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Tracer Tricks and Tips

Tracer Tricks and Tips

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Published by: bawb-2 on Oct 15, 2010
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05/16/2015

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TRACER TRICKS AND TIPS
We’ve made a few notes about the use of tracer ammunition already. For the most part, it is used for special purposes.Once more, a tracer bullet is not an incendiary. Merely hitting a flammableobject, even a gas tank, will not start a fire, let alone one of those huge fuel-air mushroom cloud explosions you see in the movies.They certainly CAN start fires, though. Tracers and incendiaries are, as amatter of fact, illegal to use in a National Forest. A tracer continues to burn to its“burn-out” range, usually 900 yards for the .30-caliber stuff. If it doesn’t make it to900 yards, it continues to burn for the amount of time it would take to get there. Infact, it will even burn underwater for that amount of time. Lodging in the duff of the forest floor in a dry year, this can certainly start a forest fire.One of the most useful things I’ve ever seen a tracer do, BTW, was tostart a fire in back of an M60 machine gun range at Fort Knox, KY. Kentuckywas, and maybe still is, the #1 dope growing state after the People’s Republic of Kalifornia. If you grow the stuff on public land, i.e. National Forests and MilitaryReservations, you don’t get caught with it on your property. Thus, our tracer fireset someone’s marijuana field afire.We responded immediately by rushing to the fire and then leaning on our shovels and flappers and inhaling as deeply as possible of the smoke. No, it didnot work, but it was worth the try.Murphy’s Laws of Combat quite succinctly notes, “Tracers work bothways,” and this is certainly the truth. Grunts have a love/hate relationship with thetracer, mostly leaning far toward the latter emotion.
“In general, our use of tracer ammunition at night was very infrequent because its use tended to disclose our positions with no compensating advantage gained.” 
AAR from the 4
th
Army in Italy, WWII.
“By using only a few tracers at the beginning of each belt we have found that the guns draw less arty and mortar fire than by using the usual 4 and 1 load.Some NCO’s believe we should eliminate tracer altogether.” 
CO, HeavyWeapons Co., France.
“Discontinue the use of tracers for night firing. They give away your  position.” 
Col Merritt Edson, USMC Raiders, AAR Guadalcanal.In many cases, this had proven painfully true. During the Falklands War in1982, firing tracers at night did the Argentine machine guns more harm thangood, revealing their locations.
“Since the Argentines fired visible tracer rounds on a one-to-one basis with their ammunition, the 84mm [Carl Gustav recoilless] and 66mm[LAWS rocket] gunners could easily identify precise locations of enemy positionsand direct their powerful area weapons against them.” 
The Germans were known for using tracer with their MG42 machine gunsin the Second World War. With a cyclic rate of 1,200 rounds per minutedispersion was considerable, even when fired from the tripod mount and muchmore so from the bipod, and tracers were necessary to keep the guns on target.This often helped Allied troops either locate the guns or avoid their fire.
 
