attacks on enemy strongholds with flamethrowers. As the war went on, tanks tended to become larger and more powerful, shifting some tank classifications and leading to super-heavy tanks.

Experience and technology advances during the Cold War continued to consolidate tank roles. With the worldwide adoption of the modern main battle tank designs, which favour a modular universal design, most other classifications are dropped from modern terminology. All main battle tanks tend to have a good balance of speed, armor, and firepower, even while technology continues to improve all three. Being fairly large, main battle tanks can be complemented with light tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles or similar relatively lighter armored fighting vehicles, typically in the roles of armored reconnaissance, amphibious or air assault operations, or against enemies lacking main battle tanks.

Offensive capabilities

The main weapon of modern tanks is typically a single, large-caliber cannon mounted in a fully traversing (rotating) gun turret. The typical modern tank gun is a smoothbore weapon capable of firing a variety of ammunition, including armor-piercing kinetic energy penetrators (KEP), also known as armor-piercing discarding sabot (APDS), and/or armor piercing fin stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) and high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) shells, and/or high explosive squash head (HESH) and/or anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) to destroy armored targets, as well as high explosive (HE) shells for shooting at "soft" targets (unarmored vehicles or troops) or fortifications. Canister shot may be used in close or urban combat situations where the risk of hitting friendly forces with shrapnel from HE rounds is unacceptably high. [52]

A gyroscope is used to stabilise the main gun, allowing it to be effectively aimed and fired at the "short halt" or on the move. Modern tank guns are also commonly fitted with insulating thermal jackets to reduce gun-barrel warping caused by uneven thermal expansion, bore evacuators to minimise gun firing fumes entering the crew compartment and sometimes muzzle brakes to minimise the effect of recoil on accuracy and rate of fire.

Traditionally, target detection relied on visual identification. This was accomplished from within the tank through telescopic periscopes often, however, tank commanders would open up the hatch to view the outside surroundings, which improved situational awareness but incurred the penalty of vulnerability to sniper fire. Though several developments in target detection have taken place, these methods are still common practice. In the 2010s, more electronic target detection methods are available.

In some cases spotting rifles were used to confirm proper trajectory and range to a target. These spotting rifles were mounted co-axially to the main gun, and fired tracer ammunition ballistically matched to the gun itself. The gunner would track the movement of the tracer round in flight, and upon impact with a hard surface, it would give off a flash and a puff of smoke, after which the main gun was immediately fired. However this slow method has been mostly superseded by laser rangefinding equipment.

Modern tanks also use sophisticated light intensification and thermal imaging equipment to improve fighting capability at night, in poor weather and in smoke. The accuracy of modern tank guns is pushed to the mechanical limit by computerized fire-control systems. A fire-control system uses a laser rangefinder to determine the range to the target, a thermocouple, anemometer and wind vane to correct for weather effects and a muzzle referencing system to correct for gun-barrel temperature, warping and wear. Two sightings of a target with the range-finder enable calculation of the target movement vector. This information is combined with the known movement of the tank and the principles of ballistics to calculate the elevation and aim point that maximises the probability of hitting the target.

Usually, tanks carry smaller caliber armament for short-range defense where fire from the main weapon would be ineffective or wasteful, for example when engaging infantry, light vehicles or close air support aircraft. A typical complement of secondary weapons is a general-purpose machine gun mounted coaxially with the main gun, and a heavier anti-aircraft-capable machine gun on the turret roof. Some tanks also have a hull-mounted machine gun. These weapons are often modified variants of those used by infantry, and so utilise the same kinds of ammunition.

Protection and countermeasures

The measure of a tank's protection is the combination of its ability to avoid detection (due to having a low profile and through the use of camouflage), to avoid being hit by enemy fire, its resistance to the effects of enemy fire, and its capacity to sustain damage whilst still completing its objective, or at least protecting its crew. This is done by a variety of countermeasures, such as armor plating and reactive defenses, as well as more complex ones such as heat-emissions reduction.

In common with most unit types, tanks are subject to additional hazards in dense wooded and urban combat environments which largely negate the advantages of the tank's long-range firepower and mobility, limit the crew's detection capabilities and can restrict turret traverse. Despite these disadvantages, tanks retain high survivability against previous-generation rocket-propelled grenades aimed at the most-armored sections.

However, as effective and advanced as armor plating has become, tank survivability against newer-generation tandem-warhead anti-tank missiles is a concern for military planners. [65] Tandem-warhead RPGs use two warheads to fool active protection systems a first dummy warhead is fired first, to trigger the active defenses, with the real warhead following it. For example, the RPG-29 from the 1980s is able to penetrate the frontal hull armor of the Challenger II [66] and also managed to damage a M1 Abrams. [67] As well, even tanks with advanced armor plating can have their tracks or gear cogs damaged by RPGs, which may render them immobile or hinder their mobility. Despite all of the advances in armor plating, a tank with its hatches open remains vulnerable to Molotov cocktail (gasoline bombs) and grenades. Even a "buttoned up" tank may have components which are vulnerable to Molotov cocktails, such as optics, extra gas cans and extra ammunition stored on the outside of the tank.

Avoiding detection

A tank avoids detection using the doctrine of countermeasures known as CCD: camouflage (looks the same as the surroundings), concealment (cannot be seen) and deception (looks like something else).


Camouflage can include disruptive painted shapes on the tank to break up the distinctive appearance and silhouette of a tank. Netting or actual branches from the surrounding landscape are also used. Prior to development of infrared technology, tanks were often given a coating of camouflage paint that, depending on environmental region or season, would allow it to blend in with the rest of its environment. A tank operating in wooded areas would typically get a green and brown paintjob a tank in a winter environment would get white paint (often mixed with some darker colors) tanks in the desert often get khaki paintjobs.

