Category Archives: Uncategorized

Think you’re a stealthy hunter?

Ride along, thanks to GoPro, with Meg, an African (or “Effrican” as Kevin Richardson, who must be South Effrican himself, puts it) lioness, as she hunts.

Unfortunately you don’t get much of the Moment of Truth due to the fact she’s nearly shucked the harness off by the time she nails her prey.

The interesting backstory: this is Meg’s first kill. Period. She’s been raised by hand in a preserve, and fed exclusively dead meat.

One of the things that scientists have argued about, a little bit, is exactly where the cutline falls between instinctive behavior and learned behavior for animals like the big cats, who are clearly taught some aspects of hunting by their mothers.

I continually get asked the question: ‘Can habituated captive lions hunt on their own?’ I’ve always known the answer; however, on this particular winter’s day I could never in my wildest dreams imagine what was going to unfold and be captured on camera from a lion’s perspective, probably for the first time ever.

To us, the most interesting bit was Meg’s low-crawling approach stalk. Lions, of course, are good at this; a lion that sucked at hunting would not leave its genes in the pool.

Richardson has many more cool videos. He knows a lot more about African predators like lions and hyenas than we do (hyenas are matriarchal; we didn’t know that) and he clearly loves sharing his knowledge and respect for these animals.

(Disclaimer: blog owner has a small investment in GoPro. But that’s not why we think videos like this are wonderful. We invested because we think videos like this are wonderful. We mean, Lion Cam, what a brilliant idea!)

Media: “Gun Sales Decline.” NICS: Some New Records

Chicken-Little-movie-posterThe media have a narrative that gun sales are declining or falling.

The sales decline comes a year after gun-owners were stocking up on firearms for fear of heightened government restrictions.

People just aren’t stocking up on firearms the way they used to.

Gun maker Smith & Wesson said on Thursday that rifle sales dropped by more than half in the Springfield, Mass. company’s latest quarter. The steep decline is part of a 22% dip in overall sales for Smith & Wesson, according to the company’s second-quarter earnings report.

  • example: Brian Tabick for KIMT in Mason City, Iowa, flatly said on 8 Nov 14, under the headline, “Are gun sales falling in Iowa?” (a question his article doesn’t try to answer), that “…gun sales are down in the United States overall….” He provides no evidence for that conclusion. At the time, as we’ll see, gun sales were down… about 2% from 2013’s record levels.
  • example: Two paid propagandists for Bloomberg, Duane Stanford and richard Clough, wrote what purported to be a news story , “Assault Rifles Pile Up as Gun-Law Gridlock Crimps Makers.” It contained these gems:
    • “the rush for firearms is ebbing”;
    • “Plummeting sales of assault-style weapons, also known as modern sporting rifles or ‘black rifles,’ has led to an oversupply of unsold guns.”
    • “Assault-rifle sales are falling.”
    • “prices for the long guns have slumped and desperate wholesalers have offered incentives”
  • example: David Ludwig wrote at the end of August in The Wire that: “Firearm Sales Slump Because the NRA Is Too Good At Stopping Legislation,” a real anti-gun cri de coeur. Ludwig seemed to do little reporting of his own, but basically repackaged the Bloomberg press release. He defined “slump” as a 3.8% decline in NICS checks. That’s not really much of a slump, but his numbers weren’t even correct. He used an end-of-July snapshot of cumulative sales for 2014 (negative 3.77%), but by the end of August, the delta had narrowed to 2.49% and it has continued to narrow since.

What’s actually driving the “sales slump” story, aside from wishful thinking and innumeracy among the media, is a big sales decline — in the first two months of 2014. January NICS were off 33.46% over prior year numbers, and February NICS were also down nearly 10%. Taken together, this meant that by the start of March, 2014, firearm sales (to the extent they’re represented bt NICS) were down one million from 2013. That was definitely a slump, and the anti-gun reporters continue to write as if it’s still ongoing. But March’s sales were up over 12% from 2013’s, and until October monthly sales remained up, year over year.

At the end of November, total sales (as proxied by NICS) had declined 2.06% in 2014 versus 2013.

See, unlike reporters, we’re numerate. Thanks to superhuman and probably undeserved efforts by our grade school teachers, we didn’t end up stuk in Iraq the dying print media.

Like to check our arithmetic? We’ll provide an interactive in Excel for your number-crunching pleasure. It still lacks one number — December sales — to be complete for the year. If not a single gun sold in December, 2014 would indeed be an 11.54% sales slump, but we are looking at a Colt box that says it’s not going to be all that bad.

Interactive 2013-14 NICS prelim.xls

What Does the Fox NICS Say?

Not only is the story of sales decline belied by a detailed analysis of the data, a few simple metrics show that the industry continued to set new daily and weekly records this year:

nics_top_days_and_weeks

The top Black Friday in history was this year, 2014. It was 21.41% more than last year’s Black Friday, and 13.48% more than the previous Black Friday record (2012). It only missed the all-time record by 0.8%  — yes, that’s eight-tenths of one percent.

Four of the top ten days and two of the top five NICS days in history have been in 2014. Three of the top ten weeks and two of the top five NICS weeks in history have been in 2014.

