Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

War Without End

I was reading down the WSJ headlines this morning and saw this article about the Afghan government negotiating with some Taliban fighters in order to bring them into the fold. Then the picture illustrating it make me do a double take:

The rifles those Taliban fighters are holding are No. 1 Mark III Enfields -- a design which was the standard battle rifle for the British Army in World War One, and continued to be manufactured in India and Pakistan through the 60s. The design is over 100 years old, having gone into use in 1907. It's a bolt action rifle firing the .30 caliber British 303 rimmed cartridge. Its ten round magazine can be loaded quickly with five-round charger clips, and its bolt action is impressively fast (it cocks on closing the bolt rather than on opening it) such that trained men could file 20-30 rounds a minute, despite having reload every ten rounds. Unquestionably one of the great battle rifles of the Great War, though like the German Mauser, it was showing its age by World War II. Here's a closer look at it:

People talk about how Afghanistan has been the scene of fighting for a long time, but nothing brings that home like seeing mujahadeen carrying rifles that were designed in 1907, and built back when the British were ruling the area. Those rifles were old when those men's grandfathers were fighting age.


Anonymous said...

From Matthew Speed:

I read recently that US troops are finding that their 5.56 mm M-16's are proving inadequate against Afghan fighters. It turns out that the light bullet, while fast, does not have the long range stopping power of the .30-06 M1 Garand it replaced. The .303 Lee-Enfields carried by the indigenous fighters, while slow to fire being bolt action rifles, are outperforming the high tech M-16's varmint cartridge.

Anonymous said...

The Army and Marines concluded decades ago that firing lots of small bullets quickly is more effective tham firing fewer larger bullets more slowly. Hence the 5.56. If the Afghans are using ancient large-caliber rifles that means either a) that's all they can get; or b) they're stupid.


Tony said...

My go-to rifle for homefront defense is the Yugoslavian SKS. It uses 7.62x39 cartridges, reloadable, and is gas powered semi-automatic.

My other favotite is the the Swiss K-31, straight pull bolt action in 7.55mm built to Swiss tolerances.

Donald R. McClarey said...

Afghanistan has been in a state of continual civil war since it was invaded. What was the name of that guy who led the invasion? Oh yeah, Alexander the Great.

lissla lissar said...

Huh. My weapons-history-buff housemate says that some government workers in the north still use these rifles. According to him they fire well even with mud and junk clogging them up.

So far North Canadian Government people still get issued rifles from WWI.

Darwin said...

Lissla Lissar,

Interesting. I could certainly see Enfields still being carried by park rangers and such, where the benefits of a modern battle rifle (full auto, low recoil, etc.) would be not only useless but actively a problem. They're outstanding rifles. I wish I had one. :-)

Anonymous said...

From Matthew again:

To Joel: Most combat forces tend to be expertly equipped to fight the previous war. In the case of the Marine and Army studies, the bulk of their data came from Vietnam, where many bullets in close proximity proved most effective. This article here shows that the military is second guessing their choice of the M4 and its 5.56 mm round in the desert environment. The article referenced states that US forces are outmatched by the 7.62 rounds fired by the AK-47 and that combat units are adding soldiers carrying the M110, a rifle that fires the 7.62 NATO round, a round that is roughly equivalent to the .308 Winchester. These natives carrying bolt action rifles are certainly behind the times, but a slow firing rifle accurate and effective to 2,500 feet beats a hail of bullets that lose their oomph after only 1000 every time. The fact is that in many states it isn't legal to hunt deer with a .223 says a lot about its effectiveness at killing animals that weigh as little as 100 lbs.

Darwin said...

There's also the matter of tactical appropriateness. I can't imagine a close-up firefight in which full size .30 bolt actions would be more useful than assault rifles, whether .30 or .22. However, when it comes to long range sniping, even our own snipers mostly use .30 bolt action rifles, albiet newer ones.

Anonymous said...

I would suspect there is no shortage of AK-47s or SKSs in Afghanistan so the fact that all these guys in this picture have the .303's is interesting. My first thought would be to wonder if they are just dropping off the old rifle that was collecting dust at home (while keeping the Ak-47 at home for future use.) On the other hand, I can see how a powerful and long range rifle like the Enfield would be a very smart weapon for Taliban fighters to use. If you are just going to take one shot and vanish it makes perfect sense. From what I can tell Afghanistan is something of a weapon musuem, when the Soviets invaded in '79 they were capturing 19th century French and Belgian rifles and the Enfields, Mausers, and Nagants would have seemed cutting edge for the average Muhajadeen.

I wonder if most of the Enfields being found in Afghanistan are actual British production or part of that later Indian/Pakistan production. I have seen some Indian Enfields marked with 1987 as a manufacture date but I have also heard that it was a mistake and the last batch was actually made in 1967.