This grainy, moïre-wracked image comes from American Machinist, Volume L (50) Jan-Jun, 1919.
It appears in the bound volume of the trade magazine on page 266, and does not seem to be referenced in the text. A few pages earlier, there’s another self-propelled artillery piece, a 9.2 inch howitzer.
The first of these weapons, at least, is well known to specialist researchers. The Holt Tractor Company of Stockton, California made early tracked tractors for agriculture. Their initial models steered not by differential braking or power to the tracks, but by a “tiller wheel” that was mounted out in front of the machine. By World War I their ag tractors were very successful, and their engineers adapted them to military use around the time of the US’s entry into the long-running European war in 1917.
All the military tractors were experimental. The Army Ordnance Department experimented with them, but deployed none of them to France.
The versions included what may have been the first manufactured tank, and at least seven or eight iterations of the self-propelled artillery design, most of which mounted the US 75mm M1916 field gun, a variant of the French 75.
The popular Holt tractor was also adapted in Britain, experimentally, and France and Germany produced tanks based on Holt running gear. The most famous of these tanks was the German A7V, a tank that was outnumbered in German service by captured British tanks.
The Holt company is a trademark you may not recognize today, as the forerunner of a modern giant whose trademarks you definitely know. As the company was best known as the maker of the Holt’s Caterpillar Tractor, it changed its name first to Holt’s Caterpillar and finally, just to Caterpillar. So Holt’s tractor is still with us.
While Caterpillar (and small-c caterpillar) tractors would be successful as artillery prime movers, the company does not seem to have adapted their post-war tractor models into potential military sales. The engineering requirements for tank tracks and suspensions are too different from those needed for tractors, bulldozers and earth-moving equipment. And also, the US didn’t get serious about tanks until it began to seem clear that we’d need to start numbering our World Wars, so there was no money in tank development for an American firm in most of the interwar years.
The blog provides practical, doctrinally-based instruction in intelligence tradecraft across a wide range of disciplines. In particular, its analytical tradecraft posts like this one about evaluating single-source information are pure gold (and something that is often covered poorly in analytical training, even inside the IC).
Few people think about UW intel tradecraft beyond collection, or perhaps beyond agent handling. Those things are important, but anything from networks to entire countries that has been rolled up after being taken unawares, usually had collected all the information they needed to see the fist that was about to hit them. It was their failure to evaluate and analyze this information — failure to process raw information into usable, actionable intelligence – that condemned them to be bystanders at Pearl Harbor, the roll-up of SOE’s réseaux in the Netherlands, the Nork invasion of South Korea in 1950, the abject failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, or the al-Qaeda attacks on 11 Sep 2001.
(Yeah, this was supposed to go up on Wednesday. It didn’t. So sue us. Our next scheduled date for lawsuit service is 29 Feb 15).
The Stoner 63 is interesting for a number of reasons. It was the Next Big Thing that Eugene Stoner did after leaving Armalite, and it had a lot of effort behind it, thanks to its sponsor, defense contractor Cadillac Gage which made, among other things, the V-100 armored car. Apart from the Stoner connection, the gun had two things that helped to build its legend. It was an early example of a modular weapons system, readily converted from box-fed rifle to carbine to belt-fed light machine gun and back again. It was such a novel idea, way back then in the Kennedy Administration, that it received US Patent 3,198,076 on 22 Mar 63. The second thing was that it was used in combat in Vietnam by the Navy SEAL teams as the Mark 23 LMG. Very few weapons are uniquely associated with specific special operations units, but this is one.
The SEALs would probably still be using them if they could maintain them, but no one has made parts in 40 or 50 years.
The carbine configuration had an optional folding stock and a barrel that ended at the front sight base (with an M16-like birdcage flash suppressor forward of the FSB).
Unfortunately, Jerry got to light up only the rifle version, not the SEAL LMG. With barely over 3000 Stoner 63 series guns produced, and almost all of them delivered to the US military (the Marines combat tested the rifle in Vietnam before deciding to stick with the M16), there are very few Stoner 63s on the NFARTR.
To us, the most interesting part was Reed Knight’s explanation of how the conversion from rifle to Bren-like mag-fed LMG to belt-fed worked, and what economics actually drove the modularity.
Here’s a lower-quality video of an updated Stoner 63 belt-fed version firing on full auto.
Stunts like this are why most of the few Stoner 63 LMGs on the registry are badly shot-out. The barrels are close to but “not quite” like AR barrels.
Along with the rifle, carbine, and machine gun variants, which Cadillac Gage hoped to produce in larger quantities for military contracts, there were some unusual and one-off variants. This video (we’re back to professional, if weird, production now) depicts an entrant in an Air Force survival carbine competition (probably the same one that the Colt Model 608 Aviator Survival Carbine was made to contest). We’re not sure whether the competition was canceled before or after testing began, but no carbine was selected.
