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Most Effective WW II Machine Gun

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We do alot of miniatures gaming, and often use the WAR GAMES RULES 1925-1950 ruleset. Comparing the effectiveness of machine guns in the ruleset results in the following rankings for shots taken from 100m to 800m:

1. turret coax machine gun

2. German MG34 and MG42, U.S. M1919

3. 12.7mm to 13.2mm heavy machine guns

4. tripod or wheeled light and medium machine guns (Vickers, Browning, M1917, Maxim)

5. bipod mounted light machine guns (Bren, BAR, Russian DP) and bow mounted AFV machine guns

What do you think about the above views?

How would you compare the effectiveness to the rifle fire generated by a squad, and would you assume that only about 25% of the men in a rifle squad would actually shoot during a firefight?

With regard to the unit make-ups, the rulebook indicates that German infantry squads on the Eastern Front would often have two light machine guns (M34) starting 1944, and the rules give German armored infantry platoons two M34 per squad starting 1943, while the motorized infantry have one.

Starting 1943, German SS and paratrooper platoons can substitute assault rifles for rifles and SMG.

Any comments on the above wargame design?

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Originally posted by rexford:

We do alot of miniatures gaming, and often use the WAR GAMES RULES 1925-1950 ruleset.

I assume these are the WRG rules published in June 1988.

Originally posted by rexford:

Comparing the effectiveness of machine guns in the ruleset results in the following rankings for shots taken from 100m to 800m:

1. turret coax machine gun

2. German MG34 and MG42, U.S. M1919

3. 12.7mm to 13.2mm heavy machine guns

4. tripod or wheeled light and medium machine guns (Vickers, Browning, M1917, Maxim)

5. bipod mounted light machine guns (Bren, BAR, Russian DP) and bow mounted AFV machine guns

What do you think about the above views?

I think it might be useful to try to analyse the weapons attributes that contribute to its effectiveness as expressed in the above ordering.

The factors that seem to me to be important are method of mounting, quality of sights, and rate of fire, as moderated by the feed system, ammo supply and cooling/spare barrels. Cartridge performance hardly seems an issue, as apart from the HMG class all use rounds very similar in performance.

Taking the categories in turn:

1. Turret VMG

Turret mount, presumably excellent sights (as for the big gun with a different graticule), and the supply of ammunition and spare barrels carried in the vehicle and therefore not subject to much limitation. Apparently the best of all possible worlds.


Bipod mount, ordinary iron sights, and ammunition has to be humped around by the gun group. One might call this the second-best of all worlds, but it is still a belt-fed gun.

3. HMG

Tripod mount, ordinary iron sights, very heavy ammo and rate of fire quite limited by barrel heating (perhaps not for water-cooled weapons). The much lower effective rate of fire is however somewhat compensated for by the greater suppressive (and destructive) effect per round.


Much as for the GPMG (except that the MMG is water-cooled), apart from the tripod mount. The WRG seem to consider that a bipod, being handier, is more effective at 600 metres and below, and a tripod, being steadier, preferable above 1000m.

5. LMG, Pivot VMG

The LMG cannot maintain the effective rate of fire of the GPMG because it is magazine rather than belt fed; a pivot MG need not be, but presumably the WRG feel that the feed arrangements on a flexible mounting must provide some similar kind of handicap.

Overall, I'd say that the ordering seems about right to me. However, looking at the table on page 26, I think the HMG category is penalised rather badly -- while a lot of 7-8mm bullets are doubtless more suppressive and better man-killers than a few 12-13mm bullets, I think HMGs should keep their range performance better than is shown.

I also consider that these rules over-state the advantage of the GPMG over the LMG -- I think I would like to knock them down a pip in the 600m band and limit their range to 1000m. (Notice, too, in the purchase costs list on page 5, that this advantage disappears when either an LMG or GPMG has a tripod and is purchased as an SFMG -- you knew that Bren tripods would come up sooner or later, didn't you?. On the other hand, I would give belt-fed weapons more points for suppressive fire than mag-fed ones.

All the best,


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Thanks John.

What do you think about WRG rules with regard to the inability to kill infantry squads holding in the open or in a trench beyond 25m with a rifle squad or a machine gun?

I would really appreciate your views on the above question.

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Originally posted by rexford:

Thanks John.

