Friday, July 1, 2011

Marksmanship in battle

An American hero of World War I, Corporal (later Sergeant) Alvin Cullum York of the 328th Infantry was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine-gun nest during the battle of the Meuse-Argonne on 8 October 1918. Armed with the Springfield M1903 bolt-action rifle, he and his section killed 32 German soldiers and captured 132 others as well as 35 German machine guns, and took control of the fortified position.

As a corporal in the 328th Infantry 82nd Division, York had assumed command of his detachment after three NCOs had been killed. A semi-literate backwoodsman from the Tennessee mountains, he was a lay deacon in a Christian pacifist sect. However, he was persuaded that active service was sanctioned by the Bible. While he is sometimes described as acting single-handedly, his official citation says he led seven others in a charge against the machine-gun position.

York's exploit is a clear demonstration that good weapons training and accurate shooting - whatever the weapon - can be devastating in battle. The South African Boers, who were natural marksmen, taught this lesson to the British in the Boer War of 1899-1902. Experienced hunters, they had bought excellent Mausers from Germany and had honed their marksmanship against wildlife targets. The British in turn learnt the lesson and taught it to the Germans in World War I. The accurate fire from their SMLEs did much to slow the German advance.
The Springfield M1903 equipped the US Army in World War and many units in World War II. A number of rifles produced by the Springfield Armory shared the generic title Springfield rifle.

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