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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I wonder why many European countries, and many Americans a century ago, believed they had enough gun when all they carried were .25s, .32s, or similar cartridges. Any of these would be considered today "underpowered" for self-defense purposes. I am not sure if bad guys used to give up after being shot once, if ease of carry outweighed power considerations, or if stopping power was less important than making a show of defending one's self. Of course, battlefield experience a century ago taught us that American soldiers needed a bigger bang. What are your thoughts? ???
 
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
something I have thougt alot about lately is the difference in physical bulk of most people today compared to years past.
(at least in the so called developed world)
even if you look at wwII footage most guys then look fairly petite by today standards.
what effect this might have on the effectiveness of a given cartridge I an only speculate.
on the other hand, even wit all the weight training, steroids and ripped abs you might see today, I expect that most of these guys were physically stronger in the past as a result of more intimate familiarity with physical work. which may increase an individuals ability to fight through being wounded at least in the short term.
then there is penicili and antibiotics. most people in naval battles in the days of wooden ships died from splinters, wounds that became infected and not directly from the cannon ball itself. so in the long run minor wounds would have been much less survivable back in the day, indicating increased overall effectiveness of a smaller cartridge.
I would even consider the possibility that people fought with more of a sense of decorum in the past, maybe just getting shot was more likely to get someone to stop. It does seem that if you look at street fights in general, people continue to become more depraved in terms of what they are willing to do to one another, and with less and less reason.
 

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I think history denotes what we've known all along, larger calibers with more powder cause more damage and work better.

We can note this when Samuel Walker worked with Samuel Colt to produce the .44 caliber Dragoon Revolver. Or the .65+ caliber "horse pistols" that were carried. "Back in the day", .32s, .36s, and .38s were still reserved for those who wanted a small pistol to carry or didn't feel the need for anything larger. We can note Wild Bill Hicock carried a brace of 1856 Colt Navys in .36 caliber, but then again, Wild Bill was a hell of a shot.

Early in this century, police realized there was a serious need for something beyond .32 and .38 Long Colt revolvers. Many still carried .45 LC or .44-40 revolvers. The development of .38 Special cartridge was for the sole purpose of increasing the power for police officers, the same for the .357 Magnum.

How much was enough in the old days, I think is largely a question of how much is enough today. Our standards of power in this country are .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .45 ACP, and a few others. We can note these are all relatively large caliber, powerful cartridges.

For our European friends, I think they felt adequately armed with .25 and .32 caliber semi-autos, because by contrast criminals in those countries were frequently NOT armed with firearms. Their strict firearms laws prevented this for awhile, but with the fall of the Soviet Union and even stricter firearms laws and less personal responsiblity, we can note that the Europeans have seen a need to increase the power of their firearms. We can also note however, that many European countries used large caliber, powerful revovlers early in the century. .455 Webley, .44 Russian, among others were the gold standard. Even the old guys like Fairbairn used .455 Webleys over there, knowing that the large caliber bullet and power of the cartridge was better than the smaller cartridges.

-Rob
 
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I'm going to re-post here my reply to the other question on this board "Do we really need .40 S&W?" I think my paragraph about guys from the gangster era is relavant here. Some may disagree, but that's okay. Here it is:

I've given this question some real serious thought since my first reply to it. Do we need .40 S&W?? What a really great question!!

Then I thought.....do we need .357 Sig, or .45 GAP?
Gee after looking at the ballistics for the .45 GAP I really wondered why Glock would bother to even develope such a cartidge Really would any disasterous police shootout have turned out any better if the LEOs had used .40 S&W????? Maybe so, or maybe not.

The FBI turned to the .40 after turning it's back on that oversized hand canon the 10mm. This was at a time when 9x19mm was all the rage and rave among police departments and civilians using semi-autos. Everyone seemed perfectly fine with the 9mm until a few high profile shootouts appeared in the media. Yeah bad guys with assault rifles shooting it out with FBI agents armed with only .38 special & 9mm pistols, with a 12 ga. shotgun available. It took too long to kill the well armed bad guys so everyone was brainwashed into believing that the 9mm (and .38 Spec) was no longer good anymore. Hmm....pistols against assault rifles....who do you think had superior firepower??? The outcome would have still been the same if the FBI had carried .45 ACP or if the .40 S&W had been available at that time. Then years later in 1997 North Hollywood.....LAPD armed with 9mm Berettas against bad guys with AKs and FALs wearing so much kevlar I'm amazed they could still stand up right. Get real, if 12ga shotguns with 00 buckshot couldn't stop those guys then why do some folks think a .45ACP or .40 S&W handgun would have??? They would NOT have saved the day either.

