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Misfire: The Story of How America's Small Arms Have Failed Our Military Hardcover – October 17, 1994

4.1 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Military historian Hallahan describes how, from the Revolutionary War to the present, the U.S. Army has resisted adopting appropriate and much-needed small arms. This unhappy situation is typified in his account of President Lincoln's struggle to introduce the breech-loading rifle into the Union Army despite the obstructionist tactics of his powerful chief of ordnance. The most interesting chapters deal with three armorers of genius and their campaigns to convince the Army to adopt their inventions: Hiram Maxim and his mechanically operated machine gun, John Browning and his gas-operated small arms and John Garand and his semiautomatic M1 rifle (which General Patton called the greatest battle implement ever devised). Hallahan reveals that on the eve of almost every U.S. war, the nation's armory has been so ill-prepared that no rifles were available to our troops, and he wonders if we will be caught once again in a major war with the wrong rifle, i.e., the M16A2. Arguing that superior firepower, not the best-aimed weapon, wins battles, he fears that the Army has double-crossed itself again by restricting the automatic fire of that weapon to a three-round burst. This authoritative history of Army Ordnance's bureaucratic self-sabotage should be of wide interest. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Hallahan offers an eloquent, polemical critique of what he describes as the U.S. Army's consistent failure to provide its infantry with state-of-the-art small arms. The army rejected a breechloading rifle in the 1830s. It fought the Civil War with muzzle-loading Springfields instead of readily available magazine rifles. The Lewis Gun, World War I's best light automatic, was ignored in the homeland of its inventor. The MI A2, today's standard rifle, has no full-automatic capacity. Hallahan argues that professional soldiers suspect the ability of draftees and volunteers to use a rapid-firing weapon properly. More convincing is his denunciation of the "gravel-belly" mentality: a belief in long-range aimed fire, dating from the army's earliest history, despite the massive body of evidence that fire power is more effective on the modern battlefield than sharpshooting. This work suffers from overstatement but is a useful contribution to the subject of weapons procurement.
D.E. Showalter, U.S. Air Force Acad., Colorado Springs
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 580 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First edition (October 17, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684193590
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684193595
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #879,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on July 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Though there are some errors in his historical procedure - Hallahan sometimes puts out info and dosen't back it up with historical data the book is excellent. If one believes that our goverment and senior leadership supplies only the best equipment to our troops read this book. If one thinks that goverment can run ANYTHING more efficiently then private industry read this book. And if one is thinking about enlisting head full of Tom Clancy's prose and recruiting commercials - well you know. I wish this book was still in print. An excellent read.
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By A Customer on October 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
While the author presents a very interesting and enlightening view of army ordnance and small arms, the book has some holes. The most annoying with respect to the thesis is that the author consistently introduces men in the Ordnance department as new and progressive, and then two pages later they're reactionary with no explanation of the transformation.
Furthermore, as soon as he strays from strictly smallarms matters (especially in the chapters concerning the period between the World Wars), his statements vary from misleading to blatantly incorrect. Also, he describes the Dreyse needle-gun, differently, three times, and only gets it right once. This leads me to doubt the accuracy of the book with weapons I am not as familiar with. Finally, there are a surprising number of typos and grammatical errors.
I highly recommend reading it, but keep a supply of salt grains handy while you do.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At least in terms of the eras with which I am familiar (post-War Between the States to the book's present), it's an interesting read with some serious flaws. The book is riddled with factual and technical errors, going beyond simple typos - of which there are a disconcerting number considering it's from a major publishing house - to actually bring Hallahan's theses into doubt. It's fairly clear he has no practical experience with some of the weapons he's writing about (e.g. the Lewis gun, the Benet-Mercie/Hotchkiss Portable, the Vickers MMG) and either praising or damning, as well as facts regarding the design, testing, and production of various rifles (e.g. the M1917 Enfield), or the field use of such arms. While I don't hold the author completely responsible for these issues, as some of them arise from more recent scholarship, it's still troubling to find multiple errors on a page with regularity.

Get the book because it's an interesting story based on real events, but don't regard it as a documentary or serious scholarly work. The earlier review that said to keep some salt handy while reading is spot-on.
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Format: Hardcover
This book shocked and angered me. 180 years of American troops armed with small arms that have been far beneath the firepower our troops could have had. Halahan shows that our troops could easily have had fast firing breechloading muskets in the War Of 1812, repeating rifles in the Civil War, machine guns by the middle of that bloody conflict and on and on and on. Why have our troops never been armed with better weapons? Because our design and procurement operations have been controlled by a consistent philosophy: if we give the troops fast firing weapons, they'll use up too much ammunition and cause supply problems. I can't remember a book that has made me so angry. Halahan should have a chapter in every high school history text. This is a horrifying history of American troops sacrified by a philosophy that I cannot accept as valid - and neither will you.
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Format: Hardcover
Why is Hallahan's "Misfire" out of print only five years after its publication? As important as this book's message is, it's far more than the pinpointing of a disastrous military philosophy; more even than an indictment of military boneheadedness and the incredible intransigence of bumbling bureaucrats. It's also an engaging work of history with threads stretching back to the Revolutionary War, with intriguing sidelights on a number of historical figures including Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and his cabinet, almost down to the present--all written in lively prose. Very readable from beginning to end, and highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Hallahan's book is the startling story of the inadequate arming of America's infantry by the Army Ordinance Corps. Through nearly 2 centuries of failure (the only exception being the choice of the M-1 in WWII), this organization continues with its business ostensibly answering to no one.
This is an important book with respect to the history of technology as well as in the book's demonstration of the government's failure in making rational decisions with regard to technology.
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Format: Hardcover
After 17 years and counting of Army service, some of which was spent as an enlisted infantryman, and others as an Ordnance officer, I agree with Hallahan's premise that bureaucracy and personal agendas have often hampered the selection and implementation of effective small arms. I also agree with his assessment that the "gravel belly" concept is largely outdated. His synopsis of the histories of our different small arms over the years is very telling in that regard.

Like other reviewers, however, I am a bit dismayed at the number of typographical errors in the book, especially since the publisher is a major (and respected) one. In addition, Hallahan seems to be unfamiliar with some basic firearms terminology, often using "clip" and "magazine" interchangeably -- which they are NOT.

Overall, I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in firearms or military history, but as others have said, keep your salt nearby.
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