2 Mar 06
Radical Islamists are now active in South Africa, the only sub-Saharan country on the Continuant with a functional infrastructure:
“Rolling blackouts persist here. A hard-line, Muslim group has claimed responsibility for acts of sabotage that have caused the problem. Rumors abound. Some claim it is just a cover story by the government to cover its own ineptitude. Whatever the cause, the effects are felt by all.”
7 Mar 06
At a training program in TX last weekend, I used my Krebs/Kalashnikov (223), Duracoated in “Urban Snakeskin” by my good friend, Les Leturno. The rifle functioned just fine, of course, but I was astounded at the way the rifle itself literally disappeared as it was carried, slung over my shoulder, muzzle down.
I carried it, and several of my students carried it also. We were all, as usual, dressed in drab grays, tans, and olives, but none of us were wearing camouflage. Even so, the Urban Snakeskin pattern so effectively concealed the outline of the rifle, a number of students came up to me and expressed their astonishment at the way it was nearly impossible, without looking intensely, to discern that I has a rifle on my person at all. Many camouflage patterns are vertical, but Urban Snakeskin, is non-directional, and so it is effective no matter how the rifle is oriented on the body.
Up until now, I have thought of camouflaged rifles and shotguns only in terms of reducing the profile after the weapon is deployed. However, I now see that, even as the weapon is carried, profile is markedly reduced. For those of us who contemplate having to routinely carry longarms in public some day, this was a real revelation!
7 Mar 06
Soft Body Armor:
Back in 2000, I acquired a Zylon vest from Second Chance for my upcoming trip to Africa. The lightness and thinness of the unit were attractive. By 2003, Zylon’s reputation came into question, as its ballistic qualities seemed to deteriorate with age. All armor manufacturers quickly pulled Zylon from the market, and I think it is safe to say that we won’t see Zylon vests any more. In the wake of the Zylon revelation, Second Chance made available, at no cost to the customer, supplemental pads for all of their Zylon vests. I acquired mine, and wore the unit several times since. Even with the supplemental pad, the unit was still light and thin.
Recently, I’ve acquired from Dick Davis’ new company, Armor Express, a HALO vest, Threat Level II, and I’ve been using it since January of this year, replacing the Zylon unit. It is made from Kevlar and is comfortable and well designed and put together.
However, I’ve always wondered how the original Zylon vest would have performed, had it needed to. I answered that question for myself last weekend. I shot my old Zylon vest, without the supplementary pad, with a 40S&W 180gr WW hardball and a 40S&W 165gr Federal Hydrashok, both from my SIG 229. Backing was a dirt berm. The vest stopped both! No penetration. It would have worked just fine!
Soft body armor produced by Dick Davis’ new company is top drawer, and I am delighted to see a person with Dick’s experience and passion for this product back in charge. Recommended!
The first soft body armor was made by Dick Davis. The best still is!
10 Mar 06
Comments on ageing, from one of our instructors:
“As trainers, we might ask our students, particularly the young ones, to consider age and the ageing process.
As we age, reflexes slow, muscle mass shrinks, dexterity degrades, hearing and vision often need aids, and health issues, such as arthritis, rear their ugly heads. As a result, reflexes and conditioned responses, that we have learned and (hopefully) practiced, become ever more dependant upon purity of technique and less so on strength. When our techniques are built upon a solid foundation, then we still have a base from which to produce victory, even though time and age have conspired against us.
As we age, we are thus compelled to become less dependant upon physical attributes we nonchalantly enjoyed when we were young. We can no longer muscle our way through every situation. Casual laziness to which we are tempted to succumb in youth, will eventually generate hollow proficiency that will insure failure in our senior years.
As instructors, we need to impress upon our young students that the deep essence, inherent in skills and techniques they are only beginning to understand now, may not be fully known to them until no longer overpowered by youthful strength and impetuousness. Easy success is truly a false ally!”
“No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formula the text books know,
Will turn a bullet from your coat,
Nor ward a tulwar’s downward blow.
Strike hard who cares!
Shoot straight who can!
The odds are on the cheaper man.”
13 Mar 06
Comments on the M9 sterile carry, from a Naval officer, forward deployed:
“I’m a naval officer, assigned to a ship in Forward Deployed Forces. Last week, I took part in standard, Navy ‘training’ and qualification on the M9. The one item clearly at the top of the training agenda (at least the one in print) was the curious act of ‘safing’ the pistol after every target engagement, and never holstering an ‘unsafe’ weapon.
