Author Archives: Hognose

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

MIA Mysteries in the Paradise of Palau

It’s a paradise now, for sport divers, despite being one of the more remote locations in the world. But in World War II, it was pure hell for the Japanese who garrisoned it, and for the Americans who attacked them.

A chance encounter with a wing panel and engine from a shot-down Liberator led Pat Scannan to a livetime of effort to help bring the missing home — starting with the crew of that lost B-24. The first part of the plane he ever saw — a bent prop — gave its name to the Bent Prop Project, which now has ties to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which has the military’s responsibility for the missing, and works with the professional oceanographers from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UCSD and the University of Delaware.  We first saw this video from GoPro two weeks ago.

Since then, Anderson Cooper and 60 minutes have featured the Bent Prop Project. So is uncharacteristically late to the story.

The Bent Prop Project recommends the book Vanished by Wil Hylton, which has been sitting in the To Be Read pile for a while. Maybe it’s time to promote it up.

For more information:

Disclaimer: the blog’s principal author has a small investment in GoPro. That’s not why we saw their video, or why we like it, but we’re trying to be transparent here.

What’s the Opposite of “Advanced”?

We leave answering the question as an exercise for the reader after watching this video, about 15 minutes long. Here you see the 1989-90 contenders for the Advanced Combat Rifle, a program that would have replaced the issue M16A2 rifle which was still being fielded into some low-priority units, replacing 20-25 year old M16A1s, at the time.

The video begins with a rather sloppy three-minute history of American infantry weapons (you’ll cringe at the assertion that the first Army bolt-action was “made by Krag-Jorgensen,” or that the 1903 Springfield “wasn’t much better than the Krag.”  The video also makes a curious claim — one not seen in the doctrinal literature — that the M16A2 had an effective range of 550 meters.

The reason for the program is explained: the actual combat accuracy of the rifle in soldiers’ hands degrades far below its mechanical potential. So the ACR program was hoping to double the real-world effectiveness of the individual weapon.

The four vendors trying to grab the contractual brass ring were:

  • AAI, with a flechette-firing M16 cousin, complete with early ACOG;
  • Colt, with a product-improved M16, including an adjustable carbine-like stock, four-position selector, duplex (two-bullet) ammunition, and an available Elcan scope (similar to the model later adopted as the M145 machine-gun optic);
  • H&K, with an Americanized version of their ill-fated caseless G11; and,
  • Steyr-Mannlicher, with an oddball AUG derivative firing polymer-cased rounds with flechette projectiles.

At about 10 minutes in, the video presents the modifications made to Buckner Range on Fort Benning to evaluate the novel weapons.

In the end, none of them was sufficiently superior to the issue M16A2, or sufficiently well-developed already, to justify further development.

We thought for sure we’d put this video up before, but while we’ve talked about some other boneheaded procurement events — like in this post on the Objective Family of Weapons two years ago — we don’t appear to have actually done it.

Where “Tripwire Vet” Stories Come from, Part II

In Part I of this 2-part series, we showed you an article about how journalists at the profession’s allegedly most prestigious school — the Columbia School of Journalism — are taught to lie (although the article’s author, Michael Lewis, says “obfuscate” — and slant their work. Now let’s look at another source of slanted, agenda journalism: shadowy nonprofits.

In a frankly unbelievable and thinly reported heart-warmer about how two workers at a bankrupt California assisted-living home continued treating and caring for the residents, NPR exposed, in the credits, one such nonprofit:

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at

via ‘If We Left, They Wouldn’t Have Nobody’ : NPR.

A sidebar has three more StoryCorps stories on offer: and quite remarkably, all are “pity the poor veteran” tales. They are:

If you squint a bit, you can see John Kerry (a lifelong C- student) smirking as he derides enlisted chumps (by whom he means, “those not born to wealth and connections, unlike me”) who “get stuck in Iraq.”

These stories are catnip to the Columbia grads at Narodniy Politicheskiy Radio. For example, the suicidal-thoughts story centers on a soldier’s discovery, ten years later, that he has had a traumatic brain injury.

Just after hearing from a buddy that he has a 100% disability for one, the young man remembered that he, too, was blow’d up.