Now, these are unit sales and the distress reported by SWHC and some others are dollar sales. What definitely has happened is that the market has loosened enough that average products (say, Smith’s OK-but-not-fabulous M&P-15 rifles) can no longer command a price premium, and need to be discounted to move. So the reporter who wants to write a sales decline story can always find a retailer who’s having to work to make the numbers that were coming easily a couple of years ago, and who will complain about how hard his life is, or some other quote the reporter can hammer to fit his pre-written story. But the end of the bubble was always expected, and in the best-run businesses it was planned for.

The top sales days and weeks are frequently just before Christmas, so we might see further records before the ball drops in Times Square.

But the media? Expect them to run a “sales decline” story. They already have it written, after all.

Bottom line: who are you going to trust: Certified Journalists™ or your lying eyes?

Notes

1. Who as we’ve seen recently in a couple of phony rape stories, care only about their prefab narrative and not about facts.

Hognose’s Rules, from Luke Somers’s Sad Fate

Luke Somers reportedly died Friday, murdered by Islamic terrorists when a hostage rescue attempt kicked off. Somers was an American photojournalist working in Yemen, who had been taken hostage, and his captors had scheduled his execution. When the rescue attempt landed, his captors did what they always threaten to do, and murdered him. A South African hostage, Pierre or Pieter Korkie, was also murdered.

This is going to occasion a lot of breast-beating in the media by people who don’t know the facts. So lets’s start with Hognose’s First Rule of Clandestine Operations: The People who Know Don’t Talk, and the People Who Talk, Don’t Know.

First Rule: The People who Know Don’t Talk, and the People Who Talk, Don’t Know

That includes us! We’ll cheerfully admit that, despite a career in special operations, and despite having completed a CT training course and having been in the CT intel loop, we have no idea about which actually went down Friday. We get the same media reports you do. You know what? The retired generals and former SEALs who will be strutting their stuff on TV for the next few days don’t know, either.

The people who do know exactly what went down probably number fewer than 200. Except for the ones in Washington, DC, they are professionals who care more about the success of these and future operations than about personal aggrandizement. So they not only won’t talk, they’ll limit and even alter what those read-on in DC are told. The operational and analysis sides both know that the NSC appointees and the oversight committee staffers have journalists on speed dial, and they work to limit the damage the self-absorbed DC drones do. Most leaks are not done to blow a whistle, or to send some message: the vast majority of leaks happen because those political folks can’t restrain their desire to boast and preen before people like themselves, to wit, journalists.

So you’ll hear a lot about this raid. The press will be full of comments from A Senior Defense Official and A Washington Official Who Asked Not to be Named. Most of it will be bullshit. Thank God.

Second Rule: Some Kinds of Ops are Harder than Others

Some ops are harder than others. Ops at the end of a long logistics train are always challenging (study the failure of the Iran hostage rescue to see a textbook case of that). But the second hardest op is hostage rescue. To plant and remove wiretaps, a now deprecated SF mission, was tough — if done right, it was clandestine, not just covert — but not as hard as HR. SOG teams in Vietnam planted and retrieved hundreds of taps on what the PAVN thought were secure landlines. (Sorry about that, Nguyen). But do you know how many American hostages they rescued?

Zero.

There were a handful of POWs that freed themselves1 and constant attempts and planning (the Son Tay raid was only the most complex, and most famous of these) but the best the raids were able to do was occasionally free an ARVN captive.

The hardest mission, harder than personnel recovery, is POW seizure. It’s like hostage rescue with an unwilling-to-be-rescued hostage. 

Third Rule: The Enemy is as Smart and as Brave as We Are

There is a tendency to fail to appreciate ingenuity and courage in the enemy (or, alternatively, to overstate it). If the enemy has hostages, he knows we are coming for them. He knows our intelligence sources and methods (in general), and he will take great pains to minimize his signatures and hide any signals in the noise of cities. He generally believes that he is on a mission from his god and he will fight to the death for his beliefs.

The fact that we do not share his beliefs, or even take them seriously, is immaterial. What matters is that he believes. On the Eastern Front in WWII, neither side was fighting for freedom; each army served a dystopian terror state. But they believed they were fighting for freedom, and that was enough to keep the bloodbath going.

You have to try to understand and respect the enemy. Only then can you have the best chance of killing him and/or thwarting his plans.

Fourth Rule: Hostage Rescue Depends on Enemy Hesitation

There’s an ugly little fact about hostage rescues, and it’s this: for you to succeed, the guards have to hesitate before whacking your hostage(s). You can see it in the successful ones, like the rescue of BG James Dozier from the Brigati Rossi in Italy in 1981 (an operation a very young Hognose was on the outer fringes of), or the rescue of Kurt Muse in Panama in 1989 (an operation we had nothing whatsoever to do with): if the enemy really wants to kill the hostage, he can. Some enemies hesitate; it’s only human, and that gives us a chance.

The Panamanian guards holding Muse may have been an exception: they had no orders to kill him. (That didn’t save them from the assault element). The communist terrorist assigned to whack Dozier did have orders to kill him, but hesitated just long enough for a couple of beefy Carabinieri to whack him upside the head with their weapons. (An American SOF element would have shot them dead even faster; lawmen like the Carabinieri tend to want live prisoners).

