Category Archives: Crew-Served

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?

fn_m249s

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:

web_mil_coll_v2

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

CHAPTER-6-E-FIGURE6E1-PAGE-95

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

(source)

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.

Littlejohn_Adaptor_Bovington

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.

Sources

Department of the Navy. Naval Ordnance and Gunnery, Volume 1: Naval Ordnance .NavPers 10797-A.  Retrieved from: http://www.eugeneleeslover.com/US-NAVY-BOOKS/1-NO-10797-A-NAVAL-ORDNANCE-AND-GUNNERY.html

Langsford’s Squeeze-Bore Rimfires.Is this Near-Forgotten Idea Too Good to Die? Guns Magazine, January 2011. pp. 18-19. Retrievable from: http://fmgpublications.ipaperus.com/FMGPublications/GUNS/GUNS0111/?page=18

(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.

napoleon-iii-at-paris-1867-granger

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

Most Foolhardy Round Ever?

Among the more unusual and inexplicable — ah, hell, let’s just say foolhardy – loads ever manufactured for a firearm were strangely multipurpose rounds for the German World War II anti-tank rifles. These gigantic rifles fired a kinetic energy penetrator of 7.92mm from a gigantic 94mm rimless casing at blistering speeds1. But even beyond its “pinhead” appearance, the round had a peculiar feature, that is as far as we know unique in the world of ammunition.

P318 792 x 94 from kopania-rf 2

This illustration came from the Russian site Kopania.rf, which has comprehensive coverage of variants of the 7.93 x 94 P318.

While the idea of a rifle-caliber or MG-caliber AT gun wasn’t completely off the wall — many of the major powers of Europe, and some minor ones like Poland and Spain, pursued the idea in the 1920s and 30s — the particular loading of the Germans was. To an extent, it was a fairly standard API or API-T round, with a copper jacket over a steel (or later, tungsten) penetrator. Here’s what an Allied intelligence publication had to say:

“The Germans possess gas grenades, with which their parachute troops might be equipped. Ammunition for antitank rifles, models 38 and 39, includes armor-piercing tracer bullets charged with tear gas.”2

And no, this wasn’t one of those cases where the intel weenies were chasing chimeras. There really was a tear-gas capsule in the round, just forward of the tracer mixture, set in the base of the hard metal penetrator. In packaged rounds, it’s indicated by the post-number letters “Rs” for “Reizstoff” or “Irritant agent.”

pzb392

You have to wonder: what were they thinking? “We’re going to send a little hunk of tungsten” — well, they were Germans, so they were going to send a little hunk of wolfram – “to rattle around in their tank, and then we’ll really let ‘em have it: tear gas!” But that was, exactly, what they were thinking. The German ordnance officers thought the round too uncertain a tank kill, and the tear gas was one little sweetener to encourage the crew to depart their iron foxhole.

As it happened, it didn’t work. The little gas capsule usually broke off on impact and was found lying next to the tank. Sure enough, it was the steel or tungsten penetrator that did the hard work.

While this little capsule of gas may have been a technical violation of the international law of war (irritants and tear gases are a grey area), the gas aspect of the cartridge was so meager that, as far as we can tell, the Allies never uttered a word of protest, nor was there any war-crimes trials for the ordnance officers (not for this, anyway). It’s just a flaky footnote to the development of World War weapons.

The two weapons that fired this odd 7.92 x 94mm for the Deutsche Wehrmacht were the Panzerbuchse (PzB) 38 from Rheinmettal-Borsig and the PzB 39 from the Gustloff-Werke. The PzB 38 was a bit of a flop, and only 1,600 were made; they’re extremely rare today, and were problematical in the field. The weight and complexity of the PzB 38 stemmed in part from its design — unlike the WWI AT rifle, which was a scaled-up single-shot Mauser, the PzB 38 used artillery-piece design concepts — a falling block, a recoiling “carriage,” and automatic ejection.

pzb38

That’s why the Wehrmacht went so quickly from the PzB 38 to the PzB 39, which was cheaper, simpler, and more reliable — not to mention, almost 4 kilograms lighter. It dumped the recoil system and automatic breech opening — trading some punishment of the gunner, and a fast second shot, for lightness and mobility.

Surviving PzB 39s are almost as rare as PzB 38s despite much higher production, because most were converted to GrB 39s This example, SN 6242, was auctioned in 2013.

Surviving PzB 39s are almost as rare as PzB 38s despite much higher production, because most were converted to GrB 39s. Five survivors are known. This example, SN 6462, was auctioned in 2013. More images at the Auction Link.

It also wrung another 55 m/s (180 fps) out of the same cartridge. Over 30,000 of these were made, and they were deployed Army wide by Operation Barbarossa, although they never matched the intended 81 rifles per infantry division.

By midwar the 7.92  was hopeless on medium tanks, but could still penetrate light armored vehicles. You didn’t want to fire this gun at a T-34 or the frontal armor of a Sherman; it would make the guys inside mad, and then they’d want to fight. The Wehrmacht had been expecting more of the T-26s and BT-5s they faced in Spain, and the T-34 was an unpleasant shock3

A next-generation anti-tank rifle competition, calling for a semi-auto, brought forth prototypes from several firms: Mauser, Walther, Krieghoff and Gustloff. But tank armor, driven to greater thicknesses by anti-tank artillery, dimmed the prospects of the 7.92 hypervelocity round as a tank-slayer.

