Category Archives: Weapons Education

Loose Rounds on the M14

We have a soft spot in our heart for the M14 rifle, even though we experienced it in the service primarily as the M21 sniper system, a fiddly, unstable platform with, “no user serviceable parts inside.” (Seriously. The operator was not permitted to field-strip the gun — that was strictly for the armorers who built the thing. You could swab out the bore, but they’d rather you didn’t). Some of the fiddliness was caused by the Leatherwood ART II scope, an early bullet drop compensator telescopic sight. The Leatherwood was adopted, we always suspected, because Jim Leatherwood had been an SF guy, not because the scope was incredibly great. The replacement of the M21 with the M24 bolt gun, a gun that was developed primarily by SF marksmen (snipers and competitive shooters), was met by hosannas. Its Leupold mildot scope took the onus off the scope’s internals and put it on the shooter, and we liked that.


So when Shawn at Loose Rounds penned a post critical not as much of the M14 but of its somewhat unsupported legend of battlefield prowess, he was aiming right up our alley. He has technical support in that post from Daniel Watters, arguably the most knowledgable man on post-WWII US small arms developments not to have written a book. And his arguments are generally supported  by the M14-related books in our collection, some of which appear in footnotes or Sources.

The M14’s history is interesting. It had a long and arduous gestation, involving many false starts and dead ends, before finally settling on a weapon that was a little more than an M1 with a box magazine and improved gas system. This whole process took 12 years (from 1945 to 1957) and cost a surprising fortune, considering that what came out of it was essentially an M1 with a box mag, useless selective-fire switch, and improved gas system.

From the operator end, it looks just like an M1, except for that dopey and wasteful giggle switch,  but you can actually reload an M1 faster.


The M14’s prototype, the T44, came this close (Max Smart finger gesture) to losing out to the US-made FN-FAL version, the T48. The final test found the two weapons roughly equivalent.1 Previous tests greatly improved both arms, and made one lasting improvement in the FAL hat benefited FN and foreign operators: the incorporation of the “sand cuts” in the bolt carrier.2 One deciding factor was that the FN rifle did not have “positive bolt closure,” a way to force the bolt closed on, say, a swollen cartridge. (Never mind that that’s a crummy idea, it was Army policy. Some say, in order to accept the home-grown, Springfield-developed T44 instead of the foreign-designed FAL, but that’s certainly not written down anywhere important).

The M14 went on to have a surprisingly difficult time in manufacturing — surprising because it had been sold on extensive commonality with M1 Garand design, and sold as producible on M1
Garand tooling. All manufacturers (Springfield, Winchester, Harrington & Richardson, and TRW) struggled to make the guns. (Stevens calls M14 production, in a chapter heading, “A Tragedy in Four Acts.”3 In H&R’s case it was not surprising, as H&R had struggled with an M1 contract and only had an M14 contract because of political corruption in the Massachusetts congressional delegation, TRW, which is generally thought to have produced the best rifles of the four manufacturers.4

The M14 was supposed to replace the M1, but also the BAR, carbine, and SMG. Until you see them side by side, most people assume the 14 was smaller than the M1 (image: Rifle Shooter mag).

The M14 was supposed to replace the M1, but also the BAR, carbine, and SMG. Until you see them side by side, most people assume the M14 was smaller than the M1. This “M14″ is actually a civilian Springfield M1A.  (image: Rifle Shooter mag)..

In fact, only a few M1 parts are interchangeable with the M14, including most internal parts of the trigger housing group, and some of the stock hardware, A few other parts, like the extractor and rear sight aperture, interchange but aren’t quite “right.” (The M14 extractor works better in either rifle; the M1 and M14 sights are calibrated in yards and meters respectively).5

The M14 had a short life as a US service rifle, and a controversial one. (Congress, for one, couldn’t believe the amount of money that had been spent for a relatively marginal improvement over the M1). But it has had a long afterlife as stuff of legend. And this where Loose Rounds’ most recent effort in mythbusting comes in. Here is a taste:

Go on to any gun forum, and it won’t take you long to find people willing to tell you how great the M14 is. How accurate,like a laser, tough as tool steel with no need to baby it or clean it. powerful as a bolt of lightening, and how well loved it was by those early users who refused the M16 because they wanted a “real” weapon made of wood and steel…. .. But, is all that really true? Maybe it is a triumph of nostalgia over common sense and reality. One truth is, it was never really liked as much as people think they remember.

The M14 was having major problems even before ARPA’s Project AGILE and a Defense comptroller reported the AR15 superior to the M14;the famous Hitch Report stating the AR15 , the M1 and the AK47 superior.

(Loose Rounds then quotes those exact conclusions from those reports, which are also referenced in many of the Sources we list at the end of this document).

My own Father had this to say. Dad was in Vietnam from 67-68 in the 4th Infantry Division.

“I liked the M14 in basic, It was the first semi auto I had ever fired. It got old carrying all that weight fast running every where all day and night. I qualified expert with it. Once I was issued an M16 right before we over seas, I never looked back.”

For every person who has told me how great the thing is, I have found two who had nothing by misery and bad experiences from it. I myself among them.

The M14/M1a  will be around for as long as people will continue to buy them.  Certainly there is nothing wrong with owning them liking them and using them. By no means is it useless or ineffective.   But its legendary reputation is something that needs to be taken with a grain of salt and careful study of the system if you intend to have one for a use your like may depend on.

If you are curious  posts on shooting rack M14s and custom service rifle M14s with Lilja barrels fired at 1,000 yards can be found here on Looseorunds using the search bar.  There you can read of the M14/M1A compared against the M1 Garand and M1903.

When we sat down last night to start writing this, we were going to analyze their post in great depth, but we can only suggest you go Read The Whole Thing™. The M14 is very beloved, but then, many soldiers come to love their first military rifle quite out of proportion to its qualities. (Indeed, we feel that way about, and retain a limerent attachment to, the M16A1, while recognizing that progress has left the original Army M16 behind).

If nostalgia drives you, LRB has this rifle on a new T44E4 marked receiver in stock -- for nearly $3k.

If nostalgia drives you, LRB has this rifle on a new T44E4 marked receiver in stock — for nearly $3k. We want it but not $3k bad!

Indeed, there is a space on the gun room wall marked out for an M21, sooner or later. But that;s where it is likely to stay most of the time. (Shawn’s post at Loose Rounds has some details about the fiendish difficulty of keeping one of these in accurate shooting trim).


  1. Stevens, North American FALs, p.106; Iannimico, p. 62.
  2. Iannimico, p. 59.
  3. Stevens, US Rifle M14, pp. 197-224l
  4. Emerson, Volume 1, pp. 41-70
  5. Emerson, Volume 3, pp. 129-130.