Well, it could happen, but these things do seem to be a theme, and it turns out that StoryWorks actively solicits them, for its too-lazy-to-report-ourselves journalist partners at NPR, who can just sit and wait for someone else to create the stories they want.

StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Miraculously, every one of those stories seems to be something along the lines of “Damaged, scary vet needs help from social service agencies,” just the sort of thing that set’s NPRnik’s red little hearts aflutter.

See some themes emerging, or what?

While we don’t doubt that those stories are the way their single sources see things, and some of them legitimately make you go, “Awww….” (try the Iraqi interpreter story, and the Marine who’s not letting burns define his life), the themes StoryCorps’ faceless, manipulative world-changers are aiming for are not exactly hard to discern. Indeed, we found only two positive stories about the military, and one was from 60 years ago:

We’ve beat on StoryCorps here, and they deserve a good beatdown, but they’re not the only group with shadowy funding spinning the press against vets (a spin that meets no resistance, because the press is already merrily spinning in the same direction). The emergence of these sorts of predigested pablum producers has been a delight for editors — canned human interest stories matching their prejudices, comforting the comfortable and afflicting the outgroup, and for short money, without needing to dictate the story to their own reporters before dispatching them to fill in the quote holes. The publisher can write one check a month to StoryCorps and get his news-hole filler or clickbait articles, ones that will never challenge his readers.

This is why you never see a story about a veteran who founded a business, anchors a small community, or, Gaia forfend,  stayed in the military to mentor, train and lead the next generation. That’s not The Narrative®, silly.

Busy Day Today!

This AM post is already late, and it will likely be a slow day on posts. That’s because stuff is happening.

Some Thoughts About Ships

Yesterday we drove past Bath, Maine, where we could see three Zumwalt Class destroyers in various states of completion. (There might have been more, but our landlubber eyes don’t pick them up until they start looking entirely shiplike). Here’s an official photo of the class namesake:


They’re funny looking. We mistook them for the controversial Littoral Combat Ships. Indeed, it’s so funny looking that we wonder about its seakeeping, but we think (and hope) the Navy knows what it’s doing. The LCS, on the other hand, seems to have a more serious problem, two of them in fact: where’s the armament? And where’s the mission? So we want to know more about the Navy’s expensive, troubled shipbuilding program — why are these what our nearly moribund shipbuilding program is building? And why do they cost so much? (One clue is that the shipyards that build Navy ships are economically unable to build any other ship for any other customer).

Japanese Destroyer CaptainIn a loosely related story, we’re reading Japanese Destroyer Captain by Tameichi Hara. Hara’s book is searingly honest, and combines the pride of a Japanese samurai (as Hara descended from an impoverished member of this deprecated class) with cold analysis. Hara is especially interesting because he generally served in destroyers, something that Japan assigned its less brilliant officers to do; he was both capable and very, very lucky; and he was involved in the Japanese torpedo program. We’ve been fooling around with some fiction that involves, among other things, some Japanese naval SOF in World War II, and the more we learn about the IJN the more ahistorical our imagined SOF turns out to be. While the IJN wised up to aviation in the 1930s, when Hara graduated the Academy in the previous decade, aviators were the guys beneath the destroyer dummies on the cognitive scale. The top brains went onto staffs and hardly ever went to sea. The next level of top brains became battleship sailors. These were the admirals who led Japan to defeat. But what other result was possible? The IJN only seemed like it was near parity in 1941, thanks to long American naval neglect. He begins the book’s prologue with this remarkable set of facts:

Japan’s Imperial Navy had an overall wartime inventory of 25 aircraft carriers, 12 battleships, 18 heavy cruisers, 26 light cruisers, 175 destroyers and 95 submarines.

The US equivalent numbers were: 99, 23, 72 (heavy and light combined), 377 (plus 361 frigates), and 232, and that’s just a snapshot on 14 August 45, (The numbers on 7 Dec 41 were 8,17, 37, 171 (+0), and 112, which looks at first like parity, until you remember that’s the US war-entry inventories, and Hara’s numbers are  with the Japanese entire-war inventory).

