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Comments Regarding the The U.S. Army Tests of 1904
Bruce L. Jones
Program Manager Infantry Weapons
USMC - Pacific Theater

        Because the stopping power of the Army .38 caliber revolvers had proven very unsatisfactory in actual field use, it was decided to study the relative stopping power of various handgun cartridges then in existence with the view of adopting a new weapon for military use. The board convened for this purpose was headed by Col. John T. Thompson (Of Thompson submachine gun fame) and Col. Louis A. LaGarde. The calibers selected for testing were the .30 (7.65mm) and 9mm Luger, .38 Colt Army revolver, .38 Colt Auto Pistol, .45 Colt Revolver, .45 Colt Auto, (1905 version) .455 Colt and the .476 Colt. The ballistics of these guns and cartridges are listed below:

Cartridge Bullet Wt. Velocity Energy
.30 Luger 93 grs. 1420 fps 415ft/lbs.
9 mm Luger 123 grs. 1048 fps 301ft/lbs.
.38 Colt Army 148 grs. 763 fps 191ft/lbs.
.38 Colt Auto. 130 grs. 1107 fps 354ft/lbs.
.45 Colt Auto. 200 grs. 900 fps 405ft/lbs.
.45 Colt Rev. 250 grs. 720 fps 288ft/lbs.
.455 Colt 218 grs. 801 fps 288ft/lbs.
.476 Colt 288 grs. 729 fps 340ft/lbs.

        The test series consisted of first firing shots from all of the handguns into human cadavers. Movement or oscillation of the cadavers on impact of the shot was noted as well as the apparent tissue and other damage. Results were studied both by X-ray and dissection.

        It was consistently demonstrated that the degree and magnitude of oscillation of the cadavers was always greater with the larger caliber bullets. The amount of sway caused by the .30, 9mm and .38 caliber bullets was always small, more like a tremor in most cases. On impact by any of the large caliber bullets limb movement or oscillation of the entire body was quite marked.

        The wound channels generally corresponded to the diameter of the bullet, but with the exit wound being larger than the entrance wound. The small caliber high velocity bullets generally demonstrated clean penetration of bones whereas the larger calibers tended to fracture and fissure bone structure. The tendency to fracture was more pronounced by all calibers in areas of long bone, away from the joints. Lead bullets showed a greater fracture effect than full jacketed or the soft point bullets available at that time in handgun velocities.

        Head wounds were an entirely different proposition, and a small caliber high velocity bullet of full jacketed or soft point type caused a tremendous amount of fragmentation in the skull cap, with resultant greater disruption of brain tissue. Large caliber bullets at lower velocity did not always penetrate through the skull and did not create the same degree of fragmentation. Such a blow to the skull is likely to disorientate and knock out a live target -so this may be this would have produced a "stop" in real life.

        It was found that lead bullets tended to deform and also tumble more frequently than jacketed bullets and, either through deformation or tumbling, often did more tissue damage than jacketed bullets. Most wounds made by the smaller caliber bullets were judged more easily and rapidly healed than those made by the larger diameter bullets.

        The second part of this Army test involved shooting into live animals in order to observe the actual effect on living tissue. On the killing floor of the Chicago stockyards, shots were fired under controlled conditions at a range of 3 feet into steers and horses. No shots were fired into vital organs such as the heart or brain, all shots being fired into the lung or intestinal areas. The effect of the shooting on the animal was noted, and it was then immediately dispatched in the usual way. If an animal failed to drop by the tenth shot, firing stopped.

        PW: Steers and horses are much larger than humans, and the distance that a shock wave from a wound would have to travel to a major nerve centre is much greater. Distance needed to reach a major blood vessel is also greater. Such animals are not analogues for humans. The early researchers didn't see this as a factor as they considered it all relative for merely the sake of comparison. In 1904 horse-mounted Cavalry were still a major part of the army and the pistol was considered one of their major weapons. The capability to kill enemy horses was considered a major function of a handgun.

