Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Marine Corps Way and Institutional Memory

Until after WWII, ammo was corrosive and dirty. Rifles that were not cleaned of the corrosive salts could be ruined by rust sitting on a rack in the armory. Even rifles that had been nominally cleaned might have a film of salts from the corrosive primers.

It must have happened enough that it became the Marine Corps way to make sure that there was no trace of anything remaining in the barrels. And once it was the Marine Corps way, it will be thus forevermore.

Never mind that the stocks are plastic, the barrel is made of a stainless alloy, and the ammo is non-corrosive. Never mind that the armory is air conditioned and humidity controlled. Our memory stretches back to rifle racks in open air barracks on Corregidor (and before). That's my theory on the why of how Marines clean their rifles.

That institutional memory can serve a purpose.  If you're shooting old surplus ammo, anything from before 1955 or so, or Soviet Bloc ammo up into the 1970s  1990s, best to beware. Ammonia solutions poured through the barrel, wet ammonia wipe down of metal parts, a selection of proper solvents, a hot water rinse, then a regular cleaning need to be part of the drill. Here, from Scott's Gunsmithing Service, is advice on dealing with corrosive ammo. It includes a slide show you can run at the top of the page of what happens when you fail to respect the power of hygroscopic salts on metal.

You still don't have to wear out the barrel to get it clean, but that's my guess where this all started.


Will Brown said...

I always thought it started as a result of black powder guns (in particular the early model rifled barrel guns) on sailing ships at sea, myself. If you start from that historical perspective, the layers of obsessive/compulsive behavior become simple embellishment of tradition.

Why, yes, I was in the Navy; why do you ask?

Unknown said...

I assumed it was because we didn't have enough budget to actually train, and making us dumb grunts clean already clean weapons seemed more "motivated" than letting us sit in the barracks until it was time to go home.

Geodkyt said...

Dead on -- it's the "corrosive ammo" thing.

Well, that and armorers who are apparantly incapable of reading the Operator's manual which specifically states that an M16 that passes a "white glove test" hasn't been cleaned properly. . .

That's also why you'll find modern era former marines who still adhere to the "clean it three days in a row after any firing".

More USMC weapons are damaged by overcleaning to the point of abuse than any other cause. Seriously -- the military did a study on it (to figure out why marine weapons wear out almost twice as fast as Army weapons, in units with similar firing schedules).