What do you think about WRG rules with regard to the inability to kill infantry squads holding in the open or in a trench beyond 25m with a rifle squad or a machine gun?

I would really appreciate your views on the above question.

I thought it was an intriguing rule, and, given the simplifications that occur elsewhere in the rules, a reasonable one. My reasoning -- whether it matches the WRG's I don't know -- is that with even slight irregularities in the ground, it is possible to make yourself very nearly invulnerable to bullet fire arriving roughly horizontally. In a set of rules using a single six-sided die to resolve combat, "nearly invulnerable" just means "not worth representing as a one-sixth chance". Ammunition expenditure is not modelled (except for special ammo types), so it seems to me better to give no chance at all than to let a player blaze away indefinitely in the hope of a fluke shot.

The effect of the rule is that, if you want to kill defending infantry, you have to either give them a beating with HE, or move to within 25m for bullet fire (probably representing grenades rather than bullets; but, effectively, you need to overrun them). I find this more satisfactory than the situation in CM, where squads dug in like woodchucks in deep entrenchments are often seen to abandon their trenches and run, only to be cut down, when under heavy bullet fire. This strikes me as silly; it doesn't matter whether bullets are going over your parapet at a rate of one a minute or a thousand a minute, as long as you do not stick your nose over the parapet they are never going to hurt you.

Personally, I would like to see rules that impose a tactical need to clear an enemy position in any case to be sure that everyone's out of the game. No matter how much firepower has been brought down on a area, you still need someone to walk over the ground before you control it, if only to do the BDA.

I have experimented with miniatures rules whereby all the combat results from anti-infantry fire are "suppressed", and whether the target was killed or not is only determined when the continuation of the game absolutely requires it, that is, when the owning player gets round to rallying it, or the enemy player overruns it. As long as the players trust each other to keep accurate notes, an owning player need not remove a stand he has discovered (by a rally attempt) to be "killed" until the enemy overruns it.

Another method I am currently considering for individually-based miniatures is to remove figures from the table when "hit", and cast them into a sort of limbo from which they may, by making a successful rallying die roll, be returned to the table by their owner at a nominated RV (and, on some rolls, they will be considered permanently out of the game). Should the RV be overrun by the enemy player, he will earn the privelege of rolling to "rally" troops associated with it, with the same chance of them being adjudicated as killed, but if successfully "rallied" then they are taken prisoner. Whether a player places his RV well to the rear of his defensive position or right on top of it would determine whether he intends to conduct an elastic, delaying defence or a stubborn static one.

All these methods produce distortions in the game, but none I think is as bad as the distortion of knowing from a distance of several hundred metres that an area is clear of enemy infantry.

All the best,


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Do you think that troops manning a crewed weapon like a machine gun or anti-tank gun, or in a pillbox, would be more difficult to suppress with rifle fire?

S.L.A. Marshall found that crewed weapons fired more than individual arms on a percentage of troops basis, and it seemed that they might also stand up to fire better.

The question came up because the Russians always fire at the German machine guns in our miniatures games and we felt that MG crews might withstand bullet fire better than a squad.

What do you think?

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The impression I get is that the responsiblilty felt by those manning SAW and MG etc was sufficient to keep them up and firing while the rest hunkered down. You also have soldiers leaping up to take over the weapon when the original gunner is killed/wounded.

Marshall also notes that BAR operators in Korea were prone to be more active in the defence than their rifle-armed comrades.

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I am highly skeptical of the usual spin put on Marshall's observations. I don't think "willingness to fire" is the real variable. I think "firing has any point" is driving it, as well as other useful combat tasks.

That is, there are many more situations in combat where it makes sense to have a machinegun firing at the enemy. Often it is pointless to fire with a rifle - one or several.

Also, the MGs are generally set up someplace and the fight forms around them, in part because of the difficulty of moving them (and their ammo). Given a choice between a marginal movement and firing, the right decision for the MG is frequently "fire", while for a rifleman it is frequently "move".

Riflemen, having the least potent weapons on the field, are also sensibly delegated to other essential tasks. Messages, ammo details, helping the wounded. Some are also focused on getting special weapons into position - themselves with grenades, or covering a crew served weapon move, or helping lift it or its ammo, etc. They just have many more useful things to do in battle, and there is much less of a loss from having one rifle not firing, to get those things done, than for any other weapon.