Emersom, Lee. M1 History and Development, Fifth Edition. (Four Volumes). Self-published, 2010-2014.

Iannimico, Frank. The Last Steel Warrior: US Rifle M14. Henderson, NV: Moose Lake, 2005.

Rayle, Roy E. Random Shots: Episodes in the Life of a Weapon Developer. Bennington, VT: Merriam Press, 1996.

Stevens, R. Blake, North American FALs. Toronto: Collector Grade Publications, 1979.

Stevens, R. Blake, US Rifle M14: From John Garand to the M21. Toronto: Collector Grade Publications, 1979.

Ghost Gunner Update — Received 26 January

Everyone who ordered one of these should have gotten this update. It’s shared here for those of you who are just curious, not committed. Consider it a Guest Post by Cody R. Wilson. -Ed.

Hey Ghost Gunners. Time for a production update.

We spent the first week of January correcting our enclosure provider’s specification errors, to eventual success. We then proceeded to junk 1200 pounds of powder-coated steel. And yes, they ate the cost.


We had been working with a supplier for CNC and lathed parts who was supposed to ship us production parts sets by mid-December, but he missed his goal and promised delivery in early January. Those parts did arrive this month, but of the critical sets only about 20% currently meet our specifications.

We began to suspect this supplier’s abilities at the end of the year, however, and were able to bring on a more reliable and professional supplier in Austin to replace this work and make up for time lost on enclosures.


These [Does he mean “Three”? –Ed.] months for this work product.

So, as it stands today, we think we’re only going to be shipping about 18-20 machines this month. Our new supplier should get our part stream way up in February, and most people should see their GG in the mail in as soon as three weeks. To you backers who were expecting Holiday delivery, I can only thank you for your patience and promise you a valuable product.

To you on the wait list, I will be able to call up 40 to 50 of you once we ship the first 100 machines through February. You’ll receive an email from DD.

There is still a lot to discuss from this month, however.

J Compy

250 calibrated spindle motors.

Yes, we’ve been hard at work making the guts of nearly 300 machines so far. We’ve been afforded extra time in the delays for software adjustments and V&V on our custom electronics (more about those when the occasion is happier).

We’ve staffed up enough to have people in the shop around the clock, but this is still not what we need to talk about.

banner boards

We should talk about ATF 2015-1.

The first week of this new year, Obama’s Justice Department, through his ATF, gutted the traditional trade in 80% lower completion. It doesn’t matter what their story is, the move was made to destroy 50 years of industry precedent and squeeze you out of access to commercial grade CNC equipment to privately, and I should add constitutionally, equip yourself with your own AR.

Now, this new ATF regulation does not affect your purchase of this machine and our ability to sell it to you. Indeed, the Obama Administration has just made this Ghost Gunner endeavor in which we’ve all joined extremely important. As of January, the only way you can use CNC to finish your lower is to buy a machine. Your absolute government knows most law-abiding people cannot afford their own CNC, and so they have forced you to rely on hand tools if you want a private AR-15.

But now the world has a Ghost Gunner.

This month, Come and Take It Texas demonstrated one of our first production machines at the Texas State Capitol to welcome the new legislators.


GG at the Capitol

The responses from the open carry groups were meek and anxious.

So let’s be very clear.

This project and our company are about expanding your franchise as freemen. And in the face of overwhelming opposition. Your governors, legislators, lobbyists and industry friends do not give a damn about your right to have this rifle outside of commerce and surveillance.

The Feds are doing everything they can to stop this project. Just this week we received a contemptuous letter from DoD denying cognizance of our technical data requests, and late last year we were threatened directly by the DTSA.

I say all this to say that we are serious. The enemy will do anything to stop this and they are doing it, and we are trying with all of our might to ship these machines and their software to you. It is the only thing any of us are doing, and though the pressure feels enormous I am thankful to have the opportunity to deliver this tool to you.

There is a volume of information I want to share about DD’s ongoing battle with the Obama regime. And I promise disclosure of this information after we begin shipping GG’s in quantity. You should know specifically what your government thinks of you and your First and Second Amendment.

Machines incoming!

How Did the FG-42 Selector Work?

We were asked that yesterday and we pontifically pronounced, “it fired from the open bolt in automatic mode, and from the close bolt in semi.”

This one's an SMG Guns semi clone. Pretty, though, innit?

This one’s an SMG Guns semi clone. Pretty, though, innit? Images do embiggen with a click.

Then we rested back on our laurels as Gun Expert and —

“Well, how did they make it do that?”

“*!” Hmm… How did they? “Let me get back to you on that.”

Fortunately, several references on the shelves explain it in terms our walnut sized brain could grasp. It turns out it was very simple, when you consider how complex some of the other design options made the FG. And it imposed some trade-offs, costing the rifle significant semi-auto accuracy as the price of that mechanical simplicity. Let’s walk you through it.

It worked exactly the same on the First and Second model of the FG, by the way; so we will use images of both in this post.

FG42-0034- grip FW

This image is from a crudely DEWATted Second Model FG that was examined by Forgotten Weapons. There’s a great set of images there, and the gun’s internals are mostly present and correct.

The selector switch is on the left side of what we’d call the grip frame. (The German manuals call this part the Lager which can mean holder or receiver, too, but we’ll stick with “grip frame”). The selector swings through 180º of travel; knob forward covers an “E” for Einzelfeuer (“single fire,” semi-auto), and knob rear clicks on to “D” for Dauerfeuer, (“continuous fire,” automatic). Note that the letter that shows is the antonym of the function you get. Don’t ask us; Hermann Göring was not available to take complaints.

FG-42 exploded view

Comparing the Bedienungsanleitung (manual) image of a First Model to the photo of the second model above that, we can see how the trigger works. The trigger pivots on a pin forward of, and slightly below, the selector switch. The axis of the selector switch is also the axle of the sear (in the diagram, Part B8 Abzughebel, literally “trigger lever”). The sear nose (Fangnase, “catch nose,” B8a) is the hardened end of the sear that engages a notch (if you learned engineering English in Britain, a “bent”) in the operating rod (Verschlußführungsstück, “bolt guiding piece,” Part D10).

There are, however, two notches in the op-rod. One is towards the front end, and mostly right of center. One is towards the tail end, and mostly left of center. You can make out the two notches in this Forgotten Weapons photo.

FG42-0003_FWRotating the selector moves the sear laterally either right to align with the front-end notch, or left to align with the tail-end notch. If it aligns with the tail-end notch, a disconnector (Unterbrecher, literally “interrupter”, B9), works by disengaging the trigger from the sear until the trigger is released (i.e., normal semi-auto trigger reset). Thus the selector engages the sear nose with either the nose-end notch, which holds the op rod and bolt assembly to the rear, or the tail-end notch, which holds the op rod and firing pin only to the rear, allowing the bolt to lock fully into battery.