The Russian Nakidka camouflage kit was designed to reduce the optical, thermal, infrared, and radar signatures of a tank, so that acquisition of the tank would be difficult. According to Nii Stali, the designers of Nakidka, Nakidka would reduce the probabilities of detection via "visual and near-IR bands by 30%, the thermal band by 2–3 fold, radar band by 6 fold, and radar-thermal band to near-background levels. [68]


Concealment can include hiding the tank among trees or digging in the tank by having a combat bulldozer dig out part of a hill, so that much of the tank will be hidden. A tank commander can conceal the tank by using "hull down" approaches to going over upward-sloping hills, so that she or he can look out the commander's cupola without the distinctive-looking main cannon cresting over the hill. Adopting a turret-down or hull-down position reduces the visible silhouette of a tank as well as providing the added protection of a position in defilade.

Working against efforts to avoid detection is the fact that a tank is a large metallic object with a distinctive, angular silhouette that emits copious heat and engine noise. A tank that is operating in cold weather or which needs to use its radio or other communications or target-detecting electronics will need to start its engine regularly to maintain its battery power, which will create engine noise. Consequently, it is difficult to effectively camouflage a tank in the absence of some form of cover or concealment (e.g., woods) it can hide its hull behind. The tank becomes easier to detect when moving (typically, whenever it is in use) due to the large, distinctive auditory, vibration and thermal signature of its engine and power plant. Tank tracks and dust clouds also betray past or present tank movement.

Switched-off tanks are vulnerable to infra-red detection due to differences between the thermal conductivity and therefore heat dissipation of the metallic tank and its surroundings. At close range the tank can be detected even when powered down and fully concealed due to the column of warmer air above the tank and the smell of diesel or gasoline. Thermal blankets slow the rate of heat emission and some thermal camouflage nets use a mix of materials with differing thermal properties to operate in the infra-red as well as the visible spectrum.

Grenade launchers can rapidly deploy a smoke screen that is opaque to infrared light, to hide it from the thermal viewer of another tank. In addition to using its own grenade launchers, a tank commander could call in an artillery unit to provide smoke cover. Some tanks can produce a smoke screen.

Sometimes camouflage and concealment are used at the same time. For example, a camouflage-painted and branch-covered tank (camouflage) may be hidden in a behind a hill or in a dug-in-emplacement (concealment).


Some armored recovery vehicles (often tracked, tank chassis-based "tow trucks" for tanks) have dummy turrets and cannons. This makes it less likely that enemy tanks will fire on these vehicles. Some armies have fake "dummy" tanks made of wood which troops can carry into position and hide behind obstacles. These "dummy" tanks may cause the enemy to think that there are more tanks than are actually possessed.


To effectively protect the tank and its crew, tank armor must counter a wide variety of antitank threats. Protection against kinetic energy penetrators and high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) shells fired by other tanks is of primary importance, but tank armor also aims to protect against infantry mortars, grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank guided missiles, anti-tank mines, anti-tank rifles, bombs, direct artillery hits, and (less often) nuclear, biological and chemical threats, any of which could disable or destroy a tank or its crew.

Steel armor plate was the earliest type of armor. The Germans pioneered the use of face hardened steel during World War II and the Soviets also achieved improved protection with sloped armor technology. World War II developments led to the obsolescence of homogeneous steel armor with the development of shaped-charge warheads, exemplified by the Panzerfaust and bazooka infantry-carried weapons which were effective, despite some early success with spaced armor. Magnetic mines led to the development of anti-magnetic paste and paint. From WWII to the modern era, troops have added improvised armor to tanks while in combat settings, such as sandbags or pieces of old armor plating.

British tank researchers took the next step with the development of Chobham armor, or more generally composite armor, incorporating ceramics and plastics in a resin matrix between steel plates, which provided good protection against HEAT weapons. High explosive squash head warheads led to anti-spall armor linings, and kinetic energy penetrators led to the inclusion of exotic materials like a matrix of depleted uranium into a composite armor configuration.

Reactive armor consists of small explosive-filled metal boxes that detonate when hit by the metallic jet projected by an exploding HEAT warhead, causing their metal plates to disrupt it. Tandem warheads defeat reactive armor by causing the armor to detonate prematurely. Modern reactive armor protects itself from Tandem warheads by having a thicker front metal plate to prevent the precursor charge from detonating the explosive in the reactive armor. Reactive armors can also reduce the penetrative abilities of kinetic energy penetrators by deforming the penetrator with the metal plates on the Reactive armor, thereby reducing its effectiveness against the main armor of the tank.

Active protection system

The latest generation of protective measures for tanks are active protection systems. The term "active" is used to contrast these approaches with the armor used as the primary protective approach in earlier tanks.

    measures, such as the Russian Shtora countermeasure system, provide protection by interfering with enemy targeting and fire-control systems, thus making it harder for the enemy threats to lock onto the targeted tank. systems intercept incoming threats with a projectile(s) of its own, destroying the threat. For example, the Israeli Trophy destroys an incoming rocket or missile with shotgun-like projectiles. The Soviet Drozd, the Russian Arena, the Israeli Trophy and Iron Fist, Polish ERAWA, and the American Quick Kill systems show the potential to dramatically improve protection for tanks against missiles, RPGs and potentially kinetic energy penetrator attacks, but concerns regarding a danger zone for nearby troops remain. [citation needed]


The mobility of a tank is described by its battlefield or tactical mobility, its operational mobility, and its strategic mobility.