“Many times our patrols could observe the trajectory of enemy fire and move from place to place under this fire without endangering themselves. Whenball ammunition was used, only the "crack” was heard, and since it was difficult for our troops to tell how close the bullets were passing they had a tendency tostay under cover. Many times the Germans on one side of a hill would firegrazing tracers along its crest, thereby disclosing the approximate location of his position and informing our troops exactly where his defensive fires were sited.” 
4
th
Army AAR.In Italy, one veteran infantry NCO also noted,
“Look about 30 feet beyond where the tracers begin to burn in order to locate the weapon.” 
On the other hand, an infantry company First Sergeant in France notedhow the Germans used a neat trick to take advantage such tracer fire:
“Germanssometimes employ their machine guns this way: One man will fire tracer ammunition high and wild and at the same time another will be laying down pretty effective fire with ball ammunition. They use the tracers to make you think their fire is wild when it’s not.” 
Pretty sneaky, eh.When it comes to tracers being used in suppressive fire, studiesconducted in Vietnam on the subject were pretty inconclusive, being aboutequally divided between “had a greater suppressive effect”, “had a lesser suppressive effect”, and “I don’t care what the hell kind of bullets they’re shootingat me when they’re shooting at me.”Most times, tracers are used by field infantry to mark targets. When thesquad or platoon leader spots an important target, he yells, “On my tracer!” Hethen fires tracers to identify the target’s position, and the rest of the menconcentrate their fire there. The military now also has infra-red only tracers whichcan only be seen at night with the aid of night vision devices for the samepurpose, while not giving away one’s own position. If the enemy does have hisown night vision, see above. This is also the case with infra-red laser designatorsand aiming devices, too, if the bad guys have NVD’s.In at a few cases,
Mujahideen
fighting the Soviets, with their limitedcommunications, fired a full magazine of solid tracer from an AK47 in lieu of aflare to signal the start of a night attack.Some folks who use weapons that do not lock the bolt to the rear after thelast round has been fired, such as the AK’s or HK’s, load the last three rounds inthe magazine with tracer so that when firing they know they are due for a magchange.In the desperate fighting against the surprise massed Red Chineseonslaughts around the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War, the thenunheard of practice of night aerial ground attacks was utilized. Ground forcesmarked the target by firing tracers from two widely-spaced machine guns over said target. Where the tracer streams crossed, there was the pilot’s target. Xmarks the spot, as it were. This was not a new idea, either. The Japanese inBurma, when they infiltrated friendly lines and located British mortar positions,would use the X of tracers from light machine guns to help their artillery spottersdirect counter-battery fire onto the spot. So, despite what they said in
Ghostbusters
, you
can
cross the streams.
 
At many other times, tracers have been used to mark the route and/or direction for night attacks. A fixed machine gun or two, such as a Vickers or aBrowning, placed well to the rear, fires bursts over the target. The tracers givethe infantrymen in the dark something to guide on to keep going in the rightdirection. Don’t kid yourself from your well-lit easy chair in front of the TV; in realdarkness, it’s awful easy to get turned around at night.Tracers were mostly geared towards machine guns and anti-aircraft fire,from the days when .30-caliber machine guns were still considered effective AAguns. In this day and age the infantryman generally has no business shooting ataircraft. Passive air defense, aka not being seen in the first place, remains thebest tactic. However, if infantry is spotted and attacked, especially by helicopters,there’s nothing to lose by shooting back.As noted before, greatly increasing the number of tracers in a machinegun belt had an effective psychological deterrent effect on ground attack pilots inthe Falklands. It’s much harder to concentrate on your flying and targeting whenyou are aware you’re being fired upon by the pyrotechnics whipping past in your field of vision.The Australians offered this advice on the advantages of engagingattacking aircraft head-on.1.The head-on shot is the easiest target. (In some respects theposition is akin to tiger shooting, provided the tiger is charging.)2.An aeroplane is more vulnerable in front.3.When tracer is used, the pilot may see the tracer coming uptowards him. Even if this does not turn him away from his target,it will certainly distract him, possibly putting him off his courseand missing his target.4.Penetration is increased if the aircraft is flying INTO rather thanaway from the bullet.On January 26, 2009 it was reported that two U.S. Army OH-58 Kiowahelicopters, engaging in evasive maneuvers in an attempt to avoid hostile groundfire, collided, killing all aboard. The same thing happened to two UH-60 BlackHawks in November 2003 near Mosul, Iraq. These aircraft were technically not“shot down” with the use of tracer fire, but the effect was still the same as if theyhad been.On the other hand, Chechen rebels in their conflicts with the Russiansused no tracers at all in their light anti-aircraft guns and tried to take only ass-endshots at Russian aircraft so as to keep their firing positions concealed. And theywere using the heavy 12.7mm (.50-caliber) and 14.5mm stuff. The RussianFrogfoot is a heavily armed dedicated ground attack plane in the same categoryas the A-10 Warthog, and they didn’t want to draw the pilot’s attention to their location.If small arms anti-aircraft fire, from .30-caliber to .50-caliber, is to beeffectively delivered, tracers are pretty much a necessity to even come close.Even the dedicated fancy ring sights involving leads and speeds are used mainly

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