At long range, the fight is carried by weapons above the infantry scale. By artillery, and tanks, and occasionally direct fire heavy weapons (field guns firing on observed targets, light AA, PAK, mortars, etc). MGs are intermediate between the last of those and infantry fire. At 1000m, there is little point in keeping up rifle fire. At 500m, not much, unless the enemy is quite exposed, or one is talking about a few good shots picking their targets, slowly.

As for the immune unless under 25m rule, I think it makes sense for trenches and stone buildings and deep gullies, but not for open ground. Men should be able to go to "total cover" in such positions. When they do they can't fire, but are immune to bullets themselves. This would result in the realistic use of suppressing fire, to persuade defenders to get their heads down. And the attacker's real dilemma, that he can't just keep shooting, because the ammo is going to give out before the enemy does, if the defender doesn't need to stand up to shoot back.

That also brings up the real superiority of MGs over rifles. It is not just willingness to fire or the volume of fire in total shots. It is the amount of exposure needed to generate a given volume of shots. One man with an LMG can generate fire that perhaps 10 or 20 might with rifles. But he represents a much, much smaller target himself.

So the volume of fire he needs to generate, to hit people, is lower than the rifles need back. The effect can therefore square, as it were. (Actually somewhat less than that, because aimed fire at a smaller point target is randomly distributed over a smaller area).

Imagine trying to overcome an MG net by just piling up more and more rifles in front of them to shoot back. When you double the rifles you double the outgoing shots (say). But you also double the target area for incoming. You take twice as many hits generating those shots. (First order effect, obviously approximate).

Go to a WW I extreme and put a whole brigade on 1 km. 12-15 MGs will shoot half the brigade. If you used a battalion, the same MG fire would hit half the battalion. Once the MG fire is hitting a high enough portion of the attacking force over that frontage, piling in more men just raises the butcher's bill. Maybe it becomes more likely to get the MGs, in reply - fine. But you take out 10-20 men and lose 500. The enemy backs up 1 km and puts up another 20 machinegunners. You can't keep it up, he can.

With a pillbox or wooden bunker, this effect is also the basic one. It is just increased by a smaller exposed area for the lone shooter, as well. Plus overhead cover against the area weapons, obviously.

To deal with this relationship, you need to use weapons that endanger the limited number of small defender positions, without increasing your own exposure proportionally. Thus indirect arty fire, or tanks

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Originally posted by flamingknives:

The impression I get is that the responsiblilty felt by those manning SAW and MG etc was sufficient to keep them up and firing while the rest hunkered down. You also have soldiers leaping up to take over the weapon when the original gunner is killed/wounded.

Marshall also notes that BAR operators in Korea were prone to be more active in the defence than their rifle-armed comrades.

Nice response that provided what I was looking for. Thanks so much.


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Time to remember one of the classics threads frim the archive:

S.L.A. Marshall, Men Against Fire

The article cited in it is no longer available on its link Natural Killers —Turning the Tide of Battle by Major David S. Pierson, US Army, and -being of interest- I will post it from other forum:


Natural Killers —Turning the Tide of Battle

by Major David S. Pierson, US Army


I stepped over to greet the tank company commander as he approached the tactical operations center. This man was a neighbor and a friend, but he was not the same soldier I had briefed three days earlier. After 72 hours of combat, his eyes were sunken and dark. The left side of his face was stained with iodine and bandaged to cover a bullet wound received 14 hours earlier. He was distant and detached as he described an incident that had occurred just hours before. His company had engaged two Iraqi trucks moving across its front. The trucks exploded and Iraqi soldiers leapt out of them on fire. The company then finished them off with coaxial machineguns and a single sabot round that vaporized the soldier it hit. My friend was clearly shaken by the episode. This man was a warrior. Circumstances had made him a killer.

My friend wasn’t a natural killer. A natural killer is a person who has a predisposition to kill—he enjoys combat and feels little or no remorse about killing the enemy. These men have existed throughout the history of warfare, and their feats have often been hailed as heroic. They constitute less than 4 percent of the force, yet some studies show that they do almost half of the killing. These men rarely distinguish themselves before the moment arrives to pull the trigger. It is only after the smoke has cleared that the full impact of their accomplishment is seen. It is important to identify natural killers before combat, because these soldiers are both a vital asset and a potential liability—correctly positioning them in a unit can turn the tide of battle. To better understand the importance of identifying these soldiers, one should understand what makes soldiers kill, the characteristics of natural killers and their battlefield capabilities and limitations.