        With the .30 Luger, in no instances did an animal drop by the tenth shot and in fact none of them appeared to suffer great pain, shock or distress even after the tenth shot. Animals shot with the 9mm or the .38 Colt auto showed greater distress and by the sixth or seventh shot showed great distress, shock or exhaustion and usually dropped before the eighth shot. The effect of the .38 Colt Army revolver was about the same although perhaps not quite so pronounced as the two automatic rounds.

        With the .45 Colt revolver the animals showed great shock and distress and usually dropped by the fourth shot. With the .455 and .476 caliber revolvers the animal usually dropped by the third shot. Those shot by the large calibers would begin to bleed from the nose and mouth by the second or third shot. This did not happen with the smaller calibers. (This is presumably bloody froth from damage to lung blood vessels)

        The major conclusions drawn from the Army lethality tests of 1904 are as follows:

  1. Within the velocity range possible with handguns there is no marked effect from velocity alone other than greater penetration.

  2. At handgun velocities there is little difference in the effect of different bullet materials (lead or jacketed) when traversing flesh. However, lead bullets will inflict more damage when they strike bone.

  3. In flesh there appears to be little difference between a sharp pointed or round nosed bullet. On the other hand, a flat or blunt point does substantially more damage to blood vessels and bone and has less tendency to be deflected by bone or cartilage.

  4. The weight of the bullet may be critical, it is to be noted that the most effective bullets were not only of large caliber, but also the heaviest weight.

  5. The diameter or caliber of the bullet is important because at handgun velocities expansion of soft point or other expanding bullets is not reliable. The larger diameter bullets simply destroy more tissue and blood vessels because they affect a larger cross sectional area and attack it with more weight.

        There were other tests to follow, of course. The net result was the Army's adoption of a .45 cartridge firing a 230-gr. jacketed bullet at 855 fps. The jacketed bullet does better with skull penetrations and damage. Lesser velocity works very well as the British later noted, but this higher velocity was a compromise to achieve better penetration of heavy clothing.

        During the 1920's the British conducted a series of experiments in the course of which they also fired handguns into cadavers and live animals. Their conclusion was that diameter of the projectile made less difference than weight. Weight and velocity were the most important factors and the velocity had to be low, not high. They concluded that a 200-gr. projectile traveling at an initial velocity of about 650 fps was ideal for good short-range stopping power. The reason for the low velocity was so that the bullet would expend its entire energy within the target and not carry on through. They adopted the .38/ 200 cartridge, really nothing more than the old .38 S&W (known as the "Super Police" when loaded with the 200-gr. bullet) in the middle 1930's. It was known officially as the .380 Revolver Mk I and had a 200-gr. bullet of .359" diameter that developed a muzzle velocity of 630 fps. It was to replace their .455 Webley which had a 265-gr. bullet with a MV of 600 fps. Both were used in WWII and there are conflicting reports as to their relative effectiveness.

        As time went on, report was issued by the U.S. Army after the Korean War entitled, "Weapons Usage in Korea", by S.L.A. Marshal. All of the general infantry weapons were evaluated by field studies both during and after combat. According to this report, the .45 Automatic was regarded by the combat troops as superior to the .30 caliber carbine for close range fighting because of its superior stopping power. The .45 Auto was very highly regarded in the Korean War.

        Canadian troops in the Korean War were armed with the 9mm Browning auto pistol and many of the Canadians traded their 9mm's for the .45. The only time the 9mm proved superior to the .45 was if the enemy troops were wearing light body armor and heavy clothing. The 9mm with its higher velocity gave better penetration, but the .45 had the best stopping power against unarmored personnel. The .45 Auto proved very effective in certain types of fighting required in Korea, usually at ranges of from 15 to 25 yards, although there were instances of effective use at ranges out to 50-60 yards.

         Modern tests bear out the 1904 findings. The old formula still works and velocity seems to have little effect as far as velocity can be varied in pistols. If huge increases in velocities can be affected, for example –an extra 1000 fps, there are gains made. But then, you may as well be shooting a rifle.

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