Saturday, June 07, 2014

D-Day at the Range

I commemorated the 70th Anniversary of D-Day by going to the range and shooting two of my WWII firearms - an M1 carbine and an M1911A1 pistol.  It seemed a fitting tribute, and it was fun as well.  I was kind of surprised to be alone at the range - I expected at least a few people to be there.  But I had the place to myself. 

First I shot the M1 carbine.  This one is the first one I ever bought - picked up at a gun show in Michigan for about $120 sometime in the 1980's (they go for many hundreds or thousands of dollars today, depending on the variety).  It's a "mixmaster", meaning that it has parts from a variety of manufacturers - it's far from factory original.  It's also my "beater" carbine - I used to carry it in my Jeep and keep it in the campsite when I'd take the kids camping.  It's not pretty, but it's a good shooter and a credible defensive weapon.

M1 carbine.  This one was manufactured by the Inland Division of General Motors in November 1943

The M1 carbine has gotten a bad rap over the years - it has been denigrated as being inaccurate and having poor stopping power.  I think this is because it can't compare to the M1 Garand in accuracy, range, or stopping power.  But it was never intended to replace the battle rifle.  It was intended to replace or supplement the pistol for officers and support troops who didn't need to lug around the full-size M1 Garand.  As a truck driver in an Engineer Battalion, my Uncle Roy most likely carried one of these carbines.  It is well-suited for its intended purpose. 

The .30 Carbine is a hot cartridge - it has more energy at 100 yards than a .357 Magnum has at the muzzle.  The typical round-nose full metal jacket bullet is not the most effective man-stopper, although it's adequate.  With soft-point or hollow-point bullets it's very effective out to 200 yards or more. It's also accurate, although the bullet doesn't buck the wind very well.  I've shot a carbine in highpower rifle matches at 200 yards and turned in respectable scores. 

Today I shot it offhand at 100 yards on both a standard service rifle target (SR-1) and also against a B-27 silhouette (normally used for pistol shooting, but it's a life-size target and thus good for any range).

I shot a total of 60 rounds of surplus Lake City .30 Carbine ammo (headstamped LC-71), loading ten rounds per 15-round magazine. After some warming up on the service rifle target, I fired at the silhouettes.  With a low center-mass hold, I turned in an 89 on the first ten shot string (89%) and a 251-1X (83.6%) on a 30-shot rapid fire string that included three magazine changes.  Not spectacular, but respectable (and fun).  I'd have shot it more (I took 200 rounds with me) but I wanted to make sure I got to shoot my pistol as well, so I called it a day for rifle shooting.

All in all, I feel well-armed with an M1 carbine.  It's no wonder to me that LTC John George called it an "ace weapon of the war" in his book "Shots Fired in Anger".

On the pistol range, I fired my standard-issue 1943-vintage Colt 1911A1, using a B-27 silhouette target at a range of ten yards.   I used standard .45 ACP ("Automatic Colt Pistol") 230 gr. round nose full metal jacket ("hardball") ammunition, identical to military issue.  This is the same kind of pistol I was issued when I was on active duty in the 1980's (although I never had a Colt - mine were Remington-Rands and an Ithaca).  I even broke out my old pistol belt/holster rig to carry it in.

The model 1911 .45 also got a bad rap in some circles.  When I was at U.S. Army Officer Candidate School in 1981, we fired the 1911A1 for "familiarization".  After a (very) brief class on the operation, disassembly and assembly of the pistol (and no marksmanship training whatsoever), they walked us up to a firing point, gave us a box of 50 rounds of ammo, and had us fire at a silhouette about seven yards away.  I remember them saying "we bet you can't hit it very many times".  Their objective seemed to be to convince us that the pistol was useless.  Given the dismal non-training they provided, it was.  I wasn't impressed at the time, but later I taught myself to shoot a pistol by reading books and magazine articles and shooting thousands of rounds in practice.  Not surprisingly, I found that the 1911 is very capable in trained hands.

In today's session I fired two rapid fire strings of 21 shots each (three 7-round magazines).  On one string I scored 196-4X (93.3%) and on the other I scored 200-8X (95.2%).  I was impressed with the handling and accuracy of the as-issued military pistol. 

1943-vintage Colt M1911A1

The .45 ACP is a handful, but with good technique (including a firm grip and solid follow-through) it will do the job.  There's a good reason it was our standard service pistol from 1911 until the mid-1980's!

I love to shoot, and will use just about any occasion as a reason to go to the range.  But today's trip really was intended to commemorate and honor those who staked their lives on these weapons 70 years ago.  As I walked back to the firing line from scoring my targets, I found myself trying to imagine what it must have been like to have to advance over those beaches in the face of enemy fire.  Although I have been a soldier for over 30 years, I have to admit that I don't know what gives men the ability to do that. I have been fortunate never to have had to actually enter combat, but I have the deepest respect for those who have, under whatever circumstances. 

Today's experience handling and firing the same weapons that American soldiers used in Normandy helped me to feel a little closer to them and their experience.  I am privileged to be the temporary caretaker of these historic firearms.  Someday they will pass on to other hands, carrying with them the memory of those who fought to preserve our freedom.


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