But it was the destroyer flotillas, totaling never More than 130 at any one time, which shouldered the heaviest burdens of the war. They were the work horses of the Imperial Navy.

The Japanese destroyers, looked at next to their American and British counterparts, were beautiful, lithe ships with greyhound lines, and the most powerful, fastest, and longest-ranging torpedoes by far of any wartime combatant. Unlike their American counterparts, the Japanese also had torpedoes that worked. Hara was involved in these torpedoes and, in point of fact, wrote Japanese surface-naval torpedo doctrine before the war. The fate of the Japanese Navy with its superior destroyers and torpedoes seems a cautionary tale for those who discount quantity to build quality.

The book’s highly recommended. (Google link. Amazon link, but why not go to someone who’s Amazon-supported like our friends at, first, and click on one of his Amazon links before searching for Japanese Destroyer Captain, so that Ian gets the commission?) But we fear our bold Japanese naval commandos are entirely fictional, and we may have to ask this indulgence of our readers, when we get around to sharing that stuff.

Off the top of one’s head, today’s navy has about 115 surface warships and 65 submarines, of whom about two-thirds are mission-ready at any given time. The surface fleet has regressed to 19th-century, pre-seapower levels.

The Mess in Ferguson

Rather predictably, there are riots, and rather predictably, the riot sponsors like Al Sharpton and the President are blaming the victims. People are rioting because a policeman was not punished for killing a criminal who was attacking him.

One of the amusing aspects of it has been the tear-gassing and beating of newsmen, the latter by the very rioters their networks have been egging on. When we rise to condemn violence, we’re tempted to carve out an exception here.

A certain subset of people seems to think that a history of oppression of one’s ancestors constitutes a license to attack and steal. It does not.

The blogbrother has had an insight: the most screwed people in all this are the good citizens and petty merchants of Ferguson, MO, and their workers. They have lost a great deal. Those that rebuild will not do it here. No doubt many of them are minorities themselves. The city itself is toast. If you wonder how Detroit 2014 came from Detroit 1954, Ferguson, MO is a model doing the same thing on an accelerated timeline.

It’s time to stop our “national conversation on race” and start treating people like the individuals they are. This entire riot has occurred because the criminal was black and the cop white — as ever in a race-laden story, do the mental exercise of reversing the races to see how much of the story is real, and how much is baloney. We’d never have heard of Ferguson still, if Michael Brown had been the white guy.

As for Darren Wilson, he’ll be hunted for the rest of his life by the dregs of our society — race rioters and news reporters.

Hagel Resignation

He didn’t jump, he was pushed. We’ve been very critical, but any successor will probably implement similar policies, and focus similarly on using the military as a social-experimentation lab flask to the exclusion of readiness or morale issues, and do little for the forgotten men at the sharp end, the ones Hagel seems to have completely lost touch with.

What’s that line from the Who about, “Here’s the new boss, same as the old boss?” That’s the best-case scenario. The DC national-security academic bench has plenty of worse cases to choose from, and Steve Jobs tells us “A Players hire A Players, B Players hire B Players.” And Obama hires Z players. Zzzzzzzzzzz.

We heard CBS radio telling us that one candidate was RI senator Jack Reed, “a combat veteran” (he isn’t) “in the Rangers” (he wasn’t, but he has the Ranger tab that was a routine ticket punch for infantry officers when he did his minimum obligated service — NTTAWWT). But it’s interesting to see the media trying to puff a candidate’s minimal credentials. Do they know something we don’t know?

Today’s Gun Stuff

We’ve got to straighten out an admin thing that’s keeping us off the range, as yesterday a new toy came in the big brown truck (X Products Can Cannon) and we still have to pick up our M4LE and stamp at the shop (and, pick up the next For 4 at the station with the chief’s John Hancock).

Sometimes we wish we’d done like friends and bought out in Booniesistan where we could have our own range. (We wouldn’t have range cards in the windows, though. Just sayin’). But the range is also a social event, in a way, for a not especially social old soldier.

We also have a video, a bit of history for all y’all, if we can figure out where we put it. Maybe inn the 1400 slot today.

