Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Common Mistakes in Military Writing.

You may be working on a TV or movie script or creating a video game. You may be writing a news report, sourcebook, article or novel. The chances are that sooner or later you will have to deal with weapon or military related topics. Using the wrong term can easily make your efforts worthless nonsense. Here are some common mistakes that can easily be avoided.


One of the most common and prevalent mistakes is also one of the easiest to avoid. There are few ways that will as easily destroy your credibility or that of your character as this mistake. A “clip” is not a “magazine”. Despite common misuse “clip” is not an alternative term for “magazine”, they are separate and distinct things.  A clip is a mechanical component that fits inside a magazine. To say they are the same is like claiming a rabbit is the same as a burrow or a sock the same as a foot! It is not “semantics”, it is just plain wrong! I have known at least one veteran soldier who would grind his teeth every time a journalist, screen writer or supposed “expert” gun writer made this mistake. Details that you may not appreciate may matter a lot to others. If you cannot get a basic detail like this right you might as well give up writing.

The quick rule of thumb is, if you want to use “clip” you should use “magazine”. For small arms clips are something of an anachronism and only found is some vintage weapons. Very few modern firearms require ammunition to be loaded into a clip. Rounds fit directly into the magazine. Futuristic weapons are very unlikely to use a clip. See here for more detailed explanations. If you take one thing away from this article, make it this and your writing will have improved considerably.


Shrapnel is a term that needs to be treated with some caution. Strictly speaking shrapnel comes from a shrapnel shell. Typically a shrapnel shell contains a mass of musket balls of around half an inch diameter. Unlike a shotgun shell or canister load a shrapnel shell explodes in mid-air to release its cargo. Shrapnel shells were adopted in 1803, copied by other nations and saw a decline in use during the First World War, the large infantry formations that were the intended target becoming uncommon. Some later designs such as the AHEAD anti-aircraft round could be legitimately described as shrapnel. The term is actually seldom used in modern military technology publications. See here for a space warfare application of shrapnel.

Most of the time someone uses the term “shrapnel” they actually mean splinters or fragments. It could be argued shrapnel has become a generic term for such things but its more definite meaning can cause problems. I recently read a book where the author spoke of “ground strewn with jagged shrapnel”, which is a ludicrous oxymoron to the educated reader. A very nice example of the problem was in the BBC Musketeers series where a character claims men have been wounded by shrapnel. Not only did she actually mean wooden splinters and stone fragments, but this constitutes an anachronism too.

It is tempting to use specialized jargon to create the impression that you are knowledgeable. Not doing your research and using it wrongly can create the opposite effect.

Shrapnel is a term best reserved for character dialogue only.


You will find assertions that the term “silencer” is wrong and that the correct term is “suppressor” or “moderator”. This is a modern affection and is actually wrong. Maxim’s first designs were called “silencers” so the term is legitimate. Many people who claim this is wrong call magazines “clips”, which tells you all you really need to know about them! Suppressor and moderator are more fashionable terms in modern usage so are the terms more likely to be used by characters familiar with firearms or military hardware. What term a character uses will depend on their familiarity with such devices and their era. A cop in the 1920s or a modern civilian non-shooter is likely to claim a suspect had a silencer.

Graticule vs Reticule.

This is an easy one to remember. A graticule has some form of graduations, a reticule does not.


In some older books “revolver” is used as a generic term for a pistol or handgun. Characters will draw a revolver which in a later passage is identified as a Luger! You will also see revolvers treated as being distinct from pistols. This confusion is the result of “automatic” being dropped from “automatic pistol”. Revolvers are actually a subset of pistols or handguns, so calling them pistols is permissible.

A revolver has a cylinder with a number of chambers in it. One round goes into each chamber. Typically there are six chambers. Small revolvers and large calibre designs may have fewer chambers. Small calibre revolvers or some more modern designs may have more. You can say that a revolver only has “two shots in its cylinder”. You cannot say it only has “two shots in its chamber”.

Revolvers have a gap between the barrel and the chamber. Therefore most revolvers cannot effectively use a suppressor/ silencer. There are exceptions to this but that stable of 70s cop shows, the detective special with a little Champaign cork-sized thing on the muzzle, is pure fantasy.

Trading Shots.

If two units are “trading shots” they are shooting at each other. I would have thought that did not have to be explained, but I recently read a book where several times artillery “trade salvos” and the shots are then described as being targeted against other units.

Incidentally, a weapon is not “the answer to…” another system unless it is a direct counter to it. The German Nebelwerfer was not the answer to the Soviet Stalin’s Organ, it was its equivalent.


