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Old 08-02-2008, 05:46 PM
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Why didn't the British have a semi-automatic rifle during World War II.

I've been playing Call of Duty 2 lately (a great game, by the way) and it has left me wondering something. Why is it that the British never developed a semi-automatic rifle during World War II?

The M1 Garand, of course, was the standard armament for the American soldier. The Germans mostly used the Mauser bolt-action but they also had the Gewehr 43, which was a semi-auto. The Russians likewise had the SVT40, a similar rifle, though their standard troops used the Mosin Nagant.

But the British chiefly used the Enfield bolt action rifle, and never developed a semi-automatic infantry rifle during the war as all the other countries did.

Why is this?

Martini Enfield might know.
Old 08-02-2008, 06:00 PM
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A couple reasons..

Quote:
In the early 1930s the British Government was interesting in selecting a new rifle and cartridge to replace the .303 Lee Enfield which had been in service since the late 19th Century. In the same period, the US Army was also considering a new rifle and cartridge, with the .276 Pedersen the front-runner. The British decided to take advantage of this and set up a production line for the ammunition with a view to adopting it in due course. They acquired some Pedersen rifles and tested them.

In the event, John Garand produced a rifle which was selected instead of the Pedersen, and the US Army decided, for both financial and performance reasons, to retain the .30-06 cartridge, requiring a redesign of the Garand before it was finally adopted in .30-06 calibre. The British lost interest in the .276 Pedersen and stayed with their .303 weapons until the mid-1950s.
http://quarry.nildram.co.uk/White.htm

Quote:
The British Army tested the M1 Garand as a possible replacement for its bolt-action Lee-Enfield No.1 Mk III, but rejected it after trials to simulate combat conditions.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M1_Garand


Apparently, they did use the M1 Carbine though:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M1_carbine#Users
Old 08-02-2008, 06:30 PM
Isaiah 1:15 Screw the NRA.
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One of the reasons I've heard was that the British generals were afraid their men would burn through their ammo too rapidly if they switched to a semi-auto. Besides, the SMLE was good enough for the last war, etc.
Old 08-02-2008, 06:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by silenus
One of the reasons I've heard was that the British generals were afraid their men would burn through their ammo too rapidly if they switched to a semi-auto. Besides, the SMLE was good enough for the last war, etc.
I understand the SMLE had a pretty good rate of fire.
Old 08-02-2008, 06:50 PM
Isaiah 1:15 Screw the NRA.
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Oh, it does. I can rip through a loading in a couple of seconds. But British generals were real big on tradition and all that. Aimed fire was what won battles, not the spray and pray that semi-auto would bring on.
Old 08-02-2008, 06:51 PM
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In Call of Duty 2, anyway, I think it's a pretty slow and shitty rifle and I don't like the sights. But that's just a game. I've never actually fired one in real life - I might like it. AIM Surplus just got a bunch of Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1s in - now that I have my C&R maybe I'll go for it.

They also offer an Ishapore Enfield made in India. It's in .308 instead of .303. But something about its appearance somehow looks "off." Am I alone in thinking that?
Old 08-02-2008, 06:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argent Towers
AIM Surplus just got a bunch of Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1s in
I have one of those. Got it years ago. Haven't gotten round to firing it yet.
Old 08-02-2008, 07:02 PM
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Well, come on now, surely the rounds aren't that hard to come by.
Old 08-02-2008, 07:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argent Towers
Well, come on now, surely the rounds aren't that hard to come by.
Oh, I have a box or two of ammo. I just haven't used it.
Old 08-02-2008, 07:07 PM
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It was a joke. "Haven't gotten round to firing it yet."

Last edited by Argent Towers; 08-02-2008 at 07:08 PM.
Old 08-02-2008, 07:17 PM
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Old 08-02-2008, 07:48 PM
Isaiah 1:15 Screw the NRA.
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I have both a Mark III SMLE and a No.4. Quite fun to shoot, and if you buy the ammo in bulk, surplus, not that expensive.

Have I mentioned that the No. 4 is cherry?
Old 08-03-2008, 08:40 AM
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Between the wars, the Brits played at developing a new rifle and a new cartridge. The other nations did as well. When hostilities broke out, only the US had gone as far as adopting an autoloader...and the Garand was in short supply still when we entered the fray a couple years later.
For the other countries, it made much more sense to continue using the rifle for which they had tooling, ammunition, and training than it did to try to switch to something new in the middle of a war. Introducing new weapon is always a painful process as bugs are detected that didn't reveal themselves during field trials. A war for your nation's very survival isn't a good place to be ironing out the kinks in a new weapon design when you have a proven weapon in use that is adequate to the task.