There is one old and excellent performing cartridge that has been used by both law enforcement and the outlaws of the gangster era. Yes it's the .38 Super. After seeing the ballistic and it's performance I wonder how such a cartidge could be so overlooked and under appreciated as this one is. Now mainly used by competition shooters in matches, rather than used for personal defense. Does it offer any special advantage to an untrained or under skilled shooter?? Probably not. Just amazed how everyone overlooks some good performers in favor of the latest greatest highly publicized new cartridge.

There was a really good post someone wrote on this forum about a retired NYPD cop on the beat during the 1950s who carried a .32 cal revolver and never felt under gunned with it. Going to the range today and seeing young folks with these new hand canons, he just chuckles and wonders if all this new stuff is overkill. It really does make me wonder if all these hot rod new cartridges offer any advantage?? The .38 Spec served as the predominat police cartridge for most of the 20th century (80 years) and is often still carried today.

People say that the criminals back then in the old days weren't like the bad guys today. They are right, in some cases these old bad guys were much much worse and far more dangerous that these punks of todays generation. Gee think of outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde and their Barrow Gang, Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd. These old bad guys really knew their guns and knew how to shoot too. The law fought these guys back and killed many with 6 shot .38 Special revolvers, 1911's in .45 ACP and .38 Super, rifles and shotguns of the day.

A bad guys is still human, no matter what era or how doped up he/she may be. A shot to the head or spine is a shot to the head or spine. A shot to a non-vital area still won't do much to stop many criminals. Tactics, strategy, mind set, and shot placement are far more important than caliber.
 
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
so many of the statistics seem to be based on how effective a given cartridge is after it has hit its intended target.
in order to be readily applicable it would be necessary to take into account any advantage of better or worse shot placement of the various cartridges, also that size of cartridge generally affects magazine capacity. so maybe a statistic relating to 'effectiveness per armed encounter' could offer a more useful measure.
with my 9mm i can consistently and repeatedly perforate fist size areas of a target out to 25 yds. I can note a decrease in accuracy when I go to 45 acp, and with my friends 44 magnum I have a hard time even knowing if I hit the target, plus less chances to do so.
so which is more effective?
 
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I agree with Peter. I think people today are over-gunned and under-practiced. It seems to be a uniquely American trait to be fixated on findng a super bullet instead of a reliable handgun and to practice regularly with it.
 

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Hi there all,

Great comments and observations!

Pointblank. I tend to agree that we are fixated on larger calibers and marginal marksmanship intending for the bullet to do the job of the underskilled shooter. Again, we are back to the topic of "bullet placement is everything".

On a historical note, S&W's top selling pistols have always been the smaller frame/caliber lines from its inception.

Chris
 
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I will agree that bullet placement is everything, up to a point. In the Miami shootout, the shot placement of the now-infamous and decidedly lethal 9mm round was good, but the bullet failed to penetrate enough to have an immediate impact. So, placement first, performance of the bullet once it arrives a close second. You can't have one without the other, or as has been written ad nauseum, we'd all be carrying .22 LRs!
 
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Ah, that infamous Miami shootout of 20 years ago. Bad tactics by the FBI, so they blamed the bullet. No pistol caliber is going to work all the time. One hit by any caliber is not guaranteed to stop an attacker, not even rifle rounds. To complicate matters no two people are alike. Also, their mental and physical states matter quite a bit. Are they in a state of rage, drunk, on drugs, insane? these things matter. Nothing can replace good tactics. This includes the use of cover and multiple hits on the attacker. Practice, plan and practice more.
 
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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
But a .44 Magnum in the heart beats a .22 Short that stops in the muscle tissue. Do you carry a .22 Short for self-defense? I doubt it. Do you carry a .44 Magnum? Probably not, but I'll bet you would choose it over a .22 Short if limited to only one gun for carry. Again, use enough gun. Enough.
 

