Blog,  US Infantry Weapons

“US Infantry Weapons in Combat” – Darrell ”Shifty” Powers

Darrell ”Shifty” Powers enlisted in the U.S. Army in early 1942 in Portsmouth, VA. He volunteered for the Paratroops and was sent to Camp Toccoa, GA. where he was assigned to E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The story of Easy Company has been described in Stephen Ambrose’s excellent book, “Band of Brothers” and in the HBO miniseries of the same title. The Regiment became one of the three infantry regiments assigned to the 101st Airborne Division during World War Two. After intensive training in the US, the 506th moved to England and continued to train for the invasion of Europe. Mr. Powers made combat jumps with Easy Company into France on June 6th 1944 and into Holland on September 17th 1944. He also fought in the “Battle of the Bulge” around Bastogne and into Germany before the war ended. Injured in a vehicle accident while in Germany, he spent time in various hospitals until being released from a military hospital in Nashville, TN in the summer of 1945. He was at home on leave when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. Not long after the war ended he was discharged from the Army from his home state of Virginia.

The 506th was actually formed down at Toccoa. As we came in they would fill up the companies. When I came in I was assigned to Easy Company, which is what they were filling up at the time. They would fill up the first platoon, and then they’d start with the second platoon down through the third platoon. When I got there they were filling third platoon and that’s the platoon I was in. I stayed in third platoon throughout the war.

One of the first details I was on, me and two or three other guys; was cleaning the cosmoline off of some machine guns. Of course, before that I’d never seen a machine gun. They were air–cooled .30 caliber machine guns. We had a Sergeant there watching us, but he didn’t stay around long. As we took them apart we would clean the parts and lay them out so we could put them back together. We used gasoline to clean the parts. We were issued rifles within the first week or two we were there. They were brand new M1 rifles and we had to clean the cosmoline off of those too. 

We did dry firing at Toccoa and we also did our qualifying there. But, we didn’t do it on the Toccoa base, we went over to, I believe Clemson College. I guess it was 10 to 15 miles from Toccoa; we walked over there. They had a good firing range there, a known distance type range. I’m not sure, but I believe the targets were set up at 100 and 300 yards. We spent about a week there doing rifle training. We took turns practicing aiming and dry firing. It usually took three people for one person to dry fire. We had a little stool like box and one person would sit on that, I guess maybe twenty yards away, not very far. He had a little round disk on a stick and that disk had a hole in the center of it. He would sit a straddle of the box. As for The other two guys, the one that was doing the dry firing would be lying on the ground and he’d have the rifle laying across a sand bag. He wouldn’t touch the rifle; he just had it pointing at the box. From then on he would sight the rifle without touching it and the guy on the box would move that little disk around. When you thought you had the disk dead on; you would tell him to mark it. And he would take a pencil and mark in the center of that disk in the hole, on a piece of paper that was tacked to the box he was sitting on. The third guy, would be beside the guy doing the sighting, was kind of his helper. His job was to tell the other guy which way to move the disk. The one doing the sighting would say “left” and the other guy would holler for the guy on the box to move the disk left. He would move it real slow and when he got it where you wanted, you’d say, “stop” and he’d stop. Then you say “up” or “down” and he’d move it up or down until he got it right and you’d say “mark.” You’d do that three times and then he would check the paper. The ideal thing was to get a triangular pattern from your marks on the paper.

For the sight picture on the M1, you put your sight post on the bottom of the target, a six o’clock hold. All my life, when shooting a rifle, I’d been used to putting the sight post on the center of a target. It took a while to get used to using the six o’clock hold.  One thing they taught us, was instead of putting your right hand around the stock over the trigger, they wanted you to stick your right thumb out to the right and let it lay along the stock. I couldn’t do that. I always gripped it with my hand so I had more control of the trigger pull. I shot the way I wanted to on the range.

They taught us to shoot from the prone position, the kneeling position and the standing position. And they taught us how to shoot with the sling wrapped around our arm. The sling does make it steadier while target shooting. I don’t remember if we were required to use the sling when firing or not. I believe it was up to each individual. I don’t even remember if I used it or not. I kept a sling on my rifle during the war, but I never used the sling to shoot in combat. 