The guard(s) on Luke Somers had seconds to decide: Fight, Flight, or Follow Orders. They went with #3 and prioritized killing him (and his fellow hostage) over trying to save themselves or engage the rescue force. We needed a minute’s, or a second’s, or a split-second’s hesitation, and we (and poor Luke) didn’t get it.

Fifth Rule: No Choice But to Try

Even this administration, where there’s more sympathy for the hostage-takers than for our own operators, has to try, because if you don’t rescue them or try to, bad things happen. For one thing, leaving them in the hands of hostage takers is a propaganda defeat for our side and a win for the terrorists. They can turn this propaganda victory into credibility, funds and further operations. For another, sooner or later, the hostages will sicken, or the hostage-takers, who have already proven they’re hostis humani generis, will murder them. National credibility hinges on an attempt, and an attempt is a success on the credibility axis even if it fails. (Sun Tzu can explain, but for now, bear with us).

It’s sometimes incumbent on a nation-state to send the message that, as Lady Thatcher is rumored to have once said, “That is something up with which we will not put.” That’s one reason why the inept Russian Spetsnaz theater rescue attempt that left most of the hostages as dead as the Chechen terrorist hostage-takers was not entirely a failure: the Chechen leaders made the best propaganda of it that they could, but they didn’t crawl back in their caves thinking Ivan is a push-over.

The Hagel DOD undistinguished itself (what? no, that’s totally a word) by trying to ransom hostages, indicating that their ignorance of Kipling extends past The Gods of the Copybook Headings on to Dane-Geld. But even they know that you have to plan to rescue hostages, and when a deadline is set to kill them, or when the enemy actually begins to harm then, you have to act. In 1981 the trigger for initiating a rescue, even if you were still in the hasty-plan stage, was an imminent deadline, or actual injury to the hostages. It was a good idea in 1981, it’s a good idea today.

The other problem with ransom, of course, is that you’re trying to cut a deal with violent and usually religiously-motivated hostage-takers of all people. Only a for-sale Washington corruptoid, who’s projecting his own unprincipled nature onto our enemies, would think that you can buy them. (Or the corruptoid’s foreign equivalent: the other hostage who was killed with Somers had reportedly been “ransomed” by his NGO or his nation, but there were no indications that he would actually be released as promised).

Sixth Rule: The Hostages are a Bonus

This sanguinary idea came from the Israelis, originally, and reached us, in the early days of national CT planning, via our British cousins: the second most important thing is to rescue the hostages. The most important thing is to kill all the hostage takers. In this, hostage-takers are different from enemy soldiers and different from ordinary criminals. Unlike soldiers, they are not protected by international conventions, and because they train and operate in a cellular organization, and are considered expendable by their leaders, they are unlikely to possess worthwhile actionable intelligence. Unlike criminals, they are likely to be disruptive and recruit  more terrorists in prison, and their at-large confederates are highly likely to commit more atrocities in an attempt to secure them release.

So, if you’re taken hostage, every reasonable effort will be prepared to free you. But if the raid goes down, your survival for the next few minutes depends on taking cover, having a little luck, and the existence of a flicker of humanity still unextinguished in the guy who’s got the blowing-you-away duty. Which flicker will kill him, but he was almost certainly going to be killed, anyway.

Seventh Rule: Planning & Training Never Stops

No doubt the men who hit that target in Yemen are beaten-up and depressed right now. They will be looking at what parts of the raid went right, and which didn’t, with a professional’s eye. They’ll figure out where mistakes were made, and where the problem was just the very tough nature of the task and the breaks. They’ll study, and think, and rework their SOPs and drills, and be ready when the call comes to do it again, whether that’s tonight or ten years from now.

There is no show on TV called Retirement Homes of the Great Hostage Takers. Never will be.

Notes

1. The escapees included at least two who wrote books, SF officer Nick Rowe (Five Years to Freedom) and Navy A-1 Skyraider pilot, Dieter Dengler (who wrote two books). Both are since deceased. One of Dengler’s books was made into a quirky movie about his escape with Christian Bale as Dengler; the same director made a documentary about Dengler.

Friday Tour d’Horizon

…which is French for, clearing the tabs. After we dispose of a couple of administrative points.

About Weaponsman.com, Some Observations

We find that it we depend a lot upon some of the best informed commenters in the world. Thanks, guys and gals, for letting us know no error will stand. If you’re not reading the comments, you probably ought to start.

We do find that writing is starting (?) to impact what one’s disability insurance calls “Activities of Daily Living.” If we’re writing when we should be going to the range, that’s having an impact on life-work balance. Our FFL is not happy when our firearms take up space in his vault for lack of a pick-up. Even our posts have been going up late more often than note (ETA: this one is dated Friday night, but it’s going up Saturday at 0900, and the Saturday 0600 post isn’t even an idea).

Some things have fallen by the wayside. It’s been a while since we did a That Was the Week that Was. Further, we can’t do Saturday Matinees if we’re not watching movies. We probably need to recruit some help.

If you’ve sent us a juicy tip and it hasn’t run, this is why.

