Wednesday, August 01, 2007

General Custer and Errol Flynn and soldiers in battle

Recently re-watched Errol Flynn as Custer see

Always like an Errol Flynn movie - what a great Robin Hood and his exciting "The Charge of the Light Brigade". But strangely all these films were historical nonsense. The Wiki article recounts what was wrong with the Custer film. Although I do think the section on the Civil War was fairly on the ball - he did succeed because he was flamboyant.

Last year I saw Battlefield Detectives on the Archaeology of the Custer Little Big Horn battle and also read
Legend into history ; and, Did Custer disobey orders at the Battle of the Little / Kuhlman, Charles, 1872-1959. which discussed the topography of the battle in great detail. No I don't think Custer disobeyed orders. He would have been expected to attack if he came across the Indians. He just did not realise how many there were.

This is a great narrative on Custer and the course of the Battle

Note in the Flynn film the Indians make a final charge on mass across the circle of Custer's men. It did not happen. I remember seeing that "clip" from the film being used in other films. One was in colour and the battle was being looked at through a telescope which showed the old "clip" in B&W - I was most amused - I did not know telescopes did that......

Years ago I remember reading that the Indians had better rifles than the Cavalry. One surviving officer recounting that his saddle was struck by a bullet even though as far as he was concerned the Indian who fired was out of range of the Cavalry's carbines.

Yet the modern data is the single shot Springfield carbines did out range the Winchester repeating rifles that many Indians had. Perhaps the officer was mistaken and the Indian who fired at him had a longer range Sharps. Yet the article above credits the Winchester with greater range than the following articles which seem to me to be fairly definitive on the weapons and their effectiveness

The first also goes into the confusion and chaos of battle and how reluctant men are to kill even the enemy. It contains comments on the Battle of Gettysburg - in which it well known weapons were found after the battle which had been reloaded on top of undischarged rounds. The soldiers concerned did not even know their weapons had not fired and loaded again.

As I was composing this blog - our friend Neil published a general comment on war

His source continues the point that soldiers don't really want to shoot and kill.

So Big Horn - Custer split his force and attacked an overwhelming number of Indians who were armed with rifles that could hurt his force. Custer's 7th Cavalry was not the elite highly trained force that Flynn's film implied. There is a strange comment on one of sites that the Springfield which was a single shot with a funny find of extractor ejector could with training be fired at 15 shots a minute - I find that hard to believe and the number of rounds found by archaeologists around the firing positions does not bear that out. The Cavalry did take up their planned firing lines - not a mass group altogether as in the Flynn film. But I think it was more individual fire not the controlled volleys the British used so effectively say at Rorke's Drift as seen in the Zulu film see Zulu: The True Story

The British won the Battle of Quebec because their training enabled musket fire at three shots a minute versus the two of the French army. Soldiers have to be trained to fire fast - it is the number of shots that decide battles.

A classic film "The Three Feathers" had a nonsense re Kitchener at the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan. (Sudan was a problem a 100 years ago and still is). Kitchener says the immortal words 'Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes". In fact the British rifles at that time were effective at a long range and they were killing the enemy horsemen when they were over 1000 yards. If Custer's men had had such weapons and training they would most likely have won. But their government armed them with a cheap single shot carbine so as to save money on ammunition. The Americans obviously do not make that kind of mistake nowadays.

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