Best I remember; they didn’t give us much practice shooting. They might have given us a clip to zero the rifle in, but there was very little firing before we qualified. Once I got my rifle zeroed in, I never messed with the sights the whole time I had it. I used Kentucky windage all the way. 

In our company of 140 guys, I was one of two of us who qualified expert. I think I had an advantage because people in the south fired rifles more than they did up north. I’d been around weapons since I was 12 years old, I guess. My father was an excellent shot, he taught me a lot of things. We had quite a few people from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and a lot of places up there. I know a lot of times you could watch some of those people shooting and you could see the bullet hitting the ground half way to the target. McClung (Earl McClung) and I had a conversation about shooting one time. He wasn’t with us when we fired for record at Toccoa, but he was an expert rifleman. You talk about shooting rifles; he could really make one talk. When shooting off hand, in a standing position, I would aim above the target and let it ease down. Let the weight of the rifle bring it down and fire. He would aim below the target and ease it up and fire. I asked him why and he said “if you do it like I do it, you can see the target all the time.” Which is true, but I couldn’t fire that way. I always thought that the tension of bringing that rifle up would cause you to jerk or something. 

Later, it was probably at Camp MacKall, we fired the machine gun, the Thompson and the mortar. We weren’t really trained on the mortar and machine gun as we were with the rifle. The machine gunners and the mortar men were trained according to their job, but we did work with them some. I shot the carbine, but I never did have too much confidence in it. I guess the carbine was like a lot of other rifles; you could get a good one or a bad one. The carbine that I fired, you couldn’t adjust the rear sights like you could on an M1. So if you got one that was off, it was off. I liked to be able to move that rear sight left or right to get it zeroed. Up and down you could figure out using Kentucky windage, if you fired a lot.

We were in England a pretty good while before the invasion. We didn’t do a whole lot of firing on target ranges. We did some firing at pop up targets. They would set those up at different ranges, some would be close and some would be further out. Some of them might pop up 20 to 30 yards right in front of you, then another  would pop up to the right at 40 yards and then further on, another would pop up on the left. Shooting at the pop up targets was enjoyable. At that time I had extra good eyesight and I could spot the targets easily. There was a competition thing for first, second and third platoons. They would set these targets up with papers on them. They’d run one platoon through, collect the papers and set up for another bunch. The thing was, a rabbit would jump up and everyone would start shooting at the rabbit. So they didn’t really score anyone on account of that.

I’ll tell you, you had to know how to shoot known distances because during combat you would have targets like that. And then in combat you were liable to have pop up targets. I think out of the two, I believe the known distance firing was the best training. But, both types of shooting should be required during any rifle training. 

For the D-Day jump, I carried all the required stuff and anything edible that I could get. We had quite a bit of stuff on us. I jumped with my rifle loaded and the safety on. I carried it down under the harness, the parachute harness that goes across your chest. When you jumped you wrapped your arms around it. I had jumped the rifle so many times holding it like that; I couldn’t see any advantage of trying something new when I knew the old way worked. I didn’t go in for that leg bag business. I don’t know if anyone was forced to wear a leg bag, they had a choice. I was never asked if I wanted a leg bag and I wouldn’t have taken one if asked. I was kind of amazed that some of the other people took those legs bags, because they had never jumped them before.

I just carried the ten ammunition clips in my belt, which was 80 rounds. And I believe that I had one more clip in the pocket on my shoulder. I think I had two hand grenades, about four or five pounds of plastic explosive and some detonators. On one of my jumps, I jumped all of that, plus 250 rounds of machine gun ammunition. I volunteered to jump it. You took your shirt off and wrapped it around your stomach and chest with cloth belts; then you put your shirt back on. That’s the way you jumped it.

When we went into Normandy, we were told we’d be there three days. I figured that I could make eighty rounds last for three days. There was always an opportunity to get re-supplied with ammunition from the people coming in on the beach. I figured eighty rounds would be enough.

By Mark G. Goodwin

 

To read the rest of Darrell “Shifty” Power’s story and 64 more interviews, order “US Infantry Weapons in Combat – Personal Experiences from World War II and Korea.”

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