In the end, the whole story of the Stoner 63, except its moment of glory in the hands of the “Men with Green Faces,” as the VC labeled the SEALs, is a story of almost-was and mighta-been. There was nothing catastrophically wrong with the gun, apart from one safety problem that was fixed in the Mk 23 Mod 0 version; it (and its designer and manufacturer) just didn’t get the breaks.
You may be curious about the safety problem, so we’ll tell the story. In MG config (including LMG/auto rifle top-feed config), the Stoner 63, 63A and Mk23 all fire from an open bolt. They fire in full-auto mode only; the selector on the modular trigger group is still present, but does nothing. “Open bolt” means that the bolt is retained to the rear by the sear, and all the safety selector does is lock the sear so it can’t be withdrawn from the bolt. The trigger mechanism is attached to the receiver by front and rear pins (sort of like a roller-delayed HK). If one of the pins slips out, the trigger mechanism housing can pivot, and the sear will move out of contact with the bolt, firing the gun — and, if a belt is in place, creating a runaway gun. (This can also happen with the top-side magazine fed LMG or “automatic rifle” configuration of the Stoner). The failure mode had not occurred to anyone until it actually happened, killing a SEAL. Subsequently, modifications were designed, preventing this kind of runaway, and retrofitted to all Mk 23 LMGs in service. Civilian Stoners with the mods are referred to as Model 63A1.
When the Army was looking for a light machine gun a few years later, Cadillac Gage had exited the firearms business and ATF had overseen the destruction of their inventory. Knight’s acquired the parts and tooling and made some transferables before the NRA shut down machine gun manufacture in a tradeoff with anti-gun politicians in 1986. Knights is reported to still hold some pre-86 receivers, but there are no parts to build guns on the receivers with.
Excellent information on the Stoner 63 in all its permutations is found on “Mongo’s” web site. He’s clearly an intensive student of the arm.
Actors in an Indian movie about the 21 Sikhs. Note the practical Khakis for desert/mountain combat.
Say whaaat? We thought we were perfectly clear. We said, “Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal!”
But of course, for most of the world that Sikh battle cry is meaningless. It means “Victory is his who calls on God with a true heart,” and it was the last phrase on the lips of the “21 Sikhs of Saragarhi,” the most valiant forlorn-hope defense that you probably never heard of. Everyone knows about the 300 at Thermopylae, the 47 Samurai, the Alamo, the Little Big Horn, Isandlhwana, and Dien Bien Phu. If you’re a military historian you might have heard of Lima Site 85, Camarone or Shiroyama. But we had never heard of these plucky Sikhs until recently.
After the battle, the outpost was in ruins. With soldiers from the 36th Sikhs’ too-late relief force.
Saragarhi was a rocky outcrop with hastily built brick or rock sangars, west-southwest of Peshawar, and two Pathan tribes were in arms: the Afridi and the Orakzai. These same Pathans — we call them Pushtuns — have been involved in numerous insurgencies ovet the centuries, and in 1897 they were rebelling against Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, and Victoria’s Indian Army.
The British and their Indian allies had built a chain of forts, but Saragarhi was not designed to be a defense position. It existed because the British had a radical new communications tool, the heliograph, and there was no line of sight between the deliberate forts Gulistan and Lockhart, which had been sited by Maharajah Ranjit Singh to defend a major line of communication.
The helio-relay site was occupied by 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment, under command of Havildar (Sergeant) Ishar Singh. Their mission was to defend their communicator, Sepoy (Private) Gurmukh Singh (Sikhs take “Singh,” lion, as a surname). But instead of targeting the harder forts, the Afridi-Orakzai force, 10,000 tribesmen armed with a mix of modern rifles, jezails, and edged weapons, attacked the relay site.
Havildar Ishar Singh had Gurmukh Singh send an immediate request for relief, or support. But his commander, Lt. Col. John Haughton, had his hands full (perhaps with a feint or demonstration) at Fort Gulistan to the west. Haughton asked the Sikh detachment to hold out.
At this point, Ishar Singh and his 20 men — a corporal, a lance-corporal, and 18 privates — made a pact. They would not surrender; they would fight to the last round and the last man. There was a camp follower with them, a cook, and he would share their fate.
Ishar Singh was remembered by Viscount Slim as having the reputation of an extrovert.
The Pathans would take a bloodless victory if they could get it, and they made all kinds of promises to the holdout Sikhs, both before the battle was joined and once it was underway. Pushtunwali would not let them dishonor a truce, so their promise to the Sikhs that they might keep their lives was, and the Sikhs new it was, not an empty one.
The Sikhs rejected every offer.
The Sikhs fought until their ammunition was exhausted — then, the shrinking garrison fought with sword, bayonet, and captured arms. As night approached, Pathan engineers who had approached by stealth breached the wall, and the garrison went down in desperate cold-steel fighting.