Thou Shall Not Kill

A chaplain provides field service to soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

Most soldiers are unknowingly conscientious objectors.(1) They try to avoid taking a human life. This is not a bad thing. Rather, it is a reflection of a strong moral upbringing. Getting most soldiers to pull the trigger on another human being requires great effort. In World War II, General S.L.A. Marshall studied infantry unit firing ratios and concluded that only 15 to 25 percent of infantrymen ever fired their weapons in combat. In general, those on specialty and crew-served weapons were firers, while the nonfirers were almost exclusively riflemen.(2) In On Killing, David Grossman points out that there are three things that make soldiers kill: conditioning, recent experience and temperament.(3)

Soldiers can be conditioned individually and collectively to pull the trigger. Individual conditioning includes gunnery and rifle ranges where pop-up human shaped targets are rapidly engaged without thought. The trigger-pull response becomes automatic. Close supervision also affects firing rates. Men pull the trigger more frequently under supervision or in groups, hence a higher ratio of firing among key weapons. Artillery, the greatest killer on the battlefield, has always killed in teams. We indirectly condition soldiers to kill by training them as killing teams. Recognizing that men had to be conditioned to fire, the Army changed its training programs after World War II, and firing rates during the Korean War rose to 55 percent.(4) This figure reached 95 percent during the Vietnam War.(5) Soldiers can be taught to pull the trigger, but that does not guarantee that the bullet will find the target.

Recent experiences, such as the death of a comrade, can cause soldiers to kill the enemy out of revenge or frustration. This is a temporary condition resulting from combat stress. It is based upon emotion and can subside as quickly as it occurred. In an American field hospital in Vietnam, a wounded Vietcong dragged himself out of bed and used a broken bottle to slit the throat of an Australian lying next to him. The American doctor, who had worked for hours to save the Australian’s life, grabbed a .45, shoved it in the Vietcong’s mouth and, with no regard for the Hippocratic Oath, blew his brains out. When he realized what he had done, he went insane and had to be shipped home.(6) While we may attempt to emotionally condition soldiers through propaganda, it has little long-term effect on them on the battlefield.

A temperament for killing exists among some human beings. Marshall, in identifying the battlefield fighters, said, "the same names continued to reappear as having taken the initiative, and relatively few fresh names were added to the list on any day."(7) A post-World War II study by R. L. Swank and W. E. Marchand proposed that 2 percent of soldiers were "aggressive psychopaths" who did not suffer from the normal remorse or trauma associated with killing.(8) I use the word suffer because when the job of the soldier is to kill, those fettered by their conscience are suffering while doing their job. We tend to shun the concept of the willing killer because it offends our kinder sensibilities, but a controlled psychopath is an asset on the killing fields. Those who possess such a temperament are natural killers and many have served this country well. The problem lies in identifying these individuals and positioning them where they can be most effective.

Killers Among Us

The term psychopath conjures up images of movies such as Psycho or Silence of the Lambs. There are less inflammatory terms such as sociopath, antisocial personality type or undercontrolled personality type that apply to the same people. The meanings of these terms have changed and interchanged over the last half-century. Psychopath is now associated almost exclusively with violent actions rather than a propensity for violence.(9) The last three terms are still used somewhat interchangeably to denote someone who lacks social emotions and often resorts to violence, deception or manipulation as a means to get what he wants. These people constitute 3 to 4 percent of the male population and 1 percent of the female.(10) Such people who enter the military are not monsters waiting to be released. They can be level-headed, productive soldiers, and if put into the right situation, they will kill the enemy aggressively and without remorse. If these soldiers are in our units, how can we identify them?

A predisposition to kill is the result of genetics and early childhood experience. There are common traits that are indicative of natural killers. While the collection of these traits is not absolutely deterministic of a killer, it is a good framework for identifying those who may have this propensity. In general, the natural killer found in the US Army lacks social emotions, is a later son (not first-born), got into frequent fights as a child, enjoys contact sports, is from a middle or upper class background, is an extrovert, has above-average intelligence and a caustic sense of humor.