And we’re about to have a long overdue problem fixed, which will cause more delays. Replacements for the beautiful, but rotted-to-the-point-of-unsafe, and therefore sealed, French Doors in the office of the Manor have finally arrived from the factory, so this week the office will intermittently host a bit of the New Hampshire winter and swarms of much-appreciated, but inimical to contemplation and scrivenry, workmen. For the record, the work was ordered in March… 2013… so there is something slower than ATF NFA Branch these days.

And let’s Brag about Statistics, Shall We?

November was berry berry good to us, with 198,803 hits representing 115,733 unique visits. We realize that it may just be the 17 of you guys hitting “refresh” a lot, but we appreciate every

Our goal was a million hits this year. We’re not there yet, but if you guys do your part it’s in the bag — even if we had no stats from  to October 15, waiting for the guy who writes Rich Counter to fix it. (He never did. We finally installed a superior package, WP-Statistics). Thanks to WP-Stats, we got statistics again from 15 October, and we can now track unique visitors as well as raw hits. The little data we’ve gathered since 15 Oct suggests that we would have been over 1 million unique visits already, if stats had been up, and would be about half again higher on hits. We’ll announce our year end numbers, naturally, when the year ends.

Our MBA-fu predicts we’ll just break 1.1 million hits, even entering 0, rather than make any estimate for the 90 days down, and that our real number was 1.3-1.4 million. The number the machinery gives us is a falsely-specific 1,120,710, which suggests there’s a precision in forecasting that isn’t really there.

What’s up for WeaponsMan.com in 2015

We’ll announce our goal for 2015 when we release our full year 2014 statistics, but we expect to grow further in the new year, even if we wind up monkeying with the publication schedule. We also hope to add some new graphics from a famous name, and would like a recommendation for someone to do a whole-blog makeover.

Now, overleaf (because this thing grew to over 1700 words), we have the following for you:

  • A Unique Christmas Gift — art with a message
  • Hello, Lenin? — Germans re-elect the Stasi in a local election
  • Bad Cess to Bad Journalists, which is All of ‘Em
  • ‘Tis the Season to Bust Phonies, fa la la la la, la la la laaaa!
  • If you’ve gotta hold up a bar… and you choose a cop bar, just shoot yourself and cut out the middle man.

Continue reading

Materials: One Future of Armor

At Rice University in Houston, Texas, researchers in nanomaterials have come up with an interesting substance that has some armor potential — because, set up as a sacrificial membrane, it can leech incredible amounts of kinetic energy out of a projectile.

This isn’t going to be in you personal armor on Thursday. We’re still in the realm of science, and a long way from engineering a practical product. But this is one potential component of a future multilayer, multi-material protective system.

It builds on the strengths of nanomaterials. So far, many of the posited uses for them have been as futuristic as the novels of Jules Verne were in their day; think “space elevator.” But while futuristic materials enable futuristic applications, they also have a place in making today’s applications work better.

By the way, you may wonder why a proud but perhaps less famous school like Rice is doing such cutting-edge research in nanotech. It may be that they had a leg up, what social scientists1 call “founder effect.” You see, three Rice physics and materials-science researchers and three of their grad students synthesized C60 and named the complex carbon molecule “buckminsterfullerene” after the geodesic-dome inventor2, which was the Big Bang that started the entire field of nanotechnology in the first place. The three professors shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1996.

Knowing that, it would be remarkable if cutting-edge nanotechnology research wasn’t taking place at Rice. In the next video, the two survivors of the three professors tell the story of how this research, spun off their other interests, almost didn’t happen. “Serendipity!” Robert Curl, himself a Rice grad, assures his partner in discovery, Sir Harold Kroto. (The third buckyball Nobelist, Rick Smalley, died in 2005).

Notes

1. “Social” as a word modifies “scientist” into something completely unlike the original meaning, doesn’t it?

2. R. Buckminster Fuller was an architect and visionary, who was probably better at promotion than he was at invention, although the geodesic dome stands (literally) as proof of his real genius. Fuller tends to attract rabid fans from all walks of life, even 30 years after his passing. FMI: https://bfi.org/about-fuller

Zeppelin Raid: 19 July 1918

From almost the very start of the Great War, the British were bedeviled by Zeppelin raids. The airships could fly far higher and faster than many of the airplanes sent to oppose them. They also raided by night, and in pre-radar days were hard to find and intercept.

Naturally, it occurred to British authorities to strike them in their lairs, as it were, in the gigantic Zeppelin sheds on German airfields. This led to a raid in July 1918 that was every bit as daring as the Doolittle Raid of 1942, but is much less well known. Like Doolittle’s raid, the naval aviation raid on the Zeppelin sheds at Tondern, Germany (modern Tonder, Denmark) were consequential, daring, hazardous, and dependent on technology strained to the uttermost. Like Doolittle’s raid, not everyone came home.

Concept of the Operation

Having agreed on the desirability of an attack on the Zeppelins at rest, the British intended to use Britain’s naval superiority to mount a naval air strike against them. This would not be the first naval air raid in history, as the RN had attacked Cuxhaven with seaplanes as early as Christmas, 1914; but it was the first attack on any target launched from an aircraft carrier.

