4 Dec 01
I just completed a Rifle/Shotgun Course in Atlanta, GA last weekend. One of my students was using a Robinson Arms RA-96. Despite my recommendation against it, he had a large quantify of Wolf 223 ammunition he wanted to use.
As his rifle got hot during a high-volume exercise, a case stuck in the chamber, and he was forced to stop firing. We had to knock it out with a cleaning rod. This is a common problem with Wolf Ammunition.
Shortly thereafter, as he continued to use this ammunition, the sear broke, and his rifle was thereafter out of action for the duration. He had to borrow a rifle to finish the course. I’m sure it can be easily fixed, but, in the short term, the rifle was unusable.
This is typical for Wolf ammunition. If one uses it in his 223 rifle, cases will stick and parts will break. Not recommended.
During the shotgun portion, another student was using PMC 12ga slugs. They consistently stuck in his chamber and refused to extract. Same result in other shotguns. They are not on the recommended list either.
4 Dec 01
I had dinner Saturday evening with a friend who manages law enforcement sales for a large handgun manufacturer. Some news from their repair shop:
A pistol was sent to them from a customer. The barrel was ruptured; the slide was bulged, and the frame was cracked. The entire pistol was toast. The only things salvageable were a few small parts. Along with the ruined gun, the customer sent a mostly full box of ammunition, presumably the ammunition which caused the damage.
It was a bright orange, fifty-round box of 357SIG, and it was clearly labeled,
“BUBBA’S BAD ASS RELOADS”
They all had a good laugh. The “manufacturer” is in Texas.
Lesson: Anyone who would put “Bubba’s Bad Ass Reloads” in a perfectly good pistol is probably not much brighter than Bubba!
15 Dec 01
Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam, May 1954
In 1858, the first French colonists arrived in what was then called French Indo-China, which included modern-day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Over succeeding decades, French missionaries converted many locals from Buddhism to Catholicism. Ethnic Chinese came down from the north, at the invitation of the French, to become shopkeepers, as the area was increasingly influenced by French culture. The French built schools, dams, hospitals, sanitation systems, factories, churches, and plantations. However, like the Romans before them, they had zero tolerance for rebellion. French secret police ruthlessly tracked down local dissidents. Most were quietly executed. Like so many civilizations facing colonization by external forces, indigenous Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians saw their ancient cultures relentlessly dissipating. Rebellion was always just under the surface!
The next big change came in 1940 when the entire area was invaded by the Japanese. However, a convenient Franco-Japanese truce lead to a fairly non-eventful occupation until the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in 1945. There was scant love lost between Japanese occupation forces and the French, but little actual fighting took place until just before the Japanese surrender, when many French colonists were imprisoned and murdered by the increasingly paranoid and desperate Japanese garrison. This weakened French influence to the point where local (mostly Communist) insurgents, nursing a long-time grudge, thought they had a chance to get rid of the French once and for all.
A local dissident, French-educated farmer/peasant Nguyen Sinh Cung, became the de-facto leader of the rebellion. While traveling in Europe, Cung had become a dedicated Communist. Adhering to Lenin’s and Stalin’s example, he changed his name to, “One Who Enlightens.” In local Vietnamese dialect, it translated to “Ho Chi Mihn.” Ho quickly picked up on the now-familiar Communist pattern of murdering and terrorizing all who opposed him. A French-educated history teacher, Vo Nguyen Giap, also joined the rebellion. Vo’s father, sister, wife, and sister-in-law were all murdered by French secret police. Vo had no use for the French. He was a perfect revolutionary and, as it turns out, a military genius!
In March of 1945, Ho and Vo, already conducting limited resistance against the Japanese, had secretly received instruction and supplies from American military personnel who had parachuted in and set up training camps. This, as it turns out, was America’s first military activity in Vietnam.
The British, in the person of Major General Douglas Gracey, arrived in Saigon in August of 1945 to accept the surrender of the remaining Japanese. Rebellious locals immediately rioted, not wanting to return to either French or Japanese rule! Gracey soon found himself in over his head. He rearmed Japanese soldiers and newly-freed French colonists in an effort to restore order. For a brief time, French and Japanese actually fought side-by-side against indigenous Vietnamese!
