Serving in the military instills a real sense of pride in many veterans. It’s not just the things you accomplished or the good you did while in uniform, but the understanding that you helped carry a torch passed to you by the previous generation. Your uniform, your title, even many of the challenges you face can be traced through a direct lineage to the soldiers, sailors, and Marines of generations past. What was their fight is now ours, and eventually, we’ll pass it to the next generation of men and women courageous, self-disciplined, or maybe just foolhardy enough to follow in our well-tread footsteps.
Miles Vining, a Marine infantry veteran, is well aware of these ties of service that bind us to one another from across oceans, land masses, and even generations. He and a group of veterans and reenactors took it upon themselves to recreate the conditions faced by Marines and soldiers during World War II, but rather than simply emulating history to learn more about their challenges, Miles set out to recreate it.
Equipped with that appreciation for history, and an M1 Garand loaned to him by the widow of his close friend and fellow Marine, Corporal Kevin Schranz, Miles and his team planned out a live-fire range designed to allow them to use real squad tactics, real World War Two-era firearms, and real ammunition to recreate the battle conditions their predecessors faced. Although reenactments can provide a great visual representation of how wars played out, only by using live ammunition and real squad tactics to engage fortified enemy positions could Miles hope to truly appreciate the experiences of service members from that era, as the equipment is put through its paces in exactly the manner it was 70 or so years ago.
“The overall point of the WWII live fire, apart from creating an episode for our Youtube channel, was to gain information and knowledge about these small arms that were used in World War II in ways that we couldn’t have gathered from shooting them on a square range or individually,” Miles wrote in an article for The Firearms Blog.
“These weapons were designed to be used by units of men, working very closely with each other, to accomplish an objective of overcoming an enemy force. Reenactments accomplish this well, but they don’t simulate the treatment these firearms would have gone through in combat due to the presence of live ammunition and actually trying to hit an enemy target at a distance.”
Miles and his team put together a video of their efforts, and the footage is dramatic, showing us the stresses of engaging and maneuvering a full squad of Marines while maintaining continuous fire on the fortified position with which they were closing. I reached out to Miles to ask him about the experience and what stood out to him the most as he went through it.
“Possibly the largest surprise from the event was that an infantry squad in 1944 was organized and functioned very similarly to how an Army or Marine infantry squad of today would work in terms of the building blocks of support, assault, and security. Even the 1944 T/O&E was set up with scouts up front as security, an MG element as support, and the maneuver element as assault,” Miles told me. “We still practice this today in the Marine Corps with our squads along three fire teams, each team assuming these roles during an attack, or at least on a larger level with platoons and companies.”
Miles and his team also learned a great deal about the differences in combat operations that are dictated by the use of the gear they had at the time. I asked him what he felt was likely the biggest concern faced by soldiers or Marines of that era.
“Certainly the concern of running out of ammunition. With only eight-round Garands and 15-round carbines, there was always a foreboding feeling of quickly running out and having to reload. As an example, we’d have to reload the Garands after two bounds of rushing, whereas today, with a 30-round magazine, a soldier or Marine can probably make it through four or more bounds before needing to reload. In addition, there isn’t really a practical way to ‘top off’ an M1, unlike today where a soldier or Marine can simply change out magazines.”
Something I was able to glean by watching the video was the cacophonous noise of the situation. Although communicating under fire remains a challenge to this day, the firearms in use during World War II made for what seemed like a louder environment. Couple that increased battle volume with a lack of modern communications technologies, and it would seem you have a recipe for one hell of a sore throat by the end of the day.
“Just the sheer sound levels were horrendous, bearing in mind we weren’t wearing ear protection to simulate what the 1944 guys would have heard. Just like today, we had to scream our lungs out just to get simple commands across,” Miles told me. “Trying to control a squad like that from a squad leader’s perspective in 1944, and adding incoming enemy small-arms fire and artillery on unfamiliar ground, gives you a level of appreciation of just how difficult it was to control such a unit, never mind at the company or battalion level. Minus the enemy fire, to be able to actually hear exactly what those guys heard was a very humbling experience and is exactly why we wanted to complete this recreation.”
Miles and the team dedicated their recreation to Corporal Kevin Schranz, whose love for history prompted him to purchase the M1 Garand Miles used during the range exercise. Miles told me it was important to him that he incorporate his lost friend in the range “to honor him through memory and his passion for WWII military history.”
If you ask me, the video Miles and his guys made, accompanied by the gained knowledge and understanding of warriors of generations past, makes for an incredible, and fitting, tribute.
Miles asked that I extend his “sincere gratitude for the all volunteer aspect of the range: the Marines, reenactors, photographers and RSOs. Without their passion and willingness to come out in 30 degree temperature, we couldn’t have come close to doing what we accomplished. ”
Check out the video below, and make sure to read the Lessons Learned page that Miles put together after the event for a great breakdown of the event.