This was not Hunting

Mountain-LionThis guy just ran afoul of Federal charges in Colorado. Thing is, it seems like he deserved to. He had an entire business guiding big-cat hunts without bothering with, in some cases, hunting licenses. But how he did the hunts was most upsetting. From

Christopher Loncarich, 55, was sentenced in a Denver federal court Thursday. He pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge stemming from his sale of outfitting services for illegal mountain lion and bobcat hunts in Colorado and Utah.

In August, Loncarich pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, a federal law that makes it illegal to knowingly transport or sell in interstate commerce any wildlife that has been taken or possessed in violation of state laws or regulations.

It sounds like a minor, technical violation at this point. But actually it was utterly unsporting and about as far from hunting as the slaughterhouses of Chicago1. (We know, one of you guys will accuse us of using the No True Sportsman logical fallacy. But in this case, we don’t think we’re wrong. No true sportsman shoots baited or drugged game. It’s cheating, and it’s unnecessarily cruel.

According to the plea agreement, and an indictment returned by the grand jury for the District of Colorado on Jan. 7, Loncarich conspired with others to provide numerous illegal hunts of mountain lions and bobcats in Colorado and Utah from 2007 to 2010.  In particular, Loncarich and his confederates trapped, shot and caged mountain lions and bobcats prior to hunts in order to provide easier chases of the cats for clients.

Now, there is no indication that the clients knew they were hunting pre-hunted, and sometimes disabled, wildlife; they may have just thought their guide had incredible luck or skill. Or they didn’t want to know. Only they know the states of their consciences, but the Feds didn’t indict them – make of that what you will. But we can’t imagine something further from hunting as we learned it, not in the US or even in the much more formalized (and less chancy) German system.

We’ve always wondered about those hunting guides that offer a guarantee. How can you do that? The mountain lion, a notoriously reclusive and often nocturnal animal, ought to have a vote. Can anyone offer a guarantee, ethically, without cheating like this assclown?

Colorado and Utah are big states, but Loncarich’s operation was near the border, and he operated on both sides, but for reasons that the article doesn’t explain, he and his clients only had Colorado licenses. Both Utah and the Feds take a dim view of that. Why did he do it?

Loncarich sold mountain lion hunts for between $3,500 and $7,500 and bobcat hunts for between $700 and $1,500.

Oh. That’s why.

We’re not sure how many hunts he sold, but he has to amortize those earnings — if the feds don’t move for civil forfeiture of all his ill-gotten assets — over his prison sentence, which is 2 years and 3 months (he’ll probably do the 2 years, unless he’s hard-headed enough to lose his good time2).

So it looks like the cat is out of the bag, and the former hunter of cats is in the bag. Looks like justice from up here.

via Colorado man gets 27 months for illegal cougar hunting –


1. It’s an expression; are there still any slaughterhouses in Chicago?

2. A Federal sentence is usually pretty inflexible these days; Loncarich will have to do 85% of it at the barest minimum.

Amnesty Winner: Child Rapist

AreveloMeet Luis Arevelo, an 18-year-old who’s just doing the work Americans won’t do: in his case, raping a five-year-old girl, and bestowing upon her his case of chlamydia. For this, he has been elevated to a status above unemployed American workers, in the hopes he’ll hang around and vote.

Before the Burger and Warren courts, the public would at least have had some chance that he’d hang, period, but in our mixed-up, tossed-up, never-come-down world, he has rights. Something the kid he did does not.

So, he’s on the fast track not to be deported, because the latest HSI guidance from Jeh Johnson is that “sexual offenders,” along with aliens who commit, “gun crimes,” should generally not be deported — and senior executives are charged with micromanaging any case where an outraged field agent and an off-message Assistant US Attorney are still trying to incarcerate the poor dears.

Like this one.

If a few kids get raped in the process — for creeps like Luis, preschoolers are like potato chips, they can’t ever do just one — well, them’s the breaks.

The girl may have been a relative. It’s not certain, because Luis seems to have a problem telling the truth, or should we say, since we don’t yet know what the story is, he seems to have a problem sticking to one story, of which any or none might actually be the truth.

