Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Punitive Expedition: The 10th Cavalry becomes isolated. March 31, 2016

A blizzard isolates the 10th Cavalry from the rest of the U.S. command.

Anyone who has been around here the past few days, with all the highways closed, could certainly understand how this could occur a century ago, although it would strike many as odd that we would read this in regards to Mexico.  Still, this was in March, and much of the expedition took place in mountainous terrain that was fairly high altitude.  Contemporary photographs often depict soldiers wearing M1911 sweaters early in the campaign, or even fairly heavy coats, providing silent testimony to how cold the weather generally was early on.  A blizzard in the Mexican high country would not have been hugely abnormal for late March.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Blog Mirror: Long distance logistics: The Mexican Expedition

During the second decade of the 20th century, while most Americans were watching the events in Europe with trepidation, a fire was burning much closer to their homes. A period of almost perpetual revolution and instability, starting in 1913, was wracking the United States' southern neighbor. Many U.S. citizens in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico feared that the violence in Mexico would spill over the border. Tension remained extremely high between the United States and Mexico throughout 1913 and 1914.. .

The Punitive Expedtion: The Casper Daily Press, March 30, 1916

Confessions of a Writer of Westerns: Who Do I Like To Read?

Confessions of a Writer of Westerns: Who Do I Like To Read?: Favorite Author Someone asked me this week who my favorite authors were. Not a tough question, but I stumbled around a bit before comin...

More Medieval than Modern?

 Heavily idealized depiction of farm family, circa 1874.

A couple of days ago I posted this item:
Lex Anteinternet: Are Robert J. Gordon and George F. Will reading my...: Okay, up until this morning I'd never heard of Robert J. Gordon.  I now know that he's a Professor of Social Sciences at Northweste...
This quote is contained with in it:
In many ways, the world of 1870 was more medieval than modern. Three necessities — food, clothing, shelter — absorbed almost all consumer spending. No household was wired for electricity. Flickering light came from candles and whale oil, manufacturing power from steam engines, water wheels and horses. Urban horses, alive and dead, complicated urban sanitation. Window screens were rare, so insects commuted to and fro between animal and human waste outdoors and the dinner table. A typical North Carolina housewife in the 1880s carried water into her home eight to 10 times daily, walking 148 miles a year to tote 36 tons of it. Few children were in school after age 12.
That's a very thought provoking statement.  More medieval than modern. . . in 1870.

Keep in mind that by 1870, we already had trains and heavy industry.  We'd fought the Civil War.  The Industrial Revolution was well on its way.  Newspapers and telegraphs spread the daily news.

Are Will and Gordon right? I'm not saying they are or are not.  Rather, it's an interesting question. What do you think?

Lex Anteinternet: Waiting for the Storm

 The building this morning, I could hardly get here this morning.

Yesterday, I was waiting, and posted the same:
Lex Anteinternet: Waiting for the Storm: We're supposed to be getting a huge storm today and tomorrow. I sure hope so. These photographs were taken on March 20 in the foothi...
Indeed, in a very rare action for me, the day before yesterday I called a court across the state to see if I could appear by video link in a hearing, if I needed to.  They said I could.  Opposing counsel, however, graciously suggested that perhaps we could just move the hearing a couple of weeks and the court agreed.

Yesterday I kept thinking I'd been whining.  I was supposed to leave at about 6:00 am this morning, but even by mid evening there was no snow.  A busted weather report, I thought.

Then is started raining and the neighborhood turned to ice.

This morning there's well over a foot of snow.

I80, rather than going over South Pass, which had been suggested as an alternative route, is closed.

20/26 between Moneta and Waltman, going the regular route, is closed.

South Pass is closed.

And the snow is coming down hard.

Mid Week At Work: The automobile industry, 1916

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Punitive Expedtion: The Casper Daily Press, March 29, 1916

I think one of the most interesting items in this edition was the addition of extra train service, showing how extensive it really was at the time.

The Punitive Expedition and technology. A 20th Century Expedition.

We have, of course, been spending a lot of time with John J. Pershing in Mexico recently.  And of course, as we've been with Pershing, we've been mostly on horseback (even if, in reality, he wasn't) in what is remembered as the U.S. Cavalry's swansong. . . it's last big armed action.

"The last hurrah of the U.S. Cavalry".  So often you hear that about the Punitive Expedition of 1916, with it being implied that the old Frontier Army basically sort of rode off into the sunset, and the Mexican sunset at that, in 1916.

 10th Cavalry in Mexico.

Well, if the Punitive Expedition is recalled now, romantically, as the end of the age of the cavalry, and if the coming of that end was debated even at the time, which it was, it would be wrong to assume, as is so often the case, that it was the Frontier Cavalry that rode into Mexico.  No, the Punitive Expedition was neither the cavalry's last action, nor was it the an action by the same type of cavalry that fought at Little Big Horn or even Wounded Knee.  No, it was a modern 20th Century army that rode south.

Let's take a look at Pershing's expeditionary force as it really was. Did it have elements of the Frontier Army in it?  Well of course it did.  Frederick Jackson Turner, head of the Census  Bureau, may have proclaimed the Frontier closed in 1890 (a traumatic event, truly), but that didn't really mean that the country and its conditions went from countrified to urban in a year, nor did the country's army go from being a frontier gendarme to a mechanized force, with romantic roots in the frontier, overnight either.  Almost any senior officer and many senior enlisted men had commenced their service in the frontier Army.  Pershing, for example, had served at Wounded Knee, which while after the closing of the frontier in census terms, was the closing of the frontier in military terms.  The army's recent past was, in fact, dominated by frontier service, but it had also fought in the country's first war that required deployment beyond the country's shores by naval means. That war had quickly been followed by a second which was really the first and only colonial war the country had ever fought, that being the Philippine Insurrection.