Under Major General Philippe LeClerc, a French military contingent arrived in Saigon several weeks later in an attempt to replace British and Japanese units, as well as armed French colonists. By that time however, the situation was out of control, and open warfare had broken out throughout the entirety of Vietnam. In Hanoi, 850 miles to the north of Saigon, Ho marched in and declared his new government, “The Vietnam Independence Congress” or “Viet Minh.” Ho’s strength was mostly in the north. LeClerc’s military operations against the Viet Minh, throughout late 1945 and 1946, were generally successful, but he restricted himself to the South.
In May of 1946, the French offered Ho a deal: Ho’s Viet Minh government would be officially recognized, so long as French troops were allowed to occupy the north unresisted. In effect, Ho would become a regional governor. Ho agreed, and French army units soon peacefully occupied all of Vietnam. However, one month later the French announced that South Vietnam would become an autonomous state under pro-French Bao Dai, not Ho. Ho considered this a breach of the deal he had made in good faith. He protested, but relations steadily worsened until, on 20 October 1946, French troops, ships, and aircraft opened fire on Viet Minh forces at Haiphong harbor in northern Vietnam. Thousands, mostly civilians, were killed in the “Battle of Haiphong.” By November, French forces had captured all of Hanoi, as Ho and Vo, along with their rag-tag army, were driven into the countryside. The war was on!
The French public was told little about the situation in Indo-China. Only periodic generalizations came from the government information office. The French, cleaning up from their second world war, had little interest in that part of the world. Back in Indo-China, local French commanders were looking forward to wrapping things up quickly and quietly. Ho and Vo had other plans. They were contemplating a protracted struggle, with slow, painful, and relentless attrition, until the French finally gave up. Having traveled in Europe, Ho was confident that the French public would not tolerate an interminable struggle in a far-away place, particularly when it involved significant French casualties. Two decades later, he would conclude that same thing about the Americans. He was right- both times!
By 1948, the French Indo-China contingent was up to 100,000 troops; 150,000 in 1949. French casualties mounted. The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 raised everyone’s consciousness of the situation in that part of the world. By 1952, the French army in Vietnam had grown to 450,000! French teenagers were being conscripted. As Ho had predicted, the French public suddenly grew inquisitive, and impatient for a resolution. Mao Zhe-dung in China provided the Viet Minh with supplies and training. In response, the Eisenhower Administration in America started quietly financing the French military effort. Eventually, American taxpayers would pick up most of the tab.
In 1953, under growing pressure to end the war, the French government sent a new commander to Vietnam, Henri Navarre. Like their ancestors, the Gauls, French soldiers (which included many Italians and Germans) were true warriors. Unhappily, the French command structure encouraged commanders to be far removed from the actual fighting. Adhering to the French pattern, Navarre’s method of operation involved him spending most of his time sitting in an air-conditioned office in Saigon, staring at outdated maps. Only rarely did he venture out where the war was actually going on. Obviously uncomfortable and frightened in the field, Navarre would deliver tedious pep talks and then quickly return to Saigon. Navarre’s golden boy was Colonel Christian de Castries. Loyal and fearless, de Castries had won eighteen medals for bravery and was considered a hero throughout the French Army.
Navarre’s orders, from a succession of nervous French governments (who were increasingly embarrassed by their continual inability to win the war or successfully withdraw), were to get the South Vietnamese to take over the war, and, in stages, get French troops out of Indo-China and on their way home. It was obvious to Navarre that he would first have to break the back of the Viet Minh army. With the Viet Minh thus weakened, South Vietnamese could successfully take over before the Viet Minh could recover.
Navarre’s grand plan, adhering to the Napoleonic model, was to goad the Viet Minh into assaulting, with successive, human wave attacks, a strong French position, all in a single, great battle. Navarre could thus kill so many Viet Minh soldiers in such a short time that Ho and Vo would be crippled and unable to regain momentum for months, maybe years. The Nam Yum Valley, on an ancient trade route just seven miles from the Laotian border, was selected as the most eligible battlefield. Well to the north and surrounded by steep hills, a garrison of French soldiers there could not be ignored. Ho would have to attack, in order to both save face and also to save the local opium poppy fields, which Ho used to finance his military campaign. The site chosen was called, the “Northern Administrative Center.” The local translation was, “Dien Bien Phu.”
