Watching The Bullet Drop

It was the 1930’s, and the US military was taking a look at the data from WWI.  How effective were handguns in war?  Not very!

I can’t find the source, but I remember reading a report many decades ago that had been written in the 1920’s.  The author was a high ranking officer of the British army medical corps, and his assessment was stark and realistic.  Seems the most wounds were caused by artillery, second most common wounds caused by machine guns, third by rifles.  Handguns?  If memory serves, Official records told of a total of seven people ended up in field hospitals with a hole in their hide caused by a handgun during the course of the war.  Seems they all claimed to have been sleeping, and they rolled over on top of their pistol when it went off!

Did it happen that way, or were they trying to get out of going over the top?  No way to tell.

At any rate, the idea of equipping the support troops that needed to do their work close to the enemy lines with a handgun for self protection fell out of favor. Artillery crews, officers, cooks, mechanics, what have you.  They all might need to defend themselves if their positions are overrun, but their main job keeps them from hauling around a main battle rifle around with a combat load to go with it.  Past practice was to issue handguns to such troops and call it good, but that didn’t seem to be all that great an idea any more.

Handguns are great if the enemy is in leaping distance, mind, but using one in a battle when the enemy is more than about seven yards away takes more training and constant practice than most soldiers are probably going to get.  It is certainly within the capabilities of gun and man with that training and experience, just that the army expects the support troops to concentrate on their jobs instead of visiting the range every day to practice with their handguns.

Okay, so a pistol didn’t cut the mustard anymore.  So what to do?

The US military decided to design a brand new rifle, something small and light enough to be carried by support troops while they went about their duties, yet with enough range to be effective at short-to-medium battlefield distances.  This was the M1 Carbine.

The M1 Carbine was exactly what the Army ordered.  Small and light, semi-auto so the volume of fire was respectable, and able to reach out and touch someone with aimed shots up to 300 yards away.  The main reason the new weapon fit the bill so well is entirely due to the ammunition, as the cartridge to be used in the M1 Carbine was designed first and the rifle added later.

Most people assume that the .30 Carbine round was originally designed to be a handgun cartridge, but that is not true.  It was always intended to be fired from a small rifle.  Still, it is certainly understandable why one would get that impression as the .30 Carbine round sure looks like a pistol cartridge.

(Picture source.)

That is a standard .30-06 cartridge on top, which was the ammo used by the US for their main battle rifle when the M1 Carbine was introduced.  Notice how it has shoulders, which means that it narrows down towards the bullet end, while the .30 Carbine round on the bottom is a straight wall cartridge without any constriction.  Also note how the .30-06 bullet is pointy like most rifle bullets, while the .30 Carbine bullet is round like most handgun ammo.

So one could think of the M1 Carbine as a really big handgun, something suitable for self defense but not powerful enough to be a really effective main battle rifle.  Which was exactly the point.

Okay, so the carbine bullet is round, and it isn’t nearly as heavy as the main battle rifle cartridge, nor is the bullet moving nearly as fast.  It is also round, not pointed, which has to reduce the effective range due to inefficient aerodynamics.  Even so, the M1 Carbine is supposed to be reasonably accurate out to 300 yards.  Is that true?

I came across a Youtube video that I think is extremely interesting.

The author of the video hooked a camera up to a spotting scope, and you will see some sort of atmospheric distortion when he fires a round.  That distortion is the disturbance caused by the bullet punching through the air, ghost trails that mark out the path taken by the bullet.

Go ahead and take a look.  Please note that the bullet has a noticeable drop at 300 yards, with the bullets arching down more than a foot to their final resting place.  This isn’t something that is unusual, as all bullets will be dropping by the time they travel 300 yards downrange, but it sure is neat to see it!

4 Responses to “Watching The Bullet Drop”

  1. knirirr says:

    That sounds like a very interesting report and I will have to look out for it. All I can find so far is this:$b744277;view=1up;seq=311

    Unfortunately it’s not very helpful in separating out wounds caused by various different weapons, as far as I can tell.

  2. JonT says:

    Great post James. Interesting video.


    PS Don’t forget Sgt York!

  3. Bram says:

    I agree – pistols are about useless in combat. People are all excited about the Army picking a new pistol. Anyone in the Infantry doesn’t care in the least.

    • That’s what I am always wondering. Sure all of the carry one at all times, but how often are they actually going to use their pistol?
      AFAIK it’s kind of a back up only weapon, so once you have emptied your rifle and you are under too heavy pressure to reload, you go for your gun right? My guess would be that those situations are rare.

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