Last edited by Scumpup; 08-03-2008 at 08:41 AM.
Old 08-03-2008, 10:57 AM
Isaiah 1:15 Screw the NRA.
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As a referent to Scumpup's post, look up: M-16, Problems with.
Old 08-03-2008, 12:17 PM
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We didn't need a new rifle, we had Vera Lynn and George Formby.

Not exactly secret weapons but more than enough to frighten even the most stout hearted Nazi
Old 08-03-2008, 12:20 PM
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You still have Vera Lynn!
Old 08-03-2008, 12:22 PM
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It sounds like y'all know your weapons. So I'd ask, why isn't the Sten considred a semi-automatic rifle? Barrel length? Pistol-type ammo?

I read semi-automatic and my brain sort of drifts to "assault weapon."
Old 08-03-2008, 12:43 PM
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Because the Sten is not semi-automatic? I believe it is select-fire, but an automatic setting kind of takes precedence in naming. I read semi-automatic and my brain sort of drifts to "the standard firearm for civilians."

Argent Towers, I have a 2A. I haven't gotten around to firing it yet. It's pretty much the same thing as a Mk III except the caliber. A lot of the metal is coated with black paint, is that what makes it look off to you?
Old 08-03-2008, 01:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MonkeyMensch
It sounds like y'all know your weapons. So I'd ask, why isn't the Sten considred a semi-automatic rifle? Barrel length? Pistol-type ammo?

I read semi-automatic and my brain sort of drifts to "assault weapon."
Pistol ammo (9mm) makes it a submachine gun.
Old 08-03-2008, 03:37 PM
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From reading Quartered Safe Out Here, by the recently-late George MacDonald Fraser, there was a strong Army tradition of putting aimed shots where they were wanted, not just popping caps. Posed less of a logistical problem too, obviously.
Old 08-03-2008, 04:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny L.A.
You still have Vera Lynn!
Just goes to show how effective she was
Old 08-03-2008, 05:28 PM
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Lack of funding, and the Ten Year Rule. Much of what there was went to the Air Force and the Navy. The Army Estimates were cut year after year in the Twenties.
Army weapons were the concern of five organisations:
Research Department - largely concerned with explosives and artillery ammunition
Inspection Department - quality control
Royal Ordnance Factories - making the weapons; most efficient organisation of them all
Design Department - The Design Department was divided into three sections, Gun Design, Ammunition Design and Small Arms Design, the latter being the least efficient of the lot. It was staffed by infantry officers, on the theory that end users were best suited to specify their own requirements. Few of these officers had any professional engineering qualifications and no civilians were employed in a higher rank than draughtsman. The end result was the Design Department produced very little of value in the smallarms field, and most of what they did do was confined to adapting foreign designs to British requirements and producing inch-systems drawings of them for the Ordnance Factories.
Ordnance Board - coordinating all the above and advising the Chiefs of Staff on weapons questions. This was a rigidly conservative body, steadfastly opposed to such innovations as blowback guns and nitro-cellulose propellants. Marshal of the RAF Lord Tedder later commented of it that he had never believed there could be an organisation so unsuited to modern methods or decision-making. It reminded him of the Mad Hatter's tea Party in Alice - except that there was certainly more than one dormouse.
Old 08-03-2008, 05:35 PM
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The British did acquire an M1 rifle, (no. 7114), in 1939, one of the early muzzle-cap rifles, presumably through the Military Attaché. By then war was inevitable and a mass re-equipment with an entirely new design using a non-standard cartridge was never seriously going to happen.
Towards the end of the war the General Staff Requirements for a new rifle were stated in terms of the .30-06 cartridge but this was rapidly dropped once it became clear that the Americans themselves were looking for a replacement.

Last edited by Mk VII; 08-03-2008 at 05:37 PM.
Old 08-03-2008, 06:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chowder
We didn't need a new rifle, we had Vera Lynn and George Formby.
Enhance, please?
Old 08-03-2008, 06:21 PM
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Rosie the riveter, without the balls.
Old 08-03-2008, 09:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thelurkinghorror
Argent Towers, I have a 2A. I haven't gotten around to firing it yet. It's pretty much the same thing as a Mk III except the caliber. A lot of the metal is coated with black paint, is that what makes it look off to you?
Seconded. I bought one years ago when I had a C&R FFL, and the caliber and finish are the only differences I noticed. I've fired mine a few times, and had no problems with it
Old 08-04-2008, 02:11 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor
Enhance, please?
Both popular during WW2, one a singer (VL) the other a comedian and ukelele player.