The last man at his station was Gurmukh Singh, reporting all of this faithfully by heliograph to Lt. Col. Haughton. With Ishar Singh and the other 19 privates dead, Gurmukh respectfully asked permission to fix bayonet and charge the Pathans.
Haughton granted permission. Gurmukh was soon among his mates, in the Sikh afterlife.
The burnt-out ruins of Saragarhi.
The Pathans set fire to the outpost and celebrated their victory — 14,000 men had defeated 21. About then, the British forces shook off their opponents and began to rain artillery on the Pathans. Point made, the Pathans withdrew, leaving behind a garrison of Orakzai who, in turn, died in the ruins of the fort.
The 21 Sikhs were granted posthumously the highest medal of the time, the Indian Order of Merit, in an unprecedented and unrepeated mass award. Their mates of the 36th Sikhs advanced on the post the next day.
The Pathan withdrawal hadn’t been deliberate; they’d left 600 of their dead unshriven on the field alongside the 21 Sikhs of Saragarhi.
The 36th Sikh Regiment has, in the way of these things, undergone some changes as the British granted India independence and the Indian Army reorganizes from time to time, as any Army must do. But its traditions and honors remain with the 4th Battalion, Sikh Regiment, Indian Army today, where the story of the 21 Sikhs of Saragarhi is taught to every recruit, and the Sikh forces celebrate it much as the Foreign Legion celebrates their glorious last stand at Camarone.
Got a phone call yesterday from a friend at a range in West Virginia. Three guys including a former SF man, a former SEAL (range officer), and a dealer/gunsmith/armorer without military service cracked the box on a new TrackingPoint .300 WM rifle on a long range.
This is file photo a standard TP XS3 rifle. Don’t know yet what exact model our guys had.
Best packaged gun any of them had ever seen. In the gunsmith’s experience, that’s out of thousands of new guns.
Favorably impressed with the quality of the gun and the optic. It “feels” robust.
It’s premium priced, but with premium quality. Rifle resembles a Surgeon rifle. “The whole thing is top quality all the way, no corners cut, no expense spared.” They throw in an iPad. The scope itself serves its images up as wifi.
First shot, cold bore, no attempt to zero, 350 meters, IPSC sized metal silhouette: “ding!” They all laughed like maniacs. It does what the ads say.
Here’s how the zero-zero capability works: they zero at the factory, no $#!+, and use a laser barrel reference system to make automatic, no-man-in-the-loop, corrections. Slick.
The gun did a much better job of absorbing .300WM recoil than any 300WM any of them have shot. With painful memories of developmental .300WM M24 variants, that was interesting. “Seriously, it’s like shooting my .308.”
By the day’s end, the least experienced long-range shooter, who’d never fired a round at over 200 meters, was hitting moving silhouettes at 850 yards. In the world of fiction where all snipers take head shots at 2000m with a .308, that’s nothing, but in the world of real lead on target, it’s huge.
It requires you to unlearn some processes and learn some new ones, particularly with respect to trigger control. But that’s not impossible, or even very hard.
They didn’t put wind speed into the system, and used Kentucky windage while placing the “tag.” This worked perfectly well.
An experienced sniper or long range match shooter, once he gets over the muscle memory differences, will get even more out of the TrackingPoint system than a novice, but…
A novice can be made very effective, very fast, at ranges outside of the engagement norm, with this system.
As Porky Pig says, for now, “Ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-That’s all, folks!” But we’re promised more, soon.
Everybody is really impressed with the Tracking Point system. No TP representative was there and as far as we know this is the first report on a customer gun in the field, not some massaged handpicked gunwriter version. And as far as we know this is the first report on a customer’s experience with both experienced school-trained snipers and an inexperienced long-range shooter. The key take-away is the novice’s ringing of the 850m bell on moving targets. That’s Hollywood results without the special effects budget, and with real lead on real target. No marketing, no bullshit, just hits.
We asked about robustness. This isn’t like the ACOG you can use as a toboggan on an Afghan stairway and hold zero (don’t ask us how we know that one). But it seemed robust to the pretty critical gang shooting it Friday.
We wish Chris Kyle were here to see this. Maybe he already has!
Stand by for more on TrackingPoint, and on more on this range complex when the principals are willing to have some publicity.
In Part 1, we describe the pistol and the principles of troubleshooting it. In Part 2, we do some mechanical training with the firearm, and learn something’s not right about it. What? Read on.
Kid’s Naïve Observations of Luger Design
It was interesting and rewarding to see how this firearm looked through a new set of eyes, coming to it with no preconceptions. In the first place, he was amazed at some of the good features of the design, considering that the gun he held in his hands was quite literally 100 years old. Georg Luger’s design has a nearly perfect grip angle, is practically compact and well-balanced, points naturally in large hands or small, and its important controls fall near enough to hand. The magazine release is of a type that Browning also used, and that has become the modern standard: the push-button set where the bow of the trigger guard joins the magazine well. True, the safety is awkwardly placed for single-handed operation. But contrary to the practice on a range, a military pistol in the field in those days was generally left on safe until combat is joined, and only taken off safe on emerging from the other end of the dark tunnel of combat alive.