So this wasn't the exact same Army that fought at Little Big Horn.

Indeed, this army had been experiencing the same technological revolution that the entire country had been since the late 19th Century.  As has been noted here before, while we believe that things have really moved fast in our lifetimes, it was really the generation of a century ago, and indeed some time before that, that saw, experienced, and perhaps suffered, a blistering pace of change.  Let's see how that impacted the Army that went into Mexico in 1916.

 The 5th Cavalry at Las Cruces stopping for a meal.  Note the rolling kitchen.  This troop had ridden 34 miles prior to this stop.

Now a century ago, the Punitive Expedition seems strangely familiar and distant to us at the same time.  One way it should seem familiar to us, but which is probably only really looked at carefully by military historians, is the way that 20th Century technology defined the U.S. Army's expedition into Mexico.  Indeed, nearly everything in that Army was new.

Let's take a closer look.


 Army wagons in foreground, Army truck in the background

The Punitive Expedition was the Army's first motorized campaign of any type.  But every campaign after it would be motorized.

Motorization, that is motor vehicles, did not catch the Army by surprise.  Indeed, prior to the Punitive Expedition the Army had been carefully watching vehicle advancements and it had been debating what that meant for the horse. At the time of the Columbus Raid there were already those in the Army who seriously questioned how much longer the horse would be viable in military service, and the expedition into Mexico was expected to test that.

It did test it, but the results were not what a person might expect.  The Punitive Expedition rapidly demonstrated that capabilities of motor vehicles as field transportation were poor and that the failure rate of motor vehicles of the period rendered them at best a supplement for horse transportation.

But that doesn't mean that they were not used. They were used to great effect, but not as tactical vehicles. Rather, the truck, with all its limitations, proved to be very useful for logistical support. That is, the supply of equipment and provisions.  And that fact had the ironic effect of actually making horse borne tactical unites, i.e., cavalry, more mobile, not less.

Up until this time the real limitation on cavalry in the field had been the efficiency of its logistical tail.  Horse equipped units were highly mobile, but contrary to the movie image of them, they had to rely upon a solid source of supply for everything.  Even the horses themselves were dependent on this, as the big "American Horse" was a heavy consumer of feed.  Cavalry units did not, on a lengthy protracted basis, simply live on the land.  The practical effect on this was that for an extended deployment in the field cavalry units had to rely upon horse drawn transportation of supplies of all types, or simply risk running out of them as they became increasingly less effective.  The legendary Horse Meat March on the high plains in the 1870s gives a grim example of what happened to a cavalry force in the field which went out low on provisions, including low on provisions for horses.

Motor Truck Group, Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, Major F.H. Pope, Cavalry, commanding, December, 1916

The introduction of the truck, in a logistical support role, really began to impact this. With trucks being so much faster than horse drawn support, supplies were capable of being brought up much faster and in turn, cavalry could operate much deeper in enemy territory.  This principle was proven during the Punitive Expedition, if only imperfectly so.  Still, it did so effectively.

And it was imperfect, as trucks of the era remained quite unreliable.  They lacked the capability to operate in terrain the same way that later all terrain vehicles would, and the broke down at a tremendous rate.  Still, their utility was proven in the expedition into Mexico and for the Army their was no turning back.  By the 1920s the Army would be fully engaged in trying to develop more modern and more capable trucks. By 1939 this had been achieved on a revolutionary level allowing the U.S. Army to be one of two armies, the British army was the other one, that entered the Second World War with nearly completely motorized support.  In many ways, the 6x6 truck of World War Two can be argued to be the single most important implement of the war.  And the development of that implement can be directly tied to the experience the Army gained during the Punitive Expedition.

The truck did not, of course, replace horse and wagon in the logistical role during the Punitive Expedition.  It only supplemented them.  Indeed, the truck didn't replace horse drawn transport in World War One, or during the 1920s for that matter.  But the direction was clear.  This was not true of cavalry, which became more mobile than ever during the expedition, but the handwriting was on the wall for wagon transport.

When the US went into the  First World War it continued to have large numbers of horse drawn wagons, in spite of the Punitive Expedition, but it also used a lot of trucks in the same roles as wagons and it rapidly introduced heavy trucks as artillery tractors for heavy artillery. The Wyoming National Guard, for example, fought in the Great War as artillery and was equipped with heavy Renault trucks.  After the war, realizing that the age of motor transport had arrived, the Army sponsored a trans continental truck convey, to shake out what worked and what did not.

Trucks of the U.S. Army, in Washington D.C., on June 4, 1920, departing for a transcontinental tour that would end in California.

By the 1930s the Army was rapidly working on completely motorizing transport, including artillery transport.  It would largely accomplish that by 1939, introducing 4x4 and 6x6 trucks ahead of the widespread civilian use of the same.  Only the British Army could claim a similar level of motorization before World War Two, and few others could claim to have it during the war.  The Army's 6x6 truck can legitimately be regarded as the single most important implement of the Second World War.  All that began, in some ways, during the Punitive Expedition.

A 6x6 truck during World War Two.  Used by every allied army in every theater, this rugged type of truck was developed by the Army itself starting with experiments in the 1920s, not all that long after first using trucks in the field in Mexico.  The 6x6 remained in use, in varying types, well into the 1990s.


 JN3 over Mexico.  This plane may have been taking off or landing, or it may actually have been flying at that height.  JN3s were near their service ceilings for much of their operations in Mexico from the moment they took off.

Right from the onset of the Punitive Expedition the 1st Aero Squadron, the only aircraft unit in the U.S. Army, was ordered to provide support.   The order was forward thinking.  Unfortunately, the aircraft weren't up to the job.  This can't really be blamed on the Army, however, and the results were beneficial to the Army even if the squadron's really significant contribution to the expedition turned out to be not its air support, but its motor support.  The 1st Aero Squadron was the only unit in the Army that completely relied upon truck ground transport.

