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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ammunition and dead men

What type of ammunition will stop a man dead (or not so dead) in his tracks?  If you are in the military, you certainly would like to know before going into battle.  Mary Roach, in her book "Stiff," describes how they found out.

The U.S. Army used cadavers in experiments with their ammunition.  They were not the first or only military to use dead bodies in this pursuit.  The French and Germans started in the early 1800's, and the Swiss in the late 1800's.

In 1904, Captain Louis La Garde of the U.S. Army Medical Corps hoped to find improved stopping power.  It had become a high priority following the Spanish-American war in the Philippines. The Army's Colt .38 had failed to stop the enemy from advancing, on many occasions.  La Garde wrote of "one battle-enlivened tribesman who charged a U.S. Army guard unit. 'When he was within 100 yards, the entire guard opened fire on him.'  Nonetheless, he managed to advance some ninety-five yards toward them before finally crashing to the ground."

La Garde thought that by shooting cadavers and measuring how far it made them swing would somehow provide information on stopping power.  It didn't.  Eventually, he came to the conclusion that living bodies were needed instead, so he used some cattle who were about to be slaughtered.  After shooting sixteen, he had an answer.  The larger caliber Colt .45 bullets caused the cattle to drop to the ground after 3 or 4 shots.  Those hit with the smaller caliber .38 bullets failed even after 10 shots.

Mary Roach has a great sense of humor which is sprinkled throughout the book.  This blog was written to share this one line with you: "And ever since, the U.S. Army has gone confidently into battle, knowing that when cows attack, their men will be ready."

Now you have heard something interesting.


  1. I really hope that time stamp isn't right. 3:00 in the morning. I hope it is the time difference.

  2. Yes, it was the time difference. It was just before dinner for me!