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December 01, 2008

"It's Not a Bug, It's a Feature": Mumbai policemen armed with..."WW1-era Rifles"?

I was surfing the Power Line blog this morning, and they had a link to an AP article regarding the response of the Mumbai police to the terrorist attack. This sentence caught my eye:

Bapu Thombre, assistant commissioner with the Mumbai railway police, said the police were armed mainly with batons or World War I-era rifles and spread out across the station.

Yes, I do realize that the thrust of the article is that the police were ill-prepared to deal with this sort of attack due to a lack of training, but being a bit of a ballistics nutjob, I'm going to take offense with the assertion that police officers with "World War I-era Rifles" are nothing more than sitting ducks.

Since we're talking about India here, I'm going to assume that the police were equipped with #1 Mk.3 SMLE rifles either chambered in the original .303 British round or converted to 7.62x51 NATO. (It's hard to say which cartridge they would have been carrying in this case. If they were Indian military, they would be carrying the converted rifles in order to standardize their ammunition, but transit police officers in the third world might well have been carrying rifles in the original configuration. Hell, for all I know, they might have been issued original British surplus ammo with cordite propellant.) This rifle, commonly known as the "Enfield" and adopted by the British military in 1907, has been described as "the finest bolt-action battle rifle ever made" * in more than one publication. Despite being a bolt action rifle, it has a ten-round removable box magazine and an action that's so slick that trained British soldiers were expected to be able to fire a minimum of 20 aimed shots per minute on a continuous basis. That's one shot every three seconds. AIMED shots. Repeated over & over again until you run out of ammo or the handguard of your rifle catches fire from the heat coming off the barrel. The AK47's carried by the terrorists can fire about 600 rounds per minute, but that only gives you a three second burst from a normal 30-round magazine - and that isn't AIMED fire, it's just "spray and pray".

Is a man with an old bolt action rifle at a disadvantage when confronted by trained wackos with AK47s? Yes, but he's far from unarmed. In fact, he's probably better armed than your average American police officer in that regard, at least from a ballistic point of view. If this incident occured in America, the first response to the event would most likely be police officers with .40 S&W semi-autos or 12-gauge pump shotguns, both of which have severe range and penetration disadvantages when compared to the AK47 or the Enfield. Case in point? The North Hollywood Shootout.

In 1997, Los Angeles police officers armed with 9mm and .38 Special handguns and 12-gauge shotguns fired approximately 650 rounds at two suspects armed with illegally modified full-auto AK47 and HK91 rifles before they were finally brought down. Due to their "hillbilly" body armor, it took blood loss from multiple hits to their arms and legs to end the standoff. Officers who responded later in the incident with AR15 rifles (the civilian version of the M16) also reported that their shots to the center mass of the robbers were ineffective due to the the trauma plates inserted into their body armor. Would this have ended sooner if someone on site had been armed with an obsolete "World War I-era Rifle"? I think so.

The .303 British cartridge is considered to be more-or-less ballistically equivalent to the .308 Winchester (also known as the 7.62x51 NATO round), and I recall an article from Shotgun News two or three years ago that illuminated how much respect modern soldiers give to that old cartridge. The piece was an interview with a former Spetznaz commando who served multiple tours in Afghanistan in the 80's, and he stated that the majority of fatal gunshot wounds he witnessed among his comrades were caused by old Enfield bolt action rifles. They encountred mujaheedin fighters armed with Enfield rifles, captured AK47's and AK74's (the AK74 is a .22-caliber version of the AK that's comparable to the M16 ballistically), and even old Martini-Henry .450/577 single shots from the late 1800's, but he said that snipers armed with Enfield rifles were their biggest fear. He even went as far as to state that his unit's standard operating procedure was to raze a village and kill everyone in it if they found as much as an empty .303 casing.

The best body armor in the world can't stop a "major" caliber round from a battle rifle like the .303 British, .30-06 Government, or 7.62x54 Russian when fired from short to moderate distances - at best it could be expected to slow down the bullet and minimize the hydrostatic shock caused by the wound. Any terrorist shot center mass by a .303 British or 7.62x51 NATO round at the ranges involved in the Mumbai train station confrontation is going to be as dead as disco before the smoke from the shooting clears. I have a SMLE rifle in my collection, and I've seen the old surplus full metal jacket rounds penetrate quarter inch steel plates at 100 yards. You think a layer or two of Kevlar is going to protect your ass from a round that goes through steel like Oliver Willis going through a Krispy Kreme display case? I. Don't. Think. So.

I have no idea how much prestige transit policemen have in Indian society, but I'll go out on a limb and guess that they're underpaid, unappreciated and poorly trained. That's too bad, because with a little training and initiative these guys could have stopped this attack in it's early stages. Instead of 200 dead and counting, we might be talking about an attack that "only" killed 30 or 40 people.

One telling tidbit I picked up from Instapundit links over the holiday weekend is that transit police in Mumbai were already under fire for killing a man who opened fire on a train station platform a month ago. Even though the situations were completely different (ranting lunatic firing a handgun wildly into the air vs. Muslim terrorists with AK47s calmly mowing down innocent victims), it's not unreasonable to think that the police officers on the scene could have thought "I'd better wait for orders before I shoot these guys, or else I'll be condemned by politicians & the media".

Anyway, I think it's bad form to criticize the rifles carried by the Indian Transit Policemen in Mumbai. Criticize their training, the orders issued by their superiors, or even criticize their preference for self preservation over confrontation, but don't criticize their rifles. Like the man says: "Guns don't kill terrorists. Armed individuals with training and initiative kill terrorists."

* - citation taken from "Testing the War Weapons - Rifles and Light Machine Guns from Around the World" by Timothy J. Mullin.

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posted by Russ from Winterset at 04:19 PM

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