The concept was a sound one. Aircraft were possible of scouting more quickly and efficiently than cavalry, for which that was actually a traditional principal role.   And it was far thinking as well, although the general principal had already been proven in the air over Europe.  The problem was the aircraft.

The 1st Aero Squadron was equipped with JN3 Curtis aircraft.  The airplane was very slow and had a very limited service ceiling.  In some instances the plane was at its effective ceiling in Mexico the moment it took off, although heroic pilots struggled to get it up over that so that it could be used.

It's tempting to criticize the US for having such an inadequate plane, particularly given that the US was where the airplane had been invented. But this would ignore the reality of the pace of change of aircraft.   The aircraft that the JN3 is compared against were those that were fighting in Europe at the time, where the massive catastrophe of war was causing aircraft to enter successive generations every few months.  Indeed, the pace of change in aircraft was so rapid after 1914 that this would really be the case all the way in to the early jet age, at which point expense would render that sort of change too expensive to endure, and the technological advance otherwise slowed down.  The JN3 actually was an upgrade over a much more primitive plane that the Army had been equipped with just prior to the World War One breaking out in Europe.

1st Aero Squadron in 1913, with aircraft that were much more primitive that the JN3 they'd be using just three years later.

As with vehicles, but which less success, aircraft were a success in the Punitive Expedition as they showed the near future, as well as the distant future.  In a few short months the pilots of the 1st Aero Squadron would be joined by hundreds of other pilots, all flying much more advanced European aircraft, in the combat in Europe.  The experience gained in Mexico was valuable in and of itself, and for showing that what we had, as new as it was, wasn't going to work for us.  In a way, the airplanes were a success as they showed their potential, rather than their actual, abilities.  Deployed in a scouting role, rather than as a combat aircraft, they were edging into the cavalry's role at the height of the cavalry's effectiveness.  


Something that's truly remarkable about the Punitive Expedition, but rarely completely appreciated, is that it is one of the very few instances, and indeed perhaps the only instance, when the Army deployed with all new weaponry.  Everything was new at the time and much of what was used in the Punitive Expedition was used in field for the very first time.  This is all the more remarkable when it is considered that the Army had introduced a new series of weapons in the late 19th Century, which it then went on to replace in the early 20th Century.

Rifles were then, as now, the basic individual weapon for most soldiers.  In the Punitive Expedition, the Army was using one that was new to the Army, the M1903.

 U.S. troops armed with M1903 Springfield rifles on Mexican border.

The M1903 was adopted in that year, 1903, and replaced a rifle and a carbine that had only been adopted nine years prior, the Krag–Jørgensen series of rifles and carbines.  For the U.S. Army to abandon a rifle system after using it so briefly is fairly extraordinary, although its not wholly without other examples of the same.  More remarkable, however, is that the Krag rifles and carbines were introduced in order to bring new high velocity smokeless cartridges into use, which was done with the accompanying adoption of the .30-40 cartridge. When the Army (and Marines) adopted the M1903, they were abandoning existing smokeless cartridges as well, which had only just been adopted themselves.

This all came about due to the Spanish American War.

The Army had appreciated the new smokeless cartridges soon after their adoption and set about to find a repeating smokeless cartridge rifle for Army use accordingly, which was to replace the rifles and carbines of the Allen pattern that had first come into use late in the Civil War.  The problem the Army faced, however, is that with the introduction of the new, smaller caliber, high velocity, smokeless cartridges a debate in how these rifles were to be used developed in advanced armies.  One theory, a conservative one, held that the military rifle would continue to be used basically as the early large caliber, black powder, single shot military rifles had been. I.e., they'd be used as single shot rifles, with the magazine containing additional cartridges reserved for assaults.  The more radical theory, advanced by German Peter Paul Mauser, held that this was unrealistic and that any solder would empty his magazine in combat invariably, rather than singly load, and so it placed a premium on the ability to rapidly reload.  Various nations went with one theory or another, with the United States, like the United Kingdom, taking the conservative approach.  Hence the adoption of the Krag which held four rounds, loaded through a permanently affixed box system, in reserve. These rounds could be cycled through the rifle very rapidly, but they could not be rapidly reloaded as they could not be loaded in a block with a clip, in constant to the Mauser series of rifles which could be.

 Black soldier carrying a Krag rifle.  This 1898 photograph was taken in Tampa, Florida, and therefore probably was of a soldier waiting to go to Cuba.  The soldier's blue uniform was obsolete at the time this photograph was taken, but many soldiers early in the war were equipped with the old blue uniform.

The deficiency of the theory was proven in two wars of the late 19th Century, the Spanish American War and the Boer War.  Both wars would pit armies equipped with Mauser M1893 rifles against armies equipped with rifles based on the opposing theory, the Krag in the case of the US and the Lee in the case of the UK.  Mausers, equipping the loosing forces, nonetheless held the day and very quickly the US and the UK reacted.  In the case of the United Kingdom, their existing Lee rifles and carbines could be retrofitted to take a clip, like the Mauser, partially curing the defect in their design. The Krag, however, could not be redesigned. The Army, therefore, set about designing a replacement.  And that's how it was done, the Army itself designed the rifle.

And not just a rifle, but a new cartridge as well.  Logically figuring that it it was to go with a new rifle, which would essentially be a Mauser rifle, it would also go with a "rimless" Mauser type cartridge and abandon the rimmed .30-40.

The result was the M1903 rifle firing the .30-03 cartridge.  The new rifle, as noted, as a Mauser type rifle and only a rifle, not a rifle and a carbine, was adopted. The rifle was a "short" rifle, taking advantage of the new high velocity cartridges that rendered a longer infantry rifle unnecessary. By going with a short rifle, the Army could replace the rifle and carbine with one arm.  The Army started the manufacture of the new rifle immediately in 1903.