  • Tactical mobility can be broken down firstly into agility, describing the tank's acceleration, braking, speed and rate of turn on various terrain, and secondly obstacle clearance: the tank's ability to travel over vertical obstacles like low walls or trenches or through water.
  • Operational mobility is a function of manoeuvre range but also of size and weight, and the resulting limitations on options for manoeuvre.
  • Strategic mobility is the ability of the tanks of an armed force to arrive in a timely, cost effective, and synchronized fashion.

Tactical mobility

Tank agility is a function of the weight of the tank due to its inertia while manoeuvring and its ground pressure, the power output of the installed power plant and the tank transmission and track design. In addition, rough terrain effectively limits the tank's speed through the stress it puts on the suspension and the crew. A breakthrough in this area was achieved during World War II when improved suspension systems were developed that allowed better cross-country performance and limited firing on the move. Systems like the earlier Christie or later torsion-bar suspension developed by Ferdinand Porsche dramatically improved the tank's cross-country performance and overall mobility. [69]

Tanks are highly mobile and able to travel over most types of terrain due to their continuous tracks and advanced suspension. The tracks disperse the weight of the vehicle over a large area, resulting in less ground pressure. A tank can travel at approximately 40 kilometres per hour (25 mph) across flat terrain and up to 70 kilometres per hour (43 mph) on roads, but due to the mechanical strain this places on the vehicle and the logistical strain on fuel delivery and tank maintenance, these must be considered "burst" speeds that invite mechanical failure of engine and transmission systems. Consequently, wheeled tank transporters and rail infrastructure is used wherever possible for long-distance tank transport. The limitations of long-range tank mobility can be viewed in sharp contrast to that of wheeled armored fighting vehicles. The majority of blitzkrieg operations were conducted at the pedestrian pace of 5 kilometres per hour (3.1 mph), and that was only achieved on the roads of France. [70]

The tank's power plant supplies kinetic energy to move the tank, and electric power via a generator to components such as the turret rotation motors and the tank's electronic systems. The tank power plant has evolved from predominantly petrol and adapted large-displacement aeronautical or automotive engines during World Wars I and II, through diesel engines to advanced multi-fuel diesel engines, and powerful (per unit weight) but fuel-hungry gas turbines in the T-80 and M1 Abrams.

Tank power output and torque in context: [ citation needed ]
Vehicle Power output Power/weight Torque
Mid-sized car Toyota Camry 2.4 L 118 kW (158 hp) 79 kW/t (106 hp/t) 218 N⋅m (161 lbf⋅ft)
Sports car Lamborghini Murciélago 6.5 L 471 kW (632 hp) 286 kW/t (383 hp/t) 660 N⋅m (490 lbf⋅ft)
Racing car Formula One car 3.0 L 710 kW (950 hp) 1,065 kW/t (1,428 hp/t) 350 N⋅m (260 lbf⋅ft)
Main battle tank Leopard 2, M1 Abrams 1,100 kW (1,500 hp) 18.0 to 18.3 kW/t (24.2 to 24.5 hp/t) 4,700 N⋅m (3,500 lbf⋅ft)
Locomotive SNCF Class T 2000 1,925 kW (2,581 hp) 8.6 kW/t (11.5 hp/t)

Operational mobility

Strategic mobility

Strategic mobility is the ability of the tanks of an armed force to arrive in a timely, cost effective, and synchronized fashion. For good strategic mobility transportability by air is important, which means that weight and volume must be kept within the designated transport aircraft capabilities. Nations often stockpile enough tanks to respond to any threat without having to make more tanks as many sophisticated designs can only be produced at a relatively low rate. The US for instance keeps 6,000 MBTs in storage. [71]

In the absence of combat engineers, most tanks are limited to fording small rivers. The typical fording depth for MBTs is approximately 1 m (3.3 ft), being limited by the height of the engine air intake and driver's position. Modern tanks such as the Russian T-90 and the German Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 tanks can ford to a depth of 3 to 4 m (9.8 to 13.1 ft) when properly prepared and equipped with a snorkel to supply air for the crew and engine. Tank crews usually have a negative reaction towards deep fording but it adds considerable scope for surprise and tactical flexibility in water crossing operations by opening new and unexpected avenues of attack.

Amphibious tanks are specially designed or adapted for water operations, such as by including snorkels and skirts, but they are rare in modern armies, being replaced by purpose-built amphibious assault vehicles or armored personnel carriers in amphibious assaults. Advances such as the EFA mobile bridge and armored vehicle-launched scissors bridges have also reduced the impediment to tank advance that rivers posed in World War II. [72]

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In 2001, Mulholland was a colonel who had recently taken command of the 5th Special Forces Group. Within days of the Sept. 11 attacks, he would be helping plan the initial push into Afghanistan, a mission that would topple the Taliban in a few months and, in doing so, give new life and support to the nation’s Special Forces, who were ill-equipped and not fully supported before the start of the war in Afghanistan.

The biggest challenge in those early days, Mulholland said, was finding the right soldiers to deploy for the mission.

And it just so happened that some of those soldiers were among the last to learn of the attacks.

Retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Bob Pennington, who is depicted by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon in “12 Strong,” said most of his Special Forces team, Operational Detachment-Alpha 595, were on an overnight training mission near Nashville, Tennessee when the planes hit the World Trade Center.

The night before, the soldiers had used three zodiac boats to take another team of Special Forces soldiers to a designated position to attack a training target along the Cumberland River.

The trip was several hours amid a thick fog.

“It was about as thick as pea soup,” Pennington, then a chief warrant officer 2, said.

After almost colliding with a barge, the team decided to camp along the bank of the river and wait for morning.