The Germans, facing the obsolescence of the PzB 39, had actually begun converting them to grenade launchers (Granatenbüchse 39); the GrB 39 had the standard rifleman’s cup-discharger but the larger shell meant that the wood-bullet grenade-launcher blank could drive a grenade much farther than a mere rifle could. In this capacity, the rifle soldiered on to V-E Day. This is one of those rounds, the 7.92mm Triebpatrone Granatenbüchse 318:

792x94 318TreibpG

The 7.92 x 94 wasn’t, by the way, the largest rifle-caliber round of the war. The Poles made a spectacular AT rifle in the 1930s, the Karabin Przeciwpancerny wz.35, that fired this spectacular 7.92 x 107mm round, the 7.92 DS, designed by Polish ordnance officer Tadeusz Felsztyn4 for a repeating rifle designed by Josef Maroszek. The muzzle velocity was a barrel-melting 1275 m/s (4,183 fps)5.

792x107 polish

It could penetrate even more armor at 100 and 300m than its German competitor, and was every bit as obsolete. The barrel life of these seriously oversized cartridges was, as you might expect, measured in scores or, at most, a few hundred rounds. The US experimented with AT rifles but never issued one; Britain issued the 0.55 in. Boys Anti Tank Rifle, but all were doomed by the rapid evolution of tank armor under the evolutionary pressure of world war.

The Polish round was unique among them in that it did not have a tungsten, or even steel, penetrator. While its lead-cored round could penetrate at close range because of its velocity, at longer ranges, it squashed on the outside of the armor and knocked a divot off the inside, killing the vehicle or the inhabitants with the effects of this spalling.

This image, from Williams, shows a collection of AT rifle rounds, issued and experimental.

AT Rifle Rounds

One ballistic detail about the German and Polish AT rifles — given the Mach 4 (sea level, standard day) velocity of these 7.92mm rounds, they had a very flat trajectory. That means that they didn’t need the elaborate sights of many period rifles — they were often sighted on 300 or 400 meters, and basically shot point-blank at anything on the battlefield, with no hold-over or -under, and therefore, no elevation adjustment, required.

 

Notes

  1. Depending on the rifle, its muzzle velocity was 1210 or 1265 m/s — that’s 3,970 to 4,150 fps.
  2. War Department. 1943-03 Intelligence Bulletin Vol 01 No 07. Page uncertain (repaginated electronic OCR scan).
  3. Of which, more later. We’ve come across a purported first-hand report of a first-encounter with the excellent Soviet tank, by a rare invasion survivor.
  4. Out of curiosity, we sought more information about Felsztyn. With a Jewish sounding name, and as a Polish officer, he was equally doomed whether the Nazis or the Soviets got him. What we learned deserves its own blog post!
  5. Williams, generally a solid source, says 1,220 m/s. He also gives only the lower number for the 12.7 x 94.

Sources

Hofbauer, M. Panzerfaust: WWII German Infantry AntiTank Weapons: Page 6: Tank Rifles. Archived from Geocities (defunct) in October 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.oocities.org/augusta/8172/panzerfaust6.htm

Parada, George. German Anti-Tank rifles — Panzerbüchse. AchtungPanzer.com. Retrieved from: http://www.achtungpanzer.com/german-anti-tank-rifles-panzerbuchse.htm

Popenker, Maxim. Panzerbüchse PzB-38 (Pz.B.38) and PzB-39 (Pz.B.39) anti-tank rifle (Germany).  Modern Firearms. Retrieved from: http://world.guns.ru/atr/de/pzb3-pzb39-e.html

Uncredited. The German PxB 38/39 (Panzerbuchse). Antitank.co.uk. Retrieved from: http://www.antitank.co.uk/german1.ht

United States. War Department. 1943-03 Intelligence Bulletin Vol 01 No 07. Washington, 1943.

Williams, Anthony G. An Introduction to Anti-Tank Rifle Cartridges. The Cartridge Researcher, 11/12 2004. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/ATRart.htm

Instant South American Revolution Kit

One gun jeep — looks dead butch, but needs work. (Starting/charging system has proven resistant to troubleshooting). Ian at Forgotten Weapons has reached that stage that all vintage-vehicle LTRs reach; he is so eager to be divorced from this 1946 CJ-2A Jeep (basically, a wartime Jeep with bigger headlights for the civilian market) that he’s throwing in the semi-auto 1919A4 and mount. Beats the hell out of the toaster oven they might throw in at the local Buy Here Pay Here.

Ians Gun Jeep

Where’s Dietrich and his half-tracks? Lemme at ‘em!

I love old guns, but it turns out I only like the *idea* of old vehicles – not so much the actual working on them. It’s time for the Jeep to go, and free up some space in the garage for a project I will enjoy more. And what the heck, I’ll include the Browning 1919 semiauto with it.

The Jeep was basically rebuilt from the ground up, and while it isn’t a looker, it is top-notch underneath where things count.

The engine is a fully rebuilt (professionally) Studebaker Champion flat 6-cylinder, 170 cubic inches. It gives about 50% more horsepower and torque than the stock Jeep engines did, and it bolts right up to the stock transmission. That’s enough extra power that the thing can basically drive up trees, but not so much that it requires making the rest of the drivetrain beefier.