While no specific violence gene has yet been isolated, there is ample evidence to suggest that violent tendencies are inherited. Researcher D.C. Rowe posits that some individuals have a genotype that disposes them to antisocial behavior.(11) These individuals are characterized by a deficit of social emotions which include love, shame, guilt, empathy and remorse. They are keen predictors of other people’s behavior. Unbridled by emotions, they rely solely on actuarial data to predict outcomes, never resorting to feelings or hunches.(12) They focus on short-term outcomes without taking into account the emotional reactions of those with whom they are dealing. Thus they may come across as cold, impersonal and manipulative.

As previously mentioned, the natural killer is most likely not a first-born son. Later sons are generally more aggressive and have less fear or anxiety in dangerous situations. An Israeli Defense Force study of its officers from 1961 to 1966 showed that "first borns" were more anxious than "later borns" and that they generally sought less dangerous positions in the military. Later borns were more likely to volunteer for combat and had a better chance of encountering terrorists on patrols.(13) A study of Korean War fighter plane aces found that first borns engaged the enemy less and were more anxious about flying.(14) Family position also seems to relate to assassins. Almost all American assassins have been later sons—John Wilkes Booth, Charles Giteau and Lee Harvey Oswald, to name three.(15) Later borns, by virtue of being routinely dominated by their siblings, ultimately feel less fear during stressful situations. They also feel the need to prove their worth over their siblings and more quickly accept dangerous challenges.

A natural killer has been a fighter for much of his life. Frequent fighting as a child does not mean the individual was a bully. Rather, he chose to respond to stressful situations with aggression.(16) Arthur J. Dollard concluded that aggression is the result of frustration and this is a normal human reaction.(17) The sociopath, also referred to as the undercontrolled aggressive personality type, has low internal controls against violence and will resort to aggressive behavior unless constrained by rigid external controls. Such a person can be conditioned to not respond to frustration with external aggression.(18) Thus, if frustrated by a Drill Sergeant’s control, the undercontrolled personality type will refrain from direct aggression and look for another target for his aggression. The military provides ample displacement outlets for this aggression in the form of physical training, field maneuvers and weapons ranges. It is the perfect environment for a sociopath to excel.

The natural killer is an aggressive athlete whose physical makeup allows him to excel at contact sports. Combative sports provide long-term training in aggression while acting as a short-term catharsis or safety valve for aggressive individuals.(19) An Army-funded study of Korean War veterans discerned differences in the characteristics of fighters—those who took aggressive action in combat—versus nonfighters—those who were hysterical or nonresponsive in combat. This study, conducted by the Human Resources Research Office (HumRRO), concluded that the fighters had been more active in contact sports such as football, boxing or hockey. It also concluded that fighters had a high masculinity factor or outdoors adventurousness about them. Their body types were larger; on average they were an inch taller and eight pounds heavier than the nonfighters.(20) They were rugged individuals who had channeled their aggressions through contact sports.

Another discriminator for identifying natural killers is their socio-economic background. Natural killers usually come from a middle or upper class background. The volunteer military has had the luxury to pick and choose those who will be allowed into the service, and we exclude those with criminal records. Sociopaths follow a "cheater strategy" to obtain what they want.(21) The lack of a social conscience allows the sociopath to cheat without remorse. Consequently, those who find themselves in the economically disadvantaged lower class will resort to crime unless placed in a highly controlled environment. In other words, a sociopath from a depressed economic background will most likely have a criminal record, and under today’s standards, he would not be able to enter the military. Thus, natural killers in the US military will most likely come from a middle or upper class background.