However, early in the production of the rifle it came under criticism from President Theodore Roosevelt, who did not like the retention of the M1898 Krag's rod bayonet, which he regarded as a bit of a joke. The rifle was accordingly redesigned to take a conventional sword bayonet.  At the same time perceived deficiencies with the cartridge were addressed and, in 1906, the redesigned rifle and the the redesigned .30-06 cartridge were introduced.

Perhaps because Theodore Roosevelt, who was friendly to the military was President, or perhaps because the Army was producing the rifle itself (although it had with the Krag as well), or just perhaps because it appreciated the need, the Army set about immediately to replace the Krag.  That is fairly amazing if the history of hte Krag is considered, as while it was adopted in 1892 insufficient stocks of them existed at the time of the 1898 Spanish American War such that much of the Army fought in the first stage of that war with .45-70 "trapdoor" Springfield's, a clearly obsolete rifle by that time.  The history of the M1903 Springfield would be much different.

 Volunteers from Kentucky in the Spanish American War.  They are equipped with obsolete .45-70 trapdoor Springfield rifles.

By 1916, just a decade after the redesigned rifle had first been finished, the entire Army, Marine Corps and National Guard would be equipped with M1903s.  Again, this is in stark contrast to the Krag, which did not fully equip the Army at the onset of the Spanish American War and which only probably came to do that at some point during the Philippine Insurrection.

 Wyoming National Guardsmen, July 1916, equipped with M1903 Springfield rifles.

The Punitive Expedition would not be the first time that the M1903 would be fielded in action.  I frankly don't know when that was, but my suspicion is that it was likely in one of the various small actions in the Philippines that trailed on well after the technical end of the Philippine Insurrection. According to one source the first use of the rifle in combat was against the Moros at Bud Bagsak in June, 1913.  The rifle was definitely used in action by 1914, however, as the Marine Corps and the Navy used it in the action at Vera Cruz, Mexico.  That is interesting in and of itself as the Department of the Navy had followed the Army's lead with the M1903, adopting it immediately to replace the M1895 Navy Lee, a rifle that it had adopted three years after the Army had adopted the M1892 Krag, and in a different cartridge, that being 6mm Navy Lee.

 Sailors at Vera Cruz. The sailor on the left is equipped with a M1903 rifle.  The one in the middle, probably a Petty Officer, is equipped with the then new M1911 pistol.  The one on the right is carrying what is probably a Model 97 Winchester shotgun.  What is remarkable about this photograph is that it shows how the U.S. Navy, which often was equipped with somewhat older small arms than the Army, was here equipped with all new small arms in 1914.

The Army had fought a few minor skirmishes with Villistas prior to the Columbus Raid (I'll be going back and adding those on the centennials of their occurrences, so the Columbus Raid and the following expedition were not even the first time that the Army had fought Mexican forces of some kind armed with the rifle. But, in any event, the rifle proved to be just about ideal for the conditions it was used in and it went on to a long and successful service life.  Following the Punitive Expedition the rifle was manufactured in large numbers as the Army equipped itself for World War One, although the government arsenals proved to be incapable of supplying adequate numbers of them for the hugely enlarged Army. As a result, commercial contracts were given out for the a rifle based on the British designed Patter 14 rifle, which itself was in the design stages when the war broke out and was intended to be a British high velocity Mauser based rifle. The American variant in .30-06, the M1917, was a good rifle in its own right and following the war some consideration was given to standardizing it as a replacement for the M1903.  This was not done, however, and the M1903 kept on as the Army's standard rifle, with the M1917 relegated to reserve stocks and certain specific uses.

Both rifles would go on to see service in World War Two even though the Army adopted a replacement for the M1903 in 1936. The replacement, the M1 Garand, was adopted not because the M1903 had proved deficient but rather because the Army had appreciated that the advancement of self loading rifles mean that a semi automatic rifle could be introduced for military service.  Nonetheless few M1s were bought prior to 1940 and for the first years of World War Two the M1903 remained the principal longarm in US service.  Even more M1903s were built during World War Two, this time commercially by Remington and Smith Corona, and the rifle soldiered on in some uses until 1945.  After that a sniper variant carried on until the Vietnam War.

Marine in training, May 1942, armed with M1903 rifle.

If the rifle that equipped the American soldier in Mexico in 1916 and 1917 was new, the pistols were even newer.  The Army had adopted two new pistols in less than a decade preceding the Punitive Expedition, one as a stopgap measure, and the second as a new long term sidearm. That arm would go on to the the longest serving small arm in American military history.  The sidearms were the M1909 revolver and the M1911 pistol.

 M1911 pistol.  This photograph was taken during World War Two, but the pistol had changed very little since 1916.  Indeed, it's still in use today.

Before going on it should be noted that sidearms, while frequently called minor weapons by military commentators, were not at this time, and really they aren't today.  The U.S. Army is currently in the process of trying to find a replacement for the Beretta M9 pistol and just as the adoption of the M9 took a long time to come about, and was accompanied by a lot of controversy, finding a replacement for it today is not without its problems.  In some ways this is because the M1911 remains such a successful sidearm everything tends to be judged against it in some vague ways, even if not intentionally.

In 1916 the sidearm was issued to every cavalryman in the Army and to a lot of other servicemen as well.  Almost every officer in the Army was required to carry a sidearm and many NCOs were issued sidearms.  The Army used a lot of revolvers and pistols, and it had for a very long time.  This made the U.S. Army somewhat unique.  Most armies issued relatively few sidearms, although there are exceptions.  The U.S. Army issued a lot of them.