Dien Bien Phu was indeed isolated, as the only road that could be used by a relief column was fraught with narrow passes and swampy fords, and it became nearly impassable during the rainy season. Navarre wasn’t worried. Like Hermann Goering, he foolishly believed his aircraft could keep Dien Bien Phu supplied indefinitely. He had also been assured by his intelligence staff that the Viet Minh had no AAA!
The first of Navarre’s troops parachuted into Dien Bien Phu on 20 November 1953. The small Viet Minh garrison there was surprised and quickly overwhelmed. By March of 1954, nearly 11,000 French troops occupied the new base. Two airfields were built, along with forty-nine mini-fortresses, divided among nine fire bases, which featured tanks and big guns. De Castries named the fire bases after old girlfriends. The perimeter was over eight miles long! Virtually every tree in the area was cut down, and thousands of mines were laid. For long months, the Viet Minh watched from the hills but mounted no serious challenge.
Navarre maintained reserves back in the South, with the intent of dropping them in to reinforce the garrison when the big assault came. However, these days Ho was attacking, it seemed, everywhere except Dien Bien Phu! Ho and Vo were steadily depleting Navarre’s reserves in anticipation of their assault of Dien Bien Phu, but Navarre didn’t pick up on it. Suddenly, on 12 March 1954, just as the rainy season began, the attack of Dien Bien Phu commenced!
Navarre was delighted! At long last the Viet Minh had taken the bait. Naverre knew Ho had no tanks, no armored vehicles of any kind, no trucks, no heavy equipment, no attack aircraft, and no helicopters. Every piece of equipment the Viet Minh possessed had to be moved by hand. Navarre was also assured that he needn’t worry about big guns, because, with only human power, they couldn’t be moved over the crests of the surrounding hills.
Imagine de Castries’ surprise when large shells starting landing, with deadly precision, right on his bunkers, hundreds of them! Without trucks, how could such guns and ammunition have been transported there? In fact, so convinced were the French that the Viet Minh shelling was coming from the reverse slopes of the surrounding hills, that de Castries shelled and bombed the reverse sides to rubble, all in vain. It went on for weeks, because neither Navarre nor de Castries could believe that, with only human power, big guns could have been transported over the crests of the surrounding hills. If de Castries had correctly located the Viet Minh guns right away, he may have been able to knock them out and change the course of the battle. However, even as de Castries’ fire bases were surrendering, French artillery will still targeting only the reverse slopes! Colonel Piroth, who was the French artillery commander, committed suicide.
Dien Bien Phu’s two airstrips were quickly cratered and rendered unusable. The only resupply option left was via parachute, but continuous rainy weather made that option problematic also. De Castries was then in for another unpleasant surprise: the Viet Minh did have AAA, lots of it! French aircraft and helicopters began to be shot down by the dozens. In response, French resupply aircraft had to maintain high altitude, which meant that their parachute drops were inaccurate. Most supplies fell outside the French perimeter. French defenders began to run low on ammunition.
What Neither Navarre nor de Castries knew about was Ho’s massive army of porters. Vo’s local army numbered 35,000, but he had over 200,000 porters serving them. Mostly female, they carted supplies, via foot and bicycle, all the way down from China. Such a stream of porters was difficult to spot from the air. It would later be said that what really defeated the French in at Dien Bien Phu was the Peugeot bicycle!
As Navarre had predicted, Vo initially used human-wave attacks in an attempt to overwhelm the French and bring about a quick victory. The plan fell through. Waves of attackers were mowed down by French machine guns and rifle fire as well as artillery. Thousand of Viet Minh were killed, and the attacks all failed. Vo saw what was happening and called it off. He could see that his original plan needed to be modified. He had sustained significant, but not crippling, losses. Vo abandoned frontal attacks and substituted siege tactics.
Zig-zag trenches were built that slowly inched their way toward the French perimeter. They were shelled by the French, but Viet Minh casualties were minimal. When trenches were within grenade range of the French lines, troops were brought up, and the lines were attacked at close range. The tactic was extremely effective. One by one, de Castries’ fire bases fell.
