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Criticality of Accuracy in the Military

March 30, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 109

In the millennia since missile weapons were introduced to warfare by man, astounding technological developments have been made. Mankind has progressed from slinging rocks to firing missiles, with research in high-energy lasers and electromagnetic railguns promising a new era of destruction from range. While a rock and a laser might not seem to have much in common, parallels can be drawn between the basic principles by which these weapons have been, and will continue to be, employed.

Inevitably, projectile weapons led to the development of armor. Perhaps even more inevitably, improved armor spurred the development of improved projectiles and projectile delivery systems, and vice versa. Tactics which emphasize the strengths of one or exploit the weaknesses of another particular factor of a weapon system or target have been theorized, tested in practice, refined under fire, and discarded upon the introduction of a new weapon, tactic, or strategy that renders the previous way of thought less effective.

One constant has remained through the years, though - the requirement for those projectiles to be on target. History provides us with countless examples of actions which were decided, in whole or in part, by the delivery of accurate fire, from arrows to bullets to guided missiles. Many more actions proved indecisive because of a failure - sometimes on both sides - to connect with their intended targets. In this article, a selected few examples from history will be examined with a particular focus on the criticality of accuracy.

The Hundred Years War: Crécy and Poitiers

From 1337 to 1453, France and England fought a series of terribly destructive wars over control of the French throne, and thus, French territory and treasure. Though punctuated by periods of relative peace, the term "Hundred Years' War," as was later coined by historians, is an accurate one.

Nine years after the war started, in 1346, the English army had just avoided being trapped by the French between the Seine and Somme rivers after landing in Normandy. Outnumbered by the French and their allies, but given the opportunity to select the ground from which he faced his enemy, King Edward III of England placed his men on high ground with terrain features protecting his flanks and the soon-to-be-setting sun at his back.

The English were heavily dependent on the longbow and the men who were skilled in its use, while the French were heavily dependent on armored cavalry. Although the French had archers and the English had cavalry, each put great emphasis upon the units which their armies were built around.

Having pursued the English for weeks, but more specifically, having marched for most of the day upon which the battle of Crécy took place, the French and their hired Genoese crossbowmen were understandably fatigued. Finally faced with the prospect of battle after pursuing the English for so long, though, the French knights were eager to face their foes.

For their part, the English were also tired from their travels, but as they had stopped first, they were given more of an opportunity to rest. Indeed, contemporary accounts state that the English longbowmen were sitting on the ground until the very moment that they were required to engage their enemies.

The French knights ordered the Genoese crossbowmen to fire at the English; this first volley was entirely ineffective, falling short due to a combination of factors: wet bowstrings from the morning rain and a failure to properly judge the distance to their target. It wasn't until after this volley that the English longbowmen rose, strung their bows with dry strings, and fired volley after volley into the Genoese lines.

While the English longbowmen fired from behind protective emplacements, the French and the Genoese were out in the open, and the English volleys were devastatingly effective against the crossbowmen. Disheartened, the Genoese attempted to flee, but were cut down by the French knights, who were disgusted with their performance.

This action further fatigued and disorganized the French, still mounted on horseback, who proceeded to charge across open fields towards the English. While the range had previously afforded the English longbowmen the luxury of massed volley fire against the crossbowmen, the approaching knights, though slowed by their armor and the muddy fields they were crossing, required more accurate shots.

Their armor being insufficient to stop the longbowmen's arrows, and their horses being lightly armored, many French knights and men-at-arms were cut down before they ever reached English lines. Those that did were fatigued and disheartened. Although fighting continued, the battle was in effect over before a single sword or axe connected with a foe.

Ten years later, a similar scenario would play out with frighteningly similar results. At Poitiers, a smaller English army composed of men-at-arms and longbowmen took the high ground, protected by terrain, against a pursuing French army which was largely composed of mounted and heavily armored cavalry.

This time, however, the French had improved their armor, and believed themselves to be essentially invincible in the face of the inferior English longbowmen. In addition, they had the advantage of not being slowed by muddy ground.

As if to play into the French assumption that armored cavalry would be the decisive factor, the English pretended to fall back, which tempted the French knights to charge without consideration for the organization of the other forces involved. However, the English quickly regrouped and began to fire at the charging French knights. Seeing that they were having little effect against the French armor, the English quickly changed positions and shifted fire onto the flanks of the French horses. Successful in bringing down many of the knights, the English watched as the energy of the French charge was disrupted by the falling horses and their riders.