The introduction of smokeless powder, which not only eliminated the tell tale smoke, but which proved to allow for higher velocity cartridges, came at the same time that the reliability of double action revolvers had become well established.  The Army had adopted a single action revolver as long ago as the Mexican War when it adopted the massive Walker Colt. That large single action .44 revolver yielded to a series of Dragoon revolvers that lasted through the Civil War and indeed a bit after it.  Cartridges for revolvers began to come in late in the  Civil War and the Army converted a number of single action revolvers to fire .44 cartridges (an original example of which, surprisingly, can be seen in the film Major Dundee).  When the Army went to a designed cartridge revolver after the Civil War it adopted a tried and true single action which, quixotically, was adopted in .45 rather than .44.

That revolver, the Colt Single Action Army, M1873, went on to enduring fame although its best remembered for being the most popular civilian sidearm of the Frontier period, where it acquired the commercial name The Peacemaker.

Double action revolvers existed even in the cap and ball era, although they were clearly not regarded as sufficiently reliable for general military use.  The difference between the two action types is that the trigger on a double operates to cock the pistol and rotate the cylinder.  On a single action, however, the hammer must be cocked manually, the operation of which rotates the cylinder.  Single actions are, by their very nature, slower to operate as the operator must manually cock the revolver for every shot.  With a double action a user may simply keep pulling the trigger until the cylinders are empty.

During the Frontier Era self equipping with sidearms, and even long arms, wasn't uncommon for officers and even enlisted men, so the double action began to come in to unofficial Army use irrespective of the strong love of the M1873.  The Army itself experimented with some double actions during this period, although it never adopted one to replace the M1873.  When smokeless powder came in, however, it did.  That pistol was the M1892.

 Sailors drilling with M1892 .38 revolvers.  Unlike with the Navy M1895 rifle, the Navy adopted the same sidearm as the Army with Colt's M1892.  In fact, the M1892 revolver carried by Theodore Roosevelt up Kettle Hill in the Spanish American War was a Navy M1892 recovered from the USS Maine.

The M1892 reflected the same sort of thinking, in a general way, that the Navy's M1895 Lee rifle did.  That is, nobody was really sure how small cartridges could now be, and the Army guessed too small.  In adopting the M1892, it also adopted the .38 "Long Colt" cartridge. The cartridge itself was not a bad design, but it was quite light in comparison to the black powder .45 Long Colt used by the M1873.  Ironically, perhaps, the .45 LC would survive into the smokeless era.

The M1892 was first used in a significant way in the Spanish American War where it gave a good account of itself. Things changed, however, when the Army found itself fighting in the Philippines, as the .38 proved to be simply inadequate for combat.  The Army rapidly reissued stocks of the obsolete M1873, cutting the 7.5 in barrels of the cavalry model down to the 5" of the artillery model.  Having accepted the superiority of the double action, however, the Army also rapidly looked for a new revolver.  Colt came to the rescue with an existing design, the Colt New Service, which as adopted as the Model 1909 in a smokeless variant of the .45 LC.

Even at that time, however, the M1909 was regarded as a temporary measure.  By the late 19th Century semi automatic pistols were coming into use and proving themselves.  Mauser had again pioneered the field with its ungainly but functional M96 automatic pistol, familiar to modern movie goers due to its use in the film Star Wars as a laser pistol.  The M96 sold world wide and was adopted privately by quite a few mounted officers of various armies, including British cavalryman Winston Churchill.

Hard upon the heels of the M96, and indeed even contemporary with it, various other manufactures started designing semi automatic pistols.  Georg Luger came out with a famous one by the first decade of the 20th Century that would bear his name.  Significantly for the United States, phenomenal American firearms designer John Browning turned his attention to it as well.  The Army began testing a Browning design, manufactured by Colt, and a Luger design, in the first decade of the century.

The Browning design was definitely the better of the two, and with modifications it was adopted in 1911.  The M1911 went on to be the longest serving American arm of all time, and it is widely regarded as a contender for the best military sidearm ever made.  Adopted in a new cartridge, .45 Automatic Colt Pistol, it went into immediate production for both the military and the civilian market.

Unlike the M1903 rifle, the Army did not acquire sufficient stocks of M1911s with which to equip the entire Regular Army and the National Guard prior to the expedition into Mexico.  It did start issuing them immediately, but Colt did have a hard time keeping up with the demand, in part because the private purchase demands from Army and Navy officers was so high that it interfered with the military production.  The outbreak of World War One in Europe further increased demand as British officers sought to  buy the pistol in .45 ACP and the British government contracted for some in .455 Webley, which amazingly actually worked in the pistol if designed for it.  Still, the were many of them in service by the time the Navy and Marines went into action at Vera Cruz in 1914.

Surprisingly, a lot of senior Army officers did not really trust the M1911, which sets it apart from the M1903.  Almost nobody distrusted the M1903, and indeed when it was slated for replacement in 1936 many older soldiers opposed the change.  The story was different with the M1911, however.  Cavalrymen in particular were highly acclimated to revolvers and many simply didn't trust an automatic pistol.

The M1911 gave an excellent account of itself during the Punitive Expedition, but nonetheless at least one officer, the legendary Frank Tompkins, urged the Army to retain the M1909 for cavalry use, arguing that the M1911 was so easy to discharge that green solders sometimes would accidentally shoot their horses in the head in a mounted charge.  That recommendation was ignored but the huge demand for sidearms during World War One meant that the M1909 went back into production, as the M1917, along with a Smith & Wesson design by the same name.  Those revolvers were designed to take a clip so that they could take the .45 ACP cartridge in keeping with the Army's real desire to replace all revolvers with the M1911.  By the wars end, however, so many revolvers had been made that they were kept around and they were still in use by some old cavalryman when World War Two broke out.  They were more often carried, however, by servicemen who were unlikely to need to use them, although they soldiered on through the war.