While drawing their pistols, most sailors were utterly unable to disengage the safety/decocking lever with only the strong-side hand. So, they were compelled to complete a depressing mixture of bunglesome, two-handed maneuvers, as the weapon was being drawn, in order to make it ready to fire. We could all plainly see that these awkward and precarious techniques resulted in absurdly slow first shots, as well as hands sweeping in front of muzzles and, in a few cases, dropped pistols!
There was scant attention devoted to fighting fundamentals, like rapid decocking/re-enabling, keeping the trigger finger in register while moving, and moving laterally, off the line of force, while drawing and reloading. In fact, moving while drawing or reloading constituted a ‘safety violation.’
However, it will probably interest you that there was one positive development, which indicated to me that competent training may be trying to rear its head. At the conclusion of the session, the Chief Gunner’s Mate explained, with an unmistakable wink, that holsters we’re issued have a tendency to inadvertently disengage the ‘safety,’ and, because of the design of the retention mechanism, it’s nearly impossible to visually confirm the position of the safety/decocking lever while the pistol is holstered. ‘Heck,’ he continued, ‘a spot of Em-New (black dye, used to touch up worn spots on emblems) on that red dot, and no one would be able to tell that your safety/decocking lever is up.’ ‘Nor,’ he muttered softly, ‘would anyone care!’
In addition, there is a surprising and refreshing willingness, though little is actually said one way or another, to allow pistols to be holstered and carried with a round chambered, at least on the range. And, all our in-port, deck watches now carry condition-one (loaded) M9s, often with the decocking lever ‘up’ in those darned holsters.
We’re not ignorant, John. We read your Quips! We’re just inhibited by dreary edicts from up the food chain, which we all now know to be foolish and unenlightened. So, keep up the good work with those Marines. Things are changing!”
13 Mar 06
Advice from a local gun retailer:
“Stock up on 45ACP! I routinely order from four, major suppliers. I’ve been told that 5K is all I can get with any one order. That amount usually doesn’t last me more than a few days. Pentagon is grabbing up the rest. Pretty much the same situation with 223. Get a supply while you can!”
Comment: Exact specifications on the new military pistol are still not completely clear, but caliber has been established, and there is apparently no further debate on this subject. It will be 45ACP! The Pentagon is ordering ammunition accordingly, and the government’s own ammunition-producing facilities have been nearly all decommissioned. The one plant remaining, Lake City, can’t begin to supply all the small-arms ammunition currently needed, so the Pentagon is leaning on private producers, domestic and foreign, to make up for the shortfall. The wise among the rest of us should take the hint!
13 Mar 06
The current commander of US Army Forces in Alaska, a leftist politician, masquerading as a general, like so many leftists in positions of power, has decided to inflict his personal, anti-gun, political agenda upon thousands of hapless soldiers under his command.
General Charles Jacoby is obviously afraid of guns and all who own them. He recently imposed an order forbidding any soldier from carrying a concealed weapon, presumably knives or guns, on or off post, under any circumstances, even on their own, private property.
CCW permits are not difficult to get in Alaska for those with no criminal history. None of that matters to this budding autocrat. The order applies to all, regardless of status, even to those working as part-time police officers. I’m sure the general’s personal bodyguard staff, as well as the general himself, are made a specific exception!
Here is what he says:
“Carrying concealed, deadly weapons by USARAK soldiers represents a significant risk to the safety and welfare of (my next promotion) this command. Accordingly, all soldiers assigned, or attached to USARAK, are prohibited from carrying a concealed, deadly weapon in public places off of USARAK posts. All persons are also prohibited from carrying concealed, deadly weapons on USARAK posts… ad nauseam”
The wise and the bold will, of course, contemptuously ignore this stupid order. Where do these people get off telling others that their lives and personal safety are not important?
13 Mar 06
We must guard against too strict an emphasis on a single technique, especially when we imply, no matter how subtly, that to do things any other way, in even the most minute variation, is not only apostate but certain to be immediately fatal.