Sociopaths are generally extroverts. One reason for this is the inheritance of a nervous system that is relatively insensitive to low levels of stimulation. Individuals with this physiotype tend to be extroverted.(22) They also have lower than average levels of adrenaline and seek experiences to heighten this. Extroverts and sociopaths are less affected by threats of pain or punishment, and they have greater tolerance of actual pain or punishment. Both sociopaths and extroverts will approach a situation that most people will avoid.(23) These factors were confirmed by the HumRRO study conclusion that fighters were extroverted, spontaneous and relatively free from anxiety.(24)

The natural killer has above-average intelligence. Like sociopaths with no economic resources, those without above-average intelligence end up in jail. Therefore, sociopaths in our military are usually intelligent. The HumRRO study found that the intelligence quotient (IQ) of fighters was, on average, 13 points higher than nonfighters’. The study subjects were all infantrymen and the mean group IQ was only 85, 15 points below the national average of 100. This indicated that less intelligent men were sent forward to fight, but within that group, the more intelligent ones were better fighters.(25)

Additionally, the natural killer has a caustic sense of humor that relies on sharp wit and biting sarcasm.(26) Such hostile humor acts as a tension-discharger, a relief valve. While we normally associate humor with friendly behavior, laughter itself is a primarily aggressive behavior. Laughter is usually directed at someone and is infectious, with the unspoken agreement being to "join in or not be part of the group."(27) With aggression as the underlying theme, the natural killer enjoys humor.

Potential natural killers can be identified through long-term observation testing. Supervisors can look for natural killer traits in their soldiers. Over time, they will develop a close enough relationship with their soldiers to be able to distinguish those who match most of the characteristics of killers. Personality-type testing may also identify natural killers. One such test already in use by the military is the Myers-Briggs personality-type test. Considering the characteristics discussed above, the natural killer would most likely be an ESTP (extroverted, sensory, thinking, perceiving) personality type on this test. ESTPs are outgoing, highly adaptive, deal in facts, sensory oriented, excel at sports, learn through life experience, prefer action to conversation and are tough in harsh situations.(28) Matching the ESTP personality type to intelligent, caustic, later sons will help identify potential natural killers. The ESTP personality type, coupled with the other associated traits, is not an absolute determinant of a natural killer or a sociopath, but it provides a good baseline. Personality-type testing at initial entry could identify and help place natural killers where they can best employ their talent—in infantry, armor and special operations units.

Cry Havoc

The individual soldier does make a difference on the killing fields. The natural killer is a vital asset to a unit because he is a killing machine that will turn the tide of battle when the chips are down. During World War II, 40 percent of the US Army Air Forces’ air-to-air killing was done by 1 percent of its pilots.(29) Marshall’s work and the HumRRO study both found that a small percentage of soldiers did most of the fighting. It is not enough to rely on conditioning to produce killers—genetics and childhood environment have already molded them.

Natural killers bring some obvious advantages to a unit. They will personally kill the enemy in droves. They are natural leaders who will motivate other soldiers to kill. They are also fiercely competitive and will aggressively pursue victory. In a battle of attrition, the natural killer can single-handedly tip the scales. However, there are drawbacks to natural killers in a unit too. Their highly aggressive nature may act as a catalyst for violence in tenuous situations such as peacekeeping (PK) operations. This is not to say that they will create atrocities, which are generally initiated by overcontrolled personality types in second-in-command positions, not by undercontrolled personality types.(30)

Atrocities are the result of the release of pent-up hostilities—not a characteristic of sociopaths who live for the moment. Natural killers may participate in atrocities but they will not initiate them. This same "live-for-the-moment" attitude makes the peacetime routine difficult for killers. The sociopath craves stimulation that the peacetime Army often does not provide. Marshall concluded that many of the best fighters spent significant amounts of time in the stockade—"They could fight like hell but they couldn’t soldier."(31) Consequently, many of these individuals seek out fast-paced specialty units such as Airborne, Ranger or Special Forces units.(32) The natural killer will become bored in a regular unit and may seek the stimuli of sports, fighting or drugs. Natural killers are motivated by competition and excitement, not a sense of sacrifice—they are not the kind of soldiers who will leap on a grenade to protect others.

Another characteristic of the natural killer is to usurp authority in a crisis to turn the tide of battle. Marshall wrote of a sergeant whose actions had carried the battle and yet he had not been recommended for a decoration. When his company commander was asked why, he replied, "When the fighting started he practically took the company away from me. He was leading and the men were obeying him. You can’t decorate a man who’ll do that to you."(33)

Soldiers of the 193d Infantry Brigade prepare to return fire during Operation Just Cause, December 1990.

There are several considerations for the positioning of natural killers in the unit. If they are junior enlisted personnel, they should be assigned to a crew-served weapon. This will provide them with ample firepower and place them in a position to motivate others. They will naturally seek this position out anyway. If the natural killer is a noncommissioned officer or officer, assign him to a leadership position where he will supervise trigger pullers and will have a weapon system at his disposal. Here they will lead by example, killing the enemy and motivating others to do so as well.