A quick Google will give you all the info you need.

Incidentally, Formby is the only man ever to win the Grand National and the Isle of Man TT races on the same day.
Old 08-04-2008, 07:23 AM
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The 2A's have a slightly different shape to the magazine, which may be what makes them look "off" to Argent Towers.
Old 08-04-2008, 08:06 AM
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It's true. I wish they had rounded off the bottom of the magazine, just for the sake of aesthetics, so as not to break up the lines of the rifle. I realize they had to be concerned with function and not form, but if I got a .308 Enfield I wonder if I could have a mag custom-machined to look like the .303 one.
Old 08-04-2008, 08:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by d0nk3y
... In the early 1930s the British Government was interesting in selecting a new rifle and cartridge to replace the .303 Lee Enfield which had been in service since the late 19th Century....
"We got them and we shot them under Rule .303!" - Harry "Breaker" Morant, during the Boer War
Old 08-04-2008, 09:31 AM
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And that's not Edward Woodward's only experience with the Enfield rifle.

In this screen capture which I have conveniently linked to, from the film The Wicker Man, you can see an Enfield rifle mounted on the wall of Lord Summerisle's castle, as Woodward's character Sgt. Howie is being led in to meet the Lord (Christopher Lee.) Right underneath it is, I believe, a Springfield M1903.
Old 08-04-2008, 10:29 AM
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Because using semi-auto's would have been terribly unsporting. Obviously.
Old 08-04-2008, 10:43 AM
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There was a Military Channel special the other day - Greatest Rifles Evar or somesuch - which posited that a reasonably seasoned soldier with an LE could fire upward of 20 rounds per minute, while a decent rate of fire with a Garand was 16.

I have no idea if that's true or not, but it would certainly make upgrading to semi-auto much less of a pressing concern.
Old 08-04-2008, 10:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argent Towers
I've never actually fired one in real life - I might like it. AIM Surplus just got a bunch of Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1s in - now that I have my C&R maybe I'll go for it.
I was an Air Cadet in my youth (1986-1988 approx) and we still used the Lee Enfield then. As I remember it was fairly easy to shoot and although it was supposed to have a big kick didn't seem too bad. I could certainly shoot straighter with the 303 than with the SLR which we also used at the time. We only had 5 round magazines, which were a bit of a drawback, but I'm sure that there was a 10 round magazine as well.
Old 08-04-2008, 11:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Argent Towers
And that's not Edward Woodward's only experience with the Enfield rifle.

In this screen capture which I have conveniently linked to, from the film The Wicker Man, you can see an Enfield rifle mounted on the wall of Lord Summerisle's castle, as Woodward's character Sgt. Howie is being led in to meet the Lord (Christopher Lee.) Right underneath it is, I believe, a Springfield M1903.
That hump on the top does make it look like a M1903; can't tell if it has leaf sights or the 1917 stairstep sights. But it really looks like it has the semi-pistol grip of the later M1903A
Old 08-04-2008, 04:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chowder
Both popular during WW2, one a singer (VL) the other a comedian and ukelele player.

A quick Google will give you all the info you need.

Incidentally, Formby is the only man ever to win the Grand National and the Isle of Man TT races on the same day.
Thank you.
Old 08-04-2008, 05:20 PM
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The SMLE has a reputation for being faster than other bolt guns. I'm not buying that it is faster than the Garand. With an auto rifle, there is no repositioning hands between shots. A very skilled SMLE expert works the action during recoil, but that still would make him only about even, or a little less, with a run of the mill rifleman armed with a Garand. A highly skilled Garand shooter can keep very nearly continuous fie going as fast as he can regain his sight picture from each shot. The en bloc clips are very fast to load into the rifle.
The AK and the SMLE are the 2 rifles whose fans are most prone to overstate their virtues IME.
Old 08-04-2008, 05:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tagos
Because using semi-auto's would have been terribly unsporting. Obviously.
Quite so old chap, just not cricket y'know
Old 08-04-2008, 05:23 PM
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Given the prevailing doctrines and philosophies of infantry combat during WW2, what advantage did a semi-auto rifle confer vis a vis a bolt action?
Old 08-04-2008, 06:46 PM
Isaiah 1:15 Screw the NRA.
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With a semi-auto, you never have to take your finger from the trigger. This enables you to regain your sight picture faster. Under desperate circumstances, the Garand may be operated entirely one-handed. This is rather an exercise in futility with a bolt-action weapon.
Old 08-05-2008, 05:24 AM
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While aimed shots and marksmanship were always emphasised in British army weapons training there was also another fundamental tactic that was drummed into all infantry soldiers known as "The Mad Minute".