Releasing the trigger releases the op-rod, then. If the weapon is on full automatic, the bolt and op-rod come forward, the bolt locks, the op-rod finishes its full travel, and the firing pin initiates the cartridge. The whole thing cycles again and continues to do so until the operator releases the trigger. When he does, the bolt is held in automatic battery — to the rear.

These schematics are from Allson & Toomey's Small Arms, pp. 226-227.

These schematics are from Allsop & Toomey’s Small Arms, pp. 226-227. The depiction of the selector in these drawings is how we came to understand that the selector (“change lever” in British English) covers the appropriate letter for type of fire selected.

If the weapon is on semi (selector knob swung 180º to the front), the trigger releases the op-rod, which brings the firing pin down on the primer. The bolt then cycles, but returns to semi-auto battery, closed bolt on a live cartridge, regardless of trigger position. The disconnector rides in the notch forward of the rear notch (here “bent”) only to disconnect when in Semi.


If you’re feeling envious of FG-42s, you can buy an excellent semi repro from SMG Guns, you can pay more than a new luxury car for a transferable, or you can take the following image, a pile of steel, wood and aluminum, and a set of files and try to do what SMG did:

FG-42 Type II exploded view

It may take a while. Best of luck to you!

Now, the FG42 wasn’t the last word in open/closed bolt hybrid firing mechanisms. As mentioned, having the whole op rod and firing pin move was inimical to accuracy. This not only increased the motion of the firearm on firing, but it increased lock time substantially, giving that motion more time to work on sending your projectiles wild. But that was a tradeoff that designers at Rheinmettal accepted for their simple and reliable open/closed bolt mechanism.

As we’ve seen, waste heat is a real killer of combat weapons in automatic fire, and by extension, a potential killer of the men who fire them. Firing from an open bolt reduces the incremental temperature increase per automatic round fired, by allowing more air to circulate and more of the potential radiative area to be exposed to ambient-temperature cooling air. This has the side effect of moving the critical temperature area or point further up the barrel from its usual position 5 to 8 inches in front of the chamber.

Firing from an open bolt also prevents cook-offs. Contrary to common misconception, cook-offs are usually not instantaneous but result from a round remaining chambered in a hot barrel for some seconds or minutes. For a cook-off to be instantaneous (and risk an out-of-battery ignition) the temperature has to be extremely elevated. For a routine cook-off, which can take some time to happen, the biggest danger is that no one is expecting the weapon to fire, and people may be in an unsafe position forward of its muzzle at that point.

The FG42 was a remarkably good weapon, like many WWII German weapons. Not good enough for them to win the war, fortunately; it was the very devil to produce (ask Steve at SMG!) and was produced in the sort of numbers that would be a rounding error, or the scrappage involved in training some new line workers, in American, British or Russian production. The US produced, for example, about 40 times as many BARs as Germany produced FG42s; Russian production of the pan-fed DP28 LMG was easily double that. (German production wasn’t as dismal as you might think. They produced more rifles and carbines of all types than the USA did. But they did have a tendency to engineer something very good, and then fail to build it in numbers that would make a difference).

A Taxonomy of Safeties

There are several kinds of safeties that are used on service weapons to ensure that only the proper and deserving people are shot. They generally interface in some way with the firing mechanism of the firearm. They may act on the trigger, the hammer or striker, or the sear, or (in some fiendishly clever arrangements) more than one of the above. It is generally thought better to positively lock the striker or firing pin than merely to lock the sear or trigger. If the mechanism fails due to parts breakage, it is easier to design a fail-safe mechanism if the striker or firing pin is immobilized.

Safeties Classified by Operator Volition

Safeties can be classified based on the degree of volition required to use them. An applied safety must be consciously put on, in most cases. An automatic safety is unconsciously applied as the pistol is taken up. Examples of automatic safeties include:

  1. the Glock Safe Action trigger and its many copies and derivatives;
  2. the grip safeties characteristic of many Browning designs, such as the M1911 .45 and the FN M1910 pocket pistol;
  3. similar grip safeties on open-bolt submachine guns such as the Madsen and the Uzi. (An open-bolt SMG poses peculiar safety problems);
  4. transfer-bars and other means to ensure a weapon can’t fire unless the trigger is pulled;
  5. mechanisms that hold a firing pin back until a weapon with a locking breech is fully in battery (the disconnector often does double-duty as this part);
  6. Firing-pin immobilizers as in the Colt Series 80 and newer M1911s (an earlier firing pin safety, the Swartz Safety, was used in commercial Colt 1911s from circa 1937 to 1940, and is used by Kimber today);
  7. A heavy, smooth trigger pull such as that on a traditional Double Action revolver or a DA/SA autopistol can prevent unintentional discharges. However, some heavy triggers (like the Glock NY2) have a bad enough effect on accuracy as to threaten bystanders with unintentional shooting.
  8. Magazine safeties, an obsolete European concept;
  9. Half-cock notches (in British/European English usage, these may be called half-cock “bents.”)

Contrasting with these automatic safeties, that do their work without conscious application by the operator, there are Applied or volitional safeties. Applied Safeties are usually classified by what part of the firing mechanism they work on, and so examples of Applied safeties break down into:

  1. Safeties that lock the trigger. The simplest of these are the crude trigger-blocking safeties on an SKS or Tokarev SVT. More complex trigger-locking safeties are found in the AR series of rifles and the FN-FAL;
  2. Safeties that lock the firing mechanism (which may be further divided into those that lock the firing pin, like the Walther P.38 or Beretta M92, and those that lock the hammer, like the US M1 Rifle, or
  3. The bolt holding notch in many 2nd-generation submachine guns. (These are reminiscent in a way of the safety of the Mosin-Nagant rifle, which requires the cocking piece to be rotated and caught in a notch). The case can be made that this is a firing mechanism lock, because the bolt with its fixed firing pin is the firing mechanism.
  4. Safeties that lock the sear. Examples include the .45 M1911, its younger brother the BHP, many other auto pistols, and most general purpose machine guns. Some require the weapon to be cocked to lock the sear, others allow locking the bolt forward (the RPD LMG and the Sterling SMG are examples of this).
  5. Safeties that disconnect the trigger from the sear. This is found in the Bren gun and many other Czech designs, historically. The ZB 26 and its derivatives were quite cunning: in one position, the selector brings the trip lever to engage the semi notch, which is in the upper side of a window in the sear. In the other position, it engages the auto notch in the lower side. In the intermediate, “safe,” position, the  trip lever clears both notches and the weapon does not fire.