Many Luger features would become standards, such as the clearly labeled safety (which says”Gesichert,” or “safe,” when activated) and the loaded chamber indicator which has visual and tactile signals of a loaded firearm. These were both novelties in 1900, when the first Lugers began to be noticed worldwide. (Luger the man had been working on improving the Borchardt action since 1895 or so).
Kid made no comments about the weapon’s secondary weakness, its sights. We expect those will come when we get the range renewal unscrewed.
But he did zero in on the gun’s achilles’s heel: its complexity. He marveled at the design decisions Georg Luger made, many of which seemed to complicate the firearm. Not knowing, yet, the Borchardt and the Luger’s prototype history, he’s in the dark about just how evolved the Luger really was. Every single change from the Borchardt to the P.08 made a gun that was more compact, more reliable, easier (although not easy) to manufacture, and better suited to the rigors of military service. The Borchardt today is a collector’s item because of its position in history, which was largely assured by the Luger, and by its rarity, which resulted, frankly, from all its problems as a practical pistol. (Remember the buyer of a Borchardt wasn’t operating in a vacuum — even on its introduction in 1893, he had many less expensive, more robust, well-proven revolvers to choose instead, and in a few years he had Mauser’s C96 as an autopistol alternative). The Luger is a collectors’ itembecause of its position in history, and despite its mass production and the survival of many thousands of examples.
But there is something Heath Robinson about the Luger’s intricate toggle, about the way its mainspring works through a system of levers and a bellcrank, about its very indirect trigger mechanism. Let’s describe that, so you get a feel for it:
The trigger moves the short arm of a lever that pivots on an axis parallel to the bore down, which moves the long arm of the lever in towards the lateral centerline of the pistol. The bearing surface of that long arm presses on a spring-loaded pin that protrudes from the nose of the sear, which is pivoted at its center on a pin arranged vertically. If the safety is on, i.e., gesichert, the sear is blocked from pivoting. If the safety is not on, the nose of the sear pivots in towards the centerline, and the tail of the sear pivots out, disengaging the bearing surface of the sear from the engagement lug on the firing pin, and releasing the firing pin to race forward under the power of its spring.
After the weapon fires, the slide and toggle recoil together until the mechanical advantage of the toggle is broken by contact with the frame’s opening ramp. As the toggle opens, a protrusion on its nose withdraws the firing pin, recompressing the spring. The spring-loaded pin in the nose of the sear acts as the disconnector.
Hey, don’t feel bad if you can’t visualize it from that. Just visualize it from this:
Yes, that’s an awesome animation. Here’s another one by the same guy. They’re over with pretty quick, so you may want to play them a few times:
There are a number of other animated Lugers out there on YouTube, thanks to the engineering drawings of the gun long having been available. (Hey, SolidConcepts, 3D Print that!).
Simple Takedown — and a Discovery
As anyone who’s handled one extensively knows, the Luger is pretty easy to take down and field strips with no tools into six mostly good-sized parts: barrel & slide unit; toggle assembly; toggle pin (best reinserted in the toggle or slide immediately, when disassembling in the field, as this is the smallest part); frame; sideplate assembly; and magazine. Assembly can be more difficult; as aircraft mechanics say, it comes apart a thousand ways, and there’s a thousand ways to put it together, but only one of those thousand methods of assembly is right. In particular, it can be tricky to get the “handlebars of the trapeze” (part 9 in the illustration below) caught just right under the “hands of the acrobat” (the bellcrank, part 23 in the illustration below).
In time, though, Kid mastered it and was happily assembling and disassembling the Luger. He knows that if you want to learn how to do something, the best way by far is by doing it — by drill. (This is part of why so many colleges do better at producing athletes than thinkers: the coaches, unlike the professors, have not lost sight of the utility of drill in human education).
(Aside: it’s amazing how the human mind works. Kid is bright, but badly dyslexic. He struggles to read, which is a challenge he’ll face all his life — they teach him some coping mechanisms, but we can’t just hand him the Sturgess book and say, “Study this.” Yet he instantly grasps the purpose and orientation of each part, and while there’s something awry in the part of his mind that tells “W” from “V”, he can look at a Luger part a year from now and say, “oh, that’s a Luger toggle pin” without the slightest difficulty, or identify a Smith from a Colt by its shape — the same shapes that bedevil him when trying to turn them into words. Hell of a thing).
Then, disaster struck. Or at least that’s what it looked like on his face. “It won’t come out!” After several frantic attempts to remove the toggle pin (part 20 in the illustration), he reluctantly handed the gun over. Didn’t want to give up. We almost hated to show him up.
