7 July 13

“When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.”

Richard Dawkins

The beautiful Krag-Jorgensen Rifle was officially adopted by the US Army in 1886, replacing the Trap-Door Springfield, which had been in general issue since 1873. The Krag was chambered for the new, smokeless-powder “30US” or “30Army” cartridge, better known by its civilian designation, the “30-40 Krag.”

Replacing the large-bore, black-powder 45-70 cartridge (for which the Trap-Door Springfield had been chambered), the 30-40 Krag cartridge represented a radical departure from “traditional” military small-arms ammunition. Troopers were understandably skeptical. It launched a 200gr, 30-caliber bullet at 2,000 f/s. The new cartridge immediately caught-on with big-game hunters and enjoyed great popularity in that arena for many decades thereafter. In fact, it is still manufactured and sold, even today!

Unhappily, at the end of the Spanish-American War, complaints among troops about the rifle itself, and the cartridge, were legion! The Krag ran fine, but its clever, side-mounted box magazine proved “uncompetitive” with the more advanced clip-fed Mauser design, used by Spanish troops. Accordingly, the Krag was abruptly replaced with a shameless American copy of the Mauser, the 1903 Springfield. The Krag, beautiful as it was, thus enjoyed only a short and unhappy tenure with the US Military.

Mauser rifles, used by Spanish troops, were mostly chambered for the flat-shooting 7×57 Mauser cartridge, which many, but not everyone, believed significantly superior to the 30-40 Krag, in both range and accuracy.

Either way, it was obvious to most US Military planners that the 30-40 Krag needed to be replaced with something more powerful, and it was, in 1906. The famous 30-06 cartridge, which, in the 1903 Springfield and later in the M1 Garand, gained an unequaled reputation as a military cartridge through two World Wars, Korea, and assorted lesser conflicts. Indeed, the 30-06 (later redesignated the “7.62×63″) remains unequaled today! Nothing, before nor since, can come close to matching its range and penetration.

However back then, as today, many in the Army didn’t want to admit that the 30-40 Krag cartridge had been inadequate/obsolete the day it was selected, and that its adoption had ultimately been a blunder. So, they sought to “enhance” 30-40 Krag ballistics by increasing the powder charge (in the same case), thus increasing velocity, but also increasing chamber-pressure to (as it turns out) dangerous levels.

This “new” cartridge that resulted sent the Krag’s same 200 gr bullet downrange at 2,200 f/s, a modest velocity increase, and the “improved” version may well have shown itself to be a significant advancement, but it never got the chance!

As is so often the case, testing had been dubious and inadequate! Immediately after the “improved” version of the 30-40 Krag went into general issue, locking-lugs on issue Krag rifles began to crack and break after only a few hundred rounds, a direct result of dangerously high chamber-pressure. The “improved” round was, as it turns out, a consummate failure!

When news of lug-cracking became generally known, the Army sheepishly admitted their mistake and recalled all “improved” ammunition. It was subsequently “recycled,” de-constructed into individual components, and then reloaded back to original specifications. Some of it was destroyed outright, but none was ever re-issued.

The “improved” version of the 30-40 Krag seemed (to some) like a good idea, but it turned out to be a dangerous overload. The price paid for a ten-percent velocity increase was too high!

Today, a little more than one hundred years later, we may be making the identical mistake with the 5.56×45, better known by its civilian designation, the 223 Remington.

I personally used the 5.56×45 to engage the enemy in Vietnam in 1968, shortly after it was adopted (by default) by the Pentagon. I was a young Marine Infantry platoon commander back then, and my unit killed more than a few enemy combatants with the, then issued, 55gr hardball round. It worked fine within 150m, so long as the bullet didn’t have to penetrate anything.

Since then, the inadequacy of the 5.56×45 round as a main/battle military cartridge, in both range and penetration, has been well known and generally acknowledged. Since then, instead of admitting to this procurement mistake and adapting a new cartridge, the existing 5.56×45 cartridge has been “improved” multiple times, with heavier bullets and integral penetrators, with unsatisfactory results in every case.

Now comes the latest “wonder bullet,” the M855A1, code-named “EPR,” for “Enhanced Performance Round.” As in the late 1800s, in order to achieve a modest velocity increase, chamber-pressure has been increased to the point where the cartridge can only be called an “overload.” The results, we’re assured (by those whose careers are attached to it), magically convert the lowly 5.56×45 into a 7.62×51 (308)!

I’ll believe that when I see it, but we’ll likely not have to wait nearly as long to see a plague of cracked lugs and bolts on M4s, due to the dangerously-high chamber-pressure associated with this latest attempt to turn the 5.56×45 into something it can never be.

Such a thing would not exactly be “unprecedented,” now, would it?

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”

George Orwell