Like many institutions and cultures the military have their own jargon, some of which are effectively shibboleth. You should familiarize yourself with some of these before writing on the subject. For traditional reasons the British rifleman will call his bayonet “a sword”, no matter how short the blade. A private of a rifle regiment will be a “rifleman”, not a “trooper” incidentally. A more common tradition is the US military practice of calling caps and hats “covers”.

A tradition to note is that US marines do not refer to themselves as “soldiers”. One marine will never call another a soldier. I have even seen a marine chewing out kindergarten children on this when the children had sent a letter “hoping that he and the other soldiers were safe”. Traditions and terminology matter.


In the English-speaking militaries an NCO is never addressed as “sir”. Civilians may be addressed as “sir”, officers are “sir” but corporals, sergeants and warrant officers are never “sir”.

You should not write on military matters unless you have some comprehension of rank and how it fits into a military structure. A major would not normally command a rifle squad, nor would he be commanding a division. There is a movie where a character is introduced as “a colonel in the SAS”. Generally regiments only have one colonel, and they are unlikely to be twenty-somethings who are sent to single-handedly deal with alien invasions.
I could fill a book with dumb and avoidable mistakes in modern media. Don’t assume you know things, do some research. Some of your assumptions will prove to be misconceptions, which may be uncomfortable and difficult to accept. Don’t claim an aircraft has a twelve cylinder engine when a couple of seconds’ research will tell the reader it had nine. Don’t fuel your T34 with gasoline. Don’t give a character a laser weapon and then have him notice the increased recoil. A shotgun is not a rifle. “RPG” does not actually stand for “rocket propelled grenade”. “Chain guns” do not have multiple spinning barrels. Decimate does not mean “nearly wipe out”. “Shaped-charge/ hollow-charge/ HEAT” does not melt through armour, it forces through.

Good writing is in the details. Not bothering to get the details right shows a contempt for your reader and your subject. Even if your writing is not sympathetic to the topic getting your details right can only help you convey your message.  
Just as important as getting your details right is to be consistent. I have read books where a firearm changes calibre four times in a short paragraph, sometimes within the same sentence! In a book I read recently a character is described as a “dashing colonel”. Later in the same scene he worries about offending a superior officer who is a major. On the next page he is engaged in conversation and is frequently addressed as “major”. In a later scene set a day or so later he is once again called a colonel. This is just sloppy and there is not really any defence for this.
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Friday, 5 May 2017

Getting Old.

Recently I have been re-reading Appleseed, trying to pin down the aspects of utopias hinted at in the first two books. I have been using the snipping tool to copy particularly relevant panels for later consideration. The panel below is not relevant to this theme, but is an interesting idea in its own right.

Then, two days ago, facebook publishes a “memory” from several years back. Turns out that I have already written a blog about Appleseed, utopias and competition. I had completely forgotten about this.

So effectively had I forgotten this article that I actually enjoyed re-reading it. It had some insightful points and is probably far better than the article that I was intending to write.

Evidently I am getting old and my memory is failing. On the positive side I guess that will allow me to better enjoy my movie collection once again. Providing I can remember where I live!

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Thursday, 4 May 2017

Survival Weapons: Optimizing Your Arsenal

When I wrote “Survival Weapons: Optimizing Your Arsenal” I tried to include all the information that I might want from such a book if I were purchasing it. Thus the chapter on shotguns explains choke and there are numerous tables to help the reader understand pellet sizes, pellet counts and what loads are best suited to what game.

There is a whole chapter on exterior ballistics that explains near and far zero and other influence such as wind effects and target speed. I included stuff that is not usually covered such as how canting a weapon or shooting to a higher or lower elevation target will change the point of impact.

The book includes a number of snap-shooting techniques that can be used when there is insufficient time to take careful aim. There is a chapter on a various types of sighting system and how to zero them correctly. There is a chapter on using your sling as a shooting aid and how to make a sling both lighter and quieter. There is information to help you choose firearms for defensive purposed for both two and four-legged threats.

In addition to all the gun-related content I have included several chapters on the selection, use and care of survival knives. There is also a discussion of improvised weapons for defence and food gathering.

Whilst I can obviously be accused of bias, I think this is a very fine little book, packed with useful information and very good value for the price.
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Sunday, 30 April 2017

Middle Finger Trigger

Since last week’s post I have had some time to further explore the point shooting website.

It seems the idea of using the middle finger on the trigger dates back to at least the 1800s. It was once considered to be a valid alternative for shooters. One factor for discouraging its use seems to have been the adoption of the Colt M1911. As described on this page, the index finger pressing on the takedown pivot on the frame of a M1911 can cause a malfunction. The US Army pistol manual still encourages the soldier to use his natural pointing ability, then instructs him to use the finger he naturally points with for something else!