Panicked, de Castries pleaded with Navarre for reinforcements. Navarre sent in what few he had available via parachute, but it was good money after bad. Dien Bien Phu could not be saved. The last fire base, Isabelle, surrendered to the Viet Minh on 8 May 1954. The French had been humiliated in 1940 when France was successfully invaded by the Germans. She was humiliated once more when she had to be liberated by the Americans and British in 1944. Now this!
Nearly 14,000 surviving French soldiers were lead into captivity. Their release was negotiated five months later, but, so brutal was their internment that only twenty percent survived to return to Europe.
Nararre went back to France in disgrace. His tactics would be studied for decades in military schools everywhere as an example of how to do nearly everything wrong! France’s problems were not over. In 1954, another French colony, Algeria, rebelled just days after the surviving French prisoners had arrived home. France had a new war on its hands and promptly forgot all about Vietnam!
Negotiators settled on a plan where Ho would be allowed to rule Vietnam north of the seventeenth parallel for two years. Bao Dai would be in charge in the south. Elections would then be held to determine who would ultimately hold sway. As would be expected by anyone familiar with Communists, elections were never held. Through terror and murder, Ho solidified his position in the north and organized a guerilla force in the south, the Viet Cong, setting the stage for the American phase of the war.
And, that brings the whole story back to me. It was the American phase of the Vietnam War where I had the opportunity to become personally involved in World history and meet the enemy fact to face. Through a series of miracles, I survived. Nearly all of my friends did not.
Isolated armies are extremely vulnerable, and, once discovered, usually do not last long. Modern armies, even when not actively engaged, require tons of supplies every day, and aerial resupply has its limits. This is what British paratroopers discovered at Arnhem in 1944 (the famous “Bridge too Far”), American paratroopers nearly discovered at Bastogne, and French paratroopers discovered in spades at Dien Bien Phu.
Good information is only valuable if someone believes it. Agendas and egos are constantly getting in the way of facts. Our egos, as well as our agendas, must be flexible. Vo was prepared to alter his plans as the situation developed. Navarre was not, and paid the price. Arrogance makes fools of us all.
War is just conversation until you’re involved personally. I learned that, first hand.
17 Dec 01
This from a friend in Detroit:
“Flew out of Detroit metro early this morning. I declared my G19, and the lady at the ticket counter made me take it out my suitecase and of its case. She then took it from me she and ‘checked’ it by pointing the gun RIGHT at her FACE and looking down the barrel!
Lots of strange looks as I was leaving the ticket counter.
Lesson: I ‘feel’ safer already. Don’t you?
19 Dec 01
Carbon-15 update from a friend on the East Coast:
“Professional Ordnance of Lake Havasu City , AZ produces a lightweight (4 lbs), mostly composite, AR-15 look-alike. However, parts are NOT interchangeable with the AR-15. Early versions of this rifle ‘featured’ a non-vented, composite forward hand guard which became too hot to hold during high-volume shooting. Recently, Texas distributor, CDNN, began offering a lightweight, composite AR-15 upper (manufactured by Professional Ordnance), designed to be mated with standard AR-15 lower receiver.
I recently acquired one of these uppers. When mounted on a post-ban Colt lower receiver, the resulting rifle, with sling, weighs in at 6.25 lbs! The forward hand guard now has vent holes
in the bottom and top. Overheating is no longer a problem. One of the best features is the ‘quick detachable’ muzzle brake. The muzzle brake literally snaps off the front of the barrel
in a manner very similar to a quick-connect air hose fitting. Very handy, depending upon where one finds himself.
Conspicuously missing from this upper are a spring-loaded dust cover for the ejection port and a forward bolt assist. Both would surely be nice to have.
Yesterday, I had my first range test with this new rifle. It performed flawlessly for the first forty rounds. The rifle was then subjected to a sustained fire drill, consisting of one hundred rounds, fired as fast as I could press the trigger. Again, flawless performance. The forward hand guard was only slightly warm to the touch, despite the fact that the barrel and gas tube were both smoking heavily. This was with Wolf ammunition, which is famous for inconsistent powder charges and cases sticking in chambers.
The stainless steel, fluted barrel is in desperate need of some a dark, antireflective coating, and I would like a dust cover for the ejection port and a bold forward assist. Aside from that, it’s a system I can recommend, and it is VERY light!”