But — we couldn’t get it out, either. The Luger had come apart normally. Then it went together — normally. Several times. All was copacetic. But now, it wouldn’t come apart at all. After attempting to do it with fingers, and to do it with inertia (swinging the gun by the barrel, landing a light tap on an upholstered chair arm, which should have sent the toggle pin flying), we looked around for a non-marring tool and tried the cap of a Sharpie. No joy. We actually broke the cap of the Sharpie. Ruh-roh.
OK, lets get serious. Support the receiver, orient the flanged end of the pin down, line up an unsharpened pencil (serving as a dowel) on the opposite end, and whack it.
Whack it with a mallet.
Still no joy. Even swearing at it in its native German isn’t helping. That sucker isn’t coming out. We’ve come as far as we can in the living room. (What, there are no mallets in your living room?)
Kid has a sick “I broke it” look on his face. But he didn’t; he didn’t do anything wrong. We tell him this. He does not believe, and still looks stricken.
Down to the machine shop. Teachable moment about wood in vise jaws, when to use soft and hard wood, when to use rubber (“Ah, that’s why you don’t throw away inner tubes from the bikes but bring them down here”). Teachable moment on shop philosophy. “Don’t be Bubba, we’re only custodians of these guns during our short lives on earth.” Align pin with the lasers on the drill press. (One excellent feature on an otherwise el cheapo press). Insert a dowel in the chuck and press the pin out.
We could have done it with the big press, but there’s a bunch of stuff piled on that, so we bent the “right tool for the right job” rule a little bit, but didn’t bend the Luger, which is the important thing.
One gentle cycle of the downfeed lever, and out it comes. Mechanical advantage FTW.
Minute eyeball examination of the pin. Nothing the least bit unusual about it. Nothing unusual in the holes in the receiver or toggle. A quick look with some measuring tools found nothing out of alignment (despite the bozo stunt with the chair arm).
Luger parts tend to be a very tight fit and the toggle pin is no exception. (When it is in place in the receiver, the line that separate the two is barely visible to the naked eye).
Placing the pin in the receiver and rotating it gave us our first clue: there was one point in its 360º travel where it froze up. Either the pin, or the holes, is out of round enough to be dragging, both in rotation and in attempts to withdraw the pin. Force-rotate it away from the “sticky” spot and it slides right out.
Could this intermittently sticky toggle pin be responsible for our maddeningly intermittent failures to feed in the Artillery Luger? What’s causing it, and how do we fix it without leaving Bubba prints for some future gun blogger to mock us for?
Looks like there’s going to be a Part 3. Sorry about that!
Mauro Baudino, an Italian who lives in Belgium nowadays, is an expert on the very beast we’re currently wrangling; he’s written a book on the Artillery Luger, although his book is aimed more at collectors and historians than on our current role, poor beggars trying to make the thing run like Kaiser Bill intended it to. So Mauro’s website on the Artillery, LugerLP08.com, is of great interest.
At the very beginning, it has a graphic in which a commemorative Artillery photo fades into a cut-away four-color drawing, which then cycles, and you can see the intricacies of the action — which all appear correct.
Baudino also co-wrote (with Gerben Van Vlimmeren) a book on postwar Parabellums, The Parabellum is Back: 1945-2000. There is a website with information on this book including errata, like drawings of the magazines developed by Haenel for the French. Here’s a review of the book by Ian from Forgotten Weapons:
Unfortunately, his Artillery Luger book, which is available direct from the author, is primarily in the Italian language, albeit with bilingual (Italian/English) photo captions. But the website is all in English, and quite entertaining to explore.
The mainstream media have left this behind for now, although another round of ZOMG Invisible Ghost Guns!!1!!!1!! is never too far in the future, and indeed in Calfruitopia a “Ghost gun ban” bill which criminalizes build-your-own firearms is on the desk of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesher, Governor Brown. (We regret the error. They’re easily confused). But printed AR lower designs continue to evolve.
The process is largely an iterative one, driven by trial and error, with the errors exposed by testing. This photo shows you a handful of the iterations that have been tried, rejected, and improved, and tried again.
This is hardly the first time iterative engineering has been applied to this 60-year-old design. Armalite modified the prototype AR forging for greater strength where prototypes were weak, and Colt modified production receivers for greater strength where service found them vulnerable to failure (i.e. from Model 601 to Model 602 to 603, and from 603 to 703; for the last, compare the profiles of the buffer tower and front pin areas of an M16A1 and A2 lower receiver). In just the same way that Colt reinforced the lower receiver of the M16 for greater service durability, the experimenters working with FDM plastic lowers have reinforced those same vulnerable areas (and others) to adjust for the different properties of their material, relative to the forged 7075 aluminum alloy of the original.
Note the reinforced buffer tower and greater material thickness near the top of the control cavity.