The MM was all soldiers firing,reloading,firing again etc.as fast as was humanly possible for a specified period under certain specific situations in actual combat,normally aginst a mass infantry attack or when being attacked while overwhelmingly outnumbered.

The weapon was pointed towards the enemy but not properly aimed though it has been said that the soldiers developed a subconscious aiming technique similar to that of Zen archers without their being aware of it.

During WW1 German troops were often under the impression that the British were indeed using semi automatic weapons when this tactic was used against them.

The main reason that the British army did not adopt a semi-auto at that time was as other posters have already said the belief that too much ammo would be blazed away on every occassion without the results justifying it and increasing the logistics needed to support the troops several fold again without any notable tactical advantages gained.

Rightly or wrongly the Brit Army at that time believed their American allies to be extremly profligate with small arms ammunition without actually killing or wounding any more of the enemy then those comparable units not armed with S.A.
Old 08-05-2008, 05:48 AM
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Quote:
During WW1 German troops were often under the impression that the British were indeed using semi automatic weapons when this tactic was used against them.
That was the prewar Regular Army, which was pretty well gone by the beginning of 1915. Thereafter standards of shooting dropped drastically; there wasn't time or facilities to make really good shots out of people. Many would reach for a grenade rather than a rifle.
Old 08-05-2008, 06:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Really Not All That Bright
There was a Military Channel special the other day - Greatest Rifles Evar or somesuch - which posited that a reasonably seasoned soldier with an LE could fire upward of 20 rounds per minute, while a decent rate of fire with a Garand was 16.
I find it very hard to believe that you could outshoot a Garand with a Lee-Enfield, all other things being equal. Does it really take 30 seconds to drop in an 8-round clip and pull the trigger 8 times?

Quote:
Originally Posted by wiki
The current world record for aimed bolt-action fire was set in 1914 by a musketry instructor in the British Army — Sergeant Instructor Snoxall — who placed 38 rounds into a 12" target at 300 yards (270 m) in one minute.
Even if you take this as the benchmark, that's 5 clips from a Garand. Can you insert and empty a clip in 12 seconds? It would seem feasible.
Old 08-05-2008, 06:44 AM
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Most of what I was going to say has already been mentioned, but I will add that the Sten Gun isn't select fire- the Mk II (the most common one) only appeared in one flavour, and that was full-auto. They weren't very accurate and had an unbelievable muzzle climb, but they were great for room-clearing and street-sweeping.

Lee-Enfield rifles are fast, accurate, and hold 10 rounds in the magazine. They can also work very well in the most craptacular of conditions, can go for ages without being cleaned, and when all else fails there's a bayonet on the end.

A trained Lee-Enfield shooter can reload without losing the sight picture, and British military training of the era stressed individual marksmanship over volume of fire.

They were vaguely thinking about getting around to a self-loader when WWII kicked off, but decided to stay with the SMLE (and later No. 4 Lee-Enfield) rifles since their infrastructure was geared up for it, and- just as importantly- the long and rimmed .303 British round didn't lend itself that well to a self-loading rifle, and it was too difficult to adopt a new round with a war on.

It says something that in 1944, the British introduced another bolt-action rifle, the Lee-Enfield No 5 Mk I "Jungle Carbine", even when it was obvious that everyone else was developing or issuing self-loaders...
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Old 08-05-2008, 06:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by slaphead
I find it very hard to believe that you could outshoot a Garand with a Lee-Enfield, all other things being equal. Does it really take 30 seconds to drop in an 8-round clip and pull the trigger 8 times?
[edited]
Even if you take this as the benchmark, that's 5 clips from a Garand. Can you insert and empty a clip in 12 seconds? It would seem feasible.
Those were aimed rounds, not simply pulling the trigger until the gun went "click". In other words, 38 aimed rounds, hitting the centre area of the target, in 1 minute.