They were unaware of the attacks on Sept. 11, until they began to pack away their gear and heard the news on the radio.

“We all looked at each other. and said that’s a terrorist attack,” Pennington said. “It could be nothing else.”

As the team made a beeline for its home base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, then-Capt. Mark Nutsch was still piecing together what had happened.

Nutsch, who is portrayed by the film’s star, Chris Hemsworth, in “12 Strong,” had recently been assigned away from ODA 595.

He joined the battalion staff on Sept. 10, 2001, after having led the ODA for two years, including missions to Uzbekistan and Kuwait.

With first A-10 strikes in Afghanistan, Marines call in the heat on the Taliban

Marines call in first A-10 strikes in Helmand province, striking a Taliban machine gun position.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he was home with his wife — then six months pregnant — and their two boys, then ages 4 and 3.

At first, Nutsch wasn’t sure what he was watching on his television.

“A lot of questions when you saw the first plane hit,” he said, “but when the second plane hit, you recognized this was a coordinated attack of some nature.”

Meanwhile, Pennington and the remaining members of ODA 595 arrived at Fort Campbell to find miles of cars waiting to enter the post.

They cut around the line and tried to make their way into the installation before being stopped by armed guards.

Pennington said the men explained that they were Special Forces soldiers and needed to find out what was happening.

Hours later, Pennington said, he finally was home, where his wife, Michelle, was waiting for him.

“She knew it right away,” Pennington said. “She said, ‘You’re going to war, aren’t you?’”

“I said, ‘Of course,‘” he told his wife.

“I don’t know.” he said. “But I’ll tell you as soon as I can.”

ODA 595 learned it would be among the first in Afghanistan on Sept. 14, although it would be almost a month and at least three false starts before the deployment.

Pennington said the first priority was putting the team back together. And that meant bringing Nutsch back into the fold.

“I wanted to bring Mark back to the team,” he said. “He knew the team members. This was a no-brainer.”

ODA 595 was a natural choice for the mission - a mature, experienced team that had recently worked with special operations forces in Uzbekistan, a northern neighbor to Afghanistan.

On average, the 12 members of the team were 32 years-old, had eight years of experience and had been working together for two years.

Many, including Pennington, had combat experience, whether in Desert Storm, Somalia or Kosovo.

They were family men. All but one was married. And 10 of the 12 had at least two children.

“They were very mature, very family-orientated,” Pennington said. “And to me, that was a plus when you got saddled with a mission that was going to be as complex as this one.”

At first, the soldiers prepared for a personnel recovery mission. Once the air war in Afghanistan began, the team would be tasked with retrieving any pilots shot down in enemy territory.

As they trained, the team fielded new equipment and learned as it could about Afghanistan.

In those days, Nutsch said, there wasn’t much, if any, official material on the country.

'12 Strong' review: Hemsworth leads a solid wartime film

In the days and months following the Sept. 11 attacks, a small U.S. Special Forces unit led an offensive against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. They worked in harsh conditions alongside a local warlord and his men, an uneasy alliance at best, and, even with all the technology and money of the U.S. military, executed the successful mission largely on horseback.

The soldiers read anything they could find in magazines. And without military maps, they resorted to using tourist maps of the country.

In a matter of days, the soldiers soaked up as much information as they could on a conflict that has raged for more than 100 years, with ethnic factions continuously at war in Afghanistan.

They read whatever they could find on those factions, trying to determine if any of them could become partners.

As ODA 595 prepared for its mission, senior leaders with the 5th Special Forces Group routinely disappeared for Florida, where officials with U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command were planning the initial invasion.

“We knew time would be of the essence,” Mulholland said.

And leaders were pushing hard on Washington to give the green light to send troops into Afghanistan.

Those teams would deploy with much less information than any troops would today, the retired general said. But they had little option in 2001.

“It was a pickup game,” he said. “It was come with what you’ve got.”

Mulholland had taken command of 5th Group in July 2001. And he was not happy with the state of the unit’s training, which he called “woeful.”

For the first few months of his command, he was constantly lobbying for more money to support his soldiers. At the same time, he was trying to learn the strengths and weaknesses of his teams.

In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, Mulholland said the challenge came with the unknown.

He knew 5th Group, which was historically aligned with the Middle East, would likely have a role in the coming fight. But there was not much information available on Afghanistan or what his soldiers could expect.

“Everywhere I turned, nobody had nothing,” Mulholland said. “Nobody had any information for us.”

That changed once Mulholland got linked in with officials at the CIA, which would be the first to deploy clandestine teams into Afghanistan and would work alongside Special Forces in the country.

Mulholland said the CIA made recommendations as to which ethnic leaders — in some cases the title was more akin to warlord — Special Forces teams should work with.

On Oct. 5, 2001, ODA 595 finally left Kentucky. The team transferred planes several times before finally landing at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, at what was then a secret base.

In “12 Strong,” the base, also known as K2, is depicted as a tent city of sorts, definitely a more modern set up than what ODA 595 discovered as one of the first groups of troops to arrive on the ground.

At that time, the base was little more than a series of Soviet-era bunkers.

“There was nothing built up,” Nutsch said. “We slept on the ground the first couple of nights.”

At K2, the ODA received new orders.

It would no longer have the personnel recovery mission. Instead, it would be tasked with something entirely different.

For the first time in the then-roughly 50-year history of Special Forces, the soldiers would be asked to lead an actual unconventional warfare campaign, partnering with indigenous forces to take down a government.

By this time, Mulholland and other 5th Group leaders were in Uzbekistan.

But answers to the ODA’s questions were still scarce.

