Only 15 to 20% of Combat Soldiers in WWII Would Fire at Enemy


Marshall was a U.S. Army historian in the Pacific theater during World War II and later became the official U.S. historian of the European theater of operations. He had a team of historians working for him, and they based their findings on individual and mass interviews with thousands of soldiers in more than 400 infantry companies immediately after they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops. The results were consistently the same: Only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire at the enemy. Those who would not fire did not run or hide—in many cases they were willing to risk greater danger to rescue comrades, get ammunition, or run messages. They simply would not fire their weapons at the enemy, even when faced with repeated waves of banzai charges.

Why did these men fail to fire? As a historian, psychologist, and soldier, I examined this question and studied the process of killing in combat. I have realized that there was one major factor missing from the common understanding of this process, a factor that answers this question and more: the simple and demonstrable fact that there is, within most men and women, an intense resistance to killing other people. A resistance so strong that, in many circumstances, soldiers on the battlefield will die before they can overcome it.

(via Reddit)

  • Andrew

    I find this statistic startling. It almost makes you realize how anything was accomplished. Obviously “the bomb” stopped the pacific theater, but how on earth did we beat the germans/italians?

  • My dad told me often that he found most italians would rather “leggit” than stand and fight – though one did stick around long enough to toss a grenade into the fox hole he was in – it killed his mates and blew part of his left foot off (which brought him out of the war)

  • Schmoo

    Andrew: Who said the same didn’t apply to the Germans and Italians?

  • Dave

    Yeah I wonder what the stats are for other armies, past and present. My guess is that in WW2 the Japanese were much more willing to shoot, judging from historical records on how brutal their military training was – Japanese soldiers were truly animals.

    And combat footage from Iraq seems to show everyone shooting.

  • Markus

    I heard that it was as a result of these statistics that recruit training was radically changed after the war, to create a soldier that was more capable of killing. I wonder how that kill training has evolved since the end of WW2 to make the soldier more effective? And what effect does such training have on the mind of soldiers today, in and out of battle?

  • Connor

    I’ve heard of this statistic before and in a military history book I read (I don’t remember which one) it contradicted this statistic as being unfounded in fact and based on shody data collection following stressful military action. The gist of it was that many battles simply couldn’t have been won with this statistic in mind.

  • cerebulon

    My Dad was a Marine in the Korean War. He told me everyone in his group returned fire whenever they were attacked. He also mentioned that it was mostly cover fire, and not really aimed at anyone in particular. Apparently, they had one guy who was good with an M79, and everyone would cover him. He was the one who would actually make the kills.

    As for foreign fighters, my Dad also mentioned that he fought along side two Turks – although I can’t recall why. He mentioned that they were the two biggest psychos he’d ever met. He said they would leave their guns behind and head into the jungle with only their machetes. They would return hours later with people’s heads.

    I’m thankful I’ve lived in relatively peaceful times.

  • pius darwin

    ive also heard that as a result of this info the US army changed their training to make them much more willing to actually shoot.

    as others have mentioned, most shooting in war is covering fire and virtually every bullet misses its target.

    so in world war two only 1 in 200 bullets hit any target.

    now that soldiers have been trained to be trigger happy…
    in iraq it is estimated that 1 in 50,000 bullets hits their target. this seems crazy but have a look at this:
    “The defense request for the budget year that begins Oct. 1 seeks $88 million for 267 million M855s.”
    267 million of just one type of bullet. the vast majority will be used in iraq and afghanistan.
    at a rate of 1 in 50,000 that would mean 5340 hits. i would be surprised if they actually got that many hits in one year from one type of bullet.

  • john

    it just makes me wonder if i would actually want to shoot at another fellow human being

  • I am sorry but there are more fundamental facts as to why a soldier shoots but misses the target.
    When you consider the ammunition expended and the shot to kill ratio of Vietnam/ 1st world war/ 2nd world war you will find the ratio’s substantially higher.
    The average military or police shooter is in actual fact better trained as a target shooter rather than a combat shooter.
    The emotional or mental elements of killing a human are not part of my comments at this point.
    And so the gist of this message is.
    The average military shooter Can Not Combat Shoot.
    His natural ability to free shoot is very much strangled by the Military Doctrine and training regime that imagined that many thousands of enemy would come over the hill in a long line leading of course to a rapid fire turkey shoot. The reality of course these days is that the battlefield has changed.
    And the training techniques have not.
    When you know where a target will be each and every second the training is wasted.
    We are sending a shooter into a combat theatre trained like a butcher but we want him to shoot like a surgeon ( not a chance )

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    Range Robot Combat Shooting System.
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    Maximum range 10 mtrs- 20 feet Minimum range 5 feet.
    Ten rounds loaded in the magazine.
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    If you can hit the target 10 times.
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