Note that automatic safeties, too, can be broken down as working on the trigger, the firing mechanism, and the sear, also. So safeties can also be Classified by Operation.

Safeties Classified by Operation

It is possible to classify safeties in the first place by their means of action:

  1. Trigger safeties
  2. Firing-mechanism (striker, hammer, firing pin) safeties
  3. Sear safeties
  4. Disconnecting safeties.

This is true, obviously, for both automatic and volitional safeties, and classifying them this way puts their mode of action forward as more important than their mode of engagement, which (applied/volitional or automatic) becomes a secondary trait.

One More Trait: Must the Firearm be Cocked?

It is only possible to engage many safeties when the weapon is cocked or ready to fire (presuming a chambered round). Familiar examples include the AR series rifles and the 1911 pistol and other Browning hammer designs. Other safeties engage regardless of the energy state of the striker or hammer, for example the AK, the Remington Model 8 (a Browning-designed trigger mechanism that was deeply influential on 20th and 21st Century firearms designers, including Garand, Kalashnikov and Stoner), and the RPD light machine gun.

Combination Safeties

While a weapon may have multiple safeties that do different things (or multiple modes that engage the same safety, as in the safety lever and grip safety of early Lugers), it’s possible for a single cunningly-designed safety to disable multiple points of the firing chain at once. For instance, the Lee-Enfield safety is a model of versatility: it locks the striker, locks the bolt closed (preventing the chambering of a round), and disconnects the striker from the sear. The M1911 or Browning High-Power safety locks the slide closed as well as locks

It’s also possible for a volitional safety to be combined with other functions. The most common example of this is the combined safety/selector switch of most modern assault rifles, like the M16 or AK-47.

To Sum Up

There are a great but finite number of ways to design safety features on modern firearms. Careful study of prior art allows today’s designer truly to stand on the shoulders of the giants in the field. John Browning left no memoir or technical book, nor did John Garand, John D. Pedersen, Gene Stoner; and the many memoirs of Mikhail Kalashnikov are disappointing to the technical reader. But each of these geniuses spoke to us in the art of his designs, and they are still available for us to study and to try to read what their art is trying to tell us.

We have not, in this limited post, attempted to discuss “best practices” or the pros and cons of any individual safety design. Very often, the designer will be limited by the customer’s instructions or specifications. (For example, the grip safety of the 1911, which 1970s and 80s custom smiths often pinned in engagement as a potential point of combat failure, was requested of John M. Browning by the US Cavalry. The other military branches didn’t feel such a need, but the horse soldiers did, and Browning first added it on his .38 caliber 1902 Military pursuant to a similar request). Thus, even as a designer, your safety design decisions may not be your own.

Notes and Sources

  • This post has been modified since it was first posted, to expand it.
  • This post will be added to The Best of WeaponsMan Gun Tech.

This post owes a great deal to the following work:

Allsop, DF, and Toomey, MA. Small Arms: General Design. London: Brassey’s, 1999.

Chapter 13 is an extensive review of trigger mechanisms, including safeties, and while their classification of safeties is different from ours, their explanations are clear and concise.

Thanks to the commenters who not only recommend this long out-of-print book, but also sent us a link to a bookstore that had it (it’s a copy withdrawn from a military library, as it turns out). This out-of-print work is less technical and deep, but considerably more modern, than Balleisen; its examples are primarily British.


Kalashnikov, Made in USA

That news has the gunosphere going nuts. For the range of comment, you can look at this thread on Reddit — sane and sensible commentary scattered like gold nuggets in a poor vein of, well, the more usual kind of comments. But to the delight of gunnies, the main thrust of the article is that “real Kalashnikovs” will now be made in the USA. That sets the Redditors, particularly, off on jags and spasms of hope and longing for SVDs, SVD-M, Groza, Val and on and on and on.

A Facebook fan site, the AK Operators Union, put it this way:

AK News BOMB!!!! Kalashnikov concern is in process of opening production here in USA. If everything will go well, we will see first, made in USA Kalashnikov Concern AKs later this year!!! All calibers will be produced, including Saiga 9 in 9mm.

(That’s a good site for new AK products at SHOT, by the way). Kalashnikov Concern, a renaming of long-struggling Izmash, is not one of the success stories of the Russian economy right now, thanks to sanctions. We haven’t seen 2014 numbers yet, but even in pre-sanctions 2013, the company lost almost $3 Billion (yes, with a B).

The firm’s US importer, or perhaps we should say, former importer, put a brave face on it at SHOT.

Kalashnikov USA

No idea whether she’s domestic or imported. But if you look closely, there’s a rifle in the picture, and it’s an interesting one, despite our usual disdain for “tacticool AKs”. Because it looks left-handed. We found the pic linked on Reddit.


It’s a nice imaginary parade and it must be nice to beat a drum in it.

Well, there’s nothing we like more than a parade. So here we come to rain on it.

What’s really going on here is simple: the US importer of Concern Kalashnikov arms, RWC Group, of Tullytown, PA, has the US rights to the name and to sell the guns, but RWC’s boss, Tom McCrossin, enjoined from importing anything from Russia, and even from contact with CK or Izmash under the latest sanctions. It can sell the guns it already had warehoused and approved before the sanctions hit, but anything in Russia, stays in Russia.

Russian guns stay in Russia. Russian tooling stays in Russia. Russian ideas and concepts stay in Russia. So the only possibility is for them to be reverse-engineered here, unless RWC got hold of that information antes de the sanctions declaration.

There’s no political solution to this

The US is unlikely to end sanctions on Russia, with Russia still occupying Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Russia is even less likely to depart from what they do not consider an occupation, but rather a correction of a historical error.  Looking at the Russian point of view, Khrushchev’s assignment of territory from one administrative republic to another in a monolithic, Russian-dominated Soviet Union wound up with long-Russian territories departing when the Republics grabbed their independence. The Donbass area and the Crimea have long been ethnically Russian (especially since Stalin ethnically cleansed the Crimea, but that’s another story). These policies, especially when sold as protection of ethnic Russians minorities ill-treated by locals in the Near Abroad, are enormously popular in Russia.

Russian demo dollies show off new Kalashnikov branding -- in Moscow. Here, it's contraband.

Russian demo dollies show off new Kalashnikov branding — in Moscow. Here, it’s contraband.

It’s much like the situation with Chinese imports, where an anti-gun Administration (In this case, GHW Bush) took the opportunity to get a twofer and punish the “gun nuts” and the Chinese at once for Tienanmen Square. Over a quarter-century later, those sanctions still stand and are not even an irritant in Sino-American relations. Nope, the Russian import ban is probably for good.