It would call for pilots with technical mastery of the fiddly high-tech machines, and more than the average share of intrepidity. At the time, HMS Furious was a one-way aircraft carrier. What goes up, must come down, but not here. With the flight deck located forward of the bridge and superstructure, aircraft could launch, but not recover. The drill was to return to the ship and ditch in the sea, whereupon the Navy would do their best to pluck the pilot from the waves, and hook his plane up to a winch, whereupon it would be hauled out, washed thoroughly with fresh water, and repaired, if possible.

Furious flight decksWith the launch-and-splashdown approach successful, experiments were undertaken in landing planes aboard. Arresting gear were developed, and a second flight deck was built after of the superstructure, intended for aircraft recovery. A sort of pathway was provided for the recovered planes to be manhandled around Furious’s funnel, bridge and masts to the take-off deck forward. It looked like, and was, a temporary stopgap.

It was also a miserable failure. While Furious did host the first successful carrier landing on a moving ship (Ely’s American experiments before the war had been on a stationary “carrier”), the turbulence behind the superstructure made landing perilous. Squadron Commander Edwin Harris Dunning, DSC., RNAS, successfully landed a Sopwith Pup (a sweeter-handling antecedent to the Camel) on the deck, but perished when he was blown overside trying to repeat the feat. Further experiments showed that, even with selected pilots, getting aboard without losing the plane was no better than a fifty-fifty proposition. Since the deliberate ditchings usually allowed the safe recovery of the pilot, and often of the plane, also, the nascent carrier strike wing returned to that hairy procedure.

The raid's seven Camels await their orders.

The raid’s seven Camels await their orders.

The mission required the pilots to launch from the very short foredeck of Furious, fly across open water to the coast, navigate to the location of the Zeppelin sheds, and navigate back to the position the fleet had gotten to in the interim. The pilots were instructed to give priority to attacking any Zeppelins encountered, and second priority to the sheds; if they needed to expend their return-to-ship fuel reserve to fight the Zeppelins, or defending aircraft, so be it; they were to make the best landing they could in enemy territory rather than fly out to sea and be lost for want of fuel.

Poor picture of the planes enroute.

Poor, double-exposed picture of the planes enroute.

The implication, of course, was that it was a one-way mission. It wasn’t officially; the fleet stood by to recover the planes and pilots if they did ever come back. Each pilot knew where the plane-guard destroyers would be, and if he made it back to the fleet, his job was to ditch just off the ship’s nose — far enough to avoid being run over, close enough that the ship would arrive in time to hook onto the plane before Poseidon staked his claim to the machine, and, perhaps, its crewman. But even though it wasn’t officially a one-way trip, everything had to go right at every point for the pilots to return to their wardroom in the carrier. The odds stacked up against it.

The Weapon: Sopwith Camel

Furious embarked two types of airplanes in 1918: Sopwith 1½ Strutters as reconnaissance and bombing planes, and the new Sopwith Camel fighters. The 1½ Strutters were the logical choice for a bombing raid, but the admirals didn’t think they wanted to expend any of them — in the short time they’d had Furious with the fleet, they’d gotten hooked on the situational awareness that eyes-on aerial reconnaissance could bring them.  So it was the Camels or nothing.

Model Sopwith Camel.2F-3

Model Sopwith Camel N6605. This plane and its pilot Lt. NE Williams landed in neutral Denmark and were interned till war’s end. Note the bombs. From a modeler’s page on his 1/48 scale Sopwith projects.

As a bombing plane, the Camel was decidedly limited. It could carry a bombload of 100 lbs — 2 each 50 lb Cooper bombs. In addition it had two machine guns — usually two synchronized belt-fed Vickers guns, improved Maxims, but sometimes a Vickers and a pan-fed Lewis firing from outside the propeller arc, or even just one Vickers (the photos of the raid aircraft seem to show all three armament types. The Camel was designed for two Vickerses, but there was a Vickers shortage at the time). The synchronized guns used a Constantinesco gear train to ensure they would never strike a propeller blade.

Choosing the Camels, and drawing a radius equivalent to half a Camel’s range from all the points where Furious might come close inshore, greatly simplified target selection: while the Navy knew of quite a few Zeppelin sheds, there was exactly one facility in reach of the Camels: Tondern, in Schleswig province of Germany itself (which would be lost to Denmark in the Treaty of Versailles).

furious_and_camelsLaunching the Camels from the decks of Furious at sea was always risky. And recovering the machines and men from the cold waters of the North Sea and English Channel was more so. Moreover, to ensure an early-morning attack, the planes had to launch before first light (several stirring paintings of the launch take artistic license by showing them during the day). WWI aviation was rudimentary, although it was the high-tech of the day. Naval aircraft carrier operations were far out ahead of the leading edge of 1918 technology. The operation was carefully planned to give the Camel pilots their best chance of surviving an attack on the enemy hornet’s nest, and returning to their ship, but the pilots had to be fearful that they were on a one-way mission.

The Target

tonder Zeppelin Sheds

Tobias, Toni and Toska, showing one Zeppelin, before the raid. It embiggens.