Natural killers may be spread out in the unit or concentrated, depending on the tactical situation. The typical officer cannot single-handedly lead an entire company in combat.(34) By spreading out those who will carry the day you increase your chances for success in battle. Wherever they are placed in a unit though, they may take over command based upon the situation and the leaders around them. This may be desirable depending upon the quality and number of your other leaders. You can "backstop" leaders of unproved ability with natural killers. If there is a well-defined decisive point of the battle, the commander may choose to place natural killers at that point. They will provide that final measure of resolve in the assault or become the defense linchpin. Since natural killers are motivated by competition and excitement, they should not be placed in a reserve position, where they would have to patiently wait, then hurl themselves into the breach on command. Quick to take charge, they will move to the sound of the guns unless tightly controlled. In PK operations, keep them in positions where they will not habitually deal with potential combatants. This will minimize the risk of escalating the tension into violence. Likewise, during peacetime operations, keep them active in exercises, schools or in sports. They will seek out these activities themselves to stay stimulated.

Too often we find out about the lethality of an individual soldier after the fact, when he has saved the unit and been nominated for a valorous award. If you knew before hand who was likely to rise up and save the day, you could place these soldiers at the battle’s decisive point and enhance your chances of success. Natural killers are out there in your unit right now—find them and use them wisely. MR



1. S.L.A. Marshall, Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War (Washington DC: Infantry Journal Press, 1947, reprint Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 197 , 79.

2. Ibid., 56-57.

3. Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1996), 177-85.

4. Marshall, 9.

5. Grossman, 35.

6. Mark Baker, Nam (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1981), 161-62.

7. Marshall, 58-59.

8. Swank and Marchand, in On Killing, 180.

9. Ralph Serin, "Can Criminal Psychopaths be Identified?" FORUM 1989, Volume 1, Number 2.

10. C.C. Strauss and B.B. Lahey in: The Sociobiology of Sociopathy: An Integrated Evolutionary Model, Linda Mealey, unedited penultimate draft of an article accepted for publication (Copyright 1994: Cambridge University Press).

11. D.C. Rowe, "Inherited dispositions toward learning delinquent and criminal behavior: New evidence," in Crime in biological, social, and moral contexts, ed. L. Ellis and H. Hoffman (Praeger Publications, November 1990), 122.

12. Linda Mealey, in The Sociobiology of Sociopathy, 3.

13. Peter Watson, War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology (New York: Basic Books Inc., 197 , 51.

14. E.P. Torrence, The development of preliminary life-experience inventory for the study of fight-interceptor combat effectiveness, Research Bulletin AFPTRC-TR-54-89, Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, TX, December 1954.

15. Irving D. Harris, Violence: Perspectives on Murder and Aggression (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers), ed. Irwin L. Kutash, Samuel B. Kutash and Louis B. Schlesinger, 203.

16. Grossman, 182.

17. J. Dollard et al., Frustration and Aggression (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1939).

18. Edwin I. Magargee and Jack E. Hokanson, The Dynamics of Aggression: Individual, Group and International Analyses (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 111.

19. Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, The Biology of Peace and War: Men, Animals, and Aggression (New York: The Viking Press, 1979), translated from German by Eric Mosbacher (R. Piper & Co., Munich), 110-11.

20. Watson, 49-50.

21. Mealey, 33.

22. Ibid., 17.

23. Ibid., 14.

24. Watson, 49.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 90.

28. Isabel Briggs Myers, Gifts Differing (Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1980), 101-104.

29. Grossman, 181.

30. Watson, 245.

31. Marshall, 60-61.

32. Grossman, 181.

33. Marshall, 62.

34. Ibid.


Major David S. Pierson is the 165th Military Intelligence Battalion XO, Darmstadt, Germany. He received a B.A. from the University of Georgia and an M.A. from Webster University, and he is a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC). He has held a variety of command and staff positions in the Continental United States and Germany, including G2 operations officer, V Corps, Heidelberg, Germany; chief, collection management, United States Transportation Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois; and commander, A Company, 124th Military Intelligence Battalion, Fort Stewart, Georgia

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