When a student with small hands is unable to reload her pistol in the classical way, there must be found some other not-so-pure way for her to do it. The point is, as Henk says, to get her pistol running as quickly as she can, while she is laying in a cold, muddy ditch, at night, in the rain, with someone shooting at her! That is far more important than looking good while doing it on a balmy, sunny afternoon at the pistol range. Finding a way is the teacher’s job. We guide the student to the solution, the way a needle guides the thread. That is, after all, the essence of skillful pedagogy.
With the foregoing in mind, any reloading technique that requires a student to hold two magazines in the same hand, at the same time, is, in my opinion, silly! Ditto with reloading techniques that require a student to hold a pistol and an extra magazine in the same hand, at the same time.
14 Mar 06
On Wal-Mart, from one of my colleagues:
“Taking you advice from yesterday, I went down to my local Wal-Mart this morning in order to stock up on 45ACP ammunition. At the sporting-goods department, the first salesperson, of course, didn’t have the key to open the dreaded ‘ammunition cabinet,’ so he had to summon forth, from the depths, the ‘Ammunition Manager.” The ammunition manager asked me what kind of ammo I wanted, and I said, ‘45ACP.’
He pointedly replied, ‘We don’t have 45ACP.’ That pronouncement surprised me, as there was a large display of 45ACP ammunition clearly visible behind the glass front of the ammunition cabinet. He continued, ‘All we have is 45Auto.’ I said, ‘I’ll take the 45Auto.’ ‘Okay,’ he warned, ‘but you know 45Auto won’t work in 45ACP guns.’ ‘I really appreciate that piece of sage advice, Sonny, but I’ll take the 45Auto anyway.’”
Comment: When it comes to important details, sales people at big retailers are not particularly helpful, as they lack any specific interest in what they’re selling. Ammunition is best purchased at a legitimate gunshop, where you might actually encounter someone who knows what he is doing!
14 Mar 06
77gr 223, from Black Hills:
With the military’s current high consumption of Black Hills 77gr 223 round, it has been nearly impossible to find commercially. The 77gr bullet represents an improvement over the 55gr Hardball round we’ve use for years, and it represents a quantum improvement over the 62gr “penetrator” round that has turned in such a dismal performance since its introduction.
“Black Hills 5.56mm 77gr HP” is currently available, in quantity, from Jensen’s in Loveland, CO. Good time to stock up! I don’t know of anywhere else it is available.
The other round I recommend in 223 is Cor-Bon’s 53gr DPX. Best ordered directly from Cor-Bon.
246 E 4th St
Loveland, CO 80538
970 663 5994
Peter R Pi
PO Bx 369
Sturgis, SD 57785
800 626 7266
800 923 2666 (Fax)
14 Mar 06
I am endorsing for the IALEFI Board:
IALEFI is an important organization, and we all have a direct interest in it going forward and prospering. These guys are, of course, all friends of mine, but we need their hard work and leadership in order to keep IALEFI at the forefront.
15 Mar 06
This is from a friend and colleague who is an emergency room surgeon at a busy hospital. As unhappy as it is, we all need to hear and understand this:
“The modern, American response to disasters is to throw scads of tax-payer dollars at them, until they drop off the front page. In the aftermath, politicians will predictably drown the issue in public money, all the time knowing it is futile, even counter-productive, but they do it in order to appear to be ‘doing something,’ so they can stay in power. When their efforts fail, they blame others. However, this curious ‘system’ works, to the degree that it does, only when we have to deal with just one disaster at a time. When we have to deal with a widespread, pernicious pandemic and/or nationwide, simultaneous terrorist attacks, our system will overload and bog down almost immediately. Mutual aid will be unavailable when neighboring jurisdictions are, themselves, overwhelmed.
For example, my hospital currently has the resources to admit, and care for, one, demented, eighty-four-year old, in order to treat her pneumonia (for the third time this month), along with a couple of car-wreck victims with broken noses. Multiply casualties (real ones this time) by only a factor of five, and we’ll be utterly unable to handle them. Our resources will be speedily depleted, and, when supplies can’t be replenished, because the entire transportation and communications systems are paralyzed, our ability to effectively treat casualties will rapidly be diminished to the point of impotence. When, in addition, all hospitals in our area are likewise jammed full of sick, wounded, and dying and are understaffed, because most doctors and nurses will, themselves, be afflicted. Our ‘health care system’ will cease to be functional in any meaningful way. Anarchy will soon break out, because the police will be no better off than we are!