 M1917 revolvers being used during World War Two.  Note the off side holsters, which were retained for the revolvers in the old cavalry style until the very end.

The M1911, however, came out of the First World War with glowing reviews.  A slightly different model of the pistol, the M1911A1 was adopted after the war, and it would remain the Army's standard pistol up until Congress force the adoption of a new pistol, the 9mm M9, in 1985.  The M1911 never really went fully away however as it was simply too good of a combat pistol.  The US entry into Afghanistan in 2001 saw the M1911 creep back into use until that could no longer be ignored and both the Army and the Marine Corps began to acquire new stocks of them for the first time since 1945, with the Marine Corp even adopting a new variant of the old M1911.

If the story of the Army's rifle and sidearm are glowing success stories, the story of the Army's first real machine guns is much more mixed.

 Model 1904 Maxim .30-06 machine guns in use by U.S. cavalrymen.  Note that these cavalrymen also carry M1911 pistols.  The cavalryman pointing is wearing a holster for the M1911 that was unique to cavalry, as it swiveled.  The machine gun crewmen are wearing the general issue M1911 holster.

The Army began to experiment with high repeating weapons as early as the closing days of the Civil War, but those designs did not get as far as popular tales would have it. The first such weapon to be adopted was the Gatling Gun, which in US service actually saw next to no service at all.  The first real application of the Gatling Gun came during the Spanish American War, by which time real machine guns were already coming into use, and indeed in use against U.S. troops.  The best and most effective use of the Gatling came in British hands in the Boer War, although they were already experimenting with true machine guns themselves.  The British liberated the Gatling from its wagon wheel trails, which was foresighted, but by that time the Gatling was already a bit of an obsolescent freak.


Machine gun troop in Mexico.

The introduction of modern cartridges made true fully automatic weapons possible and designers were well aware of that. A variety if early attempts at automatic weapons of various types were made, including by such famous designers as John Browning, who later would perfect a couple of American automatic weapons that went into extremely long use, including one, the Browning M2HB, which was adopted in the 1920s and remains in use today.  The early field of automatic weapons, whoever, was pretty confused.

The first true machine gun used by the U.S. Army was in fact the John Browning design, which bore the official name of M1895.  Manufactured in a variety of calibers and sold world wide, in U.S. use it started off in .30-40 and in 6mm Navy Lee.  In spite of the fact that the Army never officially adopted them, they showed up in use more often than a person might suppose as National Guard units often simply bought them, in a variety of calibers, and during the Spanish American War two were given as gifts to the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry by family members of the unit, although oddly those were in 7x57, the cartridge used by Spain.  The unofficial nature of this use in Army hands (Navy and Marine Corps use was official) meant that the gun was still in use in various units as late as 1917 when the United States entered World War one.


Schematic of the Colt-Browing, "Potato Digger"

The M1895 was not a bad gun, but it was a very early gun, and it was clearly a pioneering, and therefore not fully satisfactory, weapon.   It was delicate and prone to stoppages.  The experience of the Spanish Civil War showed that another weapon would have to be found as its operational rate fared poorly in comparison with the obsolete Gatlings.

Fortunately there was a ready alternative to the M1895 available, that being the Maxim gun.


M1904 Maxim in use in Texas in 1911.

The Maxim gun was a heavy machine gun designed by American born Hiram Maxim.  A visionary weapon, Maxim first introduced the gun in 1886, shortly after he had relocated tot he United Kingdom.  The heavy recoil operated gun would set the standard for heavy machine guns, a position which to some degree it still occupied.  Maxim's gun came right at the end of the black powder era and because of the nature of its design it was suitable for any of the then existing cartridges as well as the smokeless cartridges that were just being invented.  Indeed, the gun was so adaptable that some of the larger variants of it were really automatic cannons due to the virtue of their size.

 Giant Maxim Gun in the small cannon class in use by the U.S. Navy circa 1901.

The Army started testing the Maxim relatively early on, but it was slow to adopt it, perhaps in part as the Army had a hard time figuring out exactly how to deploy machine guns at first.  Indeed, nearly every Army had difficulty in this department.  In 1904, however, the Army adopted the Maxim as the Army's first machine gun.  Production, however, was slow, with initial production taking place in the UK for weapons chambered in.30-03 and remaining production undertaken by Colt.  Only 287 of the guns were made, but as the picture above shows, they were deployed along the border and they were very good guns.  They were also extremely heavy, both because of the heavy weight of the action and because the gun was water cooled. For an introductory weapon, it was excellent, but as we'll see below, the Army was seeking to replace it and in fact had already adopted a replacement by the time of the Punitive Expedition.

Perhaps because production of the M1904 was limited, the Punitive Expedition is much more associated with the M1909 Benét–Mercié, and not happily so.

 U.S. Troops firing the M1909 Benét–Mercié machine gun, a variant of the Hotchkis light machine gun.

The entire story of the M1909 is an odd one, as the gun itself is a legendary weapon, one of the Hotchkiss machine guns. The Hotchkiss machine guns saw service around the globe and were generally well liked by most armies. The U.S. Army, after the Punitive Expedition, and indeed at least partially because of it, ended up not liking the gun.  All in all, the M1909 acquired a bad reputation in the U.S. Army during the Punitive Expedition even though reports of its use really don't support that feeling and it was a better gun than the one that would go on to be used in the same role during World War One.

Indeed, the entire story of American light machine guns in this era is odd.  There were a variety of light guns available when the Hotchkiss was adopted and there were options. What was lacking was knowledge on how the guns would be used and what the best feature for such a gun would be.  Looking back in hindsight, a gun like the early Madsen probably would have been better but that wasn't obvious at the time.  The real defect of the gun was that it took a very long clip, rather than a magazine, to feed it, which was awkward in combat and left the rounds exposed.  Guns like the Madsen did not do that.