The USMC manual on pistol marksmanship wisely tells us A firm grip is essential for good trigger control.” and that “The pressure applied to the grip must be equal to or more than the pressure required to move the trigger to the rear.”

An interesting feature of using the middle finger on the trigger is that the hand makes four points of contact with the weapon. At the top it is held between thumb and the pointed forefinger. On the grip it is held by the two lower fingers. The pressure on the trigger is applied between these two points. Mechanically, this is quite a stable configuration.

Contrast this with the “traditional” grip using the index finger on the trigger. The bottom part of the grip is held by three fingers and pressure is applied higher up. Mechanically, that is a lever!

US Army manual FM-3-23.35 tells us Poor shooting is caused by the aim being disturbed before the bullet leaves the barrel of the weapon.” and that “A slight off-center pressure of the trigger finger on the trigger can cause the weapon to move and disturb the firer’s sight alignment… Trigger squeeze is the independent movement of the trigger finger in applying increasing pressure on the trigger straight to the rear, without disturbing the sight alignment until the weapon fires… If pressure from the trigger finger is applied to the right side of the trigger or weapon, the strike of the bullet will be to the left. This is due to the normal hinge action of the fingers… The firer must not apply pressure left or right but should increase finger pressure straight to the rear.”
Applying trigger pressure “straight to the rear” can be problematic if you use the final section of your index finger. To be consistent the same region of the finger section must always make contact with the trigger. Some shooters try to use the crease of the finger if their finger is long enough to allow this. With some guns your index finger has to reach for the trigger at a downward angle too. This may affect moving the trigger straight to the rear.

If you operate the trigger with your middle finger the point of contact will be the middle section of the second finger. This will give a more consistent trigger operation, allowing any inequalities in pressure to be compensated for.

Another advantage of using the middle finger is that the gun sits lower in the hand, reducing the effects of recoil and muzzle climb.

The middle finger is also stronger, which may explain why Ruby used his for a double action revolver.

This page describes how to construct an “aiming aid” or “index guide” from plastic cornering and double-sided tape. On this page are some patents for alternate devices. An important point to grasp, however, is that these are optional. Providing you have a suitable weapon you can try this technique without any modifications or financial outlay. In absence of a firearm you can try it with an airsoft, an airgun, a toy or whatever.

The point shooting website concentrates on shooting when there is insufficient time to use the sights. Middle finger triggering can also be used when the sights are being used. My subjective impression is that this grip causes the sights to align with the intended target a fraction quicker. Because the pressure that you are applying to the trigger may be different using this method your mean point of impact (MPI) may change. Judge the groups on their consistency rather than how close they are to the sighted point of aim. If there is an improvement in your performance you can adjust your sights later.

When I first tried this technique I noted a tendency to grasp the trigger when picking up the “weapon”. A simple solution is to adopt the habit of holding your first two fingers in a “V” sign as you reach for your weapon. Just remember “Peace to my piece”!

The Vermont UFC and police academy report on the technique included a useful list of weapons they found to be suitable. Note that this list includes rifles, shotguns and SMGs in addition to pistols. I will confess to being surprised the little Seecamp .32 was found to be suitable! This list is, of course, not comprehensive and only lists the models tried in the Vermont study. There will be other suitable models of weapon.

SIG - P228, P229, P239, P220, P230, P232, P225, P226
S&W - 4506, 3903, 39, 59, 66, 49, 1006, 4006, 622, 3000 Shotgun
Colt - 1911 (Caution), Python Trooper, Detective Special
H&K - P7M13, USP, MP5 Navy, MP5SD
Glock - 17 thru 33
Beretta - 92, 96, Cougar, SMG
Ruger - P89, Blackhawk, GP1000, Security Six
Seacampo - 32 (Seecamp?)
Remington - 870, 1187, 1100, 870 Marine, M-24
Bennelli - Super 90, M1
Ithica (Ithaca)- Model 37
Mossberg - 500 Series
USN-SEAL - 300 Win. Mag. Sniper rifle
US Military:
- M16A1 @ 300 meters
- M14 @ 500 meters
- M21 @ 500 meters
- M1 @ 300 meters
- M24 @ 700 meters

In short, you have nothing to lose in trying this technique. If you do not like it or it does not suit your shooting style then at least you tried it out before you decided, unlike some of its critics. If you find it better/ easier, you have gained! To paraphrase Bruce Lee: “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not”.

It would be nice to see using the middle finger included in firearm course as an option. It would also be nice if more firearms incorporated an index guide into their design. A simple groove or a narrow ledge between the slide or cylinder and the frame would suffice.

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