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Gentlemen,

With all due respect, I would remind you, and us all. That what is deemed enough by one person may or may not be "enough" to another person. I think this has held true throughout our history as men. From the times of swords and arrows. When stone tools were "enough" for our early ancestors, metal tools were developed anyways. When those early bronze and copper tools were "enough" for those men, iron was developed, then steel, then refined. We still find that our tools are refined everyday. Some view this refinement as for the better others do not. Personally, I like both and can see the function in both.

Some of us feel that a .32 is "enough", others do not. Personally, I remember a very real lesson my father taught me. Was that a .22 LR round when fired at something you don't intend to hit, can fly a VERY long way. Basically, he meant that it doesn't matter what you shoot, so much as what you're shooting at and hitting.

-Rob
 

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Back to the "old days." The .36 Colt Navy was carried by lots of people (and folks in the Navy) while the U.S. Army had .44s and later .45s as sidearms.
When things took a turn to CQB in the navy, all sorts of gruesome mel
 

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Okay, a few historical notes.

The US Army at the dawn of the 20th century switched from the Colt SAA .45 to a double action .38 and it did not fare well against the Moros. The .38 they were using was basically what we know today as the .38 Colt or .38 S&W. NOT the .38 S&W Special. From memory, its ballistics are roughly somewhere around that of .380 ACP. They switched back to the .45 Colt. The .45 ACP, one of the first smokeless powder cartridges,was designed from the blackpowder .45 Colt.

The Mauser 96 and the Borchardt were the state of the art for semi-autos then. Good designs, but bulky. Winston Churchill carried a Mauser in South Africa during the Boer War.

Also at the dawn of the 20th century, JMB was designing all manner of small "pocket" pistols in light calibres. Remember that this was also the time when the first smokeless (nitro-cellulose) cartridges were being introduced. The target market for these guns were the upper classes of society, bankers, business owners, etc, who felt threatened by the high crime rates of the day (urban environment, poverty, etc.) The intent was "conflict resolution" at knife point distance. Calibres were generally .25, .32, & .380

Larger guns and calibres soon followed. Revolvers were beginning to be viewed as antiquated. Some countries, notably the USA and Germany in particular moved to the more advanced "self loaders". Hence 9mm Luger.

Europeans and Americans took somewhat divergent paths at this time. The Europeans found the smaller (.32 to 9mm) calibres adequate for law enforcement and military use. The US military accepted the .45 and never looked back until WWII. Law enforcement moved to the more powerful ".38" cartridges of the first half of the century -- .38 Spl & later, .357 Magnum. Somewhat ironically, the majority of US law enforcement agencies kept the .38 Spl into the late '80s.

Why the divergence? European police engagements were almost exclusively in densely populated cities and over-penetration was an issue even then. Their collective experience showed that the calibres were performing adequately.

Jump now to WWII. 9mm versus .45. Given the collective experiences of the combatants 9mm was chosen by most countries after WWII. Australia, Canada, the UK issued 9mms in limited quantities during hostilities, but only made the switch official AFTER the war. Curiously, Canada which issued .45 Colts during WWI, and to its paratroopers during early WWII, was the first to move to the Inglis 9mm.

Why did the US stay with the M1911? Literally hundreds of thousands of 1911s were in US arsenals along with Millions of rounds of ammunition. It was too expensive (fiscally imprudent) to change. It's much the same reason the M1 Garand was chambered in .30-06 instead of the cartridge John Garand designed it for. Mac Arthur made that call.

Jump now to the 1960s. Europe, particularly Germany was in the throes of urban guerilla warfare. Bader-Meinhoff, et al. Many of these urban terrorist groups had at least limited logistical support from the Eastern Block, much of it channeled throught the DDR. German Police soon found themselves facing fanatical, Marxist U.G.s armed with better, more modern weapons than the mostly pre-war Walthers filling their holsters. Munich sealed the deal. 9x19mm was the choice.

An earlier poster mentioned the FBI Miami shootout. He correctly stated that the outcome was the result of bad tactics. Rather than even confront the possibility that its training and tactics may have resulted in the deaths and injury of its agents, it scapegoated the weapons and calibres involved.