The transmission and transfer case are are the stock type (3-speed stick shift, with a 2-lever transfer case), and were both professionally rebuilt as well. The axles and diffs were in good shape, and have the original 5.38:1 gear ratio.

The ancillary equipment was all replaced or rebuilt – water pump, carburetor, radiator, radiator shroud, all the wiring, alternator, starter, and fan. It has 11″ drum brakes all around (in place of the stock 9″ ones), and a dual master brake cylinder. It also has an electric fuel pump. In addition to the stock 10-gallon gas tank, I replaced the passenger side toolbox with a second 10-gallon tank, and there is a switching valve on the dashboard so you can choose which tank to use at any given time.

The suspension was also replaced, with a set of Rancho 1″ life springs and new shocks. It has standard 16″ rims with some really cool looking narrow tires. The roll bar has the socket for the gun, and also has a gas can mount on either side, allowing you to carry a can of water and a can of gas.

via Want to buy a Jeep with a Browning 1919 on it? « Forgotten Weapons.

Don’t suppose he’d take a 1996 Impala SS in partial trade?

The counterweight to all that good stuff and sensible improvements is the dodgy electrical system. (Well, you could just paint it green, put a star on the hood, hang a Left Hand Drive placard on it and tell people it’s a British Jeep — no one would expect the electricals to work). $9,500, pick up in Tucson.

For more details (including the ones on the 1919, which is something that goes for $2k or so on its own) and to see two of Ian’s videos, one on the installation of the 1919 on the roll bar, and the other a Rat Patrol parody, or maybe tribute, go to Ze Link. But for Ian, ze voor in ze dezzert is over.

And hell, there are countries in South America that you could overthrow and govern better than the caudillo doing it now.

Wait, did we say South America?

Seen For Sale: Granatenwerfer 16

So on this weeks W4, there’s an interesting ad for an interesting weapon: a Granatenwerfer 16. The Granatenwerfer 16 is an update of an earlier device (Granatenwerfer 15).  The example in the next photo is not the Sturm sales offer; this one was captured by the Australian 13th Battalion at Morcourt on 8 August 1918, during the sanguinary 1918 Somme offensive, it rests in the Australian War Memorial, and, it’s worth noting, the Sturm example is more complete and in better shape.

australian war memorial granatenwerfer

The bare gun like that leaves one puzzled at how it works, but when you see a grenade slipped over the “barrel,” which is really a “spigot,” it starts to clear up. These devices work on the unusual “spigot mortar” principle. This is most familiar to students of small arms, perhaps, from the late-WWII British PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) which used the spigot mortar principle to launch a Monroe Effect shaped charge. (If you only have reference to movies, it’s the AT weapon the paras use to defend their bridgehead in Arnhem in A Bridge Too Far).

PIAT

While the US and German forces went to rockets (and the Germans, also, to a projected grenade from inside a tube) some bright British spark remembered the spigot mortar principle from World War I (it was also used on by the WWII Brits on Naval weapons, like the Hedgehog antisubmarine weapon, and on some bizarre creations for the Home Guard).

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II.

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II. It never faced the Wehrmacht, fortunately for the men who crewed it.

Today, we have come to assume that the Stokes type muzzle loaded mortar is the infantry standard, and it seems always to have been. Nowadays, it is used by all the nations of the world. But in World War I, there was no assumption or guarantee that this would be the ideal, simple, cheap infantry support weapon. What soldiers did figure out very quickly is that, with enemy forces sheltered in trenches, pillboxes and other field fortifications, a small weapon that could deliver high-angle fire would be idea. This caused the development of a wide range of weapons, all around the world, from Japan’s light grenade projector that would be known to her Second World War enemies as the “knee mortar”; to a wide panoply of small pack artillery pieces, little jewels in small calibers; to the trench mortar itself… Stokes and Brandt deserve their own posts at Weaponsman.com some time soon.

But the Imperial German Army covered the dead zone between bayonet and hand-grenade range on the low end, and the danger-close limits of artillery on the high, with a special spigot mortar, which they called with the Teutonic love of compound words a Granatenwerfer — “Grenade Thrower.”

Granatenwerfer 2

This name has caused some internet sources to conclude that this threw ordinary German stick grenades, and one post that made us laugh suggested that its ammunition was the Stielhandgranate 24, as in 1924. But in fact, it shot its own ammunition. Ian at Forgotten Weapons has a post with some photographs of another example, and the German manual (a .pdf that requires you to read not only German, but the old Fraktur alphabet). There’s a post at Gunboards (you need to be a member to blow up the pictures) but at a glance this looks like the same example of this weapon that Ian had photos of.  It’s a pretty beaten-up example compared to the Sturm for-sale item.

There’s lots more information and photos at Kaiserscross.com and some history at BulgarianArtillery.it.

Here’s the text of the Sturm ad:

granatenwerfer7

For sale is a W W 1 German Granatenwerfer in mint condition. It is in it’s original factory box with all tools, spare parts, original manual, etc.

Granatenwerfer 3

 

Data plate in lid completely intact.

2 dewat projectiles included. Rebuilt / restored baseplate in perfect working condition with all data plates intact.

2 original ammo crates in excellent condition, all hardware present, working and intact. 1 crate has original paper munition label inside in perfect condition.

Granatenwerfer 4

The other crate is lined with Berlin newspaper circa 1922.