“We just kept planning and digging in and reading as much as we could,” Pennington said. “We very quickly realized that no one can answer these questions.”

At first, four teams, including ODA 595, were marked to be the first to go into the country. Mulholland later would take one of those teams off the mission because of a lack of confidence in the team.

On Oct. 19, after several weather delays, the first two teams — ODA 595 and ODA 555 — flew into Afghanistan on MH-47 helicopters.

ODA 555 was dropped off to the east of the country, where it would work with ethnic Tajik fighters. ODA 595 was inserted about a 100 miles of the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where it linked up with ethnic Uzbek fighters under Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Dostum, a former Communist general, was a key figure in the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. Eventually, he would become a vice president after the fall of the Taliban.

But in 2001, Dostum still was very much a wild card in the war, as were many of the other leaders that Special Forces teams worked with in the earliest days of the conflict.

“We knew nothing about these guys,” Mulholland said. “All of these guys have blood on their hands. None of these guys are clean actors.”

Some, including Dostum, had bloody reputations. He also was known for switching sides over the course of several conflicts within Afghanistan.

And Mulholland was sending Americans into his midst.

“There were a lot of unknowns,” he said. “That’s being gentle.”

There was little assurance that the Special Forces soldiers would be safe with the Afghan fighters. And if they weren’t, there was little anyone would be able to do to help them.

“For all of our teams, the risk was extraordinary,” Mulholland said. “If they got in trouble, there was very little I could do and nothing I could do quickly. We accepted a huge amount of risk.”

Nutsch said ODA 595’s mission was to link up with Dostum and then “render the area unsafe for the Taliban and terrorist activity.”

There were no geographical limitations, he said. If Dostum wanted to march on Kabul, the Americans would join them.

ODA 595 was to support Dostum’s forces, but at the same time, the soldiers were assessing the Afghan fighters’ equipment and capabilities to aid the deployments of future Special Forces teams and help plan the war effort.

Officials didn’t know much about the fighters. They would find, much to their surprise, that Dostum’s army still used a horse cavalry.

In many ways, it was a 19th Century military using 20th Century weapons. When ODA 595 arrived, it added 21st Century technology and the full force of the U.S. military’s advanced weapons and devastating air power.

Nutsch, who grew up on a cattle ranch, quickly had to teach others on the team how to ride.

“Some canaries have to get sent into the mine shaft to figure things out,” Nutsch said. “We realized that was us.”

The ODA carried a piece of steel from the World Trade Center into Afghanistan. Pennington said some were thinking of payback as they flew into the country.

But he was focused on doing the job, and having everyone come home alive.

“The colonel was pretty candid with us,” Nutsch said about Mulholland. “He said, ‘We don’t have a lot of info. We have to send someone in. You guys are it.’”

“They didn’t expect us to survive,” he said. “The threat of capture, torture was very real.”

But Pennington said the team was confident.

And they knew what needed to be done. If they could help Dostum capture Mazar-i-Sharif, that would open a beachhead into the rest of the country.

But first, they had to earn Dostum’s trust.

The Afghan leader believed that American support would disappear if one of the Special Forces soldiers was killed or seriously wounded.

He famously said he would rather have 500 of his own men killed than have one of the Americans scratched.

ODA 595 convinced him that 9/11 had changed things, that America was all-in on overthrowing the Taliban. And gradually, he allowed the Americans to move closer and closer to the front lines.

Mulholland said ODA 595 helped lay the groundwork for something special — an overwhelming defeat of the Taliban in just a few months.

“What happened in Afghanistan,” he said, “was, truthfully, miraculous.”

But it’s also only half of the story.

The other half takes place in communities such as Fayetteville, outside Fort Bragg, and Clarksville, Tennessee, outside of Fort Campbell.

There, families of special operations troops still are saying goodbye to their soldiers, 16 years after the first Green Berets arrived in Afghanistan.

The support of those families, and those communities, is what makes the deployments possible, Mulholland said.

“It’s not going to be over any time soon,” he said. “We’re going to continue to draw upon that support for some time to come.”

The Army’s New Physical Fitness Test Has One Really Big Problem. Here’s a Solution.

Earlier this year, the Army laid out its plans for the new physical fitness test it plans to implement by 2020—the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). The strongest argument in favor of the new test is that high correlations between the ACFT exercises and the demands of ground combat should force units to better train soldiers. Still, it has generated considerable debate. Some argue this shift in training culture will decrease injuries, while others worry these new exercises may injure poorly trained soldiers. Moreover, fielding the new test will cost about $30 million. And problems may be magnified in the National Guard and Reserve, where the test’s longer duration will bump up against limited mobilization hours and widely distributed units.

Assuming those problems are surmountable, though, we still see a gap in the discussion: What about the special operators, foreign area officers, and soldiers assigned to remote locations or any of the 800 small bases abroad?

Fortunately, the ACFT is not the first time the Army fielded an expensive new test to improve a fundamental component of soldiering. We recommend the ACFT program managers at the Center for Initial Military Training take a page from the past and develop an alternate test: the ACFT-Expeditionary. As rifle marksmanship has the ALT-C test, the ACFT needs an alternate that is just as challenging, but less resource- and space-intensive.

Lessons from the Army’s Marksmanship Training

Unable to build sufficient pop-up or “Trainfire” rifle ranges between 1956 and 1987, the Army adopted the less resource-intensive ALT-C alternate marksmanship tests. The ACFT should take two lessons from its marksmanship compromises. First, just as many soldiers did not have access to Trainfire ranges, some soldiers will not have access to the ACFT’s equipment or space requirements. Without these resources, the ACFT will be impossible, necessitating an alternate test. Second, Army policy can ensure units prioritize complete ACFT testing to meet the program’s goals. Because the alternate marksmanship tests are less resource-intensive, units sometimes favor them. However, recent policy changes penalize units who use the alternate test without sufficient justification.