Tondern hosted three Zeppelin sheds, gigantic hangars that could accommodate the gigantic airships. The Germans numbered their Zeppelins, but named the sheds: Toska was 730 feet long and 220 feet high, and two smaller sheds (603 feet long) were called Toni and Tobias. The biggest Zeps would only fit in the big shed, but it could hold two of them, side by side, and on the day of the attack, it did: LZ 54 and LZ 60.

A Zeppelin relied on speed and altitude for safety in the sky; it could climb higher than most British fighters. But on the ground, the Zeppelins and their sheds were fat, juicy targets, and the Imperial Navy that operated them surrounded them with rings of defenses: fighter squadrons, whose headquarters could be reached by telegraph; novel Krupp anti-aircraft cannon; numerous machine-gun nests. Surprise could thin the defenses, but a fully alerted defense would be a tough nut to crack.

The Raid

Furious camel takeoff

Some of the Camels had 2x Vickers, some had 1x Vickers and 1x Lewis. This sunny picture is fanciful; the launch was at 0300 hours!

On 19 July 1918, hours before dawn, seven Camels rose unsteadily from the deck of Furious, and headed for Tondern. One of them dropped one of its wheels into the sea as it climbed out; its pilot was Walter A “Toby” Yeulett. Another soon turned back and made its water landing in front of what we’d now call a plane-guard destroyer, leaving 6 Camels with a total of 600 pounds of bombs on the mission.

(Illustrating the difficulty of plane-and-pilot recovery, the plane-guard ship ran over the plane, destroying it. The pilot was recovered safely).

They navigated by magnetic compass, and map pilotage and elapsed time, because that is what they had, and flew a course as simplified as possible to ensure returning to the fleet. Essentially they flew due east until making landfall, and then turned south along the coast to Tondern.

At the target, they were met by anti-aircraft gun and machine-gun fire, but it does not appear to have had an effect. The planes bombed. Most of them chose the much larger Toska as a target, and while the raid was still ongoing, black smoke boiled out of a large hole in the roof of Toska and rose over 10,000 feet in the air. The pilots reported that they had destroyed the hangar and damaged the other two.

Accounts of the raid from the British and German side are remarkably congruent. One Zeppelin captain’s account took time to note his admiration for the courage of the attackers, even as he feared for the fate of his ship, LZ 54.

The Results of the Raid

They had overstated their results, as the hangar damage was repairable. The flames they saw, though, were the funeral pyres of LZ 54 and LZ 60, of which only charred skeletons remained. They burned inside Toska without causing the hangar to burn itself; it was rebuildable. The loss of life is not known, but was apparently small. But one thing was clear: Tondern was finished as a Zeppelin launch site. Even though the sheds could be restored, the feeling of security could not be. From this point in time on, the Zeppelins would launch their attacks from deeper inside Germany.

Unknown if these are the surviving aircraft, post-raid.

Unknown if these are the surviving aircraft, post-raid. The hatch in the foreground led to the hangar deck, whence planes were winched up to launch, and where they were stored. IWM photo.

Three airplanes alone returned to ditch in the vicinity of Furious, counting the mission-abort plane. Their pilots were recovered from the cold North Sea, and their pride in success of the raid must have been highly tempered by the absence of four of their mates. Three of the non-returned pilots, though, were safe, having landed in nominally neutral Denmark. The fourth, Lieutenant W.A. “Toby” Yeulett, did not return. His body was recovered from the sea; he and his plane washed up on the shore in separate places. He was buried with honors, and his grave is maintained to this day. The only son of a Walton-on-Thames couple, Yeulett was 19 years old at the time of his death. He was the only fatality on the British side.

Two of the other pilots interned by the Danes escaped back to Britain; after that, the third was held until war’s end.

At the time, the existence of aircraft carriers was closely held, and official reports of Yeulett’s passing say that he was flying a “seaplane.” As did an official report which came to be printed in the New York Times, among other papers. Seaplane? Well, in a manner of speaking. But this was probably a cover story for the new concept of an aircraft carrier. The Germans knew they’d been attacked by landplanes; indeed, the Zeppelin skipper mentioned above noted Yeulett’s one-wheeled plane in the attack.

Yeulett’s family has preserved his memory, and there’s an excellent website with information about him and the raid (see Sources below).

The raid convinced the British that aircraft carriers had almost unlimited potential as power-projection tools. Britain’s Asian ally, Japan, also took notice. The Tondern Raid is little-remembered today, but as an example of a technologically-enabled special operation, it deserves to be studied in both its naval aviation and special operations aspects.

Sources

Casey, William.  Walter “Toby” Yeulett DFC: The Raid on Tondern 1918. This extremely good and thorough website is well  maintained by a great-nephew of Yeulett. Retrieved from: http://www.tondernraid.com

The Imperial War Museum. British Ships of the First World War. n.d., Retrieved from: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/listing/object-205013089

Tillman, Barrett. Forging the Weapon. Naval History Magazine. October 2010, Vol. 4 No. 5. Retrieved from: http://www.usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/2010-10/forging-weapon

Whitehouse, Arch. The Zeppelin Fighters. New York: Doubleday, 1966.  This is where we first read the story of the raid. It’s an excellent book which tells the story of the development and combat employment of the Zeppelins, and of the men who went to war against them. It is a creature of its period, in that it lacks index and footnotes, but it’s a stirring read (Whitehouse was a very prolific writer of WWI history and other early aviation stories).