In truth, when the pandemic and/or invasion strikes, our fragile threshold will be passed almost instantly. Thereafter, we will all live or die, based upon our level of personal preparedness and our ability to render competent care and protection to ourselves and to each other.”
Comment: We had a dress rehearsal of all this in LA and MS just a few months ago! All of the forgoing actually happened, despite naive assurances that it would not. Those faired best who had planned in advance and were personally prepared. Dependant, naive grasseaters, who foolishly believed that some government agency would “take care of them,” faired poorly. Politicians love nothing better than to put us all out of THEIR misery!
We are entering a period of world history that future historians will describe as “exciting,” and the excitement is just beginning!
16 Mar 06
On what works and what doesn’t, from a friend and one of our instructors in SA:
“We presented a Defensive Handgun Course in Capetown over the weekend. Most students showed up with G17s and G19s. We had a single G34 and one G21. All performed boringly well. The only other make of gun we had on course was H&K P7. Worked 100%.
Students fired one thousand rounds each. Ammo availability has become a huge problem here in the Democratic People’s Republic of South Africa. All 9mm ammo we used was Russian, steel-case, sub-gun ammo, made by Barnaul. This stuff is hot, but reliable. In most of the African Continent, it’s all you can get in quantity. Your pistol had better be able to stand up to steel cases and hot loads, designed for submachine guns. Glocks had no problem with it. Lesser guns might have.
One women struggled getting her G19 drawn out of a locally-made, kydex paddle. I quickly converted her to Comp-Tac/C-Tac. Her draw problems instantly vanished! In fact, most serious students here use Gregg’s holsters. All worked 100%.
Most students carried Surefire 6Ps, and all worked just fine, but everyone was astounded by my Blackhawk Gladius, particularly the strobe feature. They’ll sell a ton of them here if they can get them imported.
I was dismayed by the low percentage of students who routinely carry OC and blades. I tried to persuade them all of the importance of these weapons. By the end of the Course, I had sold a bunch of Cold Steel folders! We like Cold Steel knives, because they don’t break, and they cut strongly. Africa is no place for wimpy gear!
Good people here are persevering as well as we can.”
Comment: Once again, we here in the USA often fail to appreciate how good we have it. My friend confirms that tough gear and tough people go together. Tough people will always find a way to win!
17 Mar 06
On steel-case pistol ammunition, from a friend and colleague:
“We just finished a three-day Police Pistol Course. Each student fired 2,500 rounds. Two officers showed up with Wolf 40S&W ammunition. Their department didn’t want to ‘spend a lot of money on ammunition!’
It was brutal and painful to watch their guns break, right before our eyes. First, came numerous, minor malfunctions. Then came the serious malfunctions. Finally, their pistols just broke. The first was a Beretta 92F. At 1000 rounds, the extractor claw sheared right off. At 2000 rounds, the Glock finally broke its extractor too. The good news was that we had a Glock Armorer there, and the Glock was back up and running within a few minutes. The Beretta shooter, unfortunately, had a long, round-trip home, on day two, in order to retrieve a replacement pistol.
We did the math: The cost difference between 5,000 rounds of 40S&W Wolf and generic, white-box. It came out to $200.00, which, I am sure, seems like pennies to these gentlemen now.
Like you, we strongly recommend against using steel-case ammunition in Western firearms. Some listen. Some don’t!”
Comment: Western firearms are all designed around brass-case ammunition. Feed them steel at your peril!
17 Mar 06
Good suggestion, from a friend and colleague:
“In the age of pernicious blood-borne pathogens, I have become less and less enthusiastic about using a knife as a secondary/back-up weapon. So, I have converted over to carrying a blackjack (sap) as my fall-back.
Here in GA, carrying a suitable, fighting knife (fixed-bladed or folder) is no less illegal than is carrying a small, impact weapon. Knife statutes are detailed and restrictive. When saps are mentioned in the same statute, language is ambiguous and vague. So, there is no legal disadvantage to carrying a sap, and tactical advantages of impact weapons have been obvious to me for decades. Saps are capable of ending fights instantly. A quick strike under the jaw will knock cold most people with a single application. Strikes to limbs and torso will dissuade all but the most desperate.