Army leaders should pay attention to lessons from the marksmanship program as they are similar across three dimensions. First, both tests seek to improve fundamental soldier skills: target identification and marksmanship in the 1960s versus physical fitness today. Second, both proposals include expensive, complicated fielding plans. Finally, significant debate accompanied both the ACFT and the Trainfire marksmanship program.

After the Korean War, the Army developed and adopted the resource-intensive Trainfire system. Amid concerns about soldier lethality during war, the Army Research Institute found the old marksmanship test wanting. The old test would be familiar to soldiers who train on known-distance or “KD” ranges. On these ranges, soldiers fired their rifles from one hundred–yard intervals at circular targets. After firing, soldiers received feedback on their shots before adjusting their sights or refining their marksmanship fundamentals. This old test assessed a soldier’s ability to engage circular targets at known distance—hardly a realistic test. Similar motivations are driving adoption of the ACFT today.

Trainfire improved acquisition and marksmanship, but at a high cost. The Army Research Institute proposed a test modern soldiers would recognize. Soldiers fired forty rounds at human-shaped silhouettes at ranges from twenty-five to three hundred yards from a variety of shooting positions. This test combined target detection with marksmanship, while reducing the number of hours and bullets required. However, the new test required electronic target lifters that sensed bullet impacts and dropped. Though the new test required fewer bullets and training hours, the costs of building and maintaining these new ranges were tremendous.

Since Trainfire’s introduction in the mid-1950s, we estimate the Army has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Trainfire and its successor programs. Each new range cost about $6 million in inflation-adjusted currency. In 1959 alone, the president’s budget requested almost $16 million in 2018 dollars to construct Trainfire ranges. This program began in the mid-1950s and continues through today, though the ranges are now called automated record fire ranges.

Despite emphasis on fielding these ranges, access remained a problem. Table 1, from a 1987 Army Research Institute study, found huge gaps in access to record fire ranges necessary for rifle qualification even thirty years after Trainfire became the Army’s only rifle qualification test.

The statistics drove the Army to find a solution—alternate tests on known-distance and twenty-five–meter ranges. These alternate tests sought to mimic the Trainfire test. Under time constraints, soldiers fired forty rounds at paper targets. While the KD alternate test was weakly correlated with record fire scores, the twenty-five–meter test was not significantly different from the Trainfire test. Based on this research, the Army adopted both KD and twenty-five–meter alternate tests. However, comparatively low costs and the perception that it is easier leads some units to favor the easier-to-administer twenty-five–meter alternate test over the full test. These soldiers miss key components of Trainfire not tested by the alternate tests: engaging at long distances and target acquisition.

The Army’s draft 2018 Integrated Weapons Training Strategy pushes back against abuse of alternate tests. Only colonels and higher can authorize alternate tests, and even then soldiers will only “validate” their annual requirement. This means soldiers “will not be eligible for badges or promotion points, even if they qualify ‘Expert’ on the Alt-C target.” With Army policy firmly behind the full test, units will prioritize individual marksmanship and only use alternate tests when deployed to austere locations.

Army planners should take two lessons from the rifle marksmanship program. First, fielding challenges will require an alternate test. Though the Army invested hundreds of millions of dollars in new rifle ranges over thirty years, remote units still did not have access to the necessary equipment. An alternate test that took advantage of existing, common equipment ensured every unit could qualify on their weapons. Second, policy can curb abuse of “easier” tests. The Army’s 2018 weapons strategy provides strong incentives towards the regular test, requiring units to forecast and plan better training.

The ACFT-Expeditionary

We propose an alternate test that incorporates the Trainfire’s two fielding lessons: the ACFT-Expeditionary (ACFT-E). This test stresses similar movements and energy systems, but removes space and equipment requirements that will make the ACFT impossible for some units to execute. Like the ALT-C qualification, the ACFT-E fills a gap in resource allocation that may never be filled for units in remote or austere locations. Unlike the ALT-C qualification, the ACFT-E will be just as challenging as the ACFT. Our proposed exercise substitutions (Table 2) will stress the same energy systems as the original ACFT and still be transportable across the world.

The most obvious alternative, of course, is the current Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) after all, it requires little in the way of specialized equipment. But simply retaining the APFT as an alternative test will not work for three reasons. First, the APFT does not address the strength, speed, agility, or power elements of the ACFT—key components of functional fitness. Second, basic training will likely cease training APFT movements, like the sit-up, after upcoming revisions to FM 7-22, Army Physical Readiness Training. Finally, APFT retention will not push physical training past push-up/sit-up improvement and long, slow distance runs.

What could the ACFT-Expeditionary look like? It would replace and modify events that require a combination of special equipment and space, making a test for soldiers in austere or remote locations. We propose the following changes:

The Deadlift: The ACFT-E swaps the hex bar for a straight one. We recommend that the three repetition maximum deadlift event be modified to allow the use of the standard forty-five–pound straight barbell. A 2016 study revealed that despite different muscle activation patterns, there was ultimately no significant difference between one-rep max values in a population of twenty men with deadlifting experience exercising with a hex bar or straight bar. There is no unit or location that does not have access to a standard forty-five–pound straight barbell. Removing the requirement for units to procure hex bars would save significant space and money.