How a P.38 Locking Block Works

This awesome animation comes from former Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week C&Rsenal, who continue to do amazing things with photography. If you study this carefully, you’ll understand just how unique the Walther design was at the time: the ingenious tipping block is widely explained, but here you can see it. You can see how the easily-manufactured pin is a key part of positive unlocking on recoil, and you can see how the unique dual recoil springs were used to keep the breech face area wide open, eliminating one cause of jams entirely.

German-Pistol-Walther-P38-Animation

If you’re a vet or a serving troop, you’ll recognize this locking block from your M9. In fact, Beretta  copied the Walther system (conceptually only; there’s no interchange of parts) for its M1951 Brigadier pistol, which became issue for several nations including Egypt, Iraq, Israel and naturally Italy. The Brigadier led through prototypes that explored the Walther concept of double-action and the Browning Hi-Power double-stack, single-feed magazine to the elegant Model 92, whose kinship to the Walther is still visible — if you squint a little.

We can’t get over how great this animation is. If you study it carefully, you can see the reasoning behind practically every cut in the metal of the P.38. For example, you can see that the barrel stands on two sort-of “pedestals,” one with its back surface even with the breech face, and another with its front surface even with the front of the slide and frame. If you look at the bottom of the forward pedestal, you’ll see its relieved perhaps 3/16″. Why? That’s because that relief allows the barrel to move over the take-down lever in closed position — and limits the barrel’s travel either way. Rotating the take-down lever frees the barrel up here.

This animation also explains why later aluminum-framed P.38s and German issue P-1s had a steel block inserted in the frame, even though this animation doesn’t show the steel block (because it’s of a wartime steel-frame gun, naturally). The steel block was added to reinforce the frame where it provides the camming surface to put the block back into the locked position as the recoil springs return the recoiling parts to battery.

The guy actually apologizes for the quality of this animation, as he’s since learned of a better way to do them. (We actually like this better than the x-ray animation used in his Nambu video, but that’s us).

They’re promising more on the P.38 tomorrow, and that, and animations like this, are why we include C&Rsenal in our perambulations around the Net.

 

A Thanksgiving Message We Missed Last Week

In all the drama, we didn’t see some of the great messages of the season, like this one from Senator-Elect Tom Cotton, from Arkansas.

“And, finally, we prayerfully commend to His care two groups of our fellow Americans in particular: our troops and their families.

“For many, there will be no homecoming this week. From Afghanistan to Iraq to Korea, our troops continue to patrol the world to bring peace and security for us all. From Marines in Liberia to sailors across the oceans to airmen over the Asian skies to the sentinels standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, these troops will sacrifice the comforts of family and home so we can enjoy them.

“To each of you, on behalf of the people of a grateful nation, I extend our deepest thanks for your honorable and faithful service.

“And to your families, I extend similar thanks, and this personal assurance. Nine years ago, I was at Ranger School for Thanksgiving; six years ago, it was Mehtar Lam, Afghanistan. While we deeply missed our own families, we also celebrated together as a second, surrogate family.

“As you see the empty seat at your table this Thanksgiving, please know that your sons and daughters, husbands and wives, moms and dads miss you dearly, but are enjoying the next best thing to home: the camaraderie and love of their brothers and sisters in arms.

via ‘Our Deepest Thanks for Your Honorable and Faithful Service’ | The Weekly Standard.

Heh. We were in Ranger School on Thanksgiving, too. Thirty-one years ago, in 1983.

Guard Encounters Armed Blacks with Guns in Ferguson — Cooperation Ensues

Some National Guardsmen patrolling the wreckage of Ferguson, Missouri came on a remarkable, and alarming, sight: black men with guns, their leader a 6’8″ giant cradling an AR-15. They stood in the forecourt of a Conoco gas station, a building that rose, unmolested, like a meth addict’s last solitary tooth in a micro-Hiroshima landscape of boarded-up, or, worse, looted and burned, small businesses.

This was a building that did not burn, despite containing fuel enough to delight the nihilistic rioters. It wasn’t just standing, it was open. 

The Guard soldiers demanded that the men put their guns down, and were actually starting to cuff them, when the owner of the station emerged. Doug Merello is a second-generation owner of the station, and even though he’s white, he and his shop’s neighbors, just about all black, had always been friendly. They were his customers, and the neighbors were where he turned for his workers, too.

The nervous Guardsmen soon learned that the giant, Derrick “Stretch” Jordan, 37, and his armed friends were local men. They were workers and former workers at the station, and their friends, who knew Merello and just thought it would just flat be a crying shame if his station went the way of so many other small Ferguson businesses. Especially when they knew so many good people in their town, of whatever race, and knew also that the looters were mostly outsiders with a sprinkling of local ne’er-do-wells, incited by an irresponsible media that dreams of a world in flames.

Nobody was paying them. Nobody made them do it. They just decided to be the kind of men who did the Right Thing, and that this was the Right Thing to Do.