Some months ago he surfaced on the Mexican border, walking into a Border Patrol position with a story that he was from Central America, a child refugee, and displaying considerable knowledge of the DREAM Act and the enactment of its provisions by executive order after it failed in Congress. He wanted to be reunited with family members, he said, and showed a slip with a name and address in Upper Darby, PA. It was unknown whether he began his travels with this slip, or whether someone provided him along his route from wherever he came from. (He is now using the Luis Arevelo name, and claiming to be from Ecuador in South America). The family on the slip of paper, contacted by US Customs and Border Patrol, agreed to sponsor the young man under the provisions of the DREAM amnesty. It was unclear whether he actually was a relative. There is a rumor in law enforcement that the same family has sponsored other illegal aliens, and a debate about whether their interest is humanitarian, financial, or ideological that has not been resolved. We’d like to hear from them what their relationship to “Arevelo” is and why they sponsored him — and how they feel about him now.

It was their girl that the man who now calls himself Arevelo raped, and infected. (This was not any arcane or legalistic construction of the word “rape,” either. It was what people traditionally think of when they understand the crime of rape. We don’t need to get graphic, or report the victim’s actual words, we hopw). The girl complained about it to her mom, who shut the kid up. Can’t be looking non-multicultural, eh? But when she took the kid to the hospital for treatment, medical staff wondered how a five-year-old gets a sexually transmitted disease and other indicia of rape by an adult male, and the gaff was stridently blown, leading after a short investigation to a police interview with “Arevelo”.

He admitted to Upper Darby police that he’s also wanted in Ecuador, and other things being equal, he’d just as soon go to jail there, rather than do time in Pennsylvania as a child rapist. “I’m good with that,” Upper Darby Superintendent Michael Chitwood said, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement put a detainer on him, to deport him no later than when the PA legal system finishes with him, which could be after he does his time, or sooner, if there’s an agreement with Ecuador that he’ll do his Pennsylvania time there.

The Philadelphia Daily News blogger Stephanie Farr alternated between calling for his scalp (“there’s not a circle in Hell that he’s worthy of being banished to,” so she must be a recent graduate with Dante on the brain) and floating excuses for him (he’s “barely out of childhood himself”).

But hey, he’s not being banished anywhere now. ¡Graciás al Presidente! ¡Gracias a Jeh Johnson!

Where “Tripwire Vet” Stories Come from, Part I

Apparently we’re not the only ones dismayed to encounter graduates of journalism schools; even the newspapers have caught on and aren’t hiring them. Writing in 1993 in The New Republic, a key pub for the sort of trust-fund lefties who seek to change the world through their inspired slant on writing, Michael Lewis recounted the low opinions working newsmen have of the grads of J-Schools in general and especially the Columbia School of Journalism (a graduate school), but the real key graf was this one, recounting how the school actually graduates fewer alumni into journalism jobs than it matriculates out of them:

Journalism schools, of course, balk at being balked at. Last fall Columbia’s placement director boasted to students that 45 percent of the class of 1992 had found jobs or internships in journalism. Perhaps, but to appreciate that figure fully you must know that 50 percent of the class came to the school from full-time jobs in journalism. Another 20 percent had internships. Assuming the numbers provided by Columbia students and faculty are accurate, the journalism school redirected 25 percent of the class of 1992 into other occupations.

Yes, it’s old, but you have to Read The Whole Thing™. Yes, it’s good. It’s brilliant. The segment beginning a few weeks ago (it’s bold in the original) exposes exactly how the CJS students have been taught to begin with:

My null hypothesis! My angle. My bias. My take. My … point … of … view!

Lewis, to his credit, is a little bit shocked.

“My null hypothesis,” I said, “is that the Columbia Journalism School is all bullshit.”

They paused. “That’s a good null hypothesis,” said one, finally.

And that would be as dynamic a closing for his article as it will be for this blog post, but it’s only the set-up for a grander closing, and one that explains why the wise man never talks to “credentialed journalists.” Do Read The Whole Thing™.

And Stay Tuned for Part II.