When you cut or stab someone with a blade, the resulting wound will constitute ‘serious bodily injury’ just about anywhere. Conversely, a strike with a sap rarely causes heavy (external) bleeding, and, as we all know, oftentimes you have tell someone they’ve been cut. I don’t know of anyone who has been nailed with a sap who has required verbal reinforcement to be aware of it!
Last Sunday, a trainer put on a ‘Blackjack and Sap’ class for us here in Atlanta. He carries a sap on a daily basis, and he has developed sound doctrine and methodology for their use. At the end of the day, I had even more respect for these wonderful tools. I’m carrying one now, as part of my everyday kit.
While many police officers are proscribed from carrying saps, this is one of the those areas where we private citizens actually have more latitude to choose an appropriate self-defense tool.”
Comment: Saps may be experiencing a renaissance! They have a lot going for them, as we can see! It’s only blatant misuse that caused their acceptance in the police community to decline in the first place.
19 Mar 06
On steel-case ammunition, from a friend and colleague in SA:
“No doubt that steel-case ammo is hard on guns, particularly Western guns. Trouble is, here in SA, there is nothing else available. The price difference, between Russian, steel-case and fancy FMJ (brass) ammunition from the USA is significant. American ammunition is four times the price of Russian ammunition!
I carry a G17, and my wife, a G19. Both these pistols have fired in excess of 30,000 steel-case rounds each. Nothing has broken on either thus far, and, even then, replacing a broken extractor on a Glock takes two minutes. Conversely, the penalty for failing to train, because of a lack of ammunition, is much stiffer!
At our Academy, we have numerous Kalashnikov variants (mostly Rs). They have consumed over 150,000 rounds, each, of steel-case ammunition. Not one has ever broken anything! In addition, we have two FALs. We broke an extractor on one at 8,000 rounds. The extractor was quickly replaced, and it has run fine ever since. Our only American rifles are a Colt AR-15 and Ruger Mini-14. The Ruger does fine with steel-case ammo. I’ve lost count of the number of broken extractors we’ve replaced on the Colt!
As you know, after forcibly installing a government consisting of blithering idiots and criminals, the USA has subsequently abandoned SA. As a result, this country is not for sissies! This place is hard on people and gear. Personal safety and survival is not just light conversation when you live here!
Count your blessings in America. Your choices of gear are huge; and tonight you can relax as you watch TV, have a burger, and drink a Dr Pepper, all in peace and relative safety. Over here, we sleep lightly, and ‘bumps in the night’ are frequent and pernicious.”
Comment: Happily, this kind of insecurity has not reached our shores… yet!
20 Mar 06
Excellent dissertation! Doubting gives rise to hesitation, and hesitation leads to dithering. The trauma surgeon and the gunfighter share the same dilemma. THERE IS NO TIME TO DOUBT! We are all best served by doing one thing, and only one thing, from start to finish, and then getting back in the fight. Trying to do several things simultaneously or doing one thing halfway and they starting to do something else will quickly start to look like indecisive dithering.
Phil Messina puts it, “We die in the gaps.” Big gaps are worse than little gaps. The true warrior resembles a ballerina: No wasted parts. No wasted motions. A continuous, seamless whirlwind of motion. As such, he is unbeatable.
When the sun first filtered through Eden’s green and gold
And our father, Adam, leaned against the Tree
And scratched with a stick in the mold
And that first rude sketch the world had seen
Brought joy to his mighty heart
That is, until the Devil, whispering from between the leaves, said,
“It’s pretty, but is it art?”
21 Mar 06
On skill retention, from a student:
“Went to the range this weekend to see how my unused (fourteen months) shooting and gun-handling skills have fared during dormancy. No target practice or warm-up. Started right in with picking pistol up from shelf, acquiring grip, and placing shots on target with serious ammo.
Interestingly, my stance and grip remain innate, instant, and natural with each pistol. No fumbling. Annoyingly, all early shots low and left; the same push-on-trigger-pull anticipation you guys tried to drill out of me years ago. After settling down for a few minutes, that was corrected.
Some initial trouble remembering catching the link for multiple shots. That, too, came back quickly upon recognition but, like the anticipatory push, required conscious recollection and deliberate application.
As you say, most skills come back within thirty minutes. The trouble is getting into a gunfight on the way to the range!”