So here’s what’s possible

CK branding can apply to American-made Kalashnikov clones. This will be a delight of the sort of fanboy who thinks that an Armalite brand AR-10 is somehow the most “authentic,” because the company making it bought Armalite’s brands, whereas it’s likely that not a single part interchanges from an original Armalite-licensed AR-10. It’s a bit like a guy, behind the times in 1957, buying a badge-engineered Studebaker from his Packard dealer because he always bought Packards.

What determines whether these AKs are good is not the brand that goes on, but the construction that goes in. In the short term, the way for them to maximize profit is to build an el cheapo AK and slap Kalashnikov’s name all over it. Presumably they have some arrangement with CK for royalties, in which case they’ll have to escrow the money. Probably forever. This means they probably can’t be the low-cost provider in the legendarily price-sensitive US AK market. But they can market their clone with the, “Everything else is just a clone,” tagline and see how that works.

In the long term, they might build a better and more sustainable business by taking care to make premium AKs with processes as near to the Russian firm as they can reasonably replicate; this also would leave them in better shape if or when the sanctions regime falls, but we just don’t see it falling. And the market for premium AKs is some small subset of the market for generic AKs.

What’s not happening, and why

Here’s what’s not coming: US-made SVDs, Krinkov SBRs, and other exotics that the already-got-the-easy-stuff collectors of AK-pattern rifles are jonesing for. The business case for these weapons is unchanged since before sanctions, and the business case did not support manufacture beforehand. (Some specialists make a few Krinkovs up from parts kits, but the annual demand for these may be in the single digits of units, at least at the prices the specialists must charge, $3k and up). The regulatory compliance regime (and months-long delays involved) kneecap SBR sales already.

The only reason that the US plant is happening is because the importer has been regulatorily dropkicked out of the import market. They have to do something other than import Russian guns, or fold when their stocks run down. Their way out is to attempt domestic manufacture. We wish them luck; we’re among those guys who have enough basic AKs but if they make a good product, we can always make room for one more.

GhostGunner Update

It looks as if Defense Distributed’s original intent, to ship the initial batch of GhostGunners by Christmas, ran into the buzzsaw called reality, and the machines did not ship on time.

The [GhostGunner] team worked all through December to begin fulfillment just before Christmas Day, but due to two of our US suppliers missing their original and revised December delivery deadlines, we have been at the mercy of factors outside of our control.

The bottleneck came down to our steel enclosures.


Though we are now delayed over ten days in our internal shipping schedule, we are fully prepared to begin fulfillment when we receive sufficient enclosures, which should be as early as the first week of January.

It’s not ideal news, but we are fully staffed for final assemblies and have run a really great catchup game in our V&V.

The delays have allowed some improvements to the machine. They’ve brought circuit-board production in-house:

Final GG software testing continues uninhibited and we’ve established our own board production to cut even more costs.

circuit board

This presumably means their own GrblO (pronounce “garble-oh!”) board, And, perhaps more usefully for end users, the machine will ship ready to handle 80% lowers that do not have the rear pocket milled out, as well as the ones that do. As late as November 2014, they were still saying that only the lowers with the pockets milled out would work.

Ghostgunner test

Unlike every other technology firm, they can’t put their software or firmware on the web, and they can’t even post their user manual.They have run into difficulties, not unexpectedly, with the various Fed agencies that are supposed to license technology “exports,” which theFed defines as having happened when you put software on the Internet.

At least one GhostGunner did make it into private hands, in Texas, where it showed up at a demonstration at the state Capital. has a full report, complete with video, but we thought these quotes from Cody Wilson show that he’s playing a somewhat different game than your average entrepreneur:

I thought CATI [Come And Take It Texas] demonstrated the machine, and presented themselves, like men truly jealous of their Liberty.

As for my own objectives, if I can’t get you to stop asking permission from your Government, I can at least demonstrate its overcoming at its front steps.

Food for thought, that.

Personally, we just think a programmable, highly-rigid, easily fixturable and open-source CNC endmill has a lot of uses around here. Our revolution is a technological, not political, one. But freedom is the greatest and yet, the least harmful, of intoxicants, is it not?

Did this Rifle Sleep for a Century?

How often have we held a gun, and thought, or even said aloud: “If it could only speak! What stories might it tell?” But our stories about these guns usually begin in a gun shop or auction listing, not quite the tales of romance and intrigue we imagine. Conversely, the gun in this picture certainly has a dramatic story to tell — if only it could.

Nevada Park Winchester 73 20 on tree

That story is told in a press release from the National Park Services’s Great Basin National Park in Nevada (.pdf), And in photo captions on the Parks Facebook page. Here we elaborate on those captions photos a little, but the bottom line is that Nobody really knows the story of where this came from and how we got to its resting place next to the tree. Nobody knows what its owner’s story was, or why he never came back for the rifle. The gun looks like it was rested there deliberately, but whoever left it there didn’t expect it to next be touched by human hands in November, 2014.

Why didn’t he come back for his rifle? Did he get lost? Did the rough terrain, arid climate, or hostile natives and animals account for him? Nobody really knows. It’s a true Old West mystery.

It’s obviously a Winchester ’73, but that doesn’t narrow it down much. They were made from the original year until well within the 20th Century.

Nevada Park Winchester 73 28 as found

The Park Service:

With time, sun, wind, rain and snow aging the gun it blended almost perfectly with the tree it was leaning against.

We’ll have many more photos of the gun, and the text of the Park press release, after the jump. All of these official National Park Service pictures embiggen dramatically when clicked.


This video has a great look at the gun, and the Park Service pro tells the story of finding the gun in her own words! Thanks to the original poster, and to Sixgunner in the comments.

The Park Service is hoping the publicity will bring forward more clues into this 19th-Century mystery. Now, there’s a lot of speculation about a hunter, or an Indian. (The video contains an outlaw story, and that just might be it, too). But we wonder if the gun was lost in the mid 20th Century in the making of a movie? An early Winchester was, then, just an old gun. But the remote location suggests that’s probably not it — movies are made near roads, by preference.

It would make a pretty good book, to give 10 writers this information and let each tell the story of the rifle and its last owner. Anyway, let’s let that idea percolate, and click “more” to see some of the photos.

Continue reading

“The Gun is its Own Tool Kit.” — Browning ANM2

This is Your Gun pG1One sign of a gun design that is not completely thought through is a requirement for special tools for disassembly. These days, most guns are designed for disassembly without any kind of offboard tools. But this was not always the case. John M. Browning was one of the first designers to consistently design guns to be disassembled without anything special. And it was a bit of a marvel, as the tone of this excerpt from a naval aerial gunner’s manual called This is Your Gun reveals:


In an emergency, the gun can be stripped with nothing but its own parts as tools. Use the point of a cartridge or the cocking lever pin to depress the oil buffer body spring lock.