NY Cops Cop to a Negligent Discharge

NYPDDepending on how you look at it, the NYPD’s rapid release of information was a model of law enforcement transparency, a hasty attempt to forestall community condemnation, or the casting of an ill-trained and ill-supported rookie under the bus. You could make a pretty good case for any one of the three. The New York Times:

The shooting occurred in the Louis H. Pink Houses in the East New York neighborhood. The housing project had been the scene of a recent spate of crimes — there have been two robberies and four assaults in the development in the past month, two homicides in the past year, and a shooting in a nearby lobby last Saturday, Mr. Bratton said.

Additional officers, many new to the Police Department, were assigned to patrol the buildings, including the two officers in the stairwell on Thursday night, who were working an overtime tour.

Having just inspected the roof, the officers prepared to conduct what is known as a vertical patrol, an inspection of a building’s staircases, which tend to be a magnet for criminal activity or quality-of-life nuisances.

Both officers took out their flashlights, and one, Peter Liang, 27, a probationary officer with less than 18 months on the job, drew his sidearm, a 9-millimeter semiautomatic.

Officer Liang is left-handed, and he tried to turn the knob of the door that opens to the stairwell with that hand while also holding the gun, according to a high-ranking police official who was familiar with the investigation and who emphasized that the account could change.

via Officer’s Errant Shot Kills Unarmed Brooklyn Man –

The warning in the last paragraph: “emphasized that the account could change” —  is pretty rare in a news story. Newsmen get them all the time, but seldom pass them on. The fact is, preliminary reports are often wrong, and that’s not just true of media reports. Inaccurate and misleading early reports move on the police radio and the military’s communications systems all the time. Investigation and fact-finding takes time, and it’s human to want the information now. Unfortunately, by the time the facts are fully found, the media will have moved on to the latest accounts of bread and circuses.

Does anyone remember 9/11? initial reports were that a small twin-engine plane had struck the World Trade Center. Later, when the towers fell, the TV networks bruited fatality numbers of 10,000 to a staggering 30,000

Early reports are insidious for another reason besides their jittery accuracy: that is, human psychology, specificlly, the effect long known to psychologusts and educators as primacy. One tends to believe the first thing he sees, hears or learns, even in the face of superior, but delayed, information.

But this does seem like a lot of information has already been released. It seems like the cop did screw up, and admitted it to his partner and to investigators. It seems like the guy he shot, whom the media describe as an aspiring model and actor (for roles with “jobstopper” neck tattoos?), was not suspected of anything and has no criminal record — he was just an unlucky guy.

We’d like to add a technical comment, bearing in mind that we are still dealing with preliminary information. New York issues 9mm Glock 19 pistols. To prevent NDs, it demanded that Glock develop the law enforcement trigger module, which is known for good or ill forevermore as the New York Trigger. Here’s what Glock says about it, for the home market

N.Y.1 The GLOCK „New York“ trigger has its name from the New York Police Department. It facilitates officers changing from revolvers to pistols. Increases trigger pull weight from 2,5 kg / 5.5 lb. to 4,9 kg / 11 lb.

N.Y.2 The N.Y.2 trigger spring is even harder than the N.Y.1 trigger spring. The user will obtain a continuous very hard revolver-like increase of the trigger pull weight from 3,2 kg / 7 lb. to 5 kg / 11 lb.

The New York trigger is, indeed, intended to simulate a double-action revolver trigger, and was developed at the NYPD’s insistence. It takes the short, crisp and easy trigger of the conventional Glock and renders it long, creepy and extremely heavy — heavier than many DA revolvers and automatics. (Officers can also carry DAO Smith 4956 and SIGs, but the cops in this incident were both rookies, and probably had the Glock). Indeed, most US specs say the NY trigger is 12 lb.

In the past, the New York trigger has combined with the NYPD’s insufficient training to lead to a lot of shootings of bystanders and wild rounds in gunfights — and even some shootings of NYPD officers because the perps, not handicapped with NYPD triggers, got the better of a gunfight.

But the Department insisted on the trigger, because a long, heavy trigger provided some kind of talismantic protection against negligent discharges.


You can’t idiot-proof a gun. NYPD’s Commissioner Bill Bratton ought to write that down somewhere — and give his men better training and the safer, more accurate standard trigger.

Sunday in Suburbia

The Menace of the Oak Leaves™ continues to spread its evil across the Manor’s grounds, and all the local landscapers’ workers have just quit, because Bernstein/Sondheim (“Everything free in America!”). So we have to gird our loins for battle with the beastly things.