Granatenwerfer 6

Not on BATFE destructive device list, no special license or transfer fee required. Buyer responsible for pickup, too heavy to ship. Serious inquiries only, will not part out. This is a museum grade grouping that is impossible to upgrade. Payment with certified funds.

It’s one of the most complete and best ones we’ve ever seen, but like you’d expect from a museum-quality live weapon, it has a museum-worthy 6-figure price. But if you’re planning on reenacting Capporetto next year, you just might need it.

The Granatenwerfer 16 worked like this: an ordinary 7.92mm x 57mm Mauser cartridge with its bullet removed was inserted in the fragmentation grenade — way up inside the tube, there’s a sort of chamber for it. In effect, it is a blank cartridge with no crimp. The tube slips over the spigot, the face of which is a de facto breech, with a firing pin at center. The firing pin is released by a trigger. The cartridge fires, and launches the grenade… then it falls off the spigot, leaving room for the next loaded grenade.

We want it.

Soviet ATGMs and October, 1973 (Long)

So far in this series, we’ve looked at the development of US and Western European anti-tank guided missiles, from their origins in a German WWII design program to their introduction to combat — just in time to encounter Russian missiles designed along similar lines — in the Vietnam War. (The Russian missiles got the first kill, by a couple of weeks). Today we’ll extend the story of early ATGMs by discussing how the Russians developed their missiles, and how Russian missiles figured in Arab planning for in the Yom Kippur War (the Ramadan War, to the Arabs, and the October War to the strictly neutral) of 1973. Unlike the Vietnam offensive of 1972, where they were only locally decisive, the robotic tank-killers decided battles and nearly won the war. We’ll have more about the war in a future installment (this one is already over 2500 words — oversized for a web post).

AT-3 Sagger (this one an improved Chinese copy).

AT-3 Sagger (this one an improved Chinese copy with a much larger, stabilized sight and SACLOS guidance).

Russian Missile Development

Compared to Germany, which was  working on them in 1945, and France and the USA, which were in development from the earliest 1950s, the Soviets were a little late to wire-guided ATGM development, beginning only in the late 1950s. It’s unknown whether they had as a basis any foreign technology. Certainly they could have used captured German technology, French or American technology acquired by espionage, or they simply could have applied robust Russian engineering to problem solutions that they knew their Western rivals had already accomplished. It’s probable that all three were part of missile R&D, with the heavy lifting being done by Russian engineers. The Russian product, by 1973, was a missile that was combat-ready and had several advantages over its Western counterparts.

AT-1 Snapper live fire, somewhere in Europe. This is the BRDM-mounted version.

AT-1 Snapper live fire, somewhere in Europe. This is the BRDM-mounted version.

As with SAMs, Russian engineers passed through numerous experimental iterations of ATGMs (Anti Tank Guided Missiles), and they delivered to their Arab friends the first and third version that they operationalized. The first missile was a bit of a turkey; fired from a converted GAZ-69 jeep, the 3M6 Shmel (NATO coded, AT-1 Snapper) flew fairly slowly, had an enormous launch signature, and was vulnerable to the obvious countermeasure of blowing away the jeep and its crew, including the missile aimer who could not fire from a remote or dismounted position, but sat in a seat facing backwards looking at the target through a periscopic sight. The gunner had to continue to aim at the tank and steer the missile throughout its flight, which could be 15-20 seconds — a lifetime, literally, in armored combat.

It is very hazardous being on a tank battlefield wearing less than a tank. A cotton Army shirt, or a sheet-metal jeep, provide no protection and if that’s what you have, cover and concealment are vital. The Snapper couldn’t be fired from cover (except in its BRDM version, which put a bare 15mm of armor between the operators and the great outdoors), and it negated its own concealment by launching from the control station.

The third missile, though, the 9M14 Malyutka, better known by its NATO reporting code AT-3 Sagger was a hit, no pun intended. The Sagger, while having a great resemblance to the French missiles the Israelis had played with and a family resemblance to the Snapper, was small. It came packed in a plastic “suitcase” half of which served as the base for its simple rail launcher, and the other half as a base for its reusable sight. One man could carry one all day on his back, and two, suitcase-style, in his hands for short spurts. In true Russian tradition, the missile was sturdy and reliable, and made no superhuman demands on its operator. True, it was a MCLOS (Manual Command to Line of Sight) missile, at least in these early versions, and operator training was vital, but along with the missiles, the Soviets had developed operator and maintenance training, including mobile missile simulators that could travel with divisional logistics elements and keep operators sharp. These they furnished freely to the Egyptian and Syrian armed forces (among others). It was the Egyptians who would make the best use of these missiles.

The Sagger and the Tank Sack

Soviet doctrine had long taught the anti-tank ambush under various terms (the image-rich “tank sack” is one that springs to mind), and they’d used it deftly against the Germans, whose armored warfare worked splendidly against Russian tanks, and not so well against concealed AT guns attacking the Panzers’ vulnerable flanks.

Chinese improved Sagger live fire.

Chinese improved Sagger live fire.

The modern variation of the use of AT guns was to follow leading tanks closely with infantry antitank teams. Soviet tanks would have their flanks guarded by infantry, something comforting for any tanker, but these infantry would be well-equipped with AT weapons, principally long-range Saggers and short-range RPGs. A Sagger crewman needed intensive initial and recurrent training, and the Russians developed an innovative series of portable simulators to keep their missileers sharp without expending vast quantities of costly missiles. The well-trained Sagger crews dug in and/or located on reverse slopes, with their missiles displaced to the limit of their cords (about 15m) and only their periscopes showing. This protected them better than their unlucky mates in the Snapper jeeps.