Key parts in the oil buffer assembly:

Key parts in the oil buffer assembly: Oil Buffer Body Spring Lock (14a); Accelerator Pin (13), Accelerator (12). Oil Buffer Tube Lock (11)

Use the cocking lever pin to drift out the sear stop pin and accelerator pin.

Many of the parts mentioned are in the Bolt Group. In the order that they're mentioned:

Many of the parts mentioned are in the Bolt Group. In the order that they’re mentioned:  The Cocking Lever Pin is Nº 7. The Sear Stop with the Sear Stop Pin is Nº 8. The Cocking Lever is Nº 6.


 Use the flat tip of the cocking lever as you would use a screw driver to remove and replace the sear stop, oil buffer tube lock, the cover latch spring, and cover extractor spring. Use the oil buffer tube lock to pry the handle of the trigger bar pin out of its hole in the side of the receiver.

Use the sear stop pin to drift out the belt feed pawl pin.

The Belt Feed Pawl Pin is #5 in this illustration. US Navy.

The Belt Feed Pawl Pin is #5 in this illustration. Cover Latch Spring is #8, Cover Extractor Spring #9. US Navy.

But use these methods only when absolutely necessary and take care not to damage the parts used as tools. Never use the driving spring rod assembly as a tool.

Conversely, having a gun like this that can be disassembled and reassembled in field conditions without a bench full of tools is a marker of good design. This kind of design is more commonly encountered now than it was in Browning’s day, which speaks for Browning’s lasting positive impact on firearms design.

Mike Pannone: Making an M4 Run like a Gazelle

This article has been around for years, but it’s still worth reading. Mike Pannone is a fellow 18B and someone with nearly immeasurable M4 experience. He was an instructor for, and one of the designers of, AWG’s combat shooting school, which prepared a lot of guys for successful combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. A friend who was the SJA at AWG raved about that course. Mike is pretty well known in the shooting and training community.

Worked for us.

Worked for us.

Mike has very extensive comments on the M4 at Defense Review, which stem initially from a discussion of fouling. We’ll just quote his conclusions from this piece below, and also recommend his article on reliability issues, and his follow-up on diagnosing the root cause. Conclusions from what we suppose you could call the “fouling piece“:

Fouling in the M4 is not the problem. The problem is weak springs (buffer and extractor), as well as light buffer weights (H vs. H2 or H3). With the abovementioned drop-in parts, the M4 is as reliable as any weapon I have ever fired, and I have fired probably every military-issue assault rifle fielded worldwide in the last 60 years as a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant (18B). An additional benefit of the heavier spring/weight combo is that it transmits the energy impulse of the firing cycle to the shoulder over a longer duration, lowering the amount of foot pounds per second and dramatically reducing the perceived recoil. Follow-on shots are easier to make effectively, and much faster, especially at 50 meters and beyond.

I reliably fired 2400 rounds (80 magazines) on a bone dry gun, and I would bet that is a lot more than any soldier or other armed professional will ever come close to firing without any lubrication whatsoever. So, disregard the fouling myth and install a better buffer spring, H2 buffer, enhanced extractor spring and a Crane O-ring (all end user drop-in parts). With normal (read “not excessive”) lubrication and maintenance, properly-built AR-15/M4 type rifles with carbine gas systems will astound you with their reliability and shootability.

via The Big M4 Myth: ‘Fouling caused by the direct impingement gas system makes the M4/M4A1 Carbine unreliable.

There is a great deal more to the article than that; we just gave you a little bit. (For example, if you read the whole thing, he provides the sources for the upgraded parts he uses).

Mike’s articles are collected at the CTT Solutions website, although the articles link back to DR.

From the Academy to the Arsenal (long)

secret1The weapon was developed in the greatest of secrecy. It was born in a physics lab before the war, but during the war became a massive project: led by physicists; employing tens of thousands on detailed tasks whose application they did not know; secured by barriers, unsmiling military police, security clearances and teams of counterspies; and encompassing a wide range of industrial effort. It was shared under the most stringent security guidelines with Britain alone, and gave the nations of the Anglosphere combat power unimagined before the war.

Its developers, led by a man whom they all came to admire enormously, were a cross-section, not of society, but of the academy: more diverse ethnically than American society at large, scarily smart, and sometimes, endearingly (or irritatingly) eccentric.

To take it from the blackboards of physicists to the Arsenal of Democracy, new precision needed to be achieved in old technology, new technology entirely needed to be invented, and the frontiers of miniaturization pushed far beyond the 1941 state of the art. The weapon was useless if it could not be delivered to the close proximity of its intended target, so it had to be shrunk, shrunk, shrunk from the initial conceptual models, which would never have fit inside the delivery system.

It required new methods of testing and evaluation to be developed, to prove that it really would work when put to the test. Once it passed these tests, its effect on the enemy was devastating.

Exposing it became a major objective of Soviet spies and the traitors who had sold themselves to them, including some who would be caught and punished, like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and some who were too highly placed for suspicion to stick, like Lend-Lease head Harry Hopkins, who tried and failed to have samples sent to his real superiors where his true loyalties lay: the Soviet Union.

We’re referring not to the hoary old story of the Manhattan Project, but the equally old, but much less-known, tale of the proximity fuze, or as its WWII cover name called it, the Variable Time, VT, fuze. That cover name has stuck and prox fuzes are still often called VT, despite the fact that it was intended as a deliberate obfuscation of what the fuze really did: solve an “impossible” gunnery problem of the 20th Century.

MK53 proximity fuze

The Problem Was Hitting Moving Aircraft

Now, if you’ve ever cocked a cannon in Army or Marine artillery, you know a bit about the uses of VT; we’d like to ask all of you to be quiet, we’ll get to those shortly. But they’re not why VT was invented. The problem was anti-aircraft gunnery. In 1941 every military in the world was shooting at aircraft or preparing to do so, and they were missing. Just about all the time.

Airplanes don’t just sit still and let you whack them with your 88, you see. They move around. AA guns had compensating sights, and gun batteries had fire-direction computers, that could calculate where the airplane would be when the shell got to it — more or less.

(These computers were analog computers, with gears and knobs and whiz-wheels instead of circuits and programs, but they were faster and more reliable than the first many generations of digital technology that would replace them a few decades hence).

There was a little imprecision (not much) in the computer. There was a little more (again, not much) in the laying of the gun. Naval dual purpose and AA, and Army anti-aircraft guns, of the period were extremely accurate, but the problem still remained that for every shell delivered adequately to a vital structure of a Heinkel 111 or Aichi D3A, a much larger quantity, to steal a line from Maxwell Smart, “missed it by that much.”