Comment: The foregoing is typical. Base skills stay intact the longest, but details start to fade almost immediately. I would rather my students shoot twenty rounds, once every month, than shoot five-hundred rounds, once per year. Gun owners and particularly gun carriers has a societal responsibility to keep their skills up to par. None of us will have the opportunity to “get ready” for an emergency!
21 May 06
Sage comments on steel-case ammunition, from my friend and colleague, Alex Robinson of Robinson Arms:
“My orientation on steel cases is this: EVERY RIFLE AND PISTOL CURRENTLY MANUFACTURED SHOULD BE DESIGNED TO MAKE USE OF IT, TO THE COMPLETE EXCLUSION OF BRASS-CASE AMMUNITION. As the world situation heats up, demand for small-arms ammunition will continue to increase, and dwindling copper availability will drive a trend toward steel-case ammunition, even in Western countries, even in the USA! As is the present case with your South African friends, we may all be forced to use steel-case ammunition, simply because nothing else will be available.
We’ve been doing our final testing on the XCR, using Wolf, steel-case ammunition, because there are lots of our customers who, even now, want to shoot it. As I said, before long, we may all shoot it, because we have to. Accordingly, serious rifles and pistols should be designed with extractors that can function with steel-case ammunition and not break. Our XCR is so designed and will be every bit as reliable in this regard as is the Kalashnikov.”
Comment: I’ll have a copy of the Robinson Arm’s XCR shortly for testing, and I’m going to feed it a lot of Wolf ammunition. At this historical juncture, I don’t want to own wimpy gear!
23 Mar 06
Comments on the Army in AK, from a friend on active duty:
“The general officer in Alaska you mentioned is what George Patton would have contemptuously dismissed to as a ‘paper hanger.’ Unfortunately, most generals in the Army today are like this guy. They are career focused rather than mission focused. They spend so much time engaged in CYA, their entire shop is just about closed to all other business.
The Army you and I joined is long gone. Heroes are rare today, as they are routinely passed over for promotion. They have been replaced by an entrenched, self-serving bureaucracy that rivals the worst found in the old, Soviet Union. Our system is promoting only politically motivated, careerist, atta-boys. If we want to survive as a nation, we’re going to have to clean house!”
Comment: George, Doug, Omar, and Ike! Where are you when we need you?
25 Mar 06
I handled a Springfield Armory XD45 yesterday. The retailer where I saw it indicated that it was selling well. In profile, it is the same size as a Commander (except for the length of the grip). They’ve cleverly managed to make the grip significantly slimmer than is the case with the G21, but, in order to accommodate all those 45ACP rounds, the grip is long! Such a long grip will develop into an issue for those wanting to carry it concealed. With that in mind, I suspect a “Compact” version will make its debut before long.
With the Pentagon now returning to the 45ACP pistol cartridge, after a brief and disappointing flirtation with the 9×19, all pistols chambered for 45ACP caliber will garner renewed interest from both the American buying public and the American Police Community, regardless of which particular pattern the Pentagon ultimately selects.
The Big Two in the American police handgun market are still Glock and SIG/DAK, and rightfully so. I don’t see that changing significantly in the next few years. However, we may well see S&W’s M&P grab the number three spot away from the two current contenders, H&K’s P2000 and Beretta’s PX4/C, and SA’s XD series, when they develop a competent maintenance network (like Glock’s), might well ascend to that position too.
Right now, the XD series has yet to gain legitimate market acceptance as “main-stream” pistols, but, with SA’s aggressive and skillful marketing, that is slowly changing. We’ve had many XDs in courses. We’ve seen a few break, but, in all fairness, the pistol gets good marks.
27 Mar 06
Bannockburn, 23-24 June 1314AD, “The Battle of Pools”
Between 122 and 130AD, Roman Emperor Hadrian, after a personal visit to England (his first and only), directed the construction of “Hadrian’s Wall.” Made of stone and wooden beams, interspersed with forts, the Wall was a tacit admission by Romans that their influence had limits, and that certain parts of the world did not merit conquering. Romans never invaded Ireland either, considering it, like Scotland, of little economic or military value.
At his death in 138AD, Hadrian was succeeded by Antoninus Pius, who built his own wall, this one further north, shorter, and far less imposing. When Marcus Aurelius succeeded Antoninus, he abandoned the Antoninan Wall, and retreated back to Hadrian’s original wall. Thus defined and delineated by what amounted to a “border,” Scots, ensconced in their rough, rocky countryside, garnered a formidable and well-deserved reputation, even among Romans.