Right now, they’re getting the strength back by simply beefing these areas up and changing shapes and angles to eliminate designed-in stress risers. It time, it’s possible that an arrangement of ribs or stiffeners may provide the required strength while allowing material usage and print time to be reduced again, but for right now, it looks like a lower with massive lugs in the front, a cut-off mag well, and reinforced areas along the top of the control cavity will get the job done.
We don’t have info, yet, on the performance of the FOSSCAD Vanguard in the field, but it does build in to a firearm:
Another goal of the tinkerers has been to improve the buildability of the lower on ordinary, consumer-grade 3D Printers. The first working LR was printed by Have Blue on a commercial Stratasys machine that cost a king’s ransom when new. This example was printed on a DaVinci 1.0 printer, a unit that uses 0.6 kg filament cartridges and prints only in polylactic acid (PLA) plastic. It’s made by XYZPrinting in Taiwan and is available for $500 from Amazon and other resellers. As the Amazon reviews should show you, this is a low-end printer indeed. Yet, it produces a functional Lower Receiver.
The JT Vanguard on the DaVinci print bed, with support material that is readily removed.
This is one genie that cannot be rebottled. The technology is marching inexorably toward greater capability: more speed, better resolution, better materials, lower cost. Luddites like California’s Governor Brown and State Senator Kevin de Leon who would ban this technology are the equivalent of the Stasi, trying to keep East Germans in line by registering typewriters lest someone express an unauthorized idea.
Even the mighty shoguns of Japan, who had power that todays power-lusting politicians can only fantasize about, could not arrest the march of technology — they could only delay it, locally, and at the cost of national weakness.
Meanwhile, while California politicians are winding up to throw their wooden shoes into the machinery, technology stays ahead of them on fleet feet — probably shot in Made-in-USA New Balances. Manufacturing’s not dead, but some states can kill it locally if they like.
The Artillery Luger has been troubling us with unreliability lately, and Kid really wants to shoot it. So we have to trouble-shoot it first, and with Lugers that seems to be equal parts art, science, and Santeria. (Of the Germanic, Vulcan-logic variety, of course). We don’t think this thing will be cured with a single laying-on of hands and in a single post, but we try nonetheless. Not our hands, at least, and if we will pray for something from His hands, we’ll save that prayer for something bigger than a troublesome toggle.
File photo (source unknown) of an LP.08
(Note: we’re having trouble loading images this morning. Please stand by).
So, “Was für ein Zeug ist das?” (“What is that.. thing?” — range question)
First, let’s say a few words about what an Artillery Luger is. It was really the first Personal Defense Weapon, to use modern terminology, of the automatic-weapons era. The Germans never called it an “Artillery Luger,” by the way; they called it, with classically Teutonic lyricism, a Lange Pistole 08 or Long Pistol of 1908. The pistol had a roughly 8-inch barrel, a rear sight modeled on that of a Mauser rifle with a wildly optimistic 800-yard gradient on it, and a number of other unique parts that appear at first glance to be ordinary P.08 parts but aren’t. (One suspects that they The LP.08 also was issued with some notable accessories, including, on a 1:1 basis, a holster that was backed by a board that formed a detachable shoulder stock, making the weapon a handy carbine. The holster rig includes a shoulder strap and a pouch for two spare magazines — after 100 years, surviving holsters tend to be dry, brittle, and sometimes shrunken. The other accessory that truly completes this pre-James Bond rig is the 32-round “snail drum” magazine, which, to quibble, isn’t a true drum like that of the TSMG or PPSh, but more a coiled stick magazine. In this case, the misnomer is German in origin: they called it the Trommelmagazin 08.
“Artillery Luger with Snail Drum” is how it’s known today, andeveryone will know what you’re talking about.
The magazine and stock will fit on most Lugers, but the ATF only exempts the Artillery and Naval Lugers (and a few even rarer variants) from NFA. Attaching the stock to an ordinary P.08 is a rather serious NFA violation, “Manufacturing a short-barreled rifle,” and ATF would rather pursue that against you than try to, say, interdict instead of facilitate Mexican cartels’ gun supplies. (Cheer up: they once expected Luger owners to register the guns under NFA, or grind the stock lugs off, so on this, they’ve actually improved in the last sixty years or so). The last time an Artillery Luger was used in a crime is not recorded.
(Without the stock, the magazine merely adds weight and complicates the balance of a Luger. We’d guess that everyone in the very small minority of owners of these guns that actually shoots them tries it like that once, just to be gangsta, with nobody watching. “Look at me, I have a drum mag in my pistol, eat lead, target!” And then never does it again, because it’s murder to hit anything like that, and nothing takes the joy out of shooting as fast as missing does).
Starting in 1914 these long Lugers were issued as rifle replacements to soldiers who needed a weapon only for short-range self-defense. The first of these were the German Imperial artillery units, and that’s what gave this pistol its common name. By war’s end they were used by the first Storm Troops, small, heavily-armed units trained and equipped for rapid, mobile warfare in the trench environment, as well as their usual PDW employment. After the war, a number remained in Weimar military and police use (these will be marked with “1920” over the original date in the chamber area of the slide). A number came back to the USA as war trophies, and many more were imported and sold. Prior to 1968, the imports didn’t have to be marked by the importer, so most Artillery Lugers in the USA lack any import markings.