The Standing Power Throw: A standing broad jump should replace the standing power throw. The broad jump has long been used as a norm-referenced test for measuring anaerobic power in adolescents. A 2017 study identified the broad jump as a suitable field test for peak power output. Unlike the standing power throw, this event only requires a tape measure while still allowing a commander to measure a soldier’s power, flexibility, balance and coordination.

The Sprint-Drag-Carry (SDC): We propose simplifying the Sprint-Drag-Carry to integrate commonly available equipment with an event called the Sprint-Drag-Carry (Modified). This replaces kettlebell carries with the carry of objects of like weight and sled drags with soldier carries. The Sprint-Drag-Carry is the most resource-intensive event included in the ACFT. On top of the equipment needed to execute the test, the test venue needs twenty-five meters of suitable dragging surface. Army units are currently deployed to many locations around the world that do not lend themselves to the amount of gear or terrain that this event requires. A deployed unit could, for example, replace the kettlebell with ammunition cans. For units stationed at embassies or other locations, dumbbells or any other carryable items that weigh forty pounds (+/- two pounds) can be used. As stated, the drag component would be replaced with the soldier carry (Exercise 3, Guerilla Drill from FM 7-22) utilizing a soldier within twenty pounds and six inches of the individual being tested. Both ammunition can carries and buddy carries are also utilized by the Marine Corps’ Combat Fitness Test’s “Maneuver Under Fire” event, which also measures a soldier’s anaerobic capacity and agility. We recommend removing the drag component because of the requirement for an acceptable dragging surface.

The Two-Mile Run: Though the two-mile is a staple of Army fitness testing, we’d swap in the “beep test.” Units deployed to expeditionary locations or smaller embassies may not have access to a two-mile run route. In the past, units deployed to these places have either completed the run on treadmills, an unsanctioned modification to the APFT, or skipped the APFT completely. During a 1986 study completed by the Exercise Physiology Division of the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, researchers concluded that performance on the two-mile run was correlated closely with VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake), and therefore a good predictor of aerobic capacity. With that in mind, a more field-expedient method of predicting VO2 max and aerobic capacity would be the use of the twenty-meter multistage shuttle run test, otherwise known as the “beep test.” Multiple studies dating back to 1989 have confirmed the efficacy of using the twenty-meter shuttle run as a predictor of VO2 max and aerobic capacity. The test is universally exportable and can be conducted indoors or outdoors and on a wide range of different surfaces, making it a fair substitute for the two-mile run.

ACFT-E Validation and Implementation

Given the recent ACFT validation at the United States Military Academy, we propose West Point also pilot test the ACFT-E. Strong correlations among West Point’s cadets on both tests would provide sufficient evidence for a wider pilot. Following testing at West Point, we recommend testing at embassies and austere locations around the world.

ACFT-E implementation would require monitoring from inception, something that the ALT-C qualification did not originally do, but is now correcting. We propose the first O-6 in a unit’s chain of command authorize ACFT-E testing based on mission or resource constraints. Soldier Record Briefs would annotate the type of test most recently completed.

We embrace the ACFT’s goals, but hope the Army incorporates two lessons from fielding the Trainfire system. First, equipment rollout and space requirements will prevent some soldiers, be they National Guard, Reserve, or those forward deployed, from taking the new test. The Army should not wait thirty years to realize it did not field enough equipment for everyone to take the ACFT. Second, firm policy on acceptable use of the alternate test must accompany its fielding. Units will prefer to take the easier-to-administer test unless sufficient incentives orient them towards the ACFT.

The AFCT-E will still challenge soldiers and meet the test’s intent, while making concessions for units in austere environments. Proactive Army leaders should lean forward and pilot the ACFT-E. The alternative is to leave units to figure out unstudied, unsanctioned methods to complete the test. Our proposed ACFT-E test deserves study so that the soldiers of the United States Army are as lethal and ready as possible, regardless of unit or location.

Maj. Zachary Griffiths is an Instructor in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. He is also an Army Special Forces officer and Resident Fellow at West Point’s Modern War Institute. He earned his MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2017. He tweets at @z_e_griffiths.

Capt. Andrew Ferreira is an Infantry officer and Survival Swimming Instructor in the Department of Physical Education at West Point. He holds a master’s of education degree with a focus in kinesiology from the University of Virginia Curry School of Education and Human Development and a bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.

Can You Spot the Snipers Hidden in These Photos?

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Simon Menner’s ongoing series Camouflage shows landscapes with German snipers hidden somewhere in the frame. The project is like a deadly Where’s Waldo exercise. For Menner, the challenge of finding the snipers isn't the important part the photos comment on the way things like fear, terror, and surveillance are constantly part of our lives in the modern world.

“I’m playing with this notion that you always have to be afraid of something that is not visible,” says Menner, who lives in Berlin.

Whether it’s terrorists about to strike the Olympics, or the NSA tapping our phones, he says the main threats these days are out of sight, just like the snipers. He acknowledges there’s a big difference between men with guns and the NSA, but decided to shoot the project this way nonetheless because he wanted a clear visual theme that illustrated these abstract and visually complicated ideas.

“I really like this idea of going to extremes,” says Menner. “I like to have these absolute points and then you can always go back to something that is not extreme and see the relationship.”

He started shooting back in 2010 and actually had a fairly easy time contacting the German army. He wrote a letter to the German Defense Secretary explaining his request and soon after was contacted by several high-ranking army officials who helped him arrange the shoot.

“I didn’t expect much, but [the army] was very open to it,” he says. “I think part of the reason it was so easy was because there is a general lack of interest in society about the army, so they were very happy. They actually offered to have me go to Afghanistan as well.”

The first shoot happened in Northern Germany near the Baltic Sea with a group of newly trained snipers. He later traveled with a group of veteran snipers, just back from the war in Afghanistan, to a location in the Alps.