The Soviet-designed weapons had a minimum effective range, but more to the point their maximum effective range was 3,000 meters, on the ragged edge of the effective range of the West’s 105mm tank gun. Moreover, a tank gun’s accuracy against a moving target depends on accurately ranging and leading the target, and so, a tank gun’s accuracy declines with range, and declines precipitously with range on fast-moving targets. This period US chart NOTE 2 brags up the improvement in a pH from Sherman to Pershing to M60A1 days:

post_wwii_tank_cannon_improvement

But a missile under human guidance, like the Sagger, can track a moving target even if the target changes direction or speed. The general rule of thumb is that the first hit decides a tank fight; Sagger had a near 90% probability of hit at all ranges from 1,000 to 3,000 meters.

sagger_first_round_ph_small

 

A hit gave the Sagger a very high pK as well: the warhead was among the most effective in the world at the time, penetrating the equivalent of 17″ of rolled homogeneous armor at 0º obliquity (engineering speak for “square on”). US testing of captured Saggers and computer probability analyses assigned the Sagger a .67 pK at a mean engagement range of 2,500 meters.

Combined with the T-62’s 5000+ fps tank guns for the midrange and RPGs for the knife fight, the Sagger meant a Soviet-style (including Egyptian or Syrian) antitank ambush was potentially lethal from 3,000 meters to zero.

soviet_weapons_ph_all_weapons

American soldiers and engineers were very impressed with that graph.

Soviet technology made the combined arms army of 1970 very different from the victorious horde of 1945, Unlike the Western Allies, who had advanced under an umbrella of air power, the Soviets chose not to depend on their powerful Air Forces and Frontal Aviation, but to give their tank and motorized rifle units an umbrella of surface-to-air missiles overhead and a screen of anti-tank missiles to the front. They equipped every tank with night vision, choosing to spend now on active infrared rather than wait for the costs of image intensification to come down (the West, mostly, made the other choice, to delay purchases now and skip a generation of night equipment). This would also shock Israel, when her enemies (especially the Syrians, who had trained with the night sights and lights very extensively) could see at night, and their army could not. The IDF was heir to a tradition of night-fighting from 1948, and its leaders firmly believed that Arabs were too frightened and superstitious to fight at night, just as they believed that Arabs couldn’t operate and maintain sophisticated missiles.

The Sagger Countermeasures of 1973

Before the war, the Israelis didn’t take the Sagger seriously. They knew about it from desultory US reports and from occasional firings during Suez skirmishes — inconsequential firings that encouraged them to disrespect the missile. It was just one more anti-tank weapon, and when their own forces wanted anti-tank weapons, the Deputy Chief of Staff told them, “You already have the best one: a tank!” The qualitative change in the battlefield produced by a long-range, accurate, tank-killing weapon was completely unexpected.

[Military Intelligence] printed booklets about the Sagger’s characteristics based on information received from the United States, which had encountered the missile in Vietnam in 1971. The armored corps command had even developed tactics for dealing with the missile. But neither the booklets nor the suggested tactics had yet filtered down and few tank men were even aware of the Sagger’s existence.NOTE 3

How to answer the Sagger attack would become a major question for the Israelis (and by extension, for anyone who might have to fight Soviet-style forces). The US also studied this, before and after the war. While defenders worked out some countermeasures, they were imperfect; but a decade later, American tankers were still using “Sagger drills” developed by surviving Israeli tankers after their counterattack of 7 October 73 was savaged by infantry anti-tank teams using Saggers and RPGs.

Reshef’s operations officer, Lt. Pinhas Bar, who had accompanied Bardash’s force, assembled the tank commanders and explained the techniques developed in the past few hours for coping with the Sagger. Such impromptu lessons would be going on all along the front as new units took the field alongside tankers who had survived the day.

The Saggers, the “veterans” explained, were a formidable danger but not an ultimate weapon. They could be seen in flight and were slow enough to dodge. It took at least ten seconds for a missile to complete its flight—at extreme range it could be twice that—during which time the Sagger operator had to keep the target in his sights as he guided the missile by the bright red light on its tail. From the side it was easy for the tankers to see the light. As soon as anyone shouted “Missile,” the tanks were to begin moving back and forth in order not to present a stationary target. Movement would also throw up dust that would cloud the Sagger operator’s view. Simultaneously, the tank should fire in his presumed direction, which itself could be sufficient to throw him off his aim.

It was clear to the tank crews that something revolutionary was happening—as revolutionary, it seemed, as the introduction of the machine gun or the demise of the horse cavalry. Tanks, which had stalked the world’s battlefields for half a century like antedeluvian beasts, were now being felled with ease by ordinary foot soldiers. It would take time, in some cases days, before the implications of this extraordinary development would be grasped by higher command. Meanwhile, the tankers would have to figure out for themselves how to survive. NOTE 4

Most of the countermeasures relied on spotting the backblast of the launch and directing fire in that area. The US noted with alarm that the M60A1 tank needed to close to 1000-1500 meters to get its pH up to 50%, and by that point it was well within the range fan of the Sagger. 