Neither did the Lewis Gun, which was an American design and which would play a small role in the story of the Punitive Expedition, albeit very small.  The Lewis Gun was a new gun at the time, having just been invented around 1911, but it was already receiving some use early on.  Unfortunately for the Army, it seems that a dislike on the part of the chief of the Army of the inventor kept it from being adopted by the U.S. Army for a light machine gun, a decision that would have consequences during World War One.  Given the nature of the times, however, the gun was picked up privately by at least one small National Guard unit that was funded heavily by a member, in an era when that sort of thing was still not uncommon.  But Guard units did not cross the border, they only guarded it, during the Punitive Expedition.  The gun wold see heavy use by the British during World War One and on into World War Two, and by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, but not by the Army.  Even at that, the Army took Lewis Guns away from Marine Corp units assigned to the AEF in Europe during the Great War and issued to them the Chauchat, a French automatic rifle that the Army adopted for the Great War that was and is universally regarded as a disaster.  Late in World War One the Army would field the Browning Automatic Rifle which, interestingly enough, first saw use by cavalrymen in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in September 1918.


Marine training with Lewis Gun

The American solder on the left is equipped with the terrible Chauchat Mle 1918.

So, as opposed to the story of rifles and pistols, the story of automatic weapons in U.S. service in 1916 is really mixed.  All the weapons were relatively new, but none of the automatic weapons then in use would go on to long use in the Army in spite of all of them being fairly contemporary weapons.  The M1904 Maxim was a really good heavy machine gun, but it was truly heavy.  By 1909 the Army was working on replacing it with the British Vickers, itself a Maxim variant.  During World War One none of the M1904s would go overseas and the Army would equip itself with British and French heavy machine guns.  Likewise, the M1909 light machine gun would not see service with the US, which oddly equipped itself with a bad French weapon.  By the end of the war native designs had been adopted by the US in the form of the M1917 heavy machine gun, a Browning design, and the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle.

  M1917 machine gun

One other weapon issued to cavalrymen was new to the Army in 1916, but it didn't see use in Mexico, or at least not much.  That was the M1913 saber.

As odd as it may seem now, the Army actually adopted a new saber in 1913.  Designed by future general George S. Patton, the saber relied upon the newest British, and some claim French, designs for inspiration and was a departure from the traditional curved blade that had been used by the Army for prior sabers.  The weapon was designed to be thrust into an opponent, and Patton had published an Army manual on swordsmanship only slightly before the weapon's adoption.  The M1913 saber replaced the M1906, which itself was essentially the same as the M1860 saber used during the Civil War.

If it seems odd that the Army would adopt a saber in 1913, we need to keep in mind that the it was not as seemingly obvious that the saber was obsolete as it is now, and indeed it wasn't as obsolete as it seems to us today.  Sabers remained in use in European cavalries and actually saw more real use in the Great War than we'd suspect.  But they wouldn't see use in Mexico. The Army ordered them left behind.

Indeed, this was in keeping with a general practice from the Indian Wars, during which the saber had seen little use post Civil War.  In open territory against an enemy that was unlikely to entrench or to engage at close quarters, the saber had little utility and the actual practice at the time recognized that. That practice carried on into the Punitive Expedition, where the saber was left at home.

Well, that's that's the story of small arms in the American military during the Punitive Expedition.  What about artillery?

Artillery?  Yes.

We don't tend to think much about artillery in the Punitive Expedition, but it as there.  Indeed, contrary to what a person might suppose, not only did the U.S. Army field artillery during the Punitive Expedition, but the contesting sides in the Mexican Revolution did as well.

The 4th and 6th Artillery went into Mexico in 1916 and other Army artillery units were stationed on the border.  The 4th Artillery took pack howitzers.

Pack howitzers are a class of gun that had a long and interesting history.  They're gone now, but pack artillery lasted well into the rocket age, finally disappearing, in the true mule packed manner, only in the 1950s, when the last U.S. Army pack artillery unit, an Army Reserve unit, finally lost theirs. Even at that, airborne artillery, in some ways, is the immediate heir of pack artillery.


Pack howitzers go way back in U.S. Army usage, but the piece used during the Punitive Expedition, which is nicely discussed on a thread of the Society of the Military Horse's website, was the 2.95" Vicker's Mountain Gun of 1900. As discussed on that site in that thread:

This is the 2.95” Vickers-Maxim Mountain Gun, Model of 1900. Look through the Runyon photos from the National Archives for the various shots of it being packed and fired. It was a major improvement over the 1.65" Hotchkiss Mountain Gun, Model of 1875, in that it was capable of being fired at higher angles.

It was a good little gun and very well suited for an Army on the move. Quite a few Runyon Photographs of the Punitive Expedition on line at the University of Texas show it in use.  It was a British designed gun that replaced a French designed gun and would go on to give service until replaced by the M1 Pack Howitzer that would be the Army's last pack howitzer and first airborne howitzer.   The Model of 1900 was a 75mmm gun, so in relative terms it was a relatively large gun.

The US also took the M1902 3" field gun into Mexico.  

  M1902 Field Piece at Ft. Mead, South Dakota.

The M1902 field piece was a 3" (76.2 mm) gun that entered US service in 1902 and served throughout World War One, making it a rare example of a US gun that served during the Great War in Europe.  A good gun, they went into Mexico and back out, but reportedly never engaged the Villistas at any point during the campaign.  Basically a gun equivalent to the French 75 (Model 1897), it was phased out quickly after the Great War, during which the Army had used more 1897s than M1902s.