A miss was as good as a mile, as the saying of the period went. In the initial effort to make a near miss somewhat more hazardous to enemy aircraft, various sorts of fuzes were conceived. The most common was a simple time fuze, and a lot of effort went into arranging the fire direction computer to support the optimum setting of an air defense battery’s time fuzes for effect on target. (Terrestrial artillery tried to use time fuzes to secure airbursts against troops in trenches, foxholes, or open-topped bunkers, too). An antiaircraft alternative was a barometric fuze, detonating at a preset altitude. This required fuze-setters to know the altitude of enemy aircraft (leading to the development of height finding radars, but also leading to the use of airplanes to shadow attackers and report their altitude to defenses). It also required them to know or have a way to dial in to the computer the ambient air pressure.

Winston Churchill describes this problem in Volume 2 of his History of the Second World War, (p.395), and notes: “[A]n aeroplane end on is a difficult target and a contact fuze will work only on impact.” Britain was working to develop such a fuze in the Battle of Britain, and while they were able to bring a mockup into the Cabinet Room to show Churchill, miniaturizing it was proving difficult, maybe impossible. So the British were stuck with the state of the art: impact, time and pressure fuzes.

These fuzes, the state of the art at war’s outbreak, would also be as far as the state of the art of Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany ever got. Many thousands of them had to be fired to ensure a hit on bombing aircraft. The watchword of the bomber theorists was, from the days of Douhet, “The bomber will always get through.” And it’s not easy to find an example of an aerial attack turned by time or baro fuzes alone, even in the sanguinary early days of RAF Bomber Command: the bombers took some hits, but most of them came through, unless they were hit by fighters, too.

How the VT Worked

The VT is essentially a small radar inside an artillery fuze. Initial concepts were wide open: photoelectric, acoustic, active radio (radar principle), or passive radio (detecting aircraft engine ignitions). In the end, after some experiments with photoelectric fuzes, active radio was chosen. Teh fuze radiated a radio wave, and if it received a reflection back, which it would if it were close to a target, pow! Here’s how E.D. MacAlister explained it to scientist Ralph B. Baldwin, who was just joining the project in 1941:

It’s really simple in theory but extremely difficult to convert into practice. The fuze is simply a specialized radio set. There’s a battery whose electrical energy is released by setback, the shock of firing from a gun. This battery furnishes three different electric voltages: one for the filaments of the vacuum tubes, one for the plates, and one for the grids. One of the tubes is an oscillator. In the nose of the fuze is a metallic cap, which together with the rest of the shell acts like a dipole. The oscillator tube thus has an antenna and emits a high-frequency radio wave in particular directions from the shell.

This continuous radiowave surrounds the moving shell, and when the shell pass is close to a target, the letter reflects a small amount of radio wave energy back to the fuse where it is detected by the same to been sent out the wave in the first place.

prox fuze exploded view

The plate voltage is “modulated” by the reflected wave, which is at slightly different frequency than the outgoing wave due to the relative motion of the shell and target. Thus, a beat note is set up and the plate voltage varies in frequency within the audio range of a few to a few thousand cycles per second. This audio frequency voltage variation is then passed through a three-tube amplifier.

When the period of the audio frequency wave and also its amplitude or intensity are exactly right, a thyratron tube, serving as a switch, is discharged. It completes a circuit that releases an electrical charge, which meanwhile has been stored in a condenser. The surge of electricity goes through a tiny wire in an electric squib, much like a dynamite cap.

The wire gets hot and the explosive in the squib goes off. This tiny explosion sets off about a cubic inch of a sensitive explosive called tetryl in the auxiliary detonator (auxdet to the Navy, booster to the army), which is at the bottom of the fuze.

This explosion sets off the explosive loading of the shell and it bursts the steel shell body into many hundreds of high velocity fragments. From the time the fuze says ago, the shell travels less than one foot before it bursts.

Now, if that sounds tough to follow, relax: even Baldwin found it “pretty heavy going.” But we include it here as (1) an illustration of the complexity of this pre-transistor electronic innovation, and (2), because we can’t imagine a simpler or clearer technical explanation of the fuze’s working than McAlister’s.

How the VT Was Developed

It started as an academic exercise, and began at Columbia University, but later found a permanent home at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Baltimore, which was established (in part, to accomplish this task) in 1942. While the Manhattan Project was full of brilliance, the guy at the top of the APL and therefore the APL’s proximity fuze effort was Norwegian-American scientist Dr. Merle A. Tuve, the APL’s founder.

First they had to decide how to do it. They worked in parallel on optical and radio fuzes at first. It soon became apparent that the radio-frequency fuze was a success, and optical fuze development was cut off. (Unlike radio fuzes, optical fuzes worked only in daylight conditions).

The developers had to demonstrate the individual parts of the system; then, miniaturize them; then ruggedize them. From starting work circa 1940, Tuve had a working system within a couple of years. Decades later, the members of the team remembered the day when one of the proximity fuzes, fired from a Navy 5″ gun out over the water, worked for the first time. At the time, nobody made a note of the date! But the occasion was never forgotten. That day, only one of several test shots worked, the others detonating early or plowing into the water without detonating at all. But that one shot proved that the system was feasible. It had passed from science into the realm of engineering somewhere along the way.

British tube type VT fuze

This is all the more remarkable when you consider that the transistor, and all semiconductors, were over 15 years in the future: the fuze would have to work with the then-known electronic parts: vacuum tubes, capacitors, diodes and resistors, all powered by batteries. All these parts had to be ruggedized to survive the harsh environment of a cannon shell, with 20,000-g acceleration, 25,000-RPM rotation, and wildly varying temperatures all part of the fuze’s eventful last few seconds of existence.

The hardest parts to ruggedize were the batteries, which you might not expect, and tubes, which stands to reason. Their flimsy wires and glass enclosures were not optimum for high acceleration forces. When the scientists had tubes with 90% reliability, they still couldn’t relax: since the system needed three tubes to work (oscillator, amplifier, and thyratron), 90% reliability of any individual tube meant  fuze that wouldn’t work even three-quarters of the time, and that even if every other component was 100% reliable. (The three tubes would have to be 96.6% reliable for the tubes to be overall 90% reliable, again assuming 100% function of everything else).

The lab aimed for an overall 80% reliability of fuzes in the field, which they came to learn meant they could accept only a very low failure rate of the tubes. Even an 80% reliable VT fuze was a godsend to the Navy.

Final and near-final fuzes were tested against mockups of Japanese and German aircraft, and against drones. In April 1942, an unmanned Piper Cub was hung from a balloon hundreds of feet over the water at Parris Island and shot at with live fuzes, but explosive charges replaced by a black-powder marking charge that would make a visible puff of smoke, but not fragment the shell. 20% of the shots would have been hits.