The Sagger remains in use, here in former Yugoslavia. Note the "suitcase" halves for scale.

The Sagger remains in use, here in former Yugoslavia. Note the “suitcase” halves for scale.

Other Sagger countermeasures included laying suppressive fire on likely lurking spots, something the US Army had forgotten since World War II and Korea; exploiting terrain, or as the Army put it, “every fold of ground”; keeping formations loose and non-geometric in order to complicate a Sagger gunner’s second-choice if he lost his first target; keeping moving, or firing from hull defilade; and using infantry for close-in protection of tanks. The US had a few advantages, too: its similar suite of missiles, guns and unguided rocket AT weapons had fewer minimum-range problems and generally superior accuracy and reduced training demands.

Even after the war, the Israelis struggled to find countermeasures. Uzi Eliam remembers:

Egyptian infantry infantry forces with Saturn missiles constituted a serious threat to our tanks. Maj. Gen. Albert Mendler, commander of the Southern division (the 252nd) in the Sinai Peninsula, was hit by a Egyptian antitank missile and died of his injuries…. NOTE 5

[Deputy CGS Israel] Tal was extremely concerned about the threat of the Sagger missiles which he himself had not completely understood before the war. During the years of the War of Attrition along the Canal, our observation posts had observed closed train cars arriving at the front lines. Each time such a train car reached the position of an Egyptian military unit, a long line of soldiers would form near the door, and the soldiers would enter the car one at a time. At first, we made jokes about the train cars, referring to them as mobile sexual service units similar to the kind operated by the Syrian army before the Six-Day War. However, we quickly realized that the train cars contained training simulators for Sagger missile operators.

At R&D, we thought about different ways of addressing the threat with the American developed Mk19 40 mm grenade machine gun. This machine gun was vehicle mounted, and had a firing rate of 350 grenades a minute and a range of 1500 m. … The proposal to add the system to our armored vehicles was decisively rejected by Operations Branch Chief Tal. According to his dogma, what he called “foreign elements” could not be introduced into tank battles.

Although we started searching for a technological solution to the SAG or missile about 10 days after the outbreak of the war the moment the first missiles fell into our hands, we were unable to find a shortcut or a quick solution…. Tal now invoked his authority as Deputy CGS… [with others]… he put all his energy into finding a solution to the problem. The solution he selected involved positioning net fences and coiled barbed wire around tank encampments in order to cause early detonation of fired Sagger missiles before they hit the tanks themselves. NOTE 6.

Despite our best efforts it took more time to develop responses to the Sagger missile. Many ideas were tried… including the possibility of disrupting the missile command system in midflight, misdirecting the missile navigator, and physically obstructing the missile with a steel net in close proximity of the target. The simple Russian missile was not susceptible to our disruption efforts, and we only found a proper solution to the threat posed by the Sagger missile years later. NOTE 7.

But of course, the Russians were not sleeping, and they had better weapons on the drawing board, already. But that’s another story, perhaps for some other day.

Meanwhile their 1973-vintage missiles were a key to the Arab nations’ hopes to recover territory, and pride, lost in the calamitous defeat of 1967. That’s the next, and we think last, installment of this story, the story of early ATGMs.

Notes

  1. Eilam disagrees with this, noting that US policy was only to provide new technology to Israel once the Israelis had shown themselves capable of producing their own, in order to discourage “escalation” and an “arms race.” These are diplomatic (i.e., State Department) terms; while the US DOD then strongly slanted towards Israel, State was then (as now) a hotbed of antisemitism and anti-Israeli feeling.
  2. All these charts come from US Army, TRADOC Bulletin 1u, and were originally prepared as briefing view-graphs (powerpoint before there was powerpoint).
  3. Rabinovich, Kindle Locations 653-655
  4. Rabinovich, Kindle Locations 2092-2108.
  5. Eilam, p. 108.
  6. Eilam, pp. 138-139.
  7. Eilam, p. 148.

Sources

Kelly, Orr. King of the Killing Zone: The Story of the M1, America’s Super Tank. New York: WW Norton & Co., 1989.

Eliam, Uzi. Eliam’s Arc: How Israel Became a Military Technology Powerhouse. Sussex University Press, 2011.

Rabinovich, Abraham. The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

US Army, Training and Doctrine Command. TRADOC Bulletin 1u: Range and Lethality of US and Soviet Anti-Armor Weapons. Ft. Monroe, VA: TRADOC, 30 September 1975. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a392784.pdf

State of The Art(illery): 1884

This cannon wasn't made at Watervliet, though. It was captured from Johnny Burgoyne!

Watervliet Arsenal, where this cannon was once displayed, comes up in this story. But this cannon wasn’t made at Watervliet. It was captured from Johnny Burgoyne!

In the last quarter of the 19th century, it sank in to the American military that important advances in gun manufacture had been taking place in Europe, while the US is heavy gun development and stagnated since the Civil War. The War Between the States was the last war in which the United States had needed a lot of artillery, and not surprisingly, it had been the last time the Army and Navy had spent significant money on artillery technological development. Since 1865, most fighting had taken place against Indian tribes, and these light, mobile counterinsurgency battles didn’t implicate heavy weaponry. After all, Custer had famously left his cannon — and Gatlings — behind, making a judgment that gave priority to the mobility of his cavalry force. That it is now one of the more thoroughly second-guessed judgments of all military history is small consolation to Yellow Hair: as he would no doubt say if we could interview him, “It seemed like a good idea at the time!”