Serious cracks appeared in Roman-controlled England as early as 300AD, as Roman dominance started slipping in all her provinces. By the time the Empire split into Eastern and Western segments in 395AD, remaining Roman legions started to be withdrawn from England in order to oppose Huns and other invaders closer to Rome. By 450AD, all had departed. In succeeding centuries, inheritors of Romanized England continued to look upon Scotland with simultaneous dread, loathing, and covetousness. For their part, eternally squabbling Scottish clans highly valued their relative (though unofficial) independence from their southern neighbor.
Territorial claims went back and forth, as English and Scottish monarchs tested each other’s strength and resolve. No official agreement even existed between the two dominions until 1328. Rabble rouser, William Wallace, galvanized Scottish independence fever but had little luck in persuading bickering clans to unite in any meaningful way. After Wallace was captured and publicly executed by the British in 1305, Robert Bruce ascended to the position of “King of Scots,” a title he claimed for himself in 1306. Between 1306 and 1314, Robert Bruce dramatically demonstrated both his political and military acumen by systematically ejecting British garrisons from Scotland, much to the dismay of English King Edward I, who naively thought he had put the Scottish issue to bed with the elimination of Wallace. Only the British costal garrison at Sterling Castle had successfully resisted Bruce’s wrath, but it’s capture was inevitable, unless a belated relief column found its way there from the south. The stage was now set for a grand test of wills!
Bruce actually had little faith in his ability to defeat the well organized and equipped British expeditionary force heading his way. Even Bruce’s legendary persuasive ability had been barely enough for him to assemble an ambivalent force of six thousand, and they were little more than untrained brawlers, hastily thrown together, and lacking the equipment and sophistication of a modern, fighting force. His “army” consisted of several phalanxes (called “Schiltrons”) of pikemen and a small unit of light cavalry. He had no archers and no heavy cavalry. Conversely, the British force he expected to meet had all that, in spades, and, in addition, was three times the size of his force. Thus, Bruce carefully considered his options. He could (1) decline direct combat, accept British military presence, and continue his guerilla operations. Or, he could (2) take the enormous risk of confronting the British directly and defeating them decisively, ultimately forcing the British Crown into an official agreement, formally recognizing Scottish independence. He audaciously chose the later!
One factor had major influence on his decision: British King Edward I, whose well-earned nickname was “Hammerer of Scots,” had died in July of 1307, at the age of 68, and his successor, the one who would be at the head of the British expeditionary force, was his son, Edward II, widely known to be an uninspiring, indecisive, effeminate weakling, who enjoyed only luke-warm support from his subordinate commanders, none of whom were convinced he would occupy the English Throne for long. Even then, Bruce would have to select his battleground carefully, a battleground that would negate the effectiveness of British heavy cavalry, a place that would force the British to confront him on a narrow front, so he could keep Edward’s archers and cavalry separated from each other. Even with all that, Bruce would still have to persuade the British take the bate.
Bannockburn (“burn” translates to “swamp”) was a low-lying series of bogs directly adjacent to a tidal estuary, difficult to walk in and utterly impossible for horses. Edward should have known better than to accept military confrontation in such a dangerous place, but that is where Bruce’s army was first spotted, and, after a long trip, Edward’s knights were anxious to get it on. And, Edward himself pitiably lacked the decisiveness, stature, and repute to control them.
Robert Bruce, on horseback, was plainly displaying himself in front of his formation. It was all just too much for one of Edward’s knights, Sir Henry de Bohun! Without hesitation, de Bohun broke formation and charged straight for Bruce, lance in hand. Bruce was a seasoned fighter. He accepted the challenge, deflected the lance, and hit young de Bohun directly in the head with a heavy, battle axe. The blade split de Bohun’s helmet (along with his head) in half! Bruce triumphantly returned to his lines and was greeted by wild cheering. Instead of commenting on the size of the imposing British host, he casually lamented that he had just broken his favorite axe. His ingenious comment was designed, at once, to (1) trivialize the British presence in the eyes of his men and (2) insult the remaining British knights, goading them into a premature charge. He was successful on both counts!