The retreat of the French knights wrought havoc among the French foot soldiers who were attempting to advance; after clearing that considerable obstacle, they, too, had to face the withering and extremely accurate fire from the English longbows. The final blow came when an English reserve force encircled those Frenchmen who had managed to close with the English lines, attacking them from the rear and forcing the French king to surrender.

Many military strategies and tactics were abandoned and developed during the Hundred Years' War. These battles are sometimes noted for the possible presence of cannon, although their use was not fully understood, and any effect they had, if present, is generally agreed to be minor. What can be said with certainty is that the proper employment of accurate ranged fire proved to be critical to English successes - and to French losses.

Battle of San Sebastián

In 1813, an invading French army was facing its Spanish and British enemies at various locations across the Iberian peninsula. Towards the end of August, the French attacked over the Bidasoa River, which divided Spain and France, in an attempt to surprise the Spaniards and their British allies.

Repulsed by a strong Spanish volley and bayonet charge, a French force of nearly 10,000 men found itself trapped by the rising waters of the Bidasoa, the very river they had crossed that morning, due to a sudden thunderstorm. Traveling upstream to the town of Vera, where a small bridge offered the only safe passage over the river, the French, under General Vandermaesen, found themselves faced with a seemingly minor obstacle: a 70-man company of British riflemen from the 95th Regiment led by Captain Daniel Cadoux.

For several hours, the British riflemen delivered devastatingly effective firepower against the French forces. British commanders in the area, aware of the situation, refused to send reinforcements; instead, they ordered Cadoux to retreat.

When Cadoux finally did so, his company lost 16 men killed and 46 wounded. Cadoux lay among the British dead, but so did General Vandermaesen - along with 231 French soldiers. The remainder of the French forces, though, escaped across the bridge.

The accuracy and effectiveness of the rifleman would be proven time and again as the Peninsular War raged on. Still, it would take decades for rifles to completely replace muskets in most major armies.

Fourth Battle of Savo Island & Battle of Leyte Gulf

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States faced the significant naval power of Japan near Midway Island in June of 1942. Mostly due to an intelligence breakthrough coupled with luck and determination, the US Navy came out on top, sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers while losing just one.

Although it could easily be said that the Imperial Japanese Navy never recovered from that battle, the war in the Pacific was far from over. In November of 1942, the US Navy was providing cover for Marines and Soldiers on Guadalcanal, who were still engaged in a battle for control of the island after the first amphibious landing in August.

After a series of furious night battles off the coast of Guadalcanal involving cruisers and destroyers, American battleships faced Japanese battleships for the first of only two such engagements during the war. On the night of 14 November 1942, the US battleships South Dakota and Washington faced the Japanese battleship Kirishima. Both sides had cruisers and destroyers that fought hard during the battle, but the engagement is most significant because of the actions of the battleships - and how the ability to deliver accurate fire can be crucial to the outcome of a battle.

Already fighting with reduced capabilities because of an electrical problem, South Dakota suffered serious damage to its fire control system, radar, and communications gear in the opening minutes of the battle. Unable to identify targets or return fire effectively, and under the illumination of Japanese searchlights, all South Dakota could do was absorb punishment from essentially every ship the Japanese had at the battle.

Washington, on the other hand, was able to approach the Japanese fleet undetected. Initial confusion over where South Dakota was prevented an immediate response, but as soon as that ship was illuminated by searchlights and attacked, Washington's advanced radar and fire control system allowed her crew to deliver a complete barrage of main and secondary gun fire on Kirishima, which immediately put that ship out of the fight. Essentially, while the other ships fired almost blindly in the dark, Washington was able to destroy a battleship with a single accurate salvo. Kirishima would sink the next day, while South Dakota would limp away for repairs.

Nearly two years later, at the widely spread Battle of Leyte Gulf, the effectiveness of American fire control systems - and the tenacity of the American sailors - would be proven yet again.

Leyte Gulf actually consisted of several distinct and separately named battles which took place from 23 to 26 October 1944 in the waters off the Philippines. Heading into the battle, the Imperial Japanese Navy was battered but not yet broken, and in fact brought the two biggest battleships in the world, Yamato and Mushashi, to the fight.

One of the four major engagements further illustrates the criticality of accuracy in military terms. This is the Battle off Samar, where six small escort carriers of the US Navy, accompanied only by three destroyers and four destroyer escorts, faced four battleships, six heavy cruisers, and thirteen other warships of the Japanese Navy.

This was not a planned battle, as both sides stumbled into one another on the morning of 25 October 1944. The American escort carriers had a full complement of aircraft, but, frustratingly, no munitions designed to sink large ships, as they were intended to support the amphibious assault on the Philippines. Thus, the aircraft were limited to minor, and essentially harassing, attacks on the Japanese fleet.