The cuffs came off. Apologies were made. The Guardsmen waved to their unexpected allies, and went back to the hard business of trying to keep Ferguson from reenacting the Sack of Rome with a new generation of Vandals.

And the local men kept watch on their friend’s station. Stretch had his AR. R.J., 29, had a Taurus 9mm. Sean Turner brought his .40, and an older guy had a MAC-10. Kids came looking for trouble — they got shown off.

Neither the Guard nor the volunteers at the Conoco station shot anybody.

And, as far as we know, the little gas station is still standing, proof that the only thing needed for evil to fail is for good men to do something.

Source: Emily Flitter with Cary Gilliam, Reuters, in the LVRJ. Hat tip, Nathan Francis in the Inquisitr via The Gun Feed. (Naturally, the reporters play up the race angle, because race is their big thing. The human angle was more interesting to us, but seemed to elude Flitter, even as she got the facts).

Update: Dean Weingarten, whose Gun Watch blog is always worth reading, has an article on informal militias protecting lives & property where the Guard hasn’t been doing so. We’d like to note that in such situations the National Guard usually operates under extremely restrictive ROE, because political leaders are more concerned about the possibility of exacerbating the violence than they are about restoring the rule of law.

Bob Owens at Bearing Arms also tied the two self-defense organization together (the Oathkeepers that Dean noted and Stretch and friends who defended the gas station).

An AK… in Pump-Action?

Not altogether sure what to make of this. We do know that for $2200 were not going to be buying it. But this AK, for sale on GunBroker right now, can’t really be called the work of Bubba: It’s far too well done. But it’s what was done that raises our eyebrows… this AK is a little idiosyncratic, shall we say, in its style and features.

Pump AK right

See what we mean?

Here’s what the auction says about it:

Up for auction, is a (RCCA)Roll Call Custom Armory Exclusive! A Fully Modified & Customized AK-47 Romanian Par-1 Pump Action AK47!

That’s right, High Capacity AK-47 Pump Action Rifle that has had a “Complete Make-Over”, both inside and out!

This baby is most likely a legal hunting rifle in just about every state. Check your state laws to be sure !!

This AK-47 Pump is like nothing that you have ever seen!

Yeah, he’s definitely got us there. The nearest thing we can think of is Marvin the Martian’s Disintegrator-ator-ator-ray.

Pump AK

 

But let’s let him describe what’s been done to this firearm.

Let me just mention a few of the Highlighted Features.

True Polish Under-Folder stock with a Billet Aluminum Adjustable Cheek Rest. A Red Star Arms Adjustable Trigger. A CSS Round Sloted Forarm Rail. A Texas Weapons System Picatinny Rail with Peep Sight. A Krebs Extended Safety Lever. A Billet Aluminum Extended (Pump) Charging Handle by MGM Mfg.. A Stainless Steel Ported Shroud Muzzle Flash Suppressor. A Fiber Optic Front Sight. A (Night Vision Compatible) Vortex Strike Fire Red Dot Optic with a See-Through Cantilever Mount. The entire Rifle has been done in Armor Black & Stainless Steel Cera-Koted Finish.

OK, we weren’t going to interrupt his sales spiel, but does this guy sound like Ron Popeil, or what?

WAIT! There’s More! It also comes with…

Yep. Ron Popeil. What does this Ronco AK-47 slicer and dicer come with, if we ACT NOW?

…a Two-Tone UPG/RWC Ergonomic Finger Grooved Pistol Grip, a Single Point Sling Swivel, a Non-Slip Pump-Slide Grip Cover, a Bolt Open Lock Safety Lever, and a U.S. Palm 30rnd. Magazine.

This Awesome AK47 Pump Action Rifle has been tweaked, tuned, and Customized “Over-The-Top” for Roll Call and we know you will enjoy owning, shooting, and hunting with what NO One Else Has!

So, Go ahead and try to find anything even close, Then, Check out the pics, the price, our Roll Call Feedback, and Place Your Bid with Confidence!

Again, it has us at a loss for classification. When you consider the amount of smithing that’s in this gun, and the individual cost of the many third-party parts, and factor in the CeraKote finish (one of the costlier options for a spray-on bake-on finish), the dealer/builder is probably not making a lot of money on it.

There was a lot of time put into this. Now, we have the archaic and suspect idea that a gunsmith, even one more of the parts-assembler/armorer/finisher variety, is worth at least as much as you pay the schmo who changes your oil at the Lexus dealer. It’s not what we would do with an AK, but it gives every appearance of being well done.

We suppose the pump action would appeal to people in ban states, where a semi-auto with a detachable magazine causes paroxysms of pearl-clutching on the part of newspaper editors, and dog-shooting (for starters) on the part of police.

But still, all this on a Romanian AK? This reminds us of an old saying about some things you can’t polish.

Maybe if you Cerakote them first?

Pump AK angle

Anyway, for the right owner, maybe this is the perfect AK, and all our skepticism proves is that we’re not the right owners. The gun has a certain video-game or Hollywood appeal — you could see someone using it in the remake of Man from UNCLE. It would be quite a step up from the original THRUSH carbine as a bad-guy weapon!

If you’re the property master or armorer for the UNCLE flick, or otherwise interested in this unusual AK, there are more pictures on the auction page.