22 Dec 01
I had a conversation yesterday with an old friend and colleague. He is involved as an expert assistant in a civil action revolving around a shooting case. The criminal aspects of the case have been long since settled. The perpetrator has been convicted and sent away. However, at the urging of Handgun Control, Inc, relatives of the deceased victim are suing the distributor through which the gun involved was transferred to the dealer, who ultimately sold it to the retail customer. The manufacturer of the gun is out of business, so it falls upon the distributer to face the wrath of anti-gun fanatics and their lawyer-enables.
It struck me that, in our civilization, PERPETUAL COWARDICE HAS BECOME THE PRICE OF SOLVENCY. All those who run afoul of trendy political agendas had better be timid and chicken-hearted, lest they be stripped of all their earthly positions by agenda-driven lawyer/extortionists and the encrusted, self-perpetrating court system that is only too happy to indulge them.
Heaven forbid that any of us be creative and go forth boldly with new ideas, innovating and inspiring. “Custodians of the party line” will come along and promptly stomp us to death. “Custodians of the party line” fear individual freedom so much that they would rather die than grow, and they will tolerate no growth on the part of anyone else either.
Happily, ENTERPRISE IS IRREPRESSIBLE, despite all the efforts of fossilized bureaucracies to stomp it out completely. Thank heaven we have heros like Peter Pi, Alex Robinson, Dave Selvaggio, and many others who, despite the risks, go forth boldly, innovating and inspiring. There will always be plenty of cowards, but a world without heros would be a frightful bore!
26 Dec 01
The issue of trigger finger placement cannot be visited too often. Fingers on triggers at inappropriate times is still the leading cause of ADs. It is amazing to me that there are instructors who still want fingers on triggers while the shooter does not want to shoot.
This is from my friend and colleague, Manny Kapelsohn, in response to this very issue:
“The first place I heard the ‘on target, on trigger, off target, off trigger’ rule was when I taught at Gunsite under Jeff Cooper. The thing most current proponents of that phrasing don’t understand is that, by then-existing Gunsite doctrine, one never came ‘on target’ until the decision to fire was made — until then, the pistol was kept in a 45-degrees downward ‘ready’ position. Cooper actually felt this ‘ready’ position could be more intimidating to an opponent than having the pistol pointed directly at him — as well as having other tactical advantages (unobstructed field of
vision for situational control, etc). In any event, the rule as used at the old (‘orange’) Gunsite had exactly the same effect as training shooters to stay out of the trigger guard until one is on target and the decision to fire is made – because one never came on target until the decision to fire
I have worked in at least two cases – one just now concluded – in which ‘on target, on trigger’ has resulted in unintentional deaths. It is far too ambiguous (especially when not tied to the rest of the Gunsite training regimen – as it rarely ever is), and allows officers and others permission to put their fingers on the trigger whenever they are covering a suspect with muzzle pointed at any part of the suspect’s body, even though they have NOT decided to fire and DO NOT YET WANT to fire. It simply isn’t a good rule, in my view. With very few imaginable exceptions, I strongly prefer, ‘Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you are on target and have
decided to fire.’
“Manny is absolutely correct! Our biggest problem with guns in law enforcement is AD’s, not missing bad guys, although both are significant issues.
‘Finger in register until sights are on target and the decision to fire has been made,’ is the only appropriate way to teach trigger management, in my opinion. Pointing guns at people with one’s finger inside the trigger guard, in the absence of any definitive decision-making process with regard weather or not shooting is appropriate at that particular moment, in a veritable invitation to disaster. As Manny pointed out, such disasters happen all the time. With correct policy, reflected in correct training, the vast majority of them are preventable.
‘We never seem to have time to train, but we always find the time to litigate.’
27 Dec 01
Interesting information about military helmets from a friend in the training business:
“I recently purchased two, current-issue US military helmets, one for use and one to test. The test results were interesting.
I fired a 9mm PMC (hardball) at the center front of the helmet from a range of five yards. The bullet impacted just above, but slightly overlapping, the front rivet holding the liner in. The kevlar functioned as advertised, denting but not allowing passage of the bullet. The struck rivet, however, was driven through the helmet and well into a mud clod that the helmet was sitting on. Not the desired result!”