When a British knight’s courage is thus mocked, all caution is thrown to the wind! On their own impulse, all knights precipitously charged Bruce’s tightly-packed formation of pikemen, as Edward helplessly looked on. Without the support of archers, whom Edward, not anticipating the developing situation, had carelessly left at the rear of his formation, the charging knights were extremely vulnerable. As a result, most were promptly impaled on pikes. The few who penetrated the front lines were quickly pulled off their horses and dispatched on the ground. Bruce’s formation held!
However, even with this first round won, Bruce knew the battle was still far from over, far from decided. He again considered breaking contact and withdrawing, rather than facing the British the next day. Ultimately, he concluded this was their last, best chance. In the morning, it would be all or nothing!
As evening fell on the other side, Edward was sternly an pointedly lectured by his subordinates that only when archers and knights worked together would there be any chance for victory, that this swamp was a dreadful place for a fight to begin with, and that his host’s moral was slipping dangerously. They urged Edward to step up to the plate. Unfortunately, as little confidence as his subordinates had in him, Edward had even less! He lapsed into despondency, waxing giddy and incoherent. His only thoughts were now devoted to how he would personally avoid capture. Sensing that Edward was coming apart, Alexander Seton and some other knights decided that evening to desert and return to England.
The next day, Edward’s courageous knights again attempted to seize the initiative, but their horses became hopelessly bogged down in the mire. When some finally reached firm ground, the front was excruciatingly narrow, and they were thus no match for Bruce’s massed pikemen. British archers were belatedly brought forward to support the knights, but it was too late. They got off several effective volleys, but Bruce’s light cavalry quickly swept them off the field.
Edward convinced himself the battle was lost. Bruce smelled victory! Edward, fearing solely for his own life, fled the battlefield in disgrace, along with his entourage of atta-boys. The moment he did, his entire army disintegrated! Panic swept the ranks. A confused, disorganized retreat followed, as they were pursued and mercilessly slaughtered. It was a lop-sided and unnecessary trouncing. Edward II had succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!
Scottish independence would not become official for another fourteen years, with a treaty sighed in 1328. This legacy of Bannockburn would last nearly four hundred years, until 1707.
Robert Bruce continued to distinguish himself as both a brilliant military commander and statesman, beloved and respected by all. Today, along with Wallace, he is a highly-revered, nation hero. He died of natural causes at the age of 55, in 1329.
By 1327, Edward, still technically on the English Throne, had few friends. Considered a coward and an unenlightened bungler, he commanded neither respect nor fear. In a conspiracy concocted by his wife and her lover, a disaffected baron (and enthusiastically supported by just about everyone else), Edward II was forcibly deposed and thenceforth confined to a castle. Shortly thereafter, an unknown assassin mercifully put him out of his misery. He was 43. Few tears were shed. He was succeeded by his son, Edward III.
Lessons: CHANCE FAVORS THE PREPARED. FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD. PROVIDENCE FAVORS THE AUDACIOUS! It takes a sage and talented commander to be able to see opportunity, where others see only desperation. “What rage of fame attends both great and small? Better to be damned than not mentioned at all!”
“God offers every mind a choice between truth and peace. Take which you please. You can never have both.”
30 Mar 06
Everything but Guns! Comments from a friend in Washington DC:
“While out eating lunch yesterday at an upscale, hotel restaurant, I observed a group of US Secret Service agents march in and sit down at the table next to me. All, of course, were wearing 511 trousers and stylish, polo shirts with the Secret Service badge and logo emblazoned on the left side, clearly marked ‘US Secret Service.’ Apparently, they’re not very ‘secret’ any more!
Here is the point: out of the half-dozen agents, not one was armed! Needless to say, all had multiple cell phones, dangling from numerous attachment points, along with pagers, notebooks, Blackberries, laptops, ad nauseam. However, there were no belt holsters, ankle holsters, concealment holsters of any kind. Maybe they had weapons in their cars, but none was wearing one. It occurred to me that, when terrorists suddenly brake in, I will be the only one shooting, at least until someone calls the real police!”
Comment: In this “Age of Terrorism,” here is a sad and curious reminder that “image” has ascended to a higher lever of consciousness within the federal system than has duty and personal victory. It appears that, so long as federal agents look good while dying, all is well!
“Learned helplessness” is not confined to college campuses.