Of course, the heavy weapons that Custer had in 1873, and that his successors would have had a decade later, were little improved from those of the Civil War. The Artillery Branch’s focus had been on development of heavy artillery for siege and especially for coastal use, and if one attended the Artillery School at Fort Monroe, VA in this period, he’d learn, along with a heavy dose of theory, the following guns: 3-inch, 8-inch, and 21-pounder, along with the 4.5 inch siege gun and a couple of Seacoast Mortars.1

Meanwhile, the Germans and Austrians (actually, the Austrians’ Czech gunmakers) had invented the recoiling gun carriage and the armies of Europe were rearming with a new generation of highly accurate breechloaders, made of steel and not iron.

So our Army and Navy thought it best to take a systematic look at their needs for artillery, how the Europeans had met similar needs, and how the US might equal them. This required an act of Congress in 1883, and a report to the President (do you know who was President? Neither did we. Chester A. Arthur) in the next year. One copy of that report, which was approved by Arthur in February, 1884, was filed in the library of the Infantry and Cavalry School in October of that year, and is now available in .pdf from the school’s successor, the Combined Arms Reference Library.

Results: a little over 10 years later, these buildings, and guns like this, emerged from the report's recommendations.

Results: a little over 10 years later, these buildings, and guns like this, emerged from the report’s recommendations.

The board comprised six officers who traveled to government arsenals and private factories in England, France and Russia. They also corresponded at length with Friedrich Krupp, who in the end declined to host them at his plant in Essen. The original book contains the Krupp correspondence in its appendices, all of which unfortunately are missing from the truncated .pdf version available in Sources below.

The report noted the parlous state of US Artillery at the time. After listing the arsenals and contractors that produced the Union’s artillery in the Civil War, then nearly 20 years in the past, it noted how scant American postwar developments had been:

Since the termination of the war the Fort Pitt Foundry has ceased to exist. The South Boston Iron Works Company has manufactured a few experimental guns, and with the West Point Foundry has executed some small orders of the Government in the conversion of cast-iron smooth-bores into rifle guns by inserting and rifling a coiled wrought iron tube.

None of the companies mentioned above have ever made steel guns, and virtually the United States is destitute of a source from which such, an armament as the age demands can be supplied.

Before the introduction of rifled cannon and the use of steel as the material for their construction, the United States boasted of her Dahlgren and Rodman cast-iron guns, which were the models for imitation and the standards for comparison of all nations.

While the rest of the world has advanced with the progress of the age, the artillery of the United States has made no step forwards. Its present condition of inferiority is only the natural result of such want of action.2

The report describes with remarkable concision the economics, location, and process of manufacturing artillery in the nations that cooperated, and goes on to describe the guns themselves and their technology in great detail.

Whitworth’s Works

Other English firms reported that Sir Joseph Whitworth, the eminent inventor and engineer, was quite as secretive a Krupp himself, but Whitworth invited the officers to visit his factory — under the condition that they only do so after seeing all the others. That seemed like a small enough concession, and so they did just that, only to find that Whitworth really was doing something remarkable.

The other factories were well ahead of the Americans’ home industries: they were casting breech-loading gun tubes, and making hoops for them, of steel. But what Whitworth was doing blew the Americans’ minds:

In speaking of the Whitworth establishment at Manchester as unique, and of the process of manufacture at that place as a revelation, reference is specially made to the operation of forging. As to the assorting of ores, and the treatment of metal in the furnaces, there is no intention to draw distinctions; but as to the treatment of the metal after casting there can be no doubt of the superiority of the system adopted by Sir Joseph Whitworth over that of all other manufacturers in the world. The process here adopted has been kept singularly exempt from scrutiny. Even in the offices of the chiefs of artillery there can be found no information, within the knowledge of the Board, which is at all satisfactory upon the subject. Whatever knowledge there is seems to come from hearsay—-none from personal observation—and it is only from personal observation that the merits of the system can be fully appreciated.

The system of forging consists in compressing the liquid metal in the mould immediately after casting, and in substituting a hydraulic press for the hammer, in the subsequent forging of the metal.3

The exact details of the process follow, and then the conclusion:

The Board witnessed the operations of casting followed by that of liquid compression, the enlarging of hoops, the drawing out of cylinders, and the forging of a solid ingot. The unanimous opinion of the mem­bers is that the system of Sir Joseph Whitworth surpasses all other methods of forging, and that it gives better promise than any other of securing that uniformity so indispensable in good gun metal.

The latest exhibition of the wonderful character of the Whitworth steel has attracted great attention, and may be stated as indicating the present culmination of his success. From a Whitworth 9-inch gun, lately constructed for the Brazilian Government, there was fired a steel shell, which, after perforating an armor-plate of 18 inches of wrought iron, still retained considerable energy. The weight of the shell was 403 pounds, the charge of powder 197 pounds, and the velocity about 2,000 feet. The shell is but slightly distorted. The tests of the metal of which it was made show a tensile strength of 98 tons per square inch and a ductility of 9 per cent.4

They were very favorably impressed by the Russian factories, which seemed to borrow eclectically from Whitworth and Krupp alike, and relied on excellent Russian ores. They noted an accident that demonstrated the strength of Russian artillery design:

A recent accident gave a severe test to the system of construction adopted for Russian artillery. In experimenting with gun-cotton for use in shells, one of the latter, containing 40 pounds, exploded in the chamber of an 11-inch gun when the charge of gunpowder (128 pounds) was fired. The rear part of the breech was blown off at the weak point of the Krupp system. The trunnion-band was broken, throwing off a fragment; and the diameter of the chamber was enlarged 1 inch. The admirable quality of the metal, and the good adjustment of the strength of the several parts is evident from this statement.5

That would have been unpleasant for the gun crew, we suspect.