Recognizing the danger posed to the thousands of men on the lightly armored escort carriers by the Japanese battleship fleet, the captains of the destroyers and destroyer escorts turned towards the enemy and engaged them without regard for their own safety.

Among the four Japanese battleships was the massive Yamato with its nine eighteen inch guns - displacing more tonnage than every American ship involved in the battle - while the largest of the guns the Americans had at their disposal were five inch guns. What the Americans had, though, were state-of-the-art Mark 37 Gun Fire Control Systems, while the Japanese only had optical sighting systems which did not allow them to effectively shoot through smoke or other obstructions.

In the hours that followed, the American destroyers and destroyer escorts were able to score an astonishing number of hits on the Japanese battleships and cruisers. For example, the destroyer USS Johnston put at least forty shells into one Japanese cruiser, even though she commenced firing at the absolute maximum range of her five inch guns. The combined effects of American torpedo and gunfire attacks threw the Japanese fleet into disarray. While the small guns of the destroyers could not hope to penetrate the main armor of the Japanese battleships, they were devastatingly effective in wreaking havoc and causing immense damage to the superstructures of the Japanese ships.

In the end, the Americans lost two escort carriers - one to kamikaze aircraft attack and one to gunfire from the battleship Yamato - as well as two destroyers and one destroyer escort. However, the Japanese fleet fled, failing to press the attack on either the remaining escort carriers or the American invasion fleet. Naval gun fire from the American destroyers was so accurate and effective that the Japanese were convinced that they were facing a fleet of cruisers.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Many cities hold special value to American veterans of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but few resonate as much as Ramadi. One of the hottest spots in the already hot Anbar province in terms of fighting, it was the site of ferocious struggles for territory and control.

It was in Ramadi, in 2006, that Navy SEAL Chris Kyle would prove time and again that accuracy and precision were a decisive factor in gaining the upper hand in Ramadi. A sniper with SEAL Team Three, Kyle worked from rooftops and tall buildings, providing cover for American and Coalition forces as they advanced, street by street, through the city.

Working with a bolt-action rifle in.300 Winchester Magnum, Kyle was offered many opportunities to eliminate insurgents. Many kills were easy - insurgents that would see their comrades fall, then rush out to that very spot in order to pick up whatever weapon had been dropped. Kyle would continue to drop insurgents as long as they exposed themselves. However, the majority of these shots were close - within four hundred yards.

In 2008, Kyle would have an opportunity to put a round on target that would have immediate and great effect on the lives of his fellow service members. While in a hide near Sadr City, he spotted an insurgent with an RPG who was about to attack a US Army convoy. There was just one problem: he was over 2000 yards away.

Using his.338 Lapua Magnum sniper rifle, Kyle lined up the shot and pressed the trigger, confident that his weapon system, his training, and his skills would result in a hit just in the nick of time. Not surprisingly, he scored a hit, killing the insurgent. The convoy faced one less RPG attack, perhaps without ever knowing that they were in danger.

Accuracy Today

In each of these examples, there were many factors that could have influenced the outcome of the war, the battle, the shot. Faulty intelligence could have put the forces in different positions, or perhaps led them to never meet at all. Weather conditions could have damaged equipment.

However, without the accurate placement of projectiles from a distance - be they arrows, shells, or bullets - the outcomes would have been radically different. English infantry would have been crushed under French cavalry in the Hundred Years' War. The French divisions would have escaped unscathed, with their leader unharmed, at the Battle of San Sebastian. Amphibious landings at Guadalcanal and the Philippines would have been jeopardized, along with the course of the war. And countless American servicemen and women would have died in Iraq, were it not for the overwatch they received from SEAL snipers like Chris Kyle.

In every case, accuracy proved critical to the outcome of the battle. Experience, skill, and equipment came together, in spite of - or perhaps because of - the frailty of the situations which faced the combatants.

The future cannot be predicted, but the past can be analyzed, the hard lessons learned by predecessors taken with an eye on the modern battlefield and the potential for changes in the future. Technology and tactics evolve, but the criticality of accuracy will remain a constant for as long as ranged weapons are used in combat.

Founded in 2002, Global Defense Initiatives, Inc. (GDI), is a US based, veteran owned, small business, specializing in the development and manufacturing of precision sight mount interface devices used for weapon system platforms. With combat proven performance, engineering excellence, and superior functionality as the company's hallmarks, GDI is recognized as subject-matter-experts throughout the defense industry and U.S. military. Follow GDI Mounts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Source: EzineArticles
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