The FBI calibre studies that followed ended with the "Boo's" selection of the 10mm. Subsequent problems led to the development of the .40 S&W, which many big name gunwriters of the day called "Forty short and weak". Interestingly, the .40 is now the darling of US law enforcement.

What's the answer? Well, what's the question? If it's what calibre is best, then there is no right answer. If it's what works, then the answer is all of them, BUT you have to do YOUR job first.
 

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Thanks abninftr for the informative post and historical explication.

It does show that change is usually incremental and not radical.
As you note, John Garand designed a semi-auto battle rifle in a ten-shot .276 caliber form, but since all the MGs were .30-06, MacArthur ordered that the M-1 become the .30 caliber 8-shot weapon of WWII and Korea.

Thanks for the details on the U.S. military experience in the Philippines. In the war I study the U.S. took .30-40 Krags and .45-70 Springfields into battle against 7mm Mausers and .43 Remingtons and by 1903 had a .30 caliber clip-loading Mauser in the form of the Springfield rifle on the drawing board. While the Philippine war did lead to the development of the semi-auto 1911 .45, the U.S. officers and indigenous personnel in the Constabulary actually went back to using .45 SAA revolvers in many cases. In S. Texas LE often carried Colt SAA well into the 1920s and beyond!

Last, in the issues you raise around the 9mm's adoption during and after the WWII period, have you seen any information that the move was done by appeals to quicker training time with the pistol? I have heard it said that 9mm was often urged to ease pistol marksmanship training. Also, it is my understanding that the U.S. military issued lots of .38 caliber revolvers for pilots, MPs, and other troops, so that the 9mm's adoption in U.S. service--to the consternation of .45 devotees since--was to eliminate the plethora of different guns that were being fielded?
 

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Generally, the 9mm was adopted because of its performance on the battlefield, and the lack of performance of the .38/200 Webley and Enfield revolvers the Commonwealth forces were using. Training was not an issue.

The US military did indeed issue non .45 chambered weapons in WWII, including .38 special revolvers & .380 Colt semi-autos. They were still issueing aircrews the .38 revolvers into the 1990s.
 

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Just to elaborate:

During my years in RVN almost all the USA/USAF aircrew I flew carried Smith and Wesson Model 10 (?) revolvers. I did know one sergeant who carried his personal property .357.

I remember that during one SERE course we were shown the flare rounds (?) on issue for the .38 even though we carried small "pen flares".

During WWII, the Colt .380s were generally issued to staff officers and bomber crews. Quite a number of the S&W .38s went to carrier pilots and aircrewmen. More than a few of the Pacific ground combat veterans I've talked to over the years said that they preferred revolvers because they were more reliable.
 
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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Yes it's true Abinftr, the US military stuck with the 1911 in .45 ACP after WWII because they already had many thousands in arsenal and it was simply unwise, foolish, and expensive to just junk them and replace them. Actually the US military had been considering adopting a service pistol in 9mm since the early 1950's. They only stuck with the 1911's until the vast majority of them were wearing out by the late 1970's and early 1980's and since many government owned and operated arsenals that rebuilt guns had closed their doors (Springfield Armory for one). I know I'm going to get flamed here, but not many people realize this fact. It's true, the US has been seeking a replacement for the .45ACP M1911 for over 50 years

The M1911 .45 ACP with all it's reputation and legends is still a great weapon/caliber, but I've never believed that a .45 ACP offers any particular stellar advantage over similar offerings like the .40 S&W or the original 9x19mm loadings, in a full sized gun, let alone compact models. I just happen to shoot full sized 1911's very well, so I do like the weapon/caliber and am not knocking it.

I can say from experience that there are other calibers (that some find inadequit) that have much higher velocity and much better penetrating ability than the 230gr .45 ACP. Yeah I've used a lot of old various junk as targets over the years, shooting them with .45 ACP, 9mm and .40 S&W


The fact is that for as much that is written and studied about it, stoppingpower really is still not very well understood. Every individual is different and every shooting situation different regarless of era or generation.

I've hunted big game for years, as have others here I'm sure. Any hunter knows that often times a high powered rifle shot to a vital area on an animal not always results in an instant drop or kill. With that being said, what makes anyone believe that an auto loading pistol cartridge will produce instant immediate results. No firearm is a magic wand of instant death unless it's a direct penetrating shot to the brain.
 
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