Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Rifleman Went to War by Captain Herbert Wesley McBride

I recently re-read "The Emma Gees" on my Kindle and was reminded thereby of this book, "A Rifleman Went to War" by Captain Herbert Wesley McBride in 1935, just prior to his death.

The first part of the book is almost a verbatim repetition of "The Emma Gees" but it soon takes a different path and the tone changes from the earlier book.  CPT McBride manages to weave his experiences, the stories of his fellow soldiers and the war into one neatly written account of this bitterly fought war.  He says that he doesn't want the book to be nor is it a history of the war but indeed it is, a very personal history.

McBride touches on his background and how his previous training as an artillery and Gatling battery officer helped him in his service with the Canadians in France during the 1915-1917 period.

His is the only first person account of use of the Warner-Swasey sight that I've read.  I only wish he had written in greater detail about it.  What he does say can be summed up by saying that the sight took a bit to get zeroed, had to be checked and wasn't the best but was the best for the time.  To put it another way, he took the available technology and made it work.

He also talks about the practical use of the various pistols in the trenches.  I had previously read that the French were using .32 ACP Browning and Ruby pistols in their trench raids and wondered how that really worked for them.  By McBride's account, one wouldn't think they did so well.  He strongly felt that the .45 ACP Model 1911 (which was the issue pistol for the Canadians) was the best of the lot.  However, he wasn't averse to anything of .40-something caliber.  He wasn't fond of the smaller caliber guns but part of that was due to the actions in which they were chambered.  He also recounts how the pistols were best carried in the trench raids and security patrols between the lines.

He discusses the various artillery pieces at length.  My feeling is that he felt very qualified to comment on the various pieces, their application and effectiveness.  He also discussed at some length how the soldier should react to shelling and how the use of the various pieces gave indication of what the enemy intended to do.  Very interesting stuff.

McBride doesn't limit himself to comments on firearms and explosives.  He also talks about the edged weapons used and mentions that the Lebel ("the French bayonet") bayonet used as a sword (rather than on the rifle) was one of the best of the lot.
21" French Lebel bayonet was McBride's trench raid favorite edged weapon

CPT McBride even manages to discuss the espirit of the various armies involved.  This is about the worst part of the book and seemed a bit disjointed to me.  I think he was trying to be profound but got a bit verbose.  Although he doesn't really reach beyond his personal experience some of his opinions were very similar to those I heard in the 1970s!

I really enjoyed the book and thought it was full of useful information.  I was fortunate to find a Kindle version of the edition that included a prologue by that eminent expert on combat pistolcraft, COL Jeff Cooper.  In that prologue he obliquely comments on the importance of CPT McBride's book on his own life and career while denying that it was the sole source of his opinions on the subject.

I think it is safe to say that every soldier (and Marine) should read this book.  The practical content applies even in these days of the GPS guided munitions and the personal expressions about the war will be forever timeless.  

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