While Lugers were manufactured in modern factories for the time, they are a complicated and intricate mechanism, and almost all metal-on-metal interfaces on the Luger were hand-fitted. Some parts, such as the trigger mechanism, were extensively hand-fitted. This means that on a non-matching gun, you’re at the mercy of the smith who swapped the parts in the first place. Well, you hope it was a smith; if it was just a drop-in of mismatched parts, there’s still gunsmithing ahead to make the Luger run. On some guns, “matching parts” is of concern only to collectors, but on a Luger they’re a signal flag that the gun was, at one time, anyway, carefully hand-fitted.
Our copy is matching, but was long ago professionally reblued (although not a restoration), erasing much of its collector value. However, we’re less Luger snobs than Luger fans who like to shoot the Heath Robinson things, and for us it’s always been a reliable shooter — until recently. Recently it’s gotten a bit truculent about cycling.
On to Troubleshooting
There are four FIrst Things in Luger troubleshooting:
All Lugers are picky about ammunition. It was designed to work with a single cartridge, and it needs something pretty close to the original. Forget about modern bullet shapes, Georg’s design wants round nose or truncated-cone FMJ, period. (Yes, we have seen attempts at Luger feed-ramp polishing by Dremel-wielding Bubbas, and it put us in mind of the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept). It also wants good levels of chamber pressure: we’d recommend NATO 9mm over commercial SAAMI 9mm, which is a bit downloaded because of interwar rumors of feeble 9mm firearms (maybe due to some unfortunate wretch breaking a 9mm Parabellum in a Glisenti). However, we’d not recommend +P or +P+ ammunition in anything that was made when all Europe was ruled by kings. Which brings us to:
All Lugers are old, and all of these particular models are 97-100 years old. Fortunately, they are made of good alloy steel, and the sort of steel they are made of is not subject to gradual weakening due to fatigue, or at least, is far less subject to it than nonferrous metals. Absent overstress, a Luger’s parts will never give out. Absent wear, they’ll always fit together right (which means lubrication is your special friend if you want to shoot one a lot). Absent corrosion, their steel parts should be strong as they were on Day 1, metallurgy of steels being what it is, but the springs may have weakened from age or overuse.
As in every auto pistol, the magazine is a potential single point of failure. The Luger mag is incredibly well-designed from a functioning standpoint and is not much given to crapping out, but it can be damaged by abuse, and as #2 says, the originals are all a century or so old. P.08 mags were made up to the arrival of T-34s and Shermans atop the factories, and after the war have been made by various third parties. Aftermarket magazines are hit and miss; original magazines are superior (but expensive), if not cracked or broken.
The system is complex and there are a number of places where unwelcome friction can mess up the gun’s cycle and timing. So seeking and reducing that friction can help.
And of course, the gunsmith’s version of the Hippocratic principle (“First, do no harm”) is always in mind. We try to do the minimum to the gun and avoid permanent or hard-to-reverse alterations. Because, Bubba. And the Weaponsman Principle (“Don’t be that guy.”)
It’s many things, but a Luger is not simple. This is the standard Pistole 08.
With those principles and constraints in mind, first we tried the good old GI method: how much lubricant can a firearm absorb and not be too slippery to grip? Then we wound up having an adventure simply going to the range. Turns out, Ye Olde Weaponsman’s membership in this range had lapsed. (Guns are our thing. Paperwork, not so much). Then, the old SS chose to give up its GhoSSt on the way home. Basic troubleshooting availed us not, so AAA sent a ramp truck for the last half mile, and our local carsmith is hooked it out of here yesterday. Oy. So we don’t know yet if the drench-it school of lube has made Old Unfaithful faithful again.
We kind of think not; that would be Too Easy, although the fact that the gun worked until recently suggests that it’s failing because something changed, and level and viscosity of oils is something that’s constantly changing.
So, for the time being, we went to Plan B, which is to do some mechanical training on the Luger, and look for anything anomalous (we had found nothing on the pre-range inspection). We recall thinking, “this will not end well,” but we dismissed the thought and did not go get the mismatched beater Luger instead. And we walked Kid through the intricacies of assembling and disassembling the Luger, with no more trouble than the occasional Luger part imprinting itself on the hardwood floors. He is the only kid in his high school with hands-on time with an Artillery Luger, he thinks, and he’d be the envy of all his friends if he talked about the guns we have at home, which he does not.
And at this point, we’re going to wrap for the morning, in order to get on to other things. But Kid did find an anomaly in the Luger that caused some intermittent friction. To be continued!
This one is a big deal. A commenter flagged us to it, and we took our time getting to this “Original Armalite AR-10″ because we figured: “Ho hum, Dutch Artillerie Inrichtingen AR-10, interesting but we’ve written about ‘em already. A lot.” And… well, when we finally looked at the AR, it wasn’t a mass-produced gun from the Portuguese or Sudanese contract at all, but one of the earliest, hand-built prototypes, a gun that would not only be a centerpiece in an AR collection or modern military arms collection, but would be a centerpiece in many museums.
Several things mark it as a prototype, including its front sight base without any gas cut-off, and especially the pepper-pot flash suppressor, but there are other markers as well.
It’s up for bid at the James D. Julia fall firearms auction, of which more in a moment. Julia accepts bids by phone, email (using a bid form available on their website) or, of course, in person. First, here’s what Julia says about it:
**ORIGINAL ARMALITE AR-10 MACHINE GUN (FULLY TRANSFERABLE).
SN 1038. 308 cal. 21″ bbl. This extremely attractive and early AR-10 includes one 20 round magazine and has light brown hand guards, hand grip and buttstock. It also has a perforated muzzle break giving it an extremely unusual, yet attractive, appearance. Marked on left side of magazine well with the Armalite winged horse logo and model designation as well as “Hollywood, Calif. U.S.A.” address. Firing mechanism functions smoothly when operated by hand. This weapon appears fully functional. PROVENANCE: The class III weapons formerly on loan to Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. CONDITION: Overall appearance and finish is 98% with virtually no loss of finish on metal parts and perhaps just the very slightest of handling marks and slight brassing at the muzzle. There are some small places on the stock and hand guards where there has been a scrape, revealing black material underneath. Bore is shiny and bright with some slight frosting close to the muzzle. Bolt face is extremely fine. This weapon has been fired, but not very much. 4-51756 JWK73 (15,000-20,000) – Lot 10
The Julia firearms staff, like rival auction house Rock Island’s, are true professionals. They seldom make an error; they tend to extreme conservatism in their descriptions, which is probably why they’re not using the word, “protoype.”
We use the word with confidence for the following reasons:
There was no true production of AR-10s in Hollywood or Costa Mesa. All were toolroom jobs, built by hand, and no two were quite the same (same is true of California AR-15s).
The serial number, “1038,” is almost certainly gun number 38 produced, with a leading 1000 inserted to provide an aura of maturity around what was, in 1955, a very radical design.
The gun lacks some of the features of all production AR-10s from Artillerie Inrichtingen.
The furniture is clearly hand-poured. A contemporary Guns Magazine article showed some “production” photos from the Hollywood shop, and one of them shows hand-mixed resin being poured from a Dixie cup. (We wrote about the process here).
While original AR-10s, meaning the production guns from Artillerie Inrichtingen, are exceedingly rare (only a few thousand were produced), enough that both transferable pre-68 imports and US-receiver semiauto conversions are very rare, prototype ARs almost never see the light of day. They are all in private collections or museums. Many of the most historic guns are in Reed Knight’s Institute for Military Technology, and you can expect, if you’re bidding on this, museums and the most advanced collectors will be bidding against you. That makes Julia’s pre-sales estimate of $15,000-20,000 seem low; we’d be shocked if this historic rifle didn’t go for half again Julia’s top estimate.
Yes, we do like the original AR-10. As we’ve said:
In June of that year: an AR-10 in Photos (this is the same gun in the May posts. We also started a second photo essay on this gun but didn’t finish or post it; it molders in the queue).
In November, 2012, we dealt with a t-shirt that was a great idea, badly implemented, by announcing that We Hate Bad History. Principal beef was that the artist displaced the AR-10 from its proper place as the grandsire of the AR line.
Yes, we want it. However, we need to color within our budgetary lines here.
The gun was one of the Evergreen Ventures Class III collection. The collection was a separate corporation, but displayed the same vision of the fantastic Evergreen Air Museum in McMinnville, Oregon (which we’ve been privileged to visit). The funds for all this flowed from a large and successful air freight company, Evergreen International, which didn’t survive the transition from the entrepreneurial to professional management.
Some other highlights of the collection, which is now being auctioned by the James D. Julia auction house in Maine as part of the house’s annual Fall Firearms Auction (they also have a Spring Auction) in early October, along with other firearms treasures, such as an eye-popping Winchester Model 21 shotgun collection, a collection of gorgeous Colts, Sharps and other frontier guns, the third installment of the Dr Geoffrey Sturgess European pistol collection, the Dr Douglas Sirkin collection of early firearms, and the former Springfield Armory, LLC, artillery collection. Some celebrity pieces are at the auction, also, including Eleanor Roosevelt’s revolver, presentation pieces for Napoleon III and Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Tom Custer’s Spencer repeater. Here’s a sort of highlights reel. The auction is so richly provisioned with fine and rare firearms that this AR-10 prototype didn’t even make the highlights!