Destroying bridges in the enemy’s rear has long been an important mission for air forces. Of course, this is a dangerous and difficult undertaking. Not only are bridges difficult to hit – being essentially long and thin, and not very susceptible to damage by near-misses – but since they are such obvious targets, they tend to be heavily defended.
Of course, both practice and technology have made hitting bridges easier, as can be seen by some statistics drawn from American experience between World War II and the Gulf War.
|Bombs Needed to Destroy a Bridge, 1943-1991|
|World War II - ETO|
Figures are, of course, averages. The difference between 1943 and 1944 figures, as well as that between 1950 and 1951, were due largely to increased experience. The lack of same, and the general lack of attention to ground attack missions by the Air Force during the late-1950s and early 1960s, was responsible for the extremely poor showing at the onset of the Vietnam War. The introduction of “smart” weapons, relatively late in the Vietnam War, was responsible for the precipitous drop in the number of weapons needed to destroy a bridge by 1972. Oddly, the figure did not change during the Gulf War, althought by then the weapons were even “smarter.”
French Marksmanship during the Seven Years’ War
The unreliability of the old smooth bore musket is notorious. As one British observer once observed, " . . . a soldier must be very unfortunate indeed who shall be wounded by a common musket at 150 yards, provided his antagonist aimed at him."
An excellent demonstration of this fact occurred during one battle in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). It seems that, having routed the enemy, some French troops were pursuing them off the field, which was rather shrouded in gunsmoke, a commonplace of battles using traditional black powder.
One of the French soldiers, Mercoyrol de Beaulieu, imprudently donned the headdress of a fallen Hessian grenadier. At that, about 50 of de Beauliue’s comrades, mistaking him for the enemy in the smoke, opened fire, some of them at perhaps not more than 30 paces. Amazingly, de Beaulieu emerged completely unijured, despite a ball that had passed through his coat and another that had clipped his bayonet.
The Marines at Beirut: A Profile
On October 23, 1983, a terrorist truck bomb killed over 250 Americans at a building beind used as a barracks in Beirut. Of those killed, 220 were Marines.
|Racial Classification of the Marines Killed|
|Hispanic|| 7|| 3.2%|
|White|| 166|| 75.6%|
|Religious Classification of the Marines Killed|
|Baptist|| 64|| 29.1%|
|Lutheran|| 6|| 2.7%|
|Methodist|| 16|| 7.3%|
|None given|| 32|| 14.5%|
|“Protestant”|| 13|| 5.9%|
|Roman Catholic|| 78|| 35.5%|
|Note: Perecntages do not tally, due to rounding|
In Beirut, as was the case in most recent American military undertakings, the most notably disproportion in the distribution of casualties has not been in racial, but in religious terms. Roman Catholics, who have made up about a quarter of all Americans over the past half-century or so, have been heavily overrepresented in the ranks of the casualties, closely followed by Baptists, who number about the same in the population as a whole.