The Russian guns were also unique in being designed with a thin liner that allowed artillery to be rapidly and economically overhauled.

The operation of inserting one of these lining tubes in a field gun was witnessed at Aboukhoff. The difference of their diameters was very small. The fitting of the slightly conical surfaces by measurement be­fore insertion was done with precision.

When ready for insertion the lining tube was lubricated and intro­ duced by hand. It was forced by hand levers until the end was nearly flush with the breech; hydraulic power then applied by a hand-pump was gradually increased to a pressure of 180 atmospheres, although no motion was apparent after it had reached 100 atmospheres. The rear end of the lining tube forms the recess for the Broadwell ring.

The Russian officers claim that these tubes can be renewed in the field, and cited instances of two 9-inch mortars, weighing 5½ tons each, needed for use on the Danube during the late war. Being too heavy for the available means of transportation they were forwarded in three pieces— a tube, a breech-jacket and a muzzle-jacket. The two latter were screwed together, and the tube was inserted by a jack on the spot; both mortars did excellent service.6.

Consequences of the Report

The Report made several recommendations:

  1. That the Government build its own artillery, rather than purchase it or enter into a public-private partnership, or, as they put it, “The Government should establish on its own territory a plant for the fabrica­tion of cannon, and should contract with private parties to such amounts as would enable them to supply from the private industries of the country the forged and tem­pered material.” The officers thought that the provision of private profit increased Government costs. (They might have been artillerists, but they weren’t economists).
  2. That the Army and Navy have separate facilities. “This has al­ ways been the custom in France, producing good results; the reverse has been the practice in England, producing bad results.”
  3. That the Army construct its factory for artillery tubes at Watervliet, New York, where plentiful hydraulic power would enable manufacturing.7
  4. That the Navy build theirs in the Washington Navy Yard.
  5. And of course, the officers asked for money:

The facts that the United States is destitute of the means of fabri­cating the modern guns so urgently needed for national defense, and that at least three years will be required to complete the tools, construct the shops and establish the plant, would seem to demand an immedi­ate appropriation of the amount ($1,800,000) estimated for the estab­lishment of the proposed gun factories.8

So it was written; and, quite remarkably, so it was, more or less, done. The US still makes its artillery tubes at Watervliet Arsenal!

Notes

  1. Daugherty, p. 13.
  2. Foundry Board Report, p. 39.
  3. Foundry Board Report, pp. 14-15.
  4. Foundry Board Report, p. 16.
  5. Foundry Board Report, pp. 37-38.
  6. Foundry Board Report, p. 38.
  7. Watervliet once had a decent museum on base, but it closed in 2013 in a Provost Marshal’s blind security panic, and will never reopen; the exhibits are to be shipped to distant Army museums, stored and forgotten, or, in the case of heavy and bulky exhibits the Army Center for Military History doesn’t want to pay to ship or store, scrapped.
  8. Foundry Board Report, pp. 50-51.

 

Sources

Daugherty, Leo J. III. Pioneers of Amphibious Warfare, 1898-1945: Profiles of Fourteen American Military Strategists. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

Simpson, et. al. Report of the Gun Foundry Board: Organized by The President in Accordance With the Act of Congress, Approved March 3, 1883. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1884. Available at http://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p4013coll11/id/722 or here at WeaponsMan: Report of the Gun Foundry Board 1884.pdf (10.5 mb PDF).

ATGMs Go to War, Vietnam, 1972

In 1972, ATGMs had been in military inventories for 20 years, since France’s adoption of the SS-10 circa 1951. But they’d never fulfilled their original mission — destruction of enemy tanks in combat. Sure, some of the French missiles might have been popped off an insurgent sangars in Algeria, and Americans shot a couple of Entacs at bunkers in Vietnam. And a dozen missile models had blown hell out of obsolete tanks on a firing range. But nobody had shot one at a hostile tank containing a hostile crew.

1972 was the year that the wire-guided anti-tank missile got its cherry popped, in Vietnam conflict. Before the next year was out the missiles would prove almost decisive in tank-on-tank combat — and be employed on both sides. If the weapons world of New Year’s Eve, 1971, had its issues with anti-tank guided missiles — and the US had such gadflies as the Project on Military Procurement (whose funding and control was shadowy) and the Soviet-line Center for Defense Information trying to force cancellation of ATGM programs — the weapons world of New Year’s Day, 1974, had shaken off all doubts. Missiles were here to stay.

Those wars were the 1972 NVA conventional invasion of South Vietnam and the Yom Kippur War, both of which saw missiles used, in the first experimentally, and in the second in great quantities.  Here is an overview video of TOW missile attacks on North Vietnamese armor.

Click “more” for the details about Vietnam. The Yom Kippur War story will be told in the days ahead.

Continue reading