This is the exact moment that the mower, the mechanized maneuver element of our anti-leaf combined-arms task force, chooses to blow blue smoke.

So the task that was looking like a rapid blitzkrieg is now looking more like an exhausting, enervating stalemate.

Will no one rid us of these troublesome leaves?

Saturday Matinee 047: Gunga Din (1939)

Gunga_Din_DVD“You’re a better man that I am, Gunga Din.” That closing line of the Kipling poem became the wrap-up line of this 75-year-old gem, which awkwardly merges the story of the loyal-unto-death bhisti with the comic episodic novel Sergeants Three, and an extra dose of Hollywood formula: the happy bachelors scheming to sink their buddy’s impending marriage. The acting’s sometimes over the top, the historical accuracy minimal and so many scenes and situations from this movie have become setpieces and tropes that you would be excused for thinking that Gunga Din, too, was an imitator rather than the originator of these ideas.

But if you aren’t entertained by this film, there’s something wrong with you.

Acting and Production

Gunga Din was shot on location in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which broadly resemble some parts of the Khyber Pass area, but have been used in so many Hollywood westerns that the striking scenery comes off as generic1. Many of the sets are clearly redressed movie-ranch Western sets, exotic enough to convince home-bound Americans of the Depression era, but unlikely to ring true to our many Afghan vets today.

But the acting, and the fanciful script’s taut dialogue, drive the story along and make the viewer, even from the vantage point of 2014, suspend enough disbelief to enjoy himself. The three key actors are the three sergeants: Cutter, McChesney, and Ballantine, played by Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Sergeants Three

The three leads are, thanks to the script’s lively dialogue, a merry Three Stooges, British Raj-style: they clown around but somehow, always, seem to get the mission done for their stuffy Colonel and his toady, Sergeant Higginbotham.

Sam Jaffe as Din and Joan Fontaine as the hopeless love interest are some of the more familiar and skilled of the supporting actors — for Jaffe, this was a career-making credit (it didn’t hurt that he was friends with John Huston, which later helped him overcome blacklisting for his Communist sympathies).

Vast quantities of money were spent on the location shoots and setpieces, some involving hundreds of extras. As a result, the film lost money despite a high gross, according to IMDB.

Accuracy and Weapons

In 1939, moviemakers had a different approach to accuracy than they do now, and it’s likely that the movie had no researchers, and made no effort whatsoever, apart from naming a couple of distinguished veterans of the Northwest Frontier as military advisers.

Cary Grant as Cutter in Gunga Din

The uniforms are representative, not right, and the guns aren’t even representative; the troops have ahistorical bolt actions (Krags, which weren’t invented yet, and were never used by the British anyway), the sergeants tote American double-action revolvers (specifically, Colt New Service pistols, which postdate the setting by decades, too), the Thuggees (the bad guys) have a variety of exotic weapons that spring from the art director’s imagination, and their rifles are — drum roll please — trapdoor Springfields, mostly (and more Krags).


Both sides have cannons — the bad guys, Napoleonic looking muzzle-loaders, and the good guys, mockups of late 19th-century artillery — but neither one recoils when “fired.”


The indifference to accuracy extends beyond the firearms. Today’s Social Justice ninnies would be aghast at the casting of a Jewish guy from New York as a frontier Indian of the 1880s, but as mentioned above, Sam Jaffe’s performance as the title character is extremely good.

The bottom line

Gunga Din is a lot of fun, and it’s a compact film: the then-standard under-two-hours running length ensures that it motors right along (there’s an even brisker 94-minute cut, but the original ran for 117). To some extent it comes across as trite and something you’ve seen before, but that’s because it has been so thoroughly ripped off by other Hollywood shows. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is only one example of an update of the story; they even have the evil temple leader looking like his 1939 prototype.

Hey, everybody steals. The important thing is to steal from good work. This is good work, worth ripping off.   

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page :

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page:

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page: it has a 92%, “fresh,” rating.

  • Wikipedia  page:


1. How common is the main location (Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California)? An IMDB search finds Gunga Din  — and 342 other titles filmed there!