I don't want to get involved in a Lee-Enfield vs Garand pissing contest here, though- they're different guns, designed for different things. Although I will point out that the Lee-Enfield had been in service for nearly 40 years when the Garand was introduced and they're still in service now, 120 years later...
Old 08-05-2008, 07:12 AM
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I'd have to see proof that British military marksmanship standards were higher than those of the US before I'd buy that the SMLE is faster than the Garand even in aimed fire. US troops were most assuredly taught aimed fire, not spray and pray.
BTW, the Garand is still in active US service as a DMW in it's PIP form as the M-14.
Old 08-05-2008, 07:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martini Enfield
Most of what I was going to say has already been mentioned, but I will add that the Sten Gun isn't select fire- the Mk II (the most common one) only appeared in one flavour, and that was full-auto. They weren't very accurate and had an unbelievable muzzle climb, but they were great for room-clearing and street-sweeping.
Uh, sorry, but your info here is wrong. STEN certainly is select fire - that metal stud/button in front of trigger guard is fire selector (pressed to the left auto, pressed to the right semi... or other way around, I don't remember). Actually semi-auto fire was often advised, especially for longer distances (or for silenced versions).
Old 08-05-2008, 10:17 AM
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Here's a little info on the marksmanship expected of a typical soldier with an M-1 Garand:
WWII Training Film
PDF of an early WWII Garand manual that includes some data on marksmanship standards Just one relevant quote to whet your appetite:
Quote:
At 200 yards a man should
be able to make a shot group that can be covered with a silver
dollar, and at 500 yards with the small (3-inch) sighting
disk.
What matters here is what a typical trained soldier could do with the weapons in question. There's some Brit sergeant or another who gets trotted out like a trained pony in these discussions by "smelly" enthusiasts. He was, no doubt, an excellent shot and could fire an Enfield very quickly. He was not, however, an example of a average soldier's level of ability to place aimed fire with his rifle.
Old 08-05-2008, 10:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by puppygod
Uh, sorry, but your info here is wrong. STEN certainly is select fire - that metal stud/button in front of trigger guard is fire selector (pressed to the left auto, pressed to the right semi... or other way around, I don't remember). Actually semi-auto fire was often advised, especially for longer distances (or for silenced versions).
It would seem you're right- I went through my reference library and the Mk II does indeed have a fire-selector. All the old soldiers I've spoken too have only ever mentioned using the "Plumber's Nightmare" in full-auto mode, which must be where the confusion came from.

The Sten was still great for room-clearing and street-sweeping, but if I was a British Commando in 1942 or 1943 being issued an SMG from on-hand stocks that didn't include Thompson SMGs, I'd be trying to get my hands on a Lanchester SMG, or ditching the Sten as soon as I could relieve a German soldier of his MP-40.

Quote:
Originally Posted by scumpup
What matters here is what a typical trained soldier could do with the weapons in question. There's some Brit sergeant or another who gets trotted out like a trained pony in these discussions by "smelly" enthusiasts. He was, no doubt, an excellent shot and could fire an Enfield very quickly. He was not, however, an example of a average soldier's level of ability to place aimed fire with his rifle.
I don't believe anyone has said otherwise. The British Military's marksmanship standards prior to WWI were quite high (Both Britain and the US had about the same marksmanship standards, IIRC), but by the end of WWI the British standards were basically "Put five rounds into a man-shaped target at 200 yards"- something that can be accomplished without too much trouble using either a bolt-action or a self-loading rifle.
Old 08-06-2008, 06:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scumpup
Quote:
At 200 yards a man should
be able to make a shot group that can be covered with a silver
dollar, and at 500 yards with the small (3-inch) sighting
disk.
What matters here is what a typical trained soldier could do with the weapons in question. There's some Brit sergeant or another who gets trotted out like a trained pony in these discussions by "smelly" enthusiasts. He was, no doubt, an excellent shot and could fire an Enfield very quickly. He was not, however, an example of a average soldier's level of ability to place aimed fire with his rifle.
Your point about the average soldier's level of ability to place aimed fire with his rifle is well taken. However, the section you quote from the manual concerns an aiming exercise that involves holes being pushed in a target at the instructions of the trainee, not firing the rifle. 3 inches at 500 yards is simply beyond the mechanical accuracy of a military issue Garand. A modern reproduction Springfield Armory M1 can shoot a 1.5 to 2.5 inch group at 100 yards; original military issue would probably have done worse, although the 30-06 is an accurate cartridge.

See here, just to provide one cite.
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