The US also sent the 6th Artillery into Mexico. The 6th was equipped with the 4.7" field gun Model of 1906.  As also noted on the Society of the Military Horse webiste:

4.7-inch Field Gun, Model of 1906.  Served from 1906 through WWII.  It served in combat in WWI, the only American Field Artillery weapon to do so.  They were used as training weapons in WWII. ... N00530.JPG ... N00479.JPG

This was a big gun, shooting 120mm shells.  I haven't seen any indication that they were taken into Mexico, and if the M1902s were never fired during the expedition, the M1906s were almost surely not.  Nonetheless, they were part of the story as they were stationed along the border, providing the Army with a very substantial field piece, if needed.

One thing to keep in mind about artillery of this period is that all of this came before the big revolution in artillery spotting that  defined artillery missions during World War Two and ever since.  The Second World War, which isn't all that much later than the period we're discussing in real terms, came during the era of indirect fire.  The Punitive Expedition, and even to an extent World War One, did not.  The guns we're looking at above are all basically direct fire weapons.  They could indirect fire, but they were really designed for direct fire.  And they all came before radios had incorporated themselves into the scene on a field basis, and while field phones existed, this meant that you really didn't have Forward Observers up at the front calling in their missions.  No, the Army at this time used the Battery Commander System.

An excellent description of that is provided on the Society of the Military Horse website, so I won't try to repeat it here, but will rather simply refer to it.  The system was much different from that which would prevail just a few years later, and the description provided on that thread is excellent.

M1908 6" howitzer.  A really big gun, these pieces were not taken into Mexico, but as can be seen from the caption, they were available along the border, no doubt more in anticipation of a full scale war with Mexico.

This is far from a complete list of US artillery at the time.  Rather, it's only a list of those guns that I know, and perhaps inaccurately, to have been associated with the Punitive Expedition, all of which were field pieces.  The Army had a range of additionally artillery, such as the M1908 howitzer. The point would be, rather, that the Army went into Mexico with two fairly modern artillery pieces, one of which at least never saw action in the expedition, but which did go in. The artillery in the US inventory was fully modern for the time, rivaling anything used in Europe or, in some cases, being identical to the guns then in use in Europe. The two guns that were used were highly mobile pieces, and their failure to see much action reflected the conditions of the expedition more than anything else.

There are, we would note, some items we haven't covered here, and will in later posts.  We should note, however, that there are some other good sources on the net on these topics.  An excellent one is the Society of the Military Horse website, including its excellent forum.  Every single one of these topics is covered there. Another is the relatively recent US Warhorse blog, which also covers most if not all of these topics. So anyone wanting to explore them in more depth, or even just look at the photographs of the items mentioned, can find a lot of information in those spots.

The Punitive Expedition came a little less than two decades after the Spanish American War and less than two years before World War One.  The Army of that campaign, the last great cavalry campaign in American history, more closely resembled the Army that would fight in the Great War than the Army of the Frontier Era, but elements of the old frontier army were surely there.  It was, however, a 20th Century expedition, and must be viewed in that light.  And as a 20th Century expedition, it came in the full of the technological revolution that would change so much about life in the 20th Century.  It's tempting to imagine the campaign as romantic and quaint, when the participants would have imagined it as being anything but those things.  Part of its story is the technology that wold redefine the nature of warfare.


Related posts:

The Punitive Expedition and technology. A 20th Century Expedition. Part Two. Radios and Telegraph

What the Crud? Is this the Punitive Expedition Day by Day Blog or something?

 Machine gun troop in Mexico.

Um, no, it isn't.

But, the Punitive Expedition inspired, in a big way, the creation of this blog, or rather it inspired the work that gave rise to this blog. And so now that the Punitive Expedition of 1916 is a century past, it's a good time to explore it, and sometimes on a day by day basis.

Now, we have done a day by day blog before, and we will not be doing that. Rather, we will be putting up some Punitive Expedition events as they happen, and may, or may not, be running the local newspaper until it quits having the expedition on the front page, although having said that, I'm not sure when that really occurs.  It won't cover the daily events in the Punitive Expedition in depth for each day, but it will try to give a bit of a day in the life flavor to some days, or try to.

The first entry on this blog stated:

Lex Anteinternet?

The Consolidated Royalty Building, where I work, back when it was new.
What the heck is this blog about?
The intent of this blog is to try to explore and learn a few things about the practice of law prior to the current era. That is, prior to the internet, prior to easy roads, and the like. How did it work, how regional was it, how did lawyers perceive their roles, and how were they perceived?
Part of the reason for this, quite frankly, has something to do with minor research for a very slow moving book I've been pondering. And part of it is just because I'm curious. Hopefully it'll generate enough minor interest so that anyone who stops by might find something of interest, once it begins to develop a bit.
So, that's the purpose of the blog as originally stated. And as frequently stated on this blog the era it focuses on, or attempts to, is the first several decades of the 20th Century and the last of the 19th, although it strays from that focus a lot.  No doubt it'll continue to stray even as it details the events of 1916.

But the teens are a particular focus.  And the Punitive Expedition is a particular interest.  So we're running that story, century delayed, sort of in real time.  It won't be the only thing from 1916 that shows up as we do that.  But it will be appearing quite a bit, and for awhile, on a daily basis, along with other items.  We hope you enjoy the entries.

Weird Economic News, the blowing wind

Tax revenues from wind generation fell 15% last year.

That's truly odd.  The fall from coal is perfectly explainable, and the economic impacts of the big slowdown in petroleum are obvious.  But why wind?

Waiting for the Storm

We're supposed to be getting a huge storm today and tomorrow.

I sure hope so.

These photographs were taken on March 20 in the foothills of the Big Horns:

Foothills of the Southern Big Horns

Elk carcass in the foreground.

Should be snow this time of year.  Not a good sign.
There should be snow everywhere in the photos.  And right now maybe there is, it's snowed since them. But we sure need more.

Monday, March 28, 2016