On 12 August 1942, a drone imitating a torpedo bomber “attacked” the new cruiser, USS Cleveland, in a live-fire test. A first drone failed before coming into range. The second bore in on the ship’s beam. Cleveland’s 5″/38 battery shredded the drone, taking it down with under ten rounds fired. A second drone was shot down just as quickly. The drones were the usual anti-aircraft targets, and they never got shot down. The drone officers had to report to the test officer that they were out of targets. The next day, they had located one more, which was set to emulate a level bomber, and attacked fruitlessly with time fuzes. The battery loaded the VT fuzes and destroyed the drone. End of test.

The crew of Cleveland was counting on one more liberty before joining the war, but they’d just seen the successful test of the Navy’s latest secret weapon. The Navy ordered the ship to drop off the APL scientists and technicians, but to keep sailing for the Pacific. The fuzes, already in pilot production, were suddenly a hot item in Naval supply channels.

The Fuze Goes to War

By October 1942, production was up to 500 fuzes a day and they were being flown from the factories to West Coast and Pacific depots. Production ultimately involved five companies performing final-assembly duties, with components coming in from over 100 factories belonging to some 87 businesses. Most of the component makers didn’t know what they were making parts for.

This fuze setter was part of the equipment in a 5" dual-purpose mount.

This fuze setter was part of the equipment in a 5″ dual-purpose mount. The fuze setting was directed from the fire director down to the secondary battery plotting room down to the mount. Wartime secondary armament instructions (.pdf) from the USS Massachusetts (battleship).. 

On 5 January 1943, off Guadalcanal, the first Japanese airplane ran afoul of VT fuzes fired by the aft 5″ battery of the light cruiser USS Helena. Only three salvos were required to down the Aichi D3A “Val” dive bomberThe carriers Enterprise and Saratoga were also equipped with the new technology at that point, and from that point on the Japanese began having a harder time sinking American ships.

(Aside: Helena, CL-50, was famous for her gunnery, which would lead to her sinking. Japanese destroyers used her muzzle flashes to target her in July, 1943 and slammed three torpedoes into her, causing the ship to break into three pieces and sink with a loss of over 180 lives. Most of the crew did survive, although some were not rescued for days. A Helena sailor’s remains were found as late as 2006 on one of the straits islands).

Along with the fuzes, the Navy hit up the APL for new gun directors that would be optimized for VT, not time, fuzes. These went to sea for the first time with the battleship USS Missouri, and were effective against kamikaze attackers.


The VT Fuze Joins the Army

The highest priorities for fuze development were Naval, and so the Mk 32 was the first made, soon followed by equivalents for Royal Navy applications. But the VT Fuze was developed for Army anti-aircraft applications almost as soon as the Navy had it in production; one of the Cleveland’s drones was killed with an early prototype of the Army 90mm AA fuze screwed via adapter into a Navy 5″ shell. The Army fuze came from miniaturization developments that led to the Mk 45, and the British soon got forces for their Army AA guns as well (just in time for the V-1 buzz bomb attacks). But the AA application was only one application for proximity fuzes.

The more fruitful application, and one that would be key in several late-1944 battles, was creating a guaranteed airburst at an optimum height over enemy troop positions. The munition was, in a word, murderous to troops that didn’t have substantial overhead cover. LTG George S. Patton gleefully reported on the devastation wrought on German troops caught in the open by VT-fuzed barrages during the Battle of the Bulge.

At first, the VT fuzes were such secrets that they were removed from artillery positions during visits of foreign VIPs or American or British reporters. By war’s end, the effect of the fuze had let the cat out of the bag.

How the VT Fuze Spread to Other Nations

The Germans had heard rumors of the fuze, but never got hold of a working copy; they thought they were dealing with a “fuze with an electric eye,” and they tasked their spies to find out. The spies (Frederick Duquesne, Herman Land, and Lilly Stein of the 33-member Duquesne spy ring) never found the detailed information for the still-under-development fuze before a double agent and an FBI sting led to them being rolled up in 1941. The picture shows Duquesne, right, a retread WWI saboteur, with double agent William Sebold, left, a naturalized American who had immediately gone to the FBI when a Dr. Renken of the Abwehr (real name, Nickolaus Ritter) approached him in 1939, and was taken by FBI agents through a two-way mirror (note the clever positioning of the calendar so as to be in frame). The Deutsche Wehrmacht never got the secrets of the American fuze. Captured documents showed that the Germans had been trying to develop such a fuze throughout the war, but had made less progress by 1945 than the APL made by 1942.

The US shared the VT fuze with Britain from the beginning of development. After the initial development for the 5″/38 dual-purpose naval gun, and concurrent with development for additional US AA weapons, 4 Royal Navy calibers were added to the development schedule. Later, after the development of land fuzes for the US Army, 6 more for the British Army were added. By war’s end,  VT fuzes had been adapted to 28 different shells. The British had developed their own conceptual fuze as early as 1940, but they’d gotten stuck on miniaturizing and hardening the electronics, and welcomed the US project.

The Japanese never understood why they launched so many kamikaze Special Attack aircraft to achieve such meager results. With a few well-known exceptions where attacks saturated US defenses, the entire Special Attack program was a waste of resources and of men’s lives, and prox fuzes are one reason why. Of course, Japan was beaten by the spring of ’44, but wouldn’t believe it until they’d suffered the most absolute naval defeat since ancient history: while the Navy’s had some 2,500 vessels, most of them were small craft; all capital ships were on the seafloor, and the largest ship left fully combat-worthy was a cruiser.

The Russians got wind of the fuze and tried to come by it legitimately, first, by requesting it from Lend-Lease. They were turned down. Then, they tried to put pressure on through Harry Hopkins, to bend the rules (Hopkins frequently did this for his Soviet masters) and that didn’t work, either, because the subordinate officers wanted it in writing. Meanwhile, they tasked espionage assets, and the couple that came through for them with the VT fuze design would go on to fame — Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Well, fame and Old Sparky at Sing Sing.

And there’s irony for you: far more Americans have been killed by Soviet copies and improvements of American VT fuzes than have been killed by Soviet copies and improvements of American nukes. But the spies who gave up both weren’t even charged for the little, seemingly inconsequential, war-winning little weapon. If they had been, they would never have received the death penalty. But if you truly understand the weapon, they deserved to fry for this as much as anything.


Baldwin, Ralph B. The Deadly Fuze: Secret Weapon of World War II. San Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1980.

US Navy. Radio Proximity (VT) Fuzes. Naval Historical Center Website. Retrieved from: