Category Archives: Crew-Served

Our “Partners” Iran… Still Bein’, Well, Iran

On their way to Yemeni terrorists, a shipment of ATGMs in a lawless, stateless ship. It was briefly detained by an allied navy — and its cargo of missiles dumped into the sea.

Shipload of Iranian mischief apprehended on the high seas.

Shipload of Iranian mischief apprehended on the high seas. Registration indicia were spurious.

The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said a member of the Combined Maritime Forces, a longstanding multinational coalition, intercepted the vessel in international waters last Friday.

An American guided missile destroyer, the USS Forrest Sherman, arrived to assist once the weapons were found aboard the dhow, a type of vessel commonly used in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean.

Crates and tripods. The tripods look like the ones for the BGM-71 TOW, a missile Iran produces an unauthorized copy of.

Crates and tripods. The tripods look like the ones for the BGM-71 TOW, a missile Iran produces an unauthorized copy of.

In a pretty rare occurrence… a DDG (“guided missile destroyer”) actually destroyed guided missiles.

More crates and tubes. Some might be TOW reloads.

More crates and tubes. Some might be TOW reloads.

A search of the ship determined that it was “stateless,” or not formally registered to any country, although it appears to have been coming from Iran, according to the U.S. Navy.

“Based on statements from the dhow’s crew, the port of origin of the dhow and its illicit weapons cache is believed to be Iran,” the Navy said, adding that the weapons included anti-tank arms thought to be of Iranian and Russian origin.

This Sept. 27, 2015 photo released by the U.S. Navy on Sept. 30, 2015, shows weapons and equipment confiscated from a dhow, aboard the deck of USS Forrest Sherman. A ship carrying illicit arms believed to be from Iran was intercepted last week off the southern Arabian Peninsula by a member of a U.S.-backed naval coalition and was not registered with any country, the U.S. Navy said Wednesday. The American description of the ship’s seizure conflicted in some instances with an earlier account provided by a separate Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen’s Shiite rebels, which claimed it had foiled the smuggling attempt. (Combined Maritime Forces photo via AP)

These might be AT-5 Spandrel missiles, Russian name 9M113 Konkurs. They are produced in Russia, Iran, and several other nations. Note defacement of stenciling, common among trafficked weapons. These particular examples were taken for analysis by US experts.

So the ship had a rocket in its pocket — a lot more than one rocket, though.

Another view of the crates etc. on the stateless ship from lawless Iran.

Another view of the crates etc. on the stateless ship from lawless Iran. What’s that missile there?

The dhow’s crew alleged that the vessel was bound for Somalia, which sits just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. They were allowed to depart once the weapons were confiscated, the U.S. said.

Most of the weapons were dumped into the sea, though some were retained for further analysis by sailors aboard the American warship.

via Weapons believed to be from Iran seized in Arabian Sea – Yahoo News.

Sure enough, it's an AT-5 Spandrel (aka 9M113 Konkurs).

Sure enough, it’s an AT-5 Spandrel (aka 9M113 Konkurs).

It’s tough work out there, being the top negotiating partner of the Top Men in the United States. Top. Men.

You have to wonder what percentage of these shipments gets through.

A Quick Review of US Coastal Fortifications (long!)

In the days ahead, we’re going to be looking at some historic fortifications around the East Coast of the United States, and their place in history. Before we get deep into fort design and history, we thought it would help to review the history of fortifications.

Until World War II, the greatest projectors of national power were fleets of warships. This was how nations figured their greatness; this was what earnest, quavering diplomats sought to negotiate reductions in. While the warships changed over the centuries, they still remained the same general “thing” They were vessels that could cross oceans, if need be in large groups, and then destroy enemy fleets, fortifications, and shore installations by fire from shipboard cannon, or by landing marines or soldiers embarked in the ships. Such seaborne ground forces could also, if strong enough, seize and hold ground. (Amphibious warfare didn’t begin with the Higgins boat; it had a history centuries old when a few guys met over a beer and started the US Marine Corps).

To prevent the loss of one’s harbors, cities (which tended, of course, to be at river mouths and harbors), and other goods and chattels, defenses were erected against these ships; frantically in wartime, and more lackadaisically in times of peace. (History is replete with cycles of construction, neglect, and panicked restoration, amongst all the coastal nations of the world). In time, shorelines came to be studded with fortifications that could take advantage of two native superiorities of ground-based versus shipboard armament: the ground doesn’t pitch, roll and yaw, and the ground can support an unlimited amount of weight. This meant that ceteris paribus the guns of forts had substantial range, accuracy and throw-weight advantages over ships’ armament, or could have, if the defenders spent on forts as they did on ships.

The ships had their own advantages: they could run, hide (make smoke, once steam became the motive power), and concentrate their forces to defeat the forts piecemeal, if the mutual support of the fortifications was weak. They could also land their marines or soldiers to flank the fortifications; defending against ships and ground-based infantry (let alone infantry, cavalry and artillery combined arms) was substantially more complex than defending against the land or sea attack alone. Indeed, the history of forts includes many more reduced by landward attacks than by cannonades from the sea.

Forts were not the only anti-ship defense available. Blockships, booms, chains, and other obstacles were popular, in part because they were cheaper than forts. They were effective, just like obstacles against infantry, only when covered by observation and fire. Mines (also called “torpedoes” until that term began to be applied only to self-propelled torpedoes in the 20th Century) were another vital type of sea defense. These “dumb” passive defenses sometimes get short shrift from historians, but they were very important defensive works, and you may be sure that they got careful consideration by the admirals facing them. Both contact and command-detonated mines were established as early as the 18th Century, and they and their controls were part of American minefields until after World War II.

These principles held all through the period from the discovery of the New World in the 15th Century and its settlement by squabbling colonists from Spain, France, Portugal, the Netherlands and England over the next two centuries. They continued to hold as the Europeans withdrew from the New World and new nations grew up there, and the first sign that the balance of power between ships and forts was going in a new direction was probably the demonstration sinking of the relatively modern captured battleship SMS Ostfriesland off the East Coast of the United States by primitive biplane bombers in 1923.

Just as weapons evolved, fortifications did also. There were earthen fortifications, then stone, then brick, then concrete. Military engineering was a highly developed science by the time of the founding of the United States.

The US inherited colonial fortifications from the colonial powers, and then developed its own seacoast installations. For the United States, fortifications were an economy of force proposition: as expensive as they were to build, they were dirt cheap compared to keeping a standing army or navy (something that was anathema to early Americans).

Colonial era forts were used by the US where practical. Some of these works still stand and may be visited. Because they tended to be placed on key terrain, they were often overbuilt or replaced by subsequent generations of fortifications.

Thanks to two brilliant engineers, Vauban who worked mostly in the 17th Century and Montalembert in the 18th, the language of fortification is French. The typical star-shaped fort comes from Vauban’s work, but so do many details. Here’s a section of a Vauban fort in plan view (source). Green represents earthworks above surface level, the side towards the enemy may faced with wood, brick or stone; brown the surface; tan represents excavations below surface level. Campagne is the field, outside the fortification; Ville is the town, inside:

vauban dessus

A: the level of the ground. B: the glacis, smooth rising earth designed to absorb shot or deflect it over the low-lying fortification; C: chemin couvert, a covered (from fire) and concealed path around the perimeter where musketeers may be positioned; D: a demi-lune, literally “half-moon,” an outlying position where guns may be emplaced; E: Fossé, a ditch to delay, collect and expose would-be breachers; F: Courtine, the main wall; G: a Bastion, or defensive protuberance on the wall. G1 Orillons provided flank protection to G2 Embrasures, holes or crenellations in the wall that permitted enfilading fire:

defending a bastion

Demi-lunes and bastions were modules that could be repeated as many times as necessary to complete a wall. The floor of the Fossé also had entrenchments and works that allowed defenders to fire from covered positions at any attackers that got in.

This is a section view along Axis 1 (axe 1) of the first sketch.

Coupe_fortification_vauban_(french).svgThere are many, many, details in the design as well, a design that followed careful mathematical models. A well-manned Vauban fortification was a tough nut to crack. Vauban, in his brilliance, addressed that too and wrote about reducing forts as well as constructing them. He had many able and imaginative followers in France and abroad who, for a century after his death, extended his ideas as far as they were able to go. This was the state of the military engineering art at about the time of the Revolution.

For an overview of the US implementation of these principles, overleaf, click “more.”

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Inside the T-14 Armata

People have been wondering exactly how the crew is laid out and works together in the new Russian T-14 Armata tank. Here is an answer, as what appears to be a pick-up crew (test crew? journalists?) sets up and fires the Armata’s main armament. Some comments after the brief video.

They’re going to have to go a lot faster than this in combat, but see comments on the crew above the video. A well-drilled crew, comfortable with live-firing the tank, should slam through this. These guys are leisurely, relaxed. “Ogon?” (Fire). (pause) “Ogon!” (pause). FOOM. Those pauses go away with practice.

The high level of automation in the Armata is evident here. It’s a well-thought out tank, and with the whole crew in the same can, crew coordination is simplified. In the flight-training world, there’s a general consensus that it’s easier and more effective to teach in a side-by-side environment. Curtis LeMay himself threw a wobbler when Boeing prepared a jet for him (the XB-52) with a tandem crew as in the previous jet (B-47), and he made Boeing change it for the production jets. Putting the TC, gunner and driver side-by-side has the same benefits in a tank that it does in a jet bomber.

We’re a little concerned about the idea of touch screens in a combat vehicle. Again in aviation, we’ve discovered that two things are problems with touch-screens in aircraft. In turbulent conditions, it can be hard to hit the button you want. And worse, it’s possible to hit a button you don’t want. Now, this is not an insuperable problem. The avionics makers have worked out some solutions and/or work-arounds, including backup manual knobs, user-controllable delays on keys (i.e. you have to hold it for a half-second to activate it), and even environmentally adaptive delays (the delay increases if the accelerometers in the Air Data and Altitude/Heading Reference System see accelerations characteristic of turbulence). So if they can solve it for an airplane moving at hundreds of kilometers an hour through three-dimensionally through a moving, changing medium, the Russians can solve it for a tank juddering over the ground at a max of dozens of K and taking the occasional hit.

The touch screens of the Armata look like COTS computers running application, not a bespoke interface. This has both pros and cons, something the Russian engineers certainly understand.

Tanks normally operate best opened up and lose considerable situational awareness when combat forces them to button up. NATO tankers in particular like to fight their tanks from open cupola. But the Armata seems designed to give its TC best situational awareness when he’s reclining in his couch, not head up out of the turret. This is in keeping with Russian/Soviet tank doctrine that expects tanks to operate on a battlefield swept not only by small arms, tank, and mortar and indirect fire, but also by billowing clouds of chemical and biological weapons. In that environment, the TC in an climate-controlled compartment with the rest of his crew is miles ahead of the guy who might be out of his turret, but sweating in a MOPP4 suit and squinting through a gas mask, or in any US tank where NBC protection is an afterthought.

Finally, this is a tank that exists in platoon or maybe company strength. It’s still a test article. It could evolve in other directions. The Russians are not going to send these to their sheep-dipped units in eastern Ukraine, let alone their “USA is nutless, so we might as well” expeditionary force in Syria. When they do sell them to allies that might use them in combat — probably, Iran, and probably, soon, because they want foreign sales to subsidize Russian Army production — the allies will not get the full version. Of course, a tank that is so very dependent on software makes the production of what Soviet guys back in the day used to call their “monkey model” for export relatively easy.

It also enables a couple of logistic things that haven’t been done quite this way before. For example, Russian Army tanks could be very quickly reconfigured and flown to an ally in extremis, as the USA did with Israel in 1973, and also, Russian crews could be rapidly airlifted and fall in on an ally’s monkey-model tanks, flashing them to full Russian Army standard with a firmware upgrade. This would be an improvement on the US’s Cold War REFORGER prepositioned unit sets, by getting the allies to store, maintain and exercise the unit sets unless and until Ivan needs them.

Even if this tank is never produced in more than limited quantities, it is a revolutionary tank that must be taken seriously. We expect to see some of these concepts influencing future Western developments.

Archaeology Find Confirms 1777 Battle Story

Archaeologists are always surprised to find that historical information from contemporary sources, pamphlets, or news stories is confirmed by the results of a dig (probably because they read the New York Times and watch TV news and assume today’s media is fabulistic, in the tradition of yesterday’s). The latest unexpected discovery is this cannon shard which from a New Jersey dig which seems to confirm some details of the October, 1777 Battle of Red Bank, a small but dramatic Continental victory, in which attacking Hessian mercenaries suffered extreme casualties under an artillery and small arms barrage, and the American casualties were light, comprising primarily a single gun crew slain when the gun exploded.

Historians who studied the Battle of Red Bank in 1777 have long known the tragic story of an American gun crew.

It was one of several defending Fort Mercer against a much larger army of Hessian soldiers, who were trying to dislodge them and open up the Delaware River for British ships to supply the Redcoats occupying Philadelphia.

The crew loaded a massive cannon, lit the fuse, and fired – but the breech exploded, killing a dozen members of Rhode Island regiments who were manning the gun and earthworks.

The battle, while a Continental victory, took place amid a series of strategic setbacks and defeats. Washington’s objective had been to cut off Philadelphia as he had in the previous year cut off Boston and forced a British defeat, and much as later in 1776 the British had forced him out of New York. To that end, the campaign that began with the upset of Hessian forces at Princeton and Trenton in December ’76 gave way to a plan to ring Philadelphia round with a number of fortifications. But Washington was in a weak position; he had to be strong at every fort, and he just didn’t have the men. The British, on the other hand, could use the Royal Navy to bring overwhelming force to one fort at a time, as they were not placed well for mutual support.

Hessian Map of the Battle Area

Hessian Map of the Battle Area. Fort Red Bank at lower right. As was customary in the 18th Century (under Vauban’s influence), the map’s legend is in French, which both the English and German officers could understand.

The fortifications at Red Bank were part of this ring around Philadelphia, which British forces had been rolling up through the summer and fall of 1777. A fort named Fort Mifflin stood on a rather insubstantial island in the Delaware called (appropriately) Mud Island, toward the Pennsylvania side; the fort on the Jersey side (in or just south of modern Camden, NJ) was called Fort Mercer (named after Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, a doctor turned warrior who died of wounds from the Battle of Princeton in January, 1777), but not knowing that name, the British called it Red Bank. The forts guarded water obstacles, chevaux-de-frise, and covered those obstacles with the observation and fires necessary to prevent English engineers from dismantling the blockages. To achieve Lord Howe’s strategic objective of the relief of Philadelphia, these forts had to go.

It was Red Bank’s turn to be reduced by amphibious attack on 21 October 1777. The operation was a success, in that the British took the ground they sought; but it was a costly success.  First, here’s the commanding officer’s spin. This is the report of the British commander, General Sir William Howe, in a letter he wrote to Lord George Germaine from Philadelphia on 25 October 1777.

 My Lord,

The enemy having intrenched about 100 men at Red-Bank, upon the Jersey shore, some little distance above Fort Island, Colonel Donop, with three battalions of Hessian grenadiers, the regiment of Mirback, and the infantry, Chasseurs, crossed the Delaware on the 21st instant to Cooper’s Ferry, opposite to this town, with directions to proceed to the attack of that post. The detachment marched a part of the way on the same day, and on the 22nd in the afternoon was before Red Bank; Colonel Donop immediately made the best disposition, and led the troops in the most gallant manner to the assault. They carried an extensive outwork, from which the enemy were driven into an interior intrenchment, which could not be forced without ladders, being eight or nine feet high, with the parapet boarded and fraized. The detachment in moving up, and returning from, the attack, was much galled by the enemy’s gallies and floating batteries.

Colonel Donop and Lieutenant Colonel Minningerode being both wounded, the command devolved upon the Lieutenant Colonel Linsing, who after collecting all the wounded that could be brought off, marched that night about 5 miles towards Cooper’s ferry, and on the following morning returned with the detachment to camp.

Colonel Donop unfortunately had his thigh so much fractured by a musket ball, that he could not be removed; but I since I understand there are some hopes of his recovery. There were several brave Officers lost upon this occasion, in which the utmost ardour and coverage or displayed by both officers and soldiers.

Contemporary woodcut of the Battle of Red Bank.

Contemporary woodcut of the Battle of Red Bank.

On the 23rd, the Augusta, in coming up the river with some other ships of war, to engage the enemies gallies near the Fort, got a-ground and by some accident taking fire in the action, was unavoidably consumed; but I do not hear there were any lives lost. The Merlin sloop also grounded, and the other ships being obliged to remove a distance from the explosion of the Augusta, it became expedient to evacuate and burn her also.

These disappointments, however, will not prevent the most vigorous measures being pursued for the reduction of the Fort, which will give us the passage of the river.

I have the honor to be, &c.

W. Howe.

PS I have the satisfaction to enclose to your Lordship a report just received a very spirited piece of service performed by Major-General Vaughn and Sir James Wallace up the Hudson’s river.

We’d planned on stopping the excerpt here, because Vaughan’s report doesn’t bear directly on the Red Bank fight and the attempted (and ultimately successful) relief of Philadelphia by Crown forces, but we know you guys would ask, and it’s a brief report, and illuminative of Vaughan’s character so here it is:

Copy of Major General Vons report. On board the friendship, off Esopus, Friday, October 17, 10 o’clock, Morning.

I have the honor to inform you, that on the evening of the 15th instant I arrived off Esopus; finding that the rebels had thrown up works, and had made every disposition to annoy us, and cut off every communication, I judged it necessary to attack them, the wind being at that time so much against us, we could make no way. I accordingly when did the troops, attacked their batteries, drove them from their works, spiked and destroyed their guns. Esopus being a nursery for almost every villain in the country, I judged it necessary to proceed to that town. On our approach they were drawn up with cannon, which we took, and drove them out of the place. On our entering the town they fired from their houses, which induced me to reduce the place to ashes, which I accordingly did, not leaving a house. We found a considerable quantity of stores of all kinds, which shared the same fate.

Sir James Wallace has destroyed all the shipping except an armed galley, which run up the creek, with everything belonging to the vessels in store.

Our loss is so inconsiderable, this is not at present worthwhile to mention.

I am, &c.
John Vaughn

Esopus, New York, burned by Vaughan’s forces, was the initial capital of the state in rebelliion, so Vaughan’s irritation with the town was on solid ground. The name dated to Colonial Dutch times; when the city was rebuilt it was (and is) known as Kingston, NY. The Esopus fight was much more a British victory than was Red Bank, despite Lord Viscount Howe’s spin in his report above.

christopher-greene2-largeAt Red Bank, the Hessians drew up and demanded a surrender, threatening no quarter. The militia in the fort, under the command of Colonel Christopher Greene, defied the threat and informed the Hessians that no quarter would be given to them. (In the end, it was, and the militia did not murder their prisoners).

The colonials at Red Bank retreated in good order and their primary losses were the gun crew killed by the explosion of the gun; the Hessians suffered hundreds of casualties. But Red Bank was the exception; one after another the British forces levered the Yankees out of their positions and opened the sea roads to Philadelphia.

The Reduction of Fort Mercer at Red Bank. Modern sketch from a period Hessian sketch by Capt. J. Ewald.

The Reduction of Fort Mercer at Red Bank. Modern sketch from a period Hessian sketch by Capt. J. Ewald. The New Jersey militiamen escaped to the left of this sketch (southwest) after killing and wounding 325-400 Hessians. On withdrawal, the Hessians abandoned their wounded who joined other Hessians as prisoners, also.  

Howe’s report is full of spin. He tends to minimize casualties; for example, Colonel von Donop of the Hessians was in no way on the path to recovery, and he shortly died, and while he lists officer casualties in detail he evidences little interest in enlisted casualties, especially among the German mercenaries and local auxiliaries that were the bulk of his force. And he probably knew well that the two ships he lost were lost because of Continental obstacles, and the Augusta (a 64-gun ship of the line) was burnt by American fireships.

The house the Continentals used for their headquarters and hospital, and in which von Donop was treated a prisoner, still stands and is part of the Red Bank National Historic Site. (Von Donop was removed to another house, where he expired from his wounds three days later).

There is a ghost story involving Hessians with mismatched heads.

The surviving Hessians, beaten back by musketry and cannon fire, exfiltrated overland to Woodbury, leaving their casualties behind. The question of Hessians that died with their boots (and heads) still on was one of the things that motivated the modern archaeologists, who descended on the popular park this summer, and they did find buttons and bone fragments that indicate that they may have found a mass grave of the unfortunate Germans. (More analysis of the bones is required before that can be stated as fact).

Red Bank Cannon FragmentBut the most interesting discovery is a large fragment of a cannon breech, taken as being the one that exploded during the battle (we would need to see more documents to make sure the Hessians did not capture and blow up guns also, as it could have been one of those). Still, the archaeological team was not expecting such a historic find.

In the end, Howe kept coming, and he occupied Fort Mifflin on 16 November and Fort Mercer — finally abandoned by the Americans after the fall of Mifflin — on 20 November, 1777. The defenders had bought time, bled the occupying army, and most of them had slipped away to fight another day. Before they could do that, the privations of their winter in Valley Forge lay ahead.




Crew Drill, Service of the Piece, M1917 Browning. With Kids.

Everyone knows you shouldn’t turn a nine-year-old (or several) loose with a submachine gun. Let alone several nine-year-olds.

Here’s one good, clean, wholesome alternative that’s fun for the whole family!

That’s the ticket. Crew drill develops physical strength, teamwork, and the most important kind of discipline kids can have, self-discipline.

Thanks to the commenter who tipped us to this, it really made our day.

The South Will Rise Again! Be Ready.

That means, keep your musket clean, powder dry, and hatchet scoured — and buy this 1851 Mountain Howitzer. If Johnny Reb comes marching up your driveway, give him a whiff of the grape!

1851 mountain howitzer firing

The gun’s a replica, but a very well made one. It has the perfect gestalt of a Civil War era artillery piece, to be sure.


1851 mountain howitzerAs you can see, the details, like these trunnion brackets, are visibly high quality. 1851 mountain howitzer mount

The gun is designed to be a live shooter. Here’s what the GunBroker auction says about it:

1851 Mountain Howitzer Cannon built to exact spec’s. 3″ bore. Wood is all white oak. All iron work is hand made then blued. Museum quality shootable cannon. You won’t find one nicer than this one.shipping available.

via Cannon Mountain Howitzer 1851 : Other Collectible Guns at

Like any firearm, it carries the DNA of the technology of its period. We find the details beautiful.

1851 mountain howitzer wheel

Personally, if we were preparing a redoubt for When They Come®, we’d want at least a battery of these things, but one’s a start.

These US Civil War and contemporaneous worldwide conflicts saw the last gasp of muzzle-loading, mostly smoothbore, blackpowder artillery, guns that had changed little ashore or afloat since the Napoleonic Wars or the 30 Years’ War. The Civil War saw the emergence of steel barrels, rifling as standard, and breech loading. In the next 50 years artillery would be revolutionized by the recoiling gun-carriage and much more powerful smokeless powders. By the turn of the 20th Century, guns like this would be fit only for guarding sleepy courthouses, village squares, and veterans’ halls; tens of thousands of them would be melted down in 20th Century scrap drives.

As a muzzle loader, it is considered an antique (even though it’s a recent replica). That means it’s exempt from regulation in many civilized nations (although local regulations, and regulations relative to the storage of the industrial quantities of black powder necessary to making it go bang, may be another matter entirely).

It’s not as cheap as a replica of something smaller, like an 1855 Springfield. The auction starts and $9k and buy-it-now is a stiff $14,000 or so. There is a small community of hobbyists, reenactors and dealers who trade in these remarkable pieces.

On the other hand, if you have a big family, you can develop the kids’ self-esteem by drilling them until they master period Service of the Piece drills.

And you can always be That Guy whose house people gather at on the 4th of July, just for the cannon blast. There is that.

FN Teases New Civilian Versions of Military Weapons

This press release was so tempting that we had to double check — was it really dated April 10, not April 1? Turns out, it is (well, some versions are dated April 9).

(McLean, VA – April 9, 2015) FNH USA is excited to announce that three new products, including a brand-new product line, will be making their first appearance on the FNH USA Booth #2324 at the 2015 NRA Annual Meetings in Nashville, TN. Expected to be released in the Fall of 2015 are the mil-spec FN M249S™, a semi-automatic version of the U.S. Military’s M249 SAW light machine gun and two new additions to the company’s modern sporting rifle line, the FN 15™ M4 and M16 Military Collector Series.

Are they serious?


Serious as a heart attack.

Holy schnikeys, a semi-auto Minimi from none other than FN? True, we’d rather have the full-auto one (personal aside to William Hughes: may your soul’s torment in Hades never cease), but given the laws we’ve got, we’ll take it. The bad news is that, while they’re teasing the product now for a fall 2015 launch, they didn’t put a lot of prep into the website — it’s still all full of holes.

Machine Gunners Depend on Riflemen

And FN is also introducing two new “Military Collectors” versions of the M16 Rifle and M4 Carbine. These include DOD-like code labels on the magazine wells, unlike FN’s sporting AR-series guns which feature a very large FN logo on the mag well. As the press release puts it:


The FN 15™ Military Collector’s Series M4 and M16 bring to market military replica rifles made to FN’s exacting specifications. The semi-automatic rifles are chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO and feature M4 -profile 16 and 20-inch 1:7” RH, button broached and chrome-lined barrels, respectively. Each UID-labeled lower receiver is equipped with an ambidextrous selector switch, just like its select-fire big brother.

The web page for the Military Collectors carbines is better fleshed out than the M249S page.

Both of these product lines will find a niche market, and they’ll also help FN manage production when faced with the herky-jerky and unreliable nature of military orders. So it’s a win for FN, for the .mil (by helping to absorb overhead that would otherwise fall on the DOD budget), and of course, for those who want to own and shoot these firearms.

We want, we think, one of each. You?

Exotic Barrels Part 1: Squeeze Bores

In 99 repeating 9% of gun barrels, the caliber is what it is, and the bullet that comes out of the barrel is the same diameter it always was, just marked by the rifling. Likewise, the rifling twist is what it is, and from the point where is picks up in the leade (forward of the chamber) to the point where the bullet exits the barrel it is constant.

Then, there are the exotics, the ones that keep 99.9% from closing the gap between there and “all.” We’re going to talk about one exotic bore, and one exotic twist, in a pair of posts: Squeeze Bore and Gain Twist. Even though the names sound dreadfully like 1970s NATO codenames for Russian anti-aircraft radars, they’re both really a thing.

Squeeze Bore

The idea behind squeeze bore is to use the power of the powder to forge the projectile down in diameter. This would, in theory, do one of two things: blow the gun to Kingdom Come, or accelerate the projectile to velocities previously unheard of. It didn’t take long for people to try to reduce this theory to practice. The 1957 edition of Naval Ordnance and Gunnery, Volume 1:  Naval Ordnance, a training manual coded NavPers 10797-A, showed five different ways to get high velocities. The first is the familiar expedient of a lighter projectile, and the second, the saboted projectile used in most tank KE rounds these days, and in the .50 SLAP (saboted light armor penetrator) round. The third example, essentially beefing the gun up to take excessive pressures, doesn’t seem very practical, and the fifth was, in 1957, science-fiction stuff but is now a pretty routine way to get longer ranges in artillery. Which leaves the fourth example, D, our squeeze-bore


A very, very gradual and subtle version of squeeze bore is the choke used on some firearms. But there’s nothing subtle about true squeeze bore. The World War II German Pak 41 fired a Gerlich-designed 42mm projectile, which the barrel squeezed down to 30mm at the muzzle. At around the same time, the US developed (at Frankford Arsenal) squeeze bore M2HB barrels, which fired a special bullet that squeezed down from .50 to .30 caliber. These guns produced extremely high velocities, with kinetic energy and penetration to match.

S.PzB.41 in action (or at least, being demonstrated). Wheles were removable to lower silhouette.

S.PzB.41 in action (or at least, being demonstrated). Wheels were removable to lower silhouette. Troops show scale… this is really small for something that can ding a JS-1’s frontal armor.

Squeeze bore was primarily used experimentally in antitank weaponry. The one weapon fielded with a squeeze bore was the German Gerlich S.PzB 41. The name Schwere Panzerbüchse meant, literally, heavy anti-tank rifle, and the Germans may have seen it as a replacement for the 7.92 x 94mm PzB 39, but its lightest variant weighed around 300 lbs. It could be broken down into smaller, man-portable-for-a-short-distance, loads.

Factory photo of the stripped-down paratroop version.

Factory photo of the stripped-down paratroop version.

The effect can be approximated by firing an oversize cartridge in a smaller-caliber bore, if the throat or leade is not too tight. (If it is, you get a kB! instead). You’re more likely to get away with such an inadvertent bore squeeze if the projectile is highly malleable, like a soft lead bullet. The Gerlich system used a tungsten penetrator with an aluminum alloy jacket, including crushable skirts. The projectiles looked like this (HE/frag on the left, with a filler of phlegmatized PETN;  AP with a tungsten-carbide penetrator on the right):

28-20 squeeze bore


The S. PzB. 41 was very effective; at close range it could penetrate all mainstream Allied armor (even the KV-1 and JS-1 tanks), although its behind-armor effect was limited. The Germans were successful in making squeeze bores where other nations’ designers had failed. They mounted it on SdKfz.250 half-tracks and used it as a trailered, man-packed and airborne weapon.

A larger squeeze-bore, the Pak 41, was deployed in small numbers. The ammunition closely resembles the 28/20mm of the S.PzB.41 but is much larger: it started off at 75mm and squeezed down to 55mm. An intermediate sized version was a 4.2 cm (42mm tapering to 28mm) squeeze-bore version of the familiar Krupp 3.7cm light anti-tank gun. (German guns are described in centimeters — move the decimal point once for mm — and their squeeze-bores are known by their initial, not squeezed, caliber).

Pak 41 APBCT

Making a tapered or “squeezing” rifled bore is a challenge, if you think about it, and conventional methods of rifling such as buttons and broaches don’t adapt well to it. (Cut rifling does adapt, but at a price in complexity. But the German invention of hammer-forging barrels over a mandrel opened up mass production to squeeze bore in German plants. (A microscopic amount of taper is usually used in hammer forging, to facilitate mandrel removal. But the amount of taper in a squeeze bore is much greater).

The British made a theoretically sound and plausible attempt to work around the difficulty of drilling and rifling squeeze bores. This was a squeeze-bore muzzle attachment called the Littlejohn for the 2-pdr antitank and light-tank gun, in order to give some realistic anti-tank capability to the airborne (glider-delivered) Tetrarch light tank and various wheeled AFVs.


It squeezed the round after it had been spun to speed; the holes you can see were for pressure release. The Littlejohn was conceived by a Czech emigré, Frantisek Janacek (whose name means “little John”, literally) and was made for the 40mm Vickers S gun as well as for the 2-pdr. The ammunition featured a tungsten penetrator and aluminum carrier, must like  the German squeeze-bore ammo. The US also experimented with Littlejohn type adapters and projectiles, and discovered that firing the Littlejohn projectile from the gun without the adapter produced equivalent velocity improvements without compromising the ability to fire  ordinary projectiles. (In effect, this was using the lightweight projectile as in Illustration A at the top of this post, rather than a squeeze-bore as in Illustration D).

langsford_extruder_bulletsFor a while, there was a squeeze bore gun that anyone could buy. Australian gunsmith Arthur Langsford, an expert in rimfire rifles, used an extended leade or forcing cone to make rimfire guns that fired an ordinary .22 LR round and produced a high-velocity .20 or .17 elongated slug. The rifling didn’t begin until after the forcing cone. They seemed to work well, but didn’t catch on, and pressure and velocity deltas between various brands and kinds of rimfire ammunition were probably larger than anything SAAMI would ever tolerate. The Myra “Extruders” Langsford made are curiosities today.

In the end, squeeze bores were a possible tank solution at one moment in time, but their performance has been overshadowed by accurate fin-stabilized discarding sabot heavy penetrators, fired (usually) from smooth-bore guns.

Next, Gain Twist, an old idea that’s making a comeback.


Department of the Navy. Naval Ordnance and Gunnery, Volume 1: Naval Ordnance .NavPers 10797-A.  Retrieved from:

Langsford’s Squeeze-Bore Rimfires.Is this Near-Forgotten Idea Too Good to Die? Guns Magazine, January 2011. pp. 18-19. Retrievable from:

(Others as linked. List not completed due to time limits).

Is a New Russian Tank 10 Feet Tall?

Not literally, of course. Being literally 10 feet tall would be quite unhealthy for a tank, a machine that lives longer on a projectile-rich battlefield if it likes to hide in defilade. But stories and artist conceptions that are spreading make the new T-14 tank and its derivatives seem unbeatable — which is probably the reason for the leaks.

T-14 tank rendering

Note that all these illustrations are computer renderings or models based entirely on speculation.

T-14 tank rendering 3


The extensive detail in some of the models may mask the fact that the guys doing the rendering don’t really know what the tank looks like, and so they’re applying some science fiction concepts to Russian tank design principles here. All of these renderings purport to be the T-14 (and others show a tank with a very narrow turret, like that on the M60A2 monstrosity).

Armata-MBT T-14

According to these leaks, rumors, and Russian news sites, the T-14 is the tank version of the new “Armata” vehicle platform, which will also produce SP artillery, personnel carriers, and a panoply of support vehicles. But the tank is the lead vehicle in the class. It has a crew of two or three, all of whom are positioned in the hull, but the third is a temporary stopgap and is not expected to be permanently required — two men can fight the tank, and that’s their long-term plan for a crew. The unmanned turret is remotely controlled and automatically loaded (Russian tanks have had autoloaders for around 50 years now). The turret bears a single 125mm gun, with improved computerized stabilization which has reduced the dispersion of rounds fired on the move. It still appears to have limited elevation and depression.The tank’s secondary armament is a 30mm automatic cannon, and a machine gun or unknown caliber; a remotely operated MG can, somehow, target incoming shaped charge warheads and ATGMs.

As if the 125mm gun was not a powerful thing, a 152mm-armed version is supposedly in the works.

Many of these concepts were in the US-German MBT-70 project, a project that collapsed of its own weight in ahead-of-its-time technology. But that, too, was nearly 50 years ago.

Of greater concern is that all renderings of the new tank show an angular armor arrangement, suggesting that Ivan has stolen the secret plans for, or engineered his own equivalent of, the composite armor that since its invention in the 1970s has made American and British tanks highly survivable (especially compared to their Russian peers).

NATO strategy vs. the Warsaw Pact always hinged on qualitative superiority of weapons and crews to make up for deficient numbers. Even if the T-14 is a propaganda exercise, something hardly foreign to the history of Russian arms, “quantity has a quality all its own,” and there’s little question that Russia wants to build more of these MBTs than their potential opponents, most of whom have either depressed defense spending to one percent or less of GDP, or, like the USA, larded nominal “defense” spending with massive non-military costs.

OK, so let’s look at a counterweight to some of the T-14 tank claims. We have no inside knowledge of this program or of US official studies of it, but we can apply logic and experience. Here are some facts to make you think:

  1. Current Russian tanks, much lower in high technology, cost around $2 million to produce. This is far less than a Western tank, but it does impose an upper bound on the numbers a nation can deploy.
  2. The world of Russian tanks lives in Soviet-era infrastructure that has the size and strength, and the safety margin, to support compact, 36-40 ton tanks. As the US can tell you, a 70-ton tank is a pain in the neck to move around.
  3. Chobham armor imposes size and weight burdens on a tank. You can’t get this shaped-charge-killing technology without bulking up. It also raises costs: better armor means fewer tanks.
  4. 80 years of Russian tank doctrine (and all the lessons learned from Great Patriotic War victories) enshrines the tank-led combined-arms offensive as the method of tank employment.
  5. A big gun and an autoloader come with costs. In Russian tanks, the costs are (1) fewer rounds and (2) internal ammo stowage, which, when hit, produces the familiar sparkly jet with a turret going high enough to need an FAA drone license. How many fewer rounds? The US lost 15 rounds when we upgunned the 105mm M1 to the 120mm M1A1 (55 to 40) and the Russian articles about the T-14 suggest it’s rocking only 30 rounds in the 125mm version (it’s hard to imagine a way it could go to 152mm without losing 5 or 6 of those, at least). Looking at the performance of Israeli and Syrian armor on the Golan front, and Israeli and Egyptian in Sinai, the possibility arises of a T-14 operator having to dry fire in a firefight.
  6. In fielding a tank, the tank itself is only half the problem — maybe less than half. Soviet-made tanks are rusting, deadlined, in tank parks all over the world for lack of preventive and routine maintenance. Now, the Russian Army is as capable of doing this as many other armies, but fielding a new tank is a resource stretch: all at once you have a new vehicle, new engine, new systems for mobility, armament and communications, new crew training and employment materials to develop, and crews and maintainers to train. Meanwhile, the tank strength of the Russian Army is a staggering 15,000 tanks (and 31,000 other AFVs). This means that, at best, any new tank is trickling into a military all set up to operate and maintain other stuff. None of the existing tanks can go toe-to-toe with an Abrams or Challenger; the US has over 6,000 Abramses.
  7. The Russian Army has a bad record with tank improvements. The T-90, really just a T-72 with some debugged tech from the buggy T-64 and T-80 tanks, is the most recent Russian entry, and under 1000 were built. (Next image is a photo of a T-90). Development of the so-called T-95 failed for much the same reasons that the US-German MBT-70 did, minus the international complications: too much technology to bring to fruition at once, and too little money to overcome engineering problems with profligate spending.

T-90 tank

Sure, the Russians may field the new T-14 tank in small numbers, and may continue down their chosen path of using the same chassis for a whole new family of armored vehicles. This does not make their tank units any more likely to win, across the board.

And it may not need to. Because the lesson of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 is that the technical qualities and operational capabilities of NATO armor just don’t matter in what Russia calls the “near abroad”: because NATO isn’t going to show up. At this rate, Russia could project power with 1930s-vintage BT-5s.

Napoleon III was a Weapons Man

portrait_de_napoleon_iiiWell, OK. A Heavy Weapons man, perhaps — an artillerist who once sat down, while imprisoned, to  write an engaging and technical, five-volume history of artillery, with a title as comprehensive as his intent: The Past and Future of Artillery. Remembered today for little more than his army being pantsed in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Louis Napoleon was a remarkable, erudite, and intelligent fellow. When you marvel, today, at the beauty of Paris you’re marveling mostly at the nephew’s makeover of his capital city, not the works of his uncle or of the Bourbon dynasty (although Louis was careful to preserve the best of what came before). Those big “N” monograms on the bridges of the Seine? Not the victor of Borodino (pyrrhic though that victory was) and Austerlitz, and the vanquished of Waterloo; the nephew, who was captured with his army in a German encirclement, to the chagrin of all Frenchmen then and now.

Napoleon III also created the long-standing Legion d’Honneur, funding its stipends to recognized soldiers with money derived from the expropriation of the family of the Duc d’Orleans. (In 19th Century France, politics remained a contact sport).

Unfortunately for those of us who would read his whole treatise on artillery, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, as he was known at the time, did get relief from his prison stint in the 1840s and turned to the matters of state which would one day seat him on an imperial throne. He never seems to have resumed work on The Past and Future of Artillery, of which only the first volume was published.


While we’re attempting to find an digital copy of the English edition of this volume (hell, we’d take in en français, and does anybody know if any of his notes and illustrations for the subsequent volumes survive?), we can offer the preface to you.

There are some remarkable insights in this short preface. For example:

Inventions born before the time remain useless until the level of common intellects rises to comprehend them. Of what advantage could a quicker and stronger powder therefore be, when the common metal in use was not capable of resisting its action ? Of what use were hollow balls, until their employ was made easy and safe, and their explosion certain ? Or what could the rebounding range, proposed by Italian engineers in the sixteenth century, and since employed with much success by Vauban, avail, when fortification offered fewer rebounding lines than now ? How could attacks by horse-artillery, attempted in the sixteenth century, succeed, when the effects of rapidity in the movement of troops on the field of battle was so little known that the cavalry always charged at a trot ?

There is a mutual combination which forces our inventions to lean on and, in some measure, wait for each other. An idea suggests itself, remains problematical for years, even for centuries, until successive modifications qualify it for admission into the domain of real life. It is not uninteresting to trace, that powder was probably used in fireworks several centuries
before its propelling power was known, and that then some time elapsed before its application became easy or general.

Civilization never progresses by leaps, it advances on its path more or loss quickly, but regularly and gradually. There is a propagation in ideas as in men, and human progress has
a genealogy which can be traced through centuries like the forgotten sources of giant rivers.

For a man who is commonly and popularly dismissed as one of the least brilliant of the crowned heads of old Europe, those are some remarkably insightful lines.

Or consider this excerpt:

Fire-arms, like everything pertaining to humanity, did not spring up in a day. Its infancy lasted a century, and during that period it was used together with the ancient shooting instruments, over which it sometimes was victorious, but by which it was more frequently defeated.

The Preface alone makes it crystal clear that Napoleon III was a comrehensive student of artillery and arms, and the history of them; and that his lack of completion of The Past and Future of Artillery is a very great loss to all students of weapons.

Napoleon III on Artillery OCR.pdf