A thread on S.L.A. Marshall & the Ratio of Fire.

Marshall is controversial.

His central claim is that only 25% of soldiers in the line fired their weapons.

Several military historians have disputed this.

My own views on Marshall are framed by my work on Small Arms.

If you've ever had anything to do with Knowledge Management then you'll know that Marshall gave us the After Action Review.

This method facilitated group discussion with a view to identifying what happened and how to do better.

It has shaped business & military practices.

In Marshall's case this created a feedback loop between inputs and outputs in which the soldier's (& not just the commander's) experience was also put at the centre of winning the battle [more on tech & OODA loops later].

Source: Army of None @paul_scharre

But the extent to which he systematically applied this new method has been repeatedly criticised.

By Roger Spiller here:


By Harold P. “Bud” Leinbaugh here:

By John Chambers here:

And by @RobertEngen here (& repeatedly over several volumes):

Obvs this Ratio of Fire claim is a hot button.

It implies something about the willingness of humans to kill.

For democrats it implies that humans are peace loving and have to be trained to overcome their willingness to take life.

It implies that soldiers who do kill are warriors.

This in turn feeds discussions around military masculinities, martial cultures and unit cohesion.

Source: Richard Holmes Firing Line.

And it has inspired academics to investigate the pleasure that might be inspired in killing.

More recently, it inspired Lt Col. Grossman to develop training programmes designed to promote "killology".

The use of this training by US police forces was noted by several people commentating on the BLM protests last summer.

What it fails to do, however, is foreground the socio-technical relationship between the soldier and their weapon.

For someone like me, who approaches this issue from the perspective of technology rather than (just) society, much of this is highly problematic.

Why is this a problem?

Because weapons are treated as independent variables rather than an essential feature of the human-machine assemblage (yes, I'm getting all Science & Technology Studies here).

I give an example of my thinking in this thread...

The result is a tendency to close down discussions that consider the features of the weapon and how this interfaces at a micro-level (& more widely as part of a weapon ecosystem) with the behaviours of the soldier.

And the result is a lot of commentary on Marshall that makes uncritical and poorly framed assumptions about the soldier and the engineering challenges posed by small arms.

In this respect, the first thing to note is that if soldiers do shoot then they rarely shoot straight.

@gravelbelly22 offers invaluable insights into this here:

This is a very nuanced socio-technical problem (& Martin explains it very well) but it is the "dirty secret" that engineers UNDERSTAND.

Weapon mindedness takes time & effort. Practical shooting over marksmanship is a difficult to acquire skill.

As an aside, I posed this point to CAP-GM & an officer in the Rifles in the Pillared Hall in MB in 2009 expecting that my provocation would result in my being thrown out.

To my surprise they bought me a coffee & pushed me to explain the history behind my assertion....

Now of course training and handling can improve understanding.

But this takes effort and time is rarely available to learn and practice.

The question for engineers, then, is how to improve effectiveness if the soldier is the weakest link in the loop?

The answer is to take the soldier out of the loop...

Because an engineer can design and build something that more systematically and reliably solves battlefied challenges than if commanders were to rely on soldiers alone.

Source: Army of None @paul_scharre

I am not claiming that taking the soldier out of the loop doesn't create different problems.

But for me, Marshall has had a huge influence.

I cannot tell you that his findings were accurate but he made it possible for engineers to put forward previously unacceptable ideas.

In this respect his thinking fundamentally shaped small arms development after the war because Marshall sloganised a problem engineers had already identified:

That soldiers are not always experts on the weapons they use

Source: MOD Pattern Room 200 Small Arms General Box 1

So do we think Marshall was right or wrong?

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with Dr Matthew Ford

Dr Matthew Ford Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @warmatters

12 Jan
I figured I should explain what I've been doing with my twitter feed this past few months.

I've been posting lots of threads on innovation and guns and at the same time I've done some stuff on Trump and memory/nostalgia & "infowar".

This might appear a bit odd...🙃

Like everyone else I am fed up of COVID (& like some I'm also fed up of Brexit) and so decided to change the conversation up.

So I've been posting on things that might help us escape the pain in the arse that is the pandemic....

This started with a discussion about guns!

I did my PhD research on military innovation and I used small arms as the vehicle for explaining how it worked.

However, then Trumpists do something daft & that takes me towards my more recent research interests...

Read 6 tweets
12 Jan
The M1 Garand's design history had significant impact on the structure of post-SWW small arms discussions.

A thread on Colonel René Studler, American attitudes towards small arms & one of the central protagonists in ammunition standardisation post-war.

The central arguments about post-war ammunition standardisation stemmed from what I suspect was a personal rivalry between Studler and Brigadier JA Barlow (someone I discussed in this thread:

A basic biog of Studler can be found here:


Read 24 tweets
5 Jan
A thread about "The Ideal Calibre Panel".

This is the nickname for a panel of people involved in trying to identify the "ideal" calibre for small arms post-1945.

The Panel came into being following a recommendation of the Standard SAA Round Sub-Committee which met on 8 February 1945.

This was a sub-committee of the Standing Committee on Infantry Weapons Development, that was created following the GS policy to adopt rimless SAA.

1b/ WO32-10515
Note the framing as the identification of an "Ideal".

The use of this word is political.

It is designed to push the principal actors who had different views about small arms towards the solution being worked on by Brigadier Barlow and the Armament Design Establishment.

Read 24 tweets
5 Jan
Shall we do a guns thread today?

Yes I think we shall...
So while I was looking up stuff for this thread I found all sorts of interesting things.

Think of it as a little teaser from the Standing Committee on Infantry Weapon Development, 31st August 1943...


On weapon design and production quality.

Read 11 tweets
3 Jan
So I said that I'd pick up the story of Brigadier Barlow in a subsequent thread.

Alongside Colonel René Studler of the US Ordnance Corps, Brigader Barlow was instrumental in the post-war discussions of small arms ammunition and weapon standardisation.

He's even more instrumental than the "Ideal Calibre Panel" which was chaired by the operational researcher Dr Richard Beeching, also of the 1963, Reshaping of British Railways, report that Brits regularly go on about.

2/ ImageImage
Anyway to Barlow...

Barlow was Director of Artillery (small arms from late 1945 to mid-1953).

From well before the SWW he wrote a number of books on small arms and shooting, at least one of which came out in 4 or more editions.


Read 17 tweets
3 Jan

This is a great primer on how to do government comms during a pandemic.

It seems to me that this is especially important given that people’s experience of COVID is temporally asymmetrical.

By this I mean...
In 1921 people would have lived the experience of the flu before reading about it in the news.

In 2021 people read about CV before they get to experience it.

This messes with people’s sense of how “real” this thing is.
Read 7 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!