Because the project is so conceptual, Menner said he has no problem posing the photos. The soldiers are in their real garb and blend in well, but they’re much closer than they would be in real life. Often times, he says, they were just 10 to 15 meters away, when normally they would set up half a mile from their target.

In a couple photos, if you look closely enough, you can see small sings that give the sniper away, like a gun barrel. In others it’s impossible to tell anyone is out there. Menner says when he prints the photos he makes them huge. But even then most of the photos never betray the sniper’s location.

He’s paid close attention to people’s reactions and his favorite is when people tell themselves they can see the sniper, even when he suspects they’re just imagining it, or going along so they don’t look foolish. Kind of like the people who couldn’t figure out Magic Eye illusions.

“Many people are very convinced,” he says.

Menner never seriously considered faking the photos, but he likes the fact that his work is so hard to wade through that it does seem fake. He thinks that if he’d faked the shots, they probably would have been more obvious.

“I’m guessing they would look more like a hidden sniper because I would have over-faked it,” he says.

From here, Menner wants to take the project to Israel. He wants to shoot snipers in the desert, which changes the scenery. But the Israeli army is also known for a high level of secrecy, which adds to the allure. The only problem is that he’s had a very hard time tracking down a contact.

“I couldn’t find any emails, so I actually had to send them a letter,” he says.

The Wild West Was Actually Much Gayer Than You Think

When most people think of the Wild West era of 1865 to 1895, they imagine ultra-masculine cowboys who drank whiskey, roped steers, shot revolvers and frequented brothels. Just look at HBO’s Westworld — it’s filled with blood-thirsty bandits but nary a gay cowboy. But no matter your preconceptions, queer historian Michael Lyons says the 19th century American frontier was much gayer than most people think.

Lyons followed the exploits of “Scottish-born adventurer and noted homosexual” William Drummond Stewart, a military nobleman known for his gay adventures in the American West. Stewart’s travels and other historical facts make for some eye-opening revelations about the queer frontier.

Here are 5 things you might not have known about the Wild West:

1. Male travel companions

After coming to America in 1832, Stewart joined a “rendezvous” of hunters and trappers in Wyoming and met a French Canadian-Cree hunter named Antoine Clement who became his lover for nearly a decade. As an experienced frontiersman, Clement undoubtedly showed Stewart the ropes of frontier life.

Later on, when the two returned to Scotland after the death of Stewart’s older brother, Stewart presented Clement as his valet (a male attendant responsible for his clothes and appearance) and footman (a uniformed servant who met guests and waited on him at the tables).

Clement reportedly didn’t like Scotland (probably because his boyfriend kept passing him off as the help) and so he and Stewart began traveling the world together. But even today closeted conservatives still pass off their male lovers as “luggage handlers” and “travel companions.”

2. “Bachelor weddings”

Lyons points out that California’s population before the 1849 Gold Rush was 90% male, and most of the men did male-dominated jobs that excluded women like “mining, cattle herding, ranching, hunting and trapping or the military.”

As a result, groups of men would form homes together and some men would do housework previously left to women like cooking, cleaning and laundry. Sometimes these men would also share beds and form partnerships known as “bachelor marriages.”

Historians have noted that these small, all-male families were made up of Chinese, African and Latino settlers, something that both exacerbated racial tensions, especially when food tastes and customs came into conflict, and transcended racial conflicts altogether.

Old-timey photos of same-sex cowboy couples also show the commonality of male affection during the 19th century, but not all of the men pictured in such photos were lovers. Many were just friends or relatives who felt comfortable expressing physical intimacy back then.

3. Same-sex dances

While terms like “homosexual” and “heterosexual” weren’t really in use at the time, men still expressed some of their same-sex affection on the dance floor.

An article entitled “Paradise of Bachelors” says the lack of women compelled men to hold dances where “half of the men danced the part of women, wearing patches over the crotches of their pants to signal their ‘feminine’ role.”

Some modern-day dance events at gay country-western bars, Latino bars, Renaissance fairs and contra dance meet-ups have leading partners wear something signifying their traditionally “male” role.

4. Native American “berdaches”

You’ve probably heard of Native American two-spirits — tribal religious leaders and teachers believed to have the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman within them. Two-spirits lived across America at the time, but they weren’t seen as trans women and men, really. Rather, they fell somewhere along the gender spectrum.

While Christian-influenced Latin-American and European settlers condemned two-spirits as “sodomites” (and some of them did have same-sex or bi-fluid relationships), Native Americans focused instead on two-spirits’ spiritual gifts, allowing them to enter spaces meant exclusively for men or women. Female two-spirits also existed and would sometimes enter unions with other women in the tribe.

History also points out the use of the Wild West word “berdache,” a Persian-derived term commonly applied to two-spirits. The word isn’t a synonym, though, because of its more overt sexual overtones it is similar to the words “lover” or “boyfriend.” Some people consider the word offensive now because of its derogatory use by some frontiersmen.

5. Rennaisance-themed orgies

Most surprisingly, when Stewart returned to America in 1843, he planned a large “frontiersman rendezvous” and traveled with “a large entourage” to Fremont lake for the event. Stewart brought along “a large array of velvet and silk Renaissance costumes for his all-male guests to wear during the festivities.”

A historian called the event “a rollicking medieval market faire” where “naked men crawled out from beneath striped canvas” of the tents to go loudly skinny dipping in the nearby lake. Most were in their teens and 20s.

A scandal during the “Renaissance pleasure trip” reportedly caused Stewart to return immediately to Scotland and never return to America again.