Laemlein, Tom. U.S. Small Arms in World War II: A Photographic History of the Weapons in Action.

Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey, 2011.

If you’ve seen any movie about World War II, from The Sands of Iwo Jima to Saving Private Ryan, you’ve observed a variety of “small arms” (i.e., hand-held) in use by infantrymen. And the odds are, unless you’re a military historian, or you’re old enough to have been a veteran yourself, they all looked pretty much the same.

I mean, a .45 Colt sidearm is obviously different from a rifle, and the Thompson Submachine Gun is highly recognizable on its own, but can you tell a Model 1903 Springfield from a Model 1917 Enfield? (Both were still in use through most of the war.) Can you even distinguish an M1 Garrand from an M1 Carbine?

The author (son of a World War II infantry veteran) is a firearms collector who became a specialist publisher and it’s obvious that he knows his stuff. There are chapters on the Colt .45 automatic and the S&W .38 revolver, the elegant Thompson and its rivals, the M3 “grease gun” (an ugly little weapon but effective and much cheaper to produce than the Tommy gun), the Reising, and the UD Marlin, the four classic rifles noted above (Patton considered the M1 Garand the greatest “implement of war” ever invented), the BAR (very heavy to lug around but a feared long-range killer), the rifle and light machine gun invented by Melvin Johnson (which almost no one has ever heard of, and justifiably so), a variety of shotguns, and the two Browning machine guns in .30 and .50 caliber — the latter being on the outer edge of what can be considered “small arms.”

The photos themselves range from demonstration shots for training and posed photos (though taken at the front) for consumption by the media back home, to action shots by military photographers where you can see spent cartridges frozen in mid-air. The captions are very detailed and descriptive, both on the weapons themselves and on the units that carried them, and where.

It’s an excellent book for anyone with an interest in the details of 20th-century infantry weapons, especially historians and collectors. The only thing the author might have added, in my view, would have been a technical drawing or plate of each weapon, pointing out the sometimes subtle differences from one to another, since such things are often not clear in the photos themselves.

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Published in: on 15 February 2015 at 2:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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